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Archive for the ‘Gracious Entertaining’ Category

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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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!

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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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Piano Musings, Recollections, and Resolution . . . .

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In a good week I have four or five of them:  piano days.  I never sit down to play without thinking of childhood.  How pleased my mother would be with this daughter who, when young, preferred to putter in the shallow creek at the base of our property (crunching on ice floes in winter and catching pollywogs in the summer) to the discipline of piano and violin.  Yet practice I did, many hours per week.  Mom gave me no alternatives.  I had to do a couple of hours of music before messing about in the river.  Mother was passionate about music.  She was a classical pianist, and sat me down at a piano long before I can remember.  At age eight I began my 10 year stint of violin lessons.  I thank Mom for her music passion.  Throughout adulthood, music (especially vocal and piano) has been one of my passions as well.

Mother was unique—so different from some Moms, and how I praise the Lord for that!  Now and then I was allowed in the kitchen to make chocolate chip cookies.  After every meal I helped with the clean up; Mother washed the dishes and I dried them and put them away.  (That was special bonding time.)  But I NEVER cooked a meal.  I picked up a few tips from kitchen observation, but I was not taught to cook.  Mom’s famous words were:  “Soon enough you will grow up and have to cook, and since you can read you’ll be able to manage!  Anyone can cook!” 

I was taught to work.  I had to clean the bathrooms and do the ironing (both of which I absolutely love to this day).  But Mom was the cook.  We frequently had company for dinner and my job—my wonderful job!—was to get out the silver, china, and stemware, and set a beautiful table.  The centerpiece was my domain; I had free reign to arrange flowers, candles, and whatever else I could dream up.  Even when there were only the four of us at the table—my parents, my sister, and me—I dressed the table and took enormous pride in the job.  I still do!  My mother wanted me to invest time in reading, knitting, stitching, and doing other creative things along with the music—rather than cooking.

Obviously, as a wife and mother of six children, I did end up doing a lot of cooking and baking over the years!  My mother was wise.  She schooled me in the even more vital, life energizing creative things that bring grace, beauty, and elegance to those chores we have to do in the midst of life’s inevitable challenges.

I’m eternally grateful for both of my parents, and the older I get the more I think of them.  My father traveled frequently because the company he worked for (Lauson Motors in New Holstein Wisconsin/the company eventually became Tecumseh) was knee deep in wartime production.  But when Dad was home, he was my Dad!  He frequently came home with the gift of a book for me, and he always wanted to read whatever I had been writing.  The greatest boost I can recall was when, at age 11, I showed Dad an essay I’d written for a school assignment.  Dad read the text carefully, and said:  “You really think thoughts!”

I could go on forever and bore you readers to distraction about my delightful life, but I won’t.  I hope to stop short of causing abject ennuni!  Meanwhile, much as I have always thought New Year’s resolutions to be rather silly, I have set a goal for the coming year:

To constantly evoke a rather maudlin, corny old Bing Crosby tune the lyrics of which went:  “Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative . . . “.  Not that I subscribe to “the power of positive thinking”.  Mankind is fallen, and without intervention of the life of Jesus Christ we are lost.  The power of positive thinking is hogwash.  I cannot eliminate ISIS by thinking.  We cannot change our nation, by just thinking; we must pray and WORK—and then only God’s Spirit will make a difference!  Just “thinking” will never deal with the horrendous world issues which our clueless, muddleheaded, and/or downright evil President refuses to acknowledge.

Only God can change the world, and eventually He will—as He has promised through ages of Old Testament prophecy confirmed by the Lord Jesus in the Gospels, as well as in the New Testament Epistles!  Meanwhile, as I pray and live as the Lord leads, I can—as old Bing crooned—“Accentuate the positive”.

Here is an example:  rather than continuing to spout off about Obama’s idiotic State of the Union address, or grousing about the Packers’ failure to complete their great start against the Seahawks last Sunday I can (and am!) robustly cheering Speaker John Boehner for his classic End Run around our President, by inviting Benjamin Netanyahu to address The House of Representatives on the threats of Iran and Islamic terrorism.  Clearly, the Seahawks—even Obama’s speech—fade into the back of my mind, next to Boehner’s Play of the Week—maybe the play of the year!

To summarize, my goal is to continually and faithfully focus on and publish good news.  But specifically, what do all these musings have to do with a piano day?  Simply this:  On my piano days I begin by struggling over the few Chopin nocturnes I can even dream of playing, adding some easier classics such as George Winston’s arrangement of Pachelbel’s beloved Kanon, lightening up with a Scott Joplin rag or two, and ending with my treasured book of Gospel hymns including Amazing Grace. 

AMAZING GRACE!  Forty four years ago almost to this very day, I was catapulted in the Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  It was a bitter cold day in January of 1971 when I entered the Kingdom.  The sun pounding down on the pristine banks of snow was so bright, so exquisite, so unspeakably and amazingly beautiful that I still experience a flush of joy when I think of it.  And every time I play Amazing Grace, the wonder, brilliance, and joy of that day is new—all over again!

Salvation and eternal life in Christ.  That is the “positive” to accentuate, the Good News which tops all else—yes, even John Boehner’s Fabulous End Run around our misguided, muddleheaded, and possibly (quite probably!) evil President!  🙂

Margaret L. Been—January 22, 2015

Note:  Here is an aside:  my pick from the cast of GOP contenders for nomination is Dr. Ben Carson.  Someone new, someone non-political, someone with real straight arrow values—although others in the list, including our own Governor Scott Walker, project straight values as well.

In his book, ONE NATION, Dr. Carson begins by demonstrating how “political correctness” has undermined our nation, as it is literally killing freedom of speech and promoting dishonesty at many levels.  I can accentuate the fact that I positively agree 

Dr. Carson is outspokenly Biblical in his views on the sins of abortion and homosexuality.  He is not afraid to quote Scriptural references, and point to God’s Word as the ultimate authority.  Coming from a distinguished man of science, this is especially refreshing!

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Giving . . .

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“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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