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Archive for February, 2009

river-beauty

Mole:  “And you really live by the river?  What a jolly life.”

Ratty:  “By it and with it and on it and in it . . . . What it hasn’t got is not worth having, and what it doesn’t know is not worth knowing.” 

Kenneth Grahame, THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS

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“The tale that River told was so strange, so mysterious, that all the listening in the world did not quite explain all that was in it.  Even River, who seemed to be doing just as he liked, was not entirely his own master.  Something that Sea had said had got into his spirit.” 

Fay Inchfawn, WHO GOES TO THE WOOD

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Today it is wet and 30 degree-ish outdoors, and one has a feeling of intense rapture.  Life is stirring.  Our river has been thawing and running in my dreams. 

Soon the ice will break, in fact it might begin today.  Just a few weak spots where the ice thins from snowy white to a shade of puce, and the current beneath the surface will rise to greet the world for another season of primal joy.

With the first truly open water on the river and bay will come the Canada goose scouts–followed in a few days by the entire triumphant tribe.  Red-wings will return to resound among the cattails with their “O-Ka-Reeeeee“.

Then, as the current cuts loose from its icy prison, River will rush into our thawing bay with a flood of mergansers–snappy black and white males circling around their red-headed ladies in one of nature’s most whimsical courtship rituals.

On that glorious day of open water, I will dance.  Nothing can stave off my shouts of ecstasy when River cuts loose.  Sometimes I actually cry with the blithering euphoria of it all. 

All my life, I’ve been passionate about rivers.  My girlhood home was situated on two acres overlooking a stream where my friends and I rode the ice floes during spring thaws.  (Our parents didn’t know about that!) 

As the season warmed, I caught tadpoles in the river (we called them polliwogs) and kept them in a fish bowl full of water indoors until they hopped out and began frogging around the kitchen.  In autumn the river quieted to a drowsy stillness.  In winter we skated on the river.

Now, in answer to a lifelong passion, I’m at home on a flowage lake.  Just a handful of canoe minutes away lies the Big Elk River–the pristine wild stream that feeds into and creates the bay and lake on which we live.  In spring, summer, and autumn we paddle up and down River, savoring its delights. 

Even during the months of seemingly inexorable winter, River runs in my mind.  When River freezes I close my eyes and dream of swirling water.  When River freezes I go on paddling upstream in currents of dreams.

Soon my currents of dreams will become currents of reality!

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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This morning I charged out of bed at 5:00 a.m.–dithering with excitement, because I have friends coming for a day of spinning, knitting, and lunching.   I took this picture of our lunch table in the early morning, before sunrise.

Making a crock pot full of soup and setting an attractive or funky table for company are among my greatest joys on earth.  I love to mix up the patterns of dishes, dream up whimsical centerpieces, and splash a table with color and verve.  I love having company!

Since we moved to Northern Wisconsin 8 years ago, I’ve been blessed to find ladies who enjoy a leisurely, gracious visit over lunch.  In Southern Wisconsin where we lived before, I had lunching companions gleaned over years of friendship.  (See the December blog entry titled “Vintage Friends, Vintage Amenities”.) 

My cup of friendship is full, and I’m grateful.  Nonetheless, there is a current trend among many women which breaks my heart–a trend which has created a gaping void in the lives of countless younger people.  It seems that fewer women meet in homes today, for lunch or tea parties.  There’s a lack of hospitality, and what’s really sad is that some individuals haven’t a clue that they’re missing something!

What is wrong?  Obviously many women work outside their homes and therefore they don’t have loads of free time.  Yet, these women take lunch breaks.  Why not break for an hour at someone’s home rather than at the SUBWAY shop?

Many women work only part time, and there are still some women at home.  Have they no desire to gather, at least over coffee or tea, and uphold that precious commodity known as “quality of life?”

The reasons for our cultural shift are so myriad and complex, it would be presumptuous to try and provide a single answer.  But the reason most frequently given for the current lack of social gatherings is “Too Busy”.  It seems we have a lot of women who are “too busy”.

Too busy?  At the risk of being accused of riding my hobby horse (which I admittedly like to do) I’ll go back several decades, recalling my own mother and the home in which I was raised.  

For much of my growing up, we had a large Victorian era home.  The “labor saving” devices were:  a wringer washer, a clothes line and clothes pins (indoors in the winter), an iron and ironing board (there were no synthetic fabrics; everything was ironed–even sheets), a coal furnace which needed to be stoked through the long winters, and steam radiators on which our woollen winter garments were hung to dry when we came in from playing in the snow.

There were no fast foods, except what had been canned (and later frozen) by the family.  We washed dishes by hand (still the best way as far as I’m concerned).  My father frequently had business guests who stayed in our home for a day or two, and we served them good dinners on a table set with priorities of order and loveliness. 

Granted, my mother had a girl who occasionally helped with cleaning, but Mom was always right there–with a cotton scarf tied around her head, a mop in her hand, and a pail of scrub water at her feet.  She would never have dreamed of sitting around, or going out, while someone else was in the home doing her work.

We had no supermarkets, but rather individual marts–a grocery store, a meat market, and the quintessential Wisconsin German bakery.  We often walked to these stores, and the shopping took up a good part of a morning.  Shopping in a small town was a social event in itself.

There were no antibiotics for civilian use until after WW II.  Sick children were diligently tended, and this took days–sometimes even weeks out of a mother’s schedule–time gladly sacrificed as diseases such as diptheria and scarlet fever often presented serious complications and could be fatal.  We children didn’t just pop a penicillin pill and rush back to school the next day.

Although my mother truly was “busy”–far busier than some of us can imagine–she was rarely “too busy” to set a table for friends, or to go visiting in her friends’ homes.  At the possible expense of making some readers very angry, I will say that my mother was not just a WOMAN.  She was a LADY!

I’m grateful for my friends–and for being part of a generation that enjoys gathering over tea or lunch.  I hope this tradition will re-surface among younger women in days to come.  Meanwhile, I wonder, “Where have all the ladies gone?”

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

P. S.  Now it’s late afternoon, and we had a fine day of friendship over bowls of soup.  Linda (“Sunshine”), we missed you!  We’ll see you next month!  🙂

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winter-survival-21

. . . you go into ecstasy over smelling a skunk!

I actually did that a couple of days ago.  We were driving on a back road, and we smelled a skunk!  Not my favorite olfactory experience, but it was the first real sign of spring we’ve had. 

We know it’s a promise of more to come–more skunks as well as the return of our bird friends, the emergence of bears from hibernation, and the first spring beauties peaking through snow sodden ground on our back hill.

Yesterday we went to the Park Falls Library.  That’s the only “real library” in our county; it’s large enough to keep the older books.  Since “older” generally means of more literary value, this is our library of choice.  The smaller libraries throw out the high quality material in favor of the dumbed-down stuff that Oprah recommends.  Yikes!

Of course we have most of Northwestern Wisconsin’s books at our fingertips through the inter-library system.  But it’s such fun to go up to Park Falls and browse! 

I came away with a novel which should definitely see me into March when I can keep one ear outdoors, tuned in to the possibility of redwings “oka-ree-ing” in our swamp:  . . . AND LADIES OF THE CLUB, by Helen Hooven Santmyer.  I missed this gem when it came out in 1982, but now it’s in my hands–or at least in our home.

The book is 1176 pages long, with fairly small print in a big hard cover.  Now that’s a book!  I love huge novels, because–like the old fashioned Snirkles candy bar–they last and last.  My most beloved authors of huge novels are Dickens and Galsworthy.  Santmyer’s biggie matches their classics in sheer heft.  I hope it will come even remotely close in quality.  If I finish . . . AND LADIES OF THE CLUB before the redwings come back, I’ll re-read BLEAK HOUSE–or start another Dickens novel that I somehow missed.

Meanwhile, pictured below is the man who undoubtedly did more to awaken, enrage, and energize England’s social conscience than any other human this side of John Wesley!

186

Courtesy of Dover Copyright Free Graphics

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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evening-winter-teatime

. . . every day is Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day is a time for romance.  But for a husband and wife who are lovers and best friends, every day is a time for romance. 

Joe and I grew up as romantics.  Popular songs were romantic in the 1940s, and so were our dances.  Clothing was romantic, and so were manners.  Kissing was romantic.  (Mmmmm!  It still is!) 

Dressing up and behaving graciously were not for the esoteric few, or only for the wealthy.  These qualities of life permeated most levels of our culture. 

After nearly 56 years of marriage, Joe and I still celebrate romance.  I dress for romance, in longish skirts or dresses–wearing slacks or shorts only for digging in the garden, pedaling my boat, hiking, or riding a horse (which I haven’t done for a few years due to old bones). 

Even summer hiking in a flowing dress is far more comfy (and romantic!) than trudging along in cumbersome pants as if I were a guy.  But since I like to sit on the ground, or on logs, I wear jeans for hiking.

I don’t care 2 hoots that the rest of the women in the world are currently wearing pants, and I have no inclination whatsoever to conform to this “fashion” trend.*  My mother wore a hat, gloves, and dress to the meat market.  I enjoy going to our local supermarket similarly attired.

Joe helps me on with my coat, and opens doors for me wherever we go.  We never start eating until the others at the table have their food–even when just the two of us are dining. 

Our home table settings reflect romance.  Pretty dishes and silverware are givens.  I have some lovely family heirlooms, plus wedding silver and china.  But beautiful table items need not be costly.  They are available everywhere, at garage sales, antique and resale shops, and sometimes even at the town dump.

Beauty and elegance are priceless, existing mainly in the spirit in which things are done.  One’s dining table is a creative outworking of that spirit.  A gracious approach to eating is, to us, nearly as important as the food on the table.

I frankly dislike the casualness of this current age.  Careless manners, clothing, and dining habits do not always lead to disrespect and lack of consideration for others, but I think they sometimes open the door.

Long live gracious living and romance!  And Happy Valentine’s Day!

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

*Women’s clothing styles vary with locale.  Here in Northern Wisconsin, I’m one-of-a-kind because I nearly always wear a dress or skirt.  Northern Wisconsin is “pants, T-shirts, and sweat shirts” territory.

But in Colorado and New Mexico, many women wear skirts and dresses–especially the gauzy, “Made in India” kind which I love–or the equally wonderful Southwestern Native American or Mexican fiesta variety.  I’m never “the only one” when I go visiting in Colorado and New Mexico! 

Meanwhile I don’t mind being one of the few skirted ladies here in Wisconsin!  In fact, I love swimming upstream when the current is not to my liking!  🙂

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annual-explosion-4

For the first time in weeks, we’re experiencing temperatures above freezing.  The bitter cold started early in December and, with rare exception, continued through January.  But now there’s a difference.  The earth is turning!

Daylight stretches out at both ends.  We have over 10 hours between sunrise and sunset.  The squirrels, grey and red, are chasing each other with renewed vigor.  Redpolls have moved into the neighborhood, in huge numbers–along with a flock of goldfinches.  The ruffed grouse are rustling in the woods and standing in the middle of our forest roads.  Life is flowing back!

One way I can tell that the earth is turning, is from my response to food.  Every year for awhile after the Christmas holidays, I have a lackluster attitude toward food, and it’s not much fun going to the supermarket.  But about a week ago, something snapped.  Now I’m excited about walking the aisles and throwing things into my cart.  I’m excited about buying, preparing, and eating food!

At a recent church potluck supper, a young woman brought a steaming 9″ x 13″ pan exuding the most heavenly, familiar aroma.  It was an old-fashioned tuna, noodle, and cheese casserole.  I commented, “Oh, COMFORT FOOD!”

My young friend had never heard the term, so I explained that “comfort food” is that wonderful fare on which many of us were raised–or, for that matter, any food which gives us great comfort.  I assured her that even if she didn’t know the term “comfort food”, she obviously knew how to make it–tuna casserole being a splendid example.

Now as I forage in the supermarket, I load up with comfort food–and relish preparing such delicacies as:

Beef pot roast baked slowly all day in a cast iron Dutch oven with mushroom gravy, little red potatoes, and white pepper;

Pork tenderloin rubbed with curry and white pepper, baked slowly, and served with brown rice;

Spam (yes, Spam!  Don’t look so shocked!  It’s delicious!) browned in a cast iron skillet with mustard, brown sugar, and white pepper, and served with corn and peas;

Meat loaf with white pepper and ketchup (Joe makes the meat loaf and meatballs around here);

Turkey soup (made from Thanksgiving leftovers) with vegetables, rice, and white pepper;

Greek spanakopita–phyllo dough with spinach, feta cheese, garlic, and white pepper;

Macaroni, cheese, and kielbasa casserole with white pepper;

And of course tuna, cheese, and noodle casserole with white pepper.

Our grandson, Doug, is with us for a couple of days from the beautiful state of Washington.  For dinner we had a lasagna type casserole with white pepper, French bread, a spinach salad, and ice cream. 

COMFORT FOOD!  Yes, the earth is definitely turning!  🙂

Note:  There isn’t a black bean or even a dollop of white chicken in the above pieces de resistance!  “To each his own!”

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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0571

Before I get into this entry, I need to state that I normally do not like doggerel!  As a lover of real poetry, I run from doggerel.

Having made that disclaimer, here is a bit of doggerel because I am feeling very silly today.  See if you can ascertain the characters or referenced literary works.  I have updated this entry, and included the answers at the bottom of the page.

1)  Medicine could never right
This one who wandered every night.
A wise physician knew the toll
Of sin upon a human soul.
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2)  A man of horrors, all amiss,
He was undone by just one kiss.
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3)  When Rhett wandered out at night,
This woman was his ‘love-o-light’.
Although a kind and generous lady,
She ran a business that was shady.
You’d know her if you saw her head.
Her hair was fire-engine red.
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4)  Frozen fingers kept the books,
Amid harsh words and brutal looks,
Till spooky visitors came one night
To deal out truth and make things right.
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5)  Spurned by love, she lived in gloom
With dust and cobwebs in her room.
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6)  The silliest “woman” anywhere,
She left her eggs in a “gentleman’s” care.
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7)  A homicidal pair for sure,
Yet dressed in vintage lace demure.
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8)  Gruesomely busy, this ruthless fiend
Knitted shrouds for the guillotined.
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9)  Dangerous with vehicles, silly, and lazy,
He nearly drove his friends plumb crazy.
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10)  This lovable, wayward little cat
Got rolled in pastry by a rat.
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11)  Robbing the rich, this legendary gent
Was philanthropic and well-meant. 
Now we don’t need him and his merry mob
Because our taxes do the job.
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Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

Answers: 

1)  Lady MacBeth, MACBETH, William Shakespeare

2)  The Phantom, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, Gaston Leroux

3)  Belle Watling, GONE WITH THE WIND, Margaret Mitchell

4)  Scrooge, A CHRISTMAS CAROL, Charles Dickens

5)  Miss Havisham, GREAT EXPECTATIONS, Charles Dickens

6)  Jemima Puddleduck, THE TALE OF JEMIMA PUDDLEDUCK, Beatrix Potter

7)  Martha and Abby Brewster, ARSENIC AND OLD LACE, Joseph Kesselring

8)  Madame Dufarge, A TALE OF TWO CITIES, Charles Dickens

9)  Toad, THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS, Kenneth Grahame

10)  Tom Kitten, THE TALE OF TOM KITTEN, Beatrix Potter

11)  Robin Hood, English Folklore

P.  S.  The above illustration is courtesy of Dover copyright free clip art.

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winter-survival-2

Occasionally I write about things that are wrong.  But I’ll always desire to tip the scale in favor of those many things that are right–the trends which are blossoming right before our eyes.

A case in point is the venerable craft of knitting.  I grew up with knitting needles and yarn in my hands, beginning at age 8–while sitting on our summer porch and laboring over khaki colored afghan squares for GIs in World War II.

I never stopped knitting, moving from afghan squares to argyll socks (remember, we made them in college in the early 1950s?), to children’s sweaters and mittens–to my own designs for sweaters and shawls, fashioned from my handspun yarns. 

Knitting patterns abounded on magazine racks and in bookstores until somewhere in the early 1990s.  Although we diehard knitters never quit, it seemed like knitting was phasing out as a national pastime.  This would have been terribly discouraging, except for one thing:  the popularity of quilting and cross-stitching proved that hands on hobbies were not dead–just shifting around a bit.

Then, voila.  Around 2000 knitting re-surfaced, seemingly in a way unprecedented since those days when many of us were knitting for the GIs.  Why?  Young adults–men and women–wanted fun and funky fashions which were not available in America’s dull, generic department stores and marts.  The only way to have unique garments was to make them!

Thus young people returned to needles and yarn.  By this time in history, many were not fortunate enough to have knitting mothers and grandmothers who shared their skills.  So what did the young people do?  They went online, and learned to knit.  Thus the frequently maligned computer became a fantastic tool for preserving an old-fashioned craft, albeit with a fun and funky new twist.

Knitting is but one of many beautiful trends mushrooming big time in the midst of technology.  I’ve mentioned quilting–ever growing in popularity.  The local quilters’ exhibits in our sparsely populated county are something to behold! 

Gardening is far more than an occasional hobby these days.  It’s fast becoming a passion–not only for those individuals who want good organic produce, but for beauty and tranquility seekers who find peace in their flower gardens.

Cooking runs rampant.  I hear individuals grouse about how younger people rely on deli and frozen foods–but I simply don’t see that happening!  I have a huge family of young chefs (men and women) who have out-classed me in the kitchen, and that’s saying something indeed because I’m quite proficient at producing nutritious and yummy food. 

Granted, the young ones tend toward white chicken and black beans more than I do, but that’s okay.  It’s good food.  And I continually discover new-to-me seasoning delights, through sampling our family members’ cuisine.

Here’s another growing craft trend, one especially dear to my heart:  letter writing!  I mean the kind of letters that get slid into an envelope, sealed, and stamped with whatever the current postage rate may be.

I’ve heard folks say, “No one writes real letters anymore, since the start of email.”  Again, that statement simply is not true.  Perhaps the person commenting on the alleged demise of “real letters” no longer writes them–but many people still do!

Since 1996 when email first came into my life, I’ve written and received more snail mail letters than ever before.  The letters come on lovely note paper, often homemade–with rubber stamped illustrations, collages, photographic art, or water-colored still life and plein air scenes.  These are savers and I stick them around the house among tea pots, plants, and dishes on open shelves.

Why, these growing trends?  We can glean an answer from recent history.  England’s massive 19th century industrial revolution spawned the Arts & Crafts movement where vintage hand skills were revived as a backlash to the shoddy goods turned out on assembly lines.  Likewise, the Arts & Crafts movement quickly spread to the United States and other countries.

Ultimately Arts & Crafts giants such as Morris and Stickley did use available manufacturing technology to produce quantities of goods–but with the priorities of fine design and skilled workmanship.

The revival of age-old skills is a healthy response to technology and progress in any century.  There is something in human nature which will not be squelched:  the evidence that we are made in the image of a Creative God. 

Whereas 19th century technology involved assembly lines and big machinery, recent technology focuses on electronics.  But we will not be swallowed up into non-personhood by our computers.  Rather we consider the PC to be our friend, enabling us to create more by accessing information and saving time. 

There are websites dedicated to any and every craft and hobby you can think of, often with instructions and always with plenty of inspiration.  From art sites I’ve printed out copies of great paintings, and info on whatever fine artist inspires me at the moment.  I have a huge ring binder filled with Monet, O’Keeffe, and others.  My PC is a virtual library, and I treasure the resources therein! 

The fact that we no longer have to drive to shopping malls for books, clothing, and some household goods–all available online–affords precious extra time (and cash) for creating with our hands.

I thank God for technology, past and present, and the freedom it affords me to pursue the beautiful crafts! 

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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