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November Walk

While waiting for needed input on a number of projects yesterday, I decided to take the walk I’d been putting off. It was sunny and crisp, and even in mid-afternoon, with the shorter days, the light was angling through the trees and casting long shadows.

Ornamental grasses flanking a walkway sport their furry blooms. Many trees in the area have lost the majority of their leaves.

Long shadows are cast by an already lowering sun.
In the background, a sparkling river moseys south.

Something new for me when I moved to this side of the state was the concept of rural delivery. The postal carrier does not bring mail to the mailbox by your front door, but instead leaves it in mailboxes which stand alone or in groups at the edge of properties and driveways. Certainly makes sense considering how much of this area is farmland!

My town was initially established in the mid 18th century, a mill town on the river, but was not officially incorporated with its current name until 1925. It went through many names, among them Burnt Mills after the grist mill was destroyed by fire in 1769. Many older buildings grace the town, this one (I’m estimating late 1800’s) is converted to a barber shop and residence.

Trees along the riverbank holding on to the last of their leaves.

Looking north, the Delaware is a sea of calm. Whether due to rain or the extended warmth of much of the fall season, there were not many of the brilliant oranges and reds to be found among the trees this year. Instead, the green leaves seemed to fade to dull yellows and browns.

A group of Canada geese swim, relax, and feed at the edge of the riverbank.

An oak leaf on the textured concrete bridge path looks both crisp and leathery. It’s shadow seems to have another life altogether, something insectile.

A train once connected Phillipsburg about 1/2 hour north of my town all the way south to Lambertville, paralleling the river. The tracks were recently cleared and maintained to allow a train to travel several miles for fun trips for passengers at an annual event. The mournful whistle of the steam engine could be heard for two days, and then on occasion afterward.

Walking with my camera always opens my eyes to my surroundings, and causes me to be very grateful to live where I do – an older, established community with a long history, and where people still are gracious and kind.

I say `taking back’, because it can be too often that we have given it away. To others, to circumstances, to fears. And sometimes without even being aware that that is why we feel the way we do. I am musing on this because I watch myself, sometimes undulating like the waves, feeling strong, and then suddenly, even if for only a moment, powerless. I remind myself, we are never truly powerless. Even though it can certainly feel that way at times. It’s another life lesson – taking back our power, and remembering that we always have the choice to do so. If we feel we can’t? Well, as one of my favorite people, Louise Hay, has always said, “It’s only a thought, and a thought can be changed.”

Here’s another woman’s thought about that. Susan Polis Schultz says, “This life is yours. Take the power to choose what you want to do and do it well. Take the power to love what you want in life and love it honestly. Take the power to walk in the forest and be a part of nature. Take the power to control your own life. No one else can do it for you. Take the power to make your life happy.”

Happiness is also a choice, much as taking back our power is and they are inexorably intertwined. When we feel in control of our lives, we tend to be happy. We are not living according to the fear of others’ expectations (be they past or present), or of what will happen next. We are not filled with doubts.

This is our time on this planet. We can live in our space and our truth, and know what’s important to us. We have the right to pursue and find what brings happiness and tranquility into our lives. It may be a journey, but I do believe we can be there in this moment. We can live lighter and more freely, more optimistically.

In addition to my classic A.A. Milne Winnie the Pooh books, I also have a book by Benjamin Hoff titled The Tao of Pooh in which we realize what a zen-like – and therefore, powerful – character Winnie the Pooh really is.

In the wise words of author A.A. Milne,

“What day is it?”
It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
My favorite day,” said Pooh.”

And that’s how it’s done.

How many times have you finished a book, and it was so good that you wanted to go back to the beginning and read it again? I’ve felt that way; I think we all have. But how many times have you actually done it? I’m guessing you haven’t, and until now, neither have I. Until I read The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee.

This is an amazing historical novel, written in first person by a young woman, who, at the opening of the book, is making her entrance at the Sénat Bal in Paris, autumn of 1882. She is “La Genérale”,  Lilliet Berne, famed opera singer and a falcon soprano. She is approached by a novelist who dares to get her attention, and asks her to listen to his proposition – a story he has in his possession, to which a score will be written by a promising composer, an original role created just for her. Such a thing is the apex of an opera’s singer career. And then Lilliet hears how much of the story is her own past life, which, if it came to light, would destroy her career. So few know her past; who would want to see her fall? And so begins our story.

We return to Lilliet’s beginnings in the then free-state of Minnesota in 1866, sixteen years old, when she loses her entire family to scarlet fever. Alone and practically penniless, she decides to cross the country, and then the ocean, to find her mother’s only sister in Switzerland. The ensuing story unfolds in endless twists and turns of Lilliet’s trying to survive, becoming a circus equestrienne, a courtesan, later purchased by the tenor, the keeper of the empresses’s furs, and an opera singer. This all takes place largely in Paris during and after the reign of Emperor Louis Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie.

The Queen of the Night is a very complex novel. There is subterfuge, characters using each other and being used, and many unexpected betrayals. Set against the backdrop of an opulent Paris as well as the utter desolation after the Prussian attack, there is also opera, loyalty, friendship, devotion, and most importantly, love. One might say that this is a love story, but truly, it is so much more. When I decided to reread this book, I was initially aware it was because there was so much going on, that I knew I had missed certain things, and I needed to feel that I really understood everything.

But as I approach the final chapters this second time, I know that a major attraction for me is Lilliet Berne herself. I found Lilliet to be an amazing heroine, who fights to stay alive, to try to be whatever it is she is born to be, despite not knowing at all what that might be for so long. She starts our story as an orphaned girl of sixteen, and ends … well, I can’t really tell you that. I can say that this is a demanding book, not one to be read when you’re tired or distracted, because I guarantee, you will miss something critical. But it is also one you cannot put down. Alexander Chee is highly successful in writing a story with fine attention to rich historical detail, and also for creating characters who will live in your imagination between each reading and after.

As the summer has ambled on, turning gently into the 40’s and 50’s at night, certain of the flowers and shrubs begin to lose their color, their energy to stand tall, their vibrancy. Such is the case each year with the beautiful snowball hydrangeas (as I call them.) They produce huge balls of snow white flowers in the spring which turn to the softest lime green as summer glides through. In late August, the canes bend low to the ground, and the once white snowballs now begin to turn to rust and copper. This is what I observed in the garden that surrounds my back porch.

And then, about a week ago, a herald appeared – a new, small white snowball. The temperatures had not gotten warmer; in fact, cooler nights had arrived when it bloomed. I am enchanted. And somehow heartened, as if a messenger of hope had appeared in the midst of so much worldly turmoil. The leaves of this large plant are drooping, crumbling at the edges, yet bright and tall stands a youngster in their midst. So I thought to photograph this resistor of cold nights, this affirmer of life among his fellow snowballs, who slowly yield to the coming of fall.

The snowball hydrangeas look equally magnificent as they dress for fall, slipping gradually into their new and deep copper attire.

I am a believer in signs and synchronicity (which people often refer to as “coincidence” or “accidents”). I can’t be sure what message this lovely upstart is meant to bring, if any, but it brought me a renewed wonder in nature and her whims; a small feeling that anything is possible; and a smile every time I look at it. And that’s quite enough.

I did not go on my brief photographic venture alone. I was joined by Pumpkin, who lives next door, and who thought to also enjoy the simple wonders of a sunny morning.

 

Namaste on TV

This is a re-blog of a previous post of mine from 2013. In light of so many things – the mass shooting in Las Vegas, the callousness and bias of our leader(s), the weather patterns that can only get worse as we ignore the needs of our beautiful Earth – I am reminded of the ever growing need to offset – to combat – hate, and to see the divine in one another. All of us. More than ever, we need to be kind and to forgive. This TV show was always a favorite of mine, and is the epitome of finding and acknowledging the light in one another, no matter how dim it may seem to shine.

In following an unexpected trail of webby bread crumbs recently, I came to a YouTube video of Joan of Arcadia.

256px-JoaI always loved this show and also the show’s theme song by Joan Osbourne, One of Us. I loved the premise of Joan Girardi, (Amber Tamblyn), finding God each week in everyday people – a fellow student, a mime, a homeless man, a club DJ, a girl on the color guard at school, a soccer mom, the lunch lady, the dog walker,  and the list goes on.  The message is ultimately about the Divine in each of us, and the essence of the greeting Namaste. The song’s refrain is this:

What if God was one of us,
just a slob like one of us,
just a stranger on the bus
trying to make his way home.

Namaste is a greeting used by many Hindu, Taoist and Buddhists which literally means “I bow to you.” It is said with the hands together in prayer position over the heart chakra and with a bow of the head. It is the divine spark in one person acknowledging the divine spark in another. To me it is one and the same as to what Joan of Arcadia was all about … acknowledging the divine in each other – finding the divine in each other – sometimes in the most unexpected places. As said in Wikipedia, (where you can also read more about the show’s premise), “No specific mention of any “true” religion is ever made, and God quotes Bob Dylan, Emily Dickinson and the Beatles, rather than any scripture or verse”  and is always very human in his/her appearances. I suppose it may be easy to look at this TV show in the light of one religion, but  in the end … the message is the same, and enlightening from any angle.

Listen to the song –

Take a look –

 

 

 

That’s not what we usually see, is it? More often we find articles about engendering the love of reading in kids.

So I was pretty impressed to find in the September 2017 issue of Family Circle an article about the importance of reading for pleasure. I assume that many of you reading this blog, as writers, are already immersed in a regular reading habit, but this short article with “how-to” tips addresses how we, as women, are pulled in so many directions that we often let reading slide. And it’s true; an inordinate involvement with our phones, TV, internet – not to mention the real-life issues of our families and work – can leave us feeling we have no time to read.

But a Yale linguistics professor, Kenneth Pugh, mentions the importance of reading for pleasure as highly important for our emotional health as well as strengthening our creativity. Tips on how to get back into reading include never leaving home without a book; literally penciling in time in our daily schedule for reading; swapping a chunk of our TV addiction for reading time; keeping a book on our nightstand, etc.

For anyone not sure of how to get back into reading, the article suggested as number one – your local librarian. Librarians are a fantastic source of knowledge of the books on their shelves and with a few questions, can have you in a book you love in no time. A good local bookseller can do the same. In addition, they recommended the New York Times Best Seller list, Goodreads.com, or 2017 Popsugar Reading Challenge. What I loved most about seeing this article is that Family Circle is a magazine with a huge circulation of about 17, 560 readers that reaches a very mainstream audience.

Reading – and reading for pleasure – is important. I find myself concerned about all these moms glued to their phones. What kind of inspiration is that for their children? I’m hoping that a family-oriented magazine like this one will inspire more than a few women to reconsider their habits and pick up a book – for themselves, and also to read to their kids.

 

Spirit Bear Drawing

It was my plan to post a drawing I did of two whales. I went through my recent sketchbooks, and they seemed to have swam away. But what kept appealing to me was this pen and ink sketch I did of a spirit bear.

Spirit bears are snow white bears, not albinos, that live only in a specific area of Canada, the Great Bear Rainforest, one of the largest unspoiled temperate rainforests on earth. This is a partly protected area in the islands and coastal areas of British Columbia. They are actually a rare subspecies of the American black bear known as a Kermode bear, most of whom have dark coats. The double recessive gene for the white coat must be carried by both parents in order to produce the white spirit, or ghost, bear. They are looked on as sacred by the indigenous tribes of the area, and have become symbolic of these people’s fight against proposed desecration of the rainforest by those wishing to build a pipeline there. It is unclear how many spirit bears there actually are, but estimates run from 150 to 200.

Learn more about the Spirit Bear.

One of the very compelling features in a good novel can be place, where an author writes with such depth and attention to the environment inhabited by his characters that the location becomes a character all its own. I just finished The Ice Bridge by D.R.Macdonald, and was amazed at how quickly he had me immersed in the landscape of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia. This is an outstanding book in so many ways, not least of which was my having moved to the harsh, wintry landscape of Cape Seal Road right along with one of the main characters, Anna.

The intensely rich descriptions of the land and the nearby sea in every mood and facet imaginable captured my imagination. Anna is an artist, moved here from California, leaving her soon-to-be ex to rediscover her artistic self. Her drawings of the landscape, animals, and the many found objects she retrieves from both water and shore, further expand the reader’s feel for Cape Breton.

The story of her settling into the “weather-wracked” house once belonging to next door neighbor Red Murdock’s grandmother is a story in and of itself. While the jacket flap is right in saying it’s a story about love after love, it is also a story about a fading Scottish culture which once thrived in the area, and the changes that modern life has exacted on its residents. Each character in this small, somewhat forgotten community adds to the sense of place in Macdonald’s novel. He is, in my opinion, a brilliant writer who has seemingly effortlessly made me care about his characters in this slowly unfolding tale.

When Anna does something extremely foolish, it is hard to criticize her because the author has already portrayed her so completely and compassionately that we can only wonder what would make her do such a thing. The characters are real, and the conflict builds slowly through the friendships, past loves, danger, pain, and wonder of them all. And always the sea and sky, forest and field, so beautifully, beautifully rendered, from the challenges of winter through the final warming of spring in July.

What a masterful writer! What I also loved about this novel was Macdonald builds the suspense to the very end, and even with the ending given us, one can still wonder what might happen next. This is one where I was sorry to close the book and leave what I’d come to love in Cape Breton.

Jersey Fresh

Two words.

Tomatoes. Corn. (Well, lots more, really.)

This is the season – every summer fruit and vegetable growing in the Garden State is at its peak, and super delicious. I may be doing my food shopping this weekend, but I will not be picking up any produce at the supermarket. That I will get at one of the local farmstands, several of which are within a few miles of where I live.

New Jersey gets a bad rap. The first thing that many people see when they arrive in NJ is a massive array of oil refineries in Elizabeth and nearby areas. Visitors come from New York or the Newark airport, and sadly, this dirty, smoke-spewing sight is sometimes all they ever get to see.

But they don’t call us the Garden State for nothing! Right about now there are stands by the side of the road packed with fresh, delicious produce of every kind imaginable. Sometimes it’s from a farm; sometimes it’s just a local gardener sharing his or her backyard bounty.

Always accompanying these unattended and smaller stands is a lock box for you to put your money in. We’re all on the honor system out here – to put in the right amount and not take the contents. That’s another reason why my part of the state is so wonderful. That actually exists.

My guess is I’ll stop by Phillips Farm in Holland Township, which is looked over 24/7 by the Jersey Fresh guy, pictured here. Looking for fresh and delicious? Pass on by the refineries; drive across the state aways; take a scenic backroad, and that’s where you’ll find it. I’m already thinking tomato sandwich.

 

Peace of Mind – One of the agreements I made with myself many years ago to help insure my peace of mind is to never watch the “news” on TV before I go to bed. First of all, as you no doubt know, the “news” for quite some time has rarely been more than a reporting of horrible misfortunes that have befallen local people and people around the world. It is a laundry list of murders, robberies, rapes, fires and the like. And that’s just the local “news.” It gets much worse as we look at national and global events.

I have been taught – and believe – that is it harmful to our very souls to bring this pain and negativity into our dream state. We have a choice in this matter. It is not to say we should not be abreast of what is happening in the world, but the degree of how much, what form of media, and the source of information also need to be carefully considered. Still, it is unwise, IMHO, to take any of it in before we go to sleep.  I am also of the opinion that any news I truly need to know will come to me.

That said, I was about to turn the TV off last night when I saw that 20/20 was doing an hourlong feature on what recently transpired in Charlottesville. I watched. I shouldn’t have. I awoke with nightmares, shaken, deeply saddened, and angry. That’s no way to wake up. It jarred the first few hours of my day. Lesson learned – again – no “news” anywhere near bedtime. Since the events at Charlottesville and what happened after, I have been, and still am, just horrified at the displays of hatred I witnessed in this country and the lack of its immediate condemnation. Like so many, I am simply at a loss in the face of all of it.

An Unexpected Upside – and then there’s this. There is very little to watch on TV over the summer, but one thing I’ve come to enjoy is a very addictive game show called The Wall. Here’s what I really like about it – it’s good news. It’s always a pair that plays – husband/wife, siblings, friends – to win money, and just about every pair of contestants is playing for money to better the world. A recent husband/wife couple had spent their own money to buy a mobile unit that offers showers to the homeless in their city. They were playing to win money to buy one or more units, at a cost of $40,000 each, to be placed around the city to give more homeless people the opportunity to shower regularly. They hoped to expand their idea across the country. In addition to dignity, they also offered clean clothing with the shower.

As you can imagine, most homeless people would not want to be on TV, but in the video package for this couple, one homeless man, clean and nicely dressed, openly thanked them on camera and said, “Now I can look for a job.” Take that, all you haters. There is love and hope in the world, and on one night a week it’s being brought to you by, of all things … a game show.

Photo Notes: These were taken after a thunderstorm in the early evening. What is most bizarre is that the first two photos were taken within seconds of each other, and seemed to be affected by the angle of my camera. I have no way to explain this. The light, as is sometimes the case after a storm, was particularly eerie, as you can see in the violet tint of a maple, two shrubs and the brown fence in a corner of the yard.

The 5-Day Rule

Not to be confused with the 5-second rule (where some believe that if you drop something on the floor, it’s still safe to eat if you pick it up in 5 – maybe 3? – seconds. Yech.) Anyway, this is a whole different animal.

Look at that broad, open expanse – fabulous. Some basics, morning vitamins, access to everything. And that catalog lower left? About to run headlong into the 5-Day Rule!

I created the 5-Day Rule as a result of a massive cleaning effort on my part about 2 weeks ago. Wayyyy too much stuff on my desk, too many things in the way when I needed to get to the stacked sorters, too many chotchkas, just too many, too much and all a distraction. I was long overdue for a clean, inspiring workspace. But where was it all going to go?

I have 2 very spacious file cabinets and they were very full. But that’s where much of the paperwork on top of my desk had to go. It was a huge task and took the better part of 2 days. From those file cabinets I pulled outdated business papers; so many photos and materials from my long-ago dog rescue; and the old boyfriends. (I’ll always remember you in my heart, guys!) I pared and whittled and proceeded to fill both garbage and recycling containers — it was heaven.

Next, I filed away what needed to be filed and then, stripped the desk of what was left and cleaned it. What went back was only what I want and need, giving me complete access to the stacking shelves of current material that I use regularly. The desk is now a vast area of open workspace. Woo hoo!

Okay, so the Komodo dragon is a desktop essential. Somebody has to watch over the day’s work, right?

So what is the 5-Day Rule? Anything I put on the desk, such as that new mail order catalogue, for example, can only be on the desk for 5 days max. That gives me time to read it, order from it, whatever. After 5 days, any item has to be gone, whether in the trash or some other location. And I plan to be brutal about this. Dee Hock says, “Clean out a corner of your mind and creativity will instantly fill it.” I like that, and I’m sure it also applies to wherever we spend time in our work and creative efforts.  Feeling overwhelmed by clutter? Clear it – you’ll feel a cool breeze of creativity wash right over you. Really.

It’s not for a lack of things to write about that it’s been so long since I’ve last posted. My mind is always humming away with things I’d like to write about. But recently there were other insistent things pulling me away, be it work, a few rounds of a nasty virus, the need to be OUT and not at the computer … you know how it goes.

So what was the impetus to finally settle down and write? What you’re looking at right now. My blog — more correctly, my blog theme. Last night, while waiting for a response from WordPress, I actually wrote all this by hand away from my computer. At the time, I had no idea if what you’ve always seen visually and what I’ve known for the last so many years was gone forever or reclaimable. Because as of last night, thanks to something I did, my beloved blog had slipped into something new – the theme I’ve been planning for a new site promoting my graphic design services.

While I may be a bit more savvy than the average bear at the computer, I am also quite capable of occasionally screwing things up. I wouldn’t have found myself somewhat frantically waiting to hear back from the “happiness engineers” at WP if that weren’t true. I knew I could move my site back into the earlier theme, but would I lose my widgets and customization? That was the question. So trying not to panic or bang my head on my desk, I waited. (I got my answer today, and did have to rebuild my widgets – no way to retrieve my earlier version.)

So blog problem aside, there’s been plenty of other stuff on the happier end of the spectrum – fabulous and fresh Jersey produce; reading and reading and reading thanks to the wasteland that is summertime TV; getting out and about to new places both on my own and with friends, enjoying their company, a movie, good eats and more.

In the end, despite my initial panic, the WP theme issue is just another challenge, a bump in the road along the way, and a reminder that there are many things in life we cannot control. All we can really control are our thoughts and how we look at what happens in our lives. Sometimes easier said than done, but true nonetheless. Not all that miraculously, I survived to tell the tale, and look … it got me taking along my camera and writing again. Not so bad after all.

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