Thursday, June 13, 2019

June's Joyful Moments

"Then followed that beautiful season... Summer....
Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape
Lay as if new created in all the freshness of childhood."

There's a joy on the breeze this morning that makes my heart feel alive with possibility. As I consider what to share here today, my mind goes in a few directions. I could talk about gardens and gardening in this wonderful season of the year. I could talk about the books I've been reading or the handful of books I hope to read this summer. I might want to show you pics of the new living room drapes I recently bought on a whim. I could show you brand new photos of Peace Rose who survived another winter in our garage -- when we brought her outside she set several buds as soon as she felt the warm sun on her branches.

I'll let my thoughts ramble as though on a walk through a woodsy copse or meadow and allow myself to stop at whatever catches my eye along the way. With such serendipity, we never knows where it ends up but we hope it's in a good place and that you'll be glad you stopped for a little visit.

* * *

Something new... When you arrived, you'll have noticed another new blog header. Think I'll leave this one in place all summer -- really love the colours of those wonderful geraniums. Saw them at the greenhouse a couple of weeks ago.

Outside my window... 'Tis a glorious morning here. After a few days of much needed soaking rains -- it was cold too -- the blue skies and sunshine returned. It's so lovely to gaze through the window and not see the grey haze from northern wildfires (they are in hand, I believe) but to once again see that summer blue with great puffs of clouds sailing by. The garden is taking shape after a slow start to Spring earlier on. Every year I'm gob smacked -- startled, stunned, astonished -- at how the garden that appeared forlorn, dead, and dull for so long suddenly bursts into green. Perennials waste no time in growing tall and lush. Life pulses from deep within the still-cold soil and shoots determinedly poke through in search of warmth and light. I think that's what surprises me every Spring - it's bare, brown, lifeless and then suddenly it's green and leafy. It makes me breathless with happiness. I find myself going to the front door and opening it often just to stare out at the bewitching greenery.  

"To sit in the shade on a fine day and look
upon verdure is the most perfect refreshment."

The other evening I stood for a few moments on the back deck as the sun was ready to set around 10:00 pm. The air was heavy with the wild fragrance of the deep purple-red lilac bush over the fence in our neighbour's yard. The scent wafted on the breeze coming from the west-north-west. Oh my. I was only outside a couple of minutes, but in that time it created a moment I wished I could bottle up or at least write a line of poetry. To save it for a rainy snowy day to remember that exact moment when my heart wanted to burst out with the lilacs. Alive with joy and hope and calmness of mind. In that moment it seemed impossible that the world could be so out of order and so many folks in distress when there are moments so perfectly sublime and peaceful and all right.

I am Summer, come to lure you away from your computer...
come dance on my fresh grass, dig your toes into my beaches.

'Raindrops on Roses'

"There is a calmness to a life lived
in gratitude, a quiet joy."

On the window sill... Plucked this rose from the rain the other day and tried to get a decent picture showing off the raindrops on its petals -- but the rainy day made for poor lighting. Because Peace Rose winters over in our garage, it always has a good start to the growing season in the Springtime. It doesn't die back and have to start from the ground up like the rest of our poor roses in the garden. So it can start greening up and setting those treasured buds as soon as it warms up.

Last week we were startled to see the first bloom open. What a joyful quickening in the heart. I sent home a couple of stems with Mom (it's her rose after all) when she was here last week. And, last night I clipped a blossom for my neighbour down the street.

"Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass
under the trees on a summer's day, listening to the
murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across
the blue sky, is by no means waste of time."
"Recreation," The Use of Life, 1894

Cultivating moments of restfulness... On her Twitter page, Joy Clarkson (daughter of author Sally Clarkson) recently shared a few thoughts about cultivating moments of restfulness in the midst of life's busyness, chaos, worry. She offered three ideas that help cultivate such moments: 1) write someone a handwritten note; 2) do something you loved to do as a child; 3) walk away your worries - at least twenty minutes. She recommended choosing one and reporting back.

I am always up for cultivating a little restfulness in my day and did two: 1) I wrote out a card and note to a nephew and his wife who just had a baby girl. How happy a moment thinking about that little one joining our family. To write something out by hand really arrests the hurriedness. You have to stop to find paper and pen, to think about what you will say, and then write it out, forming each letter and word with care. It takes a lot longer to write by hand than to type something. I've heard that writing it by hand uses a different part of the brain than typing it out. Makes for a good exercise all around as well as providing a calm moment in the midst.

2) As a girl, I used to love going with my mom to the greenhouses in spring. It was always an outing filled with happy anticipation. We'd come home with the trunk brimming with floral possibilities. This past Sunday afternoon Rick and I drove out to one of the countryside greenhouses. It truly was restful to meander up and down the aisles, savouring the colours, shapes, and scents. Deciding what to choose. We came home -- trunk full -- with trays of purple and pink asters, scented stock, pink begonias, white begonias, bronze marigolds, purple painted tongue, two pots of ganzia daisies for the deck, and three new 'Blizzard' mock orange bushes for the revamped area in the backyard.

Summertime reading... In the summertime, many of us like books and stories that are easy to read, easy to pick up or put away when something else catches our eye on the beach, under the shady tree or sitting on cool porch. Children's stories -- favourites from our own childhood might fit the bill.

A post popped into my inbox the other day from Literary Ladies Guide. They gave their list of 10 classic children's books written by women that people should read before they die. I thought maybe it would be great fun to chase down some of my girlhood favourites. The Literary Ladies kindly reminded us that it's never too late to read the books we missed in our childhoods -- there are a few on the list I have never read. And it's never amiss to reread old favourites for the child that's in all of us. They include a secondary list with a dozen titles. I've given you the book titles and authors below. You can also get all the other lovely info they share about the books HERE.


Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868)
Black Beauty by Anne Sewell (1877)
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (1905)
A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1905)
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1911)
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1932)
The Yearling by Margorie Kinnan Rawlings (1938)
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (1943)
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (1962)
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh (1964)


National Velvet by Enid Bagnold
Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers
Hans Brinker by Mary Mapes Dodge
The Borrowers by Mary Norton
Tuck Everlasting by Natalia Babbitt
My Friend Flicka by Mary O'Hara
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Emily of New Moon series by L.M. Montgomery
Pollyanna by Eleanor Porter
The 101 Dalmatians by Dotie Smith
The Rescuers series by Margery Sharp

They asked to hear from readers if we saw any glaring omissions in their lists. I immediately thought of Heidi by Johanna Spyri and The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit. Any other books you think should be on their lists (remembering it's women authors they are highlighting)?

A heritage question... a special blogging friend Susan @ Writing Straight From The Heart always has interesting photos and things to think about. She usually ends her posts with a question for her readers, and I have come to eagerly anticipate these questions. The other day, Susan shared how she found a festively dressed Polish doll at the thrift store. She snapped it up as it reminded her of her mother's Polish heritage. Her question that day was, Do you have objects in your home or apartment that reflect your ethnicity?

I had to think a minute about it because, upon reflection, I don't have anything on display in my house that represents my heritage. I have Polish/German roots from my dad's side, and German/Russian roots from my mother's side. Our ethnicity was never really emphasized by either side of my family when I was growing up. My grandparents and dad came to Canada from Poland when he was little (just before WWII) and the family strived to fit into Canadian society. They didn't bring over much in the way of cultural costume or traditions.

But there is one thing. The kinds of foods we cook to this day in our kitchens gives a clue of our heritage. As a girl visiting my grandmothers or aunties, I remember eating the delicious tortes and kuchens, poppy seed cake, cabbage rolls with rice and beef, sauerkraut, dill pickles, beef stew and dumplings with fresh dill, sour cream and dill dressing on lettuce, to name a few.

When my dad's family had a huge reunion years ago, a family recipe book was created as a commemorative keepsake. Every family shared their family favourites, which included many old recipes that reminded us all of our German/Polish heritage. So yes, Susan, I do have something in my home that represents my heritage -- my cookbook with its many family recipes reminiscent of the flavours from the 'old country'.

"Twilight drops her curtain down
and pins it with a star."

Around the house... new curtains. A fellow Twitterer mentioned she'd purchased new curtains (Waverly) for her living room. I saw her photo and was smitten. I went online to see if I could find something similar for my own living/dining room. I've only had lace at the windows for years. Which I loved, but the walls always seemed a touch bare. It didn't take long to find something I really liked. No matter what else I looked at, I came back to that first set that caught my eye.

I hit 'Order' and two days later they I was putting them up. I didn't have the right rods so I just temporarily* pinned them in place and was pleased with the look. Waverley provided a quality product for a most reasonable price. The pattern "Imperial Dress, Antique" and colours fit the room perfectly. I love how the sunlight makes them appear luminescent and sunset-like in the room. It'll feel cozy in winter especially. They gives the room a touch of formality yet because the fabric is 100% cotton they will be easy to maintain -- no dry cleaning needed. Talk about a spur of the moment purchase. One I don't regret for a moment.

*About it being temporary, well, you know how that goes sometimes. What's meant to be temporary ends up being the way it is, forever. Haha...I'll see how long it takes for me to get new rods up. Or not. 

Image by Jill Wellington from

"Summer afternoon—summer afternoon;
to me those have always been the two most beautiful words
in the English language."

* * *

After all that, I think it's time we break for cake and lemonade. I'll meet you in the garden. On that note, I'm wishing you glimpses of heaven in unexpected places -- June is bursting out all over the place. Happy day -- let's enjoy!


Saturday, May 25, 2019

Spring At Last With A Wee Visit to Pashley Manor Gardens

Tulips in the garden 2019

Hark, I hear a robin calling!
List, the wind is from the south!
And the orchard-bloom is falling
Sweet as kisses on the mouth.

The joy of Spring is upon us here in northerly Alberta. At last. Until a few days ago, we had biting winds and near freezing temperatures overnight. But there seems a shift the last day or two and so we celebrate. Hubbs and I have been working out in the yard. He's been making a brick step off our newly built deck that goes down into the lawn. And I've been oiling our teak deck furniture. The morning has been mild and the air astir with birdsong, the odd bee buzzing by. And, now the May Day trees have burst out in full bloom with their sweet, sweet fragrance. Oh my! The trees are finally greening out in earnest. And the tulips above opened this week. Love that peony hue of purple -- it's so vibrant. It would make a lovely shade of lipstick, don't you think? Or maybe a sheath dress with a billowy jacket over top?


You undoubtedly noticed a change when you arrived here today. Yes, it's still me. I've just created a new blog header. Have been considering a different look for a while now. As much as I loved and still do the old one, I feel ready to play with something new. And I do love those tulips. Since they are seasonal, they might not work in the middle of October, so you might come one day and see it's changed again before I settle on what I'm completely at home with.


Over recent months, as I've mentioned in previous posts, I've been beavering away at putting together digital-to-print photo albums of our 2016 England holiday. It turns out I needed time and distance to be able to look through the over two thousand pictures and select some favourites of the trip. (At first they were all my favourites). I must admit, looking at them makes me homesick. I want to go back and see it all again. Take it in more slowly. And certainly with better diary notes, the way Susan Branch does. Next time.

How we looked forward to waking up every morning knowing an adventure was waiting for us. We'd booked a six-day garden tour with Flora Garden Tours and during those six days we visited twelve gardens, usually two a day. Some were large and stately, others were smaller and more romantic, all were so delightfully English. It was hard to pick a favourite -- we loved, loved Hever Castle and Sissinghurst, but after our morning at Pashley Manor Gardens, Rick and I both felt it edged to the top for us. There was something about this garden that really captivated us.

Since I'm already sorting pictures for the album, I decided to share a few with you here, take you on a little walkabout. We all know that photos never really do the thing justice, but still they give us an idea. And they help us to remember. I hope you enjoy.

Our first glimpse as we drove up the rail fence-lined driveway (no doubt to keep sheep in and/or straying tourists out) to find ourselves in front of this Tudor manor house -- built around 1550 -- with old roses climbing the timber front façade.

Isn't that tree gorgeous!

Pashley Manor Gardens are situated in the English countryside on the border of Sussex and Kent, and they are family owned and maintained. There are 500-year-old oak trees over which to marvel, and there is a delightful mix of herbaceous borders, walled gardens, cozy nooks, a pool garden, enchanting woodsy paths and tranquil vistas overlooking the ponds and lawns where ducks sit sunning themselves. Sheep safely graze in the meadows just beyond the fence. The terrace (No. 3 on the map) provided a picture perfect spot for lunch (I had a yummy quiche, salad, and sparkling elderberry juice), and there was a lovely gift shop to browse in at the end of the visit.

Here is an aerial view of the gardens. I don't know about you, but I like floor plans. I like having an idea of the layout and where plants/trees/ponds/statues sit in relationship to each other. The birds-eye view also gives a glimpse of the size of the park and gardens. It sits on 11 acres and yet there is an intimacy from the way it is all put together.. 

This longed eared fellow was the first to greet us when we arrived. Only keen observers would see him nestled in the tall grasses, ears up and alert to intruders, just the way his real life chums would be standing guard. He was a first of various other statuary and sculptures exhibited in prominent spots throughout the gardens. Just one of the many details that added to the charm of the place.

Here's a close up of the old timber frame Tudor house. While I was taking a snap of that lovely diamond patterned window, you'll notice it had taken snaps of me in my red coat. That front door was massive, and I assume, heavy. Even though it would have been built to keep out the cold and lurking enemies, I found it interesting to notice that the door frame had designs carved into it to add beauty. That old iron door knocker? I wanted to try it out, but thought better not.

Insert: I loved the signage we saw whilst in England -- And don't you love that word 'whilst'? It's so poetic and we saw it used everywhere. Here in Canada we just say 'while'. Not nearly as romantic. But the British really are poetic, and kindly, even as they warn folks to be careful or to drive slowly.

Now, I'm going to cheat a little here and show you four photos from the souvenir guide. They capture the house and gardens at their best lighting and in peak season. I wanted you to see that too. And then the rest will be my own pics.

The Tudor Front
'Lovely Girl' Lilies in pots & 'Gloire de Dijon' Roses on the walls
Photo from souvenir guide

A view of the Georgian addition to Pashley Manor
Photo from souvenir guide

The Tudor part of the house is in front when you arrive. When you come around the side to the back, that's when you see there's a Georgian addition to the house. It would have been added sometime in the 1700s. I think that's what I find fascinating about the British people. Here in Canada people tend to tear things down if they want to build something new, but in England in many cases, people recognize the value of the old even when desiring something modern and updated. So we saw lots of melding of the old and the 'new' buildings whilst (wink) visiting.

Two bits of history I found interesting. The original house at Pashley was probably a hunting lodge owned by Sir Geoffrey Boleyn, Lord Mayor of London in 1457 and great-grandfather of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII's fated wife. (We saw her birthplace when we visited Hever Castle.)

And, in the twentieth century, the house was a temporary home for soldiers from Canada and Poland before, during, and after World War II. At that time, the gardens fell into considerable disrepair, and it took years and lots of hard work by the owners to bring them to the award-winning standards we enjoyed the day we visited.

Sculpture 'Lazy Days' by Kate Denton
Located in The Elizabethan Garden (map area No. 4)
'Amber Queen' & 'Just Joey' Roses
Photo from souvenir guide

'Mr. Bennet's Daughter' by Philip Jackson
Located in the Hot Gardens (map area No. 4)
Photo from souvenir guide

Don't you love this potting bench arrangement of potted plants? I'm so taken with that amazing red geranium. Not sure now, but I think this was part of the gift shop -- they had lovely plants for sale. If I lived in England, I would have been filling the van with plants to take home with me.

This was one of my favourite spots. That expanse of green lawn created such a marvelous backdrop for those mottled pink roses in front. On the left side of the map, below No. 2, the above garden looks toward the island, you barely see the bridge in the photo. We walked over that bridge onto a lovely path through the trees and shady areas to the Anne Boleyn sculpture.

"Gardening is the art that uses flowers and plants as paint
and the soil and sky as canvas."

"The lesson I have thoroughly learnt,
and wish to pass on to others, is to
know the enduring happiness that the
love of a garden gives."

Won’t you come into the garden?
I would like my roses to see you.

Rosa 'Just Joey' -- love the colour!
If it were me naming them, I'd call them 'Orange Crush'.

"Gardens are the result of a collaboration
between art and nature."

I fell in love with this delightful sculpture. I no longer remember where she posed in the garden, and perhaps she now lives in someone else's garden as the pieces on exhibit were also for sale. Regardless, I love her for her sense of peace and tranquility, maybe also for her meditative or pensive mood. She makes me think of the last stanza from Wordsworth's daffodil poem:

"For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils."

Sitting in a garden as lovely as this one would surely work the same magic as Wordsworth's couch, don't you think? And no wonder this woman in the photo below lets the breezes play with the sleeves of her gown. She seems quite free in her stance.

"A garden is to be enjoyed, and should
satisfy the mind and not only the eye of the beholder.
Sounds such as a rustle of bamboo and the dripping of water,
scents and sensations such as grass or gravel or
stone underfoot, appeal to the emotions and play
a part in the total impression."

"In garden arrangement,
as in all other kinds of decorative work,
one has not only to acquire a knowledge of what to do, but also
to gain some wisdom in perceiving what it is well to let alone."

And, so we come to the end of our little tour. This last photos is one of the beautiful new gift shop -- we had so much fun poking around in there. Sorry I didn't take a photo of the inside (what was I thinking), you would have loved it. I bought the sweetest milk jug there.

* * *
On that note, I'm wishing you
a pleasant day and a beautiful weekend.


Thursday, May 02, 2019

Simple Woman's Daybook: May Edition


"The sweet small clumsy feet of April came
into the ragged meadow of my soul."

And then those little feet went out again! April had early signs of Spring around here and we felt so ready for it, but of late we've been waking up to snow on the ground … and it was there again this morning. Oh my! So much for any darling buds of May.

It's not for myself so much that I feel out of sorts about this -- my house is filled with jars of tulips and daffodils so it feels very spring-like inside. But I do fret for all the migrating birds and butterflies and bees coming north as daylight grows longer, only to arrive here and find Spring stalled for days on end. We've had late snow storms in past years but then they pass and it gets warm. Warm isn't happening so far. Lengthening days and warming temperatures seem out of sync, they aren't meeting up as they ought. No insects yet, few buds on the trees. And any self-respecting worm surely stays below the frost line, so what's a robin to feast on? SIGH.

Casting around for grateful thoughts... Oh, yes, I'm grateful for all the Spring beauties that other bloggers and Facebook friends post online. I feast my eyes. And I'm so grateful for the robin's sweet whistles whether it's snowing or sunny. I remember, too, to think a wider perspective, to remember that many dear folks are dealing with floods and the very real possibility of losing their homes in eastern Canada, and now I hear people in India are bracing for cyclone weather. My snow-cum-moisture in disguise is of smaller consequence, I think. Except I still worry about the wildlife and the cycle of seasons changing and ...

Let me just remind myself and reiterate my desire to keep this blog as free as possible from the woes of the world. It's not that I don't care, for I care deeply. And I know many of you do too. But it's nice to have a spot somewhere where we don't have it in our faces and we can focus on something other than bad news. Besides, we cannot keep mourning. Our hearts are not made to mourn all the time. Joy is what gives us our strength -- the joy of the Lord is our strength, for those who believe -- and I've found it to be so even when I am grieving over big or little losses. So I set aside this small place in cyberspace where you and I can go to think about happy things and everyday pleasures and learn how to carry on with our lives with as much grace and finesse as we can. We keep searching for the kindness and beauty that is everywhere, hidden sometimes except to the most earnest of searchers, and then passing it along, sharing it with others.

This morning Sarah Clarkson shared a post on Facebook that was so sweet and encouraging. A young mom learning how to live her beautiful life as she raises a little one who is also learning about what makes life sweet, even at this early age. I want to share the LINK and hope you can access it even if you are not a FB follower. (It was posted May 2nd, and it begins like this: "A much needed moment of recollection... shared. (Do you see that determined little hand?)…" 

* * *

On a different note entirely, I haven't told you lately how much I appreciate your continued support and all the lovely comments you leave here on the blog. I read every one, and often several times over. I'm not online as much as I used to be, but I hope that will adjust again down the road. Just the other morning, I received a new comment on my previous post from a 'silent' follower, who told me that she's been following It's A Beautiful Life off and on for some time now. How lovely to learn. I'm so grateful for you. So, THANK YOU for each and every comment and for sharing glimpses of your own life here and on your own blogs and websites. Your presence here on cyberspace makes my heart remember there are many good things to be glad about!

And now, I'm offering the May edition of The Simple Woman's Daybook. I hope you have a big cup of tea. And, I hope there's something in it that makes you glad you stopped by. Here's wishing you a beautiful day.

With loving thoughts,


Outside my window... Spring has been most reluctant to unfold its presence this year. It started out so promising and then it retreated. Cool with biting winds and snow some mornings. Now I do prefer slow arrivals to Spring where the days unfold more delicately as if someone is unpacking fine china or a vintage wedding veil. Slowly. A blade at a time. We've had years where the last day of Winter mashes into a half day of Spring and soars straight into Summer with temperatures soaring as if it was the middle of July and it's only April. So no, we like it slower. But maybe not this slow. And maybe not the snow anymore. Since it is May. Just sayin'.

I am thinking...  about the trend I'm seeing and hearing around here where many young women are telling their moms they don't want the cherished china, crystal, or Royal Doulton doll collections. I don't have any daughters to pass things along too, but I find this a sad-ish trend. Not that I don't understand it. Maybe our generation collected too much, and many women today are not stay-at-home moms keeping house and being fulltime caretakers of children and china treasures. Yet when I find myself shopping at places like Home Sense and find all sorts of the pretty floral dishes, including stemware, crystal salad bowls, footed cake stands, teacups that happily remind me of wares popular in my youthful days, and I see young women snapping them up, I'm happy, but it's all pretty in elegant plastic!

Why would customers prefer plastic over the 'old-fashioned' fine china, sparkling crystal, and real silverware that pings on plates over the plastic look-a-likes? My 20+ year old niece, who does like fine china teacups and dishes, gravitated to a crystal look-a-like water jug I bought recently at Home Sense. I couldn't find a glass one that day. She loved how pretty it looked and commented she was pleased it was plastic. Oh, interesting. Perhaps it's the upkeep -- it's easy to throw in the dishwasher. No maintenance to speak of. Yes, I certainly get that. But I am sad for all those lovely, well-made pieces that our mothers used to scrimp and save for, that I used to scrimp and save for, buying a piece at a time to set a pretty dining table for company and other special events. Will those items end up in landfills across the continent? Oh, I certainly hope not. I hope these quality pieces will come into vogue again before they are lost forever.

I am thankful... for family and friends who reminded me a couple of weeks ago that my presence on this planet matters to them. Flowers, presents, lunches out, not to mention all the bunches of birthday wishes from loved ones near and far. Thank you!

One of my favorite things... our morning routine of freshly brewed coffee and muffins in bed when we first wake up. And not having to get up to rush off to work. That's the very best!

One thing I'm not fond of is... writing out the letter "F" in cursive capitals. It feels awkward to shape it. It usually looks odd when I write it out. I never get a flourish when I try to shape the top and then the curve at the bottom. I have no problem and quite enjoy writing a small 'f'. I guess I could practice.

I am wearing... jeans, messy hair (haven't tamed it yet this morning), no earrings, a sleeveless tunic top with an artsy sunflower in front. Slippers.

I am watching... the team of young fellows building our new deck in our backyard. Young strapping fellows who usually bring their Tim Hortons coffees when they arrive in the morning. I was home yesterday so I made banana pecan muffins and offered them some with freshly brewed coffee for their break. When I brought out the muffins, one fellow said, you remind me of my grandma -- she's always making muffins and cookies. We all laughed. I had my own secret chagrin chuckle that he saw me as the grandma figure, not, say, his mom or his aunt, but his grandma. I think I'm laughing... hahaha. Recipe further down.

I am reading... the books I've been holding close to me since the beginning of the year, such as Book Girl (Sarah Clarkson), Beauty The Invisible Embrace (John O'Donohue), Calm Things (Shawna Lemay). I've been taking my time to read more slowly, more meditatively and thoughtfully, dipping into them page by page, occasionally flitting here and there like a bee collecting nectar. Or, to use my own metaphor preference, filling the inner well. See Julia Cameron if you need more on that.

One such companion is Book Girl by Sarah Clarkson, a 30-something woman living and studying in Oxford with her husband and young daughter. She's written the book I might have penned if I'd known how to do so thirty years ago. Her story is mine in so many ways. No, not in life experiences and opportunities, but in our inward journey of discovery of life lessons, love, loving God, finding that beauty truly matters, and so on. Her book is written as a testament of "just how powerfully books had shaped her to live her own story within the world." I have found that to be true for me as well. She offers lists of her favourite books, the books that sustained her and gave her hope through strained times. So many of the books she mentioned I read years earlier and loved learning that she found them as engaging and challenging and encouraging as I did. I also discovered books on her lists that I haven't read. Yet. I aim to pick up some of these in the weeks and months ahead. I so loved reading her story -- so much of her own memoir is entwined with her book suggestions. I'm certain if you love books, you will find this one a joy to read.

I'm listening to... robins, chickadees, the radio playing in the background, a school bus zooming by.

I am learning... Was going to say I couldn't recall anything new I've learned recently. However, in chatting with my friend Jean this afternoon, she told me the difference she sees between baking powder and baking soda. If you want the ingredient, like cookies, to spread while baking, you use baking soda. And if you want it to rise like cake, you use baking powder. There, even if I ever knew that in my earlier life, it was like brand new information to me today.

In the kitchen...
Banana Pecan Muffins

1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup mashed ripe bananas, approx. 3 bananas
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp nutmeg (more if you like it stronger)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup pecan pieces

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and bananas. Stir in flour, nutmeg, and baking powder. Stir in vanilla and pecan pieces. Makes 10-12 regular muffins or 6 large muffins. Bake at 375F for 20 minutes for the regular size and 25 minutes for the large size, or until golden brown.

I am creating... a couple of Shutterfly photo albums. I'm finally getting our England trip photos into print coffee table books so that we can sit down, read the stories and look at the pictures. I know we live in a digital age, but some things need to be printed and then held in one's hands to go through page by page. Photo books, in my view, are one of those things.

I am hoping... for warmer weather, in case I didn't mention that earlier.

I am looking forward to... sitting on our new deck as soon as it gets warm enough. Looking forward to getting into the garden to see what survived winter. Waiting for the Hawthorne tree to finally feel it's safe to burst into pretty pink blossoms and for the Mayday trees to fill the neighbourhood with their lightheaded fragrance.

Around the house... I recently put up a bookshelf in our tiny kitchen to house my recipe books, so I could use the pantry for foodstuffs. It's not a big collection, but it includes well-used ratty looking books as well as a few pretty-pictured ones that truly are just for looking, although I do peruse always looking for possibilities, even if I don't ever make them. My one sister takes great pleasure in looking through recipe books -- it's one of her simple pleasures.

A peek into a corner of my world...
The newly installed (yes, I put it together myself) bookshelf in the kitchen.

A current favourite quote...
"Joy is not simply happiness on steroids.
It's the unyielding belief that sorrow and loss
do not have the final say. It's the stubborn
determination to be present to whatever may
come and to interpret both goodness and grief
by the light of heaven."

* * *

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,