Sunday, August 31, 2008

Day 14. Take The Initiative In Friendships

"I'm convinced that one mustn't wait for people to reach out -- we must reach in." Jan Karon, author of the Mitford series

Sometimes we wait for the other person to initiate the first gestures of friendship. We wait for someone else to invite us for coffee; we wait for someone to notice we're having a down day; we wait for someone to come talk to us when we're standing in a room full of strangers at a social gathering or conference.

It's true we may feel nervous introducing ourselves, but if we let fear stop us from reaching out, we may end up being on the outside looking in more often than not. And, none of us wants to be in that place.

I believe Jan Karon is right when she says we shouldn't wait for someone else to reach out to us. If we want to be a part of 'the group' then we should take the initiative -- take ownership -- to create and design our own circle of friendship. A circle that does not exclude, but one that is ever widening to enfold and welcome the stranger, whether she is a new consultant, colleague, neighbour, or fellow social event attendee. 

Chances are, there will always be someone more nervous, more introverted than we are. If we focus on making that other person more comfortable, we may find our own sense of insecurity and awkwardness lessening. And, right there in the middle of a crowd, a shared moment of 'friendship' has an opportunity to bud, maybe even blossom into something more lasting.

It's another way to live a more beautiful life ... for ourselves and for others.

Gracefully yours,


Saturday, August 30, 2008

Day 13. Happy Saturday

Oh, the bliss of a lazy Saturday morning... especially when it's the Saturday of a long weekend! 

The air hints at autumn (it can come early in northerly Alberta) -- there's a crispness in the air that makes you want to wrap your fingers around a warm coffee cup, and nibble away at something tasty like a flaky chocolate drizzled croissant.

Even after nearly five years of not working full-time and being at home full-time, I still get that little thrill of knowing the weekend has arrived.

It's the time that, for many of us, tends to be more flexible and there's room for more spontaneity and leisure. For us, Saturday seems to promise more of that than any other day of the week. And, even if it's busy, there's a feeling that you can indulge yourself a bit. With chocolate croissants, for instance.

Now, in case you have chores on your weekend list, here's a bit of advice that's worth taking:
Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Lower the bar. Actually spending ten minutes clearing off one shelf is better than fantasizing about spending a weekend cleaning out the basement. ~ Gretchen Rubin, source
Now, go and enjoy your weekend,

Friday, August 29, 2008

Day 12. Victoria Is My Favorite!

I was in love from the first moment.

It still stands vivid in my mind -- that exact moment the summer of 1987, standing in front of a magazine stand longing for something truly wonderful to browse through -- when I spotted it ... the gorgeous cover of a brand new magazine.

And I sighed ... for I knew a little heart desire had been heard and answered.

From the front cover to the last page, and every page in between, it was exactly what my feminine heart had been longing for. A magazine that spoke to the softer, gentler side of life; a magazine that celebrated the creativity and originality of women who followed their dreams; a magazine that recognized the importance of Beauty and its place in our lives.

These magazines continue to be a great treasure for me; even years later, whenever I need a pick me up or some creative inspiration, I often reach for my Victoria's. It's balm for a soul -- you know, "just take two issues with tea and call me in the morning."

What amazes me is that, here in Blogland, I have met dozens upon dozens of other readers who have been just as smitten as I am. I realize just how populated the world is with kindred spirits. Women, like me... like you... who also share a love of beauty, nature, art, books, and craftsmanship. It's a beautiful circle.

With so many disasters happening around us in our world, one time I wondered what I would take from my home if I had to make an emergency exit. I don't know if I should admit it out loud...but I'd take my Victoria's if I could. My Bible, journal, toothbrush, Miss Kitty...and my Victoria's. I figure if I'd have to live in a school gym for a while, I could do it with more finesse if I had a little beauty in my hands to help 'steady the nerves'.

I'll always be grateful to Nancy Lindemeyer and all her editorial team for the beautiful gift they gave to the world when Victoria was born. It's a legacy that still speaks deeply to me... all these years later.

Gracefully yours,

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Day 11. Beauty In The Creative Process

I once read a story of a Baker who loved to make bread. He was an artisan in his craft. Because he worked the dough himself, from start to finish, he could only produce a few dozen loaves in a day. Because he had time to be creative in his bread-making, his bread became more and more popular.

Soon people were clamoring for him to expand his business. He kept saying no as that would mean taking his work into a whole different dimension. I felt bad for him, because here was a man doing what he loved, and doing only enough so that he could still love what he did each day.

To take it to an assembly line would have taken the artistry out of his baking. And the joy of actually working with his hands in the dough would have been traded for turning machinery buttons on and off. Some may call that progress, but is it?

Oscar Wilde says that every portrait painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter. The artist in this instance is this passionate baker, and the portrait his loaves of bread. I might be romantic here, but perhaps that's why the customers begged for more... he poured his love of working with flour and yeast and dough into each loaf. Every loaf was a unique expression of himself -- not exactly the same shape or even with the exact same ingredients, because he could change his mind and add raisins without ruining a truckload of flour. You can't get that in mass production!

Mass production and creativity don't usually live on the same street. Artistry takes time. Enjoying the process takes time too. We may be tempted, even pushed into doing more and making it bigger. But more is not always better. Not if we trade in our God-given creativity and the ability to be original. To truly enjoy our work and to find pleasure in the process, not just the end result.

I've often wondered about that artisan-baker. I hope he never traded in the joy of using his hands to make bread for an increase in production of his product. I believe not only he would have suffered as a person, but everyone who bought his bread would have been disappointed in the end too.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Day 10. Celebrating A Mini-Success

It's Day 10 and today I'm celebrating! You may recall that I set myself a goal to do 100 postings in 100 days. In other words, a challenge to be diligent and committed to writing every day--not just in my personal journal--but so someone else can read it too.

Well, I am happy...I've already accomplished one tenth of my goal and I'm having a blast doing it too!

I begin to see the value of celebrating our mini-successes. It helps us to stay motivated during the long haul. When we work on a goal that has a longer time frame and requires more effort and skill, the small movements forward can help stay off discouragement, especially if we've begun to doubt our ability to achieve it.

If we focus on what is not happening (eg I'm not losing 25 pounds right now), it's so easy to neglect what is happening (ie. I'm adjusting one small eating habit that will eventually make a difference over time).

Focusing on what is happening can help create a built-in circle of motivation. You reach one small success, you get excited, you get motivated to do more, you take the next step, you achieve that, you get more excited, you do the next step....

And, while I'm marking this occasion, I want to THANK all you beautiful readers who have been so kind and positive in your feedback by leaving a comment or contacting me via e-mail and personally. I appreciate it a whole bunch! I love writing, and knowing that what I share from my heart is touching yours in some way means a lot to me.

So why not do something to celebrate some small success today! And together we'll watch our motivation rise to a new level.

Wishing you a beautiful day,

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Day 9. Easily Delighted Souls

Have you ever been around someone who can never be pleased? Never delighted in what's going on around them? No matter what's said or done, it's just not good enough: it's too hot or too cold, too bright or too dark, too red, too purple, too loud, too soft.

If you've been on the receiving end of someone's never-ending complaints, you know how wearing it gets -- fatiguing our minds and souls, never mind our eyeballs which just want to roll around in our heads already. These not-so-dear complaining souls end up changing the atmosphere of any room they're in, they dampen any joyful mood.

It's easily done... falling into the habit of complaining and hardly realizing we're doing it. Little gripes and big sighs can become grating on patient nerves if it's done often enough. The complaining may be gentler, but it's still complaining.

Yet, there are those individuals who can be happy with whatever blessing they find, no matter how small. They are just as easily delighted by a stubby bouquet of dandelions as the finest long stemmed roses, by rain-splashed sparkles on a spider's web as flashing diamond earrings.

In truth, I'd like to be the customer who doesn't make restaurant servers and shop cashiers cringe when they see me coming. I desire to be the face people are glad to see coming up their driveway. I want to create an atmosphere that makes people happy they've come to visit. I want people to be glad when I drop into their lives.

Our souls are meant to laugh and sing and be grateful. It makes living so much more pleasant when we know how to enjoy simple pleasures and be content... even when things aren't perfect.

Be easily delighted... it's another way of living a beautiful life.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Day 8. Do You Sing?

You should work on projects that make your heart sing. ~ Lady Bird Johnson

Many of us may remember the little tune Snow White and her helpers sang and whistled in the old Disney movie. It seems even those short fellows recognized that whistling while they worked helped get the work done with more fun and less stress.

Whoever said that our life's work should be tedious or nose-to-the-grind-stone drudgery, I would like a word with those folks! Of course we don't always find ourselves in situations where we feel like whistling or singing. But maybe that's when we need to think about what we do every day and look more closely at the path we are on. Especially if the song has died in our hearts.

It took me years to step out of my fear zone and leave a workplace that I had outgrown mentally, emotionally and spiritually. My song had died. But I never had the courage to leave unless I had been forced by a physical, body breakdown. My body just quit -- it said, 'that's it, girl, the end of the road is here'. A culmination of work stress and having both my dear Dad and beloved nephew diagnosed with cancer at the same time all took its toll.

That was several years ago, and these past few years have been a time of getting my strength back physically, getting healed emotionally, as well as taking stock of my heart's desires.

My song is back. I'm so happy that sometimes I feel like I'm going to lift off like Winnie the Pooh's helium balloon when he's out looking for honey bees.

I'm at home, I'm married, and I'm writing... three dreams come true. Maybe that's why I have a growing passion to see other women fulfill their own heart's desires. I love to write, and through my writings, I want to encourage women to create their own Eden, that place where they will find fulfillment and joy in the lives they live.

'Cause it's true, if momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy. As women we hold the key to happy lives and happy homes for our families. That's why I invite you to rethink your own life. If your song has died, what will make the music begin again?

Surely it's never too late to find some work for our hands and for our hearts that will bring the joy back. If you don't know where to begin, I'd ask God, since He's the one who really wants us to succeed and be happy. And then I'd wait and listen.

Whether you hear something right away or whether it dawns slowly like an Alberta sunrise, if you listen, you will begin to hear a melody softly forming. It's in your heart. It wants to come out. It wants you to sing again!

Gracefully yours,

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Day 7. Out of the Blue

Have you ever received a call 'out of the blue' and it is an old friend phoning with the hope that you're free for lunch? Or found a little note, a small wrapped package on your desk, and it wasn't even your birthday? Suddenly an ordinary day blossoms into something special.

What makes it so delightful? I think it's the spontaneity, the unexpectedness of the gift. We expect birthday and Christmas presents in our culture. But when someone does something out of the blue -- just because -- we feel special, noticed, appreciated.

'Out of the blue' gestures can be simple and they don't have to cost much more than a card and postage stamp.

A spur-of-the-moment tea party with your five-year-old, a single fragrant blossom left on a desk, or a branch of autumn leaves in a jar left on a neighbour's front step. A notebook tied with colourful ribbon. It's the surprise -- the sense of whimsy -- that gives the gesture its particular flavour.

You may recall the wise words "give and it shall be given to you." Why not do something spontaneous for someone today, and then watch it come back into your own life -- right out of the blue!

Spontaneously yours,

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Day 6. Princess Grace and My Book of Flowers

What a joy it was to discover this lovely book by Princess Grace of Monaco and Gwen Robyns.  When I was a girl, I always thought she was so beautiful and graceful. Then when I found this book many years later, I was thrilled to learn that she was also a pursuer of beauty in nature.

"When at last I took the time to look into the heart of a flower, it opened up a whole new world; a world where every country walk would be an adventure, where every garden would become an enchanted one." ~ Princess Grace

Wishing you beauty and grace,

Friday, August 22, 2008

Day 5. Choose Happy

Years ago, I heard a former Miss America share that we have the ability to be happy anytime because we can choose to be happy; it's always within our reach.

When I heard that, I sat up and took notice. Always within my reach? Can it be true? Until then, when the Grumpy Family would show up, I thought I just had to ride it out until they left... or my mood changed for the better.   I didn't realize I could deliberately choose to be happy. How exciting to think about it.

Well, my life took a turn for the better when I realized the ball of happiness really was in my court -- and I had a split-second moment in time where I can choose my mood and frame of mind. Even on PMS days. I didn't need to wait for the mood to pass like a quirky summer storm.

I also learned -- to my amazement -- that as soon as I lifted my shoulders and smiled, just how quickly my whole demeanor followed suit. Suddenly I'd feel less tired, my mood would swing upward, and I felt lighter.

Something else I used to do to quell the habit of waking up feeling grumpy, I began to tell myself every night as I was getting ready to sleep, "Tomorrow I will wake up with vitality and good humour."

The next morning, just on the edge of consciousness as I woke up, if I started to think "ugg, I have to get up", I'd immediately remember what I told myself the night before: Today I choose to wake up with vitality and good humour. And it would shift my thoughts to something lighter.

Here's a Charlie Brown cartoon I think is funny because I can so relate. Perhaps you'll find that too.....

So Cheryl Prewitt-Salem was right. You want to know what else? Me choosing to be cheerful (no matter what's going on) has begun to permeate the atmosphere wherever I go. So often as I'm going about my business, I'll have people actually make eye contact and smile, and I'll wonder why. I think it's because I'm happy and it shows on my face.

You Can Choose Happy
  • Change your stance -- stand up and square your shoulders.
  • Find a mirror and look yourself in the eye -- dare yourself to smile.
  • Choose to wake up each morning with vitality and good humour.

If creating little glimpses of heaven in my corner of the world is part of my daily purpose, then it's working. As a result of making choices to be happy as often as possible, my life has taken a definite turn for the more beautiful.

Happily yours,

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Day 4. Take It Bird By Bird

Ann Lamott, author of the well-known book Bird by Bird shares the story about her brother when he was 10 years old. On the eve of having to hand in a major school assignment about birds, he found himself in big trouble because he'd left it until the last minute. With paper, pencils and bird books surrounding him, in his frantic effort to get a three month project done in a few hours, he became, as Anne puts it, 'immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead'.

Ever been there? I can just imagine the boy's panic and frustration, not to mention his anger at the monstrous shadow that threatened his doom. But the part I love about this story is when a helpful dad put his arm around the boy's shoulders and said, "Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird."

Part of living a beautiful life is finding ways to deal with what looms on our horizon like an unfinished school project without panic and undue stress. Whether it's a messy house, an overgrown garden, an inventory gone awry, or an unexpected errand that has urgent written all over it--whatever makes you feel overwhelmed and slightly panicked--I give you the same words that calmed a young boy. Just take it bird by bird.

Don't be tempted to keep looking at the mammoth size of your project because you'll only see how much is still left to do. So...take a deep breath.
Organize -- figure what exactly needs to be done.
Prioritize -- decide what you really need and what you can leave out.
Divide -- your task into small, bird-size pieces; do them one at a time.
Now savor that sense of being in control. It's a beautiful feeling.

Gracefully yours,

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Day 3. What's For Dinner?

How can cooking and meal preparation be a more inspired part of our lives?

Even for the most ardent of chefs, meal prep can get wearisome sometimes. Day after day, we ask the same question, what will we make for dinner tonight?

I have found that cultivating a good attitude, planning ahead, and making sure there is a variety of choices at hand increases the enjoyment of my cooking experience.

Which is why I've begun to look for ways to make this necessary part of my day more creative and motivating. 

Here are five tips that help me

1. Cancel all negative confessions! Don't mutter how you hate cooking or that you wish someone else in this family would help out more. It only make you feel worse. I look at it as a tangible, very hands-on way to express love to my family. I have two males in my household...they both like their food. Making a nice meal is a perfect way to show I care about them.

2. Start early in the day. Be kind to yourself and leave enough room in your day so you can prepare your evening meal with more finesse and joy. Do some prep work first thing in the morning. Take out the frozen chicken breasts and whip up the marinade for later use. Any day that I'm flying out the door without any idea of what's for supper that night makes me feel not quite in control (which makes me feel just a little agitated too).

3. Find simple and easy recipes. Make it easy on yourself. There are hundreds of recipes in books, magazines and on-line to help you prepare easy and nutritious meals in 30 minutes or less. 

4. Make room for it. Recognize that cooking and grocery shopping ARE a daily part of your life's work. It's not an intrusion, it's one of the most important parts of it. So embrace and plan for it, and don't try to tack it on at the end, hoping you can fit it in somewhere when you're bushed at the end of the day.

5. Get inspiration from others. Let the pictures and write-ups of a great new cookbook inspire you. One like Jan Karon's Mitford Cookbook & Kitchen Reader. Or Maya Angelou's Hallelujah the Welcome Table, A lifetime of Memories and Recipes. They both have wonderful recipes and stories that will connect you to other women across the countryside involved in the daily task of food preparation.

Cooking and eating will always be with us, so why not look for ways to make meal prep easier and as enjoyable as we can. It's all part of living a beautiful life.

We're in this together,

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Day 2. The Art of Ordinary Things

When was the last time you really looked at that pretty vase you just couldn't live without only a few months ago? Or the collection of pretty seashells you spent so much time searching for during your ocean holiday? What about the picture hanging over your computer? Do you still notice it?

How quickly we get accustomed to those things we see all the time. Our eyes glaze over and we don't even notice what we once considered a treasure. Perhaps that's why we love to bring out our holiday decorations; it gives us a chance to enjoy something different for awhile.

We don't always need brand new things to make our homes sparkle again. We can get a new look without breaking the bank. How? By simply giving our things a new home.

No, I don't mean offering them to the neighbours down the street. Or taking it to Goodwill. What I mean is... taking your pictures, ornaments, small tables, lamps and cushions, and placing them in uncommon corners in your house -- put them in different rooms. Give your long-stemmed glass candle holder the new job of holding short-stemmed pansies. Let the tranquil landscape painting in your rarely used dining room add peaceful bliss to your bedroom.

It's taking your old things, the stuff you have right now, and finding new ways to display them. The art of turning ordinary back into special -- a little like spinning straw into gold -- can add simple beauty to our every day lives.

Look for new ways you can make your home beautiful today.

Artfully yours,

Monday, August 18, 2008

Day 1. Just Jump In!

Today is a red letter day for me! I'm j-u-m-p-i-n-g into the ever-growing circle of bloggers as I create this new blog... all by myself.

Everyone seems to be blogging these days. Although I've been okay at navigating through the world of computers and cyberspace, I'm from the generation that sometimes considers 'Computers as a Second Language'. I remember back when the Selectric typewriter was state-of-the-art in office and business equipment.

I've been reading an interesting book by Biz Stone called, Who Let the Blogs Out? Well, here's another one let loose on the world... I hope it adds texture and beauty to the mixture.

We set a challenge to do 100 posts in 100 Days. I look forward to gaining experience at navigating in this new-to-me blogging world.

We're going to chat about little ways we can make our lives more beautiful in our every day living.  I hope you'll stop by and join in the conversation.

Bravely yours,

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Dear Beautiful Reader,

Hello and welcome to It's A Beautiful Life. My name is Brenda Leyland, and I live in Alberta, Canada. I have created this blog to explore and share inspirational thoughts about how we can make our lives more beautiful in our every day living.

We encounter ugly things all the time and some people say, well, that's the reality. But I always remember someone once saying that roses are as real as pigpens. Beauty is just as real in our lives as any ugly or sad thing. So I ask the question today, why should ugly have the upper hand? Why not focus on what is good and true and lovely as we live life in our corner of the world?

I was so happy when, years ago, I found Alexandra Stoddard's inspiring book Living a Beautiful Life. Alexandra became my inspiration. As a young woman, I wanted to live my life more beautifully, and here was someone from whom I could learn. Not only did I want to create a little 'heaven on earth' where I lived, I also wanted to inspire others to find the beauty and joy that is hidden in every crevice—yes, even inside our refrigerators, as Alexandra points out in her book. Alexandra calls her many creative ideas 'grace notes'. I recognize grace notes from piano lessons I took as a girl. They are the extra notes that embellish the harmony or melody. Yes, I want to learn how to embellish the harmony and melody of my own life.

If your heart dreams a similar dream, I would love to share the journey with you. Together, we can push through some of the ugly stuff. Together, we can leave beauty and wonder and hope in its place. Together, we can make our world a more beautiful place.

Gracefully yours,
Brenda @ It's A Beautiful Life