Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Make Your Blog Comments More Meaningful

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

As bloggers, we publish our latest ‘masterpiece’ post, and then we eagerly wait for comments to roll in. We want readers to share their own thoughts, maybe a remark or two about themselves which connects us at some level, and secretly, we hope for a little praise about what a 'sublime' (wink) post we just created. 

Before I say anything else, I first want to give a shout out to every person who leaves comments on my posts. I have learned so much from you on how to leave warm, thoughtful, and meaningful comments. SO many times you've inspired me, affirmed me, and given me joy with your gift of words in response to something I've shared in a post.

We may not often be lost for words, but there are times when composing a short, meaningful comment seems harder than it ought to be. So, we might well click away without leaving a comment or make a remark so general as to be disappointing:  "Great read.”  “Nice photos.”  “Interesting topic.” 

Although positive, they tend to leave an empty feeling or no feeling at all. There is no indication that the post was even read, and one gets no sense of any relationship being forged; the reader has added nothing of herself in those tiny words. We certainly understand time constraints and lack of creative moments. We don't want to create pressure. At the same time, we do long for a little something in return (and I don't think I speak just for myself here).

I never forget something Mark Twain is attributed as writing once to someone: he apologized for writing such a long letter, as he didn't have time to write a short one. Although we smile at his wit, we also recognize that, yes, sometimes the short ones take the longest to compose as we carefully choose our words. Still, it never has to be a long paragraph to leave something meaningful.

* * * * *  

Here are four tips that help me when it comes to sharing my own comments on blogs I visit without having to spend so much time or effort every time:
1. Instead of trying to make a general comment about the overall post, focus on one or two details that catch your attention – a single thought, a turn of phrase, or a line of prose so artfully written its beauty gives you goosebumps. Do tell the author your experience.
2. Look for common ground: the similar family traditions, the books you read, where you go for holidays, a favourite song or line of verse. Perhaps you realize you share similar ‘soapbox’ topics…or completely different ones. Mention what makes you feel connected to the writer. 
3. Instead of just saying the photos were nice or great, why not zoom in on one and describe what makes it come alive for you? Is it the composition? The colours? Perhaps it's the contrasts or similarities, or maybe you are drawn to particular subjects, like sweet kids in rubber boots or cute dogs out for a walk. 
4. When you realize somebody else has already said what you wanted to say, don't think your similar comment doesn't matter. Of course it does. A little trick I use sometimes is to do a synonym search of words already used in other comments; this often triggers great descriptive words that help me form lovely new sentences.

Comments are gifts – ones you offer in return for the posts you read. Go ahead, say something meaningful, and make a blogger happy today.

* * * * *

This post today is based on an article I submitted to a recent writers' contest. It was a little summer contest within our writing group, and I am delighted to say I placed first. The feedback I received from my peers (who were the judges) was meaningful to me, and helpful, too, for future writings.

I hope you are enjoying your September.
I'm wishing you glimpses of heaven in unexpected places,

With hugs,

If you have other suggestions for creating more meaningful comments,
I would love to hear from you.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

August Edition: The Simple Woman's Daybook

Photo by Scott Leyland

As I look at my calendar, I see that my last Daybook Edition was written in April. Oh my! I ask you, how did Spring's April slip into May and then into June, pass like lightening through July and almost sweep August off its feet as we merrily waltz toward September. It doesn't seem to matter whether we do much or little in a day or a month, it all seems to fly by at warp speed.

Rick and I just returned from a road trip to the West Coast for a family visit. A dear sis-in-law celebrated a special birthday this month, and we gathered on Vancouver Island at a gorgeous place called Point No Point. Our view of the ocean from Bridge House, our home away from home, was truly s-p-e-c-t-a-c-u-l-a-r. I think all our mouths were agape in awe when we first arrived -- to find the ocean right outside our verandah door. Above, you see the two of us watching the waves from our perch further up, photo courtesy of my brother-in-law. This is a spot on God's green earth where one can find rest for the mind and healing for one's soul. And, at night, there it was, the rhythm of the waves soothing most of us sound asleep.

The sea, once it casts its spell,
holds one in its net of wonder forever.
~ Jacques Yves Cousteau

"The sea does not reward those who are too anxious,
too greedy, or too impatient.
One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach --
waiting for a gift from the sea."
~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Isn't this the cutest rock painting of one fine fellow? Not sure who the artist is, but I'm happy to have found this little treasure and others like it in the Point No Point gift shop; they had a whole basket of rocks painted with tiny creatures.

* * *

Now, while summer is still summer around here,
I'm happy to offer the August edition of The Simple Woman's Daybook.

* * *

Sending hugs with a gentle kiss atop thy head,

Especially to the dear people in Houston and area,
we whisper a prayer for safety and grace through this time.
We're so sorry for your turmoil and your loss.


Looking out my window... Well, it wasn't so much about looking out my window this early morning when I started work on my new post; it was more about hearing the sounds in the neighbourhood. Well before eight o'clock, children were outside playing. Highly unusual for this time of day, but we delighted in the cheery sounds. Maybe cousins or far away friends came to visit overnight; it seemed anyone under ten was up and ready to take on the new day -- perhaps as a last hurrah of summer holidays.

I am thinking... about our human need to remember. Thankfully, we have the wondrous ability to recall fragments of past memories through our senses: sounds, sights, or smells. I take great pleasure in reading books and memoirs by authors who have the flair, as former Victoria editor Nancy Lindemeyer once said, "to capture the gestures, the furniture, and the fabric of bygone times, and help us all go home again."

I am thankful... for the days and stretches in time that come my way when life's rhythm is easier and less complicated than others. I am in a place like that right now. No doubt we've all had seasons to cope when we've been rushed off our feet, trying to take in another round of bad news ... all to the moment where we think the top of our head's going to blow off. Like the ocean waves that ebb and flow, we somehow learn to ebb and flow with the seasons in our own lives. But I am so glad for the quieter, more sane times.

One of my favourite things... is to sit out on the deck and watch the birds as they vie for spots at the feeders, and especially when they decide to take a dip in the birdbath. How they enjoy the moment, wings fluttering and splashing, as water drops catch the sunlight. The young ones are especially fun to watch, shy and eager at the same time, in their debut of this experience. Some will jump in; others flutter nervously on the edge and return to a safe perch, foregoing the pleasure. Just like people -- maybe we share more with our feathered friends than we realize.

I am wearing... a cool summer dress, ballet-like slippers, and glass bead earrings. No bracelets to jangle at this time of the morning.   

I am creating... something new in this space today. You see, I'm not much of a craftswoman at this stage of life (although I once was and I might become again). So I decided to google the question "What are you creating today?" to see what other people are up to -- perhaps someone else's creativity will inspire me with an idea for this prompt.

And, true to form, Google gave me a list of possibilities in response to my question. A blog post to a piece entitled What Kind of Future Are You Creating Today written by Dr. Judith Rich in 2010 and updated in 2011 caught my eye. Yes, a different kind of creating, so we went to see what she had to say. Her message was similar to something I discovered for myself a few years ago, that is, we create our future through the words, actions, attitudes, choices we make in the present "today". Even though this post was written in 2010, the author's message still resonates, what with all that's going on in our world these days. The post feels a tiny little wordy (I'm one to talk) but I do invite you to take a peek, you might find something that gives you courage to create a future about which you're dreaming.

I have read... several nice books this past summer. Here are three I really enjoyed:

1. Daybook by renowned American artist Anne Truitt is based on a journal she kept over a seven-year period. Written in journal style, I found many of her entries inspiring, soul-nourishing, and a slow pleasure to read. Published in 1982, the author...
"recalls her childhood on the eastern shore of Maryland, her career change from psychology to art, and her path to a sculptural practice that would “set color free in three dimensions.” She reflects on the generous advice of other artists, watches her own daughters’ journey into motherhood, meditates on criticism and solitude, and struggles to find the way to express her vision." excerpt from description on amazon.ca   
2. Martha's Vineyard: Isle of Dreams by Susan Branch. A perfect summer read, I am re-reading this delightful book in which Susan shows how her drastic move across the country to Martha's Vineyard was the godsend she needed to recover from her broken heart and lost dreams.

As she starts over, with new kittens to keep her company, she slowly builds a new life and dreams new dreams. Like any good memoirist, Susan shares her own story so that her readers connect as they remember similar emotions and their own places of brokenness and lost dreams. She makes us laugh with her (oh, I love how she makes me laugh) and nod our heads in understanding, and she gives her readers the hope that good things can come to anyone no matter who they are or what they've gone through.

3. Finishing School: The Happy Ending to That Writing Project You Can't Seem to Get Done by Cary Tennis and Danelle Morton. I share a short review of this encouraging and helpful new book here. This book showed up in my world at a perfect time -- I love how that happens.

I am watching... summer turn into pre-autumn. Yesterday I saw hints of it along the boulevard where trees already had yellow leaves. We still have lovely warm days, but the nights are cooler. 

I overheard... a little conversation with one teen and her mom standing behind me while waiting in the long line-up at Staples. She wanted to get 'this', 'this', and 'this', plus she really wanted a fourth 'that'. Her mom says, you can have 'this' and 'this' and the 'that', but not 'this', 'this', 'this', and 'that' too. You have to choose, there's a budget. Or, you can buy it yourself. // Daughter says that her wallet is in the car, then adds in a softly spoken, yet incredulous, "You're making me pay for my school supplies?" Not trying to listen to every word, I'm not quite sure how it sorted out, except I saw the teen leave the store, I assume to get her wallet. // Ah, the joys of growing up and learning about budgets.

I am hoping... to get this post completed and up for Wednesday. As I write in this moment, the kids next door are back outside and having the time of their lives. I think they must have a little pool in their backyard along with the trampoline. We know for sure there's a trampoline -- we oft see the tops of heads bouncing past the six-foot fence between our yards. For all the screams, there seems to be water involved. I hope that summer stays a while longer for all our enjoyment.

Photo by Angelina Litvin on Unsplash

I have been learning... some new words of late. Thinking I should smarten myself up with a few new definitions, I participated in a couple of online literary terms quizzes to see just how much I knew (or didn't). It was fun -- I felt like I was back in the school room. Fortunately, there is no knuckle-wrapping, scolding, or marking work with a red pencil. In fact, they encourage a person to do the quizzes over so you can ace it. I like that! And, no, it's not cheating; testing yourself several times to see if you know something makes use of a technique which helps the brain learn more solidly.

My brain was happy to review these definitions, not to mention clarify some fussy words I never quite remembered in school. So, I wrote them up on the proverbial blackboard to review once in a while. And, when I've got it all right, I'll give myself gold stars as rewards. ★ ★ ★ 

Here are three new-to-me terms I came across on a quiz from vocabulary.com:
INDITE: "The verb indite, rarely used today, means "compose" or "put down in writing," like when you find a quiet place to sit down with your notebook and pen and indite a journal entry or a first draft of a short story. // To indite is to write something creative — you indite a letter and jot a grocery list. Don't confuse indite with indict, which means "to charge with a crime." Both come from the Latin word dictare, meaning “to declare.” Even if you indite a really bad poem, critics won't indict you."
EPIGONE: "Someone who copies a well-known poet, closely imitating her style, is an epigone. You are also an epigone if you admire and imitate another kind of writer, a visual artist, or a musician. You can also use the word to describe the follower of a particular philosopher, or an admirer of a famous chef, especially if you imitate her cooking style." Any Julia Child epigones out there?
LITOTES: Derived from a Greek word meaning "simple", it is a figure of speech which employs an understatement by using double negatives or, in other words, positive statement is expressed by negating its opposite expressions. e.g. it's not bad at all, she's not a bad singer, not unhappy, she's no spring chicken, it wasn't a terrible trip.

In the kitchen... For supper, we're having burgers, fried onions, corn on the cob, and fresh plums for dessert. Simple, yummy, and satisfying.

In my garden... the Peace Rose finally takes a rest. She certainly outdid herself all summer long; at one point, she had almost two dozen blossoms and buds. What a winner. That's a record for roses in my part of the world, or at least, in my not so big Alberta garden. And I think I just used litotes in saying 'not so big' Alberta garden.

A favourite blog... Today I want to share a link to a blog I have been following for years now. Some of you already know her: Brenda from Coffee, Tea, Books and Me. In her most recent post, she tells her readers she's starting her 12th year as a blogger, a long time in the world of blogging. She shares a lovely look back at her journey as a blogger, a reader of fine books, and a woman of faith who has learned how to stock a great pantry.

A last peek of our visit to the ocean...We sat around in comfy verandah chairs and visited; we climbed over big rocks to get a better view and perched on a bright red bench overlooking the water. We trailed through woodsy areas with tall, tall evergreens and masses of ferns giving off a spicy scent. We watched sailboats go by and one cruise ship lit up with fairy lights one evening after it grew dark. It was all enchanting.  

* * * * *

Something I'm mulling... Not quite letting go of summer, but thinking how to get ready for autumn's dramatic changes. I'm also thinking about how we can use the seasons as a source of inspiration for ourselves and our work, whatever form it takes. The truth of it is that many of us already do this maybe without even realizing it. As the seasons change from warmer to cooler and visa versa, we change our wardrobes, the recipes we make, and our home décor. If you notice, it's mainly to accommodate or adapt to the weather, temperatures, and equinoxes. I never saw that before. Maybe it doesn't matter, but it's an interesting bit of info.  

Claire Murray confirms this in one of her now out-of-print magazines, La Vie Claire, "Seasonal transitions...involve re-outfitting ourselves and our homes. Come fall, we pack away our summer cottons and linens and unpack our woolens and knits. We take the light floral comforter off the bed and exchange it for one made of goose down."

Claire goes on to say, "Nature serves as the inspiration for so much of my work and the work of others. ... Nature dazzles us in the fall with abundance, variety, and color. It is a season of dramatic change, and as we tune into its rhythms, we find ourselves desiring changes -- big and small -- in our own lives."

I started to mull what other changes we make as the seasons shift. And I wondered if I could be more intentional in watching for inspiration ... and to watch what other people do to create beauty and wonder in their lives from season to season.

Collage created by Brenda, but the photos come from unsplash.com

"Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor;
summer an oil painting, and autumn a mosaic of them all."
~ Stanley Horowitz

I found this line penned by Stanley Horowitz, and decided to see if I could create a simple collage that portrayed what he was getting at. Had to do a little research to sort out how an etching, a watercolour, and an oil painting could symbolize the seasons, and why he thought they could. And, then consider how autumn could be a mosaic of them all, what that might look like.

Here are my little musings so far...

Etching allows dramatic contrasts between delicate and heavy lines, and has the spontaneity of sketching, according to an article from finerareprints.com. I can see why Horowitz calls winter an etching, can't you? Barren trees 'etched' against a grey sky, the form is there but not the details.

The glowing transparency and spontaneity of watercolour makes it an ideal medium for exploring the effects of sunlight, shadows, mist, stormy skies, including nature's bounty in flora and fauna. Often watercolours are used in gentler, softer ways ... maybe representing the hopefulness and the 'not quite there' of the new season.

When it comes to oil paintings, I tend to think of something brighter, deeper, bolder, opaque. So, is Horowitz right as he describes summer that way? Poppies are summer flowers and that photo I found on unsplash.com seemed to convey that feeling.

Autumn is a mosiac of them all ... well, what does he mean by that? My sister and I chatted about it yesterday; autumn to us does have a sense of new beginnings -- a little like Spring -- not so much in the plant world, but it's the start of a new school year and we start new projects after a summer hiatus. The bold exuberance of summer certainly shows itself in the autumn colours of trees turning orange and yellow and russet, not to forget the bright berries and rose hips. And once the trees drop all their leaves, we have the etching that we will see all winter against those grey skies.

Have I come to any conclusions? Not yet, but it's been fun to think about as the new season approaches. I'd love to hear your thoughts about it.

Closing note... I have mused and typed my way towards lunch ... egg salad sammies with pickles and tea. Hubby is back from exercise at the gym. So I shall call it a wrap for today.

I wish you all a beautiful day. And may you ebb and flow like the waves, riding whatever you are facing or enjoying this week. If you feel in need of something to help you through your day, here's a lovely thought I just read in Susan Branch's book:
"And you know what helps loneliness (and a whole lot of other things)? Beauty. Your heart can be sad, but it will leap at the sight of the moon on the water, or when light flickers through the leaves and flutters like butterfly wings on the wall. You might fall back into sadness, but then, thank goodness, you see something else, even the smallest of things, a pink rose in a vase, an amazing line of inspiration in a book, kitty paws the way they fold over each other, and it leaps again."
Oh yes, Susan, it's true, I have felt those exact things so often. Thank you for those words. And, now wishing you all grace for your journey today.
* * * * *

For those of you who receive my posts in your email inbox, I'd love for you to come back to my blog and leave a comment (of course only if you feel like it). Your part adds to the conversation and it means a great deal to me and to others who visit. Click HERE and you'll find me over there. Brenda xx

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Late Summer Blooms and A Teeny Bit of Musing

A posy on my desk represents the feast by my front door.

Have you have ever seriously wondered if you are a late bloomer in life? Everyone else, after high school or college, seemed to sally forth confidently racking up accomplishments, yet for others of us, life unfolded more slowly, less surely. To some people it might have looked like we were late to our callings and careers, but in truth, our seed packets -- unbeknownst to all but One -- were labeled: "Plant early in Spring. Will bloom mid- to late-summer or early fall. Tall and widespread once mature. Plant to the rear of the garden or in a spot of its own. Blossoms are profuse; stake if necessary."

Perhaps that's one reason why I love these late-in-summer charmers. The early spring and summer plants have peaked weeks earlier and many are all but bloomed off by now, but then come the yellow black-eyed Susan (we call them rudbeckia) and the purple cone-flowers, just coming into full bloom. For the last two months, these perennials have been quietly growing tall willowy stems, thick and strong, and developing tiny buds, the promise of dozens of bright petaled cheer-mongers to come.

And, now here they are ... ready for the grand display. How often I look forward to slipping out my front door and going back far enough away so as to get a more sweeping view. Two plants flank both sides of the bay window. When I bought those two perennials a few years ago, I never dreamed they'd get that tall or bushy. And, I certainly never dreamed that I'd find myself completely smitten by their bold beauty; I love to see them peeking in through the lace curtain of our living room window, swaying on a breeze or catching raindrops after the rain.

No fussing, no rushing, no thinking because the lilacs were out so much earlier, they too should be setting blossoms already. No, the pressure to begin blooming earlier does not exist -- smart flowers -- yet inch by inch with patience and forbearance they are eventually ready to take their place in the garden's parade of blooming cheerfulness. Not late, on time ... making a garden beautiful in their own way and season.

“Bloom as if you want to make the whole world beautiful.” 
~ Debasish Mridha

Just think, if everything in the garden came into bloom at the same time and then died back, how forlorn and empty would be our gardens the rest of the growing season. There are similar timings for our own gifts to come into their full blossom ... in the fullness of time ... in due season.

I remind myself, too, some plants seem to die back after blooming early, but if you pinch back the dead blossoms, the plants put everything into sending out a beautiful second flush of blossoms.

"Every flower blooms at a different pace.” 
Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem

"Lean towards the Light"

“You don’t have to remind a flower when its time to bloom is near;
it has been preparing for it all of its life.” 
~ Matshona Dhliwayo

I completely identify with the quote above, for I have finally realized that I have indeed been preparing all of my life for this season. Sure hope I am like a wise flower and know when it's time to burst into full bloom.

Back in February, I wrote in my journal something I felt God was saying me (I had been thinking about turning 60 and how I felt it 'officially' signalled a new season for me). I went in search of those words because I wanted to share them with you today:

"This is your season. Flourish. Bloom.
Do the work you've been preparing for all your life.
An oak tree at 60 is still young, but it's no longer a sapling, green and immature.

You always felt you were a late-bloomer.
Yes, you were; your gifts needed to mature. Develop. Deepen. Emerge.

Daffodils are already spent in the autumn, so are the roses,
but the beautiful colourful leaves, the berries and rose hips are ripening,
including those Michaelmas daisies (not here but England).

This, My Child, is your season.
You've always loved Fall.
Gather the grapes.
Enjoy the dahlias.
Harvest the garden and the fields.

Take care of your body --
It will take you through this
season with ease and grace.

You don't need the strength you had at twenty.
You're not doing that work out there.
It is time to focus on your own life work.

You're an Autumn girl.
Autumn brings Colourful Beauty.
Harvest. Bounty. Food.

You've got a storehouse full.
You also have the grace, skill, stamina,
and ability to set it out to share with others.

Lean towards the Light."

This wasn't the post I planned when I first sat down to work on something this month, but it's what bubbled up as I started uploading the photos I wanted to use. I see more clearly than ever that I first had to live my life with all its experiences and life lessons before I could sit down and write from it.

You may ask, how is it going? Slowly ... one page at a time. Grace flows. Thankfully.   

To My Beautiful Friends,

Here's wishing you glimpses of heaven in unexpected places,

With love and hugs till next time,
x x

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Talking About My Blog and Writing

A person would think I had lost my interest in blogging for all the posts I am not writing these days. I mildly protest and do deny it ... I have not lost interest, I have not abandoned my beautiful blog, despite certain evidence indicating otherwise. So, what IS happening then, you ask; if you have not given up on blogging, then what?

It's like this ... I have been focusing my attention and pouring my heart into another writing project. And, I find when that's going on, at the end of the day, there never seems to be enough energy or words left over to create a decent post here. Believe me, I've tried -- you wouldn't want to see the accumulated false starts sitting in draft mode.

As you may recall from recent posts, I celebrated my 60th birthday this spring, and months prior, fully aware the event was drawing nigh, there came a full-blown wish yearning to gather up my childhood memories and life experiences. Since a teen, I have been chronicling my journey, but turning 60 seemed a good time to sort through the boxes of memorabilia, old scrapbooks, myriad photo albums, and dozens of old diaries and journals to tie up loose ends, put things in order, and set it down properly on paper. I understand God keeps such a book of each of our lives; I wanted to write one from my own point of view and how I saw the world growing up and what I thought about it all.

“A day will come when the story inside you will want to breathe on its own.
That’s when you’ll start writing.”
 ~ Sarah Noffke

I also wanted to clear out space in my home -- my closets and shelves -- not to mention in my mind, to make room for possible new pursuits and interests. If I glean the useful bits and pieces from these carefully stored reminders and finally write the story out, whether in a more private, personal document or in several books to share further afield, then I can finally discard them without too much trauma for The Chronicler, who is loathe to throw treasures like that out, and she certainly doesn't want me to forget any of the important stuff.

Agatha Christie's most enjoyable 500-page autobiography took her fifteen years to write. She was 60 when she started. She said, "What I plan to do is to enjoy the pleasures of memory--not hurrying myself--writing a few pages from time to time." I've decided to sort of follow suite, except I don’t plan to take 15 years to write my own stories -- I don't have any mysteries to write in between -- and I can't imagine needing 500 pages to say what I need to say. Even so, it's a much bigger task than I first anticipated. By the way, did you know that Maya Angelou wrote seven autobiographies in her lifetime? Perhaps a person can never really know how much it will take to mine the lessons learned from one's experiences.

"There was another life that I might have had,
but I am having this one.”
~ Kasuo Ishiguro

I don't think I ever told you that my life did not turn out the way I dreamed it would as a girl growing up. All my life, I imagined the day when I would meet my prince charming, fall in love, get married, create a home where we would raise a family, and build a lifetime of traditions and memories together. There was no doubt in my mind that it wouldn't come to pass; yet for all the hoping, it did not happen that way at all. I didn't meet my prince charming until I was forty, we didn't have kids, and we each already had many of our own traditions and memories not mutually shared.

As for writing the memoir of this part of the journey, which has been in the back of my mind for ages and for which I have the first draft, I finally came to see I had to live a longish life before I could write about how I found my beautiful life, in spite of those disappointments, first as a single woman for twenty years, and then as a happily married wife, daughter, sister, aunt.

As you can imagine, sorting through 60 years worth of memorabilia is a huge undertaking. But I'm having lots of fun with so many memories flying upward like butterflies (see post for earlier reference They Flew Out Like Butterflies); my study is a veritable habitation for these vintage creatures.

So, my dear beautiful friends, that's what I'm up to these days ... unpacking the memories of a life lived thus far. And not blogging much.

Let me say, I will still post at least once or twice a month; I will get really homesick for you otherwise. I hope you bear with me as I work away on this new '60' project over the months to come.

Sending you love and good wishes
for a beautiful rest of the summer,


PS. I still create spontaneous, tiny posts with lots of pictures
on my Facebook page. You are most welcome to join me there.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Quick ... Before June is Over


Checking in ... all is well. Enjoying summer days and long evenings, even the cool, rainy ones. Peonies blossom at last. Purple petunias send out their spicy perfume on a breeze. The mock orange seems bent on filling the backyard with a crazy sweetness. Add the indescribable aroma emanating from the evening scented stock in the cool of the day ... and one imagines she must be standing in a patch of paradise.

"The beauty of that June day was almost staggering. After the wet spring, everything that could turn green had outdone itself in greenness and everything that could even dream of blooming or blossoming was in bloom and blossom. The sunlight was a benediction." ~ Dan Simmons, Drood


With Canada's 150th birthday almost here, I created a list of a few of my own Canadian favourites. I started the list on Facebook the other day and wanted to share it with you here.

Author/book: L.M. Montgomery and Anne of Green Gables; Stephen Leacock, humorist 
Poem: In Flanders Field, by Canadian physician John McCrae
Childhood Holiday Spot: Banff National Park and Radium Hot Springs
Music: Postcards from the Sky by Canadian composer Marjan Mozetich.
Animated Film: The Log Driver's Waltz by the National Film Board
Musician: Tommy Banks (Pianist) and Angela Hewitt (Classical Pianist)
Music Group: Sultans of String
Male Singer: Ben Heppner, Canadian Tenor
Female Singer: Anne Murray (loved her singing when I was a girl, especially loved her 1970 hit Snowbird
Song: Harvest Moon by Canadian singer-song writer Neil Young
Favourite City to Visit: Victoria, BC and Montreal, QC
Children's TV Program: Mr. Dressup is another iconic Canadian favourite. I can still hear his voice in my mind even all these years later, and I loved his Tickle Trunk full of play clothes and costumes.
The Famous Five: Emily Murphy. Nellie McClung. Henrietta Muir Edwards. Louise McKinney. Irene Parlby (Champions of the rights and welfare of women and children in early 20th century in Canada). Grateful for the paths they paved for us.
Foods: Maple syrup, Canadian bacon, beaver tails (flat doughnut without the hole), Butter tarts, Nanaimo Bars, Canadian split pea soup, Tourtière (meat pie), saskatoon berries (native to Alberta)
Childhood Favourite Gum: Thrills, the purple gum in the yellow box that tasted like soap (really), made in London, Ontario
Childhood Favourite Chocolate Bar: Coffee Crisp, made by Nestle Canada
Sport: Hockey, Edmonton Oilers especially during the Wayne Gretzky era; he is my favourite all time player.
Figure Skating Figures: Elvis Stojko, Kurt Browning, Elizabeth Manley (Canada's sweetheart Silver Medallist in Figure Skating at Winter Olympics '88)
Favourite Sights: Wheat fields across the prairies, majestic Rocky Mountains, Niagara Falls, Lake Louise... Home
Our Canadian Anthem: I am always deeply stirred when I hear Oh Canada sung. Love it and am proud of it.
Canada is my country ... it's my favourite.
Alberta is my home province ... it's my favourite.


My sister reminded me of a post I wrote a few years ago about summer, hot dogs, and a very nice fried onion relish we used to make years ago when we'd come back from swimming on a hot summer afternoon with the kids. 

If you are looking for something to jazz up your next wiener roast, here is the link to Hotdogs, Relish, and Remembering which includes the recipe for Fried Onion Relish. It really is delicious.


Who can get through summer without reading something to match the mood of the season. Sometimes I want something I've never read before, but more likely, I tend to reach for a book that's an old friend. Even though I have my own copy, when I saw L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Avonlea sitting on the summer recommended shelf at the library, I checked it out. Haven't read it in years. A nicely bound pocketbook, it holds well in one's hand; it also easily slips in a carry all bag... or even in a pocket.

So far, here are a few favourite lines from the book:

“After all," Anne had said to Marilla once, "I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.”
“She seemed to walk in an atmosphere of things about to happen.”

“Oh, of course there's a risk in marrying anybody, but, when it's all said and done, there's many a worse thing than a husband." (This one made me hoot with laughter!)

* * *

Wishing you all a beautiful weekend and a
Happy 150 Canada Day to my fellow Canadians,


Friday, June 16, 2017

Mom's Peace Rose Keeps Dazzling Us

My mom's Peace rose is in bloom. And, yes, it's the same rose above -- at different stages of development. It's like the rose has several wardrobe outfits in various hues and shades as it matures from bud to opening blossom to full bloom. Doesn't that seem amazing? No wonder we're dazzled.

The Peace rose has a very special place in history. Its actual name is 'Madame A. Meilland'. I found a very nice article about who developed the rose and how it became so famous. Although I can't imagine anyone not knowing about this lovely rose, if you have not heard about it, you will enjoy reading its lovely story here.

I just went out and took photos of the blossoms that are open today ... her gorgeousness up close. Aren't you glad for eyes to see such exquisiteness? And her fragrance is like a whisper -- one must lean in close to catch the scent. The way a woman's perfume ought to be, not overwhelming, just a hint on the breeze ... soft and sweet and intimate.   


But friendship is the breathing rose,
with sweets in every fold.
~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.
~ Gertrude Stein

Wishing you a glimpses of heaven in unexpected places.

Wishing you peace,

Linking today with Floral Friday Foto


Saturday, May 27, 2017

A Visit to Blackwell's Bookshop in Oxford, Part 3

Attribution: Soham Banerjee - Flickr, CC BY 2.0, Link

When I think about our visit to Blackwell's Bookshop in Oxford, an old song from the 1968 musical Oliver! comes to mind. But instead of 'food, glorious food', I hum 'books, glorious books'. For, Blackwell's is not just any book store, it's a book lover's paradise. Carrie, our beautiful B&B hostess, calls it the most dangerous bookstore in the world. I think she's right. A person could easily disappear down the rabbit hole and be lost forever among the book shelves ... unless, of course, a discerning husband has a firm grip on a coat sleeve to ensure her safe return. 

The shop doesn't appear large from the outside, but step up into one of the two entrances and you'll discover what someone describes as 'an Aladdin's Cave filled to the brim with books on every subject'. The flagship shop, founded in 1879 in Oxford, was originally twelve feet square; now it includes several floors, including the massive underground Norrington Room. Take a virtual tour of the shop and you will have a good idea of what to expect. I spent most of my time on the first floor. Note: if you live on this side of the pond, you might need to upload the UK adobe flash.

A whole day week should be spent in that wonderful shop (there's a lovely cafe if you need refuelling), for there are many nooks and crannies on several floors to while away an hour here, two or three hours there. The too-short time we spent there was pure pleasure, with staff at the ready to show us around. We soaked up the ambience and drank in the smell of books. We paused to read interesting quotes scrolled across walls, and peered at strategically placed photographs of well-known personages who once shopped there -- reminding us that fellow book lovers are always in fine company.

We marvelled to think of the treasury of knowledge housed in this rambling space and gasped to learn a whole room was dedicated to the works of well-loved poets and others more obscure. Just as Westminster Cathedral has its famous Poet's Corner, so does Blackwell's:

Now that you know a little about the shop, you're probably wondering what I bought while I was there. Clutching a growing stack of books, three bagfuls later, my suitcase back at the B&B suddenly weighed a dangerous amount. This shop truly is a book lover's haven; I would have to get a job if I lived in this city.

On that somewhat bewildering first day we arrived in Oxford, Rick and I walked through the streets to orientate ourselves. That's when I first caught sight of a book perched in a shop window that I just knew I had to have. Into the shop we went and headed straight to the display of Oxford Sketchbook. Paging through a sample copy, I knew my first instinct was correct -- I was smitten. Two copies purchased then and there, one for myself and one for a birthday gift. Our first shopping experience in Oxford and it was in Blackwell's; we'd go back for a proper visit a few days later. Since coming home, I ordered two copies more through amazon.ca. 

Oxford Sketchbook
Watercolours by Graham Byfield and Text by Roger White

Excerpt from Inside Cover
"Oxford, with its golden skyline of towers, spires, domes and turrets set against lush water meadows and hills, was considered by the poet Keats the finest city in the world. Artist Graham Byfield strolls with his sketchpad through college gateways, quadrangles and gardens, along broad streets and narrow alleyways, into great ceremonial buildings and medieval pubs full of character. On the way, with a few pencil strokes and splashes of watercolour, he captures passing scenes of student and civic life enacted before one of the finest architectural backdrops in the world. ...
Accompanying the paintings and sketches are observations and notes handwritten by the artist, as well as a learned and lively introduction to Oxford, its history and buildings by the noted architectural historian Roger White."

* * * * * 

OXFORD Through the Lens
Douglas Vernimmen
Foreword by Colin Dexter

Oxford Through the Lens is a wonderful collection of Oxford's architectural, historical, and cultural impressions through photography. According to the inside cover, the book also reflects Douglas Vernimmen's feelings about the city. He worked as a scientist at Oxford in the 2000's which allowed him to view the University 'from the inside'. An award-winning photographer, Vernimmen says, "My wish would be to go back in time with my camera: people would undoubtedly look different, but the buildings would probably look much as they do today."

What makes this coffee table book extra special for me is that smack dab in the middle is a two-page spread featuring Holywell Bed and Breakfast. Which simple meant we had to ask Jack to autograph it, as you will see when you peer more closely at the photo. 🐾

* * * * *

Oxford College Gardens
by Tim Richardson and Andrew Lawson

Excerpt from Inside Cover
"The gardens of Oxford's colleges are surprisingly varied in style, age and size, ranging from the 16th-century Mount in the middle of New College to the impressive modernist design which is St Catherine's. ... Founded in 1621, the Oxford University Botanic Garden is the oldest in Britain, and holds one of the most diverse plant collections in the world. ... In this book Tim Richardson's elegant, authoritative analysis combines with Andrew Lawson's glorious photographs to reveal the diversity and discreet charm of Oxford's college gardens."

Yes, this book is laden with charm and beauty -- every page filled with stunning photos of Oxford's college gardens. We had the opportunity to enjoy some of these gardens in person, including the Botanic Garden. Because the colleges were between terms while we were there, visitors could gain entrance, and walk at leisure through the grounds and some of the college buildings. The wisteria was just coming into blossom at Magdalen College, and there were plantings of tulips and other spring perennials everywhere.

The book really is 'sightseeing in an armchair' -- I'd say almost as good as being there, well, not quite, but you know... if you can't get there in person, the book is a lovely substitute. A beautiful memento of our beautiful holiday.

 * * * * *

As for something lighter in subject matter and weight, here are other books I bought:

Ammonites & Leaping Fish by Penelope Lively. As I stood in front of the shop's biographical memoir section, one of my go-to spots these days, this title intrigued me. An ammonite fossil and a 12th century sherd of a leaping fish are two of the six treasured possessions which Ms Lively uses as prompts to write her fragments of memories. At eighty, she looks over her life and 'reports back what she finds ... what it is like to be old as well as on how memory shapes us'. 

Two Josephine Tey detective mysteries: The Man in the Queue and A Shilling for Candles. Shortly before we went to Oxford, I found a new to me mid-twentieth century British mystery writer at the library. I so enjoyed reading The Singing Sands (you can read about it here) I went in search for more. When I saw the nice selection of her books at Blackwell's, I hemmed and hawed about whether to get the complete set of six in the series, and to heck with the luggage weight fees at the airport, or just choose a couple. You can see, I opted for the couple. Perhaps I was remembering those heavy coffee table books already packed in my suitcase. 
The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books by John Carey. The author has been a part of Oxford University since the 1950's, now an Emeritus Professor. He shares his stories about the books that 'formed the backbone of his life'. I am always interested to see how other people write memoir, and I'm especially eager to see how Prof. Carey uses books as a central theme. I look forward to getting into it soon.  

Yours, Jack: The Inspirational Letters of C.S. Lewis. Who can come to Oxford and not buy something by one of its great writers. It was because of C.S. Lewis and his influence on my life through his writings that I longed for years to visit. Although I have read and already own many of his books, I just knew there had to be something of his that would make a lovely memento of my Oxford visit.

Brought the book home to our room and began reading it that evening. I soon realized I'd made the right choice for more than one reason: the snoopy person in me enjoys reading over the shoulders of others to see how they live their lives. I enjoy his candour, humour, and wisdom from the two other letter collections I have of his; I was sure I'd love this one too.

Another reason, which I'm finding completely satisfying, is that in his letters Lewis often references various spots while he lived in Oxford, and for the first time ever, I am reading something that feels familiar, I recognize it. I can say, Oh, I was there, I saw that. Now I have a clearer picture in my mind to what he is referring. It makes this reader feel closer to the author.

*The other two collections I have are: Letters to an American Lady, 1971, and Prayer: Letters to Malcolm, 1964.

Well, there it is... a glimpse into my visit to Blackwell's. Hope it was worth the long wait. One last thing to share is a quote, not from anything I bought that day, but from one of my all-time favourite English books, Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh:

"Oxford—now submerged and obliterated, irrecoverable as Lyonnesse, so quickly have the waters come flooding in—Oxford, in those days, was still a city of aquatint. In her spacious and quiet streets men walked and spoke as they had done in Newman's day; her autumnal mists, her grey springtime, and the rare glory of her summer days—such as that day—when the chestnut was in flower and the bells rang out high and clear over her gables and cupolas, exhaled the soft airs of centuries of youth. It was this cloistral hush which gave our laughter its resonance, and carried it still, joyously, over the intervening clamour." Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited, describing Oxford of 1923

Wishing you glimpses of heaven in unexpected places
on this beautiful weekend,


Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Here In Oxford, Part 2

JACK: Why are you two just standing there, talking? Can't you see I want to play tag?

I look around with a happy sigh as I stand in the middle of my host's pretty garden. Hidden behind tall brick walls, Carrie and I step into a lovely bit of 'heaven' where spring blooms in every corner. A sanctuary in the middle of town, it seems a place where quiet, peaceful activity can unfold: I imagine a bit of gardening, feeding the hens who would lay next day's breakfast eggs, perhaps reading a good book with tea, or just having a sit down in a ray of sunshine. For the time being, Jack quietly sniffs out his favourite spots, waiting for a timely moment to interrupt his chatting companions so he could get on with what he considered the real reason why we all came out here -- to play 'catch me if you can' tag.

A huge leafless tree looms overhead. Carrie calls it the 'Lewis' tree, as it's the one C.S. Lewis would have seen from that upstairs window in the white house when he arrived in Oxford for the first time in 1916.

You might be surprised - or not - to learn I felt a certain thrill in actually seeing this spot with my own eyes, and to gaze up at the same tree, not to mention the window of the room where he once looked out. The man, known to his friends as Jack, became a favourite author of mine ever since I discovered his writings in my late teens/early twenties, at which time I devoured everything I could find of his, including the Narnia stories.

Aside: Do you ever think we humans are a funny lot, going on 'tours' to catch glimpses of where our favourite well-known persons once studied, lived, wrote their famous books or songs... or whatever else? Have you ever wondered why we want to do that? Is it our way of connecting with history and the people who left footprints in the sands of time for us to notice? What do you feel about it? And, another thing, have you ever wondered what they might think of it all, if they knew, since many of them were probably just minding their own business living out their lives, just as we are doing today?

Whatever it is, somehow our veneration of them adds something meaningful to our own lives.

In the midst of it all, happy was I to find an excerpt from his book Surprised by Joy, wherein Lewis actually tells of the time he first arrived in Oxford, dropped off at the corner just off Holywell Street (see centre pic two photos up), a few feet from where I am now standing, just over 100 years later. For you other romantics, here it is:
"My first taste of Oxford was comical enough. I had made no arrangements about quarters and, having no more luggage than I could carry in my hand, I sallied out of the railway station on foot to find either a lodging-house or a cheap hotel; all agog for “dreaming spires” and “last enchantments.” My first disappointment at what I saw could be dealt with. Towns always show their worst face to the railway. But as I walked on and on I became more bewildered. Could this succession of mean shops really be Oxford? But I still went on, always expecting the next turn to reveal the beauties, and reflecting that it was a much larger town than I had been led to suppose.
Only when it became obvious that there was very little town left ahead of me, that I was in fact getting to open country, did I turn round and look. There behind me, far away, never more beautiful since, was the fabled cluster of spires and towers. I had come out of the station on the wrong side and been all this time walking into what was even then the mean and sprawling suburb of Botley. I did not see to what extent this little adventure was an allegory of my whole life. I merely walked back to the station, somewhat footsore, took a hansom, and asked to be driven to “some place where I can get rooms for a week, please.”
The method, which I should now think hazardous, was a complete success, and I was soon at tea in comfortable surroundings. The house is still there, the first on the right as you turn into Mansfield Road out of Holywell. I shared the sitting room with another candidate, a man from Cardiff College, which he pronounced to be architecturally superior to anything in Oxford. His learning terrified me, but he was an agreeable man. I have never seen him since.”

And, now for breakfast. I promised to show you the fine, fine breakfasts we enjoyed. Let me tell you, they were a delicious affair each morning, and they made us feel happy and energized for a new day of exploring. Carrie's sign on the wall said it all:

Money can't buy happiness
but it can buy chickens,
and chickens make eggs and
breakfast makes you happy."

Soft jingle bells on the door announce our arrival into the cozy breakfast room -- bells on the right, two photos up -- where we found the buffet set with inviting bowls of fresh berries, organic yogurt (so creamy), and granola mixed with dried fruit and nuts. We tucked into the berries and yogurt while our hot breakfast selection for that morning was being prepared for us.

All the while, through the window, we could watch people walking or riding by on their bicycles. We did not worry when they stopped to take pictures in front of the B&B... or even peer into the window, adjusting their hair or clothes in the reflection. Although a common occurrence, Carrie and Stuart assured us they tested it out -- guests inside could peer out into the street, but nothing inside was visible from the outside. So we calmly ate on...

Boiled Eggs and Toast
with homemade strawberry jam

Rick ordered boiled eggs and toast our first morning... and they arrived nestled under those darling hen 'tea cozies'. For sure, we needed a photo of them. As for me, I had the yummy bacon sandwich. If anyone recalls me reading Lucy Dillon novels, as noted in a distant post, one story involved a rescue dog shelter. When volunteers came to walk the dogs, they were later rewarded with homemade bacon sandwiches which the owner of the shelter made herself. I thought, yum, so when I saw it listed on the menu, I knew what I wanted.

Other mornings, I had the sumptuous Blueberry Pancakes with maple syrup, and Carrie's delicious version of the Egg McMuffin. It was all wonderful with cups of tea or coffee and fresh orange juice.

L - Bacon Sandwich
C- American-style Blueberry Pancakes with Maple Syrup
R - Egg McMuffin

Appetites satisfied, we gathered guide maps, cameras, and headed out in comfy shoes and warmish jackets. Still early morning, the streets were quiet, and there was a sense of wonder as we strolled. To think we were walking on paved or cobbled streets, seeing in person the colleges and buildings that have been standing here in these very spots for hundreds of years.


The Radcliffe Camera in Oxford (centre above). We could only view this impressive circular building from the outside. It is a working library, and so only students and scholars are admitted. I took this photo from the tower (left) when we climbed up. Designed by James Gibbs and built in 1737 to 1749, the Radcliffe Camera forms part of the Bodleian Library complex and houses mainly English, History, and Theology books. Oh, to be a fly on those walls for a reverent peek inside.

The University Church of St Mary the Virgin (left above) sits just opposite the Radcliffe Camera building. That soaring 13th century tower caught our attention; for a small fee, we could climb to the top of the spire and enjoy a bird's eye view of Oxford’s famous ‘dreaming spires’.

So, climb we did -- 127 steps. Those nice wooden stairs you see in the photo were just near the bottom; as we got inside the tower--the very narrow tower--we found ourselves treading carefully on extremely narrow stone steps. Round and round the stairwell went. Up, up, up. Thinking to myself, good thing we aren't experiencing any claustrophobic feelings in this moment.

I longed to stop for a photo but people were pressing in behind, so I kept climbing ... until we reached the top, where after I caught my breath, we stepped out onto a very skinny walkway (they certainly didn't build with tourists in mind all those centuries earlier--wink). It was not wide enough for adults to pass each other, not even a tiny toddler, although one tried to wiggle past my legs, to his mother's deep chagrin.

The view, the view. A spectacular sea of stone and brick, all put together with such architectural beauty and design. I understand Headington stone, a limestone from the Headington Quarry area near Oxford, was traditionally used for a number of the older Oxford University college buildings.

Oh, look, there they are -- the famous spires and towers standing like sentinels against the Oxford skies. And, here we are in person, looking at it all. What is it about this place that captures the imaginations of people everywhere? Poets, writers, artists, historians, architects, scholars, readers, teachers, nobodies, somebodies, young, old -- we've all been bitten. I am smitten.

"And that sweet city with her dreaming spires,
She needs not June for beauty’s heightening."
from Matthew Arnold's Poem, Thyrsis

Although I tried, my photos could never do this spectacular view due justice. I can see why professional photographers and artists would want to see the skyline with all those spires and towers at various times of day -- in early morning light or evening sunset, maybe even in a hazy fog. Like in this painting we found in a gallery one morning, which we purchased:

"Oxford through mist from the Thames at Port Meadow"
Acrylic on board by David E.S. Langford

We had the privilege to meet another local artist, Joshua Hughes, an Oxford fellow and a man of many talents. He had a display of some of his work in The Radcliffe Camera square one morning, and it didn't take us long to know which water colours we wanted to bring home as keepsakes of our time in Oxford. You can find Josh's website here.

Joshua Hughes

Joshua Hughes

What fun to go on one of Stuart's walking tours. "Oxford Walking Tours has been operating from the blue gates of Trinity College on Broad St for more than 30 years." And, Stuart has been a part of that tradition for as many years, being an Oxford man himself. He pointed out to our group the well-known buildings and shared so many interesting bits of history about the City and University of Oxford.

If you wonder why the colleges are all cloistered behind walls that don't permit the public, that tradition goes back a long way. It started in the early days of the university. The local townsfolk were not happy campers when privileged students came to study in their neck of the woods. Altercations between them happened often; students were even murdered. So walls and gates that were locked at night were built to help protect the students. Nowadays it's not about murder, but the tradition of walls and gates remain -- let the students and scholars get on with their work in the sheltered environment of their own colleges.

When the colleges are on term break, visitors are permitted to visit the various college grounds and buildings. Snoopy people like us rejoice. Stuart took us through New College's cloisters, gardens, the impressive dining hall with those long wooden tables (made famous by films such as Harry Potter, Brideshead Revisted, and others), the beautiful chapel (no pics allowed there).

While we were walking through the beautiful gardens of New College (above), the birds were serenading us so sweetly, I tried to capture the sound on video. It was windy so it rattles too.


“All gardening is landscape painting.”
~ Alexander Pope

“The greatest gift of the garden is the restoration of the five senses.”
~ Hanna Rion

“Gardens are the result of a collaboration between art and nature.”
~ Penelope Hobhouse

Last, but certainly not least, above is the 'Bridge of Sighs'. Completed in 1914, this bridge connects two parts of Hertford College (once the college of Brideshead Revisited author Evelyn Waugh). It is similar to the Venice Bridge of Sighs, but not actually modelled on it. We walked under it on New College Lane during our walking tour. Lots of people milling around, posing for photos. If you peer closely, we're not in the crowd; somehow in the excitement we forgot to be tourists and take a photo of us in that favoured spot. Haha

I shall stop here ... for surely you need a break and your teacup is now sipped dry. I'll begin the next post right away, and, for all you book lovers, I'll be absolutely sure to include Blackwells book store and the lovely books I found there, as well as notes about the very stirring Easter performance of Mozart's Requiem we heard in the Sheldonian Theatre and how it stood out as one of those 'complete' spiritual moments.

I hope you've enjoyed my joy ride in a dreamy Oxford bubble!
I'd love to hear from you.

Wishing you glimpses of heaven in unexpected places,