Tag Archive | Beauty Break

Changes and Something To Celebrate

Womanhood, 1925 (oil on canvas) by Mostyn, Thomas Edwin (1864-1930); 127.5x101.5 cm; Private Collection; © Christopher Wood Gallery, London, UK; English,  out of copyright

Womanhood, 1925 (oil on canvas) by Mostyn, Thomas Edwin (1864-1930); 127.5×101.5 cm; Private Collection; © Christopher Wood Gallery, London, UK; English, out of copyright

To everything there is a season . . .

Lots of changes have been taking place in my personal life which have encouraged me to re-examine and reorient my priorities such that regular readers will likely see less activity on one tiny violet in the near future.

My newly increased teaching schedule is taking up the majority of my time, leaving precious little to devote to my writing. Finishing my novel is a priority (I’m so close!), and since some of my health issues have improved, I plan on directing my energy to finishing my book. To assist with meeting this goal, I enrolled in a writing class/workshop which comes with its own demands for my diminishing time. All of which means I have had to choose to spend less time and energy writing for both my blogs.

In addition, I have cause to celebrate a new opportunity to explore the interplay between faith, beauty, and living a writing life. Recently I was invited to be a regular contributing writer to Deep Down Things, the blog affiliated with the gorgeous quarterly literary/art journal Dappled Things. This is a wonderful opportunity for me and I am excited to work with such an inspiring, enthusiastic, and devoted group of writers and editors. The entire Dappled Things project is truly a labor of love — all of the time to produce the journal and website/blog is donated by individuals committed to reinvigorating Catholic arts and letters. The combined effort of these talented people results in high caliber prose, poetry, and art, an unusually beautiful print edition of the journal, and a growing, engaging online presence. I hope you will celebrate this new opportunity with me and follow my writing on Deep Down Things and perhaps even consider giving yourself the gift of a year of Beauty Breaks by taking a subscription to this unique literary journal. My first essay, a meditation on living the writing life inspired by St. Therese of Lisieux, can be found here.

I do plan to write here when time and energy allow, and I’ll definitely post updates to my pieces published on Deep Down Things. But my intention is to take something of a sabbatical and use it to focus and quiet my mind to make progress on those larger projects which are very important to me. I hope you’ll continue to stay tuned . . .

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Beauty Break: Welcome Autumn

Today was littered with tiny, ordinary gifts that brought me back to the present moment . . . a prelude to the autumn leaves soon to come. Sharing with you the gift of —

Autumn Leaves (1856), by John Everett Millais. Image courtesy of WikiPaintings

Autumn Leaves (1856), by John Everett Millais. Image courtesy of WikiPaintings

* A succulent chicken roasting slow, redolent with the aroma herbes de provence and sliced shallots

* The first cool rains of autumn, washing away the dust and dry of summer

* Sipping the first spiced apple cider this fall

* Making pumpkin honey bread with chocolate chips and pecans, its scent in the oven warming the house

* My son excited, telling me how happy he is with the rain, and the cider, and the bread, and the chicken, and the season

* The voice of my child reminding me that it’s the little things in life that make it wonderful

* Feeling like I could BREATHE for the first time in a very long while

Hoping this day brought whispers and gifts of autumn your way . . .

Ode to Autumn, by John Keats

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,–
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft,
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Beauty Break: Music For Your Ears, Part II

I don’t think there’s any such thing as too much Shakespeare. The Bard never gets old and when his poetry is read aloud by the likes of Alan Rickman, well, it’s simply time to drop everything and be seduced.

Sonnet 130 has always been a favorite of mine because it is so unexpected in its use of metaphor. Renaissance poets used the sonnet form to wax poetic about the beauties of the lady of the moment, comparing her to roses and sun beams and wildflowers and jewels. Metaphors and similes, lovely though they were, described human beauty in classic motifs that were decidedly familiar and revered. Shakespeare himself is no slouch in this department — we need only recall his 18th Sonnet or the glorious metaphors in the Petrarchan-style love poetry of Romeo and Juliet.

But Sonnet 130 turns all of those classic comparisons of beauty upside down and celebrates the true Beauty of the ordinary, true Beauty which is often overlooked or ignored simply because it doesn’t measure up to the grandeur of what is deemed beautiful by the culture or by history. Sonnet 130 rejoices in quiet Beauty that is hidden and not ostentatious and it celebrates a love that is more than skin-deep. This makes it the perfect poetic selection for one tiny violet, which focuses on discovering extraordinary beauty in an ordinary life. Sit back, close your eyes, and enjoy.

This is the second post in a series of three, celebrating National Poetry Month. You can find the first here.

Beauty Break: Music For Your Ears, Part I

National Poetry Month Poster 2013April is National Poetry Month and to celebrate the beauty of the written word spoken well, I’m sharing an audio series of three of my favorite poetry readings. Each is a YouTube video of one of my favorite actors reciting a poetic selection and, perhaps with the exception of today’s post, watching the video is completely unnecessary to enjoying to depth of music, emotion, and linguistic precision in these pieces. In fact, it is best to close your eyes and simply LISTEN and resist the temptation to be distracted by the visual images on the screen. With perhaps the exception of Hamlet, the images lend nothing to the experience of the poem itself, for the experience is dependent upon well-chosen language spoken beautifully. I chose these pieces not only because of the beauty of the written works themselves, but because they seem to me to come particularly alive delivered through these select “voices.”

Today, the “To be or not to be” soliloquy from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, performed by Kenneth Branagh in his gorgeous film production of the play.

For more information about National Poetry Month or for ideas on how to plant the seed that will grow a poetry garden in your own daily life, visit The Poetry Foundation and the Academy of American Poets.

Beauty Break: A Found Poem

Skippy’s up to almost 2 hours a day between piano, electric guitar and acoustic guitar. The house is filled with music and I love it. My favorite part of it all is when he just relaxes and it becomes something other than a practice session. I call it “plinking,” meaning he just goes into the zone and composes or picks a favorite song out by ear. Simply lovely….

Today, I heard strumming on the acoustic behind a podcast I was listening to while cooking in the kitchen, and next:

“Mom, did you hear what I was playing?”

“Yes…it’s a little noisy out here, so yes, vaguely, and it sounded good.”

“I found a new favorite song. . . ”

“You did?” Me, semi-distracted. . .

“Want me to show you?” And he starts singing a song that gives me goosebumps every time I hear it. “And the leaves that are green, turn to brown. . . . “

Skippy playing Simon and Garfunkel's "Leaves That Are Green"

Skippy playing Simon and Garfunkel’s “Leaves That Are Green”

And he proceeds to sing and play Simon and Garfunkel’s song of the same name, nearly impeccably, by ear. My boy and I are kindred spirits when it comes to music and I love that he appreciates and hears the poetry in a song like this.

If you’ve never heard it, or have forgotten it because its been too long, do yourself a favor and listen now. There isn’t enough poetry in the world today, and we need to grasp it and hold onto it when we find it, wherever that may be.

Beauty Break: “The Red Balloon”

This is a lovely little film which I only just saw for the first time, at the suggestion of a good friend. It’s elegant simplicity and innocence provide the perfect vehicle for suggesting the ways we take ordinary beauty for granted and how the effort to recognize and preserve this extraordinary beauty in the every day pays off a hundredfold. It’s also a reminder about the need to be more childlike, humble, and trusting in our approach to life. Enjoy!

Beauty Break: Taking the Time to Listen

Photo credit: Lisa Marie Mazzucco

I’ve been stalking Simone Dinnerstein for about a year now, since I heard this interview with her on NPR last year when she spoke about her unique interpretation of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and her new album Strange Beauty. I was captivated by her presence in the interview and her unique perspective on Bach’s music, which is unlike anything I’d ever heard.

Funny how God listens — we think we aren’t being heard and then suddenly a wish to satisfy the soul’s longing for beauty comes true. I’d wanted to hear Ms. Dinnerstein since I heard her on the radio and then suddenly news came through the local symphony that she’d be playing in a recital for the Corona del Mar Baroque Festival, right in my own back yard. I had to go.

Last night, I was not only able to finally purchase Strange Beauty, but was able to hear Ms. Dinnerstein play live at the Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa. A true beauty break. I simply floated away, eyes closed, on a cloud of baroque dreams. Since I’d had an uber-busy day, I was very aware of how uptight I felt when I arrived at the concert. But as Ms. Dinnerstein began to play, I gradually felt the tension, fatigue, and anxiety of the day melt away as my breathing slowed and became more regular and I just closed my eyes and gave myself over to the music, entranced, relaxed, at peace.

Something about the way her fingers flitted along the gleaming white piano keys like a dragonfly over a water-lily . . . Something about the diaphanous way she coaxed Bach’s fluted flurry of notes lightly out of the keys . . . She at once gave voice to his compositions for clavichord and harpsichord while at the same time making them her own.

A few things occurred to me while I was listening to and watching this gifted musician. She’d memorized each of the four extremely complex pieces she chose to play for this recital. This is simply amazing to me. I know a little — very little — about the difficulty of what I saw her doing with her hands, and the timing of the pieces she shared, to appreciate the delicate and complex beauty of her choices and her approach to expressing them.

Another thing I noticed was the depth of her gift and how long and hard she certainly has had to work to cultivate such mastery of her art. She makes it look easy, effortless, but I know this is an illusion. For myself as a writer, Ms. Dinnerstein is an apt role model. Writing should have rhythm and order, structure and beauty. Good writing, beautiful writing, should be musical at its very heart. Ms. Dinnerstein approaches music something like a painter or a writer — perhaps because her father is an artist — and is acutely aware of her “voice” as a musician, what she brings to a piece that makes it uniquely her own. I desire to have such fluidity in the practice of my craft and its end results and ultimately such an awareness of a signature voice in my own work.

Finally, the experience of slowing down after a rat-race day just made me more aware of how much more of a concerted effort I need to make to reduce the clutter in my life and make a place for slow beauty. Taking my time, trying to live more in the present moment will enable me to be more open to whatever gift the moment holds. There can be a “strange beauty” even in the difficult times and Ms. Dinnerstein’s perspective on Bach reminds me to try to pay attention to that.

Curious to know more about this brilliant artist? Need an extra special beauty break?  Take a few minutes to check out the links here, or simply sit back, relax for a moment, and enjoy this gorgeous video.