Archive for January, 2009

We don’t have to wait for spring for new life in our family!  Here are two new great-grandchildren, born in January:  Cai Daniel Stokes, and Lyla Lorraine Valentine.  Both look very peaceful.  What blessings!

Margaret L. Been                                                                          cai5      







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Being of an analytical nature, I’ve been assessing exactly why blogging is so satisfying!  Here are some answers:

1)  Blogging is hospitable.  With the flick of my fingers, I can invite you into my home and show you around the rooms where we live.  Above, you’ll see a glimpse of one of my spinning corners.  Behind the spinning wheel is my Baby Wolf loom, piled high with handspun yarn, handknitted sweaters, and handwoven shawls. 

Via a blog I can invite you over for a vicarious tea party, followed by a tramp in the snow.  (Soon I hope to take you on a surrogate trip up our beloved river.)

2)  Blogging is utterly honest.  I can say exactly what I think on the blogs.  No editor is going to delete a paragraph because he or she disagrees with my opinion.  Of course you are welcome to disagree.  That’s all part of the give and take of life!

3)  Blogging is non-invasive.  If you are reading these words, it’s because you volitionally clicked on the site.  I have not bull-dozed my presence into your home via a knock on the door or a telephone call. 

4)  Blogging is sharing.  More and more, I’m realizing that we were put on earth to share.  Although most of us need solitude (I certainly need oceans of that!) we also need to share our thoughts and our lives with our fellow humans. 

We need people to really listen to us.  And we need to really listen to others!  Opportunities to share our thoughts and lives are sorely limited.  In church we smile and say “How are you?”.  But rarely do we pause long enough to find out how someone actually is. 

We attend group functions, and tend to pass each other like the proverbial ships in the night.  We are chattered at–and sometimes we chatter back–without any reciprocal consideration of what is being said.  Interruptions are far more frequent than quiet, ardent listening motivated by a desire to truly understand the person who is speaking.

Occasionally I come home from a social outing and wonder, “Why in the world did I go to that gathering?  There was absolutely no mutuality of sharing, no intense listening, no serene meeting of the minds.” 

Whereas some group meetings are fun, others deplete me and leave me feeling empty and dry.

In a sense, blogging is a bit like journaling.  But there’s something entropic about journaling.  I think blogging is better.  A journal is a kind of dead end street, stuffed in the drawer for as long as we live.  My journals may or may not be read posthumously, while the online blog stats tell me that my thoughts are being shared today–while I’m still alive. 

I love reading your comments, your letters–and your blogs if you have them.  Blogs are just plain rewarding!  🙂

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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As a writer and lover of fine literature, in recent years I’ve been heartbroken, distressed, frustrated, and sometimes absolutely infuriated by the silly, ho-hum, mediocre junk that sells in “Christian book stores”–written by people who don’t really read, for readers who don’t really read, while the publisher at least hopes to “laugh all the way to the bank”.

The term “Market Driven” best describes much of “Christian” publishing in America today.  Along with the focus on marketing we’ve seen the demise of creativity and literary quality.  Books with a dumbed-down vocabulary, ditzy “Christian romance novels” and intelligence-insulting “How To” tomes, have taken the place of riveting writing and classical literary excellence. 

How often do we find a recently published book that drives us to our dictionaries?  If we never look up new-to-us words, then we certainly are not giving proper attention and respect to our amazing, immense English language! 

How often do we find a currently published book or even a magazine article written with verve, panache, and punch?  How often do we stumble across writers who know how to “turn a phrase” anymore–writers that make us smile because their language surpasses the pedestrian level of a newspaper press release or those manuals that come with our appliances? 

(American writers are particularly guilty of producing “one size fits all” material.  Generally speaking, books and magazines published in England–by British authors–still offer an interesting use of language.)  

How often do we find a newly published book that stretches our mind and fires our creative juices, in that dreary wasteland known as the “Christian book store”?  With only a few exceptions the shelves are stocked with Christian fiction of the “airhead for Jesus” mentality, or just plain erroneous and outlandish theology.  Biblical discernment is lacking in our culture. 

Too much of today’s Christian (as well as secular) publishing is aimed at a 4th grade level vocabulary in a culture of adult cotton candy readers.  No 4th grader in my family could ever enjoy the unimaginative, agenda-polluted stuff being pumped out today!  Such flim-flammery could kill a child’s interest in books, if there were nothing left of beauty and excellence to read. 

Certainly there’s nothing wrong with reading “just for fun”.  I do that a lot!  But entertaining light reading will contain lively, zestful vocabulary and clever nuances.  A case in point is the hilariously delightful output of stories by P. G. Wodehouse.  Good literature needn’t always be heavy duty.  But it should always have some literary value to commend it!

Fortunately, there have been plenty of excellent books for readers of all ages published over the past centuries.  We have online used book sites, so that we can find and order the good books.  But I’m greatly concerned that many contemporary Christian readers have no desire to read fine books, and many current writers have no concept of real writing with literary excellence in mind. 

I know people who have decided to “take up writing”, not because of a lifelong love for the written word but simply because they desire to sell something.  They’ve never read much apart from the drab offerings of current publishers.  (I partially blame public education for this!)  These would-be writers study the markets, and endeavor to supply what publishers want for their “readers”. 

Thus a vicious cycle perpetuates itself.  Ho-hum readers never realize that greatness lies between the covers of thousands and thousands of books.  Perhaps they were never exposed to classical literature as young people, and they think the mediocre fare offered by Christian publishers is all that exists.

Entire Christian writer’s conferences are committed to presenting the markets for today’s dumbed-down, uncreative fare.  The biggest conference in the midwest is called “Write to Publish”, and the emphasis is indeed on marketing. 

Marketing to Christian publishers involves paring down manuscripts, slashing all adverbs and most adjectives, and using lackluster nouns and verbs. 

It’s as though the overriding rule at contemporary Christian writer’s conferences is:  Let there be no originality of expression, nothing whatsoever that would reflect the fact that we serve a creative God!

Justification is given that “the Gospel is going out”.  But isn’t the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ worthy of excellence?  How will readers ever be lifted up, if writers and publishers continue to make money from the production of mediocrity?

For years I tutored children who had been labeled “Slow Readers” in their classrooms.  I discovered that, without fail, once these children were relieved of their dull school text books (of the “See Dick, See Jane” mentality) and instead introduced to real authors (Beatrix Potter, Robert Louis Stevenson, Kenneth Graham, and many others) they shed their “disabilities” like a wet dog emerging from the bathtub.  

Good literature, personal encouragement, and the peerless tool of phonics are ingredients for a lifelong passion for reading.  These ingredients fuel future writers, as well.

Here is the proverbial “bottom line”:  We cannot lift people up by dragging them down.  One would think (hope and PRAY!) that Christian writers and publishers would recognize this fact. 

One would think that integrity alone would motivate writers and publishers to disregard “the markets” and instead focus on the pursuit of excellence–even if it were to mean less money or no money at all! 

We were created in the image of God.  God is not honored by marketing inferior goods for bucks, especially when those goods are rationalized as a “ministry” or “outreach”. 

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

(The above illustration is courtesy of Dover Publications, copyright free graphics.  Thanks to Dover!)

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Soundless moments,

hours crystalized in time . . .

forgotten time,

dreamless drifts of time

dismantled, spread

on galaxy of trackless snow.

Prints of yesterday

buried like the river

in a glass tomb,

lost in unremembered time.

Tomorrow’s leaden boots

have ceased their tromping,

sunk their steely treads

in frozen time.

Wind pauses, catatonic,

pulse near death

in winter bog.

by Margaret Longenecker Been

Reprinted from A TIME UNDER HEAVEN

by Margaret Longenecker Been, Elk River Books

All Rights Reserved

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Dylan, our gorgeous Pembroke Welsh corgi, gets a “bacon treat” every day after his early morning run.  The bacon treat is a bacon flavored dog candy first introduced into Dylan’s life by our daughter, Judy, awhile back.  Now Dylan is hooked on bacon treats, and I’m hooked on the fun of giving them to him.

Initially, I would say the words “bacon treat”.  Soon, upon hearing these words, Dylan began running to the breadbox where the treats are kept.  He would stand there, salivating, while I opened the breadbox and got out his treat.

Now Dylan begins salivating the moment he comes in from his morning run–without even hearing those delicious words.  All of which makes me think of Pavlov and his famous dogs.

Back in 1952, when I took that ditzy psychology course required of all University of Wisconsin Liberal Arts students (even those of us who majored in English literature and French!) I was amused, amazed, and disgusted over the lingering fame of a man who discovered that his dogs would salivate when they heard the dinner bell.  Duh!

One doesn’t have to be a pychologist (or even a Russian) to know that when dinner is accompanied by a ringing bell, then eventually the sound of that bell will evoke a response in dogs.  Anyone who has ever lived with dogs (or cats or children for that matter) should know that much about any sentient creature. 

In fact, just a bit of self-knowledge should tell us all we need to know about conditioned responses, without paying homage to some dead Russian who pretended he was doing “scientific” experiments. 

The words “pork tenderloin roast with gravy” and “Dutch apple pie” cause me to automatically lick my chops, and I probably salivate as well.  And I definitely gag in revulsion when I hear that dreadful-to-me word, “asparagus”! 

Dylan is a case in point:  dogs do salivate when conditioned.  But Dylan and I don’t expect to become famous just because I’m telling you about it!  🙂

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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In just a few days, we’ve experienced a 55 degree increase in outdoor temperatures–from 35 below zero to 20 above.  That’s monumental!

No longer is our cozy home chilly around the edges.  At least for a time we can move freely, indoors and out, without dressing like the Michelin Man. 

Chickadees are “chickadee-dee-dee-ing” all over the yard.  The blue jays have returned to their normal size and appearance.  They were puffed up in the severe cold, looking like Michelin Birds. 

We’ll have more below zero days, but meanwhile it’s heaven to enjoy a break!  Dogwood branches poking from piles of snow bring color to our days.  Soon I’ll clip some of the branches, along with bits of that invasive Japanese honeysuckle which we love and refuse to eradicate from our land. 

The cut branches will be placed in a large vase full of water, to bud out and grace the table where we eat–like lingering twilight, heralding the coming of spring. 

While we celebrate winter, it’s not too early to dream of spring.  Come February, things begin to stir–especially our blood!  Come March, the Canada geese and redwings return.  From then on, it’s excitement and change day in and day out.  My spirits soar just thinking about March, April, and May!

How we love the cycle of the seasons.  Winter is beautiful, but how especially wonderful to have a reprieve!

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved


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January is a gift of time.  Time to slow down.  Time to stretch out on a sunny spot of carpet flooded in light.  Time to water the house plants and marvel at their growth.  Freshly watered plants yield the heady fragrance of wet earth, a panacea for winter ills and blahs. 

Time to browse through seed catalogues and dream.  When it comes to gardening, I do far more dreaming than digging and planting.  I guess you could call what I do, “Fantasy Gardening”!  But what a joy to browse through those catalogues.

Time to knit, and time to read.  (Actually, every day of the year is a time to read:  from frozen January to those sticky summer days on the screen porch when a thermometer reading of 92 makes us forget that it was ever minus 30 degrees.)

Over the years I’ve been blessed.  Even though I worked especially hard–raising 6 children and countless pets, keeping a clean and pleasant home, happily providing meals for small armies, and working in a home office for our construction company–I could always find a few moments, especially in slow moving January, to linger in a sunny window and bask in the gift of time.

Even in the busiest years, I refused to be enslaved by time.  I would not allow it to be a tyrant hounding my steps and tempting me to complain about being “so busy”.  With thoughtful planning and organization in the home, I could take time, find time, and make time for whatever I considered to be most important. 

Time is a treasure.  Time is eternity.  God has given each of us a miniscule blink of eternity, to savor in our fleeting moments on earth.

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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I’ve spent the morning getting a new email address, notifying those in my address book, and changing my profile on favorite places for online shopping:  Barnes & Noble, Ebay, Abebooks, Office Depot, etc.  Updating our records is a lot easier now, on the web, than in the old days when we had to make phone calls or mail out changes!

My old email address will be defunct as of January 23, 2009.  I was finding an overdose of junk mail held by Postini, mailed to me from someone using MY email address.  I don’t get how they can do this, and the support people at our email server’s office don’t quite get it either.  But it happens.  I’d never need to know that the junk mail was there, in the quarantined bin, but I do check the suspended mail because sometimes Postini holds a legitimate email which I want to receive. 

Thus the new email address.  I hope that solves the issue of junk mail, at least for awhile.

I consider the web to be a great friend as I can get information on any subject I want to research, and I can shop from the comfort of my home. 

Meanwhile, there are disadvantages and things to avoid!  I know people who will not use a computer or the tremendous services offered online because of “bad internet”. 

Yes I’ve heard that there are bad sites, but no one ever needs to access them!  And thanks to good protection the junk mail never makes it to Outlook Express–and we never see the contents of it.  We delete the dubious quarantined mail without opening it. 

I would ask those who eschew computers and the web: “Do you stay away from libraries because there are probably some bad books there?”  Or, “Do you avoid supermarkets because of the bad tabloids at the checkout counter?”

We are here, in this fallen world.  Our Lord calls us to be “salt and light”, wherever we are!  There are plenty of websites and blogs designed to reflect God’s beauty and goodness.  In fact, that’s why I’m here, sharing my thoughts on a bitter cold day!  🙂

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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I took the above photo this morning, from our front (lakeside) deck.  You can see the clear, blue beauty of a frigid day in our neighborhood.  It’s only around zero–not that radically cold–but the wind chill is brutal. 

Tonight we may hit minus 22, with a windchill of minus 45.  That’s cold.  Joe and I have even decided to postpone our midweek dinner out this evening.  Instead we’ll go easy on this resident cook by enjoying Marie Callendar’s pot pies, and a salad with those yummy California oranges.

Then we’ll watch a recorded sesson of the ANTIQUES ROAD SHOW.  A great replacement for our usual “night out”, when the night is predicted to be so bitter!  It seems almost life-threatening to drive for 12 miles on a sparsely traveled road on a typical January night around here.

When the deep cold sets in, I shut down.  I sit in a sunlit window and read, drink tea, and eat Hershey’s Special Darks–rationalizing that the candy bars are a healthful source of much needed carbs. 

This morning I went rummaging on E-Bay.  That was fun!  I’m looking for funky sea shell art:  boxes decorated with shells, shell-encrusted mirrors, chickens covered with shells, etc.   A  jewelry box, reasonably priced and studded with shells, will soon be on it’s way to join my small collection of shell art objects.  Always room for one more! 

Wherever you are, I pray you are hanging in and enjoying winter!  Try those Special Darks!  🙂

P. S.  Now it is January 15th, and we have a reading of minus 29.  Our daughter Laura is coming today, from the NW corner of Washington State where winters are mild–although this one has been unusually snowy for them. 

Needless to say, we’ll hang in together and drink a lot of tea.  🙂

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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“From whose womb comes the ice?  Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens when the waters become hard as stone, when the surface of the deep is frozen?”  Job 38: 29-30

As I look through our windows at the vast, cold white expanse of a below zero January day, I glean warmth from knowing that God is in control.  He is the Creator of life, the Designer of nature.  He has given birth to our frozen lake, and our snow-glazed forests and fields. 

Beneath the frozen beauty of January, life goes on.  Bears sleep through the cold months, and the sow bears deliver their cubs during hibernation.  (Imagine waking up on a spring morning and suddenly realizing that you are a mother–perhaps of twins or even triplets!)

Chipmunks are not in a deep sleep, but they are out of sight–cozy in their nests filled with a basket-ball sized cache of nuts and seeds.  Sensible chipmunks!

Raccoons den up, too, although they don’t really hibernate–and they come out when things warm up a bit.  Like many of us humans, they stay in when the thermometer plunges. 

(I like to picture fat raccoons, satisfied with the bounty from our bird feeders, lying in bed in their subterranean or brush pile cabins–while reading Charles Dickens on a winter night, just like we do.)

The birds and squirrels are active all winter.  I praise God for them.  When the landscape appears to be dead, the birds and squirrels remind us of the tenacity of life. 

Bluejays, chickadees, purple finches, gold finches (wearing their winter drab), hairy and downy woodpeckers, nuthatches, and the occasional rose-breasted or evening grosbeak cheer us on through the winter.

Squirrels (red, grey, and black–a mutation of grey) chase each other (either amorously or angrily) and squabble over sunflower seeds and scraps of bread.  A day can never seem too cold or too dreary when the squirrels are thumping around on one’s deck, making a racket and offering comic relief!

We’re enraptured by the loveliness of the deer that come to our corn feeder nearly every night–and sometimes even in the day, when our corgi is inside.  We often see the deer when we glance out of our windows, and we have an outdoor camera strapped to a tree–to catch photos as we sleep.  Mostly the does come, but we have one picture of a young buck.

(In February, the deer will begin to herd and visit areas of food supply in groups.  That is exciting, because they tend to gather on the ice in our bay–cavorting and prancing around in the late winter twilight.)

Now in January life goes on, more slowly, more deliberately–yet it is life!  Life pulsating, throbbing, waiting!  How good to know the Creator of life!

How good to know the One Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens!  In just a few weeks, He will melt the ice and snow and awaken His creatures from their sleep.  Then the heavens and earth will burst forth with joyous evidence of His Resurrection! 

Meanwhile, there are plenty of quiet reminders of His life today–when the waters are hard as stone and the surface of the deep is frozen!

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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