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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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One of the things we’re told about maintaining (or losing) weight to keep our physical health in good shape is that it’s not just about what we eat, but also about portion size.

Exhibit A: It’s summer, and who doesn’t like ice cream in the summer? But how much do we really need to keep us happy … or healthy? Here are three bowls in my home. I know there are plenty of people who would fill up that yellow bowl in a heartbeat, and even the blue one is a decent portion, but I’ve found that that little green and white, handmade pottery bowl with a shape that can never really be filled suits me just fine.

Exhibit B: Just enough to feel I’ve really enjoyed some ice cream, but not so much that I am berating myself afterwards that I probably put on another pound.

While I was sitting with my journal and coffee this morning, I looked around my living room and wondered, “How much do I really need?”  If I had to pack up tomorrow and live in half the space I currently have, what would I keep? What would I – could I – let go? It was a funny thought, because every now and then we become aware of how much “stuff” we have.

Some of the stuff, we undoubtedly need – something to sleep on, some kitchen essentials, something to keep our clothes in, some books (of course), and in my case, the tools of my trade – my computer, peripherals, art supplies, etc. But where does one draw the line?

Sometimes I think I could easily get rid of half of what I own tomorrow if it were easy enough to do so, and honestly, I’d not think twice about it afterwards. As we move on in life, we accumulate stuff. But as we grow, we also outgrow much of it. Yet here it stays. Like people who have these huge two car garages, then fill them to the brim with stuff, and park their cars in the driveway. It’s incredibly common, but I cannot understand it. I don’t want to have that much stuff. And yet, in my own way, I suppose I do. Still, I’m grateful that I have no attic, no garage, and a thimble of storage space in the basement – it keeps me in check. And then there are the people who identify with their stuff.  Who they are, in their eyes, seems to depend on the luxury car, the McMansion, the trips, the designer clothing …

But we are never really our stuff. And getting rid of what we once thought was indispensable and who we were? it creates space for who we are now. Who we might be. Maybe it’s a thought as I grow older; maybe a thought as I want to keep finding out who I am. But portion control is starting to sound more and more appealing, because the less we need, the more space we have to spread our wings.

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You know how you go to a restaurant for a while, then kind of tire of it, even if it is really nice? Revisiting said restaurant – The Clean Plate in Clinton (NJ) – is what happened recently when a  lovely new client, who happens to be a vegan, and I planned to get together. I am admittedly a wannabe (but still aspiring) vegan, but almost completely vegetarian. The Clean Plate is so named because it serves really clean, often organic, and – whenever possible – locally sourced food, with plenty of choices for both vegetarians and vegans. The menu includes locally raised beef and chicken, as well. Anyone who wants to eat healthy can find something delicious here.

I also often think I’d like to take photos of my wonderful food when I eat out, but somehow it never happens. Happily, Danielle did take a photo to show her daughter, who always likes to see what Mommy eats when she is dining away from home.

We sat outside on this late, still-cool morning at a table in the shade and right next to the river. It was wonderful, as were our dishes.  What you see here, from the top, is my excellent decaf and their Fava-Rite Bowl, a mix of fresh fava beans, asparagus, spinach, new potatoes, and roasted red pepper in a cashew-chive sauce with an over-easy egg and sprouts on top. Yum! Danielle’s dish was a red quinoa wrap with mixed baby greens, their featured hummus, avocado, toasted almonds, and dried figs, with apple cider vinaigrette, served with a side of sweet potato fries. She had Kombucha to drink.

It was all fabulous and we both cleaned our plates!

Accompanying us occasionally was a very friendly pair of not-quite-ducks, eager for a bit of our complimentary popcorn. I say that because these were two Mallards clearly crossed with another bird – a goose, I suspect, based on the markings. The larger of the two, likely the male considering the dark head, had the most amazingly kind face. Neither was pushy, so no need to herd them away, but the smaller female was very quick. The larger male just looked in your eyes and hoped. They did get a little popcorn, but I suspect too much wouldn’t be good for them. But for all we know, they may work this crowd regularly and have adapted. Who knows? They were both very sweet.

Should you be in the area and want some healthy and delicious food, perhaps accompanied by a duck or two, check out The Clean Plate and their menu!

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Did you used to devour Highlights magazine at the doctor’s office when you were a kid? Still do? Me, too. One of my favorite things was always finding hidden objects and finding the differences between two pictures. Today, I offer the opportunity to enjoy the second challenge … find what’s different. Here’s the first photo taken earlier today:

And here is the second photo, taken a few years ago:

Okay, take away all the baking stuff. And the poinsettia. And the Poland Spring bottle. What’s different?

I’ll tell you. In the top photo, the toaster is wrapped in a plastic bag, whereas below, it’s au naturel. In the top photo there is a glass jar with a very snug lid holding cat food, and below there is a lovely tin canister with cats on it. Why the change? Ants. Yes, it is ant season — those little black ones which, one at a time, are pretty cute, but when having a party in Jazzy’s dry food bowl? Not so cute. For now, her dry food is upstairs, but when I see them on the toaster? All bets are off.

I am a clean person, especially in the kitchen, but now? I am obsessively clean. I do not like having to keep my toaster in a plastic bag. But I also do not like killing creatures of any size. And even though I sadly say `Sorry’ each time I snuff out one of their little lives, and even though I spray vinegar in certain areas and in certain patterns to make them stay away, have edged the kitchen with white light, they still find a way in. I am now resorting to additional – and more lethal – methods.

Still, it bothers me to kill them. I save every little being I can and take it outside – under a plastic deli container and on a piece of cardboard – out they go. I live in an 1890’s house, and although it was newly plumbed, wired, sheet rocked, etc. it was not given a new floor downstairs. The worn floor boards are an open invitation – literally – for insects to come in. Whenever I might move, I’m sure the new people will be mystified by so many oddly placed pieces of duct tape. There’s a reason for that, people, trust me. Leave them there.

My biggest save was a wolf spider that appeared in my downstairs bathroom – she was huge. I asked her to please not move (yes, I do talk to them), while I got a bigger deli container. She stayed right there while I put it over her and carefully slid the cardboard underneath. I went outside and headed for the river. She was not happy and jumping inside. I don’t know if my telling her it would be OK in a minute helped or not, but I was doing my best. Over the grass, over the old tracks, down an incline and there was a huge pile of leaves and twigs. I figured that would give her a head start. I tilted the cardboard towards the leaves and gently lifted the container. As I’d hoped, she ran forward, and in a millisecond, had camouflaged herself perfectly. I took a deep breath, came home, and went searching for that opening with my roll of duct tape. (Please note, for those of you who are squeamish, that I have spared you a photo of a wolf spider. (For those interested, check here.)

Would I could do that for the ants. I tell them, `if you want to live, stay outside.’ Maybe some listen. But for the rest? Sorry. Really, I am.

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Though I cannot take credit for them. We all experience times in our lives when people are acting badly, situations hover and sway as if on the edge of a precipice, and everything is moving too slow … or fast … or in the wrong direction. It’s just life, but from time to time it can leave us spinning.

On one such recent occasion, I removed the previous day’s page from my wonderful Wayne Dyer desk calendar, and found these wise words.

Sometimes you just have to laugh. They couldn’t have been more perfect.

It doesn’t mean that things will always be that way, or that we can’t change them, or that we can’t intend to change them. It just means that right now, it is the way they are. Point taken. And just in case it may be one of those times in your life, I figured I’d share them with you.

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Are you familiar with Little Free Library? I learned about them about 5 years or so ago, and thought it was just the most amazing idea. The concept is to have a little “house” or box of some sort which provides for the free exchange of books of any kind – sometimes these are located in areas where it’s hard for readers to get to a library; sometimes it’s a convenience for neighbors. It always promotes social exchange wherever they appear. (Pictured here, a LFL in Traverse City, Michigan.)

LFL (Little Free Library) is a non-profit organization founded in 2009 byTodd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin whose aim was to inspire a love of reading, build community, and spark creativity by fostering neighborhood book exchanges around the world. And that he did! Since it’s beginnings, the LFL has grown to 80,000 little libraries around the world in a total of 90 countries, (as of 2019), all providing access to our most treasured possessions, books. (Second photo in Mount Martha, Victoria, Australia.)

Bol started out with a simple idea – and built a model of a one room schoolhouse, filled it with books, and put it on a post in his front yard. The idea really caught on, so he built some more and gave them away to neighbors and friends for free. While discussing potential social enterprises with UW-Madison’s Rick Brooks, who had seen Bol’s DIY project, the pair saw potential to expand and advance the common good. They were inspired by a number of things, among them the homegrown “take a book, leave a book” concept found in coffee shops and other public places. They were also inspired by the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who had set a goal around the turn of the century to fund the creation of 2,508 free public libraries across the English-speaking world.

With Carnegie in mind, Brooks and Bol set their own goal of surpassing 2,508 Little Free Libraries by the end of 2013, and exceeded it a year and a half before their target date.

The above LFL is located in Sandy Springs, Georgia.

What’s even more exciting is that this concept inspired people everywhere to apply to be stewards of a LFL where they lived, and who then designed and built this vastly creative array of structures to house the neighborhood book exchanges. (There’s a whole gallery of LFLs on their website to check out.) Perhaps one of the most truly amazing is a jaw-dropping LFL that was built by a librarian inside a dead cottonwood tree in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho – you must take a look at this!

Please visit the Little Free Library website – it’s exhaustive and illuminating and inspiring, and hey … maybe you’ll start thinking about creating and hosting a LFL in your neighborhood! One of the best concepts ever … free access to books.

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We are surrounded by a lot of noise – endless advertising and marketing, “news” that is really a recount of the violence and misfortunes suffered by our neighbors, and so on.

It’s why it’s so very important that we provide the positivity of books and reading to our children to help them find their way and to tune out the noise. There is so much beauty and love in the world, and what better way to “grow” a child than with the wonder that is found in books, and starting early, in picture books?

One book that is sure to bring love and a message of hope and self-confidence to kids is Myrtle the Purple Turtle by Cynthia Reyes and illustrated by Jo Robinson. Myrtle wasn’t always a book, but it was a story. It was written quite some time ago to help a child – Cynthia’s own child, Lauren – overcome the heartbreak of being rejected as she began school. When Lauren brought her Cabbage Patch doll to school, she was shunned because her doll wasn’t “the right color”. To help her daughter understand how being different is not only OK, but a good thing, Cynthia wrote this story and read it to Lauren at bedtime.

Myrtle is a purple turtle and comes from a family of purple turtles. When made fun of and told she couldn’t possibly even be a turtle in that color, Myrtle first stands up for herself, but then becomes crushed by the ridicule. Her Mom tries to bolster her up, but Myrtle can see that no other turtles at the pond are purple. She tries making herself green to fit in, but encounters yet another problem. With the help of her friends, Myrtle comes to realize that being different is the way things are in the world. And that is something to be happy about.

What a great message for kids. You cannot help but love Myrtle and her sweet personality, and admire the confidence that she really does have inside as she feels safe enough in the world to fall asleep when she gets stuck upside down.

But Cynthia wasn’t done yet, and neither was Myrtle. In late 2018 Cynthia brought Myrtle’s sequel into the world, again accompanied by Jo Robinson, but this time, also joined by her daughter, Lauren Reyes-Grange. In Myrtle’s Game, Myrtle and her friends, skilled at playing a game that looks just like soccer in the water, ask the woodland animals if they can play soccer with them. Told that turtles can’t play soccer (everyone knows that!), squirrel tells them to come back when they can move faster. Daunted at first, the turtles hatch a plan where Myrtle finds a way to use her talent to succeed on land. How does she do it? You’ll have to read the book!

Read more about Myrtle the Purple Turtle and Myrtle’s Game, including where you can order, at Cynthia’s blog. You just might know a child (or two) who could be inspired and heartened by Myrtle’s growing belief in herself, and her knowledge that being different is something special indeed.

 

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People often ask me if I put up a Christmas tree. I used to put up a beautiful live tree each year, but haven’t in a while. Time being one of the reasons, but over the years, pets became another reason. Have pets influenced your decisions about a tree?

A friend and neighbor, in the face of my treeless status, offered me a small one she had and no longer used. Of course, I have a bazillion ways to trim it collected over the years, but I also had easy access to a few things. There it is, on my oak bench where I can enjoy it when I journal, read, or soon … write rather late Christmas cards.

A very dear friend of mine has a saying which I have now incorporated into my vernacular – “Something is better than nothing.” And indeed, I find it true. It’s small, but it’s something. I find myself fairly mesmerized by this little stranger which reminds me of many Christmases gone by. I like just sitting near it. Funny how deeply ingrained our memories can be.

The good thing is that Jazzy, unlike previous pets, has not decided to pull it over or de-trim it. The first of my beloved pets to have me reconsider the wisdom of having a tree was Mewsette. As is true with many felines, she did her best work at night, and every morning I would come down to find at least the bottom tier of ornaments missing, some broken. OK, let’s just put unbreakable ones on the lower branches. It minimized breakage but didn’t affect one iota my having an ornament scavenger hunt each morning. The final result? Nothing detachable at the bottom of the tree. Not very pretty.

Then we had Chloe, one of my pair of sweet pittie girls. Chloe was determined to see if she could possibly squeeze in the corner behind it. I would come into the room with her shmushed behind the tree, tail wagging off ornaments. Nothing I could do would discourage her efforts. Yet another strike against the concept of having a tree, especially on the occasion when she knocked it over.

Shut the animals out of the room, you say? Who wants to be in the living room, tree all aglow, without your fuzzy ones to keep you company? Or chase them in and out? Eventually, I just gave up. There have always been little spots of Christmas all over the house which, on the whole, none of them ever paid any mind. But this little tree? Perhaps it is my toe into the waters of real trees.

Or maybe this is just perfect for me.

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One of my favorite Christmas/holiday videos. Thanks to our friends across the pond at the RSPCA. Brilliantly and lovingly done.

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Pumpkin can be one tough customer. Cats tend to have a lot more rules than dogs to begin with, but Pumpkin has serious rules, especially regarding where you can touch him. And sometimes even when.

He belongs to the people next door, and is an indoor/outdoor cat. At night, he’s in their garage with his bed, food, water, litter. Days, he’s out. Let me state first that he has me totally wrapped around his paw. And that’s OK by me. I put food out on my back porch during the day and when he’s let out of the garage, he gets breakfast, and later in the day, a snack or lunch.  He can be very affectionate at times. He likes attention … until he doesn’t. And I have become finely attuned to that subtlety.

When he was younger and feeling his best, he ruled the neighborhood. Roamed about making sure any other cats knew who was king. I call him “The Mayor.” But he’s now 12 or 13, and stiff in the joints from age and a run-in a couple years ago with some kind of moving vehicle. He recovered with a limp and just kept on going because he’s that kind of cat. Now, however, we have some new cats in the neighborhood – they’re younger, bigger, and pushy. I have some concerns about Punkie because he still thinks he’s all that and a bag of chips, and I’m not so sure that’s true.

On occasion, I hear that loud rowwwwwr sound we know cats make when one is challenging another. Because I work from home, I can usually hop outside and chase the intruder away, if Pumpkin hasn’t already. The other night was one of those times.

It was nearly 7 pm, dark, very cold, with winds about 25 mph. The people next door hadn’t gotten home yet to put him in, but I expected they would be soon. I was reading when I heard that keening sound. I jumped up, put on the back porch light, and headed down my driveway to the street. There they were, three of them, like points on a triangle – Pumpkin, Yellow from across the street, and the tuxedo newcomer who’s been pushing up on Pumpkin lately.

“What’s going on here?” I yelled in my most taking-no-nonsense voice.

They turned and briefly looked at me, but not moving an inch or taking their eyes off one another for more than two seconds.

“You!” I shouted to the tuxedo. “Get going!” He knows I mean business, and ran down the street.

“You, too, Yellow!”

Yellow just stared at me.

I took a few steps into the road and yelled again, “I mean it!” And he ran back to his house.

I turned and started towards my back porch. “C’mon, Pumpkin, let’s get you fed and safe and inside for the night.”

Still puffed to twice his size in fight-ready mode, tail held high, he looked at me as we walked. “I sure showed them,” he said with a satisfied sort of look on his face.

“Yeah, tough guy, you sure did.”

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