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As they say in the movie … put your hands in the air like you just do not care!

That’s what I’m sayin’! Put your hands up high, over your head. Open up those fingers and swing your arms to the left and to the right. Swing your hips to the left and the right! And put a smile on your face whether you feel like it or not. Feel better?

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If you actually did that, you do feel better, and I’ll tell you why. You can change your mood by changing what your body is doing. It’s true. There’s a body of evidence that tells us that we can change how we feel by doing a few very simple things. For example, it’s almost impossible to stay feeling angry when you put your hands over your head like you see in this drawing, titled Happy Bogles. Wave them back and forth; you’ll be surprised at how you feel.

Or, if you’re feeling sad or angry, go to the mirror and give yourself your best, happiest smile. Keep smiling and you’ll feel a change. Of course, one of the simplest things to do to change a mood is dance. Do you feel like dancing when you’re feeling out of sorts? Of course not, and that’s exactly why you do it anyway. And put up those hands and see what happens.

Now who are those wonderful happy bogles and what’s a bogle anyway? Happy Bogles is by John D. Batten, a British painter and illustrator, (1860 – 1932), who among his numerous works, illustrated English and other countries’ fairy tales, mostly around the turn of the century. This particular illustration, which I have loved for such a long time, accompanied The Golden Ball.

What is unique about this particular illustration is that it portrays bogles as happy. Bogles are folkloric creatures of Northumbrian and Scottish origin who play a part in any number of folk and fairy tales; however, they are not known for being happy creatures. Rather they are mischievous and enjoy making life difficult for humans, albeit not particularly harmful. But in this illustration they are joyful. (Hmmm – perhaps they just accomplished something to bother some unsuspecting person.)

Whenever I look at this drawing, I feel happy. Let it inspire you, too, and put those hands in the air with a big smile. See? It’s working!

Among the many wonders of nature, I find camouflage one of the most fascinating. Below are photographs of owls who quite literally disappear into the trees behind them. If viewed from enough of a distance, it is practically impossible to even see them.

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If you can find the owl easily, move further away from your computer/device until it is hard to spot her, and then view the rest.

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I cannot take credit for these wonderful photos; they were sent to me in an e-mail and were collected, I assume, from around the web with no photographer given credit. I just prepped them for my blog, hoping you would appreciate them as much as I. Whoever the photographers are, thank you for sharing these amazing images online.

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We live in an amazing world. Sometimes it’s easy to see just how amazing it is.
Sometimes we have to look just a little harder.

Sometimes we have moments in our busy days that just touch our hearts. Here is mine today.

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As I walked past my side door earlier, I happened to look out and notice – there was Pumpkin, my next door neighbor’s cat, sound asleep in as relaxed and trusting a position as one could ever ask of any cat.

Why this is particularly touching is that Pumpkin is not a trusting cat. In the time that I’ve lived here, my neighbors got a dog, and the dog, with full run of their property when she is out, largely displaced Pumpkin and their other cat from what was once their domain. More and more the two cats came over here to spend time with me. (Admittedly, the fact that I was providing food and water was an influence, but they also clearly enjoy the company and affection.)

From being a rather curmudgeonly fellow, Pumpkin has come to be far more trusting and now seeks out my attention. He lets me know when he’s had enough, and we’re good so long as I keep an eye on his tail. I am quite sure I cannot pick him up without suffering serious damage, yet he’s become far friendlier over the years. Seeing him sleeping so soundly just outside my open door, his little back feet paired and curled up and his breathing deep and steady, tells me more about his trust than I might have ever known.

Rushing as we do, it’s easy to miss moments like this. I hope you’ve found your moment today.

 

If you had asked me 5 or 6 years ago if I liked historical fiction, my answer would have been “Meh.”

Sadly, I was effectively turned off to all things history as a child, when my first learning experiences labeled “History” were nothing more than an endless dry and boring series of names, dates, places and events to be absorbed and later regurgitated on tests. In retrospect, our teachers had to cover 7 or 8 different subjects daily, so what were chances that any of them would be a real history buff and would teach us history with great enthusiasm and insight? Apparently, pretty slim.

KiteRunner-KHosseiniIt wasn’t until college when I had an exceptional professor who taught Contemporary Civilization in the context of art, (I was at an art school), and for the first time someone teaching history had neurons in my brain firing rapidly. History suddenly came alive! Unfortunately, at that point, I had very little mental framework in my brain to hang it on. But I started to take an interest in the subject.

What really kicked my interest into high gear has happened in more recent years when I would come across a novel set in a particular place and time period, so rich and textured, that I wanted to learn more. One of those books was The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, and it sent me flying to the internet to learn about the Afghani people and what was transpiring in Afghanistan during the time this novel took place. I cannot recall the country of Afghanistan mentioned once in history or geography in my childhood education, but now, here was a piece of fascinating history.

ShanghaiGirle-LSee2The two novels that recently afforded me that desire to delve into history were those by author Lisa See, Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy.The first novel begins when Shanghai was known as the Paris of Asia, and sisters May and Pearl were  “beautiful girls”, models. With their father having lost all their money, the sisters, with their mother, must flee Shanghai as the Japanese invade China. The sisters were forced to emigrate to the United States in arranged marriages. From their interment on Angel’s Island to creating lives for themselves and their families in Los Angeles’ Chinatown, we follow the complex relationship of Pearl and May and Pearl’s daughter, Joy.

In Dreams of Joy, Joy, now in college and angry at her family’s deception and distraught over one family member’s suicide, secretly runs away to China to find her true father. Her studies have convinced her that Communism is the best of all systems, and she is determined to start her own life, although  DreamsOfJoy-LSee2she is soon to be profoundly discouraged and isolated. Pearl leaves the states to search for her daughter, encountering endless roadblocks along the way. The backdrop of much of the novel is the time under Chairman Mao and The Great Leap Forward, a time of alleged progress in which a famine took the lives of millions of Chinese people. (From Wikipedia – “The Great Leap ended in catastrophe, resulting in tens of millions of deaths, estimated from 18 million to 32.5 or 45 million. Historian Frank Dikotter asserts that “coercion, terror, and systematic violence were the foundation of the Great Leap Forward” and it “motivated one of the most deadly mass killings of human history”.)

Lisa See writes about family and relationships and this alone would have held my attention, but told against the backdrop of both China and the United States in times of political change and turmoil of every kind, I searched to know more. My knowledge of history is still spotty, but through the pages of beautifully written historical novels, I continue to learn. It seems history stands at my back door, always with a hand raised, always ready to knock.

I am repeating this post from my own blog from 2012. It is never too late to do a kindness and there is never a wrong time but today is the day that celebrates it. Should you wish more information, there is a Random Acts of Kindness website with wonderful stories, ideas, etc., but I suspect you know exactly how to be kind. Have a lovely day.

Recently a friend from the other side of the country – Washington State, to be exact – sent me an e-mail with the photos below. Needless to say, the images have been collected by someone from all over the web and put together in that e-mail. I have  pulled them together for this blog post because I believe we all could use a little inspiration here and there and it never hurts to be reminded of the difference a small kindness can make, how a simple gesture can touch a heart and soul, and how there really is a great deal of kindness in the world despite what many sources would have us believe. We can always add to that, and it needn’t be on an official Random Acts of Kindness Day – it can be any day or every day.

Enjoy the photos. The e-mail began with this : If you never learn the language of gratitude, you will never be on speaking terms with happiness.

A father and mother kissing their dying little girl goodbye. If you are wondering why all the medic people are bowing,….in less than an hour, two small children in the next room are able to live thanks to the little girl’s kidney and liver.

The e-mail continued on with the following, which I have altered slightly to be more inclusive of all beings on Earth:

Every day, every day, you hear …
I WANT!   I WANT!  I WANT!
Every day you hear people saying what they want. Well, here’s what I want:

  • I want people who are sick to be healed
  • I want children – and animals – with no families and no one to love them to be adopted
  • I want people to never have to worry about food and shelter and heat
  • I want to see a kinder world towards all animals on this planet
  • Most of all, I would like to see people start to care more for one another.

May your heart be touched by kindness today and every day.

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Do you appreciate kids’ art? You have the opportunity to tell them so by voting for them in this year’s Doodle 4 Google competition.

Each year Google holds an art contest, encouraging kids from kindergarten to 12th grade, broken down into 5 age/grade categories, to submit artwork which would be suitable for the Google header, such as their event header featured above. There was a theme for the children to draw to, and that was “What makes me … me”, and all kinds of materials were acceptable. Google has winnowed the entries down to 53 U.S. state and territory winners and now you can vote for a finalist. You can check out all the details in Google’s How It Works section.

They’re looking for 5 National Finalists, one of whom will have their artwork featured on Google’s Home page. And that one Finalist will receive a $30,000 college scholarship, a $50,000 educational grant for their school, and the list goes on.

But the best part – for me, anyway – is checking out the amazing talent of the kids who created artwork around the Google lettering we’re all so familiar with. If you just want to go straight to the artwork — vote here!

A Cautionary Tale

For some reason over the last 6 months or so, I have felt the urge to start divesting myself of things I no longer want/need/use. I have made some tiny forays into this effort, but nothing drastic. Yet. But last weekend I got a wake-up call – the people across the street packing up and moving.

MovingBox2I could not believe how much stuff was coming out of one small Cape Cod house. Aside from the desired items they were loading up into a very large trailer, making repeated trips to their new place, there was a ton of stuff bagged and more piled in front of their house for garbage. Mind you, when the garbage truck came through Monday morning, it stopped still in front of this wide mound; one of the fellas made a phone call; and they emptied the two actual garbage cans – exactly what we’re allowed – and moved on leaving everything else there.

A few days later, the owner of the property came by with a clean-up crew.They piled all that into a good-sized trailer and then filled yet another one with what was left behind inside the house! I didn’t have the time to watch all this for long – only occasional observations – but I am still floored by how much was jammed inside such a small dwelling. It left me looking around my house, thinking what can I let go?

I am always amazed at the “stuff” we humans amass. I see so many people with one and two car garages which they fill to the brim and leave their cars outside. I would give an eye-tooth for a garage to put my car in. I’ve never had a garage and can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t jump at the chance of not having to clean their car off in bad weather. Why do we accumulate so much that we don’t need, leave alone even look at?

I do consider myself fortunate that I have no attic and only a tiny basement. It keeps me honest. Everything I own has to fit inside my living space. Even so – the prospect of having to pack up and move again someday? It has me eyeing and evaluating everything I pass – do I really need/want it? Watching that train wreck across the street gave me pause. A cautionary tale, indeed.

As snowstorm Jonas dragged on and the snow continued to fall – heavy and then heavier – it was impossible to not start having concerns about the power going out. Thankfully, our area of the state came through A-OK. We did, however, get very high amounts of snow, lots of high winds and drifting. My driveway ranged from 24″ – 30″, and created the ghost that once used to be my car.

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What a relief when everything was finally shoveled and pathways cleared. I can’t help but wonder if these huge mounds of snow won’t be with us til Spring. Here’s hoping you weathered the storm okay, and life is returning to non-shoveling activities!

 

Right about now you might be thinking it’s pretty slim pickings in my brain that after all the time lapsed since my last post all I’m coming up with are some cat photos. Well, hold on just a minute there. First of all, they’re not just any cat photos – they’re of my beautiful Miss Jazzy. Second, we have some thoughts about the economy of environmental packaging and the inventiveness of cats. What’s that now?

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Lately I’ve noticed that two companies I order from online fairly regularly have taken to using more environmentally friendly packing materials, and I really do appreciate that. No more packing peanuts, bubble wrap or plastic pillows. They’re using relatively cheap brown wrapping paper bunched up and stuffed to fill the box. (Yes, trees, but plastic is worse.)  The advantage of that? Instant cat toys! Not only is the box left out on the floor entertaining, but the brown paper can be arranged and re-arranged in ways that are endless fun for Jazzy. Hide a few toys, and she’s busy playing for awhile, (see below), and therein lies the movable cat sculpture. Cats are so inventive with so little.

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Are there more things to write about? Oh yeah! Plenty of them. It’s been a kind of blah few weeks after the holidays, not terribly inspiring, and it seems there’s been a lot of that going around. Well, settle in your comfy chair with your favorite hot (or cold) beverage and a good book because the first snowstorm of the season will be pulling into the Eastern seaboard station tonight. And there’s nothing like some snow to get one to dreaming. (Until the shoveling begins, anyway.)

Meanwhile, take a few moments and play with your furred and feathered friends. Be safe. Stay warm.

Doors-ClositerArches2The beginning of each New Year spreads out in front of us – a year of promise, of dreams, of hopes and plans. I leave resolutions for those who are so inclined, and prefer to believe that I will take those steps in exactly the right time.

Ahead are the doors opening to what we dare to dream – what we’d most like to do, our heart’s desire, and how we can get there. Ahead are the doors to our imagination – to what we can create if just given the chance … to those we’ll know, who will inspire us, and whom we can inspire. The doors that take us out and through can take us in as well.

To all who stop by, I wish you the year of your dreams and the open doors to find them.

The Magical Book

One of the (many) wonders of books is that they sometimes arrive at just the right time. Perhaps it’s not exactly a magical book but it’s the one that’s juuuust right for where we are and what we need to read right now.

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For example, a dear friend of mine came upon a book not long ago and was just over the moon about it. She got me so excited that I went immediately to my local library and borrowed it. I began to read. I was not excited or over the moon as I’d hoped; in fact, I was occasionally disenchanted by the author’s style, which was quite different from what I’d read of hers previously but seemed to me to be trying a little too hard to be hip and cool. I continued reading, sometimes really enjoying it, and while I felt it got better towards the end, it never made me jump up and down.

So I returned the book to the library, and talked about the book with my wonderful librarian, who is also familiar with the author, and she said she’d give it a try. Her response was that she liked it. Not crazy about it, but what had bothered me did not bother her, and she would read some more. And there you have it. Kind of like Goldilocks and the three bears, I thought.

For one of us it just wasn’t the right fit; for another it was enjoyable, but not fabulous; but for the original reader it was exactly the right size and the perfect book for her right now. And that’s what makes books so wonderful. Certain books come into our hands, into our lives, and they are exactly what we want – and/or need – to read at that moment in time. I’ve certainly encountered books like that – haven’t you? The story, or the information, is so meaningful right then that it just couldn’t be any better.

Sometimes it takes a while for that book to appear in our hands, but we always know it when it arrives. For those of us who write, or at least for me, it is my dream to write that book for children that will be exactly what they want – or need – at that moment in time. Even if it’s only one child, I’ll be happy.

So many things to do, so little time! I’m tired of looking at my blog home page, but, pulled in as many directions as I am right now, what to post? I scrolled through my photos in  iPhoto and saw all the wonderful Seward Johnson pieces at the Grounds for Sculpture I’d meant to post, but never got to. So, here while we are having a relatively balmy December in New Jersey, I thought to share – just a tease, I know – two images from a very famous painting, Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe by Edouard Manet.

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What makes the Grounds so fascinating is that you never know what you will find when you turn a corner. So here, tucked in a landscaped area of trees and a pond, one practically stumbles upon Johnson’s recreation of this famous Impressionist painting. The realism is astounding, whether the sculpture is of modern day people or those who have stepped out of  famous works of art.

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Someday, I will get back to sharing more of Johnson’s wonderful work and the Grounds for Sculpture. For now, enjoy this breath of summer before winter really sets in.

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