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I have a love/hate relationship with the marketing world. I am so, so weary of having a zillion products and services pushed at me relentlessly in every media avenue I could possibly be in touch with. It’s annoying and sometimes exhausting, and, I suspect, touches your life as well.

But then … I come across a commercial which is absolutely brilliant, moving, and says something so important in a way that I could never imagine. At first, this short, wordless commercial shows us a touching relationship between man and his best friend, the steadfast devotion dogs have for us. But that’s just a part of the message. What’s ultimately being said is so unexpected and so beautifully said — take a look.

IndianRunnerDucks2I am a big believer in synchronicity. To some of us that means that there are no coincidences. That we are sometimes/often given little signs that what we are doing is right, what we are thinking is on the mark, that others are thinking of us, and so on. (How about when you are thinking of a friend, you go to pick up the phone and it rings, and your friend is on the line?) Not everyone believes in synchronicity and these individuals attribute such things to luck, to chance. I am not one of these individuals.

Here’s another example. When I lived in Brooklyn, I lived on Union St.  As I searched for the right place to move in New Jersey, the perfect apartment opened up – in the town I wanted, on Union St.! When I was planning to move out to the western side of the state, the perfect house turned out to be in Union Township. That’s what I’m talking about!

So how about the small and happy synchronicity? At the upper left, you see carvings of two Indian Runner Ducks*. They were in a local import store, Two Buttons, and I was just entranced by them. They were not outlandishly expensive so I decided to treat myself to these two, chosen from a nice selection of different positions and attitudes. They are carved from the roots of palm trees by Balinese, (I believe), artists, and they’ve been gracing my living room for several years now.

IndianRunnerDucksBaby2Not long ago, I received some birthday goodies from two people very dear to me, and what do you think was inside? A baby runner duck! It was the wife of the couple who spotted the young duck with the polka-dot rain boots, and they both thought it would be perfect for me. Little did they know …

So the duckling, whose name is Hattie according to her name tag, has now rounded out the little family quite nicely. I am also finding inspiration for a possible children’s book, but that’s another story.

Is this synchronicity? Methinks yes … a small and happy one, that tells me that two people dear to me, even though they live at quite a distance and were unaware of my two ducks, are in tune and knew exactly what would be perfect for me. Pretty cool!

Is there synchronicity in your life? Of course there is! Keep an eye out and you’ll be amazed at what you can find.

* p.s. Indian Runner Ducks are a domestic breed of duck that stand upright on their legs, just as you see these carvings, and walk and run, rather than waddle.

For those of you who enjoyed the art of Seward Johnson in a previous post, I am sharing a bit more of the sculptures (mostly) inside the gallery. It seems almost everyone is familiar with the iconic figure of Marilyn Monroe taken over the air blast from a sewer grate. Johnson has done a fine job of Marilyn in this lovely tableau …

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but many more people are actually familiar with his outdoor version of Marilyn …

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And back to the gallery … perhaps one of the reasons I am drawn to Seward Johnson’s work is that we share something in common – our love of the Impressionist period of painting. Many of his sculptures based on famous paintings are inspired by artists of that time.

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Johnson’s study above is based on “La Japonaise”, a painting by Monet, the model being Monet’s first wife.

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He was also inspired by Mary Cassatt, an American-born artist, (Pennsylvania to be exact), who spent most of her adult life in France, where she soon befriended Edgar Dégas and exhibited with the Impressionists. Cassatt’s painting is “Young Girl at Window.”

Manet is another favorite of Seward Johnson, and there are tableaux of Manet’s paintings throughout the Grounds for Sculpture. Below is a small part of the installation based on Manet’s “Olympia.” My crop reflects what the entirety of Manet’s painting looked like.

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 But Johnson took it one (huge) step further …

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He created an entire room that one can walk into, such as he imagined this woman might have as her boudoir, historically correct to every detail, as are all the items she wears, right down to her shoes.

The last installation I’m featuring, which was actually the first room you walked into, was deeply touching to me, but I didn’t even realize its significance until I got home and looked at the photos I had taken.

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There was a figure in the room just to the right of the sculpture, looking at it. As is often the case, we wondered if he was “real.” It soon became apparent he was not. Then we wondered about another figure a bit further away, who sat motionless on a museum bench. He was so still that it wasn’t until he flicked his finger to scroll down on his iPad that we realized he was not a part of the installation. Distracted by this, I somehow thought that this was a memorial to a soldier.

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When I looked at my photos at home, I had no idea how I could have missed that this was a tribute to those who died on 9/11. It is a deeply moving piece, with the helmets of firemen, police and EMS workers, the fire hose, the flowers done in bronze and cement, the figure’s head bowed behind two plaques above and below our flag. The marble plaque below says “Im memory of all those who lost their lives.” The piece above, looking as if it were written on paper, has scrawled on it, “In memory of those who gave their lives to try and save so many.”

And then I saw the two shafts of light in the background where our twin towers once stood, and was overwhelmed with sadness yet again. Thank you for this piece, Mr. Johnson.

You may know from watching nature shows that there is something in the animal world called symbiosis or mutualism. What it means is that two unlikely creatures form alliances for their mutual benefit. I will offer a few examples with stunning photographs from Wikipedia and then my own humble example.

Perhaps the most well-known example of symbiosis in the animal world – only because there have been so many photographs circulated about it – is that of the clownfish and the anemone.

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The charming little clownfish seems to be one of the only, if not the only, sea creature that is immune to the anemone’s sting. That works out perfectly. The clownfish has a place of safety to which he can swim when predators pursue, and in turn, brings dinner right to the anemone.

Then we have cleaner shrimp. These slender, delicate shrimp perform an important function for a variety of sea-dwellers from groupers to anemones to eels, as we see below.

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Here a cleaner shrimp does a tidy-up on the mouth of a moray eel. The benefit to the eel is that of a good dental/oral cleaning as bacteria is removed from its mouth. For the shrimp, who is a scavenger, a meal on the go.

Not all examples of symbiosis are under water. For example, oxpeckers are birds that often co-habit with zebras, (and other large mammals), for mutual advantage. The oxpeckers eat lice and ticks from the zebras’ coats and help the zebras by screaming when predators are nearby. Crocodiles and plovers co-exist with the plovers popping right into the crocodile’s mouth. Once again, in exchange for a good dental cleaning, the croc allows the plover whatever morsels he can find.

And then we come to my personal example:

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A cat and a car. Perhaps the most mysterious and least understood, (to the average passerby), of symbiotic relationships, there are even tertiary benefits in this relationship – to me!

Pumpkin, my buddy from next door, likes to take his nap in the shade of my bumper. The hotter it gets, the deeper in the cool shade he lies. The benefit to Pumpkin is obvious, but what about the car?

Two stories came to my attention awhile back. My neighbor across the street found one day that his truck wouldn’t start. It was taken by flatbed to his mechanic who found that a goodly number of field mice had set up housekeeping in his engine and chewed through all the wires. So bad was it, that it couldn’t be repaired. It was either a new engine in the truck or a new truck. The neighbor across the street on his other side was driving to work when her car simply stopped running. She coasted to the side of the road, was taken by flatbed to her mechanic, who found that a goodly number of field mice had set up housekeeping in her engine and chewed through her wires as well. Luckily, her car could be repaired.

Getting my drift? So while I am always aghast to see the occasional mauled mouse that Pumpkin, (or his cohort Cloudy, my other buddy from next door), leaves lying about, I also know his presence is keeping my engine intact. Which means I get to drive knowing my wires are not chewed through, both cats get shade and bottomless bowls of food and water on my back porch, and we all get some cuddling and hanging-out time.

Beats eating ticks and lice or screaming at the approach of predators, eh?

As promised, I will try, as time allows, to bring you some of the amazing works of the sculptor Seward Johnson. He is the founder of the Grounds for Sculpture Museum, which is largely outdoors, and in his 80’s, he continues to work today. A retrospective of his work has been on display for well over a year now, and I feel fortunate to have gotten to see the many pieces that will soon return to their homes around the world.

Just inside the Welcome Center is a large gallery of his works; all but two are based on famous paintings. Today’s post focuses on a few of the works inside the gallery.

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What you see above is a 3-dimensional room created from Van Gogh’s painting, “Bedroom at Arles.” When you step inside the room, there are two shiny black footprints upon which to stand. I, (yeah, I know, shame on me), didn’t read any of the art notes provided, but obediently stood on the footprints anyway and photographed the installation. What I didn’t see until I got home, is that by taking the photo from that exact angle, the effect was that of the 3-D room being flattened to appear as Van Gogh’s painting.

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To me, the genius of this sculpture is not just in Johnson’s usual accomplishment of turning a 2-D painting into a 3-D sculpture, but in then finding a way to reverse it back to 2-D. Above is a photo I took inside the room where you can see that the bed is made up with a real blanket, pillows and sheets.

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Stepping back in time, we have Vermeer’s “Girl with A Pearl Earring.” Johnson sometimes uses a suspended real frame to perfectly surround the subject as he/she appeared in the original painting, while they sit in the proper pose.

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In more than one example of his work, we see Johnson’s sense of humor, and his “Mona Lisa” installation is certainly one of them. Here she sits, nicely framed, as was our girl above. The guards you see below are, of course, part of the installation, but what about the other people in the photos?

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Maybe not so much! What is truly enjoyable as you tour the grounds and this gallery and see his work, is that you are frequently left wondering, “Is that person real?” In a world where only a base under their feet can indicate that the people might not be live, it’s not always so easy to tell. Sometimes you do have to come pretty close to be sure.

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Who knew the Mona Lisa offered photo ops? I can’t help but think Da Vinci would have been amused.

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And who would have suspected that the Mona Lisa was a much more modern young lady than her rather serious portrait might indicate. Cheers to Seward Johnson! You put a smile on every person’s face that looked at this exhibit.

If these works appeal to you, I encourage you to go to Seward Johnson’s website where you can see all his works, often multiple views, and have a link to take you to the original painting upon which he based his sculpture.

More sometime soon …

Summer Mix

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Why, you may ask, are you looking at a pair of feet in (… well, a pretty cute set of) flip-flops?

Here’s why. For the same reason you’re about to look at a yummy summer salad sitting on an antique kitchen chair complete with original milk paint, (which by the way, doesn’t hold up all that well to everyday wear and tear.)

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It’s an offering. A little tide-you-over. I’ve been somewhat absent from my blog, but I do think of you, and I do miss the delight of writing more frequent posts, as well as stopping by your blogs. (Just because I don’t follow you or comment doesn’t mean I don’t stop in for a quick peek.)

The last few weeks have included some exciting things – a visit to the Grounds for Sculpture to see the Seward Johnson retrospective before the borrowed pieces return to their permanent spots all over the world on July 1. So much to see, and such genius! I’ll be posting more on that soon. Meanwhile, here’s a little teaser of what’s to come.

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Johnson is known for his sculptures of people in everyday life and his 3-dimensional interpretations of famous paintings. Throughout the grounds one finds groupings of people as well as individuals, such as this hot dog vendor along one of the walkways.

And then there was the NJ SCBWI June Conference where we all ate, drank and slept children’s books for nearly two days straight. It’s intense, exciting, rewarding, and based on everyone’s collapse on Monday, a major rush! The workshops, meeting and dining with agents and editors, connecting and re-connecting with fellow writers and illustrators is quite the whirlwind of an experience, and has us all coming home with a renewed sense of purpose, our dreams fired up, and ready to further our goals and experiences in children’s books.

Intermezzo: a French Bulldog illustration of mine, for summer. (p.s. This is available as part of a boxed set of Frenchie notecards.)

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And then of course, there’s work. LOTS of work. Not to complain; paying one’s bills is a good thing, but between it all, well, my blog bore the brunt of it. As have my poor LightBetweenOeans-MLStedman2porches which remain bereft of a single flower this year. (I’ll spare you the empty porch photos.) And then there are the everyday demands of just plain life. Busy!

And of course I’ve been reading. I am always reading, no matter what. Great book – just finished – I highly recommend it.

Soon I will share with you some truly amazing treats from the Seward Johnson exhibit.

So stay tuned … I do believe I’m back!

Sunlight in Spring Forest, Bavaria, Germany

TheTigerRising-KDiCamillo2What first draws you to physically pick up a new book? The title? Perhaps. But what makes you think that it may be truly wonderful? Chances are it’s the cover. And when it’s a children’s book?  The artist’s cover illustration is what will make you long to see more.

As an artist/illustrator myself, I am always thrilled to come across new and fabulous illustrators whose work I’ve never seen. This has happened twice recently and I was so impressed with these two artists’ work, I thought I’d share with you.

The first artist is Chris Sheban and I searched him out because I was so taken with the cover art on the Kate DiCamillo book I’m reading – The Tiger Rising. Turns out, Chris has also illustrated another favorite middle grade novel of mine, same author, Because of Winn-Dixie. Take a look at Chris’ portfolio – he’s amazing.

InAVillageByTheSea-AChu2The second artist is April Chu. She came to my attention because she is the illustrator of the soon-to-be-published Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine, the debut children’s book written by author and dear friend, Laurie Wallmark. What inspired me about April Chu are the illustrations of her most recently published book, In a Village by the Sea. It takes a lot of talent to portray the ocean as beautifully as she has, not to mention everything else in her illustrations. Take a peek at April Chu’s portfolio. Her work is truly outstanding.

Just as reading, as well as watching plays, movies, and yes, even TV, adds to our depth as writers, looking at other artists’ work adds to our richness as illustrators.

EdmundDulac-PrincessPea2I’m going to add one more artist who has been a longtime favorite of mine. I can’t add a link to his portfolio because he is no longer alive, but his work glows with a richness and vibrancy that I have loved since I first set eyes on it many years ago. He is Edmund Dulac, born in 1882, passed away 1953.  You can get background on him here, if interested, but will see more of his images here, where prints of his work are for sale. Pictured here is a 1911 illustration of Dulac’s for The Princess and the Pea.

It’s a good day to be inspired!

 

 

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Those of you who stop by with any regularity often see at least one photo of the stash I garner after the Annual Library Sale. Not this year, but I did bring home some wonderful selections, adult, MG and YA, which were accompanied by another bunch of tantalizing books which my Library Sale Buddy offered me. (She opened her trunk like she had hot merchandise in there – dozens of books she’d read over the year, and was offering to me and other friends. It was pretty funny.)

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A few days ago, I was ready to dive in to one of those picks and chose a book by John Irving, Cider House Rules. I’d seen the movie years ago, which was fabulous, but as I CloseToFamous-JoanBauer2began the book, it didn’t seem right. I wanted something that would feed my creative self, the me that wants to work on my Middle Grade novel. I put it back on the shelf and drew out the Joan Bauer MG novel I’d picked up, Close to Famous.

I like Bauer’s style – her characters are believable, palpable people you might know or like to get to know. No high drama, but real life in a compelling way. This would both feed my creative self and provide an enjoyable read.

 

For those of us who create, who aspire to bring something new and of value into the world, feeding that part of ourselves is so important. I know, for myself, it can also get sorely neglected when life’s demands are peaking, and Creative Me can get tossed into a corner like a shucked-off backpack, full as it is of wondrous things.

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What writer isn’t enriched by reading, what artist by looking at art that inspires? Imagine a baker who doesn’t sample fabulous cupcakes, tasting every nuance of flavor, checking the texture for mouthfeel – how could she possibly produce truly delicious cupcakes herself without knowing what really good cupcakes taste like? It’s no different with us.

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Another way to feed our creative selves is to get out in nature — take a walk, take a drive to a nearby park, sit in your garden, watch a bird, a bee, a squirrel. Nothing fancy. Let the wonders of nature inspire you, help you feel at peace, connected. In that serenity, our creativity can come out to play.

I took the photos you see here on a recent walk – blue sky, sunny day – reminded me of the me that longs to create despite the daily demands of life. It was like a cupcake for my creative soul.

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Take a little time for yourself, especially when you most think you have none. Treat yourself to a creative cupcake. Add extra sprinkles; be inspired.

The morning skies were overcast, and the roads were fairly quiet. So I brought along my camera on my trip to the supermarket. The photos below were taken on an approximate 5 minute stretch of my 20-25 minute return trip from food shopping.

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Fields have been tilled and planted. Set far back
from the road, a horse farm.

When I first moved out to this beautiful side of the state, I learned from my neighbors/soon-to-be-friends that we “transplants” were not always welcome here. Of course I asked why. I was shocked by their answer. “Because,” they told me, “no sooner do people move out here than they want a supermarket down the road and a 7-11 on the corner, a MacDonald’s in walking distance, etc. etc., just like they had back in the burbs.”

Needless to say, this made no sense to me either. Why would you move out to the country and want to change it? I very soon adopted their attitude. Don’t like it here? Go back to where you came from. Because here … is gorgeous. As is.

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There are plenty of woodsy roads to be found.

I was enamored of this county the moment I moved out here. The more I drove around and saw, the more I loved it. It is truly the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived.

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Approaching the upcoming curve, I always get excited for what’s to come.

Driving the backroads – passing farms and wide open land, seeing horses, cows, goats and sheep living the life they deserve, through densely forested areas, over burbling creeks, watching crops grow – I just can’t wipe this idiot grin off my face.

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It’s a huge farm with Beltie, (and some Hereford), cattle/cows.

With no one else behind me, I pulled over and took a few shots of the farm across the road, always one of the highlights of my ride. There are numerous large pastures and upon them graze what are known as “Belties” – officially, Belted Galloways.

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Belted Galloways are a heritage breed of beef cattle originating from Galloway in southwestern Scotland. They are known
to be a very hardy breed, originating from the 1700’s.

When I first saw these cows, maybe 15 years ago, I nearly went off the road.  I was utterly transfixed by their markings. It’s no surprise that people, including breeders, sometimes refer to them as Oreo-cookie cows.

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A young Beltie. “I can get that itch if I just stretch far enough.”

At some point, I would like to contact the farm owner and ask if I might go out into the fields with the cows and really do an expansive photo shoot. Cows are such wonderful, sweet and curious animals. However, the bulls out there might not take kindly to me among them, farmer-escorted or not. (Not to mention this might be a major inconvenience for the farmer.) But I can assure you I would be in heaven, just hanging out in their midst and photographing them.

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It’s still spring, and the foliage you see is actually just beginning to bloom.

The next leg of the ride on this particular road has multiple sharp curves heading downhill, banks of trees ascending steeply on either side, until you are essentially in a gorge, but alas, there’s no opportunity to stop for a photograph. When summer is full blown, it’s a riot of dense green – trees, foliage and lots of moss. It reminds me of the parts of New Zealand where they filmed Lord of the Rings.

If I can see such beauty as this in just a tiny part of my ride home from the supermarket, why would I want one on the corner?

Don’t like it here? Let me help you pack!

Wisdom from the master himself …

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For a long time they looked at the river beneath them, saying nothing, and the river said nothing too, for it felt very quiet and peaceful on this summer afternoon.

“Tigger is all right really,” said Piglet lazily.

“Of course he is,” said Christopher Robin.

“Everybody is really,” said Pooh. “That’s what I think,” said Pooh. “But I don’t suppose I’m right,” he said.

“Of course you are,” said Christopher Robin.

~ A.A. Milne, Illustration E. H. Shepard

 

The Library Card

ChildrenReadingTintSometimes I have to stop and realize how incredibly fortunate I am to be living now, and to have grown up in a time and place where reading was always encouraged, and books always available. The two events I wrote about in the previous post are only possible for me because of these factors.

I am so grateful that, as a child, I was read to often and from when I was very young, that our mom read us a bedtime story each night before we went to sleep. Each week she took my brother and me to the library in town, a beautiful 1780’s Dutch stone house, where, after careful browsing, we emerged victorious with stacks of books in our arms. Once at home, we dove into our treasures. We had bookcases in our rooms, and it was a common sight to see our parents reading in the evening, long after the TV had become a living room fixture.

It’s easy to forget what an abundance of riches this truly is. We search the internet, e-mail, write and visit blogs and social media, and read books in a variety of 3-dimensional and electronic media with nary a thought. But that is not, and has not been, the case for many people in this world.

RichardWrightAwhile back, a fellow blogger shared this sentiment and gave me a link to a story by an author whose name I had not heard since I was in high school, Richrad Wright. He grew up in the deep South and in 1944, when he was 36, wrote the book Black Boy.  A particular chapter is titled The Library Card, and in first person relates Wright’s discovery of the vast reading material and knowledge to be had and to which he had no access because of his color. The books he longed to read only became available surreptitiously through the use of one trusted white man’s library card, and this depended upon Wright’s maintaining his attitude of ignorance and subservience to those around him.

For me, The Library Card eloquently makes the point of how blessed we are to be free to read, to learn, and to explore at will. There are people all around the world, including right here in our own country, predominantly children and women, who do not have access to books, nor can they, nor in some places, are they allowed or encouraged, to read.

There are plenty of ways we can bring books and reading to those who need and would benefit, but it has to start with this – the realization of how wonderful a gift we already have and frequently take for granted … a light that shines into the darkness, a transport to other worlds, an endless source of inspiration. Lucky, lucky us.

See you at the book sale.

 

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