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Archive for the ‘Gracious Living’ Category

May Day.JPG

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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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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SON

I have read more than once of how people in Europe, generally speaking, have a greater handle on relaxing and savoring the ambience of the moment compared to those of us in the USA.  The utter devastation of the big wars, something most Americans cannot even begin to comprehend, resulted in some cases in a determination to celebrate the moment whenever there was a moment of peace.

Most conservatives, of which I am one, decry the mentality that would sooner accept a government handout than look for a job.  But how often do we realize that there are also some Americans who drive themselves relentlessly, even ruthlessly, in a self-imposed and unnecessarily severe work ethic which precludes taking a time out for rest, relaxation, recreation, and soulful reflection.

It is one thing to struggle when necessary for SURVIVAL.  But quite another to drive and push in order to procure the myriads of material things that many of us have grown to believe we need and must have—items far beyond the basics of food, decent shelter, and adequate clothing.

To clarify, please understand that I really enjoy material things—and I have an abundance of them, although many are of the vintage shop variety purchased for a little more than a song:  things the trendy crowd would sneer at superciliously.  But I am not, and never have been, willing to sacrifice a lifestyle of savoring the moment in order to obtain myriads of “things”—and certainly not “high status”, flashy, grandiose things which mean absolutely nothing to me in contrast to a better way:  the timeworn, gracious, contemplative, and appreciative quality of life.

We Christians should understand and appreciate God’s mandate to “Be still, and know that I am God.”  Quite apparently, it runs against the grain of human nature to “be still”, and when it comes to noise I know I can contribute volumes.  But God calls us to a lifetime of poised stillness—an inner attitude of restful quiet while we work or socialize, and as we defend God’s truth in our words and actions.

Too frequently we leave the serenity factor to the New Agers.  They are great at focusing on tranquility and peace; but theirs is a false, demonic “peace”—a counterfeit of the true peace that only the One True God can give through His Infallible Word—and through quietly savoring each moment He gives us.

Our nation is in the midst of a vicious political/cultural season, with evils of immorality and the horrendous demon of anti-Semitism on the rise.  Frequently we must speak and act to project the truths on which we stand.  But to speak and act with an attitude of genuine inner serenity—that is the challenge, one of which I too often fall short.

There are times when we must (and will!) be visibly, viscerally angry.  For instance, I am livid over the Obama-via-Samantha Powers dissing of Israel at the UN on 12/23/16—a day of infamy—and I express this anger with every opportunity.  Yet I must cling to the understanding that God is in control; He must be the very center of my being as I speak, act, and even as I express my abject anger.

In view of national and global chaos, I pray I will never forget the better way—to be still and know that God is God.  For my husband and me, the “better way” translates to treasuring the simple joys:  time spent with family and friends, birds at the feeders, the drip-drip of melting snow from our rain gutters during a January thaw, these ever-stretching daylight minutes since the darkness of winter solstice, and ever-present scenes like the one above—a fantasia of ice and snow photographed from our patio.

Meanwhile, I’m wishing you a New Year blessed with tranquil islands of solitude and serenity, for savoring the better way.

Margaret L. Been, 1/22/17

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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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It’s All about LIFE!

beautiful silly Dilly

 

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More SW

More G

More Fun

More FA

Leo again again again again again

Now more than ever before, we need to focus on LIFE.  As a FOX NEWS follower, I pray constantly to refuse letting the news depress or stress me!  Much of the news is so horrible, that it simply must be a matter of prayer.

Much of the news is all about death:  death by ISIS; the death of our American culture due to Godless immoral laws and deluded government leaders; and the spiritual death of a self-serving, self-centered, humanistic and materialistic worldview which has pervaded every area of American life from schools and universities to churches which once glorified God but no longer honor Him or His Word.

Without the Lord Jesus Christ—who took our sin to the Cross, suffered a cruel death for us, rose to conquer death, and LIVES to share His eternal LIFE with any and all who will trust in Him—I would certainly be depressed and stressed!

But I know that God is in control.  He is fulfilling His plan from eternity past:  “Thy will be done on earth as well as in Heaven.”  In the midst of this crazy world, His LIFE prevails and He will return to reign and bring justice to earth.

In our home, Joe and I have two identical hymnbooks.  Often, especially on Sundays, I play the beloved old Gospel hymns on the piano and Joe sings along with his hymnal.  What a joy this is!

We always include the hymn “Wonderful Words of Life”, by P. P. Bliss.  Along with its upbeat, catchy melody this song takes me back many years to when I sang in a junior choir as a child.  I recall continually bugging the director by begging her for us to sing “Wonderful Words of Life.”  The director tried to explain that we couldn’t sing the same song every Sunday and there were other good hymns to share.

But I still remember the joy I experienced when my wish was granted and our little choir belted out:  “Sing them over again to me, wonderful words of life.  Let me more of their beauty see, wonderful words of life . . . .”

Yes, it is all about LIFE!

music 2

Margaret L. Been — July 31st, 2016

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