Monday, March 25, 2019

The 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, dΓ©cor 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.