Category Archives: Art

Really good shortbread

Shortbread cookies in maple leaf and heart shapes

I recently made shortbread cookies for my church bazaar and since then people have asked for my recipe. I’m sharing it with them, and with you.

Melt-in-your-mouth shortbread takes practice and a bit of fuss, but it’s worth it.

Smith shortbread cookies

  • 1 cup     butter (It must be butter.)
  • 1/3 cup  instant-dissolving sugar (It must be instant-dissolving sugar, sometimes called fine fruit sugar.)
  • 1/2 tsp.   vanilla (If possible, use white vanilla to keep the cookies looking bright.)
  • 2-1/2 cups   cake and pastry flour, sifted (I am Canadian. The flour where you live might be different, and you might need more or less.)
  • Beat butter until light and fluffy, at least 2 minutes.
  • Gradually add sugar, beating after each addition.
  • Add vanilla.
  • Add flour 1 cup at a time, beating after each addition.
  • Form into a ball and pat the outside with extra flour.
  • Roll on a well-floured surface to ¼ inch thickness, adding extra flour if necessary to prevent sticking.
  • Cut using cookie cutters.
  • Bake at 300° F on parchment paper-lined cookie sheets for 12 to 5 minutes.
  • Makes approximately 2 ½ to 3 dozen average-sized cookies.

Shortbread tips

  • No substitutes!
  • Don’t bake for too long. I bake them until the edges are just starting to brown.
  • To ice them, I mix together icing sugar, water and vanilla. (Use white vanilla for white icing.) I never measure this, so I can’t give you quantities. Do it until it feels right!
Layered heart-shaped shortbread cookie
My original creation – Trinity Cookies. Shortbread, raspberry filling and buttercream.

Life well lived: A nail of gold

Into God’s temple of eternity,
Drive a nail of gold.

—The father of Raymond Moriyama, found in his book In Search of a Soul

Raymond Moriyama is the Japanese-Canadian architect behind the Canadian War Museum.

During the Second World War, his family was sent to an internment camp in British Columbia. But his father was separated from them and sent to a POW camp in Ontario. The family was eventually reunited and when Moriyama graduated from high school, his father gave him a hand scripted copy of the quote above.

The words have been popping into my head in recent weeks. Perhaps Remembrance Day prompted that, because one of Moriyama’s war museum design features was a shaft of light that shines on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier at 11:00 a.m. on November 11.

The inspirational quote makes me want to get off my couch. It makes me try that little bit harder to finish whatever I’m doing to its fullest extent.

To make whatever I’m doing a little bit shinier.

Carve your name on hearts

“Carve your name on hearts, not on marble.” 

—Charles H. Spurgeon

I first read this quote years ago in the email signature of one of my daughter’s teachers.

It reassured me to know that my daughter was spending some of her days with a person with that kind of mindfulness. He was wasn’t working for himself; he was working for the children. Every day he was carving his name on students’ hearts, so he’d better make it good.

Today, you will carve your name on someone’s heart. What indelible impression will you leave?

Child's drawing where a mother and daughter make up one side of a heart.
When she was a child my daughter drew this picture of us. We’re carved into her heart together.

Music that brings chills, or tears

What music makes you stop whatever you’re doing and listen? What songs make you cry?

I’d love to know. Leave me a comment at the end of the post.

One song that undoes me every time is “Silent Night” by candlelight on Christmas Eve. My family knows that I’m a puddle during that hymn, every time. It takes me back to childhood services in a small town church, and to the birth of my daughter on Christmas Eve, and to my father who died shortly before Christmas twenty years ago. The simple hymn ties everything together from my past and gives me hope for the future.

Some songs move us because they remind us of someone we love — a father, mother, grandparent, child or friend.

 “You’ve Got a Friend” James Taylor, written by Carole King

Songs that are haunting and sad and then optimistic and hopeful, acknowledge the lows and highs and tells us to look for the triumph after the despair.

“Bridge Over Troubled Water” Simon and Garfunkel

“Nights in White Satin” The Moody Blues

The music of our youth can instantly transport us back to a certain time and place. Where were you when you were listening to The Moody Blues, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles . . .? This Loggins and Messina song takes me back to my days working for Wilderness Tours Whitewater Rafting.

“Watching the River Run” Loggins & Messina

A couple of friends of mine are opera fans. Listen to this selection from Dialogues des Carmélites and see if the metallic slice of the guillotine makes your hair stand on end.

Dialogues des Carmélites (final scene – Salve Regina)

Music moves us when it gives us something to believe in even if we don’t want to. Music connects us with something greater than ourselves. I’ll leave you with this combination of “Scotland the Brave” and “Amazing Grace.” It gives me chills AND brings me to tears.

“Scotland the Brave” and “Amazing Grace” at an Andre Rieu performance

Embracing interruptions

I’m away on a short vacation – interrupting my routine. While I’m travelling, I’m re-posting some old posts from my previous blog site. Enjoy.

One of the joyous frustrations of freelance writing is its unpredictable variety.

Notebook with blank pages.

I never know if I’ll be writing about money, or toilet installation, or chickens, or veterans, or crows, or . . . the list goes on. I never know when I’ll receive the last-minute phone calls. I get up in the morning with plans to do something and then, BAM, the phone rings. My whole day gets knocked sideways.

The frustration happened yesterday. The phone call came and all the things I’d planned to do and write about got swept off my calendar. It’s difficult to make firm plans. And if you ever drop by my house and see dust on the furniture, you know why.

The joy comes from learning about new things all the time. I am so lucky to never feel like I’m in a rut. I get paid to write! How great is that? 

Another joyous benefit of my freelance writing career is the reading I do on many topics. Years ago, one of those reading stints led to me this best piece of advice:

Embrace interruptions.

When I’m writing, I focus. I dive deep down into a well of creative thought and if someone speaks to me I need to swim my mind up through sludge to the surface again. I can practically hear the murky bubbles around me.

Interruptions used to drive me bonkers.

Now I tell myself: There is a purpose behind this interruption. How does it benefit me?

It gives me a chance to get a drink or go to the bathroom. It makes me notice the typo I overlooked before, once I settle back into place and look with refreshed eyes at the work I’ve done. It gives me an extra 24 hours to write a blog post.

Interruptions come in big and small sizes too.

There’s the simple, “Mom, are we out of milk?” kind of interruption, and then there’s the, “You need to take this. I’m afraid there’s bad news,” kind of phone call that knocks a life sideways for weeks, or months, or years. The big ones are harder to embrace, but perhaps it’s even more important to look for the gifts in those doozies.

There is a purpose behind your interruptions. How do they benefit you?

Lens-artist photo challenge: Silhouettes

I’m inspired by the lens-artists photo challenge to do a bonus post this week. You can see more silhouettes of find the challenge here.

There is something about silhouettes that is particularly touching . . . haunting . . . inspiring.

I’ve added some of my own.

Man and tree silhouette
Hampstead Heath
Sandcastle in foreground with the silhouettes of two teenaged boys in the distance
Anna Maria Island
Silhouette of a harshly pruned tree
St. James’s Park, London
Shadow of skiers on a ski lift
Technically, this is a shadow, but I like it anyway – from Mont Sainte Anne, Quebec
The statue of El Cristo de la Concordia in Cochobamba, Bolivia
El Cristo de la Concordia, Cochobamba, Bolivia

Take a bow: All is well

Are you having one of those days?

The kind where it feels like you’ve been exposed to the elements for too long and you’re bending under the pressure?

The kind when it feels like the weight you have to bear is too much?

Take heart.

You are serving your purpose.

The load you are carrying is in place and not even sliding on the slippery slope.

See the sun breaking through and shining on the trees in the background? Brighter days are coming.

All is well.