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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!

 

Thankful for Soup

Although fall does not technically end until the Winter Solstice, it is often felt to end with Thanksgiving, when all things Christmas and holiday ramp up in earnest. Today is Black Friday with all its manic sales and crazy competition, and one day of the year I am more than happy to stay put where I am.

But Thanksgiving was another story, and the perfect time to make a warming soup. Pictured is the Pumpkin Black Bean Soup I made, vegetarian, healthy, and delicious — onions, garlic, spices, black beans, tomatoes, pumpkin, and finished with a splash of balsamic vinegar. And served in one of my very favorite finds – black matte and gloss stoneware by Pfaltzgraff.

Presentation is an important aspect of food as we eat first with our eyes, so I love to photograph food. How rarely you see this in my posts is testament to how little time I have for cooking and baking nowadays, a sad comment as I truly enjoy doing both from scratch. And those lovely dishes? Though now closed, there used to be a Pfaltzgraff factory outlet, a dish-lover’s paradise, in nearby Flemington. A perfect bowl like this might run $8.00, but due to some usually invisible defect, it sold for $1.00, maybe two. Many mourned the outlet closing its doors, though it was a somewhat dangerous place for those who love dishes and cookware.

So while feeling spectacularly fortunate that I was able to buy such beautiful and durable stoneware for a pittance, I couldn’t help but think how fortunate I am in so many other ways — that in a world where people are shivering and suffering in the cold, I am able to have a safe, warm home; where people are dying of hunger, I can make a nourishing soup with the purest of ingredients; where people are in want of clean water – or any at all – I have what I need to make coffee and tea at the touch of a spigot.

And I am fortunate to enjoy the wonderful change of seasons where I live, golden fall easing into the chill and white of winter, so beautiful. For all these, and so much more, I am thankful.

 

The View from Here

I was up early this morning – earlier than I wanted to be. I padded into the back bedroom and looked out the window. It was beautiful out. The moon, still nearly full, had bathed all the trees  and rooftops in a soft-edged blue. I thought to run get my camera, but instead, just stayed and savored the way the moonlight created a landscape that we might only see for a few days each month.

The light and shade of blue looked like this:

 

In fact, had I wandered out of the house, around the corner, and down the road a short piece into the woods, I am sure it would have looked almost exactly like this. Absolutely magical.

And now, as daylight fades, I look to the west. The sky at the horizon is the softest rose and apricot pink, easing upwards into faded pale blue and pink clouds, the trees a web of stark shadows. Another stroke of beauty. As I write, it morphs into lavender, and soon it will be dark.

There are times in all our lives when we are just inundated with things – work, emotionally-charged events, health challenges, all kinds of demands … so many things out of our control. At such times, these beautiful moments seem to warrant no more than a passing glance as we rush on to whatever calls us next.

However, we are fortunate that the beauty around us continues to change and evolve softly, always waiting quietly for us to notice, to be inspired, to be grateful. And grateful I am. In the midst of all manner of recent events and demands in my personal and work life, I have known that periods of time like this change and evolve, too. I can stop and breathe in that blue moonlight, that dusky sunset, and know I am safe and the one constant thing in life is change.

Change is good. It can bring out the best in us if we let it. And always there’s some touch of beauty to light our way.

 

A Slow Fall

Fall this year seems different. It seems to be taking longer to be … well, fall. Not to complain. The days have been mostly sunny and in the 70’s for weeks, and in the 50’s-60’s at night. Heaven, really.

On my front porch, fall has arrived at my door with a basket of leaves and a pumpkin I picked up from Melick’s Farm in Oldwick a few days ago. In the morning sun, it glows so nicely.

Meanwhile, on my back porch, summer still reigns, and the vivid pop of color from Impatiens cheers up the quiet afternoons.

And the coleus (which you saw a few posts back) just continues to grow like wildfire. The will to live and grow that these plants have is undeniable, and I have already decided that they will stay in their favorite spot until the frost, whenever that may be. I’ll be sorry when they go – they’re such a bright spot when I go down to get the mail or hop in the car. I don’t think I’ve ever been more vigilant about a plant’s needs. Especially when all they ask is to be watered.

Inside, fall has come to grace the spots that welcome seasonal touches … the oak washstand in the hallway, and spots all about the house that welcome autumn colors and textures. Likewise I have switched my dishes to those I use for fall and winter, and am happy to put away the bright colors of spring and summer.

There’s something so home-y about the fall colors, so cozy and warm.

Outside, the trees have not yet turned color, not many leaves even fallen yet. Days are beginning to get noticeably shorter. Apples are coming in to the local farmstands, along with pumpkins and gourds of every color and pattern, though there’s still plenty of fabulous corn and tomatoes to be had. Soon there’ll be freshly pressed cider, and a chill to the air.

Fall coming slowly is just fine.

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