Seven Things Learned in Seven Days

  1. The first snow feels a bit like anticipating the visit of a crazy relative. The anticipation takes over your days and no matter how much you prepare you never feel ready. When the day finally arrives you feel strangely relieved – let the craziness begin!OQ3RYMf8ScWomgddXeja+w
  2. The general rule for feeding birds is: Do not feed when it might cause harm. I’m thinking all of our relationships could be improved by adhering to this “do no harm” rule. yB4lHOETQo+bI07B9yrsGw
  3.  The bulbs I buy each fall have been sitting in the entranceway for the past month and a half. They remind me every time I pass  that I have unfinished business to take care of before winter sets in. By some miracle, the bulbs I bought managed to get planted this weekend on a wildly, windy day that froze our hands. It felt appropriate somehow to be planting seeds for better times on a day like this.d0ZOEgwaReqpZL7BWYYieQ.jpg
  4. Seeing a cardinal at the feeder first thing in the morning on these darkest of days lifts the soul. Our cardinal only shows up briefly first thing in the morning and again at dusk. It’s as if his startling red is a gift only for the people who are aware of his illusive movements.  My goal from now until Christmas is to try and find the pops of red, wherever they may be.fullsizeoutput_bb4.jpeg
  5. I never tire of the first rays of morning sun flooding the landscape from the window where I write. Each sunrise seems more beautiful than the one that came before. How is that possible?k91LDUJqSVmQNx7Q1cRnDg.jpg
  6. New cookbooks are the very best purchase to start off the fall/winter season when we are drawn back inside and the fireplace and stove become the focus of our days again. The cornbread pictured here is from Ottolenghi Simple. The book should probably be called Ottolenghi Simpler because as delicious as it was it still took two of us about thirty minutes to prepare. My first introduction to Ottolenghi was walking by his shop window in London on one of my visits to my daughter. IMG_3432.JPG
  7. Questioning our beliefs is probably the single most effective practice to bring about change in our lives. Isn’t it strange that many of the things we have believed all our lives simply are not true?  I missed my chance? Is it true? People shouldn’t be angry. Is it true? I don’t know what to do? Is it true?




Words Like Birds


I sit at my computer watching the early morning sun gently spread its tentacles of light over the hilltops to the east and I wonder what clarity this new day might bring. What do I have to say that is interesting enough to interrupt your day?

I started out writing this blog with a mission statement of sorts. It read:

A blog about finding meaning and beauty in the simple things (and sometimes not so simple things).

I decided that the best way to go about this was to take you with me through the seasons:  out on walks, gardening, skiing, cooking…  And  finding in these simple, everyday activities the beauty and purpose that infuses a life with meaning.

It turns out finding beauty and meaning in the simple things is rather easy and fun for me. It’s the not so simple things that can send me seeking shelter. I haven’t been able to bring you along, for instance, on the deeper, longer transitions that make up a life.  Mostly  because these transitions are multilayered and deeply personal and it just takes time without words for the process to happen.

While I was in the place of fewer words, I closed my computer, took out my Japanese brush pens, and immersed myself in learning traditional and modern calligraphy. My interest in old and new scripts was stirred because of an article I wrote on this blog back in February, a month after my mother died, and I was sorting through old paperwork. I wrote:

I’ve been thinking about handwriting a lot these days as I sort through paperwork and personal items that belonged to my mother and father and grandmother. Their handwriting says more about each of them than any portrait possibly could. My father’s handwriting is large and flowing and my mother’s much more measured and cautious. I feel their presence as if they were sitting beside me when I see snippets of things they have written. It’s as distinctive and personal as any work of art. Which begs the question, what will we have lost when handwriting becomes extinct?


Isn’t it funny what happens when we get clear enough to ask a question? Answers come pouring in. You just might find yourself, as I did, moving in a direction that you could never have anticipated. I think about this often as I painstakingly study old scripts and try and practice the nuanced letter forms. I find it soothing. Maybe it’s also my way of coming to terms with the past and reclaiming old ways of making words beautiful and special again.


As the first snow softly falls this morning, I am back on my writing  chair allowing whatever words there are to come to me – much in the same way as the birds come to the feeder that sits just a few meters from where I write.


Writing is how I make sense of things and it just doesn’t feel good to be away for too long.

So for now, it’s my words and the birds that keep me company in the early morning hours before the world has awoken and complicated things. Maybe together we can make sense of just enough to spread a little more light and joy.

Finding Your Place in the World

My place on earth is where I know most of the birds and the trees and where I know what the climate will be right now… and where I have spent enough time to know it intimately and personally.  (Gary Snyder)


I’m never so aware of my place on earth as when I go for evening walks. The  sun is usually just beginning to set over Pinnacle Mountain as we make our way up the steep hill to the plateau where there are views of the Green Mountains to our south and Pinnacle to the north. This is big sky country made all the more noticeable by the expanse of fields that the road dissects.

Our walks are all different and all mostly the same, if that makes any sense. We talk about the trees that are blooming, we remark that it is early to see daisies making their first appearance in the ditches, we remember that we haven’t heard the night hawk yet  this year, and we watch for the bobolinks flying over the field to see where they have built their nests and pray they’ll have time to raise their young before the field gets cut. We feel the warmth of the last rays of the setting sun and notice the breeze has picked up from the west bringing in tomorrow’s weather. And so it goes – all different and all mostly the same.


Some nights we run into our neighbours just above us and share news of our children or our gardens or mutual friends who are traveling in distant parts of the world. Other nights we might stop and talk to the farmers on our road who are still busy draining fields, making ditches, and cutting brush. We reminisce about the time the calf  fell in the well or the farmhouse that used to stand on the old foundation at the corner and where they raised thirteen children before the house burnt and the farm ran into hard times. It is these shared memories that remind us our connections run deep.

Gary Snyder, the poet I referenced at the beginning, talks about just these types of experiences. He describes community as diverse people who live in the same place and who are tied together by their inevitable association with each other and their willingness to engage in that over a long period of time. What I know for certain is that I come home from these walks feeling a whole lot more connected – to everything and everybody.

And that’s the gift of finding your place in the world.



I’m a huge Instagram fan. I love photos – well composed ones,  evocative ones,  ones that are the holders of memories. I have been curious lately about the grid of photos that we see when we click on a profile in Instagram.  I’ve noticed that some of the people with the most followers have a very curated looking grid of pictures.

Here is one example.
And another.

Their photos seem to all have the same style, light quality, and spectrum of colours. I must say I was a bit impressed that anyone could maintain this consistency. My photos seem to be all over the place. I have warm whites and cool whites, pictures of food interspersed with photos of family, and a whole slew of nature pictures thrown into the mix. It’s a hodgepodge.

The latest grid you’d see on my Insta feed.

Yes, there’s an old family photograph, a few seasonal pictures, some food, a picture of a shawl I knit, and my calligraphy  supplies for a course I’m taking.

I have to admit,  I thought about making my grid more cohesive, perhaps more appealing to those people who happen on my feed and might want to follow me. But in the end, it’s not a brand I’m trying to create, it’s a life I’m trying to live.

I’ve Been Wearing My Mother’s Perfume


I’ve been wearing my mother’s perfume. The first time I put it on was the day she died. In my blurry-eyed grief, my gaze settled on the perfume bottle sitting unobtrusively on her bureau amongst other personal care items strewn there during her final days. Without thinking, I picked it up and spritzed some on my neck. I wore my mum all of that day.

I’ve worn her perfume twice since. I wore it the day I went to pick up her ashes at the funeral parlour. Without much thought or reason, I again spritzed it on my neck and drove to the funeral home to pick up her ashes which by now were safely stored in the blue china urn I had chosen shortly after her passing. The urn reminded me of my mother. It was her colours.


I wore it again yesterday, this time for no reason at all, except I like it. It’s strange. I spent most of my life distancing myself from my mother and her choices. Her clothes, not the ones I would choose, her shoes, sensible and comfortable, but not at all stylish. I wasn’t judging,  they were all perfect for her and I was happy that she had found her style. (Actually, I wasn’t happy when I tried to choose tops for her with the perfect neckline.)  It seems though that I have spent most of my life looking for differences instead of celebrating what we shared in common.

In the interest of righting this imbalance, I’ve decided to share some of the many things we did have in common:

  1. We both turn in the wrong direction when we exit from elevators or shops in malls.
  2. We both are introverted and prefer small gatherings of people to large groups.
  3. We both believe a good cup of tea can cure just about anything.
  4. We both love hearing and telling good stories.
  5. We both enjoy our own company and can spend many excellent hours alone.

And…it turns out, we both love the same perfume.



The Lost Art of Cursive Writing

Writing as unique as its creators.

It was close to the end of the period and there were some notes that I wanted to quickly put on the whiteboard. I grabbed my marker and began to write in cursive, “Canada’s population…” I was just getting started when a boy at the back called out, “I can’t read joined letters.” I was floored. I knew we were no longer teaching cursive in elementary schools,  but this was the first time I realized the full scale of the loss.

I’ve been thinking about handwriting a lot these days as I sort through paperwork and personal items that belonged to my mother and father and grandmother. Their handwriting says more about each of them than any portrait possibly could. My father’s handwriting is large and flowing and my mother’s much more measured and cautious. I feel their presence as if they were sitting beside me when I see snippets of things they have written. It’s as distinctive and personal as any work of art. Which begs the question, what will we have lost when handwriting becomes extinct?


Back in my day, cursive was taught in grade three and by grade four we had graduated to our first fountain pens. It took some practice to learn how much pressure to apply and how to stop dragging our hands through the freshly written letters. We all had ink stained fingers and sides of the palms in those days.

I remember realizing early on that even though we had all been taught the same way, handwriting morphed into something unique for each person. In the interest of experimentation, I tried out large letters, small letters, different slants, and the full range of coloured inks – all to explore who I was and who I wanted to become.

A few years after these experiments with my fountain pen, the Bic Cristal made its appearance. It was cheaper, handier, and certainly less messy than a fountain pen, but it wasn’t the same writing experience. Which brings me to this article I recently read in The Atlantic titled, “How the Ballpoint Killed Cursive.” Many people will tell you that computers spelled the end to cursive, but the author of this article, Josh Giesbrecht, thinks it might have started well before that with the emerging popularity of the Bic pen in the 1960’s.  The ink in the Bic was made much thicker to prevent leakage and the long nib of the fountain pen was replaced by a rolling ball. The fountain pen with its thinner ink dances across the page while the Bic needs to be coaxed and pushed across. Giesbrecht puts it this way, “Fountain pens want to connect letters. Ballpoint pens need to be convinced to write.”

Handwriting expert, Rosemary Sassoon, makes some really interesting observations about the experience of writing. She explains that children today are still being taught the same pen grip that’s been used for generations. She points out that ballpoints and other modern pens need to be held at a more upright angle to the paper and this position is uncomfortable with a traditional pen hold. It seems the ballpoint was straining our hands long before keyboards and carpal tunnel syndrome made their appearance. She writes:

We must find ways of holding modern pens that will enable us to write without pain. …We also need to encourage efficient letters suited to modern pens. Unless we begin to do something sensible about both letters and penholds we will contribute more to the demise of handwriting than the coming of the computer has done.

There seems to be a general consensus that joined letters are faster to write than separate ones.  And new studies suggest that writing by hand may be better for kids’ learning than using a computer. So where does this leave us? Our modern tools don’t seem to support writing in traditional ways.  It’ll be very interesting to see how this all unfolds.

For my part, I’ve decided to take a step backwards and learn calligraphy.  Surely there’s still a place for the art of beautiful handwriting in this world.

Wonder how these new Japanese calligraphy pens will work.


You can read the full article in The Atlantic  here.

Don’t Shoot the Messenger!


If the news is the first rough draft of history, when did the media become the enemy of the people? Do we not like the history we are living at the moment? The fact checkers and the story tellers have suddenly become the enemy.

I’m very sensitive to media bashing. I’m a bit of a news junkie myself and my daughter works in the media. I know how hard most journalists work to bring us accurate and meaningful stories, sometimes endangering their own lives in the process.

I’ve had two experiences this week that have shone the spotlight on the media. The first was an online discussion about a political event that turned out to be  quite divisive. I could understand the different viewpoints being expressed, but I was shocked that so much anger was being directed at the media who broke the story. Somehow we need someone to blame for our personal discomfort. We feel badly that the stories that are being told are impacting real people and the implications are far reaching. But is the media to blame? Did they deliberately set out to ruin someone or were they telling the stories that are circulating in our culture and need to be resolved?

The second experience I had was going to see the film The Post about the brave decision made by Washington Post owner, Katharine Graham, to publish the Pentagon Papers. The publication of these papers impacted political careers and changed the course of American history. It was a BIG story and was not told without personal risk. Stories are like that sometimes. They need to be told because people deserve to know the facts if they hope to participate meaningfully in the democratic process.


It is  our responsibility to stay informed and that means following news organizations that fact check, provide multiple sources, and search out their own biases in order to bring people the very best information available. So you will not hear me crying out fake news and blaming the media for stories that aren’t in alignment with what I want to believe. I check out the best and compare them to each other. Do they err? Sure. But they are also quick to retract when they do. Their agendas are not to bolster fragile egos or maintain the status quo at any cost. They are doing their jobs, and I’m grateful they are.

We’re living in interesting times.

Beauty – an Inside Job

A detail from “The Birth Of Venus” by Sandro Botticelli.

I’ve been thinking about beauty lately. The other night while I was watching the Golden Globes I saw Frances McDormand with nary a trace of makeup. She looked strong and authentic… and beautiful.


Beauty, it seems, comes from a far deeper place than winning the genetic lottery and being blessed with chiselled features and high cheekbones. Look at Jane Goodall, an eighty-three year old who has been following her passion for primates her whole life – beautiful.

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And Malala Yousefi who has a face radiating love and kindness… and bone deep beauty.


I am not an advocate of criticizing people for their appearance. Maybe because I know how hurtful it can be and how we look is not something that can be changed, at least quickly or easily. I believe that if we have a problem with someone, talking about their words and behaviours and actions are all fair game but denigrating people for their appearance is not. That is why I never share or retweet unflattering or embarrassing photos of anyone. This doesn’t stop me, however, from being intrigued by appearances and especially radical changes in appearance.

I think about this when I see old footage of Donald Trump. He is a good looking man with a nice smile and he sounds rational in some of the clips I have seen. Which begs the question, what happened between then and now? His facial expressions and body language seem to suggest an awkward, uncomfortable, and angry man.  He looks unhappy and many of his actions and words come from a mean spirited and defensive place. What happened to Donald to make him seem such a caricature of his former physical self? Is it that the farther away we get from our true genius (the purpose for which we have come here) the more distorted everything becomes, even our physical appearance? Or is it something else?

I don’t have the answers, but this I do know. Each of us has something genuine and true to our inner nature to offer. And this just happens to be what also makes us beautiful.


It’s Good to Be Back

Our house is back to its pre-Christmas state except for a few poinsettias scattered here and there and a vase of pine boughs decorating the piano. Gone is the tree and one of the infant beds I borrowed and most of the toys on loan have been gathered in the entrance to be returned to their owners. That’s a wrap for another family Christmas.


But as memories will, they linger. Looking out on the sliding hill this  morning, I can still see bundled up figures carrying the red plastic sleigh to the top for another, maybe faster, trip down. And as I awake in the dark of the early morning,  I think I hear the sounds of jet lagged babies filtering through the air from the other side of the house.


This home, for a short while, held it all: chaos and excitement, long family dinners around the table after the babies had been bathed and put to bed, friends and family visiting.  As life will have it, it also had its dramas: the night the adventurous twin was stuck in the bathroom and the adults were orchestrating a rescue worthy of the navy seals, and then there was the call in the middle of the night that my ninety-six year old mother was in respiratory distress and might not make it until the morning.

After returning to the house from a long day spent in vigil over my mother who was now stabilized but still far from out of the woods, I sat on the couch watching my adult children in the kitchen bantering about who could make the ultimate sandwich. Tears welled up in my eyes. How could there be so much sorrow and joy all at the same time?  I thought of this paradox again as I was returning from another day at the hospital and saw the January full moon hanging impossibly large and pink over the pale blue mountains just below. Beauty and sadness holding hands, each compelling in very different ways.

Glennon Doyle Melton who writes a blog called Momastery and is the author of two memoir style books has coined the word “brutiful” for this phenomenon. Life is brutal and beautiful, sometimes both at the same time – maybe often both at the same time. I am wondering if it is love that allows us the grace to see the beauty in the brutal. I hope it is.

Happy New Year to you all. It’s good to be back.

I’ve Discovered That…



I’ve discovered that:

The pre winter dark is full of an unbelievable richness. It slows and quietens. Promise and hope live here.

The dawn light is the most important light of these dark days before Solstice. Being awake for the beginning of the day makes the days feel a little longer and whole lot lighter.

Snow brightens and softens the world. Children recognize this – and some adults.

Community gatherings are what make Christmas special. Go to Christmas concerts, The Nutcracker, Christmas teas and bazaars… We all need each other, it’s what makes life rich and meaningful.

Music and the dark season are inseparable. Attend carol services, musical events, put music on as you sit by the fire at night. Music helps herald in the light.

You can’t really overdo Christmas lights or candles this time of year. It’s a way for us to all hold vigil until the light returns.

Being present to others is a great gift to give: listen, hold hands, smile.

Worrying about calories is not a good idea right now. This is the time for feasting and inviting friends and family and people without friends and family to our tables.

Taking time for yourself, treating yourself, is one of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves – and others. Happiness is contagious.

Being in the woods at this time of year, preferably on snowshoes or skis, is the very best meditation available during the holiday season. Stop and look at the animal tracks, listen to the Jays, feel your connection to the natural world.

Cookies and milk are Santa’s favourite….and everyone else’s too.

Being active together builds the very best memories. Build that snowman, go to the rink, play that board game.

Believing in Santa long past when you were a child helps to keep the magic of Christmas alive.

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