Saturday, December 30, 2023

'A Quilt Made of Days'

"Each day is like a panel in a quilt. Some days are
ugly and some days are raw and some days are chaotic
and some days are colorful and some days are orderly
but if you keep adding them up they turn into something."
AUSTIN KLEON, "A Quilt Made of Days" online article

'A quilt made of days.' That phrase—borrowed from Austin Kleon who wrote about his idea HERE—captivates my imagination. Although I am not a quilter, I am an ardent admirer of talented seamstresses, including my mom, who skillfully piece swatches of fabric into gorgeous patterns that become something beautiful and useful in one's home. Their creativity inspires me.

Perhaps that's why I gravitate towards creator/author Austin Kleon's words. His comment above seems particularly fitting as we stand on the cusp of a brand new year. The days yet to come in 2024 are unknown to us but we guess that some will arrive bright and colourful; others will show up muted and dull, some will be raw with pain and filled with chaos. And still other days will arrive, thankfully, with calm and peace as the order of the day. To create an actual physical quilt, crafters start with a plan. They know the pattern they want to create; they have chosen their colour scheme. They carefully pick out the fabrics, cut them into the appropriate shapes, and sew them together into the design they dream about. When it comes to creating the more ethereal quilts made of days, in life we aren't given the materials ahead of time; we can't plan the pattern, we must make use of what appears. Still, if we pay attention we can make use of what shows up and gather the pieces—memories, experiences, events—that are our life story. We can watch as patterns emerge. We can learn to recognize the value each block brings to the developing design.

When I took a water colour painting course years ago, I came to see how paintings need contrasts: they need dark to show light, shadows to give depth and perception, darker backgrounds to set off brighter foregrounds. For me, I found the most important contrast was the juxtaposition of using something plain or dull, maybe even ugly, in order to set off a thing of beauty. It was a life lesson to learn that maybe we need ugly and pain to truly realize the immense value of beauty, order, peacefulness, and joy. I'd rather not experience the pain, but would I know the great joy without it to compare?

It's the same in the world of quilting with fabric... or the days of our lives.

I have always been drawn to Victorian crazy quilts (see the photo above for an example). Rather than blocks that march squarely into place, there's a kind of creative higgledy-piggledy that makes use of the tiniest bits of fabric alongside the larger pieces, all in various shapes, colours, textures, and patterns. Victorians would use scraps of fabric, often from worn out clothing and linens. They'd include swatches that had been handed down from one generation to the next—maybe from a great grandmother's wedding dress or a baby's christening gown—creating these lasting works of art that burst with texture and colour, embroidery and ribbonry. Fashioned from the days given to them.

As I said earlier, I'm not a quilter, but I'm mulling what a quilt made of days would look like for me. I'd probably fashion a 'quilt' from the bits and pieces of how my life unfolds in 2024, and rather than sew or craft with fabric or paint, I'd probably create a 'quilt' using words, watching for the patterns, hoping for more red letter days than chaotic ones. And when something ugly turns up, dear Lord, I'd want His help as I waited for the beauty when it isn't yet fully evident. Taking days as they come, all the while learning to walk with confidence and hopefulness, being comforted during trying moments embroidered with prayers, when laughter and cheer have flown off. There is something comforting about recognizing there's a bigger picture, one I cannot yet fathom, of One who is making all things work together for good, One who is creating something bigger than our individual lives. For in God's created world, we believe there is a greater plan and purpose, trusting that He is taking all things and fashioning them into something truly exquisite and out of this world.

I wonder what kind of a quilt it will become. With the craziness of life in our upside down world, I'm pretty certain my quilt of days will have its own slant on crazy quilt. While things happen to me and around me, it's also up to me to do something with what's given, whether I think a piece will fit or not. It's my job to creatively work my attitudes, gratitudes, prayers, and dreams, staying hopeful through the storm darkened days, enjoying the small joys 'that tip the balance towards hope' (a phrase borrowed from Sarah Clarkson). All the while imagining something beautiful... my own quilt made of days.

Happy New Year to you, dear beautiful friends!
With love and heart hugs,

Photo credit:
Top Image by chenspec from Pixabay

Friday, December 22, 2023

Almost Christmas

"Christmas always rustled. It rustled every time, mysteriously,
with silver and gold paper, tissue paper and a rich abundance
of shiny paper, decorating and hiding everything and giving
a feeling of reckless extravagance."

It's almost Christmas. The presents are all wrapped and most have been handed out already. We celebrated our family Christmas last weekend. The big rush is over, and now we gently feel the growing anticipation for the awe of Christmas Eve, which for me is still my favourite day of the year.

In our house, we have one cozy spot that feels Christmas-y with the pencil tree, glittering lights, and a big white poinsettia in the corner. Otherwise our house has been topsy-turvy as we had new flooring installed earlier this week. The timing for it wasn't perfect, but since we weren't having guests here this year, it was fine. And now, while we wait for Christmas, we're slowly putting our possessions back in place, culling as we go. I am truly enjoying the spaciousness of my study without all my 'stuff'. I feel the expanse of this empty room which seems to echo an expansiveness in my soul. I usually like lots of my things near to hand, but this feeling of openness with little around me is quite lovely. I think it requires some pondering and further mulling, especially as we see the new year peering 'round the corner.

For Five on Friday, I'm sharing a tiny 'Something' list.

One. Something lovely outside my window. Watching the moon these past few nights has been a joy. In its waxing (getting fuller) phase, it's been so bright against the deep midnight blue skies.

Two. Something yummy. We stopped at our French-style Duchess Bakery to pick up their to-be-baked Quebecois Tourtière (meat pie dish) for Christmas Eve. Standing in the line that snaked along the display case, I caught sight of a delectable looking croissant sandwich—a large crisp buttery poppy seed croissant filled with slices of chicken salami, cheese, and mayonnaise. For the life of me, there was something else tucked in, but I cannot recall it now. All I know, it was satisfyingly yummy.

Three. Something new to drink. Found a new-to-me tea called Winter Spiced Pear that was specially blended by the Duchess Bakery for the holiday season. The name alone draws me in. It's a special blend of Assam tea that features dried pear, clove, anise, ginger, cinnamon, and vanilla. It's delicious and it pairs perfectly with a Christmas treat or two. 

Four. Something Christmassy and cozy to read. Chronicles of Christmas (memoir, recipes, nature) by Nigel Slater; Winter Solstice (novel) by Rosamunde Pilcher; Home for Christmas (childhood memories) by Susan Branch; A Mind of Winter, Poems for a Snowy Season selected by Robert Atwan; the newly published novel Hercule Poirot's Silent Night by Sophie Hannah—I'm looking forward to reading this over the holidays.

Five. Something that delights my heart. I love when I'm inspired with gift ideas I think will delight someone's heart. This season I felt that inspiration a few times, and it came with a certain glee as I imaged someone's face when the wrapping fell away and all was revealed. This is one of my favourite things about Christmas—the joy of giving gifts to loved ones.

With every fiber of my being, I'm wishing you a Happy Christmas. May you find gifts under the tree that delight your heart. And, among them, I hope you also find good health, heart contentment, and sweet peace of mind. All wrapped with ribbons of sparkling joy for good measure. As I close, I think of that dear old Christmas song Away in a Manger I loved as a little girl. Especially the lines that I sometimes still whisper, "Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay close by me forever and love me, I pray. Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care, and fit us for heaven to live with Thee there."

Wishing you moments that delight in the days ahead.

With love,

Photo credit:
Top Image by StoryTaler from Pixabay

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Waiting, Listening

"Let us have music for Christmas
Sound the trumpet of joy..."

Advent is an expectant season. We wait poised for what Frederick Buechner names "the extraordinary moment." In the excerpt below, Buechner utilizes the image of an orchestra conductor waiting... until he has the full attention of his orchestra, the full attention of his audience. It's that moment just before the music begins. I've been in an audience where the maestro knew how to build that moment of exquisite anticipation. We almost hold our breath as we wait for that first note to be played. 
"The house lights go off and the footlights come on. Even the chattiest stop chattering as they wait in darkness for the curtain to rise. In the orchestra pit, the violin bows are poised. The conductor has raised his baton. In the silence of a midwinter dusk, there is far off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself. You hold your breath to listen. You walk up the steps to the front door. The empty windows at either side of it tell you nothing, or almost nothing. For a second you catch a whiff of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you’ve never been and a time you have no words for. You are aware of the beating of your heart . . . The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment." - from "Whistling in the Dark"
These days before Christmas, I am listening to the music of the season. There are definitely pieces that create longing in me as I wait for the first sweet note to begin. Especially when it's a favourite carol such as the beautiful and centuries-old Wexford Carol as it's performed by soloist Alison Krauss and cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Some historians believe this Irish song originated in the 15th or 16th century.

Here in the 21st century, it remains a firm favourite in my Christmas carol repertoire. It touches a chord of poignant delight within. Two other carols that do it similarly for me include O Holy Night, Once in Royal David's City. Do you have a favourite carol that has you waiting with baited breath for its first notes to begin?

Wishing you sweet moments in the week ahead,

Photo credit:
Image by neelam279 from Pixabay

Saturday, December 09, 2023

What Are You Dreaming Of This Christmas?

"Christmas enters, streaming lights of joy,
ringing bells of hope and singing carols of
forgiveness high up in the bright air."
MAYA ANGELOU,  "Amazing Peace"

I love that cookie tin filled with those yummy looking spice cookies all gussied up in icing art. And that cup of coffee creamed to just the right shade for my taste. I want to hop into the picture, the way I used to long I could live inside the fairy tales I read as a girl. In this dreamy picture, I wouldn't have to worry about how many grams of sugar are in one cookie. And I could enjoy one or two with impunity, savouring their spicy sweetness in every bite, crunching on the little sugar balls. The moment gently cheers. It seems filled with a quietude and maybe relief. Perhaps it's Christmas Eve—where one relishes the moment when the last gift's been wrapped and beribboned. In that bubble of time and space, a holy hush creeps in on the frosty air and whoever that cup of coffee belongs to sits with baited breath. It's the moment she's been waiting for.

As I sit here thinking about what to write today, as I think about all that needs doing, the words I recently read HERE by my lovely blogging friend, Caitlynne, settles on my heart. She mentions how she's been feeling the weight of lists of things to be done, problems to solve, people to take care of. And in the midst of all of that, how these cheering words came to lift her up, "Do not postpone joy." She says there is a call to joy and it's easy to miss, especially when the days—as she puts it—are filled with many brambles to tear through. But then this gentle reminder comes along that no matter what is going on, we must not postpone joy.

I am tickled by that thought and am reminded of that verse in the Old Testament about the joy of the Lord being my strength. How often I repeat the sounding joy of those words when I feel weak or burdened. They are words that somehow energize me to carry on with a lighter heart. So no, I must not postpone the joy that, almost like something miraculous, transforms into strength. I let the joy seep into my heart and mind. My chin lifts and my lips curve upward at the corners. I come away feeling lighter... ready to carry on.

"And that, of course, is the message of Christmas.
We are never alone. Not when the night is darkest,
the wind coldest, the world seemingly most indifferent..."

This morning I came to this post empty worded. I had no agenda, but my heart knew of what it dreamed. A big thank you to Caitlynne for giving me the words I could not find. I wish you all a merry week ahead. May your burdens be lighter and your cares less weighty. And may Joy be your strength.

On a closing note, it snowed earlier in the week, and we've been delighting in a winter wonderland. I'm starting to finally feel more myself in my body - the dizziness is fading. Thank you for your care and concern. I've been wrapping presents and writing out Christmas cards, letting the lights of the tree twinkle at me, even through the day when the sun is shining. We're dreaming of a beautiful week ahead, and I'm wishing you the same.     

Heart hugs,

Photo credit:
(Top) Image by Hansuan Fabregas from Pixabay

Friday, December 01, 2023

Hello December: Full Steam Ahead to Christmas

"May you treasure wisely this jeweled, gilded time
And cherish each day as an extra grace."

Hello December! We've been waiting for you. On this first day of my favourite month of the year, it's full steam ahead to Christmas. My seasonal books are at the ready, cards are waiting to be written, and the decorating is slowly happening.

There's no snow around here yet. Without it, there is nothing to trigger that wintry feeling—it still feels like late autumn. Unseasonably warm, I'm still wearing a light jacket and no gloves. It's lovely getting around, but for sparking the Christmas mood, snow really is a must to make us feel the tingles and excitement. Of course chocolate peppermint tea helps too.

On a different note, I mentioned a couple of posts ago that I have been feeling unwell. November was not a great month. I'm still under doctor's care and starting to find my way out of the dizzy malaise. I think, fingers crossed and prayers whispered along with the start of a new medication, there are definite hints for better days ahead. I'm so glad. Who wants to feel unwell when Christmas is upon us. This weekend I want to put up my pencil tree with its cozy twinkle lights. Little decorations are showing up around the place; candles and fairy lights help make the evenings cozy.

It's been a busy week, so for today I'm posting three for the usual Five on Friday. 

One - Books for the Season

I've already been dipping into a few of my seasonal books. I wasn't going to start my actual Christmas reads until December 1st but they were so tempting sitting there on the shelf. They are perfect, like chocolate truffles, for nibbling on while cozied up with a favourite beverage. I like anthologies and small collections for that reason.
Christmas in the Heart compiled by Joe Wheeler is a small collection of short seasonal stories sure to warm the heart. It's great for dipping in and reading whatever catches your eye.

Rumpole at Christmas by John Mortimer. Seven amusing tales of how Horace and Hilda Rumpole celebrate the holiday season.

An Irish Country Yuletide novella by Patrick Taylor. If you enjoy the Irish Country Doctor series, you will enjoy this new seasonal glimpse of Irish country life in Ballybuckleboo and how the good Doctor Fingal Flahertie O'Reilly, now married to Kitty, celebrates the holidays. 

Christmas Classics from The Modern Library, an old library sale purchase, includes excerpts from novels like Little Women and A Christmas Carol, a few short stories like The Blue Carbuncle, and poetry by well-known poets like Clement Clarke Moore. A lovely selection of songs and carols, along with the old familiar story from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, round out the book.
Star Over Bethlehem, Poems and Holiday Stories
by Agatha Christie
The Christmas Journey (novella set in mid-1800s at Christmas)
by Anne Perry
Murder Most Royal (the Queen solves another mystery)
by SJ Bennett

Also lined up on the book shelf waiting their turn include these books:
A Christmas Memory
by Truman Capote

Christmas Poems
by Wendy Cope

A Mind of Winter, Poems for a Snowy Season
selected by Robert Atwan

Haphazard by Starlight, A poem a day from Advent to Epiphany
by Janet Morley

Winter Solstice (an annual favourite)
by Rosamunde Pilcher

Little Women
by Louise May Alcott

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good (the story is a lovely run up to Christmas)
by Jan Karon
Shepherds Abiding
by Jan Karon
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
by C.S. Lewis

Once Upon A Wardrobe (a novel related to C.S. Lewis's beloved classic)
by Patti Callahan

The Christmas Chronicles, Notes, stories & 100 essential recipes for midwinter
by Nigel Slater

Christmas from the Heart of the Home (recipes and other seasonal tips and ideas)
by Susan Branch

Home for Christmas (her tiny memoir)
by Susan Branch

Christmas Treasury (a treasure trove of children's stories and wonderful illustrations)
by Jan Brett

One book I ordered for Christmas that I'm waiting to get is the illustrated poem by Robert Frost Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. Shhh, this is for my brother-in-law. As long as I've known him he has enjoyed quoting this old poem, one he memorized as a boy in school. The book, a beautiful keepsake edition, is illustrated by the award-winning P.J. Lynch and celebrates the poem's centennial. It looks gorgeous - you can take a peek HERE.

Two - Christmas Cards

One of my favourite things is writing out Christmas cards and notes at this time of year. I love to go in search for the cards I'll use each year, including the tiny tuck-ins to pop inside the envelopes. I'll be starting those this week.

Three - Christmas Tree Pillow

Nothing ever seems too bad, too hard, or too sad when
you've got a Christmas tree in the living room."

I came around the corner and there sat this cute pillow in a shop I was visiting. I knew I had to get one, no-no, I had to get two. In my mind, I knew my mom, who said she didn't want to decorate a tree this year, would love this. It's already decked out with sweet red cardinals - no assembling required.

Bonus - A Seasonal Quote

"So quiet and subtle is the beauty of December that escapes the
notice of many people their whole lives through. Colour gives
way to form: every branch distinct, in a delicate tracery against
the sky. New vistas, obscured all Summer by leafage, now open up."

Wishing you a merry and beautiful week ahead,

Photo credits:
(Top)Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay
(Middle - books, cards, pillow) Brenda @ It's A Beautiful Life
(Bottom) Image by Peggy Choucair from Pixabay

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Small Pockets of Hope

"Limbo isn't exactly a place for our mental health to thrive. In the
absence of being able to look forward to things with certainty, the best
we can do is create small pockets of future hope in the meantime."

Everyone needs something to look forward to. Whether it's going on a holiday, waiting for the weekend, celebrating a birthday party, lunchbreak with a friend, or a snack in the middle of the afternoon. We especially need them in uncertain times and hard situations when things feel bleak, hopeless, or dismal. As the quote above says, "(i)n the absence of being able to look forward to things with certainty, the best we can do is create small pockets of future hope in the meantime."

Isn't that a wonderful phrase 'create small pockets of future hope'? It gives great scope for the imagination and reminds us that perhaps there is something we can do to make things a little better. Enough to carry on with for the moment.

Many of us have probably learned that skill along the way; we've learned that setting one foot in front of the other, putting our head down and just getting through whatever it is, is how we survive sometimes. The idea that we also can create pockets of future hope for ourselves, and others, is comforting. It's not totally hopeless and we don't have to be completely helpless. Life isn't always full of hard things; then there are the times when life is mundane, ordinary, bleh. We need a little something to keep the excitement in life. Well, maybe not excitement exactly, but we seem to work better, live better, feel better when we have nice things to look forward to. By 'nice' I mean that something is pleasant and still worth noticing, even when it doesn't have the out-of-this-world wow! factor.

Something else I've learned, don't use all the 'treats' up at once. Be sure to keep something in reserve. Save it for later. Because you'll need it then, too. Which means, perhaps, keeping a list of things we know we look forward to and being prepared... from the tiniest to the biggest, from immediate pleasure to delayed gratification to long-term dreams to anticipate. Make a lifestyle of creating small pockets of things we can look forward to.

"Everyone needs things to look forward to—
big things and small things,
on good days and on bad days;
things that will buoy our spirits and make
us laugh and help us feel alive."
SOPHIE BLACKALL, Things to Look Forward To

I want to mention a lovely book in my collection that got me thinking about all this: Things to Look Forward To, 52 Large and Small Joys for Today and Every Day by Sophie Blackall. Written and illustrated by the author during the global pandemic, Sophie Blackall encourages readers not to lose sight of beauty and those things that create wonder and delight. For good days and bad ones. That make us laugh and help us feel alive.

For instance, she writes about Diesel, a neighbouring dog who comes to visit her; she says, "We walk him home and then he walks us home and we walk him home again. And on the way we talk about chasing rabbits and rolling in burdock...". (In case, you're wondering, it's a weed of some kind, not...) I feel a smile breaking on my face just reading that Sophie takes joy in that furry fellow. She also mentions looking forward to learning new things: teaching children while working from home, living with people in small spaces, not to panic, to remain helpful, and learning new words. She also looks forward to watching the full moon on a dark night.

For me, the list could look something like this. I look forward to:

✧ sleeping on clean sheets
✧ browsing a new recipe or seasonal craft magazine
✧ coming home after running errands and plopping on the couch
✧ popping something yummy in the oven (or my mouth)
✧ that first mug of fresh brewed coffee
✧ a snowfall that turns the world into a fairyland

✧ planning something nice for someone - muffins, a card, a phone chat
✧ holding hands with a certain someone on a walk
✧ planting spring bulbs for next year
✧ sprucing up the place for Christmas
✧ turning on the twinkle lights as evening draws early
✧ starting that new novel I'm saving for the holidays
✧ crawling into bed at the end of the day

I'm closing with one of my favourite quotes by British novelist, Iris Murdoch: "One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats." Having a plethora of them to look forward to truly adds to the pleasure of being alive.

Wishing you a beautiful week ahead,
and Happy Thanksgiving to our American friends.

Photo credit:
(Top) Image by R-region from Pixabay
(Bottom) Photo by Brenda @ It's A Beautiful Life

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Weekend: Old Photos, A Book, Apple Recipe

"Photographs are the reflection of untold stories,
unseen beauties, unexpressed emotions, and the
unheard songs of life."
DEBASISH MRIDHA, as found on GoodReads

Another week has flown by. As for me, I'm in the middle of another sorting project. Last week it was dealing with my growing collection of old greeting cards and letters; if you haven't already, you can read about it HERE. This week, I'm gently working through 25 years worth of pre-digital photos; thankfully they are neatly filed by year in three containers. They start from when Rick and I married - the beginning of our new life together - until we got a digital camera in the 2010s (which changed everything in the world of photography). It's high time to get these paper copies out of their developing envelopes and into simple albums for the time being - may digitalize them down the road. I'm culling as I go, discarding any pics that don't add to the story. Hopefully making my home a little less cluttered and my personal world simpler to caretake.

The photos above were taken when Rick and I got engaged 25 years ago. No grey hairs then yet, and I don't think any wrinkles. But the love was there in spades... it still is.  

Haven't been feeling well this week. It's some kind of dizzy going on in my head - and I am in doctor's care. Please don't worry, I'm doing okay, just have to be careful how I go about my days, no rushing to and fro.

The weather has been beautiful, no sign of any more white stuff for now. Fingers crossed for a few more days. The sunrise was a glorious fiery red across the eastern sky this morning. But with its grand work done for the day, the sun must have booked off for the weekend - it's turned grey and overcast as I type.

A good day to cozy up inside, I'd say. Just started the new book by SJ Bennett, Murder Most Royal in which Queen Elizabeth surreptitiously solves another mystery as she goes about her queenly duties. I've had the book a while but held off reading it. The story is set in Sandringham and it's Christmas time. Which makes it a perfect read for this season of the year. It's Book 3 in the series.

Plus, for an afternoon tea treat, I'm going to make a baked apple dish. Saw the recipe on social media, and I jotted down the ingredients; it's simple and sounds delicious:

Simple Baked Apple Dish

Turn oven to 400 F
Butter a baking pan

four apples, sliced or wedged
handful of sultana raisins
handful of flaked almonds
3 Tablespoons coconut
4 Tablespoons sugar
1/4 tsp gr. cardamom
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
4 Tablespoon butter

Scatter apples in pan
Sprinkle with raisins, almonds, coconut, sugar, spices 
Dot with butter

Bake 25 minutes, or until apples are tender
Serve warm in bowls with ice cream

On this November 11th,

Wishing you a beautiful day,

Photo credit:
Top photo by Brenda @ It's A Beautiful Life
Poppy Image by Illuvis from Pixabay

Sunday, November 05, 2023

Sorting Sentimental Stuff: Greeting Cards

" need to assess what you love right now and what
is authentic to your way of living in this season of life."
MELISSA MICHAELS, quote found on GoodReads

The last few years I've been going through boxes of old papers, scrapbooks, photos—all in the effort to downsize my personal effects into something manageable as I draw nearer the next decade of my life. At every stage of life it seems to get easier to part with certain items. I've outgrown them; I no longer need them; I've written down the stories to remember them. As life circumstances change, what once was important also changes. In order to move on, and not stay in a rut, this includes adjusting my material possessions.

Most recently, I've been focusing on my stacks of boxes filled with old greeting cards. What fun it has been to go through them. Finding cards from people I haven't seen in years, from people long gone from this earth, from ones I still love and hold dear. 
Traditionally greetings cards are meant to be fleeting sentiments to be enjoyed for a short time, then discarded. Why do so many of us hold onto boxes of old cards? Basically, because they often still tug at the heart strings. I can't bear to throw away cards with such charming pictures and artwork. How quickly the era of the time sifts up just by looking at those cards. And inside, the lovely personal notes—fingerprints of kindness, concern, and friendship that left their imprint on my life—all dear reminders of certain people, places, and seasons that meant so much at the time.

I found the stack of boxes carefully labelled 'love letters' holding all the cards and letters Rick and I exchanged from the very beginning of our life together. There are quite a few—I tell you, we must have kept Hallmark and Carlton in business. I keep the cards on display a long time before they are finally packed away. I've never gone through them, but as we near our 25th anniversary in a few weeks, it might be the year to pop those lids and reread all that we'd given each other in the written word. What I did find hard was going through the pile of sympathy cards from when my dad passed away—twenty years ago next month. It brought back all those memories, fraught with sadness. I'm grateful for the care of my friends at that time, but I won't be revisiting those cards anymore.

All that being said, I no longer want to caretake all these cards. I won't part with them all, but I also don't want to leave a mess for others to deal with... down the road. What to do, what to do? Here are a few things I'm doing with them. And if you care to share, I'd love to know how you tackle your old card collections:

1. If I'm going to cull it, I read the card one last time, think nice thoughts about the person, whisper a thank you, and let it go.

2. If the card fronts are too beautiful to discard, I repurpose them—cutting into gift tags, tree ornaments, or embellishments for scrapbooks, journals, and envelopes. I love to use floral cutouts as surprise inserts in cards and notes I send out. Other cards, such as pop-up cards, make great additions to photo shoots for future blog posts. Or Instagram posts. I know some people make junk journals—old cards would be perfect additions in such a creative project. The cards haven't disappeared but have reappeared in other forms, which is fun to spot. 

3. Write blog posts about them. One thing I have discovered is that when I write down these sorts of memories, often in blog posts and essays, I no longer need all the physical touchstones, including the cards, as reminders. 

4. The cards that still bring me immense joy when I look at them, that remind me of a special relationship or unique time in my life, well, those I put back into the 'keep these' box. Some things are just meant to 'stay' until we no longer need them.

5. Cards I don't need to keep, I remove the personal notes and donate the fronts to our local recycling centre for crafters and schools to use. It makes me happy to think that someone will get pleasure out them one last time.

On that note, I find these words attributed to Albert Einstein a fitting closure for today's musings: "Out of clutter find simplicity...".

Here's wishing you a beautiful week ahead,

Photo Credits:
Top Image by Margarita Kochneva from Pixabay

Friday, October 27, 2023

If You Like This Classic Then You Might Enjoy...

"A classic is a book which with each rereading
offers as much of a sense of discovery as the first reading."
ITALO CALVINO, found on AZ Quotes

When a modern author writes a sequel or prequel to a famous classic book you love, are you in the front of the line to read it? Are you eager, or reluctant, to see what a present day author creates from a favourite old novel? I admit being one who has been slow to be won over; I ask, how can anyone other than the original author write a book that equals, say, Pride and Prejudice or The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? Thankfully, I stopped being a snob about it—there are authors with great imagination and skill who have written some wonderful and compelling stories inspired by those original tales. Here are five titles I recently finished. And loved.

If you loved Jane Austen's 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice:
Death Comes to Pemberley is the 2011 novel by British mystery fiction author, P.D. James. The book is a sequel of sorts; Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are now wed and living at Pemberley. Things aren't quite so 'happy ever after'—Mr. and Mrs. Darcy are about to host a grand autumn ball and then a body is discovered in the nearby woods. I love how the author skillfully weaves threads of the original Austen novel throughout her own well-told Regency murder mystery. I really enjoyed it.
Longbourn, the 2013 novel by British author Jo Baker, gives the reader a chance to see an alternative view of the Pride and Prejudice story as seen through the eyes of the family servants. While the Bennet family lives their story upstairs exactly as told by Jane Austen, their servants downstairs—barely visible characters till now—suddenly come alive in our imagination. They take centre stage, and we begin to see them as living, breathing people with names like Sarah and James who have their own hopes, dreams, and sorrows. I had a hard time putting this book down.

The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow was published in 2020. In this imaginative novel, the author focuses on plain and nerdy middle sister, Mary Bennet, and sets her in the limelight as the novel's heroine. I soon came to empathize with Mary as she struggled to find happiness and fulfillment in a world that basically ignored her. From the first page I was drawn in, reading every chance I could, even well into the night a couple of days, because I had to know - does Mary find her life, and love? Well worth reading. 

I found it an altogether enriching experience to read these three novels alongside Jane Austen's. I think the authors did a great job of entwining the old and new story lines into one.

If you enjoyed L.M. Montgomery's 1908 Anne of Green Gables: 

Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy, published in 2018, lets us imagine Marilla Cuthbert's young life at Green Gables long before Anne enters the picture. She gives the reader a wider look into Marilla's world, picking up threads dropped by Miss Montgomery in the Anne books, including how and why Marilla never married John Blythe, who was once considered her beau. It's a charming tale and fits perfectly as a prequel to the well-loved Anne stories. Delightful and a bit wistful, I'm glad I read it. 

If you are charmed by C.S. Lewis's 1950 The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: 

Once Upon A Wardrobe by Patti Callahan was published in 2021. If you love The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, you will enjoy this charming tale in which college student Megs Devonshire tries to fulfill her younger brother George's last wish to discover the truth about his favourite Narnia story. Beautifully imagined, charmingly told, this is a book you might want to save for the weeks leading up to Christmas. I'll be re-reading it this holiday season.

Have you discovered other good sequel/prequel-like books that happily co-exist with your favourite original novels? Do share your recommendations.

She reads books as one would
breathe air, to fill up and live.

Wishing you a beautiful day,

Friday, October 20, 2023

Words That Touch Me This Week

"I do not fear this day for You are with me."

Life feels fraught with distress and anxiety these days - so many people I care about are dealing with health scares and concerns. I have a couple little issues of my own to add to the mix. And then there are all those horrid events destroying lives around the world. Life does not feel beautiful some days, and yet a lifetime of learning to watch for the beauty and ask for His infinite grace, helps me to navigate moment by moment through these troubling times. For that I am grateful.

When I feel overwhelmed, I search for words to calm and steady my thoughts. How often I have found good thoughts being offered by fellow life travelers in their writings and social feeds. On this sunny Friday morning, with wind sweeping through bare treetops and waning flower gardens, I share these few words with you... hoping your own heart is steadied by something you read here.

"Although the world is full of suffering,
it is also full of the overcoming of it."

"There must be a silk purse
in here somewhere."
JULIA CAMERON, The Sound of Paper

"Faith includes noticing the mess, the
emptiness and discomfort, and letting
it be there until some light returns."
ANNE LAMOTT, as seen on social media

When my heart is overwhelmed,
lead me to the Rock that is higher than
my wisdom and abilities.

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
forgive our foolish ways!
Re-clothe us in our rightful mind;
In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise.

Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.

Dear Lord and Father of mankind, Stanzas 1 and 5


Sending heart hugs and wishes for a beautiful weekend,

Photo credit:
Image by 8926 from Pixabay

Sunday, October 15, 2023

The Dilemmas of a Book Nerd

Can you think of anything nicer than sipping a favourite
hot beverage while delving into a delightful new book?

I seem to be talking about books more often these days. Perhaps it's the season of the year—autumn is always a good time to curl up with a good book. Perhaps it's the season of life—I'm less involved out there in the world, so I'm able to take time to read more, which delights me deliciously.

Recently I found Miranda Mills's 2019 YouTube vlog, in which she joined a Book Tag answering ten questions about the dilemmas of a book nerd. As a self-confessed book nerd myself, I thought they'd be fun questions to answer - I've shared my responses below. Hope you enjoy!

Dilemma #1: Book Storage – How do you store and organize your books? All my books are shelved. Except for two small boxes in the closet downstairs - books I'm done with but not ready to let go yet as they are historical markers of my earlier life. My study walls are filled with bookshelves and they are filled to the gills with my Nonfiction and To Be Read books. All my Fiction and Christmas-themed books are on our family room shelves. Cookbooks and food related volumes nestle, of course, on the kitchen bookshelf. My new collection of Miss Marple mysteries with their pretty bright covers are in the vintage style case in the living room. And my small Children's collection and most of my Yet to be Read collection of thrift store, used bookstore, and library sale finds are housed in the large cupboard with built-in shelves in Rick's den. (He also has his own large bookshelf in that room but I'm overflowing into his cupboard space; thankfully he doesn't complain.) 

Dilemma #2: Tracking – How do you keep track of what you have read and what books you own? Until recently, I didn't keep track of what I read (except for some notes and tons of quotes in notebooks), and I never had an organized master list of the books I own. I have far too many now to remember titles or authors by heart. Since 2018, I started tracking what I read each year - a simple list of title and author (which I need to expand to include a bit of info on the book and my response to it). The growing 2023 list is on the sidebar of my blog and will eventually be stored in a Word doc, along with the others. As for tracking the books I own... since I don't have quite the same recall of my youth—where I could put my finger on a book in a moment's notice—this past summer I created a catalogue in Excel (title, author, date acquired, categories, where shelved, to whom it's lent). 

Dilemma #3: Borrow – Do you lend your books out?  Not often. I used to lend out books. I like to share my love for reading with others, and when I find a book I really love, I want to share that information. But I don't lend out much - favourite books sometimes didn't get returned or they arrived in a state I was not happy about. I do make pencil notations in my books, but I don't bend their spines or dog-ear pages, and I don't read while eating food that can create sticky messes on the covers. I entrust my books to a handful of people who I know will take care of them, and more importantly, return them. Usually they are kindred book lovers who know what our books mean to us.

Dilemma #4: Buying – How do you buy or acquire your books? I love books. I love collecting them, with every intention to read them. I love going into bookshops, browsing thrift stores, secondhand bookshops, and library annual book sales (when paperbacks are fifty cents and hardbacks are a Loonie - one dollar). Quite often the books I'm looking for aren't stocked in the local shops—my tastes don't always run to bestsellers and the books I often want sometimes take several weeks to arrive. So I use Amazon. I will put books on their online wish list or titles directly into the Shopping Cart as I come across them. Then I go back and decide what to buy now or save for later. I follow some people who are booklovers and if they are kindred-style readers, I'll often follow through on many of their recommendations. (I mention a handful of them HERE.) I love gift cards to bookstores - if I have to choose between clothes or books, it's most often books. One last note on this, I don't buy all the books I read. While I own many, there are still many others where I use my library card to borrow and read. 

Dilemma #5: Comments – How do you respond to the “How do you read so much” comment or similar comments? People don't generally ask me that question. I don't get a lot of books read in a year; usually the count is under a hundred. I could probably count, on one hand probably, the days in my entire life when I did not read a book, even in my childhood. I have never made goals to read a certain amount of books in a year. I read every day because I have to - it's like breathing for me, something on the inside feels unfulfilled otherwise. Sometimes I read books quickly - easy cozy books, for example; other books I take my time through them. I try to remind myself I'm not in a race. I want the books to stay with me. If I hurry, the books start melting into each other, and I wonder what event happened in which book. It makes it difficult to tell someone about the great book I just read if I can't talk about it properly.

Dilemma #6: Next Book – How do you pick your next read? My frame of mind or mood will often shape what I read next. Sometimes I want books to meet my mood or need, books that encourage, comfort, inspire. If something happens in the news and I'm unsure of its history, say women's rights or civil rights, then I search out books to inform me. If a 'famous' person dies and they've written books or poetry, or were a Nobel Prize winner or well-known person in their field, then I search out something of their works, to be a kind of witness as they pass from their lives on this planet. If I'm in the middle of a series I like—Louise Penny comes to mind as does Donna Leon, SJ Bennett, and Charles Todd—then quite often I'll read the next in the set. The seasons of the year also guide what I read next. I look for nature books set in the season we're in at the time. I look for novels that either begin or have great seasonal descriptions in them. Some books have a mood that feel conducive to certain times of year. My choosing by seasons started years ago and is most evident in my growing collection of Christmas-themed books that I always bring out, ready to reread in late November into December. I enjoy coming upon the seasonal descriptions that creates or matches the atmosphere and ambiance in real time. When it comes to choosing books, I am much like a magpie; if someone suggests a book on their blog that interests me, I'll go in search of it.

Dilemma #7: Travel – How do you pick what book(s) you bring on vacation with you? There's a good question. If I'm looking for a book or books to read while traveling long distances, then I usually want something that draws me quickly into the book and holds my attention. Most likely, a novel. If I'm on a road trip with Rick, then we sometimes pick an exciting thriller audiobook to listen to. We don't usually find ourselves on a tropical beach on vacation so I don't know what I'd read there, probably a good mystery or maybe a book set in a tropical place. Light reading, for sure. 

Dilemma #8: Annotate – Do you write or highlight or mark up your books in any way? I do. That's one reason I love paper books over Kindle. I like to read with a pencil in my hand. I do make notations in the margins if I'm compelled by what I'm reading. And I like finding those notations when I flip back through the book. Although recently I had a sudden insight, what will be done with all my books with all these notations when I'm gone? No self-respecting secondhand bookshop—who are usually strident about gently used, clean copies—would take my marked up copies. I NEVER dog ear my books or break the spines; that irritates my soul, but pencil markings help me find what I'm looking for when I want to revisit a passage. I like seeing, when I'm browsing through a book, what struck me when I read it last time. Some people make notes elsewhere, not in the book itself, but that means these notebooks have to live in proximity to the book—it probably wouldn't work for me. I imagine that notebook being somewhere else when I need it. 

Dilemma #9: New or Backlist – Which do you prefer, new releases or backlist books? Backlist, for the most part. Unless I'm addicted to a particular series where I wait with bated breath for the next in the set. I find I dislike, in other cases, to be rushing along with the crowds for a copy of the next 'bestseller'. I often come late to the party with books that have been out for months, years, sometimes decades. I want to read it in my own timing. There have been times, though, when I wondered why I waited so long to finally pick up a book that fans stopped raving about years earlier, but I firmly believe there is a right timing for me to read my books.

Dilemma #10: Sequels – Do you read books as they are released, or wait for an entire series to be published before reading the first book? I could never wait for my favourite author to finish her series first before beginning it. Some authors take years to complete a set. If I'm interested in a series, I will get the books as they are released. And if I get introduced to a book in the middle of a series, I never mind to start wherever; I eventually go back to the beginning and read them in order, but I don't mind reading them out of order in the meantime. Sometimes copies aren't available when I'm ready for them.

(Added) Dilemma #11: Keeping Books - Do you keep books that you probably will never read again, on the off-chance that they might 'improve' with age? Some novels or nonfiction books I know immediately I'll never read again for whatever reason - boring, not my usual genre, too horrible a story, or badly written. Those go immediately into the Give Away box to pass along. Some books that I might not have quite gotten into the first time but they have enough good in them to try again later - those I will keep for a while. As for my favourites, I enjoy re-reading my favourite books - some are annual visits, much like visiting old friends. 

And so, I've mused and amused myself into mid-Sunday afternoon. Darling Rick has made the tea, and I'm off to join him for a cup and a pumpkin spice muffin. Our autumn days are still quite lovely around here, not too cold yet. Life is good, and I'm grateful. Please take care and we'll see you soon, beautiful friends. Happy reading! 

Wishing you a beautiful week ahead.

Photo credit:
Image by kiberstalker from pixabay

Sunday, October 08, 2023

Being Thankful!

"Be present in all things and
thankful for all things."

This weekend in Canada we celebrate Thanksgiving. And what a glorious few days it's been with its bright sunshine and blue, cloudless skies. The brilliance of all the colours of recent weeks has now muted into what Sarah Addison Allen once described as 'a world covered in a cobbler crust of brown sugar and cinnamon'. Aptly described as we saw during our afternoon drive in the countryside.

On such a day, it's not hard to be filled with gratitude. I'll assume many of us practice the art of gratitude and thankfulness all year long, but there is something extra-special about a day aside for counting our blessings. One Thanksgiving years ago, I started a list of what I was grateful for, and upon reading it to Rick, he said he'd add Brussels sprouts... well, each to their own. Sure, I can be grateful for this cute cabbage-like vegetable, for I do enjoy them, but let's just say, I'd have to be running out of favourites before I'd ever think to add them to a list😊. 

Today I'm thankful for turkey dinner and French apple tart. I am grateful for health and vitality. I am so thankful for my dear mom who truly has been the best mom in the world. I am over the top thankful for my sweetheart of a husband who is one of the kindest men I know. I am thankful for my dear siblings and their partners, my wonderful nephews and nieces, and my lovely set of friends who help make the journey through life bearable, enjoyable, and so worth it. Let's see... I'm also grateful for coffee, tea, and books. Chocolate. And for roses, sweet peas, and marigolds and for eyes to see their beauty and colour—they're still blooming in the backyard. I'm so glad for a nose to breath in scent—the fragrance from the sweet peas I picked yesterday is incredible. I'm grateful for plenty to eat, shelter in a cozy home, and peace in my heart and neighbourhood. It's a long list... still thinking of so much more. 

As I close, I pray for blessings of good gifts to come to every person in this big old world. I sure hope you have your share of them. And I hope your heart sings with gratitude - I'm humming my own melody as I type. 

Wishing you a beautiful week ahead.

Photo credit:
Top Image by Castleguard from Pixabay

Saturday, September 30, 2023

Where Do You Find Your Book Reading Inspiration?

"Happiness is a crackling fire, a cozy book,
a cup of hot cocoa, and an autumnal nook."

October is almost here, and autumn is drawing nearer to the cozy centres of our lives. Those places where warm nourishing food is prepared, where enticing books gather in piles, and where cozy corners invite, and we don't really mind that long cool evenings are about to descend. For book lovers, like squirrels busy gathering nuts for winter, we search far and wide for reading materials to match the mood and the season.

Where do you go to find your book reading inspiration? I do have a few favourite places that are guaranteed to inspire me. Of course, the local library and bookstores are a given—lovely places to visit and browse—but what I'm thinking of today are those spots I visit online that usually have me coming away with lists of inspiration. Here are five places I enjoy visiting:

1. The Queen's Reading Room. "Discover new books each season & meet the extraordinary people who create them." This is HM Queen Camilla's book club which is wrapping up its eleventh season. Her Majesty The Queen picks four favourite books per four seasons (Jan to Mar, Apr to June, Jul to Sep, Oct to Dec). Recommendations are a mix of classic and new published works. A sample of the books I have read and enjoyed from previous seasons include: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, and Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris by Paul Gallico. You can find The Queen's Reading Room on her website and Instagram page.

2. Parnassus Books in Nashville, TN. This independent bookstore, owned by author Ann Patchett, gives weekly updates about current releases. I started following Ann and her shop during the pandemic. It's always a breath of fun to watch as she and Sparky (her dog), along with staff members, share enthusiastically about their latest favourites. Ann can be found on Instagram and the store website which includes Staff Picks, Ann's Latest Picks, and musings on the Parnassus blog. Her latest novel Tom Lake was a great read, and I absolutely loved her book of essays These Precious Days.

3. Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington, DC. I first came across this bookstore a couple of years ago when I signed up for an online author interview with Canadian writer Louise Penny. Louise had chatted about writing her latest Gamache novel All The Devils Are Here. It was held during the pandemic, and one good thing that came out of this terrible season, so many in-person events had to be presented as Zoom events. Which meant a person living thousands of miles away could attend, and that's how I came to know about this bookstore. I still check back on their website once in a while to see what new books they are talking about. They continue to do their events online. 

4. The Enchanted Book Club with Hayley Solano. If you've watched any of Susan Branch's recent interviews with Hayley, you will know about The Enchanted Book Club. The book club "is a kindred community that reads a different classic every month... perfect for fans of Jane Austen, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women". Hayley also presents online events with beloved authors, hosts literary travels (Paris is on the list), and more. The book selection for October is Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy. I'm enjoying revisiting some of the classics I so loved as a girl and young woman. They are still a joy to read. You can find lovely Hayley on Instagram and her website.  

5. Miranda Mills on YouTube and Comfort Book Club. Miranda from Yorkshire, UK, posts weekly vlogs about her favourite books and seasonal living in the English countryside. I love watching her weekly enthusiastic videos... my bookshelves are filling (as we speak) with her delightful cozy and 'comforting' recommendations. Miranda and her mom, Donna, host the monthly Comfort Book Club. ←Click there and you'll find the books selected for discussion in upcoming months. September's selection was an old classic Goodbye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton. For October, Miranda has selected the new release Marple: Twelve New Mysteries, which are short stories by current authors written in Christie fashion. Miranda can be followed on Instagram and her YouTube Channel.

I'm wondering, do you have favourite online places where you find inspiration for your reading life? Could you share below?

To close, Elizabeth Lawrence wrote in A Southern Garden (2001), "Even if something is left undone, everyone must take time to sit still and watch the leaves turn." Oh yes! Let's sit still and watch the leaves turn on our trees and turn in our books.

I'm wishing you a beautiful weekend,

Photo credit:
Image by FreeFunArt on Pixabay