Archive for the ‘Ancestral Roots’ Category

Grandpa Longenecker and his racer

The above racing team consists of my paternal grandfather, George Washington Longenecker (1864-1951) and one of his American Standardbreds.  Grandpa George may be considered an obscure poet; but he was far from obscure in Neillsville, Wisconsin where he served for decades as a preacher in the 1st Congregational Church.

Along with “pastoring” (actually Congregational preachers* are called “Reverend” rather than “Pastor”), Grandpa George raised American Standardbreds and competed in sulky races at local fairs.  This activity raised a few legalistic eyebrows in the small Wisconsin community—probably due to the possibility of spectators gambling on the races.  But Grandpa’s recreational passions involved horses and poetry, not money.

Having made poems ever since I can recall and pursued a lifelong study of poetry as fine art, I need to mention that most literary poetry aficionados would consider my grandfather’s verses to be doggerel.  Although Grandpa was raised on classical literature, his course of study was theology—not the fine arts.  Like many Congregational Reverends in his era, he graduated from Ohio’s Oberlin Seminary.

Grandpa George loved the Lord Scripturally, with all his heart and mind.  His poems reflect his love, and that’s good enough for me!  My grandfather also loved music, specifically the great hymns of the Christian faith which he played on his violin.  Much of Grandpa’s poetry contains the cadence and meter of a hymn.

In 1947 Grandpa self-published a book of his work titled SUNSET POEMS—named after my grandparents’ home, “Sunset Point”, on a bluff overlooking Wisconsin’s beautiful Black River.  Here is one of the poems:

Grandpa's Poem

George W. Longenecker

No feature concerning Grandpa George would be complete apart from mention of his beloved life partner, Emma Rosina Ernst Longenecker (1866-1952), my grandmother.  In past blog entries I have celebrated Grandma Rose who was known for her abundant garden produce, homemade bread, and frequent litters of kittens generously shared with people around town.

Here is Grandma Rose when she was a young girl:

Grandma Rose

*A contemporary novel, GILEAD by Marilynne Robinson, centers on three generations of small town Congregational Reverends from the Civil War to Mid-20th Century.  I was riveted to this book and want to read it again, as it reflects my roots.  Potentially classic, GILEAD is a quietly-powerful piece of fiction.  Marilynne Robinson’s storytelling gift is poignantly beautiful.  Two more of her novels, HOME and LILA, form a trilogy with GILEAD.

Margaret L. Been — April 6th, 2016

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Up North 3

Christmas was beautiful.  Nothing on earth can match the Wonder which came from above, took on human flesh, died, was resurrected, and dwells with us in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ through His Holy Spirit—God Himself.  Great is Thy Faithfulness.

And now we are moving into what is, for me, an exciting time.  Since winter solstice, when we had eight hours and fifty-nine minutes of daylight here in Nashotah, Wisconsin, we have gained THREE MINUTES of daylight.  THREE MINUTES.  Great is Thy faithfulness, indeed!  Every year at this time, I experience a surge which continues to expand in increments as the daylight increases.

I can handle winter, and find the snow (which we have finally received) to be gorgeous—even though I no longer roll in it the way I once did.  Our corgi, Dylan, rolls in the snow.  Living with the cold is do-able because: a)  I love Wisconsin through sickness and health, till death do us part; b) Joe and I are blessed with a cozy, warm home; and c)  There is plenty of wool around here in the form of blankets, and also wearable art—the fruit of this woman’s endless knit-omania.

I live with the cold, but find decreased daylight to be a piece of work.  Often I wonder if diminished daylight challenges my soul because I was summer-born.  Likewise, is the post-Christmas energy surge due to increased moments of daylight creating a chemical reaction in the brain, or do I begin to get hyper because of past experience and my knowledge of seasonal changes?

A 19th century ornithologist, Johann Andreas Naumann, noted that caged migratory birds exhibit migratory restlessness (Zugunruhe) and turn to the direction of migration at appropriate times, in response to circannual rhythms.  Can human instincts have remained so finely tuned as those of birds, despite our centuries of civilization and cultural conditioning?

The exercise of pondering moot questions never grows old.  As I plug in a CD from our large collection of Celtic music, I wonder if it’s “ethnic memory” that causes my blood to throb and my body to move involuntarily to the music.  Irish Celtic, yes.  And Scottish Celtic?  Well, the shrieking of bagpipes* sends me into orbit like no other sound except that of a train whistle.  God willing, “Amazing Grace” will thunder via pipes and a piper in kilts at my Going Home Celebration when the time comes.

Here is my known ethnicity, although most of my people came to this continent so long ago that I might logically be considered “American”.  My father’s ancestors were Swiss and Alsatian, and my mothers—Scottish and Northern Irish.  The Northern Irish were Scots to begin with, but they were sent by the English Crown from the Scottish Borders to “Protestant-ize” Northern Ireland.**

Now I have loved both of my parents and always will, with equal loyalty.  They were, and always will be, great individuals for whom I’m eternally grateful.  I am pleased to have received, via the gene pool, some of my Dad’s traits along with some of Mother’s.

But yodeling?  Big in the Swiss Alps, I know—but a yodel simply does nothing whatsoever for my soul, regardless of the skill with which it may be performed.  Line a yodel up against Celtic fiddles, Celtic harps, or Scottish bagpipes and I’m sorry but you don’t even have a hint of a contest. 

So why do The Irish Rovers, The Chieftans, and others of their ilk throw me over the moon?  It cannot be from childhood exposure, as we never had that kind of music in my home of origin.  Music was classical (which I continue to love).  My mother was a gifted pianist and I was raised on Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert, etc.

For lighter moments we had the comic operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan and some old folk songs such as The Londonderry Air.  But the squealing, banging, and thumping of The Chieftains, and the robust, earthy tunes of the Irish Rovers would never have made it to 85 Park Street and other places where I once lived and breathed and had my being.  My mother was tremendously delighted with her Campbell of Argyll roots, but I don’t recall her doing cartwheels to bagpipes.  So do I squeal, bang, and thump to the Chieftans because of ethnic memory, or is this response simply an acquired taste?

And whether chemically driven or just a matter of understanding how the seasons progress, my passion for lengthening days is far from moot.  It’s a tangible reality which inspires a hymn of praise:  “Great is Thy faithfulness, oh God our Father.”

Margaret L. Been —  December 31st, 2015.

*I love the humorous bit of lore shared by an Irish storyteller at Milwaukee’s Irish Fest:  “The Irish gave the bagpipes to the Scots, but the Scots ‘didn’t get it’.”

**Regardless of Northern Irish roots, my sympathies have always been with the long-suffering and now Republic of Ireland.

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Reflections on Home

®®New Play Area

My philosophical mother left me with many quotes on which to ponder, one of them being:  “It takes all kinds of people to make a world.”

That certainly is a fact, as each of us was created to be unique.  Each of us is an original piece of art.  Although we may have similarities we were not intended to be prints or reproductions of another human.

I try to understand other people whose style and preferences differ from mine, and it’s just plain fun to discover whom people are and what “makes them tick”.  Perhaps the best way to get acquainted with another person is by visiting in that individual’s home.  I want to believe that most people who spend considerable time in their homes have some pastime they love, some kind of a life within their walls.  This life may be reflected via the books on the shelves, the cookbooks and appliances in the kitchen, baskets and tables overloaded with crafting supplies, the presence of houseplants indoors and gardens outside the windows, a dog or cat (or both), and of course a musical instrument—perhaps more than one.  The presence of art on the walls and family photos on shelves and tables says a lot—if indeed the walls, shelves, and tables are laden with pictures which are worth a thousand words.

But occasionally when visiting a home I draw the proverbial blank.  No books, no projects, no art to reveal a period or style of interest, no messes, no pets, no plants beyond the “tastefully correct” one or two—potted in matching, stylized planters rather than those ice cream buckets and COOL WHIP® containers which frequently hold my overflow of greenery.  Not even a happily messy computer corner!  Sadly, only one piece of equipment normally characterizes the apparently wasteland homes:  that ubiquitous television.

Quite possibly, the homes which appear sterile, sans personality, may not actually be like that at all.  When one is a guest, one seldom sees all the nooks and crannies.  In the most generic of furniture store homes, there are apt to be hidden away places where the residents read, craft, make music, or whatever.  As interested as I am in people and their lifestyles, I certainly don’t want to be crass and ask to see their hidden recesses—the NO ENTRY zones of a house.  So I give my host or hostess that benign benefit of the doubt.  Certainly they have some life passion, some activity that causes them to jump out of bed each day and say “HELLO, WORLD!”  Probably my host and hostess simply have chosen not to divulge exactly whom they are and what they are about.

I accept the preference for anonymity, and I understand that I may be the odd one in today’s world.  I LOVE to share.  I love to be transparent—an open 1000 page book with loads of information on every page.  As much as I love to know, I love to be known.  And as far as I know, that’s the way life was originally intended to be!  Unlike that pair in the Garden after the fall, I have absolutely no desire to hide from God or anyone else!

Meanwhile, since Joe and I have moved into a four room condo it is easier than ever for visitors to ascertain what we are all about.  Our interests pervade every corner of our home, for all to see and enjoy.  We have never had more of ourselves on our walls, tables, shelves, and floors—and we are delighted beyond expression with the overflowing abundance of our current time of life.  Crowded, YES!  Even CLUTTERED—although to me “clutter” bespeaks random chaos, and I will have none of that.

Tidiness and order rule the day, and we can always stuff one more meaningful object into the order of our home.  Minimalist gurus (who for some odd reason find no significance in memories manifested all around them, no joy in the colors and textures of a life well-lived) will call us “hoarders”.  I call us “LOVERS OF LIFE”!  Thus the spinning wheels (which really spin beautiful yarn from luxuriously fleeced sheep’s wool) lurk behind a favorite easy chair, accompanied by baskets of wool and more baskets of yarn—plus needles and other accoutrements of knitting.

My piano hosts an assortment of music books—and musical scores printed out and taped together so that I can play without turning pages.  Our kitchen contains the necessaries—toaster, coffee pot, blender, crockpot—plus a representation of bygone eras in funky kitchen collectibles.  Our dining area buffet serves as a display area for my soap industry—while hundreds more soaps are stacked in drawers and stored in huge plastic bins under furniture and in closets.

Our bedroom is also my art studio, with a messy table for acrylics, collaging, etc., and another table for watercoloring.  Crammed into a bedroom corner is my writing studio with my very own laptop, printer/scanner, and voluminous files (I will always love paper).

My husband’s den is his bit of Heaven on earth with the TV, his own computer/printer/scanner, filing cabinet, posh reclining chair (suitable for snoozing on), and even a daybed for that occasional afternoon “lie down”.  Joe keeps his clothes in a dresser and closet in his den, while our enormous bedroom closet houses my clothing plus bins and shelves laden with more soap and somewhere between 600 and 800 paintings.  I tell our children they’ll have a post-humous fortune on their hands some day.  (Obviously, I’m joking!  My art is amateur stuff, paying dividends of endless and infinite fun!)

Both living room and bedroom have indoor garden areas—with tropicals in the east facing patio door, and succulents in our south facing bedroom window.  And everywhere are BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS.  Shelves groan with books, tables support the weight of them, and floors feature book towers in every room.

All of that—including a zest for collecting with a partiality for Victorian era art glass produced by our great American 19th century glass companies, English china, and most anything vintage and funky—goes a long way toward telling our guests whom we are, in this happiest of homes which I’m inviting you to tour with me today!

The above play area is a magnet for our great-grandchildren (16 children, ages 10 and under) who visit whenever they can.  And my happy little kitchen beyond.  (Actually, it’s Joe’s kitchen for the duration of my post-surgical, arm-in-sling adventure.)

Fiber studio

My fiber studio resides behind a living room easy chair.  The spinning wheels are not for “show” (although they are very beautiful, made from cherry wood).  The spinning wheels spin, and produce luxury yarns for sweaters, scarves, and hats.  Years ago, Joe made the pine dry sink for me.  It houses my collection of English flow blue china and my Grandma Kate’s English (Aesthetic Period—circa 1885) Indus wedding dishes featuring graceful birds and foliage reminiscent of the British Empire in India.

Most of the baskets in our home are homemade.  The one with the coral insert is an Irish potato basket, and below it with gorgeous ultra-marine blue/violet fleece inside is an egg basket—both crafted by moi.  The larger basket, in the style of Wisconsin Native Americans’ basketry, was woven by our daughter-in-law, Cheri Been.

make art

One of the many perks in our condo home is the fact that Joe and I each have our very own bathroom.  What fun is that!  Joe’s is the larger of the two, and it contains a shower which he loves.  (I HATE showers, probably because they remind me of that most detested of all scenarios—high school gym class!)  I have a tiny bathroom, but it contains a TUB (one of the great loves of my life).

I painted the blotchies on the upper walls, and our grandson, Tyler Been, painted the gorgeous New Mexico-ish red lower walls.  This is my Louis L’Amour bathroom—replete with cowboy pictures, and photos of family members on horseback.  As you can see on the above left, I have hung some of my own Southwestern art here as well.


Here is another shot of my sweet loo.  The Civil War era folding chair is a family heirloom, with needlepoint painstakingly stitched by my mother many decades ago.  I treasure the no-longer-available glass ARIZONA TEA® bottles, plus my collections of all things horsey and Western.  (The oil painting on the left is not mine.  It was a rummage sale prize, unearthed a few years ago.)

Art 3

The messy inner sanctum of my studio is open to all who venture here, since we always have our company put their wraps on our bed.  That’s an old fashioned thing to do, perhaps dating back to when closets were not so prevalent as they are today.  To me, wraps on the bed are the most gracious way to go.

soap 5

No home photo shoot would be complete without a glimpse of my soap.  I brag about my soap way too much.  It’s excellent, and we have used nothing but my home made soap since 1976.  Today my soap is far removed from that crude stuff the pioneers made over an open fire, using fat drippings from their slaughters and kitchen grease cans.

I use the finest vegetable oils (olive being the Lamborghini of oils!) and pure, rendered tallow—all of which I purchase online from COLUMBUS FOODS in Chicago.  High grade cosmetic pigments go into the soap for color, plus quality fragrance oils.  I have online sources for these ingredients, as well.  Soap making is an expensive hobby, well worth ever drop of cash and elbow grease involved!  And we saponifiers always have a beautiful gift to offer our family members and friends—the gift of the finest soap.

Ambience (2)

Old painted furniture, dried hydrangeas, British India style shelves, platters and bowls which don’t fit in cupboards and thus are relegated to the floor, family photos, sparkling glassware including Vaseline glass with glass fruit, cookbooks, a teapot and cups and saucers (just a few of a plethora about the home), and a toy bear (also one of many) co-exist in happy harmony.

Now if you happen to be thinking, “This is really weird!” just remember:  “It takes all kinds of people to make a world!”

Margaret L. Been, 2013

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At a recent social occasion, a young friend shared that she simply can’t stand the word “beige”.  She said it’s so “You know, beige!”  I agreed that “beige” is indeed a boring, generic word when one could qualify with something more colorful like “pale nutmeg”, “1/2 whole wheat,” or “overcooked chicken thigh”.

Anyway, I got to musing about words that I “can’t stand” (I say that instead of “hate” which my parents taught me never to say except when referring to major issues like war, disease, race discrimination, etc).  I came up with two words, and both of them begin with a preposition:  “update” and “downsize”. 

To me “update” is an unimaginative, harshly pedestrian word smacking of anything that would threaten to ratchet me from the 19th and 20th centuries where I felt at home, to the 21st where I live—although that hasn’t yet made a dent in me and I hope it never will!  And I knee-jerk even more, over that intimidating verb—“downsize”! 

Of course some downsizing is essential when it means moving from a large home to a smaller one (we’ve done that three times in thirty-two years—paring a bit here and there without diminishing our penchant for acquiring antiques and junk).  Lack of space is a valid reason to delete some of one’s stuff, to make more space for collecting at the other end!  Also, it makes sense to give our children and grandchildren some family heirlooms and perhaps some silver, china, or crystal—so we can see them enjoying these items before we depart. 

Obviously, when “things” or “clutter” become disorganized in a home—or when they prove burdensome and inordinately time consuming—then it’s good to take drastic action.  Also, we need to run an inventory if things are overly important in our lives.  We are never to idolize stuff! 

While appreciating these disclaimers, I pray Joe and I will never need to change our modus operandi!  I’ll continue to shout from the highest rooftop and scream from the highest mountain, “Bring on the stuff”.  You can downsize me when you lower me into my grave, because by then I’ll have left this earth for the best Home of all!  🙂 

The currently popular fad of downsizing may be partly due to that horrible contemporary lack of commodious attics in which to stash the extra detritus of bygone years.  What a loss to the human race and quality of living—although heating Victorian houses might not appeal to many of us. 

But I think the contemporary downsizing syndrome implies more than the lack of an attic.  Some late 20th century sterility has crept into the American pop mentality.  And by now, nearly thirteen years after the turn of the century (which to me will always mean from 1899 to 1900) our culture has degenerated full-throttle into the crazed concept that everything has to:  1) move fast, 2) be bio-degradable, and 3) be “easy” to maintain.

Those souls who simply cannot live with dust, rust, stains, or tatter, will definitely choose advancing into the 21st century—perhaps in tandem with some who can’t sit still or walk slowly, but rather need to be metaphorically catapulting from coast to coast with a brief lay-over in Minneapolis or Chicago. 

Fortunately, however, there are others who will always resist the latest trend.  We are those intrepid and dauntless anachronisms—suspended in time, while happily preserving the artifacts of other eras.  We anachronisms don’t care two hoots when our stuff gets dusty—although, because I enjoy the process, I actually dust (most) everything twice (or maybe three times) per year whether I need to or not! 

I love rust, the stains of antiquity (barring spilled food and dog messes), and tatters.  I do draw the line at mold, but only because I have a chronic sinus infection and asthma.

So while some may say (often a bit sanctimoniously, as if there were a “spiritual” aspect to downsizing) “I don’t do antiques shops and garage sales anymore”, my husband and I still hit them frequently whatever the season—antiques shops in winter and garage sales in summer.   (Remember, we live in Wisconsin.  That should explain the seasonal element.)

When we lived up north a woman came into our home, looked around, and made a classically caustic comment (get that alliteration—it’s the poet in me).  She said, “How can you do this to your children?”

Well, at least one granddaughter is very glad we are “doing this”!  Once again on this blog I quote our brilliant granddaughter, Alicia, who maintains:  “I know I can’t take anything with me.  That’s why I’m enjoying it all now!”

Above you will see a view in our current home which is much smaller than past digs, yet equally packed with fun and funky stuff—along with whatever heirlooms, china, silver, and crystal we haven’t yet given away. 

When it comes to plain old wonderful junk, and of course home grown art, the population is ever-increasing!  Our gardens and walls will vouch for that!  We are always “upsizing”!  I didn’t say “upscaling”—that would be stressful and no fun at all.  Just upsizing

Our rooms may diminish in numbers, but never in that overflowing variety of ambience loved by that unique breed of folks known as collectors!

Margaret L. Been, ©2012—yet fondly preserving slower years!

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When our son, Karl, was five years old he imparted to me a bit of wisdom that will serve me all my days on earth.  We were out walking, and we saw a baby robin hopping on the grass.  Karl commented, “If I ‘ketched’ a little bird, I would not put it in a cage.  I’d hold it for awhile, and then let it go.”

Life is an ongoing exercise in holding for awhile, then letting go.  Currently I am letting go of a beloved young family:  our grandson, Joshua, his wife, Kelly, and their precious children—Ethan, Cole, and Ella.  These Valentines (that is their last name!) are moving to California, where Josh has accepted a new job. 

Josh and his family have been our neighbors for the last two plus years, here in the northern reaches of our county.  They are the kind of people who show up and sit quietly by your side when you have been rushed to Emergency.   We’ve stashed away a treasure trove of memories with these young people—pizza outings, birthday celebrations, strolls in the park, and lots of ice cream occasions.  I have shed tears over losing this family, and I’ll undoubtedly shed more tears.  Yet I smile to think of Kelly enjoying San Diego.  Kelly and I are alike; we love warm weather!

I often reflect on how radical it was back in the 1800s when Easterners went West, facing incredible hardships and dangers.  Even more life changing was the uprooting of millions of immigrant families who came to our land from other continents, for a fresh start and the hope of a better life—or, as in the case of most of my ancestors, for religious freedom.  We can concentrate on thinking with all we have, yet we cannot begin to comprehend what those early settlers experienced—let alone the courage they displayed.

So California is not that far away, and it is not inaccessible!  A few hours by air.  Yet it sounds like the other end of the world to me, now that flying is no longer one of my favorite things!  I would relish a long trip on the Amtrak, but sitting on a train is not Joe’s idea of fun.  We’ll see what we can dream up.  Meanwhile our loved ones will be back to visit, with so much family in Wisconsin.

 ↑ Ethan (in front), Joshua holding Cole, Kelly holding Ella 

Letting go!

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

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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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Yesterday I savored some mellow moments in the little town of Delafield, just 5 minutes from our home.  My first stop was a yarn store where I bought baby fine cashmere/merino blend yarn for seaming my knitted sweaters. 

From the yarn store, I went up the block to an antique shop in an old Victorian era home.  I’ve been visiting this shop since the 1970s, when the (then young) husband and wife who own the shop had just moved in.  In the beginning, they sold out of the dining room on the main floor of their home.  That was exciting, because as well as being able to browse in a gorgeous period dining room, one got a glimpse of the adjoining living areas—all packed with family treasures.

Now the shop is in 2 cozy basement rooms, also packed with treasures and ambience.  What a treat to know these people.  Like me, they grew up with antiques, and their appreciation goes far beyond the mundane level of market value.  Enjoying antiques is all about cultural history, family roots, a love for beautiful craftsmanship, and the art of filling space with objects of interest—things that really mean something! 

A home antique shop is nearly an anachronism in our current age of shopping malls.  When I was a child, many of the antique shops were in homes—with the exception of galleries and outlets in cities.  When my parents and I “road-tripped” we wandered through the small towns, as freeways and by-passes were unheard of back then.  Residential neighborhoods contained homes with a sign in a window, advertising “ANTIQUES”.

I’ll never forget the wonder of entering these private sanctuaries overflowing with porcelain, glassware, old kitchen gadgets, and boxes of sheet music and books.  I was taught not to touch.  Nothing could tempt me to violate that rule, as I didn’t want to jeopardize my special privilege in being allowed to walk around in the shops.  With my hands clenched behind my back, I relished a feast for my eyes.  Bits of information were given out here and there by the shop owners, and I absorbed all I could of that enchanting world of antiques and collectibles.

Pictured above, is my small collection of shell art jewelry boxes.  I purchased the center one yesterday, at the home shop in Delafield.  The others were acquired via EBAY—a fun place to shop, but not nearly as satisfiying as browsing in a store!

The vintage evening bag, hanging above the shell boxes in the photo, was a gift from one of my nieces in Colorado Springs—my nephew Andy’s wife, Sandy. 

The elegant handkerchief under the center shell box was carried by my Grandma Rose on her wedding day in 1892.

The toothpick holder on the little shelf was my VERY FIRST COLLECTIBLE.  It was given to me when I was 6 years old, by an antique shop proprietor who was impressed by my quiet, “hands-OFF” behavior in her store.

The toothpick holder has tiny forget-me-nots painted on it.  It has gone with me nearly everywhere all these years, with the exception of the time I lived in university dormitories—definitely not places for treasures. 

The forget-me-nots remind me of never-to-be-forgotten mellow moments!

Margaret L. Been ©2011

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I’ve been a fan of VICTORIA magazine (now called BLISS VICTORIA), since its inception in the 1980s.  The focus of the magazine is gracious living—as reflected in homes, hobbies, places to visit, and creative lifestyles.

I especially savor this gem of a publication because it has always featured fine writing.  VICTORIA has a “Writer-in-Residence” who changes (I think) yearly.  This week I bought the latest issue, and was treated to a poignantly lovely essay by the current Writer-in-Residence, Catherine Calvert—a piece titled, “The Culture of Collecting”.

While reading the essay, I was struck by the following statement:  “I am an emotional as well as intellectual collector.  I have been purchasing paintings of other people’s relatives when I am attracted to their faces, although again, it is the humor and personality that less-talented artists bring to their subjects that win me.”  Catherine Calvert

How that statement resonates with me.  I frequently foray among the garage sales and curbsides, looking for amateur art—especially portraits.  Pictured above are two of my favorite finds. 

The soldier was unearthed from a garage sale box of odds and ends.  Is he Union or Johnny Reb?  The intense blue background infers Union, but Joe tells me that the Confederates had the longer beards such as the one in the painting. 

Whichever the case may be, this warrior appears reflective and reluctant.  If he were Union, he might have been one of my great-great uncles from Wisconsin or Michigan.  But perhaps he was an overwhelmed Johnny Reb, as indicated by his surround of Union blue.

And the elegant lady!  We found her on a Waukesha curbside, on a pile of refuse waiting for the garbage pick-up.  Incredible, to think that anyone would have put her there.  If she was not wanted on someone’s wall, at least she could have been deposited with dignity at St. Vincent’s or a Salvation Army store!

The lady is truly lovely in her 1950s attire.  Joe and I think she resembles my sister, Ardis—or perhaps my friend, Cindy.  The portrait is hanging kittywampus on a door simply because there is odd hardware on the door which makes things hang that way.  Every time I look at the vintage lady in her gilded frame, I’m thankful that we rescued her from the trash!

Our living room/dining area is host to seven generations of my family—actual photos of family members whose names we know:  great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, my own generation, our children, grand-children, and great-grandchildren.  These relatives span the years from circa 1830 to 2010. 

But along with all the familiar faces, it’s heartwarming to invite some mystery people into our home.  The Civil War soldier and elegant retro lady are no longer strangers to us.

Margaret L. Been, ©2010

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My friend Linda is a fellow crafter, collector, and lover of home and hearth.  Her home reflects the warmth and joy of her personality.  Linda put a wonderfully encouraging comment on my last blog entry, which I’m quoting here in the event that some of you readers haven’t read the comments: 

“Your ‘cottage’ is wonderful!  All those authors who want us to get rid of our treasures or call them clutter, don’t have a clue.  I wonder if they ever feel the warmth and love you have painted.  Just makes me want to put a pot of that soup on!!!!!”

Thank you, Linda (alias “Sunshine”, and Linda really is a ray of sunshine)! 

If I have a MAJOR PET PEEVE, it is magazines which feature articles on “getting rid of clutter”.  When I see a title referring to “clutter” on the cover of a magazine, I would (almost, not quite) rather venture into the lion cage at the zoo than buy that magazine!

People who prefer stripped-down, bare-bones digs have every right to pursue their personal taste in decorating.  I certainly agree with the wisdom of giving away clothing we don’t use, or odds and ends that serve no sentimental or aesthetic purpose (like extra plastic food containers).  That’s a huge DUH!  

But it’s incredibly rude for the minimalist adherents to excoriate those of us who cherish beauty, creativity, and the memories evoked by our collections!  

I have never before felt the need to “justify” my personal taste.  But now a bit of justification is appropriate, in the hope of possibly freeing up women who are intimidated by trendy magazine articles—and therefore terrified to let loose and express themselves creatively at home. 

I grew up in a little Wisconsin town full of Victorian era homes with attics—those romantic Mother Lode sources of fascinating family history.  My parents were avid collectors—and they frequently took me to antique shops where I wandered spellbound, with my hands carefully clenched behind my back. 

For me, the antique shops were (and still are!) a treasure trove of euphoria:  cabinets laden with glass and porcelain, the fragrance and mellow patina of exquisitely crafted oak and mahogany furniture, shelves of tattered books, bins of lace yellowed with age, sepia photos of someone’s ancestors, old guns, old fishing poles, old kitchen tools, old everything!  My parents introduced me to the poignant charm and beauty of old stuff, domestic history, and visual memories—and I have never looked back!  

But now we are surrounded by a fast-lane, functional, “throw-away-rather-than-cherish” culture—a culture where family history too often means little, and media-deadened imaginations lie dormant.  In our fast-lane society many objects (which have heartwarming stories to tell about people and places) have been labeled “clutter”, and simply trashed. 

Fortunately these unfairly maligned objects may still be found and reclaimed (recycled!) by those of us who care to preserve and appreciate.  Resale shops, antique stores, garage sales, and even curbsides abound in treasures—some useful and some purely aesthetic and/or interesting, which may be the highest “use” of all!   

Sometimes the bare-bones crowd will equate collections with messiness.  That’s really odd!  Many collectors that I know are fantastically NEAT, because they take joy in their surroundings!  Everything has its place, and artifacts are displayed to enhance the beauty of each room.   

I’ve always been a neat freak.  That’s the way God made me, and I’m through apologizing for it.  Neatness and organization are not burdensome for me.  It would be hard for me to be anything but tidy.  

Yet neat freak that I am, I LOVE to make creative messes.  When I cook, build collages, paint, or design a knitted garment, materials can be happily swimming around me.  For art projects, I spread out on all available surfaces—the floor in my bedroom studio, our bed, and even on top of Dylan’s bed when needed.  Then it’s equally fun to clean up my mess!

When a home reflects the hobbies and interests of its occupants, it’s a relaxing place to be whether tidy or messy—and with young children, home is apt to be messy in areas!  A room brimming with the detritus of family activity is a room that reflects life well-lived.

When they were young, our children made trains out of chairs, and tipped chairs upside down to create tents with old blankets slung across the top.  As neat as I was in my kitchen, our living room, and the master bedroom, I always cut our six children some slack.  Their rooms were their sanctuaries.  Although I insisted that they hang up or put away their clothes and tidy their beds, the children were free to save and collect to their hearts’ content.  Books, rocks, shells, stuff culled from rummage sales, stuffed animals, old toys, and countless oddities were their very own treasures! 

As a mother, I remembered how delightful it was for me to be a child with my collections of stuffed critters, paper dolls, bottle caps, chestnuts, Storybook Dolls, and rocks.  Seeing our children enjoy their rooms brought back the mellow joy of childhood for me.

Today my home is a living history museum.  But nothing here is roped off to visitors.  We don’t have any signs that say, “Do not touch”.  When people visit, they can relax in the serenity we’ve created—while savoring the peace of our vintage, slow-lane decor.

“Home” was meant to be a sanctuary, a respite and reprieve from the outside world, a place where we can truly rest and refresh our souls.   “Home” should be far more just a periodic escape from the “real world”. 

For Joe and me, home IS the real world!

Margaret L. Been, ©2010


P. S.  The tea invitation stands!  You can select the teapot we’ll use for the occasion!  🙂

Although “old” is normally my favorite thing in decor, there are beautiful items out there today—ordinary things worth saving such as glass bottles with aesthetically pleasing labels, especially the olive oil bottles. 

The green and brown bottles and charming labels are works of art!  How beautiful are these everyday bottles and jars, with or without their labels, as vessels for a handful of garden flowers or herbs!  I love to have little bouquets everywhere, in delightful containers.

Always I’m awed by the gracious beauty in simple, ordinary things.  Beauty is EVERYWHERE, just waiting for open eyes and receptive hearts! 

If you are a beauty and nostalgia lover—yet have never sampled the delight of Mary Randolph Carter’s books, try seeking her out!  Her books may be out of print, but they are readily available through online used book sites. 

My most beloved of all Carter’s books is, FOR THE LOVE OF OLD.  Her writing is as wonderful as her photography.  Carter exudes the joy of family, family heirlooms, and that mellow meaning in everyday objects which we all share!  

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These years which Joe and I are currently enjoying to the max are often called “the sunset years”.  That’s an appropriate title, I think.  Is there anything more beautiful than a sunset (unless it would be dawn which we also experience and savor every day)?

I’ve been getting some inner nudges to write a book of reflections on retirement and the lifestyle which my husband and I so dearly love!  These urgings have been outwardly confirmed, as recently several friends have brought up the subject of retirement—along with whatever may be involved.

What better place to start than on Northern Reflections, where I can share a bit of what I’ve learned about the contented retirement lifestyle which Joe and I have experienced since 1995.  Because I’m a wife, I’ll write from a woman’s perspective in listing things that a wife can do (and should not do!) to ease the transition into her husband’s retirement and the “sunset years”.

1)  Do understand!  For the woman whose heart has always been at home, life doesn’t change all that much when her husband retires.  We still have our life’s work—our home, and the enjoyable tasks pertaining to being a keeper at home.  We still nurture people, cook, iron, decorate, create beauty, garden, and all those other things we’ve always done.

But a man who has enjoyed his life’s work may feel somewhat “at sea”, when suddenly his years of responsibility are over.  Even though he loves “home”, his workplace has been home for him as well.

2)  Do not try to plan your husband’s retirement activities.  We can listen and make quiet suggestions if called for, but it is not our job to dream up things our husband “should do” or “could do”.  We are different people, and we need to respect one another’s individuality.  My husband is an intelligent person, and he deserves my consideration in letting him plan his own leisure activities.

Initially upon Joe’s retirement, I made the mistake of putting myself in his shoes and projecting what I might do if I were a retired man.  I had seen senior citizens volunteering at museums, so I said to Joe, “Maybe you could be a docent.”

Joe’s answer sent me into paroxyms of giggles, and still does when I think of it.  He said, “What the _ _ _ _ is a docent?”

When I explained, he added firmly, “No thank you.  I don’t want to be a docent!”

In retrospect, I realize that it was downright insulting of me, to hover over the man I love and make an unsolicited proposal about how he might spend his time.  It would be demeaning for either of us to worry about what the other is going to do while we do whatever we each like to do!  

Joe is free to watch sports on TV, play Wii, read, shop, build something in our garage, go fishing, have lunch with a buddy, or anything else he might want to do, without his having to put up with an interrogation from me—or without me hovering anxiously over him, saying “But what are you going to do while I shop or knit or whatever?” 

Even a hint of anxious patronizing and hovering is enough to make any intelligent, self-respecting person (man or woman) want to scream!  My man came out out of the womb 79 years ago.  He needs me to be his lover, wife, and best friend—not his mother!

Joe and I always share bits about our hobbies and interests with each other.  I have never cared for competitive sports (with the exception of horse racing which I love!) and Joe doesn’t dig poetry—yet we respect each other’s differences.  The fact that we each have interests makes us interesting people!

3)  Do make sure your husband has his own space in the home—some area that is his alone!  Each of us has always had a private corner of the world in our home.  For the last 3 decades, Joe has had his own den room.  Now, in our 4 room condo, he has a combination office/den in what was probably designed as a spare bedroom. 

In his retreat room, Joe has a large TV for sports, a comfy couch, enough leg room for playing Wii tennis, his desk with his own computer/printer/fax machine/scanner, a huge rocking chair, an exercise bike, 2 dressers, a commodious closet, and room for our business files. 

I’m careful not to invade Joe’s area unnecessarily.  I don’t attempt to clean, organize, or decorate in his room unless he asks for assistance.  (No lace or pot pourri, although Joe likes those things in the rest of our home!)  Occasionally we enjoy a movie together in his room, since he has the large screen for viewing.

I have a lovely end of our shared master bedroom—by the big window—for my computer/printer/scanner, a small DVD player for my art tutorials, and tables for art projects. 

We all need our personal “space”, but especially a husband who has enjoyed his own office for much of his working life.  (A woman has always had the home in which to live, breathe, and have her being!)  

4)  Do be romantic, and do be best friends!  What a wonderful time of life, for romance and gracious friendship, without the distractions and responsibilities of jobs and outside agendas!  Joe and I cherish every moment we have together.  (That’s why I always get a cot and stay at his side when he goes to the hospital!)

We relish our walks and country rides.  We enjoy lunching at bistros and restaurants, as well as at home.  We are lovers!  Even just drinking coffee while watching the birds at the feeder is a gracious, romantic pastime for us.  We thrive on visiting with family members, going on outings with our children, and spending an occasional afternoon with friends.

Joe and I read constantly, and discuss our books.  We savor moments of kindred silence as well.  I strive to maintain an atmosphere of order and ambience in the home, and home is our very favorite place to be!

5)  Say “I love you!” a lot!  We say these words to each other many times every day, and we mean it!

6)  Live each day knowing it could be your last day on earth!


Just basics, I realize!  What more needs to be said?  Only this, which is the most important point of all:  every blessing, every gracious moment, every pleasant and smooth way of dealing with a transition comes from the Lord Jesus Christ!  Without His life in me, and without a lifestyle of prayer and study of God’s Word, I’d be lost!  Literally lost!  🙂

Margaret L. Been, ©2010

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