Friday, July 12, 2024

Oh, Sweet Summertime!




"If spring is all about looking forward, and
autumn about dying back, summer surely
is the present moment: a long, hot now that
marks the sultry climax of the year . . . and a
stillness settles over the land."
MELISSA HARRISON, Summer Anthology, "Introduction"


What floats up from the Tickle Trunk of childhood memories on this sweltering day is remembering how exciting it was, as a girl, when the temperature climbed as high as 80F (we didn't use Celsius in those days). My little sister and I would study the thermometer, peering up to where it was securely attached to the kitchen window sill. We were much more used to temperatures being in the high 60s to mid 70s. But on a day when it actually hit 80 degrees, well, we knew we were in for a treat. Running through the sprinkler would be a lot more fun and not quite the shock when the cold water hit already slightly shivering skin. Watermelon definitely tasted better when it was really, really hot out. And, of course, there was the exciting challenge of licking Popsicles fast enough to keep them from dripping a syrupy trail through your fingers onto your fresh, clean shorts. You could smell the fresh cut hay in the fields as the warm air moved.
 
I smile because it's all part of that sweet summertime feeling. Here are a few other little things that added to that feeling this week.

Summer Reading
I've got Madeleine L'Engle's children novel A Wrinkle in Time on the go. And I just purchased Kate Quinn's newest novel The Briar Club. Hot off the press, it's a "haunting and powerful story of female friendships and secrets in a Washington, D.C., boarding house in the McCarthy era (1950)". Looking forward to it. I still hope to reread Kate's wonderful WWII novel The Rose Code which is a firm favourite of mine. And I think I'm going to tackle Homer's ancient Greek tale The Odyssey. I don't think I've ever read, except maybe in a children's collection decades ago. I won't be reading it in Greek, although I should ask my niece and brother if they could read it, since they studied the language in college.)

A Summer Meal
Smash burgers are new to me. Until I started seeing reels about them on social media, I'd never heard of them, so I chased down some recipes to have for supper one of these sweltering days. The recipe I found is called Smash Taco Burgers. It uses soft flour tortillas instead of buns with a simple but delicious sounding burger sauce (all your favourite condiments mixed into one tasty sauce). The trick is to take a mound of seasoned ground beef and squish it flat-flat on the grill or pan with a large spatula so it spreads out about the same size as a 6" tortilla. For the recipe click HERE. Our first attempt was fine but we need a little practice before showing any pics. It was delish.

Summer Evenings
One of the nice things about hot summer evenings is watching the neighbourhood come alive as the day begins to cool. Some people are out watering their plants or washing their vehicle by hand; others stand on the sidewalk chatting with people walking by. Dogs are definitely happier to be out at this time of day. There's a gentle buzz in the air that is just so right. Makes me feel 'ah, now this is the life'. We sit out with a book; we read a few pages, stop to gaze into the blue skies, listen to the bees in the flowers, watch the fellow now polishing his car with great TLC. We track the gulls climbing higher and higher on the thermals until they are a tiny speck way, way up. Our little neighbours who are up way past their bedtime come for cookies and a visit. But hey, it's summertime and the livin' is easy. It feels good.


As I type this closing paragraph, it's now Friday morning. The air is cooler and the breeze wafts through the window, bringing with it the scent of mock orange. It promises to be a beautiful day. And that's what I wish for you, too. A beautiful day and a pleasant weekend ahead.



Heart hugs,
Brenda
Photo credits:
"Last of the Peonies"
Brenda Leyland @ It's A Beautiful Life


My Summer blog schedule:
I post on Fridays




Friday, July 05, 2024

Friday Five: Favourites This Week




"Nobody sees a flower—really—it is so small
it takes time—we haven't time—and to see takes time,
like to have a friend takes time."
GEORGIA O'KEEFFE


I only have to walk into the room to catch the scent of freshly picked peonies sitting on the dining table. Although the deep magenta blossoms make quite a show, it's the soft pink ones (name escapes in the moment) that fill the room with their unforgettable fragrance.

Summertime, summertime... oh the joy of garden delights in the summertime.

Here is a mix of favourite moments from my week, mostly in the shape of flowers... either from my own garden or from the small but delightful botanic garden at Greenland, a local garden centre.



One
"Peonies are always fully themselves. We never
mistake them for some other flower. No one ever says,
"Oh, that peony looks just like a double-flowering tulip!""
CHRISTIE PURIFOY, Garden Maker  



Two
"I am excessively diverted."
JANE AUSTEN, Pride and Prejudice



Three
"At some point in life the world's
beauty becomes enough."
TONI MORRISON, Tar Baby



Four
"We might think we are nurturing
our garden, but of course it's really our
garden that's nurturing us."
JENNY UGLOW



Five

And outside my study window wafts the fragrance of hundreds and hundreds of blossoms on the mock orange shrubs blooming beneath it. Planted four summers ago, they now nearly reach the second story of our house. And if I lean out my window, if I dared, I could almost pluck a few sprigs for my desk. We planted a mock orange about 20 years ago, which is almost as tall as our house. A gift that keeps on giving, it's the most successful plant in our garden and continues to thrive.




"And because the breath of flowers is far
sweeter in the air..."
FRANCIS BACON



Bonus

Ever beguiled by the next new book that crosses my path, I must tell you about one that arrived on my doorstep this week. I first heard of it from Lorrie who blogs at Fabric Paper Thread. It's called Dear Paris, The Paris Letters Collection. Oh my, I can already tell this is going to be a summer favourite. The author, Janice MacLeod, is a fellow Canadian who lives part of the year in Paris. Her book is a collection of illustrated letters that celebrates her life while living in that beautiful city.


Before I sign off, I want to extend to you an invitation to visit me where I am also guest blogging today. My piece is titled In the Shape of My Words in which I reflect about shaping our words into beautiful thoughts for good.


Wishing you a beautiful day,
Brenda

Photo credits:
Photos by Brenda Leyland @ It's A Beautiful Life


My Summer blog schedule:
I post on Fridays


Friday, June 28, 2024

Summer Reading Plans and A Little Wool-gathering




Hear blessings dropping their
blossoms around you.
RUMI


Head's up... this is going to be a rambling kind of post. I've had a busy week with appointments along with some proofreading project deadlines I need to finish. I looked up from my desk yesterday and realized it was almost Friday, and my blog post was barely a draft. So please excuse any meandering going on, as I didn't have time to properly distill my thoughts.

Today I wanted to chat about my summer reading plans. This year, I am feeling—and remembering—how it felt when I was a girl, to be all excited for summer holidays. It's not like we have plans to travel anywhere, at least not too far this year, but there is anticipation in the air for a change in routines, with some lazy days for lollygagging on the deck or sitting in the garden, meeting up with friends for iced coffees, going on picnics and drives in the countryside.

And, at the top of my wish list this summer is to read a pile of books. Reading as a girl during the summer holidays was one of my favourite things to do (slurping orange popsicles and DQ chocolate dipped soft cones were a close second). Back in the day, with blue skies and warm sunshine forecast, I'd grab my book, a blanket, suntan lotion (probably baby oil - can you believe we actually used to do that?), and something to munch on. Settled on a comfy grassy spot in the sun, of course, I'd read until I got too hot, at which point I'd check to see if a tan was starting and either stick it out for a little while longer or head for the shade of the tall poplar trees.

Cathy Rentzenbrink, UK author, sent out her June newsletter today. In it, she talked about reading and mentioned that a main reason she reads is to have an enjoyable few hours off from her life. She also reads for the escapism and hopes to leave a book feeling expanded. When she writes, she wants to give that to her readers as well. Oh yes, I get that—it's what I want from my summer reading. Maybe a few nail biting adventures but I'm looking forward to some relaxing, gentle reads where one can jog along with the characters in an ordinary, easy way. No scary plots to keep me on the edge of my lawn chair. And on the last page, closing the book with a contented sigh that it all turned out well for my new friends, I come away ready to pick up my own life again.


I saw a book at the library yesterday that sounded like a good summer read. I love to read children's novels in the summertime. Probably because it takes me back there. In any case, the book I brought home is The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. It was on the Staff Picks shelf for young readers (ages 9-12). Not familiar with the title or its author, I was charmed by the delightful yellow cover with branches and leaves twisted around the edges and a silhouette of a young girl in the centre catching butterflies. I'm captivated by the blurb on the back cover:  "The summer of 1899 is hot in Calpurnia's sleepy Texas town, and there aren't a lot of good ways to stay cool. Her mother has a new wind machine, but instead, Callie's contemplating cutting off her hair, one sneaky inch at a time. She's also spending a lot of time at the river with her notoriously cantankerous grandfather, an avid naturalist. But just when Callie and her grandfather are about to make an amazing discovery, the reality of Callie's situation catches up with her. She's a girl at the turn of the century, expected to cook and clean and sew. What a waste of time! Will Callie ever find a way to take control of her own destiny?" I started the book last evening.

Two books I just finished in the last few days that I recommend as nice summer reads are: The Story of My Life by Helen Keller and Music in the Hills by D.E. Stevenson. Both were published decades ago.

And it's been several decades since I read Helen Keller's short account of her life story. I'd forgotten how descriptively she expresses what she felt, smelled, and experienced, describing her sensations when she was out and about, often in the garden or woods. Having lost her hearing and sight as a toddler, of course Helen relied heavily on her remaining senses. She lets the reader see the world through her 'eyes' of touch and smell. It made me stop to ponder. We really do experience our world through our senses. And how it can shift our lives and change who we are when one of those senses is taken away. I try to imagine that for myself, but cannot dwell too long. How bereft I'd be without sight. I'm a visual person. How would I cope not having that visual stimulation. Helen's story gives me a new appreciation for my five senses and for the changes people who do lose them must endure as they discover new ways to interpret life around them. Helen certainly showed us that it can be done... and successfully, too.

As for my D.E. Stevenson book, I thoroughly enjoyed this recently reissued novel. Music in the Hills is one of those comfort book reads (you know about The Comfort Book Club if you follow Miranda Mills on YouTube). This novel is a gentle story about Mamie Johnstone, happy wife to Jock Johnstone, who both live near the village of Mureth, farming not far from the Scottish Borders. Alexander McCall Smith wrote the introduction for this edition. It seems appropriate since their writing styles are similar. He says: "These are not simple romances; nor are they anything that would today be recognized as thrillers. They are in a category of their own: clearly-written straightforward tales that take the reader through a clear plot and reach a recognizable and unambiguous ending.  . . . These are gentle books, very fitting for times of uncertainly and conflict." D.E. Stevenson wasn't highly considered by literary critics in her day, but her books sold millions. Readers loved her writing. This new-to-her reader does too. I look forward to reading more of her reissued works.

Other books I hope to read this summer (the list is by no means complete, we're just getting started):
- Some Agatha Christie summer-set mysteries (perhaps A Murder is Announced and 4:50 from Paddington).

- Maybe some Rosamunde Pilcher: The Blue Bedroom & Other Stories; Voices in Summer in which the novel opens on a lovely afternoon in late July, and convalescing Laura heads to Cornwall to stay with family while she recuperates after surgery; and The Empty House which opens "...on a Monday afternoon in July, sunny and warm, the hay-scented air cooled by a sea breeze...". You just know some adventures are about to begin.

- The Emily of New Moon series by L.M. Montgomery. I read this years ago but am looking forward to dipping into the world LMM creates for her readers of all ages.

- The World War II thriller by Kate Quinn, The Rose Code. This is a re-read for me, one of my favourite Kate Quinn books. It's unputdownable. Unforgettable story, unforgettable characters that you come to love. A gripping and utterly satisfying read for a summer's afternoon.
- Perhaps one of Louise Penny's earlier novels. She has her newest book coming out in the autumn. And in the meantime I wouldn't mind rereading my favourite of all her novels All the Devils are Here, in which readers find Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Quebec investigating a sinister plot in Paris, the City of Light. Another favourite is The Beautiful Mystery, where the crime takes place "in the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, hidden deep in the wilderness of Quebec, where two dozen cloistered monks live in peace and prayer"... until someone is murdered.
- On my shelf for several months now is the daunting 800-page classic novel Middlemarch by George Eliot. I was never tempted to undertake this prominent novel of the Victorian era until I read something Barbara Kingsolver wrote in her wonderful book of essays Small Wonder. She advised readers to forget about reading bad books, or even moderately good ones... "With Middlemarch and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek in the world, a person should squander her reading time on fashionably ironic books about nothing much?" I was intrigued! And I had to know why she considered these two books the benchmark of great literature. With both in my possession, perhaps this summer is the right time to read them.

- And last for today's list, but not least, is Susan Branch's delightful memoir Martha's Vineyard, Isle of Dreams. And, did you know that Susan Branch is leaving Martha's Vineyard and is moving back to California? It was a big surprise. I'm happy for her as she looks forward to new adventures back where she first started out, but I cannot believe how it shook my own moorings to find out she was moving away. I always felt settled knowing she was in that lovely place creating beauty for herself and her readers, which includes me,  and I always looked forward to visiting her blog to see what new things she and Joe and kitty Jack were up to. Anyways, I'm going to immerse myself in her book while she travels west this summer. You can read all about it, if you're not familiar with the story, on her blog


Here I stop and call it done for today. I do hope you found something today that made it worth your while to visit. I'd be interested to know, do you have any reading plans for your summer?


Wishing you a beautiful week, and to all my fellow Canadians,
Happy Canada Day on July 1st!
Brenda

Photo credits:
Top Image by Erik_Lyngsoe from Pixabay
Book Image by Brenda Leyland @ It's A Beautiful Life


My Summer blog schedule:
I post on Fridays



Friday, June 21, 2024

Summer Holidays - Like When We Were Kids




"Summer afternoon—summer afternoon;
to me those have always been the two most
beautiful words in the English language."
HENRY JAMES


The first day of summer dawned beautifully, with clear blue skies and a sunrise worth waking up for. As the old saying goes, let's start as we mean to continue. 

These last days of June often remind me of my childhood when the warmer days would beguile me as I squirmed at my desk in the classroom, feeling the breeze through an open window and yearning to be outside in the warm sunshine, secretly counting the days until summer holidays. Author George Eliot wrote that the days were longer back then, that summer afternoons were spacious. Oh yes, and they were alive with possibility for exploring, playing with our friends, and making grand plans for summertime adventures.

Thinking about those long ago days, I have a yearning in my soul to try and capture some of that wondrous feeling this summer. To pretend we're on school summer holidays and dream about possibility and playing with our friends, making a few plans for little adventures and maybe some bigger ones.

The other day I was in the kitchen peeling a bowl of hard boiled eggs for lunch. To make the Irish egg salad sandwiches I mentioned in an earlier post HERE. And then the wildish thought came to me—why not phone our dear friends (it's quarter to noon) and say we're bringing Irish egg salad sandwiches for lunch, put the tea on, hope you're free, hope you haven't eaten yet. They were right ready to join in, with V– on the phone and J– excitedly chirping in the background, 'Oh yes, come!' So we packed a picnic—the egg salad, of course, fresh Cobbs 'everything' buns, a large Washington 'Cosmic Crisp' apple to cut into slices, a bag of Miss Vickie's Sweet Chili and Sour Cream potato chips, and a small packet of Lotus Biscoff cookies for dessert.

A good time was had by all. Eating and chatting about everything and nothing.

After lunch we stepped into the garden to see how things were beginning to grow. I mentioned to my girlfriend how much I was enjoying the clouds of blue flax blooming out there (see photo above). She said it had reseeded itself and was now growing in several spots... as if it had all been in the grand plan. It looked so lovely. I love when that happens. When little and big surprises show up in the garden giving us those unexpected delights of beauty and scent.

Our spur-of-the-moment visit hit the spot in more ways than just eating egg salad sandwiches to satisfy hunger. It scratched an itch for something I found myself longing for from summers long ago. That's what I want this summer. A feeling of being on summer holidays, with spontaneous happy events that don't need a lot of planning but turn an ordinary day into something buoyant and soul satisfying. I'm hoping that we'll have many more of them over the next few couple of months.

When I started this post, I thought I didn't have a thing to write about, but here I am, happily typing this on the longest evening of the year so it can post first thing in the morning. The sun is still up, the robins are singing, and now I can contentedly call it a day. But first, I'm off to watch the sunset and the long twilight.

It's my wish for you that you'll also experience that sense of childhood summer holidays as summer begins. With room to play and dream and whatever else makes summer special for you. I think next time, I might chat about summer holiday reading, because I LOVE reading on my summer holidays. Until then....


Here's wishing you a beautiful day,
Brenda

Photo credits:
Brenda Leyland @ It's A Beautiful Life

My Summer blog schedule:
I post on Fridays




Friday, June 14, 2024

Scent of Lilacs in the Air



Now that lilacs are in bloom
She has a bowl of lilacs in her room
And twists one in her fingers while she talks.
T.S. ELIOT


Alas, we have no bowls of lilacs in our house today. We have no lilacs blooming in our garden this year. Our lovely Korean Lilac, which struggled last spring, showed no signs of life when winter was done; we finally cut it down this week. It was a little sad, but we're grateful for all the lilacs in bloom around town. Rick and I went out for a coffee yesterday afternoon (after gardening all morning), and when we stepped outside the café, I caught the scent of lilacs on the breezes. Oh, what a delight.

Lilacs scenting the air reminds me of something I read years ago by Helen Keller, maybe it was in her autobiography. Details are vague in my mind but it was about a time she traveled north by train from her home in southern US, up to Boston. What I never forgot was Helen's description of how the air was so heavy with fragrance where she lived and she noticed how the scent grew less intense the further north she traveled. I was intrigued; I'd never noticed the air where I lived to be scented with the fragrance of flowers - be it lilacs, flowering apple trees, or whatever. In my experience, one always had to bend nose to petals to catch a whiff. 

Perhaps that's why the anecdote stayed with me. I tried to imagine what that must have been like for Helen. Not being able to see or hear, she could smell. How sharp her sense of smell would have been. To think of her noticing the shift in the air, enough to mention it in her writings. And for me, what a wonder to imagine places in this world where the fragrance of flowers is so intense the air is drenched with it. It's an experience foreign to me. Here in northerly Alberta where I live, we get only a few days in a year where we might catch a hint of fragrance when all the trees are blooming. I never take it for granted if I happen to catch May Days or lilacs wafting in the air on a perfect summery day.

Now I wonder what it would be like to live where the fragrance of wisteria drifts wildly on the air, or the lavender in Provence, or roses in Grasse, France. Would it be like walking into a flower shop, but on a grander scale—the air filled with the scent of roses, carnations, heliotrope, lavender, peonies, lily of the valley. Perhaps it gets overpowering. Do people get tired of all that fragrance? Maybe they do, but I hope not.

I was working in the garden yesterday, and my little four-year-old neighbour came over and asked me to pull down a branch on the large lilac tree in her family's front yard. She wanted to smell the lilacs. She then tore off a few sprigs—her mom must have shown her how to twist and pull, for she was quite the expert. She was delighted with her fistful of flowers. I mentioned that she might want to choose sprigs in full bloom rather than the ones still closed up. She took note of that, for she proceeded to identify which ones were in full bloom and described how the shape was different. Smart as whip... and cute as button!

I loved the moment. She probably won't remember it, but I think I'll carry it in my heart's eye for a long while.

Wherever you are today, I hope you'll take time to stop and smell what's scenting your corner of the world, whether lilacs, peonies, roses. Or wildflowers. And whether you catch the scent in the air or you must bend near to get a whiff. Here's to our wonderful sense of smell and all the good things our noses can enjoy on a summery day.


Wishing you a beautiful weekend,
Brenda
Photo Credit:
Image by Pixel2013 from Pixabay


Summer Blog Schedule:
I post on Fridays