Wednesday, April 10, 2019

I Love Oxford in the Springtime

I love spring anywhere,
but if I could choose I would always greet it in a garden.

Do you remember that old song they used to sing, I love Paris in the Springtime? Now I haven't been to Paris in the Springtime, but ever since we visited Oxford two years ago in April, I feel that way about Oxford. The last few days I've been feeling a little homesick. Spring in Oxford (well, in England generally) is something to behold -- such aliveness to the countryside, to life and love, beauty and poetry. It didn't take me long to realize that that place of 'dreaming spires' really was my soul's home, and I felt as if I'd come home when I arrived.

I'm indulging myself today by browsing through some of the garden photos we took while there. Each of the colleges in Oxford boasts lovely grounds and gardens, and they can be viewed by the public when classes are not in session. How lucky then were we to visit when term was over.

And, the Botanic Garden, that spot of quiet beauty and elegance, was such a joy to wander through on that warm Spring morning. The birds were in full chorus and the sun squeezed its warmth past barely leafed out trees onto our faces. It was like a little heaven on earth. And, I'm in this moment reminded of those lines from that poem "God's Garden" penned by Dorothy Frances Gurney (London: Country Life, 1913) . . .

"The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,
One is nearer God's Heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on Earth."

It's true, that's how I felt that day. So, I've gathered a few garden photos from our visit to Oxford in the Springtime -- I hope you enjoy.

Spring has returned.
The Earth is like a child that knows poems.

Holywell Cemetery

"The first blooms of spring always
make my heart sing."

April hath put a spirit of youth
in everything.

Spring comes:
the flowers learn their colored shapes.

"Spring's greatest joy beyond a doubt
is when it brings the children out."

The Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum, Oxford

"Despite the forecast,
live like it's Spring."

"Some old-fashioned things like fresh air and
sunshine are hard to beat."

"Can words describe the fragrance
of the very breath of spring?"

Magdalen College Tower as viewed from the Botanic Garden

"To plant a garden is to
believe in tomorrow."

"Spring won’t let me stay in this house any longer!
I must get out and breathe the air deeply again."

"No matter how chaotic it is,
wildflowers will still spring up in the middle of nowhere."

"Let us dance in the sun,
wearing wild flowers in our hair."

"Don't wait for someone to bring you flowers.
Plant your own garden and decorate your own soul."

* * *

There -- I feel much better. I've love to know if you have a favourite photo or if one of those lovely quotes popped out as you went along.

Don't forget to carry something beautiful in your heart today. It really does help keep the uglies at bay. And so now, beautiful friends, here's wishing you a wonderful day. Sending love and


Monday, March 25, 2019

Simple Woman's Daybook: March

"Spring: the music of open windows."

It's Monday morning and we have no new blog post for you. What with going to an art show with friends and getting on with our Spring ritual of cleaning, which includes rearranging furniture, décor and dust bunnies, the weekend flew by. Oh yes, and in between all that, I have been working away at my digital-to-print photo albums of our 2016 holiday to England -- oh the memories that flutter up as I sort through the photos. It's such a fun project. 

Today I shall rely on the ready-made prompts from Simple Woman's Daybook and see where that takes me. If I don't linger too long on each point, I might have this ready by late morning.


Outside my window... it's still dark and the neighbourhood is shrouded in deep shadow. It's only six in the morning and no self-respecting sun rises that early at this time of year. Although I can't see it, I know the snow is nearly gone from our yard. Yah! As the ground begins to thaw, soon there will be signs of life. The appearance of those first shoots of greenery always comes as a surprise to me. The earth's been frozen for so long, it feels as if it will take forever for them to poke through, but it only needs a touch of warmth from the sun to encourage them to rise up to new life.

I am thinking... about something I read in a book of essays Calm Things by Shawna Lemay. She talks about the bounty of gifts we receive in our lifetime … smiles, compliments, the joy of watching a robin make a nest in the front tree … offerings of all kinds. She mentions the reproductions of Vincent Van Gogh's bird nest paintings. She says, "Van Gogh took the gift of these nests that he received from nature and later stacked in his cupboard, thirty or so of them, and sent them back into the world in the form of paint -- earthy, muddy, mossy colours, dark and whirling, fragrant and sublime."

That phrase 'sent them back into the world in the form of paint' has been playing on my mind ever since I first read it. It really speaks to me. In what form could the many gifts I have received be sent back into the world? Like Shawna, I think about the thousands of gifts I have been given over my lifetime -- handmade cards, bouquets of flowers, sunsets and rainy days, kind words from readers, compliments on a new top and earrings, proffered plates of muffins and homemade buns, presents in paper and ribbon -- it overwhelms me as I think about the generosity of God and people and nature. And I ask the same question that Shawna asks: "What to do with our riches, but to attempt to send them out again in the form of our work? Words and paint." What form shall I, Brenda, send these gifts back out into the world to bless others ? What form shall your gifts take?

I am thankful... for the arrival of Spring. Truly thankful. And, I'm grateful to have survived the winter. I'm glad for the arrival of the Canada Geese -- they are often one of the first to appear from the south, eager to find their summer homes beside ponds and lakes.

In the kitchen... I made Irish Pub Salad with Creamy Tarragon Dressing for supper the other evening. It was yummy. I found the recipe in the March/April issue of Victoria magazine. As you can see from my photo, the ingredients include Irish cheddar cheese, hard cooked eggs, and a medley of vegetables: bibb lettuce (as the base) and layered over top with shredded red cabbage, pickled beets, sliced cucumbers, sliced tomatoes, and pickled beans.

The creamy tarragon dressing is 1/2 cup of mayo, 1/3 cup malt vinegar, 2 tablespoons fresh chopped tarragon, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1/2 cup olive oil. In a bowl, whisk everything except the olive oil. Keep whisking and gradually add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream until the mixture is smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use. Drizzle over the salad and serve.

I am wearing... a black tank top and capri bottoms, silver bracelets, pink lipstick, and a spritz of British Rose Body Shoppe fragrance.

I am creating... new arrangements in my house this week. My study is upside down today. First, I took the vintage dropleaf desk out to be placed in our bedroom. Because I took out the bookshelf that reminds me of a mantlepiece from the bedroom and now resides in the living room. The new arrangement of one item suddenly opened the door to new possibilities and vignettes. The short shelf that had been mooshed into the corner of the study behind the credenza where the printer sits was now hauled out and set where the dropleaf desk used to be. Oh my, it feels lighter in here already. I think that little shelf is feeling freer too.

I am going... for a walk. It has been so wonderful to step out into the days and feel the warmth of the sun instead of the excruciating bite of the north winds. Ice and snow are mostly gone, so limbs are less at risk of falling.

"In every walk with nature one
receives far more than he seeks."

I am reading... through the collection of souvenir garden guidebooks I bought when we were in England. For such lovely places as Churchill's Chartwell, Ann Boleyn's Hever Castle, Vita Sackville-West's Sissinghurst Castle, and Penshurst Place (one of the filming sites for PBS's mini-series Wolf Hall). Some memories begin to blur together and the guidebooks help sort out forgotten details. We say, oh yes, now I remember.

I am hoping... to lose three to five pounds before my birthday. It might be easier if I were considering losing five pounds of books. But with getting back into the swing of daily walks now that it's warmer, that will certainly help. I've already cut down (but not out) the cookies -- that helps too.

I am looking forward to... a family celebration that is already being planned for my nephew's university convocation coming up in June. My sister's family lives in a very beautiful part of this province, out in the countryside, near enough to see the Rocky Mountains in the distance while sitting on the deck. We always have a wonderful time together when we visit.

I am learning... not much new these days. No new crafts or skills at the moment. I am interested to better my photography skills and work away at it.

Around the house... we've got laundry on the go, the radio is playing classical music, the table is set for lunch when hubby comes home from the gym.

I am pondering... why I have curtains at the windows of my house. For me it's not so much to close out the world. I would not 'need' curtains for that. But I have come to see that I need curtains because they 'so faithfully translate the language of wind.' Yes, yes, that's why! Not sure who to attribute that phrase to -- I saw it online and it leaped out at me.

A favourite quote for today... "Make progress every day on one thing that matters to you." ~ Unknown.

One of my (new) favourite things... is Dvorak's Symphony No 9, Op 95 "New World". I've heard it played numerous times over the years, but this past week, Rick and I listened to one concert we found on YouTube that blew us away at its perfection. I sat almost motionless as we listened, I was so taken by the music, feeling like I was inside the very notes themselves. It was magical to watch the conductor, Sergiu Celibidache, work with the orchestra and bring this beautiful piece of music to life. The concert was recorded in 1991. It's 55 minutes in length, so if you plan to listen, I recommend making it an event for yourself "a concert in a sitting room". And, if you like it, you might become so enraptured that you won't even think you need tea -- we didn't. You can find the link HERE.

A peek into my journal... My journal is usually a stream of consciousness of this and that. And I'm always adding passages from books I'm reading that I want to remember. Most of my journaling happens in the wee hours (either late at night or early in the morning, depending). So it's kinda messy, but I try to add bits of something pretty between the scribblings. For me, sketching is too much effort and I'm not deft at painting, so I include something easier like adding clippings that catch my eye from old magazines. I always feel a jolt of joy when I open my journal to find something lovely to 'fill my well' and colour my world in that moment.

* * *

That's it for prompts for today. I think we've got ourselves a post. Will do an edit and an out-loud proofread and hit Publish. Hope there's something in it worth your visit. 

Here's wishing you a beautiful day
and a week ahead filled with things that are splendid and good.

Sending hugs,

Friday, March 15, 2019

Five on Friday: Spring At The Conservatory

"The beautiful spring came; and
when Nature resumes her loveliness,
the human soul is apt to revive also."

At last, we feel a breath of Spring in our corner of the world. For so long it was cold and wintery, but then it all changed. And now the world begins to feel alive with possibility. The other day I came back from doing some errands to hear Spring herself babbling from the down spouts as water, water, water trickled splish!splash! on the rocks beneath. Such a sound -- I wanted to do a little jig. 

Rick came home from the gym one morning earlier in the week, and as we sat down to lunch, said why don't we go to the Conservatory today. To which I replied, Oh, yes, let's! And so we spent a lovely afternoon meandering through the pavilions taking in the various displays: Orchids in the tropical pyramid, tulips and hyacinths in the feature pyramid, and Camillas and a cherry tree blossoming in the temperate zone area, to name a few seasonal sightings.

I won't chat much as I prefer to let the flowers do their magic on your minds today. I was certainly thinking of you when I took these photos. I truly hope they convey a little of the wondrous beauty we celebrated . . . and that today, because of them, your 'heart with pleasure fills, and dances with the daffodils'. 

"The spring came suddenly bursting upon the world
as a child bursts into a room, with a laugh
and a shout and hands full of flowers."

"And spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the spirit of love felt everywhere;
And each flower and herb on Earth's dark breast rose
from the dreams of its wintry rest."

Spring is nature's way of saying,
"Let's party!"

"Love is a climate
small things find safe
to grow in …"
from The Smaller Orchid

The winter is past;
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of the singing of birds has come.


Wishing you a beautiful day!
With love and hugs,

If you are receiving this post by email, I'd love to hear from you. You can click on Brenda @ It's A Beautiful Life here or on the link below, and it will take you directly to my blog. You can leave a comment there, or if the comment box is being unfriendly, you are most welcome to get in touch by email.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Not What I Planned, March Has Arrived, The Beauty of Less


I've been having some problems with my blog or Google or something. I had a blog post all planned and photos lined up to share with you, but for whatever reason, I haven't been able to access my photos when I'm inside my blog draft.

I ask you, what's a blog post without pictures? In my mind, it's the same as when Julia Child once declared that a party without cake is just a meeting. Exactly. Blog posts without a pretty picture or two are too plain-Jane, if you ask me. Fortunately, the basket of yellow tulips was loaded earlier in the week, or I might have had to resort to drawing stick figure tulips by using the special characters button in the toolbar. 

Just rechecked and now Google says it's a temporary error. Using the word 'temporary' sounds hopeful. In the meantime, I'll be glad of your company as I chat about a subject that's been recently occupying my days and my mind.


Dear March - Come in-
How glad I am -
I hoped for you before -
Put down your Hat -
You must have walked -
How out of Breath you are -
Dear March, how are you, and the Rest -
Did you leave Nature well -
Oh March, Come right upstairs with me -
I have so much to tell -

In these parts (northerly Alberta), we're still frozen in and snowbanks are as deep as they were in February. But, thankfully, thankfully, with the daylight glimmering a little longer each day, we have the faintest hints of Spring. The sun is definitely warmer on our faces. And, though tulip bulbs in the garden are hidden under mounds of snow, we take delight in bringing home pots of blooming bulbs and bouquets from the grocery store to set around the house for cheer. I truly enjoy the season of deep winter, but I admit to feeling a certain restlessness of soul these days. I'm so with Miss Dickinson when she says, "March, come in, how glad I am … Come right upstairs with me."

* * *

"Make progress every day on one thing that matters to you."

That quote speaks to me these days. And, as the world outside my window begins to thaw, you find me making progress, little by little, on two related projects that matter to me: dealing with my ginormous file of digital photos and creating photo books from treasured selections.

What used to be hundreds has morphed over the years into thousands of digital pics hanging around on the iCloud, and it's all become unwieldy. I'm feeling snowed under, as it were. So I've undertaken the monumental task of sorting -- deciding what stays and culling what's no longer desired or required. At least the files were sorted by years, but when I started blogging a decade ago that's when it all got silly: personal family photos mixed together with pictures taken specifically for the blog. And, there were always the photos that were both personal history and bloggable subjects, like garden pictures, food, holiday scenery, Christmas, books, etc. Where would I file those: under personal family history or under blogging material? If I made copies of some pics to store in both categories, which I did for several years, well, you begin to see why iCloud thinks I need to start paying for extra storage. I was horrified to find that my photos were now taking up well over the five free Gigabytes of room available to me. Oh, the joys and woes of having digital cameras and click-easy fingers.

Digitally speaking, it appeared I'd filled the attic, the basement, and the garage. Now I was paying rent for storage on a cloud somewhere, paying for space to 'hold' all this extraneous stuff. Therefore it was high time to wrestle these digital files into some kind of order, culling photos, especially the 'bazillions' of copies snapped in every imaginable angle, pose, and cropped version. Do I still need them after all this time? Find the best ones, let go of the rest.

First we find ourselves as a society generally inundated with material stuffs; now it's starting to pile up digitally. Oh my! I'm reminded of something I recently read and underlined in my copy of Beauty, The Invisible Embrace by John O'Donohue, a current book I'm keeping near to hand for inspiration:

"Most of us move now in such a thicket of excess
that we can no longer make out the
real contours of things." 

Oh yes, I feel the entrapment and suffocation of that excess, like a ram caught in a thicket who cannot kick himself to freedom no matter how he tries. I have come face to face with wondering what on earth I want or need with all these thousands of photos. I don't have children to pass down any amount that a future generation might want. And who will ever look at thousands anyway? It needs to become more selective and manageable, more enjoyable for personal perusals. I also need to rethink what I actually plan to use for blogging or on social media. Perhaps I don't need to add so much to the digital clutter of the universe, but to be more selective here too.

That now reminds me of Anne Morrow Lindbergh in her timeless Gift From The Sea. You will recall how she has come away from her busy, complicated family life to a little cottage on an island by the sea. Where she must learn the art of shedding and finding out 'how little one can get along with, not how much.' When she's packing to return home at the end of her stay, she recalls in her first days there, how 'greedily' she collected the sea shells.
"My pockets bulged with wet shells, the damp sand clinging to their crevices. The beach was covered with beautiful shells and I could not let one go by unnoticed. … The collector walks with blinders on; he sees nothing but the prize. In fact, the acquisitive instinct is incompatible with true appreciation of beauty. But after all the pockets were stretched and damp, and the bookcase shelves filled and the window ledges covered, I began to drop my acquisitiveness. I began to discard from my possessions, to select.
One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach. One can collect only a few, and they are more beautiful if they are few. One moon shell is more impressive than three. … One double-sunrise is an event; six are a succession, like a week of school-days. Gradually one discards and keeps just the perfect specimen; not necessarily a rare shell, but a perfect one of its kind. One sets it apart by itself, ringed around by space -- like the island.
For it is only framed in space that beauty blooms. … A tree has significance if one sees it against the empty face of sky. A note in music gains significance from the silences on either side. … Too many activities, and people, and things. Too many worthy activities, valuable things, and interesting people. For it is not merely the trivial which clutters our lives but the important as well. We can have a surfeit of treasures--an excess of shells, where one or two would be significant."

That last line really speaks to me. For we, I, can have a surfeit of treasures--an excess of photos, where one or two would be significant. We really don't need that many, do we? 

And so I come to the second project, creating a select few digital-to-print photo-essay albums that will commemorate my life and that of my family. I come to see that I do not need every picture to help me remember. I only need a selection -- the few dozen rather than the few thousand that are the most meaningful and evocative of those days. Once I understand which photos will do that for me, it becomes easier to release the extras that build clutter.

* * *

According to Susan Sontag, everything these days exists to end in a photograph. Oh my, she nailed that, don't you think? How often I snap photos not for my own personal photo collection, but so that I can load another muffin or flower or sunset picture online. Absolutely nothing the matter with doing that -- lots of us do it -- but I do sometimes feel overwhelmed by all that's available. And so maybe, for me, I'm about ready for 'less is more' … to make room for openness and quietude. To take time for the beauty of one seashell, one photo instead of scarcely noticing the twentieth. To take complete delight in the one sublime specimen and quit holding onto what doesn't do a thing for us.

Case in point, there's a photo I found yesterday of my mom on her 80th birthday some years earlier. She was about to blow out the candles on her cake. Someone must have made a comment that completely tickled her fancy for laughter and delight lit up her face. Captured on the camera, it became a complete joy for me to see. And I knew in that split second if I had to choose any number of photos of my mom as a treasured keepsake, that photo would certainly be chosen and cherished. I wanted to show you that photo, but it will have to be another time.

* * *

Having this Google photo glitch today has taken this post in a direction I didn't plan. Perhaps it has made me see more clearly what I've been yearning at a deeper level to do with the culling and sorting of my digital photos. To bring them back down to a significant, select fewer. So that they can truly be treasured and enjoyed. An aside, I do think the measurement of what's enough and what's excess will differ for each of us.

Enough said for one day. On that note, I'm wishing you the beautiful day I'm planning to have in spite of my technical glulumphs and gliiitches … 

Big hugs,

If you are receiving this post by email, I'd love to hear from you. You can click on Brenda @ It's A Beautiful Life on the link below, and it will take you directly to my blog. You may leave a comment there if you wish, or if the comment box is being unfriendly, you are welcome to get in touch by email.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

It's Been A While: Sunday Evening Chat


The day I started this new post a couple of weeks ago, it was a day reminiscent of childhood winters: bitterly cold, treacherous roads, and 'no school today' broadcasts on the radio. I remember the thrill of those long ago days, when for a day or two (or even more), we'd nestle inside the four walls of our little farmhouse. Sheltered from the elements it became our whole world. Books and games and crafts called our names. The coal furnace would burp out hot air, and we'd jostle for a chance to stand by the kitchen register to feel the warmth blowing on our cold toes. Window panes frozen with layers of ice barely allowed a glimpse outside. Unless of course you breathed a patch so small you could only peer out with one eye, like a sea captain looking through a telescope. Oh yes, it was a sea out there ... waves of snowdrifts and snowflakes tossing wildly in a blizzard.

Between our recent snow days, there were days that burst from the gloom into bright, sunny ones. With skies all cloudless and blue and snow glistening and gleaming like diamonds. And if you look with an artist's eye, you notice the sky fading into smoky blue-grey along the horizon. The bright sunshine belied the fact that it was frigid out there. We woke several mornings to -30 C with a windchill of nearly -40 C (the temperature at this point reads the same in Celsius and Fahrenheit).  

Surely they were days for staying indoors where, cozy and warm, one could enjoy winter's beauty peering through a frost-free window. All the while taking time to sip cups of hot tea with nibbles at the ready to comfort, cheer, and make one glad to be alive.

* * *

As I say, I started this new post a couple of weeks ago, but I got sidetracked by a sudden wave of inspiration to seriously delve into cupboards, closets and shelves to root out the excess and clutter that had once again accumulated over the last few years without my knowledge ... or permission (wink). When such an inspiration shows up out of the blue like that, I have lived long enough to know the error of ignoring such a gift. For I also know from experience that it may well be months before the Housecleaning Muse shows up again. And, I have learned that it's far better to undertake this kind of deep cleaning when one feels graced and inspired than to drag through when one is not in the mood for it.

So, now I can happily report that we have been through the house, we have given away several car loads of books, glassware, and other material possessions that we no longer need or desire -- and we still have plenty of nice and useful items to enjoy. Not being caretaker of all this stuff gives me room to breathe, to think new thoughts and imagine new possibilities. Without the clutter, I feel lighter. And freer ... freer to write ... I've got a memoir to finish and stories about how I found my beautiful life.

* * *

Since we last chatted, I finally started the big project of sorting through a couple thousand photos from our 2016 trip to Britain. Believe me, it's no small task trying to select a few hundred from that great pile, but it seems enough time has passed to give me the distance I need to choose those photos that will become a permanent record (album) of the wonderful days we spent traveling through the English countryside and taking in some of the beautiful country homes and gardens in England.

I often wish I could return and take the same trip and do it in slow motion -- because those days just flew and it all seemed to go by in a blur. Makes me so grateful for photos. And memories.

Here's a tiny glimpse of what we enjoyed...

"How many kinds of sweet flowers grow
In an English country garden?
I'll tell you now of some that I know
And those I miss you'll surely pardon
Daffodils, heart's ease and phlox
Meadowsweet and lady smocks
Gentian, lupine and tall hollyhocks
Roses, foxgloves, snowdrops, forget-me-nots
In an English country garden
In an English country garden"

Songwriters: Phillip Guyler / Johnny Griggs
English Country Garden lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

* * *

"Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful;
they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul."


* * *

Here's wishing you a beautiful week ahead.


If you are receiving this post by email, I'd love to hear from you. You can click on Brenda @ It's A Beautiful Life here or on the link below, and it will take you directly to my blog. You are welcome to comment there, or if the comment box is acting unfriendly for whatever reason, you can get in touch by email.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Fill The Well, Be Astonished, See The World With New Eyes

Paul Cézanne (French, 1839 - 1906)
Still Life with Apples, 1893–1894, Oil on canvas
65.4 × 81.6 cm (25 3/4 × 32 1/8 in.), 96.PA.8
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Downloaded with permission (Getty Open Content)

With January being a quiet month for me, I've had the wonderful opportunity to spend more time reading. Something for which I'm most grateful. Over recent days I've taken a small selection of books to my bosom and have been dipping into them as tonic for my soul. Filling the well, as it were. If you need more about filling the well, please refer to Julia Cameron's description here.

In today's post I want to share a little glimpse of these gleanings, a bit of what's stirring my mind and making my heart sing. First, a list of the books I'm dipping into at the present time:

  • New and Selected Poems (Vol 1), by Mary Oliver
  • Calm Things (essays), by Shawna Lemay
  • Book Girl, A Journey through the Treasures and Transforming Power of a Reading Life, by Sarah Clarkson
  • Beauty The Invisible Embrace, by John O'Donohue
  • The Best of George MacDonald, 120 Daily Devotions to Nurture Your Spirit and Refresh Your Soul, edited and compiled by Stephen W. Sorenson
  • Madeleine L'Engle Herself, Reflections on a Writing Life, compiled by Carole F. Chase 

I might read a paragraph or several in a sitting, maybe a page or two from one book, then float along to another. All the while gathering phrases, images, and thoughts of what I'm reading -- much the way a bee collects nectar from plants and makes it into honey. I might marvel at the brilliant way an author has crafted such a sparkling line so that it makes me stand still in my tracks. Or underline a well chosen phrase that evokes such tender feelings or sparks a memory, long lost, to burst into my mind.

As you know from past posts, I do love delving into old memories. So, I was tickled at the rush of one childhood memory that surfaced when I began to read Mary Oliver's poem "Creeks": 

"The dwindled creeks of summer
Unremarkable except,
Down pasture, through woodlot,
They are so many
And keep such a pure sound
In each roiling thread,
Trickle past the knees of trees, ..."

New and Selected Poems, Vol One, 1992, p 212
Oh yes, I remember the dwindled creeks of summer -- mostly dried up and quite unremarkable, just as Mary said. But, in my earliest childhood remembrances, there was a time when the creek came alive in the Spring Thaw. When the deep snow drifts started melting, the water rushed and roared its way from the back meadow down the gully through the fields, past the barns, around the 'knees of trees', gushing its way under the highway through the culvert, and out into the neighbour's slough. According to my mom, it was no place for little children to be found playing -- it was far too dangerous that time of year. As a child I used to wait for the Spring Thaw just for the thrill of hearing that great roar of water rushing past our yard. It only lasted a day or two, and then the creek would return to its trickle-y and creeky self. The worst that could happen then was the misfortune of swamping one's rubber boots and ending up with wet socks.

* * *

Since hearing the sad news of Mary Oliver's recent death, I've been reading the small cluster I have of her poetry. I used to followed her online and shall miss her daily offerings on my social media feeds.

I don't know why, but I tend to search out the works of many artists, singers or authors who pass away, people like Leonard Cohen, Aretha Franklin, and now Mary. I might dig out things I haven't read in ages, maybe finally listen to something I always meant to but never did, or learn a little more about who that person was as an individual. Makes me grateful to the news media for searching out these details and sharing them with us.

I wonder if it's an effort to grasp hold of that unique 'something' we hope won't disappear along with the person's last breath. Sometimes we don't know what a gift we have until it's gone, and then we realize we're going to miss them, so we take solace in their work, their contributions that remain. Perhaps it's a tribute, a recognition of that person's impact on our own lives, for even if we didn't know them personally, they are a part of us. After all, for a season we all spun around the sun on this planet together. We have something in common. We share the same era.

Back to Mary's poetry. This past week I have found myself charged by the lines from her poem "Sometimes": 

"Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it."

She really says it in a nutshell, doesn't she? Great words for poets and writers to heed ... in truth, for any and all of us. I'm particularly drawn to the line "Be astonished" and you'll see why in a minute.

The whole poem is worth reading, you can find it here.

I have been reading Shawna Lemay's book Calm Things where she muses about still life art. She mentions going to the grocery store one day and, seeing a display of apples, remembers that apples became a motif for the French artist Paul Cézanne.  

"Cézanne said, I want to astonish Paris with an apple!
When I pick through apples at Safeway, I talk to them, say,
Astonish me."

There's the word "astonish" again. Is it possible to still be astonished? By something as ordinary as an apple in a grocery store display? Two poets and an artist seem to think so. Do you recall a moment in your life -- maybe it was just this morning -- when you felt yourself in awe or wonder at something as simple and beautiful as a piece of fruit?

With Shawna's mention of Cézanne, I went in search of some of his paintings, particularly any with apples in them. After all, he said he wanted to astonish Paris with an apple. As it turns out, I think the apples astonished him, because during the last thirty years of his life, Cézanne painted the same objects--the green vase, the rum bottle, the ginger pot, and the apples--over and over again. You'll see them in the painting at the beginning of this post.

* * *

I want to mention a book that I don't have in my current reading pile, but the author writes something that fits with this theme of paying attention, being astonished, and telling about it. In her award winning book A Sense of Wonder -- a book I keep borrowing from the library -- Rachel Carson shows her readers how to see the world with new eyes. In this lovely essay, Rachel tells us about the summer when she and her grandnephew, Roger, wandered the woods and tide pools near her cottage in Maine, USA. And as she introduced Roger to the natural wonders around them, she realized she'd found her own renewed sense of wonder again. 

A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful,
full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune
that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct
for what is beautiful, is dimmed and even lost
before we reach adulthood.

“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder,
he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it,
rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery
of the world we live in.”

* * *

Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.

"When the soul is alive to beauty,
we begin to see life in a fresh and vital way."

On that note, I'm wishing you a beautiful day with
eyes to see with fresh awareness.

With love and hugs,

If you are receiving this post by email, I'd love to hear from you. You can click on Brenda @ It's A Beautiful Life here or on the link below, and it will take you directly to my blog. You are welcome to leave a comment there, or if the comment box is being unfriendly, feel free to get in touch by email.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Easing With Joy Into The New Year

"The shortest day has passed, and whatever nastiness of weather we may look forward to in January and February, at least we notice that the days are getting longer. Minute by minute they lengthen out. It takes some weeks before we become aware of the change. It is imperceptible even as the growth of a child, as you watch it day by day, until the moment comes when with a start of delighted surprise we realize that we can stay out of doors in a twilight lasting for another quarter of a precious hour." ~ Vita Sackville-West

I woke up the other day and knew something had shifted -- I felt at last ready to begin my New Year in earnest. I know other folks have had their decorations down for ages and have been busy making plans and setting their goals for 2019. As for me, since the holidays, I only wanted to hide, hibernate, and be quiet. And that's what I've been doing. I took time to read my new books, puzzle out some jigsaws, write in my journal, finish off the rest of the potato chips and juicy clementines -- well, that last one was a joint effort by the pair of us living in this house.

I admit these days in bleak midwinter are some of my favourite days in life. I love winter and, no, I'm not yet bored or tired of cold, crisp days. I'm still happily settled into these weeks of early twilight winter, using this time to move slower, to putter, to make the kitchen a happy place as we savour freshly baked biscuits, homemade turkey soup, and hearty stews.

Still, as Vita Sackville West points out in her quote above, there is something wonderfully sweet when we see daylight filling the backyard a wee bit longer. For, no, I do not wish to live in a Narnia where it's always Winter and where Spring never comes. But I'm quite happy to enjoy the season we're in now.

To ease our way into blogging again after being away a few weeks, I thought a newsy post of 'this and that' would fit the bill. Wishing you joy......

"joy in shapes and shadows"

"The dry grasses are not dead for me.
A beautiful form has as much life at one season as another."

~ Henry David Thoreau, 1850

I happened to glance out the front window one afternoon and had to run to get the camera. For the light and shadows were dancing on snow laden plants, bunny and kitty footprints adding to the shadow play. I loved how the dry grasses rise up like shots of sunshine from iron grey shadows.

That's me out for a walk in my heavy parka and new Fair Isle knitted hat. Don't you love the bobble at the top? After eating my more-than-fair-share of treats over the holidays, it feels so good to get myself out into the sunshine and freezing air, and to get my lazy limbs moving again.

From the shrubberies, finches and sparrows sing their little hearts out. Chickadees add to the chatter. All are busy at the feeders. I marvel at their courage to whistle so cheerily -- perhaps it helps keep them warm. Or maybe they too appreciate life's good gifts, even on the coldest days.

I get a real kick from seeing how snow-topped sidewalks can turn into mosaic works of art. A trail mix of tracks from the bottoms of people's shoes, animal paw prints, and wagon treads (which look to me like long knitted scarves). Oh, the little pleasures in winter walks.

'joy in window sill offerings'

It's two in the morning and I'm wide awake. Sitting at my desk, I notice the old dried flowers on the window sill. I don't go out of my way to dry flowers, but here in Alberta where the air is quite dry, along with my oft neglect to add fresh water to vases as days whisk by -- before I know it, blossoms dry into something strangely beautiful. I can't bear to toss them out so they gather in tiny vases, on bookshelves, and along my window sill. They can sit there for months -- dusting is out of the question, for in trying to lift them up the blossoms disintegrate into myriad petals.

I hardly dare to point out the other little thing I notice as I sit here at this odd hour. But, if you peer closely, you will surely see and wonder why on earth I didn't wipe the ledge before taking the photo, what with all those darn fly specks messing up the view. Ha ha. Refer to last sentence in previous paragraph and you'll know why.

Funny what a person notices in the middle of the night.

'joy in winter reading'

"In winter we lead a more inward life.
Our hearts are warm and cheery, like cottages under drifts."

~ Henry David Thoreau

I started my holiday reading the book Becoming Mrs. Lewis, the story about Joy Davidman, C.S. Lewis's wife. I read her story years ago, so the amazing story of her life was not new to me. Still, it was a lovely read, the story of Joy's bumpy journey towards her becoming Mrs. Lewis. And it all started with a letter she wrote to Mr. Lewis about some work he had written. "In a most improbable friendship, she found love. In a world where women were silenced, she found her voice."

After I finished it, I felt moved to dig out my old copy of Lenten Lands, the memoir written by Joy's son, Douglas Gresham. Written in 1988, the account is similar but it's shared from the memories of a little boy traveling to England with his mother across the Atlantic to meet C.S. Lewis. He tells of his disappointment the first time he met his hero, the author who dreamed up Narnia.
"He was wearing the oddest clothes, too! Baggy grey flannel trousers, dusty with cigarette ash and sagging at the turn-ups (equally full of ash), an old tweed jacket with the elbows worn away. ... I think I hid my face in Mother's skirt, for I was keenly disappointed. Here was a man who was on speaking terms with King Peter, with the Great Lion, Aslan himself. Here was the man who had been to Narnia; surely he should at least wear silver chain mail and be girt about with a jewel-encrusted sword-belt. This was the heroic figure of whom Mother had so often spoken? Well, so much for imagery." 

'take courage with joy...and tea'


For the most part, I tend to ignore the trend of selecting a focus word or phrase for a new year. I've tried different times, but any word I choose inspires me for a few weeks, and then it's old. My attention span is short these days. But there came a moment, during one of those deep and sleepless nights I've had recently, this time laying wide awake under the covers, when I did play with the idea of choosing a word I could use as a focal point.

I was slightly surprised when the word "courage" bubbled up. I didn't even need to muse a lot to wonder why I should need courage. I don't know about you, but some mornings, it's hard getting up to face a world that is so filled with sorrow, ugliness, and bad news. And even when it's not in my own backyard, there are so many people to care about, the burdens seems overwhelming. Dismaying. I just want to hide in my own little world some days. But we can't, can we? I mean, we can hide away for a season, but we must enter the fray again and reach out to help share some of the burden with others. That's what being human is about, wouldn't you agree?

Remembering words I've turned to many times over the years, I opened the Book to those lines spoken to Joshua in the Old Testament, "Be strong, vigorous, and very courageous. Be not afraid, neither be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."

I feel buoyed already.

Then I opened up Sarah Clarkson's recently published work Book Girl and found this passage that speaks so perfectly to this that I had to share a bit of it with you. By the way, if you are a book girl at heart, then I recommend this lovely volume -- part book list, part memoir journey of this beautiful author who lives with her little family in Oxford, UK.
"... I encountered the reality that a girl who reads is a girl who understands that she has a part to play in the drama of the world. A woman who reads is a woman who knows she must act: in courage, in creativity, in kindness, and often in defiance of the darkness around her. She understands that life itself is a story and that she has the power to shape her corner of the drama. She has learned with Frodo (character in Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring), that reluctant but faithful hero, that the heroes in the best stories are simply the ones who "had lots of chances . . . of turning back" but didn't. To know yourself as an agent in the story of the world, one able to bring light and goodness in the midst of suffering, is a profoundly empowering knowledge, one that I believe comes to every woman who reads." excerpt from p. 92 
Such beautiful words on which to sail forth into the new year. How can we not be heartened and strengthened by them?

'joy in gentle plans'

To create days filled with variety of activities, experiences, and people. I chat about it in a previous post here
To renew my commitment to live healthier. To be ever mindful of what I eat, walk daily for exercise, and connect to nature's beauty while I'm out there.
To put my house in order. To physically, mentally, spiritually clear out the clobber; put things back in their place; get paper, encroaching bad habits and negative thoughts back under control. Give away the excess collection of notebooks stored in the desk drawer -- yes, I am ever beguiled by beautiful notebooks, but really I don't need all of them, do I?
To pick up once again the work of writing out my life stories, to tell them in such a way that might be useful to someone else. These words by author Shawna Lemay motivate me in this: "What is it you want to write with the time remaining? Believe in the one person who will someday pick up your book...".
To spend more time reading, less time scrolling on social media.
To keep my heart close to Jesus.
To walk in the spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness ... ever mindful of the shoes other folks might be walking in.
To light a candle rather than curse the darkness.

'something fun, funny'

Alexis Carrington Colby (Joan Collins) on Dynasty

The other evening hubby and I turned on the television, and PBS was running their documentary series Pioneers of Television, Prime-time Soaps. Oh my goodness, what fun. Who can forget Dallas or Dynasty from the 1970s - 1980s?

I especially loved Dynasty, that show with the 'gloriously over-the-top trials and tribulations of the fabulously wealthy and none-to-nice Carrington and Colby clans'. I loved seeing all the stars with their big hairdos, big earrings, and ginormous hats. Not to mention the shoulder pads. It was so much fun to see snippets of the old actors talking about the great fun they used to have making those shows. I didn't realize they got the nickname “soap operas” because the early adopters of television advertising were soap companies. There you go.

I went and dug out my old big earrings (oh yes, I still have them), poofed up my hair that old way, and staring back at me in the mirror was that thirty-something woman I used to be. For a brief moment, I was transported back in mind and spirit to the '80s where I had the time of my life. If you don't peer too closely, you might not even notice the baggy eyelids or the wrinkly neck and decolletage. I put the earrings away, got out the face cream, and returned to 2019.

* * *

I told you in my previous post that I was going to see Mary Poppins Returns with a friend over the holidays. We went and we enjoyed ourselves. It was a lot of fun. But the one thing that I thought was missing from this spectacularly produced movie was that there wasn't one song in it that I found hummable or sing-a-longable. I truly think the producers missed the most important thing ... with the old songs, we wanted to sing along with Mary or Burt, Mr. Banks or Uncle Albert. That's why the movie stays with us -- we remember the songs forever.

As the credits rolled, I found myself longing to have a go at one of them -- I wanted to skip out of the theatre singing Let's Go Fly A Kite. I didn't skip but I hummed.

* * * 

I have to tell you, this post started out as a simple few paragraphs, but get me in front of a keyboard or put a pen in my hands, and the words tumble out like clowns from a Volkswagen. Haha, so much for 'easing' into blogging after my hiatus. I hope you had enough tea to sustain you during this longish read.

Now, here's wishing you a beautiful day and much grace for the journey ahead in 2019. May we each have eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to notice -- and receive -- the good gifts that are in store for us as each day unfolds.



If you are receiving this post by email, I'd love to hear from you. You can click on Brenda @ It's A Beautiful Life here or on the link below, and it will take you directly to my blog. You are welcome to leave a comment there, or if the comment box is being unfriendly, you are very welcome to get in touch by email.