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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.

Speaking for myself, I have loved music and have been dancing all my life. How about you?

So when I came across this, I wanted to be up dancing — it was Bruno Mars, after all — but I was too mesmerized by what was happening on my screen to even so much as look away for 2 seconds. Check out this compilation of movie clips, all before 1953, impeccably timed to “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars, and watch on YouTube!

If you’re not smiling after watching this, please take two aspirin and call me in the morning.

The amazing video was created by Nerd Fest UK, who comments on the magic of editing:

“Film Editing is the one art form unique to the cinema. All other constituent parts of the medium derive from something else that came before. Writing and composing had been around for centuries; production design, special effects, acting and directing all came from the theatre, and sound was a later development following on from the phonograph. Even cinematography had an ancestor in photography. But editing had no ancestor. It was invented by the cinema and remains the essence of it.”

Maybe this should be titled Finding the Unicorn Within. I’m not sure. I do know we all have that uniqueness inside us, that thing that makes us special and rare. Even while we know that at our most essential level, we are all the same.

Adapting to leaving an organization to whom one has devoted so much of her time, life, and energy after 35 years has proven a very different change than I expected. From the still-getting-used-to my not needing to be at my desk at 9 a.m. to the fact that my day is completely mine to structure, to the alarmingly slow realization that my creativity is completely mine to unearth and explore … it’s been a sea change.

I began sorting through years of accumulated work samples, tossing most, saving some, all in the interest of making my work space reflect where I am now and where I am going now. I rediscovered an Inspiration folder that I’d created for ideas, and inside it was a quote that I have always loved. So, as I continue to evolve daily into a newer and brighter self, I share the quote with you, from The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle.

1495-1505 – “The Unicorn Is in Captivity”, one of the “Hunt for the Unicorn” tapestries, housed in The Cloisters, NYC

“It’s a rare man who is taken for what he truly is. There is much misjudgment in the world. Now I took you for a unicorn when I first saw you, and I know that I am your friend. Yet you took me for a clown, a clod, or a betrayer, and so I must be if you see me so. The magic on you is only magic and will vanish as soon as you are free, but the enchantment of error that you put on me I must wear forever in your eyes.

“We are not always what we seem, and hardly ever what we dream. Still, I have read, or heard it sung, that unicorns when time was young, could tell the difference `twixt the two – the false shining and the true, the lips’ laugh and the heart’s rue.”

~ Schmendrick the Magician
The Last Unicorn

In 2008, Matt Harding, one of the greatest goodwill ambassadors of all time, in my opinion, posted a video of him dancing – “dancing badly” in his words – with people all around the world. In 14 months, he danced with children and adults of every color and nationality, indigenous peoples, even a whale, (and occasionally alone) in 42 countries.

In the face of so much sadness in our world, the memory of Matt Harding somehow returned to me. I cannot watch this without tears running down my face, because of the sheer joy of so many people happily sharing a simple love of dancing. Here’s 2008’s dance. Please watch full screen or theater mode, for even those not dancing are great to watch.

In 2012, he posted another world tour, this time dancing across the U.S., Europe, and beyond, even on the USS Abraham Lincoln in the Pacific Ocean. But he’s also in Syria, Afghanistan, North Korea, China, Russia, Rwanda, Iraq – countries where you might not expect him to be. And it’s all the same – people dancing with such joy. It does make you wonder why we stumble so as a human race, when this is all people want – to be happy.

So please take a minute and put a smile on your face (happy tears permitted!), maybe even get up and dance.

If you want to learn more, visit Where the Hell Is Matt? (later changed to Where the Heck Is Matt?). Can we please have more goodwill ambassadors like Matt Harding?

I started taking classes in the writing and illustrating of children’s books many years ago. Actually it was about four years after I graduated from my alma mater, Pratt, where I had also taken advance coursework in art therapy. Not sure how it came to my attention, but suddenly I was at the New School in the evenings, studying with the very well-known author and illustrator, Uri Shulevitz.

I was greatly encouraged by him, and he even sent me to some publishers, my little picture book dummy in hand, (something that would never happen today). I was so young back then, and couldn’t really grasp what it would mean to be a published author and illustrator. As a result, my life took a different path, but it has looped back to where I am now and where I am supposed to be.

Where Do Butterflies Go at Night? is my debut picture book – you’ve seen the cover in the previous post. I have a young, growing, and progressive publisher in Ethicool Books who cares about the issues that matter in the world, and who cares about their authors. They recently did an author’s interview with me, and posted it on their website. I am both honored and deeply grateful that they wrote about me in such a beautiful light, and see in me the woman who also cares about these issues.

You can find the interview here. Thanks for reading and sharing my journey.

My publication date has now been moved forward to June 22, but Butterflies is available to pre-order on bookshop.org, Amazon and Barnes & Noble now.

Pictured here is our final cover for Where Do Butterflies Go at Night?, published by Ethicool Books.

I am pleased to announce that our latest/updated release date is mid-June, 2022, and it is available for pre-order now on Bookshop which supports Indie bookstores, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.

I’ll soon be meeting with one of the owners of a local bookshop to discuss my launch! Stay tuned ..

I actually like the idea that Valentine’s is a season rather than just a day. Why not celebrate and share love all year `round? Maybe a wee bit more on the designated day?

To that end, I offer my most recent valentine … two adorable French Bulldog pups who would like nothing better than to be sent out to the world, carrying a smile from your heart to another.

It could really be anyone – grandkids, teachers, partners, school buddies. Remember, there is always someone out there who would love to hear from you. Why not send them a card and say hello?

Find this sweet card, available in a pack of eight, in my Etsy shop!

Maybe not so surprisingly, there have been lots of studies done on journaling and why it’s effective. As journaling has been a longtime habit of mine, I can attest to the fact that it is a helpful practice benefiting both mind and spirit, just as these studies have shown.

If you think back to your childhood, you may have kept a diary. It had a lock and a key to keep prying siblings and/or parents out. It was where we recorded our most private thoughts and dreams, and we often addressed it as if it were our most conspiratorial listener, “Dear Diary …”

Journaling is pretty much an extension of that, a repository for all that’s on our minds, and what we can best share with no one else’s input and commentary. Julia Cameron (“The Artist’s Way”) sees it as a “morning dump”, recommending three pages daily, to get all the troublesome thoughts in our head out and onto the paper so we can leave them behind and start a new day. But you can be totally flexible as to the time, amount, and what you write on or with.

Studies have shown that journaling reduces stress, provides a cathartic experience, and literally, boosts the immune system! And without a medication in sight. Your journal is a place to release emotions, whine, complain, rage, melt into tears, and know that it’s all safely there on the pages.

But it’s also something more, depending where you are in your life. It’s also a way to sort things out, resolve questions, plan, dream, and yes, even write down some joy or occasional delirium. Journaling works because we need to express our feelings, feelings that are not always ready to be shared with the “outside world.” Maybe never. But here they are safe. We can look back at them, or just move on. But there … we’ve said it.

Many of the people who follow this blog are writers, and may already journal and understand its value. But for anyone else? Try it. Start a new habit. Become familiar with the rhythm of writing, of putting down feelings just for you. And while you’re thinking about it, I just happen to have a journal you could start with, or perhaps give to someone in your life who’d enjoy putting their heart and mind on paper. Take a look and happy journaling!

As 2021 begins to fade in the rearview mirror, we look ahead … with hope, bright dreams, imaginings of life just being easier. These are hardly new feelings.

We are weary; these have been long, heavy years, but it seems it is in the human spirit to hope. Even in the darkest days, we have been encouraged, shared courage with others, and have been lifted by so many things.

One of the things that has lifted me this past year – all my life, really – has been music. I can’t imagine what life would be without it. I have been watching this video again lately, and thought to share the wonder of this performance with you as daylight begins to fade in my little part of the world.

Almost everyone knows Josh Groban. The female of the duet is known largely as a pop singer, lately a talk-show host. What many people don’t know is that Kelly Clarkson’s training is in classical opera, and you will hear that towards the end of this unforgettable song from Phantom of the Opera. Happy New Year.

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