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Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

As I sat in the corner of the couch next to the front window, journaling as I do each morning, Jazzy curled up next to me, I looked outside. It was breathtaking. The sun had barely risen and there was a low fog clinging to the ground.

If I were the kind of person to run outside at that hour in my bathrobe, I would have been everywhere, taking pictures of the neighborhood in that ethereal atmosphere. But I am not. I waited until I had showered, made coffee, fed Jazzy, and then I ran out. The sun was just clearing the mist, and casting shadows across a large pine and the leaves along the road’s edge.

At the end of the block, the mist was thinning on the river. This is a view of the Delaware that I never tire of, though I love it most in fall and winter. The white tree – perhaps a sycamore – always just pops in the landscape, like someone took a brush and painted it there.

I walked past this tree that seems aflame. The color is so all-consuming that I honestly can’t remember what it was before, if it was ever green. Even as I write this, I’m smiling, because some of my gardener and blogging friends probably know exactly what all these trees are. Me? I’m by and large a humble fan.

Before I came to this side of the state, I didn’t know what rural delivery was. Sure, you saw mailboxes like those above in movies, but my mail had never been delivered like that. It came in the mailboxes on our houses or in apartment vestibules, and we dropped our mail off in the big, blue mailbox on the corner, or at the post office. Here, I can put outgoing mail in my mailbox, pull up the little red flag, and the postal driver takes it away. I found this convenience magical.

My neighbor texted a photo to me on Halloween, showing me how an ancient tree that had been slowly dropping lower and lower over the nearby street had finally given up and broken. Local traffic could not pass, and this would undoubtedly be a problem for trick-or-treaters. Soon after, I heard the sound of chain saws. This morning I had the first moment to look at the tree, one I’d known and passed by for fifteen years. It was a sad sight, yet I couldn’t help but notice the bright yellow sprout, now visible behind the remains of the aged tree, as if carrying on the torch of the brilliance of life.

I am always awed by the beauty of this river, whether edged with crisping rust leaves, swollen and grey after a storm, or reflecting a bright blue sky on a sunny day. I am so grateful for the richness around me, even that which can be found on a short walk. The simplicity of our natural world is such a balm to all the worries and negativity of the world that might assault us if we’re not careful.

There is so much to be thankful for … in this brief moment of time in which a holiday reminds us to consider our many gifts, but also in every day. We only need to remember and look around us.

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The time when we think of reaching out to family and friends, and putting a little something special in the mail to them.

That said, I am sharing one of my French Bulldog Christmas cards to inspire you. Although, in all honesty, I describe them as holiday cards because they are truly suitable for whatever winter holiday you celebrate.

I know you’d love to see more, so please hop on over to my Etsy shop and check out what’s there, and yes, if you were wondering, they are all Frenchie-themed. But … recipients don’t have to be French Bulldog fans; if they have any appreciation of cuteness in animals, that should do. Thanks!

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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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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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Perhaps more than at any time in recent memory, joy has been pretty hard to come by in this past year. At the moment, I am feeling contemplative.

Christmas, usually a time for excitement, celebration, and sharing, has been very quiet. Not without its bright spots, but quiet.

Advised to stay home, spend time only with immediate family/housemates, many of us have felt isolated, bored, lonely, and hungry for the company of others and the fun that always accompanied the season. But sometimes the bright spots came right to our doors.

In small town New Jersey, Santa Claus still came through our streets, courtesy of our local fire department. It was different this year; traditionally, Santa has come through in the evening accompanied by 5 or 6 fire engines, sirens wailing, lights flashing in the dark, and Santa hopped off the truck to give out candy canes to all the little ones. It may have been a smaller appearance, but it still lit up our hearts and smiles.

We had snow … the wet, heavy kind that’s hard to shovel, but beautiful none the less, especially after the driveways and walkways were cleared. It’s still a bit of a fairyland, if just we put our worries to the side.

We are told in so many ways to forget the past – it’s over – and not to worry about tomorrow – it’s not promised to us – but to find our joy in the moment. 2020 has been one long challenge to that idea. I need not enumerate the global, national, or individual tolls that have been paid this year, and yet, for those of us who continue to write, and for those of us who continue to read each other’s posts, and for so many more around the world, we’re still here.

Maybe worn and frayed about the edges, but we’re still here. Let’s celebrate that.

If we have roofs over our heads, warmth, and enough to eat, let’s celebrate that.

If we have people who care about us – and we are always loved by someone – let’s celebrate that.

Tonight, before the clock strikes 12, I plan to make a list of at least ten truly wonderful moments I’ve known in 2020, no matter how big or small. If I feel like writing more, I will, but at least that, because the way to find the joy in so many moments is to be grateful for them. And I will try to be more conscious of the many gifts that are mine in the moment, right here, right now.

May 2021 bring you many joyous moments of all sizes and kinds. May you know peace within your heart, and know you are always safe.

Cheers.

 

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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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Weatherbug tells me this morning’s chilly temperatures are right on cue for October. But Thursday, it was a warm and sunny 71˙. When I decided to go freelance over a decade ago, one of the reasons was to not only shed my wretched cross-state commute, but also to have the freedom to make my own schedule. And despite my annoying and persistent feeling that I should be at my desk from 9-5 for my clients, Thursday was just too wonderful to stay inside.

And so I walked. One of the interesting things about my little town is that it’s in a valley and doesn’t always have the same weather as the surrounding towns. Or the same seasonal appearances. Just now some trees are turning bronze, some shrubs, yellow. But for the most part, it’s very green in my little part of the world.

Beyond the few scattered leaves on the ground, and some dried weeds, you might think we were in early September. If you were to walk straight in what is almost a path in the photo above, you would come right up on the Delaware River. When I drove out of town last Monday, I was surprised to find that not only had the leaves turned color, but many of the trees were already bare.

Not here. As houses begin to be dressed for Halloween, we are still on dense green lawns surrounded by still-green shrubbery. Our little town has always made a big deal of Halloween. There’s been a parade down the main drag with floats and a couple bands, vendors, food stands, and kids galore in costumes vying for prizes. Needless to say, that will not be happening this year.

But residents are not giving up on the Halloween spirit, even if there aren’t quite as many decorated houses as I’ve seen before. And we neighbors are talking, reading online, about what we can do to make trick-or-treating safe for the kids … and for us. It won’t be the same as having little princesses and Frankensteins running up to our doors yelling “Trick or Treat!” but we are in different times.

This house always goes all out for the holidays. I mean ALL the holidays. This is the kind of decorated house that gets the little ones all excited. I am so glad these people have done what they always do. It keeps some sense of normalcy in our lives.

How wonderful is it that this is “normal” for my town! But what I couldn’t help but notice is how few people there were walking about. I’m sure there were more on the Main Street where the stores are, a walk of just a few blocks further. (It’s a pretty small town.) And where all the scarecrows are. I wanted to keep walking and take pictures of them, too, but I was doing my best to keep in mind that I still had work on my desk.

My walk takes me past this very old garage, which you may recall seeing in some earlier post. I am strongly drawn to this building, though I cannot say why. As often as I walk past it with a camera, today my phone, I will photograph it.

Maybe it’s the doors. The texture, the tone, their slightly ajar position. Or just the very old stone and cement the garage is built from. My town was established in the mid 1700’s, and went through several name changes, the first being when the mill on the river burned down in 1769. The town officially became a borough in 1911, its incorporation confirmed by the state in 1925. The population in 1920 was 656; today, it’s 1,233. 

This is the mill as I know it today. I’ve heard rumors over the years that a special committee formed to preserve it had plans for it becoming condos or an arts center. As long as I’ve been here, it looks like this. The stonework tells me the little garage, may have been built at the same time.

I returned to my work, renewed by the sunshine and fresh air. We need these simple things, and it’s important to remember to give them to ourselves. I have had a hard time writing, blogging, doing creative work, especially these last few weeks. I am deeply unsettled and fear for the future of my country. I feel compelled to keep reading the latest news stories, yet know I need to stop. I am reminded to move my focus away from what I cannot control. I’m trying. I know you’re trying. We all are.

So if a walk through town, taking pictures of my neighborhood Halloween decorations and what is our striving for normalcy amid so much confusion helps, then I’ll take it. Stay safe. Stay positive.

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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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Christmas is coming, and for those who still love the tradition of sending real, 3-dimensional cards, I have something special for you – my newest Frenchie Christmas card. This is one of the holiday cards now available with complete details in my Etsy shop – JBalsamFrenchieArt – plus sets of blank notecards which would make great gifts. All the artwork and design are my own, the illustrations drawn in colored pencil, occasionally with watercolor, and printed right here in the U.S.A.

If you have a Frenchie, a friend with one, or just want something cute featuring the breed as a gift, stop by and visit my shop. And please, spread the word!

Thanks so much!

 

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Although fall does not technically end until the Winter Solstice, it is often felt to end with Thanksgiving, when all things Christmas and holiday ramp up in earnest. Today is Black Friday with all its manic sales and crazy competition, and one day of the year I am more than happy to stay put where I am.

But Thanksgiving was another story, and the perfect time to make a warming soup. Pictured is the Pumpkin Black Bean Soup I made, vegetarian, healthy, and delicious — onions, garlic, spices, black beans, tomatoes, pumpkin, and finished with a splash of balsamic vinegar. And served in one of my very favorite finds – black matte and gloss stoneware by Pfaltzgraff.

Presentation is an important aspect of food as we eat first with our eyes, so I love to photograph food. How rarely you see this in my posts is testament to how little time I have for cooking and baking nowadays, a sad comment as I truly enjoy doing both from scratch. And those lovely dishes? Though now closed, there used to be a Pfaltzgraff factory outlet, a dish-lover’s paradise, in nearby Flemington. A perfect bowl like this might run $8.00, but due to some usually invisible defect, it sold for $1.00, maybe two. Many mourned the outlet closing its doors, though it was a somewhat dangerous place for those who love dishes and cookware.

So while feeling spectacularly fortunate that I was able to buy such beautiful and durable stoneware for a pittance, I couldn’t help but think how fortunate I am in so many other ways — that in a world where people are shivering and suffering in the cold, I am able to have a safe, warm home; where people are dying of hunger, I can make a nourishing soup with the purest of ingredients; where people are in want of clean water – or any at all – I have what I need to make coffee and tea at the touch of a spigot.

And I am fortunate to enjoy the wonderful change of seasons where I live, golden fall easing into the chill and white of winter, so beautiful. For all these, and so much more, I am thankful.

 

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Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.

~ Maya Angelou

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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