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Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

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

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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.

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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 …

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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!

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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.

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Taking a photograph towards the end of the day is likely to be the last thing on my mind. Until I looked out the window …

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The last nine/ten months have been incredibly challenging in all parts of the world as we confront an insidious danger, a new virus. Here at home, we can heap on top of the pandemic an election the likes of which we have never seen, and wish we had not. On a personal level, I have lived for one year now with my house for sale, never sure if I will be able to stay in my home, and top it with the cherry of a very intense, seasonal workload. This is just my variation of the theme; so many of you and those you know, and so many more we’ll never meet are struggling with your own form of stress. It’s been an increasingly easy time to feel adrift from our moorings and to be lost in the most immediate problem in front of us.

While shopping on a website for other than books, of course I decided to dip into that section. You know, just looking. What I found was the book I needed, which you see here. Because that is what has happened to me … in the stress, distraction, and exhaustion, one of the things to go was the time put aside for my spiritual self. This book was published in August 2020 and references the onset of the pandemic and the ramping up of the presidential election, so it’s very current. Even having read a small way into the book, I am feeling calmer and reassured of moving into a better direction. So there is that.

On other fronts, because it’s been a while since I’ve posted, I thought to share a few photos, and what’s been happening in this small part of the world.

Produce from the local farm in October – the last of the gorgeous Jersey tomatoes, new potatoes, and a mix of Gala and my very favorite Macoun apples.

It was Halloween. Trees were beginning to shed their leaves, just enough to scuff through for trick or treaters or whoever wanted to enjoy a walk through the neighborhood. This little vignette of fall brought a smile to see the little pumpkins on the fence posts, the mums, and in a time we need to believe in our country, our flag.

While searching for something else, I came across this photo of Claude. Although he is no longer with us, this just reminded me of how calm and Buddah-like he could be at times, in contrast to his being a total goofball the next. He is still very much missed.

Another photo I stumbled upon …  a clearing sky after a winter rain from a second story window, raindrops sparkling the screen. How lucky are we to have so many beautiful skies and sunsets in this part of my state.

In November I attended an online children’s book conference held by Rutgers University. Normally, the conference is several hundred dollars and limited in attendance due to space and the personal nature of the event, but with COVID, it was presented online with Zoom to hundreds of attendees for a pittance. Our keynote speaker, Sayantani Das Gupta writes a New York Times bestselling series of a brave girl named Kiranmala. Sayantani was quite inspiring. One of the quotes she offered in her talk was the above by Toni Morrison, both relevant and a reminder of the heroic writer in all of us.

I also took a screen shot of this quote by Ursula LeGuin because it just hit home. Made me remember that I am no small talent, nor are you. Sometimes we need to be reminded and luckily, someone comes along to tap us on the shoulder from time to time. This was a good tap for me … consider yourself tapped now, too.

As the days get shorter, the nights longer, we look more to light. I frequently have a candle burning, but this gathering of wolves is one of my very favorite pieces, the light so beautifully illuminating their faces. It’s only made of stone, but for me, it brings some deep-stirred memory of woods and the quiet footfalls of our lupine brothers and sisters.

And here we are today. I cleared my porch of fall decor in preparation of other lights of the season. I carried the two small pumpkins that sat at my door to the end of the block, over the grass and tracks, and tossed them onto the plateau of dried grasses below. It won’t take long for some of the local wildlife to discover them and enjoy a small feast.

Perhaps this meandering through photos has reminded me that even when we’re in tough times, there is still always much to be thankful for. For every obstacle or challenge, there is another way to look at it, a way to learn something we need to know. These, indeed, are gifts and my heart is lightened.

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When I haven’t written in over a month, it usually means at least one thing. In this case, it means I have been deluged with holiday fundraisers and projects from my clients. It has been non-stop, and while I think of things to write here – I even take photos – and I want to catch up with those I follow, my creative energy is directed towards these projects and the time to actually focus on my own writing has been non-existent. It’s frustrating.  But enough whining.

As a new and different Thanksgiving approaches, many, including myself, are already shopping extensively online for Christmas and holiday gifts. To that end, I am going to take a moment to shamelessly promote myself and the lovely French Bulldog items I have created for my Etsy shop.

If you are looking to send holiday cards, “Stranger in the Snow” is one among several you’ll find in my shop. You can also find a few neat gift ideas such as my “Frenchies Apres Monet” blank notecards which I’d like to think would be appreciated by fans of Monet as well as the French Bulldog. I also have a sweet, handsomely-made Frenchie journal, because we all are writing more these days what with all the stress in our lives. No? And if not you, perhaps you know someone who journals faithfully. (Or maybe just needs a notebook!)

All the original artwork is mine, and I can assure you, the cards are of a beautiful, heavy stock. If inspired, just toddle on over to Etsy at JBalsamFrenchieArt. 

As the intensity of my holiday workload is ever-so-slowly winding down, I am planning on writing again soon, and coming by to see you and what you’ve written, too. Should I not get to the post I have in mind before Thanksgiving, I wish you all a peaceful, happy, and safe holiday, however you may spend it. Take good care and let’s continue to look forward to less stressful days when we can meet with each other again as we have in the past. I am always happy to have you stop by!

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Memory is a funny thing, isn’t it? It’s selective, exclusive, accurate, fictional, unreliable, illuminating, calming, and so much more. One of the ways we know how unreliable memory is is to have two people observe the same series of events and later ask that they recount them. To listen to some accounts, you would not think the people had witnessed the exact same events! If nothing else, memory is personal.

But the beauty of memories, I think, is their ability to bring peace, comfort, and happiness. The photo above, one of many likely sent around in a Power Point presentation (artists never recognized), is from a group of water-themed images. I am reasonably sure it’s Cape Cod or thereabouts. It’s had a special spot on my desktop for a couple weeks now even though I usually have a group set to change every hour.

Every time I look at it, I feel some deep sense of calm, and that calm comes from a memory. When I was a child, my parents sometimes took our family on driving vacations, that trusty AAA TripTik as our guide. Though I can’t remember how old I was at the time of this particular trip, I can remember the busy, narrow streets of Provincetown, bustling with locals and tourists alike. I can see the small, white clapboard shops and sparkling jars and bottles in every color of the rainbow, flags, kites, and … ice cream. I just remembered the ice cream.

And then there was the beach. What I remember so vividly is how totally different the Cape Cod beach was from the beaches where I grew up and frequented here in New Jersey.  The smell of the air, the texture of the sand, the look and feel and scent of the water as it rolled in — so much gentler than the crashing waves at the Jersey shore – the trees and greenery never found at any of the local beaches I’d ever been to. The fact that I have such consistently positive memories of Cape Cod tells me something else. All of us must have been happy.

So this image is going to rest a while longer on my desktop. More importantly, it is my new go-to peaceful place to visit when work gets too hectic, people unreasonable, when stress cranks up a bit. In our memories, there is always a place of calm and respite. This is mine. Feel free to come with.

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I would not have thought that I’d be writing a post about a TV program, let alone this one, yet here I am. I stumbled across this show while flipping channels in its first season, and thought this was a pretty hokey idea. But I came across it again this past season, and had a different opinion. That show is The Masked Singer.

The premise is that a number of well-known people take on a costume and mask and sing, entering into a series of one-on-one contests, voted for by the audience. At the end of each show, the masked singer with the least votes takes off their mask. Inside these costumes have been Olympic gold medal skaters, comedians, singers, dancers, actors, basketball players, etc. all with varying degrees of talent and fame. A judging panel tries to identify the masked singers based on their clue packages.

In December, it was down to three amazing singers – Flamingo, Rottweiler, and Fox. What inspired me was their comments before they removed their masks; each was humbled by the experience, and deeply grateful to have audiences appreciate them so much based only on their singing ability and not who they were or what they were known for. One, Flamingo, commented how she was once told she would never amount to anything. It was more touching than I would have expected. So if you can get into some great music sung by people in crazy costumes, below is Flamingo singing Jeff Buckley’s version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah; Rottweiler’s version of Lewis Capaldi’s current hit, Someone You Loved; and Fox’s rendition of Otis Redding’s classic Try A Little Tenderness. Singers unmasked at the end. Enjoy.

 

 

Coming in third was Flamingo – Adrienne Bailon, singer, and a member of the girl band Cheetah Girls; in second place was Rottweiler – rock/pop singer Chris Daughtry, who rocketed to fame after a near-win on American Idol; and lastly, Fox – the winner – was unmasked to reveal Wayne Brady, multi-talented singer, Broadway star, comedian, and TV host.

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If there is one video I always look forward to at Christmastime it’s the one created by the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) in Britain. Whoever puts them together is not just some remote advertising exec somewhere, but a wonderful person whose heart is filled with love for animals, and knows how to bring their heart to life on behalf of the RSPCA. I am always grateful to see it.

I had posted a previous year’s video here: https://stilladreamer.wordpress.com/2018/12/06/kindness-goes-a-long-way/ – you may want a tissue handy.

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This morning I got a reply from my niece to my “heads-up” e-mail to her, letting her know a package was soon to arrive with gift books for my great-nephew. He’s a big reader, and also very resourceful around Christmastime in looking for presents, I’m told.

Knowing I have aspirations to be published in children’s books as an author and hopefully, illustrator, she included a photo of the “pre-book” cover of an illustrator she met at a recent art show. The illustration was charming. And before I knew it, tears were streaming down my face as I felt so very far from my hopes and dreams. So far from even finding the time to write and draw with all that’s on my plate right now. And, well, that’s exactly what I had to do today – get on with what’s on my plate, my work.

First I turned on a few hours of music from Spirit Tribe Awakening – music that contains ancient healing frequencies, aligning with our heart chakra and helping release negativity with specific sound vibrations. This always helps. As I listened and watched the beautiful images of nature, I felt more peaceful, and then a desire to find more beautiful images.

Feeling so far from my path can sometimes leave me feeling utterly helpless, but I thought that I might be helped with the beauty of imagery. The result is what you see here. Paths of every kind.

And though I am still feeling a bit sad, between the music and images I am feeling more hopeful. It was the image of the cobblestoned street that first drew me in, and so  I began to walk …

Sometimes our paths are crooked …

Sometimes inspiring …

Sometimes our path seems to totally disappear.

Sometimes we travel our path with others …

But in the end, it is our path, and ours alone. And while it may be a lonely or hard path at times, it shines like the freshest of rains and mirrors the beauty that yearns from within.
I’ll get there.
We’ll get there.

 

Thank you to all the photographers whose wonderful photos I have used above and to freeimages.com for offering the works of these talented individuals to others.

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