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The other morning I was leaning on my Mom’s old Art Deco hope chest, looking out the rear second story window as I often do each day. Not looking for anything in particular, just getting a feel for the day ahead in some way.

Suddenly, crossing my vision, there was a Great Blue Heron, a bird which I’ve seen in other parts of my county, but never here. I immediately felt it was a gift.

It flew from the direction of the river, over the few backyards in between, and landed in a fully leafed-out maple across the street. It was a matter of seconds and it became invisible in the tree. My breath was taken away, and I stood there minutes longer watching the unlikely hiding place the heron had chosen.

A few hours later, the heron was still very much on my mind, and I decided to look up what meaning there might be when Heron appears in one’s life. In cases such as these, I look to Ted Andrews who wrote Animal Speak. You can find his insights here. I realize not everyone believes that animals may have meaning in our lives, or messages. However, over the years I have found that, especially when animals appear in unusual places or circumstances, it has been worthwhile to look into it.

There is so much going on in our world right now. I am often overwhelmed with so many emotions. Each time I think about writing a post about any of it, I wonder what could I possibly say that hasn’t already been said before. It seems I do better to center myself as best I can and send out love and light.

I subscribe to the blog of a wonderful friend, Anysia Kiel. She reminds us that when everything seems to be breaking, it is because a transformation is happening, and something new is taking the place of what has gone before. Like the Great Blue Heron who lifts its wings in graceful flight, I realize that the one thing I can do – we can do – is to lift our hearts and hands in love and be part of the transformation.

 

 

It was inevitable. No matter how well products manufactured 30 or 40 years ago were made, sooner or later, they’re going to bite the dust.

So I bid a very fond farewell to my longtime, faithful AT&T cordless phone. It has seen me through more life events than I care to relate. And yes, of course it looks like an “old lady” phone, but if you can believe it, the battery in the handset has only needed to be replaced once in the approximately 35 years I’ve had it. You just don’t throw a phone like that in the trash, and that’s why I’ve kept it, homely as it might be, for all these years.

This phone and another upstairs which is plugged directly into the wall have been my landline, something I have known my entire life. When power went out in Superstorm Sandy, I still had phone service because the upstairs phone didn’t require electricity to run. It was a great security blanket, despite my having a little flip phone on a second line forever. But lately, the cordless has occasionally been staticky, dropped a call here and there, and the antenna is holding on by a thread. Not to mention the ridiculous price I was paying my carrier for the privilege of having a landline.

Time to join the 21st Century, like it or not. I am changing carriers and saving an amazing amount of money each year going forward — transferring my existing flip phone to a new model as my backup (in case the other needs to go to Apple for some reason), switching the landline to an iPhone; and going completely wireless. (Let me just say here … oy.)

Kicking and screaming? Not so much as fretting and panicking, and I’m not enjoying it at all. Since I am Mac based, I assumed this would be a breeze, but it’s not just the fact that I have to learn two new phones in a very short period of time. It’s that I’m giving up the security I’ve known all my life with a landline. I honestly never thought this would affect me the way it has. I’m almost embarrassed because this kind of stuff doesn’t usually rattle me. (And yes, that we are locked down in a global pandemic may be in play, too.)

Everyone assures me that I’ll have this all down in no time (probably true); that many, many people are completely wireless nowadays (I’m aware); and that once I am used to it, I’ll love it (undoubtedly true). But logic is rarely the best diffuser of anxiety.

In my experience, the only way to deal with this is to keep on moving through it, fretting and all, because curling up in a ball or going back to how it’s been are not options. I comfort myself each morning during periods of change by reading a particular section of this book by Deepak Chopra in the “Law of Least Effort” chapter, which reminds us that every tormentor or tyrant, each upsetting situation, is in our lives at this moment because it’s exactly what we need to evolve, and is the opportunity to create something new and beautiful. I do believe that’s true, and it’s what I’m holding on to.

So if I accidentally disconnect your call or inadvertently send you a partial text, please bear with me; I’m overcoming the loss of a security blanket. And I promise I’ll never be one of those people in the supermarket who cannot stop gabbing on their phone for two seconds. I’ll still be me, just looking a whole lot more 21st Century.

Baking?

OK, so maybe it is a mix, but at least it’s a good one. While shopping online at my favorite vitamin/healthy place, I spotted this Namaste gluten-free scone and muffin mix. I bought two, one for me and one for a friend who has a very high allergic reaction to gluten. At some point, I’ll actually get to give it to her in person, I’m sure.

For those of us who cook and bake, the global crisis is very possibly an opportunity to revisit – or revive – our culinary skills. Making these muffins reminded me of how really simple muffins are to make from scratch (and perhaps I should consider making more!) I threw in a bunch of chocolate chips, and voila! Easy-peasy. My quickie critique – the texture is a bit more dense than muffins made with traditional flour, but the taste was just fine. They are best warmed with a little Earth Balance/butter.

I had a much more serious post in mind, but somehow, a lighter one about food seemed a good choice. Food is always good, and especially in times of stress, n’est-ce pas? Plus I found this great quote from Erma Bombeck:

“Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the Titanic
who waved off the dessert cart.”

For those of us who are self-employed and work from home, self-quarantining is not a new concept; we’ve been doing it for a while. What’s different, of course, is that with recent restrictions, we don’t have the freedom we did to just leave and meet friends, eat out, attend some sort of gathering. It feels like I’m sitting on my butt even more than usual.

I decided to take a short walk to stretch my legs and get a change of scenery. It was the perfect time to see lots of daffodils.

Some just ready to bloom … they looked like they were napping, soon to be awakened by more sun and an inner clock known only to them.

Here we see another flower, a bit of purple somewhat hidden in the leaf litter … myrtle. This tells me the deer are happy with their current forage and are not yet roaming the streets looking for this, a favorite snack.

I also spotted at a distance, looking real for a brief moment, a quasi-hidden cat, bearing what I believe is a Welcome sign. Thank you – it could have been a plain cat, but instead it was a neighborly greeting.

It’s easy to pass by this forgotten old garage, its faded, peeling paint, rusty hinges on a door. But the daffodils brighten it so, and had me look twice. Funny how sometimes the most worn and ignored of things can still have a beauty of their own.

Why a second view? Because the daffodils are not the only form of life emerging. Look under the concrete slab to find beautiful ivy leaves winding their way to the sun.

It was a short walk, and in times like these, even a short walk is balm for the spirit.

In the few days since, I now see forsythia beginning to bloom and that shy greening of the privet hedge and lawns. Just a blush, just enough.

Fear vs. Love

A number of years ago, a dear and spiritual friend told me that at the heart of it all, there were only two emotions – love and fear. I considered it seriously, looked at it this way and that, and concluded she was right.

Much to my surprise, when I tore off the March 17th page of my Wayne Dyer daily calendar, I found this …

I would be lying if I said that I am not struggling with a newfound degree of anxiety and uncertainty in the face of this global pandemic, as I’m sure many of you are, and so many, many more beyond us. But it was a reminder to always keep our eye on the love, what we give and what we are given. Whether we feel the same as we always have or suddenly sink into panic and worry, we are loved.

However we may perceive that love or from whom – I am loved – you are loved. We’ll be OK.

When you come right down to it, it often really is the little things that make a big difference. Sure, the milestones are wonderful, but day-to-day? It’s the small stuff. I count myself lucky, and I suspect you might feel the same way, in being a person who can say, “It doesn’t take much to make me happy.” Here are a few of the little things that have made me happy recently.

This is one of those things where I can say, “Finally!” I’d gotten a new cover (read that as cat hair deterrent) for the couch and was just back-pedaling forever on getting some pretty throw pillows. Voila!

When I came home from an errand in mid-February, I found on a table, at my side door, a beautiful bouquet of tulips. They were left there for me by a dear friend for Valentine’s Day. How lovely is that?

In the wake of losing my sweet little guy, Pumpkin, another wonderful friend sent me this. I shed a few more tears, but yeah, this will do it.

Although the sugar cookies for my friend’s book launch are absolutely fantastic, it’s the catching up, the silliness, the forgetting to add the vanilla (my bad – I fixed it), and fun together that means the most.

Oh, look! It’s another case of “Finally!” The blinds that were once at these back windows had been a little broken on the left side when I moved in; then the cord shredded out on the right side. But how long did it take me to actually get curtains? I’m not saying. The chairs, BTW, if I remember correctly, are from the 30’s and that is the original milk paint.

Hardly a “little thing”, my Jazzy, but she is a part of my everyday life that I am always grateful for. As we can be grateful for the little things, cats are always grateful for boxes. Of any kind.

Irish oatmeal with blueberries, cinnamon, and a pat of Earth Balance. Makes my day whenever I cook it up.

It’s been a long winter, even though, thankfully, it’s been a mild one. With plenty of work and too much else going on, I haven’t gotten out as much as I’d have liked.  Today in the low 50’s again, I couldn’t help but notice a harbinger poking it’s pretty green self through the leaf litter.
I see you there, Spring.

And last but not least of the “little things” – the small, muddy paw prints that trace a route from the backyard up my porch steps and to my back door. You know whose they are. I have no intention of washing them away until it’s warm enough for the garden hose to be hooked up. And maybe not even then.

I hope this has inspired you to think a little about the wonderful “little things” in your life. I hope you find and cherish them.

Pumpkin
2005 – February 26, 2020
Rest in Peace

How do we ever say goodbye to a friend?

I first met Pumpkin when I moved here, about 13-1/2 years ago. He was at least one year old, handsome, leonine. His orange coat, whether thick and luxurious in winter or in a lighter summer length, was always immaculately groomed. He was out most days, and in the next door family’s garage at night. He took no sass from anyone – cat, dog, or human, and ran the neighborhood. I called him The Mayor.

Two fearless creatures – Pumpkin and a young praying mantis.

Whatever had happened to Pumpkin prior to my arrival resulted in his being somewhat aggressive when handled, except for being petted around the head. He showed he cared in other ways, but the expression of affection was strictly on his terms.

With his beautiful coat in its long-haired glory.

Because I worked from home, he and I became better and better buddies, especially after his sidekick, Cloudy, died two years earlier. And in the last 4-5 months, even more so.

He had always come with me to get the mail; slept under or on my car for shade or warmth, depending on the season, at my various doors following the warmth of the sun; and kept me company when I was outdoors. But now he stayed close whenever he was allowed outside. His health began to decline, his quality of life to diminish. Once defensive about being touched, Pumpkin now began to relish the attention.

Pumpkin trusting, relaxed, and sound asleep just outside my office door.

Last Wednesday, my neighbor told me she’d made an appointment to have him put to sleep. This just crushed me, but I was grateful to not only be able to go along, but to hold him in my arms in his last moments on earth. After all these years – and for just this one time – I gave Pumpkin a kiss on the forehead.

Sweet dreams, little one. You were loved.

 

I would not have thought that I’d be writing a post about a TV program, let alone this one, yet here I am. I stumbled across this show while flipping channels in its first season, and thought this was a pretty hokey idea. But I came across it again this past season, and had a different opinion. That show is The Masked Singer.

The premise is that a number of well-known people take on a costume and mask and sing, entering into a series of one-on-one contests, voted for by the audience. At the end of each show, the masked singer with the least votes takes off their mask. Inside these costumes have been Olympic gold medal skaters, comedians, singers, dancers, actors, basketball players, etc. all with varying degrees of talent and fame. A judging panel tries to identify the masked singers based on their clue packages.

In December, it was down to three amazing singers – Flamingo, Rottweiler, and Fox. What inspired me was their comments before they removed their masks; each was humbled by the experience, and deeply grateful to have audiences appreciate them so much based only on their singing ability and not who they were or what they were known for. One, Flamingo, commented how she was once told she would never amount to anything. It was more touching than I would have expected. So if you can get into some great music sung by people in crazy costumes, below is Flamingo singing Jeff Buckley’s version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah; Rottweiler’s version of Lewis Capaldi’s current hit, Someone You Loved; and Fox’s rendition of Otis Redding’s classic Try A Little Tenderness. Singers unmasked at the end. Enjoy.

 

 

Coming in third was Flamingo – Adrienne Bailon, singer, and a member of the girl band Cheetah Girls; in second place was Rottweiler – rock/pop singer Chris Daughtry, who rocketed to fame after a near-win on American Idol; and lastly, Fox – the winner – was unmasked to reveal Wayne Brady, multi-talented singer, Broadway star, comedian, and TV host.

A Little Kindness

If there is one video I always look forward to at Christmastime it’s the one created by the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) in Britain. Whoever puts them together is not just some remote advertising exec somewhere, but a wonderful person whose heart is filled with love for animals, and knows how to bring their heart to life on behalf of the RSPCA. I am always grateful to see it.

I had posted a previous year’s video here: https://stilladreamer.wordpress.com/2018/12/06/kindness-goes-a-long-way/ – you may want a tissue handy.

It was Wednesday, a day predicted to be cloudy and cold with possible snow showers in the afternoon. The perfect day to be inside as I had a good project to focus on. But first, something lovely to light my day. I realized, after I’d taken a few pictures, that the sparkle of a tea light in the unique beauty of mercury glass could not easily be captured with a camera. It’s quite magical, so I’ll offer my best try, and you can imagine the light shimmering within.

At a certain point in the late morning I felt restless and too much inside. The sky had been a nearly colorless grey-white since daybreak and was less than inviting, but I needed some fresh air. I opened the side door to my porch and was greeted by a chorus of happy song. The many sparrows that abound around the house raised their small voices to the sky from the privet hedge and cheered my heart. Soon I heard  the nasal call of a Canada goose overhead, then three, then perhaps seven or so, as they winged their way southward, dark silhouettes against the paleness.

Despite the faded grey skies, I felt inspired to step outside, even if for a little while. The privet hedge nearest my driveway remains green for a surprisingly long time. However, with the temperatures now dipping to 18 degrees at night, even these leaves are turning and starting to fall.

Before the spring earlier this year, I had an arborist come out to trim it and cut back the vines that insinuate themselves among the gentler stalks of the hedge. There is no killing the intruders as all their roots are totally entangled, but once cut back, I can keep a better eye on the vines and continue cutting them to the ground. I watched the arborist out my tall office window – he was an artisan with a ladder, clipping here and there, then climbing down and standing back, assessing his work, much like an artist at an easel. It was a delight to watch him trim the branches so carefully to their natural inclinations. When done, he assured me that it would look beautiful and grow wonderfully in the spring because privet hedge loves to be cut back. He was right.

The tall tree in the furthest corner of the yard was a pattern of lace in the sky, also still holding on to some of its last leaves. In the foreground to the left is more privet hedge which the owner lets grow tall and wild for privacy. Totally untended for a while now, however, it has slender maples growing here and there, and I wonder if they might choke it out at some point. On the occasions that the hedge was trimmed, it was always with a chainsaw, so I suspect my little area of privet along the driveway may be counting itself lucky indeed.

At the corner of my front porch is a tall shrub, perhaps some sort of hemlock. From the recent rains, it was covered with droplets of water, sparkling without the benefit of sun, just catching whatever light they could, and looking quite festive.

Also still wet from the rains of the night before, the branches of this evergreen glistened with moisture, cradling several of the now crisp maple leaves that have flown by from neighboring trees. This shrub has quadrupled in size since I’ve lived here – it’s in a very happy spot. It didn’t get its chainsaw shaping this year, so I hand trimmed it myself to keep its nice natural shape. Still, I suspect it will need more attention come spring; it has a very expansive nature and gets just the right amount of sun to fulfill its dreams.

Holding on to its once-bright green leaves is another shrub, sporting its cheery red berries. The branches are a tangle of dark criss-crossing patterns, and the leaves have now turned coral and copper, soon to join the slumbering grass below.

I didn’t venture far. It wasn’t that kind of day. But the caroling sparrows and gently changing plant life around my house and yard brightened my spirit, and invited me back into myself.

 

 

 

The Path

This morning I got a reply from my niece to my “heads-up” e-mail to her, letting her know a package was soon to arrive with gift books for my great-nephew. He’s a big reader, and also very resourceful around Christmastime in looking for presents, I’m told.

Knowing I have aspirations to be published in children’s books as an author and hopefully, illustrator, she included a photo of the “pre-book” cover of an illustrator she met at a recent art show. The illustration was charming. And before I knew it, tears were streaming down my face as I felt so very far from my hopes and dreams. So far from even finding the time to write and draw with all that’s on my plate right now. And, well, that’s exactly what I had to do today – get on with what’s on my plate, my work.

First I turned on a few hours of music from Spirit Tribe Awakening – music that contains ancient healing frequencies, aligning with our heart chakra and helping release negativity with specific sound vibrations. This always helps. As I listened and watched the beautiful images of nature, I felt more peaceful, and then a desire to find more beautiful images.

Feeling so far from my path can sometimes leave me feeling utterly helpless, but I thought that I might be helped with the beauty of imagery. The result is what you see here. Paths of every kind.

And though I am still feeling a bit sad, between the music and images I am feeling more hopeful. It was the image of the cobblestoned street that first drew me in, and so  I began to walk …

Sometimes our paths are crooked …

Sometimes inspiring …

Sometimes our path seems to totally disappear.

Sometimes we travel our path with others …

But in the end, it is our path, and ours alone. And while it may be a lonely or hard path at times, it shines like the freshest of rains and mirrors the beauty that yearns from within.
I’ll get there.
We’ll get there.

 

Thank you to all the photographers whose wonderful photos I have used above and to freeimages.com for offering the works of these talented individuals to others.

Christmas is coming, and for those who still love the tradition of sending real, 3-dimensional cards, I have something special for you – my newest Frenchie Christmas card. This is one of the holiday cards now available with complete details in my Etsy shop – JBalsamFrenchieArt – plus sets of blank notecards which would make great gifts. All the artwork and design are my own, the illustrations drawn in colored pencil, occasionally with watercolor, and printed right here in the U.S.A.

If you have a Frenchie, a friend with one, or just want something cute featuring the breed as a gift, stop by and visit my shop. And please, spread the word!

Thanks so much!

 

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