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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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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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Sometimes change is imposed from without, and outside our control. Our best bet can be to adapt our thoughts and feelings and make the most of it. Sometimes change is completely self-motivated and filled with all the fear and exhilaration that a major shift can bring. And oftentimes, it’s a combination of both.

Change can happen in a moment or evolve over time. Such has been the case in my life where I have recently decided to end a decades-long relationship with a client, who, in all reality, was more like an extended family in many ways. Numerous endeavors of my own have been waiting in the wings to grow and flower, but have always taken a back seat to the immediate demands of fundraising, design, writing, getting to press, and so on. Not to complain. Doing all this on behalf of animals has been an incredibly rich part of my life.

But then things change. New people, new thoughts. Out with the old, in with the new. And change doesn’t always seem the best, especially if we feel differently as to how it deals with a cause that has been near and dear to our hearts. And especially when all these other ideas and wishes and dreams of one’s own have been clamoring for expression, or at least, more of it.

And so change challenges us, heals us, pushes us to take the steps to grow. In my case, to write, to draw, to help new people to grow and change, too. It can all seem to be happening at once, but in the end, we are bright and new, even if a little shaky on our newfound legs.

It seems that the daily advice on my Wayne Dyer desk calendar has been speaking to me. On November 5th, he said, “Go beyond the ideas of succeeding and failing — these are the judgments. Stay in the process and allow the universe to handle the details.” I couldn’t have been given better advice.

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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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If anything is ever true, it’s that everything always takes longer than you think it will. It’s been beyond a month’s journey just to get my new Frenchie journal ready to greet the world on Etsy and, I hope, to find some appreciative buyers. I created the journal, put together all the artwork, front and back, over 2 months ago, but all that’s entailed in actually getting it printed and ready to market is quite another story. But at last … here it is!

I had a small business with French bulldog notecards and holiday/Christmas cards a number of years ago. For a variety of reasons, it made sense to put it to the side at the time, but the inspiration to start it up again with some new and fresh ideas has been twinkling inside me for a while now. As a result, I am re-launching it with this journal which features my own artwork, front and back. On the back is a pencil sketch of a French Bulldog puppy that I included on Pinterest and which became, much to my surprise, wildly popular between views and saves. I am going to hand sign the drawing on each journal, so anyone inspired to frame it will have a bona-fide signed print of my artwork!

I am so pleased to have my shop on Etsy (where you will also find my Christmas and holiday cards) – it’s a great venue for creative people to sell their art, high quality crafts, and more. There’s also a lot to know, so I am starting with sales to North America first and as I get the hang of how everything works, I will expand to Europe next. (I know there are a lot of Frenchie lovers in Europe, so please be patient – I am a work in progress myself.) If you’d like to check out my new journal and holiday cards, please stop by my shop.

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As a graphic designer, I work on a wide variety of projects – ads, booklet, flyers, magazines, fund-raising pieces, websites, etc – which I love, because it keeps me interested and challenged. I have been expanding my involvement in children’s books, helping authors get self-published through my design work. Up to this point, I have focused exclusively on picture books … until now.

Approached by a children’s writer I know to do a chapter book, I hesitated. I do love working on picture books, and wondered if maybe I should stay with what I know best. Well, I took the challenge and the result is the first chapter book I designed, The Last Rhino, by Deb Stevenson. Deb, illustrator Morgan Spicer, and I couldn’t be happier with the final product.

If interested in reading more on my initial journey with chapter books, please visit my graphics blog. To learn more about The Last Rhino, just click on the image above, or watch Deb’s outstanding trailer.

 

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One of the shortcomings of we creative folk, I find, is that we generally don’t share our gifts proudly with others, or even give ourselves a pat on the back all too often. Writing a blog, and especially if it includes our own artwork, photography, videos, or images of our various accomplishments, is one way we do that. Even so, many of us only shyly take credit for the beauty, wisdom, intelligence, and creativity we put out into the world through our blogs. We all deserve a pat on the back, so please – give yourself one!

A corollary to this is if our creativity is available to others … as in a business. For those of you who check in on me regularly, you are likely to be aware I’m a graphic artist. But how many know that I actually promote my graphic design services on the web? Not enough, I’m sure, so I am taking this opportunity to introduce you to my graphic design blog – Jeanne Balsam Graphics. Please take a toddle on over and see what I do. I am growing my business, and have a particular interest in helping people self-publish by putting an attractive and professional product out there. (The picture book above is my design/layout, and includes some original artwork, as well.)

With the advantages of the internet, working together is no longer limited by our physical proximity. I have local clients as well as in California, the mid-west, and more. Maybe I can help you or someone you know with a fabulous design piece. If so, you can contact me anytime through my graphics blog.

OK, so that’s me finally patting myself on the back a bit and sharing more of what I do. Now it’s your turn!

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Not to be confused with the 5-second rule (where some believe that if you drop something on the floor, it’s still safe to eat if you pick it up in 5 – maybe 3? – seconds. Yech.) Anyway, this is a whole different animal.

Look at that broad, open expanse – fabulous. Some basics, morning vitamins, access to everything. And that catalog lower left? About to run headlong into the 5-Day Rule!

I created the 5-Day Rule as a result of a massive cleaning effort on my part about 2 weeks ago. Wayyyy too much stuff on my desk, too many things in the way when I needed to get to the stacked sorters, too many chotchkas, just too many, too much and all a distraction. I was long overdue for a clean, inspiring workspace. But where was it all going to go?

I have 2 very spacious file cabinets and they were very full. But that’s where much of the paperwork on top of my desk had to go. It was a huge task and took the better part of 2 days. From those file cabinets I pulled outdated business papers; so many photos and materials from my long-ago dog rescue; and the old boyfriends. (I’ll always remember you in my heart, guys!) I pared and whittled and proceeded to fill both garbage and recycling containers — it was heaven.

Next, I filed away what needed to be filed and then, stripped the desk of what was left and cleaned it. What went back was only what I want and need, giving me complete access to the stacking shelves of current material that I use regularly. The desk is now a vast area of open workspace. Woo hoo!

Okay, so the Komodo dragon is a desktop essential. Somebody has to watch over the day’s work, right?

So what is the 5-Day Rule? Anything I put on the desk, such as that new mail order catalogue, for example, can only be on the desk for 5 days max. That gives me time to read it, order from it, whatever. After 5 days, any item has to be gone, whether in the trash or some other location. And I plan to be brutal about this. Dee Hock says, “Clean out a corner of your mind and creativity will instantly fill it.” I like that, and I’m sure it also applies to wherever we spend time in our work and creative efforts.  Feeling overwhelmed by clutter? Clear it – you’ll feel a cool breeze of creativity wash right over you. Really.

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It’s not for a lack of things to write about that it’s been so long since I’ve last posted. My mind is always humming away with things I’d like to write about. But recently there were other insistent things pulling me away, be it work, a few rounds of a nasty virus, the need to be OUT and not at the computer … you know how it goes.

So what was the impetus to finally settle down and write? What you’re looking at right now. My blog — more correctly, my blog theme. Last night, while waiting for a response from WordPress, I actually wrote all this by hand away from my computer. At the time, I had no idea if what you’ve always seen visually and what I’ve known for the last so many years was gone forever or reclaimable. Because as of last night, thanks to something I did, my beloved blog had slipped into something new – the theme I’ve been planning for a new site promoting my graphic design services.

While I may be a bit more savvy than the average bear at the computer, I am also quite capable of occasionally screwing things up. I wouldn’t have found myself somewhat frantically waiting to hear back from the “happiness engineers” at WP if that weren’t true. I knew I could move my site back into the earlier theme, but would I lose my widgets and customization? That was the question. So trying not to panic or bang my head on my desk, I waited. (I got my answer today, and did have to rebuild my widgets – no way to retrieve my earlier version.)

So blog problem aside, there’s been plenty of other stuff on the happier end of the spectrum – fabulous and fresh Jersey produce; reading and reading and reading thanks to the wasteland that is summertime TV; getting out and about to new places both on my own and with friends, enjoying their company, a movie, good eats and more.

In the end, despite my initial panic, the WP theme issue is just another challenge, a bump in the road along the way, and a reminder that there are many things in life we cannot control. All we can really control are our thoughts and how we look at what happens in our lives. Sometimes easier said than done, but true nonetheless. Not all that miraculously, I survived to tell the tale, and look … it got me taking along my camera and writing again. Not so bad after all.

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Somewhere along the line growing up I remember someone telling me “A job worth doing is worth doing well.” They were right then and they’re still right. Thing is, whatever the job was then has become wayyyyyy more complicated (albeit fascinating).

I promised myself I could finally pot this long-awaiting and patient coleus, called Electric Lime, after a certain amount of reading.

We’re no longer hand-printing a book report on honeybees, or making a great table in shop, or learning how to properly set in a shoulder in the suit we’re sewing. We’re not packing up a slew of pasted-up magazine boards to be shipped out-of-state to the people who’ll make them into negatives, or changing ribbons in typewriters, or Xeroxing off copies to send out. None of that. Now we’re reaching anywhere in the world simultaneously in seconds across multiple devices.

Check out this cutie – not even 1″ in length. I looked it up to see what it might be; it’s a black and yellow lichen moth. She seemed kind of lethargic, so I put a few drops of water in front of her, and she drank it right up.

My point is, my leap of faith will entail reaching a huge amount of people across a number of platforms and social media if I want to be a success. And that means a tremendous learning curve as well as time devoted to my craft in creating product (all while still working). Whew! I’ve been researching and looking into the many things I need to do, making lists, chunking them down into more do-able lists, and working away.

A few of these rhododendron bushes grow in the yard surrounding the porch. These “snowballs” are stunning and huge, about 8″ across. 

So today, I forewent any social outings to focus on my plans, and got out in the lovely cool morning on my back porch. I pushed over the vincas I potted a couple weeks ago and plopped down a notebook, my coffee, and the book I wanted to delve into this morning, Facebook for Dummies. I have assiduously avoided Facebook for any number of reasons, but cannot do so any longer, and like everything, there’s a lot to know. So the photos you see on this page are what I saw surrounding me this morning when I hunkered down to expand my knowledge.

A bright rose and pink vinca are still settling in, moved down to make room for coffee and a pile of work.

There is one thing of which any of us who take leaps of faith can be assured … we will never be bored.

 

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JeannesNewFlipFlops2

Why, you may ask, are you looking at a pair of feet in (… well, a pretty cute set of) flip-flops?

Here’s why. For the same reason you’re about to look at a yummy summer salad sitting on an antique kitchen chair complete with original milk paint, (which by the way, doesn’t hold up all that well to everyday wear and tear.)

Salad2

It’s an offering. A little tide-you-over. I’ve been somewhat absent from my blog, but I do think of you, and I do miss the delight of writing more frequent posts, as well as stopping by your blogs. (Just because I don’t follow you or comment doesn’t mean I don’t stop in for a quick peek.)

The last few weeks have included some exciting things – a visit to the Grounds for Sculpture to see the Seward Johnson retrospective before the borrowed pieces return to their permanent spots all over the world on July 1. So much to see, and such genius! I’ll be posting more on that soon. Meanwhile, here’s a little teaser of what’s to come.

SewardJohnson-HotDogMan2

Johnson is known for his sculptures of people in everyday life and his 3-dimensional interpretations of famous paintings. Throughout the grounds one finds groupings of people as well as individuals, such as this hot dog vendor along one of the walkways.

And then there was the NJ SCBWI June Conference where we all ate, drank and slept children’s books for nearly two days straight. It’s intense, exciting, rewarding, and based on everyone’s collapse on Monday, a major rush! The workshops, meeting and dining with agents and editors, connecting and re-connecting with fellow writers and illustrators is quite the whirlwind of an experience, and has us all coming home with a renewed sense of purpose, our dreams fired up, and ready to further our goals and experiences in children’s books.

Intermezzo: a French Bulldog illustration of mine, for summer.

Frenchie-IceCreamSodaSig

And then of course, there’s work. LOTS of work. Not to complain; paying one’s bills is a good thing, but between it all, well, my blog bore the brunt of it. As have my poor LightBetweenOeans-MLStedman2porches which remain bereft of a single flower this year. (I’ll spare you the empty porch photos.) And then there are the everyday demands of just plain life. Busy!

And of course I’ve been reading. I am always reading, no matter what. Great book – just finished – I highly recommend it.

Soon I will share with you some truly amazing treats from the Seward Johnson exhibit.

So stay tuned … I do believe I’m back!

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Just like life is filled with dreams and plans, so is it filled with transitions.

TheMac2Over the last 2 months, I’ve had a number. The most recent, though initially stressful, has been the now-happy upgrade of my beloved Mac, the primary tool of my trade.  Reliant as I am upon my Mac to make a living, I was not happy to find it behaving increasingly squirrelly as of late. It’s stood up to the test of time, but has missed a few OS upgrades as well as the accompanying program upgrades. My Mac superhero, Steve, told me that right about now is when hard drives often start to fail. Gulp.

It seemed the time had arrived. So off it went to Steve to have a new hard drive and double the memory installed as well as the latest OS and other upgrades. He brought it back, did his on-site magic, and then the biggest transition began, my learning all the (sometimes) improvements of the latest and greatest software. Trust me … a transition! (I’m much calmer now.)

But the bigger transition has been – and will be –  in my diet. While not really horrible by any means, my cholesterol was found to be sufficiently high that it needed addressing. Before you could say “lower your cholesterol,” I found myself plopped on 3 drugs — me who takes no meds at all, just vitamins and supplements, and eats largely organically, MainStreetVegan-VMoran2relatively low-fat and 99% vegetarian is suddenly infused with three. And so began a series of escalating side effects, med changes and so on … not a happy experience.

Meanwhile, at a recent picnic I was pleased and surprised that a friend bought me a book – Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., M.D. – which she read because of the benefit of the suggested diet to the prevention of cancer. I started reading. The regimen the author describes is beyond vegan in its restriction of fats, and a possibility, but has some very strong limitations. Still, I want to find a way to change my diet sufficiently to get off the meds, so I ordered additional books, one of which is pictured here, plus  2 cookbooks, Forks over Knives and the Joy of Vegan Baking and The Skinny Bitch Book of Vegan Swaps.

If I’m to consider going vegan, I need to know I have options … lots of them. I’m a bake it with butter, sugar and eggs kind of girl, and this is going to be a HUGE transition. And so I’ve begun reading, investigating, considering and shopping. That I already eat animals rarely makes one part easier, but giving up dairy? Now THAT’s tough. So I’m cutting out more dairy and animal fat than I already have and wading in.

I know plenty about the quality, or lack thereof, of our food supply and the toll it is taking on the health of millions of people as well as the planet and the horrendous suffering it is causing billions of animals. I’ve never wanted to be a part of that and have taken many steps over the years to limit my participation. Apparently, the next step – this transition – is mine to take.

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