Saturday, July 27, 2013

Wait. Walk. Write...Part II

TO WAIT. To become still. To hear my own heart, to hear His. To pay attention. To listen.

As promised in yesterday's post, I came to the page this morning with no agenda or topic in mind, with no specific idea what I'd be writing. I'm sorry to say what started out as an exciting little adventure seems to have turned out to be a bit of a dud writing exercise. (At least that's how I felt, till my sister gave me a good talking to... she said I'd accomplished what I'd set out to do, even if the results weren't as I'd hoped.)

You see, I thought I'd have a leisurely morning to wait, walk and write. And then see what comes up.

But, then dearest hubby (and he really is) came up with the lovely idea of an outing to the Italian Centre for a nice coffee and then get some olive oil for the pantry.  Oh yes, that would be lovely, indeed, but what about my writing time?  Take your time to write and then we'll go after.

Ah, yes, I thought it was possible. But as soon as my heart realized there was a deadline, even a generous take-your-time deadline, we knew we were in trouble. For Misses Creativity and Inspiration, at the slightest provocation, will oft pack up their little artsy bags and move back to Vienna (or wherever they came from).  And they did.

So we didn't feel able to sit and just wait... unhurriedly and with no pressure. Thoughts were buzzing around. Because as much as I endeavoured to remain calm inside, I did feel the pressure. Okay then, let's go for a wee walk...see if that helps the serenity and creative spark come back.  To step Two:

TO WALK. This was about setting my feet on a path outside to catch glimpses and fragrances of something lovely. To connect to the beauty of nature.

Shoes on. Out the front door. A deep breath.  Mmmm..... cool and overcast this morning. Fresh and invigorating.

Down the step past the patch of bright orange self-invited calendula flowers which make their home year after year in the drier-than-Sahara corner that never gets rain for the overhang (now that's what I call perseverance). Past a row of deeply pink bell-shaped lavetera and a quick peek at the blush rose's newest offerings.

At first my thoughts are jumbled and agitated. I'm supposed to get this post up. I promised I'd be here. What am I doing going for a walk, and who said I needed to, mmm?

If you're asking this too, I'm heeding the advice of two well-known and respected writers who consider it vital for artists, writers, and yes, any and everyone, to draw near to the wonder and beauty offered us in our natural world, and to get out in it every day as a necessary part of our writing ritual (and, of course, for the health of our own being).

Of course, we knew that to be true, but sometimes it takes someone else to point it out and refresh one's memory. I used to go often for walks in the mornings and come back rejuvenated and alive to the possibilities of a new day. But that was before I started working at our part-time cleaning job; getting up at three in the morning sets that whole wondrous habit on its ear and I've never recovered it...till this morning.  

So there I was... walking... talking out my heart's momentary frustration. And then...I felt a becalming settle around me. I started to look around.  I felt my legs moving beneath me. It felt good. I noticed a front garden, beautifully manicured with its lush green lawn, with mower marks still fresh.

A friendly smile and greeting from a couple crossing the street to join a van load of friends. All dressed up, and from their faces, going somewhere nice. Then there was a nod from a young fellow roller blading past me. And, a few moments later I was standing in front of the storm pond (we call it our lake) all set about with fever trees...ahem...water-loving willow trees and bulrushes, looking at the greyish-blue water dappled with a few ducks.

Sigh.  Delightful.  I'd lost sight of just how pleasant an early morning walk is for the body and soul.  It was just a short 10-minute allow my senses to drink in and allow them time to gather new images, sights and sounds.  To slow down and pay attention.

TO WRITE. Well, this is the place where ideas and words should meld and create post-worthy thoughts.

And so when I came back and sat down, I felt good, except now the vacuum cleaner was roaring (isn't he sweet?) and...and...and...

I finally gave up trying to write at that point. The vacuuming and now the mopping complete, I decided that the writing part would have to wait till after our Italian Centre adventure.  Yes, we had our special coffee, and the surprise was that we went for lunch at a new Italian place nearby. Homemade gnocchi with a tomato lobster sauce, shrimp in their own garlicy sauce, green salad and, oh, don't forget the crusty Italian slices of fresh bread. Yum! Surely there would be something to write about such a meal!

Sorry...what was that, you ask?  Oh, I didn't mention those famous writers' names?  Julia Cameron (The Right to Write) and Natalie Goldberg (I'm just reading her newest book, The True Secret of Writing).

And that's my writing exercise for the day. I guess it's a post. Maybe it wasn't such a dud after all.  But you can be the judge.Thanks for your patience -- we'll see what writing adventures show up next time.

Wishing you glimpses of heaven in unexpected places,

When Life Hands You A Green Mess: Part II

Josh Calabrese /
"I don't have too many bad days because I don't let them happen. When I'm having one of those days, I'll just be like, 'I'm not going to let this be a bad day', and I'll do everything I can to turn it around." ~ Matt Dallas

Recently I wrote Life's Green Messes: Part I, my little story as a young girl encountering steamed spinach for the first time. Today, here in Part II, I'm thinking about what we can do with some of those other 'green messes' that land on our plate called life. You see, I've been learning that it is possible to find the beauty in the midst of 'one of those days'. Here are some ways that work for me to make it all more palatable:

Look for the funny side of things
It's interesting that most things have a funny side. One day I'm driving around town doing some errands. And I hear a clunk as I pull out of the DQ driveway (yes...getting Dairy Queen ice cream was one of the errands). I wasn't sure what made the noise; I hadn't hit anything, I didn't drive into a pothole, but there was a definite clunk.

I arrived at the next stop, got out and found that my left headlight was hanging out of its socket like one of those prank eyeballs on a spring. I was driving a little old BMW at the time, and the idea that this 'posh' little car had an eyeball hanging out just made me roar with laughter. Ludicrous. And it just seemed hilarious that such a thing had happened in the first place. I never even thought to be upset about it, as I couldn't help but see the funny side. I laughed for days.

Laughter in most situations helps to ease the tension that can build. Stare down whatever ugly thing lands on your doorstep and laugh at it. Hahaha, you're trying to ruin my day, but you can't because I'm laughing instead. Joy is stronger than ugly.

Call your friend or sister or mom who makes you giggle 
Not to commiserate or eat a tub of ice cream with you as she cluck-clucks 'you poor thing you'. You need her -- not to cluck -- but to call out the giggle troupes on your behalf. Get her to tell you something hilarious. Maybe that crazy something that made you laugh so hysterically you almost drove the car in the ditch that one time.

There was a moment on my wedding day when it got a bit tense. We were under a tight time schedule for photos happening at the beautiful conservatory; another wedding party was booked directly after ours. Things were stalling and I was getting nervous. Tense. I knew I needed some help, but not to have someone commiserate with me. I needed something to release the tension and shift things back to the joy. My sister remembered the perfect funny story (one we'd howled at several times before) and as soon as she started the first line, the funny came back and I knew I was okay. The time line was still tight, but it didn't matter anymore. We got lots of great photos and I felt great.
Change your conversation
Two separate friends came to me some while ago and told me that they liked spending time with me because, unlike some of their other friends who tended to pull conversations into complaining sessions, I didn't talk about other people or complain about my lot in life.

And then, more recently, a third friend and former work colleague, got in touch with me to thank me for living out those ancient words of wisdom about choosing to speak only what is good, true, lovely and of good report in our work setting all those years earlier. For she saw those words in action; when a conversation turned negative, I would just quietly remove myself from the group.

A little unnerving ... and so humbling to get that feedback. What if I had joined in -- I felt a little warm at the possibility. Not to boast, but to say changing our conversations from griping, judging, or resenting will change the atmosphere... for ourselves and for others.

Tear up all invitations to pity parties
It's not a luxury. It's not fun. It's not a party. It's a downward spiral that leaves a person feeling lower than an ant under a log at a picnic.

Many years ago I was examining everything about my life, looking to kick out anything in my life that didn't line up with what it might look and be like in heaven. In this particular season I was feeling rather sorry for myself that I hadn't met Mr. Right yet; I'd get in the dumps and feel sorry for myself.  Except this particular day, when I felt that 'icky' thing come, I actually raised my hand in the air as if to slam a door shut -- and I mean, slam -- and I said, 'NO! You not welcome in my life'.

Have you ever felt something shake deep on the inside of you? That day I did -- I felt that 'door' slam shut. And any time after that, if the feeling showed up, I'd stop it immediately and say, No, not welcome!

I learned not to entertain pity parties. They will take you down a path you won't like, and it's so hard to come back to happy. When an invitation arrives, decline immediately. Those. Parties. Are. Not.Worth. It.

Eat some true comfort food
I don't mean wolfing cookies and tubs of ice cream or a whole cheesecake -- that'll only make you feel worse, literally. But what about food that will truly nourish your soul as well as your body. For instance, the smell of garlic being sauteed in a few drops of olive oil can lift my spirits immediately. Add a few chopped tomatoes to saute, put the pasta to boil, and you've got real comfort food.

And what about the smell of bread toasting... maybe an English Muffin where you add a slice of Swiss cheese to melt all over it. It's the smell that promises something satisfying to come. Something that lifts your spirits and comforts your tummy and doesn't make you feel guilty or ill after.

Find the beauty in the midst of those 'green' days that come to all of us and it will change everything. It might still be green, but now you have the strength to carry on through it.

With big hugs,

Friday, July 26, 2013

Wait. Walk. Write. Part I

Right here. Tomorrow. More. Working on it.

I have no idea what I'll be writing...that's where the Wait comes in.
To hear my own heart, to hear His, to pay attention.

Walk is about setting my feet on a path to
catch glimpses and fragrances of something lovely.

Write... that will be those words and thoughts what show up on the page screen.

This could be scary interesting....

Will you come and see what happens?


Click to read the next post:

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Why I Blog At It's A Beautiful Life

Welcome to It’s A Beautiful Life, a blog dedicated to writing about living our lives more beautifully.

As a young woman, I’ll never forget the day when I read the ancient writings in the Book of Genesis that the Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden…and out of the ground he made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight. Wow… you mean they were designed just for their ability to please the eye and not just to produce food?

Something that day became alive inside me. I was relieved to know that my yearning for beauty around me was okay – not just okay, but actually good and wonderful. I was free to love and enjoy the beauty of Creation around me. It wasn’t being frivolous. Flower gardens were just as needful as vegetable gardens. Beautiful things, whether it's God himself who makes them or those individuals in our world who share gifts of music, art, garden design, architecture, writings, crafts of all sorts…they are all given for us to enjoy and receive inspiration, refreshing, even healing.

It’s about finding glimpses of heaven in unexpected places here on earth. Sometimes, maybe too often, earth doesn’t feel very heavenly, so it’s learning the art of choosing to live in beauty, so that wherever we go, whatever we do, whatever we say, we will find it seeping into our very nature and leaving traces of it in our wake.

Which in the end leads me to Him, the One who created all that is beautiful in nature...our world, our universe. And we love Him for it. There are religious practices which make Him appear ugly, mean-spirited and dreadfully dreary, but how can that be?  A person can only create out of what is already within.  So when I see the glory and beauty of the natural world, I know He has a beautiful heart.  And so I long to be a co--creator of beauty with Him.

I'll always be indebted--grateful beyond words--for two lovely ladies who, many years ago now, became my inspiration. They have been, and continue to be, my mentors in the art of living beautifully.  Although not an actual flesh and blood person, I consider the classic Victoria magazine, under the graceful editorship of Nancy Lindemeyer, one of my leading ladies. Through her pages, she has given me a vision of loveliness like no other. And, it was through the magazine that I first 'met' another excellent example to harken... Alexandra Stoddard, author of many books, including my favourite, Living A Beautiful Life. She really touched my life and showed me how I could live a beautiful life.

Some people have the gift to share the beauty they see through words, photography, and the creation of beautiful books and magazines. Others share their vision through homemaking and raising their families in nurturing, sheltering ways. There are those who do it by dedicating their lives to careers that bring hope to destitute people.

And there are creative individuals who share their vision through art and painting; people like painter Vincent van Gogh.  His works are beautiful, but the rarer gift, perhaps, is that he had eyes to see the beauty everywhere and the generosity of 'simply loving what he saw and then wanting to share it with others, not for the purpose of showing off, but out of generosity.'

It was author Brenda Ueland, in her book, If You Want to Write, who captured that creative essence of what artist Vincent van Gogh longed to do with his art. As I read the piece below, it turns out my own heart was playing the same melody of longing to share the beauty I see and the hope I feel. 
As a young man in his early twenties, he was "in London studying to be a clergyman. He had no thought of being an artist at all.  He sat in his cheap little room writing a letter to his younger brother in Holland, whom he loved very much.  He looked out his window at a watery twilight, a thin lamp post, a star, and he said in his letter something like this:  It is so beautiful I must show you how it looks.  And then on his cheap ruled notepaper, he made the most beautiful, tender, little drawing of it."
Yes, that's what I want to do... here on this blog! I'm not a painter or a photographer, but I love to paint the colours and beauty I see around me using words. And so I write. To inspire, to encourage, to hold out words of healing.  With the hopes that they will motivate you to look around, to see the beauty, and to live with joy because you, too, have caught a glimpse of heaven here on earth.


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Open The Door and Give Your Dreams Air

“If only I could...”

So often we sigh over our dreams and secret desires and then thrust them away because we think it’s a waste of time to hope for something that can’t happen. Although the obstacles may be legitimate–finances, health, family–we shut down our desires before we even give them air to breathe.

There’s a lovely old movie, Enchanted April, where on a soggy, miserable English afternoon two women happen upon the same newspaper ad:

'To those who appreciate wisteria and sunshine. Small medieval Italian castle on the shores of the Mediterranean to be let furnished for the month of April…’

You feel their longing, even as they push the ad aside. It’s impossible. Too many hurtles. Little finances. And what will their husbands say. Yet they yearn. Dream. Ponder. When they bravely step over their inhibitions, that dream becomes reality and changes their lives forever.

For me, recently I've been dreaming about a lovely new writing room. It has to be something different than the space in front of my computer. There's no room here to read or research or just write something long hand (which I still enjoy doing very much). Besides, I've read that a person should use different tools when writing, as they each seem to connect to a different part of the brain, which tends to stir the 'remembering' in slightly different ways.  

So I dream of a large table, antique, with a gleaming surface of beautiful walnut, curved legs with curlicues carved into them.  It stands near a wall of long windows where the light and sunshine streams in.  There are wall-to-ceiling built-in bookshelves and a fireplace with comfy chairs and cushy couches in one corner.  Beautiful panels of lace waft as breezes blow in through the open French doors that lead out into a pretty sitting area in the garden. (Are you seeing my dream?)  

At this stage, my house doesn't allow for that.  No room big enough for a large writing table, just to write on.  No long windows or French doors into the garden.  BUT... I stopped to dream it and I haven't finished dreaming it, because I didn't get to the other beautiful things in my writing room that would inspire me to write.

So... now that I know what my heart longs for, how can I do something about it?  Can I do some version of that here in my house right now?   Who knows what the imagination can work out, if I let it out into the open.

Things won't ever happen or change…until, at the very least, we allow ourselves the freedom to dream about it. If you’ve been firmly turning your back on something, I invite you to open the door and give your own dream room to breathe again.  Who knows what will blow in?

Wishing you glimpses of heaven in unexpected places,

Photo source: 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Life's Green Messes: Part I

Yesterday morning I e-chatted with a writing colleague. In my closing comment I indicated that we hoped things were well in her world. She responded that in her world she was being given lots of fodder for writing, and how was that for a positive spin on things!

Chuckling, I quickly replied that I appreciated her cheery outlook and further hoped whatever had landed on her plate didn't look too much like over-steamed spinach (don't ask where that came from).

Since we mentioned the idea of over-steamed spinach, I'd like to tell you a story about my first encounter with spinach when I was a little girl.

Now, we probably agree that spinach, in its natural state, with its shiny, deep green leaves is a lovely vegetable. But that was not what I saw that day. Rather, there upon my plate was a pile of green, slimy stuff. Such a thing had never sat upon my plate before. Believe me, if I would have had a choice I would not have added one spoonful to my plate. But, there I was....

A young guest with my family at our hostess's supper table, my blond head just peeking over the table top, right in full view of the green blob now plopped on my plate by the hostess's daughter. I don't think my mom would have given me any, I think she was looking a little worried about it too. But, now that it was on my plate, it meant I'd have to eat it.

For Hostess's Daughter was bound and determined this youngster was not leaving the table without trying some. Well, that five or six year old was having nothing to do with it, even if Popeye ate it. Not that green mess. And as any parent knows, a five or six year old can oft be as determined as anyone, and clamping her mouth shut, she was eventually allowed to leave the table with the spinach uneaten.

After that I just ignored cooked spinach. The mere mention of it, even years later, made me shudder.  Then I married Rick, who loves all kinds of steamed greens like Swiss chard and beet tops. So I'd steam these leafy vegetables for him and when he'd offer me some, I'd just say no thanks. One day, Rick's sister told me how she liked to eat steamed spinach.

How to make steamed spinach more palatable

1. Use Peanut Sauce. That was my sis-in-law's secret ingredient. Pour a little peanut sauce (the kind you use for Thai food) over the leaves once they're steamed. Oh yes, that turned a plate of greens into something quite tasty.

2. Steam It Gently. I discovered this through trial and error (we didn't have Google in those days). Don't steam it to death. I used to steam it until all the lovely leaves were a green puddle. Just a few short moments, just till it barely wilts. That's all. That certainly helped it look more appetizing than that compost-like glob it used to turn into.

3. Add Some Garlic. Oh yes, garlic improves almost anything. A little crushed garlic, a sprinkle of salt, and a dollop of olive oil.  Toss over the greens... now that's heavenly!

So there you have it -- life at the dinner table more palatable. even with steamed spinach and other 'green' things that land on your plate.

Wishing you a day that has some nice green things...


P.S. I've written a post on how I make some of life's other green messes more palatable. Check out Part II here

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Saturday Doings

Dear Beautiful Friends,

Popping by to say hello. It's a lovely coolish morning and I'm enjoying the fresh breezes wafting in through the open windows.   Rain clouds are building, so we'll anticipate rain later.  Which means no BBQing tonight.

Rick and I were out in the yard earlier; we had to cut down one of our junipers... it has been dying a slow death (hopefully not agonizing) as it had contracted some rust disease (or something). I felt sorry for my tree--it's been a good friend.

Now we're inside to work on a house project or two this morning. My library room is a disaster zone. Books and magazines and whatnot like scissors, glue and scraps of paper all out of place. It needs some stern taking in hand.  Perhaps it's the owner who needs the stern hand. She tends to remove a needed magazine or book and when done with it she sets them on growing piles a-top tables and cupboards (for PA later).  Well, now it looks dreadful like wolverines have been rooting through it all.

AND... when that's done, we have a hankering to make homemade Italian pasta sauce with meatballs (the recipes from the Gourmet magazine Jan 2009 are their archives online).  We plan to share with friends later....eaten for supper stuffed inside fresh crusty Italian buns (of which I'll let the experts bake).

I did not realize this till recently, some Italian breads/buns are made on purpose so that there are air bubbles in the middle. Apparently one reason it's done this way is so that things like salami and cheese or meatballs and sauce can be stuffed into them without the works sliding out. Smart people, those Italians!

Enough at the computer, I best be off here.... I wish you a comfortable day, one that makes you content and alive with anticipation of something good about to happen...even if you have to go make it yourself!


Friday, July 05, 2013

Orange Cardamom Cookies

Today's fragrant slice comes in the shape of tiny medallion shaped cookies.

My afternoon took on a sweet, slightly exotic feeling when I made a batch of Orange Cardamom Cookies from a recipe -- one of thirty -- found in the heart-warming memoir by Donia Bijan, Maman's Homesick Pie, A Persian Heart in an American Kitchen. "...through the prism of food, award-winning chef Donia Bijan unwinds her own story, finding that at the heart of it all is her mother, whose love and support enabled Bijan to realize her dreams." ~ excerpt from

My taste buds were in heaven. With a burst of orange zest and just a hint of cardamom, these tiny bites went very well with a pot of black tea.

Orange Cardamom Cookies

8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg yolk
grated zest of 2 oranges
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1 Tbsp poppy seeds

Beat butter till soft about two minutes, add sugar and blend well.
Add egg yolk and orange zest.
Combine flour, salt, cardamom and poppy seeds; fold in to batter.
Mix just enough to combine dough.
Form dough into 2 logs, wrap in parchment and chill 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Slice logs into 1/2 inch thick rounds and place 1 inch apart on sheet.
(They didn't spread at all.)
Bake 12 - 15 minutes or until slightly golden around edges. Dough can be frozen 2-3 weeks and used later. Makes about 3 dozen.

Cookies. Tea. And this delightful book to finish reading. Contented sigh... I'm so grateful for this fragrant slice of life.

Sending hugs,

Monday, July 01, 2013

The Air Is Silky

Mock Orange in Bloom, My Garden

We woke to the finest morning of the summer thus far. Air is warm and humid, creating that silky feeling on the skin. With barely a breeze to rustle leaves, the garden is alive with bird song.

It's a holiday today and we're celebrating Canada Day -- our country's 146th birthday. People will be enjoying all manner of fun events to mark the occasion.

We are heading out into the garden with second cups of coffee (and with books in hand). Our festivities will be less exuberant than some as Mr. Hubby and I relax after a busy weekend away with family -- we were enjoying celebrations to honour my nephew's high school grad and my niece's 16th birthday.

To all my Canadian friends, Happy Canada Day!

We'll chat again soon,