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Archive for September, 2011

Meet Duffy, my long lost friend from the 1970s—lost, when he got hit by a school bus full of neighborhood children who loved him.  Duffy’s sad demise never removed him from our thoughts, and we often recall humorous incidents involving this friend—one of many four-footed friends in my lifetime (before and since Duffy) who have consistently proved that there is substance to the title, “Man’s Best Friend”! 

I believe that every sensitive person can benefit from a canine friend.  People will let us down, but dogs never do.  People will make us furious, but dogs never do.  People will make us cry, but dogs never do.  The only time a dog will break our heart is when he or she dies!

To borrow a bit from Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “How do I love thee” Duffy, Heinie, Tucker, Katrinka, Wicky, Mitzy, Solomon, Sheba I, Sheba II, Mandy, Hans, Tasha, Meeghan, and—-oh my precious contemporary, Baby Dylan?

I love you because you are sweet, no matter what variety you happen to be.  However, I’ve never had a Pit Bull.

I love you because you talk with your eyes; they make a lot more sense than some humans’ words.

I love you because you sleep close by, and comfort me in the night with your snoring.

I love you because you are funny, and communicate your sense of humor to me many times each day.

I love you because you never pass presumptuous judgments.

I love you because you never leap to conclusions like humans do, or pontificate—except when I say “cookie”, “walk”, or “bath”.

I love you because you respect me and therefore never give unsolicited advice.

I love you because you are never “nosey”, except when you want me to pet your nose.

I love you because you never ask personal questions about things that are none of your business.

I love you because you love me “just as I am”!

I love you because you are YOU!

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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Recently I read an article in Time Magazine titled “Chore Wars”.  The piece began by describing something most of us recall:  how when large numbers of women began working out of the home, they would come home at night and have to do all the home and family duties as well.  These were the “Super Women”, and many of them were understandably frazzled until their husbands realized that keeping a home is not only “woman’s work”. 

When a woman is away from her home for many hours each week, she does need help—especially when there are children to care for.  Fortunately for me, my husband has never been uncomfortable with helping.  At various periods when our children were growing up, I did the bookkeeping and office work for our family business.  My office was at home, so I could always be on hand.  Yet the work was time consuming, and vitally important.  Joe often pitched in and fixed a Sunday pancake breakfast, or a yummy supper of Swedish meatballs so that I could take a “time out” during those busy years. 

Joe continues to help me a lot, even now that we are retired with lots of leisure.  He cheerfully vacuums and folds laundry when needed—which, given my chronic spinal issues, is quite often.  But formerly many men of our generation (and older) would have considered their manhood compromised—and wouldn’t have been caught dead doing “woman’s work”.  It was a blessed break-through for women with outside careers, when their husbands began to carry a share of the jobs at home.  When a husband and wife share their duties, “home” can always be a place of refuge and refreshment.

Meanwhile, back to the “Chore Wars”.  Even though I’m an analytical reader, I found nothing in that magazine article with which I could take issue—except for a “vibe” that I picked up on my “attitude radar”:  a sense that the writer of the article puts most aspects of homekeeping in the category of drudgery.  I was annoyed by the author’s subtle inference that homemaking is a burdensome “chore” rather than a precious privilege to be savored and nurtured in a spirit of creativity, with the priorities of providing comfort and a creative quality of life. 

As I read the article, I recalled those years when I worked as an office person.  I remember the tremendous relief that swished over me whenever I finally finished balancing the ledger for the day.  (Yes we had ledgers where, just like Scrooge, we entered the Accounts Payable and Accounts Receivable and balanced each page with our head math rather than by calculator—while detecting and correcting even the slightest discrepancy, be it only 7 cents.) 

How liberating it was when I could close the huge ledger, leave my office, and go for a walk with a child.  How refreshing it was to prepare a meal for the family and guests, wash my china and polish the silverware, make a batch of soap, putter in the garden, or hang the clothes on the line outdoors.  How relaxing and soul-satisfying to iron vintage tablecloths and pillowcases—while inhaling the fragrance of line dried linens, steamed and pressed. 

I was blessed to have a husband who was willing to help when necessary—and I was thankful that, in the later years, I could hire a cleaning lady to assist me on occasion.  But my home has always been my sanctuary—the only place on earth where I consistently want to be!

How do we view our work?  It’s a matter of attitude!

Margaret L. Been ©2011

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I named the above rendering “Autumn Creeps In”.  There is a subtly to September, even considering that this year the air is prematurely snappy.  We’ll will undoubtedly have some warmish, golden Indian summer days in October.  Yet autumn is creeping in at a consistent pace. 

Beauty!  Color!  Invigorating Days!  Bittersweet Reflections!  All of these characterize the season at hand.  Recently I’ve been wrapped in bittersweet reflections—recalling the riches of the short summer from which we are emerging.  June remained chilly, and I kept a handspun, hand knitted hat in the car until early July.  Then summer began in earnest.  How languid, how lovely—except for about 5 unbearably hot, sticky days when we had to turn on air conditioning which we absolutely hate to do!

Summer guests, summer afternoons on the patio, summer evenings with frog serenades ringing from the gardens beneath our windows, summer rains (not enough of them, however), summer ice cream outings, summer, summer, summer!  We grab hold of summer in our souls, stash it in our cupboard of poignant memories, and dream of it in January when it’s 10 below zero in Wisconsin (or 30 below zero up north where we lived for 8 years).  Summer!

This week I’ve been thinking seriously about autumn creeping in, and I’ve responded accordingly.  House plants have been moved from our patio to a spare table in Joe’s den.  Most of our house plants never went out for the summer, as we have doors and windows open nearly around the clock and it’s like a garden indoors.  African violets stay inside all year, relishing their eastern exposure and the shelter of our living room.  Most of my jades, Christmas cacti, orchid cacti, and aloe plants stay indoors in our southern windows.  But a few jades and cacti have been hanging out on the patio for the last 2 months, adding to the decor.  Now all have been garnered in.  Soon the Christmas cacti will be stashed away in a dark closet, resting and preparing to bloom.

Today I dismantled our sweet little patio fountain, as those inevitable early frosts are advancing from the north.  Any night now, icy fingers could move in—snipping here, blanching there, and freezing the water in fountains.  Our fountain (with a hidden electric pump) consists of 3 levels of pretend rocks (actually fiberglass, but very realistic and rocklike) over which the water tumbles—plus a small girl and a family of ducks.  Carefully I dismantled the 3 sections, wiped the pieces dry, and transported them to our garage on the seat of my 4 wheel walker.

Now the little girl and her ducks have been re-assembled (but not in the operating mode) in a far corner of the garage, where I keep treasures:  seasonal wreaths, decorative odds and ends, junk from rummage sales, etc.  It’s fun to wander and browse among stuff in our garage.  And even during winter’s bleakest period there are sunny days when Joe and I can bundle and sit inside our garage on comfy chairs, while pretending we’re staring into a New Mexico sky.

We have a large fountain in our community pond.  Soon it will be shut off for the season.  I’ll mourn the loss of moving water, while knowing the fountain will resume it’s refreshing showers next April.  I’m thankful for the small indoor fountain which graces our living room table of African violets.  The sound of water tumbling from this diminutive ceramic “friend” will cheer many winter days.

Along with bittersweet reflections, comes the anticipation of additional hours for indoor pleasures—including extra time to knit, and spin gorgeous wool on my spinning wheels.  During the colder months, I keep a spinning wheel in front of our surrogate (electric) fireplace.  What a cozy place to sit and spin. 

Stacked in my corner studio are many paintings and collages in progress.  And for every piece waiting to be completed, more paintings and collages are lined up in my head—just waiting to be born on paper or gallery wrapped canvas.  Even when the autumn color fades, indoor color will prevail!

A new piano book of easy-version Scott Joplin rag tunes has arrived in the mail, and I’m getting a handle on “The Entertainer”.  “Maple Leaf Rag” is a bit more challenging with 4 flats, but (God willing) I’ll learn to play that as well in the coming weeks.  There are 18 rags in the book—enjoyment forever.  I have music for each day and every mood.  I love Mozart Beethoven, and Chopin.  And I also love ragtime, especially Joplin’s works!

Soapmaking is ongoing in my kitchen, as I supply many family members and friends with my beautiful facial (and body) soap.  The thrill of a creating a new batch of soap never grows old.  Our home is redolent with rose, wisteria, sandalwood, patchouli, and (for occasional novelty) soaps scented with of coffee and chocolate fragrance oils. 

(When we moved to a condo 2 years ago, a friend was shocked to hear that I was still making soap.  “You make soap in a condo?” my friend asked.  I answered something to the effect that I will always want to go on living, no matter where!  Maybe this friend thought that I should just zone out and twiddle my thumbs, since I was advancing in age and now living in a condo!)

And then there are books, books, books, books, and more books!  Within a few minutes of our door are 2 libraries, in different directions.  Although we don’t fancy many of the newer books due to their inferior writing quality and mediocre content, we love the used book sales which are frequent at the libraries.  These sales never let us down.  As we come home with bags of “new to us” used books, we add to the leaning towers of books against the walls of our home.  A KINDLE® or NOOK® would never be welcome at this treasure trove of tattered covers, coffee stained pages, and people who are passionate about real books!

So you see, as autumn creeps in my bittersweet reflections give way to downright enthusiasm.  Spring and summer will return.  In the meantime, what a wealth of joyEach day is an adventure to be embraced and celebrated—regardless of the season!

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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“The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.”

Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”

In my lifetime I’ve read English language poetry, French poetry in the original French, and the poems of many world cultures in translation.  My passion for the poetic voice grows as I age.  There are many poets (including me) and poems (including mine).  But then there are GREAT POETS AND GREAT POEMS!   I have volumes of “GREAT”, and I’m wearing the pages down while building my soul with reading.

Of all the poets I love—including John Keats, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Emily Dickinson, Alfred Tennyson, Robert Louis Stevenson, William Butler Yeats, John Masefield, Dylan Thomas, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and many others—two rise to the top like cream:  William Shakespeare and Robert Frost.

The significant feature that Shakespeare and Frost have in common is a combination of clarity and simplicity, clothed in rhyme and meter which the music loving reader can never forget.  The clarity of message has “holding power”, as lasting insights are gleaned and preserved from the simplicity of language used by these two poets.  There is no embellishment, no embroidery work in their verse—no tricks to stumble over and confuse the reader, unless you can call alliteration a “trick”.  I don’t think it is, any more than the classic use of harmonic chords in a musical composition could be called a “trick”. 

Clarity is impossible apart from simplicity.  Consider the plain language used by both Shakespeare (if you discount a few archaic words like “forsooth”) and Frost.  Plain language conveys life wisdom, as nothing else on earth can do.  Apart from reflecting on life wisdom, we humans cannot live sensitively and circumspectly as we were designed to live.  When plain language is embodied in soul-imprinting rhyme and meter, the reader grows in his or her understanding of life!  Here is a case in point:

“Blow blow, thou winter wind.

Thou are not so unkind

As man’s ingratitude;

Thy tooth is not so keen,

Because thou art not seen,

Although thy breath be rude.”

William Shakespeare, AS YOU LIKE IT

Simple English words, clarity of meaning, and universal life wisdom—-encompassing many cultures and customs!

Robert Frost spins his life messages in earthy symbols and metaphors, which any lover of poetry (and nature) can easily decipher.  “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep” (inviting the poet to retreat and give up,  or just “get away from it all”).  “But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep . . . .”  (The poet cannot give up because he has people who need him, loved ones who depend on him, work yet to be done on earth). 

Metaphors and symbols are never obscure when 1) They are based on widely familiar visuals, 2) They are expressed in plain language, and 3) They speak to universal emotions and issues.  Great poetry may be profoundly personal, but it is never entropic; it is universal in scope.  Great poetry is simple, clear, understated, and it is musicalhence its lasting power.  Just as haunting scores (such as the melodies from PHANTOM OF THE OPERA) role around in our head, structured poetry stays in our mind.  Great poetry is unforgettable.

Robert Frost wrote “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” at what may have been the darkest hour of his personal life.  He wanted to give up, but he didn’t.  Instead he focused on the fact that he had promises to keep.  Dark times are a human universal.  You have dark times.  I have dark times.  But like the poet, we have promises to keep and miles to go before we sleep!  We are inspired and uplifted by Robert Frost’s resolve!

Clarity, Simplicity, Musicality, Wisdom:  These are the ingredients of a fine poem.  These are also some of the ingredients of a good life!  The ages have provided a wealth of great poetry.  The world would do well to slow down, read the work of past poets, and reflect!

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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The 9/11/2011 memorial service at the Pentagon underscored for me the value of reverent ceremony.  I believe that we humans desperately need ceremony with substance behind it.  Obviously, down through history there have been ceremonies and rituals devoid of meaning—and some which have been perverted, pagan, and even evil in content.  But as a civilized nation, allegedly a CHRISTIAN nation (which I wish the USA could still claim to be!) we need ceremonies such as yesterday’s 9/11 memorials—ceremonies which quiet our hearts and minds, cause us to reflect, and encourage the best in us.

Ceremony is characterized by respect, a quality sadly lacking in mainstream America today.  Ramifications of our culture’s lack of respect (and lack of ceremony) may be evidenced in poor manners, which are rampant.  Crass table manners, loud cell phone chatting in public, and sloppy attire at occasions which call for a degree of formality are just a few indications that our nation no longer stands on ceremony or values respectful manners.  Even the ceremony of singing our National Anthem at our pro-football games is highjacked by soloists who belt out “The Star Spangled Banner” as if it were some tawdry nightclub “tune”. 

I’ve always loved high school and college graduation ceremonies.  To me, the concept of a young person launching into adult life is immensely touching.  How disillusioned I was, years back, when I attended a University of Wisconsin, Madison commencement where champagne corks flew and many of the graduates horsed around noisily during the program! 

Conversely, I was recently encouraged to witness a commencement at St. Norbert’s College in Green Bay, Wisconsin where an atmosphere of decorum prevailed, where participants and viewers were inspired by the fact that dignity and respect are not totally dead!

Yes, it really is all about respect!  Respect for our flag, and the values represented therein.  Respect for occasions requiring solemnity.  Respect for others.  Respect for all of life! 

At the everyday level, I treasure ceremony wherever I find it!  When a gentleman opens a door for me, I’m effusively grateful.  My husband and I grew up in families where standing on ceremony was a given.  Hence, to this day my husband and I wait until all diners are seated at our table before beginning to eat—even in situations where we all get our own food at a buffet.  My husband taught our sons to seat me at the dining room table, just as he seated his mother when he was young—just as my father seated my mother!

Table manners are expected in our home.  We try to remember not to talk with food in our mouths.  There is nothing that disgusts me more than the sight of someone talking while chewing, and worse yet talking with food falling out of his or her mouth!  These may seem like little details, but they are tremendously important.  My husband and I want life to be as gracious and pleasant as possible for each other, and for anyone else around us, under all circumstances!

Ceremony!  Respect!  I’m thankful that we saw glimpses of it around the country, in our 9/11 memorials.  I pray that we could see more of it in everyday life!

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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Remembering . . .

September 11th, 2001:  We had just recently settled into our Northern home.  It was one of those “perfect days” in that seasonal pause which is not quite autumn, but not quite summer. The sugar maples were turning.  The day was warm/cool.  We had a house guest, our friend Bud.  Joe and Bud were fishing in the bay, just beyond our pier.  The three of us were anticipating a late breakfast of fresh fish.

The phone rang; it was our daughter, Debbie, calling from Southern Wisconsin.  She sounded stunned:  “Mom, turn on your TV!”

Margaret L. Been, 2011

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I frequently meet for lunch with friends from high school; now we are talking about friendships of 60 plus years!  Old friends are comforting and comfortable.  One never needs explain oneself to old friends.  They know who you are.  They know who your parents were.  They recall your youthful endeavors and dreams.  If you’ve kept in touch with old friends as I have, they’ve tracked with you over the years.  They still know who you are today!

New friends are delightful as well.  Often they come from different locales and family backgrounds. New friends share our interests while widening our perspective and understanding of other places and traditions.

My wise mother once said, “Throughout the years you will have a variety of friends.  Each one will be unique in a special way.”

How true!  I have a friend who shares my love for gardens, rummaging, and English cottage decor—and another friend with whom I could literally spend a long day into the evening, discussing books and films:  not only the plots or subjects of books and films but the characterization, character development, character changes, psychological overtones and undercurrents, humor and pathos, irony and subtle innuendoes, historical significance, literary allusions, and metaphorical content.

I have friends who share my love for God’s Word, friends who are fellow fans of dogs and cats, friends who identify with my passion for nature and the out-of-doors, kindred poet-friends who savor gathering for a morning of reading aloud, friends who entertain me with tales of their travels, knitting friends, spinning friends, music-loving friends, friends who relish meeting for a day of making art, friends who share my passion for Israel and Ireland, friends with whom I can laugh, and friends with whom I can cry. 

A friend is one who knows your heart, and encourages you in those creative pursuits which mean the most to you.  A friend is never sarcastic.  A friend desires what is best for you, and responds accordingly in actions and speech.   

Daily I pray that I can always be a friend!  🙂

©2011, Margaret L. Been

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