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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

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!

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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.

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“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?

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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!

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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.

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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

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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.

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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 ..

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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!

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Yes, I know everyone is rushing around like crazy getting ready for the holidays, but I still have two reading suggestions. One to start now, just to take your mind off the busy-ness, and another to get into when the final crunch is over.

The first is a crime thriller, Last Girl Ghosted by Lisa Unger. The writing is taut, the pace brisk, and the subject matter all-too-current – online dating in today’s (2021) world of hook-ups and ghosting. Unger knows how to pull you in, build the suspense, and change direction without a misstep, always leaving you wanting more. Our main character, Wren, has dated a man she found on an online dating site. She believed they was falling in love, but he mysteriously disappears, leaving no trace of himself anywhere. A private detective contacts Wren also looking for the boyfriend, who may be involved in the disappearance of three other young women with a lot in common with her. I find myself jumping in every chance I get. I haven’t read Lisa Unger before, but I will again. More from goodreads.

The second is a book for when you want to get into a novel a little deeper, by the ever-amazing Barbara Kingsolver, called Unsheltered. This is the story of two families living in the same falling-apart house in Vineland, NJ, one in the 1860’s, and the other today. When I first started reading, I felt slightly puzzled – Kingsolver never writes about “nothing,” so I wasn’t sure where this story was going to go. Told in alternating chapters, we come to know Willa, in current day, at a loss as to how life is falling apart for her and her family despite always trying to do the right thing, and Thatcher Greenwood, a science teacher who wants to bring the wonders of the living world to his students, but is stymied in every attempt. When he comes to know the next door neighbor, Mary Treat, his devotion to science is finally recognized by a woman, a biologist, who is in communication with Charles Darwin. This part of the story evolves to a degree around the growing awareness of the theory of evolution, religion’s backlash against it, and how it affects Greenwood’s life. In Willa’s story, we ultimately find the connection of the two stories, but also how a family struggles and grows in spite of daunting circumstances. Unsheltered is just excellent, and Kingsolver an outstanding writer who crafts the most believable characters. More on goodreads.

Two very different reads, both terrific, and each for a different pace in your life.

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Or maybe I should say `spread thin.’ There are times in all our lives when we have an awful lot of balls in the air, and I’m going to say this is one of mine. And I am juggling – or dancing – as fast as I can.

Work is a constant (for which I am grateful), and changes are on the horizon. I will be opening my heart and mind to new possibilities and it’s exciting, if not occasionally anxiety-provoking. Depends what day you ask me.

I have a children’s book coming out! – Where Do Butterflies Go at Night? One might think that once you’re done writing the story, you, as a writer, are done, but it couldn’t be further from the truth! With my wonderful publisher, Ethicool Books, we work collaboratively. The illustrator, Stella Mongodi, shares her sketches and illustrations as she goes along, and the publisher and I are able to have input. Stella’s work is beyond fabulous, but being able to share a thought or two here and there is a wonderful gift.

And then … promotion. I want this book to be an amazing success. It’s my debut picture book, and while I would want any book of mine to be so, the first is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. So I post – on my blog, website, Instagram (which I am learning and loving), and soon Facebook (which I have avoided, but no longer can.) It’s a lot!

And yes .. the holidays are upon us! Halloween is next week and I haven’t even gotten to take a tour of the neighborhood yet. Then Christmas, for which I hope to have some new Frenchie items in my Etsy shop. Oh … note to self – learn more about Mailchimp! And start thinking about that new website! Yes … and remember to breathe!

We women today are not the same as those of our mother’s generation. We can do so much more, learn so much more, just be so much more! But whew! It can get a little tiring at times. And yet we persist because the world today is a place where we can open our hearts and souls and find kindred spirits whether in friendship, love, or business. It’s a new day.

Yesterday, a quote passed over my screen and I grabbed it. It’s a wonderful word of encouragement from the inventor from New Jersey (!), Thomas Edison, for the moments when we might feel like we’re not “getting there”, wherever that is, or “getting there” fast enough. Take heart – we are all exactly where we are supposed to be at this moment in time, but in case you’re having a doubt –

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

Have a wonderful day!

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I’m excited to share with you the cover art for my forthcoming picture book, Where Do Butterflies Go at Night? This beautiful artwork by illustrator Stella Mongodi will certainly be the inspiration for readers of all ages to dive right into the rest of the book. As I begin to receive two page spreads as Stella moves along, I am not only in awe of how gorgeous this book will be (is becoming!), but also that my dream of being a published author is actually becoming a reality.

I am so grateful to my publisher, Ethicool Books, for bringing my story to light, and am so excited to promote it, learn new ways of doing so, and in working with people – Teigan at Ethicool and Stella – who genuinely care so much about a perfectly beautiful finished book.

To all my dear fellow bloggers that I usually visit, please be patient — I’ll get there. Life is calling me in many ways, but my blogging buddies are always in my heart!

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