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This is a CONDO?

When we moved from our up north home on fourteen acres nine years ago, into a four room condo in SE Wisconsin, family members and friends were raising eyebrows, rolling eyes, and just generally not quite believing it.  A CONDO?  Four rooms?  Joe and Margaret Been?

To back up a bit, I have a decades-old reputation for being an incurable (but very neat and well-organized) pack rat.  And my husband, Joe, via osmosis, has become a pack rat as well.  We would simply have to change and we probably would be miserable.  Ha ha.  That’s what they thought!

Well we didn’t change a bit.  We left a few things behind, but began adding new rummage and antique store stuff to our new digs within weeks after arrival in September, 2009.  We not only kept our space-consuming hobbies; we have added more.

Joe has a garage workbench area, and also works in his den.  He makes wooden models and flies drones.  My card table art work has morphed into sometimes 3 different work areas in our four rooms and many paintings which I’ve done since ’09, stashed everywhere.  A few years ago,  I began painting silk scarves.  Two spinning wheels occupy our living room and they are constantly whirring like there is no tomorrow.  My hand-made yarn dangles everywhere.

One friend was shocked to learn that I am still making soap—a couple hundred bars per year of drop-dead-beautiful complexion soap.  But all it takes is a stove top for melting fat, and a few standard kitchen supplies plus a small stash of molds, cosmetic grade color pigments, small bottles of fragrance oils, some sodium hydroxide, a few bottles of rendered fat which do not need refrigeration, a small scale, and some distilled water.

All of this equipment is stored in the kitchen.  My computer (Joe and I each have our own computers in our own private office areas) accesses the online sodium hydroxide calculator where I enter each oil by the number of ounces used, and the calculator computes the amount of sodium hydroxide and water needed for the recipe.  Not exactly pioneer stuff.  Sure glad for that!  Much of the soap stuff is stored in our dishwasher.  I dislike dishwashers!  With gorgeous antique dishes which are fun to wash, we never use a dishwasher for anything but storage—and it is GREAT for that!

Books continue to breed and multiply here, thanks to the hoards we moved with us, and dozens more thanks to Amazon, other online sources, ST. VINNIE’S and GOODWILL, and rummage sales.  Joe built a bunch of bookshelves, plus we have books stacked on the floor all over the place.  And plants!  And the piano.  Essential in our home!  And we will always have a play area with books and toys for our great-grandchildren, now numbering nineteen.

So you see, our family members were relieved, and friends (although shocked) are comforted to know that we are blissfully happy here in our four room condo.  No basement, but a garage crammed with odds and ends from our rummage and old furniture obsessions—and a delightful Granny’s Attic type storage closet which is under the upstairs neighbor’s stairs to his condo.  Heaven on earth, in Nashotah, Wisconsin!  🙂

Just scroll down for a tour.

Yes, it’s a CONDO!  Along with everything else that goes on here, we entertain A LOT!  Family and friends, right in the midst of art making, soap making, music making, reading, drone flying, etc.  Even sleeping!  A couple of weeks ago, I entertained nine ladies (including moi)—mostly friends from WAUWATOSA HIGH SCHOOL, class of 1951.  We chatted and ate our refreshments around the living room coffee table.  So delightful.

Often the dining room table is 1/2 full of art making, leaving only space for three diners.  So we simply dote on our dinner guests in the living room.  There are places for nine to comfortably sit with odds and ends of tables for plates and silverware.  Thankfully, both Joe and I came from interest-filled open homes where people came for coffee, tea, and/or dinner frequently, and loads of animated chatter.  Joe and I cherish this heritage, and believe it’s the only way to live!

I rarely bother to dust or clean other than a runaround with a vac and a swish of a woolly duster—and certainly never for company.  Just for fun when I feel like it.  Everything gets carefully spruced a few times per year whether it needs it or not.  Occasional cleaning projects are fun with Irish music blaring. 

Of course the exception is routine kitchen and bathroom maintenance which we do constantly just for the two of us because we are civilized and we like clean bathrooms and kitchens.


A home is a blessing to use, share (as much and as often as energy will permit), share and share again and again, and ENJOY!  And that we do—all four rooms plus two loos, one for Joe and one for me.

Margaret L. Been —  April 4th, 2018

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. . . and now we are eight.  Eight women who have gathered every second Wednesday at each other’s homes since the late 1950s and early 60s.  Originally bonded by graduation  from Wauwatosa High School (a near west side suburb of Milwaukee) in 1953, we’ve gathered other friends along the way.  Since the 50s and 60s were early mothering years, we began with evening meetings including lots of chat and a sumptuous dessert with our prettiest tableware.  Candles and/or centerpieces were givens and always will be—so long as we can still manage to strike a match (and blow it out!) or delve in our storage closets for interesting adjuncts to the occasion!

As our children grew to school age, we switched to mid day, with lots of chat and a luncheon on the above mentioned tables—varying of course with the seasons, availability of fresh flowers from gardens, and prevailing daylight or early dark.  Now we are getting into the mature years, and we sometimes opt to serve dessert only, or even meet at a restaurant.  But homes are still the best.  Last week the eight of us, plus one delightful guest making us “nine”, met in Joe’s and my condo on a drop-dead gorgeous March day with doors open and sunlight pouring in.

How can we do this, year after year?  Unlike every other gathering to which I’ve belonged, we are not glued together by a specific interest such as Bible Study, knitting, spinning, serious bridge, writing, and antiquing which have composed the grist of my other groupie activities over the years.

In our thirteen-now-eight group, we’re not all on the same page—worldview-wise or according to politics.  Not one bit!  Indeed, it’s tacitly understood that there are conversational places where we simply never go—for if we did, our shared pleasant origins might deteriorate into a food fight, especially if some of us were to begin quoting our favorite, highly-polarized Cable News sources.

Some share an interest in a craft, and others don’t craft at all.  Some of us decorate with antiques, and others with practically nothing in the room except for a couch, table, a few chairs, and a lamp or two.  We all share a love for family, but we rarely talk about our families.  (I probably am the most apt to talk family, because I have so many fun and funny little people to talk about.)

We rarely discuss a problem.  Or medical stuff—the most boring topic of all.  Our bodies are beginning to fall apart, but we try to eschew talking about bodies.  On perkier days, we talk of the natural world outside our doors:  the birds we’ve seen at our feeders; the recent cougar siting in Brookfield, WI—a suburb west of Wauwatosa; the deer and coyotes ubiquitous in our county.  That is real talk.  Some like to travel: always fun to hear about.  Some, like me, stay home and enjoy each day.  I can make jaunty conversation out of that—at least no one has fallen asleep listening to me so far.

Perhaps the closest to a common bond other than families would be pets and gardens.  No matter what side of the political aisle we are on, we agree that cats are hilarious and infinitely interesting.  Plus, most of us agree that dogs are people.  Although I have been cat-less for decades, and (sob-sob) currently dog-less (that cannot last much longer), I never tire of hearing talk about anyone’s cats and dogs.  Better than politics any day.

But even pets can’t explain the phenomena of women gathering every single month over a period of almost six decades!  So what’s up?  I go back to one common denominator:  a gracious mother in an open home.  I believe we were all blessed with such mothers and homes.  We learned the art of disagreeing without throwing food; and we avoid areas of pointless discourse where no one’s mind will budge short of much prayer and a God-given epiphany.  We agree to disagree, and get on with the “math” in terms of our considerable common denominators.

We learned to chew WITH OUR MOUTHS CLOSED, not to lick our knives, and other mannerly amenities of dining.  We learned TO NEVER TALK WITH FOOD IN OUR MOUTHS.  The alternatives are unthinkable.  These mouth bits alone make for six decades of companionable talking and eating.  🙂 

And believe it or not, the mouth manners have been instrumental in naming our group:  We are TALK AND EAT!

Margaret L. Been — March 18, 2018

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Hymnbook

All of the arts in some way reflect human culture, but perhaps the mirror of music is outstanding.  Most every person on earth is aware of some kind of music, either as a participator, an appreciator, or simply an unthinking “bystander” who takes the current state of the musical art for granted.

Centuries of music are layered into the human experience, and the layers I love are often those which represent memories—times of life I delight in recalling and preserving over the decades.  Such is the case of the Gospel hymns which my Grandfather Longenecker played nearly every day on his violin.

And Chopin!  I grew up in a gracious home where Chopin’s Nocturnes and Waltzes resounded from room to room, thanks to my beautiful mother who was a classical pianist.  Today I play some of these.  Although I lack Mom’s highly trained skill, my passion and determination to play Chopin’s music is boundless and he is the composer whom I love the most.

Recently I met a new-to-me composer, Erik Satie—a contemporary of another of my favorites, Debussy.  I don’t know why I’d never met Satie before—except that my parents disliked discord of any sort.  I had to discover and fall in love with composers such as Stravinsky, Shostakovich, and Mahler on my own.  Satie has some uniquely discordant moments, so Mom might have considered him to be a bit off.

But Mom would have loved Erik Satie’s waltzes.  These poignantly exquisite melodies speak volumes to me of the era in which I grew up, a world which some individuals today may never even know existed—that tea-garden world of formal dances and gentility.  That time in history when boys and men still rose attentively when girls or women entered a room—a time of family dinners with cloth napkins and gracious apparel and behavior, formally set dinner tables where girls and women were carefully seated at the dinner table by boys and men.

In my home of origin, the grace and manners prevailed not only at the dinner table but throughout the days and years.  People respected other people enough to dress and look their best, with more slipshod attire appropriate only for fishing, gardening, and heavy or messy work projects.  People respected other people enough to really listen to them, rather than sit on the edge of their chairs waiting for a chance to barge back in and seize control of the conversation.

Along with Chopin, ongoing considerate conversation and a lot of laughter were the sounds of my childhood.  I was rather shocked when, as an young adult, I came to realize that some humans frequently yelled at occasions other than sporting events—and that I, myself, was unfortunately very capable of a yell.

In fact, I’d heard in-home yelling only one time in all my growing-up years:  when my UW-Madison student older sister, Ardis, brought home a Communist boyfriend named Benny.  Benny told my father that there would be a revolution in the USA, and that he—Benny—would have to assassinate his industrialist father if said father opposed the revolution.

My father YELLED!  (As a 9 year-old who regularly fed on mystery stories and spy movies, I found the yelling to be quite exciting!)

Human nature has not changed over the centuries; we are born flawed and in need of Christ’s redemption.  But outward human behavior—certainly in the USA—has changed in my lifetime of only 83 years!  And I truly believe that music heard and absorbed again and again does make inroads—whether benign or malignant—into the human psyche.  How grateful I am, for Gospel hymns, Chopin, and Eric Satie!  And the power of music, to mirror our memories and human values.

Margaret L. Been  —  June 20th, 2017

Note:  Sixty-four years ago today, I married the most precious husband on earth; and my love for Joe Been will never stop growing.  🙂

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Magen David

You know you are maturing when people start saying, “You have sure seen a lot of changes in your lifetime!”  I’ve not experienced as much change as my Dad did; he lived from 1896 to 1998, and throughout his lifetime he maintained a fervent interest in new inventions and rapidly expanding technology.  He would have LOVED this current cyber-age—especially the phone/cameras as photography was one of his many passions.

Of all the changes I can recall, perhaps the one I find most astounding is the research and discoveries wrapped up in three letters:  DNA.  What follows in this entry may be so boring to so many readers, that I seriously doubt it will get many “hits”.  Nonetheless, since it is of interest to me, I will continue:

I grew up in a genealogy-conscious family.*  My Mom and my maternal Grandma Kate did extensive research on their Scottish Covenant heritage.  They were descended from Campbells of Argyll and Luckeys from the Scottish Borders—sent by the English Crown to colonize Northern Ireland and make it Protestant.  Those Scots-Irish came to the new world in the late 1600s.

My paternal grandfather’s ancestors came from Switzerland in the early 1700s, and settled in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in that German speaking community known as “Pennsylvania Dutch”.  My paternal grandmother Rose’s people escaped religious discrimination in Alsace-Lorraine, and migrated to Michigan in the mid 1800s.

So I grew up with basically 4-5 nationalities to claim pertaining to the surnames we have on record:  Scottish Celts,  probably some real Celtic Irish, German Swiss, and ancestors from Alsace-Lorraine—-with a combination of German and French given the surnames we have on record.

Then there was an undocumented report—that we also had a Jewish heritage, via my Grandma Rose.  Over the years I have cherished this “rumor”, as the Jewish people and (since 1948) the Israeli nation are among my greatest loves.

Even though Joe records our TV news broadcasts each day so that we don’t have to sit through commercials, I couldn’t miss the Ancestry.com ads that raced through our fast-forwarding act.  I ultimately succumbed, ordered the “spit tube”, and mailed a token of my origins to Utah.**  The results nearly blew me away, and have given me a new and refreshing outlook on who I am!

Some insight into the mystery:  Every person’s DNA is unique, and no other human on earth will have the same EXCEPT in the case of identical twins.  If two people are hatched out of the same egg, then as I understand it their DNA will match.  (Proof of how a Master Designer fashioned each egg to be special!)

There are subtle differences between DNA and genealogy.  Genealogy tells us where our people came from.  DNA tells us what is in each person, regardless of what they may or may not know about their ancestors’ countries of origin. 

(Please, if you are a scientist reading this blog, set me—along with other readers—straight if I am incorrect!  My majors were English literature and the French language.  Period.)

Back to my spit test.  The results amazed me on several points.  The expected Scottish Celt simply is not present.  In its place is 13% Viking!***  Now we all know that the Vikings invaded Scotland during the 8th and 9th centuries.  But it wasn’t all rape and pillage.  Some of those feisty blondes and redheads stayed in Scotland to do a number on my Argyll Campbells.  My Mom and Grandma Kate may have had lots of Scottish Celt DNA.  I have none. 

But I have a very good percentage of Irish Celt:  nearly 1/4th of my total DNA.  So the Protestant Northern Scots-Irish paired up with Green Irish either over there or in America.  Having read volumes of documentary on the beleaguered history of the Green Irish, I am delighted to stand with them—albeit as a fundamentalist/Evangelical Protestant.

There is a small amount of English in my DNA as well; I had thought there might be more, due to the plethora of English names which married into the Campbells and Luckeys.  One never knows!

In the DNA report, my paternal German Swiss, German, and French are lumped into one category:  Western European.  In my case this comprises a whopping 39%.  That was predictable.

Now the surprises, the unknowns that have proved my $99.00 Spit Kit investment really exciting and worthwhile:  13% Greek or Italian (where in the world did THAT come from—I LOVE it!) and (are you ready for this, dear reader?) 1% European Jewish.****

How encouraging!  That 1% is not a huge number, but to me it is significant.  The way I understand DNA, even with a small percentage of Jewish I could have had a Jewish great-grandmother, and my father may have had a large amount of Jewish DNA.

Where in the world is this going?  Right back to the photo at the top of the page.  I ordered my Magen David treasure via AMAZON PRIME, before I realized I could actually claim this heritage.  I love God’s chosen people, the Jews.  That’s reason enough to joyfully display the Blue and White on our garage entrance—along with our Stars and Stripes!  And now I have that 1% provenance of shared kinship!

My Superman Joe mounted the Magen David for me, on Resurrection Day weekend!

Margaret L. Been — April, 2017

*Interest in genealogy is a big Wisconsin thing.  We natives tend to say, “I’m Irish” or “I’m Whatever”—as if we had just landed on American soil, specifically on our beloved Wisconsin turf.

**A note on the spit test.  If you are inclined to pursue this adventure, remember not to eat, drink, chew, or inhale anything for at least an hour before spitting into the tube.  I didn’t read my directions carefully, and did the test along with my ubiquitous cup of strong coffee which polluted the sample.  (It might have tested out 100% caffeine.)  Anyway, Ancestry.com kindly sent me a new tube, free of additional charge. 

***In our household, that percentage of Viking is a bit of a hoot.  My husband is extremely (and rightfully!) proud of his Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish roots.  The fact that I share these roots is an eye-roller!  

****European Jewish, otherwise known as The Ashkenazim, refers to Jewish people dispersed from their homeland in the Middle East and scattered over Europe during centuries of persecution.

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Winter Breakup.jpg 2  “To think to know the country and not know

    The hillside on the day the sun lets go 

    Ten thousand lizards out of snow!”  Robert Frost, A Hillside Thaw

Although I admit to sometimes dreaming about warm, sunny places during our long Northern winters, I would not chose to trade my home locale with anyone—anywhere, anytime (except for an occasional week or two in New Mexico).

I truly wonder if friends who live in warm places ever experience springtime euphoria—that crazy, headlong, potentially mindless and blithery joy known as SPRING FEVER, when poetry floods one’s soul!  Perhaps that euphoria is common in four season climates around the world.  Certainly in the USA, where April has been designated as NATIONAL POETRY MONTH!

Anticipating April, while loving every remaining moment of tumultuous Wisconsin March, here are some snatches of poems from kindred souls—in addition to the above lines from one of my most beloved kindred spirit poets, Robert Frost.  Also I’ll plug in some of my watercolor renderings.  The marriage of a poem and a painting is called Ekphrasis.

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“The Skies can’t keep their secret!

They tell it to the Hills –

The hills just tell the Orchards –

And they – the Daffodils!”  Emily Dickinson, #191

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“I will arise and go now, for always night and day

I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore . . . .” 

William Butler Yeats, The Lake Isle of Innesfree

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“Now as I was young and easy under the apple bough

About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green . . . .”

Dylan Thomas, Fern Hill

. . . the dawn's early light

“O April, full of breath, have pity on us!

Pale where the winter like a stone has been lifted away, we

        emerge like yellow grass.

Be for a moment quiet, buffet us not, have pity on us,

Till the green come back into the vein, till the giddiness pass.” 

Edna St. Vincent Millay, Northern April

From Seed

These are only a whisper of the many poems and poets whom I read again and again—immersed in the introspections, nuances, innuendoes, and life metaphors gleaned from a sensitivity to the turning of the year.  I believe that sensitivity is shared by most poetic four-season souls!

Margaret L. Been, Spring 2015

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Who can deny that some of life’s most memorable events are spontaneous—those unplanned occasions which we would not have dreamed up in a million years?  Such was a recent serendipitous party in our home, with our granddaughter Leah and her four children.

They dropped in at 3:45 p. m. on the way home after Leah had gathered up the older children at school, to pick up (now 10 year old) Olivia’s birthday gift.  There was no question in my mind, that the visit would be short.  Leah puts in long hours with her family, with helping out at the children’s school—plus riding shotgun on her very endearing but rambunctious 3 year old, Carter.  Still ahead in a long day for this sweet family was a 25 minute ride home, dinner for the children and Daddy Jeff who would soon be at home waiting, and then all the evening rituals—homework, baths, bedtime stories, etc.  (After all these years, I still remember when!)

Olivia’s birthday gift was a St. Vinnee’s mint condition treasure:  a cookbook with 175 recipes for cookies made with cake mixes.  How fun for a 10 year old girl!  And, as it turned out, fun for an 83 year old great-grandpa—my Joe!

Joe was almost as enthusiastic about the cook book as Olivia was.  Right there on the spot he announced, “We are going to make peanut butter cookies NOW!  Although not a gambling woman, I would safely put money on the hunch that Leah’s reaction and mine were in sync.  Yikes!  Late in the day.  Tired.  And, in the beautiful words of poet Robert Frost, “. . . miles to go before I sleep.”

But both Leah and I realized that a spur of the moment cookie party would provide a signature memory for the children—and adults as well.  So into the kitchen went Joe, Olivia, and younger sister, Brynn (in red) who likes to be in the center of any action.

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Over the years, Joe has focused on being a wonderful Husband, Dad, Grandpa, and now Great-Grandpa.  He has cared for us diligently and lovingly.  While he has worked hard at bread-earning, I naturally have tended the affairs of the kitchen.  Joe is very adept at some kitchen jobs.  He makes coffee, measures the carbs in his breakfast cereal (he is diabetic so carbs matter), makes wonderful peanut butter and jam sandwiches, mixes a fantastic soy milk chai for me every night, micro-waves soup or left-over dinners, and sometimes creates yummy Swedish meatballs.

But baking?  The mad search for utensils amid requests of “Where’s this, where’s that?” was too humorous.  We no longer have a gargantuan Kitchen Aid mixer on the counter; all cakes are mixed with a 5-speed hand blender which hides in a  round-about cupboard between assignments.  All dry ingredients live in decorative tins scattered hither and thither; I automatically memorize the contents by the designs on the tins—but since Joe normally has no need for stowed dry ingredients, he has not learned the code.

Thus Joe looked to the dining room table for the small amount of sugar needed in the recipe.  I just happened to wander into the kitchen a split second before he dumped Sweet and Low into the mix—thinking it was real sugar.  I have Sweet and Low in a sugar bowl on our table, for our daughter Judy’s coffee.  How was Joe supposed to know it wasn’t the real thing?

Understandably Joe had not thought of the fact that cookies take a bit of time to prepare, given the rolling of balls—and in the peanut butter cookie instance, criss-crossing with a fork.  Upon my mentioning that the old, battle-seasoned cookie sheets would need a covering of oil, I again forayed into the kitchen just as a pan of cookies was oven-ready—and the raw cookies were swimming in olive oil.

Joe is amazingly proficient at cleaning up as he goes; for this reason I never shudder when he does KP.  In college he earned his meals as a “Pot and Pan” boy, and to this day he loves the challenge of washing up.

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While history was being made in the kitchen, Leah and the boys—Lucas and Carter—played a game at the living room coffee table.

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Well, no one can make cookies without immediately testing them to make sure they are “fit to eat”.  So we are right back to the first photo:

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The coffee table was cleared for a party with cookies and milk.  Delicious!  And thanks to a wonderfully imaginative Great-Grandpa, a good time was had by all.  Joe has always been loaded for fun.  That’s one of the countless reasons why I love him!

Serendipity!

Margaret L. Been, February 2015

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Treasure the Moment!

Leo 7 monthAlicia's wonderlandThree preciesrecent workIF

There is no room for naivité in today’s world.  All I can do in light of the barrage of news we receive is to go on preserving and treasuring the world I’ve always known.  Indeed, my insular world may last only a moment—so I treasure each moment as a gift from God.

Beyond a series of moments on earth lies an eternity of joy for the Christian believer.  Meanwhile my precarious earth moments are filled with prayers, family, friends, a corgi, music, paintbrushes, knitting needles and yarn, spinning wheels, gardens indoors and out, poetry, books/books/books, antiques, junk, never ending batches of soap from our kitchen, and a whole lot more.

A common thread connects the moments: BEAUTY.  I know I’m not alone in determining to pursue and celebrate Beauty—and to TREASURE THE MOMENT!

Margaret Been, February 2015

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Baby D again

Again Sweet Mia

knitters

Daane Boys

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