Saturday, March 24, 2018

Spring And A Potpourri of Ponderings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glass Houses (2017) by Louise Penny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

 Photo: Irina Kostenich |

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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