Monday, June 28, 2021

A Summertime Read: The Windsor Knot

"Reading mysteries: the recreation of intelligent minds."

I just finished reading this book and loved it. If you like mystery novels and if you are a fan of all things royal and queenly, you must add this to your summertime reading list.

Newly published, The Windsor Knot is a first-rate murder mystery by SJ Bennett. It's her first in hopefully a continuing series that features none other than Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, who secretly solves crimes whilst carrying out her Royal duties. It's not that the Queen herself does any detective work, but she notices things that often go undetected and where she can, she alerts certain individuals who might be able pursue discrete inquiries. I am amazed at how the author has made it all quite believable which, to me, indicates her masterly skill as a writer.

As one reviewer so aptly points out, "If The Crown were crossed with Miss Marple, . . . the result would probably be something like this charming whodunit."  I have to agree - this book was a lot of fun to read. Here's an excerpt from the opening paragraph:
"It was an almost perfect spring day. The air was crisp and clear, the cornflower sky slashed with contrails. Ahead of her, above the tree line of Home Park, Windsor Castle glowed silver in the morning light. The Queen brought her pony to a standstill to admire the view. There is nothing as good for the soul as a sunny morning in the English countryside. After eighty-nine years, she still marveled at God's work. Or evolution's, to be strictly accurate. But on a day like this, it was God who came to mind."

* * *

Wishing you a beautiful week ahead.


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Friday, June 18, 2021

Friday Chat: East of Eden, Apple Tart, Roses

" Hold summer in your hand, pour summer in a glass, a tiny
glass of course, the smallest tingling sip for children;
change the season in your veins by raising glass
to lip and tilting summer in. "

With summer nearly in full swing, I'm all for holding summer in my hand, pouring summer in a glass, and tilting face towards a scented summer blossom newly opened. In deep contrast, however, to both quotation and photo above by Jill Wellington, it is wildly windy, rainy, and cool out as I work on this post. I ask, how much more can my plants take of these gusts? While leaves become wind-crisped on one poor clematis, I am in wonderment at the sheer tenacity of the morning glories, their fragile tendrils gripping fast to the trellis as the wind gives their pots a shake.  

It is really a day to get lost in a book somewhere deep indoors, with cups of tea at the ready instead of rosy iced lemonade. Someone mentioned on social media that she was reading John Steinbeck's East of Eden and I was compelled by her recommendation. Having never read this epic story of good and evil, I borrowed the book from the library. With a mere 601 pages in the centennial edition, my work is cut out for me these next few days. On this rain-driven day, I could make a good start on it, except ...  

A certain someone around here muses aloud of how Jacques Pépin's recipe for French Apple Tart sounds pretty easy, don't you think, and wouldn't it be nice for tea on a rainy afternoon? Having now watched the video a couple of times, I have to agree, Jacques does make it look easy, me not having honed the pie crust making skill. For a view and whetting of the appetite, you can watch the short video HERE

Before I take out apples, flour and butter, I want to share something that caught my eye in the Steinbeck novel. Set around the 1880s, as key character Adam Trask completes his service in the United States Army, he muses about army life and how time passes when so many days are filled with non-eventful routine while they wait for action:

"Time interval is a strange and contradictory matter in the mind. It would be reasonable to suppose that a routine time or an eventless time would seem interminable. It should be so, but it is not. It is the dull eventless times that have no duration whatever. A time splashed with interest, wounded with tragedy, crevassed with joy—that's the time that seems long in the memory. And this is right when you think about it. Eventlessness has no posts to drape duration on. From nothing to nothing is no time at all." ch 7, p 56

This passage, especially the line I bolded, somehow speaks to that out of time sensation I have had these past Covid-shaped months. There were many days for us, living in our own space for weeks on end, when life seemed to stand still. Routines were simple, and days melted into each other. There wasn't much to separate one day's events from the next. Sometimes trying to remember what I did in the previous couple of days, I had to rack my brain to remind myself what I was about that day. Surprising too in the midst of it, I'd be flabbergasted that a week so uneventful passed so quickly, waking to find it Friday already again. Time standing still and time zooming by, all at the same time. Time is a funny thing.

Earlier this week, to quote Steinbeck, time splashed with interest and our hearts were crevassed with joy as we spotted the first roses in bloom. Around here, roses are pretty special in our garden. Most are not hardy in our zone. Thankfully rose breeders have given us a few that can now survive the hard winters, but tender tea roses must overwinter in the garage if we are to enjoy them come Spring. So imagine the great gladness that overwhelms our hearts when a single rose bud bursts open. And, there is especial cause for celebration when Peace Rose begins her season's debut.

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

Rosa Rugosa 'Hansa'

Hybrid tea rose, 'Peace'

Rose shrub, 'At Last'

* * *

" You blossom under kindness, don't you?
Like a rose. "

Yes, as a matter of fact, I do blossom under kindness.
I don't believe there is a single creature on God's
green earth that doesn't blossom under kindness.
So, as Ellen used to say, be kind.

* * *

Wishing you a day that's kind and beautiful.


Last minute addition, my first French Apple Tart.
Jacques said the original French tart would have been dotted
with butter and sugar only, but if you want cinnamon on yours,
feel free to add. We sprinkled cinnamon on ours. It was yummy!  

Monday, June 14, 2021

Important News for Email Subscribers to My Blog

" People are very open-minded about new things,
as long as they're exactly like the old ones. "

I'm sad to report there is a change coming to Blogger. For those of you who subscribe to have my blog posts delivered to your email, please note that Blogger's email subscription widget won't be supported any longer and will stop working on July 1, 2021. This means you will no longer get my newest blog posts sent to your email inbox. 😞

There are other email subscription services out there, but it would require research, a lot of work, and maybe cash outlay to find and set up a new one. It's a learning curve I'm not prepared to engage in at this time. I won't say never, just not now. Fellow bloggers more tech savvy than I will figure out something that works for them, and hopefully some will share their experiences in the days ahead.

Because you will no longer have my blog posts arriving in your inbox, it means if you want to continue reading my posts—and I really hope you do—you will have to visit the blog directly ( Currently, I post once a week, either Friday or Saturday, occasionally I post more often.

Thank you to everyone who subscribed over the yearsI am amazed at how many of you actually signed up for my posts. I so appreciate your support in this way. I'm sorry you won't have this convenient feature available to you come July, but I hope you'll visit It's A Beautiful Life when you can.

" Change is inevitable—except
from a vending machine. "

* * *

Here's trusting we can adapt with grace,

Heart Hugs,

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Summertime Reading

" Books and summertime
go together. "

Although I love to read anytime, there is something about soft hazy summer days that brings out an especial longing to drift away on a breeze and disappear into a good book. Hot summer afternoons lend a delicious idleness to them that is ideal for reading. I think about what I like to read in the summertime. For starters, I like my books to be sunshine infused, where stories remind me of childhood and summer holidays, where there's adventure, mystery, a little romance - all with plenty of twists and surprises to keep me turning the pages. I like a mix of old seasonal favourites with new to me titles, a mix of fiction and non-fiction, a mix of lighthearted alongside something more inspiring and creative in scope. Sometimes I pick up books I read as a girl and enjoy them all over again - it doesn't take much to remember those long ago moments. I like stories that remind me that the world is still beautiful, even in the midst of the haunting hard and terrible things.
I also like the kind of books—poetry, nature diaries, or seasonal essay collections—that allow me to dip into a few lines here, a short chapter there, gathering food for thought, that sweet ambrosia for the soul, much the way bees flit in and out of blossoms to gather nectar. Such books come to mind as The Sound of Water (Haiku) by various poets, A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle, Life in the Garden by Penelope Lively, An Island Garden by Celia Thaxter, Calm Things by Shawna Lemay, not to forget any of Susan Branch's enchanting books, to name a few.

" Today I'd like to sit and read. Forget I have a job I need.
Ignore the things I have to do. And just enjoy a book or two. "

If it's a novel I'm reading, I want stories that I can delve into, where I really get to know the characters. They need to be people I can care about. I want to vicariously visit places I've never been before, but I also like reading books that describe places I have visited. It adds a sense of insider knowledge, an element of fun that keeps me watching for familiar scenes. For example, I visited Venice years ago on a holiday, so when I recently read The Venice Sketchbook by Rhys Bowen, I loved encountering spots in the novel where I could say, I saw that, I was there, oh yes, I recognize that description. By the way, I really enjoyed the novel, a historical fiction of love and secrets, the tale of two women, a generation apart, set (mainly) in Venice during the pre-war years of WWII and then the months following 9/11.

One other thing when it comes to summer reads, I definitely want storylines that engage all the senses and let me sink into good writing with lovely lines that can be included in my ever increasing collection of perfected thoughts. For all the misadventures in any story, I do need to have reasonably happy endings, and if not exactly happy, well then, at least hopeful. For I can withstand a lot of trouble in the story if I can feel hope for better days ahead.

" One benefit of Summer was that each day
we had more light to read by. "

The photo above reveals the start of my reading pile for this summer, a mix of old and new to me. I'm just starting a thrift store find The Ladies' Lending Library by Canadian author Janice Kulyk Keefer. So far, it's a rather drifty tale, set in 1963, of a group of women who bring their kids to the summer cottage while husbands work in the city and meet them on the weekends.

Currently, I am waiting for a couple of books on order. One is due to arrive tomorrow and the other not until August.

This Beautiful Truth
How God's Goodness Breaks into Our Darkness
by Sarah Clarkson

In her new book, Sarah shares her own encounters with beauty "in the midst of her decade-long struggle with mental illness, depression, and doubt." Having read her delightful book The Book Girl (you can see what I say about it HERE) I've come to appreciate Sarah so much. She is well read and is such a thoughtful writer of beautiful words and ideas. I eagerly await the arrival of her newest.

The Madness of Crowds
by Louise Penny

I have been enthralled ever since I first met Louise Penny and her Chief Inspector Armand Gamache novels set in Three Pines. I'm now madly waiting for the August 24th release of her latest spellbinding novel. These books are perfect summer reads.

The Rose Code
by Kate Quinn

Some of you were interested in my further thoughts about The Rose Code by Kate Quinn. I LOVED it. It was a page-turner thriller with some great female characters and an intriguing plot. If you are interested in the historical Bletchley Circle stories from Britain in World War II, enjoy a good love story, with a twist of mystery, this is the book. With over 600 pages, in a lovely font and layout, gentle on my older eyes, it's perfect for reading well into the night while the sun stays up late with you. I started reading on a Friday and was finished by Sunday 10:00 pm. It was a book I was quite ready to turn around and read again, savouring it now that I knew how it turned out.

A note that really caught my eye. Scanning the reviews on goodreads, someone asks about this book and says she's 180 pages in and wonders when it starts to pick up. Kate Quinn herself leaves a response: "Oh, goodness, move on! Life is too short to finish books you aren't enjoying. :) "  How eloquent!

* * *

So, do you have seasonal favourites when it comes to books?

Here's wishing you a pleasant weekend.

Heart Hugs,

Top photo: Image by Brigitte from Pixabay
Second photo: Image by Innviertlerin from Pixabay

Friday, June 04, 2021

Savouring the Arrival of June

" And then, one fairy night, May became June. "

F. Scott Fitzgerald said it perfectly. For, with a flip of a calendar page and one fairy night, summer arrived. Just like that, the cold weather disappeared and in its stead, sunny summer days are here again. It seems we waited forever but now everything in the garden reaches towards the warmth. I reach towards the warmth, letting it soak past my skin into my heart of hearts, letting it melt ice patches left from winter's strain.

Now, there are so many moments to savour—the scent of lilacs in the air, bees buzzing in newly minted blossoms, early dawns and long summer twilights, the happy screams of children playing at the water park. We watch as two nine-year-old lads on their bikes dare to race past the neighbour's sprinkler that's overarching the sidewalk. They are either timing it so as not to get wet or, more likely, they're timing it to catch the thrill of cold water needles spraying on hot skin. Oh, the sheer joy of being a kid when it's nearly summer holidays. I love that they are savouring their own June joys.

I'm delighted to share a little glimpse of what's been making my heart lurch in crazy happiness this week.

Sage in bloom

Feathery wing-like clouds in the sky

Sprigs of fragrant lily of the valley

A new hydrangea settling into her place in the garden 

Glorious cerise pink petunias

Pink creeping thyme against the grey slate

Spying a strawberry in the making

Sipping lemon gin fizz on a hot afternoon, a drink new to me

A new lily plant with 14 buds getting ready to open

Anemones dancing on the breeze

Our American Highbush Cranberry, which we've always enjoyed
as a green shrub, burst into bloom this year for the first time ever.
I love the clusters of small yellowish flowers in the centre of a
wreath of showy white flowers. Not of the cranberry family,
it belongs to the Viburnum family. 

Showy clumps of tiny purple campanula

* * *

" What is one to say about June ‒ the time
of perfect young summer, the fulfillment
of the promise of earlier months... "

* * *

What have you been savouring this first week of June?
Wishing you a pleasant weekend.

Heart Hugs,