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Archive for November, 2009

 “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks by night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.  Today in the city of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’ “  Luke 2:8-11  (NIV)

I really get fed up, hearing people grouse about Christmas being “so much work”.  Yes, even some Christians view shopping, gift giving, decorating their homes, and entertaining as “chores”.  Also irritating are those dour-faced Christians who classify our Christmas traditions as something pagan to be avoided. 

Tragically these folks just don’t get it!  We have been given the greatest gift ever known to man, the gift of salvation–the good news of great joy!  How can we react with an over-burdened attitude or dour face to that

Throughout Scripture, joy is commanded for those who love the Lord.  With God’s Holy Spirit indwelling us, our lives are to be an ongoing worship of thanksgiving and joy!  Doesn’t it then follow that we should celebrate our Lord’s birth with unreserved joy?

I’ve completed my Christmas shopping, something I’ve always considered to be a privilege–never a chore!  I spend within my means; fun and funky gifts do not have to be expensive, and useful gifts are reasonably available as well.

Before Thanksgiving, my husband and I decorated our Christmas tree and our home.  We’ve begun hosting our family holiday gatherings, as we love to share our joy.  

During times that my body registers pain and my energy wanes, I simply cut down on any extra activities–and do less in the kitchen when entertaining the family.  We can easily buy pleasant food at a nearby deli, and the point is visiting with the people–not knocking their socks off with my culinary skills. 

Our family members know how to help in the kitchen, and they can take over when needed, without being invasive.  Praise God, there are many of us and we are natural and relaxed together.  When my body gives out there are always additional hands to take over where I left off, so the party can go on!  Wherever we’ve lived our children, adult grandchildren, and their spouses have worked beside me in my kitchen–like seasoned hands fitting into a comfy old glove.  What a joy to be surrounded by family!

Whereas Joe and I loved hosting many Thanksgiving and Christmas meals for decades–often setting our tables for from 18 to 30 plus guests–now some of our children have taken over entertaining the large groups.  Our condo is perfect for smaller gatherings.  Whether the groups be large or small, Joe and I have thoroughly enjoyed them, and we hope to go on sharing special occasions for years to come. 

Three of our children and several grandchildren (as well as great-grandchildren) live nearby.  Three more children live in faraway places:  Washington, Colorado, and Africa.  But they all have the gift of hospitality, welcoming guests at their tables wherever they may be. 

One daughter, here in Waukesha, is the chef at the Waukesha Salvation Army facility.  Judy serves countless people each week–individuals who thrive on her high quality, yummy as well as nutritious meals!

I’m tremendously thankful for people with whom to share our blessings.  And most of all, I’m thankful for our beautiful Savior whose birth we love to celebrate with JOY!

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

P. S.  The circa 1963 worshippers pictured above are 3 of our 6 children, from left to right as you view the page:  Laura, Debbie, and Eric.

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Nearly every week, I run into people who read this blog.  From the feedback, I get the idea that Baby Dylan is a popular character.  Dog people tend to flock with other dog people.  And it seems that Dylan’s hilarious adjustment to condo living has become legendary.

Because Dylan has fans, I thought a current photo of him might be fun to post.  I have photos from past years, but nothing fresh.  Ha!  Little did I know, that Dylan has added camera-phobia to his list of silly quirks.

Each morning when Dylan wakes up, he goes for a walk with Joe.  (I would happily be the dog walker, but back issues prevent that at present.)  When the guys come in from their walk, Dylan gets a dog cookie which he proceeds to hide hither and thither around our home. 

He starts with burying the cookie in the blankets on our bed, then changes his mind and carries his cookie to other stashing sites.  His cookie appears, disappears, and re-appears many times in a day before Dylan decides to eat it. 

Yesterday I got out my camera and tried to capture the cookie’s first burial, among the bed dressing.  But Dylan, with his new found phobia, was too quick for me.  He saw the camera and split, leaving me with a shot of his butt descending from the bed.  Then I discovered that I had the camera on the wrong setting.  Instead of a snapshot, I had a video of Dylan’s butt descending from the bed.

I didn’t give up immediately.  I followed Dylan all over the condo with my camera–and he simply would not let me anywhere near him as long as I had that thing in my hand.  Finally I put the camera back in its case, and Dylan came to me immediately for kisses and hugs.

Today I got a bit smarter.  When Dylan made his bee line to the bed with his cookie, I was waiting for him with the camera tucked behind my back.  Voila.  I surprised him with the cookie in his mouth, and got the above shot before he flew off the bed.  This was a split second maneuver, but it paid off.   

Now you can see Baby Dylan in all his glory–with his cookie.

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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Nestled among the Fenton, shell pink milk glass, depression glass, antique vinegar cruets, heirloom lamp, 19th century sawtooth crystal, and 21st century decoupaged tea tray, you will find one of the greatest of our household “treasures”:  my elegant handmade complexion soap.

When we moved to our condo in Southern Wisconsin in September, we left my soap making supplies at our northern home.  There was so much to move, just to settle in here and start living, that my beloved hobby had go “on hold”.  I rationalized that we have enough of my soap to last for many years, so we could retrieve the supplies later.

It’s odd, how one can miss a part of one’s life so terribly that there’s an empty spot in the heart.  I reserved a vacant niche in the storeroom of our new home, as a waiting dedication to the art and appurtenances of soapmaking.  Indeed, I wasn’t quite “all here”, because my soap making materials were 290 miles away.

But then 2 weeks ago we made a north run, and brought back many of the “left behinds”–including the soap making paraphernalia.  Now my molds, packets of organic pigments, a case of sodium hydroxide (lye)*,  designer base oils, perfume oils, stainless steel soap kettle, a digital scale, and 2 quart Pyrex measuring pitcher are neatly and conveniently arranged in the storeroom (which is mine and mine alone, because Joe has a lot of storage cabinets in our garage).

Yesterday we received a delivery of my favorite base oil, beef tallow.  The gorgeous snowy 52 pound block of rendered fat came from Columbus Foods, in Chicago.  Joe sliced the block into 10 rectangular increments, and these are stored in the freezer in our garage–waiting to be pressed into service.

It’s fun to glance back over the years and recall the development of a hobby.  I made my first “soap” (quotes needed as that attempt produced something really weird) with a bunch of women in a large church kitchen in Milwaukee.  We each brought our rendered bacon grease and left over fats from pot roasts, etc. 

Soap making is not a thing to do away from home, and en masse.  The techniques were iffy, and the sloshing-around-in-transit of my fledgling excuse for saponication caused separation of fats and lye.  Not good, not safe, not in any way desirable to have around–and suitable only for quick disposal in a double layered garbage bag.

Many (maybe most) individuals would have quit there.  Why did I persist?  As I discarded my awful “soap”, I knew the process was just beginning.  A dream had grabbed me.  I would learn to make beautiful soap.

A few weeks later a daughter, a friend, and I made soap–this time in the quiet, controlled environment of my own kitchen.  Although the soap was not fancy, we did use clean rendered beef tallow (no more of those grease-can leftovers) and our soap turned out to be white and lovely.  From that day on, we never again used commercial soap in our home.

Soapmaking never grows old.  Although it’s a chemical process, there are variables.  I have charted years of batches, noting the ingredients used and results.  In the beginning, failures were not uncommon–but I kept on, inspired by the successes along the way.  Now I understand enough principles that my batches are consistently fine–only varying from a standard of excellence when I goof up on my measurements.

Over the years, a lot of people have wanted to make soap with me.  Some of these folks think it’s a cute, homesteady thing to do–not understanding that it’s an expensive hobby.  Along with the tallow, which I now buy rendered, I use costly vegetable oils with emollient qualities:  apricot kernel, coconut, a smidge of castor, avocado oil–and that Lamborghini of oils for soapmaking as well as culinary purposes, olive oil.  After the base oils and sodium hydroxide have blended to a frosting-like consistency, perfume oils are added–and these are especially costly. 

Conversely, the pigment powders I use for color are fairly inexpensive, and a bit of powder goes a long way.  But when most of the ingredients are tallied you can see that soapmaking is like knitting with designer yarns:  we do it only because we love it, and never to “save money”.

Homemade soaps are superior in every way to commercial face and body products.  Commercial “soaps” often contain petroleum oil (detergent!) which is drying to the skin, plus harsh preservative ingredients.  Glycerin, that priceless skin-edifying ingredient which is a by-product of the saponification process, is removed in soap factories so that it can be marketed for the manufacture of pharmaceuticals and explosives.  In homemade soap, the glycerin remains–doing what God intended it to do for our skin.

For years I sold my soap at fairs and a farmers’ market.  But that got tiresome.  Factoring the Wisconsin sales tax and filling out the required forms almost drove me nuts, because the tax varies with the county in which one is selling.  Sometimes the demand for soap was greater than I could supply and still have enough soap left for the members of our large family, who had begun to realize that there was nothing on earth quite so wonderful as homemade soap.  So I quit selling forever.  Instead, I give the soap as much appreciated, special gifts. 

Now one of our daughters is making soap, big time.  Her soaps are gorgeous; she seems to have circumvented the trial and error stage which consumed my early years of saponifying.  Two other daughters have made a few batches of soap, and undoubtedly will make more.  A daughter-in-law has been hooked by this fabulous hobby.  And we have granddaughters who are potential saponifiers.  Like true love, the good things go on and on.

If you have read through this long entry, there’s a chance that you are dreaming of making soap–if you have not already started.  I will share a couple of authors whose basic methods can serve to start you on your saponifying career:  Ann Bramson and Sandy Maine.  Just GOOGLE their names, and you’ll find great resources at your fingertips–plus info on where to find these ladies’ books.  There are many other books out, on the subject of soapmaking, but those of Bramson and Maine are (in my opinion) the most helpful.  Best of everything, as you embark on one of the most exciting hobbies on earth!

*People have asked me if they could make soap sans lye.  I don’t think so.  As far as I know, some form of caustic soda must be used in the soap process.  The sodium hydroxide form of lye is the refined ingredient in beautiful homemade complexion soaps such as those which I make in my kitchen.  Extreme care must be exercised when working with sodium hydroxide.  (I have never made soap when small children or pets were underfoot.)

Sodium potash is the pioneer ingredient, created by pouring boiling water over wood ashes.  You may see this soapmaking process at living history museums such as OLD WORLD WISCONSIN.  The pioneer soap is not an elegant, skin enhancing luxury product.  Unless you delight in doing things the primitive way, or enjoy attending a Rendezvous, you probably won’t ever want to do the sodium potash thing. 

All soap must be aged for several weeks before using.  In this time, the caustic soda textures out and is no longer lye–just as the oils are no longer oils.  You have created a NEW THING–SOAP! 

My soap is gentle and beautifying to the skin–perfect for baby humans, adult humans, and my dog!

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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In the Pond--2

John Keats certainly had it right when he wrote the above words about autumn.  And so far this November is as gentle and mild as I imagine an autumn in England would be.

We are savoring every moment of the season.  This morning we headed north for our breakfast, through little villages, past soybean and corn fields.  Most of the beans have been harvested, but many stands of corn remain as the corn harvest sometimes goes into early December.

Flocks of Canada geese are gleaning the harvested fields, along with sandhill cranes and gulls–those migrants from the big water east of us.  I wonder as I see the Canadas, if any of them might be of the same group that “summers” in our Big Elk River up north.

We wind circuitous roads, up and down through scenic hills.  We’re thankful to have state and county highways that meander, just as they did decades ago when they were not so heavily traveled.  Even now these roads are peaceful, except during weekday rush hours when workers are coming or going from the little subdivisions tucked away amongst the fields and forests. 

Subdivisions notwithstanding, farms still abound along our local byways.  Many of them are hobby homesteads and/or “gentleman farms”, but they are farms nonetheless.  We delight in seeing evidence of a quality of life on the land.

Joe and I ate at what has become one of our favorite restaurants in our new locale:  a rustic place about 15 miles from home.  The place has a miner’s atmosphere with wooden walls, floors, and furnishings–and Tiffany style lamps hanging everywhere.  The food is awesome (to use that overworked but still efficacious adjective) and the price is do-able for us on a regular basis.  Most of all, I think we love the restaurant because it reminds us of places our son Karl and his family have taken us in the Colorado mountains.  One can close one’s eyes and recall the high altitude!

As if all of the above were not enough to constitute a perfect morning, we made one more stop–at a local shopping center where I completed my Christmas shopping.  Too exciting! 

In just a few more days, we’ll begin decking the halls!  Then the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” will give way to “the season to be jolly”!  🙂

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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