Archive for April, 2009


Every year about this time I’m visited by The Ghost of Springtime Past.  It’s a happy “ghost”:  two decades worth of delightful memories–recollections of our sheepy days in the 1980s and 1990s, on our little hobby farm in Eagle, Wisconsin.

Actually, the sheepy days began in the 1930s when I was a kid.  My mother and older sister read fairy tales to me, as any good mom and sister would do.  But I was a strange child.  Instead of getting absorbed in the plots of these tales, or worrying about the fate of Briar Rose and that hapless damsel beleagered by a ruthless Rumpelstiltskin, I got side tracked on a detail which the stories have in common:  the spinning wheel

Wheels went around in my head as I listened.  I couldn’t imagine anything more wonderful than a spinning wheel, even though I’d only seen one in story books!

Like most youngsters during World War 2, I learned to knit.  Again, my patient mother and older sister presided.  They sat through my struggles, teaching me to knit and purl as I fashioned khaki wool yarn into afghan squares for GIs.

Spinning wheels!  Wool!  Those words were rooted in my soul!

Many years later, as a young mother in the 1960s, I resumed knitting–making sweaters and mittens for our children.  Still the wheels kept spinning in my head.  Then, somewhere in the 1970s, I learned that the spinning wheel was making a comeback.  New wheels were being produced by skilled craftsmen, as well as in factories.  People were actually spinning wool (and many other fibers) into yarn for knitting and weaving

With this epiphany of information, I awakened to a whole new world–the world of spinning.  In 1980 I bought my first wheel.  Shortly after that we bought our three acres in Eagle, and turned those acres into a funny farm which we called “Sheepy Hollow”. 

I raised a small flock of sheep–nearly twenty years of ewes serviced by rented rams.  Lambs cavorted around our place every spring.  Now that we are happily retired in Northern Wisconsin, our sheep live on in photos and memories–and of course in their wool.

My sheepy days will never end.  When we moved here, I brought bags of wool accumulated from two decades worth of shearings.  Even though I have been faithfully spinning over the years, the wool is inexhaustable.  I’ve shared wool with friends, and I still have enough to keep me spinning through the present millenium.  Maybe the wool is growing in the bags!

This spring I hope to buy a freshly-shorn fleece from a friend who raises Border Leicesters.  There is nothing like burying one’s nose in the fragrance of fresh raw wool, moist with lanolin.  Even when I simply think about that aroma, the Ghost of Springtime Past whooshes over me.

The experience of feeling and seeing the wool, as it feeds through my fingers and winds onto the bobbin, is just plain euphoric!  Sheepy days are a happy daze!

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

P. S.  As a Christian, I believe that expressing our God given creativity in some way is terribly important!  There are so many options, one could never list them all–but every individual can choose to find joy in everyday life, and somehow reflect that joy.  We were made in the image of our Creator!

For more thoughts on creativity and the Christian, please see my current entry on http://gracewithsalt.wordpress.com/

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My junk-focused blog entries have spawned a spate of enthusiastic responses via comments on the entries as well as through email and letters.  What a fun-loving network of junkers we are!

Here is a bit that I wrote awhile back, for a fellow rummager.  It can apply to all of you kindred spirits out there:

To a Fellow Forager

For countless days of questing,
tracking county roads and off-beat trails,
seeking “gold” in worn enameled pots,
dented copper bowls and rusted pails . . .
For afternoons of sheer delight
in treasure flaked and faded over time . . .
clouded bottles, china chipped and crazed,
to cherish for a quarter or a dime . . .
For serendipity of junk acquired,
and troves of memories the years unfold,
I lift my coffee mug of battered tin
and toast the ecstasy of all things old! 

Margaret Longenecker Been, 2007

All Rights Reserved

P.S.  Remember the rules!  The stuff we “don’t need” and “don’t have room for” is most fun of all!  🙂


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The green face of spring (pictured above) is three weeks away, along with the time of bursting buds and wildflowers rejoicing in the meadows and woods.

Now we’re enjoying the tawny face of spring.  Tentative green shots appear in areas, but we are still in the stage of post-winter brown.  I love each face of spring as it comes, and have no desire to hurry any of it along.

The redwings are claiming their territories in the swamp surrounding our home.  The Canadas have paired off, and are nesting.  We hope they’ve planned to hatch their goslings on high ground.  

Sometimes the Canadas lay their eggs on hummocks of grass in the river, before the torrential downpours which we’re apt to get in May.  We’ve seen nature’s little tragedies in past years–eggs and nests washed out due to low ground and high water.

You will not catch me cleaning house or preparing elaborate meals during these first few warm days of spring.  Now it’s time to live outdoors as much as possible. 

You will catch me strolling up the hill to the woods to view the landscape from on high, sitting on our swing by the side of the bay, and soaking up sun (and sun tea) on our front deck which is sheltered from the north wind. 

Today I bugged out early to attend my first rummage sale of the season.  No treasures were found, but I came home with my soul abounding in the mellow-ness of it all:  driving down country roads, chatting with country people, and praising God for the faces of spring.

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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My Victorian era born mother never crossed her property line without one!  She wore precious little pill boxes and birds’ nests of velvet and veil to the meat market as well as to tea parties.  The wearing of hats has been a woman’s gracious custom, honored for centuries up until recent decades.

I love hats, and will never let the custom die out.  However, my tastes run to huge hats with wide brims rather than pillboxes and bits of velvet.  I could have managed the Edwardian era, with its gigantic headgear trimmed with fruit, flowers, birds, and streamers of silk.

The above-pictured hot pink cowboy hat was purchased not “out West” where cowboy hats belong, but in the stressful little touristy town of Minocqua, Wisconsin.  The store where I bought it is always waiting for the Chicago cowboy trade, but fortunately I got there first.

Recently my cowboy hat accompanied me to Colorado, a natural environment for wide brims.  Pictured with me at the Denver BLACK EYED PEA restaurant are two Western born and bred hombres, grandsons Joel and Nathaniel Been.

Hats off to hats!

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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Welcome to our back porch, the one off the drive as you enter.  (In lake homes, the waterside entrance is considered the “front door”, even though it cannot be seen from the drive.  The driveway entrance is the “back door”.)

Our back porch is a surrogate extra kitchen.  No we don’t cook there, but Joe cleans fish on the porch and we fill it with “kitchen junk”. 

A case in point is the charming vintage gas stove.  Not in the picture but also on the porch sit an old hot plate with kettles, a 1940s aqua blue Sunbeam MixMaster, an antique tin breadbox, and various other timeless treasures.

Junk!  One can look for it in shops and attics year round.  But April through September are the most glorious junking days in our climate.  And springtime is the best season of all. 

Spring is the time when people are most apt to “clean house” and “downsize” while piously pontificating about “getting rid of clutter”.

Spring is the season when I most dearly love to “upsize”.  I santimoniously acquire more clutter–while loving every creative moment of the process!

What is more exciting than the thrill of the hunt?  For junk, that is!  Rummage Sale signs pop up everywhere in spring, and one never knows what lies around the next bend.  There is always adventure; there is always intrigue!  And it’s most fun, when rummaging, to play by the rules.  Here are a few of them:

1)  Never ask “Do I need this thing?”  It’s great to find a needed item at a garage sale, and fortunately that happens sometimes.  But the real ecstasy lies in finding useless stuff.  I’m committed to saving stuff from the trash heap!

2)  Never ask, “Do I have room for this thing?”  If you are like me, of course you don’t have room for it.  But you will make room, somewhere, somehow!

3)  Never ask, “What will my children do with all this junk when I am dead and gone?”  That will be their problem, not mine.  And chances are they’ll have a blast sorting it out. 

4)  Never say, “But this won’t fit in my vehicle.”  Think!  Somebody you know has got to have a pick-up or panel truck!  Rent one if necessary, rather than eschew an item that tears at your heartstrings!

5)  Never say, “But it’s too heavy!  I can’t handle it.”  Again, think!  You must have friends, neighbors, or relatives.  (You can rent one of those piano-mover’s dohingies if necessary.)  A few years back Joe brought me a piece de resistance in the form of an outhouse, and enlisted a neighbor to help him with the hauling.

6)  Never say “Never!”

I hope you will join me vicariously in a happy season of junking!  All that is needed is a small amount of cash and a willingness to follow the rules!

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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What a glorious day!  It is nearly 60 degrees.  Although the nights are still in the 20s, and the lake is skimmed with ice, our bay has thawed.  Mergansers cavort in groups, several males swimming in circles around one female who can’t seem to make up her mind.  The Canadas are pairing off. 

Northerns are spawning, and bald eagles soar over frequently, eyeballing for dinner.  Today for the first time, I spotted a loon in my binoculars–out in the deeper water where the thawed bay meets the ice-encrusted lake.  Spring!  Too exciting for words, yet I always try to find words for it.

Where we used to live, in Southern Wisconsin, gardens are being prepared for another season of growth.  I recall tentatively removing the last season’s dried stems and leaves around the middle of April when we lived down there. 

But here, 285 miles north, we let our gardens rest and recover from winter until far into May.  It’s tempting to pull out some dead plant material and see if anything green is lurking below–but totally foolish.  We’re apt to have frost and quite possibly more snow for several weeks.

However, climate doesn’t stop me from a beloved form of gardening–junk gardening.  Today Joe and I began retrieving odds and ends of junk from areas of winter shelter.  Until we can actually dig in the dirt, I’ll plant junk. 

Old enameled pans, rusted garden implements, spring coils from trucks plus unidentifiable tools and spare parts culled from the junkyard, oil cans, derelict chairs, bird cages, defunct coffee pots, and bits of broken pottery are a few of the treasures which provide our landscape with unique beauty and whimsy–to be enhanced by our hardy Northern perennials which will spring up around the junk in a few weeks.

The above photo shows a garden bed now abounding in rocks which surfaced in the process of digging a new well last summer.  Beneath the rocks are ever-blooming bleeding hearts.  Since I’ve never been able to eradicate ever-blooming bleeding hearts, I have faith that they will rise up from under the rocks.  If the plants don’t come back, so be it!  I think the junk garden is gorgeous “as is”, don’t you?

How wonderful to spend hours puttering around the yard–planting junk!  Tomorrow I’ll get out my collection of cobalt blue bottles, to stick on dead branches around the yard. 

Now, having shared our afternoon of joy with you, it’s time to brew some strong black tea to drink out of enameled tin mugs.  We’ll sit outdoors in the remaining sunlight, and survey our gardens of junk!

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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This week we relive history’s greatest sorrow, and eternity’s greatest victory!  The Lord Jesus Christ died in our place, to pay the sin debt we can never pay.  The Lord Jesus Christ is risen, to reign forever!

As I sat and watched the sunrise this morning, I reflected:  He is risen!  Our lives are transformed, moment by moment, when we know and truly believe that He is risen, alive, and faithfully fulfilling His plan.  Each moment has meaning when we know that He will return to earth as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

More than we can begin to express, we believers look forward to our celebration of Easter.  What a sad, drab world it must be for those who do not know our Savior:  those folks for whom Easter Sunday is just another day to be spent in work or recreation, people who have no concept of the reality of God!

In her reflective book, TEACHING A STONE TO TALK, Annie Dillard wrote:  “On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions.  Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke?”

Our mainstream contemporary culture, estranged from God and the truths of Scripture, mocks that power!   The Bible and Bible believing Christians are subjects for derision.  But the time is coming soon when God will unleash His power, and all the nations of the earth will see Him in His glory. 


Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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In The Wasteland, T. S. Eliot called April “the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.”

Indeed the poignancy of renewed warmth and the rushing rivers of spring cannot be denied.  We can almost feel the blood coursing through our arteries, as memories of past springtimes shake us from our soul’s winter hibernation.

Rushing rivers, yes!  But renewed warmth in April?  Not quite.  In Northern Wisconsin that doesn’t happen until (often way into) May!  I grew up to the strains of “April in Paris” and the English poets’ version of April.  But Wisconsin is neither Paris nor England.  I’m thankful for that!

For Northerners, April is a time of transition.  As I write, snow flakes are dropping gently to the ground–melting into puddles of muddy slush.  A bald eagle soars overhead.  The Canadas are back, hunkering in the open river by night while waiting for the ice to go out in our bay.  When that happens, the mergansers will swarm in, to delight us with their hilarious mating act–and, if we are blessed as we’ve been in the past, the tundra swans will arrive.

The red-wing males are here, selecting their homesites in anticipation of their ladies’ arrival.  Along with the red-wings are their traveling companions–the Grackles:  trees full of Grackles, porch railings lined with Grackles, feeding trays abounding in Grackles.  

It could potentially be a Gothic “Hitchcock scene”, except that the Grackles do not spell doom for us.  They signify new life–and a boisterous, optimistic take on life at that!  There’s something of contagious rapture in trees full of noisy grackles!  They have what the young people call “Attitude”!

I love the slow, unraveling process of spring in our Northern land–with capricious April as a buffer between those sub-zero winter mornings and the heady invasion of warm weather in May.  We have time to stretch and shake the frosty cobwebs from our spirits.  We can awaken slowly, appreciatively, before being catapulted into the balmy, blithery side of spring. 

I love April.  No foolin’!

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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