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Archive for the ‘Animals’ Category

Please welcome not only an adorable little Frenchie baby, but a touch of nostalgia for times gone by, when a child might be excited to find a real Steiff pull toy underneath the tree. The lights were much bigger, the ornaments glass, and the smell of balsam pine wafted through the house.

Our little pied girl will soon find there’s nothing to worry about with her new stuffed friend, but still she wonders … could she come home with you, then visit your friends and family? You can find her plus more holiday cards, gift ideas, and my new journal in my shop on Etsy. Please stop by!

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If anything is ever true, it’s that everything always takes longer than you think it will. It’s been beyond a month’s journey just to get my new Frenchie journal ready to greet the world on Etsy and, I hope, to find some appreciative buyers. I created the journal, put together all the artwork, front and back, over 2 months ago, but all that’s entailed in actually getting it printed and ready to market is quite another story. But at last … here it is!

I had a small business with French bulldog notecards and holiday/Christmas cards a number of years ago. For a variety of reasons, it made sense to put it to the side at the time, but the inspiration to start it up again with some new and fresh ideas has been twinkling inside me for a while now. As a result, I am re-launching it with this journal which features my own artwork, front and back. On the back is a pencil sketch of a French Bulldog puppy that I included on Pinterest and which became, much to my surprise, wildly popular between views and saves. I am going to hand sign the drawing on each journal, so anyone inspired to frame it will have a bona-fide signed print of my artwork!

I am so pleased to have my shop on Etsy (where you will also find my Christmas and holiday cards) – it’s a great venue for creative people to sell their art, high quality crafts, and more. There’s also a lot to know, so I am starting with sales to North America first and as I get the hang of how everything works, I will expand to Europe next. (I know there are a lot of Frenchie lovers in Europe, so please be patient – I am a work in progress myself.) If you’d like to check out my new journal and holiday cards, please stop by my shop.

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As a graphic designer, I work on a wide variety of projects – ads, booklet, flyers, magazines, fund-raising pieces, websites, etc – which I love, because it keeps me interested and challenged. I have been expanding my involvement in children’s books, helping authors get self-published through my design work. Up to this point, I have focused exclusively on picture books … until now.

Approached by a children’s writer I know to do a chapter book, I hesitated. I do love working on picture books, and wondered if maybe I should stay with what I know best. Well, I took the challenge and the result is the first chapter book I designed, The Last Rhino, by Deb Stevenson. Deb, illustrator Morgan Spicer, and I couldn’t be happier with the final product.

If interested in reading more on my initial journey with chapter books, please visit my graphics blog. To learn more about The Last Rhino, just click on the image above, or watch Deb’s outstanding trailer.

 

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A blogging friend across the pond at Harvesting Hecate took up a writing challenge, and in turn, Andrea chose three fellow bloggers to carry on the torch. I am honored to be one of the people she chose, and though I am woefully behind time-wise, I do have a few thoughts on this subject. The challenge entails writing about the chosen word and including two quotes, then passing on the challenge to three others. Her word was “joy” and the link above will take you to her thoughts about it. The word Andrea suggested is `Vision.’

As an artist, vision is pretty much everything to me. Over a lifetime I came to understand that people do not all see the same. For much of my life, I always thought that what I saw, you saw.  I simply wasn’t aware of my “vision” as unique and my own miraculous gift. Now I know differently. Below are examples of how I perceive the world – my vision – through my photographs. So yes, some writing, and two quotes I’m loving right now, and my interpretation of the word vision.

Our vision takes us far and into realms of exquisite color …

It gives us a sense of scale …

finds us dreaming in the mist …

or thinking ahead.

Our vision brings us close and aware of texture …

and down roads familiar and well-remembered.

It reminds us that we eat with our eyes first!

Vision brings us back to childhood memories.

Vision takes us places in and around where we live …

and allows us to see through the eyes of others.

It reminds us of the never-ending wonders and beauty of nature.

“Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion.”
Rumi

Vision riles up our tastebuds …

and makes us curious about our world.

Vision reminds us of life’s most wonderful small joys …

“If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain.” ~ Emily Dickinson

and to be thankful for all we have.

And then there’s the vision of what we hold within … what forms our dreams, our feelings, our aspirations and inspirations. And what better way to guide us on our inner path than light?


And now I pass on the challenge to 3 more bloggers – Cynthia at cynthiasreyes.com, Pam at roughwighting, and Lavinia at Salmon Brook Farms. If you choose to accept this challenge, your word is `wonder’.

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At a certain point in life we figure we’ve heard just about all the clever phrases there are, right? Well, I recently learned differently.

The photos here will illustrate a point. All these gorgeous photographs were taken by John Bergmann, the General Manager of Popcorn Park Animal Refuge, aka Popcorn Park.

I know John for a very long time now. I work with the organization doing their fundraising, graphics design, writing, and in a variety of other capacities over the years. I am now working on their 2019 calendar.

Each year, I receive many photos from staff and others, but, by far, the largest amount of photos of Popcorn Park comes from John. (You can click on any photo to learn more about the animal.)

Let me mention two things here. One, Popcorn Park is a sanctuary to exotics, wildlife, farm animals, and birds. All of its residents were rescued from cruelty, neglect, abandonment, exploitation, inappropriate ownership, injury, or handicap. None were safe in his or her existing situation.

Two, as a photographer, John loves to take photos of all the animals, from the smallest birds, to turtles in the pond, to wildlife, to the exotics. His favorite, though, is photographing the big cats.

Each year when I do the calendar, and during the year as well, I look forward to seeing John’s stunning shots. In a conversation about his submissions for this year, I complimented him on all the shots of the parakeets in the aviary. Each was lovelier than the next, and all were positively luminous.

Now John is a very modest guy. His response to my compliments?
(Here comes the catchy phrase.)

“Even a blind dog finds a bone once in a while.”

Ahhhh, John. Not only have I never heard that before, but it’s just downright funny. As I said, way too modest.

Should you want to read more on Popcorn Park, you can visit them on the Associated Humane Societies/Popcorn Park website, and/or on the Popcorn Park Facebook page, where you can see more of John’s photographs and learn more about the refuge residents and their progress, as well as some stories about our adjoining animal shelter. You can also visit – they’re located in Forked River, Ocean County, NJ

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Yes, I find crows magical, and I am a fan. Whoa, whoa! OK, all you farmers out there – I see you throwing your hands up in the air with a loud and unified “OY!” But hear me out. Let’s look at these magnificent creatures from three standpoints – science, myth and magic, and personal experience.

First a little science. Did you know that crows and ravens (same family) and macaws have the highest brain to skull ratio of any bird on the planet? In fact, their brain to skull ratio is higher than in humans! This in part accounts for their high intelligence, not to mention they have been on the planet for 60-65 million years.  Crows also have a skill accorded to one of the most intelligent mammals on earth, the great apes, i.e. they create and use tools. Crows also will gather around one of their own when it has died to try and determine the cause of its death. They will  learn the facial configuration of a mean human and teach all other crows to know it as such and avoid that human. When a crow leaves its flock and joins another, it immediately acquires their “dialect” by taking on the characteristics of the most popular crows in that flock. No intellectual slouches, these crows. Learn more about them.

The magic. When I designed my own website a number of years ago, I drew the header for it myself. The header featured none other than the crow, and I have utilized that symbol for my blogs. Why?

Because in certain cultures and mythology, the crow is believed to be the symbol of magic and creativity, something near and dear to every artist’s soul. In some cultures the crow has been the symbol of evil and/or death, juxtaposed against the white of the dove and purity. I don’t see life in black and white terms, and for all their brilliance, I like the crow’s mythology in Native American terms and Crow Medicine. As such, Crow is a guide on the path to spirituality and enlightenment and is the keeper of sacred law. It is said that Crow has known the darkness and when they appear in our lives, may be guides through our own darkness on the path to enlightenment. Granted, these may be mythological ideas, but it can be said that all religious/spiritual beliefs are mythology, just different. I am not arguing that point, just drawn to the many inspiring aspects of the beautiful and intelligent crow.

Personal experience. I have a very deep back porch, and during the day, next to my back door, is a bowl of water and dry food for my neighbor’s cat. I’m working at my computer when I hear a rather loud caw. “That sounds mighty close,” I think. I look out the back door, and there is a good-sized crow pilfering the dry food. She sees me and flies away. Not 10 minutes later, I hear the caw again. I appear and she flies away. Shortly thereafter, out of the corner of my eye, I see a flash of black through the side door window. She has learned in only two incidents that her caw brings me to the door, and now flies in silently. Seeing me again, her next attempt was from a different angle that I could not easily see.

Another time, I hear muted crow noises and slip quietly and unseen to watch four of them on the porch. They are talking amongst themselves and jostling for position, pushing one another away from the cat food bowl. I take their verbiage to mean “Wait your turn” and “Get out of my way.”  It is likely a dominance issue. I knock on the window and they disappear, but I could have watched their antics for hours; they were quite amusing. Now, as a result of this, I have to bring in the dry food for a while.

Occasionally, I will see a crow on my walks or on the fence near the window where I work. I always say hello and am sometimes acknowledged with a look and a “caw”. When a crow -– or any animal – appears unexpectedly and/or repeatedly in my life, I may look into its possible meaning. In the case of a crow, I might be at a crossroads, looking for or ready for a change, and need to pull more on my own intuition. Even if that has nothing to do with the crow, when is it ever a bad idea?

One last thought .. there is so much amazing art regarding crows, among them gorgeous paintings by Susan Seddon-Boulet ( above left), but also in a favorite children’s book, Crow Call by Lois Lowry and revered illustrator, Bagram Ibatoulline.

The natural world is filled with wonder and beauty. Depending on the day, I could happily write about pangolins, pandas, or hammerhead sharks. Today, it’s crows.

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Life sometimes pulls us in one direction … then another … then another. Grabs us by the collar and says, “You need to take care of this, but be sure you do this, oh! and this!” The end result is we writers look quite absent from our blogs from time to time. But be assured, this writer is still here, just pulled in all those directions.

There’s been a boatload of work, which, as a freelancer, I will never complain about; preparation for my being a guest speaker at an Animal Writers Workshop (you can check that out here); preparation for the annual SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) June Conference coming up in 2 weeks; the usual (un)expected running around for all manner of things, some pleasant, some less so; and, of course, reading! No matter what else is happening, I am always reading.

To this end, I’m going to catch you up on the wonderful books I’ve enjoyed.

After reading The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein it was clear that I wanted to read more from this great mind. I perused Goodreads and requested A Sudden Light from my library. What a magnificent book. I will officially now read anything this man writes. A Sudden Light is a story told in the first person by 14-year-old Trevor who travels with his father to the family’s Riddell House in Oregon. His parents’ marriage is in trouble, and this trip to meet his aunt and grandfather is to allegedly settle some financial issues, put the grandfather in a nursing home, and dispose of the house. The home’s exterior is constructed of huge trees, and was built by Elijah, Trevor’s timber baron great grandfather. Trevor soon finds they are not alone in the house; there is a ghost, who has remained to see that Elijah’s last wishes be carried out, that the property be returned to a natural state as amends for the desecration he caused to the land. Somehow Stein has managed to put together an historical novel, a compelling ghost story, a tale of multi-generational conflicts and family secrets against a backdrop of the Pacific Northwest. Read more here and scroll down and visit The North Estate. Be sure not to read any spoilers!

Following this, I read The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin, a novel (her first) with a most unusual premise. Four children, brothers and sisters edging into adolescence, hot and bored in the Lower East Side summer of 1969, decide to visit a gypsy fortune teller who is said to be able to give you the exact day you will die. The kids do it on a lark, just for something to do. The eldest brags about how far in the future her date is; she’ll live to a ripe old age. Another sibling shares, but the two others are clearly shaken and will not reveal their dates. It’s all just a joke anyway, right? The following chapters follow the life of each child, as the reader, in suspended animation, follows the sibling’s choices leading up to the possible fulfillment of their individual prophecies. Warm, engrossing, a fascinating premise, and very well-written.

I then read the next in the Inspector Armand Gamache mystery series by Louise Penny. I never thought I’d be interested in reading a series by anyone (at least not after my beloved Nancy Drew mysteries from my childhood) but Louise Penny changed my mind. Inspired by a post by fellow blogger Cynthia Reyes, I picked up a couple of Penny’s books from my local library and was very impressed. So much so, in fact, that I decided to read the entire series from the beginning (not one right after the other, but interspersed among other reading.) What a great decision! Penny is an excellent writer who knows how to hook you from beginning to end. With a cast of characters that one becomes more attached to with each book, mysteries unfold to be solved by Chief Inspector Armand  Gamache of the Surété of Quebec, the premiere investigative arm of homicide in that province. The Brutal Telling is book #5 and calls upon Gamache to solve the murder of an unknown individual whose cabin is buried in the woods surrounding the quaint village of Three Pines. The evidence points to a seemingly unlikely character, which can only leave the reader quite puzzled. Are they  really capable of murder? The book ends with that individual’s arrest, and we are left wondering.

The next book in the series, Bury Your Dead, is considered a companion to this one, so I elected to read it right after, and it does pick up quite literally where The Brutal Telling ended. What is engaging about Penny’s writing is that she is not just writing simple mysteries, but increasingly complex novels which explore Canadian culture and history from Vancouver to Quebec’s founder, Samuel de Champlain, to revered artists. Her characters grow realistically and empathically, and it’s very easy to become involved in their lives and the small town of Three Pines. If you like an absorbing mystery that will also give you a little more to sink your teeth into, look into this series. I suggest you start with the first in the series, A Still Life. There is a growing richness with each subsequent novel, and Penny will always keep you guessing until the end. Oh! And another small perk – whenever characters are eating, Penny always takes a moment to describe the deliciousness of their food. It’s a tantalizing little diversion each time.

I took a turn into another age group after this and read Crenshaw, a middle grade novel by Kathlerine Applegate, the author of a book I love (and own), The One and Only Ivan, an absolutely wonderful read. This story is about Jackson, a young teenage boy, and his family whose financial situation has changed from precarious to dire with them being forced to live in their minivan. Again. The story touches on an important subject, homelessness and the challenges faced by those who may be barely getting by. But there is another important character – Crenshaw himself, a very large cat. Crenshaw is Jackson’s imaginary friend from when he was a little boy, returned to be supportive of Jackson in his time of need … whether Jackson wants him there or not. Needless to say, this lends itself to moments of humor, but at its heart, this story is about resilience, friendship, and how we survive tough times. It was a good read, but for some reason, didn’t grab me the same way Ivan did. I’d still recommend it to the middle grade readers you know because we are all always facing some challenge or other, and this age group will appreciate Jackson and Crenshaw’s approach to a problem more common than most think.

I’m now reading Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver, another terrific writer. I have read at least four of her other novels, The Poisonwood Bible being a permanent resident on a particular bookcase reserved for those books that I would definitely read again. Hopefully, I’ll be able to tell you about Flight Behavior somewhere in the vague timeframe of when I finish it.

Whether you are inspired by the stories mentioned above or are on a book path of your own, I will always wish you … Happy Reading!

 

 

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R.I.P. Cloudy
January 2008 – February 28, 2018

Where do you begin when someone you love passes away? When you have spent some part of almost every day saying hello, sharing some affection, a meal or two, and sometimes a kiss goodnight?

This being, as you can see, happens to be a cat – a cat to whom I became very attached over the last 10 years. Cloudy belonged to the people next door, as does Pumpkin. He was an indoor/outdoor cat – nicely set up in their garage at night and out during the day. Although he spent plenty of time curled up in his bed during the coldest winter days, he was out and about most days until the two boys were called in for the night.

However, he was on my back porch at one point or another almost every day (yes, it’s true, I do have food here), or greeting me when I pulled in the driveway. In the nice weather when I sat outside reading or drawing, he stretched out on my wicker coffee table, sat on my lap, or lay at my feet. He was snuggly and loved affection. Some nights, when he didn’t hear being called in to the garage, he would sit on the wicker table or at my back door, hoping I might put him inside. On these occasions, I would carry him across the backyard to the sound of loud purring and then know he was safe for the night. I also was fortunate in being able to take care of him and Pumpkin when my neighbors would go on vacation.

Cloudy may not have been “my” cat, but I loved him not one iota less than if he were truly mine. He was pure innocence, a very young soul, with not one mean bone in his body. Quite simply, he was so easy to love.  And that I did.

His life ended unexpectedly and far too young. I see him each time I look out the door, those wide eyes just waiting for recognition, hoping for a loving touch. I see him basking in the sunlight in front of a neighbor’s garage, and looking up when he’d be hugging my back door in the cold. I suspect I’ll be seeing him for quite some time, until he finally curls up in my heart.

“Until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
– Anatole France

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It’s been a very long time since I wept so at the end of a book. And I mean wept. Even I didn’t see that coming. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein is an outstanding novel, told in the first person by Enzo, a dog. But don’t think that this is just some dog story – it’s not; it is skillfully told through the keen observation, devotion, and insightful outlook of a narrator who just happens to walk on four legs.

The main character, Denny, to whom Enzo has been deeply bonded since a small pup, is a race car driver, so periodically, there is background and information about racing. But don’t think this is a story about racing either – it’s not. Racing is a metaphor for life and how to live it, particularly racing in the rain, of which Denny is a master.

The first chapter begins at the end of Enzo’s life, where he wishes to be released with dignity. From watching “too much television” (according to Denny), Enzo has learned of a Mongolian belief whereby a dog who’s lived a good life will become human in his next incarnation. This is what Enzo aspires to, and despite his periodic dismay at not having speech and being unable to communicate what he knows, or to have been denied opposable thumbs, Enzo does his best to live a model life.

The second chapter begins the story of Denny, his love, Eve, their child Zoë, and the journey of their lives together. From Denny and Enzo watching race tapes on the TV, with Denny explaining all the details to Enzo, to Eve’s illness, to the in-laws overbearing attitude and ultimately cruel shattering of Denny’s life, we are drawn into a story – sometimes funny, sometimes tragic – of a life that could be anybody’s. It’s always set against the backdrop of Denny’s aspirations to be an accomplished driver, and his teaching Enzo the subtleties of mastering the track. Enzo gets it. “Your car goes where your eyes go. Simply another way of saying that which you manifest is before you.”

You do not need to have ever had a dog to appreciate Enzo or his telling of Denny’s story. But if you have ever loved a dog at any time in your life, you will be greatly enriched – and moved – by Enzo, and all that he is. Likewise, those familiar with racing will have the extra bonus of understanding the racing world references. But you don’t have to know anything about racing – as I do not – to understand the story, for again, in the end it’s not about racing, but life.

While we knew from Chapter One where this book would end, the impact is unexpectedly profound; the epilogue, deeply touching. If nothing else, Enzo is a remarkably skilled writer. I had not realized how invested I was in this story … and in Enzo … until the end. The Art of Racing in the Rain is a keeper.

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It wouldn’t be Valentine’s Day without something a little sweet, right? How about an adorable pied Frenchie who’s discovered some just-frosted sugar cookies? (And is about to do something very naughty!) That’s sweet x 2!

Order these sweet French Bulldog Valentine’s Day cards on my website or in my just-opened Etsy shop and put a smile on the faces of the special someone(s) in your life.

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One of the wonders of nature is the movement of large numbers of animals in a synchronization we can only observe in awe. In fish, we see schools, in insects, swarms, and in birds, we see flocking. It is a mesmerizing dance. Above we see crows, below starlings.

In the video linked to here, titled The Starling and Falcon Dance by Nick Dunlop, set to the most perfect music, we see thousands of European Starlings migrating south. They have attracted a prime predator, the Peregrine Falcon, and in attempting to evade him, they fly in synch and create amazing patterns in the sky. As fascinating as these photos might be, they cannot show you the magic created by the birds in flight.

Please take a look at one of nature’s miracles.

 

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The internet is an incredible source of so many things, and some incredibly wonderful. This is one of those, and brings tears to my eyes each time I watch it. So simple, so beautifully and brilliantly done. Just 3 minutes you won’t regret. Go full screen.

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roughwighting

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TheBookOwl

Mainly non-fiction book reviews. Science, nature, memoirs, history etc. Also fiction

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Official Home of Lavinia and Rick Ross

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The blog of Canadian author Cynthia Reyes

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