Archive for December, 2008


Dorothy said it, and I’ve always believed it.  This is our last day of vacation in Southern Wisconsin.  Tomorrow we aim the car northwest, and (God willing) five or six hours later we’ll be picking our above- pictured little treasure at Critter Sitters–his doggie resort. 

Critter Sitters is a wonderful place, but indeed it is a last resort for us.  I can’t stand to be away from Baby Dylan for any length of time.  And judging from the way he hides in our basement when we get the suitcases out for a trip, and goes bananas with joy when we come home from the trip, he has separation anxieties as well.

(Two kinds of people will be reading this entry:  1)  Those who sigh and say, “Oh I understand!” and 2) The other kind–those raise their eyebrows and wrinkle up their noses because they don’t understand about dogs.)

We’ve had a fine vacation.  The weather has been challenging, but no plans were cancelled.  We had many special events, starting with our granddaughter Nicole’s surprise engagement party. 

I mean SURPRISE!  Travis knelt down and asked Nicole to marry him in front of God and about 50 family members and friends, and then (after Nicole said “Yes”) put a lovely diamond on her finger.  Nicole had been waiting and hoping, but the timing and setting were a total surprise to her.

Other events included a grandson’s luncheon treat at Watt’s Tearoom, home gatherings, The Nutcracker, the arrival of our daughter Martina who lives and teaches in Nigeria, meals at favorite restaurants, eating too much, eating too much, and eating too much.  (In all seriousness, we do have a decadent society!)

Of course the big event was Christmas.  Our family is united in celebrating the Reason for the season, and our time together was precious.  We spent the day at our daughter Debbie’s home where we enjoyed watching the antics of four great-grandchildren–ages 3 and under.  (The 3 year-olds are almost 4.) 

On Christmas afternoon, I received a gift I’ll never forget.  We were sitting around Debbie’s living room, when Debbie announced, “Mom, here is a Merry Christmas from Ireland.”  Then in strolled a piper, dressed in an Irish tartan kilt and black beret, bag-piping his heart out. 

The pibroche included “Amazing Grace”, and most of us were moved to tears.  (A couple of the toddlers were moved to tears also, but because they were terrified.  They had to be assured that everything was okay, despite the sudden, unfamiliar sound of skirling pipes.)

The piper is the son of one of Debbie’s friends.  Everyone knows that I desire to have a piper at my funeral.  I believe that a bagpiped version of “Amazing Grace” is one of the most stirring sounds on earth–perhaps second only to the music of Canada geese winging northward in the spring. 

After the piping, my husband came to me with tears in his eyes and said, “That was beautiful.  Now you don’t have to die!”

Today is Sunday, December 28th.  In the remaining hours of our vacation, I’ll be having lunch with my good friend, Karen.  This evening  Joe and I plan to meet our family at Pizza Hut for a grand finale supper.  We like the free refills on soda, and the price of pizza is always right!

We won’t be tempted to over-eat at Pizza Hut tonight because that Phantom of the Holidays, THE TUMMY FLU, is stalking our large family.  Some of us have been felled already, some of us are beginning to look green around the gills, and some of us are just being very cautious about eating. 

Tomorrow, God willing, Joe and I will be back in “God’s Country”, hugging our Baby Dylan.  “There’s no place like home!”

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved


(Piper–Wils Quinn)

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It’s been said that old friends are the best antiques.  But an antique is supposed to be at least 100 years old.  My contemporaries pictured above, and I, are not 100 years old–not yet, anyway.  We’re simply vintage.

According to my humungous WEBSTER’S THIRD INTERNATIONAL, after the first definition specifically having to do with wine, “vintage” means “having a fine, mellowed character”, and “of old, recognized, and enduring interest, importance, or quality”.  That pretty well describes my friends.

“The girls”, as we call ourselves, have met once a month for decades.  Obviously, we couldn’t all make every gathering, but most have met consistently over the years.  At our meetings, we talk and eat.  Hence, the name of the group:  “Talk and Eat”.

Some of us were friends in high school, and others joined the group when we were young moms.  The above photo commemorates the annual Christmas luncheon held a few days ago in the Milwaukee area, at one of the homes.  I was not able to attend, so the photo was emailed to me.  One other friend is missing from the picture, as she was unable to be there as well.

Since Joe and I moved 285 miles north, I haven’t been able to meet with these friends as frequently as before.  But we’ve kept in touch through occasional meetings when I visit “back home”, and through letters and email.  When I do see these ladies, it’s as if no time has elapsed.  That’s the comfort of vintage friendship!

“The girls” span a cross section of talents, interests, and vocations.  All are homemakers.  Included are a couple of former teachers and a retired nurse.  Each woman is proficient in her kitchen, but one is widely known for her spectacular buns. 

One of “the girls” was a computer pioneer.  She was happily keyboarding back in the days when I was still trying to figure out my electric typewriter.  There are knitters in the group, at least one accomplished quilter, and a hooker (as in rugs).  Some are a lot like Martha Stewart (as in creative crafts–not jail).

Styles of home decor vary.  Some are veteran rummagers and collectors.  (Guess who one of those would be!)  Others prefer the open look, and the serenity of not having to stumble over teacups on their living room floors.

So what is the glue?  How can a group of women manage to stay friends and meet regularly forever?  Granted, all of us are committed to family and home.  Yet I know lots of women who value family and home, people whom I probably would not bother to meet for lunch month after month, year after year.

The women in the group are kind and loyal.  Yet I know a number of kind and loyal people with whom I rarely have lunch.

I think the consistency of this group goes beyond shared interests and personality traits, to something nearly lost and forgotten these days:  a culture of ambience.  I’m willing to guess that, as children, my friends learned to set a lovely table and serve a gracious meal–just as I learned these treasured arts from my mother.  And each woman values the tradition of spending relaxed leisure time with friends. 

In a sense, we’re out of the mainstream.  Although all of us have had plenty of responsibilities, we’ve refused to catch the pandemic of modern society:  that syndrome known as “Too Busy”. 

We lost two members of our group, back in 1997.  The memory of those friends underscores the fact that people are infinitely precious!  We must never be “too busy” to take time out for each other!

The vintage pleasure of gentle conversation!  The joys of life and laughter!  The timeless quality of sharing a meal–lovingly prepared and artfully served at home, or occasionally enjoyed at a restaurant. 

The Germans have a beautiful word for vintage friends and amenities:  “Gemutlichkeit” says it all!

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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funky-collage1Soon Joe and I will celebrate a special anniversary–the anniversary of our first date, December 16th, 1949.

Joe was 19 and a student at what was then called the University of Wisconsin Extension in Milwaukee, and I was 16–a junior at Wauwatosa High School.  Joe took me to a soda shop called “The Dutch Treat”.  I’d heard that he was very wise and conservative with his hard-earned cash, so I wondered if he intended me to pay for my “Dutch treat”. 

But that was not the case.  Joe treated me.  I normally would have gone for anything chocolate, but on this occasion I chose a strawberry shortcake which cost 42 cents.  I don’t know why I ordered that.  I guess my head was already becoming befuddled over the pleasant young man who sat beside me.

As we sat there with our treats, I recall gazing at Joe while stirring and stirring my strawberry shortcake.  I simply had no appetite–something which, since that night, has only happened a few times when I was very ill.  Although I wasn’t actually physically ill that night, I was fast becoming “love sick”.  That was real!

As he watched me stir my shortcake to slush, Joe said, “Aren’t you going to eat that?”

“No,” I answered.  “Do you want to eat it?”

To which Joe replied, “I would, if you hadn’t made such a mess of it.”

I soon came to love Joe for the fact that (among other things) he always says it like it is, and I discovered that others love him for that trait as well.  Joe is as real, as solid, and dependable as they come.  And he’s romantic–even more romantic now than he was all those years ago. 

My parents responded to Joe from the first.  My perceptive mother recognized that he was the genuine article as soon as she met him.  

My father (who had always teased me by threatening to meet my suitors at the door with a rifle and the words, “Young man, what are your intentions?”) knew from Joe’s handshake that here was a strong young person, and not a wimp. (My father had a handshake that would fracture your hand.)

After a good courtship, Joe and I were married in June of 1953.  Words can’t describe how thankful we are, and how good our life together is.

Meanwhile, on December 16th, 2008, Joe and I will undoubtedly go “out on the town” of Phillips, Wisconsin,  in remembrance of December 16th, 1949.  Maybe we can find a strawberry shortcake at one of the local cafes!

Where did the years go?



Joe Been & Margaret L. Been — Lovers Forever!

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It happens every late autumn.  Although we’ve perceived the gradual decline of daylight ever since the summer solstice and especially since the autumn equinox, now we are plunging quickly into the bottom of the year.

Annually after Thanksgiving, I print out charts and note the times of sunrise and sunset each day.  Until recent years, I did laborious math tricks via the OLD FARMER’S ALMANAC–converting the sunrise and sunset times from Boston to our nearest city.  One year I even figured the small difference from sundial time to actual clock time.  All of that math was very taxing for a person who is more inclined to words than numbers. 

Now I simply Google “sunrise-sunset”, and print out the last of the old year’s statistics and a page for each month of the new year–documenting the sunrise and sunset down to fractions of a second. 

Also available are the times of moonrise and moonset plus civil, nautical, and astronomical twilight (the degrees of light when the sun is below the horizon).  As grateful as I am for any bit of twilight, I normally just print out the stats for the sun and moon.  This annual focus on solar (and lunar) activities helps to carry me through the long nights and dark days around the winter solstice. 

Most of our married life, Joe and I lived around the Milwaukee area.  Down there, the shortest days of the year have approximately 9 hours and 4 minutes of daylight.  Now we live 285 miles north of our former home, and the annual plunge is significantly greater.  From December 20th through December 23rd, we will have 8 hours and 41 minutes of daylight.  December 21st will actually be the shortest day this year in view of fractions of seconds–but I don’t bother with those fractions.  With my limited math tolerance, I see 4 “shortest days” of 8 hours and 41 minutes.  I’m glad I don’t live up in the Yukon!

If the annual plunge included only the demise of daylight, I would find the charts and stats rather dismal.  But I rejoice in the fact that as soon as we plunge, we begin to rise.  By December 30th, we will have gained 3 minutes of daylight.  From there on we gain a minute or more, sometimes up to 3 minutes per day. 

Winter is glorious because it’s a time of gathering light.  Our 20 and 30 below zero days are made gorgeous by the fact of ever-growing, strengthening sun!

Most of all, the annual plunge and subsequent rebirth of light are stunning visuals of that person whose advent we celebrate in December.  Our Lord Jesus is the Light of the World, and the Heavens reflect His glory!

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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Sundays were fun in my home as I was growing up.  After church, we enjoyed a special dinner–roast chicken or a beef pot roast.  My mother’s apple pie was second to none.  During “indoor weather” our family played games such as Monopoly or Rummy.  We joked and laughed a lot, munched pop corn, and wound up our Sunday afternoon by listening to some of our favorite radio programs.

But on Sunday, December 7th, 1941 there were no games, no jokes, no laughter.  We listened to the radio, but not to our favorite programs.  We listened to news about a far-away place called Pearl Harbor.

I recall my mother explaining to me why the news was so somber.  I know that as a sheltered eight year old I couldn’t begin to comprehend the meaning of WAR.  But I’ll never forget that Sunday, and the silence that descended on our home.  The memory brings tears. 

We are fortunate that the enemy at Pearl Harbor is no longer our enemy.  I’ve been reminded of that fact many times over the years, as I’ve sorrowed over how millions of Japanese people suffered from the resolution of conflict–though resolution was necessary!

I believe we must never forget Pearl Harbor, just as we must never forget the American Revolution and other times when we were faced with tyranny, injustice, and aggression. 

Likewise, we must never forget those tragic times that we, as a nation, have condoned injustice and tyranny toward some of our own people:  blacks, native Americans, and other ethnic minorities.

The memory of December 7th, 1941 reminds me that freedom is worth fighting for, and must be defended!  We cannot combat tyranny with compromise.  We cannot hold hands and talk about “peace” with nations who do not begin to value peace, nations whose ideologies focus on abusive power, vengeance and hatred. 

We cannot disarm when confronted with cultures raised on violence and a mentality that glorifies the slaughter of “infidels”.

I remember Pearl Harbor, and the tragic years of conflict that followed in its wake.  I remember the Americans and our Allies who fought.  Because of them, we are here today–still free, in a country more blessed than any other nation in history.

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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