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Some time ago – can it really be back in 2014 I wrote that post? – I featured the last home I lived in, a beautiful stone farmhouse, the oldest part of which was 1724. The bulk of the house was built in 1810, and then the homeowner who lovingly restored the property added a modern kitchen and bath about 40 or so years ago. I’d promised to share the house I’d lived in prior to that, an 1870 home, technically Victorian I guess, but not of the gingerbread style as the community was more farm oriented than fancy.

As mentioned in that earlier post, all my life after college, including where I live now, has been in homes or apartment buildings from 1810 – 1920. I have enjoyed 9′ ceilings as my standard, deep porches on all the homes, stunning hardwood floors, and more “wildlife” than modern homes allow by sheer dint of better mechanics, technology and sealing. It was usually a small price to pay.

Above you see the first house I lived in when I moved to the western side of New Jersey in a tiny rural town called Pattenburg, once a center of basket-making and peach growing. These were all taken to market on the trains that ran the (still active) tracks at the far back of my property. The land itself was 1/2 acre and an absolute marvel to this girl who’d been living in an (albeit huge) apartment. The property was on the narrow side and quite deep with 14 deciduous trees, and I sure got my exercise raking each fall and mowing.

There you see an aging apple tree which was a major attraction in the fall. It was not unusual to look outside and see deer, rabbits, and groundhogs all together enjoying what had fallen to the ground. As the ancient tree had not been well-cared for, the apples were not really edible or pie-worthy, but few went wasted. At the right, the ubiquitous outhouse, an often-rescued fixture on every property on Main Street.

And this is Main Street, photographed from the road in front of my house. When I first moved here, people were always talking about “downtown”. Needless to say, I was curious as to where that might be, so I asked. I was told,  “You’re standing in it!” This was a far different life than I had ever known, for sure.

Every time I was out walking the dogs total strangers driving by would wave at me. At first, taken a bit aback, my hand would flail lightly at my side reaching in an upward direction. I’d never lived anywhere where strangers just waved at you. But it didn’t take me long to catch on – people were just downright friendly. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have landed here.

The backyard in snow. And this only shows a portion of it. There’s another third of the land beyond that farthest point you can see. Plus this doesn’t give a hint of the lush blossoming of endless perennial plants, shrubs and trees that were on this property. I have so many photos of the flowers all about – small areas of blossoming beauty – that I’d be here for days just trying to find and scan photos of the riot of color that abounded in spring and summer.

I don’t have a lot of photographs of the interior of the house. It had original hardwood – walnut, I believe – floors and stairs. The kitchen’s wide planks had already been painted, so  once settled in, I gave it a new high-gloss paint job. Out the kitchen door was a patio.

Another photo in the kitchen. Here was my old girl, Chloe, then nearing 15 years – the most lovable, trustworthy and phenomenally stubborn dog one could ever hope to own. (Yes, she’s on the drop cloth.) Behind her was a complete wall of original wood cabinets and drawers, any kitchen-lover’s dream. The original wainscoting was also intact, unpainted. Throughout the house there were chair rails with beautifully coordinated colonial colors and petite flowered wallpaper above the rail. There were also closed-over fireplaces in the living and dining rooms and the master bedroom. Again, just as well for one with no knowledge of building or watching over fires.

And here’s what qualified our little stretch of maybe 24 houses and an old red schoolhouse as a downtown – we had a church and an antique store which was once Pattenburg’s general store. I was soon surprised at how many people visited the shop filled with antiques and collectibles. It turns out the owner had cleverly gotten her store listed on an “antiques trail” where people would drive about following a map for fabulous finds in and around the county.

The house at Christmas, my tree in the dining room at right, not visible in this photo. I decorated the garland with white lights, gold bows and small pink roses to complement the house. It always looked wonderful. At the holidays, our little Main Street was all aglow, looking for all it was worth like a slice of another time with beautifully lit houses, and neighbors happier still, all of us waving at one another, wishing each a warm Merry Christmas. Life was good.

p.s. For another insight into this country life, take a peek at this post about the train trestle at the far end of Main Street.

St. Patrick’s Day is almost here, so I thought to draw a little Frenchie all ready for the occasion to share with you French Bulldog  lovers out there.

For everyone who stops by, a short and sweet Irish blessing …

May the blessings of light be upon you,
Light without and light within.
And in all your comings and goings,
May you ever have a kindly greeting
From them you meet along the road.

 

One of the fascinating things about childhood is that as we grow older our perspectives on it change. What were once annoying practices foisted upon us now make perfect sense. Where once we had wishes for things far more grand and perhaps expensive than we could afford now seem so unnecessary. Just like our parents told us. Thing is, parental advice just wasn’t always all that much fun; we were kids after all. We weren’t interested in having values instilled in us; it seemed tedious.

Yet here we are, ever so many years later, reflecting on the pearls of wisdom that our parents were thanklessly sharing with us. Okay, maybe they weren’t all pearls of wisdom, but plenty of them were great guidelines, both large and small, for managing life along the way.

Below I’ve listed just a few of the things my parents taught me, and there is at least one humorous, heartwarming, life-changing, and/or scary – but always memorable – story to go with each. Undoubtedly, you have your own list you can make up quite different from mine. Especially if your parents have passed over, you might be surprised in making that list how much of what you like about yourself actually came from what they were teaching you all along. Life is funny that way.

So here’s to all the parents who caught a lot of crap, patiently waited out hysterics, bit their lip when they wanted to scream, and resisted rolling their eyes as they explained something to us for the 19th time. And here’s to all the parents who went about their lives day by day, totally unaware that their children were watching and soaking up ways to manage some of the simplest things that would stand them in good stead for a lifetime.

My list:

  • Simple is good
  • Keep the house cool by following the sun to adjust the blinds/shades
  • You don’t have to have a lot of money to have a good time
  • You can never have too many flowers
  • Eat fresh
  • Bugs aren’t really all that scary when it comes right down to it
  • Budget your money
  • Make your bed every day
  • Take lots of pictures
  • Going away to college helps you grow up

 

Serene

Serene is sure a feeling that can escape us when we’ve got a lot on our plate. And lately, this photo is what’s been bringing me back to some semblance of serene.

Beautiful orcas in a sea of calm. I feel like perhaps they are dreaming. Diving, resting and just breathing in the night air. The last few weeks have been far too busy with one thing or another and although I know – we all do – that from time to time, it’s just how life is, I found myself longing for a touch of the serenity I see in this photo. I found myself wishing I could weave among them as kin where they would welcome me, not be afraid, and just share with me whatever they know and feel in the moment captured above.

“They were watching, out there past men’s knowing, where stars are drowning and whales ferry their vast souls through the black and seamless sea.”
~ Cormac McCarthy

But this period of so much going on has had its up-side, too.  I have been on a real reading tear, loving diving into one book after another, middle grade, adult, picture books, no matter. Perhaps these books have all given me the respite I needed, new places to go, people to know, situations that grabbed my attention and heightened sensation. What a rich world books bring us.

OK, change of plans. I’ll sit on an outcropping of rocks next to the orcas, they with their dreams, me with my book, one in spirit under a full moon. Join me?

 

Today, Sunday February 12th, is the beginning of Random Acts of Kindness Week. This whole concept had taken off to such a degree as to be a movement, but I pay no attention to that. And while you can, you needn’t either. What we can all do during this week is one little thing – one kind little thing – each day for another person or animal that will make some small difference in their life. Just because we can.

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Kindness, as you know, is it’s own reward. And if you enjoy how you feel this week, then go for another week, and another. Because not only will you have changed the world,  you will have changed yourself.

Here are some new quotes I found for inspiration …

“Remember that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something and has lost something.”
~ H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
~ Leo Buscaglia

“Sure the world breeds monsters, but kindness grows just as wild… ”
~ Mary Karr, The Liars’ Club: A Memoir, 1995

“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
– Desmond Tutu

“In the long run, the sharpest weapon of all is a kind and gentle spirit.”

~ Anne Frank, The Diary of Anne Frank

Music Frames Life

Certainly one of the joys of the internet is how you may start in one place and travel down a path to someplace magical. It started a few days ago. I was visiting one of the blogs I follow, Salmon Brook Farms, and there I found a video of it’s author, Lavinia, playing acoustic guitar and singing. A Martin guitar, I found out upon inquiring. Her playing is exquisite  and the sound of the Martin, so very soulful. It made me remember how much I love this kind of music.

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For me, and perhaps for you, music has framed many life experiences. You could play me any number of different songs in any number of types of music and it would be as if a spotlight turned on, and a video played of some segment of my life gone by, complete with the people there at the time, location, and every feeling I went through in that moment. Music is so very powerful and weaves intricately with memory to form these deeply felt emotions. I realize how much I have missed it in my life of late.

So when I listened to Lavinia playing, I thought of all the wonderful acoustic guitar music I have right here in my house, going back to early folk, and including guitarists like John Fahey and Robbie Basho (these on albums), John Renbourn (on tape), right to more current times on CD (Snuffy Walden, Nightnoise, Jeff Johnson – with Brian Dunning – and others) and one of my all-time favorites, Will Ackerman. To say the man is incredibly gifted is an understatement. So while part of my day today was earmarked for me to be at my desk working on taxes, I saw an opportunity to turn on my Mac with it’s wonderful sound system, and which sits on the desk immediately behind me, tune in to YouTube, and listen to Will.

Among his many songs, all written by him, I found a video of him playing what he considers his best song, The Bricklayer’s Beautiful Daughter, below.

But what truly touched me was in another video in which he discussed his work over the last 35 years, how he creates, and samplings of his music. I found that the piece I most love, The Impending Death of the Virgin Spirit, was written to express the feeling of Will’s innocence the night before his mother took her life when he was 12. I have always been deeply moved by this haunting song from the moment I heard it; now I know why.

Will Ackerman is just one of numerous outstanding musicians to record on the acclaimed Windham Hill label, which he founded, never imagining it would become as immensely successful as it did. You can learn more about him on his website, where he also shares tunings for his songs by album.

I’m just listening as I work and finding my every nerve ending remarkably soothed. If acoustic music appeals to you, check in on Lavinia, too, whom I thank for pointing me on this path of rediscovery. I’ll be listening more.

Everyone likes to share a little sweetness with someone special at Valentine’s Day. How about sending this adorable Frenchie Valentine?

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Check out those just-frosted cookies  – this cute pied Frenchie is. And they’re not just hearts for Valentine’s Day. Why, yes, there are some cookies with rather familiar big ears! And you know what that means. That these blank notecards are not just for Valentine’s Day but for whenever baking cookies is a good time! Yup. ANYtime!

I’ve drawn these new Frenchie notecards in my usual style, but somewhere in between a sketch and a finely detailed colored pencil drawing, all on a nice, recycled matte paper. Blank inside so you can write to your heart’s content and never be out of season.

We all know how digital everything has become nowadays, but I’d like you to take a moment and remember the last time you opened your mailbox and found inside a real, 3-dimensional card from someone in your life. Put a big smile on your face, didn’t it? I know that’s what happens to me. So go old-school and send some smiles to the wonderful people in your life. Better yet, send those smiles with my adorable (if I say so myself) French Bulldog notecards.

Wings

At the end of my street is the river … the moody, enchanting, ever-changing Delaware. Sometimes she is soft and shy and all wintery gauze. Though I haven’t in a while, I can go over the broken tracks, down an incline, across a small plateau where someone builds fires, and touch her. Yes, I see this river as female, though I cannot tell you why. Sometimes I take her presence for granted, yet I never forget she is there.

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Lately I’ve been thinking. Oh, about so many things. The words of others drift through my head. These are the words I want to share with you today. I may have done so before; if I have, they are no less true.

“You were born with potential. 
You were born with goodness and trust. You were born with ideals and dreams. You were born with greatness. 
You were born with wings. 
You are not meant for crawling, so don’t. 
You have wings. 
Learn to use them and fly.”

~ Rumi

The Light Within

This crystal ball of melting ice is somehow enchanting. Perhaps it is its simple beauty or perhaps because it holds the paradox of fire and ice.

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Especially now, at the edge of a New Year, I am put in a reflective mood when I watch a tea light shimmer and dance within. I am not one to make resolutions, but I do think back on the year past, where I’ve been, how things have changed, how things have not. What I hope for.

I do believe our past has created who we are, but paradoxically, that we can also change this instant. It may be a challenge, or if we get our minds in the right place, it may be simpler than we could ever imagine. Sometimes we have to want something enough – or not want something enough – to change.  How wonderful to have a dream, a vision, to guide us. We can create that. How wonderful to acknowledge that light that grows from within where we always know who and what we truly are and can be.

As another New Year dawns upon us, I encourage you to find your light and shine brightly. If we all glow together, surely this will be a better world for each and every one of us.

Happy New Year.

This has to be one of the most joyful pieces of music I know. I have the original album (yup, that dates me!) where this song was also the album title – Oh Happy Day by the Edwin Hawkins Singers. The video quality, due to its age, is quite poor, but the music is live and as electrifying as ever. Turn up the volume, people – it’s Christmas!

Hope yours is happy.

This is a re-run from an earlier year, but still as true as ever …

ChristmasMugAndPlate2Or, in reality, 4 mugs and 4 plates. Christmas creeps into my home, ever so slowly, drawing from this cabinet, that closet, this box, that drawer. But it always seems to start with my dollar store Christmas plates and German made Christmas mugs. I feel like a child who has glimpsed a stack of unfamiliar boxes tucked way on top of mommy and daddy’s closet. Something exciting is coming.

These simple items that I’ve had for quite a few years put a smile on my face, and though I see beautiful Christmas dishes everywhere that I’d love to have, I pretty much know I’ll also be happy with these for years to come. They’re enough. And oftentimes, enough is good.

As I watched the TV commercials for Black Friday insanity, my newspapers packed with shiny paper catalogs filled with sales, I wondered how we got to this place of endless need for so much “stuff.” It’s not that I don’t treasure a new addition to my kitchen, book shelf, or whatever … I really do, but there’s also an enjoyment of things that have been around a while, and which have meaning. Especially at this time of year.

So the plates and mugs have now been joined by some festive place mats, candles and accessories. Slowly, the house will really start to feel like Christmas, warm and glow-y … well, like Home.

northernhawkowl-jbalsam2I found myself really looking at a stunning calendar photograph of this Northern Hawk Owl for the month of November. I am the recipient of a large number of calendars each year, some from organizations I support, and others that are cold mailings from like-minded organizations. I have several of them posted around my home, not to remind me of the date but to enjoy the beauty of nature and animals, changing every month.

As December approached, and a new bird would arrive, I started to play with the idea of doing a watercolor of this owl. She is clothed in multiple shades of browns with large white flecks on her dark wings and a cap that looks like it has been dusted with freshly fallen snow. But ahh .. there has been a bit of a drought in these parts in terms of my drawing, so rather than tackle something I haven’t done in ages, why not do something I really enjoy, simple black ink. And so I drew.

Perhaps most surprising as I hunched over my desk, was that Jazzy, who normally would be meowing up a storm demanding dinner at that precise time, was utterly quiet. It was as if she knew this was something even she hadn’t seen in a while, and best not to disturb a woman at her work.

We never know what will inspire us. I, myself, was surprised that this owl had been calling out to be drawn for days. What I do know, is that when we’re inspired, it’s good to listen.

 

 

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