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The Season

It seems that the holidays feel different every year. It’s not a matter of growing older, but maybe of seeing the world through different eyes.

Some years have seen good-sized gatherings, some years, small and intimate ones. Some years bright and merry, others quiet. There have been years where gift-buying was a big deal, others when it barely mattered at all. Years with COVID in play, years not.

The common thread? Change. Everything is always in motion, including how we spend our holidays, where, and with whom.

The other thread? Feeling grateful … for all the experiences the holidays have brought, and those they will bring.

Here’s hoping that you will not get lost in the rush, but lost in the peace, joy, and sweet calm of the season. I’ll be joining you for these.

It wouldn’t be the beginning of December if I didn’t mention that I have adorable Frenchie items for sale in my Etsy shop, or that my magical and beautiful picture book, Where Do Butterflies Go at Night?, would make a great Christmas gift.

Cheers!

Unexpected

Life can be so unexpected. It can try and tear us down, or it can surprise us with the most unanticipated gifts.

I believe that the more gifts we hope for, look for, and dare to expect, the more we will receive.

Happy Halloween!

It is said that on All Hallows Eve (Halloween) the veil is the thinnest between the realms of the living and the dead, and we are most able to be in touch with our ancestors/loved ones on the other side. Whether this is true or not, whether you believe it or not, it is a magical time when anything seems possible.

Have a great day!

p.s. This is my final drawing for Inktober. Done!

Where We’re Going

More and more I realize how everything we choose is moving us forward on our path. Whether it’s who we meet, what we read, what we listen to, where we go, what we dream about … it’s all moving us forward and serving our mental, spiritual, and emotional evolution.

For example, this month, I have committed to Inktober, an October challenge to create a new pen and ink drawing each day and post it on Instagram. I am sharing four with you, but I have faithfully drawn every day. I’m using this to get my creativity going, to get the feeling of what it’s like to draw on a regular basis, plus I love pen and ink. There are things I plan to do, and Inktober appeared to me. Right on time.

I have been trying to see more art, and have finally been able to get back to Grounds for Sculpture, a 42-acre outdoor museum for contemporary sculpture and arboretum. I’ll share a few of the beautiful pieces i saw …

And when I can’t get out to see art, I am finding it online, especially on Instagram. Instagram, of all social media, is highly visual and a great fit for me as an artist, photographer, and illustrator. But it has also been a constant source of positive and inspiring messages that uplift my mind and spirit, and I try to share them with whoever stops in and visits me. If interested, I am @jeannebalsam.

In reading, we also grow. I have picked up four books recently, and left off on three – I chose them at one time, but they are not where I am now. The fourth, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, is written in letters back and forth between characters in the years following WWII, and about how life was affected in the Channel Islands by the German occupation. It’s rich and funny and heartfelt, and also about how reading connects us all. It received unanimous glowing reviews. Go look; it’s excellent.

And music – finding and listening to new, all that speaks to me now. Music is so healing, whether music for meditation or Indie/pop, whatever it is, keep music in your life. And dancing … mostly in the kitchen, to my phone. It makes me happy. Tried it?

When I don’t post for a while, it does become an epistle, so I’ll leave you here with the thought to remember to feed your life well in all you do. And also a video – Dancing with My Phone. This is from HYBS, a duo you will see in the odd (and inexplicable to me) Christmas moment. I hope it makes you smile … and turn up your phone.

Creative Life

“We’re all just walking each other home.” ~ Ram Dass

I had this quote in a draft. This is all there was. I loved it then and I love it now, and it’s a good way to start anything.

While I am working on a few things to grow my life, my income, my everything, I am also looking at writing again. Here is my PiBoIdMo book (Picture Book Idea Month). It is now called Storystorm, and was created a number of years ago by Tara Lazar. Participants are challenged to write one picture book idea every day for a month. It’s more extensive than that, but that’s the idea.

Inside that notebook are 4 months worth of ideas (120!), some great, some not so much. But it’s a good hopping off point. Stuffed into the inside cover are more ideas that I ripped out of journals, jotted on notepaper, etc. All grist for the mill and all simmering on my back burner. (If you’re looking to get back into writing, I highly recommend this- very motivating!)

And I am reading. Some mythological creatures have recently gotten my attention. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker is a fascinating and excellent read, as it is both historical fiction and its main characters are … a golem and a jinni. It primarily takes place in New York City, mostly the Lower East Side and Little Syria, at the turn of the century.

This has inspired me to begin American Gods by Neil Gaiman, always an excellent writer. We have more unusual characters among the humans, a journey through, and a hard look at, “the soul of America”, according to one review.

And drawing … not much, but a start. And so goes my creative life … how’s yours doing?

Drawing Angels

A number of months ago I found myself sketching an angel, but not just any angel. I had drawn a stone cemetery angel. Not too much later, I drew another, below.

I have always been fascinated by the amazing angels that one finds in cemeteries. To me, they’re just beautiful and are so expressive. Sometimes holding the child who’s buried below their feet, sometimes quietly sad, and sometimes they are weeping in unutterable grief.

These angels are found all over the world, but, in my research, I find the greater majority seem to be in western Europe. When I worked in publishing some time ago, we put out a magazine called Camera Arts. They did an extensive, full color photo essay on angels in graveyards and cemeteries, many in Italy, and the extent to which these statues were carved and detailed was mind blowing.

As my life has been undergoing many changes, I want to return to drawing. For me, the best way to do that is just draw something – anything – I’m interested in; if these magnificent stone angels are calling to me, then I should draw them. As I posted the drawings on Instagram, I found people with a similar interest who also provide a rich resource of subject material. There I even found a cemetery angel who did not have wings (above.)

As I looked further, I found that angels might even be animals, like this heartbroken lion in California. And so I draw, “keeping my hand in”, as they say, re-familiarizing myself with that part of me that didn’t have much reason to express itself. And now it does. I don’t know where any of this will take me; I’m simply grateful to be finding myself again.

Would you like a chance to win a signed copy of my debut picture book, Where Do Butterflies Go at Night? It’s very easy, but the deadline is August 30th!

Longtime friend in children’s books and a very talented lady herself, Kathy Temean posted a fabulous review of my book on her blog, Writing and Illustrating. She’s also hosting my book giveaway, so all you have to do is comment on her blog, or otherwise help promote it on social media (and be sure to let her know!), and she will add your name to the giveaway basket. Check here for full details and to help my Butterflies take flight!

Thanks so much, and I hope it’s YOU!

Time Passes ….

Sometimes it’s hard to know what to write when a month or two has passed. It’s not that I don’t have something to say – I am never at a loss for words – maybe how much to say? Or how to put it?

I’m moving into a new phase of my life. It began last November when I chose to leave the organization and work that I have done for over three decades. It was the right time and the right choice for me. I am grateful for the opportunity to have saved many thousands of lives and raised many millions of donation dollars for this organization. It was wonderful. But now, I have other things to do.

Almost all work in my life has involved healing others, whether humans or animals. I believe it’s why I’m here. I recently spent a period of time needing to take care of and healing myself after some medical procedures and the accompanying stress, but I feel myself pulling away from that period now and re-focusing on where I’m going.

In a sense, it’s a question of `what do I want to do/be when I grow up?’ from a whole new perspective. It’s challenging and occasionally a little frightening, but I feel myself, from someplace deep inside, starting to gather strength. And I am seeing myself unfolding in ways that would not have been possible those three decades ago. And it’s all good.

My first children’s book is now released, and I will be promoting that and hopefully, meeting lots of excited kids and more. I am soon starting some workshops in helping people self-publish, and plan on advancing other graphics skills I have to help people. How this will all come together is still unknown, but I trust it will be exactly as it should be.

One gift I have been given and which inspires me is, believe it or not, Instagram. I am an artist, but also a photographer, and have loved taking pictures all my life. Now I have the opportunity to be yet more inspired and post my images. All my life, I have also loved music, and over the last 7-8 months or so, this has been expanded immensely. And for a major portion of my life, I have loved going to museums, and recently I have been inspired to get out more, once again, and see art, which feeds my soul. And to do my own art, however that seems to be making itself known, and surprising me as much as anyone.

Some days feel a little shaky, occasionally outright scary, but others are just glowing with promise. All is well.

My Dad

I had wanted to find this particular photo of my Dad for a quick post on Instagram. I knew it was somewhere among the photo albums my Mom had meticulously put together, and which documented our family’s history from the 1800’s. It was a photo of my Dad taking a picture in our backyard where I grew up.

And there you see it. That would have been his Leica camera, the predecessor to his Nikon F that he bought later on. My Dad was an amateur photographer, and really quite good. He had a real eye for composition, getting people right, and an overall good photograph.

There aren’t that many photos of my Dad, mostly because he was the one always taking the pictures. In looking through the albums, I found more than I expected. But I didn’t want photos of him as a child, or on wedding day; I just wanted him.

My Dad was a kind, gentle soul. He was very intelligent even though he only achieved a high school education, which was pretty common back then. He knew a lot about lots of things, and was skilled in several areas – he was an excellent gardener and had flowers always blooming. He knew his way around all kinds of tools, and finished our entire basement on his own. He did every kind of home repair imaginable.

I followed him around like a puppy, asking lots and lots of questions. And while his green thumb never rubbed off on me, I learned to be quite competent in plastering, painting, and even building simple things from wood – “the right way”, he would remind me.

I’m sure he would have loved it if my brother and I were more sporty, but still, my Dad had us out bowling, taught us how to play tennis and to ice skate. He taught me how to swim in the Atlantic Ocean when I was just a toddler, out past the breakers where it was safe. And to not be afraid of the water. He instilled a love of driving and going places in me, and who knows how many other things I’ve since forgotten.

Maybe most importantly, his love of photography had a positive impact on me. I was given a little Kodak Brownie camera at 9, and was taking pictures every chance I got. When I began my B.F.A, I hadn’t yet decided on a major, but perhaps no surprise, it ended up as Photography. And to this day, I am always, always happy when I am taking pictures.

My Dad with my brother, taken before I was born.
I just love this photo.

I think he worried about me sometimes because as I got older I had so many ideas and things I wanted to do that were outside of what he considered safe or sensible. Like owning a car in New York City. But I did, and he adapted. And the one thing he always was, was proud of me. I’m not sure I always knew that at the time as I became increasingly headstrong and wanted to live life on my own terms, but I know now that he was. And I know he’d be the proudest father on Earth, knowing his daughter got published this year for the first time.

If I didn’t say it then, Dad, thanks for everything. You helped me more than you could know.

We are all challenged in so many ways nowadays – every single one of us on this planet. Some days more, some days less. I wanted to make a meme that might touch everyone, and would give you hope, some encouragement, no matter what you are dealing with today. Here’s what I came up with.

Does this work for you?

And then … a note on social media, that ever-hungry, (sometimes) beast that would like to devour our time. But here’s something I really like about it, particularly on Instagram. I am finding so much new music to love, thanks to people I follow who share it on posts and reels.

That I am being exposed to music in different genres, from different cultures, in different styles – it just makes my heart sing. The following is one of the loveliest pieces I have heard in a while. I guess you would call it folk/pop (?), and the song is “Bloom” by Lullanas. Thanks to @sawsanakar for opening my ears and heart to this piece. I hope you enjoy it.

May you be well, looking forward to an enjoyable weekend, and maybe just a little inspired.

The pandemic and other factors in all our lives have affected us and often left us feeling “trapped inside” and missing what we used to do. Personally, I am done with it. I need to go out and see the world again (carefully, of course). To that end, I went out this morning to a vegan place for breakfast I’ve been wanting to try and for a visit to see some art at the Hunterdon Art Museum in Clinton, NJ.

Above are The Three Graces by Toshiko Takaezu at the front of the museum, the side view, and an untitled piece by Noriko Sakuyama.

As I’ve spent quite a bit of time in photo prep, I am going to refer you to the museum’s website to learn more about the artists’ work, if interested.

One of the pieces by Maxwell Mustardo in his Dish-Oriented exhibit.

Above are several images by Rina Bannerjee: Blemish, In Deep Pink Everyplace Begins, both sculptural and drawing. The last image was a discussion if the Chinese Lanterns in a 3-D piece were real or constructed by the artist.

This marble bust is best described by the accompanying text. You can see more of this installation on Instagram @jeannebalsam, if interested.

There was also an exhibit of some student work on the third floor.

Above are images of the Red Mill, an iconic landmark in Clinton, just across from the museum on the other side of the South Branch of the Raritan River. At the base of the waterfall, if you hadn’t caught it right away, is a Blue Heron, wading.

Okay, I’ve been out! Soaked in some sunshine, had a wonderful visit with a friend and some art, plus a great breakfast — what more could one want?

It was a gorgeous, sunny, spring day, so I decided to get out and take a walk down to the river. I was pleased to find that the dead brush had all been cleared. Now I could easily cross the overgrown and abandoned train tracks to the top of the steep incline that slides down to a plateau approaching the river.

I was even more pleased to see that someone had put in some makeshift stairs on that slope, and I could now walk up to the water’s edge (and a good drop.) But something else was different. There was a walking path going north and south, paralleling the river. And while I took some photos, I watched someone hiking south on it. This was new, and I loved it.

It wasn’t an “official” path, but worn enough that it could easily be followed. I don’t know its starting or ending points, but that people could walk the river just made me real happy.

Meanwhile, it was my plan to walk north, check out the Delaware from the bridge, and see how spring was looking in our town. There were lots of cherry trees in bloom, red maples, tulips, and other plants and trees coming into flower.

I don’t know what these large, soft, fuzzy buds will bring, but I love them — like small, alien creatures reaching out to greet me as I pass by.

A view of the bridge from the greening trees near its approach. Soon these trees will fill out and the bridge will become invisible.

White-barked trees, likely sycamores, at the water’s edge are just coming into leaf. Looking north, the river seems endless on this sunny day.

Just a stone’s throw from the bridge, and with a gorgeous view of the river for those who come visit, is our town’s lovely B `n B, Chestnut Hill on the Delaware.

Today, I look out my window to quite a different view. Rain has been falling all day and will continue through the weekend. The wind is whipping up and the temperature dropping, but it’s all good. We need the rain, and there are always walks to be had, always changes and growth in the trees, shrubs and flowers to be seen. I am so grateful to live where I do, to have such beauty around me. It is a gift.

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