“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” -Aristotle
I have 3 things to share this week:
1) Happy news: Capitol Prague, a new restaurant and cafe in Washington D. C. / Georgetown, has bought use of of one of my photographs of Charles Bridge in Prague for use as a mural inside their cafe.
Isn’t it gorgeous? And, illy is my very favorite coffee, the one we drank at our home in Prague. Na zdravi! (Cheers!)Read More»
“Hummingbirds open our eyes to the wonder of the world and inspire us to open our hearts to loved ones and friends. Like a hummingbird, we aspire to hover and to savor each moment as it passes, embrace all that life has to offer and to celebrate the joy of everyday. The hummingbird’s delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is life’s sweetest creation.” -Papyrus
Friends often ask what is the one thing I missed most about the US during our 4 years in Prague. The answer might (or might not) be surprising …
The one thing I missed most over the last four years of living in Europe doesn’t have to do with shopping or food or the differences in cultures or people. Those factors all affected me, and yes, I missed everything about home, really. But the one thing I missed most was seeing hummingbirds. Hummingbirds only are found in North, Central, and South America.
To me, hummingbirds define summer.They’ve always fascinated me with their shimmering colors and incredible fluttering wings. They also symbolize joy and magic and wonder, and without them darting about, a backyard doesn’t feel complete.
It isn’t hard to attract hummingbirds, but 3 things are essential …Read More»
Flowers… are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty outvalues all the utilities of the world. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1844
After such a dark week last week, I need a colorful fix of beauty and light, one of my favorite kind, of flowers, flowers, flowers.
My hands are in the dirt more often now, as my family and I are settling into our new home. The backyard is a complete blank slate, with not even a tree inside the fence, so I’m busy working on a rose garden. It’ll be some time before the flowers thrive and look beautiful, but I’ve found some of my favorite photographs of flower bouquet photos from my former backyard garden … enjoy!Read More»
Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone. ~G.B. Stern
“To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven.” -Johannes A. Gaertner (1912-1996) Art History Professor, Theologian, Poet
“In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.” -Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) Philosopher, Mathematician
appreciation [əˌpriːʃɪˈeɪʃən -sɪ-] noun
1. thanks or gratitude
2. assessment of the true worth or value of persons or things
Not long ago, a wise friend wrote a spontaneous comment to me about the expat experience. She, too, had been an American who had lived for an extended period of time outside the United States. And she, too, had moved back to the United States recently with her family. I have thought about and repeated what she said many times over the past few weeks, as I and my family transition from our almost 4 years of living abroad in the Czech Republic. What she said was this:
“The best thing about being an expat is the appreciation you have for everything when you return.”
I might only be able to add, with emphasis and bold letters, to the word EVERYTHING. Because that’s what it really is: I appreciate EVERYTHING.Read More»
Over the past several weeks, my family and I have been wrapped up in the process of moving across the Atlantic. The details have been tremendous, but all have worked out so smoothly they’ve unfolded like stepping stones, one tiny step at a time. And while I’m wrapped up in transition and helping my kids to get settled and engaged in their new school in Ohio, I am taking time to think and understand the vast changes we’re going through. We already miss our friends in Prague, but are thrilled to be back home in the United States. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be blogging about the move. But for now, I’m posting part of a piece I’ve written for today at Great New Books, on one of my recent favorite books. I’m closing comments here, but I hope you’ll join us at Great New Books for the rest of the post and discussion. Thanks!
In the best book covers, a reader can sense the story held inside the pages even without opening the book at all. THE LOST WIFE by Alyson Richman is one novel I’ve recently read that I fell in love with, not only for the cover art (which shows a couple kissing on Prague’s famed Charles Bridge), but with the words, the story, and the pull I felt while reading to immerse myself in every word all the way to the end.
In the very first pages of The Lost Wife, in combination with the cover and the evocative title, the reader learns that a husband and wife have been passionately in love, but then tragically separated by war. The story begins in current day New York City at a wedding where one of the main characters, Josef, discovers someone he never even dreamed to meet again, who he recognizes by “the shadow of something dark blue beneath the transparent material of her sleeve that caused shivers to run through his old veins.” That woman is his wife, Lenka.
The rest of the book fills in the empty space of story, in fluid, alternating viewpoints from Josef to Lenka, of how they met and fell deeply in love, married, and were torn apart by the footsteps of Nazi soldiers marching through the cobblestone streets of Prague. In alternating timeframes of current day and 1940s Europe, the reader falls into an absorbing tale of enduring love and the incredible resilience of hope and the ability of memory to draw us through the hardest of times.
Over the past few years I have read several books set during the Holocaust and World War II Europe. Because of the subject matter, each has been challenging to read, emotionally and historically. But The Lost Wife, to me, reached much further than the atrocities the protagonist suffered, and to another subject altogether. The Lost Wife is a love story from beginning to end, and even more, it shines a bright light on art as a means to survive even the worst of circumstances.
Richman draws two vivid characters in Lenka and Josef. While reading, I could feel the weight of their love while they were in pre-Occupation Prague, and even more, sense that same love as it pulled and tugged through their circumstances after they were pulled apart. Not only did I see Lenka’s curls in decadent pre-War Prague, but could hear her rich voice and artist’s perspective in everything she said. An example (page 36): “I’ve often wondered if it is impossible to dress purely for your own indulgence and not in the hope of catching a man’s eye. Some women love the feel of silk in their own hand, the weight of velvet on their skin. I think my mother was like that. She always told us there were two types of women. Those who are lit from the outside and those who are lit from within. The first needs the shimmer of a diamond to make her sparkle, but for the other, her beauty is illuminated through the sheer light of her soul.”
As well as rich characters, Richman writes the settings so real it’s as if the reader is walking right beside the characters, or close enough to be in their actual shoes. I have walked the cobblestones of Prague for the past four years (living in Prague as an expat), and spent a day inside the Ghetto of Nazi concentration camp Terezin, and the novel reads just as the settings feel and smell and look if the reader were there in real life. For a walk through history-rich Prague and along its gentle Vltava River, to see the delicate Bohemian crystal and the idyllic land of Czechoslovakia before War and Communism seized it, and to experience the suffering of those who survived the Nazi camps, The Lost Wife is a must read.
For more about my experience at Terezin, click here. To see more posts about Prague, click here. And for more and to engage with us in comments and discussion, click here for our book recommendation site at Great New Books … Thanks! -Jennifer
How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
Here we will sit and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears: soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony. -Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice
“To not see Europe during our years in Prague would be like sitting at arm’s-length from a dessert table and not ever taking a bite.
All of Europe is so accessible from the Czech Republic — Rome, Paris, Stockholm, Budapest, Vienna, Berlin, Amsterdam, Brussels, Geneva, and Venice are all easily reached within a day’s drive. It’s been a terrific once-in-a-lifetime experience to live in Prague and get to travel Europe with our family. We are so grateful!”
I wrote the above words 2 years ago, when I visited Venice for the first time. And I can say in the time since, Venice has not let me out of its clutches. Venice enchants with its color and light, reflections and antiquity, lavishness and decay.
I have been working over the last year on my new novel, working-titled THE GOLDEN WILLOW, partially set in Venice and the Cinque Terre, Italy, and partly in New Orleans, Louisiana. I am enjoying it immensely, so much that the work in writing is still work, but also play. It is the vivid memory of my visits to Venice that fuels the creation.
So, this week, as I travel, I’m posting the images I love of Venice in February:
“The color of springtime is in the flowers; the color of winter is in the imagination.” – Terri Guillemets
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.
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.
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.
And beauty blew me away.
I have never been the only person on the Charles Bridge. On that frigid, snowy morning, I was.
It was an experience that will linger for a long time to come …
For other photographs I’ve taken of Prague’s Charles Bridge, you can find them by clicking here.
For you: Have you traveled to Prague? What is your favorite place / time of year to come?
I slipped the book into my bag one day thinking I could simply read a few pages and put it down. But The Language of Flowers turned out to be a book of the best and most addicting kind: one with a world so vivid, a protagonist so interesting and real, and a style of writing so transparent that I forgot I was even reading at all. The Language of Flowers is the type of book I love to recommend and pass on.
The title speaks of a theme in the book, the historic Victorian manner of communicating meanings through flowers. For me, a flower-lover, the title drew me to the book, as some titles do for some readers. But the story in The Language of Flowers is much more than for flower-lovers.
My heart tugged and stretched while reading the story of Victoria Jones, an eighteen-year-old girl who ages out of the foster care system. The book begins as she leaves her last group home with her social worker, and chronicles her struggle to overcome the bruises of her past as she fights to make it in the real world. In fluid chapters, the story alternates between events in Victoria’s past and her life as it unfolds in the present.
Victoria progresses and regresses, often sabotaging others’ attempts at loving her, but her gift, working with flowers, provides a way of communicating her feelings. Hang on through the ups and downs. The ending is beautiful, powerful, and redemptive.
To me, a sign of a great book is how it opens a new window to the world and gives the reader a new perspective. At Great New Books, we believe words have the power to change us, and open doors to a better world. The Language of Flowers does just that.
The author, Vanessa Diffenbaugh, is involved with The Camellia Network (camellianetwork.org), a support net(work) for youth aging out of the foster care system. Through an engaging website, The Camellia Network provides simple avenues for reaching out and helping youths like Victoria.
This story whispers that even with the most broken of pasts, with the most unforgivable of actions, “anyone can grow into someone beautiful”.
I’m closing comments here on my blog, as this post will be published today, Wednesday, January 16, at Great New Books, the book recommendation website I’m involved with (and love). I hope you’ll stop by Great New Books and join us in conversation there!
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary. -W.C.Dix
v1 What Child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom Angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and Angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
v3 So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
Come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Raise, raise a song on high,
The virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
-What Child is This? lyrics by William Chatterton Dix, 1865
Merry Christmas, everyone! See you next week on January 1, 2013!
Love and peace to you and your families,
My test of a good novel is dreading to begin the last chapter. -Thomas Helm
I remember way back to the first week of 2012 and being so absorbed in a great book that I read it in two days. In my opinion, there is nothing greater than being lost in a great book.
Since this time of year is a wonderful time to buy books for friends and family, I’m continuing my tradition of writing about my favorite books (2010 and 2011 here) for the year. From my shelf of favorite books over at Goodreads (link here), I have five favorites from 2012, and a few other recommendations — one for every type of reader.
1. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh:
This is the book I read first in 2012 and it became my favorite for the year. It is about an 18-year-old girl who ages out of the US foster care system, broken and struggling to make it on her own. As she finds her place, she communicates best in the old Victorian language of flowers, giving flowers to communicate what she feels. This is such a powerful book written by a woman with an enormous heart. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Book club fiction / Women’s fiction.Read More»