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Archive for the ‘Creativity’ Category

The last nine/ten months have been incredibly challenging in all parts of the world as we confront an insidious danger, a new virus. Here at home, we can heap on top of the pandemic an election the likes of which we have never seen, and wish we had not. On a personal level, I have lived for one year now with my house for sale, never sure if I will be able to stay in my home, and top it with the cherry of a very intense, seasonal workload. This is just my variation of the theme; so many of you and those you know, and so many more we’ll never meet are struggling with your own form of stress. It’s been an increasingly easy time to feel adrift from our moorings and to be lost in the most immediate problem in front of us.

While shopping on a website for other than books, of course I decided to dip into that section. You know, just looking. What I found was the book I needed, which you see here. Because that is what has happened to me … in the stress, distraction, and exhaustion, one of the things to go was the time put aside for my spiritual self. This book was published in August 2020 and references the onset of the pandemic and the ramping up of the presidential election, so it’s very current. Even having read a small way into the book, I am feeling calmer and reassured of moving in to a better direction. So there is that.

On other fronts, because it’s been a while since I’ve posted, I thought to share a few photos, and what’s been happening in this small part of the world.

Produce from the local farm in October – the last of the gorgeous Jersey tomatoes, new potatoes, and a mix of Gala and my very favorite Macoun apples.

It was Halloween. Trees were beginning to shed their leaves, just enough to scuff through for trick or treaters or whoever wanted to enjoy a walk through the neighborhood. This little vignette of fall brought a smile to see the little pumpkins on the fence posts, the mums, and in a time we need to believe in our country, our flag.

While searching for something else, I came across this photo of Claude. Although he is no longer with us, this just reminded me of how calm and Buddah-like he could be at times, in contrast to his being a total goofball the next. He is still very much missed.

Another photo I stumbled upon …  a clearing sky after a winter rain from a second story window, raindrops sparkling the screen. How lucky are we to have so many beautiful skies and sunsets in this part of my state.

In November I attended an online children’s book conference held by Rutgers University. Normally, the conference in several hundred dollars and limited in attendance due to space and the personal nature of the event, but with COVID, it was presented online with Zoom to hundreds of attendees for a pittance. Our keynote speaker, Sayantani Das Gupta writes a New York Times bestselling series of a brave girl named Kiranmala. Sayantani was quite inspiring. One of the quotes she offered in her talk was the above by Toni Morrison, both relevant and a reminder of the heroic writer in all of us.

I also took a screen shot of this quote by Ursula LeGuin because it just hit home. Made me remember that I am no small talent, nor are you. Sometimes we need to be reminded and luckily, someone comes along to tap us on the shoulder from time to time. This was a good tap for me

As the days get shorter, the nights longer, we look more to light. I frequently have a candle burning, but this gathering of wolves is one of my very favorite pieces, the light so beautifully illuminating their faces. It’s only made of stone, but for me, it brings some deep-stirred memory of woods and the quiet footfalls of our lupine brothers and sisters.

And here we are today. I cleared my porch of fall decor in preparation of other lights of the season. I carried the two small pumpkins that sat at my door to the end of the block, over the grass and tracks, and tossed them onto the plateau of dried grasses below. It won’t take long for some of the local wildlife to discover them and enjoy a small feast.

Perhaps this meandering through photos has reminded me that even when we’re in tough times, there is still always much to be thankful for. For every obstacle or challenge, there is another way to look at it, a way to learn something we need to know. These, indeed, are gifts and my heart is lightened.

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When I haven’t written in over a month, it usually means at least one thing. In this case, it means I have been deluged with holiday fundraisers and projects from my clients. It has been non-stop, and while I think of things to write here – I even take photos – and I want to catch up with those I follow, my creative energy is directed towards these projects and the time to actually focus on my own writing has been non-existent. It’s frustrating.  But enough whining.

As a new and different Thanksgiving approaches, many, including myself, are already shopping extensively online for Christmas and holiday gifts. To that end, I am going to take a moment to shamelessly promote myself and the lovely French Bulldog items I have created for my Etsy shop.

If you are looking to send holiday cards, “Stranger in the Snow” is one among several you’ll find in my shop. You can also find a few neat gift ideas such as my “Frenchies Apres Monet” blank notecards which I’d like to think would be appreciated by fans of Monet as well as the French Bulldog. I also have a sweet, handsomely-made Frenchie journal, because we all are writing more these days what with all the stress in our lives. No? And if not you, perhaps you know someone who journals faithfully. (Or maybe just needs a notebook!)

All the original artwork is mine, and I can assure you, the cards are of a beautiful, heavy stock. If inspired, just toddle on over to Etsy at JBalsamFrenchieArt. 

As the intensity of my holiday workload is ever-so-slowly winding down, I am planning on writing again soon, and coming by to see you and what you’ve written, too. Should I not get to the post I have in mind before Thanksgiving, I wish you all a peaceful, happy, and safe holiday, however you may spend it. Take good care and let’s continue to look forward to less stressful days when we can meet with each other again as we have in the past. I am always happy to have you stop by!

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Weatherbug tells me this morning’s chilly temperatures are right on cue for October. But Thursday, it was a warm and sunny 71˙. When I decided to go freelance over a decade ago, one of the reasons was to not only shed my wretched cross-state commute, but also to have the freedom to make my own schedule. And despite my annoying and persistent feeling that I should be at my desk from 9-5 for my clients, Thursday was just too wonderful to stay inside.

And so I walked. One of the interesting things about my little town is that it’s in a valley and doesn’t always have the same weather as the surrounding towns. Or the same seasonal appearances. Just now some trees are turning bronze, some shrubs, yellow. But for the most part, it’s very green in my little part of the world.

Beyond the few scattered leaves on the ground, and some dried weeds, you might think we were in early September. If you were to walk straight in what is almost a path in the photo above, you would come right up on the Delaware River. When I drove out of town last Monday, I was surprised to find that not only had the leaves turned color, but many of the trees were already bare.

Not here. As houses begin to be dressed for Halloween, we are still on dense green lawns surrounded by still-green shrubbery. Our little town has always made a big deal of Halloween. There’s been a parade down the main drag with floats and a couple bands, vendors, food stands, and kids galore in costumes vying for prizes. Needless to say, that will not be happening this year.

But residents are not giving up on the Halloween spirit, even if there aren’t quite as many decorated houses as I’ve seen before. And we neighbors are talking, reading online, about what we can do to make trick-or-treating safe for the kids … and for us. It won’t be the same as having little princesses and Frankensteins running up to our doors yelling “Trick or Treat!” but we are in different times.

This house always goes all out for the holidays. I mean ALL the holidays. This is the kind of decorated house that gets the little ones all excited. I am so glad these people have done what they always do. It keeps some sense of normalcy in our lives.

How wonderful is it that this is “normal” for my town! But what I couldn’t help but notice is how few people there were walking about. I’m sure there were more on the Main Street where the stores are, a walk of just a few blocks further. (It’s a pretty small town.) And where all the scarecrows are. I wanted to keep walking and take pictures of them, too, but I was doing my best to keep in mind that I still had work on my desk.

My walk takes me past this very old garage, which you may recall seeing in some earlier post. I am strongly drawn to this building, though I cannot say why. As often as I walk past it with a camera, today my phone, I will photograph it.

Maybe it’s the doors. The texture, the tone, their slightly ajar position. Or just the very old stone and cement the garage is built from. My town was established in the mid 1700’s, and went through several name changes, the first being when the mill on the river burned down in 1769. The town officially became a borough in 1911, its incorporation confirmed by the state in 1925. The population in 1920 was 656; today, it’s 1,233. 

This is the mill as I know it today. I’ve heard rumors over the years that a special committee formed to preserve it had plans for it becoming condos or an arts center. As long as I’ve been here, it looks like this. The stonework tells me the little garage, may have been built at the same time.

I returned to my work, renewed by the sunshine and fresh air. We need these simple things, and it’s important to remember to give them to ourselves. I have had a hard time writing, blogging, doing creative work, especially these last few weeks. I am deeply unsettled and fear for the future of my country. I feel compelled to keep reading the latest news stories, yet know I need to stop. I am reminded to move my focus away from what I cannot control. I’m trying. I know you’re trying. We all are.

So if a walk through town, taking pictures of my neighborhood Halloween decorations and what is our striving for normalcy amid so much confusion helps, then I’ll take it. Stay safe. Stay positive.

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I read an article the other day – It’s title was Happiness in Hard Times. As might be suggested, it spoke about the importance of trying to maintain some degree of happiness when we are really struggling, as so many of us are in the pandemic. One of the positive points made was that we humans are actually wired for happiness. A researcher studying the genetics of joy has actually located, so far, 304 “happy genes” on our DNA.

It has been found that happiness can create and sustain emotional resilience in difficult times, and that the reverse is true as well. Finding positive meaning in circumstances can also help generate happiness. The article went on to provide concrete ways to navigate our current crisis (as well as any others); one of them is listening to music.

Which brings me to the point that had such an impact on me. Doctors and nurses in hospitals when interviewed all shared the tremendous pressure they were under during the pandemic. A pulmonologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City described the relentless work in the critical care areas as a war zone. But Lenox Hill decided to do something about it. Every time a COVID-19 patient was released from the hospital or could breathe well enough to come off a ventilator, the hospital played Here Comes the Sun over the loudspeaker.

One nurse tearfully described hearing that song 20 times in one day, and every time she heard it, she felt a little better … it helped her know that all they were doing was actually making a difference.

It may be a challenge at times, but I think if we can find just one bright spot in each day, and either hold it close to our hearts, or share it with another, we’ll make a difference in these challenging times – and enjoy being what we seem wired to be – happy. Hey … here comes the sun.

 

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That pretty much says it. Despite the fact that I am still working – and very thankful for that – and am hardly in need of things to do in any area of my life, my focus is, well … intermittent would be a good word. Some days are pretty “normal”, but at times there is a sense of drift that never used to be in my life until the Coronavirus blew into town.

I know you are all experiencing this, too. I have yet to speak to anyone who isn’t dealing with some variation of this theme. As best I can tell, those of us who are creative have taken a truly palpable hit. I haven’t blogged in a month; I feel like I have little to say. Or perhaps I’ll just whine. So I started thinking in pictures. I went through the last few years of my photos and below you’ll find a little walk through my town, a little walk through summer. Hope this offers some cheer.

It was early spring, April 12th to be exact. The pandemic was in its serious upswing. I didn’t feel like walking that cloudy morning, but I did anyway. The streets were pretty empty. The flowering cherry trees were in bud, and I was cheered to see our flag, a colorful beacon on one of my neighbor’s porches. It was a comfort in a time that left us all unsteady on our feet.

Daffodils in bloom, the little entry area to the bridge freshly manicured and mulched, but still, it looked pretty bleak. A sunny sky would have helped. There were next to no cars on the road. Everyone was home, wondering what was next. And still, there was our flag, posted by my town, somehow a hopeful reminder – to my way of thinking – that we’d be OK.

My back porch last summer. It was the summer when I got all those amazing plants from Rice’s Market, pictured in a previous post – gorgeous coleus growing like crazy, stunning petunias and snapdragons. This part of the porch was quiet but pretty with pots of impatiens. This year? The porch has the furniture, but the plant market was closed, and I didn’t really have the energy/desire to pot plants anyway. There’s always next year, I thought. I am still surrounded by beautiful hostas, lilies, and hydrangea on the other side of the porch railings. I’m good.

Jazzy napping in a favorite sunny spot in the bedroom. The painted stool was one of quite a few hand-painted children’s items I’d made when living in Pattenburg a number of years earlier. My next door neighbor had converted what was once the town’s General Store into an antiques and collectibles shop, and she featured my pieces. I loved the painting and stenciling. Something I think about doing again, but …

It was a grey-ish day, but the cemetery at the Unitarian Universalist Church was tended so beautifully, it didn’t matter. It was very calm. Peaceful and pretty.

 

Another view of the Delaware River, separating New Jersey from Pennsylvania. I love this photo as much for the gleaming handrail of the bridge walkway as for the unusual cloud formation. When you live so close to a river, it’s hard not to take photos of it.

Did someone say Jersey tomatoes? New Jersey is The Garden State and this is tomato season! Those rich, red beauties put other tomatoes to shame, and make the best sandwiches anywhere. In reality, you don’t even need the cheese – just plain tomato sandwiches with a little mayo work, too. I literally just came back from a tomato run at Phillips Farms’ new farm stand with a bunch for the week.

Marilyn. Who can forget her? Here she is remembered in a retrospective of the works of Seward Johnson who founded and built the magnificent Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton Township, NJ. His works are always on display, but friends and I made a special trip down for this exhibit which extended throughout the 42 acre grounds and inside galleries. Just do a search on this site for Grounds for Sculpture  (or start here) and you will be treated to both his works and those of many other wonderful sculptors. Johnson is known for his lifelike figures, especially those where he’s brought to life the famous paintings of the Impressionists.

 Hydrangea bushes are here and there all over the adjoining property, part of which surrounds my back porch. So lovely, here in pale green, slowly changing over the summer from snowy white to glowing rust.

The view at the end of my block. I am just 3 houses away from the Delaware whose many moods charm and inspire. This was from a previous summer, in her full green regalia. This summer, the area is overgrown, and the ability to access a nearer point as was possible in the past, is blocked; whether intentionally or not, I have no idea. So much has changed as of late.

Thank you all for visiting. For those whose blogs I visit regularly, forgive me if I have not stopped by in any sort of timely manner. I value what you add to my life and to life on the internet as well. I’ll get there. As I mentioned earlier, I am just all over the place, but you are in my mind and heart. Keep writing. Your words and images matter.

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Baking?

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

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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.

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

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

Thanks so much!

 

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