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Archive for the ‘Small Town Living’ Category

It’s All about LIFE!

beautiful silly Dilly

 

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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!

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Margaret L. Been — July 31st, 2016

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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, Victorian era 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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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!

Leo 7 monthAlicia's wonderlandThree preciesrecent workIF

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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Baby D again

Again Sweet Mia

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Daane Boys

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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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winter spinning wheel yes

Lest yesterday’s poignant piece leads you to believe that we harbor sadness around here, please think again.  I experience the poignancy of change, but always with gladness and appreciation of the moment and season at hand.  Each has its beauty and meaning.  Each is accessible when we have layers of wool, and I do.  Each has its unique message, new every year.  And due to God’s faithfulness, each season will return.  So I will take you on a photo tour throughout our home, which we dearly love indoors and out.  Indoors is especially cozy and inviting.

Above you will see one of my two highly efficient fine spinning wheels on which I produce beautiful yarn for knitting.  For 18 years I raised my own spinners’ flock of quality wool sheep:  Border Leicester, Cotswold, Romney, Targhee, Corriedale, and Shetland—plus Angora goats for mohair.  I still have some of my Shetlands’ gorgeous brown wool.  But being a color freak, now I purchase dyed fleece and roving from suppliers of which their are loads—readily accessible online.  The green wool in the baskets pictured here is Merino—the world’s softest fiber with the exception of silk which I also order and spin.

In this spinning wheel scene you can see some of our eastern exposure winter garden.  Here the fussy, shade lovers reside.  When we moved to Nashotah in 2009, it didn’t take long for us to realize that our violets did not enjoy our new home as much we did.  Here we have natural gas heat, and alas there is a heat duct blowing down over both of our winter gardens.

The succulents featured in the next photo do not mind hot dry air a bit.  But African violets are really jungle plants.  They thrive on the moist ground in the humid section filled with tropical trees and lush undergrowth in Milwaukee’s Mitchell Park Horticultural Domes.  Now, after 5 years of prematurely loosing violets, I have installed them in Wardian cases (one of which is visible behind the wheel)—attractive little greenhouses patterned after an invention by a 19th century English doctor (Dr. Ward) who built the house-like glassed in shelters to protect his plants in his London home.

 

winter garden again yes

Above is a glimpse of our southern facing indoor garden replete with succulents.  These plants, along with my Louis L’Amour novels provide a western fix for the Colorado and New Mexico aspect of my life.

Winter shawls yes

Back to the fiber thread (pardon the pun), here are some recent renderings from my yarn baskets and knitting needles.  (Unlike many folks, I knit all through the summer, even outside on the warmest days.  That is called “being a knit wit”.)

On the left is a shrug in process, knitted with my handspun yarn.  Next is a finished fringed shawl, also in handspun.  The almost center garment is a cape.  I make loads of these, because they are so much fun!  As well as adding buttons for decoration, I include buttons and button holes so that the garment will stay on the shoulders with comfort.  On the right is a HUGE poncho, probably good down to 20 degrees above zero over a big wool sweater.  The cape and poncho are made from commercial woolen yarns with a few funky synthetics thrown in for fun.

winter soap yes

And saponifying—that is, soap making—another year round delight.  These bars, made just yesterday, look good enough to eat. But I wouldn’t advise that!

winter painting yes

And art making, also enjoyed year around but really beefed up on winter nights!

winter tea yes

And winter tea parties.  Of course I continue my beloved iced tea all year (I didn’t think I had any Southern blood in me, but that’s what friends below the Mason Dixon line do).  However, when company comes, it’s hot tea and a chance to show off my English tea pots.  Guests may pick their pot, and cup and saucer of which there are MANY.

Winter Patio

Finally, here is a shot from last year.  It’s coming!  I’m thankful for all of the above, especially for my family and corgi, and of course for books bending multi shelves and stacked like leaning towers all over the home!

When the sun shines again (and it will) I’ll try to get some shots of glorious color.  That’s coming too—hopefully before the above pristine stuff!

©Margaret L. Been, October 2014

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Gradually, almost imperceptibly the seasons turn.  Summer lingered, and thanks to plenty of moisture our woodland view remained green far longer than normal for a Southern Wisconsin Autumn.  For weeks I played make believe—drinking iced tea in the morning sun and making believe it was still, and always would be, Summer.   Then the mornings turned brisk, and I switched my sun and iced tea habit to the south side of our condo—rocking in a large pink rocker and absorbing every bit of warmth I could, to store against the inevitable onslaught of change.

Then the Autumn rains.  Now our courtyard is littered with sheddings from a large tree which is, as far as I can ascertain, an American Elm.  I love the leaf-littered grass, but realize that many condo owners do not.  Most folks around here do not hear my wild drummer, which forever beats to the soughing of wind and soothing of soggy leaves underfoot.  When the leaves dry, their crunching will delight my heart beyond anything words can express.

Soon the maintenance crew will vacuum the littered leaves.  I must be watchful, to preempt the crew and rake boundless amounts into my gardens for a protective buffer against winter.

Since our patio and patio garden open directly off the living room of our home, I fantasize that I’m still outdoors.  I open the patio door and inhale the pungent scent of Autumn rain, ripened and vastly different from the fragrance of April showers.  Still I pretend, pour myself an iced tea, close my eyes, and celebrate that stubborn essence of Summer which has always pervaded my innermost heart.

©Margaret L. Been, October 2014

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