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Today, Sunday February 12th, is the beginning of Random Acts of Kindness Week. This whole concept had taken off to such a degree as to be a movement, but I pay no attention to that. And while you can, you needn’t either. What we can all do during this week is one little thing – one kind little thing – each day for another person or animal that will make some small difference in their life. Just because we can.

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Kindness, as you know, is it’s own reward. And if you enjoy how you feel this week, then go for another week, and another. Because not only will you have changed the world,  you will have changed yourself.

Here are some new quotes I found for inspiration …

“Remember that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something and has lost something.”
~ H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
~ Leo Buscaglia

“Sure the world breeds monsters, but kindness grows just as wild… ”
~ Mary Karr, The Liars’ Club: A Memoir, 1995

“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
– Desmond Tutu

“In the long run, the sharpest weapon of all is a kind and gentle spirit.”

~ Anne Frank, The Diary of Anne Frank

Music Frames Life

Certainly one of the joys of the internet is how you may start in one place and travel down a path to someplace magical. It started a few days ago. I was visiting one of the blogs I follow, Salmon Brook Farms, and there I found a video of it’s author, Lavinia, playing acoustic guitar and singing. A Martin guitar, I found out upon inquiring. Her playing is exquisite  and the sound of the Martin, so very soulful. It made me remember how much I love this kind of music.

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For me, and perhaps for you, music has framed many life experiences. You could play me any number of different songs in any number of types of music and it would be as if a spotlight turned on, and a video played of some segment of my life gone by, complete with the people there at the time, location, and every feeling I went through in that moment. Music is so very powerful and weaves intricately with memory to form these deeply felt emotions. I realize how much I have missed it in my life of late.

So when I listened to Lavinia playing, I thought of all the wonderful acoustic guitar music I have right here in my house, going back to early folk, and including guitarists like John Fahey and Robbie Basho (these on albums), John Renbourn (on tape), right to more current times on CD (Snuffy Walden, Nightnoise, Jeff Johnson – with Brian Dunning – and others) and one of my all-time favorites, Will Ackerman. To say the man is incredibly gifted is an understatement. So while part of my day today was earmarked for me to be at my desk working on taxes, I saw an opportunity to turn on my Mac with it’s wonderful sound system, and which sits on the desk immediately behind me, tune in to YouTube, and listen to Will.

Among his many songs, all written by him, I found a video of him playing what he considers his best song, The Bricklayer’s Beautiful Daughter, below.

But what truly touched me was in another video in which he discussed his work over the last 35 years, how he creates, and samplings of his music. I found that the piece I most love, The Impending Death of the Virgin Spirit, was written to express the feeling of Will’s innocence the night before his mother took her life when he was 12. I have always been deeply moved by this haunting song from the moment I heard it; now I know why.

Will Ackerman is just one of numerous outstanding musicians to record on the acclaimed Windham Hill label, which he founded, never imagining it would become as immensely successful as it did. You can learn more about him on his website, where he also shares tunings for his songs by album.

I’m just listening as I work and finding my every nerve ending remarkably soothed. If acoustic music appeals to you, check in on Lavinia, too, whom I thank for pointing me on this path of rediscovery. I’ll be listening more.

Everyone likes to share a little sweetness with someone special at Valentine’s Day. How about sending this adorable Frenchie Valentine?

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Check out those just-frosted cookies  – this cute pied Frenchie is. And they’re not just hearts for Valentine’s Day. Why, yes, there are some cookies with rather familiar big ears! And you know what that means. That these blank notecards are not just for Valentine’s Day but for whenever baking cookies is a good time! Yup. ANYtime!

I’ve drawn these new Frenchie notecards in my usual style, but somewhere in between a sketch and a finely detailed colored pencil drawing, all on a nice, recycled matte paper. Blank inside so you can write to your heart’s content and never be out of season.

We all know how digital everything has become nowadays, but I’d like you to take a moment and remember the last time you opened your mailbox and found inside a real, 3-dimensional card from someone in your life. Put a big smile on your face, didn’t it? I know that’s what happens to me. So go old-school and send some smiles to the wonderful people in your life. Better yet, send those smiles with my adorable (if I say so myself) French Bulldog notecards.

Wings

At the end of my street is the river … the moody, enchanting, ever-changing Delaware. Sometimes she is soft and shy and all wintery gauze. Though I haven’t in a while, I can go over the broken tracks, down an incline, across a small plateau where someone builds fires, and touch her. Yes, I see this river as female, though I cannot tell you why. Sometimes I take her presence for granted, yet I never forget she is there.

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Lately I’ve been thinking. Oh, about so many things. The words of others drift through my head. These are the words I want to share with you today. I may have done so before; if I have, they are no less true.

“You were born with potential. 
You were born with goodness and trust. You were born with ideals and dreams. You were born with greatness. 
You were born with wings. 
You are not meant for crawling, so don’t. 
You have wings. 
Learn to use them and fly.”

~ Rumi

The Light Within

This crystal ball of melting ice is somehow enchanting. Perhaps it is its simple beauty or perhaps because it holds the paradox of fire and ice.

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Especially now, at the edge of a New Year, I am put in a reflective mood when I watch a tea light shimmer and dance within. I am not one to make resolutions, but I do think back on the year past, where I’ve been, how things have changed, how things have not. What I hope for.

I do believe our past has created who we are, but paradoxically, that we can also change this instant. It may be a challenge, or if we get our minds in the right place, it may be simpler than we could ever imagine. Sometimes we have to want something enough – or not want something enough – to change.  How wonderful to have a dream, a vision, to guide us. We can create that. How wonderful to acknowledge that light that grows from within where we always know who and what we truly are and can be.

As another New Year dawns upon us, I encourage you to find your light and shine brightly. If we all glow together, surely this will be a better world for each and every one of us.

Happy New Year.

This has to be one of the most joyful pieces of music I know. I have the original album (yup, that dates me!) where this song was also the album title – Oh Happy Day by the Edwin Hawkins Singers. The video quality, due to its age, is quite poor, but the music is live and as electrifying as ever. Turn up the volume, people – it’s Christmas!

Hope yours is happy.

This is a re-run from an earlier year, but still as true as ever …

ChristmasMugAndPlate2Or, in reality, 4 mugs and 4 plates. Christmas creeps into my home, ever so slowly, drawing from this cabinet, that closet, this box, that drawer. But it always seems to start with my dollar store Christmas plates and German made Christmas mugs. I feel like a child who has glimpsed a stack of unfamiliar boxes tucked way on top of mommy and daddy’s closet. Something exciting is coming.

These simple items that I’ve had for quite a few years put a smile on my face, and though I see beautiful Christmas dishes everywhere that I’d love to have, I pretty much know I’ll also be happy with these for years to come. They’re enough. And oftentimes, enough is good.

As I watched the TV commercials for Black Friday insanity, my newspapers packed with shiny paper catalogs filled with sales, I wondered how we got to this place of endless need for so much “stuff.” It’s not that I don’t treasure a new addition to my kitchen, book shelf, or whatever … I really do, but there’s also an enjoyment of things that have been around a while, and which have meaning. Especially at this time of year.

So the plates and mugs have now been joined by some festive place mats, candles and accessories. Slowly, the house will really start to feel like Christmas, warm and glow-y … well, like Home.

northernhawkowl-jbalsam2I found myself really looking at a stunning calendar photograph of this Northern Hawk Owl for the month of November. I am the recipient of a large number of calendars each year, some from organizations I support, and others that are cold mailings from like-minded organizations. I have several of them posted around my home, not to remind me of the date but to enjoy the beauty of nature and animals, changing every month.

As December approached, and a new bird would arrive, I started to play with the idea of doing a watercolor of this owl. She is clothed in multiple shades of browns with large white flecks on her dark wings and a cap that looks like it has been dusted with freshly fallen snow. But ahh .. there has been a bit of a drought in these parts in terms of my drawing, so rather than tackle something I haven’t done in ages, why not do something I really enjoy, simple black ink. And so I drew.

Perhaps most surprising as I hunched over my desk, was that Jazzy, who normally would be meowing up a storm demanding dinner at that precise time, was utterly quiet. It was as if she knew this was something even she hadn’t seen in a while, and best not to disturb a woman at her work.

We never know what will inspire us. I, myself, was surprised that this owl had been calling out to be drawn for days. What I do know, is that when we’re inspired, it’s good to listen.

 

 

Simply Grateful

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Nature XXVII, Autumn

The morns are meeker than they were,
The nuts are getting brown;
The berry’s cheek is plumper,
The rose is out of town.
The maple wears a gayer scarf,
The field a scarlet gown.
Lest I should be old-fashioned,
I’ll put a trinket on.

~ By Emily Dickinson

PiBoIdMoJournal2We’re halfway through November. For some writers, you are feverishly striving to complete your 50,000 words in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writers’ Month). I have to say, while I need a swift kick in the butt to get writing as much as anyone from time to time, 50,000 words in one month is more of a kick than I’d ever want.

I much prefer PiBoIdMo, the picture book writer’s alternative for November – Picture Book Idea Month – created by Tara Lazar and in which we are challenged to come up with an idea a day for a picture book. (Though really, this could just as easily apply to ideas for novels, short stories, songs, etc.)  I find that the one idea per day happens most of the time, but sometimes the creative juices seem to produce two ideas today, brain too work-slogged for an idea tomorrow, two PB ideas the day following and so on. I just do my best to have a minimum of 30 ideas by the end of the month.

If you are doing PiBoIdMo, I suspect, like me, come Nov. 30 you find some of your ideas are laughably useless, some have a certain amount of potential, and some are actually quite promising. Where do you get your ideas from? Personal experiences past and present can inspire ideas, as well as family, friends, and pets, but also what’s going on in the world – news of all kinds, music, stuff you read. Sometimes, even an old story we’ve already written gives birth to a brand new – and better – idea.

Here’s the best idea – have fun doing it. And if this is the first you’ve heard of PiBoIdMo, join in and challenge yourself!

 

It’s always a bit of a surprise when the clock turns back to “regular” time and it starts getting dark earlier. We know it’s coming and why, but it’s never fails to be an adjustment. It seems the most clear demarcation of the end of all things blooming and the deepest step towards winter.

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I was determined to give my camera and myself a little exercise Sunday, but was not prepared for the sun already setting lower at 2:30 in the afternoon. The sky was alternately blustery grey, bright blue, or streaked with layered clouds. You can see the Delaware River in the background as I walked parallel to it heading north. The tracks once connected all of the river towns on the Jersey side, and I hear rumors from time to time of their being restored.

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It’s funny how you can pass the same thing so many times and yet not truly notice it. These old doors belong to a 2-story stone garage. What’s interesting is the structure is completely made of stone and mortar except for over the doors, where it appears to be made of odd, stone-like shapes of brick. It’s most unusual and makes me wonder what purpose this was once used for. The space is big enough to have housed at least one horse stall, but it seems more suited as a garage. The style of stonework is really quite old.

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Lately I find myself noticing all kinds of textures. The worn paint and the rusted hinges enchanted me. I think I could have taken dozens of photographs of just the front of this structure, maybe even of the doors themselves.

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The front, looking up. I love the stone windowsill and the wooden lintel. Someone has been keeping up with the concrete repair around the stone and brickwork.

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The sky was such a changing mix of things, but the river seemed moody and sullen. No lovers tarried on the bridge this afternoon.

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Skies looked brighter in the east. A few lone hangers-on from some type of shrub waved in the breeze. Orange leaves drifted down, speckling a surprisingly still verdant lawn.

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The sun cast long shadows as I continued to walk. So many beautiful old trees in this area, not cut or abolished as you see in so many of the newly developed tracts. Here trees have their place and are appreciated for their beauty, their shade, and for the part they play in creating a place people like for its coziness and charm. I could walk – and take photographs – all day.

Do you have particular spots in your house that you are drawn to? I have a few … this is one of them.

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It always feels that there’s a moment of calm here. It’s not specifically the photo of my parents on their wedding day, nor the fall leaves in that deep brown, glazed pitcher, nor the rusted tin crow – it’s all of it and how it just sits together. It’s a confluence of things that somehow ties my life together, and it’s a spot which, when things start to pile up on the chairs, gets cleared and cleaned quickly.

It feels like fall in this little corner of my world, and at times like these – a week so filled with work that I can sometimes forget to go out to the road and get my mail – it reminds me that Home is a good place. The beauty of fall is happening outside; I took it all in yesterday on an appointment I had to keep, and hope to take my camera to enjoy it again this weekend. But meanwhile, fall is happening inside, too.

Years ago, while applying to art school, I briefly considered a degree in architecture (though that would have meant I’d have taken and done well in physics and/or chemistry.) I later realized it wasn’t architecture that most attracted me; it was the inside spaces of the building … interior design. It was creating little spots like this, spots of visual retreat and harmony, that inspired me.

Goethe once said, “He is the happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home.” I believe he was right.

 

 

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