Feeds:
Posts
Comments

There are so many wonderful quotes by Rumi, a 13th Centure Persian mystic and poet. Here’s one I hope enlightens your day.

Hurricane Ida, Sept. 1, 2021, had devastating effects on many parts of this country, my state of New Jersey, my county, and my little town. From the flash flooding of our local creek and the 10″ of water that fell in 3-4 hours on already soaked land, our little downtown was under water up to a man’s waist.

I am deeply grateful that my house did not take on water, and after a few falters, the power stayed on. Friday, I wanted to take a walk and see what the Delaware looked like and how some small part of my little town had fared.

The day was bright and sunny, and everything looked as if there had never been a devastating storm barely over a day ago. Gardens were overflowing with perennials of every kind and looking lovely. Our area isn’t real big on formal landscaping, just filled with life. I felt relieved.

Through the trees, you could glimpse the river, a sunlit brown and green, rushing downstream.

Flowers and plants were in full bloom, edging quietly towards fall.

There was such a profusion of life; I could hardly imagine the destruction that I’d seen on the news of so many areas not that far from where I live.

A cover of stormy grey clouds provided a momentary canopy over the Delaware River. The water had reached 8′ above flood stage just the morning before, and even though receding, it had enveloped tree trunks all along its banks. And still, as always, it was stunning.

A shallow shoreline of stones where the tree roots were always visible, gone.

An abundance of sweet-smelling honeysuckle climbing over everything. With the brilliant blue sky behind, it seemed some sort of miracle.

Snowball hydrangea changing into their late summer green phase still evidenced some fresh white blooms, in denial of the coming fall, and the crisp, dry temperatures.

When these cataclysmic events happen, we can easily get overwhelmed with the news, with the images of destruction, knowing in our hearts how much people are suffering in the face of life-changing events … in some cases, the loss of loved ones. I didn’t go into town, not knowing what I might find. And what could I do? So I remained in gratitude for the safety with which I and most of my town had been graced. And tried to find the balance in beauty.

Hoping this finds you all safe and well.

Yes, two different subjects. Remember that very young praying mantis I had shared a few posts ago? She was hanging out on my kitchen window screen, looking just adorable, as all babies do. Well, I went out my kitchen/back porch door the other day, and who do you think was there waiting for me? That little mantis all grown up. Can I be sure it’s the same one? Possibly not, but she’s the right color and in the same area as the youngster.

Mantises are very brave creatures. They don’t run when giants approach. I spoke to her very softly, and came down on my knees to take her photo, making no fast moves. As you can see, she remained very calm, and did not assume her praying, pre-attack position. She cocked her head this way and that as I spoke to her, having no need to defend herself. They are such fascinating insects, so alien looking, and immensely powerful in their ability to catch their prey. They can take on small birds and frogs, but are generally most beneficial in the garden where they eat pests. (I say “she”, by the way, because females are longer than males, and she is the greater length.)

And in other news, book news, here are two excellent reads:

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton – With an exquisite use of the language, Kate Morton tells a tale that spans multiple generations over a century, from the early 1900’s to 2005. It is at once a mystery of family origins, but carefully weaves in loss, duplicity, family dysfunction, even a murder, and a real sense of place in Brisbane, Australia, and London and Cornwall in the UK. It begins with the question as to why a 4-year-old child has been abandoned and sits alone on a wharf in Brisbane with a small, white suitcase. There is not a chapter doesn’t end in a real page turner and new revelation. It is not the shortest book I’ve read, but once you begin, you’ll be so invested, you won’t even notice. It’s a great piece of historical fiction. And fairy tales … did I mention there is an Authoress who writes fairy tales?

Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty (You may know her from Big, Little Lies) is also a mystery, but takes place in current day. It is a character study of sorts of three families whose lives intertwine over just a few days, beginning with the lead up to “The Day of the Barbecue”. Moriarty keeps you on the edge of your seat as you plunge forward wondering what this tragedy could possibly be, and I assure you, it’s one you will never expect.

The balance of the book brings you deeper into the minds of those involved, until you find a quietly stated but chilling conclusion at the end. An excellent read.

What I found interesting on a personal note is that I chose both books on the recommendations of two friends, each of whom has a good idea of my reading tastes. And each book is by an Australian author, and takes place in Australia, the home of Ethicool, the publisher of my forthcoming book. No coincidences, I say.

Best News Ever!

Drumroll please! I am so happy, excited, over the moon – you name it! to announce that my first children’s book has been accepted for publication!

Where Do Butterflies Go at Night, my only picture book story in rhyme, will be published by Ethicool Books, a young and growing publisher creating extraordinary and extraordinarily beautiful books inspiring kids to create positive change in the world. This is a unique company that walks the walk of sustainability in making the world a better place for both young readers and the world at large.

Illustrating Butterflies is Stella Mongodi, an unbelievably talented artist who will bring the magical images of my text to life in ways I can’t yet even imagine. She has a unique and unforgettable style, and I can’t wait to see what she does.

And what you see here? The little butterfly that so piques the curiosity of a small child and inspires their rich fantasies.

More to come …

This morning was a space of wonderful normalcy. My friend and I went down to Frenchtown to have brunch at a favorite restaurant, Lovin’ Oven. They serve the most consistently delicious food at truly reasonable prices, and sourced as much as possible from local farms.

The outdoor patio with umbrellas for shade, bright orange picnic tables, and lovely decor.

Eating outside felt so safe and comfortable – tables well-distanced, staff wearing masks, and menus available through a QR code on little cards on the table.

The lovely fresh flowers at each table, also grown locally.

I’ve been a fan of Lovin’ Oven from when I first moved into my little town fifteen years ago. They were located just a few blocks away, right next to the Delaware River, in a turn-of-the-century Victorian house. It was kind of crowded, but totally charming, and the kitchen, tiny. At some point, they moved to Frenchtown in much more spacious quarters, part of a converted warehouse.

This wall of Hindu statuary shields the patio from the road beyond. It was a fabulous find from the former store next door, Two Buttons.

What stayed the same in the move is the wonderful staff, always smiling, considerate, and kind, and, of course, the fabulous food which includes plenty of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free. Putting aside for the moment that I don’t eat meat, there is rarely anything on the Lovin’ Oven menu that I wouldn’t eat. How many places can you say that about?

Breakfast scramble – scrambled eggs with locally grown cherry tomatoes and sweet corn plus cheddar, and accompanied by roasted potatoes and oatmeal porridge bread.

It was a huge amount of food, and I already knew I’d be taking half of it home, especially if I might be considering dessert (yes, at that hour of the morning – too good to pass up.)

Vegan taco – fried plantains, refried beans, Rancheros sauce, roasted tofu, pickled red onions on a grilled corn tortilla.

My friend chose the vegan taco which was as wonderful as its presentation. She, too, took half of this mound of food home for later consumption.

Top shelf of homemade baked goods – muffins, scones, cookies – all made from scratch.

Another plus here is that they bake all their own delicious treats right there on the premises in small batches. Not for those watching their weight or sugar, but for every now and then, do we really care? The little shelf pictured above sits over the refrigerated case which holds such wonders as Key Lime Pie, Caramel Nut Tart, or what I had … pictured below.

Peanut butter pie – a whipped peanut butter silk pie sitting on top of chocolate ganache and a graham cracker crust – just heaven.

When my peanut butter pie arrived, I was honestly so excited I forgot all about photographing it! So I borrowed this from Lovin’ Oven’s Facebook page which I doubt the owner – who now knows me for 15 years – would mind. What a dream of a pie.

I am so happy that this restaurant made it through the pandemic. Julie developed a takeout menu for 3 times a week, and all the loyal LO fans came and kept them afloat. Coming back when they could actually, physically, open again was like old home week. Staff and diners all greeted one another like long lost friends.

I think when you’re are doing the right thing for the right reason you’ll make out OK. And I think they are proof of that. They just do everything right. It’s always a pleasure to be there. Glad we all got to see you on the other side. And thanks.

This past June was the hottest on record in the United States. July saw the issuance of multiple tornado warnings in my state, one specifically for my town and the surrounding areas. Never in my life here in Jersey, have I ever had to seriously sequester myself and animals in either the basement or lowest interior space in the house (my chosen option), in response to serious tornado warnings. And they did hit, too, just, fortunately for me, not here.

But let’s look on the bright side, because there always is one.

One of two dwarf red maples on the property, this one is more a deep bronze than a shade of red. Unless, of course, you’re a little newbie sprout. This close-up doesn’t tell you how tiny the new leaves are in comparison to the whole, which is huge. But it might tell you why it brings a smile every time I look at it.

One morning, I looked out my kitchen window and saw something indiscernible in between two of the ornamental grasses out back. It looked like a face. Oh …. it WAS a face. The face of a very young (and adorable) deer holding very still but just about ready to chow down on a hosta. I went down the porch stairs to gently shoo her away. Maybe only 4-5 months old, she easily cleared the nearly 4′ garden gate. As I returned, I saw she had been on my porch, and had eaten the front half of the impatiens above and a few other potted plants. It’s discouraging, but that little wide-eyed face holding soooo still, trying to be invisible …

For some reason, this pretty pair was spared, and is now starting to bloom.

There are snowball hydrangeas all over this property. They bloom snow white, and are now in their green phase, to turn a stunning rust as the summer wears on, and it becomes cooler.

Hello, little fella. This very young praying mantis greeted me one morning on a kitchen window screen. Soon after, he disappeared. But he hadn’t gone very far, I later discovered. It was turning out to be a very hot afternoon, but I managed to find myself a little time to sit on the back porch and read while there was still some shade nearest the house. And there he was. Not far from me on the decking, in the very hot, bright sun.

I thought to make his way a little easier by moving him into the shade. I offered him a large hydrangea leaf to climb on, as I didn’t want to handle and frighten him. He very calmly walked right over the leaf, and into the shadow of the railing. “Thanks, ma’am, but I’ve got this,” I imagined he said as he found his own shade. And then over the next half hour or so, he slowly made his way across the length of the porch and disappeared.

All I could think of was that that must be what `biological imperative’ means. He knew where he was going and what he had to do, because at the other end of the porch is where I often see adult green praying mantises, like the one next to Pumpkin in a photo from a few years ago.

I know for myself, and most everyone I know, that the last year and change has had a lingering impact in one way or another. And yet, we find, there are still always bright spots. Hope you keep finding yours.

My last post was quite lengthy, so for this one, I’ll be quite brief. Just some thoughts for a happy holiday weekend and beyond.

Go out and find some fabulous local produce at a farmer’s market or farmstand and enjoy the bounty of the season!

Get around to the gardening you’ve been waiting to do! (Or in my case, pot the poor plants that have been waiting way too long to look fabulous!)

If planning an outing, find a good crafts or art show where local artisans are showcasing their wares. Like this fabulous Lemon Peel Soap I came across recently by a local soap maker. Support your local artists!

No matter how busy you may be – or not be –

make some time for your furry small fry.

And above all – and which may include all of the above – take the advice on this journal given me by a dear friend – Do more of what makes you happy!

Happy July 4th!

There were many things that got stalled or pushed to the back in the last year. For many of us, reading was not one of them. In fact, a good book was often a saving grace.

I thought to share with you some of the best fiction I read, often historical, starting back from the end of 2019. These books came from several sources – the library; some I purchased online; books purchased at past annual county library book sales; and my own collection.

Here is the best of what I read from late 2019 to present:

Whistling Past the Graveyard – Susan Crandall. This is certainly one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Told in first person by a sassy, red-headed nine year old, Starla Claudelle, it takes place in 1963 Mississippi at the height of segregation. Being raised by her overly strict grandmother while her father works out on the oil rigs, Starla wants nothing more than to find her mother in Nashville, whom she believes left to become famous and then reunite her family. Upset by a turn of events, Starla decides to run away to Nashville on her own. She is offered a ride by an older black woman, traveling with a white infant, unaware of the dangerous implications of this situation. Whistling Past the Graveyard is a story with deeply felt characters set against the backdrop of the Deep South at a time in history that Starla only begins to understand for what it is, as well as what family can really mean.

One page in, and I was totally hooked.

Shutter Island and Mystic River – Dennis Lehane. If you want two stories you can’t put down … Shutter Island was a book sale pick, and in it I discovered a writer with an excellent capacity for writing tense, fast moving prose with twists and turns at every corner. This story takes place in 1954 when a detective and his partner come to Shutter Island, home for the criminally insane, to investigate a patient’s disappearance, and where we soon discover nothing is as it seems. Later in the year, I read Mystic River, a psychological thriller about three boys growing up as friends, approached one day by a man in a car. One boy gets in; the others do not. And something – never fully articulated – terrible happens. Fast forward to adulthood, and this plays out in a harrowing series of events. (p.s. the movie is also excellent.)

Lehane is a terrific writer who keeps you on the edge of your seat, no matter the subject of the book. There is no doubt that I will pick up another of his novels in the future.

The Alice Network – Kate Quinn. Historical fiction taking place in the times of both World War I and World War II, The Alice Network is based on the true story of a group of women spies of the same name who, at tremendous risk, infiltrated the Germans to save lives in the most daring and heroic of ways. This is Goodreads’ initial description of the book, and as apt as I could write, “In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.” Please read the full review and you’ll know why this was a book I could not put down. It’s truly exceptional.

Had I not borrowed it from the library, it would be sitting in my bookcase of books that I would read again some day.

Forever – Pete Hamill. This is a masterful book — on the one hand, a magnificent love letter to New York City and all it’s history; on the other, the story of a young man in 1700’s Ireland, Cormac O’Connor, whose parents were killed by a wealthy lord. Added to the mix, we have some magic of the old religion, which allowed Cormac to live forever if he never left the island of Manhattan and successfully avenged his parents’ deaths. This is not a casual, lightly read book, but one that spans centuries as we follow Cormac’s life from childhood to an America at the moment of its birth. From the slaves in the ship’s hold that he saves and befriends through the politics, greed, and buried secrets of New York right through to 9/11, this is a story of great knowledge and depth. Pete Hamill has written Forever with such compassion. It was a long read, but I was sorry when it ended.

The Giver of Stars – Jojo Moyes. More engrossing historical fiction set in the Depression era in Kentucky. A small group of women who, for different reasons, join together, following the exhortation of Eleanor Roosevelt and her traveling library campaign to bring books to people who had no access to them, but who wanted to read or learn to read. Alice Wright, disillusioned in her new marriage to a distant husband and dealing with a controlling father-in-law, joins with Margery, founder of the group. Margery is strong, outspoken, and independent, and is soon joined by three other women, forming The Pack Horse Library of Kentucky (the real name of the library). The women repeatedly faced danger traversing the rugged landscape by mule and horseback, sometimes from the people who lived there, as well as from men in their lives who would control them. Their loyalty and friendship, finding true love, and always following their mission of bringing books to people in remote areas makes for a rich and rewarding read. An unforgettable story.

Nemesis and the Swan – Lindsay Bandy. This is mature and sophisticated YA, taking place in the French Revolution. Helene d’Aubign, an aristocrat of 19 years old, writes from her cell in a Paris prison. Her diary alternates with her story of being influenced as a young girl by her governess to become a revolutionary and to seek true love at a time when girls were only allowed arranged marriages. Forced to flee Paris as violence breaks out, Helene searches to find the answers to an intricate family mystery involving love and murder, somehow tied together by two unique, painted pins of eyes surrounded by gilt and pearls. She longs to return to her home and the jeweler’s apprentice she’s fallen in love with. When, in disguise, she finally does return to Paris, she finds everything she knows is changed or destroyed. But to make matters far worse, she is being sought – and is soon arrested – by those who suspect her true identity, which will sentence her to the guillotine.

With a richly articulated backdrop of the French Revolution, and the characters enmeshed in a family mystery, you couldn’t help but hope for Helene’s survival and an ending that seemed impossible.

The Mermaid Chair – Sue Monk Kidd. If you have read The Secret Life of Bees, you know Kidd writes with a truly exquisite use of the English language. The Mermaid Chair brings to life the setting of Egret Island off South Carolina where Jessie Sullivan has gone to tend to her mother, now suspected of severe mental instability after severing her finger. But the story is Jessie’s – she is returning to her childhood home of marshes and sea salt, egrets and a monastery where resides the Mermaid Chair. It is a story of love and disillusionment in her marriage, love and awakening with a monk questioning his own commitment, but most importantly, the search for her own self, lost over the years. Interlaced with the loyalty of longtime friends, a mystery surrounding her beloved father’s death, and the idyllic quality of Egret Island, Jessie’s story is stirring and engrossing. This is my own book which I’ve read in the past, and couldn’t wait to return to each evening.

Other notable books – I can’t review them all, but I can mention some other books that stand out from the many I’ve read in the past year+.

The Long Way, A Great Reckoning, Glass Houses, – all by Louise Penny. This is the first series of novels I have ever read as an adult, and I love them. I began at the beginning, and am working my way through the series, always drawn in by Penny’s style, wonderful characters and mysteries, all set in her beloved Canada.

Twigs in My HairCynthia Reyes, friend and fellow blogger here on WordPress

Good Hope Road – Lisa Wingate

The Last Letter from Your Lover – Jojo Moyes

Flower Net and The Interior – Lisa See

With the hope that I’ve inspired a future selection or two, I wish you Happy Reading!

Relief

One of the things I did not expect after getting my second COVID vaccine was the degree of relief I felt. I knew I’d be glad to have it done, knowing that in two more weeks I’d be as protected as I could be, but it was almost a mild euphoria. The start of a new day!

The pandemic is not over by any means, but COVID is on the run. I can now finally meet with my vaccinated friends or family at outdoor eateries with confidence. Or just hang out with them outside without a mask so long as we’re not cheek to cheek. It really IS a relief.

And a big change. I had not realized the degree to which I have been stressed over the last year, emotionally holding my breath, knowing that COVID really could be anywhere. It’s a lot about degree.

The facts – My state is 46.8% fully vaccinated as of today. And 50% of those with COVID continue to show no symptoms. The vaccine is 94% effective (Moderna). Clearly, there are still risks. However, the more people that get vaccinated, the safer we will all be.

That’s what I look forward to … good health and being safe … for you, for me, for all of us.

The other evening as I was “closing up shop” on my day, putting files away, and cleaning up my desktop, I happened to look out the window and spied a bird on my fence I’d never seen before. It was a hawk, but too small to be a red-tailed hawk. What was it?

First, I took a few photos through my office window lest I go outside and frighten it away, and then went to Audubon’s website for a little research. I found that we have eight hawks native to New Jersey, and this is a sharp-shinned hawk, also known as a sharp or sharpie. My reading on Audubon identified it as a juvenile. It stayed there for quite some time, and I stayed staring at it for quite some time, mesmerized by its beauty. Seeing an animal like this so close is always a gift to me.

And on to sillier matters …

I went out to get the mail down at the road, and my 6-year-old neighbor was taking an outdoors break from his online school day. He had a white toy animal which he quickly explained to me was a Komodo dragon he’d gotten for his birthday last year. “Wait!” I said. “I have a Komodo dragon, too!” And I showed him what you see below. He loved it, but was called in by his Dad for his next class. Inspired by his enthusiasm, I took a few photos and texted them over to my friends for him.

Here she is rock climbing in the back yard. The carving came from a now-defunct store called Two Buttons which was in nearby Frenchtown. The owners of the store were local author Liz Gilbert and her then-husband, Jose, she being the real-life Elizabeth Gilbert who wrote Eat, Pray, Love. (She was played by Julia Roberts in the movie.)

And playing on the porch. Two Buttons was an amazing import store that sold the wares of artisans from all over the world. This little dragon is carved from the root of a tree that grows in Indonesia, and is about 11″ long. They had different sizes, including one that was about 7′ long and breathtaking. If I had a few thousand dollars doing nothing, that one would be in my living room now.

Exploring in the grass. I am reminded to be grateful, in these unusual times with all their challenges and frustrations, that there’s still something silly in me – and in those of you who are enjoying the dragon photos – that has survived and seems alive and well. Cheers to us!

And on one last note … it’s spring here in New Jersey, and the pollen seems particularly intense this year. Witness my car a few hours ago.

Coming back up my driveway, the wind suddenly whipped up, and a cloud – I mean a CLOUD! – of pollen pursued me up to my door. I’d say Pollen-10, me and my car-0. And tonight we are expecting high winds. Woo hoo!

Life brings with it innumerable changes. This past year has brought with it many that have been massive, widespread, and often out of our control. And yet we’re still here … coming through on the other side – maybe a little frayed around the edges, feeling a little beat down – maybe a lot beat down – but have not given up hope. What just came to mind were the immortal words of John Lennon, “And we all shine on.

Spring Daffodil

“A wizard must have passed this way

Since — was it only yesterday?

Then all was bare, and now, behold,

A hundred cups of living gold!”

~ Emma C. Dowd, “Daffodil and Crocus,” April 1902

Inspired by the daffodil above, my niece shared some of the lovely daffodils from her own garden, sitting pretty in a vase she rescued from a neighbor who was about to get rid of it. What a happy choice!

It was only about a week and a half ago that I went out walking … the earth was still slumbering, content in its dried weeds, quiet soil, bare trees. But the warmth in the air, the sun, spoke of a greener time to come.

The river was high and moving swiftly towards the bay at the southern part of the state. Although turbulent and muddy-looking from this view, it was still beautiful.

I walked past what is probably the neighborhood eyesore. It’s a long, low red building, at the end of which are a loading platform and garage doors, awaiting a shipment that has long since failed to arrive. I love the chair sitting there, keeping the faith that someday the neglected warehouse might live again. The red checkerboards above the garage doors tell me that this may have once been a Purina distributor, perhaps for large animal feed, serving the farmers who are just a few miles away. In a tonier town, this would have long since been demolished. We all seem to just take it for granted.

A bed of purple crocus had pushed its way through the dirt edging the road, no grass yet in, looking rather alone, barren, and brave.

Across the street a stream of bright golden grasses filled the space between the old train rails, brilliant in the sun, and threw shadows on what was once a second set of tracks.

A small bunch of snowdrops struggled to announce an impending Spring among dried grasses and old walkway weeds. I couldn’t help but imagine them surrounded by a bed of rich grass or maybe even some mulch, just something more complimentary to their delicate, pioneering spirit.

An old building on the walk to the bridge. I’m sure it’s the same age as some of the other stone buildings I’ve photographed, but I am always puzzled by the doors stacked above one another. Perhaps there was once a stairway down the front, like a fire escape, but there are no clues in the stone or cement. I’ve been told it has housed, and still does, floors of antiques and collectibles. As long as I’ve lived here, someone (I suspect the owner) always places one item in the doorway, there for the taking by whoever passes by.

An old-fashioned doll rests in the corner today.

The Delaware looks stunning as always, its racing south not as immediately apparent as in the earlier view. Here it better reflects the cloudless blue sky, and wears an aura of peacefulness.

At last … the first sheen of green! That sly, subtle wash of the palest green creeping into the grassy areas, letting us know that in maybe as little as a week’s time there will be more of Spring poking its head through the ground – daffodils, more crocus and snowdrops, the blush of yellow on the forsythia.

It’s been a long winter, a long year. We’ve survived and carried with us a great weariness and a need for the promise that a greener season brings. Soon … more hope, more sun, more people about. The simple things that make our hearts grateful that we’re still here and can lift our faces to the warmth.

THE DAILY ROUND

Living From the Spirit Level

roughwighting

Life in a flash - a weekly writing blog

Platform Number 4

Becky Ross Michael: an author's blog

Letitgocoach

Never Settle. Don't even think about it.

Giving Voice to My Astonishment

Observing, Gathering, Gleaning, Sharing

JEANNE BALSAM GRAPHICS

BRINGING YOUR DREAMS TO LIFE

Salmon Brook Farms

Official Home of Lavinia and Rick Ross

Harvesting Hecate

Thoughts on life, writing, creativity and magic

Cynthia Reyes

The blog of Canadian author Cynthia Reyes

Marie Lamba, author

Some thoughts from author and agent Marie Lamba

A Leaf in Springtime

"Be a dew to the soil of the human heart."

home, garden, life

home, garden, life ~ sharing a sustainable lifestyle

%d bloggers like this: