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Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Hurricane Ida, Sept. 1, 2021, had devastating effects on many parts of this country, my state of New Jersey, my county, and my little town. From the flash flooding of our local creek and the 10″ of water that fell in 3-4 hours on already soaked land, our little downtown was under water up to a man’s waist.

I am deeply grateful that my house did not take on water, and after a few falters, the power stayed on. Friday, I wanted to take a walk and see what the Delaware looked like and how some small part of my little town had fared.

The day was bright and sunny, and everything looked as if there had never been a devastating storm barely over a day ago. Gardens were overflowing with perennials of every kind and looking lovely. Our area isn’t real big on formal landscaping, just filled with life. I felt relieved.

Through the trees, you could glimpse the river, a sunlit brown and green, rushing downstream.

Flowers and plants were in full bloom, edging quietly towards fall.

There was such a profusion of life; I could hardly imagine the destruction that I’d seen on the news of so many areas not that far from where I live.

A cover of stormy grey clouds provided a momentary canopy over the Delaware River. The water had reached 8′ above flood stage just the morning before, and even though receding, it had enveloped tree trunks all along its banks. And still, as always, it was stunning.

A shallow shoreline of stones where the tree roots were always visible, gone.

An abundance of sweet-smelling honeysuckle climbing over everything. With the brilliant blue sky behind, it seemed some sort of miracle.

Snowball hydrangea changing into their late summer green phase still evidenced some fresh white blooms, in denial of the coming fall, and the crisp, dry temperatures.

When these cataclysmic events happen, we can easily get overwhelmed with the news, with the images of destruction, knowing in our hearts how much people are suffering in the face of life-changing events … in some cases, the loss of loved ones. I didn’t go into town, not knowing what I might find. And what could I do? So I remained in gratitude for the safety with which I and most of my town had been graced. And tried to find the balance in beauty.

Hoping this finds you all safe and well.

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Yes, two different subjects. Remember that very young praying mantis I had shared a few posts ago? She was hanging out on my kitchen window screen, looking just adorable, as all babies do. Well, I went out my kitchen/back porch door the other day, and who do you think was there waiting for me? That little mantis all grown up. Can I be sure it’s the same one? Possibly not, but she’s the right color and in the same area as the youngster.

Mantises are very brave creatures. They don’t run when giants approach. I spoke to her very softly, and came down on my knees to take her photo, making no fast moves. As you can see, she remained very calm, and did not assume her praying, pre-attack position. She cocked her head this way and that as I spoke to her, having no need to defend herself. They are such fascinating insects, so alien looking, and immensely powerful in their ability to catch their prey. They can take on small birds and frogs, but are generally most beneficial in the garden where they eat pests. (I say “she”, by the way, because females are longer than males, and she is the greater length.)

And in other news, book news, here are two excellent reads:

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton – With an exquisite use of the language, Kate Morton tells a tale that spans multiple generations over a century, from the early 1900’s to 2005. It is at once a mystery of family origins, but carefully weaves in loss, duplicity, family dysfunction, even a murder, and a real sense of place in Brisbane, Australia, and London and Cornwall in the UK. It begins with the question as to why a 4-year-old child has been abandoned and sits alone on a wharf in Brisbane with a small, white suitcase. There is not a chapter doesn’t end in a real page turner and new revelation. It is not the shortest book I’ve read, but once you begin, you’ll be so invested, you won’t even notice. It’s a great piece of historical fiction. And fairy tales … did I mention there is an Authoress who writes fairy tales?

Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty (You may know her from Big, Little Lies) is also a mystery, but takes place in current day. It is a character study of sorts of three families whose lives intertwine over just a few days, beginning with the lead up to “The Day of the Barbecue”. Moriarty keeps you on the edge of your seat as you plunge forward wondering what this tragedy could possibly be, and I assure you, it’s one you will never expect.

The balance of the book brings you deeper into the minds of those involved, until you find a quietly stated but chilling conclusion at the end. An excellent read.

What I found interesting on a personal note is that I chose both books on the recommendations of two friends, each of whom has a good idea of my reading tastes. And each book is by an Australian author, and takes place in Australia, the home of Ethicool, the publisher of my forthcoming book. No coincidences, I say.

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Drumroll please! I am so happy, excited, over the moon – you name it! to announce that my first children’s book has been accepted for publication!

Where Do Butterflies Go at Night, my only picture book story in rhyme, will be published by Ethicool Books, a young and growing publisher creating extraordinary and extraordinarily beautiful books inspiring kids to create positive change in the world. This is a unique company that walks the walk of sustainability in making the world a better place for both young readers and the world at large.

Illustrating Butterflies is Stella Mongodi, an unbelievably talented artist who will bring the magical images of my text to life in ways I can’t yet even imagine. She has a unique and unforgettable style, and I can’t wait to see what she does.

And what you see here? The little butterfly that so piques the curiosity of a small child and inspires their rich fantasies.

More to come …

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This past June was the hottest on record in the United States. July saw the issuance of multiple tornado warnings in my state, one specifically for my town and the surrounding areas. Never in my life here in Jersey, have I ever had to seriously sequester myself and animals in either the basement or lowest interior space in the house (my chosen option), in response to serious tornado warnings. And they did hit, too, just, fortunately for me, not here.

But let’s look on the bright side, because there always is one.

One of two dwarf red maples on the property, this one is more a deep bronze than a shade of red. Unless, of course, you’re a little newbie sprout. This close-up doesn’t tell you how tiny the new leaves are in comparison to the whole, which is huge. But it might tell you why it brings a smile every time I look at it.

One morning, I looked out my kitchen window and saw something indiscernible in between two of the ornamental grasses out back. It looked like a face. Oh …. it WAS a face. The face of a very young (and adorable) deer holding very still but just about ready to chow down on a hosta. I went down the porch stairs to gently shoo her away. Maybe only 4-5 months old, she easily cleared the nearly 4′ garden gate. As I returned, I saw she had been on my porch, and had eaten the front half of the impatiens above and a few other potted plants. It’s discouraging, but that little wide-eyed face holding soooo still, trying to be invisible …

For some reason, this pretty pair was spared, and is now starting to bloom.

There are snowball hydrangeas all over this property. They bloom snow white, and are now in their green phase, to turn a stunning rust as the summer wears on, and it becomes cooler.

Hello, little fella. This very young praying mantis greeted me one morning on a kitchen window screen. Soon after, he disappeared. But he hadn’t gone very far, I later discovered. It was turning out to be a very hot afternoon, but I managed to find myself a little time to sit on the back porch and read while there was still some shade nearest the house. And there he was. Not far from me on the decking, in the very hot, bright sun.

I thought to make his way a little easier by moving him into the shade. I offered him a large hydrangea leaf to climb on, as I didn’t want to handle and frighten him. He very calmly walked right over the leaf, and into the shadow of the railing. “Thanks, ma’am, but I’ve got this,” I imagined he said as he found his own shade. And then over the next half hour or so, he slowly made his way across the length of the porch and disappeared.

All I could think of was that that must be what `biological imperative’ means. He knew where he was going and what he had to do, because at the other end of the porch is where I often see adult green praying mantises, like the one next to Pumpkin in a photo from a few years ago.

I know for myself, and most everyone I know, that the last year and change has had a lingering impact in one way or another. And yet, we find, there are still always bright spots. Hope you keep finding yours.

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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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The other evening as I was “closing up shop” on my day, putting files away, and cleaning up my desktop, I happened to look out the window and spied a bird on my fence I’d never seen before. It was a hawk, but too small to be a red-tailed hawk. What was it?

First, I took a few photos through my office window lest I go outside and frighten it away, and then went to Audubon’s website for a little research. I found that we have eight hawks native to New Jersey, and this is a sharp-shinned hawk, also known as a sharp or sharpie. My reading on Audubon identified it as a juvenile. It stayed there for quite some time, and I stayed staring at it for quite some time, mesmerized by its beauty. Seeing an animal like this so close is always a gift to me.

And on to sillier matters …

I went out to get the mail down at the road, and my 6-year-old neighbor was taking an outdoors break from his online school day. He had a white toy animal which he quickly explained to me was a Komodo dragon he’d gotten for his birthday last year. “Wait!” I said. “I have a Komodo dragon, too!” And I showed him what you see below. He loved it, but was called in by his Dad for his next class. Inspired by his enthusiasm, I took a few photos and texted them over to my friends for him.

Here she is rock climbing in the back yard. The carving came from a now-defunct store called Two Buttons which was in nearby Frenchtown. The owners of the store were local author Liz Gilbert and her then-husband, Jose, she being the real-life Elizabeth Gilbert who wrote Eat, Pray, Love. (She was played by Julia Roberts in the movie.)

And playing on the porch. Two Buttons was an amazing import store that sold the wares of artisans from all over the world. This little dragon is carved from the root of a tree that grows in Indonesia, and is about 11″ long. They had different sizes, including one that was about 7′ long and breathtaking. If I had a few thousand dollars doing nothing, that one would be in my living room now.

Exploring in the grass. I am reminded to be grateful, in these unusual times with all their challenges and frustrations, that there’s still something silly in me – and in those of you who are enjoying the dragon photos – that has survived and seems alive and well. Cheers to us!

And on one last note … it’s spring here in New Jersey, and the pollen seems particularly intense this year. Witness my car a few hours ago.

Coming back up my driveway, the wind suddenly whipped up, and a cloud – I mean a CLOUD! – of pollen pursued me up to my door. I’d say Pollen-10, me and my car-0. And tonight we are expecting high winds. Woo hoo!

Life brings with it innumerable changes. This past year has brought with it many that have been massive, widespread, and often out of our control. And yet we’re still here … coming through on the other side – maybe a little frayed around the edges, feeling a little beat down – maybe a lot beat down – but have not given up hope. What just came to mind were the immortal words of John Lennon, “And we all shine on.

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“A wizard must have passed this way

Since — was it only yesterday?

Then all was bare, and now, behold,

A hundred cups of living gold!”

~ Emma C. Dowd, “Daffodil and Crocus,” April 1902

Inspired by the daffodil above, my niece shared some of the lovely daffodils from her own garden, sitting pretty in a vase she rescued from a neighbor who was about to get rid of it. What a happy choice!

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It was only about a week and a half ago that I went out walking … the earth was still slumbering, content in its dried weeds, quiet soil, bare trees. But the warmth in the air, the sun, spoke of a greener time to come.

The river was high and moving swiftly towards the bay at the southern part of the state. Although turbulent and muddy-looking from this view, it was still beautiful.

I walked past what is probably the neighborhood eyesore. It’s a long, low red building, at the end of which are a loading platform and garage doors, awaiting a shipment that has long since failed to arrive. I love the chair sitting there, keeping the faith that someday the neglected warehouse might live again. The red checkerboards above the garage doors tell me that this may have once been a Purina distributor, perhaps for large animal feed, serving the farmers who are just a few miles away. In a tonier town, this would have long since been demolished. We all seem to just take it for granted.

A bed of purple crocus had pushed its way through the dirt edging the road, no grass yet in, looking rather alone, barren, and brave.

Across the street a stream of bright golden grasses filled the space between the old train rails, brilliant in the sun, and threw shadows on what was once a second set of tracks.

A small bunch of snowdrops struggled to announce an impending Spring among dried grasses and old walkway weeds. I couldn’t help but imagine them surrounded by a bed of rich grass or maybe even some mulch, just something more complimentary to their delicate, pioneering spirit.

An old building on the walk to the bridge. I’m sure it’s the same age as some of the other stone buildings I’ve photographed, but I am always puzzled by the doors stacked above one another. Perhaps there was once a stairway down the front, like a fire escape, but there are no clues in the stone or cement. I’ve been told it has housed, and still does, floors of antiques and collectibles. As long as I’ve lived here, someone (I suspect the owner) always places one item in the doorway, there for the taking by whoever passes by.

An old-fashioned doll rests in the corner today.

The Delaware looks stunning as always, its racing south not as immediately apparent as in the earlier view. Here it better reflects the cloudless blue sky, and wears an aura of peacefulness.

At last … the first sheen of green! That sly, subtle wash of the palest green creeping into the grassy areas, letting us know that in maybe as little as a week’s time there will be more of Spring poking its head through the ground – daffodils, more crocus and snowdrops, the blush of yellow on the forsythia.

It’s been a long winter, a long year. We’ve survived and carried with us a great weariness and a need for the promise that a greener season brings. Soon … more hope, more sun, more people about. The simple things that make our hearts grateful that we’re still here and can lift our faces to the warmth.

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Taking a photograph towards the end of the day is likely to be the last thing on my mind. Until I looked out the window …

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There was a time, somewhere in my past, when that term referred to winter clothing – white woolen slacks or a white sweater or blazer. I’d say a long time ago. Right now, winter white is the color of the sky, the ice, the snow, the everything. But a lot of white sky. That and grey.

A few weeks ago, in my part of the state, we had between a foot and a half to two feet of snow. Pretty, but more than anyone would ever want. Just looking outside made me want to run for the covers. And digging out is, of course, in between work. Or maybe work was in between digging out. It was exhausting and that was even with a neighbor clearing my driveway with his snow blower. I suspect, without him, my driveway would still look like this.

Inside in the evening, things were much calmer. I’d been gifted a Crate and Barrel flameless candle for Christmas and it looks so lovely in this lantern. You can forget – at least until the next morning – that this is what’s waiting outside …

Icicles. Yes, long dagger-y icicles that dare you to walk beneath them. There was just enough warmth and/or blunted sun to have them start breaking, and as I sat at my desk working, or journaling in the morning, you could hear them occasionally crashing to the ground below. When my oil delivery fellow came, I went outside to tell him to stay flush against the house, pointing up. He did …  and flattened himself. But being young, he then skated across the ice on the ground, yelling “Wheeeeee!” as he slid to the driveway and went back to his truck. I could only smile.

These, may I mention, are equal-opportunity icicles – they’re on every side of the house, and on just about everyone’s house in town, and beyond, I’m sure. They are quite beautiful, but do make it advisable to consider which entry to the house is the safest.

The last few weeks have had an unexpected perk. My neighbor next door has been experimenting making challah bread, trying different numbers of braids, and more recently, a different type of flour, too. I’ve had the occasional text alerts on my phone asking first if I liked challah, and on a few subsequent occasions, if I’d like some. You bet! Above, it made great challah French toast. I decided to make a marble cheesecake, a large hunk of which was gratefully received by these neighbors.

An unseasonably warm day yesterday and a boatload of sunshine today – finally! – has much of the snow on the rooftops melting and receding. Just in time for another snowstorm starting tomorrow morning. Oh boy! But at least for tomorrow, they’re only predicting 5-8″, After the previous storm, that almost sounds like a coating.

But the sky was glorious, and though it was quite chilly out, the day was a brilliant respite to the many, many white and grey days we’ve had for the last few weeks.

I had thought to post something for Valentine’s Day, but didn’t get to it. Here is what I wanted to say:

Love yourself. Through thick and thin, we are who we live with. Loving ourselves, contrary to what I was taught growing up, is the essence of being able to love others, to give to others, and at the end of the day, however grey or white, knowing that everything is really okay. This is my Valentine to you – to all of you who stop by, who write, who love, who persevere in these difficult times, and who believe in a better world. Be good to yourself.

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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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That pretty much says it. Despite the fact that I am still working – and very thankful for that – and am hardly in need of things to do in any area of my life, my focus is, well … intermittent would be a good word. Some days are pretty “normal”, but at times there is a sense of drift that never used to be in my life until the Coronavirus blew into town.

I know you are all experiencing this, too. I have yet to speak to anyone who isn’t dealing with some variation of this theme. As best I can tell, those of us who are creative have taken a truly palpable hit. I haven’t blogged in a month; I feel like I have little to say. Or perhaps I’ll just whine. So I started thinking in pictures. I went through the last few years of my photos and below you’ll find a little walk through my town, a little walk through summer. Hope this offers some cheer.

It was early spring, April 12th to be exact. The pandemic was in its serious upswing. I didn’t feel like walking that cloudy morning, but I did anyway. The streets were pretty empty. The flowering cherry trees were in bud, and I was cheered to see our flag, a colorful beacon on one of my neighbor’s porches. It was a comfort in a time that left us all unsteady on our feet.

Daffodils in bloom, the little entry area to the bridge freshly manicured and mulched, but still, it looked pretty bleak. A sunny sky would have helped. There were next to no cars on the road. Everyone was home, wondering what was next. And still, there was our flag, posted by my town, somehow a hopeful reminder – to my way of thinking – that we’d be OK.

My back porch last summer. It was the summer when I got all those amazing plants from Rice’s Market, pictured in a previous post – gorgeous coleus growing like crazy, stunning petunias and snapdragons. This part of the porch was quiet but pretty with pots of impatiens. This year? The porch has the furniture, but the plant market was closed, and I didn’t really have the energy/desire to pot plants anyway. There’s always next year, I thought. I am still surrounded by beautiful hostas, lilies, and hydrangea on the other side of the porch railings. I’m good.

Jazzy napping in a favorite sunny spot in the bedroom. The painted stool was one of quite a few hand-painted children’s items I’d made when living in Pattenburg a number of years earlier. My next door neighbor had converted what was once the town’s General Store into an antiques and collectibles shop, and she featured my pieces. I loved the painting and stenciling. Something I think about doing again, but …

It was a grey-ish day, but the cemetery at the Unitarian Universalist Church was tended so beautifully, it didn’t matter. It was very calm. Peaceful and pretty.

 

Another view of the Delaware River, separating New Jersey from Pennsylvania. I love this photo as much for the gleaming handrail of the bridge walkway as for the unusual cloud formation. When you live so close to a river, it’s hard not to take photos of it.

Did someone say Jersey tomatoes? New Jersey is The Garden State and this is tomato season! Those rich, red beauties put other tomatoes to shame, and make the best sandwiches anywhere. In reality, you don’t even need the cheese – just plain tomato sandwiches with a little mayo work, too. I literally just came back from a tomato run at Phillips Farms’ new farm stand with a bunch for the week.

Marilyn. Who can forget her? Here she is remembered in a retrospective of the works of Seward Johnson who founded and built the magnificent Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton Township, NJ. His works are always on display, but friends and I made a special trip down for this exhibit which extended throughout the 42 acre grounds and inside galleries. Just do a search on this site for Grounds for Sculpture  (or start here) and you will be treated to both his works and those of many other wonderful sculptors. Johnson is known for his lifelike figures, especially those where he’s brought to life the famous paintings of the Impressionists.

 Hydrangea bushes are here and there all over the adjoining property, part of which surrounds my back porch. So lovely, here in pale green, slowly changing over the summer from snowy white to glowing rust.

The view at the end of my block. I am just 3 houses away from the Delaware whose many moods charm and inspire. This was from a previous summer, in her full green regalia. This summer, the area is overgrown, and the ability to access a nearer point as was possible in the past, is blocked; whether intentionally or not, I have no idea. So much has changed as of late.

Thank you all for visiting. For those whose blogs I visit regularly, forgive me if I have not stopped by in any sort of timely manner. I value what you add to my life and to life on the internet as well. I’ll get there. As I mentioned earlier, I am just all over the place, but you are in my mind and heart. Keep writing. Your words and images matter.

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