Archive for the ‘Cats’ Category

Right about now you might be thinking it’s pretty slim pickings in my brain that after all the time lapsed since my last post all I’m coming up with are some cat photos. Well, hold on just a minute there. First of all, they’re not just any cat photos – they’re of my beautiful Miss Jazzy. Second, we have some thoughts about the economy of environmental packaging and the inventiveness of cats. What’s that now?


Lately I’ve noticed that two companies I order from online fairly regularly have taken to using more environmentally friendly packing materials, and I really do appreciate that. No more packing peanuts, bubble wrap or plastic pillows. They’re using relatively cheap brown wrapping paper bunched up and stuffed to fill the box. (Yes, trees, but plastic is worse.)  The advantage of that? Instant cat toys! Not only is the box left out on the floor entertaining, but the brown paper can be arranged and re-arranged in ways that are endless fun for Jazzy. Hide a few toys, and she’s busy playing for awhile, (see below), and therein lies the movable cat sculpture. Cats are so inventive with so little.


Are there more things to write about? Oh yeah! Plenty of them. It’s been a kind of blah few weeks after the holidays, not terribly inspiring, and it seems there’s been a lot of that going around. Well, settle in your comfy chair with your favorite hot (or cold) beverage and a good book because the first snowstorm of the season will be pulling into the Eastern seaboard station tonight. And there’s nothing like some snow to get one to dreaming. (Until the shoveling begins, anyway.)

Meanwhile, take a few moments and play with your furred and feathered friends. Be safe. Stay warm.

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It’s been a while since I’ve had the time or the brain to post, but at last, I’ve returned. I have a few things I’d like to post about, but as the weather gets chilly and soon I will have beautiful Fall mums gracing my porches, I wanted to share a bit of how they looked this summer.

I was originally going to title this post “The Little Porch of Horrors” because all the plants were doing just terribly. I am not the gardener some of my fellow bloggers are, (you know who you are), and I am sometimes at a loss as to whether it’s me underwatering, overwatering, poor plant quality or simply their settling in. But somehow with the exception of  two pots, they all came around. The most successful of my porch plants are the humble coleus.


The dark one on the left had a tag that said either dwarf or miniature coleus. Truly, it is supposed to be a hanging plant, but that would mean I’d have to drag a stepstool or get a hose wand or whatever, and if you know me, you know my indoor plants live by their wits. I pretty much expect the same of the outdoor varieties as well. This burgundy coleus is just gorgeous and in the sunshine, has almost a furry silver texture on its leaves. The variegated one has done quite well, too.


In the corner of  the front porch I planted 2 coleus in the pot and 2 dusty miller, hoping the coleus would shoot up like last year and the dusty miller, be bushy underneath. That didn’t happen; maybe too many plants in one pot. What did happen was a never-ending explosion of coleus flowers, which, as you know, are not all that gorgeous. I pinch them back – not a good idea? – and they seem to become more profuse. However, it all looks quite pretty nonetheless.


Then we have the petunia trees. I have never had petunias which kept growing straight upwards. I chose these gorgeous velvety deep plum and purple varieties and planted them with cream salvia, again thinking the petunias would spread low around the salvia. I pinched them back, did whatever little I knew, but no such luck – they just keep to their aspirations of one day starring in Jack and the Beanstalk, the Revise.

There were several other pots that also did well on the porches, although they sure took their sweet time about it. Again, if I paid them more attention, perhaps I’d figure out what I was doing. But here’s what looks the most fabulous on my porches:


The Boys. These are my neighbor’s cats who spend a good portion of every day lounging about on my porches, walks, driveway, car – whatever strikes their fancy and might include some sun and ideally, me, usually with a book. Truly, my talents lie in the direction of animal care and not plant care, and I think those described know it and behave accordingly.

So my hat is off to you, you wonderful and talented gardeners! I stand humbly and appreciatively in your shadow, and know, without a shadow of a doubt, that were I to begin to wilt, you’d know exactly what to do.




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I was thinking about my last post on Stillness, and something came into my head. I’d written a post on stillness about 7 years ago but from a very different angle – a lighter and more humorous one. So for those of you who weren’t checking me out back then, here’s a revisit of something I learned about relaxation, a corollary of stillness. Pictured is my handsome Claude, still missed, the Master of Relaxation.

Have you ever noticed the positions your animals get into? They make it look as if they invented the word `relax’. They stretch out, especially in the heat, so every potential draft will ease slowly over their languid bodies. They make it look so damn easy.
Now you might think that this is a comment on my own inability to relax, which is far from the truth. In fact, it brings to mind an experience of many moons ago when my then-husband came home to find me lying on the bed, staring at the ceiling or into space. He asked what was I doing?
I said “nothing.”
With an incredulous look on his face, he said, “What do you mean, nothing?”
“I mean nothing. I’m doing nothing. As in, nothing.” Seemed pretty clear to me.
“How could you just be doing nothing,” he asked. “You have to be doing something!”
Now THIS was a man who had a hard time relaxing!
I tried to search for what it was I was doing, and all I came up with was … in trying to satisfy the question … “I guess I’m daydreaming .. or just thinking.”
And then, with the same confused face, he asked, “How can you just lie there and do nothing?”
Well, I thought I had just come up with an answer as to what I was doing, but I let that go, and said, “Here, just lie down, and kind of stare into space and let your mind relax. You know, just drift around a bit.”
He lay down and for all intents and purposes, assumed the position one would take if they were to relax. He looked up at the ceiling.
Then he looked at me.
“I don’t know how you can just do nothing. I can’t do nothing.”
I don’t really remember what happened after that, except that he wasn’t next to me anymore. Probably feeling guilty for now having the audacity to have actually spent a few moments of my life doing nothing, I’m sure I joined him and made it my business to start doing something.
But I think the animals still have the right idea. They have learned the fine art of doing nothing, of just being in the moment. They stretch out … close their eyes … take a deep breath and they’re off into dreamland or wherever animals go when they close their eyes. We have such a lot to learn from them … and this is one of their best lessons.

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I’m taking a brief diversion on what was to be a triple-play on “Writing What We Know” for a very good reason – I had a photo op.

If you have or know cats, you know nothing makes them as happy as a new box or bag. They find it irresistible. So having just that – a new bag – I offered it to her highness for exploration.


First, let’s see if there’s anything inside. This might take a while.


Next, let’s see if it has the right amount of room for comfortable sleeping.


And, of course, let’s give Mom the money shot!

Never fear, animal lovers, this is a plaything for Jazzy under supervision only, lest she get her head caught in one of those pretty handles and set off to running with it caught about her neck, thus causing panic and overall, anything but the fun experience we’d been hoping for.

One day later? It’s already old news. There’s no forgetting – Jazzy’s a cat.

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This started out to be about three aspects of writing what we know, but I see that it would be a ridiculously long post. So I’ll divvy it up and start with a fairly recent example. I received a lovely personal response from an editor at one of the publishing houses represented at an NJ SCBWI event. I am very appreciative to receive such a thoughtful and detailed reply, although, of course, I wish it were better news. She complimented me on tackling a difficult subject, but found it a bit melancholy and added that quiet stories were not selling much in the picture book market these days. Happily, she was also very encouraging about my writing and my pursuing it.

Simon's Secret Illustration by JeanneBalsamThis is where writing what we know comes in. What I know – one of the things, anyway – is about animals and their ability to affect us profoundly, both personally and through literature and imagery. This particular picture book story has a wonderful magical element to it and healing on several levels. While I don’t see it as melancholy, it still behooves me to pay attention to the perception and opinion of one who lives and breathes children’s books. But what stops me is the “quiet story” part.

I like quiet stories. I like funny stories, too, but I also like something that touches the heart and soul in some way, something that’s real, that’s a reflection of what children go through in their young lives. I get that kids like funny and action-filled, but what about the other aspects of a child? Are we no longer looking to feed that as well? Are our increasingly fast-paced and digital lives crushing the inner lives of picture-book age kids? (OK, maybe that’s extreme, but then again …)

As writers, we certainly need to be aware of the trends in the industry and what the market is looking for, otherwise we can be twirling about in our own stew of ideas that will never get published. At the same time, we need to consider what “writing what we know,” (the advice we are always given by editors and agents), actually means and where it fits in what’s being published.  It’s a challenge to all of us. So I look at the body of work I have to date. Maybe it’s time to let some of my stories go; maybe I haven’t sent them out often enough and/or to the right publisher/agent who will appreciate a particular “quiet story.”

So where does the rubber hit the road? Where do writing what we know and what’s being published intersect?


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You’ve all heard that line from a song, “A house is not a home …”, and while that’s true in some ways, I beg to differ. A house is surely a home when you love where you live.


As I’m crawling out from a week with way too much work, I’m contemplating cleaning off my wonderful deep porches, and getting together what it takes to sit out there, pot some plants, etc.. This reminds me of how lucky I’ve been that the houses I’ve lived in in this side of the state have all had fabulous porches, sometimes more than one. Then I drifted further in my continued wonder/curiosity that every place I’ve lived since I left home and left my college high-rise dorm has been in a specific time period, 1810 – 1920. So for those of you that love homes, I thought I might share some of my photographic, and other house-related, memories.


The house you see here is the oldest I lived in. The front of the house, top photo, is 1810 and that was added on to the smaller part of the house built in 1742. The 1742 portion is now the dining room, and has another room above it, connected by a narrow circular staircase. It was once the home of the farm workers who worked for the gentleman farmer who lived across the road. In the photo just above, what looks like a large addition in the back is the original house. The small section in front with hedges was my entrance and housed a full kitchen, a full bath and a huge walk-in closet, (just to give you a sense of scale.) This was added on about 30 years ago by a woman who restored the house down to the last authentic detail of each period and added those modernizations.


The dining room has original, unpainted wide-plank floors, a beamed ceiling and a walk-in stone fireplace with a bread oven and original wrought iron hooks to hold pots of cooking food and meat. When I was looking for my next place to live, I walked into this room, and knew this was it. It was so warm and cozy; I loved sitting in this room. The 1810 part of the house was built by the gentleman farmer and included two stories, a full attic and basement. He brought his family to live here after his home across the road had a fire. The 1810 portion included two large rooms in the front and the same above with another full bath. The main bedroom was approximately 18′ x 18′, and did I mention, every room had a fireplace, (all non-working, which was a good thing for me, as I know nothing about building fires, properly or otherwise.)


I painted much of the house when I moved in, keeping more or less to what was there before, but a bit nicer. The bedroom had in it, left by the previous owner, this gorgeous replica antique rope bed which she had custom built. The cats loved playing underneath it, and it was quite an experience at first, sleeping that high up. This house, excepting the dining room, had wonderful 9′ ceilings throughout.


Because it was a stone farmhouse, the walls were about 18″ thick and provided outstanding built-in space for cats to enjoy at every window. Above, dining room window with Claude.

If there were any drawbacks to this house, I’d say the heating system, which was forced air and left the house feeling cold again as soon as the heat went off, but on the flip-side, it felt like air-conditioning in the summer with  nothing more than a dehumidifier in the DR and an occasional fan. And then there were more than enough small creatures – centipedes the size of alligators and plenty of field mice. The centipedes were too big too kill, for me anyway, so they got used to being herded, and the mice? I had a humane mousetrap and plenty of farmland all around me where they could start a new life.

These were a small price to pay to live here – two porches,  deck on the back, a wide circular staircase in front and bright, airy rooms upstairs, cozy ones down. It was a great house, and indeed it was a home.

Stay tuned … we’ll soon be going forward to 1870.

“There is no place like home.”  – L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

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That may sound like a contradiction in terms, but actually, it’s two different subjects.

Coming home? That would be coming home to cooking and trying something new.


Here you find my first effort at scratch vegan pancakes. They look pretty yummy, but in fact, were only okay. Granted, that is because the ingredients are quite different than what I’m used to. There are no eggs, instead Ener-G Egg Replacer; almond milk instead of real milk, and the least problematic, Earth Balance instead of real butter. We are very used to our fats and dairy, and eggs and butter do make a difference in taste. For a first effort, I’m okay with them, because I know what I have to do is learn how to adjust the recipe, as I always have, to make something taste better. Maybe soy milk instead of almond, maybe a touch of vanilla. I’m not giving up yet. And the texture was perfect.

I only regret I don’t have more time to cook and noodle around with things, but sooner or later, I’ll find it.

(Re)finding my path? That would be getting back on track in children’s books – setting new goals and timelines for illustrating, dummying and re-working specific stories; finding publishing houses and agents who are a good match for my work. It’s a lot of work, but it’s good work. Being on our path is always a good thing.


So after a stimulating breakfast with one of my children’s book buddies, I returned home and cleared off and cleaned both my work/art desks, sorted out where I’d left off on my projects, and yup, made a new plan, Stan! I wasn’t the only one who had plans for my studio chair … one kitty named Jazzy wanted in on the action. OK by me. Well, OK until Mama needs the chair and then there’s that lovely patch of sun by the window.


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StrayDog2There is never a shortage of amazing things one can find on the web, and the site I recently came across is no exception.

As both an animal and movie lover, I am particularly sensitive to animal suffering and death on film. I have a very hard time watching cruel or violent  treatment of any animal even if I know it’s an animatronic sit-in for the real animal. It’s still inordinately painful. I also much prefer to know that the animal lives happily in the end, but I know, realistically, that may not be the case. I also know, despite the oversight by a humane organization, that unacceptable behavior towards animals in film has been known to occur.

So if I’ll be upset by animal suffering, what about children? How much and at what age can they accept and understand animal suffering or the dog/cat/horse/whatever dying at the end, even though it may be a logical plot ending?

Well, here’s the site that will guide you to whatever you or your kids can tolerate – Does the Dog Die?  Does the Dog Die has currently reviewed 680 films and indicates by a happy, neutral or crying dog icon if animals live, recover or die in the end. Click on any of the film names and you’ll get details about how every animal in that film is treated and what happens to it.

There’s an awful lot of violence and death in films (and TV) today, both human and animal. Sometimes we just don’t need to watch it. So check out Does the Dog Die? and decide for yourself how much you want to take in.


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Full Moon

Always curled up by my door, I wonder …


does she stroll about when the moon is full?

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What does one do when she finds herself animal-less? She adopts! Meet Jazzy … in a possibly overdone Christmas-Photoshopped shot. But who doesn’t love a kitty in a carton, one’s own little boxtot?


For those of you who have a genuine love of animals, you know the invisible, gaping hole that opens in your home when a pet passes away. Imagine having lost all your animals, and if you know me, or follow this blog, you may know that was the case after Claude passed over. It doesn’t matter if you have two or twenty humans living in your home, when there is not one animal to be heard, the silence is deafening.

It only took three days before I contacted the local cat rescue to see if a black cat named Jazzy was still available for adoption. I had met her in the nearby pet store who generously showcases cats and kittens from two local rescue organizations to give them an extra chance to find a home. It was after Gypsy Rose passed away, and I wondered if Claude would like another companion. Jazzy was sweet and affectionate and did a great job of selling herself, but ultimately, I decided against adopting any other animals at the time, letting the aging Claude have me just to himself.


But without any animal in the house at all, that was another story. My rescue contact told me not only was the three year old beauty still waiting, but no one had even shown any interest in her. (Unfortunately, people still have bizarre superstitions about black cats and therefore, they have the hardest time finding homes.) I have no such preconceptions, and after an interview with the rescue, a brief meet and greet with both her and Jazzy at the pet store, we agreed to all meet at our mutual vet for an introduction and a nail clip for Jazzy. She’s been here ever since.

Adopting an older animal is a bit more of a challenge in some ways than adopting a youngster. Jazzy has her own personality and her own ideas about everything. And that’s OK – so do I. She’s bright, a fast learner and it’s not hard to come to understandings about anything. Most importantly, older animals need a chance. Everyone wants to adopt the kittens. I wanted to give that chance to a cat who really needed it. And so … the curious cat in the box.

My challenge now? Taking the most fabulous photograph of an all black animal, the ever-so-elegant Jazzy.

Your challenge? The next time you have that awful, gaping hole in your home because a beloved pet has passed away, or whenever you’re next ready to add a new fuzzy family member … adopt. Visit your local shelter, contact your local rescue, check Petfinder …  adopt an animal who truly needs YOU. And please consider those most in need … an older/adult animal. It’s a special gift to you both.

Merry Christmas!

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It’s a tough job …

But somebody’s got to do it.


You never know when she might come back out
and need the engine nice and warm.

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In Memory of Claude

July 1998 – August 17, 2013
Rescued from Hillside, NJ RR bridge – August 1998


Claude-Kitten2He had only 3 places to go. Over the fence and a 100′ drop to the railroad tracks below, into the traffic crossing the railroad bridge, or into my hands. He chose to climb the fence. Thanks to the help of a kind passerby, the tiny feral kitten ended up in my hands. In fact, he ended up squalling loudly while I held him against my left shoulder with one hand and drove the rest of the way to work. It was a day when I normally didn’t come in to work, on a route I never went but for the backed-up traffic that day. I even passed him by, thinking he was a crumpled piece of paper – that’s how tiny he was – before my brain went “KITTEN!” and I backed up for a closer look.

In our Medical Dept., he was assessed at 5 weeks old, too young to get shots and at risk of becoming very ill in the city shelter. So I decided to take care of him until he was old enough to be adopted. He stayed with me in my office during the day and I took him home at night. I’d set him up a huge dog crate with blankets, food, water, litter – everything he needed. He was so tiny I was afraid he’d get lost or trapped somewhere in the house. And he screamed. I shut the door to the room, let him Claude-KittenWithChloe2out, and Claude made a beeline for my pit bull terrier Chloe’s chin and curled up underneath. From that moment on they became inseparable … he found the mom he’d always needed.

My thoughts of putting him up for adoption in the shelter were abandoned in the face of their devotion to each other, and that’s how Claude’s life began – loved by his dog and human moms.

Claude was a healthy and very happy, easygoing guy.  He survived Chloe, who passed away at 15-1/2, as well as his two cat buddies Mewsette and Gypsy Rose who left us in the last year and a half. He was without a doubt the nudgiest animal I’ve ever known, but also beyond Claude-AndChloeaffectionate, cuddly, funny and extremely trusting. He stretched out anywhere on his back, totally vulnerable, knowing he was always safe and loved. And did I mention vocal? We won’t even go there.

Life was sweet for Claude until a little over a week ago when he experienced a mild, seizure-like event. Unfortunately, these progressed rapidly and in number and severity that it became clear there was only one thing to do. I told him where we were going Saturday morning and what would be happening. I bathed us in white light and asked who would meet Claude on the other side. In a heartbeat I saw Chloe … her bunny ears up, eyes bright, and she was dancing from side to side, so eager to see her “baby” once again.

Claude left peacefully in a second to join his mom and left me to reflect on how lucky I, as well as he, was that day when I was sent to work the “back way” and over a railroad bridge where someone needed desperately to be found.

Home will never be the same without you, Claudie.

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