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Archive for the ‘Home Stuff’ Category

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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It was inevitable. No matter how well products manufactured 30 or 40 years ago were made, sooner or later, they’re going to bite the dust.

So I bid a very fond farewell to my longtime, faithful AT&T cordless phone. It has seen me through more life events than I care to relate. And yes, of course it looks like an “old lady” phone, but if you can believe it, the battery in the handset has only needed to be replaced once in the approximately 35 years I’ve had it. You just don’t throw a phone like that in the trash, and that’s why I’ve kept it, homely as it might be, for all these years.

This phone and another upstairs which is plugged directly into the wall have been my landline, something I have known my entire life. When power went out in Superstorm Sandy, I still had phone service because the upstairs phone didn’t require electricity to run. It was a great security blanket, despite my having a little flip phone on a second line forever. But lately, the cordless has occasionally been staticky, dropped a call here and there, and the antenna is holding on by a thread. Not to mention the ridiculous price I was paying my carrier for the privilege of having a landline.

Time to join the 21st Century, like it or not. I am changing carriers and saving an amazing amount of money each year going forward — transferring my existing flip phone to a new model as my backup (in case the other needs to go to Apple for some reason), switching the landline to an iPhone; and going completely wireless. (Let me just say here … oy.)

Kicking and screaming? Not so much as fretting and panicking, and I’m not enjoying it at all. Since I am Mac based, I assumed this would be a breeze, but it’s not just the fact that I have to learn two new phones in a very short period of time. It’s that I’m giving up the security I’ve known all my life with a landline. I honestly never thought this would affect me the way it has. I’m almost embarrassed because this kind of stuff doesn’t usually rattle me. (And yes, that we are locked down in a global pandemic may be in play, too.)

Everyone assures me that I’ll have this all down in no time (probably true); that many, many people are completely wireless nowadays (I’m aware); and that once I am used to it, I’ll love it (undoubtedly true). But logic is rarely the best diffuser of anxiety.

In my experience, the only way to deal with this is to keep on moving through it, fretting and all, because curling up in a ball or going back to how it’s been are not options. I comfort myself each morning during periods of change by reading a particular section of this book by Deepak Chopra in the “Law of Least Effort” chapter, which reminds us that every tormentor or tyrant, each upsetting situation, is in our lives at this moment because it’s exactly what we need to evolve, and is the opportunity to create something new and beautiful. I do believe that’s true, and it’s what I’m holding on to.

So if I accidentally disconnect your call or inadvertently send you a partial text, please bear with me; I’m overcoming the loss of a security blanket. And I promise I’ll never be one of those people in the supermarket who cannot stop gabbing on their phone for two seconds. I’ll still be me, just looking a whole lot more 21st Century.

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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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For those of us who are self-employed and work from home, self-quarantining is not a new concept; we’ve been doing it for a while. What’s different, of course, is that with recent restrictions, we don’t have the freedom we did to just leave and meet friends, eat out, attend some sort of gathering. It feels like I’m sitting on my butt even more than usual.

I decided to take a short walk to stretch my legs and get a change of scenery. It was the perfect time to see lots of daffodils.

Some just ready to bloom … they looked like they were napping, soon to be awakened by more sun and an inner clock known only to them.

Here we see another flower, a bit of purple somewhat hidden in the leaf litter … myrtle. This tells me the deer are happy with their current forage and are not yet roaming the streets looking for this, a favorite snack.

I also spotted at a distance, looking real for a brief moment, a quasi-hidden cat, bearing what I believe is a Welcome sign. Thank you – it could have been a plain cat, but instead it was a neighborly greeting.

It’s easy to pass by this forgotten old garage, its faded, peeling paint, rusty hinges on a door. But the daffodils brighten it so, and had me look twice. Funny how sometimes the most worn and ignored of things can still have a beauty of their own.

Why a second view? Because the daffodils are not the only form of life emerging. Look under the concrete slab to find beautiful ivy leaves winding their way to the sun.

It was a short walk, and in times like these, even a short walk is balm for the spirit.

In the few days since, I now see forsythia beginning to bloom and that shy greening of the privet hedge and lawns. Just a blush, just enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fall coming slowly is just fine.

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I know I have waxed ecstatic periodically about the joys of having so many wonderful farmstands dotting the backroads of my county (the highest agricultural county in this state, BTW), so at the risk of perhaps repeating myself …

Look at this gorgeous produce I picked up yesterday! On the way home from food shopping at the supermarket in the afternoon I stopped at Phillips Farms to pick up a few fresh items, and as I approached the little red “house”, I heard one of the staff talking to a customer about Black Velvet Tomatoes. I was all ears! She pointed out the darker tomatoes above, and described them as much sweeter that the average field tomato, and therefore, great for salads, but could take over in a sandwich.

Don’t you love it when people know their stuff? So I picked up a few. Now as an artist, I also found them quite interesting, as I did when that yellow summer squash caught my eye. I’d never seen one with dark green ends, and was told they were really good, too. So with my black velvet tomatoes, field tomatoes for sandwiches, and a summer squash for I-don’t-know-what, my food shopping was complete for the week.

Once again, I am so grateful that fresh, beautiful produce is available to me from spring’s first asparagus to fall’s last apples and pumpkins.  And that it’s no more than 10 minutes away, or at any number of farmstands brightening my drives as I go.

Yesterday wasn’t a corn run, but I suspect that will be on the agenda before long!

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Without a doubt, Jazzy is the most demanding and vocal-about-it animal – cat or dog – that I have ever had the pleasure of sharing my life with.

But then … she has a ridiculous amount of patience (especially for a cat) and humors her silly Mom and lets me do this … and waits while I get the camera. Animals never cease to surprise and amaze me. It’s why we love them.

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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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