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Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

It’s not for a lack of things to write about that it’s been so long since I’ve last posted. My mind is always humming away with things I’d like to write about. But recently there were other insistent things pulling me away, be it work, a few rounds of a nasty virus, the need to be OUT and not at the computer … you know how it goes.

So what was the impetus to finally settle down and write? What you’re looking at right now. My blog — more correctly, my blog theme. Last night, while waiting for a response from WordPress, I actually wrote all this by hand away from my computer. At the time, I had no idea if what you’ve always seen visually and what I’ve known for the last so many years was gone forever or reclaimable. Because as of last night, thanks to something I did, my beloved blog had slipped into something new – the theme I’ve been planning for a new site promoting my graphic design services.

While I may be a bit more savvy than the average bear at the computer, I am also quite capable of occasionally screwing things up. I wouldn’t have found myself somewhat frantically waiting to hear back from the “happiness engineers” at WP if that weren’t true. I knew I could move my site back into the earlier theme, but would I lose my widgets and customization? That was the question. So trying not to panic or bang my head on my desk, I waited. (I got my answer today, and did have to rebuild my widgets – no way to retrieve my earlier version.)

So blog problem aside, there’s been plenty of other stuff on the happier end of the spectrum – fabulous and fresh Jersey produce; reading and reading and reading thanks to the wasteland that is summertime TV; getting out and about to new places both on my own and with friends, enjoying their company, a movie, good eats and more.

In the end, despite my initial panic, the WP theme issue is just another challenge, a bump in the road along the way, and a reminder that there are many things in life we cannot control. All we can really control are our thoughts and how we look at what happens in our lives. Sometimes easier said than done, but true nonetheless. Not all that miraculously, I survived to tell the tale, and look … it got me taking along my camera and writing again. Not so bad after all.

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We can be so hard on ourselves sometimes. As if a small amount of a delicious cheese would really push our cholesterol seriously over the edge. Or that we don’t deserve an occasional taste of the sublime.

My friend and I were enjoying a petite celebration in Frenchtown today. After a wonderful meal at Pulp, a vegetarian restaurant and juice bar known for its cleanly grown food and fabulous smoothies, I’d wanted to make two stops, one at Minette’s, a chocolatier, for a gift, and Olive with A Twist, a store that specializes in the most vast array of oils you could imagine, specialty cheeses and other delights. Minette’s was closed for vacation, so we moved on to our next stop. The sandwich board out front advertised “Watermelon Balsamic” and “Coconut Gouda”.  An unusual combination to be sure, but how bad could it be?

The shop owner happily shaved us each a sample and I was immediately in love. The coconut was bright but subtle, and the gouda smooth and a tad on the sweet side. Did I – do I – really need a cheese high in fat and at a price that made me gasp to myself and momentarily think of starving children in the world? Before I backed down, I requested between 1/4 and 1/2 pound.

I reminded myself that life is short and to be enjoyed, and small treats here and there are good for the soul. Besides, I would hate to think, in my final moments on earth, “Why didn’t I buy some of that coconut gouda?”

The moral of the story? Be good to yourself. You deserve it.

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Some guilty part of me feels that I should be writing something patriotic as it’s the anniversary of our wonderful country – Happy Birthday, America! – but alas, I finally have a bit of time to write and I have some other rambling thoughts. Like about the nectar of the gods.

Coffee. And how it’s made.

Not everyone feels that a cup of joe is the nectar of the gods, but as far as I’m concerned, you can keep your wine, beer, aged scotch, tea and (heaven forbid) soda. I’ll take coffee.

It’s not the caffeine, it’s the flavor. I like good quality coffee, and I like making it the same way I’ve been making it since I first began brewing my own – with a Chemex coffee pot. Years ago, long before Keurig and the vast array of coffee makers that electronically brew your coffee on a timer, there were some simple coffee makers, drip coffee pots, and a few other options. At the time, Consumer Reports evaluated all the means of making coffee and ranked the Chemex number one for flavor with the French press right behind.

With special filters manufactured by Chemex, all bitterness is removed from the coffee as you pour boiling water over the measured grounds. People have commented on how good this coffee is which I credit to the Chemex method. (OK, and the fact that I’m willing to spend a bit more on well-crafted and sustainably-sourced coffee.)

But here’s what’s funny. Like so many other things in life, this method is now having a revival! Having once fallen out of favor except with its many devotees, and having been (unintentionally) kicked to the curb by Keurig, this method of brewing can now be found in restaurants all over, and it’s known as “pour-over” coffee. Uh-huh. Rewind! Welcome to my world, guys. Live long enough – and I’m not that old – and you will see everything come around again from platform shoes to tie-dye shirts to troll dolls.

But in this case, it’s a real benefit to those of us for whom our cuppa joe will always be the nectar of the gods. Cheers!

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This image is currently on my desktop and that little kid puts a smile on my face and makes me think.

When I look at her, I see she is doing exactly what she – a mountain goat kid – is supposed to be doing and what comes naturally. Leaping. She’s not thinking about it or getting all nervous about it or wondering will she twist her ankle if she leaps really high. She just leaps.

Were it that easy for us humans. Okay, I’ll speak for myself. Over the course of my life I have taken numerous leaps of faith, and often without any tangible safety net. Each time, I truly amazed myself because clearly, I didn’t think I had it in me.

I was musing earlier about the time when I got on a plane to Portugal at 21 years old to visit my cousin who lived in a tiny fishing village in the farthest point north of the country. I’d only been on a plane once, and never abroad. What was funny in retrospect is that I was too young and naive to even know what a leap of faith I was actually taking. My flight was delayed at JFK by 6 hours and was going to get me into Lisbon far later than my cousin and I had planned and I had critical train connections to make. There were no cell phones, no means of communication like that and I was alone. In my utter panic, because of course I had not thought to learn any Portuguese other than “Bom Dia”, I began asking about for help using my high school French and entreated a bi-lingual Portuguese gentleman to help me. He wrote notes for each of the two train masters and one for, hopefully, a cab at the other end. I arrived after midnight in the pitch black of the countryside, but got delivered safe and sound to my cousin’s house. How did I do it?

Over 10 years ago, I took a very conscious leap of faith to leave a secure job and go freelance so I could pursue my dream of writing and illustrating children’s books. My income was not even covered, but I believed that somehow, despite my many apprehensions, I would be okay. I’d be lying if I said that the time in between hasn’t had its stress, crises and challenges, yet I made it. Except for one thing. I haven’t made nearly the progress I had hoped towards my dream. The next leap is before me.

And that’s where that little mountain goat comes in. Sometimes we can feel like we are suspended in mid-air. We know we jumped; in fact it may have been necessary to jump, or we sorely need to, but how we land depends on us. I want with every fiber of my being to be as sure-footed as that little kid, who knows in her heart of hearts, in the deepest recesses of her mountain goat soul, that she will land safely and securely, most likely on all fours.

Søren Kierkegaard once said, “To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself.”

I stand at the edge, breathe in my inner mountain goat, and leap.

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I reached for a pocketed folder on my office bookcase and heard a small crash. I looked down and it was a little volume titled Great “Quotes” from Great Women!

I hadn’t looked at this in quite some time, but I am never one to ignore books jumping off a shelf! I always assume events like these are the Universe’s way of pointing out something to me, even if just to slow down my workday and take a look. I had a business meeting coming up and wanted to get all my ducks in a row, but then there was this.

I picked this little collection up back in 1984. It is dedicated to “all the great women whose words have motivated, inspired and brought tears and laughter into our lives.” I suspect were this book published today it would be greatly expanded.

Those quoted are a cross section of women in politics or whose husbands were in politics, leaders, authors, actresses, singers, even comediennes. One of my favorite quotes is by Elaine Boosler, “I’m just a person trapped inside a woman’s body.”

My little break of inspiration was much needed when this book landed on the floor. I’m still smiling as I think of it. I hope these few quotes do the same for you. Here’s another, this one from Edith Armstrong: “I keep the telephone of my mind open to peace, harmony, health, love and abundance. Then whenever doubt, anxiety or fear try to call me, they keep getting a busy signal and soon they’ll forget my number.”

Now why my little Jazzy, you may ask? Well, first, because I can. And second, because that peaceful repose is a reminder to be sure to take in some sun and some time to relax whenever you can. I accept that as her inspirational contribution to the post, as it’s always great advice.

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Some time ago – can it really be back in 2014 I wrote that post? – I featured the last home I lived in, a beautiful stone farmhouse, the oldest part of which was 1724. The bulk of the house was built in 1810, and then the homeowner who lovingly restored the property added a modern kitchen and bath about 40 or so years ago. I’d promised to share the house I’d lived in prior to that, an 1870 home, technically Victorian I guess, but not of the gingerbread style as the community was more farm oriented than fancy.

As mentioned in that earlier post, all my life after college, including where I live now, has been in homes or apartment buildings from 1810 – 1920. I have enjoyed 9′ ceilings as my standard, deep porches on all the homes, stunning hardwood floors, and more “wildlife” than modern homes allow by sheer dint of better mechanics, technology and sealing. It was usually a small price to pay.

Above you see the first house I lived in when I moved to the western side of New Jersey in a tiny rural town called Pattenburg, once a center of basket-making and peach growing. These were all taken to market on the trains that ran the (still active) tracks at the far back of my property. The land itself was 1/2 acre and an absolute marvel to this girl who’d been living in an (albeit huge) apartment. The property was on the narrow side and quite deep with 14 deciduous trees, and I sure got my exercise raking each fall and mowing.

There you see an aging apple tree which was a major attraction in the fall. It was not unusual to look outside and see deer, rabbits, and groundhogs all together enjoying what had fallen to the ground. As the ancient tree had not been well-cared for, the apples were not really edible or pie-worthy, but few went wasted. At the right, the ubiquitous outhouse, an often-rescued fixture on every property on Main Street.

And this is Main Street, photographed from the road in front of my house. When I first moved here, people were always talking about “downtown”. Needless to say, I was curious as to where that might be, so I asked. I was told,  “You’re standing in it!” This was a far different life than I had ever known, for sure.

Every time I was out walking the dogs total strangers driving by would wave at me. At first, taken a bit aback, my hand would flail lightly at my side reaching in an upward direction. I’d never lived anywhere where strangers just waved at you. But it didn’t take me long to catch on – people were just downright friendly. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have landed here.

The backyard in snow. And this only shows a portion of it. There’s another third of the land beyond that farthest point you can see. Plus this doesn’t give a hint of the lush blossoming of endless perennial plants, shrubs and trees that were on this property. I have so many photos of the flowers all about – small areas of blossoming beauty – that I’d be here for days just trying to find and scan photos of the riot of color that abounded in spring and summer.

I don’t have a lot of photographs of the interior of the house. It had original hardwood – walnut, I believe – floors and stairs. The kitchen’s wide planks had already been painted, so  once settled in, I gave it a new high-gloss paint job. Out the kitchen door was a patio.

Another photo in the kitchen. Here was my old girl, Chloe, then nearing 15 years – the most lovable, trustworthy and phenomenally stubborn dog one could ever hope to own. (Yes, she’s on the drop cloth.) Behind her was a complete wall of original wood cabinets and drawers, any kitchen-lover’s dream. The original wainscoting was also intact, unpainted. Throughout the house there were chair rails with beautifully coordinated colonial colors and petite flowered wallpaper above the rail. There were also closed-over fireplaces in the living and dining rooms and the master bedroom. Again, just as well for one with no knowledge of building or watching over fires.

And here’s what qualified our little stretch of maybe 24 houses and an old red schoolhouse as a downtown – we had a church and an antique store which was once Pattenburg’s general store. I was soon surprised at how many people visited the shop filled with antiques and collectibles. It turns out the owner had cleverly gotten her store listed on an “antiques trail” where people would drive about following a map for fabulous finds in and around the county.

The house at Christmas, my tree in the dining room at right, not visible in this photo. I decorated the garland with white lights, gold bows and small pink roses to complement the house. It always looked wonderful. At the holidays, our little Main Street was all aglow, looking for all it was worth like a slice of another time with beautifully lit houses, and neighbors happier still, all of us waving at one another, wishing each a warm Merry Christmas. Life was good.

p.s. For another insight into this country life, take a peek at this post about the train trestle at the far end of Main Street.

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One of the fascinating things about childhood is that as we grow older our perspectives on it change. What were once annoying practices foisted upon us now make perfect sense. Where once we had wishes for things far more grand and perhaps expensive than we could afford now seem so unnecessary. Just like our parents told us. Thing is, parental advice just wasn’t always all that much fun; we were kids after all. We weren’t interested in having values instilled in us; it seemed tedious.

Yet here we are, ever so many years later, reflecting on the pearls of wisdom that our parents were thanklessly sharing with us. Okay, maybe they weren’t all pearls of wisdom, but plenty of them were great guidelines, both large and small, for managing life along the way.

Below I’ve listed just a few of the things my parents taught me, and there is at least one humorous, heartwarming, life-changing, and/or scary – but always memorable – story to go with each. Undoubtedly, you have your own list you can make up quite different from mine. Especially if your parents have passed over, you might be surprised in making that list how much of what you like about yourself actually came from what they were teaching you all along. Life is funny that way.

So here’s to all the parents who caught a lot of crap, patiently waited out hysterics, bit their lip when they wanted to scream, and resisted rolling their eyes as they explained something to us for the 19th time. And here’s to all the parents who went about their lives day by day, totally unaware that their children were watching and soaking up ways to manage some of the simplest things that would stand them in good stead for a lifetime.

My list:

  • Simple is good
  • Keep the house cool by following the sun to adjust the blinds/shades
  • You don’t have to have a lot of money to have a good time
  • You can never have too many flowers
  • Eat fresh
  • Bugs aren’t really all that scary when it comes right down to it
  • Budget your money
  • Make your bed every day
  • Take lots of pictures
  • Going away to college helps you grow up

 

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Today, Sunday February 12th, is the beginning of Random Acts of Kindness Week. This whole concept had taken off to such a degree as to be a movement, but I pay no attention to that. And while you can, you needn’t either. What we can all do during this week is one little thing – one kind little thing – each day for another person or animal that will make some small difference in their life. Just because we can.

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Kindness, as you know, is it’s own reward. And if you enjoy how you feel this week, then go for another week, and another. Because not only will you have changed the world,  you will have changed yourself.

Here are some new quotes I found for inspiration …

“Remember that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something and has lost something.”
~ H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
~ Leo Buscaglia

“Sure the world breeds monsters, but kindness grows just as wild… ”
~ Mary Karr, The Liars’ Club: A Memoir, 1995

“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
– Desmond Tutu

“In the long run, the sharpest weapon of all is a kind and gentle spirit.”

~ Anne Frank, The Diary of Anne Frank

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This is a re-run from an earlier year, but still as true as ever …

ChristmasMugAndPlate2Or, in reality, 4 mugs and 4 plates. Christmas creeps into my home, ever so slowly, drawing from this cabinet, that closet, this box, that drawer. But it always seems to start with my dollar store Christmas plates and German made Christmas mugs. I feel like a child who has glimpsed a stack of unfamiliar boxes tucked way on top of mommy and daddy’s closet. Something exciting is coming.

These simple items that I’ve had for quite a few years put a smile on my face, and though I see beautiful Christmas dishes everywhere that I’d love to have, I pretty much know I’ll also be happy with these for years to come. They’re enough. And oftentimes, enough is good.

As I watched the TV commercials for Black Friday insanity, my newspapers packed with shiny paper catalogs filled with sales, I wondered how we got to this place of endless need for so much “stuff.” It’s not that I don’t treasure a new addition to my kitchen, book shelf, or whatever … I really do, but there’s also an enjoyment of things that have been around a while, and which have meaning. Especially at this time of year.

So the plates and mugs have now been joined by some festive place mats, candles and accessories. Slowly, the house will really start to feel like Christmas, warm and glow-y … well, like Home.

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Do you have particular spots in your house that you are drawn to? I have a few … this is one of them.

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It always feels that there’s a moment of calm here. It’s not specifically the photo of my parents on their wedding day, nor the fall leaves in that deep brown, glazed pitcher, nor the rusted tin crow – it’s all of it and how it just sits together. It’s a confluence of things that somehow ties my life together, and it’s a spot which, when things start to pile up on the chairs, gets cleared and cleaned quickly.

It feels like fall in this little corner of my world, and at times like these – a week so filled with work that I can sometimes forget to go out to the road and get my mail – it reminds me that Home is a good place. The beauty of fall is happening outside; I took it all in yesterday on an appointment I had to keep, and hope to take my camera to enjoy it again this weekend. But meanwhile, fall is happening inside, too.

Years ago, while applying to art school, I briefly considered a degree in architecture (though that would have meant I’d have taken and done well in physics and/or chemistry.) I later realized it wasn’t architecture that most attracted me; it was the inside spaces of the building … interior design. It was creating little spots like this, spots of visual retreat and harmony, that inspired me.

Goethe once said, “He is the happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home.” I believe he was right.

 

 

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applebars-squaresdone-small2It’s no revelation to say that routine can be a real buzzkill. And that can be true in any area of our lives. And yet, many of us are confined by the strictures of work, family, chores, etc. A fair amount of our scheduled days is necessarily and simply unavoidably routinized.

But what about some of that other time? I have been noticing lately how much of certain nights is all packaged up ever-so-neatly around the TV. Very American, yes? Truly I am not all that into TV the way I realize a lot of people are, but still … I have my favorites that I like to catch. However, I will find myself parked there, watching something relatively inane that has been sandwiched in between some things I really like. Why am I watching it?

I decided to take a harder look at what I’m watching and … decided to skip a bunch of it. Dumping the telly for a good book. Yeah, I remember that. Sunday afternoon I came home from a picnic with the plan of baking something – had all the ingredients already on the counter and everything. (Ergo the photos you see.) But I wasn’t feeling it, so did some other things, yet was still aware of he clock ticking. Who starts baking after 7 p.m. with work looming on Monday? Well, I guess that was me.

applebars-prep2

The dry and other basic ingredients are gathered; the butter and egg at room temperature. Ready to start.

And that’s what made me think of/remember the importance of mixing it up. Even on the small stuff. Was there really anything so pressing on TV? Did I feel like watching the Netflix movie that was waiting? No and no. Why not go ahead and bake even if it’s getting late? Who cares how long it takes? (It was cooled off by 10:00 p.m. – Double Apple Bars. Yum.)

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The apples are pared and cubed. There are 2 cups of apples to about 1-1/2 cups of batter. Very apple-y.
I gave my favorite Macouns a try in this recipe.

We all get so comfortable doing what we’re used to. I’m at the point where I really need to mix it up more – need to feel inspired, have fun, try some new things, go back to some old ones I haven’t done in a while. I don’t know that I’ve actually been bored, but I do know that I have, in too many ways, succumbed to routines. How about you?

I just got a funny image of Bugs Bunny. “What’s up, doc?” he always said. What’s up? Well, I don’t know – what say we go find out.

applebars-squaresdone2

They taste like apple pie in a bar – moist, spicy and full of apple flavor. The pecans are yummy as an addition.

 

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I live in a small town bordered on one side by the Delaware River and surrounded by beautiful countryside. The advantages of a small town are many, especially at Halloween where we welcome a goodly amount of always well-costumed trick-or-treaters, (even the parents dress up.) I took my camera out with me on a walk the other day and snapped a few of the houses. Here’s your digression for the day …

Who doesn’t love a skeleton on a swing?

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These people have a small front yard, but there are always creepy things to look for, hands coming out of the ground, and such. The next 3 photos are of that house.

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Some places are very busy with more than any kid could possibly grasp while running from house to house, yet still suitably scary in the dark …

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Others are more low key. Note the skeleton Dachshund by the stairs.

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The shriveled pumpkin is a nice subtle touch …

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And my favorite, and their only Halloween decoration. Why is this so attractive to me? Because it inspires a story. Who is she? (Or is it a he?) Why is she haunting their garden? Does she stay there all the time? I’m hoping the people have put a soft white LED light beneath her to help her glow eerily, but I haven’t been by after dark yet.

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Happy Halloween!

 

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