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It wouldn’t be Valentine’s Day without something a little sweet, right? How about an adorable pied Frenchie who’s discovered some just-frosted sugar cookies? (And is about to do something very naughty!) That’s sweet x 2!

Order these sweet French Bulldog Valentine’s Day cards on my website or in my just-opened Etsy shop and put a smile on the faces of the special someone(s) in your life.

One of the shortcomings of we creative folk, I find, is that we generally don’t share our gifts proudly with others, or even give ourselves a pat on the back all too often. Writing a blog, and especially if it includes our own artwork, photography, videos, or images of our various accomplishments, is one way we do that. Even so, many of us only shyly take credit for the beauty, wisdom, intelligence, and creativity we put out into the world through our blogs. We all deserve a pat on the back, so please – give yourself one!

A corollary to this is if our creativity is available to others … as in a business. For those of you who check in on me regularly, you are likely to be aware I’m a graphic artist. But how many know that I actually promote my graphic design services on the web? Not enough, I’m sure, so I am taking this opportunity to introduce you to my graphic design blog – Jeanne Balsam Graphics. Please take a toddle on over and see what I do. I am growing my business, and have a particular interest in helping people self-publish by putting an attractive and professional product out there. (The picture book above is my design/layout, and includes some original artwork, as well.)

With the advantages of the internet, working together is no longer limited by our physical proximity. I have local clients as well as in California, the mid-west, and more. Maybe I can help you or someone you know with a fabulous design piece. If so, you can contact me anytime through my graphics blog.

OK, so that’s me finally patting myself on the back a bit and sharing more of what I do. Now it’s your turn!

One of the wonders of nature is the movement of large numbers of animals in a synchronization we can only observe in awe. In fish, we see schools, in insects, swarms, and in birds, we see flocking. It is a mesmerizing dance. Above we see crows, below starlings.

In the video linked to here, titled The Starling and Falcon Dance by Nick Dunlop, set to the most perfect music, we see thousands of European Starlings migrating south. They have attracted a prime predator, the Peregrine Falcon, and in attempting to evade him, they fly in synch and create amazing patterns in the sky. As fascinating as these photos might be, they cannot show you the magic created by the birds in flight.

Please take a look at one of nature’s miracles.

 

On Christmas Eve …

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

The internet is an incredible source of so many things, and some incredibly wonderful. This is one of those, and brings tears to my eyes each time I watch it. So simple, so beautifully and brilliantly done. Just 3 minutes you won’t regret. Go full screen.

Homer Simpson’s a pretty wacky guy, but you have to say he’s right on the money in his effusing about pie.

I decided to make a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, but wanted something a little different than the same ole, same ole. So I perused my collection of recipes (the size of which would have you thinking I was cooking/baking 3 meals daily every day of the week. Hah! Not quite.) I decided to make this yummy pie called “Paradise Pumpkin Pie.” You’ll get why in a second.

All the ingredients gathered to make the process go efficiently and smoothly.

I know this probably looks fine, but to me, it was kind of raggedy. It’s been a while since I made a pie crust, and I felt like I’d lost my magic touch (said the perfectionist.) This was a basic all-butter crust.

Now here’s what drew me to this pie and why they call it a “Paradise” Pumpkin Pie. This is the Paradise layer – a smooth mixture of cream cheese, an egg, some sugar, and vanilla. In essence, a layer of cheesecake to go under the pumpkin. Yum, right? Wait …

Don’t you love mixing up the pumpkin and all those spices? The smell alone is so delicious!

So here’s the pie right out of the oven. Not at all what the recipe photo looked like, and I admit I saw this problem as a potential right away – that the cheesecake layer could easily permeate the upper pumpkin layer. So I ever-so-carefully ladled – not poured – the pumpkin on top, doing my best not to disturb the Paradise layer. However, the result was a bit more like some kind of algae-blooming pie!

And here in the cooled slice, you can see the problem – exactly what I anticipated is what happened. The pie, instead of looking like a standard pumpkin pie with a surprise layer viewed when cut,  showed where the cheesecake layer had pushed up when the pumpkin was ladled over.

That said, the pie was delicious – the seasoning excellent, and the filling super creamy. Would I make this again? Sure. But now I’ll think of it as an “Almost Paradise Pumpkin Pie.” Then again, so many recipes, so little time.

p.s. After I put this post together, I realized I had actually made this pie – and posted about it – once before! Not only that, but it came out just fine 5 years ago. (A sure sign of a weary mind, but hey – now you can see what it should look like!) Check here for the recipe and an earlier version.

`Tis the season, and while you – or friends and family – are thinking of purchasing cards to send, it’s my season to give you some options!

Consider these two adorable Frenchies who have made it up to the kitchen table to have themselves a small feast of Christmas cookies. Anyone who has dogs – or cats – understands the possibility of coming into the kitchen and finding just such a scene. Have a counter surfer in your house? This is just a variation on a theme!

You can find these and other holiday cards on my website, as well as charming blank notecards that would make great gifts. Please shop!

 

It’s time! For those of you old-fashioned folk who still love to write out and send Christmas or holiday cards, please check out these Frenchie darlings ready to travel miles with nothing but your love and a stamp.

Featuring my own artwork, this card is called “Toasty Warm”, because who wouldn’t be with those little sweaters and pom-pom knitted caps? You can order my Toasty Warm French Bulldog holiday cards through my website, and send something adorable to your friends and loved ones.

As is the case with many things nowadays, the art of hand writing cards and notes seems to have fallen out of favor with some in favor of the speed of the internet. And here’s where I disagree – there is nothing like opening your mailbox and discovering a bona fide greeting card – be it for Christmas, the holidays, or some other occasion – written out just to you. It has always been special and, in my opinion, will always be special. (As a parallel note, by the way, Kindle sales have fallen and sales of real, 3-dimensional books for children are on the upswing.)

There is something about the smile you feel when holding a card in your hands, displaying it on the mantle, and looking at it whenever you feel like it, that can’t be replaced by the digital. So check out all my French Bulldog holiday cards, and discover what you would like to send!

November Walk

While waiting for needed input on a number of projects yesterday, I decided to take the walk I’d been putting off. It was sunny and crisp, and even in mid-afternoon, with the shorter days, the light was angling through the trees and casting long shadows.

Ornamental grasses flanking a walkway sport their furry blooms. Many trees in the area have lost the majority of their leaves.

Long shadows are cast by an already lowering sun.
In the background, a sparkling river moseys south.

Something new for me when I moved to this side of the state was the concept of rural delivery. The postal carrier does not bring mail to the mailbox by your front door, but instead leaves it in mailboxes which stand alone or in groups at the edge of properties and driveways. Certainly makes sense considering how much of this area is farmland!

My town was initially established in the mid 18th century, a mill town on the river, but was not officially incorporated with its current name until 1925. It went through many names, among them Burnt Mills after the grist mill was destroyed by fire in 1769. Many older buildings grace the town, this one (I’m estimating late 1800’s) is converted to a barber shop and residence.

Trees along the riverbank holding on to the last of their leaves.

Looking north, the Delaware is a sea of calm. Whether due to rain or the extended warmth of much of the fall season, there were not many of the brilliant oranges and reds to be found among the trees this year. Instead, the green leaves seemed to fade to dull yellows and browns.

A group of Canada geese swim, relax, and feed at the edge of the riverbank.

An oak leaf on the textured concrete bridge path looks both crisp and leathery. It’s shadow seems to have another life altogether, something insectile.

A train once connected Phillipsburg about 1/2 hour north of my town all the way south to Lambertville, paralleling the river. The tracks were recently cleared and maintained to allow a train to travel several miles for fun trips for passengers at an annual event. The mournful whistle of the steam engine could be heard for two days, and then on occasion afterward.

Walking with my camera always opens my eyes to my surroundings, and causes me to be very grateful to live where I do – an older, established community with a long history, and where people still are gracious and kind.

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.

How many times have you finished a book, and it was so good that you wanted to go back to the beginning and read it again? I’ve felt that way; I think we all have. But how many times have you actually done it? I’m guessing you haven’t, and until now, neither have I. Until I read The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee.

This is an amazing historical novel, written in first person by a young woman, who, at the opening of the book, is making her entrance at the Sénat Bal in Paris, autumn of 1882. She is “La Genérale”,  Lilliet Berne, famed opera singer and a falcon soprano. She is approached by a novelist who dares to get her attention, and asks her to listen to his proposition – a story he has in his possession, to which a score will be written by a promising composer, an original role created just for her. Such a thing is the apex of an opera’s singer career. And then Lilliet hears how much of the story is her own past life, which, if it came to light, would destroy her career. So few know her past; who would want to see her fall? And so begins our story.

We return to Lilliet’s beginnings in the then free-state of Minnesota in 1866, sixteen years old, when she loses her entire family to scarlet fever. Alone and practically penniless, she decides to cross the country, and then the ocean, to find her mother’s only sister in Switzerland. The ensuing story unfolds in endless twists and turns of Lilliet’s trying to survive, becoming a circus equestrienne, a courtesan, later purchased by the tenor, the keeper of the empresses’s furs, and an opera singer. This all takes place largely in Paris during and after the reign of Emperor Louis Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie.

The Queen of the Night is a very complex novel. There is subterfuge, characters using each other and being used, and many unexpected betrayals. Set against the backdrop of an opulent Paris as well as the utter desolation after the Prussian attack, there is also opera, loyalty, friendship, devotion, and most importantly, love. One might say that this is a love story, but truly, it is so much more. When I decided to reread this book, I was initially aware it was because there was so much going on, that I knew I had missed certain things, and I needed to feel that I really understood everything.

But as I approach the final chapters this second time, I know that a major attraction for me is Lilliet Berne herself. I found Lilliet to be an amazing heroine, who fights to stay alive, to try to be whatever it is she is born to be, despite not knowing at all what that might be for so long. She starts our story as an orphaned girl of sixteen, and ends … well, I can’t really tell you that. I can say that this is a demanding book, not one to be read when you’re tired or distracted, because I guarantee, you will miss something critical. But it is also one you cannot put down. Alexander Chee is highly successful in writing a story with fine attention to rich historical detail, and also for creating characters who will live in your imagination between each reading and after.

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.

 

roughwighting

Life in a flash - a weekly blog on daily living

TheBookOwl

Mainly non-fiction book reviews. Science, nature, memoirs, history etc. Also fiction

JEANNE BALSAM GRAPHICS

BRINGING YOUR DREAMS TO LIFE

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Official Home of Lavinia and Rick Ross

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Textbook Libra, potentially snarky, always writing.

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The blog of Canadian author Cynthia Reyes

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Some thoughts from author and agent Marie Lamba

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