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Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

It’s been a very long time since I wept so at the end of a book. And I mean wept. Even I didn’t see that coming. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein is an outstanding novel, told in the first person by Enzo, a dog. But don’t think that this is just some dog story – it’s not; it is skillfully told through the keen observation, devotion, and insightful outlook of a narrator who just happens to walk on four legs.

The main character, Denny, to whom Enzo has been deeply bonded since a small pup, is a race car driver, so periodically, there is background and information about racing. But don’t think this is a story about racing either – it’s not. Racing is a metaphor for life and how to live it, particularly racing in the rain, of which Denny is a master.

The first chapter begins at the end of Enzo’s life, where he wishes to be released with dignity. From watching “too much television” (according to Denny), Enzo has learned of a Mongolian belief whereby a dog who’s lived a good life will become human in his next incarnation. This is what Enzo aspires to, and despite his periodic dismay at not having speech and being unable to communicate what he knows, or to have been denied opposable thumbs, Enzo does his best to live a model life.

The second chapter begins the story of Denny, his love, Eve, their child Zoë, and the journey of their lives together. From Denny and Enzo watching race tapes on the TV, with Denny explaining all the details to Enzo, to Eve’s illness, to the in-laws overbearing attitude and ultimately cruel shattering of Denny’s life, we are drawn into a story – sometimes funny, sometimes tragic – of a life that could be anybody’s. It’s always set against the backdrop of Denny’s aspirations to be an accomplished driver, and his teaching Enzo the subtleties of mastering the track. Enzo gets it. “Your car goes where your eyes go. Simply another way of saying that which you manifest is before you.”

You do not need to have ever had a dog to appreciate Enzo or his telling of Denny’s story. But if you have ever loved a dog at any time in your life, you will be greatly enriched – and moved – by Enzo, and all that he is. Likewise, those familiar with racing will have the extra bonus of understanding the racing world references. But you don’t have to know anything about racing – as I do not – to understand the story, for again, in the end it’s not about racing, but life.

While we knew from Chapter One where this book would end, the impact is unexpectedly profound; the epilogue, deeply touching. If nothing else, Enzo is a remarkably skilled writer. I had not realized how invested I was in this story … and in Enzo … until the end. The Art of Racing in the Rain is a keeper.

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The sun attempts to break through an almost white sky. The weather report tells me that this is the best it will do today. Some high winds later on, and for Christmas, perhaps a dash of snow in the morning. This suits me fine – my days of longing for a white Christmas vanished as soon as I had to drive in it. As I looked out the window, I searched inside for my Christmas spirit. I found it to be a little lacking, having been pulled in many directions the last week. I knew one remedy, of course – images and words that bring a smile and/or inspire.

So here you see my gentle snowman, standing at my front door, ready to greet you. His candle lights at dusk, and he blows it out at dawn. But tonight it will burn steadily and all through the day on Christmas.

Inside, the beautiful oak washstand of over 100 years shines as always, with silk poinsettias, my very favorite ice balls holding tea lights, and just a peek at the photo of my Mom and Dad’s wedding portrait.

And though from a winter past, the snowy roofs and lightly dusted bare branches put me in a festive mood.

But what about words that inspire? I remembered some years ago, my Christmas present to loved ones was a print of the piece below, a longtime favorite of mine, to which I added original artwork of forest animals in each season in each of the print’s four corners. I felt my contribution was small in the shadow of Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata. I share it here with you, with my warmest wishes for a Christmas filled with the sparkle of magic, hope, and peace.

Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

~ Max Ehrmann

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I say `taking back’, because it can be too often that we have given it away. To others, to circumstances, to fears. And sometimes without even being aware that that is why we feel the way we do. I am musing on this because I watch myself, sometimes undulating like the waves, feeling strong, and then suddenly, even if for only a moment, powerless. I remind myself, we are never truly powerless. Even though it can certainly feel that way at times. It’s another life lesson – taking back our power, and remembering that we always have the choice to do so. If we feel we can’t? Well, as one of my favorite people, Louise Hay, has always said, “It’s only a thought, and a thought can be changed.”

Here’s another woman’s thought about that. Susan Polis Schultz says, “This life is yours. Take the power to choose what you want to do and do it well. Take the power to love what you want in life and love it honestly. Take the power to walk in the forest and be a part of nature. Take the power to control your own life. No one else can do it for you. Take the power to make your life happy.”

Happiness is also a choice, much as taking back our power is and they are inexorably intertwined. When we feel in control of our lives, we tend to be happy. We are not living according to the fear of others’ expectations (be they past or present), or of what will happen next. We are not filled with doubts.

This is our time on this planet. We can live in our space and our truth, and know what’s important to us. We have the right to pursue and find what brings happiness and tranquility into our lives. It may be a journey, but I do believe we can be there in this moment. We can live lighter and more freely, more optimistically.

In addition to my classic A.A. Milne Winnie the Pooh books, I also have a book by Benjamin Hoff titled The Tao of Pooh in which we realize what a zen-like – and therefore, powerful – character Winnie the Pooh really is.

In the wise words of author A.A. Milne,

“What day is it?”
It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
My favorite day,” said Pooh.”

And that’s how it’s done.

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As the summer has ambled on, turning gently into the 40’s and 50’s at night, certain of the flowers and shrubs begin to lose their color, their energy to stand tall, their vibrancy. Such is the case each year with the beautiful snowball hydrangeas (as I call them.) They produce huge balls of snow white flowers in the spring which turn to the softest lime green as summer glides through. In late August, the canes bend low to the ground, and the once white snowballs now begin to turn to rust and copper. This is what I observed in the garden that surrounds my back porch.

And then, about a week ago, a herald appeared – a new, small white snowball. The temperatures had not gotten warmer; in fact, cooler nights had arrived when it bloomed. I am enchanted. And somehow heartened, as if a messenger of hope had appeared in the midst of so much worldly turmoil. The leaves of this large plant are drooping, crumbling at the edges, yet bright and tall stands a youngster in their midst. So I thought to photograph this resistor of cold nights, this affirmer of life among his fellow snowballs, who slowly yield to the coming of fall.

The snowball hydrangeas look equally magnificent as they dress for fall, slipping gradually into their new and deep copper attire.

I am a believer in signs and synchronicity (which people often refer to as “coincidence” or “accidents”). I can’t be sure what message this lovely upstart is meant to bring, if any, but it brought me a renewed wonder in nature and her whims; a small feeling that anything is possible; and a smile every time I look at it. And that’s quite enough.

I did not go on my brief photographic venture alone. I was joined by Pumpkin, who lives next door, and who thought to also enjoy the simple wonders of a sunny morning.

 

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This is a re-blog of a previous post of mine from 2013. In light of so many things – the mass shooting in Las Vegas, the callousness and bias of our leader(s), the weather patterns that can only get worse as we ignore the needs of our beautiful Earth – I am reminded of the ever growing need to offset – to combat – hate, and to see the divine in one another. All of us. More than ever, we need to be kind and to forgive. This TV show was always a favorite of mine, and is the epitome of finding and acknowledging the light in one another, no matter how dim it may seem to shine.

In following an unexpected trail of webby bread crumbs recently, I came to a YouTube video of Joan of Arcadia.

256px-JoaI always loved this show and also the show’s theme song by Joan Osbourne, One of Us. I loved the premise of Joan Girardi, (Amber Tamblyn), finding God each week in everyday people – a fellow student, a mime, a homeless man, a club DJ, a girl on the color guard at school, a soccer mom, the lunch lady, the dog walker,  and the list goes on.  The message is ultimately about the Divine in each of us, and the essence of the greeting Namaste. The song’s refrain is this:

What if God was one of us,
just a slob like one of us,
just a stranger on the bus
trying to make his way home.

Namaste is a greeting used by many Hindu, Taoist and Buddhists which literally means “I bow to you.” It is said with the hands together in prayer position over the heart chakra and with a bow of the head. It is the divine spark in one person acknowledging the divine spark in another. To me it is one and the same as to what Joan of Arcadia was all about … acknowledging the divine in each other – finding the divine in each other – sometimes in the most unexpected places. As said in Wikipedia, (where you can also read more about the show’s premise), “No specific mention of any “true” religion is ever made, and God quotes Bob Dylan, Emily Dickinson and the Beatles, rather than any scripture or verse”  and is always very human in his/her appearances. I suppose it may be easy to look at this TV show in the light of one religion, but  in the end … the message is the same, and enlightening from any angle.

Listen to the song –

Take a look –

 

 

 

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That’s not what we usually see, is it? More often we find articles about engendering the love of reading in kids.

So I was pretty impressed to find in the September 2017 issue of Family Circle an article about the importance of reading for pleasure. I assume that many of you reading this blog, as writers, are already immersed in a regular reading habit, but this short article with “how-to” tips addresses how we, as women, are pulled in so many directions that we often let reading slide. And it’s true; an inordinate involvement with our phones, TV, internet – not to mention the real-life issues of our families and work – can leave us feeling we have no time to read.

But a Yale linguistics professor, Kenneth Pugh, mentions the importance of reading for pleasure as highly important for our emotional health as well as strengthening our creativity. Tips on how to get back into reading include never leaving home without a book; literally penciling in time in our daily schedule for reading; swapping a chunk of our TV addiction for reading time; keeping a book on our nightstand, etc.

For anyone not sure of how to get back into reading, the article suggested as number one – your local librarian. Librarians are a fantastic source of knowledge of the books on their shelves and with a few questions, can have you in a book you love in no time. A good local bookseller can do the same. In addition, they recommended the New York Times Best Seller list, Goodreads.com, or 2017 Popsugar Reading Challenge. What I loved most about seeing this article is that Family Circle is a magazine with a huge circulation of about 17, 560 readers that reaches a very mainstream audience.

Reading – and reading for pleasure – is important. I find myself concerned about all these moms glued to their phones. What kind of inspiration is that for their children? I’m hoping that a family-oriented magazine like this one will inspire more than a few women to reconsider their habits and pick up a book – for themselves, and also to read to their kids.

 

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One of the very compelling features in a good novel can be place, where an author writes with such depth and attention to the environment inhabited by his characters that the location becomes a character all its own. I just finished The Ice Bridge by D.R.Macdonald, and was amazed at how quickly he had me immersed in the landscape of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia. This is an outstanding book in so many ways, not least of which was my having moved to the harsh, wintry landscape of Cape Seal Road right along with one of the main characters, Anna.

The intensely rich descriptions of the land and the nearby sea in every mood and facet imaginable captured my imagination. Anna is an artist, moved here from California, leaving her soon-to-be ex to rediscover her artistic self. Her drawings of the landscape, animals, and the many found objects she retrieves from both water and shore, further expand the reader’s feel for Cape Breton.

The story of her settling into the “weather-wracked” house once belonging to next door neighbor Red Murdock’s grandmother is a story in and of itself. While the jacket flap is right in saying it’s a story about love after love, it is also a story about a fading Scottish culture which once thrived in the area, and the changes that modern life has exacted on its residents. Each character in this small, somewhat forgotten community adds to the sense of place in Macdonald’s novel. He is, in my opinion, a brilliant writer who has seemingly effortlessly made me care about his characters in this slowly unfolding tale.

When Anna does something extremely foolish, it is hard to criticize her because the author has already portrayed her so completely and compassionately that we can only wonder what would make her do such a thing. The characters are real, and the conflict builds slowly through the friendships, past loves, danger, pain, and wonder of them all. And always the sea and sky, forest and field, so beautifully, beautifully rendered, from the challenges of winter through the final warming of spring in July.

What a masterful writer! What I also loved about this novel was Macdonald builds the suspense to the very end, and even with the ending given us, one can still wonder what might happen next. This is one where I was sorry to close the book and leave what I’d come to love in Cape Breton.

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Peace of Mind – One of the agreements I made with myself many years ago to help insure my peace of mind is to never watch the “news” on TV before I go to bed. First of all, as you no doubt know, the “news” for quite some time has rarely been more than a reporting of horrible misfortunes that have befallen local people and people around the world. It is a laundry list of murders, robberies, rapes, fires and the like. And that’s just the local “news.” It gets much worse as we look at national and global events.

I have been taught – and believe – that is it harmful to our very souls to bring this pain and negativity into our dream state. We have a choice in this matter. It is not to say we should not be abreast of what is happening in the world, but the degree of how much, what form of media, and the source of information also need to be carefully considered. Still, it is unwise, IMHO, to take any of it in before we go to sleep.  I am also of the opinion that any news I truly need to know will come to me.

That said, I was about to turn the TV off last night when I saw that 20/20 was doing an hourlong feature on what recently transpired in Charlottesville. I watched. I shouldn’t have. I awoke with nightmares, shaken, deeply saddened, and angry. That’s no way to wake up. It jarred the first few hours of my day. Lesson learned – again – no “news” anywhere near bedtime. Since the events at Charlottesville and what happened after, I have been, and still am, just horrified at the displays of hatred I witnessed in this country and the lack of its immediate condemnation. Like so many, I am simply at a loss in the face of all of it.

An Unexpected Upside – and then there’s this. There is very little to watch on TV over the summer, but one thing I’ve come to enjoy is a very addictive game show called The Wall. Here’s what I really like about it – it’s good news. It’s always a pair that plays – husband/wife, siblings, friends – to win money, and just about every pair of contestants is playing for money to better the world. A recent husband/wife couple had spent their own money to buy a mobile unit that offers showers to the homeless in their city. They were playing to win money to buy one or more units, at a cost of $40,000 each, to be placed around the city to give more homeless people the opportunity to shower regularly. They hoped to expand their idea across the country. In addition to dignity, they also offered clean clothing with the shower.

As you can imagine, most homeless people would not want to be on TV, but in the video package for this couple, one homeless man, clean and nicely dressed, openly thanked them on camera and said, “Now I can look for a job.” Take that, all you haters. There is love and hope in the world, and on one night a week it’s being brought to you by, of all things … a game show.

Photo Notes: These were taken after a thunderstorm in the early evening. What is most bizarre is that the first two photos were taken within seconds of each other, and seemed to be affected by the angle of my camera. I have no way to explain this. The light, as is sometimes the case after a storm, was particularly eerie, as you can see in the violet tint of a maple, two shrubs and the brown fence in a corner of the yard.

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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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Somewhere along the line growing up I remember someone telling me “A job worth doing is worth doing well.” They were right then and they’re still right. Thing is, whatever the job was then has become wayyyyyy more complicated (albeit fascinating).

I promised myself I could finally pot this long-awaiting and patient coleus, called Electric Lime, after a certain amount of reading.

We’re no longer hand-printing a book report on honeybees, or making a great table in shop, or learning how to properly set in a shoulder in the suit we’re sewing. We’re not packing up a slew of pasted-up magazine boards to be shipped out-of-state to the people who’ll make them into negatives, or changing ribbons in typewriters, or Xeroxing off copies to send out. None of that. Now we’re reaching anywhere in the world simultaneously in seconds across multiple devices.

Check out this cutie – not even 1″ in length. I looked it up to see what it might be; it’s a black and yellow lichen moth. She seemed kind of lethargic, so I put a few drops of water in front of her, and she drank it right up.

My point is, my leap of faith will entail reaching a huge amount of people across a number of platforms and social media if I want to be a success. And that means a tremendous learning curve as well as time devoted to my craft in creating product (all while still working). Whew! I’ve been researching and looking into the many things I need to do, making lists, chunking them down into more do-able lists, and working away.

A few of these rhododendron bushes grow in the yard surrounding the porch. These “snowballs” are stunning and huge, about 8″ across. 

So today, I forewent any social outings to focus on my plans, and got out in the lovely cool morning on my back porch. I pushed over the vincas I potted a couple weeks ago and plopped down a notebook, my coffee, and the book I wanted to delve into this morning, Facebook for Dummies. I have assiduously avoided Facebook for any number of reasons, but cannot do so any longer, and like everything, there’s a lot to know. So the photos you see on this page are what I saw surrounding me this morning when I hunkered down to expand my knowledge.

A bright rose and pink vinca are still settling in, moved down to make room for coffee and a pile of work.

There is one thing of which any of us who take leaps of faith can be assured … we will never be bored.

 

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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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