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Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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In memory of all those who lost their lives on 9/11 and in gratitude and in memory of all those who became heroes in a moment’s notice – fire fighters, rescue workers, canine search and rescue teams from all over the U.S., health workers, and the often unsung heroes – all those responsible for evacuating 500,000 people to safety in the Great Boatlift of 9/11, the largest boatlift in human history. You are not forgotten.

With the towers in flames and everyone running for their lives, it soon became clear that Manhattan was an island and that there weren’t many places to run. But that it’s an island also meant something else. There were boats. This is such an amazing film, made 10 years after 9/11 by Eddie Rosenstein and narrated by Tom Hanks. When the call went out for help, hundreds of  tugboats, ferries, fishing boats, coast guard cutters, party boats and others sped to Manhattan to take as many people as they could for as many trips as they could make. People who could not refuse the call to help – who were honored to assist the thousands of people, standing desperate on the edge of Manhattan – became largely unsung heroes. This video sings their praises and so beautifully.  It’s nearly 12 minutes long but worth every second.

For those of you who follow me, you have seen this before, but I decided to post again for those new people who may stop by, and also, because this video restores my faith in the human race — in the potential for kindness and compassion from one everyday person to another. I hope you watch again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Memory is a funny thing, isn’t it? It’s selective, exclusive, accurate, fictional, unreliable, illuminating, calming, and so much more. One of the ways we know how unreliable memory is is to have two people observe the same series of events and later ask that they recount them. To listen to some accounts, you would not think the people had witnessed the exact same events! If nothing else, memory is personal.

But the beauty of memories, I think, is their ability to bring peace, comfort, and happiness. The photo above, one of many likely sent around in a Power Point presentation (artists never recognized), is from a group of water-themed images. I am reasonably sure it’s Cape Cod or thereabouts. It’s had a special spot on my desktop for a couple weeks now even though I usually have a group set to change every hour.

Every time I look at it, I feel some deep sense of calm, and that calm comes from a memory. When I was a child, my parents sometimes took our family on driving vacations, that trusty AAA TripTik as our guide. Though I can’t remember how old I was at the time of this particular trip, I can remember the busy, narrow streets of Provincetown, bustling with locals and tourists alike. I can see the small, white clapboard shops and sparkling jars and bottles in every color of the rainbow, flags, kites, and … ice cream. I just remembered the ice cream.

And then there was the beach. What I remember so vividly is how totally different the Cape Cod beach was from the beaches where I grew up and frequented here in New Jersey.  The smell of the air, the texture of the sand, the look and feel and scent of the water as it rolled in — so much gentler than the crashing waves at the Jersey shore – the trees and greenery never found at any of the local beaches I’d ever been to. The fact that I have such consistently positive memories of Cape Cod tells me something else. All of us must have been happy.

So this image is going to rest a while longer on my desktop. More importantly, it is my new go-to peaceful place to visit when work gets too hectic, people unreasonable, when stress cranks up a bit. In our memories, there is always a place of calm and respite. This is mine. Feel free to come with.

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The other morning I was leaning on my Mom’s old Art Deco hope chest, looking out the rear second story window as I often do each day. Not looking for anything in particular, just getting a feel for the day ahead in some way.

Suddenly, crossing my vision, there was a Great Blue Heron, a bird which I’ve seen in other parts of my county, but never here. I immediately felt it was a gift.

It flew from the direction of the river, over the few backyards in between, and landed in a fully leafed-out maple across the street. It was a matter of seconds and it became invisible in the tree. My breath was taken away, and I stood there minutes longer watching the unlikely hiding place the heron had chosen.

A few hours later, the heron was still very much on my mind, and I decided to look up what meaning there might be when Heron appears in one’s life. In cases such as these, I look to Ted Andrews who wrote Animal Speak. You can find his insights here. I realize not everyone believes that animals may have meaning in our lives, or messages. However, over the years I have found that, especially when animals appear in unusual places or circumstances, it has been worthwhile to look into it.

There is so much going on in our world right now. I am often overwhelmed with so many emotions. Each time I think about writing a post about any of it, I wonder what could I possibly say that hasn’t already been said before. It seems I do better to center myself as best I can and send out love and light.

I subscribe to the blog of a wonderful friend, Anysia Kiel. She reminds us that when everything seems to be breaking, it is because a transformation is happening, and something new is taking the place of what has gone before. Like the Great Blue Heron who lifts its wings in graceful flight, I realize that the one thing I can do – we can do – is to lift our hearts and hands in love and be part of the transformation.

 

 

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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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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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A number of years ago, a dear and spiritual friend told me that at the heart of it all, there were only two emotions – love and fear. I considered it seriously, looked at it this way and that, and concluded she was right.

Much to my surprise, when I tore off the March 17th page of my Wayne Dyer daily calendar, I found this …

I would be lying if I said that I am not struggling with a newfound degree of anxiety and uncertainty in the face of this global pandemic, as I’m sure many of you are, and so many, many more beyond us. But it was a reminder to always keep our eye on the love, what we give and what we are given. Whether we feel the same as we always have or suddenly sink into panic and worry, we are loved.

However we may perceive that love or from whom – I am loved – you are loved. We’ll be OK.

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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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