The View through My Lens

the blog of writer & photographer Jennifer Lyn King

100 Days of Spring

“Is the spring coming?” he said. “What is it like?”… “It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…” – Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden Today I am ready for the reawakening of Spring. It is a new month, a new week, and a new day. A new season. Spring happens to be my favorite season. Not for the wind and rain and cold and dark, but for the newness of it all. Rebirth. The Reawakening of everything brown that brings back the green. The verdant beauty waiting just beneath the surface of the brown sticks and rustling dead leaves. Renewal. I once heard this: “If we live to be 100 years old, we will have only experienced Spring 100 times” But we experience Spring only if we’re paying attention. That quote always brings me back to this season with wide eyes. In only weeks I’ll be looking out at flowers and hummingbirds and butterflies. By the way the deadened world looks now, it seems impossible. But it will come. Something bigger is at work, right before our eyes. Spring. 100 Days of Spring #100DaysofSpring My life always fills up and brims over with busyness, so unless I am intentional I will miss this rebirth we call Spring. To help me remember to watch and be on the lookout for the miracle of Spring, I intend to do these 5 things as often as possible: Pause and look at the landscape, and notice what has changed from the day before. Take a walk through someplace wild—the backyard, or a park, or an... read more

We Are Called to Rise

We never know how high we are Till we are called to rise; And then, if we are true to plan, Our statures touch the skies—  -Emily Dickinson A few weeks back, I read We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride. After I turned the final page, I wrote this at Goodreads (where I keep track of books): An uncomfortable yet redemptive story of loss that is so powerful, I could not set the book down. Books like We Are Called to Rise are the reason why I love to read. I will be recommending it at GreatNewBooks.org in the next month. A beautiful story. My recommendation goes up today at GreatNewBooks.org: When I noticed We Are Called to Rise, Laura McBride’s debut novel, I heard the words “dazzling” and “unforgettable” and “tender,” and knew I wanted to read it. But then at the bookstore, I read the book jacket summary, shut the book, and placed it back on the shelf. It sounded too sad, too heartbreaking for me. But weeks passed, and a few more friends raved about it, and I returned, pulled it back off the shelf, and brought it home. Once I started reading, I couldn’t stop. The story is told through the eyes of many characters—a housewife on the brink of divorce, an eight-year-old child whose immigrant family struggles to have money to buy food, an Iraq veteran who has gone too far, and a child’s services volunteer working to put lives back together. As their stories weave and their lives intersect, the suspense for how it comes together builds, and the pages simply... read more

The Essence of Beauty

The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude. – Friedrich Nietzsche     Some days it is the sunrise, color so rich it can’t possibly be real. Other times it is the power of words which bring meaning to a moment, Or it is a clash of color so pure I cannot look away, But always, the deepest beauty strikes me when I least expect it. That is when I stop and hold my breath, And if I have my camera, the images come quickly. This is what happens in the snow-saturated long months of winter. This beauty is what makes my soul sing.     It makes sense to me: the essence of beauty is gratitude. By recognizing something beautiful, we are saying thank you.   The artist is the confidant of nature, flowers carry on dialogues with him through the graceful bending of their stems and the harmoniously tinted nuances of their blossoms. Every flower has a cordial word which nature directs towards him.  – Auguste Rodin     Let us decide on the route that we wish to take to pass our life, and attempt to sow that route with flowers. – Madame Émilie du Châtelet     The earth laughs in flowers. ― Ralph Waldo Emerson     I must have flowers, always, and always. ― Claude Monet   What brings you deep joy? Related posts: Beauty Is … Snow, Charles Bridge, and the Beauty of Prague’s Spires in Winter Peonies and Beauty Autumn Beauty: a Photojournal The Beauty of Prague in... read more

Daffodils

After a long and arduous winter filled with snow and subzero temps, the prospect of spring coming soon seems impossible. It feels as if no green will ever grow through the heavy snow, no new life will ever thrive in this frozen tundra again … and yet it will, I have to remind myself. We know Spring will come. It always does. And in my mind, Spring never looks more glorious than after a long, hard winter. One of the reasons I began taking photographs fifteen years ago, with a film-fed, Target-bought SLR camera, was so that I could have photographs from the garden during the long winter. I love flowers — the brighter and more vibrant, the better. This year, as we await Spring’s arrival, we have daffodils here in photographs and William Wordsworth’s poetry — the best way I know to add color to an otherwise white landscape. Because Spring is, if we squint hard enough, just around the corner. Daffodils   I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o’er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils; Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze. Continuous as the stars that shine And twinkle on the milky way, They stretched in never-ending line Along the margin of a bay: Ten thousand saw I at a glance, Tossing their heads in sprightly dance. The waves beside them danced; but they Out-did the sparkling waves in glee: A poet could not but be gay, In such a jocund... read more

The Gift of Encouragement

“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” – Harriet Beecher Stowe   When I look back on my years in school, I don’t remember much about the food I ate, the clothes I wore, or the desks I sat at. But I do remember the names of the teachers who impacted me — Mrs. Hughes, 2nd grade, Fairview Elementary in Arkansas; Mrs. Jarvis, 4th grade, Rice Elementary in Texas. Though I don’t remember specifics, I know these two teachers helped me along and encouraged me. Now that I’m a parent, I see the impact teachers and other leaders have upon my sons and their lives. And one such story stands out plainly, one which unfolded last week. My middle son, 13 years old and in 8th grade, is passionate about basketball. He used to shovel snow under the hoop outside our wall in Prague, and play in muddy dirt/snow for hours in the dark, because there was no gym for them to use. Now that we’re in the US., he lives for basketball. When his 8th grade season started in November, he tried out with the rest of his peers and was elated to make the team. The next day, he fell on the stairs and compound fractured his big toe. It was tragic. Though his team last year had an excellent coach, was undefeated, and won the league championship, everything turned out differently... read more

4 Things I Love This February

“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: 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. “For women like me, it seems, it’s not ours to take... read more

6 Places to See in Prague

In the US and around the world, travelers think of Paris, London, or Rome when they think of a European city to visit, but my personal favorite is Prague. It’s not only more beautiful than all the other cities I’ve visited, but it also is the most authentic. Its cultural significance stems from its long history as an Imperial capital city, when kings and emperors, musicians, writers and artists have called Prague home. And, since its beginnings in the 9th century, Prague is the only major European city not to be destroyed by bombs in war. Prague straddles the Vltava River in modern day Czech Republic. The historic central area is easily walkable, and has been marked as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992. My Favorite 6 Places to See in Prague 1. Old Town Square: The open cobblestone square began as a marketplace for merchants from all over Europe. King’s processionals to the elaborate palaces, public executions, and widespread rallies have taken place in Old Town Square since the 11th century. The great Astronomical Clock built in 1410 is fascinating. Its Apostle and skeleton figurines dance at the top of each the hour, and large crowds gather to watch the show.   At Christmas and Easter and other special times of the year, market stalls dot the Square with merchants selling traditional crafts and foods like Trdlnik (warm cinnamon pastries) and roast pork pulled from an open-air spit, Czech beer and mulled wine.   For a bird’s eye view of the square and Prague’s Old Town, venture up the Old Town Hall tower.   2. Josefov, the... read more

5 Reasons to Travel More

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” – Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad Last week, I finished reading a book I can’t stop thinking about. It wasn’t a novel or fiction, like many of the books I read, but a memoir. The subtitle describes it well: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down. But I personally think the book was about something more universal, something many of us struggle to shake. I would subtitle it: One Man’s Quest to Break Free from His Past. The writing is elegant and thoughtful, and the story moved me. Even more, the memoir is about travel, one of my favorite parts of life. In its pages, the author takes the reader through his experiences traveling to various parts of the world–to Patagonia, the Amazon, a remote part of Costa Rica, and opulent Vienna–as he searches for a way to break free from who he was before. He wants to be able to fully love the woman who he wants to marry, and fully live in the day-to-day world of his family and friends. Because of reasons he doesn’t understand, he fights a near-constant need to escape. But through his travels, he begins to understand himself. Through travel, he finds the man he hopes to be. The book is called The Longest Way Home by Andrew McCarthy. Often, especially in American culture, we put travel off as... read more

The Essential Hour

“Women have sat indoors all these millions of years, so that by this time the very walls are permeated by their creative force, which has, indeed, so overcharged the capacity of bricks and mortar that it must needs harness itself to pens and brushes and business and politics.”- Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own   This month, I’ve focused on writing about health, since it’s January and the beginning of a new year. Two weeks ago, I wrote about having Celiac disease and being gluten-free for 6.5 years. Last week, I devoted to allergies, one tangled web of problems I’ve lived with all my life. Both Celiac and allergies, though, are not hindrances. They are springboards, I convince myself, to find creative ways to live well, still. This week, I want to share one of the most pivotal concepts which has helped me with personal well-being. The Essential Hour When my oldest son was born sixteen years ago, I didn’t know anything about being a mom. The nurses at the hospital taught me how to change a diaper and the other necessary moving parts of being responsible for a precious tiny person’s life. But what those nurses didn’t tell me was how little time I would have and how frazzled I would be. The first days at home with my oldest as a baby, I felt the veil of sleeplessness and showerlessness creep up on me, that by the end of the second week, I remember wondering how I would ever manage. It seemed every waking and sleeping moment was focused on meeting everyone’s needs but my own.... read more

The Itchy, Sneezy Allergy Life

“Divide each difficulty into as many parts as is feasible and necessary to resolve it.” ― René Descartes   If there is one thing in life I’ve known since day one, it is living with allergies. The Itchy, Sneezy Allergy Life I was the baby who had red, chafed cheeks, and the child who had bloodied inner elbows and knees. I couldn’t stop scratching. My grandmother used to prepare orange peel and oatmeal baths, and started me on the habit of slathering with Vaseline. And still I itched. I love being outdoors. Every spring and summer growing up, I sneezed non-stop, and lived with constant bronchitis, a sinus infection, or walking pneumonia. I always itched and sneezed, and tried hard to power through it. But powering through allergies isn’t always the best way to live. The Need for Treatment In college, when I felt as if I’d broken my leg, a doctor showed me the scarlet line running from my toes to my knee and labeled it a blood infection, severe enough for him to toss out the terms “near-miss” and “amputation” in a single sentence. The infection had started at an itchy spot between my toes where eczema had taken root. Eleven years ago, I threw a party for my husband’s thirtieth birthday (can’t believe it’s been that long ago!), which was at the end of May. We had the party outside in the gardens, lush with spring blooms. It was a beautiful evening, but within five minutes of the party starting, I sneezed and sneezed until I couldn’t see. One friend’s wife was a physician, who suggested... read more

My 6 Years Gluten-Free

“Every time you eat or drink, you are either feeding disease or fighting it.” -Heather Morgan, MS NLC   On Going Gluten-Free I was rescued by a hurricane. It’s true. The problem started soon after I had our first son. Every time I ate, I had so much pain I had to lie down on the couch and try to keep myself from writhing in pain. When I had my second son, I realized I might have lactose intolerance, an idea inspired by an infant’s struggle with indigestion. But, truthfully, even after cutting out all lactose, I still dealt with the same stabbing pain. And, I often wondered how I could feel so terrible after eating something plain like Saltines or pretzels. Fast forward to September 2008 … The Cincinnati area dealt with the 80 miles per hour winds leftover from Hurricane Ike. We didn’t lose our roof like most of our neighbors, but we did lose power—for days. With the power out, we had to improvise with our cooking. That was the trigger. Having eaten only rice from a box of Whole Grain Rice-a-Roni, with carrots on the side, I couldn’t understand what could’ve caused me so much digestive pain afterward. Then I read the box. The only debatable ingredient that jumped off the box was GLUTEN. Actually, something like “extra gluten added”. Once we had our power again, I read every website I could about gluten. It didn’t take long to discover the autoimmune disease called Celiac, wholly caused by gluten. A few tests soon confirmed that the excruciating pain I’d felt for eight years was indeed... read more

My 5 Favorite Things about the New Year

    Every year, I rediscover the week between Christmas and the New Year with mild surprise. All is quiet, or at least quieter than it has been in months. It’s as if the world, after careening through the parties and get-it-done workdays, through student final exams and family holiday preparations, has settled into a lull of stillness. Somehow, in these darkest, coldest days of the year here in the Northern Hemisphere, we’ve pressed pause to catch our breath, to slow down and regain our balance before we shoot off again after the new year. It’s the collective stillness I love. My 5 Favorite Things about the New Year   1.  Time with friends and family. There are those in our lives who are with us through the daily mundane and the new and old challenges. Somehow being with them, together, helps us to become more of ourselves. They help to brush off the dust of everyday life and to find what lies beneath, our essence. And they love us despite it all. These human beings are my treasures. A favorite passage from Margery Williams’s 1922 book The Velveteen Rabbit: “[Becoming Real] doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out, and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you... read more

11 Favorite Quotes from Classic Literature

 On art and literature: “A great deal has been written about art, but only recently has research begun in earnest about what goes on in the mind and brain when reading literature.” – K. Oatley & M. Dijikic in the New York Times, 12/21/14   One of my annual goals is to read. I find if I don’t set a goal, I don’t make reading a priority, and I don’t read. And since reading great books is one of my greatest enjoyments, I make the time to read. Like the number of miles I hope to run on the elliptical in a year to stay in good health, I set a book goal. Each year since 2010, I’ve set the goal at 50 books. I’m on my 56th and 57th right now. But for 2014, I decided I wanted to enhance those 50 by reading several classics I’ve always heard about, thought sounded intriguing, but had never read. Reading and great books open doors to a better world, and reading helps us to become more fully ourselves. I read an excellent article in the New York Times this past week on how reading transforms us. I love to read, and really enjoyed many of the books I read this year (link to my favorites of 2014, and at Great New Books). But the classics I read surprised me. They’re brimming with beauty. 11 Favorite Quotes from Classic Literature (I’ve read this year) The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner This is my favorite title of all books, and it’s because of the title I wanted to read The... read more

Best Books of 2014

Books are a uniquely portable magic. —Stephen King I agree with Stephen King, and all the other reading advocates out there — books make our world infinitely better, help us to understand other cultures and individuals, give us greater empathy, and make the world a better place. Books are unique, I believe, because while other forms of entertainment do open windows to another world, books open readers to another person’s mind, and they can go with us anywhere. Books are a uniquely portable magic. About 2.5 years ago, a few writer friends and I started a niche on the web to tie together our love for reading and bring books to a wider audience. We love to recommend books, the ones we authentically love. Our site is called Great New Books. I’ve talked about it before, but I am so incredibly proud of what we’ve become and continuing to grow into that I must keep mentioning it here. Our team has grown to our capped off number of 9, all friends across the United States, all who love to find and read great books and share them with others. This year, between the 9 of us, we’ve read over 450 books, and we’ve worked weeks to choose the book we loved most which we’ve read this year (new and old). If you keep up with my blog, I’m sure you can guess what my favorite book of 2014 is. Please stop by and share your favorite book with us, too, in the comments at that post. And thank you for your support of Great New Books!   Related posts:... read more

Art and Sculpture in the Veneto, Italy: a Photojournal

The best artist has that thought alone Which is contained within the marble shell; The sculptor’s hand can only break the spell To free the figures slumbering in the stone. – Michelangelo In Europe, art is everywhere — in the architecture, in paintings and frescoes, in statues and sculptures, even in the arrangement of cobblestones in the sidewalks. It is one of the elements that makes Europe its own. Every corner and door handle are inspired, it seems. Art is the air which that continent breathes. One of my favorite places in Europe is Venice, which I’ve written about several times. When my family and I traveled to Venice from Prague, we stayed on estates outside the city in the Veneto region. Not only was staying outside Venice far less expensive, but since the Veneto is known for its wines, vineyard estates, and its longtime grandeur, the Veneto is an experience in itself. Our first visit, we stayed at Montecchia, an estate near Padua, west of Venice in the Veneto. (I wrote about it here: The Charm of Italy’s Veneto Region.) The second visit, we stayed at Brandolini-Rota, in Cordignano, north of Venice at the foot of the Alps. The estate was beautiful, stunningly so. The estate produces Fruili wine, harvested from its fields and stored in the on-site 18th century barchessa cellars. The vintner let us tour their facility and taste the wines. Bella! But even more, the Brandolini-Rota estate is filled with surprising 1600s statuary throughout its extensive grounds. Like the estate Villa, which I imagine was once impressive and well cared for, the statues are now... read more

The Stillness Dancing

So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing. – t.s. eliot   Years ago when my boys were small, my days and nights were filled with diapers and bottles, sippy cups and Cheerios, belly laughs and toddler tantrums. I was the mom with a baby on each hip (my younger two are very close in age) and a preschooler holding onto my belt loop. My life felt full to overbrimming with joy and fatigue and love. One woman I knew at the time also had three children, and was always angry, yelling, and frazzled. Always. I got it–my mother did that. Life is hard, and as much as we try,  the stresses of life pull at both ends of us until, like a rope, the threads begin to split, fray, and break. But ever since I can remember, I’ve known that wasn’t something I wanted. It happens sometimes, of course. I’m less than perfect, and definitely human. But I’ve chosen this life I have as a mom and a wife, and know I have only one shot at it. I’ve always hoped for it to be fun yet peaceful, somehow. I remember standing at the beach with my toes in the water, watching pelicans swoop down and ride the space just above the waves, and whispering to myself. I wanted to learn how to maintain that sense of calm, of stillness, in the midst of the busyness, swirling days, and life’s frequent storms. I realized I wanted to make the most of my days, wherever they led me.     Now, twelve years later, I... read more

Saying THANKS This Thanksgiving

“Thank you, always say thank you; it’s the greatest gift you can give someone; because thank you is what you say to God.” -Maya Angelou   Every summer, I plant a tomato plant. Usually it’s from a 3″ pot, already growing. Sometimes it shows promise, maybe even bears a tomato or two, but they’re no bigger than a walnut. I know. It’s not a very good track record. Two years ago, I bought a raised bed for my tomato plant, one which said if I filled it with water into a tube and it watered from below, the tomato plant would thrive. Of course, after two years of trying, I can say that it wasn’t the magic ticket for gorgeous tomatoes. My neighbor, whom I love, planted her tomato plant about eight feet away from mine, and it bore loads of tomatoes. I admired it from across the fence as mine withered, and I realized I can’t control these things. Sometimes it’s a bumper crop, sometimes not. But life, when the good pours in, needs to be celebrated. The good things are truly gifts. Saying Thanks this Thanksgiving My favorite holiday in the US is Thanksgiving. I missed it, desperately, for the 4 Thanksgivings we spent abroad — it was a normal day with school and work. There is  something about an entire nation taking time together, to stop and say “Thank You” for all we’ve been given. And we have been given so much. I’m grateful for my family and dear friends. But one of the best results of being an expat is the deep feeling of appreciation... read more

My 5 Favorite Books of 2014

Once you learn to read, you will be forever free. —Frederick Douglass   Given my love of reading and books, I read a lot. Daily, while on the elliptical, in the car pickup line, before bed– and when I’m in the middle of a book I can’t put down, I read and read and walk around with my book, stirring pots of food for my family’s dinner, reading and reading until I can finally turn the last page. As the years go by, I’m reading a greater variety of books, and, inspired by my friend Nina Badzin, have been setting reading goals for myself for at least the past 5 years. For 2014, 50 books, which I reached a while back. Next year, I’m vowing to read more. Why? Because I strongly believe that books help us to grow, to understand others, to walk around in others’ shoes for a while and see the world through their eyes. That, over movies and other forms of immediate entertainment, is what makes novels, and books, special. They let us enter the head of another person and experience their world, their choices, their motivations. These literary experiences make life richer, fuller, and open doors, I believe, to a better world. It’s true. I have some definite favorites. I find many of the books I want to read from multiple book resources: Goodreads, Shelf Awareness, GreatNewBooks.org, Twitter, and through reading friends whose opinion and taste I get and trust. My 5 Favorite Books of 2014 #1: ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr I picked this book up for the gorgeous... read more

Jennifer Lyn King

Welcome to The View Through My Lens, where I post each Tuesday on my passions: books, travel, and the beauty found in everyday life.

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Jennifer's bookshelf: read

Bel Canto
Life of Pi
The River Witch
Shine Shine Shine
Gone Girl
The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile
The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life
The Fault in Our Stars
The Midnight Palace
Up from the Blue: A Novel
The Age of Innocence
The Murderer's Daughters
Little Pink Slips
The Memory of Running
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print
The Expats
The Shadow of the Wind
The Keep
The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great
Moloka'i


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