Archive for November, 2008


Have you ever had a time when you were figuratively flooded with memories, rushing in rapid succession like a high tide breaking on rocks and spilling out on the sand?

Holidays are like that for me, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas.  The memories bring a replay of scenes and emotions I’ve experienced over the years.  My 3-D mind goes on overload as the tide whooshes in, bearing remnants of the past.

After the tide has washed in and receded, I comb the beach.  Some of the memories lie twisted and broken like damaged wooden crates with rusted nails dangerously poking out at the seams, waiting to impale a clueless foot.  These are recollections of holidays marred by unkind actions and mean-spirited words.  I collect the broken crates into a bag designated for recyling.  The memories are not worth preserving in their present condition, and their refuse will be pressed into something more creative!

My beachcombing yields some bottles, broken and pitted by the elements: vestiges of poignant years when loss or strife cast shadows on our holidays.  As they lurk in the sand, these bottles could potentially be painful to the touch.  But carefully gathered, washed, and gently placed in a crystal bowl they will form a sparkly focal point of beauty–a reminder of God’s grace.  For as we have been broken, riddled with strife and sin, our Lord Jesus has washed us with His blood.  He has polished us, and lovingly placed us in a transparent bowl where we can sparkle for Him.

Finally, I gather exquisite shells washed in by the tide.  These are the memories of glorious holidays:  times of laughter and rejoicing, times of praising God for the healing He has brought to our family and individual lives, previews of what eternity with our Lord and His people will be like!  I carry home an overflowing abundance of lovely shells.

Each year I anticipate the flood of memories and its aftermath of beachcombing, gathering and sorting the memories of a lifetime.  Some are recycled, some polished, and some preserved “as is”–in their pristine perfection.  The tide-strewn sands provide baskets of bounty, enough to fill every room of my heart!

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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As of late last week our manger scene is in its traditional place, on the coffee table in our living room.  Two of our daughters bought it for us years ago, with their baby sitting money.  It was made in Italy.

Joseph has disappeared from the scene, so an extra shepherd has taken his place.  I don’t think Joseph defected; more likely he was carried off at some point and chewed up by a teething puppy. 

Mary and Baby Jesus are intact, along with the stand-in shepherd and one more shepherd who tends the flock.  A donkey and a cow hover around the perimeter of the stable. 

We still have the wise men, but they are not on the coffee table.  They are clear across the room, on a shelf above our CD player, in transit as they were not present in the manger–but arrived later, to present their gifts.

We have lots of little sheep figures hanging out in and around the manger, many more than came with the original set.  That’s because I raised a spinner’s flock of sheep for 18 years in Southern Wisconsin, and people frequently gave me gifts of sheep.  Most of them have been gathered into the Nativity scene.

The above 1963 photo depicts three of our six children (Laura, Debbie, and Eric) reenacting that miraculous night in Bethlehem.  They provided a live manger scene in our living room.

Indeed, there are times when a picture is worth a thousand words!

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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Note:  This entry duplicates what I wrote in my Grace with Salt blog this morning.  I feel the message is important enough to repeat at different times, in different places. 🙂

“O give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good, because His mercy endures forever.”  Psalm 118:1

What a joy to prepare for our family gatherings year around!  And the Thanksgiving-through-Christmas occasions are a crowning glory of the year.  I am thankful, so thankful!  As I polish the silver, bake the special breads, prepare my turkey stuffing (legendary, because it includes a miracle ingredient–pork sausage), and stuff the turkey, I give thanks.

As I decorate the home for Christmas, I give thanks.  As I garner gifts for family members and prepare them for presentation (those pretty gift bags have revolutionalized ”wrapping” for me), I give thanks! 

What a joy, what a privilege, what a special gift from God to be able to create a beautiful environment for my family and serve the people I love most! 

I like to decorate for Christmas well in advance of Thanksgiving, as the season is too exquisite to bolt through in just the month of December.  Christmas must be prolonged, savored, and celebrated throughout these weeks which are the darkest of our northern year.  Handel’s MESSIAH and the beloved Christmas carols fill our home, and we rejoice!

Christmas is just plain JOY, and I’ll never comprehend the mentality that wants to write it off without celebration.  When we have CHRIST in the word “Christmas” (instead of that ugly “X” which some insist on substituting for the Lord’s name) we naturally want to celebrate our Lord’s birth.  And His RETURN, which may well be sooner than we realize!

Just as I can’t comprehend the anti-celebration mentality, I cannot understand the attitude of some women today toward the art of keeping a home!  I realize that many women need to have jobs outside the home.  (I was the bookkeeper and secretary for our construction company for years while our children were growing up; for me this was a vital part of being a “keeper at home”.)  And I acknowledge that some women have valid professions to pursue, in addition to being a keeper at home. 

But how can a woman who does work outside her home ever consider an extra career to be more important than the great privilege of being a wife, mother, and keeper of the home?  Where did women ever get the stupid, far-fetched, idiotic idea that household tasks are demeaning and unworthy?

What is more rewarding than fixing a meal for loved ones?  What is more creative and imaginative than fashioning little islands of loveliness on every shelf, every table, and in every nook and cranny of a home? 

What is more valuable and satisfying than tending to the everyday needs of the people we love the most–washing their clothes, cleaning their bathrooms, and airing their rooms?  And, when we are mothers, what is more valuable than training our children do these jobs for themselves–to do their share of the work load, thus enhancing the wellbeing of the home?  Doing and teaching others to do are equally important facets of being a keeper at home.

Nothing is more valuable in God’s sight than the role of homemaker.  We have the responsibility and privilege of providing an atmosphere of gracious tranquility and refreshment set apart from the fast paced world “out there”.  We are in the business of nourishing bodies and souls! 

We homemakers are environmentalists in the best, most God-honoring sense of the word.  Our faith, our convictions, our extensive reading, and our plethora of creative hobbies and skills make our homes places of lasting interest, influence, and enjoyment to all who enter. 

We keepers at home are “blooming where we are planted”, making a pleasing atmosphere for the most important people on earth–the family and friends whom God has given us to nurture and love.  We create a world within a world.  Home is the very best world of all!

I am thankful, so thankful to be a keeper at home!

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

P. S.  I know from 75 years of living that there are times where health issues, a death, or other circumstances alter the details of our celebrations.  But celebration is, in essence, a matter of heart attitude!  We do what we can and give what we can–because our Lord does and gives, and certainly never because we think it is something we “should do”! 

Whatever we do, we can only do within the limits of our God-given means and capabilities.  But we can choose to maintain a heart attitude of joy. 

The day may very well come when I will not be able to physically provide the above-mentioned offerings of love and service.  God understands, I understand, we all understand!

But I trust that, as long as I remain on this earth, I’ll be able to say “Merry Christmas”!  And I pray I’ll always be thankful!  )

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. . . of memory laden walls,

timeworn layers of delight

where china teacups blend

with ancient tattered books

and love of kin immortalized

in sepia; where languid days

spring like wild roses

from the poignant soil of night.

Margaret Longenecker Been

Reprinted from A TIME UNDER HEAVEN–seasonal reflections and poems, by Margaret Longenecker Been, Elk River Books, 2005.

All Rights Reserved.

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We do not have an electric dishwasher in our home.  Although I tolerated that ugly but functional contraption in my kitchens when we were raising our 6 children, I certainly hope I will never have another dishwashing machine!  The idea of putting my pretty vintage dishes in a noisy machine, to get assaulted by strong detergent and slapped about by uncaring floods of hot water, makes me feel a little bit sick! 

And I love the aesthetics of plates lined up in a counter-top Rubbermaid dish drainer.  I purposely leave some favorite plates out in the dish drainer at all times, to please beauty-appreciating eyes.

When the young grandchildren visit, Joe loves to teach them how to wash dishes.  It’s quite hilarious.  The children have dishwashing machines in their homes, so getting their young hands into a sink full of soothing suds is an adventure for them.

Above is our grandson, Joel, hamming it up at after doing his job at our kitchen sink.  He is one of our 2 grandsons who visit from Centennial, Colorado.  Here in the Northern Wisconsin boonies we have all sorts of novelties for the boys:  a rewarding trip to the junkyard, resident bears, lots of lakes, late nights of reading, and a sink full of dishes to wash.

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

P. S.  For any and all who may be interested, I have begun another blog called “Mining Treasures in Illness and Pain”.  That topic just didn’t seem to fit as an ongoing focus for any of my other blogs.

The URL is:  http://richesinglory.wordpress.com/

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They were just a few ounces of feline fluff, only five weeks old, when we adopted them.  They looked so fragile and vulnerable.  Ha!

We held off naming our infant litter mates until we could glean a clue as to their personalities.  It didn’t take long.  The girl kitty soon developed a penchant for paper.  She would jump up and catch the dangling end of the toilet paper roll and unwind toilet paper through the bathroom, down the hall.  Then she would proceed to shred the paper, all the way back to the toilet paper dispenser.

Since this peculiar fetish surfaced close to the time of publicity concerning Hilary Clinton’s paper shredding activities at her former law firm in Arkansas, we named our female kitty “Hilary”.  Then, of course, the male had to be “Bill”.

Hilary and Bill were something else!  Their mischief knew no bounds, and they made an ongoing party out of life.  And they knew how to sabotage an actual party!

During the Hilary and Bill era, I planned a special birthday celebration for our daughter, Martina.  Joe and I would take Martina and a friend of hers for dinner at Milwaukee’s excellent Serbian restaurant, The Old Town.  After dinner we’d come back home for cake and coffee.

Before leaving home for the dinner, I set the dining room table with my grandmother’s crocheted lace table cloth and our “best” china and silverware.  Cups, saucers, dessert plates, forks, and spoons were on the table–along with a sugar bowl full of sugar and a creamer.  Fortunately, I didn’t pour the cream ahead of time, and the cake remained safely in the refrigerator.

Later we returned home to chaos.  The lace table cloth had been pulled to the floor, along with all the contents of the table top.  Dishes, spoons, forks, and sugar were everywhere.  But Hilary and Bill were nowhere to be seen.  They were hiding in secret corners of the house, presumably rehearsing their joint alibi. 

Most memorable was that first Christmas with Hilary and Bill.  Forget my lovely collection of vintage glass ornaments, and the Victorian style new ones I liked to add to our tree from year to year.  Forget anything that might break! 

Hilary and Bill hung out in the Christmas tree–poking their heads from the depths of the branches, splaying their paws in all directions, and shaking that poor tree for all it was worth.  Ornaments flew.  Ornaments crashed!  The rest of the family went into paroxyms of laughter as I scurried about rescuing baubles, bangles, and beads.

All that remained on our tree that Christmas was a handful of cloth and cardboard ornaments.  And two kittens, Hilary and Bill. 

I shall never forget the sight of those deranged little faces, peering out from the branches, delighting in creating havoc!  One kitten at a time is a handful.  Two are a siege!  Hilary and Bill will go down in our history as a couple of wild ones!

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

P. S.  For a blog loaded with inspiration, plus humor and cats, try:  http://joythruchrist.blogspot.com/ .  You can access it via the URL, or by clicking the Joy through Christ link listed on my Blogroll.  You’ll love it! 

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Our lake is frozen.  The woods and yard around our home are festooned with a sprinkling of snow.  After bundling and walking in the invigorating wintery air, we relish returning to the pleasant ambience of our cozy house.

Every season is just right for gracious hospitality, but perhaps the warmth and loveliness of home are especially welcoming in the cold weather months.  Whether preparing a supper for just Joe and me or serving company, I love to set a beautiful table and create an environment for sharing a leisurely meal.

There is an old saying:  “More is caught than taught.”  I really believe that.  My mother thrived on fixing special meals, whether just for our family or for guests.  When I was very young, she taught me to set a table properly.  My mother gave me jurisdiction over centerpieces and little embellishments such as place cards and tiny table favors. 

We had floating candles, and my favorite thing was to launch these floaters in Mother’s etched crystal bowl filled with water and flanked by tapers in candle holders replete with crystal pendants.  Sometimes we had flowers to adorn our table, and there were always seasonal accents–Thanksgiving turkey candles, Christmas ornaments, Valentine candies, etc.  Setting the table was one of several household jobs which were my responsibility as a child.  It was the one that I enjoyed the most–both then and now! 

No matter what kind of weather we are having, today more than ever there seems to be a pervasive attitude of stress “out there”.  Just as my gracious mother did, I have consistently militated against stress.  Even though we had years of it, I have always refused to be dominated by stress. 

When stress surfaced in our busy family years, I took steps to counter and eliminate as much of it as I could.  I found that the best way to deal with the stress of the outside world was to plan plenty of leisurely meals and/or tea parties:  little islands of serenity to take us out of time and into the realm of something that really matters–quality living where people share mellow conversation over good (often simple!) food, served at a table where aesthetics are valued and appreciated! 

Over years of rummaging, I’ve collected many sets of vintage dishes–some English china, a lot of English transferware, and some fun and funky American retro.  There are plenty of place settings in these patterns, but my great joy is to mix the dishes up.  Cups and saucers needn’t match, and dinner plates are especially fun when they don’t look anything like the plates on either side of them at the table. 

Ice water is gorgeous and refreshing served in an interesting mix of receptacles:  everything from crystal goblets, to EAPG (Early American Pressed Glass) tumblers, to a mixed assortment of retro floral glasses.  Even canning jars add variety and interest.

One needn’t have multi sets of dishes, or an overload of cash, to create an imaginative table.  A trip to St. Vincent’s Thrift Store or a GoodWill outlet can yield a plethora of mis-matched dishes in a variety of designs and patterns for the proverbial song.  At these same stores, you can probably find a worn but clean single bed sheet in an English country floral pattern–or a tattered ecru lace curtain–to use as a table cloth for that special tea party or dinner. 

Flatware–knives, forks, and spoons–can be found at thrift shops and yard sales, too:  some silverplate and even bits and pieces of sterling.  If silver is not available, stainless is fine.  When odd pieces are purchased in patterns that don’t match, the price is apt to be reasonable! 

Centerpieces!  There is nowhere on earth more creative than one’s table.  Anything works when arranged with love and a teeny bit of ingenuity!  Flowers are classic.  The supermarket bouquets are often cheap but ugly when you buy them intact.  However, when these flowers are severed from each other–with stems cut at diverse lengths–they take on a whole new life.  Small arrangements can be created by sticking bunches of the cut flowers in little vases, sugar bowls, creamers, or Smucker’s jelly jars.  Three daisies, cut with two inch stems, are exquisite when presented in a toothpick holder and randomly placed on a dinner table.

There are as many options for centerpieces as stars in the sky.  A weather-beaten wooden box is elegant when filled with sea shells and dangles of colorful beads, bracelets, and earrings.  It’s like a pirate’s treasure chest, only the “treasures” are gleanings from beaches and rummage sales.

Pine cones in wooden bowls, dried leaves scattered among the place settings, and assorted candles all find their way to our table.  Sometimes I pile a few tattered, hard-cover books (preferably faded volumes of 19th century poetry) in the middle of our table, and top the books with a chipped porcelain cup and saucer and a pair of reading glasses.

A much-loved centerpiece is a large clear glass bowl filled with pieces of broken china, pottery, and glass–all sparkly and glowing under candle light or the overhead light fixture.  I never use this centerpiece when small children are present at the meal, for obvious reasons.  A safer and equally pretty version is glass bowls filled with smooth glass stones, available in many colors at your local dollar discount store.  (We need to make sure the children don’t swallow the stones.)

The table cloth (anything from gaudy retro cotton to an old curtain or quilt top) can be strewn with metallic sparkles and stars.  Very literally, the sky is the limit when it comes to bringing beauty and fun to a meal!

Our family and festive meals have ranged in numbers from a handful of people around a table to years of Thanksgiving dinners where we had from 18 to 30 hungry and appreciative folks.  Those were the 24-26 pound turkey years.  Now that our Thanksgiving dinners are smaller, I still try to find a large enough bird to provide plenty of leftovers for winter soups and sandwiches.  Boiled turkey bones make heavenly soup!  

For Thanksgiving, I love to use my wedding china.  It’s a pleasure to place the dishes on the table, eat off of them, and painstakingly wash them when the meal is over. 

Washing up the dishes is a social grace in itself.  People who consider dishwashing a chore to be dispensed with quickly will never be my choice of helpers in the kitchen.  I call these efficient folks “The Slam Bangers”.  They mean well, but they miss the point!  They needn’t apply!

After a delightful meal and a relaxing hour or two of after-dinner table conversation and coffee, leisurely dishwashing is sheer pleasure.  I prefer to do the organizing, but I don’t mind accepting help from anyone who views dishes as a joy and dishwashing as a slow and integral part of the gracious whole.

Just as my mother, grandmothers, aunts, sister, and I had wonderful “girl chats” on dishwashing occasions, now I relish dishwashing talk with family members and friends.  The men retire to the living room, or to the downstairs TV football games, and we ladies have what the Scottish call “a wee crack” about all-important matters of hearth and home.  

A day spent in preparing, sharing, and cleaning up after a feast is the epitome of gracious living.  It’s a cushion against any storms or stress the weather outside might bring.  God made a world full of beauty for us to enjoy.  The wholesome pleasure of the eyes is as vital to our souls as good food is to our taste buds and physical bodies.  God willing, as long as I have two legs to stand on and two hands with which to serve, the weather inside our home be that of gracious ambience!

P. S.  It’s sad that women sometimes think their homes have to be spotless and dustless in order to plan a company meal.  That’s hogwash to the max!  Gracious meals can prevail no matter what the conditon of the home–even in the midst of major household decorating and remodeling projects.  In fact, a bit of chaos surrounding the serenity of the table adds humor and interest.

I’ll never forget the time I served an elegant three-fork luncheon for nine ladies while Joe was tearing out bathroom ceramic tiles just a few feet down the hall from our party.  Joe hammered, chiseled, and hacked–and some of my knick knacks pinged off a shelf on an adjoining wall–while we ladies had mellow and hilarious conversation over salad, casserole, muffins, cake, and Yorkshire Gold tea set to a background of Celtic harp music on the CD player.

Memories are among the most precious things on the face of God’s earth!  We can create memories wherever we live, with whatever we have on hand, so long as we value the weather of hospitality and sharing in a setting of gracious ambience!

Indeed, more is caught than taught.  We have four daughters, and every one of them takes pleasure in serving a fine meal on a lovely table.  Our two sons have married women who are also good chefs, and they value gracious ambience as well.  The beautiful things in life endure!

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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Olivia is Home Again!

young-momPraise God, our Olivia is home again with her parents and little sister, Brynn.

Olivia was diagnosed, and has been given medication which will control her health issue.  We are so very thankful for medical technology–certainly one of God’s great miracles in our time!

Thanks to every one of you who responded either on the blog or via email to our family concern!  God bless you all!

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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Please Pray for Olivia!


Olivia is our 3 year old great-granddaughter, and what a treasure she is!  Today Olivia is in Milwaukee Children’s Hospital, undergoing extensive tests following an extreme medical emergency which took place yesterday.  I am certain that all of Olivia’s family members have been walking around in a state of prayer and emotional pain for the last 24 hours. 

When one of us is sick, or in pain, the rest of us can never just go on our “merry way”.  We all hurt.  Yes, we praise God for being sovereign, and for His presence in our lives.  Yes, we reaffirm our trust in Him.  But we still hurt terribly, when something is amiss in our family. 

Yesterday and today, I can only think of a sweet little girl in a hospital bed.  As I think of Olivia I pray for her.

Olivia has the best of parents–our granddaughter, Leah and her husband, Jeff.  They are with Olivia in the hospital, making it a special family gathering at the bedside. 

I’m reminded that our Lord Jesus never promised us freedom from sorrow and pain.  He died to make us more fully human.  Caring and hurting for those we love are all a part of being human.   

Thank you, Lord, for loving Olivia.  Thank you that Olivia loves you!  And thank you that we can pray for her!

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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I love Christmas.  I love celebrating our Lord’s birth and publicizing His (perhaps very soon) return!  I love all the details of Christmas, and the traditions that our family members share each year. 

Now Joe and I are great-grandparents, and new babies are joining our celebrations on a regular basis.  Talk about cups running over!

I get just plain sick of hearing people bash Christmas shopping and the festivities of the holiday season.  Yes, I acknowledge that some individuals may have an unbalanced emphasis and look at Christmas solely in materialistic terms.  But we don’t know those people.  We have never known those people!  Mindless materialism has never been a part of our culture–either among our family members or friends.  We are focused on the joy!

Joe and I are a part of a large family that views Christmas as we do–a highlight of the entire year.  It’s a wonderful time of gathering and giving!  I have only uplifting things to say about preparing for and sharing the Christmas season with loved ones and friends.

It is such fun planning ahead for Christmas and finding individualized gifts for each family member throughout the year.  We do not spend inordinate amounts of cash, but I do spend a lot of time thinking about each person who will receive a gift. 

Sometimes I get energetic well in advance of Christmas and make some of the gifts.  We find great presents at summer art fairs, antique stores in all seasons, and even flea markets.  Online catalogues offer an amazing variety in everything from family games to decorative home objects. 

Books are a favorite gift (both to give and receive!).  I shop online for books at Barnes & Noble, Christian Book Distributers, and ABEbooks (a fantastic site for used and out-of-print books).

We live 10 miles from our local community, which is a pleasant town of under 2000 population.  It’s a real town with gift shops, a nice clothing store, and a lovely big antique shop. 

What fun to do some of the Christmas shopping in our town.  Having grown up in a small Wisconsin community, I’m now reliving that pleasure.  I think it’s about as close to Heaven on earth as one can get. 

In a small town one knows the merchants, and each shopping excursion is also a time for a sociable chat.  Joe and I manage to add lunch or an early dinner to most every trip to town. 

Reindeer and stars light up some of the lamp posts in town after dark, and there’s a Christmas tree in the courthouse yard–on the main drag (called “Lake Street” because it runs between 2 lakes). 

When the time comes to gather with family and celebrate Christmas, what a lot of hilarious commotion we make!  And food!  We have great chefs in our family, and some expert bakers.  (One daughter is the cookie queen to end all cookie queens.) 

For years I made a frosted sweet bread.  Now, since we travel to join the family at Christmas, a daughter makes the bread.  We have the fun of being guests in our children’s homes!  Yes we over-do the carbs at our feasts, but so be it.  (I’ll never say “No” to cookies and fudge!)

Christ is God’s Greatest Gift to us!  Since we are made in God’s image it follows that we should love to give gifts and rejoice in celebration of our Greatest Gift! 

So for the first time this year, I’ll say those words that I will say over and over again for weeks:  MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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