Making it a Lovely Day

IMG_1508

In 2017 my friend, Natalie Schultz, and I self-published a book based on posts from the blog we wrote together. Our treasured little book, Lessons in Loveliness ~ Learning to Live a Lovely Life, sits on my shelf and now and then begs to be opened.

A section titled Making It A Lovely Day recently reminded me of the optimistic woman I was when I wrote it several years ago. Since then I’ve gone through many changes and challenges (as we all have) that I admit have dulled my shine a bit. Although I know my words are nothing particularly profound, but I would like to recapture their spirit of simplicity, hope, and joy.

Last week, I had the chapter made into a poster which I framed and hung in my closet as a reminder. Life can be unpredictable, but it really doesn’t have to be quite so complicated as we sometimes make it. I hope this excerpt from our book encourages us all to make every day a lovely day. §

Making It A Lovely Day

When you get right down to it, whether man or woman, young or old, prince or pauper, our days consist of the same basic pursuits throughout our lifetime. I am glad we have all of our days to master these essential human tasks. Like the grumpy and arrogant weatherman Phil Conners learns in the movie Groundhog Day, each morning brings another chance to have a lovely day!

How To Have a Lovely Day ~

Waking ~ Rise and shine! When your first foot touches the ground, say, “Thank…” When your other foot touches the ground, say, “You.” Now, turn around and make your bed.

Loving ~ No matter what the day brings, meet it with loving kindness. Love God, love yourself, love others.

Bathing ~ Grooming and caring for ourselves is a basic necessity. Turn self-care into luxurious and pampering rituals.

Dressing ~ Put on something special. Greet the day looking your best.

Working ~ We all have work to do. Whatever your job, give it your all. Do it with cheerfulness, enthusiasm, and diligence.

Eating ~ Sit down and mindfully fuel your body with delicious and nutritious food. Practice good manners, even if eating alone.

Interacting ~ When you are in the presence of another human being, smile and make eye contact. Take the time to sincerely communicate, “hello, please, and thank you.” When someone behaves ungraciously, forgive them, and carry on.

Playing ~ When work is done, reward yourself with something positive and uplifting. Listen to music, chat with a friend, take a walk, browse the bookstore, go bowling, watch a funny show, or get lost in a hobby.

Learning ~ Do something that expands your mind spiritually, culturally, or intellectually. Read a book, visit a museum, finish the crossword, watch a documentary. Be a life-long learner.

Giving ~ We each have gifts that are uniquely ours to give. Someone is in need of your listening ear, helping hand, time, talent, or wisdom. Share your gifts generously.

Persevering ~ Everyone faces challenges. Big and small, they are a part of this thing called life. Whatever the circumstance, we must do our best to press-on with a tenacious and hopeful spirit.

Sleeping ~ End the day as you began it, with gratitude. Drift into peaceful slumber counting your blessings. Rest in comfort knowing that come tomorrow, you can try again.

“Give every day the chance to become the most beautiful of your life.”
~ Mark Twain

The Elegance of Haiku

IMG_1045April is National Poetry Month. What a perfect chance it has been to learn more about poetry and maybe even become poets ourselves. Although it’s harder than it looks, a highly recognizable form of poetry is haiku. Originating in Japan, haiku is one of the oldest and most elegant forms of poetry.

Haikus were always a favorite of my literature students for an obvious reason – they’re short. Known for the rule of 5-7-5, a haiku consists of just three unrhymed lines. The first and third lines have five syllables, and the second line has seven syllables. You may remember tapping your pencil on your desk to count syllables. For example, the word frog has one syllable. The word silent has two.

Nature often inspires poetry, but haiku, by definition, is about nature. It can be traced back to 9th century Japan where it evolved as poetry that specifically celebrated the elegance of the natural world. Matsuo Bashō wrote one of the most famous haikus in the 1600s.

The Old Pond

An old silent pond
A frog jumps into the pond
Splash! Silence again. 

I wonder if Bashō would be surprised we’re still reading his poems 4,000 years after he penned them. Inspired to write your own haiku in celebration of National Poetry Month? Pay attention to something you find intriguing in nature, and form your thoughts about it in a simple three-line poem that follows the 5-7-5 rule.

For extra credit, consider illustrating your poem, as haikus often are. My students loved it when I brought out the cardboard box of watercolors. Their creations always made the most beautiful bulletin boards!

Poetic inspiration recently struck me early one morning when I looked outside and saw a rare flash of bright blue fly past the window. My husband and I had nearly given up attracting bluebirds to our southern Illinois backyard. After jumping for joy, I wrote this haiku.

The Birdhouse

Vacant for so long
Today a pair of bluebirds
Found their home sweet home

§

“When composing a verse let there not be a hair’s breath separating your mind from what you write; composition of a poem must be done in an instant, like a woodcutter felling a huge tree or a swordsman leaping at a dangerous enemy.”
– Matsuo Bashō

Five Simple Steps to an Inspiring Spring Closet

IMG_1477 (1)

The only place in the world we might be able to create complete peace and harmony is our own clothes closet. Overwrought by the chaos in the world, I decided this week to tweak my closet so opening its door would bring me a fresh boost of organization, color, and inspiration.

I spent most of a day and just a few bucks creating my happy place. I’m not offering extravagant ways to design a celebrity dream closet, but I do have a few specific ideas that can help you turn an ordinary closet into one that inspires your own brand of elegance.

Five Simple Steps to Creating an Inspirational Spring Closet ~

  1. Take everything out and clean every nook and cranny.
  2. Take stock of your clothing and accessories and pull out those items you know you will absolutely love wearing this spring.
  3. Store everything you won’t be wearing this season. I stored all off-season and less-than-loved items in bins on the top shelf or in a bedroom dresser.
  4. Display your spring wardrobe in your closet as if it is your own little boutique.
  5. Now, here’s the most important part. Carve out a little space for inspiration. Depending on your closet, this could be a shelf, a wall, or door. I used the back shelf and wall area. Here’s specifically what I did to add some personal inspiration.

First, I cut thick foam poster board to fit the wire shelf and create a sturdy flat surface. (This is also a great way to prevent folded clothes from getting indentations.)Then I decorated the shelf with things that inspire me.

From left to right, you can see a weekly calendar, a daily devotional, a cheery vase of flowers, a necklace holder, and a floral reed diffuser. There’s also a cute tray to hold earrings. On the top shelf, I arranged decorative boxes to add a dash of spring color and charm. Just for fun, I tied pink grosgrain ribbons on my plastic storage bins.

In what is probably the nerdiest feature of my closet, I printed out and framed my personal style guidelines. After getting dressed for sixty years, I should know what colors and styles work best for me, but I still get woefully confused. So I compiled a checklist to use before I hang something in my closet more suitable for someone else. I’m certain this guide is going to save me loads of time, money, and frustration, and help me step out of my closet each day feeling my most authentic self.

Finally, I hung a framed poster titled Making It a Lovely Day. It happens to be from the book Lessons in Loveliness which my friend, Natalie, and I wrote and published a few years ago. The section outlines simple ways to make the most of each day from morning until night. (Please come back next Wednesday when I share more about this.)

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve opened my closet door the past few days just to get a peek inside. Hopefully, there are some ideas you can use, too. Creating an inspiring closet isn’t going to change the world, but it just might bring a little joy to your corner of it. §

“Opening up your closet should be like arriving at a really good party where everyone you see is someone you like.” ~ Amy Fine Collins

The Elegance of the Lenten Rose

img_1010Easter has arrived, and our table is set with a vase of exquisite little flowers that have been miraculously blooming in our backyard since February. This enchanting flower has a rich history that includes mystery, danger, and above all, the promise held in the breast of this beautiful season.

Shortly after we moved into our southern Illinois home last winter, I noticed an odd patch of deep green foliage. I did a double-take when, through a frosty window, I thought I saw a flower blooming. I put on my boots and trudged through several inches of snow to investigate. Sure enough, a dark mauve blossom was peeking out under a thick blanket of white.

I gasped at the sight and was filled with curiosity. I knew the flower wasn’t an early-blooming snowdrop or crocus. A little research revealed the mysterious flower was a Lenten rose, known to gardeners as hellebore from the Latin hellenborus orientalis. Not a rose at all, this hardy perennial with evergreen leaves and a variety of colorful blossoms is part of the buttercup family. What a story this flower tells!

Helleborus means “injure food” in Greek. Yes, this pretty flower is poisonous. The Greeks were known to use it in battle to poison another city’s drinking water. Many scholars believe Alexander the Great died from a poisonous dose of hellebore. It’s also said that King Arthur’s sister, Morgan Le Faye, made an evil concoction of hellebore and gave it to Guinevere to prevent her from being able to conceive.

In ancient times, smaller doses of hellebore were used to treat a range of illness including insanity. In Greek mythology, it’s told King Argo’s daughters were driven so mad by Dionysus they ran naked in the streets mooing like cows. As time passed, the madness increased and spread to other women in the village. The healer Melampus gave the women hellebore in milk to restore their sanity. (Something tells me a ladies’ night out would have had the same effect.)

It seems our tenacious little flower was also a favorite of witches during medieval times. Old world witches were famous for using it to make their magical flying ointment. They rubbed the hellebore salve all over themselves and took off flying. Of course, the poisonous herb has hallucinogenic effects, so it’s possible they only thought they were flying!

Certain there was some dark magic involved in a flower that bloomed in winter, people in the Middle Ages threw hellebore on their floors to drive out evil influences. Many herbalists at the time believed powdered hellebore could be scattered on the ground and walked upon to render invisibility. Though they had to face east on a moonless night and hope not to be spotted by an eagle thus sealing their fate of death.

Thankfully, Victorian gardeners rescued the innocent hellebore from its more sinister and gothic attachments. Because the flower blooms during the season of Lent, the hellebore became known as the Lenten rose and was a favorite among the Victorians. In their language of flowers, known as floriography, the Lenten rose represents serenity, tranquility, and peace.

Once again our patch of Lenten roses is faithfully in full-bloom. The old palm-shaped leaves have fallen away and sizable clumps of new green foliage surround an abundance of flowers in white, yellow, pink, and purple. On sunny days, butterflies and bees dine on the yellow centers of flowers that will last well into May.

How beautiful that during Lent, a forty-day time of contemplation and preparation for Easter, the cold, dead ground can produce such a lovely flower. The bright little blossoms that fill a crystal vase seem too pretty to have such a storied past. Today, in celebration of Easter, they offer an elegant symbol of rejuvenation, renewal, and resurrection. §

“Let us rejoice!” – Psalm 118:24

The Elegance of Coloring Books & Ecclesiastes

IMG_1404

It’s Sunday afternoon, and I’m sitting in our sunroom in front of a bouquet of colored pencils and a coloring book for grown-ups. I open to the first page and press the book down flat in preparation to color for the first time in years.

I choose a green pencil and watch the color slowly fill an empty white space, and then another, and another. While my hand moves delicately and rhythmically, I feel my body and my heart release a long-held sigh.

After several minutes of coloring, I take notice of the quote in the center of the page ~ “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” Ecclesiastes 3:11. As I mindfully color flowers, leaves, and vines, I subconsciously reflect upon the verse.

The words dance across the page over and over with changing emphasis. “He has made everything beautiful in its time…He has made everything beautiful in its time…He has made everything beautiful in its time…He has made everything beautiful in its time.”

As my pencil makes flower petals bloom pink, I think about how desperately I want everything to be beautiful now, in my time, in my way. In a broken world, there is suffering. There is war. People disappoint. Loved ones die. We feel shame. Mama foxes are euthanized. We grieve for that which is lost and for that which never was. Life can be so inelegant.

Looking out the window, a dozen yellow finches match the flowers on my page. The hyacinths are the same shade of purple I hold in my hand. My husband waves as he mows the grass that has finally turned spring green. God colored our world with so much beauty, but it isn’t perfect. By design, it isn’t perfect.

I finish the coloring page and look at it with scrutiny. Oops, that should have been blue. Oh, I went out of the lines there. I close my eyes and reopen them with more faith and acceptance. No, it isn’t perfect, but it sure is beautiful. §

“You can’t be sad when you’re coloring.”
~ a six year old

The Elegance of Impressionism ~ 6 Ways To Live Like an Artist This Spring

IMG_1364

Spring is fickle here in the Midwest. It flirts and teases us with lovely days, but we’re never surprised by its capricious nature. On this cold and rainy April morning, I’m curled in front of the fireplace with a favorite book about Impressionist art. Admiring cheerful works with names like Water Lilies, Afternoon Tea, and The White Orchard, I disappear in the verdant beauty of springtime scenes and dream of these six ways to be inspired by the elegance of Impressionism.

1. Let nature inspire. Nature and Impressionism go hand-in-hand. The movement began with a few Parisian painters who went to the countryside to capture the transient effects of sunlight. The idea of painting en plein air, or outdoors, was a dramatic departure from painting in studios. Claude Monet said, “The richness I achieve comes from nature, the source of my inspiration.” This spring be sure to enjoy nature with a picnic, a neighborhood stroll, or a good book read under a tree.

2. Appreciate ordinary moments. Impressionists painted candid glimpses of everyday people at work and play ~ a bowl of fruit, friends having lunch, a walk in the garden. Their work is a reminder to appreciate the significance and beauty in everyday rituals and pastimes. How sweet is the ritual of waking to the chirping of birds and taking a few minutes to listen to their springtime song.

3. Color your world. “Color in a picture is like enthusiasm in life,” said Vincent Van Gogh. The Impressionists valued pure, brilliant, and saturated pigments. They developed a method of painting that celebrated light, movement, and vibrant color. Nothing says spring like flowers. I love filling our home with colorful blooms and wearing floral blouses and dresses.

4. Loosen up a little. Impressionism was spontaneous and informal in style and subject. The artists broke away from serious historical and mythological themes. Instead, they freely painted contemporary subjects with visible, colorful brush strokes that weren’t carefully blended or shaded. The result was a joyful impression of real life. This season begs us to lighten up and skip, hop, or twirl like a child.

5. Be open to new ideas. The Impressionists, who preferred to be called Independents, faced harsh opposition and criticism from the established art community. They were considered radicals who broke every rule of the French Academy of Fine Arts. Rejected by the Salon de Paris, the annual state-sponsored art show, the artists held their own show in 1874. As it turned out, they were on to something the art world would eventually embrace. Spring is a good time to soften our hearts and reconsider some of our tired, stuffy thinking.

6. Make it pretty. Perhaps what draws me most to Impressionism is an underlying philosophy about creating a beautiful life in the midst of challenges. Pierre-Auguste Renoir said, “To my mind, a picture should be something pleasant, cheerful, and pretty, yes pretty! There are too many unpleasant things in life as it is without creating still more of them.” This spring, let’s fill our lives with as much simple beauty as possible.

I know springtime will eventually come to stay and quickly melt into summer. The trees will regain their splendor, perennials will magically bloom, and life will imitate art. Until then, I need only escape with a few of my favorite Impressionists, either through a book or a trip to the museum, to paint my life with the elegance of an artist.§

“All of a sudden I had the revelation of how enchanting my little pond was.” ~ Claude Monet

Poetry for Ukraine ~ a Haiku

IMG_1325

“Mourning Dove”

cooing mourning dove
iridescent wings of mauve

softly prays for peace

~Alicia Woodward

“Faith is the bird that sings when the dawn is still dark.”
~Rabindranath Tagore

Read Alicia’s previous poems for Ukraine:
“With the Strength of Snowdrops” https://thesimpleswan.wordpress.com/2022/03/02
“War Can Turn to Peace”  https://thesimpleswan.wordpress.com/2022/03/09
“Innocence” https://thesimpleswan.wordpress.com/2022/03/16
“An Elegant Response to War” https://thesimpleswan.wordpress.com/2022/03/23
“The Sky” https://thesimpleswan.wordpress.com/2022/03/30

The Elegance of National Poetry Month

IMG_1039April is the loveliest month for hopeless romantics with a penchant for all things spring. Add National Poetry Month to the calendar, and it’s enough to make this former literature teacher’s heart skip a beat.

A perfect spring day allowed me to take my classes outside to teach a poem among the birds and the bees and eighth grade hormones in full bloom. There’s nothing quite like reading poetry with young hearts inspired by dreamy talk of love and life. My teaching days are behind me now, but I will forever celebrate two of my favorite things in April – springtime and poetry.

Launched by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, National Poetry Month is a reminder of the integral role poetry plays in our culture. National Poetry Month has grown to become the largest literary celebration in the world, with tens of millions of participants of all ages marking poetry’s importance in our lives.

There’s an extensive website at poets.org that offers activities and resources so anyone can join in the celebration. Discover dozens of ways to participate in National Poetry Month and sign-up for a free Poem-a-Day. Follow thousands of events through social media with the official hashtag #NationalPoetryMonth and follow the Academy of American Poets on Twitter and Instagram @POETSorg.

The arrival of spring, along with National Poetry Month, may be just the one-two punch we all need to get through a time of unrelenting shared worries and sorrows. Poetry can help us express our emotions and fills our heads and hearts with loftier thoughts. Our country’s Poet Laureate Joy Harjo said, “Without poetry, we lose our way.”

As birds sing their springtime song and faithful flowers pop up to say hello again, poetry can remind us of the peaceful rhythm of nature and that nothing we experience is unique to the human condition.

Let words like these from William Wordsworth’s 1804 poem I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud soothe your soul and breathe elegance into your day, “For oft when on my couch I lie in vacant or in pensive mood, they flash upon that inward eye which is the bliss of solitude, and then my heart with pleasure fills, and dances with the daffodils!” §

“If you cannot be the poet, be the poem.” ~ David Carradine