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Archive for the ‘Sheep’ Category

 

I wrote the following lines, thinking they might make a good epitaph:

I’ve always needed something in my hands . . .

a doll, a Teddy bear, kitten, puppy, infant,

new-born lamb, bread dough, yarn and knitting needles, 

a teacup, pen and paper, book, steering wheel, handkerchief,

a piece of quartz, an oak leaf, acorn, chestnut,

bouquet of daisies, dried hydrangeas . . .

EARTH! 

I’ve always needed something in my hands, and will

until You pry my fingers loose and lead me, empty handed,

HOME!

© Margaret Longenecker Been

Everyone knows I love words.  I never bothered to talk as a toddler, and until I turned two years old my parents were afraid I’d never talk.  Then I turned two, and my parents were suddenly afraid that I’d never stop.  I recall my mother telling someone: “Margaret can talk a bird down out of a tree”!

Shades of loquacity notwithstanding, what may be an even stronger trait exists in my DNA—the tactile gene.  This gene is an actual hunger at all times of the year.  Indeed over the winter holidays, when much of our time is occupied with pleasant social gatherings, the hunger intensifies to a point where I realize I HAVE to take my knitting along to group occasions in order to maintain soul balance—and also that I will not eat all the available goodies.  I must have something in my hands.

The hunger continues, rampantly noticeable, throughout the rest of the winter as I dream of the gardening season ahead—when bare hands in earth will be satisfied and filled with rejoicing.  Meanwhile, I repot houseplants—taking special care to get some of the soil under my fingernails while indulging my sense of smell in the heady fragrance of green roots in wet earth.  I paint with a paintbrush, but relish the traces of alizaron crimson and French ultramarine on my fingers.  I stroke my doggie’s back and pat his head, while revelling in the softness of his fur and the smoothness of his velvety ears.

And I knit!  Yarn has special appeal as each variety has its own texture.  Without looking I can differentiate between silk yarns, factory spun acrylic blends, and those precious yarns which I’ve spun from my own (long ago) sheep.  There is a distinct difference in sheep wools:  I still have a soft Shetland batt, and some Border Leicester wool which is lustrous and coarse—fine for my sun weathered skin, but frowned upon by many folks who can’t handle a bit of the scratch on their delicate bodies.

The first full blown realization of my abject need for tactile experience came to me over a couple of decades when I frequently attended workshops and conferences.  Many of these were focused on writing, and no matter how helpful and informative they were I would come home drained and stressed—wanting to scream but not knowing exactly why.  I may have been inspired and challenged, but I also felt kind of “ill”.  I was sick of words—and weary of the competition and drivenness commonly exhibited at conventions of writers!

Also in those years, I attended woollie gatherings—spinners’ conventions and knitters’ gatherings.  I came home from these occasions with an overflowing cup of contentment and well being!  The diverse textures of the subject matter were accompanied by the glorious scent of wool and high stimulation of COLOR—all set against a background of pleasant conversation.  To this day I feel healthy and strong in the wake of a spinners’ or knitters’ gathering—where all levels of “art” are welcome and respected, and participants are bonded in their shared love of a hands-on project.

Oddly enough, I can read a fine quality 600 or 700 page book (and often do) without that burnt out feeling that I get from a writers’ gathering.  Somehow, the aptly written word fulfills, challenges, soothes, and satisfies while building rather than depleting my soul.  So can words spoken by a teacher, preacher, or friend.  Quiet, one-on-one conversation with a friend or family member refreshes me.  And I can write volumes, with impunity. 

It is the cacophony of many competitive people talking that jars me to the core—along with the above mentioned drivenness that motivates (and sadly afflicts!) many writers in a group of their peers.  I’m settled and fulfilled whenever I have something in my hands! 

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

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As you can see from the above photo, taken a couple of years ago in our up north guest house, our grandsons Joel and Nathaniel are fascinated by my beloved craft of spinning. 

The fact that I knit sweaters, hats, shawls, and scarves from my hand spun yarns (spun from sheep wool, llama hair, mohair from angora goats, dog hair, and/or silk) lends a practical purpose to this ancient but currently popular art.  The easy-to-comprehend mechanics of a spinning wheel add to the marvelous mystique of spinning:  engendered in those of us who were raised on the tales of Hans Christian Andersen and The Brothers Grimm.

The wheel pictured above is one of my 5 spinning wheels.  It’s a replica of the Irish Castle Wheel, and it is the one I use most often as it’s easy to move from room to room—or out to the patio where I sit and spin on warm days.  The wheel’s main location is our living room next to the Saxony wheel which I also use frequently and love.  Both wheels (pictured below along with my yarns and some of the garments) have the same mechanism with exchangeable bobbins.  They are Jensen wheels—made in Lake Delton, Wisconsin—and they are “top of the line” in performance as well as exquisite beauty.

As I keyboard on my laptop, I can honestly say that I love old things best:  old appliances, old tools, old dishes, old artifacts of most any kind.  That may sound oxymoronic as I blog, gather information, and do most of my shopping online (with the exception of groceries).  Sometimes I even write letters on the laptop, although email is my least favorite computer function.  There is nothing, no nothing in the world like a real letter on pretty stationery.  The ever-escalating cost of postage will never dim my fondness for the U. S. Postal Service!

New things can be useful, even delightful—as in the case of favorite kitchen appliances like my BREADMAN, electric percolator, and blender for those refreshing smoothies.  I’m on friendly terms with a refrigerator, and an electric oven and range.  I have no desire to cook on wood, even though I’ve nostalgic recollections of my Grandma Rose doing exactly that.

We have a dishwasher, which we do not use—as dishes are too lovely to stash in a machine, and I get much pleasure out of washing them and seeing them lined up in the drying rack on a kitchen counter.  When we had little children and babies, I thought differently and did use a dishwasher.  Now the dishwasher is one of our resident “museums”.  It houses old kitchen gadgets, cookie cutters, etc. which were once used by departed family members—or culled from garage sales and antique shops.

Flush toilets and running water are luxuries I’ll never take for granted.  I love them and would not want to go back to using an outhouse, and pumping and hauling water.  It’s fun to recall the fact that we had only an outhouse (and slop pails for nighttime use) at our summer cottage in the 1940s—and that we hauled water for drinking, cooking, and washing.  But having “been there, done that”, I certainly don’t wish to return.

No!  Other than periodically eschewing a few things like email, I don’t want to go back.  But I do want to preserve, and whenever possible use and enjoy vestiges of the past through home arts such as spinning on my spinning wheels.

Why is preservation so important?  I believe that an appreciation of the past is a vital dimension of life in the present!  Quite basically, we have roots.  Just as a plant is nourished by its God-given roots, we are nourished by ours.  Roots are part of our down-to-earth quality of life, and they are instrumental in that profound pleasure which we derive from simple, everyday things.  Without an appreciation of our roots, we would be plastic people—sterile, robotic, generic, and boring! 

Family roots are vital but so are cultural, lifestyle roots.  I’m not alone in my passion for roots, as evidenced in the popularity of THE ANTIQUES ROADSHOW and the crowds that throng to living history museums.  Life is richer today when we know something about yesterday! 

Our home is blessed to be a mini living history museum, one in a constant state of production with spinning wheels, baskets of wool (still remaining from 20 years of raising my own sheep), a surplus of knitting needles, and a plethora of hand spun yarn and hand fashioned garments!

NOTE:  The 3 shawls on your left as you face this photo are some of many that I wove on my 24″ Baby Wolf Loom–one of 2 looms which are currently still up north due to lack of room for them in our condo.  Having only 2 hands, I manage to keep my fingers moving fast enough as it is with spinning and knitting. 

The “center stage” colorful striped scarf is one I knit over this past winter from yarns which I recently spun and dyed.  Embellished with funky beads and a crocheted border, the scarf is wide enough to double as a stole.

It always freaks me out, when people look at my spinning wheels and call them “looms”.  More education and advocacy are needed in the area of the fiber arts! 

Occasionally, I spin for public events.  People always cluster around the spinning demos, and ask wonderful questions.  How great to be able to promote an appreciation of this time-honored craft!  🙂

Margaret L. Been—All Rights Reserved

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For the first time in 56 plus years of marriage, we’ve submitted a “normal” claim to our homeowner’s insurance company, for repairs in our frozen and water damaged guest house up north.  We’ve had the same insurance company for 5 decades, and although we’ve only made 2 previous claims we are well known to that company.  Here is why:

Back in the 1980s, we had an unseasonably warm Christmas Day in Wisconsin–and our visiting grandchildren raced outside to play after opening their presents.  The children begged their grandpa to let Jimmy out of his pen, to play with them.

Jimmy was a Wisconsin State Champion Corriedale ram, whom we had rented for a few weeks to cover our ewes.  He was a large, powerful animal and he loved people–especially children.  It was fun to see Jimmy follow the kids around, like a giant dog.

Our daughter, Debbie, and I were the only ones left indoors when we heard a shattering crash and felt a tremor which rocked our bi-level home.  Terrified, we wondered if the house would collapse–and we expected to hear screams of pain.  Instead we heard a chorus of shouts and giggles.

While playing in the backyard with the children, Jimmy had spotted his reflection in our lower level patio glass door–and he thought it was another ram.  Jimmy charged at his reflection with all his magnificent heft, and splintered the heavy duty door into thousands of fragments.

Since no people were hurt, I was immediately concerned about Jimmy.  Was he okay?  I didn’t want him to suffer, and moreover he was a valuable animal entrusted to our care.  But Jimmy was just fine.  God knew what he was doing when he created rams’ skulls!  The men cleaned up the glass and fashioned a temporary door out of plywood.  We decided that we were celebrating the funniest Christmas ever.

Even funnier was the visit from our insurance agent–a new recruit to the firm.  His eyes grew larger and larger as I related the incident of Jimmy and the patio door–until suddenly the agent went into hysterics. 

This agent had heard about our family the very first day he went to work for that company.  We were a legend there, because our only other claim had been 34 years previous when one of our sons–18 months old at the time–had accidentally shot his pee into a wall outlet.  The urine, containing ammonia, had triggered a small fire in the wall.  The fire department was involved, and no serious damage occurred–just a few holes in a mattress, caused by sparks flying from the outlet.  The insurance company replaced the mattress.

We were told that the pee incident was the funniest report this company had ever had–and the company made a legend of it.  Every person who came to work there heard about the little boy who had started a fire in an outlet.  And now, 34 years later, this same family was presenting a claim because a ram had destroyed a patio door.

Of course we got the new door.  Jimmy went back to his owners after providing us with some nice lambs–and plenty of entertainment!  🙂

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

The above true story won 1st place in SHEEP Magazine’s
“Funniest Sheep Story Contest”, and was published in that magazine.

The illustration is courtesy of Dover Copyright Free Clip Art.

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