Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart Archives

ode to nieces and nephews

Here you have them: three of my much-loved, and absolutely perfect nieces & nephews. These are my heart-sister’s daughter & son, and my niece’s husband. With them? Their beaming aunt, who is even prouder of the adults they’ve become than she was of their […]



This weekend is the 2nd annual sisters weekend. And I am more grateful for my sisters this year than ever. I have three — not to mention the several heart-sisters I also claim. They are all as integral to my […]


wanted: the perfect house to become a home

This is the house I identify with childhood, on the left side of this giant ‘duplex,’ with the giant screened porches upstairs. It’s a villa, with a postage-stamp yard, from when my family lived in ViệtNam. This house — so Eurasian, […]


love and marriage

Today would be my parents’ 68th wedding anniversary. I think… They were married after the war — mother a beautiful divorcée, working in my father the captain’s recruiting office. Well in to a tumultuous marriage, they divorced. Then remarried each […]

tea parties (for no reason)…

We all know how I L❤️VE tea parties. But today’s post is to remind you just why you may want to have a tea party, or comparable celebration. Because today. Seriously — life is worth celebrating, even when it feels like […]

unexpected treasures

This is a bat house. While this one isn’t the one currently in my garage, awaiting its move to Virginia, it looks much like ours will look in a few years: well-used, I hope. As my beloved sorts through the […]

moving toward light: opening up and letting go

Photographers have a term for when there’s not light to shoot a picture. It’s called ‘opening up': you increase the aperture — the hole through which you shoot the picture — to allow more light in. Otherwise, you get a dark […]

rainy days and Mondays

This is the view from the balcony, as I write. A study in silver, grey, moss & a blued-white. Beach grass, beach umbrellas, and beach birds. The pelicans that usually circle in front of & above the condos that fringe […]

this moment, this memory

There are moments that you recognise — even as they are happening — are perfect. You breathe as deeply as possible (especially if you’re a Buddhist!), because nothing lasts. And certainly not perfect moments. This is a picture of one […]

the people my pets are

My animals are far better people than I am. And they’re certainly better Buddhists. They love me no matter my mood, whether I forgot to feed them, whether I feel like messing with them or petting them (sometimes I feel […]

living through the unexpected (with equanimity?)

 This is how we spent two hours Friday: lined up to cross the French Broad River bridge. TWICE. (I’ve been calling it the French Bread River Basin since then; it is neither broad nor bread, but certainly it’s worth poking fun […]

jumping in

When we were trying to decide whether to have a second child — considering expen$e$, time, care needs — my beloved mother-in-law said something I’ve taken to heart in many other decisions: one takes all your time; two can’t do […]

in praise of fathers, or, Happy Birthday, Daddy

Today is my father’s birthday. He would be so old: 98. He’s been gone more than 20 years, and I still miss him. In my memory, this is how I always see him — beside the spotless blue&white Buick, tall […]

birthdays, FaceBook, and gifts of love

Today was my birthday. And it’s been one of my nicest yet. My family rolls their eyes when I say this, reminding me I always love my birthday. Which is true. But today was a bit different, even so. And […]

farmers’ market, family, and magic

Today was the FIRST DAY of Farmers Market! Always a kind of holiday for me: the return of a Saturday ritual. I get up, throw on clothes, hop in my car, and drive to midtown. I don’t worry about my […]

inside/outside: it’s that ageing thing, again

  When I was about the age of the picture, I asked my grandmother (who was probably 10 years older than I am now) how it felt to get old.  She laughed ruefully & shook her head. I look in the […]

the family you have, the family you choose

I am very lucky: I have a relatively large network of family. Three sisters, a brother-in-law who’s great, lots of nieces & nephews, even two aunts still living. I also have a large family-of-the-heart: BFFs, ersatz brothers, cousins, and just […]

quilts, teapots, and living day by day

As I often do when I’m worried or beset by whatever, I cleaned out a closet the other day. And rediscovered things I’d forgotten: a quilt my mother made me when I married; a quilt my sister quilted from a […]

chicken soup, roast beef and ginger scones

No, I didn’t make ginger scones to go w/ the roast beef. That would just be…odd. Obviously, none of the three go…together. That’s not the point, is it? I made the chicken soup yesterday. Since we didn’t have baking powder, […]

grieving in the real world

This is what grief looks like when you have a child — an everyday Saturday in the park, giving your not-quite-two-year-old exactly what he needs: sunlight and attention. Something that’s been in short supply these past few days. Grief when […]

Happy Birthday, Mom

When I count the many elements of my life for which I’m grateful, my mother-in-law (and father-in-law) are BIG. I recognise that many women don’t even like their mother-in-laws, much less love them like a 2nd mother. Not me. For […]

the fragrance of peaches

I wish I could send out, over the ethernet, the fragrance of the peach tea I made today. I wish there was a way to bottle the steam spiralling from the cup, comforting on a worrying day. Often when I […]

with a little help from friends

You know that saying ‘it takes a village’? Well, it does. For any endeavour worth remembering, it takes collaboration. Varied viewpoints, multiple hands, and a LOT of coordination. Witness my niece’s shower. While I reap the accolades of my niece’s showers, […]

the journey (taking the time)…

All week I’ve been on a journey. Well, you  might call it ‘preparing.’ But to me, it’s a journey towards Saturday. Begun (thank you, flu) a full week later than it should have started. Saturday is my niece’s shower, which […]

happy is as happy…thinks?

When I saw this FaceBook meme, it resonated for me like a crystal goblet in an opera. Darn near shattered, in fact. Seriously? This has been a very rough week. Dear friends battling unknown medical conditions, family with crises, and […]

the family tree

Last weekend was family central. There are times when family seems a chore (we all have those moments!), but this weekend could not have been smoother, or more fun. Everyone in town made it, to celebrate my 3rd sister, who […]

to everything, there is a season

  My DIL is packing for the trip early tomorow morning that will put her, my son, and my beloved grandson on a plane back ‘home’ to Blacksburg. The idyllic days I’ve spent tickling, hugging, feeding, holding, and inhaling my […]

it doesn’t have to be perfect (the enemy of good)

  Last night’s dinner was brought to you by some obscure soup company. Canned clam chowder, w/ the addition of cracked pepper & white corn. YUM! Served w/ water crackers, & a side of tabbouleh I made a couple of days ago. What […]

the curse of the holiday meltdown

All the ornaments are on the tree. The newest riff on the family tabbouleh is chilling, waiting for us to taste-test it after the flavours meld. The three packages needing mailing — well, the ones that have arrived total three; […]

Christmas, Yule, Bodhi Day…trimming the family tree

This is a relatively undecorated tree, at least at my house. All it’s wearing is the equivalent of good foundation garments, in girl-speak: a zillion lights (2100, to be exact!), a spire, and crystal garland. And all last night I […]

getting in the holiday spirit

I spent this afternoon doing holiday things w/ my sister and my niece, her daughter. We went to the annual ‘Carols & Crumpets’ at our local garden centre, where there were all kinds of plants, crafts, and edible goodies to […]

day #20 of Thanksgiving month

 It’s an older picture, but still appropriate for today’s post. Because here’s my gratitude today: my grandson recognizes me! Before you think I’ve totally lost my marbles, let me explain. My grandson is only 18 months old next week. I […]

month of Thanksgiving #5…the guest room

In my ongoing month’s effort to see the daily magic of my everyday life, I realised today that I overlook something pretty important: our guest room. It’s such a gift, this space for our friends & family to come & […]

looking for Hallowe’en

We bought my grandson’s first ‘real’ Hallowe’en costume this year — a teddy bear. At least, I thought it was a teddy bear. Except that my incredibly crafty son & DIL made it into a (wait for it…) EWOK! How cool […]

a happy birthday for my beloved

If you’ve been following the blog, you know that my beloved broke his ankle about 6 weeks ago. He was unable to walk these past weeks, since the accident and the surgery. Noooo load-bearing on that foot, the doc said. […]

hands and feet and time

Time. Time to talk, time to laugh, time to share food. Time to poke fun at those you love, time to remember. Time and sisters. This past week I spent days in Dallas (actually McKinney) w/ one of my three […]

FB, letters, and other little things

I’m huge on writing, as you know if you’ve read almost any blog post of mine. What you might realise, however, is that I’m huge on letter-writing, as well. In fact, I actually bought a life-time membership to the Letter […]

what dreams can tell us

In my dream last night, my mother was– once again — as she was when she was ‘herself.’ For those of us who suffer the horrors of Alzheimer’s, this is no small feat. It was years after my  mother’s death […]

friendship, memory, and love

My mother-in-law has a friend! This may not sound like a big deal to many of you, but those of us w/ family in elder care KNOW it’s bigger than it may sound. Nursing homes — even good ones — […]

where memories live

This is the tag on my father’s blanket. The blanket he had long before I was born, probably bought before my mother reunited with him in the Phillipines, 13 months after they married. It’s a softly worn (once scratchy) wool, […]

the fragrance of lilies

These are two of the lilies growing against a rather derelict fence at my son’s & DIL’s. Beautiful, pale yellow, with only a light lily fragrance. Not the heaviness that always seems to suffuse funerals. I love them, of course. […]

what you do comes back to you

Right after we married — literally a couple of days later — my husband & I left for his new job. In Algiers. Or Alger, as the French call it. My mother-in-law bore this with the fortitude of prairie pioneers, […]

when hot sweaty work is NOT a royal pain

This was my morning. My elder son & I wrangled over each individual magnolia branch, pretty much. See, I’m a tree person, and Nathan is a landscape person. He wants a useful and beautiful landscape for his home. I want […]

just add water: swimming with little fishes

I took my grandson swimming today. To a tiny inflatable pool off the side of the deck at the ‘kids’ house. We sat in the 85 degree air, in tepid water, liberally coated w/ SPF 50, and splashed. And splashed. […]

Happy Father’s Day

Fathers are odd creatures. At least the ones I know are — not any single mold, no real unifying characteristics. Some are very loving — nurturing, even — others are sometimes cranky. While yet others are newly fledged, and learning […]

birth day memories

Today I celebrate two births: my elder son’s and my  mother’s. Bittersweet, remembering how happy Mother was when Nathan was born on her birthday (the REAL Memorial Day, you know!). Family. What really matters. More than almost anything, to those […]

beginnings, birthdays, and teachers

Today my amazing, beautiful, beloved and perfect grandson has been here for a year. And I’ve been able to see him several times during that year. Each time, I’ve learned from him. HUGELY important lessons, like attention. Listening. Focus. Laughter. […]

tea and pencil sharpeners, or, seeing the real person

For Mother’s Day this year, I received the following: a promise of tea with my younger son — as well as a lovely note — and the world’s greatest manual pencil sharpener from my elder son. You may think those […]

my mother-in-law’s tablecloth

My whole family is nuts over housewares. Not just the women, either: my sons both asked for cast iron skillets. They also received teapots/ kettles/ and/or tea sets when they moved into apartments. When I went to my elder son’s […]

spring springing

Spring done sprung. At least at my house — witness dogwoods, Japanese maple, my mother’s azaleas. I am sooo ready. The azaleas, as noted, came from my mother’s home, before she moved in with my sister. They weren’t the colour […]

what a difference a day makes (and other ways I wish I was like my grandson)

My grandson burnt his hands Sunday. Not horribly, but badly enough that he cried inconsolably for hours. Today? He’s his usual sunny self: slapping the Cheerios on the highchair tray, pulling my hair, and laughing at nothing at all. Why […]

quilt pieces and a poem for beginner’s heart

It wasn’t that long ago that I realised how many of the poets I love best are Buddhist. They don’t make a big deal about it (most Buddhists don’t — I’m kind of an anomaly, blogging from a Buddhist/ Unitarian/ […]

cutting boards, character, and throw-away culture

This cutting board cost me $15. On sale, sure, but all it needed was some TLC and it rivals my other cutting board/ chopping block, which cost more than 5x that much. Because this cutting board, when I bought it, […]

belated thank-yous

I love writing letters. REAL letters, on stationery, with a pen or rollerball, and the (futile) art of keeping my handwriting legible. Thank-you notes are my favourite. Unfortunately, sometimes I’m forgetful (well, actually I’m often forgetful!). And formal thank-yous — […]

viral moments and metaphors

Those oddly shaped, colourful objects are teethers. My grandson is teething. And (gross-out alert) he’s also blowing mucous in large quantities. Some is the result of teething — we had hoped it all was. But my aching bones, need for […]

sons, and daughters, and grandsons, and love

I’m one of those weird people who is happiest when giddy with loving folks. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, since I get considerable flak over it from family (are you high on happy pills??). But it’s true, if […]

why it seems like open season on my cousin’s grandsons

My cousin Sally is white. Her grandsons are mixed race — their father is black, Sally’s daughter is also white. Each of the culturally sanctioned murders of black men lately is a bludgeon to Sally’s heart. As it should be […]

friendship and the art of loving

As one of four sisters, I’m used to the envy that twins with love. At least when it comes to sisters. So it’s okay w/ me that I’m not the sister each of the other three loves the best. Because […]

30 Days of Love: in praise of a mother-in-law

Today’s prompt from 30 Days of Love is to think of someone courageous, someone who deserves recognition for his or her  actions, even his or her life. Not simply because it’s her birthday, but because she has been like a […]

30 Days of Love: family, race, and what we can do

As part of the 30 Days of Love project, I’m using many of the prompts offered on the  blog site for the posts here. This week focuses on family, among other things. Family and race and community, in general. I […]

ponytail memories and silver linings

As a young child, I had very long hair. I wore it either in braids, or in a ponytail; it did look quite a bit like the tail of a Shetland pony. Long, blond, and constantly in motion. I wasn’t […]

memory, elephants, friendship

You may already have seen the PBS video on Shirley & Jenny, two elephants who never forgot each other. It’s not recent — at least 10 years old. But it was new to me. Elephants have totemic significance in my […]

more drink metaphors

When’s the last time you gave yourself a present? Not something you ‘need,’ or even something you lust for (like a new pair of shoes, or a fountain pen, or…). Just a small treat. Not even edible, necesarily. This holiday, […]

Warning: Grinch alert

 So — you’ve been notified: I just hit my Grinch wall. I am heartily SICK of cooking, cleaning, wrapping presents, and the whole shebang. I want to be on a beach SOMEWHERE WARM, w/out ice bending my beloved trees to […]

peppermint bark and merriment

Hi, my  name is Britton, and I L♥VE food. Well, I love good food. I’m not interested in crappy calories; only the best! And over the holidays? I’m in (as my Aunt Bonnie would say) hog heaven! Although they’d have […]

So, what colour is Santa? Or Jesus, for that matter? And why the HECK should this be on the news??

I tend to go off, as we all know. And a newscaster from Fox News (I won’t name her, but you can find the article here; she doesn’t deserve more publicity) just lit my fuse. Santa, she says, is white. […]

tea with Grandmother (and others)

Tea is a friendly drink. It doesn’t jazz you like coffee. I can have it in the afternoon, for instance, and still sleep that night. And if — like me — you’ve collected/ inherited/ been given tea wares for many […]

meatloaf and dishes and errands and family…

This kind of holiday doesn’t just happen… Nor does a big-ass tree, replete with crystal icicles, the last remnants of childhood ornaments, and a couple of true heirlooms. And the gifts beneath, wrapped in foil and French ribbon, sprinkled w/ […]

cancelled flights, family nights, and (eventually!) Thanksgiving

It all starts w/check-in. That’s the beginning of any air travel, right? But wait! For us, it began with ice all over the car. A LOT of ice. And an AWOL ice scraper. We should have known it was a […]

bad choices & (broken) beginner’s heart

There is a slice of meringue pie in the fridge. Calling to me. It may well speak some formerly unknown language that sounds now a bit like mother tongue. I shouldn’t eat it, but it’s not such a big deal. […]

family, socialism, and Thanksgiving conversations

Thanksgiving is NEXT WEEK! And we’ll be having a LOT of family over for the big celebratory feast. As I’m sure many of you will. And if you’re like our family, not everyone is … well, in accord on lots […]


I am learning to listen from my grandson. (And if my son his father tells you it’s ‘indulging him,’ disregard.) I am learning to pay attention to cues — both verbal and non-verbal. And remember: at a scant six months, […]

tea with plastic spoons…

Today I made my tea in a mug, on a cutting board, with a plastic spoon. Big deal, huh? Unless you know me, and know that almost every day I make tea in a pot, on a tray spread w/ one […]

meditation and sons and technology

I’m not very good at meditating. I get started, then something ‘comes up’ — life, usually — and I fall off the cushion. Soon months have gone by, and I’m not meditating. Sigh… But the point in meditation process is […]

All Hallows’ E’en

This is my dog, Pascal, wearing the devil horns my niece Sandra bought him. It’s appropriate — Pascal is rascal of the first order. But it’s a far cry from what I grew up thinking Hallowe’en meant. Sure it meant […]

someone else’s road

I need to remember this. It’s easy to forget, as we move from middle age into elder-ing. That’s my term for what seems to be happening these past couple of years: nieces, nephews, former students, younger colleagues & friends — […]

Happy fish cake …

Today is my nephew’s birthday. We’re all going out to dinner. And although only a couple of us are involved in that decision, it’s taken HOURS. Which leads me to: Why are human beings so weird?? There were only TWO […]

making your own space ~

Staying with my son & DIL means a smaller bed. And believe me, my beloved & I have not shrunk to fit. We’re used to a king-sized bed in deeply air-conditioned comfort. Here we have an attic fan and closer […]

home repairs, medication, and beginner’s heart…

When I visualise a beginner’s heart — at least my own — I see this picture. Because when your heart is open, sometimes it gets bumped. And as it grows — and you’re not aware, often that it has — […]

square sisters and common ground…

I have three sisters. People who know all of us well — a small number (we tend to overwhelm in large doses!) would say we’re not much alike. We would agree. But we also can give you countless examples of […]

a happy (normal?) childhood…

To paraphrase one of my favourite authors (Tom Robbins), “It’s never too late to have a normal childhood.” And I just realised — really! — that I did. When I was little, reading stories of normal American children, they lived […]

laps, luxuries, love –

My grandson slept for three hours in my lap yesterday afternoon. Slept my legs into their own nap. Slept through phones ringing, dogs barking, and the afternoon sun waning. Wrapped snugly in his swaddling cloth, he might have been another […]

grown-up sons and baby boys –

When your own baby — never mind that he has two master’s degrees, is happily married, and moving all the way across the country — has a baby, it’s weird. Wonderful, but weird. Just sayin’. There’s a kind of disconnect: […]

changing job descriptions ~

Have you ever watched a new baby? Seriously observed one? Focused on the wide eyes drinking in light (pre-birth is a bit dark…), the mouth twitching towards milk, the tiny fingers curling around support. Like most things in my life, […]

baby love, and the perpetuation of the species ~

Buddhism has little to say (at least that I know of) about grandmothers. In fact, I can’t think of a religion that does. Why is that? Surely somewhere in human wisdom traditions, someone has considered grandmothers? Because it seems to […]

grand-nephews & grace ~

My grand-nephew is a hoot. Named for my younger son, little Noah is funny, drop-dead cute, and tons of fun. A great companion for a Friday adventure. So today, when he arrived w/ his grandmother — my younger sister — […]

all my children ~

I adore kids. Especially babies, but really? I like any age. And I always have. Even when I told my mother I did NOT want to get married (who would?? ), I told her I wanted kids. “You can’t have […]

mothering ~

Today we sent a box to my wonderful daughter-in-law. And the grandson she’s carrying. (We included a bar of chocolate for my elder son… ) Inside the box were 2 blankets — one my mother-in-law made so many years ago […]

day #23 of National Poetry Month ~

Today is my father’s birthday. He would be 96. It also happens to be Shakespeare’s, which should probably be more important (he’s a LOT older, for one) to a poet. But it’s not. I looked for poems about fathers, which […]

green grass, blue sky, sun like honey ~

Spring is about growth. It’s full of religious celebrations that predate paper: Passover, Easter, Holi, the Spring Equinox, Makha Bukha, Bahá’í New Year, and many more. For me, spring is also about children. It’s about egg hunts — a leftover […]

a case for poets ~

When you think of people who are useful, poets probably aren’t high on your list. After all, who needs poetry? (Well, I do, but that isn’t typical, I realise ) And yet, when there is sorrow, or great joy, or […]

re- framing/claiming my mother ~

My mother would be so happy: TWO pink things came in the mail for me. Although orange & red were her favourite colours (w/ lashings of turquoise), she loved for me to wear pink. When I was a little girl, […]

time — that queen of bees — flies ~

If time were a bee, she would be the queen these days. At least for me. These days, she is slower than the frenzy of summer bees, storing up for winter. She is less hectic than early spring bees, tending […]

thoughts on hope, and healing, and making a difference ~

It is the season of peace, of good will to men. And yet it seems to me as if the world has gone a bit mad. A young man — barely out of HS — murdering little ones. An older […]

tea & girlfriends ~

In the kitchen, ginger scones remain on tray. A triple layered server still holds peppermint bark and chocolate biscuits. Various leftovers decorate the dining table. It’s the night after the annual Girlfriends Holiday Tea. I started this years ago — […]

day 30 of Thanksgiving month: all you need is love ~

This isn’t the newest picture of my wonderful husband, nor is it my earliest. But it’s one I like, as it reminds me how much we have in common. When we metmany years ago, on a blind date, that wasn’t […]

day 29 of a month of Thanksgiving: sons

This is my favourite picture of my two sons, whom I adore. And for whom I give thanks daily. They are grown men now, my two blond children, and will shake their heads at their mother posting a picture of […]

day 24 of Thanksgiving month: seatbelts and nieces ~

My youngest niece (I have a bouquet of wonderful nieces :)) walked away this morning from her mother’s totalled Honda. Anne was wearing her seatbelt. So this my BIG thank-you today: Anne and her seatbelt. Buddhism, as the Buddhist writer […]

back to camp ~

A room of more than 40 women, aged 18 – 75. Or more. Talking, laughing loudly, yelling in delight over a good hand of cards… This is Camp Waluhili, and the Becoming an Outdoor Woman weekend workshop. There are well […]

life dogs ~

I bought Mayuree as a puppy from a woman in Bangkok. She was a South African-bred Afghan hound, as sweet-tempered as honey. Her name meant ‘female peacock’ in Thai. But she was never much of a preener. Always more of […]

death & loss & grief & rites of passage ~

My cousin’s son died this past weekend. Killed instantly, with his best friend, in a tragic car accident. He was 25. A funeral is no celebration of life when the dead are young. Their lives cut short by the snick […]

crabby days & family miracles (of the small, beginning kind) ~

I woke up cranky today. My feet hurt, my joints ache, I should eat healthier. Middle age sucks. (And yes, I know I should consider the alternative…) I tried my usual remedies: a cup of tea, a sit on the […]

at the fair ~

You can see almost anything at the State Fair. Cakes that look like Chinese porcelain, fried butter (really), newborn lambs so wobbly they fall over, grown men carrying giant stuffed animals, Golden Driller bottles of beer… And more. Lots more. […]

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