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Archive for the ‘Life’ 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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Life can be so unexpected. It can try and tear us down, or it can surprise us with the most unanticipated gifts.

I believe that the more gifts we hope for, look for, and dare to expect, the more we will receive.

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It is said that on All Hallows Eve (Halloween) the veil is the thinnest between the realms of the living and the dead, and we are most able to be in touch with our ancestors/loved ones on the other side. Whether this is true or not, whether you believe it or not, it is a magical time when anything seems possible.

Have a great day!

p.s. This is my final drawing for Inktober. Done!

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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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A number of months ago I found myself sketching an angel, but not just any angel. I had drawn a stone cemetery angel. Not too much later, I drew another, below.

I have always been fascinated by the amazing angels that one finds in cemeteries. To me, they’re just beautiful and are so expressive. Sometimes holding the child who’s buried below their feet, sometimes quietly sad, and sometimes they are weeping in unutterable grief.

These angels are found all over the world, but, in my research, I find the greater majority seem to be in western Europe. When I worked in publishing some time ago, we put out a magazine called Camera Arts. They did an extensive, full color photo essay on angels in graveyards and cemeteries, many in Italy, and the extent to which these statues were carved and detailed was mind blowing.

As my life has been undergoing many changes, I want to return to drawing. For me, the best way to do that is just draw something – anything – I’m interested in; if these magnificent stone angels are calling to me, then I should draw them. As I posted the drawings on Instagram, I found people with a similar interest who also provide a rich resource of subject material. There I even found a cemetery angel who did not have wings (above.)

As I looked further, I found that angels might even be animals, like this heartbroken lion in California. And so I draw, “keeping my hand in”, as they say, re-familiarizing myself with that part of me that didn’t have much reason to express itself. And now it does. I don’t know where any of this will take me; I’m simply grateful to be finding myself again.

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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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I had wanted to find this particular photo of my Dad for a quick post on Instagram. I knew it was somewhere among the photo albums my Mom had meticulously put together, and which documented our family’s history from the 1800’s. It was a photo of my Dad taking a picture in our backyard where I grew up.

And there you see it. That would have been his Leica camera, the predecessor to his Nikon F that he bought later on. My Dad was an amateur photographer, and really quite good. He had a real eye for composition, getting people right, and an overall good photograph.

There aren’t that many photos of my Dad, mostly because he was the one always taking the pictures. In looking through the albums, I found more than I expected. But I didn’t want photos of him as a child, or on wedding day; I just wanted him.

My Dad was a kind, gentle soul. He was very intelligent even though he only achieved a high school education, which was pretty common back then. He knew a lot about lots of things, and was skilled in several areas – he was an excellent gardener and had flowers always blooming. He knew his way around all kinds of tools, and finished our entire basement on his own. He did every kind of home repair imaginable.

I followed him around like a puppy, asking lots and lots of questions. And while his green thumb never rubbed off on me, I learned to be quite competent in plastering, painting, and even building simple things from wood – “the right way”, he would remind me.

I’m sure he would have loved it if my brother and I were more sporty, but still, my Dad had us out bowling, taught us how to play tennis and to ice skate. He taught me how to swim in the Atlantic Ocean when I was just a toddler, out past the breakers where it was safe. And to not be afraid of the water. He instilled a love of driving and going places in me, and who knows how many other things I’ve since forgotten.

Maybe most importantly, his love of photography had a positive impact on me. I was given a little Kodak Brownie camera at 9, and was taking pictures every chance I got. When I began my B.F.A, I hadn’t yet decided on a major, but perhaps no surprise, it ended up as Photography. And to this day, I am always, always happy when I am taking pictures.

My Dad with my brother, taken before I was born.
I just love this photo.

I think he worried about me sometimes because as I got older I had so many ideas and things I wanted to do that were outside of what he considered safe or sensible. Like owning a car in New York City. But I did, and he adapted. And the one thing he always was, was proud of me. I’m not sure I always knew that at the time as I became increasingly headstrong and wanted to live life on my own terms, but I know now that he was. And I know he’d be the proudest father on Earth, knowing his daughter got published this year for the first time.

If I didn’t say it then, Dad, thanks for everything. You helped me more than you could know.

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We are all challenged in so many ways nowadays – every single one of us on this planet. Some days more, some days less. I wanted to make a meme that might touch everyone, and would give you hope, some encouragement, no matter what you are dealing with today. Here’s what I came up with.

Does this work for you?

And then … a note on social media, that ever-hungry, (sometimes) beast that would like to devour our time. But here’s something I really like about it, particularly on Instagram. I am finding so much new music to love, thanks to people I follow who share it on posts and reels.

That I am being exposed to music in different genres, from different cultures, in different styles – it just makes my heart sing. The following is one of the loveliest pieces I have heard in a while. I guess you would call it folk/pop (?), and the song is “Bloom” by Lullanas. Thanks to @sawsanakar for opening my ears and heart to this piece. I hope you enjoy it.

May you be well, looking forward to an enjoyable weekend, and maybe just a little inspired.

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In 2008, Matt Harding, one of the greatest goodwill ambassadors of all time, in my opinion, posted a video of him dancing – “dancing badly” in his words – with people all around the world. In 14 months, he danced with children and adults of every color and nationality, indigenous peoples, even a whale, (and occasionally alone) in 42 countries.

In the face of so much sadness in our world, the memory of Matt Harding somehow returned to me. I cannot watch this without tears running down my face, because of the sheer joy of so many people happily sharing a simple love of dancing. Here’s 2008’s dance. Please watch full screen or theater mode, for even those not dancing are great to watch.

In 2012, he posted another world tour, this time dancing across the U.S., Europe, and beyond, even on the USS Abraham Lincoln in the Pacific Ocean. But he’s also in Syria, Afghanistan, North Korea, China, Russia, Rwanda, Iraq – countries where you might not expect him to be. And it’s all the same – people dancing with such joy. It does make you wonder why we stumble so as a human race, when this is all people want – to be happy.

So please take a minute and put a smile on your face (happy tears permitted!), maybe even get up and dance.

If you want to learn more, visit Where the Hell Is Matt? (later changed to Where the Heck Is Matt?). Can we please have more goodwill ambassadors like Matt Harding?

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As 2021 begins to fade in the rearview mirror, we look ahead … with hope, bright dreams, imaginings of life just being easier. These are hardly new feelings.

We are weary; these have been long, heavy years, but it seems it is in the human spirit to hope. Even in the darkest days, we have been encouraged, shared courage with others, and have been lifted by so many things.

One of the things that has lifted me this past year – all my life, really – has been music. I can’t imagine what life would be without it. I have been watching this video again lately, and thought to share the wonder of this performance with you as daylight begins to fade in my little part of the world.

Almost everyone knows Josh Groban. The female of the duet is known largely as a pop singer, lately a talk-show host. What many people don’t know is that Kelly Clarkson’s training is in classical opera, and you will hear that towards the end of this unforgettable song from Phantom of the Opera. Happy New Year.

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Know joy, feel peace, love well, enjoy excellent health … and remember to nurture your dreams in the year ahead.

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I love this set of Christmas mugs that I’ve had for what seems like forever. They’re made in Germany with a beautiful glaze, and each is different. To tell the truth, the one with the Christmas tree has always been my favorite, but this year, I find myself wanting to use this one the most.

Maybe it’s the way the last two years have gone; maybe it’s just because I’m in the midst of a major life change; or maybe because I believe that the more joy I feel, the more the world feels. Our world can sure use some more, don’t you think?

Of course, that there’s good coffee in that mug is a joy in and of itself, but on a broader scale, I’m taking a few moments to center myself and feel the joy that I know is mine every moment if I just find and embrace it. So now, I’m sending some joy to you, whoever reads this. Pass it on.

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