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One of my favorite Christmas/holiday videos. Thanks to our friends across the pond at the RSPCA. Brilliantly and lovingly done.

The Mayor

Pumpkin can be one tough customer. Cats tend to have a lot more rules than dogs to begin with, but Pumpkin has serious rules, especially regarding where you can touch him. And sometimes even when.

He belongs to the people next door, and is an indoor/outdoor cat. At night, he’s in their garage with his bed, food, water, litter. Days, he’s out. Let me state first that he has me totally wrapped around his paw. And that’s OK by me. I put food out on my back porch during the day and when he’s let out of the garage, he gets breakfast, and later in the day, a snack or lunch.  He can be very affectionate at times. He likes attention … until he doesn’t. And I have become finely attuned to that subtlety.

When he was younger and feeling his best, he ruled the neighborhood. Roamed about making sure any other cats knew who was king. I call him “The Mayor.” But he’s now 12 or 13, and stiff in the joints from age and a run-in a couple years ago with some kind of moving vehicle. He recovered with a limp and just kept on going because he’s that kind of cat. Now, however, we have some new cats in the neighborhood – they’re younger, bigger, and pushy. I have some concerns about Punkie because he still thinks he’s all that and a bag of chips, and I’m not so sure that’s true.

On occasion, I hear that loud rowwwwwr sound we know cats make when one is challenging another. Because I work from home, I can usually hop outside and chase the intruder away, if Pumpkin hasn’t already. The other night was one of those times.

It was nearly 7 pm, dark, very cold, with winds about 25 mph. The people next door hadn’t gotten home yet to put him in, but I expected they would be soon. I was reading when I heard that keening sound. I jumped up, put on the back porch light, and headed down my driveway to the street. There they were, three of them, like points on a triangle – Pumpkin, Yellow from across the street, and the tuxedo newcomer who’s been pushing up on Pumpkin lately.

“What’s going on here?” I yelled in my most taking-no-nonsense voice.

They turned and briefly looked at me, but not moving an inch or taking their eyes off one another for more than two seconds.

“You!” I shouted to the tuxedo. “Get going!” He knows I mean business, and ran down the street.

“You, too, Yellow!”

Yellow just stared at me.

I took a few steps into the road and yelled again, “I mean it!” And he ran back to his house.

I turned and started towards my back porch. “C’mon, Pumpkin, let’s get you fed and safe and inside for the night.”

Still puffed to twice his size in fight-ready mode, tail held high, he looked at me as we walked. “I sure showed them,” he said with a satisfied sort of look on his face.

“Yeah, tough guy, you sure did.”

My last few posts have featured different aspects of my businesses because, truly, that is where my energies have been flowing. However, I have been reading books constantly all the same (you just haven’t heard about them yet.) I started this post Thursday in the afternoon and it had been snowing (!) for nearly 3 hours, the white sky starting to turn that dusky cloud grey. It was a great time to divert myself from the work on my desk and dwell on words … beautifully written, elegantly connected, come-hither words.

Where to start? Books and movies, or in this case, books and television. It seems fairly well-established among anyone I speak to that movies/television rarely live up to the quality of the books they’re based on, and are often disappointing. Two programs I have watched recently – one series on DVD and another of three episodes on Masterpiece Theater/PBS – were outstanding, easily the best things I’ve watched on TV all year and I highly recommend them – Big Little Lies and The Miniaturist. Each inspired me to read the books.

I must say, I was not as drawn in by Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty as I’d hoped to be. Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman optioned the series and made it into something riveting, but as to the book? For me, not so much. I decided to try another of Moriarity’s books, The Husband’s Secret, and it was significantly better.

But ah, The Miniaturist … absolutely fantastic. The story by Jessie Burton is written in the present tense from Petronella Oortman’s POV and takes place in Amsterdam in the late 1700’s. She is a young bride from another part of Holland. She has a respected family name but no money, and is married by a wealthy merchant, Johannes Brandt. While often absent, he buys her a cabinet as a wedding gift to help keep her occupied, a large and expensive dollhouse built and designed to look exactly like the house Petronella is now living in. The Miniaturist is a story about relationships, secrets, about the forbidden, prejudice, and very much, mystery. Although Nella orders miniatures to be made for her dollhouse, the miniaturist sends more, unrequested, that start to reveal a life unexpected in which the young bride finds herself inexorably tangled. Seeing the series on TV first was actually a great advantage – the settings, dress, morals, and attitudes of the Dutch at that time in history added much to the reading.  Take a peek at Petronella’s world; it will not give away the story. And then get the book. You won’t be disappointed.

Another book that I could not put down is Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. This novel is also historical fiction; one part of the story takes place in Memphis, TN in 1939, the other in present day South Carolina where a young lawyer begins to research her grandmother’s buried and seemingly disturbing past. We are taken to a shantyboat on the river where the oldest child, Rill, and her four younger siblings are kidnapped and brought to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage. They soon discover they will not be reunited with their parents as promised, but will be adopted to wealthy people willing to pay handsomely for children to adopt. The stolen youngsters at the orphanage are often starved, abused, and neglected at the hands of the cruel director and her lecherous brother; a large number of children disappeared entirely. In part what makes this book so riveting is that it is based on the very real adoption operations of Georgia Tann, a notorious felon who kidnapped and sold children for decades. Excellent in every way.

While on the topic of books not to be missed, I read Snow in August by Pete Hamill. Hamill is famously known for being the publisher of major newspapers in NYC, plus a journalist and novelist. The story takes place in Brooklyn  in 1947, a tale about friendship, faith, and trust, about an 11 year-old Irish Catholic boy, Michael Devlin, and a refugee from Prague, Rabbi Hirsch. Struggling through a snowstorm to serve mass a few blocks away, Michael, though fearful, gives in to the Rabbi’s repeated calls for help and enters the synagogue. It is the sabbath, and the rabbi needs the lights turned on. It is the beginning of a remarkable friendship, set against a backdrop of ignorance of and prejudice against the Jewish people in a community of Irish, Italian and Polish Catholics. A violent act is committed against a Jewish candy store owner by the leader of a local group of thugs; Michael was in the shop as a witness, and so the story unfolds. The prose is exquisite and the story moves along quickly. Snow in August is immensely compelling.

In my journey with excellent mystery writer Louise Penny, I read the seventh book in her Chief Inspector Gamache series – A Trick of the Light. While of course there is a murder to be solved, Penny writes each novel with a new frame of reference, this time the highly competitive art scene in Montreal. The cast of characters, always perfectly drawn, and the home of the story’s activities, Three Pines, are the setting for this novel. Louise Penny has made me a fan of her superb writing and for engaging me in reading a mystery series, something I never thought I would do.

I just finished another murder mystery I spotted on the shelf in my local library, The Day of the Dead by Nicci French, actually a collaboration between a husband and wife team. The book seemed interesting and a good read while I waited for another book through inter-library loan. I was surprised to find how really good it was. Fast moving, tight writing, great plot – I could not believe how quickly I devoured this book! It may not be my usual fare, but I enjoyed every moment of this story about a renowned psychologist, Frieda Klein, whose life had been entangled with a serial killer, Dean Reeves, for a decade. She has suddenly dropped off the map and at the same time, seemingly unrelated murders  are appearing at various locations around London. These are later revealed to be at pre-determined intervals and at locations which would have meaning for Freida, clearly to draw her in and be his final victim. In the mix, and another main character, is Lola, a college student to whom it was suggested that she study Frieda Klein for her major college paper. This is apparently the last/latest in a series about Freida Klein, but worked effortlessly as a standalone.

I am now beginning  to read Raven Stole the Moon by Garth Stein. I already read The Art of the Racing in the Rain, now one of my top 5 favorite books of all time, and another excellent novel of his, Sudden Light. I would probably read anything this man writes. Quite simply, he is a brilliant and gifted writer.

Hope I’ve inspired you if you’re looking for a good read. The weather is becoming that kind of chilly that has us curling up with a good book, and if you’re lucky, in front of a warm fire.

Please welcome not only an adorable little Frenchie baby, but a touch of nostalgia for times gone by, when a child might be excited to find a real Steiff pull toy underneath the tree. The lights were much bigger, the ornaments glass, and the smell of balsam pine wafted through the house.

Our little pied girl will soon find there’s nothing to worry about with her new stuffed friend, but still she wonders … could she come home with you, then visit your friends and family? You can find her plus more holiday cards, gift ideas, and my new journal in my shop on Etsy. Please stop by!

If anything is ever true, it’s that everything always takes longer than you think it will. It’s been beyond a month’s journey just to get my new Frenchie journal ready to greet the world on Etsy and, I hope, to find some appreciative buyers. I created the journal, put together all the artwork, front and back, over 2 months ago, but all that’s entailed in actually getting it printed and ready to market is quite another story. But at last … here it is!

I had a small business with French bulldog notecards and holiday/Christmas cards a number of years ago. For a variety of reasons, it made sense to put it to the side at the time, but the inspiration to start it up again with some new and fresh ideas has been twinkling inside me for a while now. As a result, I am re-launching it with this journal which features my own artwork, front and back. On the back is a pencil sketch of a French Bulldog puppy that I included on Pinterest and which became, much to my surprise, wildly popular between views and saves. I am going to hand sign the drawing on each journal, so anyone inspired to frame it will have a bona-fide signed print of my artwork!

I am so pleased to have my shop on Etsy (where you will also find my Christmas and holiday cards) – it’s a great venue for creative people to sell their art, high quality crafts, and more. There’s also a lot to know, so I am starting with sales to North America first and as I get the hang of how everything works, I will expand to Europe next. (I know there are a lot of Frenchie lovers in Europe, so please be patient – I am a work in progress myself.) If you’d like to check out my new journal and holiday cards, please stop by my shop.

As a graphic designer, I work on a wide variety of projects – ads, booklet, flyers, magazines, fund-raising pieces, websites, etc – which I love, because it keeps me interested and challenged. I have been expanding my involvement in children’s books, helping authors get self-published through my design work. Up to this point, I have focused exclusively on picture books … until now.

Approached by a children’s writer I know to do a chapter book, I hesitated. I do love working on picture books, and wondered if maybe I should stay with what I know best. Well, I took the challenge and the result is the first chapter book I designed, The Last Rhino, by Deb Stevenson. Deb, illustrator Morgan Spicer, and I couldn’t be happier with the final product.

If interested in reading more on my initial journey with chapter books, please visit my graphics blog. To learn more about The Last Rhino, just click on the image above, or watch Deb’s outstanding trailer.

 

Last Hurrah of Summer

These impatiens did exceedingly well in this spot at the far end of my back porch.

Let me first say that I am not a gardener. Happily, I have a good eye for color and how things could look, but I don’t have that deep and intuitive understanding of when and how things grow and bloom, what they need, where in a garden they need to be and next to whom like serious gardeners do. Nor do I have the time to learn, though I would otherwise truly enjoy it. I am in awe of serious gardeners, but I’m one of those people who just “does her best”, and lets it go at that. I’m happy that they bloom and make my porches lovely places to sit and enjoy.

This is a truly hot spot for a coleus – just the right amount and angle of sunshine. They thrive here each year.

In the present location where I live, I don’t have gardens to garden in. The land around the house is somewhat minimal and taken care of by someone else. I have porches.

This is a very flattering angle for these marigolds. They did very poorly this year, whether it was the plants, or me over/under watering them, I don’t know. But they did look pretty in the royal blue pots I got for them.

Each year I buy a simple selection of annuals and put them where I’m pretty sure they will do well. I change it up each year and occasionally buy some new pots or try a new plant to see how it works out.

This is the first year I planted a big bunch of impatiens by my side door. They really liked being there a lot.
And crowded out another shade-loving plant I gave a try.

I did try another type of shade plant this year, but they weren’t very pretty on their own and didn’t ‘t play nicely with other plants I tried them with. I’ll have to consider next spring if I should try something different with them or just something different.

Another flattering angle! It’s the first time I tried coleus in this spot at the back corner of my front porch and they did very well. I tucked in some marigolds for a pop of color, which worked out nicely when they bloomed.

I took these photos because it’s the end of summer, the beginning of fall, and soon they’ll be gone. I’ve been thinking of getting some mums for around the porches which means dumping all that has flowered all summer long. This is always a hard and sad task for me – tossing out a living thing pains me. And as if they heard me, the coleus began to vigorously flower, shooting lavender spikes of flowers to the sky. How can I dismiss what is bursting into bloom?

Sure, they can stay a while longer. Sigh. Maybe I’ll have a little overlap.

A photo does not do justice to the incredibly delicate strands and bowl shape of these spider webs.

The last few mornings, I observed these ephemeral spider webs which appear overnight. They are like bowls of the finest gauze. I looked very closely and spied a tiny little spider – not more than 1/4 inch long. I can’t imagine the amount of energy it must take to spin out that much silk. The sun burns the webs away or they fade on their own over the course of the day, but each morning, a new bowl or two appears. As my plants give their last hurrah of summer, it seems some spiders have the same idea, weaving in earnest before the impending chills of fall.

Vision

A blogging friend across the pond at Harvesting Hecate took up a writing challenge, and in turn, Andrea chose three fellow bloggers to carry on the torch. I am honored to be one of the people she chose, and though I am woefully behind time-wise, I do have a few thoughts on this subject. The challenge entails writing about the chosen word and including two quotes, then passing on the challenge to three others. Her word was “joy” and the link above will take you to her thoughts about it. The word Andrea suggested is `Vision.’

As an artist, vision is pretty much everything to me. Over a lifetime I came to understand that people do not all see the same. For much of my life, I always thought that what I saw, you saw.  I simply wasn’t aware of my “vision” as unique and my own miraculous gift. Now I know differently. Below are examples of how I perceive the world – my vision – through my photographs. So yes, some writing, and two quotes I’m loving right now, and my interpretation of the word vision.

Our vision takes us far and into realms of exquisite color …

It gives us a sense of scale …

finds us dreaming in the mist …

or thinking ahead.

Our vision brings us close and aware of texture …

and down roads familiar and well-remembered.

It reminds us that we eat with our eyes first!

Vision brings us back to childhood memories.

Vision takes us places in and around where we live …

and allows us to see through the eyes of others.

It reminds us of the never-ending wonders and beauty of nature.

“Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion.”
Rumi

Vision riles up our tastebuds …

and makes us curious about our world.

Vision reminds us of life’s most wonderful small joys …

“If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain.” ~ Emily Dickinson

and to be thankful for all we have.

And then there’s the vision of what we hold within … what forms our dreams, our feelings, our aspirations and inspirations. And what better way to guide us on our inner path than light?


And now I pass on the challenge to 3 more bloggers – Cynthia at cynthiasreyes.com, Pam at roughwighting, and Lavinia at Salmon Brook Farms. If you choose to accept this challenge, your word is `wonder’.

Never Forget – 9/11

In memory of all those who lost their lives on 9/11 and in gratitude and in memory of all those who became heroes in a moment’s notice – fire fighters, rescue workers, canine search and rescue teams from all over the U.S., health workers, and the often unsung heroes – all those responsible for evacuating 500,000 people to safety in the Great Boatlift of 9/11, the largest boatlift in human history. You are not forgotten.

With the towers in flames and everyone running for their lives, it soon became clear that Manhattan was an island and that there weren’t many places to run. But that it’s an island also meant something else. There were boats. This is such an amazing film, made 10 years after 9/11 by Eddie Rosenstein and narrated by Tom Hanks. When the call went out for help, hundreds of  tugboats, ferries, fishing boats, coast guard cutters, party boats and others sped to Manhattan to take as many people as they could for as many trips as they could make. People who could not refuse the call to help – who were honored to assist the thousands of people, standing desperate on the edge of Manhattan – became largely unsung heroes. This video sings their praises and so beautifully.  It’s nearly 12 minutes long but worth every second.

At a certain point in life we figure we’ve heard just about all the clever phrases there are, right? Well, I recently learned differently.

The photos here will illustrate a point. All these gorgeous photographs were taken by John Bergmann, the General Manager of Popcorn Park Animal Refuge, aka Popcorn Park.

I know John for a very long time now. I work with the organization doing their fundraising, graphics design, writing, and in a variety of other capacities over the years. I am now working on their 2019 calendar.

Each year, I receive many photos from staff and others, but, by far, the largest amount of photos of Popcorn Park comes from John. (You can click on any photo to learn more about the animal.)

Let me mention two things here. One, Popcorn Park is a sanctuary to exotics, wildlife, farm animals, and birds. All of its residents were rescued from cruelty, neglect, abandonment, exploitation, inappropriate ownership, injury, or handicap. None were safe in his or her existing situation.

Two, as a photographer, John loves to take photos of all the animals, from the smallest birds, to turtles in the pond, to wildlife, to the exotics. His favorite, though, is photographing the big cats.

Each year when I do the calendar, and during the year as well, I look forward to seeing John’s stunning shots. In a conversation about his submissions for this year, I complimented him on all the shots of the parakeets in the aviary. Each was lovelier than the next, and all were positively luminous.

Now John is a very modest guy. His response to my compliments?
(Here comes the catchy phrase.)

“Even a blind dog finds a bone once in a while.”

Ahhhh, John. Not only have I never heard that before, but it’s just downright funny. As I said, way too modest.

Should you want to read more on Popcorn Park, you can visit them on the Associated Humane Societies/Popcorn Park website, and/or on the Popcorn Park Facebook page, where you can see more of John’s photographs and learn more about the refuge residents and their progress, as well as some stories about our adjoining animal shelter. You can also visit – they’re located in Forked River, Ocean County, NJ

This morning when I went out to the mailbox to retrieve my mail, I spied something at my front door. It was sitting quite nicely in front of my little children’s bench which holds a flower box filled with overflowing pink and white Impatiens. What could that be? I thought. I didn’t order anything. And because I was feeling a tad under the weather, I immediately wondered if it was a misdelivery, something from a company I didn’t order, etc. Whatever it was, it did get my curiosity going.

I brought it inside and looked at the label. Sure enough, it was addressed to me, and from a company I’d never heard of. More and more curious. I opened it up to find no note or identifying information, but when I brought out the one item inside, it brought tears to my eyes.

Someone had sent me one of the most meaningful and thoughtful gifts I could receive at this moment in time. Something that affirms my strength as a woman and as a writer, from someone who obviously knows the challenges I’ve faced over the last 5 or so years.

We all have our challenges; there is no doubt about that. I was joyfully on my journey of writing and illustrating children’s books, and had been for a while. It was a long-awaited return after I had studied under the renowned children’s book author and illustrator Uri Shulevitz at the New School in NY so many years ago. And then things happened. It doesn’t really matter what they were, but they had the effect of disrupting many aspects of my life, among them my children’s book journey. This was my dream. And although it had to sit on the sidelines for a while, it never sat alone. I did everything I could, however tiny, to keep it alive even though it could hardly take my full attention.

As time passed and I worked to regain my balance in all aspects of my life, I have – little by little – returned to my writing for children, to my dream of being published. I don’t have the luxury of writing full time, as most writers do not, but more and more, it is in my thoughts and in my daily plans. I know I’m back on track – maybe not sprinting yet, but I am out there and picking up speed.

And whoever sent me this mug knows that, and I thank you deeply for acknowledging it. I will find you and I will thank you.

For the rest of you women writers out there, especially those who face challenges and proceed in spite of them, tomorrow morning I am going to toast you all with my first cup of coffee in this mug. Cheers to you and your writing dreams.

Friday night marked the end of an extremely hectic and  stressful work week. How do you know it was stressful?

I just kept throwing the mail in a pile, unopened. I checked for bills and anything of a personal nature – other than that, it would have to wait.

The two small bags of goodies I’d purchased at the annual Tinicum Arts Festival were still sitting in the exact same place they were when I brought them home last Sunday afternoon.

But perhaps most amazing – and a sure sign of excessive busyness – I had ice cream in the freezer from last week’s shopping and forgot all about it! Now that’s really just kind of sad. I mean, how does that even happen?

But let’s go back to Tinicum. The Tinicum Arts Festival is an annual event in PA just on the other side of the river and south about 10 miles or so. The 2 day fair hosts many crafters, artisans, and artists all of whose work is excellent quality. I try and go every year, if not to buy, then just to browse and chat with fellow artists.

This very talented potter has been coming for several years now and I remember her from last year. Above is a sample of her horsehair work, a vase. All her work is just lovely, and truly are pieces of art.

I went to the festival with a few things in mind that I hoped I might find. One, a pair of pierced earrings with silver and black. I have plenty of earrings that I am very fond of and wear often, but when I am wearing black, I really have nothing to go along. This vendor had a great selection of beautifully crafted jewelry using crystals plus a good assortment of earrings at very reasonable prices. I chose this sweet pair of mermaids sitting on a black sphere. And checked off one of the things I was looking for.

I also wanted to find something relatively inexpensive as a surprise for my brother and sister-in-law’s anniversary. I don’t traditionally buy them anything for this occasion, but I felt like sending along something small and unexpected – something that would put a smile on their face.

This petite earthenware plaque was one of many available, all of which had short phrases and quotes on them. Some I might have liked for myself, but didn’t think they would be too crazy about. But how cute is this one? Not to mention perfect for an anniversary. Check!

Now we come to possibly the biggest challenge. One of the first vendors we came upon was a maker of hand-crafted soaps and other toiletries. One of the things I’d had in mind for the anniversary couple was a nice handmade soap. She had so many scents! As with all handcrafted soaps at events such as these, they’re made with high quality oils and other pure ingredients, and are so much more wonderful than the usual array of soaps we come across.

The seller offered a slight discount for three bars, so I bought three – almond, orange coconut, and black raspberry vanilla. Talk about fabulous. The challenge I mentioned? Will I actually be able to part with one or maybe be a little selfish and keep them all for myself? You didn’t hear it, but I just let out a huge sigh there. Of course, I’ll send them one – they’ll love it. But which one?

 

The black raspberry vanilla was just too heavenly and truly smells like its name. Just look at that delicious swirl!

The Arts Festival really seems to grow every year with more and different vendors and craftspeople than before. A new Bonsai fellow was there with his perfectly manicured living pieces of art and was a delight to chat with, plus many others – makers of pottery and homemade foods, painters,  photographers, stained glass artisans – it’s just always a wonderful event. And at the end of this very busy week, I can finally enjoy all “the little things” I was so lucky to find. Not just my purchases, but a beautiful day, time well-spent with a friend, and the enjoyment of having been around so much creativity.

We need little things – it’s good to be happy.

 

roughwighting

Life in a flash - a weekly blog on daily living

TheBookOwl

Mainly non-fiction book reviews. Science, nature, memoirs, history etc. Also fiction

JEANNE BALSAM GRAPHICS

BRINGING YOUR DREAMS TO LIFE

Salmon Brook Farms

Official Home of Lavinia and Rick Ross

Harvesting Hecate

Thoughts on life, writing, creativity and magic

Cynthia Reyes

The blog of Canadian author Cynthia Reyes

Marie Lamba, author

Some thoughts from author and agent Marie Lamba

Professions for PEACE

Peace-filled affirmations & statements

47whitebuffalo's Blog

exploring connections among all things

A Leaf in Springtime

"Be a dew to the soil of the human heart."

home, garden, life

home, garden, life ~ sharing a sustainable lifestyle

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