Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Birthday Treats, Past and Present!


Photo Kelly Neil | unsplash.com

This week's my birthday. Cards are arriving in the mail, I've been treated to lunch out, and had surprises in beribboned packages handed to me across the table. I feel like a child ... a little giddy even if I am turning 61. The feeling of being loved never gets old, does it?

I just love how after twenty years of being married to my wonderful guy, Rick still knows how to surprise me with lovely treats for my birthday. This year he's taking me to see Mozart's opera Don Giovanni. We've only heard the opera music on the radio. Rick's never been to an opera and it's been years since I've been to one myself. So we are looking forward to this evening of operatic splendour and grandness. And who knows, this might spark a new interest for both of us to pursue in the future.

For a wonderful rendition of the Overture (about six minutes), click here for the link. And, below is the 60-second trailer for the production we'll be seeing later tonight.


"He’s sly, arrogant, and takes pride in breaking women’s hearts — opera’s most notorious bad boy Don Giovanni is back in all his seductive glory! Often regarded as the crowning masterpiece of Mozart’s Italian repertoire, Don Giovanni combines elements of comedy, tragedy, and the supernatural in a riveting opera experience." ~ from their website
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"When I'm in London, Claridge's is a great place.
I'm a great fan of art deco architecture and the
rooms are extraordinary." ~ Roman Coppola 

It's now a year since that extra, extra special birthday treat from hubby last year. As you may recall, we took a little trip to Oxford to celebrate my 60th, posts here. We stayed several wonderful days at the Holywell Bed and Breakfast with our hospitable hosts and now friends Carrie, Stuart, and Jack, their most adorable doggie.

From there, we traveled up to London where we were booked for two days at the very nice (understatement) Claridge's Hotel. Rick had roses and champagne ordered ahead which arrived in our room shortly after we checked in. The lobby was spectacular. Every corner was polished. An elegantly attired elder gentleman invited us to step inside the opulent lift to whisk us up to our room, which was beautifully decorated and plush. I wished I had packed all my diamonds and a tiara (wink) when I saw what we'd stepped into. In spite of being tiara-less, we were treated royally. Did I mention that hubby did not tell me about this part of the trip ahead of time? It was all a big secret to be revealed once we arrived by London taxi at the impressive front entrance of Claridge's Hotel.   

First, we visited the amazing Victoria and Albert Museum, where Rick had searched out the Beatrix Potter exhibit for my great pleasure. We walked through some of galleries filled with art of some of my favourite painters. Such a thrill to see their work in person. We snooped in their delightful gift shop with all sorts of treasures to bring home. There was just so much to see -- a person really needed several days to see even just a few of the great exhibits.

Back at our hotel, a doorman was at the ready to open the taxi door and help us out. We swept into the great lobby as if we'd always done it that way (just like in the movies). Soon we were enjoying Afternoon Tea and, in my view, it really was afternoon tea at its ultimate best. And I've had lots of elegant afternoon teas in my life. We had polite and friendly, not to mention handsome, young waiters to wait on us and pour our cups of tea. We could select different varieties of interesting teas to try with each 'course'.

Photos on the walls indicated well-known people had visited this fine establishment over the decades, including Audrey Hepburn. I understand Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn and The Queen Mother herself enjoyed taking afternoon tea there. And, apparently, Spencer Tracy once said he'd rather go to Claridge's than to heaven when he died.  We understood, we felt quite spoiled amongst all this poshness and glamour, sitting on chairs where maybe someone more famous than I once sat to drink tea and eat cucumber sandwiches. Believe me, we soaked it all up, and loved every minute!

I've included the link to a short video with some footage of the inside of Claridge's. It's from their website. You really do want to take a moment to watch it. Oh my goodness, it's a stunning peek into this beautiful and glamorous 5-star hotel. They gently advised not taking photos in the public areas to protect the privacy of all their guests. We felt a little sad about that, we're so used to in this day and age snapping pics at every turn. It reminded us that we were not at a tourist venue, but the real deal. So, thank goodness for memories.

And now, just to prove we really were there, here are a few pics of our fairy tale stay at Claridge's in London. 


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On that note, I'm off to get ready for our outing tonight. To my favourite Thai restaurant for dinner and then off to za opera.  



Here's wishing you glimpses of heaven in unexpected places,
not to mention some proper Spring sightings in your part of the world.

With hugs and love,
Brenda 
xox



PS. Aren't these take away boxes elegant?

"Take away boxes"

For the little desserts we just didn't have room for...
to be enjoyed later in the evening

* * *

PSS. Oh, I just remembered the birthday note
I received from our waiters


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PSS  More mementos for the scrapbook


Just remembering it all again makes me feel happy!

* * * 




Saturday, March 24, 2018

Spring And A Potpourri of Ponderings

pixabay.com


"One swallow does not make a summer,
but one skein of geese, cleaving the murk of March thaw, is the Spring."
~Aldo Leopold



I am a letter writer at heart. That is my genre of choice. It's comfortable, consoling, inspiring, and it seems to be the place where my words feel most at home. Every time I come to write a new post, I think about writing a 'proper' post -- you know, one that follows normal rules of writing: take one theme, one idea and explore it through to a logical conclusion. But, so often, when I try that, it comes out dry as toast.

American Artist Anne Truitt once said that matter is stubborn. I would agree, and so are words. Like a piece of sculpture, words must be wrestled into a form the writer sees in her creative imagination, giving it outward shape so that others, too, may see it.

So I let my posts be more like letters from home, which takes less wrestling for me--though it still takes a lot of work--in which I share glimpses of my life inward and outward: what I'm thinking, who I'm listening to or reading, what I'm doing to create sunshine and beauty in my every day life. Bits and pieces. This and that.

Sometimes I go to Oxford for inspiration (it's been almost a year now since we were there, I'm homesick, posts here). Sometimes I sit at my desk and stare out the window into my backyard, which is often alive with birds and the odd bunny munching on a rosebush. I sure hope he left something to catch hold again for Spring.

Makes me feel a little like Emily Dickinson when I say that -- I like my little worldview from my study window. It's a place where my scattered thoughts can settle like fallen petals on a window sill. I gather them up, place them in a bowl or journal or even a blog post ... and hopefully they make up a nice potpourri. Something for someone to enjoy for a moment or two. 

"If your daily life seems poor,
do not blame it; blame yourself
that you are not poet enough to
call forth its riches; for the
Creator there is no poverty."
~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Here's a bit of poetry I copied into my journal a few weeks ago. I keep it near to hand as a reminder. For, even though we manage to stay positive on grey, socked-in overcast days, the malaise of winter begins to nestle across our shoulders, and all feelings of richness and creativity of life seems hidden behind a fog.

Yes, it's time for Spring. The winter weather and the early darkness make me want to hibernate into small cozy places where life is simply lived without too much effort: a little cooking, a little cleaning, a little baking, a little reading, cups of tea, and not too much visiting too far afield. I love winter and dull winter days. I love their beauty. I love cold and snowy days. I admit, I'm quite content to observe most of it from within the confines of a warm and secure place in the heart of the home. But, now with Spring sending messages of hope for a new season, I find myself waking up and stretching like those old bears feeling ready in body and soul to reach out to the outer world and connect with people and life again.

Today I wish to be poet enough to call forth the day's riches of grace and mercy and creativity and happy thoughts, and shake from my shoulders all vestiges of winter past.


* * * * *


I still have quite a feast of books on my bedside table which I'm enjoying. And, yes, I tend to have more than one book on the go; it's a lot like eating a well balanced meal, finding refreshment and nourishment from an assortment of interesting authors and genres. So here's what I'm reading as the days are getting longer and warmer...


In the Frame, My Life in Words and Pictures (2007)
by Helen Mirren

"An illustrated first-person account of the life and career of the esteemed actress...honored for her Academy Award-winning title role in The Queen traces her Russian ancestry and early life through her numerous achievements in a variety of performance venues." excerpt from amazon.ca

It's a delightful glimpse into Helen Mirren's life story. In her Introduction, she talks about having started numerous diaries over her lifetime but all were invariably abandoned after only a few entries. She came to see that she had more interest in living the life rather than recording it.

I certainly admire and appreciate her great zest for life and living (love her acting), but I realize the opposite for myself:  if I could not stop to record both my outer and inner life along the way, I would be at a great loss. I would feel bereft. Of course, I want to go out and live my life, but I also have great need to record it; it's how I process what's going on around me, it's how I make my little mark in the sand that says I was here.


Dorothy Day, The World Will Be Saved by Beauty
An Intimate Portrait of My Grandmother (2017)
by Kate Hennessy

“Dorothy Day (1897-1980) was a prominent Catholic, writer, social activist, and co-founder of a movement dedicated to serving the poorest of the poor. Her life has been documented through her own writings as well as the work of historians, theologians, and academics. What has been missing until now is a more personal account from the point of view of someone who knew her well. Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty is a frank and reflective, heartfelt and humorous portrayal written by her granddaughter, Kate Hennessy." excerpt from amazon.ca

I know nothing of the author or her grandmother, although the names are familiar. I signed it out from the library as the book title caught my attention. Haven't gotten very far yet, but I can't wait to get into it ... I was captivated by the opening lines in the Preface:

"In the last years of her life, my grandmother often woke up hearing in her mind the words from her beloved Dostoyevsky: The world will be saved by beauty. // Of all the words she wrote, of all the quotes she loved to repeat, of all the advice and comfort she gave to countless people...this is what has come to give me the most hope. For if, after years of struggle, weariness, and a sense of deep and abiding failure, she believed in salvation through beauty, then how can we not listen?"

Beauty is healing. Perhaps it's the spots of beauty, no matter how sparse sometimes, that keep our souls from giving up entirely when the world around us seems so bleak. A friend recently traveled to Mexico with a group of Grade 12 students to help build housing for families living there. She said in one post what she saw around her was ugly, yet families living in this harsh part of the world sought to bring a measure of beauty by keeping a few flowering plants by their home, watering them by hand from leftover dish or bath water. As I read her post, I thought, such tiny glimpses of heaven in unexpected places. Yes, Beauty is a healing balm. And, I look forward to reading more about what Dorothy Day has to say to us about it.


Glass Houses (2017) by Louise Penny

A new-to-me author. Canadian. From Quebec. She has, I believe, thirteen Inspector Gamache crime mystery novels. Glass Houses is the latest -- I started with it and I'm working my way through the rest. Louise Penny is an excellent storyteller. Each book combines a riveting mystery with wonderful characters and interesting historical references, all set in or connected to a delightful village called Three Pines, a little village near Montreal. Although the books follow an overall time line, I'm happy to learn each novel can be read as a stand alone, until I can find all the copies and read them in order.

Ms. Penny says the themes of her books are inspired by two lines from a poem by W.H. Auden in his elegy to Melville:

"Goodness existed, that was the new knowledge
his terror had to blow itself quite out to let him see it."

She goes on ... "My books are about terror. That brooding terror curled deep down inside us. But more than that, more than murder, more than all the rancid emotions and actions, my books are about goodness. And kindness. About choices. About friendship and belonging. And love. Enduring love. // If you take only one thing away from any of my books, I'd like it to be this:  Goodness exists."

It was that last line that convinced me it was 'safe' to read. I don't like to read books that, as someone else put it, leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed. For me, I find these books have been a source of light and inspiration, and I now consider Louise Penny my new favourite author. To know more about the author, you can check out her website.

Sensitive Reader Discretion: Some characters are prone to using cuss words and these words are scattered throughout the book.


Feeding My Mother, Comfort and Laughter in the Kitchen as My Mom Lives with Memory Loss (2017)
by Jann Arden

"The many people who are dealing with a loved one who is losing touch with the world will find inspiration and strength in Jann's wholehearted response and her take on the upside-down world of a daughter mothering her mother. Feeding My Mother is one heck of an affirmation that life keeps on keeping on--and a wonderful example of how you have to roll with it." from the inside cover

I've been on the waiting list for several weeks to read this book from the library. I finally got it -- I've only browsed through it but it looks a thoughtful read. Jann Arden writes it as journal entries, interspersed with lots of photos, recipes, and artwork.

PS. Since writing this post, I have now had the opportunity to read the book. In spite of its too-terrible topic, it is:  Delightful. Poignant. Humorous. Insightful. Hopeful. Honest. I wish Jann and her mom lots of grace for the journey in the days and months ahead.



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antiqueclipart.com

We've been watching an old, but lovely BBC series on YouTube called The Victorian Flower Garden. The old head gardener talks about how things were done in the Victorian era. The series, filmed in the early 1990's, follows the old gardener around as he potters in the greenhouses and digs in perennial beds. Watching it makes me feel peaceful -- I can see why the world moved more slowly in those days.

So if you are looking for something of a slower pace, you might enjoy The Victorian Flower Garden. Lovely music. Some lovely photography too.

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Writing in the night hours helps me find my beautiful life. Laying in the dark often puts my thoughts to spinning into useless or anxious ones, but as soon as I turn on the light, they scatter into the corners, and I feel more peaceful in my mind.

Jesus once said He is the light of the world. Sometimes I have to come and sit in the light of his presence to scatter those useless and anxious thoughts. Sometimes turning on a lamp in the middle of a dark winter night helps. Sometimes writing about it helps. Sometimes praying about it helps. And, once the useless thoughts are stilled, then sleep can come again.

A calm and undisturbed mind and heart
are the life and health of the body.
The Book of Proverbs


 Photo: Irina Kostenich | unsplash.com

I'm a memoirist in the making, and so I cannot leave this post without sharing a childhood memory that comes to mind.

As kids we couldn't wait for Spring when the pussy willows would be out, usually right around the time of my little sister's birthday -- late March, early April.

It would be such fun to tromp through the woodsy area and down to the swollen creek running through the corner of our farm. All the while ignoring the Voice that warned, "And don’t go by the creek." Oh no, we had no such intentions, we affirmed out loud, but we knew in our hearts that's exactly where we would end up eventually. For we were on the hunt for pussy willows. Spotting branches in 'bloom' just out of reach over the water, we'd suddenly find our rubber boots swamped. Yuch, now we had sopping socks to squish home in. Still, we had our prize in our hands -- sprigs of those soft fluffy silvery catkins that were so nice to touch and rub against our cheeks.

Umm, we never stopped to realize that Mom would know we'd been to the creek when we came home with branches of pussy willows. I wouldn't be surprised if she remembered her own carefree childhood, doing her own wanderings on a farm where creeks ran.

There have been times in more recent years when I find fresh pussy willows branches at the green house for sale, and I'd buy up a bunch for old time's sake. Although they are a delight to see them arranged on my dining table, I must admit, it's not quite the same as hunting for them yourself, is it? They bring back the memories though, for which I'm most grateful.


* * * * *

"Believe there is a great power
silently working all things for good,
behave yourself and never mind the rest."
~ Beatrix Potter


On that note, I'm wishing you glimpses of heaven in unexpected places.

Hugs,
Brenda



Friday, February 16, 2018

February Heart Stuff: Five On Friday

Photo: Brigitte Tohm | unsplash.com

Happy Valentine's Day to you! ♥ I know the actual date has come and gone, but perhaps there are more of us who like to celebrate it all month long. Valentine's Day has often focused on it being an occasion just for sweethearts, but surely love is shared by a much larger pocket of people than just couples or lovers. So, today I'm celebrating love in all its aspects... as sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, cousins, aunties and uncles, best friends, college friends, casual friends, colleagues, not to mention our furry family friends, our kitties and doggies, who add so much love to our world.

Even though Amy from Love Made My Home no longer hosts Five on Fridays, I still like to use this format as a way to gather my moments and share some of them with you. Here, then, are my Friday five for today:



ONE

Around the house... Things have been piling up in the corners again. Such a slow process one hardly notices it until it's a bit of a mess. More than a couple of years ago now, I did a complete detailing of our house. Top to bottom. It took several weeks of persistent working away at cleaning out every drawer, cupboard, dresser, shelf, and closet in every room, including the basement and storage area. Sorting, putting things back where they belonged, discarding junk, and giving away stuff that was still good. When I was finished, every single thing had a home, and with that came such a freeing and satisfying feeling. I knew where everything belonged, and if it wasn't there, I now knew there was no chance it might be lurking anywhere else.

I'm proud to say, it stayed that way for a long time. I kept on top of myself to put things away and to keep the clutter down to zero. As I say, it stayed that way for months, but then I began to notice a gradual, almost imperceptible, slipping back into not staying on top of things on a daily basis. The top of my dresser, which I carefully cleared each evening of dropped earrings, buttons, receipts heading for the file or garbage, was displaying a small assorted pile of stuff on the side. Looking around, I realized my spare bedroom had a similar thing going on atop the bed and dresser, a sure sign that things were starting to unravel elsewhere in my house.

I must admit, I have a continual tug-o-war between my two selves: one side of me loves holding onto memorabilia and trinkets and lots of paper ... and the other side is a minimalist who yearns to be free from the claptrap and clutter and my 'need' for so many material possessions. Maybe ancestry experts would find my DNA roots are lodged in the Victorian era (they certainly were masters at clutter) as well as the Japanese culture (true masters at clean, clear spaces). For me, the challenge is finding a balance that makes both selves reasonably happy (one in her trinket-y clutter and one in her cleared away space).

Some time ago, Susan Branch wrote a post I found enjoyable and inspiring. After her very busy life of writing several books, creating new projects, travelling to see family and going on a several-week book tour, she tells of how her studio ended up as a complete disaster area and of how she was slowly putting it all to rights again. Her story inspired me to begin my own slow but steady process of dealing with the extraneous and making every room in my own house all nice again. Here is Susan's delightfully honest post, just in case you need her inspiration. 
  


TWO

In the kitchen... I have a lovely recipe for Sour Cream Lemon Pie. I found it years ago on a recipe card tucked inside a magazine long tossed out. I don't make it often, although I don't know why not, as it continues to be a hit whenever I do. The lemon filling and the almond flavouring in the whipping cream creates an amazing combination ... causing your mouth to 'zing and sing' as you take that first bite and s-a-v-o-u-r it.

In case you're looking for something wonderful to set before your loved ones this weekend, you might want to give this a try.



SOUR CREAM LEMON PIE 

1 baked 9-inch pie shell

3/4 cup white sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tbsp grated lemon peel
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup light cream
1/4 cup butter
1 cup sour cream

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar, cornstarch, flour, lemon peel, lemon juice, and light cream. Bring to boil slowly, whisking constantly. Add butter and cook until thickened and smooth. Remove from heat and cool. Gently stir in sour cream and pour filling into baked pie shell. Refrigerate, covered, until ready to serve.

SOUR CREAM TOPPING

1 cup whipping cream
2 tbsp icing sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp almond extract
Grated lemon peel
Lemon slices, to garnish, if desired

Whip cream and fold in sugar, sour cream, and almond extract. Spoon over the lemon filling. Sprinkle with grated lemon peel and garnish with lemon slices. Makes 6 to 8 servings

*Alternate 'lighter' version: If you really don't want all that whipped cream, a small dollop on top or on the side works too.



THREE

A favourite quote for today... This quote is from a letter written by E.B. White to the children in Troy, Michigan, in which he explains the benefits of visiting a library.

“A library is a good place to go when you feel unhappy, for there, in a book, you may find encouragement and comfort. A library is a good place to go when you feel bewildered or undecided, for there, in a book, you may have your question answered. Books are good company, in sad times and happy times, for books are people—people who have managed to stay alive by hiding between the covers of a book.”

Another E.B. White saying: “Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.” And at the end of some days, that's just about all you can do, isn't it?



FOUR
Photo: Josh Felise | Unsplash.com

How we first met. Because it's Valentine's Day week, and because many of us love to hear about each other's love stories, I thought you might like to know how my sweetheart and I first met. It's a long time ago now and those sweet, shimmering memories are a little like unwrapping cherished family heirlooms ... which, in truth, is what they are.

Where did you first meet? In a garden. It was late afternoon on a warm, sunny September day. I had gone off to work as usual in the morning, but Jean, my housemate and best friend, really, more my sister, was on her way to begin the Master Gardener's program with the University of Alberta. A friend offered to drive her out to the Devonian Botanic Gardens where the course was being held. The plan was that I would pick her up after work; she would give me a phone call to arrange a ride when her class was done. I waited all afternoon but never heard from her (this was long before texting and cell phones), so I came home from work, all the while wondering about Jean. As I got out of the car, I heard voices in the backyard, and so I opened the garden gate and walked around the corner into our pretty little garden. Jean was showing someone around--a man I'd never met before. It turns out it was a fellow also taking the course, and somewhere in the day, he offered Jean a ride home since he happened to drive past our house to his place.

What did you first notice about him? He was someone I felt comfortable with immediately. His manner was amiable and thoughtful. He had a ready laugh. Because it was such a nice day, maybe he had his shirt sleeves rolled up, something I always loved to see on a man. Now, this might not have been the very first time we met, but I did notice at some point that he was not so tall that I would have to stand on my tiptoes to kiss or hug him (but surely we weren't thinking about that right off the bat... I don't think... no no).

Was it love at first sight? No. As romantic as I used to be, a young woman thinking that falling madly, crazily in love at first sight would be, sigh, oh so romantic, I was by then a woman deep into her 30's and not as prone to thinking 'possible partner' as soon as I met a man. I had grown some sense and realized that falling in love at first sight can make for a lousy way to know if one has met the right person or not (at least for me); it can cloud one's ability to see straight or honestly. You know what they say, love is blind, and all that... 

When did you go on your first date? It was almost a year later. And on our second date, he proposed. There was a whole lot that needed to happen first in between that has a story all of its own. I'm writing it in a memoir that I hope to finish one day not too far down the road, and share with you all.

Perhaps the sweet quote from Anne of Avonlea by Lucy Maud Montgomery will give you a clue as to how it unfolded:
"Perhaps, after all, romance did not come into one's life with pomp and blare, like a gay knight riding down; perhaps it crept to one's side like an old friend through quiet ways; ... perhaps love unfolded naturally out of a beautiful friendship, ..."


FIVE



I first came across this beautiful video on Lorrie's blog Fabric, Paper, Thread. As Lorrie said in her post, the videos by this young woman, Li Ziqi, are like poetry in motion. I couldn't agree more. I feel in a different space when I watch them: a young lady doing lovely work, in a lovely setting, all set to lovely music ... what could be more enchanting.

Sending you my best wishes for a beautiful weekend,
With love and hugs,
Brenda
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