Posts Tagged ‘Winter Solstice’

Clean Palette 2

Except for last minute baking, I’m ready for Christmas.  Tree lights are glowing.  Gift bags, stuffed with presents and labeled according to family groups, are neatly arranged around the tree.  Our out-of-town family members’ gifts (to Colorado, Washington, and California) have arrived at their destinations.  

With approximately 46 family members, Christmas preparations are no small accomplishment.  But, by God’s grace, I’ve managed to do it again.  Online shopping and the plethora of available gift cards have made Christmas traditions incredibly easy.  And it’s fun to shop throughout the year—finding gifts at art fairs, antique shops, and bookstores.  Some of the items have been produced (painted, grown and dried, knitted, etc.) right here in our home.  By December my storeroom is groaning with bounty, eagerly waiting to be wrapped or bagged.  A sense of order reigns.

While savoring the process of preparation, I focus on the Greatest Gift of all: our Lord Jesus Christ and the salvation He has provided through His shed blood, for all who will believe.  God Incarnate died to pay our sin debt, and rose to give us Eternal Life.  Through the Abundant Life of His Indwelling Holy Spirit, we have peace in the midst of turbulent times.

As the earth turns . . . !  Now that may sound like a silly soap opera title.  But the revolving of the earth around the sun, season after season and year after year, is far more exciting than any human meladrama ever imagined!  The revolving of the earth is a God drama, and it never grows old. 

Some individuals are acutely sensitive to the turning of the earth and seasons, and I’m grateful to be one of those people.  In our souls, we actually feel the turning which accompanies seasonal changes in the amount of daylight.  The turning surges in our blood and bones, and we respond with anticipation and joy!

Thus when we plummet headlong toward the darkest day (approximately December 21st this year), those of us who turn with the earth anticipate the very next thing—an increase in daylight which will begin shortly after the solstice.  By Christmas Day, we’ll have gained one minute of daylight.  According to my charts, New Year’s Day will bring an additional 4 minutes!  The sun rises later for awhile after the solstice, but daylight compensates by increasing substantially at sunset.

This after-solstice turning is illustrated by the above photo: a clean palette representing a new year.  Recently I got up in the night, determined to make a fresh start at my bridge table studio.  I really do believe in setting New Year’s goals, because (reasonable) goals inspire me to new adventures.  

My art goals for 2013 are:  1) slow down, deliberate more thoroughly, spend days (or possibly weeks) on a single painting and 2) work bigger.  The sheet of ARCHES 140 lb. cold press paper pictured above is larger than I have successfully negotiated so far.  I’ve tried working on a sheet this size, only to botch up part of it—resulting in cropping and matting smaller renderings from my initial attempt.  Perhaps the goal of slowing down will facilitate a shift in the size of my “masterpieces”.

I know I’ll start in on the sheet and clean palette before January 1st.  When I’ve learned to paint this size to my satisfaction, I hope to graduate to the American standard full sheet of watercolor paper which is 22″ x 30″.  For that undertaking, I’ll outgrow my bridge table and will need to clear off 2/3rds of our dining room table—leaving a commodious 1/3rd on which my husband can relax over his meals.*  (I’ll sandwich my miniscule servings into a space at the edge of my palette—while being careful not to crumb up the work in process.) 

Human goals notwithstanding, only God knows what 2013 will bring!  Someone recently posted the following comment on one of my blogs:  “I think Obama was re-elected so Americans will put their trust in God rather than politicians.” 

A wise statement!  Perhaps this will be the year when our nation returns to the premise on which we were founded.  Perhaps 2013 will be the year when our Lord returns for his own!  God is faithful and He will fulfill His plan as promised in Scripture, as the earth turns . . . !

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

*Praise God, I have a husband who heartily applauds my makey lifestyle.  He has been apprised of my desire to paint big, and he’ll be interested in whatever is going on at his dinner table!  I could set up an art camp in the middle of our living room, and he wouldn’t mind a bit.  But he does have his very own room for lounging in a LAZY-BOY, resting on a daybed if desired, viewing whatever sports are in season, and working at his own paper-inundated computer desk. 

It comforts me to note that some geniuses (among them, reportedly, Albert Einstein!) have had messy desks like Joe’s.  My desks are picky neat, so I’m obviously not very brilliant!  But I never mess with Joe’s space, other than the occasional perfunctory swipe of the woolly duster on his TV screen and around the pictures (my art) on his walls.  

Joe’s room is his domain—although he did buy a comfy chair on wheels which can be rolled out of a corner so that I can join him to watch National Geographic lions, or whatever.  We are highly compatible!  🙂

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“To think to know the country and not know

The hillside on the day the sun lets go

Ten million silver lizards out of snow!”

Robert Frost, A Hillside Thaw

Of all my many favorite poets, Robert Frost is probably my MOST BELOVED!  And undoubtedly, A Hillside Thaw ranks alongside Frost’s Reluctance in the category of my MOST BELOVED POEMS. 

Along with much of the midwest, we are clearing out of a doozey of a blizzard.  Joe and I went to our local hospital in an ambulance on Monday, as Joe had his coronary artery symptoms—more severe than ever before.  The storm was brewing then, and the timing was good.  Joe was securely tucked into his hospital bed—with me at his side—for the duration of the blizzard which was just beginning and hit in full force the next day and night.

From commodious windows, I watched the storm beef up and then rage during the nights we were in the hospital.  On both nights, plows ran continuously around and around the parking lots and entrances—keeping the roads clear for emergency vehicles and hospital employees.  At one entrance the American flag whipped frenetically over the scene, as if to symbolize the many storms our nation has weathered through the years.

While hospitalized, Joe had 2 more stents (he is the KING OF THE STENTS!) and he is feeling much better.  Now we are home again, thankful beyond words for medical technology and a cozy home—our earthly shelter from storms.

I just took the (above and below) photos of a mountain which has covered Dylan’s play yard.  (For new readers on this site, Dylan is our sweet and whimsical Pembroke Welsh Corgi.)  Mountains have appeared all around our condo complex, as the village snow removal crew kept our neighborhood accessible throughout the blizzard. 

As I snapped the photo, I thought of Robert Frost and A Hillside Thaw.  The lizards certainly will not break out today, as the temperature is near zero—and probably not tomorrow or any time this week.  But it is February 3rd!  Normally in Southern Wisconsin, redwing blackbirds can return any time after February 24th!  And the lizards come before the blackbirds!

The snow is gorgeous.  The snow is breathtaking.  The snow is something wonderful to behold.  But I have to admit that I am now watching for those silver lizards, thawing and slithering out of Dylan’s mountain!

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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Three weeks ago today, Joe and I drove to a nearby city anticipating a hearty breakfast at a favorite Greek owned restaurant.  After letting me off at the restaurant door Joe suffered a serious accident, which has impacted our lives in making each moment we have on earth more infinitely precious even than before! 

Life was always precious to us, but the treasure of our time together has reached a new, heretofore undreamed of level!

Joe suffered no broken bones or internal organ damage from the accident, and no other persons were involved.  The remaining challenges consist of a 3rd degree burn on his left leg (which will eventually require surgery) and a considerably damaged shoulder which may respond to physical therapy.  The burn is painless, because nerves were destroyed, and the shoulder grows less painful every day.  Also, Joe had a coronary artery incident last week and that has been treated as well. 

Joe and I have received grace upon grace, and blessing upon blessing in a short span of 3 weeks’ time.  We have been moved to tears by the kindness and generosity of our family members who have dropped everything to cart us to appointments and help with our daily household needs.  Since I am only a few weeks out of lumbar fusion surgery, help at home has been a lifeline.  Our daughter, Debbie, who lives a mile or so from us has been a constant cheerful worker!

We are amazed at the caring, personal quality of the doctors and nurses who are tending Joe during his crisis.  He is receiving the best of care, just as I have received for my surgery and recovery.

Meanwhile, the quiet, “darkling days” are upon us.   The demise of daylight savings has descended with a thud, reminding me of a curtain falling on a stage—signifying the end of a drama, in this case the drama of 2010. 

Summer born, I’m a creature of light.  The onset of darkness makes me cling to that small bit of remaining light—as well as to the fact that in just 6 weeks the winter sun will be moving back to the north and our beloved daylight will slowly, inexorably return.

Joe and I are resting.  Our little patio garden is resting as well.  In a low alcove, protected from all but the east wind, the herbs continue to flourish—several frosts notwithstanding.  The garden will provide fresh sage for a turkey dinner.  Garden mint for my tea will sustain me, bringing me closer to that moment when the sun resumes its northern climb.  

I gaze out at the patio, where I lounged most every afternoon during our long hot summer.  The poignant sweetness of summer lingers in my heart, with an undercurrent of sadness.  But the promise of spring in my garden brings a spirit of joy, and a prayer of gratitude. 

Joe’s accident reminds us that, in our personal lives, we never know what lies around the next bend.  Our envisioned breakfast out can turn into a day of sorrow at the nearest Emergency Room.  Dreams can become nightmares in just a few seconds.  Humanly speaking, this very moment is all we can be certain of on earth!

But eternal truth prevails as expressed in a favorite hymn based on Lamentations 3:22-23:  “Great is Thy faithfulness, Oh God my father . . . Summer and winter, springtime and harvest, sun moon and stars in their courses above . . . .”* 

Healing requires time and patience.  Winter requires time and patience, at least here in Wisconsin.  But our Lord is faithful!

Margaret L. Been, ©2010

*From Great is Thy Faithfulness, by T. O. Chisholm and William M. Runyan

(For a recently penned ode to the darkling days, please see the “Paintings and Poems” page on this site.)

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For the first time since November, I am watching the dawn–and here is the reason.  Our large living room patio door faces east.  We are situated in an alcove, tucked away from views to the north and south.  From our patio we can look neither north nor south:  only straight ahead–east.

Dawn seems to quit somewhere during November in our northern land.  It’s out there in the darkest weeks, but the dawn is merely a phantom of its former self–greyed by an overcast sky.  If one faces east, even the phantom is obscured.  Through our bedroom window, we see early morning light in all seasons.  But not the actual dawn.  Dawn happens far away in the south, throughout those bleak days around the winter solstice.

Our family is experiencing a winter solstice.  Nearly 48 hours ago, on Thursday morning, our daughter Judy suffered cardiac arrest.  She was resuscitated, and since then has been connected to machines and monitors at the Waukesha Hospital–in a medically induced coma, for the best possible recovery.  Today is crucial.  Judy is scheduled to come out of the coma, and we will know more about what the future holds.

Meanwhile the sun is slowly, faithfully moving back to the northern zenith.  Today is still grey and misty.  But on the first clear day, the woods beyond our patio door will glow a rosy-gold–reflecting the returning dawn.  We are watching the dawn, and waiting . . .

“Though I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me.”  Psalm 139:9-10

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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. . . it’s CHRISTMAS! 

This morning I read the Airstream Communications weather report:  “Winter storm, snow batters west, heading east.”

I ache for travelers, as I recall countless snow filled Christmas holidays when we were on the road or waiting for loved ones at airports.  My husband and I have driven on treacherous highways and lingered for hours in midnight airports, clogged due to delayed or cancelled flights.  Indeed, it seems like an unwritten law that planes from Denver to Milwaukee will be delayed for hours around Christmas–and invariably at night! 

Yet no matter what the weather, it’s Christmas!

We have experienced some Christmas holidays which were far from “merry”–times shadowed by the death of a family member, or the rebellion of a loved one.  And there were celebrations where I went through all the festive motions with a broken heart due to fractured relationships!

Yet no matter what our circumstances, it’s Christmas!

Recently we attended a preschool Christmas program held at a huge church, once known for upholding the Gospel and God’s Word.  The program featured a manger scene with all the main players entering in their turn.  When it was time for the wise men to join the group, they were announced as “wise people”. 

Evidently it’s no longer “correct” to refer to wise men–even though the Biblical travellers (who didn’t actually arrive on the scene until about 2 years after Jesus’s birth) were historical figures, and men!  

Then the adult narrator of the program talked about “Jesus”, but I’m not sure which Jesus he meant.  He spoke of a Jesus who wants to come into our hearts “so that we’ll know how much we are loved by God”. 

Well, good, and true!  But the life changing message of the Christian faith, the very core of the Gospel, was omitted.  Christmas is the prelude to Calvary and Christ’s resurrection.  However the narrator never mentioned mankind’s innate sin condition and our desperate need for salvation.  The children’s program presented a bloodless gospel, in other words no good news at all! 

Yet no matter what the world says or does in its attempt to obscure or distort God’s truth, it’s Christmas!  Our Lord has come.  He is risen!  He will come again as promised. 

“For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” Isaiah 9:6-7

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved
Note:  Now it’s 12/27, and I’ve read the ominous news of events on the plane arriving from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day. 
Our daughter, Martina, travels from Nigeria to the U.S. via Amsterdam–sometimes coming through Detroit.  (This Christmas, Martina is on a safari in Kenya.)
Here is the sobering bottom line:  one never knows!  But Christmas is still Christmas!   MLB

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It happens every year.  Daylight wanes and darkness reigns for many hours out of the twenty four.

Summer born, I love daylight and the months of outdoor living.  But I love the four seasons as well.  One of our daughters lives in Nigeria where the days and nights are about the same length, year around.  This would be hard for me to handle, as I find so much meaning and sustenance in the passing seasons and the varied entertainment they afford.

Years ago I read about Seasonal Affective Disorder.  This seemed like a hoot to me, since the annual demise of daylight is simply a part of life in our northern locale. 

Naturally I’ve always felt a sense of loss when the days grow shorter, but I never dreamed of making a big deal out of it–or of calling the down feeling by some kind of trendy name.  Yikes! 

An antidote advertised for SAD is a “light box” to sit beside for so many minutes every day.  Double yikes!  Why not just turn on all the pretty lamps in one’s home?  The SAD treatment light boxes cost upwards to over $250.00!  One can buy several lovely Tiffany style, made-in-China lamps at a gift shop or garden center for the price of one boring and butt ugly light box!

Along with turning on my gorgeous lamps (some of which are family heirlooms, not made in China), I counter the annual plunge of daylight by hosting extra tea parties, luncheons, and supper parties.  How can one be down in the dumps when the doors are flung open to welcome family members and friends?  Hospitality and the blues simply can’t co-exist!

Neither can creative hobbies and the seasonal blues co-exist with the seasonal gripes!  Diminishing daylight and rude weather mean more days spent indoors–days which are enriched by arts and crafts, hours at the piano (or any other instrument of your choosing), and huge increments of time for BOOKS!  If you love Charles Dickens (and others of his ilk) like I do, you won’t mind a few less hours of daylight with longer nights for reading 780-800 page novels!

Then there is the outdoor beauty which attends this time of year.  I am the first to say I’m passionate about leaves on trees and the color green in general.  But just look outside your window at the beauty today–bare branches pressed against a rose/grey sky! 

Last night Joe and I were out driving at sunset.  The shapes of trees and branches, backlit by the amber/rose sunset, sent us into raptures.  Even my husband, who is of stoic Scandinavian descent and a practical civil engineer by training, commented on God’s visuals in the sky.  (Joe is as blown away by nature’s beauty as I am; he simply says a bit less about it.)

Finally, I track the annual fall and subsequent rise of daylight.  The charts in the OLD FARMER”S ALMANAC are loads of fun.  One can also access Sunrise/Sunset data online, for any part of the world.

These charts remind me of God’s faithfulness.  In a world that seems to be whizzing and whirling around us, God’s created universe remains in stately order–as so vividly displayed in our four season climate!

As Christians who can make a choice concerning our mental attitudes, I can’t see how we can fail to grasp all the wonderful things God has given us to enjoy during the annual plunge.  Like transportation vehicles built on principles of aerodynamics, we don’t have to go down with gravity.  (Unless, or course, we run out of fuel or have a maintenance issue; our fuel and maintenance consist of God’s Word coupled with prayer!)

With a view of God’s faithfulness as expressed in His Word– embellished with pretty lamps in our rooms, frequent tea parties, a plethora of hobbies, the sight of branches pressed against the sky, and a daily glance at those reassuring charts–we have upward mobility!

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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If this seems like an overload of photos, bear with me.  Today is rainy and blustery, and I’m experiencing an overload of joy in hearth and home. 

The fireplace consists of 4 light bulbs hidden in a nice wood surround with a mantel.  The fake flames flicker and flit when we throw the switch on, and our fireplace delights our hearts.  We’ve had many good years of burning real logs.  And now our 4 light bulbs please our eyes and warm our hearts with surrogate flames.  (The electric fireplace has a heating option, as well.)

Our condo homestead is comprised of 4 rooms, 2 baths, and some hall spaces.  Joe and I are filling every nook and cranny with that whole hearted joie de vie we’ve experienced wherever we’ve lived over the past 56 plus years.

The approaching winter augments the joys of hearth and home.  Now we’re close to family, and the holidays promise mellow times with loved ones.  It will be fun to decorate our 4 rooms (and bathrooms, too) for Christmas, knowing that company will be on hand to savor the atmosphere and decor. 

Small children will enjoy our favorite ornaments–clock, train engine, puppy, etc,– and play with the collection of toys waiting for them in the antique trunk pictured below.  I ding out with delight, just to think of the children visiting.

And when those January winds howl, and the outside temperature drops to zero and below, we’ll just “light” a fire in our fireplace and sip tea beside our hearth.

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved


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It happens every late autumn.  Although we’ve perceived the gradual decline of daylight ever since the summer solstice and especially since the autumn equinox, now we are plunging quickly into the bottom of the year.

Annually after Thanksgiving, I print out charts and note the times of sunrise and sunset each day.  Until recent years, I did laborious math tricks via the OLD FARMER’S ALMANAC–converting the sunrise and sunset times from Boston to our nearest city.  One year I even figured the small difference from sundial time to actual clock time.  All of that math was very taxing for a person who is more inclined to words than numbers. 

Now I simply Google “sunrise-sunset”, and print out the last of the old year’s statistics and a page for each month of the new year–documenting the sunrise and sunset down to fractions of a second. 

Also available are the times of moonrise and moonset plus civil, nautical, and astronomical twilight (the degrees of light when the sun is below the horizon).  As grateful as I am for any bit of twilight, I normally just print out the stats for the sun and moon.  This annual focus on solar (and lunar) activities helps to carry me through the long nights and dark days around the winter solstice. 

Most of our married life, Joe and I lived around the Milwaukee area.  Down there, the shortest days of the year have approximately 9 hours and 4 minutes of daylight.  Now we live 285 miles north of our former home, and the annual plunge is significantly greater.  From December 20th through December 23rd, we will have 8 hours and 41 minutes of daylight.  December 21st will actually be the shortest day this year in view of fractions of seconds–but I don’t bother with those fractions.  With my limited math tolerance, I see 4 “shortest days” of 8 hours and 41 minutes.  I’m glad I don’t live up in the Yukon!

If the annual plunge included only the demise of daylight, I would find the charts and stats rather dismal.  But I rejoice in the fact that as soon as we plunge, we begin to rise.  By December 30th, we will have gained 3 minutes of daylight.  From there on we gain a minute or more, sometimes up to 3 minutes per day. 

Winter is glorious because it’s a time of gathering light.  Our 20 and 30 below zero days are made gorgeous by the fact of ever-growing, strengthening sun!

Most of all, the annual plunge and subsequent rebirth of light are stunning visuals of that person whose advent we celebrate in December.  Our Lord Jesus is the Light of the World, and the Heavens reflect His glory!

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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