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.



  1. Lovely letter from home! Happy Spring!

  2. I love pussy willows, but they seem to be getting scarcer here. Mixed in a vase of daffodils they warm the heart.
    I'm glad you write as you do, letters from home are so readable!

  3. Glimpses of Heaven....ahhhh! I definitely look for them and always find them. I love Louise Penny books...she is one of my VERY favorite authors. You have a treat to read them from the beginning. I may go back and read them again at some point. Enjoy your weekend! Hugs!

  4. Beautiful words, Brenda. And oh, how I love pussy willows! Looking forward to emerging like a crocus from my winter sleep.

  5. fun to read your thoughts and thanks for book suggestions...

  6. Beautiful post, Bren. There is a part of me that also loves the cold, dark, wintry days before spring awakens everything. I love the picture your words painted here..."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." I can very much relate since it is a cold, dark, wintry day as I am typing these words! I guess spring might be actually coming along later this week! Blessings for a great new week!

  7. I agree that beauty can be found anywhere.Your story of the pussywillows reminded me of my childhood and going out to pick the wild Crocuses.I shudder at that now and would never pick a wild Crocus because they are on a protected list.We brought them home by the arm full.Have a great spring, when it finally arrives.

  8. Louise Penny is a brilliant writer, and creates a very special world centred in the village of Three Pines in Quebec. Might I suggest going back to the very first book of the series, "Still Life", and reading the books in order? It really does make a difference - Louise pays careful attention to character development over the course of the dozen or so books. (Note: just reading some of the comments now and find that there's another comment similar to mine ...) Just one added comment - it's always such a treat to read a book with so many Canadianisms - for example, one of the police officers orders a "double double" :)

  9. I'm a slow writer (sometimes I struggle just to write a 280-character tweet for my job!), so it's nice to know that your beautifully-written posts take a lot of work.

    I haven't ready any of Louise Penny's books so I'll have to see if my local library carries her series. I'm a big fan of Jann Arden and saw her in concert years ago. She has a great voice and wicked sense of humor.

  10. I love the memory of the pussy willows! Don’t they softly say “spring”?

  11. Ah Brenda - I love your letter to those of us who visit. Your choice of books sound divine. Will be checking out Louise Penny's books. She sounds like my kind of writer. Love your memory of pussy willows. I have a bush in my garden and am enjoying its simple beauty. Take care friend and have beautiful Holy week. Hugs!

  12. Dear Brenda: My plans to read this on Sunday, turned into Monday - but what a delight. I read it twice, loved every single word. I am always so interested in what you are reading, as you have steered me to many wonderful books. I definitely plan to read, "The World Will Be Saved by Beauty." As, I am a firm believer that beauty holds power to change people and ultimately our world - for the better.

    Also, especially enjoyed your childhood searching for pussy willows - treasured memories.

    Thank you Bren for, as always, a most beautiful and informative post! I do wish you wrote every week!

  13. All of these books sound so interesting! Louise Penny - I'll be looking for her. I've wanted to read Jann Arden's book as well. I love her lyrics and I know I'll love her words. As I sat in the airport reading your lovely post, I felt that much closer to Spring. Thank you.

  14. Thank you for your beautiful post. I am inclined now, after the long, sometimes harsh winter to long for spring. In two weeks I fly to England for a vacation, and like Robert Browning I have been saying, "Oh to be in England now that April's there..."

    1. Mary, I am so happy to hear you are heading to England in a little while. We were there in April last year, so I'm feeling a little green, and a lot homesick. Enjoy your visit!! xx

  15. Thank you for this lovely letter, dear Brenda, you may well be my favorite writer in blogland, I love your way with words. I'm intrigued by the The Victorian Flower Garden series, two of my favorite things - the Victorian era and gardens - in its title. Of the books, I'm a devoted Louise Penny reader, it is one of my favorite mystery series. Have you tried Donna Leon?

  16. Hello Brenda,
    I've saved your post until I had the time to fully enjoy it. It was well worth the wait. Beauty is so important, I think - thank you for the nod to my post.
    Louise Penny is a favourite author of mine - so much so that I have purchased all of her books, and re-read them. This last one is more of a stand alone, but there is a story that continues from book to book that will be confusing if you read the later ones first. Still Life is her first book, and is lovely. There are a couple of other early ones that are okay, but not her best work. She had thought to not write a book this year as her husband died and she lost her motivation. But I read recently that there will indeed be a book out in November.
    I will look up the Victorian Flower Garden Series - it sounds like a gentle and informative show I would enjoy watching.
    I'm still pondering my trip and haven't felt compelled to share much on my blog. Tim and I are away this week, and I plan on beginning blogging again after Easter.
    Thank you for this delightful and thought-provoking post.
    Easter blessings to you both!

  17. We had piles and piles of palm branches on a table at church this week, because they are easy to come by here in California. But one Russian lady brought a little bundle of pussy willows to put alongside, because for her, and no doubt because of her childhood, it wouldn't be Palm Sunday without them!

    Happy Easter!


To My Beautiful Readers,

Some people come into our lives, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never the same. ~ Franz Peter Schubert

Thank you so much for leaving your 'footprint' here in my comment box. I do appreciate you taking a moment to share your thoughts today.

Brenda xo