Friday, February 17, 2017

Friday Five: On Beauty


People are like stained-glass windows.
They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in,
their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.
 ~ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross



Tell them, dear, that if eyes were made for seeing,
Then beauty is its own excuse for being.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson


Beauty is an ecstasy; it is as simple as hunger.
There is really nothing to be said about it.
It is like the perfume of a rose: you can smell it and that is all.
~ W. Somerset Maugham

Maria Victoria Heredia Reyes /


Inner beauty, too, needs occasionally to be told it is beautiful.
~ Robert Brault

Sergee bee /


 Beauty is a form of Genius -- is higher, indeed, than Genius, as it needs no explanation.
It is one of the great facts of the world, like sunlight, or springtime, 
or the reflection in dark water of that silver shell we call the moon.
~ Oscar Wilde


Smile Bonus

 Always remember that true beauty comes from within
 -- from within bottles, jars, compacts, and tubes.
~ Peter's Almanac

* * * * *

Wishing you glimpses of heaven in unexpected places!

Happy Weekend,

Linking with Five on Friday

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Heart Edition: The Simple Woman's Daybook

Bonnie Kittle /

This bouquet of pink peonies really touches my soul for beauty today. Seems to fit perfectly for Valentine's Day thoughts which many people celebrate tomorrow. I just read on someone's Facebook page something which F. Scott Fitzgerald penned; I'm passing it along as my little Valentine's present:
"You are the finest, loveliest, tenderest, and most beautiful person I have ever known -- and even that is an understatement."
If there is no one to say this to you, say it to yourself. Believe it when you speak it. We speak our destiny into existence with our words. And, if someone doesn't think she is that person right now, begin in this moment to become her ... one tiny choice at a time.

On that note, I offer you my February Edition of The Simple Woman's Daybook.

Wishing you glimpses of heaven in unexpected places

For Today

Looking out my window... There is a softness to winter today. I feel a surge of elation as I peer out into sky-blue-pink skies this morning. A creative energy swirls in the air -- much like the flurry of sparrows swooping from the neighbour's shrubbery to our mock orange bush, past the kitchen window to find the bird feeders. The backyard is a-flutter and I wonder how they fly in such unison without bumping into each other or getting tangled up in wings. I know there are scientific reasons, but it's mesmerising to watch.

I am thinking... If you live long enough, whatever fashions, home decor styles, or music you experienced when you were a child or young adult, what has gone out of vogue eventually comes round to be presented as the latest and trendiest for the now generation. And we feel a tiny bit smug because we know better. Some fashions or trends I don't care if I ever see again, but there are some things that actually make me feel like I'm catching up with an old friend, completely happy to see her after all this time.

Such was the first moment I caught sight of these photo boxes. Yesterday I was in Michael's looking for some Valentine's Day miscellany and what did I see but stacks of these shoe size photo boxes. They were even in some of the old patterns and designs that were popular when they first appeared in the 1980's. In this day when everything is digital, there wouldn't be much use for them as photograph storage.

I don't keep or store as much 'stuff" as I once did -- although my husband might disagree with that assessment -- so I held myself to buying only two boxes yesterday. Not to store photos, but I'm such a magpie when it comes to collecting the odd bits and bobs of paper treasures, buttons, ribbons, paper cutouts from magazines, rocks from the seaside, pretty cancelled postage stamps, old greeting cards from friends... the list goes on.

I am thankful... there is no place I need to be on a Monday morning. Except in my own house, sipping my coffee without haste, watching the sun light up the sky, writing in my journal to capture first thoughts, and eventually throwing in the first load of laundry when the day begins in earnest.

One of my favorite things... thinking up something nice, something new, something borrowed maybe too ... to write about here on It's A Beautiful Life.  

As seen on Facebook @ Slice of Life

I am (not) creating... crafty things these days but after seeing these hearts I wish I were ... aren't they adorable? My fingers itch to pick up a needle and thread, and begin.

I am wearing... black jeans, sleeveless sea green top and seashell earrings that tinkle when I move my head.

I read... The Journal Keeper by Phyllis Theroux. It's a book from the library that has found its way home more than once. She writes about her writing life and the life that's going on around her. In the front of my journal, I jotted two passages from her book because they resonate:
"Your journal should be a wise friend who helps you create your own enlightenment. Choose what you think has some merit or lasting value, so that when you reread your journal in years to come it will continue to nourish you."
"Some days I can think of nothing worth writing down. Fortunately, I am not alone. By my chair, I keep a small, revolving collection of essays, spiritual autobiographies, poetry, and other writers' journals to inspire me ... We are different, on the lookout for different things. But if you want your journal to have any lasting value for yourself or others, I can only think of one rule to follow: Lean toward the light."

I learned... travelling around Great Britain last summer, that we were the ones who have the accents. Not them. Or so we were told. Ha ha.

As seen on Facebook @ Tea Time Magazine

In my kitchen... I'm going to make a Chocolate Biscuit Cake today for Valentine's Day. I first saw this recipe via Tea Time Magazine's Facebook page. I think it looks completely scrumptious. My Aunty Marlies, on seeing the photo, remembered when, in her youth, she and her girlfriends would make this for parties; on Sundays they would stay at each other's houses until evening (church) service. I asked if she and her girlfriends would talk about all the cute boys while eating this 'creamy and delicious' cake. "Yes, and our exciting futures!!"

You might be interested to also learn, according to Tea Time, this happens to be one of Queen Elizabeth's favourite desserts. I'd imagine, upon savouring a slice, we'd all feel a little Royal ourselves. Should you wish the recipe, you'll find it here.

In the school room... These were popular in school a long time ago. Did you have one? As you see, my autograph book had a pretty floral cover; it was a Christmas present in 1968. Looking through it the other day for the first time in years, I had such a good laugh at the silly lines we used to think were so coy and witty. Some were poignant, like the poems from my parents and my grandma. And, I found it most interesting just how much 11-year-old girls thought about beaus, getting married, and having kids:

Dear Brenda,
When you get married and have twins
Don't come to me for safety pins.

Dear Brenda,
When you get married and live in a shack,
Don't teach your children to spit through the cracks.

Dear Brenda,
I'll write on white and be polite
And save the yellow for your fellow.

* * * * *
In my garden... There really isn't much going on in my garden. Except for the birds and our visiting bunny, everything else is covered in snow. So, today I feel inclined to share a garden tale of another kind. As you will recall, Rick and I spent last July visiting England and Scotland.

One of the things we included in our plans was a six-day Garden Tour with Flora Garden Tours. Which turned out to be a wonderful week. So many times I felt that I was living in my daydreams as we walked through these beautiful places. Although sometimes, too, I wondered why I hadn't put on my serious walking shoes until I finally realized comfort really is more important than looking stylish. Even in an English country garden. We visited a number of famous English stately homes and gardens and some lesser known lovely ones. It was all so heartrendingly beautiful.

In case you're thinking of travelling across the pond one year, maybe even this summer, I can truly recommend these tours. Dr. Barbara Sommerville, a woman keenly interested in the history of gardening, landscape and architecture, is a delightful and knowledgeable tour director. Take a peek at her 2017 itinerary -- warning, it will make your heart ping when you see her pics.

Here are just a sampling of photos I took from our tour ... to whet your appetite. And, yes, I do want to post more from our trip over the coming weeks -- so many pretty places and interesting views to show you.

 Secret Garden / Hever Castle

Penshurst Place

Pashley Manor Garden

Sissinghurst Castle Garden

Post Script... Yesterday I had the privilege to Guest Post at InScribe where I explore what makes writing a joyful experience for me. I'd love to have you stop over -- click here for the post.

Shared Quote ... "What you do everyday matters more than what you do once in a while. ~ Gretchen Rubin, Best-selling Author

A moment from my day...

Closing Notes... Happy Valentine's Day -- let's spread the love and kindness today and every day. 

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Real Downton Abbey: Highclere Castle

When Rick and I first started a couple of years ago to plan our long awaited trip to England, we weren't sure whether we'd include a visit to Highclere Castle, the majestic backdrop for Julian Fellowes's epic drama series, Downton Abbey.

At the time, I was still grumpy at Mr. Fellowes for not letting Mary and Matthew have at least five minutes happiness before creating a nasty accident for Matthew. So, seriously, I wasn't sure I wanted to visit the Grantham family home. However, with the passage of time to dim that memory from my mind, sense prevailed, thankfully, and happy was the day when our final travel arrangements included a whole day to snoop around the Downton Abbey filming sites, including the stately Highclere Castle.

So, what shall I tell you, dear beautiful friends, about our day here? The weather was glorious. The skies were blue and sunny when we arrived. No need to carry rain coats or brollies -- it was a perfect day for walking around the grounds, strolling through the gardens, and admiring the castle from every angle.

I knew we would enjoy our day here, but I really didn't expect to feel the magic. Yet when I came around the corner from the carpark and suddenly found myself standing on this very spot of that oh-so-familiar pathway ... oh my ... I felt the magical zap-tingle inside my stomach.

In that instant, I knew I was happy, happy, happy we came. Even with all the people around, for a brief moment I was in my own little world thinking to myself, Girl, you are here, really here, on the very same path that you see every week when the opening credit scenes roll by with Pharaoh ... or is it Isis ... trotting up the path.

What makes it all so special? I don't know ... I guess we fell in love. I remember early in the series, a dear blogging friend, Vee, once remarked that she'd gotten so connected she almost prayed for Lady Mary during a most dramatic episode. I could relate -- somehow their stories became our stories and now they've entered our cultural consciousness, Lady Violet Grantham's witticisms and all.

Seriously, when you get close up you can only stand and gape. The castle really is stunning. And, no doubt, I wasn't the only one imagining Carson coming out to greet us in his Butler-ish, formal manner.

In case you need a little background, Highclere Castle is set in the midst of 1,000 acres of parkland, and is the home of the 8th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon and the seat of the Carnarvon Family for over 300 years; the Carnarvon Family has lived here since 1679.

A magnificent family home, it is often described as 'the finest occupied Victorian mansion in England'. Major rebuilding work was carried out in the 18th and 19th centuries, and in 1838, the 3rd Earl of Carnarvon brought in Sir Charles Barry to transform his home into a stunning mansion.

Photo Source: Palace of Westminster, London /

Sir Charles Barry was also the architect of the Palace of Westminster--also known as the Houses of Parliament--you might recognize the many similarities that exist between the styles of the two buildings.

Highclere Castle was transformed into a hospital during the First World War, and became a private home again in 1922. Downton fans, you will remember when the Grantham family, too, saw their beloved Downton Abbey being turned into a convalescent home for wounded officers during the same Great War. An example of art imitating life, perhaps?

To this day the current Earl and Countess of Carnarvon live partly in the Castle and partly nearby. They remain closely involved in the Castle's day to day life and future. Lady Carnarvon has authored several fiction and non-fiction books; you can find out more about them here.

You might also be interested to learn the Countess has a blog where she invites readers behind the scenes of her life and home, and shares anecdotes from her everyday life at Highclere. Here is the link:


When Rick and I visited Great Britain last summer, I loved collecting the souvenir guidebooks from the various places we visited. They not only turned out to be a wonderful reference when I started my overwhelming task of organizing my collection of more than two thousand trip photos, but they were chock-full of interesting details that, upon reflection, deepened and enriched our experiences.

Highclere's full colour official souvenir guidebook (left above) is a little treasure. You see, we weren't allowed to take photos inside the castle, and I surely wanted some memento of those divinely gorgeous rooms where so many Downton Abbey scenes took place. I would have loved to show you some of those lovely rooms up close ... not wanting to infringe on copyrights, the next best thing is to suggest a visit to their website where they highlight a few with photos. 

The souvenir guideline is available through their online gift shop (if you are willing to pay the exchange and postage). It's a lovely keepsake whether you've been there in person, or not.

In the midst of all this grandeur, our tour guide reminded us that we should find lunch before taking the house tour. I thought, who wants to eat, but when we saw what they were serving, we realized lunch was a very good idea indeed.

We sat under the shade of an umbrella at a table that overlooked hilly pastures filled with grazing sheep. As we tucked in, I marveled that we really were here enjoying all this English loveliness. How blessed, blessed, blessed I felt as we sipped our tea and drank in the panorama.

With lunch done, we came around to the front of the house, er, castle, and to our chagrin, we found a long line up of people waiting at the front door. Obviously they'd finished their lunch too and were eager to get on with the real business at hand.

But who cared? We were all here to enjoy the same thing. And grace seemed available for us all ... people weren't impatient ... everyone had a chance to be as meandering and slow as they needed to be in order to enjoy the many fascinating details of architecture, art, furnishings, and photographs.

We entered through the grand front door, no servants' backdoor for us. And yes, we saw the stunning gothic entrance hall with its marble columns and vaulted ceiling. We were guided to our left which took us into the Library; it was impressively decorated in dark mahogany, gilded bookcases, and rich red curtains. Its collection boasts over 5,650 books. Oh look, there's Lord Grantham's desk, and those big red couches with the high backs set beside the fireplace. You know what, the cushions actually look comfortable but, no, we mustn't sit down to check them out.

You must remember the Drawing Room where the Downton family often gathered before dinner? The room with those gorgeous green walls and how the ladies seemed to be dressed in complementary outfits to match. A lovely south-facing room, Almina, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon, used green French silk to cover the walls and make curtains; her father gave the silk to her as a gift. Now that is some gift! It was also Almina who turned the Castle into a hospital during the First World War, and from all accounts, she was adored by her patients for the little touches that made their stay a 'haven of rest'.

It was all so beautiful. Going upstairs to peek into the bedrooms that had been used as Lady Cora's and Lady Edith's was a delight. We imagined some of the unforgettable scenes as we walked along the upstairs gallery. And, finally we found ourselves at the top of the stately Oak staircase -- where over the centuries countless ladies in elegant dresses and brides beautiful in lacy gowns must have come down.

And, I was about to do the same thing. Heavy walking shoes on or not, for me, that was another magical moment. I imagined Lady Edith who, in the final episode, walked down to finally meet her happily ever after. And there I was walking that same staircase. In our feminine heart of hearts, we, too, are the elegant ladies and blushing brides gliding down those stairs.       

Now, some people have asked if we got to see the servants' quarters Downstairs. No, we did not. As you may know, all the kitchen and below stairs scenes were shot elsewhere, not at Highclere Castle. Originally the Downstairs would have been the kitchen and servants' hall; in real life, it has now been transformed into a museum for an Egyptian exhibition. The 5th Earl of Carnarvon, with his colleague Howard Carter, discovered in 1922 the Tomb of Tutankhamun, and the Exhibition in the cellars celebrates the Earl's story and achievements. A fascinating tour with so many items on display. Emerging out into the sunlight, I felt like I'd been away in the desert on an archeological dig.

Time for a wee walk through the wild flower meadow. I should first mention the postage stamp photo you saw at the beginning. The stamp was commissioned by the British Royal Mail to celebrate the 18th century landscape architect Lancelot 'Capability' Brown. Much of the sweeping park at Highclere Castle Garden is the result of collaboration between Capability Brown and the 1st Earl of Carnarvon.

My British blogging friend, Tracey, was the one who contacted me one day soon after we arrived home from our trip. She wanted to know if I would like her to mail the new postage stamp to me. Oh yes, please, said I. Now displayed on my desk, it's one of my little treasured treats.   

There's nothing like a good garden map to help a person find what she's looking for; it gives her an idea how everything relates to the other. Once I figure which way is North, I feel 'placed' and can  explore with abandon. Well, not too much abandon, when the tour bus leaves a certain hour, you won't want to be missing it.

Looking in every direction from the Castle, a person gets a sense of the grandeur and the vastness of the land around us. What we saw is just a small bit of that thousand acre park which belongs to Highclere Castle.

Walking through the wild flower meadow on the side of a hill

Catching sight of the Castle towers

Weren't we excited to find this photo online of Lady Edith--it was probably taken during one of her photo shoots--right there in the middle of the wild flower meadow. How cool is that!

Photo source: Nick Briggs/Carnival Films

There still was so much we didn't get to see, it was time to leave, but what a day, what a day! We caught a glimpse of the Secret Garden but by that time we had to hurry. So I didn't have the chance to take some decent photos of my own. Below is one that I 'borrow' from the website.

Photo source: Secret Garden from Highclere website

One last look. One last photo.
Bye-bye, Downton Abbey ... thanks for all the wonderful memories!

Now here's wishing you glimpses of heaven in unexpected places
and a wonderful weekend ahead,