The Inspiration of Creation

On a Bangkok Sky Train platform, the wordsmith, who came with her husband to the wedding in Thailand, pointed out a kiosk full of pens and notebooks named “The Stationery.” Underneath the shop’s name, in a handwritten font, a sign read: “The inspiration of creation begin with simply writing.” The wordsmith smiled, because in spite of the slightly awkward English she knew it was right on point for “Her spirits rose….”

And when I realized that Tuesday’s would be the 500th post begun by simply writing – or drawing – that seemed a lot of “inspiration of creation.”

My motivations to keep this up are never quite clear to me, other than the sheer challenge and pleasure of making something where there is nothing, facing blankness and shaping raw materials – words and images into Downtown Abbey stories, or a travel narrative. The effort of doing my best to describe a recipe or book or to make series of images of interest to you rewards me with memorable moments of doing.

By the blog I understand Tracy Kidder’s words when he writes that every story “has to be discovered twice” – both in the world and in the author’s workroom. Kidder says: “One discovers a story the second time by constructing it. In non-fiction the materials are factual, but the construction itself is something different from fact.”

At this milestone I thank again the wordsmith and my good-natured husband. Encouraging me with their enthusiasm and expectations, they’ve given their time, expertise, and camaraderie to this endeavor. I’ve enjoyed it, and I’m grateful.

And thank you wonderful readers, many of whom have been aboard for all 500 posts – especially those whose voices in comments have become a familiar and enriching part of the blog. The inspiration of creation might begin with writing, but satisfying connection comes from readers reading and responding.

Thank you!

Pen 2

An Anniversary

This is the 500th post for “Her spirits rose….”











I think I am silenced. (For today.)

A Giveaway

Suddenly it is thoroughly November, damp and dark. Thanksgiving is only two weeks away! It’s time to embrace the upcoming holidays – such a hedge against the darkness with cheerful lights and color and food.

To get going I always need to inspire myself a little though, so, in a first for Her spirits rose…, just for fun, and in honor of the coming holidays (and in keeping with general jubilation and celebration of a hopeful four more years of moving forward!), I thought I’d try a giveaway on the blog.

When my book “The Year in Flowers: A Daybook” went out of print, I bought the last two boxes. They aren’t making anyone happy in my closet, so three copies are on offer in this giveaway.

“The Year” is a perpetual journal, divided into months but usable for any year – with blank pages for journal entries and record keeping. People have used it to keep track of daily happenings and as a garden or house journal. It’s full of illustrations, and each month has a little essay about finding flowers in my Alaska life.

To enter the giveaway, please leave a comment below about what you look forward to in this season – some little detail about how you organize, a memory of holidays past, or a favorite thing or tradition. Tell how the season makes your spirits rise!

Please comment on this post, “A Giveaway,” by Thursday, November 8 to be included. A random number generator will select three names, and I will mail the books to winners.

I really appreciate the readers who comment here. If you are new to commenting – please join in! After you write your comment, WordPress will ask you for your email to make sure you a real person and not a robot, but the address will not appear in public.

I hope you will participate – I’m looking forward to your holiday thoughts and ideas.

Vicki Lane Mysteries

During the one sunny patch of Memorial Day weekend, we hauled out and set up the hammock. Now I glance at it across a soggy lawn, suspicious that moss begins to grow in the webbing. I also wonder if I (or any visitor) will ever lie in it to read a book this summer! If I do – I know what I will read – the second book of Vicki Lane’s series of mystery novels.

I learned about Lane when a friend of hers, who reads both our blogs, connected us. I enjoy her comments and our commonalities – including husbands who support our work, two sons, and black and white cats. She inspires me. I’m full of admiration for the way she thinks up plots with characters and landscape so particular to a place.

Vicki’s daily, yes daily, blog ( is rich with photos of the hills and hollows around her house and farm, her critters and garden – also the setting for her mysteries. She might post a “teeny rant” about women’s reproductive health in politics or about Marigold giving birth to a bull calf. It’s a pleasure to see the same scenes as the seasons turn – (her spring seemed miraculous early and advanced to my eyes!). And her house – lots of books, work tables, and couches full of dogs in front of the fire at Christmas.

Almost 40 years ago she and her husband moved to a farm on the side of a mountain in North Carolina, and in 2005 Lane began to write books – mystery books that are part Appalachian tale and part sleuth story.

Lane’s heroine is Elizabeth Goodweather (surely a life-informing name), a combination of herb gardener and Nancy Drew. I’ve just read the first of Goodweather’s adventures (there are five books), but I am engaged.

After listening to an interview where Lane modestly skirted the issue of how she accomplished so much (her answer was: “I don’t! – I’m always behind”), I pressed her in an email about her working habits. She answered that when under contract she writes “at night, from about eight till midnight or later. And, in the non-garden months, I may write much of the day as well.” During the more free months she “catches up with much that’s been left undone since I got into this writing thing – watching movies, reading books, organizing closets,” and Lane added that she was “beginning to feel the pull to settle down to some serious writing.”

Lane says she blogs because she likes the record of what’s blooming and what she’s up to – and reads blogs because she loves peeking into others’ lives and places.“

So, me too. Thanks Vicki!

And in that hammock, on a sunny summer day (one will come), having read “Signs in the Blood,” I’m going on to “Art’s Blood” – and looking forward to it!

A Change in the Header

WordPress has stopped putting author bylines on blogs written by just one person. It took me weeks to notice this, and weeks more to notice that my name didn’t actually appear anywhere on the blog!

That’s a woeful absence in the blog world, so in rectifying my anonymity, I found myself reconsidering the subtitle. I am still really fond of the concept of spirits rising, but in the last three years the blog often strayed from house and, very often, far from garden.

Initially, in setting up “Her spirits rose..” I tried to fit better into the categories of house and garden. But I wrote an early post about the importance of the everyday to me, about the possibility of nurture from ordinary doings, and added the quote I love by Fiona MacCarthy: “Art is what you choose, how you arrange things, permeating and sustaining everyday life.”

Virginia Woolf says it best of course, in many forms. Through Lily Briscoe in “To the Lighthouse”: “What is the meaning of life? That was all – a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years, the great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead, there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.”

So now I’ve changed my header, thinking the “the art of everyday” might more accurately express what I’ve come to look for and hold most dear – “arranging things” “little daily miracles” “lifted spirits.”

Return from Paradise

Some of us for longer than others but for most of two weeks in February, our whole family (including the staff of Downtown Abbey and the Lady Baby herself) spent time on Kauai. My mind is still there!

Signs of spring appear here – in the garden hellebore stand tall, looking beautiful, brave, and full of blossom, and scores of budded daffodils try to triumph over popweed – but our first morning back we woke to snow and rain slanting on a stiff wind.

So, while we wait for spring, “Her spirits rose…” will revisit Kauai!

Love and Forgiveness

Protected by snow from temperatures in the low 20s, our garden is now restored to its green Washington winter beauty. Ferns and hellebore, beach strawberry and rosemary emerged wet but not brown. Even the lawn is green again – and I see blossoming tiny cyclamen and budded snowdrops!

Last Saturday, walking the woods trail in the first post-snow morning, glad to walk on soggy earth again and hear tiny birds chittering about, a comment from a reader was on my mind. She wondered if the love from a baby is like the unconditional love from a dog.

I intended to reply to her by email, but for some reason there in the woods, I realized that to other readers it might seem I fail to acknowledge comments or answer questions. I always try to write emails to the commenter – but rarely do I write back in the comment queue.

A fellow blogger, when I belatedly commented on her site, said it’s always good to get feedback – and that is true. Often a comment or an email sets me up for the day! I appreciate it when something moves or puzzles someone enough to write. One reader referred to a community of kindred spirits who read the blog – and that feels good.

So here I offer a heartfelt thank you for comments and compliments – all are appreciated!

Now back to unconditional love. In drafting a reply in my head on that walk, I thought what I felt with the baby was love for her – unadulterated, powerful, beginning-before-she-was-born love.

Not being a dog person, and much more aligned with cats, I’ve never been sure about receiving unconditional love. No one talks about unconditional love and cats in the same sentence. And then I began to wonder if what we think of as unconditional love is the love we feel, reflected back.

When we love unconditionally (especially babies or animals because they don’t speak or fail to speak), I wonder if it doesn’t bounce back and feel like incoming love.

Just a thought for the Love month. Thank you readers! You keep me going into this third year!

Operating Principles – Revisted

Midway through the second year of “Her spirits rose…” I think about the process as a more flexible thing than I did at the beginning. Last year I planned whole months, mostly now I react to the present (with a little lag time).

Aided by an Internet creation – a chunky paperback I had made from last year’s posts, a “blog to book” publication, I’ve read through old posts thinking about possibilities for pocket books. One might be about what I think of as “operating principles,” and I’ve revisited the first six months so far, collecting favorite quotes.

But I also want to make note of June! Needing a series like last year’s flowers to allow more time for all of us to enjoy June – I’m thinking to combine the two impulses and make posts with a clunky title, “Field Notes from June: iPaintings with Operating Principles.” Or maybe just one or the other.

June is upon us – still cool – but rhododendrons bloom and winter wrens and robins sing in the woods when we walk in the early morning. The white-crowned sparrow calls from his bluff perch, the olive-sided flycatcher from the firs above, and a crow, surely the same one from past years, visits the water dish.

Two different deer trios are about – I encountered a doe with a pair of fawns on the south forty and, just before we left on our trip, a mom with the tiniest fawn, newborn with crisp white spots, appeared. Our house sitter spotted them on our little deck (when the fawn saw her, it slid under an Adirondack chair with that collapsing-to-safety leg movement of a tiny fawn).

This week I watched that pair with what seems to be last season’s fawn, now a yearling. The fawn touched noses with the yearling – and then, distracted, skittered off and jumped straight up – after a robin.

Plants I think of as midsummer blooms (my Alaska gardener roots) – thalictrum, columbine, and real geraniums bloom in my garden now. The rain and rain and rain pleases those sturdy perennials. A handful of annuals in little pots waits for me to get outside and plant.

I wish you the pleasures of daylight and green in this first summer month! As always, thank you so much for reading and for keeping company in this endeavor.

Wandering Mind

The amaryllis or belladonna lily, the one I’ve been recording, is progeny of a bulb given to me nearly 30 years ago. A long time ago I gave my painter friend a daughter bulb, and she returned a granddaughter to bring here to Washington. Usually it blooms for the New Year, but skipped last year, so I was so glad to see the start of a bud.

With smaller flowers than the showy amaryllis we force for the holidays, these plants bloom the color of a Creamsicle. When the bud emerged, the only leaf extended from a smaller bulb rooted beside. Impossibly spindly at first, the stalk grew fatter and sturdier just in time to support the buds. And then they fell.

By depicting the amaryllis during my time off, I recognized I still wanted to tell what was going on. In his beautiful little book “The Art of Description: World into Word,” Mark Doty suggests there might be a problem of “life not having been really lived until it is narrated.” I surely missed the narrating.

In spite of enjoying the freedom to wander my mind, I also missed discovering in the way the poet William Stafford described: “A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as he is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought if he had not started to say them.”

I appreciated all comments and encouragements at the end of the year. You who show up to read provide what Brenda Ueland says someone who wants to write needs – ”…persons who, for some mysterious reason, leave you full of energy, feed you with ideas, or, more obscurely still, have the effect of filling you with self confidence and eagerness to write.” What a gift. Truly, my spirits rose.

In her third book “Prospect,” Anne Truitt explains the motivation to write this way: “Life is a lonely business. My impulse is to hold out my hand to readers. By recording my life as clearly as I can (while retaining my reticences) I offer them my companionship, a kind of friendship.”

It’s a happy thing to touch another in the process of trying to describe my place in the world. Including my mistakes. I shouldn’t have watered the amaryllis again so soon. I debated, and then pictured moist Kauai, with afternoon rain squalls – brief, but frequent and drenching. But my potted bulb had no leaves and no way to process extra water. I’ll do better with the second bud. And I’ll try hard with the second year also!

Thank you for reading – I’m glad to be back!

Red Beans and Rice

Maybe this post is only minimally about a recipe – but in searching for a last bean dish of the year (before making black-eyed peas for New Year’s and coming full circle), I realized that in spite of all the red in the kitchen this season (pomegranates, pears, persimmons, and peppers), I hadn’t thought of cooking red beans.

Mark Bittman’s recipe for “Red Beans and Rice” calls for coconut milk and hot spices (an appropriate taste of Thailand added to our holiday). I’ll start the kidney beans – then cook onion, pepper, and celery in olive oil until softened, and add thyme, bay leaves, allspice (or chili powder to taste), and two cups chopped tomatoes. When the tomatoes break up,  add to the bean mixture, and cook until the beans are very tender.

Add a cup and a half of long-grained white rice (we bought Thai rice) and three cups canned coconut milk to the beans, turn heat to low and cook till the rice is tender and the liquid absorbed.

Ah beans: flexible, resilient, dependable, interesting, desirable.

Beans have been one of the many joys of this year’s experience with “Her spirits rose….” I’m tempted to ask my readers about going forth. I do think about that a lot – but maybe I need to go beyond thinking to a plan.

The schedule mattered to me this year – but maybe I needn’t keep so closely to that? Maybe if the blog continues, it could be once a week – day uncertain, longer or shorter. Maybe trusting myself enough to allow a little randomness – perhaps not so frequent or sometimes more frequent when called for.

I have loved the discipline and the routine, loved the exchanges around writing with the wordsmith (generous with her time and expertise) and my husband (always good-natured about his “first reader” task). Thank you both.

And I’ve loved “having” to think about illustrating each week – making new or using my archive – often working fast and always with pleasure.

It was fun to make a cast of characters from the important people in my life. From the young writer to the mother of my young friend, I have shamelessly appropriated your quirks and stories to share. Thank you.

I have appreciated hearing from readers, in comments and in extra emails – even in lovely, paper letters – about what this effort has meant in your lives. Those missives did much to support this year’s output. Thank you all.

My relationship to food and cooking has grown and sustained me also. Now it seems obvious that if one is concerned with the art of daily life – food looms large.

Back to the red beans. A reader in London told me in an email that in cultures where rice is the most important staple (like his native Japan) beans are for special occasions. He writes: “especially the red bean is for a festive occasion (white rice and red bean makes an auspicious combination).”

Sounds good!