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Archive for the ‘Elegance’ Category

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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Melania Trump and Michelle Obama

I am the odd woman who rarely cries when sad.  Tears are more apt to flow for happy reasons, like at the end of my favorite cinema version of Jane Austen’s EMMA.  When Gwynneth Paltrow alias Emma says “My Mr. Knightly!”, the floodgates crumble.  (I have only watched that film about 123 times—give or take.  Perhaps with viewing number 124, I’ll be able to handle my favorite line.)

Or, I will cry when suddenly confronted with an incredibly lovely scene—especially one that pops up in an unexpected place.  One doesn’t expect sheer loveliness or gracious beauty to surface at our nation’s capitol these days.  But a glimpse of tea with Michelle and Melania has given me a breath of fresh air.  

I hope this photo will travel everywhere around our confused and confusing world, promoting the fact that we Americans some times do some things the right way!  Here are two lovely ladies—poised, confident, obviously very intelligent.  Not yelling and screaming and rasping about how wonderful they are and how they are going to be all things to all people.  Not grasping for personal power.  Just being themselves.  Even wearing skirts!  Seemingly enjoying each other’s company, and contented with woman’s time-honored role of standing beside her man.

Of course it will be fine and fitting to have a woman president, the right woman who understands the intrinsic honor and joy of being a woman.  But I pray/pray/pray that our Someday Woman President will be a Margaret Thatcher kind of person, rather than any other possible options!!!

Meanwhile, thank you Michelle and Melania for showing us that moments of beauty and grace can happen—even in Washington D.C.  🙂

Margaret L. Been  — 11/11/16

 

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My piano bar

It’s amazing how a “one-liner” can stick with you forever!  Years ago a violin teacher, Amy, shared an unforgettable one-liner which summarizes most everything I have endeavored to do for much of my life.  At a violin lesson years ago I was sawing through a seemingly boring and nondescript exercise in my Kreutzer, when Amy interjected a teacherly command:  “Play it like a love song!”

This concept revolutionized my practice sessions.  Heretofore, violin (and piano) teachers had stressed metronome-driven precision.  Now Amy was setting me free to transform even the most mechanistic of studies into a vehicle for interpretive expression.  The Kreutzer exercises came alive.  Suddenly they were beautiful—as I learned to play them with my soul as well as with my fingers.

I grew up in the era of heart-rending love songs and idealistically elegant films.  The Hit Parade featured pop classic crooners such as Frank Sinatra and Perry Como—and the cinema portrayed love affairs framed in romantic settings.  Though some negative-minded folks might bad-mouth my early conditioning as being “unreal”, I praise God for it.  Beauty and elegance via entertainment, along with the beauty and natural elegance which my mother modeled every single day in our home, taught me something vital about living—and endowed me with a working philosophy, as succinctly summarized in Amy’s words:  “Play it like a love song.”

No, beauty and romantic elegance are not “unreal” when we attempt to bring these qualities to the most mundane of tasks, thereby inspiring and uplifting the moment—when our concept of outer beauty mirrors a quality of the inner soul.  We are free to choose, free to create with whatever we have at hand, free to play life like a love song—therefore highlighting our material reality whenever possible, with manifestations of inner beauty.

When we reflect on our loving, creative God—the Author of beauty (material as well as spiritual)—we realize that “playing it like a love song” can radically exceed some merely human philosophy on how to live.  Although beauty and/or romantic elegance need not take the form of a 1940s Hollywood production—or, for that matter, a Kreutzer exercise—the essence of gracious inner beauty can be palpable in diverse forms as well as applicable to most every circumstance and area of life depending on how ardently we love life, how we view life, and most vitally how we think!  Again, we are free to choose.

The intrinsic character of God’s beauty materialized at creation, when He spoke the beautiful Heavens and earth into existence.  Many centuries later, an Apostle whom we revere expressed God’s command for humankind through the priority of the “whatsoever things”:  “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things”  Philippians 4:8

Are there moments when your life exercises seem drab and routine, and your duties are characterized by metronome-driven precision?  Here’s an idea you might want to try:  Play it like a love song!

Margaret L. Been, 2014

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Let’s play that old game, per our kindergarten “work sheets” where there were a bunch of pictures and one of them didn’t belong.  Just study the above and subsequent photos and see if you can detect the “Stranger in Paradise”.

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If you guessed that the last photo is the odd one, you are right.  In the other photos, Vintage Rules—and in the one just above, well I guess you could say the bluish tin and silver plated spoons in a pattern glass spooner are sort of vintage-y, but the dominating Keurig Brewer accompanied by an assortment of one-serving beverages is definitely state of the art:  “kind of now, kind of wow”.

Normally “kind of now, kind of wow” need not apply for a place my kitchen where I do somersaults and spit wooden nickels trying to hide electric cords—while housing the necessary modern cooking accoutrements in rusty, chipped, worn out treasures.  Any left over space is committed to the display of “kind of then, kind of when” items—possibly useless to you, but intrinsically precious to me simply because of their anachronistic, aesthetic attributes.  (A mouthful; don’t bother trying to say it.)

Meanwhile, enter Christmas Day and our afternoon of family gift sharing.  Knowing my decorating propensities, one of our sweet sons and his beautiful wife took a huge chance when they purchased the Keurig for Joe and me.  Realizing that I might not even be able to squeeze the gift into our compact, efficient condo kitchen—let alone be willing to live with the trendiness of a Keurig Brewer—our son volunteered as I opened their gift:  “If you can’t use it, just give it to one of the grandchildren.”

Hmmmmmmm!  I was pretty certain that the thing would:  1) not fit physically and 2) not fit mentally/emotionally/ stylistically or however you want to say it.  But it was a GIFT!  Yes, we would have to clear off a slot, relegate some vintage stuff to our storage closet, and give the Keurig a try before passing it on.

Haaaa!  Within minutes (as soon as I figured out the operational steps from the manual) we were HOOKED!  This baby is not going anywhere!  I could bore you to distraction, singing the praises of our fabulous cups—a cuppa Jo, a cuppa tea, a cuppa cocoa depending on the mood of the moment.  And a moment is all it takes to have that steaming cup in hand!

By now, the giver of this treasure may be a bit weary of me calling him and raving over the phone about our new kitchen “friend”.  But I’ll say it one more time.  “Thank you, Eric and Cheri!”

Margaret L. Been, January 2014

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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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Home of the Foxy Gentleman

I’m a year ’round lover of life, but the months from now through September tip the scale for me.  The above photo (titled “Home of the Foxy Gentleman” after the guy seated amongst the foxgloves, who fooled that stupid Jemina Puddleduck into letting him supervise her nest) shows one of many reasons why I love the seasons at hand.  Some other reasons are:  a deep tan on my body, soft breezes soughing, long days, short nights, and ice cream.  Of course ice cream can be had in all seasons, but it’s a lot more fun when it’s consumed outdoors!  (My opinion.)

Another BIG REASON for the tipped scale from now through Autumn is that Joe and I are now (a bit tardily this year) entering the RUMMAGE SEASON.  I think I hear clucking, snorting, and sneering from the crowd who believes that “downsizing” (HOW I DETEST THAT WORD!!!) is some kind of a spiritual exercise designated to win extra points.  Some can “downsize” graciously, and for valid reasons—while others say the word while rolling their eyes and aiming sanctimonius glances at Yours Truly!  Those “downsizers” are certain that I’m not in line for any points at all!  And I’m certain these misguided folks are missing out on the fun!!!  🙂

Having recently moved from a house (actually 2 houses) up north to a four-room condo Down Under (under Highway 10, not the Equator) Joe and I have found even more incentive to go rummaging.  We have MORE TIME without grass to mow, snow to blow, and garbage to escort to the town dump.  Bring on the YARD SALE signs and we are off and running.

So at the expense of clucks, snorts, and sneers (which fortunately I can’t really hear because I’m blogging on a computer not a phone) here is a picture of today’s bounty culled from a nearby small city—namely Waukesha, Wisconsin:

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Oh my!  A clump of birch trees which we’ll never need to water; a charming, mint condition McCoy pottery planter (“the real McCoy”, not one of those knock-offs); 6 ruby red Depression Glass mugs and 7 matching lunch plates with a measuring cup like those my Mother had; 2 pairs of sweet, girly toddler boots which should fit our great-granddaughter Mia next winter; a (tipped on its side) pewter covered bowl and 2 more ruby red mugs in front of the boots; a copper plated teakettle; a gorgeous orchid plant which—like the birch clump—I will never need to water; all flanked by a humungous acrylic painting (very beautiful!) supporting a vintage necklace with fake diamonds and pearls.  (At least I’m assuming the gems are fake.  Wow, if they are not!)

Behind the Yard Sale bounty is always the best part of the season—our live garden.  You are looking at creeping phlox, mertensia, and other treasures among the ubiquitous mint which will always assure me of having something green to look at.  From now through Autumn, that is.

Remember, we can’t take any of this with us!  That’s why we’re enjoying it now!!!  🙂

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Have you ever felt like Rip Van Winkle, suddenly waking up and realizing that changes have taken place while you were sleeping or simply not focusing on a particular thing—perhaps a thing that you grew up with, something ineffably lovely—and now that “something” has vanished?

Although my husband and I are certainly not “bar flies”, we recall an era of poignantly sweet piano music emanating from the bar areas of fine restaurants—or, in the case of a Supper Club—in the dining room itself.  How elegant dining out used to be!  We lingered over the treat of a restaurant meal—eating slowly (like the French reportedly do), and relaxing over many cups of after dinner coffee while enjoying the melodies from the piano bar.

Dining out is not the experience it once was.  The cell phone sometimes provides the only “music” at a restaurant these days, but more often there is music—or rather noise—loud, thumping, blaring, and totally inconducive to gentle, cultured conversation.  It has become virtually impossible to go out to dinner and relax over coffee in most public places.  And no one seems to care—no one, that is, except for my husband and me!

Whatever happened to the piano bar?  Whatever happened to the glorious experience of dining out, with its built in ambience?  There is a charming restaurant two minutes from our home which still does provide quiet elegance, and the environment is beautiful—like an old English inn.  But at from $20 to $36 per entree, Joe and I don’t choose to go there very often.  And, the elegant fine dining place in our neighborhood does not have a piano bar! 

So waking up to the reality of a piano bar-less pop culture, Joe and I have done a fun thing.  We’ve created one at home.  In recent years I’ve focused on learning some favorite classics (easier versions of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, etc.).  I am working George Winston’s arrangement of Pachebel’s Canon up to tempo (how I love that piece of work!), and homing in big time on Scott Joplin’s rags. 

But recently, in a mode of nostalgia, I dug out my old sheet music and unearthed decades of treasures like Deep Purple, As Time Goes By, Moon River, Born Free, Lara’s Theme, and many more—a couple of which are pictured above.  Joe copied the pages individually and taped them together.  Now loads of lovely ballads are strung out on the piano.  I no longer have to go through the frustration of pausing to turn a page, or continuing to play with one hand while frantically turning pages with the other.  Paper clips keep the whole shebang from flying away and piling up on the floor between sessions.  When I finish one piece I simply remove it and lay it across the back of the couch which is close behind my piano—and procede to the next number.

We serve iced tea, Crystal Light®, or Sierra Mist® at our piano bar.  The player sometimes goes on for an hour or two—until it’s necessary to quit and fix dinner.  And then, dinner does not cost from $20 to $36!  🙂

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

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