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Archive for the ‘Life’ 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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March Walk

I am not referring to the “outdoors” for millions of Americans, that world which is surrounded by cement, concrete, metal, steel, brick and mortar or any other of man’s useful building materials.  Despite the usefulness of these necessities for community living, we can become so acclimated and overwhelmed by them that we are in danger of forgetting there is another “outdoors”—that which God created not simply to provide resources for the above-listed essentials, but specifically to nurture our bodies and souls.

Speaking from personal experience, I must not only bring God’s created world of outdoors in, I must keep it in to remain balanced and whole.  Thus our home is filled with natural treasures:  a variety of sea shells, coral, hunks of quartz and petrified wood, stones and polished agate, jars and bowls filled with chestnuts, fresh flowers blooming in their season, houseplants, and beauty like the above-pictured gleanings of last summer’s dried bounty harvested yesterday—in the prairie just a three minute walk from home.

We bring the outdoors in when we visit wild places, hike or ski through them, or even just view the natural countryside from a car window if that is all we can do.  Exposures to natural and wild beauty can imprint our hearts and minds for a lifetime—renewing and refreshing over the years.  Even though I can only remember from years ago a vacation at the rocky Maine seacoast, or living with the majesty of the Colorado mountains a few miles from my back yard, I am surfeited by theses experiences recalled.

With a vivid and lively imagine we can bring the outdoors in via books that take us anywhere in the world we desire to go!  I am a person most blessed because I have vicariously traveled the world through books.  When I read I am THERE—wherever I have decided to go—and my soul is richer for the trip!

Over 160 years ago, an American whom I love wrote these timeless words:  “Our village life would stagnate if it were not for the unexplored forests and meadows which surround it.”  Throughout the many decades since Henry David Thoreau penned WALDEN and many other writings, Americans have enjoyed God’s gift of nature so wisely preserved by federal, state, and local governments.  But Thoreau also celebrated and wrote about natural creation which can be found at home, wherever there are gardens, birds, and life!*

I often muse over the era in which Thoreau lived and wrote: the mid 19th century.  Technology back then consisted of trains and factories.  In Thoreau’s lifetime one got around by:  train; horse–or horse drawn conveyance, boat, or foot.  Although the telegraph had been invented, most personal and everyday communications were still largely conducted via the spoken or written word.  Thoreau wrote about the human need to periodically remove oneself from human technology and society.

Thoreau loved to walk, engrossed in every natural sight and sound along the way.  What would the perceptive philosopher think about our world today?  Could he ever have envisioned a culture where countless people walk along a lovely park path, heads down and preoccupied with texting or otherwise puttering with their phones?  Or tuning out the birdsong with earphones and streamed music?

Whether or not Henry David Thoreau could have envisioned such advances, he very clearly understood the human drive to discover the potential of and harness resources for man’s use—with all the more urgent necessity to bring the outdoors in, for the good of our souls!

Margaret l. Been — March 23, 2018

*Thoreau’s writings are not just “reads”; they are “re-reads” over and over and over!  One always discovers something new and fresh with the re-reading.  For Christmas one year, my Joe gave me the complete huge 2-volume set of Thoreau’s diaries.

It is fairly well-known that this “beloved Yankee” died at age 45 in early May, 1862, of tuberculosis.  The diary entries (from 1837 to 1861—two volumes approximately 1750 pages each in small font) center on the natural environment with occasional references to books or articles read by Thoreau, or people in his community and individuals he has met in his travels.  The journals include writings dated until a year before Thoreau’s death, and nowhere in reading have I found anything about Thoreau’s illness or personal distress. 

The final entries in 1861 indicate that Thoreau is no longer out and about.  Friends, one of whom is Horace Mann, bring him natural specimens and gleanings from their nature walks, and Thoreau writes from his past observations when out in nature.  In these final entries we see evidence of the outdoors brought into the immediacy of his home:  descriptions of birds viewed from a window; prevailing weather (always a natural phenomena observable from anywhere above ground); and (most poignant of all I think), delightful descriptions of a batch of kittens born during Thoreau’s final days of writing.

NOTE:  Another and hugely significant reason to love Henry David Thoreau was his dedicated and very vocal advocating for the abolition of slavery.

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uEncore.JPG

. . . 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

Always Time for Tea 2.jpg

 

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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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Image result for royalty free images of Pearl Harbor
     I was eight years old in 1941.  Sundays in our home were normally fun—roast chicken or a beef pot roast after church and, during the cold months, an indoor afternoon of jig-saw puzzles and/or Chinese Checkers followed by THE SHADOW at (I think it was) 5:00 p.m. when I would sit with my head (almost literally) in our cabinet-style radio/phonograph, happily lost in the cliff-hanging adventures of Lamont Cranston and Margo Lane.
     But that Sunday was unforgettably different.  The “SHADOW” that day was the massive gloom which spread over our home and extended to all of America along with the entire world.  Some things seem like they happened yesterday, even 75 years later!
     How many people on earth point to a single day in their life when everything changed—when they realized a kind of growing-up epiphany?  The attack on Pearl Harbor, albeit far away and not an immediate threat to my life at the time, symbolized my realization that much in the world is not good—in fact downright horrendous—although sweetness had been my only experience since birth.
     Geographically distant events were revealed to us over a crackly radio and, in the years that followed, in newspapers and the 6:00 p.m. broadcast by Gabriel Heatter (“There’s bad news tonight”, or occasionally “Good news tonight” when the Allied Forces scored a victory.)
     Today the world scene is omnipresent.  Every time we turn on our cell phones or TVs we are updated and bombarded.  The news is old and predictable, but the horror washes over me anew with every viewing—the realization which began at age 8, that much in the world is downright horrendous!  The means of communication have changed; humans have not!
     There is only One Person in the entire universe Who can (and will!) bring “Peace on earth, good will toward men.”  He came once, to show us the way and then to die for our salvation—to pay the sin debt we humans could never pay, and to rise victorious over sin and death.  He is coming again, to reign in Jerusalem and establish His justice and righteousness!
      Meanwhile, although we are not to (and certainly do not wish to) nurture ill will toward enemy nations of the past, may we Americans never forget the unforgettable Sunday!  We humans are fallen!  Every person on earth needs to be redeemed by the One who will ultimately bring peace on earth!
Margaret L. Been — December 7th, 2016

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SS Edmund Fitzgerald underway, photo by Winston Brown

Perhaps the oldest form of poetry in most languages, the art of story-telling in rhyme and meter, has staying power like little else in literary history.  Recording historical events, myths, and everyday happenings—comic, tragic, or somewhere in between—the ballad has traditionally been sung and accompanied by (frequently a stringed) musical instrument.  Yet many unforgettable tales in rhyme and meter stand sufficiently alone on paper, begging to be read aloud.

My English literature background is rich with balladry beginning with that bloody saga of Good vs. Evil, Beowulf.  In the 1990s, when we lived in a home with a vaulted wood paneled ceiling we hung the heads of a Javelina pig and a pronghorn antelope—both hunted, bagged, and bequeathed to me by my father.  As I viewed the mounted heads, I experienced a wash of Beowulf Medieval atmosphere; I just had to get out an old textbook and read parts of that gory drama in the ancestral hall.

Whereas some of the characters in the ballad had grown fuzzy or obscure in my head over decades, the mood and setting were indelible.  Mood and atmosphere are created by music, with or without words.

English literature is replete with balladry.  Some beloveds probably known to most aficionados of poetry are Keats’ La Belle Dame sans Merci and Alfred Noyes’ The Highwayman.  Add The Rime of he Ancient Mariner, by Coleridge and haunting works by America’s own Edgar Allan Poe (examples: Annabel Lee and The Raven) and you have a start toward Balladry 101.  The canon is endless.

The tradition of story-telling via ballads set to music was big in the 1960s, with the popularity of folk music and wrung-out war-protests.  This music continued into the 1970s.  But since then, except in isolated parts of the country where (happily) folk music is inherent to the local culture, the ballad seems to have dropped through the floor—as if someone played a foul trick by suddenly opening up a hidden trapdoor on the floor of a stage, and absconding with a lot of life-quality in the process.

Now fakey-flashing lights, screaming, throbbing, gyrating about in indecent attire, and the glorifying of oblivion—all personified by The Coarse and Obnoxious (as well as The Just Plain Weird!) have supplanted the age-old entertainment mode of telling and re-telling the human story, both epic and everyday, in a format that implants one’s heart and mind forever.  As a society, we have lost the power of the ballad—and the loss is tragic beyond definition!

The stage lights went out and the metaphorical trapdoor opened up shortly after the immense popularity of what I believe to be one of the most significant ballads in contemporary times:  The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, by Gordon Lightfoot—a multi-gifted composer and troubadour.  With the obvious exception of fictional last minute commentary on the ship, Lightfoot documented the tragedy with careful selection of factual information.

The ballad triggered an inquisitive spirit in me, and in recent years I’ve read everything I could get my hands on concerning the Fitzgerald (pictured above in all its original glory.)  As far as I know, there is still a question:  Did the ship hit an uncharted shoal which jarred the hatches loose, or had they been improperly secured?  God knows.

Shipwrecks are among history’s most horrific events.  I have a penchant for reading about peril on high water, and oddly enough I don’t even like to be tossed about on a small inland lake in a sailboat.

Yes, I do swim and I love water.  Canoes and rowboats are wonderful!  Motors are okay, too.  But flailing in the wind?  No thank you—only in a book.  I have read about many ship disasters, including the Titanic which was massive in scope and devastation compared to the Fitz.  So why is the Edmund Fitzgerald foremost in my head?

Maybe because it happened in my recent lifetime, and less than three hundred miles from home.  Or even more likely, because Gordon Lightfoot wrote and performed an unforgettable song about the Fitz.  It’s all about The Power of the Ballad.

Margaret L. Been — April 23, 2016

Note:  Over decades of serious application to the art of poetry I have written many lyrical, philosophy-of-life pieces.  Ten years ago I decided to try writing a ballad, and I did exactly that.

The ballad is titled:  The Summer of Horses, and it is kind of a metaphorical-epiphany thing.  I was pleased with the effort, and the ballad won 1st Honorable Mention in the 2006 Wisconsin Writers’ Association Annual Jade Ring Contest.

God willing, and the creeks don’t rise, AND providing the days do not suddenly go berserk and hit 70-80° F., I will post The Summer of Horses on this site before National Poetry Month morphs into the Merry Month of May.

But please don’t hold your breath!  🙂

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Grandpa Longenecker and his racer

The above racing team consists of my paternal grandfather, George Washington Longenecker (1864-1951) and one of his American Standardbreds.  Grandpa George may be considered an obscure poet; but he was far from obscure in Neillsville, Wisconsin where he served for decades as a preacher in the 1st Congregational Church.

Along with “pastoring” (actually Congregational preachers* are called “Reverend” rather than “Pastor”), Grandpa George raised American Standardbreds and competed in sulky races at local fairs.  This activity raised a few legalistic eyebrows in the small Wisconsin community—probably due to the possibility of spectators gambling on the races.  But Grandpa’s recreational passions involved horses and poetry, not money.

Having made poems ever since I can recall and pursued a lifelong study of poetry as fine art, I need to mention that most literary poetry aficionados would consider my grandfather’s verses to be doggerel.  Although Grandpa was raised on classical literature, his course of study was theology—not the fine arts.  Like many Congregational Reverends in his era, he graduated from Ohio’s Oberlin Seminary.

Grandpa George loved the Lord Scripturally, with all his heart and mind.  His poems reflect his love, and that’s good enough for me!  My grandfather also loved music, specifically the great hymns of the Christian faith which he played on his violin.  Much of Grandpa’s poetry contains the cadence and meter of a hymn.

In 1947 Grandpa self-published a book of his work titled SUNSET POEMS—named after my grandparents’ home, “Sunset Point”, on a bluff overlooking Wisconsin’s beautiful Black River.  Here is one of the poems:

Grandpa's Poem

George W. Longenecker

No feature concerning Grandpa George would be complete apart from mention of his beloved life partner, Emma Rosina Ernst Longenecker (1866-1952), my grandmother.  In past blog entries I have celebrated Grandma Rose who was known for her abundant garden produce, homemade bread, and frequent litters of kittens generously shared with people around town.

Here is Grandma Rose when she was a young girl:

Grandma Rose

*A contemporary novel, GILEAD by Marilynne Robinson, centers on three generations of small town Congregational Reverends from the Civil War to Mid-20th Century.  I was riveted to this book and want to read it again, as it reflects my roots.  Potentially classic, GILEAD is a quietly-powerful piece of fiction.  Marilynne Robinson’s storytelling gift is poignantly beautiful.  Two more of her novels, HOME and LILA, form a trilogy with GILEAD.

Margaret L. Been — April 6th, 2016

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