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That’s not what we usually see, is it? More often we find articles about engendering the love of reading in kids.

So I was pretty impressed to find in the September 2017 issue of Family Circle an article about the importance of reading for pleasure. I assume that many of you reading this blog, as writers, are already immersed in a regular reading habit, but this short article with “how-to” tips addresses how we, as women, are pulled in so many directions that we often let reading slide. And it’s true; an inordinate involvement with our phones, TV, internet – not to mention the real-life issues of our families and work – can leave us feeling we have no time to read.

But a Yale linguistics professor, Kenneth Pugh, mentions the importance of reading for pleasure as highly important for our emotional health as well as strengthening our creativity. Tips on how to get back into reading include never leaving home without a book; literally penciling in time in our daily schedule for reading; swapping a chunk of our TV addiction for reading time; keeping a book on our nightstand, etc.

For anyone not sure of how to get back into reading, the article suggested as number one – your local librarian. Librarians are a fantastic source of knowledge of the books on their shelves and with a few questions, can have you in a book you love in no time. A good local bookseller can do the same. In addition, they recommended the New York Times Best Seller list, Goodreads.com, or 2017 Popsugar Reading Challenge. What I loved most about seeing this article is that Family Circle is a magazine with a huge circulation of about 17, 560 readers that reaches a very mainstream audience.

Reading – and reading for pleasure – is important. I find myself concerned about all these moms glued to their phones. What kind of inspiration is that for their children? I’m hoping that a family-oriented magazine like this one will inspire more than a few women to reconsider their habits and pick up a book – for themselves, and also to read to their kids.

 

Spirit Bear Drawing

It was my plan to post a drawing I did of two whales. I went through my recent sketchbooks, and they seemed to have swam away. But what kept appealing to me was this pen and ink sketch I did of a spirit bear.

Spirit bears are snow white bears, not albinos, that live only in a specific area of Canada, the Great Bear Rainforest, one of the largest unspoiled temperate rainforests on earth. This is a partly protected area in the islands and coastal areas of British Columbia. They are actually a rare subspecies of the American black bear known as a Kermode bear, most of whom have dark coats. The double recessive gene for the white coat must be carried by both parents in order to produce the white spirit, or ghost, bear. They are looked on as sacred by the indigenous tribes of the area, and have become symbolic of these people’s fight against proposed desecration of the rainforest by those wishing to build a pipeline there. It is unclear how many spirit bears there actually are, but estimates run from 150 to 200.

Learn more about the Spirit Bear.

One of the very compelling features in a good novel can be place, where an author writes with such depth and attention to the environment inhabited by his characters that the location becomes a character all its own. I just finished The Ice Bridge by D.R.Macdonald, and was amazed at how quickly he had me immersed in the landscape of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia. This is an outstanding book in so many ways, not least of which was my having moved to the harsh, wintry landscape of Cape Seal Road right along with one of the main characters, Anna.

The intensely rich descriptions of the land and the nearby sea in every mood and facet imaginable captured my imagination. Anna is an artist, moved here from California, leaving her soon-to-be ex to rediscover her artistic self. Her drawings of the landscape, animals, and the many found objects she retrieves from both water and shore, further expand the reader’s feel for Cape Breton.

The story of her settling into the “weather-wracked” house once belonging to next door neighbor Red Murdock’s grandmother is a story in and of itself. While the jacket flap is right in saying it’s a story about love after love, it is also a story about a fading Scottish culture which once thrived in the area, and the changes that modern life has exacted on its residents. Each character in this small, somewhat forgotten community adds to the sense of place in Macdonald’s novel. He is, in my opinion, a brilliant writer who has seemingly effortlessly made me care about his characters in this slowly unfolding tale.

When Anna does something extremely foolish, it is hard to criticize her because the author has already portrayed her so completely and compassionately that we can only wonder what would make her do such a thing. The characters are real, and the conflict builds slowly through the friendships, past loves, danger, pain, and wonder of them all. And always the sea and sky, forest and field, so beautifully, beautifully rendered, from the challenges of winter through the final warming of spring in July.

What a masterful writer! What I also loved about this novel was Macdonald builds the suspense to the very end, and even with the ending given us, one can still wonder what might happen next. This is one where I was sorry to close the book and leave what I’d come to love in Cape Breton.

Jersey Fresh

Two words.

Tomatoes. Corn. (Well, lots more, really.)

This is the season – every summer fruit and vegetable growing in the Garden State is at its peak, and super delicious. I may be doing my food shopping this weekend, but I will not be picking up any produce at the supermarket. That I will get at one of the local farmstands, several of which are within a few miles of where I live.

New Jersey gets a bad rap. The first thing that many people see when they arrive in NJ is a massive array of oil refineries in Elizabeth and nearby areas. Visitors come from New York or the Newark airport, and sadly, this dirty, smoke-spewing sight is sometimes all they ever get to see.

But they don’t call us the Garden State for nothing! Right about now there are stands by the side of the road packed with fresh, delicious produce of every kind imaginable. Sometimes it’s from a farm; sometimes it’s just a local gardener sharing his or her backyard bounty.

Always accompanying these unattended and smaller stands is a lock box for you to put your money in. We’re all on the honor system out here – to put in the right amount and not take the contents. That’s another reason why my part of the state is so wonderful. That actually exists.

My guess is I’ll stop by Phillips Farm in Holland Township, which is looked over 24/7 by the Jersey Fresh guy, pictured here. Looking for fresh and delicious? Pass on by the refineries; drive across the state aways; take a scenic backroad, and that’s where you’ll find it. I’m already thinking tomato sandwich.

 

Peace of Mind – One of the agreements I made with myself many years ago to help insure my peace of mind is to never watch the “news” on TV before I go to bed. First of all, as you no doubt know, the “news” for quite some time has rarely been more than a reporting of horrible misfortunes that have befallen local people and people around the world. It is a laundry list of murders, robberies, rapes, fires and the like. And that’s just the local “news.” It gets much worse as we look at national and global events.

I have been taught – and believe – that is it harmful to our very souls to bring this pain and negativity into our dream state. We have a choice in this matter. It is not to say we should not be abreast of what is happening in the world, but the degree of how much, what form of media, and the source of information also need to be carefully considered. Still, it is unwise, IMHO, to take any of it in before we go to sleep.  I am also of the opinion that any news I truly need to know will come to me.

That said, I was about to turn the TV off last night when I saw that 20/20 was doing an hourlong feature on what recently transpired in Charlottesville. I watched. I shouldn’t have. I awoke with nightmares, shaken, deeply saddened, and angry. That’s no way to wake up. It jarred the first few hours of my day. Lesson learned – again – no “news” anywhere near bedtime. Since the events at Charlottesville and what happened after, I have been, and still am, just horrified at the displays of hatred I witnessed in this country and the lack of its immediate condemnation. Like so many, I am simply at a loss in the face of all of it.

An Unexpected Upside – and then there’s this. There is very little to watch on TV over the summer, but one thing I’ve come to enjoy is a very addictive game show called The Wall. Here’s what I really like about it – it’s good news. It’s always a pair that plays – husband/wife, siblings, friends – to win money, and just about every pair of contestants is playing for money to better the world. A recent husband/wife couple had spent their own money to buy a mobile unit that offers showers to the homeless in their city. They were playing to win money to buy one or more units, at a cost of $40,000 each, to be placed around the city to give more homeless people the opportunity to shower regularly. They hoped to expand their idea across the country. In addition to dignity, they also offered clean clothing with the shower.

As you can imagine, most homeless people would not want to be on TV, but in the video package for this couple, one homeless man, clean and nicely dressed, openly thanked them on camera and said, “Now I can look for a job.” Take that, all you haters. There is love and hope in the world, and on one night a week it’s being brought to you by, of all things … a game show.

Photo Notes: These were taken after a thunderstorm in the early evening. What is most bizarre is that the first two photos were taken within seconds of each other, and seemed to be affected by the angle of my camera. I have no way to explain this. The light, as is sometimes the case after a storm, was particularly eerie, as you can see in the violet tint of a maple, two shrubs and the brown fence in a corner of the yard.

The 5-Day Rule

Not to be confused with the 5-second rule (where some believe that if you drop something on the floor, it’s still safe to eat if you pick it up in 5 – maybe 3? – seconds. Yech.) Anyway, this is a whole different animal.

Look at that broad, open expanse – fabulous. Some basics, morning vitamins, access to everything. And that catalog lower left? About to run headlong into the 5-Day Rule!

I created the 5-Day Rule as a result of a massive cleaning effort on my part about 2 weeks ago. Wayyyy too much stuff on my desk, too many things in the way when I needed to get to the stacked sorters, too many chotchkas, just too many, too much and all a distraction. I was long overdue for a clean, inspiring workspace. But where was it all going to go?

I have 2 very spacious file cabinets and they were very full. But that’s where much of the paperwork on top of my desk had to go. It was a huge task and took the better part of 2 days. From those file cabinets I pulled outdated business papers; so many photos and materials from my long-ago dog rescue; and the old boyfriends. (I’ll always remember you in my heart, guys!) I pared and whittled and proceeded to fill both garbage and recycling containers — it was heaven.

Next, I filed away what needed to be filed and then, stripped the desk of what was left and cleaned it. What went back was only what I want and need, giving me complete access to the stacking shelves of current material that I use regularly. The desk is now a vast area of open workspace. Woo hoo!

Okay, so the Komodo dragon is a desktop essential. Somebody has to watch over the day’s work, right?

So what is the 5-Day Rule? Anything I put on the desk, such as that new mail order catalogue, for example, can only be on the desk for 5 days max. That gives me time to read it, order from it, whatever. After 5 days, any item has to be gone, whether in the trash or some other location. And I plan to be brutal about this. Dee Hock says, “Clean out a corner of your mind and creativity will instantly fill it.” I like that, and I’m sure it also applies to wherever we spend time in our work and creative efforts.  Feeling overwhelmed by clutter? Clear it – you’ll feel a cool breeze of creativity wash right over you. Really.

It’s not for a lack of things to write about that it’s been so long since I’ve last posted. My mind is always humming away with things I’d like to write about. But recently there were other insistent things pulling me away, be it work, a few rounds of a nasty virus, the need to be OUT and not at the computer … you know how it goes.

So what was the impetus to finally settle down and write? What you’re looking at right now. My blog — more correctly, my blog theme. Last night, while waiting for a response from WordPress, I actually wrote all this by hand away from my computer. At the time, I had no idea if what you’ve always seen visually and what I’ve known for the last so many years was gone forever or reclaimable. Because as of last night, thanks to something I did, my beloved blog had slipped into something new – the theme I’ve been planning for a new site promoting my graphic design services.

While I may be a bit more savvy than the average bear at the computer, I am also quite capable of occasionally screwing things up. I wouldn’t have found myself somewhat frantically waiting to hear back from the “happiness engineers” at WP if that weren’t true. I knew I could move my site back into the earlier theme, but would I lose my widgets and customization? That was the question. So trying not to panic or bang my head on my desk, I waited. (I got my answer today, and did have to rebuild my widgets – no way to retrieve my earlier version.)

So blog problem aside, there’s been plenty of other stuff on the happier end of the spectrum – fabulous and fresh Jersey produce; reading and reading and reading thanks to the wasteland that is summertime TV; getting out and about to new places both on my own and with friends, enjoying their company, a movie, good eats and more.

In the end, despite my initial panic, the WP theme issue is just another challenge, a bump in the road along the way, and a reminder that there are many things in life we cannot control. All we can really control are our thoughts and how we look at what happens in our lives. Sometimes easier said than done, but true nonetheless. Not all that miraculously, I survived to tell the tale, and look … it got me taking along my camera and writing again. Not so bad after all.

We can be so hard on ourselves sometimes. As if a small amount of a delicious cheese would really push our cholesterol seriously over the edge. Or that we don’t deserve an occasional taste of the sublime.

My friend and I were enjoying a petite celebration in Frenchtown today. After a wonderful meal at Pulp, a vegetarian restaurant and juice bar known for its cleanly grown food and fabulous smoothies, I’d wanted to make two stops, one at Minette’s, a chocolatier, for a gift, and Olive with A Twist, a store that specializes in the most vast array of oils you could imagine, specialty cheeses and other delights. Minette’s was closed for vacation, so we moved on to our next stop. The sandwich board out front advertised “Watermelon Balsamic” and “Coconut Gouda”.  An unusual combination to be sure, but how bad could it be?

The shop owner happily shaved us each a sample and I was immediately in love. The coconut was bright but subtle, and the gouda smooth and a tad on the sweet side. Did I – do I – really need a cheese high in fat and at a price that made me gasp to myself and momentarily think of starving children in the world? Before I backed down, I requested between 1/4 and 1/2 pound.

I reminded myself that life is short and to be enjoyed, and small treats here and there are good for the soul. Besides, I would hate to think, in my final moments on earth, “Why didn’t I buy some of that coconut gouda?”

The moral of the story? Be good to yourself. You deserve it.

Somewhere along the line growing up I remember someone telling me “A job worth doing is worth doing well.” They were right then and they’re still right. Thing is, whatever the job was then has become wayyyyyy more complicated (albeit fascinating).

I promised myself I could finally pot this long-awaiting and patient coleus, called Electric Lime, after a certain amount of reading.

We’re no longer hand-printing a book report on honeybees, or making a great table in shop, or learning how to properly set in a shoulder in the suit we’re sewing. We’re not packing up a slew of pasted-up magazine boards to be shipped out-of-state to the people who’ll make them into negatives, or changing ribbons in typewriters, or Xeroxing off copies to send out. None of that. Now we’re reaching anywhere in the world simultaneously in seconds across multiple devices.

Check out this cutie – not even 1″ in length. I looked it up to see what it might be; it’s a black and yellow lichen moth. She seemed kind of lethargic, so I put a few drops of water in front of her, and she drank it right up.

My point is, my leap of faith will entail reaching a huge amount of people across a number of platforms and social media if I want to be a success. And that means a tremendous learning curve as well as time devoted to my craft in creating product (all while still working). Whew! I’ve been researching and looking into the many things I need to do, making lists, chunking them down into more do-able lists, and working away.

A few of these rhododendron bushes grow in the yard surrounding the porch. These “snowballs” are stunning and huge, about 8″ across. 

So today, I forewent any social outings to focus on my plans, and got out in the lovely cool morning on my back porch. I pushed over the vincas I potted a couple weeks ago and plopped down a notebook, my coffee, and the book I wanted to delve into this morning, Facebook for Dummies. I have assiduously avoided Facebook for any number of reasons, but cannot do so any longer, and like everything, there’s a lot to know. So the photos you see on this page are what I saw surrounding me this morning when I hunkered down to expand my knowledge.

A bright rose and pink vinca are still settling in, moved down to make room for coffee and a pile of work.

There is one thing of which any of us who take leaps of faith can be assured … we will never be bored.

 

Some guilty part of me feels that I should be writing something patriotic as it’s the anniversary of our wonderful country – Happy Birthday, America! – but alas, I finally have a bit of time to write and I have some other rambling thoughts. Like about the nectar of the gods.

Coffee. And how it’s made.

Not everyone feels that a cup of joe is the nectar of the gods, but as far as I’m concerned, you can keep your wine, beer, aged scotch, tea and (heaven forbid) soda. I’ll take coffee.

It’s not the caffeine, it’s the flavor. I like good quality coffee, and I like making it the same way I’ve been making it since I first began brewing my own – with a Chemex coffee pot. Years ago, long before Keurig and the vast array of coffee makers that electronically brew your coffee on a timer, there were some simple coffee makers, drip coffee pots, and a few other options. At the time, Consumer Reports evaluated all the means of making coffee and ranked the Chemex number one for flavor with the French press right behind.

With special filters manufactured by Chemex, all bitterness is removed from the coffee as you pour boiling water over the measured grounds. People have commented on how good this coffee is which I credit to the Chemex method. (OK, and the fact that I’m willing to spend a bit more on well-crafted and sustainably-sourced coffee.)

But here’s what’s funny. Like so many other things in life, this method is now having a revival! Having once fallen out of favor except with its many devotees, and having been (unintentionally) kicked to the curb by Keurig, this method of brewing can now be found in restaurants all over, and it’s known as “pour-over” coffee. Uh-huh. Rewind! Welcome to my world, guys. Live long enough – and I’m not that old – and you will see everything come around again from platform shoes to tie-dye shirts to troll dolls.

But in this case, it’s a real benefit to those of us for whom our cuppa joe will always be the nectar of the gods. Cheers!

Leaping

This image is currently on my desktop and that little kid puts a smile on my face and makes me think.

When I look at her, I see she is doing exactly what she – a mountain goat kid – is supposed to be doing and what comes naturally. Leaping. She’s not thinking about it or getting all nervous about it or wondering will she twist her ankle if she leaps really high. She just leaps.

Were it that easy for us humans. Okay, I’ll speak for myself. Over the course of my life I have taken numerous leaps of faith, and often without any tangible safety net. Each time, I truly amazed myself because clearly, I didn’t think I had it in me.

I was musing earlier about the time when I got on a plane to Portugal at 21 years old to visit my cousin who lived in a tiny fishing village in the farthest point north of the country. I’d only been on a plane once, and never abroad. What was funny in retrospect is that I was too young and naive to even know what a leap of faith I was actually taking. My flight was delayed at JFK by 6 hours and was going to get me into Lisbon far later than my cousin and I had planned and I had critical train connections to make. There were no cell phones, no means of communication like that and I was alone. In my utter panic, because of course I had not thought to learn any Portuguese other than “Bom Dia”, I began asking about for help using my high school French and entreated a bi-lingual Portuguese gentleman to help me. He wrote notes for each of the two train masters and one for, hopefully, a cab at the other end. I arrived after midnight in the pitch black of the countryside, but got delivered safe and sound to my cousin’s house. How did I do it?

Over 10 years ago, I took a very conscious leap of faith to leave a secure job and go freelance so I could pursue my dream of writing and illustrating children’s books. My income was not even covered, but I believed that somehow, despite my many apprehensions, I would be okay. I’d be lying if I said that the time in between hasn’t had its stress, crises and challenges, yet I made it. Except for one thing. I haven’t made nearly the progress I had hoped towards my dream. The next leap is before me.

And that’s where that little mountain goat comes in. Sometimes we can feel like we are suspended in mid-air. We know we jumped; in fact it may have been necessary to jump, or we sorely need to, but how we land depends on us. I want with every fiber of my being to be as sure-footed as that little kid, who knows in her heart of hearts, in the deepest recesses of her mountain goat soul, that she will land safely and securely, most likely on all fours.

Søren Kierkegaard once said, “To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself.”

I stand at the edge, breathe in my inner mountain goat, and leap.

I Surrender

One of the joys of reading a good book or watching a good movie is that of surrender. When I open to the page where I last left off or the theater lights go dim, I breathe to myself (hopefully not out loud), “take me.”

Take me into some neighborhood I’ve only passed by; let me smell their food, hear their music and experience the love, joy and anger that is so essentially human, but through the heart of another culture. Or take me to another land so I may breathe their icy cold into my lungs or feel the heat upon me that breeds crimes of passion. Take me to the stark loneliness of outer space to be in awe of galaxies; to live inside the utter loyalty and devotion of a scout dog in the Vietnam War and see through her eyes.

Take me where creatures walk among us who look like you and me but harbor lives beyond our imaginings. Tease me with unexpected twists and discovery of villainy or delusion. Speak to me in ways that make me work a little to understand the subtleties of another tongue, or variations of my own from another place and time.

Take me where I may know the deepest and most heartbreaking love, be outraged and demand justice, or laugh because sometimes life is just funny.

But whatever you do, be well-written with characters that ring true to the very end (but can still surprise me) and where I can get lost in your world without hesitation. I am ready to surrender.

Take me.

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