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Archive for the ‘Friendship’ Category

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Who hasn’t experienced the pain of saying “Good-Bye” to someone dear—either a separation due to a move, common in our global age, or worst of all the last good-bye we will ever say on earth?

Every loss of a family member has been wrenching for me.  Much of the wrenching occurs inside my soul, invisible to all but the most sensitive people in my life.  Perhaps that is the DNA which I thought would be Scottish, but turned out to be Scandinavian.  My mother kept her grief close to her heart as well, and she was of Scottish-Irish descent.  And we all know how the Vikings invaded those countries in the 9th and 10th centuries.  Anyhow, as “talky” as I can be on social occasions I’m at a loss when trying to express profound emotion verbally.  Spoken words just can’t cut it!

The children pictured above have been close and precious to Joe and me since they were born.  Their Dad, Jason, is a grandson who grew up giving us countless beautiful memories—many of them whimsical and hilarious, and some of them poignant.  Jason, his wife Sandy (whom I count as a friend), and the children (James, Lyla, and Deacon) are moving, from their home nearby in Southern Wisconsin, to Michigan.

Most everyone knows that Wisconsin and Michigan are separated by a “pond”—one of the Great Lakes, namely Lake Michigan.  We will not be a continent or even the entire USA apart.  There will be visits.  But we are a family where, metaphorically speaking, members are attached at the hip with Gorilla Glue.  Life will be different for all of us.

Far more profound is the grief of permanent loss.  I have a family history of longevity, so my grandparents and parents were aged when they died.  (My father lived to 102)  But one family member, George William Longenecker died “young”, at age 69.

For the public life of this man, you can access the following link—one of many pertaining to his life’s work at the University of Wisconsin, Madison:  https://wpt.org/Wisconsin-Gardener/Segments/longenecker-gardens.  Professor Longenecker was a landscape architect and naturalist beginning in the period when he served at UW-Madison with Aldo Leopold.

But to me, this very special man was simply “Uncle Bill”.  His death due to a rare illness, possibly caused by pesticides or other chemicals related to his work with plants and plantings, hit me where I live—as I love most anything that lives, grows from the ground, prowls our wild forests, or flies in our skies.  Uncle Bill was a kindred soul, as were most (probably all!) of my family of origin.  It was just that Uncle Bill left us too soon!

At the time of that loss, I did something out of the ordinary.  I found some poster paints that we had on hand for family craft projects, and spent hours deep into the night painting (or rather trying to paint) birds.

I lost myself and part of my anguish into those birds—realizing that of all Uncle Bill’s areas of expertise, birds were high on the list.  He was known for creating gardens attractive to varieties of birds, an example being acres in the Madison Arboretum bearing his name:  “Longenecker Gardens”.

Painting birds, or anything for that matter, was an unusual thing for me to do because I simply did not paint very often in 1967.  Art was something I absolutely loved viewing, reading the history of, and dreaming about.  But never, never would I seriously paint, I believed.  No talent!

Meanwhile, the fact of losing myself and my grief in color, on paper, planted a seed inspired by Uncle Bill.  The joy of color spilling out, however amateurishly, resonated and kept hounding me until the seed finally sprouted in 2006 and I said, “Who cares about talent?  I’m just going to have fun.”  And I’ve been painting ever since.*

Where am I going, with this ramble?  Thinking of three children who are moving to Michigan, three children who have enjoyed visiting us in our home, three children who have gladdened our hearts beyond expression, I am going straight to the end of our dining room table which currently serves as one of my in-house art studios.

There is a start here.  And I’ll include some birds!

Margaret Longenecker Been — May 1st, 2018

*I can’t resist adding a bit of encouragement, actually opinionated essaying, so please forgive me.  My soapbox message to all and everyone younger than I am is:  “Don’t grow old without a passion.  Don’t grow old without something you LOVE to do and can physically do even when you are ill or beset with body pain.  Don’t go another moment without the solace of a do-able passion to recharge your soul’s battery even when circumstances seem like they are falling apart.”

Of course a relationship with our living Lord Jesus, and ongoing immersion in His Word and prayer are essential at all times.  And God has given us boundless options for creativity, life therapy, and joy—tangible options, things to do with hands, heart, and mind.  Reasons to pop out of bed enthusiastically in the morning, even when it hurts too much to pop out fast!

God has momentarily placed us on a material planet.  He has given us tangible resources to refresh our souls and beautify our brief time on earth as we know it today.  Praise Him! 🙂

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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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Giving . . .

A. C. 3

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon His kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever.  The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.”   Isaiah 9:6-7 KJV

This is the greatest GIFT, the gift of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ Who suffered on an unspeakably cruel cross and died to pay our sin debt—then rose victorious to give us eternal life, HIS abundant life now and forever!  I received this priceless gift of God’s Grace forty-four years ago this coming January.  The GREATEST GIFT!

I was blessed to have parents and a closely bonded extended family and friends who loved life, valued life, and lived by Godly principles.  My grandparents were Bible believing Christians, and in later years I was greatly persuaded that my parents also received the greatest gift—The Lord Jesus Christ.

In my early childhood, family Christmases were somewhat shadowed by a tragedy that had occurred before I was born:  my sister, Shirley, had died at age two on Christmas Day.  Yet Christmas was always a time for celebration, hope, and joy.  We loved being together, we loved the music, we loved the Christmas Story.  And we loved giving and receiving gifts.

In light of the fact that we believers are recipients of the Greatest Gift in Heaven and on the earth, because we are walking around everyday with the very life of God in the Person of His Holy Spirit, the most natural thing to do is to give gifts to family members and friends.  Up until I believed in the Lord Jesus, I naturally loved giving gifts; it was the most wonderful and fun thing to do.  But once I became a believer, God’s Spirit enhanced and blessed our family traditions in such a way that I was, and still am,”over the top” with His joy over our family Christmases.

The Christmas worship services, the music (decades of singing in choirs), favorite recipes (which our children looked forward to each year and still serve to this day), the gatherings with laughter and games we played with the children (and still play, as new family games appear on a regular basis), and our tradition of GIVING became so endowed with implicit depth of meaning and God’s love, that it is inconceivable to imagine any other way to live.

As Joe and I raised our six children, extra people at the family dinner table (year round, not just at Christmas) was a given.  Friends were family.  If a child or young adult friend of one of our children hung out in our home, he or she automatically became one of the loved ones; they were included in the food, hilarious games, and the Christmas giving.

What is more fun than giving and receiving?  It’s not about spending a lot of cash.  Although exceptions have been made over the years for some special item or when there is a specific need, it cannot be about spending huge sums.  We have, to date, forty-nine immediate family members, not counting myself.  But even if we were just a handful of folks, it would still be all about loving each person and deciding what would be fun to give—rather than just blowing money.

I love to make gifts.  For years good gifts came out of my oven or off my pantry shelves where bountiful jams and jellies were preserved.  Now we have children, their spouses, and their children who share yummy kitchen creations.  Although I still bake some things, now I am very happy to paint a watercolor, knit a hat for a child (or an adult), design and knit funky, colorful scarves for all ages, and share my homemade soaps in those lovely gift boxes (just inside the door as you enter JoAnn Fabrics, and at other outlets as well).

Throughout the year, my antennae is up when I browse at art fairs, antique malls, and even rummage sales.  By Christmas each year, I’ve managed to acquire a stash for family members and friends who appreciate lovely vintage art glass or a hand crafted piece of stained glass, mosaic, pottery, whatever.

And then there is that fantastic treat, popular as of recent years, the Gift Certificate.  Although that may seem to be a cop-out to some, I think the certs are wonderful.  I tailor them to individuals.  Some of our young families do a lot of home repair and renovation.  Home Depot.  One family member loves Starbucks, but being a diligently frugal young lady she will pass up that luxury on her budget.  I get tremendous pleasure out of giving her a Starbucks cert for her birthday or sometimes Christmas—and picturing her savoring her powerful coffee and perhaps a sweet.  And who doesn’t love Barnes & Noble?  Books and music—something for every preference and taste.

In our mushrooming family, Joe and I have seventeen great-grandchildren ranging from age twelve down to nine months.  Babies typically get little cuddly animals from this Granny—stuffed, not live although I’d love to be given permission to pick out a real kitten or puppy.  That is yet to happen!  The other children?  Books, puzzles, crayons, etc.  It’s easy, almost a “DUH”, to find gifts for young people.  In fact, all ages are easy, when you long to give some little token of your love and thoughtful consideration.

I constantly find wonderful cooking and crafting books (mostly like new) at a nearby St. Vinnie’s.  Again, these gift books are tailored to the recipients and their hobbies and interests.  How rewarding is that!  I have delighted someone’s heart, for all of $2.19 or thereabout.

Underlying it all is the fact that we love because He first loved us.  We give because He has given to us—that Greatest Gift of salvation and eternal life.  Giving is sharing.  When we are filled to overflowing with God’s gift of love, we simply can’t not share with those whom we love.  When we are filled to overflowing with God’s Word and His gift of grace, we are delighted to graciously receive and enjoy the gifts which our loved ones have thoughtfully selected or made for us.

Christmas!  A stress-free time of joy.  That doesn’t mean that our circumstances are all perfect, at all times.  For many years our celebration centered at our home, and I fed a lot of people.  Granted, sometimes I felt a bit stun-gunned when the season was over, because I had spent physical and emotional energy far beyond any that I possessed.  But God has always given me what I needed, to serve Him by serving people.  And stun-gunned though I was, it was with a sense of purpose and great blessing that I “collapsed” into a quieter routine (as quiet as a routine can be when raising six children).  I knew that God was the center of my giving (as well as my “giving out”) and I rested in Him.  I still do.  It’s the only way to live, and it’s the only way I want to live!

We have had poignant holidays in the wake of bereavement over loss.  We have had tearful Christmases when circumstances were nearly devastating due to a loved one’s rebellious decisions.  Four Christmases ago Joe and I were a wall apart in hospital beds, beginning the arduous recovery from major surgeries both occurring in a space of a few hours a couple of days before Christmas.

But it was still, and always will be, Christmas.  The Grinch can’t steal it and neither can illness, family sorrows, death, economic circumstances, or any of the world’s weighty problems.  Christmas!  If a metaphorical Grinch were to come on Christmas Eve and confiscate our trees and our lights and our presents, it would still be Christmas and we would still be giving—because in all of our giving we are giving ourselves, and giving to our Lord the thanksgiving and glory which He deserves.  If we have nothing to give, we will still give somehow in some way.

Christmas is stress-free and joyous—a time to celebrate the loving and giving that we treasure around the year.  We love because He first loved us.  And we give, because He has given us THE GREATEST GIFT.  It would be unthinkable to do anything else but give when we have received so much!  Merry Christmas!

Margaret Been, December 23rd, 2014

Note:  On the bottom left side of the above photo, you will see a charming manger scene created out of popsicle sticks, bits of cloth, and miscellaneous odds and ends.  This was custom-made for Joe and me a few years ago by four great-grandchildren under the supervision of their Mom—our granddaughter, Alicia. 

If you look closely on the bottom left, you will see little bits of white and purple under or beside the people:  Joseph, Mary, Baby Jesus in His manger bed, and a shepherd.  The little bits are sheep, fashioned from pipe cleaners and dabs of white material, by Alicia’s youngest child—less than two years old at the time if I recall correctly.  Now that is a gift to treasure forever!

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Always Time for Tea

“Always Time for Tea” is the title of the above rendering.  Tea Time in March is charged with anticipation, excited about change, and zesty with the invigoration of fiercely raging wind and ever-stretching sunlit hours.

Today’s wind is not kind; it’s raw and bitter to the taste, like afternoon Earl Grey Tea when it’s been allowed to over-steep.  Today’s sun is glorious—redolent of fragrant places where ripe and mellow leaves were harvested for an “Irish Breakfast” most anywhere in the world.

Along with the joy of anticipation, my St. Patrick’s Day Irish Breakfast musings (in Nashotah, Wisconsin, USA) are shadowed by things that are lost:  a Malaysian jet carrying over 200 passengers, and perhaps millions of people in our culture who haven’t even the faintest comprehension of the importance of solitude—or whose once-valued serenity has gone missing.

How many of us are there left in this crazy culture, who still understand (and prioritize!) the serenity of spending time alone/alone/alone.  I don’t mean always being physically alone/alone/alone.  I speak of mentally/spiritually/emotionally investing time alone and nurturing that soul solitude and serenity which can only come from a depth of completion—the integral completion which we can receive from God’s Grace through the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in one’s life as revealed in Scripture.

How many individuals still treasure time alone:  perhaps really alone for a few hours or minutes—strolling in a sheltered woods, basking in a sunny window, lounging on the patio in the summer—with the ubiquitous iced tea (Earl Grey or Irish Breakfast) in hand?  Alone in one’s mind, unfettered by the worries and potential issues that surround anyone who is breathing and thinking?

Alone.  Apart. Soothed by the realization that the heartbreaking issues of the day are a bleep in Eternity.  Solitude, serenity, ALONENESS!  Busy schedules have been common to much of mankind since the beginning of time.  But today life can become even more complex, if we so allow.  In an age of electronic communications and the proliferation of Facebook friends, how many remember the concept of being alone?  And how many even care, or have the foggiest idea of what they are missing?

I love my laptop for shopping, acquiring information, and blogging.  These are refreshing pastimes.  How wonderful to shop without driving to a store where you may or may not find exactly what you want—be it a special garment (most of my clothing is purchased online), a sable paint brush, a new-to-you line of watercolors or gouche in exciting colors, or the base and fragrance oils for your soap-making avocation.  How rewarding to be able to access an endless library of answers in your ongoing quest for learning.  And how fulfilling to communicate via a blog with people from literally every corner of the earth.

But certain other aspects of the electronic world would quickly threaten to undermine my serenity, if I would fail to preserve a balance—and those specific aspects are email and Facebook.  Email has become a kind of necessity in the minds of many, and for business purposes and the sharing of prayer requests it is indeed valuable.  Facebook serves one and only one purpose for me:  that of viewing and sometimes downloading charming photos of the people in my life.  But balance and frequent avoidance of both of these computer areas are necessary to my discipline of preserving serenity and an atmosphere of solitude in the midst of an overflowing life filled with precious people and their needs.  Thus I will often go for at least a week without checking either Facebook or my email.  Anyone who really needs me will find me via telephone or snail mail—or best of all, with a knock on my door.

Today I pray that someone among the 26 participating rescue nations will discover the missing jet.  Every day I pray that I’ll remember to savor as many serenity-inspiring sights and sounds as I can find, with which to greet each day:  and certainly always before accessing email or Facebook.

A pot of tea helps, whether celebrated alone or shared with a kindred soul.  There’s always time for tea!

Margaret L. Been, March 2014

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80 years old

Summer began around solstice time, with our 60th wedding anniversary celebration.  This was held at our condo clubhouse, so no one’s home got stressed out—but I promise we will not plan a big whoop de doo for our 70th, as our hard working children and grandchildren went many extra miles with planning, serving, and cleaning up after the delightful June 22nd event.

Above, is a photo of Mr. and Mrs. Joe Been—gleaned from our daughter Debbie’s FACEBOOK page and taken a week ago beside Debbie and Rick’s pool.  Although (fortunately) there are not 80 candles on the cake, that is how young I turned on August 8th, 2013.  I think I am freaking out my family and friends by telling them that now I can start being eccentric.  Predictably they are wondering, “Yikes, what’s next?”

In between these two family landmarks, I received my Reverse Total Shoulder Replacement.  The six weeks mark was reached last Tuesday, and now I am able to hang up the sling and walk around with two arms free.  It’s a treat to eat with my right hand again.  (Actually I eat with spoons and forks, but they are held in my hand).  I never did get graceful with the left, and I held my fork like it was a boat oar—very clutzy.

So now I’m watching the early morning mist form over our park, a characteristic of late summer.  How can the days whirr by so fast?  Constantly, I’m overwhelmed when I reflect on the blessings we enjoy every day and will never never take for granted!  My recovery from surgery has been a gift from God worked out through the prayers and benevolence of family members and friends.

I’m thankful for Joe’s daily concern and assistance in so many ways—including weeks of enjoyable eating out together at our favorite restaurants.  We began this two days after my surgery, along with resuming our rummaging adventures.  (There is something so essentially wonderful about doing “normal” things after the trauma of rather radical surgery, with a 6 inch incision scar to prove it!)

I’m thankful for our daughter Laura’s visit from Washington State, starting on my surgery day.  Laura helped me through those tentative first days when every move hurt and just getting washed, dressed, and groomed seemed like an insurmountable challenge.  And for Debbie’s every ready concern—checking in on us, bringing good food, and scrubbing our floors.  (Debbie knows how I love CLEAN!)  I’m thankful for the phone calls, letters, companionship, and encouragement of many over the past weeks.

I’m eternally grateful for the medical expertise which made an effective shoulder prosthesis possible for me.  The Reverse procedure is new within ten years in the USA.  Twelve years ago there would have been no way to fix the considerable pain which is no longer there, thanks to amazing technology.  The Standard replacement simply would not have addressed my issues.  I’m thankful for a surgeon who performs this new procedure, as many orthopedic surgeons have not begun.

I’m thankful for the quiet hospital just minutes from our home—with private rooms for all patients, and plenty of comfortable space for one’s spouse to stay over night.  I’m very grateful for the sweet young man, a Physical Therapist named Daniel, who encouraged me and helped me so much prior to my hospital discharge.  His soft-spoken, gentle kindness—while showing me the only movements I would be allowed for weeks to come—has stuck with me as a stellar example of professional expertise at it’s most personal best.*  There is nothing like quiet kindness to promote healing, and Daniel’s sensitivity has overcome any unpleasant or jarring memories I have had of my hospital experience.  Thanks to him, I’ve been able to “do it right” from start to finish!

I’m thankful for my precious Pembroke Welsh corgi, Dylan.  He never fails to make me smile.  I am certain that he understands most of everything I say to him, although admittedly I don’t launch into a lot of meaty philosophical discussions with Baby Dylan.

And here are photos (also gleaned from Debbie’s FACEBOOK page) of some other precious individuals (great-grandchildren) who never fail to make me smile:

too too sweet

My cup runneth over!!!

*I obtained all of my medical records of proceedings from the day of my discharge from the hospital on 7/3/13.  For a 90 pound person, I have a very strange body chemistry:  I sleep like a well-fed puppy on caffeinated beverages, while narcotic pain medications (which plow most people under) make me “bright eyed and bushy tailed”—and, I fear, loquacious.  So I was naturally curious as to my conversations and interchanges recorded by the medical personnel on discharge day, after I’d received 24 hours of morphine via IV.

Although I might have knocked Daniel over with my bright eyed and bushy tailed verbal input, he recorded me as “Doing very well”, “Able to verbalize movement precautions”, “Independent” in all listed categories, “No difficulty” in doing what needed to be done, and “Agreeable“.  Using the word “Cooperative”, my surgeon recorded the same observations in his write-up of our 7/3/13 exchange.

I was overjoyed to discover that I behaved myself like the lady I always desire to be!  🙂

Margaret L. Been, 2013

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North

My above-pictured collage, simply titled “North”, tells a story—an account of eight years when my husband and I lived, year around, north of Highway 8 in the Wisconsin Northwoods.  Included in the collage are photos of our lake and the Big Elk River around the bend, snippets of my cropped art, bits of aluminum foil, Japanese lace paper, some cheesecloth, lots of acrylic paint, and a favorite quote from a beloved American author:  Henry David Thoreau:  “I had three chairs in my house . . . one for solitude, two for friendship, and three for society.”  Walden

People who know me may laugh when I share this favorite quotation.  They know that:  1) I have far more than three chairs in our home, as well as far more than three of most anything else.  I’m a collector of everything! and 2) My idea of “society” is a lot more than three people.  We have a gargantuan family.  All are welcome to come and sit on our multiple chairs—although many are still in the stage of running around rather than just sitting.  (My “up north” friend Sandy commented after viewing a photo of our family, “That’s not a family; that’s a tribe!”)

Meanwhile, aside from Thoreau’s eastern philosophical views, I love most everything that he wrote.  His chair quote, to me, symbolizes an inner peace and unswerving stability.  A true Yankee at heart, Thoreau was never swayed by customs, crowds, human opinion, or even his own precarious health issues.  I have his complete diary spanning 24 years and two huge volumes.  Right up to his last entry, when Thoreau was dying of tuberculosis, his focus remained on the wonders of creation and the intricate details therein.

The wonders of creation predominate around our home in Northern Wisconsin, along with solitude and an undescribable stillness.  Black bears abound. Despite the fact that they tore up a few bird feeders and pulled a screen off our front deck, I loved the bears (but my husband did not!).  Perhaps the most unique thrill of all was seeing timber wolves on the ice in front of our pier.  The wolves brought unforgettable excitement to a minus 25° morning.  (That’s 25 degrees below zero, folks!)  But nature’s wonders notwithstanding, my most precious memories of up north have to do with the friends we made—friends forever.  As always, I was thankful to have more than 3 chairs in my home!  🙂

Now we are back in the Southern part of our state, where much needed medical care is within 13 minutes from our door.  And family!  In recent years, 16 great-grandchildren have appeared on the scene and we live close to 9 of them.  We are watching the little people grow up.  We attend their school concerts and some of the birthday celebrations.  I attend church with children, grandchildren, and 7 of our great-grandchildren.  When out-of-state family members visit, we are all together in one county—so tribal gatherings are easily managed.  Joe and I enjoy our condo home, my little gardens, the good neighbors on our lane, the park and woodlands beyond our door, and quick access to great restaurants and bistros.  A new grandbaby is due in June—within rocking and cuddling distance. 

Yet now and then on hot summer nights—when I lounge outdoors on the patio while viewing the hazy moon and scanty stars over our nearby metro area—I recall those northern night skies, plastered with millions of stars.  I often think of my friends up there, and I’m thankful that we stay in touch. 

We never really lose the beloved people or places in our lives.  There’ll always be a part of my heart labeled, “North of Highway 8”.

Margaret L. Been, ©2013

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Years ago, in 1941, I had a playmate named Ann Marie.  We lived a block apart in Chilton—the small Wisconsin community where I grew up.  Ann and I were buddies for nearly a year, when Ann Marie’s family moved to a farm and I never saw her again—until . . .

Fast forwarding exactly 60 years to 2001, Joe and I were seated at a park pavillion near our newly acquired Northwoods home—far from Chilton or the Southern Wisconsin area from which we’d just moved.  The occasion was a semi-annual potluck held for and by neighbors who lived around our lake.  A couple across from us got to talking, and somehow the name “Chilton” came up.  It didn’t take long to discover that I was chatting with my childhood playmate.  Ann and her husband had raised their family on a farm here in the Northwoods.

Ann was a whiz with anything that grew.  When I visited in her home, she gave me a small leaf from her orchid cactus.  That shoot took off, and a few years later became the flowering beauty pictured above.  I started many more cactus plants from Ann’s initial gift, sharing them with family and friends all over the place. 

In 2007 my friend Ann died, after a long illness.  When Joe and I moved back to Southern Wisconsin in 2009, I left the “mother plant” (by that time HUGE—bearing many blossoms in the summer) with a good friend and neighbor who had also been Ann’s friend.  I brought many offsprings of the orchid cactus with us to our new home, and they are thriving.  I keep sharing and sharing, and the plants keep growing like there is no tomorrow.

We still have our Northern homes—the sweet cottage we lived in and the factory-built guest house we added up the hill on our 14 acres.  The future of these houses is uncertain, but we hope to sell one and keep one for future vacations when we are fit to travel again.  A young man (about 55 years old) takes care of our Northern property—removing snow, mowing lawns, picking up fallen timber, checking on the homes, and keeping things in order around our woodsy lake retreat.  The young man’s name is Allen, and he is Ann’s son.

The beauty of continuity!

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

Note:  See the orchid cacti—one in the vintage transferware chamber pot on the table, and one in the pink plastic bucket in the window?  🙂

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