Archive for November, 2011

“Just in front of him he saw three beautiful white swans advancing towards him from a thicket . . . . ‘I will fly to them, the royal birds, and they will hack me to pieces . . . .  But it won’t matter.  Better to be killed by them than be snapped at by the ducks, pecked by the hens . . . .’ 

“So he flew into the water and swam towards the stately swans.  They saw him and darted towards him with ruffled feathers . . . .  But what did he see reflected in the transparent water ?  . . . his own image, but he was no longer a clumsy dark grey bird, ugly and ungainly.  He was himself a swan . . . . The big swans swam round and round him and stroked him with their bills.”

From THE UGLY DUCKLING, by Hans Christian Andersen

Ever since I can remember, Andersen’s UGLY DUCKLING has moved me to tears—and it does to this day.  I’m mopping my eyes after typing the above quotes! 

In 2005 I began my art adventure, and I’ve often thought of the UGLY DUCKLING.  Having always loved art and desired to participate in that world, I was totally unprepared for the reception I’d receive as an embryo painter from the REAL artists—those who have worked professionally at their calling the way I’ve worked at my profession of writing, from childhood on. 

I’ve been literally “bowled over” and stunned by the joyous attitude of acceptance on the part of artists!  When I began painting in 2005, I wasn’t completely surprised that family members and a couple of very gracious friends responded with enthusiasm.  The children never dreamed that Mother “could do that”, and since they love me they probably missed the fact that I really wasn’t doing very much at all at that point—just blopping some paint around on paper.  My choice of in-your-face colors seemed to resonate with viewers of those early renderings.

But I metaphorically hid in the woods, when it came to sharing with the real artists I know.  That would be going too far, I thought—just too presumptuous of me, to stick one of my paintings in the face of someone who knows what he or she is doing artwise!

Then somewhere, something SNAPPED!  I knew I’d discovered a fantastic pastime.  Since sloshing paint and glueing stuff on paper were so personally rewarding, so indescribably delicious, it suddenly occurred to me that the pleasure of doing art outweighed all other considerations and concerns! 

Finally, I began showing my work to friends who are real artists.  Rather than hack me to pieces like the UGLY DUCKLING thought the swans would do to him, these compassionate souls responded with approbation because I was doing something I loved!  They made constructive comments.  They welcomed me as if I were actually “one of them”, causing me to understand that there are many levels of art—and there is room for every one of us, no matter whom we are or what we can do!

Although there are volumes of rules concerning art making, we in the 21st century know that art can also be a world without rules.  That’s a huge part of the art charm and allure for people like me!  All of my writing life, I have been conscious of rules.  Not so, with art.  Every one of us is different—and artists know that.  Some are excellent, and some are “world class”.  I’m happily just “me”—ever learning but never driven, as I sometimes felt when I wrote for publications and competed for awards. 

For me, painting and collaging are arts without angst.  I never wonder, “Is this clear and understandable?”  I love that element of mystery in art.  There is always the remote possibility that someone will view a piece of work and say “AHA”!   If not, I am still more complete for having created the rendering. 

I realize that my art is a subjective discipline.  When we go off half skewed in writing—or even more so in music composition—we are apt to lose anyone who is not as crazy as we are.  But in art, there is room for everyone. 

Part of the art acceptance which has totally warmed and won my heart may be based on the fact of COLOR.  In general, artists are colorful people.  We love to wear color on our bodies, we like to dress like one of our paintings, and we reflect color in our work.  No matter how skilled or inexperienced, we are bonded by a mutual passion for color. 

Artists are visual beings and that makes for an exciting lifestyle—a lifestyle where all are welcome.  🙂

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

NOTE:  My first edition of this entry was posted early today.  Later, I returned to “check it out”, and I discovered many errors.  In the process of correcting typos, I began hewing and hacking away at the content of the piece—and eliminating chunks which had nothing to do with the main focus.  This is the life of a writer!  Although I do make additions and corrections to my art renderings, I hope I’ll never edit them as ferociously as I edit my essays!

If you, dear reader, were caught in the midst of editorial changes to this essay, please refresh your browser and try reading it again so it makes more sense!  Thank you for your patience!  🙂 MLB

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Now that turkey leftovers are resting in the freezer, we begin our Christmas celebrations.  With a large family, there is no such thing as “too soon”.  Actually, I normally trim our tree early in November of each year.  When Daylight Saving ends, and that sudden thud of darkness descends, the glowing lights and holiday preparations are welcome!  By mid-January, when we stash our ornaments and tree for another year, the sun will have resumed its faithful return trip North.  Meanwhile, Christmas lights are a panacea for diminishing daylight—and so are the holiday gatherings with loved ones. 

We had our first Christmas celebration last Friday with our Grandson Joshua and his family.  Josh and Kelly have three beautiful young ones—Ethan, Cole, and Baby Ella who just turned 1.  In fact, we celebrated Ella’s birthday along with our early Christmas.  Of course we’ll all be together again over the coming weeks, but Joe and I love to gather with each family individually as well. 

Below, you’ll see a delighted Great-Grandma and three of her treasures (wearing the hats which I knitted for them):  left to right—Cole, Ella, and Ethan.  So many reasons to REJOICE! 

Most of all, I rejoice in the Lord Jesus—The Reason for the Season!  🙂

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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Where can I begin to thank our Lord?  I have nothing but thanksgiving:  for God, and whom He is; for salvation, and the promise of eternal life; for more blessings on earth than I can begin to count—a happy childhood, ongoing cultural opportunities, a precious marriage of almost 59 years, a large and loving family, friends, a sweet dog, fresh air, the beauties of nature, a pleasant and comfortable home, food to eat, clothes to wear, a bed, a plethora of books, and an abundance of creative hobbies.

Where can I begin?  Perhaps with that huge blessing which is not listed above, yet one for which I thank God every single day:  FREEDOM.  With all that is wrong in America, we are still free.  We can publish our views around the world, via the internet—without censorship—at least for now.  We can choose our children’s education.  We can worship in public.  We can read our Bibles and pray in coffee houses and bistros, without fear—at least for now.  We are still free!

I read a lot of historical novels and documentary non-fiction on the subject of Irish history.  Actually I know Irish history nearly as well as I know that of my own country!  As I read, I think over and over:  Lord thank you that, with God’s enabling, my ancestors (many of Scottish and Irish descent) were a part of our American Revolution.  The tenacity of the Irish people, like that of our early Americans, stirs my heart profoundly!  

I thank God that, throughout history, that there have been countless heroes who sacrificed everything they had for the cause of freedom!  And of all those heroes, no other people on earth loom larger in their quest for freedom than God’s chosen people—the Jews.  I’m thankful for American history, Irish history, and for the Jewish people and the nation of Israel.  

Meanwhile although Christians everywhere have inner, spiritual freedom in Jesus Christ, much of the world is still in physical bondage.  I praise the Lord Jesus for His promise to return, and reign on earth as King of kings and Lord of lords.  Someday, hopefully soon, the entire world will be free! 

“Yea, many people and strong nations will come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord.”  Zechariah 8:22 

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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I write a lot about our “full house” of old stuff.  But I do want to share that I appreciate those of you who love the composure and serenity of extra space in your homes!  Indeed there is something very soothing about three interesting things on a table, as well as thirteen.  I do understand your way of seeing!  🙂

The beauty of uncluttered space impacts me whenever we drive through Nebraska or the Dakotas.  Those vast expanses of corn and wheat pressed against a big sky are heartbreakingly lovely!  I never tire of road trips west.  Open spaces tend to surface in paintings reflecting my passion for nature’s beauty.  Hence the above rendering, titled “Deep Powder”.

It is so good that we are all different!  That’s one of many reasons why people are interesting and precious!  How routine it would be if everyone on earth had to walk sideways to get through the furniture groupings in their homes—or found themselves bumping into stuff in the dark of night!  (Around here, things don’t “go bump in the night”.  People do!)

Along with the fact that I’m incurably sentimental about “stuff”, perhaps my love for clutter (albeit organized) is partially due to my reptillian metabolism!  I actually think and move rather slowly—although I’ve been known to talk fast!  Perhaps my decorating style is a kind of visual caffein, keeping my sluggish grey cells as alert as possible throughout the day—just as that ubiquitous “cuppa Jo” keeps my body circulating. 

Meanwhile, I’m thankful that every individual has an unique way of expression in his or her choice of surroundings.  What a blessing!  And without a doubt, The Master Designer has created the most gorgeous decor of all:  priceless views of water, prairie, mountain, and sky!  🙂

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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Thanksgiving 1973 in Brookfield, Wisconsin—starting at 4:00 a.m.↓ 

Were you there?  Probably not at 4:00 a.m. but maybe later in the day.  Anyway, Joe was there to take the pictures.

Have a blessed one in 2011!

Love from the Beens!

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Our patio is no longer our “living room”, unless we bundle snugly and clutch a mug of hot coffee.  The dried leaves are poignant reminders of the sunny green months, now stashed away in memory, like potatoes and carrots in a root cellar—waiting to be unearthed for winter nourishment.

This glimpse of garden glory was captured the day before a killer frost ended the reign of the mums.  Now they have drooped, and they are looking earthward—anticipating their long sleep.

The garage is ready for winter.  Vestiges of warmer days are stored here with the accoutrements of fishing and gardening, outdoor decorations, and our wonderful, weathered vintage croquet set.  The Christmas wreath and funny little fake tree—both gleaned at rummage sales for a few cents—will be pressed into service soon. 

On some of the most bitter winter days, Joe and I sit in the sun in the shelter of our south-facing garage and luxuriate in the sight of summer stashed and waiting for a new season of rejoicing outdoors.

I have never been to Africa, but since I’ll soon have a Nigerian son-in-law the great continent of Africa is close to my heart.  A glimpse of sunrise over our Southern Wisconsin park reminds me of pictures I’ve seen of the Serengeti.  Of course a giraffe or two would have to replace that line of trees in the background of the photo.  And in Wisconsin we do not have any lions lurking behind a bush.  I can’t say I regret that!  The domestic cats I know delight my heart, and satisfy my need for feline wildness in my life!

Here are some reasons our sixteen great-grandchildren should enjoy winter.  I recently completed the last one—the wee baby hat on the bottom right.  This little pink chapeau has been presented to the parents-to-be, and quite possibly Baby Mia will wear it home from the hospital in early December.  The remaining hats will be Christmas gifts.

Hot tea has replaced my beloved iced beverage for a few months.  My consolation lies in the hot tea paraphernalia, which in this instance includes most of my ethnic roots:  a Swiss tea kettle, English teapot/cup/and saucer, and Scottish Breakfast Tea ready to sip.  (The cream in the tea is Wisconsin raised.) 

The gorgeous green in the new kettle could reflect my Irish heritage, but alas—that heritage was Orange not Green, although my political sympathies have always been with the Green!  And I don’t see any Alsatian artifacts in the picture.  But I’m sure I could find a bit of German chocolate to go with the tea.

Now we drink our tea beside the (electric) fireplace, rather than outdoors.  Overseen by my collage art, the fireplace mantel collection of dysfunctional clocks and watches reminds me that time is relative.  Each piece tells but one time, correct only twice in twenty-four hours. 

There’s a lot of mellow living to be had when we realize that the aesthetic beauty of a clock far exceeds its worth in practical terms.  Each season in our Wisconsin homeland beckons us to suspend time, savor the moment, and contemplate that which is eternal!

“For a thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.”  Psalm 90:4

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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 “The sea is His, for He made it, and His hands formed the dry land.”  Psalm 95:5  

November 10th marks the 36th anniversary of the sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald in a horrific Lake Superior storm.  “The Pride of the American Side” was carrying a maximum cargo of taconite pellets from Superior, Wisconsin to a mill near Detroit, when the storm destroyed the ship and its 29 crew members.

We in the Midwest clearly recall the 1975 tragedy because we live in the vicinity and culture of the Great Lakes.  But the event is also remembered nationwide, and perhaps even worldwide, due the power of narrative—especially narrative set to music:  in this case, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald composed and performed by Gordon Lightfoot.  The narrative and repetitious musical score is haunting, and it has become a modern pop classic.

Each year the Mariner’s Church in Detroit, Michigan holds a memorial service for the crew of the Edmund Fitzgerald.  Until 2006 a bell was tolled for each of the 29 men who died.  Since 2006, the Mariner’s Church has enlarged the service to include an additional, inclusive bell toll for all who have died in the Great Lakes.  Also, the bell now rings once for each of the five Great Lakes, once for the St. Lawrence Seaway, once for the St. Clair and Detroit rivers and once for members of the military who have perished. 

The Mariner’s Church is served by Rev. Richard W. Ingalls Jr.—the son of the rector who first rang the bell in 1975 for the Edmund Fitzgerald crew.  In a memorial service, Rev. Ingalls Jr. addressed the line of Gordon Lightfoot’s narrative:  “Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?”

“The love of God doesn’t go anywhere,” said Rev. Ingalls.  He went on to proclaim that the love of God always was, always is, and always shall be—no matter what! 

In my mind, going down in a shipwreck must be one of the most terrifying disasters imaginable.  In fact, I cannot imagine it!  It’s beyond comprehension!  How essentially comforting to belong to the Lord, to know that the love of God never changes— never goes anywhere, and always IS! 

Through fires, tornadoes, and yes even shipwrecks, the Lord holds His own in His loving arms.  We can trust that He’ll provide all the grace we’ll ever need, in any disaster!

“The sea is His, for He made it . . . .”

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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The maples and sumacs have shed their glory.  That riotous circus of color is over for another year, and the muted shades of the oak leaves remain.  The maples and sumacs catapulted me into action.  Now those subdued autumn oaks quiet my soul, as a prelude to the season of rest.

Oak leaves are the last to turn, and the last to fall.  Some will cling tenaciously to their branches until the new leaves bud out in the spring.  I rejoice in the mellow oaks as they reflect the hues of many things I love:  rusty iron, tarnished sterling, faded bronze, weathered copper, ancient pewter, muted gold, and my late autumn paint palette—purple magenta, alizarin crimson, burnt sienna, raw umber, Naples yellow, quinacridone gold. 

Yesterday Joe and I set out on country roads for an end-of-the-season visit to an antiques shop in a cozy barn, COUNTRY ECHOES.  The atmosphere of this shop induces euphoria.  Retro music plays softly in the background, and every display sparkles in the sunlight which filters through the barn windows.  There’s a tucked away section for country primitives, an area reminding me of my mother’s kitchen, and a Victorian parlor—replete with English and Bavarian china, and American pressed and patterned glass in jewel tones.  

The shop features cases of vintage brooches, necklaces, earrings (mostly the clip-on variety), rings, and bracelets.  Attempts at reproducing these beauties are rampant, and supposed “look alikes” may be found everywhere—from Walmart, to hospital gift shops and the finest goldsmith establishments.  But none of the new costume jewelry can begin to match the quaint, subdued beauty of the old stuff! 

Barring special pieces containing precious gems, vintage jewelry is still very reasonably priced.  This will continue until a new generation discovers that old can be lovelier than new in many instances.  Meanwhile, since the prices are moderate, I’m buying the vintage treasures—for myself as well as for kindred souls who also enjoy “old”.  If I have a “signature look”, it’s that of vintage jewelry—the kind my mother and grandmothers wore.

Vintage housewares, vintage table settings, vintage costume jewelry—reminiscent of late autumn, when our souls are stilled by the shades of vintage oaks! 

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

I am not alone in my passion for most things old!  Again, I recommend visiting my favorite kindred-spirited author and photographer via her inspiring books—especially FOR THE LOVE OF OLD by Mary Randolph Carter.

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