Archive for February, 2010

Dorothy said it, and I second it:  There’s no place like home!  I follow the tradition of my mother and two grandmothers—all home-loving women. 

When our daughter Martina was 3 years old, she was a social gadabout.  She would get up and play for awhile each morning—and then get restless and say, “I want to go somewhere.  I want to go ANYWHERE.” 

In answer to this ongoing plea, I made up a little song for her:  “There’s no place like home, home is the nicest,” ending with “Home is the place I can really be ME!”  The song worked fairly well on some occasions, and I constantly dreamed up creative projects Martina could do with me at home, but hey!  She was the youngest of 6 children, and her siblings were teen agers and young adults.  Martina and I were alone together at home all day.  Frequently, I indulged her in one of my favorite pastimes:  eating lunch out at a reasonably-priced restaurant and browsing in antique stores and resale shops.  (To this day, Martina and I go lunching and antique-browsing whenever we have some time together!  It’s our mother/daughter thing.)

Martina socialized with people in restaurants and shops, and she charmed the daylights out of folks wherever she went.  She enjoyed visiting my friends in their homes, too, and whenever a  friend gave her the go-ahead signal Martina would explore every inch of the house. 

As Martina grew up, it became obvious to my husband and me that she was a person who would travel far afield.*  This has proven to be the case.  Martina has spent time from coast to coast in the USA.  She has traveled in Denmark, Britain, France, Italy, Russia, Canada, and Egypt–and she has friends all over the globe.  Now she’s finishing up a 4 year stint of teaching in Nigeria.

But guess what?  After being away from Wisconsin since 2000, Martina plans to “come home”.  She will be looking for a teaching job in the Milwaukee or Waukesha area, and she hopes to find an apartment somewhere nearby.  At least for awhile.  Martina gets a bit dreamy-eyed during conversations.  She muses, “You know, I have never been to South America!”

For me, home is RIGHT HERE–wherever I currently live and enjoy my billions of hobbies.  (Please forgive the hyperbole; it’s a literary device!)  Home is HERE where my friends and family can visit, and I can easily visit them in their homes.  Home is HERE, with the same window views, outdoor walks, and pleasant activities everyday. 

I love the details of every day at home—hugging my husband, spoiling my dog with treats, setting a table, washing dishes, dusting and re-arranging pretties on a shelf, sloshing watercolors on paper, practising Fur Elise, knitting funky garments, typing on my blogs, checking the 10-day weather forecast online, reading novels and documentaries set in many different countries and cultures around the world, walking in the neighborhood, visiting with friends, etc. 

Much as I love words, and strive to know their meaning, there is one word I cannot comprehend, and that word is “boredom”.  I have never understood the meaning of that word, and I have no patience with people who say they are “bored”—whatever that might be! 

Martina refreshes me with stories of faraway places and people, which I can experience simply by listening and imagining.  Thanks to an adventuresome daughter, and rooms full of books via which to travel, I can “go somewhere—go ANYWHERE” right here where I love most of all to be:  at home.

*Martina has travel in her gene pool.  My father and his sister, my Aunt Gladys, were lovers of travel.  Dad lived to be 102.  He was fascinated by engineering wonders, and when nearing his 100th birthday he was still talking about how he wanted to tour Egypt and see the pyramids. 

It’s a wonderful thing, the way God made each of us to be different.  As my mother used to say, “It takes all kinds of people to make a world!”

Margaret L. Been—All Right Reserved


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The saying that books are friends is so eternally true, that it cannot be labeled “an old saw”!  More times than I can count, books have come through where people have goofed.

As a new Christian, 39 years ago, I was catapulted into a foreign-to-me culture.  Although I now held the deeper answers to life in Scripture, some questions concerning lifestyle surfaced.  Suddenly I was supposed to be a “church lady”.  But I was shocked and horrified by the church ladies who tried to entice me into their midst.

I discovered that, in this fellowship, church ladies met frequently for “prayer meetings”.  The prayer meetings consisted of a perfunctory opening prayer, lots of cake, and an overload of social conversation mainly focussed on those who were not present.  We were supposed to pray for the absent ladies.  To “help” us pray, personal details of their lives were spilled out for all to hear.  The actual prayer following this chatter consumed—at the most—5 minutes.  Also characteristic of church lady meetings were jokes and criticisms targeted toward husbands. 

After a couple of these church lady gatherings, I realized I simply could not stomach any more!  I have always detested gossip, and I believe that husbands deserve our loyalty.  (If there would be a husband problem, a church woman’s group—or any kind of a group for that matter—would not the place to share!)

When I came to faith, I already had many long-standing friends—some of whom I’d grown up with.  Although most of the women I knew did not publically profess faith in Christ—and they certainly did not run around with Bibles in hand—they were gracious, kind, and considerate.  Gossip was anathema.  My friends were home-loving women, steeped in arts and crafts, committed to creating beauty, and dedicated to gracious family living. 

Hence, the gossipy church ladies were an enigma to me—especially because I had thought that, with Scripture in their hands, they would be extra sensitive kindred spirits.  Not so!  I was soon thought to be “odd” because I didn’t want to socialize with the women, and doubly “odd” because I was so very contented at home—knitting, making bread, reading, etc! 

I had expressed my passion for the natural world (after all, it was God’s witness in creation that finally led me to Him at age 37) and that passion made me appear to be a kind of pagan.  Coupled with my interest in old-fashioned home crafts, my penchant for nature branded me:  I was an old Hippie in the church ladies’ eyes!

You can imagine my dilemma.  I wanted to be friendly to those who shared my new faith, but I was constantly aware of their thinly veiled disapproval of my lifestyle.  Was there actually something wrong with me, for hating gossip (even when it was called a prayer request) and wanting to stay home or hike in the woods? 

God saw my confusiuon and loneliness, and came through by putting the perfect book in my hands:  THE HIDDEN ART OF HOMEMAKING*, by Edith Schaeffer.  I had already found answers for intellectual questions from books by Edith’s husband, Francis Schaeffer.  Now here was a book by Francis Schaeffer’s wife—a treasure advocating the lovely, creative aspects of being a “keeper at home”. 

The chapters in this book deal with ways to incorporate every area of arts and crafts into family living.  HIDDEN ART is a joyous book, and it affirmed that my chosen vocation of homemaker was pleasing to God.  Old Hippie or whatever, I was exactly where I was supposed to be.  The church ladies had it all wrong!

I’m eternally grateful to Edith Schaeffer for HIDDEN ART, and the other faith and family based books she wrote.  According to web sources, Edith is still alive with some of her family in Switzerland.  I hope that somehow this blog entry will reach her or other family members! 

The ongoing ministry of L’Abri, started by Francis and Edith Schaeffer in the 1950s, has produced (and will continue to bear) fruit which will astonish us when we get to Heaven and learn the facts!  And the fruit of this godly couple’s books may be like the stars in the sky and the sands in the sea!

*THE HIDDEN ART OF HOMEMAKING is still available, but now it’s called HIDDEN ART.  Sometime in the 1980s the word “homemaking” was dropped, during a time when homemaking was becoming less popular (how very tragic!). 

Shortly after reading Edith Schaeffer’s book, I met a woman whom I consider to be the best, most thorough Bible teacher in the area:  Judy Dalton, of APPLES OF GOLD ministry.  (Judy is still faithfully teaching Scriptures, at 2 different locations outside of Milwaukee.)  Through Judy’s study, I met many kindred spirited keepers at home.  I left that first church with its gossipy scenario, and never looked back.

Meanwhile there’s a current groundswell of younger Christian women who make bread, knit, and home school their children!  Some of the women even raise chickens, rabbits, and sheep—like I did for 2 decades, on my little “funny farm”! 

I am happy to report that in at least some of our local fellowships, the “church lady” culture has become inspiring and fun.  My friend, Judy Dalton, has had a lot to do with the upbeat focus.  And I know that Edith Schaeffer’s writings have made a positive influence on Christian women as well!  🙂 

Margaret L. Been—All Rights Reserved

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Four years ago this winter, I began experimenting with watercolors.  All that time, I have saved my renderings—storing them in a large cardboard box.  Most of the paintings are not “suitable for framing”, and some are downright awful!  But even the really mediocre attempts tell me something about where I’ve been and how I can grow in this pastime which has become an absolute passion.

In her book, WATERCOLOR FUN AND FREE, artist Karlyn Holman shows ways to recycle “old dogs”*—those paintings which have not pleased us for some reason.  One of the methods Holman teaches is to create collages by cutting out and using parts of pictures to form a new work of art. 

Recently I sat on the bed with my huge box of saved paintings, and found innumerable “old dogs” among them.  Yet in nearly every piece of work, there was something I liked and wanted to save.  So out came the scissors and glue.  What fun I had—cutting, gluing, and feeling as carefree as a 9 year old kid.  Pictured above is one of the collages—salvaged pieces of paintings which were overall failures.  The collage is certainly not perfect either, but it at least I like it!

It occurred to me that each stage of life is a kind of collage.  There are rough spots, weak areas, horrible parts we wish we could do over again.  Yet among these, there are some pieces worth saving.  When cut away from other aspects of the picture and re-assembled with more pieces worth saving, a work of homegrown art can result:  a collage of heartwarming moments and memories. 

Just as I choose from my art box those images that I’ll cut out and keep, we can preserve our good memories—while deliberately discarding the unproductive ones which have caused us pain.  I know this sounds simplistic, and it may take time!  But ultimately it works, when we’re prayerfully willing to do it!  🙂

Margaret L. Been—All Rights Reserved

*In WATERCOLOR FUN AND FREE, artist/author Karlyn Holman tells a humorous story of how she taught recycling “old dogs” in a class, and asked each student to bring “old dogs” to the next session.  One student misunderstood the assignment, and showed up for the next class with 36 photographs of old dogs—the canine variety.

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Here in Wisconsin, illness is an early sign of spring—at least it has always been that for me.  My husband is “down” with a respiratory infection, and I’ve been wandering around like a zombie with a fever of 101 degrees and a sinus infection.

Late winter!  As clear as yesterday in my mind are those ominous signs on houses in the little Wisconsin town where I grew up:  SCARLET FEVER; WHOOPING COUGH; MEASLES; MUMPS; DIPTHERIA.  Most often, the epidemic of signs on houses occurred in the late winter.

A common cold settling into the bronchials was threatening before penicillin was available to whack a bacteria.  Colds could turn into bronchitis, bronchitis sometimes settled into the dreaded pneumonia, and rheumatic fever sometimes resulted.

Pre-antibiotic mothers didn’t mess around when their kids were sick.  They popped them in bed at the first sign of a fever, and kept them quiet until the fever dropped.  I recall how our doctor came to the house every day when I was sick—usually at 6:00 p.m. after his office hours.* 

Memories surface in late winter.  But as I was growing up, the most terrifying illness of all appeared every August and September.  That’s when the enigmatic hand of polio hovered over communities, randomly seizing a child or young adult to paralyze or kill. 

I’m thankful for antibiotics and vaccines!  We’ve come a long way.

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

*Julie H., if you are reading this–that doctor was your grandfather.  A fine physician, and a very sweet man!  And he always told me to eat a lot of orange sherbet, which he knew I loved.   🙂

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Yesterday brought a near Heaven experience.  For the first time since mid November, I sat in the sun. 

While our front door and patio face due east, with park and woods for a view, our garage door faces south and overlooks the condos across the way.  With the garage door down, as a wonderful backdrop to reflect the sun, I sat–bundled for winter–in the sunshine for 30 some minutes, absorbing vitamin D and sketching the condo across the way. 

The above rendering is what I saw with eyes and mind, while sketching.  The building is fairly representative–and it’s identical to the one in which we live.  I dinked around with the color later, when I painted the sketch.  Our buildings are a soft rosey-beige with red brick.  But I go hog wild on color, so there it is.

Years ago, my mother warned me about my penchant for sun bathing.  “You’ll get skin cancer,” she said.  That was in the mid 1940s.  My brilliant mother may have been the only person outside of the scientific community, who knew about the dangers of ultra violet overdose. 

Skin cancer I have had–numerous basal cells and one scary melanoma, fortunately caught while it was only on the surface of my leg.  Yet the benefits of sitting in the sun outweigh the threats, for me.  In all of life, we pick our battles.  Sun screen carries it’s own dangers.  My answer to the negative sun hype is, as the English say, “Pah!”  I know these old bones need vitamin D!

Reflecting on sun, I recall lines from a poignant (1960s-70s) ballad, Seasons in the Sun, by Terry Jacks:  “We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun–but the hills that we climbed were just seasons out of time.”

It has occurred to me that there are no “seasons out of time”, for one who loves the Lord Jesus, and loves life!  We have some glorious seasons, and some cold, dark months.  We have times where life flows seamlessly, and other times when circumstances do not provide “joy” or “fun”. 

But the sun is always up there, waiting to shine on us with all it’s strength.  And most important of all, the SON is with us even when we cannot see the sun or feel its healing warmth.

Here’s to a hearty dose of vitamin D–for body and soul!  🙂

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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Twilight stretching out,

shadows lengthening at dusk . . .

soon the ice will crack.


I shiver with awe . . .

primal presence on the ice . . .

grey Canis Lupus.


Every night we wait,

listening for the shrieking

of mating coyotes.

Finally we hear them

penetrating bedroom walls . . .

howling ecstasy.


Dogwood in a jar

brings promise to our table;

outside, snow is heaped.


Corgi at my side . . .

a mug of steaming cocoa . . .

the moment is good.


Fragrance of moist earth

emerging from fields of snow . . .

winter cannot last.

Margaret Longenecker Been–All Rights Reserved

Published in BRUSH STROKES . . . word paintings by Margaret Longenecker Been, 2006

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I love to show off my beautiful homemade complexion soap.  The soap is everywhere, in antique bowls, on platters, and stacked on shelves throughout our home.

Our daughter Laura, daughter-in-law Cheri, and I are producing heart soaps for Cheri and Eric’s daughter Nicole’s August 7th wedding.  The soaps will be wrapped in pretty net bags, and placed at each plate for the reception which is to be held at Whitnall Park Botanical Gardens in Milwaukee.

Homemade!  There is nothing better!  We live in an age of communication via words–and quite frankly sometimes I’ve had words up to my eyeballs!  Literary words, as in classic poetry and novels, YES!  I can’t get enough of those words.  But today’s words–text messaged, emailed, and even blogged like my words–get old fast.  How refreshing to be still and make things with one’s hands.  I believe I could survive without talking (although some might doubt that!) but I know I’d go bonkers if I couldn’t make things with my hands.

At a ladies’ luncheon last week, we talked about how–when we were brides back in the 1950s–we embroidered our kitchen towels.  These bits of memory make my heart sing. 

Now despite all that is wrong with our culture, the magazine racks tell me something is right!  There’s a plethora of periodicals available on the subjects of knitting, crocheting, scrap-booking, quilting, beading, cooking, gardening, home decorating, etc.  I am not the only one on this planet who derives sustenance and life energy from making things.

The desire to create with our hands is part of our birthright, for we are made in the image of a creative God.  Whereas He created Heaven and earth out of nothing, we make things out of materials already made.  Yet the desire to create is evidence of God’s imprint on our lives.

Pictured below is our grandson Joelly, who cannot “play it straight” for a photo shoot.  (I love his silly faces!) 🙂 Joelly is wearing a scarf and hat ensemble which I made him for Christmas a few years back.

Hands that spin, weave, knit, and make soap (and many other venerable home products) are happy hands! 

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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Romance . . .

warm as Stardust pouring from a trumpet,

golden as yellow rosebuds in a wrist corsage,

intimate as hearts in sync for an evening.

Romance . . .

warm as honey pouring from fresh baked bread,

golden as the shafts of dawn across our garden,

intimate as hearts in sync for a lifetime.


Margaret Longenecker Been–All Rights Reserved

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The young ladies pictured above are not really old enough in years to be called “old friends”–yet in essence they are exactly that.  Chrissie (left) and our daughter, Martina, are currently 34 years old, and they’ve been friends since 9th grade.  At present, their lives are separated by an ocean.  But when they do get together, once a year or so, it’s like no time has elapsed.  Chrissie and Martina will always be “old friends”!

When I was a Girl Scout, back in the 1940s, we had a song we sang in a round:  “Make new friends, but keep the old.  One is silver, the other gold.”  As time passes, I realize more and more the truth of those words. 

This week I’m scheduled to entertain my “gold” friends for a luncheon at our home.  There are nine of us left in the group, which has met monthly since circa 1962.  Each of us takes a turn hostessing a luncheon once a year, and on the leftover months we meet at a restaurant.  But gathering in the homes is the best!

We call ourselves, “Talk and Eat”, or simply, “Club”.  Most of us went to Wauwatosa high school together–and some of the ladies have been friends since grade school days.  During the years when Joe and I lived away from this area, I missed my friends–but we kept in touch.  Now I’m back in the loop.

I’ve reflected a lot on the subject of friendship, and have come up with some “givens”–qualities and characteristics that build strong friendships and transform them from silver to gold as the years pass.  Here are a few of those givens:

1) Friends respect one another’s space.  Little considerations count, like asking “Do you have time to chat?” when calling on the phone.  We do not barge into each other’s kitchens, unless asked to help.

Good friends do not ask personal, blunt, or crass questions–or bring up a sensitive topic unless encouraged to do so.  Good friends do not consistently dump their personal problems on others.  Good friends do not try to dominate, monopolize, manipulate, or in any way use other people.  Considerate friends do not stoop to meaningless flattery, nor do they draw attention to other people’s appearance with airhead comments  such as “You are so tall!” or “You are so short!”

Occasionally, during one-on-one visits between close friends, heart to heart sharing is appropriate–and there are times for speaking the truth in love, even when the truth is unpleasant.  Honesty is vital to a friendship.  But saying whatever pops into one’s mind is rarely edifying.  The person who is consistently “frank” is probably just trying to attract attention and dominate others with her thoughtless, head-on comments.  We do well to avoid people like that!

Frequently, conversation must be serious–and a meaty exchange of ideas can be especially stimulating.  But good friends also like to talk about subjects that are simply creative and fun!

2) Friends reciprocate.  Reciprocity is essential in all areas of friendship.  Perhaps the most obvious area is that of conversation.  One simply cannot relax and enjoy the company of a person who is driven to dominate a conversation.  It is hard for many of us women, myself included, to deliberately stop talking and listen thoughtfully to others.  When another person is talking, we want to load our guns and get ready for our next barrage of words–rather then listen assiduously.  But NO!  Conversation is worthless (and totally exhausting!) when it is not reciprocal!

Reciprocity is also important in the area of entertaining.  In our ladies group, each member enjoys serving the luncheon–yet we all love to visit the other homes as well.  If I were to hostess tea parties and luncheons decade after decade or serve coffee mornings for friends who never bothered to invite me to their homes in return, I’d begin to think I was not greatly valued as a friend! 

Sometimes people don’t reciprocate because they think they don’t have what it takes to entertain.  This is totally understandable when poor health limits one’s activities.  No one expects anyone to go beyond his or her physical limits. 

But to worry about the size of one’s home, or the quality of the dishes or silver, is stupid.  It is the gathering that counts, the opening of one’s home and sharing in a spirit of hospitality.  We can have tea parties on cardboard boxes (I’ve done that plenty of times when in the process of moving!)–and dinner soirees in crowded rooms, on paper plates.  

When my time and energy is limited, or when I invite an especially large group of people, I sometimes feature a “Bring Your Own Lunch” party–where all I do is supply the hospitality of home and coffee.  This is loads of fun, with virtually no effort on my part.  So long as we welcome people and thrive on sharing whatever we can, our guests will enjoy their visits! 

The issue is to enjoy rather than to try and impress. Graciously serving a lovely meal–be it on china or paper plates–flows effortlessly from a heart of love.  Welcoming friends on a “Bring Your Own” basis is gracious too.  The spirit of hospitality prevails in an open home!

3) Friends value considerate manners.  Manners and social customs have been bad-mouthed in our casual age where sloppy clothing and crass behaviors are rampant.  What a tragedy

Manners, for instance table manners, are marks of care and consideration for others!  I’m not talking about ostentatiously curving one’s little finger in the air when sipping from a tea cup.  I’m referring to the obvious marks of loving consideration:  saying “Please pass . . . .” rather than reaching in front of someone and grabbing; not eating until the host or hostess is seated and has begun to eat; not talking with food in one’s mouth, and not chewing with one’s mouth open.

4) Friends share life experiences.  This takes time.  The women in my luncheon group have shared joys and sorrows for more than half of our lives.  We grieved over the loss of two members who died in 1997, just a few weeks apart from each other.  We’ve recently shared the sorrow of members who have lost family members.  Going back over the years, we encouraged each other when our teen age children rebelled and we rejoiced as these young ones got their lives back together.  We frequently laugh (long and hard!) over our memories and escapades.

5) Friends share values.  Members of our ladies’ group may differ in political persuasions, but there is always the underlying value of home and family.  We care about our families, and we care about each other as a family of friends. 

Although our homes vary drastically in architecture and decor, one constant prevails:  a sense of order.  Each member is creative in her own way.  This creativity is enabled and enhanced by an atmosphere of order in the members’ homes.  We are created in the image of God–a God of order.  When order is reflected in a home, visitors are refreshed and edified.

6) Friends don’t gossip!  “DUH”!

7) Friends share a cultural heritage.  This “given” is flexible.  It’s certainly desirable, enjoyable, and life-enriching to cultivate friends from many cultural backgrounds, and I’ve been blessed over the years to do that.  I love to learn about other cultures and make new friends from far-away places!

But those “gold” friends, those individuals who are thoroughly comfortable to be with–as comfy as a pair of old shoes–are frequently people who grew up under similar circumstances.  Just as family members have the family of origin in common, long-standing friends tend to share a cultural background.

My “Talk and Eat” group is a case in point.  We ladies had mothers who loved to serve a nice luncheon party for their friends, and for us when we were little girls.  Now we are “big girls”, happily carrying on the rich traditions of friendship!  We are gold!

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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Tomorrow Joe and I plan to take our daughter, Judy, and her husband for lunch at our favorite Mexican restaurant–Casa del Rio, in Waukesha.  Three weeks ago today Judy was in ICU following a cardiac arrest.

Yesterday Judy and her husband took a batch of yummy homemade cookies to the Waukesha Fire Department, as a “thank you” to the Rescue Squad instrumental in saving Judy’s life.  There it was discovered that Judy was without a heart beat for 15 minutes, not the 8 or 10 minutes which we had originally thought.

Fifteen minutes!  And now this woman is home reading books, welcoming company, and eager to get out and do things.  Mexican restaurants are among her favorite things to do, along with cruising local antique malls–which Judy and I expect to do together soon.  The Waukesha Rescue Squad was on the ball.  But only God can restore an individual who has checked out for 15 minutes!  It’s truly AMAZING GRACE!

In view of Judy’s experience, and the recent disaster in Haiti, I’m especially aware of how life can change drastically in minutes or even seconds.  This awareness is currently underscored by a novel I’m reading:  THE TREMBLING HILLS, by Phyllis A. Whitney–set in San Francisco in 1906.  The author devotes several well-researched chapters to the violent earthquake that wracked the San Francisco Bay area in April of that year.  Always, when I read historical novels or documentaries, I do my own research via GOOGLE–to assess what I’ve read in the novel, and also to learn more about the period and subject.

Here is a clip from http://earthquake.usgs.gov/regional/nca/1906:  “At almost precisely 5:12 a.m. local time, a foreshock occurred with sufficient force to be felt widely throughout the San Francisco Bay area. The great earthquake broke loose some 20 to 25 seconds later, with an epicenter near San Francisco.  Violent shocks punctuated the strong shaking, which lasted some 45 to 60 seconds. The earthquake was felt from southern Oregon to south of Los Angeles and inland as far as central Nevada.”  Bill Ellsworth 

The website lists the following 1906 California earthquake statistics:  lives lost–over 3,000; buildings destroyed–28,000; monetary loss–more than $400 million.  Much loss was due to fires that raged in the wake of the earthquake.

Only God knows what will occur next month, next week, tomorrow, or even a few seconds from now.  Again and again I think of the motto:  “Life is fragile.  Handle with prayer!”

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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