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Archive for the ‘Creativity’ Category

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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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.

 

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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.

 

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Grounds for Sculpture, created by J. Seward Johnson, is an (almost exclusively) outdoor museum featuring sculpture from around the world in every style, material, shape, and size imaginable. It is peopled throughout – quite literally – by the wonderful sculptures of Johnson himself. I have done a few posts on the Grounds for Sculpture because it is such an amazing place.

In previous posts, I focused on the sculptures throughout the grounds, but what I’ve never highlighted are the exquisite grounds themselves. Each and every sculpture is shown off to its best advantage by its “framing” by the perfect trees, shrubs, or grasses.

Truly, the Grounds for Sculpture is not just a sculpture exhibit,
but a true botanical garden.

One of Seward’s many sculptures, positioned in an outdoor amphitheater.

Sometimes just walking from one area of the grounds to another is an experience, this feeling to me like walking in an Impressionist painting.

Two views of one of the ponds on the grounds.

One of the many magnificent trees to be found as you walk
the museum’s 42 acres.

Another sculpture framed perfectly by the surrounding plantings.

 

Views in a Japanese sculpture garden.

One of a pair of ballerinas.

One of my favorite sculptures and arrangements in the park.

To enjoy more of Grounds for Sculpture, just type that in the search box above. Thanks for walking through these beautiful grounds with me.

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Let me preface this post by noting two things. 1) I am not a gardener, and feel especially lucky when the annuals I plant on my porches do well. 2) I was really not aware that there could be such a drastic difference in the actual quality of plants purchased from one location or another. Witness the Beast:

In early spring, my neighbor came home with an amazing haul of beautiful plants for their property, some of which I’d never seen or heard of before. I found she’d gotten them at Rice’s Market in not-too-far-away PA. This is a flea market which also has a huge assortment of plants from a local nursery.

Just look at that coleus above! Not only have I never seen coleus that looked like that, but it has been growing like wildfire in what is, obviously, its perfect spot. A Beast, indeed!

The burgundy leaves of the variant in back feel like velveteen and somewhat resemble a red maple. As summer wears on, they are starting to turn bright green at the edges. The tiny leaves of the other variant below are simply charming – again, nothing like any coleus I’ve ever seen.

As for the Beauty … the selection of annuals available at this nursery was astounding. I brought home these dark, velvet-y, purple petunias with a white star, and snapdragons, so petite and pretty, they are called “Angel Face Snapdragons.”

Stunning, no?

The individual flowers of this snapdragon look like tiny orchids. Ultimately, they – growing so tall – may not have been the best choice for the same pot as the petunias, but they’re making me happy! I find myself already thinking about what might be at this market for next spring.

As for the quality of plants … time being short as it is, I bought the above to get into pots right away with the thought of making a more local stop for other flowers a couple weeks later. The impatiens are struggling in one area (usually perfect for impatiens) and not even blooming in another. I’ve already made my decision – no more Home Depot, Lowe’s, or “plant lady.” Next year? out to PA for this nursery’s amazing selection of flowers, so fabulous they manage to make even me look like a gardener!

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Lists were once my steadfast friends. They stood by me through thick and thin, kept me organized and on track, and confident that everything was going smoothly. And then they took a turn, and could, I found, be my worst critics, leading me to wonder if I was failing.

I’ve always had two different list pads. The one you see on the left takes myriad forms and appearances. What I list there is still enormously useful – food shopping and cleaning tasks go there, as well as my daily to-do list for work. As my work has me often jumping back and forth between different projects and/or different clients, a list makes sure I cover everything and get done what needs to be done in a timely manner. Those lists are still my friends.

It’s the one on the right that had become suspect. I absolutely love this list pad – given to me by a friend who has always believed in me, it simply says “FOLLOW YOUR PATH.” It’s where I have always listed my personal creative goals – my writing and illustrating of children’s books; growing my shop and business on Etsy which features my French Bulldog art; updating and writing my current website and blogs; expanding a social media presence, etc., etc. Needless to say, all of these involve a multitude of tasks and effort. So I started making lists on this pad of all the things I need to do.

It was the first time a list ever turned on me, taunted me, left me feeling like I might be failing. Whenever I looked at that list, it made me wonder how would I ever possibly get where I wanted to go? And then I decided to not write any of it down. After all, who knows better than I what needs to be done?

I decided to go for a kinder and gentler use of that lovely pad. Now I consider the time I have, and the task(s) I most need and want to get done and can accomplish in that time, and chunk it down into do-able steps. The fact is, neither I – nor you – can do everything at once, and for this we need to forgive ourselves while still doing what we CAN do. We can assess our goals; make sure we have our priorities straight; and then make a plan to get there.

And so my list became my friend again.

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