The Elegance of Children and Wildflowers

IMG_1852Just a couple of blocks from our house is the community swimming pool where I spent some of my happiest days. The Mount Vernon Recreation Club is where I learned to swim as a child and where I taught swimming lessons as a teenager. As I drive by the pool, I see children in colorful swimsuits splashing, bobbing, and climbing in and out of the water with wild abandon. I smile as I watch them do cannonballs off the diving board shouting, “Woo hoo!”

They remind me of summer’s wildflowers, so natural, sweet, and free. Yellow black-eyed Susan, Queen Anne’s lace, blue bachelor buttons, and purple coneflowers dance in the warm breeze like happy children.

It was Thoreau who told us, “All good things are wild and free.” While I appreciate formal gardens with highly-cultivated flowers, neat hedges, and perfect symmetry, they are more like rigid adults. Adults who tug at their swimsuits, hold in their tummies, and smooth down windblown hair. Adults who are so serious they miss all the fun.

I want to be more like children and wildflowers. They remind me to be more carefree and to accept myself just the way nature intended. They encourage me to stop metaphorically pruning, weeding, and digging in quite so hard. A wildflower grows simply and beautifully, like a child in summertime.

This summer I want to swing high into the air with my feet kicked out and my head tilted back. I want to make a chain of clover and wear it in my hair. I want to lie in the grass and watch my thoughts roll by like fluffy clouds.

Wherever this season leads you, take time to notice children playing at the park, on neighborhood streets, on beaches, and at amusement parks. Be inspired by their curiosity, imagination, and lightheartedness. Let their unguarded laughter and movement take you back to your own childlike nature.

Like flowers, children deserve to freely grow in safe and nurturing environments where they can preserve their bright beauty and fresh innocence for as long as possible. I think adults would more elegantly serve each other and our world if we could regain some of our guileless naivety and childlike wonder.

Pick a wildflower from the woods or roadside ditch and put it in a little vase to be reminded. If the opportunity arises, slip on your swimsuit without any self-criticism. Then run and jump into the cool water with an enthusiastic, “Woo hoo!” §

“Wildflowers are the stuff of my heart!”
~ Lady Bird Johnson

Featured Art ~ Girl in a Field, Ludwig Knaus, 1857

Come Sit With Me

Welcome to our backyard ~ I’m so glad you stopped by. Won’t you sit with me for a minute? My husband designed and built this little goldfish pond and waterfall especially for summer evenings like this. As the sun lingers on these longer days, shade trees fan us with a light breeze. Birds sing their own songs while Consolation No. 3 by Franz Liszt accompanies the simple beauty and elegance of summertime. I hope a minute’s rest with me brings you some serenity. Come back any time ~ I’ll be right here. §

“In summer, the song sings itself.”
~ William Carlos Williams

(Please click on the white arrow for a one minute video. Music available on YouTube at 30 Most Beautiful Pieces of Classical Music.)

The Elegance of the Man in the Moon

IMG_1680This Father’s Day coincides with a waning Strawberry moon and a supermoon making it exceptionally full and bright. The moon’s gossamer glow both increases and soothes my melancholy. I miss my dad even more now that my mother is gone, too.

Gazing up, I see the man in the moon and picture my father. I imagine Claude Debussy’s piano classic Claire de Lune quietly playing in the background as a perfect accompaniment to my bittersweet emotions.

Claire de Lune, meaning moonlight, is one of the most well-known and beloved piano pieces of all time. It is the third and most famous movement of Debussy’s 1890 Suite Bergamasque. In a spirit of creative cooperation, Debussy was inspired by Paul Verlaine’s poem Claire de Lune, which was inspired by the moon itself.

Whether or not one understands French, the poem sounds lovely. “Et leur chanson se mele au clair de lune. Au calme clair de lune triste et beau. These lines are translated to say, “And their song mingles with the moonlight. With the sad and beautiful moonlight.”

Triste et beau. Sad and beautiful. Yes, those two words do strike a chord. I’m in awe of nature’s ability to inspire masterpieces that express our seemingly inexpressible emotions. Both nature and art connect us through a timeless shared humanity. A humanity that collectively understands the deep missing of a father.

My mind travels back to a moonlit evening many years ago. My handsome young dad is at the piano plucking out chords and humming a tune. He had an ear for music and could find the notes to any song he heard. My sisters and I gather around him in our nightgowns, squeaky clean from evening baths, and sing together for almost an hour before dreamily floating off to bed.

My dad was an optimist who believed in hard work and easy living. He enjoyed the simple things and could make an impromptu evening around the piano feel like a special occasion. He filled ordinary moments with extraordinary memories and elegant lessons in living.

Looking up at the full moon this evening I wish my dad a happy father’s day. Silhouetted against a heavenly circle of light I blow a kiss to the man in the moon. He is sitting at a piano playing Claire de Lune. §

“He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived and let me watch him do it.”
~Clarence Budington Kelland

Skin Care Meditations

IMG_1842We can live a more elegant life by turning everyday routines into special rituals. You probably do some type of skin care every morning and evening. If you’re like me, you often rush through the process without giving it much thought. Routine skin care can be transformed into a twice-a-day meditation that cares for your face as well as your soul.

Vicky Tsai, founder of the luxury skin care line Tatcha, said, “Skin care is self-care.” She claims her own skin care discoveries came at a time when both her skin and her heart were broken. Our skin can react to stress, worry, and heartache with acne, rosacea, dermatitis, deepening wrinkles, and other unpleasant conditions. It can be a vicious cycle of stress causing skin problems causing more stress.

No matter what products we choose to use, most skin care routines include cleansing, exfoliating, and moisturizing. Let’s turn each of those steps into a calming and centering meditation morning and night.

Morning Skin Care Meditation:

Cleansing ~ Cleanse your face slowly and gently the way an esthetician might do during a facial. Picture starting the new day with a clean slate. Set intentions for your skin, heart, and mind to stay clear throughout the day. That might mean eating clean foods, shutting down negativity, and sending pure, wholesome thoughts to yourself and others.

Exfoliating ~ Most experts agree skin needs regular exfoliation to help skin cell turnover, which slows down as we age. Regardless of the type of exfoliator you use, the goal is to make skin more luminous and vibrant. In the morning, picture the process giving your skin a healthy bright glow, which you reflect in your attitude throughout the day.

Moisturizing ~ In the morning, take time to pamper your skin with a moisturizer suitable for your skin’s needs. As you massage it into your skin, focus on the product soothing and protecting your skin from the ravages of the day. Make a promise to do all you can to treat yourself and others gently.

Evening Skin Care Meditation:

Cleansing ~ At night, as you wash away make-up, dirt, and oil, imagine stress from the day going right down the drain. As you rid impurities from your skin, breathe deeply and focus on clearing your heart and mind for a good night’s sleep.

Exfoliating ~ Evening exfoliation is a time to meditate on every cell in your body resting and rejuvenating. As your skin lets go of dead skin, consciously let go of old thoughts and ideas that aren’t serving you. Begin to move more slowly and intentionally to let your body know it’s time to wind down and benefit from the healing, restorative properties of sleep.

Moisturizing ~ Use your moisturizer and your fingers or tool to give yourself a relaxing facial massage. Gently smooth away wrinkles and worries. Before turning out the light, take a moment to look at yourself in the mirror with love, gratitude, and compassion. Go to sleep feeling beautiful, because you are. §

“It’s not selfish to love yourself, take care of yourself, and to make your happiness a priority. It’s necessary.”
~Mandy Hale

Featured Art ~ Mary Cassatt, “Woman Bathing (La Toilette)” 1890-1891

The Elegance of Getting Through Thorny Times

IMG_1671“I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden. Along with the sunshine, there’s gotta be a little rain sometime.” Lately I’ve been humming those lyrics from a 1970 country song. As much as this optimistic romantic wishes it to be, life isn’t always a bed of roses.

We all deal with difficult things in life. Personal challenges may involve our health, relationships, work, children, finances, grief, anxiety and a host of other issues that can seem more like a heap of fertilizer than a bouquet of flowers. I’ve learned there are things we can do to help us navigate those inevitable thorny times with elegance.

Seek professional help. First and foremost, realize if your needs require the help of a professional. There is never shame in seeking professional help. Caring people are trained to address our physical and mental wellness. If you don’t know where to start, call your primary care doctor, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or go to MentalHealth.gov.

Nurture yourself with nature. “Mother nature has the power to please, to comfort, to calm, and nurture one’s soul,” wrote Anthony Douglas Williams. The evening of my mother’s death, a friend texted me a picture of an impossibly brilliant sunset with instructions to go look out the window. That memorable sunset provided me deep comfort that I still hold in my heart.

Create beauty where you can. I was recently in the hospital for a few days and did everything I could to make my surroundings prettier. My husband removed the typical hospital clutter from the main shelf in my view and replaced it with some gorgeous flowers and a sweet gift from a friend. A nurse raised the blinds each morning to let in the sunshine. Classical music from my phone filled the room. One afternoon when I felt particularly gloomy, I pulled out a perfume sample from my purse and spritzed it around my bed. No matter where we find ourselves, there are things we can do to make our place a little more beautiful.

Pamper yourself. During that hospital stay, I also did what I could to make myself feel as well as I could under the circumstances. Since I was attached to needles, tubes, and beeping machines, my husband carefully shampooed my hair in the sink. Although it wasn’t cute, I made sure to put on a fresh hospital gown every day. I slathered my feet and legs with rose-scented body lotion. I filed my nails and kept my face and lips well-moisturized. I’m convinced all these little efforts helped me feel better and make a speedier recovery.

Take a break from the news. When we are going through a difficult time, we need to treat ourselves more gently. One way we can do that is by taking a break from the news which is almost always upsetting and depressing. World events will go on without us, and we can always catch up with it when we’re feeling stronger.

Lean into your faith. Times of crisis and uncertainty can be an opportunity for our faith to grow. Passages and parables can offer strength, encouragement, and understanding. A familiar hymn can take on new meaning. Martin Luther King said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

Lift your own spirits. We all have simple, positive things we can do to brighten our own day. Maybe we enjoy watching a funny movie, reading a mystery, taking a long walk, playing the piano, or baking cupcakes. It’s good to know we always have the ability to lift ourselves up when we’re feeling down.

Help someone. Mark Twain said, “The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up.” Helping others gives us purpose, gets our mind off our own problems, and makes everybody feel good. Call someone you know is lonely, lend a neighbor a hand, or get plugged-in to volunteer somewhere.

Be grateful. No matter what we’re going through, we must still count our blessings. Remember what French novelist Alphonse Karr wrote in the 1800s, “You can complain because roses have thorns, or you can rejoice because thorns have roses.” §

A Summertime Poem ~ “Unplugged”

IMG_1810“Unplugged”

Sit outside in dappled shade
Unplugged from tech and things man-made

Don’t fret the wifi isn’t stronger
This connection lasts much longer

Tick-tock is the sound of time
Spend some in nature and offline

Leave social media behind
Post a picture in your mind

Instead of clicking on that link
Find out what your own heart thinks

Trade television and play stations
For incredible imagination

The cloud is good for storing info
Look up, there is a fluffy hippo

Real flowers smell so sweet
Listen to the birdies tweet

Shooting stars and lightning bugs
We miss it all if we don’t unplug §

By Alicia Woodward

The Elegance of Good Grammar

IMG_1699In Muriel Barbery’s novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog, a precocious 12-year-old named Paloma says, “Grammar is a way to attain beauty.” As one who taught language arts to middle schoolers for nearly thirty years, I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I would say proper grammar is elegant and poor grammar may ruin any chance of being so.

We all make grammatical mistakes sometimes. Regional and cultural dialects can be deeply ingrained, and those learning English as a second language have my full respect. If you saw me do algebra or bake a cake, you would likely be able to help me in areas that are not my strong suit. So let me offer some explanation for ten common spoken grammar mistakes.

  1. Linda and me went to the show. This is incorrect because me can’t be the subject of a sentence. You wouldn’t say, “Me went to the show.” Corrected Example: Linda and I went to the show.
  2. Dad is taking Bob and I. This is incorrect because I can’t be used as the object of a sentence. You wouldn’t say, “Dad is taking I.” Corrected Example: Dad is taking Bob and me.
  3. Sue is my friend that loves ice cream. This is incorrect because Sue is a person, not a thing. Use who to refer to people. Use that to refer to things. Corrected Example: Sue is my friend who loves ice cream.
  4. I should of done my homework last night. This is incorrect and probably stems from lazily saying shoulda, coulda, woulda. Corrected Example: I should have done my homework last night.
  5. I seen him at the store today. This is incorrect because the past tense of see is saw. Seen is a past participle and must be used with a helping verb. Corrected Example: I saw him at the store today.
  6. These cookies is good. This is incorrect because there is not subject-verb agreement. The subject of the sentence, cookies, is plural and requires the plural form of the verb. Corrected Example: These cookies are good.
  7. Irregardless of his credentials, he didn’t get the job. This is incorrect because irregardless is not a word. The word is regardless. Corrected Example: Regardless of his credentials, he didn’t get the job.
  8. The company honed in on its objective. This is incorrect because hone means to sharpen. To home in on something means to move towards a goal. Corrected Example: The company homed in on its objective.
  9. I’m going to lay down for a nap. This is incorrect because lay is a transitive verb and needs to have an object. For example: I’m going to lay this sweater on the chair. Lie is an intransitive verb which means it doesn’t have an object. Corrected Example: I’m going to lie down for a nap.
  10. I could care less. This is likely incorrect because it suggests that you actually do care a little bit. You are probably trying to express that you do not care at all. Corrected Example: I couldn’t care less.

    If you’re reading this, something tells me you do care about using proper grammar and agree with Paloma about it being beautiful. Using correct grammar is something that takes practice. Striving to use good grammar elevates our communication, enhances the spread of ideas, makes a positive impression, and adds elegance to our world. §

“Your grammar is a reflection of your image. Good or bad, you have made an impression. And like all impressions, you are in total control.”
~ Jeffery Gitomer

Chinoiserie Chic

IMG_1730

Like many of you, my home is my favorite place in the world, and I’m always looking for ways to show it some love. I was recently inspired by a magazine cover featuring blue and white chinoiserie vases. I love the crisp, classic look of blue and white together. I happened to have a couple of porcelain vases stored in the attic, so I decided to re-decorate our fireplace mantle. I was very pleased with the results, especially when I found an inexpensive piece of chinoiserie-inspired art to complete the look. (See photo above.)

Every time I see the word chinoiserie, I question how to say it. The word is correctly pronounced shēēn – waa -zr – ēē. The emphasis is on the the first syllable and the e-sounds are long. That reminds me of a great line in a not-so-great movie in which Mike Myers’ character says, “I put the emphasis on the wrong syllable.” Most English teachers find that line absolutely hilarious, but I digress.

Chinoiserie comes from the French word for Chinese. This 17th and 18th century design style represents a European interpretation of Asian culture and decorative arts. It includes much more than blue and white patterns on jars and vases, and I’ve discovered I am particularly drawn to its bird and floral motifs.

My grandmother had two deep orange chinoiserie vases in her home that came from her travels. Thankfully, we can all mimic this style from our local home decor stores for a fraction of the cost. Chinoiserie has become a timeless style that can add elegance to our homes.

Even if you don’t choose to use this style in your house, you can always enjoy it by thumbing through an art book or magazine. I’ll leave you with a few beautiful photographs to look at while you practice saying the very tricky word chinoiserie. §

“Home, the spot of earth supremely blessed, a dearer sweeter spot than all the rest.”
~ Robert Montgomery