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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.

I do. Even if I’m not doing very much of it at this very moment.

Yesterday I received a notice from Pinterest that someone had pinned one of my French Bulldog drawings from one of my boards which features only my own Frenchie artwork. (I have others I’m working on, but they’re not active yet.)

I don’t know why I feel so inordinately touched when someone pins one of my drawings, but I do. Why do I still feel so surprised when someone appreciates my work? Since many people actually do, I thought to share a drawing I did not too long ago of a grey wolf.

I have a deep fondness for wolves and feel very connected to them. I actually feel connected to all animals, and my work in Frenchies has simply been part of my path. When I visited the board where this kind person had pinned my French Bulldog pencil drawing I was greeted not with just Frenchies, but drawings of all kinds and subjects. I was entranced. They reminded me of how much I really do love to draw. I felt inspired.

I realized I need to make time. Not find it, but make it. It’s a challenge in an overly busy schedule, but when I looked at all those drawings, I felt happy. I felt happy because I know that that’s inside me. And I don’t have to draw for a reason, such as working on my portfolio or illustrating one of my picture books; I can draw just because I like to draw. It’s seems like such a novel idea, yet it’s hardly a new one.

And so, once again, I am offered a lesson I haven’t yet learned – different time in my life, different presentation, somewhat of a variation on a theme. I do believe that we all have lessons to learn in our lives, and we will be given them again and again until we catch on. Sometimes I feel like a pretty slow learner, but I’m sure it’s all unfolding exactly as it should.

And for those who’ve read this post, and who very possibly agree, I thank you for stopping by, for briefly being part of my world and perhaps sharing yours, both of us unfolding together.

 

There are just periods when one cannot find the time – or brain – to post. Really, I’m kind of still in one of those, but I guess I had to share my love of books – and this amazing haul – with you book lovers out there. Today was day #1 of the annual Hunterdon County Library Book Sale. And below is what I brought home, limited only by the fact that I literally could not carry any more. (Though the library folks said they’d be happy to help me get more to my car. 🙂

This year, I went with a list – some MG/YA (since I continue to write children’s books, I always want to read the good stuff out there): a goodly bunch of fiction titles; and a selection from a list my friend had recently sent me from Buzzfeed entitled 37 Books with Plot Twists that Will Blow Your Mind. Hey, that sounded promising, so I perused the list, eliminated those I’d already read, and added those of interest to my library sale list. Now I was ready to go!

Amazingly, I actually found 6 from my list – The Westing Game – Ellen Raskin and Savvy – Ingrid Law (both MG/YA); The Thirteenth Tale – Diane Setterfield; Fingersmith – Sarah Waters; and The Queen of the Night – Alexander Chee from the “plot twist” list. While I couldn’t find others from the Buzzfeed group, I did find alternative books by a couple of the authors, so picked upThe City of Falling Angels – John Berendt, in place of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and The Infinite Plan – Isabel Allende, in place of The House of the Spirits – a chance to check out new authors.

And then there were these that I just happened upon – The Silent Boy by Lois Lowry because The Giver and Gathering Blue were excellent; Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver because she’s one of my favorite authors; I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak because The Book Thief is one of my favorite all-time books and I promised myself I’d read something else of his and try not to compare; Forever – Pete Hamill because I love the premise and he’s an excellent writer; Morality for Beautiful Girls – Alexander McCall Smith as I love his #1 Ladies Detective Agency series; The Perks of Being A Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky (MG) – just wanted to read it;  same for Evermore – Alyson Noel (YA) and Ape House by Sara Gruen.

And then, The Art of Racing in the Rain –  Garth Stein, recommended highly to me years ago by my dearest friend, since passed over; Pushing the Bear – A Novel of the Trail of Tears – Diane Glancy, because I know this will touch me deeply; and Louise Penny’s Still Life in excellent condition, a wee gift to my own town’s small local library for their shelves (I had to borrow the copy I’d read from the county library). And there you have it.

The two big questions: where will I put them all? and what will I read first after I finish the wonderful book I’m already reading? The first is a minor problem but solvable; the second – just a delicious conundrum. I wish you all happy reading – it is truly one of the riches in our lives.

It may be an ever-increasing digital world, but I know for a fact that there’s a whole bunch of us out here who just love opening our mailboxes and finding a real,honest-to-goodness, 3-D paper card inside. Call us old-fashioned, call us what you will, but we’re still out here!

So … if you like receiving cards and know folks who feel the same, why not send this adorable French Bulldog blank notecard (my original art) to someone who would appreciate it. This Frenchie pup is wearing her cutest garden finery and ready to go.

The card measures 4.25″ x 6″, full color, and soft gloss outside, nice matte surface inside for easy writing. 10 cards to a pack with white envelopes, packaged in a crystal clear acrylic sleeve. And this particular drawing even earned me a spot as a Finalist in the Dog Writers’ Association of America competition in the Illustration category!

Like this idea? Purchase them here and Happy Spring!

 

Women’s Words

I reached for a pocketed folder on my office bookcase and heard a small crash. I looked down and it was a little volume titled Great “Quotes” from Great Women!

I hadn’t looked at this in quite some time, but I am never one to ignore books jumping off a shelf! I always assume events like these are the Universe’s way of pointing out something to me, even if just to slow down my workday and take a look. I had a business meeting coming up and wanted to get all my ducks in a row, but then there was this.

I picked this little collection up back in 1984. It is dedicated to “all the great women whose words have motivated, inspired and brought tears and laughter into our lives.” I suspect were this book published today it would be greatly expanded.

Those quoted are a cross section of women in politics or whose husbands were in politics, leaders, authors, actresses, singers, even comediennes. One of my favorite quotes is by Elaine Boosler, “I’m just a person trapped inside a woman’s body.”

My little break of inspiration was much needed when this book landed on the floor. I’m still smiling as I think of it. I hope these few quotes do the same for you. Here’s another, this one from Edith Armstrong: “I keep the telephone of my mind open to peace, harmony, health, love and abundance. Then whenever doubt, anxiety or fear try to call me, they keep getting a busy signal and soon they’ll forget my number.”

Now why my little Jazzy, you may ask? Well, first, because I can. And second, because that peaceful repose is a reminder to be sure to take in some sun and some time to relax whenever you can. I accept that as her inspirational contribution to the post, as it’s always great advice.

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

 

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