Gift #1190: Summer Days

Hello everyone and Happy Summer!  I hope this post finds you well.  In my neck of the woods, we have welcomed summer with days of plentiful sunshine and warm temperature, and lots of watering in the garden.  We have tadpoles in the pond and have enjoyed the voices of the frogs and toads at night.  There are at least two chipmunks that frolic on the deck, along with the squirrels, and they have taken an interest in what goes on in the house too.  The birds are visiting the feeders quite frequently and we’ve seen a few fledgling birds as well.  In the garden, the lettuce is about to run it’s course, we had a grand total of 3 strawberries (well the ones we got to eat), and there are baby tomatoes and peppers.  Summer is a wonderful time of growth.

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We had the most beautiful display of peonies this year – I don’t think they’ve ever been as beautiful!  The hydrangeas won’t be long in coming into bloom.  I’ve been walking every evening in the neighborhood and it’s really fun to see other people’s gardens and what’s blooming in every yard.  I love spending time outside listening to the sounds of nature and feeling the sun.  It’s incredibly peaceful to fall asleep with the windows open to waft in a gentle breeze and the sound of crickets.

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Here are a few quotes to celebrate summer:

“Spring being a tough act to follow, God created June.” – Al Bernstein

“We might think we are nurturing our garden, but of course it’s our garden that is really nurturing us.” – Jenny Uglow

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“It was June, and the world smelled of roses. The sunshine was like powdered gold over the grassy hillside.” – Maude Hart Lovelace

 

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

Let the song sing in your heart and find joy in the ordinary miracles of summer.

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Blessings to you,

Sarah

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Gift #1189: A Walk in the Woods

Hello and welcome to June.  It feels strange that we’ve already come into the summer months.  The year feels like it’s moving more slowly than the calendar says.  It’s been hard to write and I had started working on this blog post over a week ago.  Mom and I went to check out a nature reserve near our home that we’d been wanting to visit.  We got a quick walk in before afternoon storms chased us back to the car.  It was so nice though to be outside in the woods again.  I’ve talked before about how therapeutic it is for me to be near trees and meandering through forested paths.  My heart and mind clear and I can regain focus and perspective.

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It’s been a hard and heartbreaking year for us.  And the whole world now feels like it’s crying.  So much pain and tears.  In the midst of such grief, nature is a source of solace and calm.  It is one of God’s greatest blessings to us that His creation brings joy and comfort in our broken world.  It’s beauty can pierce through our sorrows to bring the light of His presence and speak hope into our hearts.

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One of the great delights in our short walk was that we were able to see some wildflowers.  I thought that we had missed them all during quarantine but the frothy blooms of false Solomon’s seal were abundant.  And joy of joys, there was one precious trillium left in bloom – my favorite forest flower.

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We admired the floor filled with lush emerald foliage – including these heart-shaped beauties.

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And we even found a magic kingdom of mushrooms!

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But best of all, we found some peace and quiet to be still and listen to God’s voice speaking truth into our hearts.  We took time to remind ourselves that in spite of our disappointment and hurt, God loves us and He cares for us.  One of the verses that has become very precious to me this year is Psalm 31:7.

I will be glad and rejoice in Your mercy, for You have considered my trouble; You have known my soul in adversity. 

I love this verse because it reminds us that God knows our troubles – He knows what grieves and hurts us.  And even more than that, He knows our soul intimately in our times of trouble.  He hovers over us and wraps His arms around us when our lives are in turmoil and grief.  He is near, He is love, and He is calling for us.  I hope wherever you find yourself today, that you experience comfort, work to be a blessing to those around you, and look for the ordinary miracles that fill our world with joy.

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Blessings to you,

Sarah

 

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Gift #1188: The Great Greening

It has finally arrived.  The trees in our forest have greened up and now you cannot see through the forest for the leaves.

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The great greening took about two and half days last week.  It was like watching a drama: you could literally watch the forest grow and change.  After a night of rain, it went from lightly leafed out to nearly full canopy.  Since then the layers of green have deepened and grown.  And with the leafing out I’ve felt something in my soul stir and loosen.  It feels like I’ve been holding my breath since November and finally took in air.  It has been a joy and comfort to be home to watch spring unfurl right in front of my windows this year.  I often just go stand in front of a window during the day, soaking up sun and staring at the green.

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My magnolia has done something rather miraculous too.  She blooms early, and each year, bless her, she tries so hard to create a stunning pageant of grand pink blooms.  But she has two arch enemies that conspire against her – squirrels who insist on chewing her unopened buds, and late frosts that wait until she’s just opened her buds and then… zap!

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I’m always devastated by this because magnolia blooms are one of the greatest enchanting delights of spring.   As expected, we had a few days of her loveliness before a frost browned and withered her blooms.    But….  she secretly held back many blooms and we’ve had another chance at spring with her.  When I saw them, my heart soared – what a delight!!!  Her blooms are with us still.

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It is a relief to have spring with us again.   This has been a season of loss and hard times for my family.  Watching spring come is a comfort and reminder that God is always working and He is making all things new.  The forest in the backyard had a long winter – if you hadn’t traveled through the seasons before, you’d think all the trees were dead.  But in the right time, what looked like a pile of dead wood springs into green with wild abandon.  Watching the miracle unfold has taught truth to my hurting heart.  There is always hope and the promise of new life.

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Blessings to you,

Sarah

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Gift #1187: John Muir and Earth Day

Hello everyone!  As today is Earth Day and this week was John Muir’s birthday, I thought it would be a fitting tribute to include some of my favorite quotes of his in honor of this day.  Muir is one of my heroes – and a kindred spirit – as he championed the importance of preserving our wild spaces.  He viewed wilderness as a kind of church, where in both places God meets with man and reveals His glory.
Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another.

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Oh, these vast, calm, measureless mountain days, days in whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God.

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Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.
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Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves
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Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean…
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This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never dried all at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.
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This last quote is my favorite.  The miracles of nature awe us and remind us of an existence far greater than our own lifespan.  Spending time outdoors, especially in forests, renews my mind and refreshes my perspective.  It calms my heart and makes me more open to seeing God at work in my life when I can see His hand so clearly in creation.  God often uses metaphors of His creation to remind us of His faithfulness – like the turning of seasons, dawn emerging from dark, and harvest following sowing.  As we can set our days on the rhythms of nature, so we can set our hearts and souls on God’s promises and His faithfulness.  He uses examples of His care for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field to reinforce His love for us.  The beauty we see in nature pulls us to the beauty and glory of God.  I’ve been relishing daily walks as an opportunity to experience God at work as the world wakens up to spring.  The flowers and birdsong and sunshine fill this corner of the world with beauty.  I hope wherever you are this week that you find a bit of time to head outside and nourish your soul with the ordinary miracles all around you.
Blessings to you,
Sarah
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Gift #1186: Happy Easter 2020

Happy Easter everyone!  While this Easter celebration has been quite different, the God we celebrate is not.  He rises and He reigns over sin and death, over all powers, and over all circumstances.  We can rejoice in who God is and what He has done for us regardless of what circumstances we’re in, knowing that God is working for us a “far greater eternal weight of glory”.  I pray that you’ve found comfort and a reason for joy wherever you are today.

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Like so many others across the world, our church is closed too.  We had online services today and worshiped virtually.  While we can certainly worship God wherever we are and church is not confined to a building with walls, I did miss being in our church building worshiping as a large group.  I’ve been thinking a lot about the beautiful churches and cathedrals we saw in England – large and small – and my heart aches that they too are closed.  However, I started researching and found lists of churches that were broadcasting services online!  Through this, I’ve been able to connect with places across the world in ways that weren’t possible even a few months ago.

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One special cathedral we visited, the first outside of London, was Litchfield Cathedral.  Since it has been closed during Holy Week, the Cathedral instead chose to illuminate the cathedral with images of hope and reminders of the Passion of Christ which were posted online.  Their Easter Eucharist services are also online and the presiding Rev’d John Hencher offered this beautiful prayer for Easter:

“Risen Lord:

Give us a heart for simple things:

love, laughter, bread, wine, dreams.

Fill us with green growing hope.

And make us an Easter people:

whose song is Alleluia,

whose sign is Peace,

and whose name is Love.”

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As is my usual practice, I post a song for each Easter.  Based on the prayer above and the opportunity to worship with the Church of England today as well as with my own church family, I’ve chosen “The Strife is O’er, the Battle Done”.

Refrain:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
The strife is o’er, the battle done;
The victory of life is won;
The song of triumph has begun:
Alleluia!
The pow’rs of death have done their worst;
But Christ their legions has dispersed;
Let shouts of holy joy outburst:
Alleluia!
The three sad days are quickly sped;
He rises glorious from the dead;
All glory to our risen Head:
Alleluia!
He closed the yawning gates of hell;
The bars from heav’n’s high portals fell;
Let hymns of praise His triumphs tell:
Alleluia!
Lord, by the stripes which wounded You,
In us You’ve won the vict’ry too,
That we may live, and sing to You:
Alleluia!
Refrain 5:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

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Let us indeed choose to be an Alleluia people, and Easter people, who rejoice in what God’s love has accomplished for us and spread that love to others.

Happy Easter blessings to you,

Sarah

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Gift #1185: National Gallery of Art Part 2

Hello everyone!  How are you all doing?  Since we’re all at home and the museums are closed, I thought it would be an opportune time to share with you more pictures from our day at the National Gallery of Art.  I’m really missing my local art museum – especially because right now is the Spring Blooms exhibit in the gardens and the orchid displays in the greenhouses.  I was able to rescue my orchids from work before we went into shutdown, so at least I have some to look at.  But I digress….  we have art to enjoy!

Now last post was Medieval art through the 1700s.  We’ll pick up in the mid 1700s today with a focus on landscapes, starting with my favorite artist, J.M.W. Turner.  Well, it’s hard to have a favorite artist, but he’s definitely tops.  I learned that he had bequeathed all his personal paintings to the National Gallery and it was thrilling to see many of his works in one place.

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He has a very distinctive style and was one of the rare artists who could expertly paint tiny vignettes to soaring, huge vistas.  He was known for his prowess of sketching detailed scenes with the attention of an architect, and he also created beautiful, loose impressionistic panoramas later in life.

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The museum had many of his sea scenes on display, including this action-packed scene with the riveting title “Calais Pier: An English Packet Arriving”.  Doesn’t that sound like a thriller?  Honestly, the names of works of art are hilarious to me.

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This one, “Ulysses deriding Polyphemus – Homer’s Odyssey” is an example of when Turner starts veering more to an Impressionistic style – you can see the brushwork is much looser and a lot of the detail is missing.  But it’s a lovely scene to be sure.  My local art museum was slated to open an exhibit of 30 of Turner’s sketches from his travels of Europe this month.  I’m looking forward to seeing them when the museums open again.  I love spending time with Turner’s art.

Another great artist with many works on display at the National Gallery is Thomas Gainsborough.  He was to portraiture what Turner was to landscapes.  Brilliant and beautiful.  Although Gainsborough also did magnificent landscapes too.

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“Mr and Mrs William Hallett” is a lovely example of his portraiture.  Gainsborough reported loved to paint fabrics and he certainly does a stunning job with the woman’s silk gown.

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“Mr and Mrs Andrews” is a personal favorite of mine because it was featured on a mini series of works of art that I’ve watched over and over.  The host believed the woman was painted subtly unfavorably because the Andrews’ marriage took personal ownership of vast acreage that had been open to the farmers and Gainsborough disapproved.  He went to school with Mr. Andrews though and they were friends – the host referred to his treatment in the painting as “he’s dim but nice”.  I think it’s quite a dramatic portraiture with the stormy clouds behind and idyllic country scene in the forefront.

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My favorite Gainsborough is this portrait he made of his two daughters.  It’s a touching scene, with the two girls chasing a butterfly – he captured an intimate and poignant moment.  You can almost feel in it his wish that his daughters would find happiness that would not be fleeting.

From here we moved on to the Impressionist galleries and beyond.  We actually spent so much time with the older paintings that we had to rush quite a bit to get through the rest of the galleries.  We were a bit frantic to get through everything but not knowing how much was left.  We finished at 5 minutes to 6pm and they virtually threw us out!

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Here is a Cezanne – my favorite of the ones in the collection, entitled “Landscape with Poplars”.   It’s a lovely, dreamy scene – don’t you think?  I like the restrained use of color too, which make it feel more realistic, like a scene in late summer.

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No collection of Impressionistic art could be complete without a ballet dancers from Degas.

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I was delighted to see some water lily paintings by Monet.  This particular scene is from his gardens at his home in Giverny.  He built the Japanese-style bridge and this pond became the focus of 17 paintings of water lilies.

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He also painted this stark scene of the flooded river Epte, a tributary of the Seine.  I found this piece quite mesmerizing.

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The artist Odilon Redon was one that I was introduced to through the Art Bead Scene blog, where we create jewelry inspired by works of art.  We have his works several times.  I was really excited to learn that the National Gallery had his work too.  This one is called “Ophelia among the Flowers” and depicted a drowned Ophelia floating among flowers, as described in Hamlet – he apparently had a fascination with Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  His pastel work is quite incredible and his work has a dreaminess about it.

At our rushing stage where we were basically just taking photos and quickly walking through the rest of the gallery, we ran into this series of paintings by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot called “The Four Times of Day”.

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These were so lovely – I wish we had more time to gaze at them appreciatively, but we at least snapped photos to remember them.  They were long narrow treescapes of  early morning, midday, afternoon, and evening.  And they were enchanting.   It was a full day at the National Gallery and so thrilling to see great works of art from the masters.  I hope it is uplifting you to see them as well.   This blog post has been a bit poignant for me since all the wonderful places we saw in England are now closed.  I’m so grateful we had the opportunity to travel and experience all that we did.  It’s been a blessing to remember it all with you on my blog.  Till next time…

Blessings to you,

Sarah

 

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Gift #1184: National Gallery of Art

Hello dear readers!  Welcome to March – I’m so delighted that we’ve had some sunshine and warmer temps here.  January and February are really hard on me and I feel great relief upon entering March.  Now there’s just the time change this weekend to contend with…  But last weekend, Mom and I went to the local art museum and went through some of the galleries and outdoor gardens.  It tickled my mind that I needed to share with you my experience at the National Gallery of Art in London.  So, spoiler alert, there will be a lot of photos.  And the artwork started before we even got into the building.  There was fabulous chalk art on the sidewalks leading up to the Gallery.

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Aren’t these amazing?!  Part of me felt rather foolish taking pictures of these on the doorstep to the world’s treasures of great art.  But then I thought these are beautiful and bringing joy into the lives of all who pass by, and in that way they are every bit as important and special as the art within the Gallery’s walls.  Besides, it was the first time I’d ever seen real sidewalk chalk art outside of Mary Poppins!  And that squirrel…

Now, a word about the content of today’s post.  It was very important to my mom and I that we view the art on display in chronological order.  There are 4 wings at the Gallery, loosely divided along timelines, and what I’ll show today are highlights from the Medieval and Renaissance eras.  We valiantly went through each gallery, starting with #44 – please don’t ask me about the numbering scheme – it gave me an eye twitch.  To make the visit more exciting, the galleries weren’t really in numerical order, so it took a lot of backtracking and wandering about to find each gallery, but that was the only way to ensure we’d see everything.  Oh, and a few gallery numbers were missing – as in, they didn’t actually have a gallery #3 and #7, but for some reason they just skipped those numbers and went from #6 to #8.  Why??  In another bit of marketing brilliance, you also had to pay to get a map…. evil genius I tell you.  But now to art.

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The crowning jewel in the Medieval collection is this lovely gilded diptych.  The deer is absolutely lovely – in fact, it is on the cover of the guide we got in advance.  The deer is actually the back of the piece, which is the oldest in the collection, dating about 1395.  The white hart was the royal symbol of Richard II and this piece commemorates his reign.

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Understandably, there were hundreds of paintings of saints from the Medieval period. This one of St. Jerome was my favorite of all of them – I loved the imagery of him pulling the thorn from the lion’s paw.

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“The Arnolfini Portrait” by Jan van Eyck was one of the pieces I was most excited about seeing with my own eyes.  My family enjoys documentaries and we have a mini series about 8 works of art that we’ve seen more times than I can count.  This is one of the paintings that is featured and it is rich in symbolism and detail.  I was surprised to find that it is actually a rather small work and it was one of the few that you couldn’t get right up close to.  It’s a fascinating piece and one you could stare at for hours, finding all the special details in this scene.

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In contrast, “The Virgin of the Rocks” by Leonardo da Vinci was of an impressively large scale, taking up nearly the entire wall in its enclave.  This depicts the Christ Child and John the Baptist as infants with Mary.  In a DVD about the Gallery that I received as a Christmas present, there’s a section on the framing of certain of their works of art.  This frame was acquired at auction from the 1700s I believe and there was enough of the woodwork to fit this piece perfectly.

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The Gallery has its share of mythology as well as sacred.  This fantastical scene depicts Orpheus, who had the power to enchant all living creatures as well as inanimate objects with his music.  I loved the menagerie of animals shown here and the way the eye travels from the foreground back behind the trees to the forested ruins and open sky behind.

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One of my favorite ways of exploring a painting is by taking closeups of certain areas to highlight a particular focus.  For example, this photo was a small part of a scene depicting the death of a mythical character.  While not thrilled with the action part of the scene, I thought the background was magical and created its own story.

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We were making admirable progress, considering all the galleries full of amazing treasures to behold, but things came to a screeching halt when we found a gallery entirely of still life pieces.  This is one of my very favorite genres of art – especially those done by Flemish masters.  The entire room was like a jewelry box.  This one by Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (isn’t that a faulous name?) was so precisely painted it was more like a photograph than a painting.  The little butterfly looked as if it would fly off any second.

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“Glass Vase with Flowers” by Jan van Huysm was a spectacular composition too.  My heart fluttered with joy over the delicate nest.  The powerful use of light made the  flowers luminous against the dark background – this is an aspect I find irresistible in still life paintings.  It speaks to me of the way beauty draws attention even (or especially) in dark circumstances and they are eloquent life lessons for me.

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Still life is a particular amenable genre for taking closeups – I took many in this gallery.  There are so many details to enjoy – the curve of a stem, a flower with a butterfly dancing nearby, a spiderweb in the corner, a grasshopper on the table, the way flowers move from light to shadow…  I was delighted to find that a woman painted this masterpiece.  Rachel Ruysch created “Flowers in a Vase” in 1685 – her father was the head of Amsterdam Botanical Garden, so it’s easy to see where she found inspiration.

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“Insects with Common Hawthorn and Forget-Me-Not” by Jan van Kessel the Elder breaks from traditional still life form.  Instead of a formal presentation, van Kessel arranges the elements of a still life more like a curiosity cabinet.  The expert light and shadowing made me think that it was an actual insect collection for a moment.  And may I just mention that the names of still life paintings make me laugh with their utter literalness.  No hint of imagination whatsoever, which is ironic given the prolific talents of their creators.  I would have called it “Collection from a Walk in the Woods” or “How many insects can you find on a hawthorn leaf ?”

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As we moved into the 1600s, we ran across this touching scene of “The Infant Saint John with the Lamb” by Bartolome Esteban Murillo.  The banner along the rocks reads “Behold the Lamb of God”.  I loved this one so much – it’s incredibly tender.

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Another of my favorites is “The Supper at Emmaus” by Caravaggio.  I love this account in the Gospels where a newly risen Christ walks with some of His followers and then shares a meal with them.  As he blesses the food, they suddenly realize that it is their Lord who has been with them all that time.  It is captured with great warmth and emotion here with skillful hand and delicate brush.   The peaceful serenity and love on Christ’s face draws you in, even as the surprised reaction from the others at table makes you hold your breath in anticipation at what is revealed.  I spent a long time with this magnetic scene.

I hope you enjoyed a stroll through the early artwork of the National Gallery.  Did you have a favorite from this selection?  Next time, I’ll share the highlights from the 1700s – 1900s, encompassing the great eras of British landscapes and European Impressionism.  Until then, may you find beauty all around you.

Blessings to you,

Sarah

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Gift #1183: Of Crypts and Cocktails

Hello everyone!  I’m back today with a wee bit more of St. Paul’s Cathedral.  There was so much from our time there that I wanted to share with you that I decided to break it up into two posts.  And since tonight I watched a documentary about St. Paul’s I’m feeling particularly inspired to blog about it.  Last post focused on the main floor and the dome, but today we’re headed down to the crypt!  The subterranean level houses a chapel and hundreds of monuments to important British subjects, as well as the cafe, where we had a tasty lunch and tea surrounded by marble statuary.

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Of notable importance is the resting place of Christopher Wren, the brilliant architect who designed St. Paul’s.  He is buried under a slab of plain black marble right underneath this plaque on the wall.  The Latin inscription reads “If you seek his monument, look around you.”  Mom and I admire him greatly and a visit to him was tops on our list.  I was also adamant about finding the burial place of J.M.W. Turner, who is one of my favorite painters.  You will be seeing some of his work in upcoming blog posts on the National Gallery.

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Here is the lovely chapel area in the crypt.  While we were on the tour, we had to visit the crypt right away because there was a wedding about to start down there and the tour guide wanted us to see the highlights.  Later in the day Mom and I went back to explore at our leisure.

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Also buried here are poet William Blake, author John Donne, painter Benjamin West, portraitist Joshua Reynolds, scientist Alexander Flemming,naval hero Admiral Lord Nelson, and nurse Florence Nightingale – all of whom have touched my life in some way and it was a very humbling experience to stand surrounded by these great figures from history.  And there were many more whose stories I didn’t know.

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This monument to Prime Minister Melbourne was particularly beautiful.  Two Scriptures are inscribed on the bottom panels – “Until the day break and the shadows flee away” and “They that dwell under His shadow shall return.”

At 5pm every day St. Paul’s has Evensong, to which the general public is invited.  Mom and I decided to stay until the cathedral closed for tourists and then attend the service.  I’m so glad that we did because it was a beautiful experience to worship in this glorious cathedral where Evensong has been sung for hundreds of years.  It is a precious memory that I will carry always that for a few moments we ceased to be tourists and were simply worshipers of God with the residents of London.

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And just when I thought the cathedral could never be more beautiful, we ended Evensong, with the choir’s last chord echoing in the air, and we turned around to see the sun’s afternoon rays streaming through the windows.  It was like heaven came down and merged with the cathedral.   The picture can’t do it justice, but you can see that the sun’s light hits on the cross sculpture leaning out of the column and it was breathtaking.

Mom and I were very reluctant to leave the cathedral, but we still had one more spot to visit here – and that was the cathedral steps.  We sat here, watching the people and the pigeons strolling about, and we knitted together in the afternoon sun.   I sang to myself the words to “Feed the Birds” and thought about the Bird Woman feeding the birds on the steps of St. Paul’s in Mary Poppins.

It was a lovely way to end our wonderful day here.

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Then we were off to acquire dinner.  We were close by a pub that I had found on Instagram several months before and it was high on the list of places I wanted to see in London.

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This is Mr. Fogg’s House of Botanicals.  There are several locations, all themed around the fictional hero Finneas Fogg and his travels around the world.  This one is inspired by the imaginative explorations that Fogg might have made in building a botanical collection, as many British aristocrats did in the 1800s.

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The decor is amazing and the menu and drinks are inspired by botanical themes as well.

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I dearly wanted to sneak a menu home – isn’t it beautiful?  Mom and I don’t drink alcohol, but they had a nice selection of mocktails for us to indulge in with our food.

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The one on the left is grapefruit and rose syrup with soda water.  The one on the right is “Gardens of Babylon”, a libation of Seedlip Garden 108 with cucumber, broccoli, spinach, pineapple, apple, basil, raspberry, and fresh lemon juice.  Both were exquisitely delicious.  After seeing so many beautiful pictures on their Instagram account, it was very exciting to be able to visit in person and enjoy drinks, food, and a coveted table (it was Saturday night) while taking in the awesome botanical/steampunk decor.

On our way back to the Tube station, we passed by this enticing window.

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We walked in to discover a bakery and tea shoppe!!

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Armed with tea and croissants, we headed back to the hotel room to enjoy our treats and relish the beautiful memories we had made and all we had experienced in the heart of London.

Blessings to you,

Sarah

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Gift #1182: St. Paul’s Cathedral

Alright, I’m back to blogging about our trip to England.  There’s just 2 days left, but I came to a screeching halt with today’s post because I have felt so inadequate to the task of blogging about St. Paul’s Cathedral.  There were two locations of our trip that were a personal pilgrimage of sorts because of the intense meaning that had for me –  Hilltop Farm and St. Paul’s Cathedral.  This cathedral had captured my imagination with my childhood viewings of Mary Poppins and I wanted to badly to see it with my own eyes.  I was in full-vibration mode with excitement as we made our way by underground and popped up to street level to walk to the cathedral.

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It was a glorious morning and the gardens surrounding the cathedral welcomed us in with full rose blooms.  We made our way inside and I was overwhelmed with its beauty.

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There has been a church on this site (the highest in London) since the 600s.  However, the current cathedral was built in the aftermath of the great London fires, literally arising from the ashes by the inspired hand and mind of Christopher Wren.  The brilliant architect clashed with the magistrates of London over what the final design should be like and after several drafts, he presented them with a drawing of a conservative Gothic style which suited the officials and they finally gave approval.  Wren went on to build his masterpiece and in one of the greatest snow jobs in history, gave the city this soaring Baroque cathedral instead.

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Everywhere you looked, your eyes were filled with exquisite beauty.  Elaborate wood carving, detailed stone sculpture, and precious gold accents filled every view.  The interior was designed to be spacious, filled with light, and meant to lift the eyes and soul upwards towards God.  We went on a guided tour of the cathedral, which led us to the evocative Geometric staircase.

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This is not an illusion – the steps are literally hanging in the air, as they are built directly into the wall and overlap with each other mere centimeters.

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Here is the quire.  You probably know by now that I am enchanted with the quires of all the cathedrals we’ve visited.  These spaces are filled with ornate wood carvings and beautiful vertical lines.  This one was no exception. The quire was where civic and clerical officials participated in the services.

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This view gives a more complete look at one side of the quire, and the magnificent organ.  You can also see more of the architectural elements, like the mosaic arches that fill the ceiling and border both sides of the quire.

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A window catches the sunlight and sets off the metal filigree of this gate delineating a chapel area.  It was scenes like this that really blurred the lines between earth and heaven in my experience.  This place felt so transcendental and holy.

St. Paul’s is affectionately known as “London’s Church” and holds an irreplaceable importance in the life and history of England.  During World War II, Prime Minister Churchill warned the people of London that St. Paul’s must be saved at all costs.  Volunteer forces camped on the roofs of the cathedral every day to protect the building from the bombing.  St. Paul’s managed to escape with remarkably little damage.  There is a memorial to the brave men who put themselves in harm’s way to save the cathedral.  In addition to honoring their own men, St. Paul’s has a special chapel in the eastern apse to memorialize the American men who lost their lives in the war.

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Here the high altar stands amid decoratively carved pillars and panels.  In the heart of this chapel is a book with all the names of the American dead kept under glass and a page is turned each day.  The carvings are all of native American flora and fauna and the stained glass (directly behind the view of the photo) depicts each of the state seals.  Here’s closeups of some of the carvings.

The one on the left is of a rocket, in a tribute to American’s space program.   The right is a flying bird (I think it is an eagle) surrounded by branches full of blooms.

As with every cathedral in which we were able, we climbed the steps up the tower as far as we could go.  St. Paul’s is well known for its Whispering Gallery, a narrow path around the dome where if you whisper on one side you can hear the words clearly on the opposite side.  Unfortunately this was closed during our visit, but we were able to make our way to the “Golden level” and up the spires to see the panoramic views of London.

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Can you see that line of London tour buses down below?

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I hope you enjoyed a look inside this magnificent cathedral.  I’ll be back again in my next post with a bit more about St. Paul’s.  I’ll leave you with this poignant quote by Winston Churchill.

“We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us”

It was easy to see how London past and present have been shaped by this great cathedral.  The people of London, and indeed the nation, have mourned, celebrated, and commemorated there for centuries.  And it was a delight to find my own heart bending and shaping to make room for these ancient stones.

Blessings to you,

Sarah

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Gift #1181: Berries

Welcome to the first Art Elements blog challenge of 2020.  For the month of January, our theme was berries.  I’ve always thought the sight of winter berries covered with a gentle dusting of snow is so peaceful, especially with a bit of holly or rustic picket fence.  Berries are the flowers of winter and their bright color nourishes our eyes in an otherwise bleak landscape.  But they are also a sign of faithfulness and a caring Creator to place a beautiful banquet in the depths of winter.  Many is the time that I’ve looked at the berry-filled crabapple tree outside of the window at work to find squirrels or birds dancing on the branches and gorging themselves on the sweet fruits.  During this month, my family has been facing some really difficult circumstances and I’ve found myself contemplating what “berries” I can find in the winter in my own life… what promises and signs of God’s love can I pick out of a desolate situation.  Like a bird, I find myself hopping along the borders of my life, picking at the underside of circumstances, and looking for a jewel of great price… or at least a ruby holly berry.  They are there, with eyes to see and a heart to hope, I cling to each sign and promise.

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For this challenge, I made a few pieces of jewelry inspired by berries.  The first does double-duty for another winter themed challenge and I call it “Chickadees and Berries”.  That’s pretty descriptive isn’t it?  Reminds me of the titles of paintings at an art museum.

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The metal pendant is made by Humblebeads and features her own original sketch.  I also have the same as a print in my room during the winter months.  I added Czech glass in cranberry and antiqued amber, along with polymer clay beads to chain to fill in the necklace.

I ordered a matching bracelet cuff as well and made the following:

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I have painfully small wrists, so there’s not a lot of working room when making bracelets as they have to be pretty short.  I used cranberry Swarovski crystals, frosty white glass beads (reminds me of snowballs), and brown melon beads, with a mix of metallic spacers.  To give it a little more interest, I added a bit of chain and a tiny Czech glass drop bead.  This also gives the advantage of making it adjustable in case I want to wear it on the outside of sweater sleeve.

I have a couple of ceramic bird pendants by the artist Grubbi that would also fit the challenge and managed to find time to work up this design.  I call it (wait for it) “Bluebird and Blueberries”.

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The pendant is a bluebird looking sideways across a cross-section of wood with a spray of blueberries.  One of the delights of living here is seeing the bluebirds arrive – they always herald the beginning of spring.  Surprisingly this year they have already showed up – in fact, they were at the window feeders in December.  I’m taking that as a sign that spring will come next week.   I used polished dumortierite rounds for the body of this necklace – they matched perfectly with their mottled hues of blue and rust.  I added in a few striped wooded beads as a nod to the tree slice in the pendant and matte metallic spacers for a little bling.  To finish it off I used blue leather lace round the back.

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A pair of earrings finishes up the set nicely.  That wraps up my creations for this first challenge.  I hope you are inspired now to keep your eye open for winter berries adding a pop of color as we move into spring.  This is part of a blog hop, so please stop by to visit the other amazing artists below.

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Art Elements Team

Our Guest Contributors

Blessings to you,

Sarah

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