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4 Things I Love This February

The Goldfinch

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.” – Edith Sitwell

Winter is an enchanted time for me. I love the cold, dark nights and days of frost and snow (though the snow in Boston sounds horrific right now). I love the pots of soup my husband cooks up on winter weekends. I love time beside the fire, snuggling down beneath heavy blankets, and the warm hand of the one I love in mine. I enjoy a bit of hibernation, as we call it around our house, but by February, I’m feeling the nudge toward light, and spring.

4 Things I Love This February

Books:Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

  • This week at Great New Books, I’m recommending a book I enjoyed very much, Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner. It is the story of Emmeline and Julia, two sisters evacuated from London before the Blitz bombings in WWII. If you liked Christina Baker Kline’s Orphan Train, Kate Morton’s The Secret Keeper, or Jojo Moyes’s The Girl You Left Behind, you’ll love Secrets of a Charmed Life. Click here to read more (live on Wednesday, 2/11/15).

 

  • Also, I’ve recently finished reading the stunning novel The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. It’s the story of a Baptist preacher-turned-missionary who takes his wife and four daughters to the Belgian Congo in 1959. The voices of the females are captivating, and the story is oh, so powerful. I loved it.The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

“For women like me, it seems, it’s not ours to take charge of beginnings and endings. Not the marriage proposal, the summit conquered, the first shot fired, nor the last one either–the treaty at Appomattox, the knife in the heart. Let men write those stories. I can’t. I only know the middle ground where we live our lives. We whistle while Rome burns, or we scrub the floor, depending. Don’t dare presume there’s shame in the lot of a woman who carries on.” -page 383, The Poisonwood Bible

 

Chocolate:

chocolatesThis chocolate is fueling me through the winter. My favorite is the Venezuela Dark Chocolate with Brazilian Coast Sea Salt. It’s a mix of salty with rich. I hope Costco will sell them forever.

 

Painting:

There is nothing like a new canvas on the easel, the smell of oil paint as it dries for weeks as I write daily, and the accomplishment of a painting created entirely with my own head, hands, and heart, where once there had only been a blank white canvas. This is my latest, of Venice, Italy.

 

Oil painting of Venice along the Grand Canal, by me, Jennifer Lyn King
Oil painting of Venice along the Grand Canal, by me, Jennifer Lyn King

 

Backyard:

We’ve had frequent snow and ice here in Cincinnati this winter, and in an otherwise bleak, brown landscape, I love seeing (and feeding) the birds. The backyard birds become long term residents, and if I might say also, friends. Here, two favorite photos I’ve taken this winter.

Cheerful, twittering wren
Cheerful, twittering wren

 

The Goldfinch
The Goldfinch

 

What do you love this February? Have a wonderful Valentine’s week, showing that extra bit of love to your loved ones. xo

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6 Things Saving Me in This Long Cold Winter

the Cardinal in the Woods

“God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.” -J.M. Barrie (creator of Peter Pan)

There are winters, and then there are winters. I’m talking about the latter. These winters are the kind that solidify the blood in our veins and make us stronger people, in general. I believe that; I do.

I also am a firm believer in the philosophy of taking a difficult situation (like this frigid winter) and turning it into something useful. While I’ve thought about how to make this long, cold winter into something useful and positive, I’ve realized there are 6 things saving me right now …

God gave us memory so we might have roses in December. -JM Barrie

The 6 Things Saving Me in This Long, Cold Winter

1. Painting

I love to paint, but I admit I haven’t made enough easel time in recent years. For 2014, I’m determined to paint and finish 1 canvas each month this year.

Here’s what I’ve been up to:

The View of Tuscany from Siena's Walls, Italy: oil painting: 36" x 48
The View of Tuscany from Siena’s Walls, Italy: oil painting: 36″ x 48

I painted the one above this fall (2013) and finished the one below last weekend (Jan ’14).

The View of Tuscany from Siena's Walls, Italy: oil painting #2: 18" x24"
The View of Tuscany from Siena’s Walls, Italy: oil painting #2: 18″ x24″

 

2. Photography

Winter has unbeatable low lighting and dramatic shades of monochromatic blacks, grays, and whites. This winter, in particular, has been cold and stunning.

the Cardinal in the Woods
the Cardinal in the Woods

 

3. Flowers

In the dead of winter, I need flowers — whether it’s forcing bulbs to bloom indoors or dreaming up what I might plant this coming spring, I need the thought of new growth and life in the dead of winter.

Amaryllis
Amaryllis

 

4. Books: Writing and Reading

It’s a long process, working on a novel, polishing it and submitting it and waiting … it’s one that requires much faith and patience, belief and hope. In the meantime, I’ve been working on writing my next novel, which really does save me.

I love to write and write because I must. Like most writers who work and work until they break in, I have several novels in the drawer. But I have something that must be written, something I’m very excited about allowing to come to life through me, and so I’m writing another novel. This time, my work-in-progress novel is set in Prague, the city I love which I moved from with my family about a year ago after living there for four years. Prague is the ultimate city of mystery and beauty. I’m loving living there in my head as I work through the first draft this winter. It, and the writing itself, have me wrapped up and loving this winter. Foul weather is the sweetest thing for writers.

On the flip side of writing, I also love to read and have had the immense privilege of reading two novels in the past two weeks which are not yet on shelves, and the third I loved so much I must mention it here as well.

The first: Tatiana de Rosnay (author of Sarah’s Key) ‘s newest novel, The Other Story The Other Story by Tatiana de Rosnay

Set on an island off the Tuscan coast of Italy, The Other Story is about a famous young author as he comes to terms with his past. It’s provocative and interesting as the writer, promiscuous and irresponsible, learns what it is to stand on his own two feet and become the man he wants to be. I highly recommend it.

The second: Robin Oliveira’s I Always Loved You: I Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira

The story of Impressionist master artists, Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt, set in Paris, and their enchanting love affair. It not only has the most beautiful cover I’ve seen in years, but also has the most beautiful writing and telling of historical story that I’ve read recently. I highly recommend it.

The third: A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams  A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams

If you’re longing for a beach, sunshine, sand, and an unrelenting story, you must go out and find a copy, read it, and then loan it to all of your favorite friends. They’ll thank you for it a hundred times. It’s set in 1930s Rhode Island and New York City, and is a love story tangled up in betrayal, desire, which makes it unputdownable–the best kind of read. I highly recommend it. And I’m not the only one who loves A Hundred Summers… my teammate at Great New Books, Nina Badzin will be recommending it there next week.

5. Exercise

My favorite place apart from home this winter is the nearby family gym. We didn’t have access to a single place to run around in when we lived in Prague, which if you’ve ever overwintered with three energetic and highly rambunctious boys in a subzero Celsius climate, you understand that I really appreciate it now. And, I’m finding this winter that if I time my daily miles just right, I’m getting caught up with good shows I missed while abroad, including Grey’s Anatomy. Loving it.

6. Friends

I wouldn’t be truthful if I didn’t give a huge amount of thanks for the wonderful times with friends and the camaraderie, often spontaneous, always side-splitting with laughter, for making hibernation really great.

So … Spring … is it around the corner, Punxsutawney Phil? Either way, it’s been a good winter. I’d love to hear how you best make it through the long, cold winter!

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Winter in Europe: Favorite Places and Photographs

Winter Sunrise over Lake Como

“… But unless the child in you is entirely dead, it is snow, too, that can make the heart beat faster when it catches you by surprise that way, before your defenses are up. It is snow that can awaken memories of things more wonderful than anything you ever knew or dreamed.” ― Frederick Buechner

 

Winter in Europe: Favorite Places and Photographs

I love Europe in the winter.

There is something magical about European winters. Something about ice skaters filling a small town’s central pond, enchanting architecture sparkling beneath a pixie dust snow, the mountains and the grandeur of the Alps, the Christmas Markets and the rhythm of the people as they go about their lives, and the sheer beauty of it all.

Over the four years my family and I lived in Europe, we traveled throughout much of central Europe in the winter. This winter amidst the huge amounts of snow falling on our new home in the American Midwest, I’ve been sorting through some of my favorite photos of our time in Europe.

Thanks for scrolling through and discovering some of the favorite places I traveled in the winters in Europe, including Czech Republic, Italy, Austria, Poland, and Germany. All of the following are places I’m grateful to have captured through the lens of my camera. Undoubtedly, they will stay in my heart and mind forever.

Austria at Christmastime
Tirol region, Austria at Christmastime
My favorite castle on the Austria / Italy border in the Alps
My favorite castle on the Austria / Italy border in the Alps

 

A Typical Countryside Scene along the North-central Austria / Czech border
A Typical Countryside Scene along the North-central Austria / Czech border

 

Majestic, Stunning Austrian Alps
Majestic, Stunning Austrian Alps

 

Silent Black Forest Laden with Snow along the German / Austrian / Czech Borders
Silent Black Forest Laden with Snow along the German / Austrian / Czech Borders

 

Rural Poland
Rural Poland

 

Poland
Poland

 

Statuesque Church, near Linz, Austria
Statuesque Church, near Linz, Austria

 

Sumava Region, Czech Republic
Sumava Region, Czech Republic

 

Powdered Sugar - Snow Wonderland, Austria
Powdered Sugar – Snow Wonderland, Austria

 

Chiavenna, Italy
Chiavenna, Italy — at the top of Italy, nestled into Switzerland

 

Engadin / St. Moritz region, Switzerland
Engadin / St. Moritz region, Switzerland : the silhouette of a church

 

Prata Comportaccio, Italy : the Black Church, 14th century
Prata Comportaccio, Italy : the Black Church, 14th century

 

A Lone Chalet in the Distance in a Snowstorm in the Alps, Alto Adige, Italy
Snowstorm in the Alps, Alto Adige, Italy

 

St. Moritz, Switzerland
St. Moritz, Switzerland

 

Prague, the view from the Charles Bridge toward Mala Strana
Prague, the view from the Charles Bridge toward Mala Strana

 

Prague's Old Town, Astronomical Clock, Tyn Church, and Christmas markets
Prague’s Old Town, Astronomical Clock, and Christmas Markets

 

Winter Sunrise over Lake Como
Winter Sunrise over Lake Como, Italy

If you’ve traveled in Europe in the winter, please share your favorite places here in the comments as well. Thank you and happy travels!

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Walking Toward the Sunshine: On Choosing Beauty

Walk towards the sunshine, and the shadows will fall behind you.”  ― Mary Engelbreit

Winter is a bleak time, especially in former Soviet Bloc countries. I know this well, from these four winters of living in Prague, where the absence of color and light seems to be magnified.

Prague in winter
Prague in winter

All around Prague, Communist housing projects scathe the skyline. Square buildings about 20 stories tall stand like trees making up forests of dense housing blocks. Laundry hangs from balconies in every type of weather. It’s about February every year when I really start to feel it. For me, the colorlessness comes not only from the snow and mud that covers the landscape, but also the barrenness of the season.

Sunny Daffodils for Bleak Winter Days
Sunny Daffodils for Bleak Winter Days

No matter where we live, though, or what kind of housing we live in, finding beauty is not easy. One of the hardest things in life is finding the good and positive in circumstances that are beyond our control.

It is so hard to … Continue reading Walking Toward the Sunshine: On Choosing Beauty

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Snow, Charles Bridge, and the Beauty of Prague’s Spires in Winter

Prague's Spires and Bridges with Snow in Winter

“The color of springtime is in the flowers; the color of winter is in the imagination.” – Terri Guillemets

Prague's Spires and Bridges with Snow in Winter
Prague’s Spires and Bridges with Snow in Winter

The first time I saw Prague’s Charles Bridge, the weather was hot and the bridge was crowded. It had been the height of summer tourist season (August) and construction crews worked on replacing the cobblestones on over half of the width of the legendary bridge spanning the Vltava River in Prague. I remember thinking about taking a photograph, but with three children in tow and other tourists pressing in on all sides of us, there was no opportunity other than simply to make it across. Despite the heat and the crowds, my first time across Charles Bridge was a memorable experience.

 

Snow-covered Charles Bridge in Winter, Prague
Snow-covered Charles Bridge in Winter, Prague

Every time I’ve seen the bridge and had the opportunity to meander across it in the four years since then, I’ve walked across in wide-eyed wonder. There is so much to see: the saint statues and the river, the spires on each side of the river, the autumn changing leaves, and the soaring swans and water birds, the organ-grinder man collecting change in an old hat, the artists and vendors and jazz ensembles adding flavor to the air. The Charles Bridge is Prague’s most enchanting place.

 

Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, and Mala Strana Spires in Snow
Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, and Mala Strana Spires in Snow

In January, an unexpected snow fell overnight before I was to meet a friend at the Castle in Prague. When I woke, I saw this view and decided to venture straight downtown, to write near the bridge on that day, and take a few moments to capture the beauty I might find there.

 

Sunrise in Winter, the view through my lens, Prague
Sunrise in Winter, the view through my lens, Prague

And beauty blew me away.

 

Bird and Snow on Prague's Charles Bridge
Bird and Snow on Prague’s Charles Bridge

I have never been the only person on the Charles Bridge. On that frigid, snowy morning, I was.

 

Snow-covered Charles Bridge in Winter, Prague, Black and White
Snow-covered Charles Bridge in Winter, Prague, Black and White

It was an experience that will linger for a long time to come …

 

Prague, Mala Strana, and St. Nicholas's Spires in Winter with Snow
Prague, Mala Strana, and St. Nicholas’s Spires in Winter with Snow

For other photographs I’ve taken of Prague’s Charles Bridge, you can find them by clicking here.

 

Prague Castle Steps in Winter
Prague Castle Steps in Winter

Also, other photographs and posts on Prague can be found here. And on travel in Europe, here.

 

Prague Castle Guards, Winter
Prague Castle Guards, Winter

For you: Have you traveled to Prague? What is your favorite place / time of year to come?

 

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The Beauty of Prague in Winter

The View over Prague in Winter

Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire:  it is the time for home.  ~Edith Sitwell

 

The View over Prague in Winter
The View over Prague in Winter

 

The first winter I lived in Prague, in 2009-2010, the snow came early and stayed late. Months passed and kept us blanketed with more than a foot of snow. For me, a native of Texas, the months of that first winter in Prague were out of a fairy tale … castles, spires, palaces, cathedrals all etched with enchanting and glittering snow.

Prague's Star Summer Palace in Winter
Prague's Star Summer Palace in Winter

Continue reading The Beauty of Prague in Winter

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Prague’s Winter Loveliness

morning drive in the snow above Prague

“Prague never lets you go… this dear little mother has sharp claws.” -Franz Kafka, surrealist author

morning drive in the snow above Prague
morning drive in the snow above Prague

The thing with living in a country like Czech Republic is that you never know what each day may bring. It’s always different. Some days, a grocery clerk throws the food you pay for onto the floor (on purpose), and some days the grocery cashier actually smiles. Daily grocery shopping is always difficult, though. I’ll have enough stories to last a lifetime after another year …

My daily drive is always interesting, and truly never is the same. With incredible views overlooking Prague, every day I get to experience the city from the top. And it’s gorgeous. Here, I’m sharing some photos from one day’s drive this week:

the Prague Castle at sunrisethe Prague Castle at sunrise

view over Pragueview over Prague

Beautiful drive through Prague's many forestsBeautiful drive through Prague’s many forests

a drive through a Czech villagea drive through a Czech village

a typical Czech streeta typical Czech street

a Czech wintera Czech winter

Prague is an amazing city in a beautiful country … we are very grateful to get to be here. And it’s a place full of inspiration for writing and the arts. And, winter guarantees I snuggle up with a blanket and my laptop and make solid progress on my novel. It’s coming along…

Thanks for sharing some photos of this gorgeous winter Prague with me!

What do you appreciate about winter?

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The Winter Wonderland of Austria, Germany, and Czech Republic

Winter Wonderland in Czech Republic Sumava

In the depths of winter, I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer. -Albert Camus, French novelist, 1957 Nobel Prize for Literature

A few weeks ago, we spent time in the Alps skiing. And, on our way home to Prague, we plugged in our Garmin, set the destination to HOME, and started the journey. We didn’t look at the route the Garmin suggested … which we soon found out was different than the Autobahn quick drive home. Instead, we took the LONG road home to Prague, through the high country of north-central Austria, into the National Park in Germany, and crossed the mountains into the Sumava region of Czech Republic. That route meant we got to cross some sizeable mountains in a heavy snowstorm. It was quite the adventure!

Winter Wonderland in Czech Republic Sumava
Winter Wonderland in Czech Republic Sumava

Now, in January, looking out at a blanket of snow, I’m reminded of the photographs I took during that drive. And since I’m working heavily on rewriting and editing for my work-in-progress novel, I’m taking the chance to save words for the novel and post stunning photographs instead. I hope you enjoy them!

The Austrian Alps in WinterThe Austrian Alps in Winter

Austrian Castle in the AlpsAustrian Castle in the Alps

The Stunning Snow-capped Alps, AustriaThe Stunning Snow-capped Alps

German Winter WonderlandGerman Winter Wonderland

Powdered Sugar Trees, Czech RepublicPowdered Sugar Trees, Czech Republic

Starting the Conversation: What off-the-beaten path adventure have you taken lately? Have you experienced a time recently of unexpected beauty?

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Christmas, Snow, and the Grinch

The sun dazzling on the snow
“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so?
It came without ribbons, it came without tags.
It came without packages, boxes or bags.
And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before …
What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store?
What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?”
-Dr. Seuss, American Writer, from The Grinch Stole Christmas

December has arrived to Prague with a blast–a big blast of snow! This week, what began with around twelve inches has at least doubled to over two feet. This is all at a place where the locals say they get no snow, and where the schools offer no “snow days”. It’s quite an adventure!

For about one hour this week, the sun peeked out from behind its winter cloud covering and shone in all its glory over the snow.

The sun dazzling on the snow
The sun dazzling on the snow

No diamond can compete, I think. There is no more intense sparkle than of the sunlight on snowflakes.

Sparkle!

And the excitement of snow — there are snow forts, and snow balls, and snow angels to make. And sledding, and skiing, and sliding to do. The snow makes toys and games from the store a bore. Instant JOY!

In the midst of the holiday shopping, buying and wrapping gifts, and attending holiday parties, it’s easy to get swept away in the popular spirit of the season: busy-ness. But busy-ness, for me, also steals away the joy that can be found in the simple things, things that come without wrappings and ribbons, without tags and boxes, without the sparkle and glimmer of store-bought things with high price tags.

Maybe the real joy in Christmas can be found in spending time away from the busy-ness, giving of our time to others. Making snow forts. Throwing snow balls. Laughing, wrapped in the smaller, gentler things that Christmas brings. Like the Grinch so eloquently pointed out, the JOY found in Christmas must come from a whole lot more than wrappings– a joy that started 2,000 years ago in a humble manger.

Starting the Conversation: This week, what are ways you can find to escape the run-around surrounding Christmas? How are you able to remember to embrace the simple in the midst of the media storm promoting sales for the holidays?

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A Shot of Floral Color for the Dead of Winter

Color: Daisies, Lithrum, Russian Sage, Pandora's Box Daylilies

“God gave us our memories so that we might have roses in December.” -J.M. Barrie

Color: Daisies, Lithrum, Russian Sage, Pandora's Box Daylilies
Color: Daisies, Lithrum, Russian Sage, Pandora's Box Daylilies
Every year at about this time, my eyes feel deplete of color. Whether this year it’s from the thick froth of snow blanketing my world white, from the soft gray European light, or from the daily veil of Prague fog, I don’t know … but this January, I need a shot of color. So I thought I’d share …
This floral beauty is the Lavender Illusion daylily, from our former backyard (top photo, also) in the States. Somehow, creation flaunts hues impossible to replicate by humans. This color, a lavender veined in soft lilac and highlighted with delicate pink, has a magical sheen in the sunlight– as if a fairy sprinkled each day’s lily with enchanting pixie dust. Adding the vibrant lime-colored throat and neon stamens, the whole flower is a carnival of color.
Thanks for enjoying a taste of summer’s beauty with me.
Starting the conversation: (leave a comment below) What are your favorite flowers from summer?