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Archive for the ‘The Home Arts’ Category

The Long Deep Quiet


Frozen time unhinged . . .

pulsing, throbbing life unseen . . .

waiting to burst forth.

I’ve often wondered if those who live in a tropical or near-tropical part of the world experience the four seasons with as much joy, anticipation, and metaphorical musings as we do here in the North, where each one of the seasons is uniquely distinct!  I would certainly miss the round of annual changes that have been a part of life forever—even during a handful of years in my beloved Colorado, which does also have definite changes although (happily!) it can be 70 degrees there at Christmas.

It is fun to grouse about winter, but the truth is I LOVE it—especially now that we are in our dotage, and don’t have to go out on the roads unless we really want to.  Even a clinic appointment may be postponed if icy roads prevail.

I do know that occasional change can be delightful in winter.  Back in the days when I flew at the drop of a WHIM, to visit our out-of-state children, I enjoyed an occasional week with our son, Karl, in Denver CO which was sometimes warmer than Wisconsin, and other times capable of producing a sudden 18 inches of snow.

And I recall one January when I visited our oldest daughter, Laura, in the environs of Bellingham, WA.  I was treated with typical NW Rainforest weather.  A constant quiet, warmish rain made music on the metal roof of Laura’s home—like the melodious, soothing repetition of a George Winston piano composition.  I got so excited about the sound of the rain on the roof, that Laura’s six year old daughter, Nancy, asked—very pointedly—“Grandma!  Doesn’t it ever rain in Wisconsin?”

Conversely, Laura has traditionally loved to come home to Wisconsin in January—especially when we lived in the deep, quiet Wisconsin Northwoods.  There it is normally anywhere from 15 to 30 degrees below zero in January, the kind of weather when nose hairs freeze and crackle.  The kind of weather where the sun, slowing climbing back Northward, is brilliantly blinding as it reflects on snow and ice.

Laura and I would sit each bitter cold, sunny morning, watching for the local bald eagle to cruise over our frozen flowage lake—while to the discerning eye, various soft tints of color occasionally played across the ice as the sun moved overhead.

Now, 285 miles South of that high winter home, we are just as contented.  Winter is the deep quiet time of our four seasons year.  For the home-loving soul who thrives on “making”, winter days are creative—whether “creative” means home-made bread hot from the oven, a painting, a morning of piano practice, a garment growing on the knitting needles, or most any other kind of “making”.  In Wisconsin we have our deep snow winters, and our winters with hardly any snow.  But winter is winter.

How thrilling to know that, as we relish this quiet time of crafting, music making, or whatever, the sun grows stronger and higher in our hemisphere every day.  Each year I print out sunrise/sunset/length of day charts for December of the past year and January, February, and March of the current year.

The U.S. Navy produces these online charts.  For the more scientific mind, charts including the length of twilight at each end of the day are available.  But I am contented just to read the times of the sun’s appearing and disappearing—and the growing moments of daylight.  Even as I type this blog entry, we have gained 5 minutes of daylight since the winter solstice.  This thrills me to my bone marrow!

Growing daylight is a testimony to God’s faithfulness, as expressed in the beloved hymn:  “Great is Thy Faithfulness” by Thomas O. Chisholm (lyrics) and William Runyan (music).  The verse, “Summer and winter, springtime and harvest—Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above—Join with all nature in manifold witness—To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love” resounds with truth and life through the visuals of our four seasons climate.

And winter, with its long deep quiet, is as much a witness to God’s faithfulness as spring and high summer with their green explosions, and autumn with its mellow bounty.  In the winter we know that life continues quietly underground, gathering strength in the ever-increasing daylight while pulsing, throbbing, and waiting to burst forth!

Margaret L. Been — January 4th, 2019

 

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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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It has been a long time since I shared my abundant life on this blog!  I dislike excuses, but sometimes we have reasons.  I guess my main one would be that, along with family and friends, I am besotted with hands-on pastimes many of which are pictured here.

I have loved making things for most of my life but making has become a passion.  I LOVE creating:  textured yarns on my spinning wheels, music on my piano, garments on knitting needles, amateur but infinitely satisfying water media art*, gardens indoors and out, soaps for face and body (we have not bought soap for our household since 1976!); and I may have omitted a passion (happy obsession?) or two—not to mention the ubiquitous books which line our shelves and floors.

However today I woke up inspired to share a personal story—actually the very reason I am enjoying an abundant life, so overflowing with excitement that I sometimes fight going to sleep at night and get up with anticipation most days because there is so much to make!  If you have read my story on this or one of my other blogs, I do hope you will read it again!

Back in 1971, I was a wife and mother of five children** ranging from ages 7 to 15.  Life was tremendously good in terms of family and circumstances—but not good inside my soul.  The world was spinning and changing too fast and some of my life props and idealisms had been pulled out from under me, like the magician’s trick of pulling a tablecloth off a table while the dishes remain intact.

Visibly, I was intact. The dishes were on the table.  But inwardly I was a mess!  For months I’d had a sense of aching emptiness, a void which all my daily joys could not fill.  The void consisted of a lack of meaning.  I desperately longed for inner peace.  What was wrong with me, that I had such desperation when my outward life seemed so good?

I’ve always looked for answers in books.  Our local library was within walking distance of home, and I walked there a lot—trying to make sense out of life and find peace for my hungry soul via the world’s philosophies and religions, especially the mystic Eastern religions which appeared to offer the thing I needed most:  peace.

And although I rarely let myself face reality, deep inside I knew I was desperately flawed inside my head and heart.  I was the problem.  I was the reason I lacked peace!

I avoided the old-fashioned word for my condition, but in rare moments of truth I acknowledged that word:  SIN.  I was a sinner.  After devouring many books I found the Eastern religions to be flimsy, lacking in a down-to-earth reality which could change me.

What was the answer?  Was there an answer?  On the third Saturday in January, 1971, I said to my husband, very emphatically, “Something is missing from my life!”  Once again, I trundled off to the library to look for answers.  Having exhausted many overly-wordy, allegedly “meaty” books in the spiritual and self-help sections of the library—I “just happened” to find a very slim little book, simply titled PEACE WITH GOD.

Maybe I thought, “Well why not?  I’ve read most everything else on these shelves.”  Or maybe I wasn’t even thinking.  But I checked out the tiny book, PEACE WITH GOD.  That evening, after the household had settled into a Saturday night routine, I read the book thoroughly, absorbing its contents.

In very simple, unpretentious language, and with Biblical references, PEACE WITH GOD presented the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  All of mankind is in bondage to sin.  God came to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ, to die on a cross at Calvary—for our sins, for my sin.  Jesus paid the penalty, and rose to defeat the power of sin and death.  He lives.  He is Eternal God, an all loving, all just, all righteous, all merciful God.  When we believe in Jesus and His finished work on our behalf, He forgives our sin.  We are washed clean with His blood, and He gives us His life—with His victory over the powers of darkness, His peace regardless of circumstances as we look to Him and abide in Him, growing in Him through His Word, The Bible.

The book explained how we could do nothing, absolutely nothing.  Yet when we believe in Jesus, we have the free gift of Eternal Life with Christ Who is God—and we can have His spiritual victory over sin, His abundant LIFE on earth, His new life in exchange for our old sinful life which died with Jesus on that cross!  I distinctly recall a sense of peace from reading the book, but it was a kind of sad and wistful peace.  I recall saying to myself, “Oh, if only that were true!”

The next day, Sunday, I surprised myself by suddenly arranging to go to a Bible Church in the neighborhood  I called a friend who attended that church, and she and her husband agreed to pick me up.  We entered a bit late, and the congregation was singing a Gospel hymn; I had never in my life heard such singing.  I recall thinking, “It’s as of they believe what they’re singing about.”

During the sermon that morning, God very clearly and simply picked me up and lifted me into His Kingdom—the Kingdom of Forgiveness and Love.  In retrospect I see that God used that Sunday worship service as a catalyst for my salvation.  Suddenly I knew that Jesus was real, and I needed His forgiveness, His Life—and that understanding landed me into Christ.

But I was totally ready to be born into God’s Kingdom that Sunday morning.  I’d been prepared the night before, when I read a slim little book called PEACE WITH GOD, by Billy Graham.


As I left the church on that bitter cold January day in Wisconsin, the sun on the snowdrifts seemed nearly blinding.  At that point I knew nothing of Scripture, except that I was a new creation in Christ.  I was forgiven, and I was raised up with Him,  That night I picked up a childhood Bible which I had never read;  I’d tried a couple of times but it simply had not made sense to me.  But now I found myself in John 15, and it made all the good plain sense in the world.  “I am the vine, ye are the branches; He that abideth in me, and I in him, bringeth forth much fruit, for without me ye can do nothing.”  And “This is my commandment, That ye love one another as I have loved you.”  And “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you . . . .”

(As a lover of the Old Bard, William Shakespeare. the King James Bible replete with “eth” and “ye” seemed natural to me, and still does!)

Meanwhile, back in 1971 my peace and joy were palpable—and I was so excited that I could not keep my mouth shut.  As the days progressed I told nearly everyone I knew about the Savior—even our vet as he was negotiating with our sick pet, either a cat or a dog; we had many of both.

Now, with many years of Scripture in my soul, I can witness that God has never failed me in anyway, and although I have sometimes failed to pay attention, or to obey my Lord.  Jesus Christ sustains me.  New LIFE.  Abundant LIFE!  Articulately and succinctly explained to me long ago, in a tiny gem of a book, PEACE WITH GOD, by the late Billy Graham.bedroom gardenchair

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The Lord Jesus is the reason for my abundant, hands-on life.  And my blogging life, as well, when I blog. 🙂

*I have updated my art blog on occasion.  Just GOOGLE “Margaret Been’s MESSY PALETTE.”  Art is a language universal, and hits come from everywhere—including Afghanistan, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia as well as all over Europe, Oriental countries, South America, and our neighbors to the North.

**We had one more child, in 1976—adding up to 4 girls and 2 boys.  They are Joe’s and my best friends.

Margaret L. Been — March 6th, 2018

 

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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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“Finally, Brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”  Philippians 4:8

“See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time as the days are evil.”  Ephesians 5:15-16

One would have to be clueless, to doubt the fact that the days are evil.  The days have been evil ever since the game-changing fiasco in the garden.  But Eden did not have cell phones, a worldwide internet, FACEBOOK, TWITTER, and billions of people—starving, warring, and suffering unspeakable horrors.  Eden’s evil was not so sophisticatedly organized, so widely and criminally justified by evil national majorities—so whitewashed to appear humanitarian, reasonable, rational, “kind to the planet” and altruistic, as the convoluted sin of these days.  It took thousands of years to get here.

Those of us who prefer keeping our heads in Scripture rather than sand believe we are nearing the book of Revelation, when the Lord Jesus Christ will return to earth to establish justice and reign in His Holy City, Jerusalem.  No we are not to name the day or the hour.  But YES, we are to watch for the signs prophesied by Old Testament Prophets, the Lord Jesus in His Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25), and New Testament letters culminating in Jude and Revelation. 

The days are evil, and we are nearing the end of the Church Age.  In the words of beloved Christian brother, Francis Schaeffer, “How do we then live?”  How am I to respond or react to evil times?  Am I to go high stress, slap-dashing about in a fervor of Chicken Little-ish behavior?  Wrong!  Am I to think about nothing else than the fact that the days are evil?  Wrong again!

Am I to eschew beauty and instead fashion a drab, lackluster world around me, an environment which says nothing about creative living?  How horrible is that!

So what is Right?  My quest for an answer always comes back to the above quotes from Philippians and Ephesians, and countless other passages having to do with gracious, Spirit-filled living.  Joyous living.  God is still in charge.  God has always been and will always be in charge.

Yes, we are to speak up and out whenever we can.  Yes we are to pray with compassion for those who suffer all over this crazy, convoluted earth.  Yet it is still God’s earth.  As well as being fully God, Jesus was fully human—modeling the perfect humanity intended for people on earth, until man and woman (not in that order) blew it in the beautiful garden which God had provided for them.

Our Lord Jesus Christ will return, to reign on earth for 1000 years.  Scripture predicts a New Heaven and New Earth.  Certainly we will not fathom details until they unfold, but nowhere in the Bible is “earth” left out of the equation.  God created earth, and He loves His creation.  In light of that truth I can only gather that we humans, the most valued of His creation, are to go on living and loving the life He has given us on earth.

That means gratitude rather than gloom.  That means serenity rather than stress.  That means pure, down-to-earth appreciation for and pleasure in His boundless gifts—people to love, gardens to plant, creative hobbies to pursue, art, music, poetry, sports, sunshine, fresh air, the list is endless.  Earth gifts!

There is a pathetic “hangover” from past Christian eras and persuasions which taught that physical and soul pleasures were intrinsically evil.  Hence:  the monks who starved themselves or didn’t converse with each other, those Christians who wear drab clothing because anything eye-catching might lead to idolatry (or immorality), and believers who avoid the enjoyment of any pastime without blatantly “spiritual” overtones.

Asceticism is NOT BIBLICAL.  It NEVER WAS BIBLICAL.  Asceticism is a boring, yet potentially devastating ploy invented by the Evil One who—if he cannot get Christians to throw in the towel and quit, will instead lure them into nurturing a sense of pride in not doing this and not enjoying that.*

The paradox here is that within God’s creative, expansive and wholesome arena of “this or that”, we are to walk with joyous confidence; it is the pride inherent in asceticism which God hates, and holds us accountable for.  The person who lives by asceticism may be bowing before the idol of pride!

Life on earth is to be loved, savored, celebrated, and enjoyed to the max while never losing sight of our Creator, never forgetting that He is the Creator of all things—every breath we inhale, every flower we plant and gather.  With our heads full of God’s “whatsoever things”, our lives will shine out to the lost souls who desperately need to know about our Saviour.  As long as God’s people remain on earth (His earth!) and continue to redeem the time, there will be some light, and some good, although the days are evil.

Margaret L. Been — January 26, 2016

(First posted in “God’s Word is True”, September 25, 2015)

*THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS, by C.S. Lewis provides a witty and wonderful treatise on the pitfall of asceticism.

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Who can deny that some of life’s most memorable events are spontaneous—those unplanned occasions which we would not have dreamed up in a million years?  Such was a recent serendipitous party in our home, with our granddaughter Leah and her four children.

They dropped in at 3:45 p. m. on the way home after Leah had gathered up the older children at school, to pick up (now 10 year old) Olivia’s birthday gift.  There was no question in my mind, that the visit would be short.  Leah puts in long hours with her family, with helping out at the children’s school—plus riding shotgun on her very endearing but rambunctious 3 year old, Carter.  Still ahead in a long day for this sweet family was a 25 minute ride home, dinner for the children and Daddy Jeff who would soon be at home waiting, and then all the evening rituals—homework, baths, bedtime stories, etc.  (After all these years, I still remember when!)

Olivia’s birthday gift was a St. Vinnee’s mint condition treasure:  a cookbook with 175 recipes for cookies made with cake mixes.  How fun for a 10 year old girl!  And, as it turned out, fun for an 83 year old great-grandpa—my Joe!

Joe was almost as enthusiastic about the cook book as Olivia was.  Right there on the spot he announced, “We are going to make peanut butter cookies NOW!  Although not a gambling woman, I would safely put money on the hunch that Leah’s reaction and mine were in sync.  Yikes!  Late in the day.  Tired.  And, in the beautiful words of poet Robert Frost, “. . . miles to go before I sleep.”

But both Leah and I realized that a spur of the moment cookie party would provide a signature memory for the children—and adults as well.  So into the kitchen went Joe, Olivia, and younger sister, Brynn (in red) who likes to be in the center of any action.

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Over the years, Joe has focused on being a wonderful Husband, Dad, Grandpa, and now Great-Grandpa.  He has cared for us diligently and lovingly.  While he has worked hard at bread-earning, I naturally have tended the affairs of the kitchen.  Joe is very adept at some kitchen jobs.  He makes coffee, measures the carbs in his breakfast cereal (he is diabetic so carbs matter), makes wonderful peanut butter and jam sandwiches, mixes a fantastic soy milk chai for me every night, micro-waves soup or left-over dinners, and sometimes creates yummy Swedish meatballs.

But baking?  The mad search for utensils amid requests of “Where’s this, where’s that?” was too humorous.  We no longer have a gargantuan Kitchen Aid mixer on the counter; all cakes are mixed with a 5-speed hand blender which hides in a  round-about cupboard between assignments.  All dry ingredients live in decorative tins scattered hither and thither; I automatically memorize the contents by the designs on the tins—but since Joe normally has no need for stowed dry ingredients, he has not learned the code.

Thus Joe looked to the dining room table for the small amount of sugar needed in the recipe.  I just happened to wander into the kitchen a split second before he dumped Sweet and Low into the mix—thinking it was real sugar.  I have Sweet and Low in a sugar bowl on our table, for our daughter Judy’s coffee.  How was Joe supposed to know it wasn’t the real thing?

Understandably Joe had not thought of the fact that cookies take a bit of time to prepare, given the rolling of balls—and in the peanut butter cookie instance, criss-crossing with a fork.  Upon my mentioning that the old, battle-seasoned cookie sheets would need a covering of oil, I again forayed into the kitchen just as a pan of cookies was oven-ready—and the raw cookies were swimming in olive oil.

Joe is amazingly proficient at cleaning up as he goes; for this reason I never shudder when he does KP.  In college he earned his meals as a “Pot and Pan” boy, and to this day he loves the challenge of washing up.

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While history was being made in the kitchen, Leah and the boys—Lucas and Carter—played a game at the living room coffee table.

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Well, no one can make cookies without immediately testing them to make sure they are “fit to eat”.  So we are right back to the first photo:

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The coffee table was cleared for a party with cookies and milk.  Delicious!  And thanks to a wonderfully imaginative Great-Grandpa, a good time was had by all.  Joe has always been loaded for fun.  That’s one of the countless reasons why I love him!

Serendipity!

Margaret L. Been, February 2015

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Treasure the Moment!

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There is no room for naivité in today’s world.  All I can do in light of the barrage of news we receive is to go on preserving and treasuring the world I’ve always known.  Indeed, my insular world may last only a moment—so I treasure each moment as a gift from God.

Beyond a series of moments on earth lies an eternity of joy for the Christian believer.  Meanwhile my precarious earth moments are filled with prayers, family, friends, a corgi, music, paintbrushes, knitting needles and yarn, spinning wheels, gardens indoors and out, poetry, books/books/books, antiques, junk, never ending batches of soap from our kitchen, and a whole lot more.

A common thread connects the moments: BEAUTY.  I know I’m not alone in determining to pursue and celebrate Beauty—and to TREASURE THE MOMENT!

Margaret Been, February 2015

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Baby D again

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Piano Musings, Recollections, and Resolution . . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Margaret L. Been—January 22, 2015

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

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

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

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Giving . . .

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“For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon His kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever.  The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.”   Isaiah 9:6-7 KJV

This is the greatest GIFT, the gift of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ Who suffered on an unspeakably cruel cross and died to pay our sin debt—then rose victorious to give us eternal life, HIS abundant life now and forever!  I received this priceless gift of God’s Grace forty-four years ago this coming January.  The GREATEST GIFT!

I was blessed to have parents and a closely bonded extended family and friends who loved life, valued life, and lived by Godly principles.  My grandparents were Bible believing Christians, and in later years I was greatly persuaded that my parents also received the greatest gift—The Lord Jesus Christ.

In my early childhood, family Christmases were somewhat shadowed by a tragedy that had occurred before I was born:  my sister, Shirley, had died at age two on Christmas Day.  Yet Christmas was always a time for celebration, hope, and joy.  We loved being together, we loved the music, we loved the Christmas Story.  And we loved giving and receiving gifts.

In light of the fact that we believers are recipients of the Greatest Gift in Heaven and on the earth, because we are walking around everyday with the very life of God in the Person of His Holy Spirit, the most natural thing to do is to give gifts to family members and friends.  Up until I believed in the Lord Jesus, I naturally loved giving gifts; it was the most wonderful and fun thing to do.  But once I became a believer, God’s Spirit enhanced and blessed our family traditions in such a way that I was, and still am,”over the top” with His joy over our family Christmases.

The Christmas worship services, the music (decades of singing in choirs), favorite recipes (which our children looked forward to each year and still serve to this day), the gatherings with laughter and games we played with the children (and still play, as new family games appear on a regular basis), and our tradition of GIVING became so endowed with implicit depth of meaning and God’s love, that it is inconceivable to imagine any other way to live.

As Joe and I raised our six children, extra people at the family dinner table (year round, not just at Christmas) was a given.  Friends were family.  If a child or young adult friend of one of our children hung out in our home, he or she automatically became one of the loved ones; they were included in the food, hilarious games, and the Christmas giving.

What is more fun than giving and receiving?  It’s not about spending a lot of cash.  Although exceptions have been made over the years for some special item or when there is a specific need, it cannot be about spending huge sums.  We have, to date, forty-nine immediate family members, not counting myself.  But even if we were just a handful of folks, it would still be all about loving each person and deciding what would be fun to give—rather than just blowing money.

I love to make gifts.  For years good gifts came out of my oven or off my pantry shelves where bountiful jams and jellies were preserved.  Now we have children, their spouses, and their children who share yummy kitchen creations.  Although I still bake some things, now I am very happy to paint a watercolor, knit a hat for a child (or an adult), design and knit funky, colorful scarves for all ages, and share my homemade soaps in those lovely gift boxes (just inside the door as you enter JoAnn Fabrics, and at other outlets as well).

Throughout the year, my antennae is up when I browse at art fairs, antique malls, and even rummage sales.  By Christmas each year, I’ve managed to acquire a stash for family members and friends who appreciate lovely vintage art glass or a hand crafted piece of stained glass, mosaic, pottery, whatever.

And then there is that fantastic treat, popular as of recent years, the Gift Certificate.  Although that may seem to be a cop-out to some, I think the certs are wonderful.  I tailor them to individuals.  Some of our young families do a lot of home repair and renovation.  Home Depot.  One family member loves Starbucks, but being a diligently frugal young lady she will pass up that luxury on her budget.  I get tremendous pleasure out of giving her a Starbucks cert for her birthday or sometimes Christmas—and picturing her savoring her powerful coffee and perhaps a sweet.  And who doesn’t love Barnes & Noble?  Books and music—something for every preference and taste.

In our mushrooming family, Joe and I have seventeen great-grandchildren ranging from age twelve down to nine months.  Babies typically get little cuddly animals from this Granny—stuffed, not live although I’d love to be given permission to pick out a real kitten or puppy.  That is yet to happen!  The other children?  Books, puzzles, crayons, etc.  It’s easy, almost a “DUH”, to find gifts for young people.  In fact, all ages are easy, when you long to give some little token of your love and thoughtful consideration.

I constantly find wonderful cooking and crafting books (mostly like new) at a nearby St. Vinnie’s.  Again, these gift books are tailored to the recipients and their hobbies and interests.  How rewarding is that!  I have delighted someone’s heart, for all of $2.19 or thereabout.

Underlying it all is the fact that we love because He first loved us.  We give because He has given to us—that Greatest Gift of salvation and eternal life.  Giving is sharing.  When we are filled to overflowing with God’s gift of love, we simply can’t not share with those whom we love.  When we are filled to overflowing with God’s Word and His gift of grace, we are delighted to graciously receive and enjoy the gifts which our loved ones have thoughtfully selected or made for us.

Christmas!  A stress-free time of joy.  That doesn’t mean that our circumstances are all perfect, at all times.  For many years our celebration centered at our home, and I fed a lot of people.  Granted, sometimes I felt a bit stun-gunned when the season was over, because I had spent physical and emotional energy far beyond any that I possessed.  But God has always given me what I needed, to serve Him by serving people.  And stun-gunned though I was, it was with a sense of purpose and great blessing that I “collapsed” into a quieter routine (as quiet as a routine can be when raising six children).  I knew that God was the center of my giving (as well as my “giving out”) and I rested in Him.  I still do.  It’s the only way to live, and it’s the only way I want to live!

We have had poignant holidays in the wake of bereavement over loss.  We have had tearful Christmases when circumstances were nearly devastating due to a loved one’s rebellious decisions.  Four Christmases ago Joe and I were a wall apart in hospital beds, beginning the arduous recovery from major surgeries both occurring in a space of a few hours a couple of days before Christmas.

But it was still, and always will be, Christmas.  The Grinch can’t steal it and neither can illness, family sorrows, death, economic circumstances, or any of the world’s weighty problems.  Christmas!  If a metaphorical Grinch were to come on Christmas Eve and confiscate our trees and our lights and our presents, it would still be Christmas and we would still be giving—because in all of our giving we are giving ourselves, and giving to our Lord the thanksgiving and glory which He deserves.  If we have nothing to give, we will still give somehow in some way.

Christmas is stress-free and joyous—a time to celebrate the loving and giving that we treasure around the year.  We love because He first loved us.  And we give, because He has given us THE GREATEST GIFT.  It would be unthinkable to do anything else but give when we have received so much!  Merry Christmas!

Margaret Been, December 23rd, 2014

Note:  On the bottom left side of the above photo, you will see a charming manger scene created out of popsicle sticks, bits of cloth, and miscellaneous odds and ends.  This was custom-made for Joe and me a few years ago by four great-grandchildren under the supervision of their Mom—our granddaughter, Alicia. 

If you look closely on the bottom left, you will see little bits of white and purple under or beside the people:  Joseph, Mary, Baby Jesus in His manger bed, and a shepherd.  The little bits are sheep, fashioned from pipe cleaners and dabs of white material, by Alicia’s youngest child—less than two years old at the time if I recall correctly.  Now that is a gift to treasure forever!

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