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.



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.


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.


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.


“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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


“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.


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.


“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 ?”


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.


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,


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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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


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.


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.


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


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,


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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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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



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,


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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.


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.


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:


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”.


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.


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.


Art Elements Team

Our Guest Contributors

Blessings to you,


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Gift #1180: British Museum

Happy New Year to one and all!  I hope the days of January have been pleasant ones for you.  I’m recently returned from Christmas visits with my family and had a wonderful time.  The tail end of the year rather got away from me in a flurry of festive preparations and traveling and I didn’t blog as much as I had hoped.  I had planned to finish blogging about my England trip by the end of the year, but since that didn’t happen, we’ll have a few more days of that to enjoy in January instead!


Today we’re back in London and visiting the British Museum.  History was one of my majors in college and in our classes we discussed the British Museum in hushed, reverent tones, as if mentioning the Holy Place.  It was the repository of the world, the treasure chest of the historian, and we all dreamt of what lay in those hallowed halls.  Our professors had us study collection pieces from their website online and to finally see the beautiful objects in person had me quivering with anticipation to the point I thought I might faint.   Now it’s absolutely impossible to see everything in one day and I’m just going to give you some of my favorite highlights today.


In Ancient Middle East we saw what was probably my favorite item in the museum – “Ram in the Thicket”.  I had been intrigued by this in the guidebook we procured ahead of time because of its name and association with the biblical account of Abraham.  This was found in a grave in Ur, the ancient Sumerian city, and dates to 2500 BC.  It took my breath away – overlaid in gold with gems on the base – it was indeed a treasure.  there were so many beautiful items in the ancient Ur section of the museum – jewelry, pottery, and cuneiform tablets (I think the British Museum has every one that was ever dug up).  It took me back to my days in early elementary school where I fell in love with history studying Sumeria.


This was the other singular find of the Ancient Middle East galleries.  It is a portion of the facade of King Nebuchadnezzar’s throne room.  I was stunned – I never expected to see something like this with my own eyes.  This is the King Nebuchadnezzar from the biblical accounts of his siege of Israel and resulting captivity in Babylon.  His story is one of my favorite in the Bible because I think it incredible that the God of the Israelites revealed Himself so personally to Nebuchadnezzar and showed Himself to be the God of all peoples.  Nebuchadnezzar’s words of praise to God for His power and authority over kingdoms of the earth is a magnificent example of worship.  It was thrilling to see with my own eyes something that he had created and saw.  It’s the power of archeology to connect people across thousands of years of history with the objects that have been discovered and restored.


Ancient Egyptian collections are scattered throughout the museum, but the most impressive display is on the ground floor where the large statues are housed, including the famed Rosetta Stone.   It was discovered by Napoleon’s army in 1799 and surrendered to the British in 1801.  After presentation to King George III it was installed in the museum and scholars unlocked its secrets within 25 years, opening up a new understanding of the ancient world.


Almost everything in the hall is displayed out in the open, to the point where you could touch them.  You can stand right up next to them for photos and such.  And the statues were immense!

From Ancient Egypt, we moved to Greece and admired the famed collection of Elgin marbles from the Parthenon.  Actually, my favorite of the Grecian sculptures were the Nereids.


These are from the Nereid Monument in Xanthos and are sea nymphs that were thought to escort the souls of deceased to their afterlife.  The wind-blown drapery and weathered condition made them beautifully ethereal, like they were made more of clouds than marble.


One of the collections I was most excited about was Ancient Britain and the Sutton Hoo burial.


This section of the museum was fascinating, charting the earliest known peoples in Britain, through the Roman occupation and into medieval times.  Many of the artifacts were burial hords, like the one pictured above, with vessels, money, and jewelry.

The Sutton Hoo display was fabulous.  Ironically, just a few nights before, we had watched a documentary on the discovery of Sutton Hoo on BBC while we were in the Lake District.


The burial dates to ~ 600 AD.  The helmet is perhaps the most famous piece of the collection.  I was surprised by how little of it actually survived.  If you look closely you can see the original fragments of metal have been mounted to a base plate.  The ship burial has a fascinating history and discovery.  In the late 1930s the landowner (Mrs. Pretty) invited a team of archeologists to excavate the site, in conjunction with Ipswich museum.  The process was cut short by declaration of war in 1939 and the grounds were slated to become tank training grounds, so the archeologists heroically managed to finish the excavation in less than 20 days before the site was destroyed.  Mrs. Pretty presented the treasure to the people of England as a gift to the British Museum then the artifacts promptly went into hiding in the bunkers and underground storage of London.   She did not live to see the end of the war and the installment of the artifacts in the museum, but her generosity is one of the crown jewels of the museum’s collection.


As we moved into medieval history, mom and I were doing an admirable job of not getting too far behind our pace in trying to see as much as possible.  But then we hit the clock rooms and things came to a screeching halt while I felt the need to photograph every single piece on display.



But just look at how beautiful they are!  And they were gloriously steampunk too!  Most of the pieces dated from 1500s-1600s, though some were as early as 1300s.  The artistry and technical skill needed to fashion these intricate machines is just incredible.


It would be very difficult to have a favorite in this collection, but this automaton from 1585 might take the cake.  The metalwork on this was exquisite.  It was created to announce banquets at court.  As the first course was served, a miniature organ inside the ship began playing and tiny figurines would move into procession.  The ship would travel across the table throughout the meal.  When the ship stopped, the front cannon would fire, causing a chain reaction to fire all the other guns on the ship, announcing the end of the feast.

Now the last section of the museum I wanted to show you is the Enlightenment Hall.  After all I’d seen, I didn’t think anything else could be more marvelous – but this was my very favorite part of the museum.  This magnificent hall, lined with windows and glass bookcases, was filled with dozens and dozens of display cabinets, and was an entire room of Cabinet of Curiosities.


In fact, this room housed the seed collection that formed the British Museum.  This was the collection of Hans Sloane – a noted physician, explorer, naturalist, and collector. Also among his attributed accomplishments was the introduction of drinking chocolate.   The room was divided into 24 themes that represented the way that artifacts would be organized in the 1700s during the Enlightenment.  These included topics such as botany, minerals, pottery/ceramics, writing, exploration, religion, and culture.  Here are a few pictures of the collections.


A collection of seashells – from James Cook’s explorations.  They even had letters from him!


A  collection of bronze brooches and hair pins


An assortment of artifacts housed in floor to ceiling bookcases – these are dealing with culture.


One of the books on display that delighted me was a work by Maria Sibylla Merian.  Dr. Sloane collected this coveted album of her watercolours from her 1699 voyage to Surinam to study and paint the flora and fauna.  She traveled throughout the world and left behind an exquisitely detailed and beautiful portfolio of the world’s unique plant life.

As you can tell, we had a full day at the museum and it still felt like we’d only scratched the surface.  If I could have my way, I’m pretty sure I’d still be there marveling at all the collections and history.  As we left, minds whirling with all we’d seen, I took one more photo of the museum at night.


The treasure chest of the world.

Blessings to you,



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Gift #1179: Handmade Christmas

Hello everyone! I hope you all have enjoyed a peaceful Christmas and are looking forward to the new year. Today’s post will be a bit brief and heavy on pictures as I’m enjoying the holiday break with my family in Texas. We’ll start off with the Christmas cards I made for friends and family.

These cards are heavily inspired by a Victorian vibe and I especially loved the quote from “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen”

Earlier in the season, I participated in a Christmas swap with one of my knitting groups. After several false starts, I made my recipient a hat with a fern motif.

Because we’re knitters, that means we always need lots of notions, so I made her some stitch markers with a winter floral pattern.

And finally, I also made her a necklace featuring chickadees, which are her favorite birds.


I also made a warm cozy cowl for a friend for Christmas. It was a quick knit and lots of fun to work up.


And what’s Christmas without ornaments? A few years ago I started making ornaments for friends and family and it’s one of my favorite parts of gift-giving.



This year I purchased some earring dies at a rubber stamp convention, along with faux leather. I’ve been having fun making earrings and jewelry pieces with them, and I thought that they would be perfect for making ornaments too. They turned out great! I had a few extra that I’m planning to convert to pendants.

I also participated in the Art Bead Challenge. For our inspiration artworks, we had wintry Japanese scenes painted on silk. They were filled with snowy buildings and birds and berries. Here are the pieces I created.


“Chickadees” is made with a faux tin piece from Humblebeads that features her own illustration of the birds and berries. I paired it with Czech glass and metallic shimmer to give it an opulent winter feel.


“Winter Bird” was a quick and easy necklace using polymer clay beads from Humblebeads dressed up with more Czech glass in cranberry, bronze, and white.


For a more wintry look, I turned to a beautiful cane long bead by Humblebeads. I turned it on it’s side for the focal and surrounded it with chunky pieces of raw cut icy stone. I added a snowflake charm for good measure.

My last creations are a bit unusual for me. I don’t do much baking but I couldn’t resist this recipe for gingerbread Bundt cake with eggnog whip cream. I don’t mean to brag, but it was pretty amazing. I’ll be making it again this winter for sure.


And finally, a bit of home decor. My mom and I wanted to refresh a wreath we’d had on the mantle for some time. After a trip to Hobby Lobby, our arms were loaded with festive trimmings and we set to work. This beautiful wreath was the result of our efforts.


It sits atop our nativity scene on the mantle. On that note, I wish you all the peace and joy and comfort that Christmas offers and hope that your new year will be full of adventure, wonder, and creativity.

Blessings to you,

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Gift #1178: In the Lake District with Beatrix Potter

I hope you all had a wonderful week.  Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and one of the experiences of the year I was most thankful for was the opportunity to visit England with my mom.  Today on the blog we’re going back to the Lake District so I can share with you our tour of Beatrix Potter.  I was giddy for this tour –  so much of Miss Potter’s life and character fascinates me and I was very eager to see the places she loved.

Our first stop of the day was Wray Castle, where the Potter family vacationed when Beatrix was 16.  This was her first visit to the Lake District, and she immediately fell in love with the area.


Wray Castle was built in 1840 in a style to mimic the Medieval castles that had been bought by wealthy families.  Our guide informed us, with a slight note of disdain, that up and coming business owners were eager to flaunt their new wealth by building ostentatious estates to be more accepted by landed, established aristocracy.  From what we could tell, it didn’t seem to go over well as the neighbors were not impressed with the lack of attention to historic detail.  The owners decided to let (or rent) it and that’s how the Potter family found themselves there in 1882.  It is now just a facade, but you can rent out the building for business meetings or large celebrations.

However pretentious the castle’s origins, the land surrounding the castle was beautiful and you could easily see how it won the affections of Beatrix.


Our next stop was to Hilltop Farm, which is the first farm that Beatrix Potter purchased when she decided to move to the Lake District.  Once settled, she began to buy up additional farms as they went for sale, so that she could keep them running as working farms and protect the land from industrialization.  She eventually became one of the largest landowners in the Lake District.


I was so excited by this point I was vibrating from head to toe.  I’ve read many books about Beatrix Potter and one of my favorites was a series called The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter by Susan Wittig Albert.  In these stories, the Hilltop farm is meticulously described and functions as an important character – I felt I knew it already from my time in these novels.  We explored the gardens first because the rain had slackened off to a light shower.

The gardens were as lovely as I could imagine, and had been maintained so that the plants that Beatrix would have grown are still in cultivation.  Everywhere you looked was a charming vignette.  Our guides pointed out a few views that Beatrix had painted that were included in her books.  I was especially fond of these sweet bronze hedgehogs that were scattered about the gardens.

As we got ready to go inside, I thought I might burst with anticipation and excitement.  We stood at the entrance and took a steadying breath before entering.  They had kept everything exactly the same as when Beatrix lived there.  And indeed, it felt as if she had just gone out for a stroll and would be coming back in any minute.  The home felt so peaceful and loved.


I was most charmed by her hat and outdoor shoes placed on the chair, as if they had just been removed.  Her spinning wheel was also exquisite.



Her china cabinet and dishes were displayed beautifully.


And her bedroom was a peaceful retreat.  She embroidered the bed curtains herself.  And look at the beautiful wallpaper!  I remembered the design being described in books I’d read about Hilltop.  It is lovely.   Scattered throughout the house were tiny felted animals from her books and little vignettes featuring her books, such as this one in the kitchen.


I was loathe to leave this home, but our guides gently ushered us back to our vehicle and took us to our next destination – the nearby town of Hawkshead.  Beatrix would frequently walk into town, or drive her horse and cart.  We walked about the town for a bit and then were brought to the Beatrix Potter Gallery.  The Gallery is housed in the building that served as her husband’s office.

Oh the gallery!  It maintains all the original watercolor illustrations from her stories and other works – over 10,000 of them!  And even includes her watercolors!


It was so thrilling to go through the rooms and explore the beautiful watercolors that Beatrix made.  To look on something that she had made with her own hands was just a dream come true.  I found myself quite envious of those who curate and manage this beautiful collection.  It is obvious that they have a great love for Beatrix’s work and her legacy too.

Here are a few of my favorites from the gallery.  The squirrels and mice are my absolute favorites.  Both Beatrix and I share a deep affection for small rodents.  Did you know that Beatrix drew her animals by using her pets as models?  Throughout her life she kept a variety of pets near her and enjoyed studying them for scientific interest as well as for her art.

We stopped for lunch at Hawkshead at a little tea shop our guide led us to.  It was raining again by that time and we had hot bowls of soup, scones, and tea.


We didn’t eat outside obviously, but it was a lovely front to the shop.  From there, we drove around the Lake District and they pointed out various scenes of interest for us, including some of the other farms that Beatrix owned and estates that she donated to the National Trust.  It was heart warming to hear the tone of respect and appreciation that they use when talking of Beatrix Potter.  She did so much to form and preserve the Lake District area and it is one of her greatest legacies.


In addition to being a formidable business woman, Beatrix also became a very respected farmer.  She faced prejudice on many levels, especially from local farmers who didn’t take kindly to an unmarried city woman moving in and buying up farms.  But she applied herself to understand the farms and how to best work them and won their eventual respect.  She was nearly single-handedly responsible for bringing back the native sheep breeds to the area, especially the Herdwick sheep, which now make up the majority of the flocks in the Lake District.  She was even invited to serve as the president of the Herdwick Sheepbreeder’s Association, an achievement of which she was deeply proud.  Her close attention to detail and deep understanding of sheep breeds allowed her to consistently produce award-winning sheep for her farms.


Our last scheduled tour was to the town of Ambleside, where the Armitt Library is located.  I picked this tour specifically because we made a stop here.  At the Library is where Beatrix Potter’s mycology illustrations are kept. Another area where she faced prejudice was in the scientific community.  Beatrix was a devoted and careful scientist in natural history.  She formed a close relationship with a Scottish mycologist, Charles McIntosh, who fueled her interest in fungi and honed her scientific skills.  She sketched around 350 plates of fungi, moss, and spores.  She also wrote scientific papers but struggled to get them published in journals at the time because she was a woman.  However, her work was presented at the Linnean Society of London (but not by her).


Seeing her mushroom illustrations with my own eyes was something I’ve longed to do for years and years.  It was absolutely thrilling to see some of them on display.  My mom and I collect books that have her mycology illustrations in them, but to see the originals was incredible.  They are so delicate and beautiful and precise.

I couldn’t believe how fortunate we were to be able to come here and see them for ourselves.  The museum also had a fine display on Beatrix’s forays into archeology, as well as her legacy in the Lake District.  In the front room was a little used bookstore and they also sold postcard sets of her mushroom illustrations.

Now that was our last scheduled stop for the tour, but we had special guides.  I didn’t mention this, but mom and I were the only ones on the tour that day.  I was afraid they would cancel, but instead they showered us with information, answered questions, and we had exciting conversations throughout the day.  I think they were happy that we knew a lot about Beatrix’s life, beyond her books, and had a deep appreciation for her.  Throughout the day, our guide realized we were fond of churches and she wanted to take us to her favorite church in the area.  So she directed the driver to the little village of Troutbeck.  And we got to see a beautiful country church with fabulous Pre-Raphaelite stained glass windows designed by William Morris.



I loved how each church had it’s own personality, and this was very clear especially in the churches of smaller communities.  Our guide explained how churches are the anchor of these tiny communities and provide support and a place of belonging.  The residents of this community took great pride and care of their church.  And the ladies sewing group and had made special kneeling cushions for the church.  They created patterns based on the local flora and fauna and decorated the pews with them.

I was beyond enchanted by this.  Aren’t they beautiful? On this note, we ended the tour with  hearts full of all the beauty we saw and the enduring legacy of a determined woman who loved nature and art and transformed her world forever.


Blessings to you,



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Gift #1177: Thanksgiving Prayer

For a couple of weeks I’ve been reading A Diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie.  It has morning and evening prayers listed for thirty one days.  I bought it on our last trip to Cincinnati.  Many, many years ago I had found a book of prayer at the local book store and for some insane reason, I didn’t purchase it and then have spent all this time regretting it since.  Every time we’d go to Cincinnati I’d look for it and this last time we finally found it.  It’s been a special book to me so far and I deeply appreciate the ability to begin and end the day with a focus on God’s word and in prayer.  I really struggle with prayer and having written prayers to read and mediate over is a great help for me.

And in one of those God-moments, the prayer I read last night was perfect for Thanksgiving.  It wasn’t written for the occasion, but it was a sweet reminder to me that God is present and remembers me.  I thought it would be lovely to share with you all today on this Day of Thanks.

To you O heavenly Father, be all praise and glory, as day by day you richly fill my life with many blessings:

A home to share, family to love, and friends to cherish;

A place to fill and work to do;

Your gift of a green world, blue skies above, and the air we breathe;

Healthy exercise and simple pleasures;

Humanity’s long history to remember and its great people to follow;

Good books to read and many creative activities to delight in;

So much that is worth knowing and the skill and technology to know it;

Thoughts of eternity and great things that sometimes fill my mind;

Many happy days, and that inward calm that you give me in days of gloom;

The peace, passing understanding, that comes from your living in me;

The faith that looks through death, and the hope of a larger life beyond the grave.

O Lord God, thank you that although you have always generously showered all people with blessings, yet in Jesus you have done greater things for us than you have ever done before:

Making home sweeter and friends dearer;

Turing sorrow into gladness and pain into the soul’s victory;

Robbing death of its sting;

Robbing sin of its power;

Renewing history;

Making peace more peaceful and joy more joyful, making faith and hope more secure.



May your hearts by filled with gratitude and warmth on this Thanksgiving.

Blessings to you,


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Gift #1176: Exploring the Lake District

Hello everyone!  I’m back after a busy couple of weeks both at work and in personal life.  But I have two weeks of vacation coming up, so I’m hoping to get it several more blog posts about my England trip.  Today I’m taking you to the Lake District – one of my most anticipated destinations!  We got in to the Lake District late the night before, enjoyed a wonderful night and hearty breakfast, and then we were off for our first day tour in the area!  The day dawned grey and rainy and pretty much stayed that way the whole time.  However, the glory of the Lake District is that it is intoxicatingly beautiful regardless of the weather.


We had a delightful guide named Gerry who gave us all sorts of information about the Lake District as we drove through the beautiful countryside.  Most of the Lake District is a Heritage site, meaning that it is protected by the government and there are strict regulations about building and land use to preserve the integrity of the area and traditional way of life.

We stopped briefly at Ullswater Lake for a quick stretch and photos.


Note the teasing flash of sunlight here – that’s about all we saw of the sun this day.  But the clouds and fog made for some spectacular views in an of themselves.  Then we were ushered back on the bus and we drove to Castlerigg – in Underskiddaw, Keswick.  (Aren’t those fascinating names?!)


Here we admired the Castlerigg Stone Circle, which dates to at least 4000 years.  It was our guide’s opinion that this stone circle was much more preferable than Stonehenge because it wasn’t as touristy and crowded.  On that point, I had to agree with him.  We were able to walk all around the stones and it was just our group and a bunch of sheep.  The heavy fog and misty rain lent an air of mystery and otherworldliness to the experience and it did feel as if we had gone back in time.

All to soon we were ushered back on the bus to get to our next stop – at Windermere Lake.  We were delightfully surprised to find that we were going to ride a ferry around the lake!  This wasn’t mentioned on the tour itinerary and I was really excited about the opportunity to be out on the lake.


Our ferry was the larger one moored to the ramp.  Mom and I secured a seat inside the covered area as it was quite chilly and damp outside.  And from the inside we could better enjoy the views without the wind and rain blowing in our faces.  The ferry ride took 40 min and while we were on the lake, I pulled out my knitting project for a few rows.


This was a very special moment for me.  You know that I like to imprint my knitting project with the places I visit, and this particular shawl was part of the Shawl Society, with a theme of a happy place near the shore.  At the beginning of the pattern release we were invited to share our happy spots and memories of being near water.  I shared that I was looking forward to a trip to the Lake District in the summer and so it seemed perfect that I should knit on this shawl while on the water of Windermere.  It hereafter became dubbed “The Lake District Shawl”


We saw lovely scenery along the banks of the lake and the trees were dripping with mist and fog – it was so ethereal.  It was at this point that Mom and I vowed we would return and do some hiking in the Lake District area so we could better appreciate the beauty of this place.


Then we drove to Keswick for lunch.  At this point it was raining rather heavily, and being warned by our guide not  to eat at a sit-down restaurant, Mom and I voted on fish and chips from this little shop.  We stood inside to eat it and it was the best fish and chips we had on the trip!  Yum!  I can still taste it – piping hot and we ate it with our fingers and tried to stay warm.


The scenery as we drove along was spectacular.  I was charmed by the little rivulets and waterfalls that flowed from the higher peaks.  One of our afternoon stops was to the Honister Slate Mine.


Our guide told us that all of the historic buildings and the stone walls were made of slate mined in the Lake District.  Now because of regulations and price, newer buildings import slate from other regions, especially China, which is matched as much as possible. At the mine, we were able to visit their processing factory where they cut the slate and fashioned it into various objects and signs, which were for sale in the shop.  It was neat to watch them cutting the slate pieces.  Our guide told us not to buy any pieces from the shop because it would be heavy and “you wouldn’t want to lug that around on the rest of your holiday”.  However, mom and I did purchase some of these wooden mushrooms and we picked up some smaller slate pieces outside.


I liked this photo because it shows off the beauty of the slate.  Our next and final longer stop was in the village of Grasmere.  I must confess to being in love with this village.


For starters, there was this charming Gingerbread Shoppe.  Grasmere is famous for its unique gingerbread, so of course we needed to stop and get some.  Additionally, this is also the village where the famed poet William Wordsworth lived.  The residents have planted a lovely garden in honor of him, right near the Gingerbread Shoppe.  We wondered around for a bit and, shockingly, found ourselves near the village church.


I was trembling with excitement about the beautiful old cemetery covered in large trees and was wondering to myself if they might be yew trees.   One of the bucket list items I had wanted to see on our England trip was an old cemetery with yew trees.  As if on queue, our guide turned the corner, came up to us, and said “now these are yew trees that Wordsworth planted to make the church’s cemetery look more inviting”  Score!  Wordsworth attended this church and he and his family are buried here.  Our guide asked if we’d like to see inside the church and we eagerly agreed.  He gave us a private tour of St. Oswald’s Church.


And he even let us through the barrier to get a closer look at the organ.


It was a really special experience and one of the highlights of the day.  As we left, we got some lovely views of the lake there.


After dinner, we returned to our hotel for hot showers – it had been a very cold and wet day, but full of beauty and delight in this special part of the world.  Our hotel – Southview- was itself a treasure, tucked up in a neighborhood not far from the train station and absolutely beautiful.  We had a spacious room with a view overlooking a garden courtyard.


Warmed and dry, we settled into our room, turned on the BBC documentary channel, and had Grasmere gingerbread and hot chocolate.


It was the perfect ending to a magical day and we went to sleep excited about the adventures of tomorrow.

Blessings to you,


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Gift #1175: York Minster

Well, you knew it wouldn’t be too long before I found another cathedral to blog about.  Today I’ll share with you York Minster, the crown jewel of York.  I was so excited to visit the Minster – it is one of the grandest and most beautiful in England.  Here’s what the website says about the cathedral:

“Since the 7th century, the Minster has been at the center of Christianity in the north of England and today remains a thriving church rooted in the daily offering of worship and prayer. The Minster was built for the glory of God. Every aspect of this ancient building – from the exquisite, handcrafted stone through to the unrivaled collection of medieval stained glass – tells the story of Jesus Christ. We invite you to discover this sacred place and the love of God at its heart, which has attracted people from across the globe for more than 1000 years.”


It could be considered a sister cathedral to Westminster, with both being extremely important centers in England and built roughly about the same.  But I loved the feel of York Minster much better.  This was probably because at Westminster you were kept on strict walking paths; at York, they invited you to explore the cathedral from top to bottom and you were free to roam about at will.   And that’s exactly what we did…starting with the tower tour.  This basically consisted of walking up hundreds of steps, punctuated with brief excursions outside along narrow walkways, and more stairs until you came to the top of the tower.  Tellingly, there was a person at the top taking count of the people who emerged and making sure it tallied with the number of people who entered.



The views of the Minster up on the high walls, as well as the views of the surrounding city were breathtaking.

From the towers, we went immediately on a tour of the crypt and underground Minster.  We were able to see fascinating aspects of architecture – such as remnants of the Roman buildings and early church foundations.  In some of the storage rooms we visited were shelves and shelves of medieval stone carvings and remnants that they keep from previous excavations.


Once we had finished this tour we were free to explore the main cathedral.  I’ll share some of the areas I found most interesting.  First was the war chapel – I’ve mentioned in some previous posts that pretty much every cathedral we visited had a memorial to those in the community that had died in wars.

The one at York was especially beautiful.  The main altar piece was created with celestial imagery and says at the top “As dying, yet behold we live” from 2 Cor 6:9, which I thought was especially meaningful in this context.  The wooden wall paneling had been restored and was a perfect complement to the Gothic architecture.  Inside the cabinets at the bottom are lists of all the women who perished on the war front.

We also visited the Chapter House, which historically was where the monks would meet for teaching and receiving instructions.  Now they function as quiet, reflective areas.  They are round rooms typically surrounded with stained glass or decorated stone work.  The one at York was highly carved with columns, filigree, and decorative heads and animal-like figures.  It added an unexpected touch of whimsy in this room – if you expand the picture, you’ll see a couple of head and a pig-like figure.  The ceiling (also pictured) was exquisitely beautiful.  One of the endearing memories I hold of this room was watching a group of visitors sit here and sketch the architecture.


Back out in the main cathedral, I was enamored of all the elaborate stone carving.  It’s important to note, that while these buildings are ancient, they are living as well.  So each generation has put its hands, heart, and touch on the building and made it relevant for the age.  The picture above is a seamless example of how this is done.  On a wall of medieval stone arches, is a ledge where modern-created figures stand.  This group of stone saints was created in 2004 for an art exhibition and then donated to the cathedral.  They stand at the west end of the nave and use halos in semaphore positions to spell the message of the cathedral:  “Christ is here”


The cathedral is filled with intricate medieval glass.


Ironwork screens set off the Gothic arches and stained glass spectacularly.


And skilled woodcarvers also left their mark in the cathedral – with this breathtaking quire.


In all the cathedrals, memorials to revered people from the community can be found all along the outer walls.  Here at York, these were exceptionally beautiful works of art as well.  Here are a few of my favorites.

As if all this wasn’t enough, there was a museum of the Minster down in the crypt area too.  The exhibits there chronicled the Minster’s history, and revealed ancient architecture elements deep in the foundation through windows in the floor.  Also on display was the York Gospels, one of the oldest and most valuable books at the Minster.


After seeing all the ornate decorations of the main chapel, this ancient book was elegant in its simplicity.  It came to the Minster in 1020 is the only Anglo-Saxon book to have survived the Norman Invasion here.  It is a collection of the four gospels chronicling the life and words of Christ.  It was a sweet way to end our time at the York Minster by focusing on its past, and the words of truth which still direct its future.  I’d like to end the post with the words from a sign as you left the museum and entered back into the cathedral.   It perfectly sums up the purpose of the Cathedral and how time is so meaningful here.

“Although ancient and fragile, the York Gospels and its eternal message have endured.  So too, the Minster is a meeting point between the fleeting and the eternal.  The building has stood for centuries, yet it is also fragile and in need of constant care.  Everywhere there are reminders of the past and yet the Minster is a living church, a beating heart in the middle of the city.  Through worship and prayer, or simply through wandering and wondering, within these ancient stones people can experience a sense of eternity.”


Blessings to you,



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