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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.

 

Ocean Quiet

Quite a few years ago, I worked in the city for a major magazine publisher. There I met Marilyn, who became a very dear friend. Our work was very hectic with endless deadlines and demands of all kinds. When she took her vacation, she and her husband went to some remote-ish island in the middle of nowhere to just relax.

“How boring,” I remember thinking.

During that time period I wanted to travel. I remember a great trip staying with cousins in Arizona, heading south to see New Mexico and north to visit the Grand Canyon. I also had the  pleasure of staying with friends I’d made through the publisher and visiting beautiful western Kentucky. No laying about for me!

My, how times change.

Now my idea of a vacation is exactly that of Marilyn’s – a quiet beach, with as few people as possible to distract me, and simple relaxation. I’d like to bring some books, a notebook, a sketchbook, and basic art supplies and just sit. I’d like to close my eyes and listen to the ocean, and open my eyes and see this …

Now the funny thing is that the beautiful ocean above is actually the New Jersey shore, and about one and a half hour’s drive from my house. But I only want to go off-season when I can just sit. Better yet, that remote-ish island.

This could also work. It’s the quiet and the freedom from distractions I would like. And, of course, being near the water.

But overlooking or near the ocean would be my first choice. There is something so wonderfully soothing about the sound of the tide, ebbing and flowing, whispering and calling. I wouldn’t mind spending some of that time alone, just to rediscover parts of my artistic self that don’t find enough space and time in everyday life to express themselves. But see? There are two chairs, and you’re welcome to join me in companionable quiet, just enjoying the peace.

And at night? Being near enough to feel enveloped by the gathering dark, listening to the rushing of the ocean tide coming in. And just being. (This, too, by the way, is the Jersey shore.)

To think … Marilyn had it right all along.

 

Thank you to the photographers above who have generously shared their work online so that I may have such beautiful illustration to my post.

On the top of a dresser, under a handmade box, is a small piece of paper with my writing on it. It’s been there forever, never moves except when I’m cleaning. Many days I don’t even look at it – I know what it says. But other days I look and know I absolutely have to think about these four questions.

Change can bring with it a lot of stress. Changing how I think and go about my daily routine, focusing on where I want to go … not so easy in the face of so many ongoing demands on my time. Three of those questions are “big picture’, but how I can make change more manageable is to focus on the third – What do I want for my life today? It’s a way of helping me keep my eye on my dreams when running from new and/or bigger challenges would be so much easier, and when I want to curl up safely in old habits which don’t serve me. Procrastination is based on fear and I can’t afford fear anymore; actually, haven’t been able to for some time, but it seems that the Universe is about to give me the next big push.

To remind myself that I can swim in the deep end of the pool – because in my heart I know I can – I’ve made a post-it for my Mac –

What do I want for my life today?

And I’ll think. And know. And swim.

 

Country Views

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but the county where I live now is the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived. I had a quick trip to the dentist this morning, and thought to bring my camera along to capture a lovely view or two. This is what’s across the street from my dentist.

Further to the right, a church nestled in a grove of trees. It was – still is – a clear, bright day. The sky an almost startling blue with not a cloud in sight. The only sound, the slight hum of the tractor carrying across the fields, and the occasional car passing me by.

I snapped a few photos, but then just stood there, loving watching the farmer go about his mowing, likely the first cutting of the year. I probably should have waved. Out here, you can be pretty sure he’d wave back at you.

Looking down the road, heading west. On a day like this – cool, dry, sunny, and inviting – it would have been nice to go down this road and explore more, see where it would take me. But life being what it is, I had other stops to make, other things to do. In fact, in all the years I’ve been going to my dentist, I’ve never once taken the time to follow this beautiful road.

It’s the downside of our lives sometimes … not accepting an invitation because we’re too busy. The backroads are always a great invitation; I need to open my schedule up a bit.

The first thing to happen is your brain starts to slowly disintegrate on the way home. Once in the door, you need to tend to anything that needs tending to because your body is following close behind and is not going to be in an upright position too much longer. From stress? Nope – from the incredible rush of attending a two-day conference for writers and illustrators of children’s books. It’s exhausting alright, but in a good way.

Each June my New Jersey chapter of the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) holds its big event. There are workshops, round tables, one-on-one critiques, a juried art show, portfolio display, keynote speeches, and more. This year, in choosing my workshops I focused entirely on writing in picture books. Other years, I have mixed things up and taken workshops in middle grade and young adult writing, picture book illustration, marketing/social media, and more. There were some truly fabulous speakers this year who inspired me and will keep me thinking long after the conference.

A highlight of the NJ event for many attendees is the availability of having one-on-one critiques, something not offered at all SCBWI (or other writing) conferences, and I picked very well this year. The picture book I submitted seemed a very good fit for Charlesbridge Publishing, and my mentor was outstanding – knowledgeable, insightful, and beyond helpful. Did I mention thorough? Yes, very thorough. A good editor or agent really knows how to show you where you need improvement without destroying your soul, acknowledge all the things that are right with your manuscript, and point out directions that will help you make your story perfect. And that I got.

The big challenge after a conference like this, for me, anyway, is to keep the momentum and all that excitement going because Monday morning rolls around pretty quickly and I am back at my desk writing and designing for everyone else, i.e., my clients. However, one of the first things I did Monday was to hit the library. I was picking up an adult novel I’d requested on inter-library loan, Before We Were Yours, and also a number of picture books that had been recommended by my mentor and other workshop leaders along the way. I also requested a few more from our main library. (As I did not take any photos of the event, I have included a handful of those books here.) I plan to read them over the next couple days for both enjoyment and to understand what makes them really good picture books. There is always much to learn.

Over the next few days I will revisit the MS I submitted and all my mentor’s notes and look to see how I can make my story shine yet brighter. For all the praise she gave me for this picture book, and there was plenty, it wasn’t enough – at least not yet – to be the one Charlesbridge wants to publish. Not yet.

 

Yes, I find crows magical, and I am a fan. Whoa, whoa! OK, all you farmers out there – I see you throwing your hands up in the air with a loud and unified “OY!” But hear me out. Let’s look at these magnificent creatures from three standpoints – science, myth and magic, and personal experience.

First a little science. Did you know that crows and ravens (same family) and macaws have the highest brain to skull ratio of any bird on the planet? In fact, their brain to skull ratio is higher than in humans! This in part accounts for their high intelligence, not to mention they have been on the planet for 60-65 million years.  Crows also have a skill accorded to one of the most intelligent mammals on earth, the great apes, i.e. they create and use tools. Crows also will gather around one of their own when it has died to try and determine the cause of its death. They will  learn the facial configuration of a mean human and teach all other crows to know it as such and avoid that human. When a crow leaves its flock and joins another, it immediately acquires their “dialect” by taking on the characteristics of the most popular crows in that flock. No intellectual slouches, these crows. Learn more about them.

The magic. When I designed my own website a number of years ago, I drew the header for it myself. The header featured none other than the crow, and I have utilized that symbol for my blogs. Why?

Because in certain cultures and mythology, the crow is believed to be the symbol of magic and creativity, something near and dear to every artist’s soul. In some cultures the crow has been the symbol of evil and/or death, juxtaposed against the white of the dove and purity. I don’t see life in black and white terms, and for all their brilliance, I like the crow’s mythology in Native American terms and Crow Medicine. As such, Crow is a guide on the path to spirituality and enlightenment and is the keeper of sacred law. It is said that Crow has known the darkness and when they appear in our lives, may be guides through our own darkness on the path to enlightenment. Granted, these may be mythological ideas, but it can be said that all religious/spiritual beliefs are mythology, just different. I am not arguing that point, just drawn to the many inspiring aspects of the beautiful and intelligent crow.

Personal experience. I have a very deep back porch, and during the day, next to my back door, is a bowl of water and dry food for my neighbor’s cat. I’m working at my computer when I hear a rather loud caw. “That sounds mighty close,” I think. I look out the back door, and there is a good-sized crow pilfering the dry food. She sees me and flies away. Not 10 minutes later, I hear the caw again. I appear and she flies away. Shortly thereafter, out of the corner of my eye, I see a flash of black through the side door window. She has learned in only two incidents that her caw brings me to the door, and now flies in silently. Seeing me again, her next attempt was from a different angle that I could not easily see.

Another time, I hear muted crow noises and slip quietly and unseen to watch four of them on the porch. They are talking amongst themselves and jostling for position, pushing one another away from the cat food bowl. I take their verbiage to mean “Wait your turn” and “Get out of my way.”  It is likely a dominance issue. I knock on the window and they disappear, but I could have watched their antics for hours; they were quite amusing. Now, as a result of this, I have to bring in the dry food for a while.

Occasionally, I will see a crow on my walks or on the fence near the window where I work. I always say hello and am sometimes acknowledged with a look and a “caw”. When a crow -– or any animal – appears unexpectedly and/or repeatedly in my life, I may look into its possible meaning. In the case of a crow, I might be at a crossroads, looking for or ready for a change, and need to pull more on my own intuition. Even if that has nothing to do with the crow, when is it ever a bad idea?

One last thought .. there is so much amazing art regarding crows, among them gorgeous paintings by Susan Seddon-Boulet ( above left), but also in a favorite children’s book, Crow Call by Lois Lowry and revered illustrator, Bagram Ibatoulline.

The natural world is filled with wonder and beauty. Depending on the day, I could happily write about pangolins, pandas, or hammerhead sharks. Today, it’s crows.

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

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

home, garden, life

home, garden, life ~ sharing a sustainable lifestyle

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