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Yes, I know everyone is rushing around like crazy getting ready for the holidays, but I still have two reading suggestions. One to start now, just to take your mind off the busy-ness, and another to get into when the final crunch is over.

The first is a crime thriller, Last Girl Ghosted by Lisa Unger. The writing is taut, the pace brisk, and the subject matter all-too-current – online dating in today’s (2021) world of hook-ups and ghosting. Unger knows how to pull you in, build the suspense, and change direction without a misstep, always leaving you wanting more. Our main character, Wren, has dated a man she found on an online dating site. She believed they was falling in love, but he mysteriously disappears, leaving no trace of himself anywhere. A private detective contacts Wren also looking for the boyfriend, who may be involved in the disappearance of three other young women with a lot in common with her. I find myself jumping in every chance I get. I haven’t read Lisa Unger before, but I will again. More from goodreads.

The second is a book for when you want to get into a novel a little deeper, by the ever-amazing Barbara Kingsolver, called Unsheltered. This is the story of two families living in the same falling-apart house in Vineland, NJ, one in the 1860’s, and the other today. When I first started reading, I felt slightly puzzled – Kingsolver never writes about “nothing,” so I wasn’t sure where this story was going to go. Told in alternating chapters, we come to know Willa, in current day, at a loss as to how life is falling apart for her and her family despite always trying to do the right thing, and Thatcher Greenwood, a science teacher who wants to bring the wonders of the living world to his students, but is stymied in every attempt. When he comes to know the next door neighbor, Mary Treat, his devotion to science is finally recognized by a woman, a biologist, who is in communication with Charles Darwin. This part of the story evolves to a degree around the growing awareness of the theory of evolution, religion’s backlash against it, and how it affects Greenwood’s life. In Willa’s story, we ultimately find the connection of the two stories, but also how a family struggles and grows in spite of daunting circumstances. Unsheltered is just excellent, and Kingsolver an outstanding writer who crafts the most believable characters. More on goodreads.

Two very different reads, both terrific, and each for a different pace in your life.

Find Joy

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.

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.

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!

Change

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.

Scattered

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!

I’m excited to share with you the cover art for my forthcoming picture book, Where Do Butterflies Go at Night? This beautiful artwork by illustrator Stella Mongodi will certainly be the inspiration for readers of all ages to dive right into the rest of the book. As I begin to receive two page spreads as Stella moves along, I am not only in awe of how gorgeous this book will be (is becoming!), but also that my dream of being a published author is actually becoming a reality.

I am so grateful to my publisher, Ethicool Books, for bringing my story to light, and am so excited to promote it, learn new ways of doing so, and in working with people – Teigan at Ethicool and Stella – who genuinely care so much about a perfectly beautiful finished book.

To all my dear fellow bloggers that I usually visit, please be patient — I’ll get there. Life is calling me in many ways, but my blogging buddies are always in my heart!

There are so many wonderful quotes by Rumi, a 13th Centure Persian mystic and poet. Here’s one I hope enlightens your day.

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.

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.

Best News Ever!

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 …

This morning was a space of wonderful normalcy. My friend and I went down to Frenchtown to have brunch at a favorite restaurant, Lovin’ Oven. They serve the most consistently delicious food at truly reasonable prices, and sourced as much as possible from local farms.

The outdoor patio with umbrellas for shade, bright orange picnic tables, and lovely decor.

Eating outside felt so safe and comfortable – tables well-distanced, staff wearing masks, and menus available through a QR code on little cards on the table.

The lovely fresh flowers at each table, also grown locally.

I’ve been a fan of Lovin’ Oven from when I first moved into my little town fifteen years ago. They were located just a few blocks away, right next to the Delaware River, in a turn-of-the-century Victorian house. It was kind of crowded, but totally charming, and the kitchen, tiny. At some point, they moved to Frenchtown in much more spacious quarters, part of a converted warehouse.

This wall of Hindu statuary shields the patio from the road beyond. It was a fabulous find from the former store next door, Two Buttons.

What stayed the same in the move is the wonderful staff, always smiling, considerate, and kind, and, of course, the fabulous food which includes plenty of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free. Putting aside for the moment that I don’t eat meat, there is rarely anything on the Lovin’ Oven menu that I wouldn’t eat. How many places can you say that about?

Breakfast scramble – scrambled eggs with locally grown cherry tomatoes and sweet corn plus cheddar, and accompanied by roasted potatoes and oatmeal porridge bread.

It was a huge amount of food, and I already knew I’d be taking half of it home, especially if I might be considering dessert (yes, at that hour of the morning – too good to pass up.)

Vegan taco – fried plantains, refried beans, Rancheros sauce, roasted tofu, pickled red onions on a grilled corn tortilla.

My friend chose the vegan taco which was as wonderful as its presentation. She, too, took half of this mound of food home for later consumption.

Top shelf of homemade baked goods – muffins, scones, cookies – all made from scratch.

Another plus here is that they bake all their own delicious treats right there on the premises in small batches. Not for those watching their weight or sugar, but for every now and then, do we really care? The little shelf pictured above sits over the refrigerated case which holds such wonders as Key Lime Pie, Caramel Nut Tart, or what I had … pictured below.

Peanut butter pie – a whipped peanut butter silk pie sitting on top of chocolate ganache and a graham cracker crust – just heaven.

When my peanut butter pie arrived, I was honestly so excited I forgot all about photographing it! So I borrowed this from Lovin’ Oven’s Facebook page which I doubt the owner – who now knows me for 15 years – would mind. What a dream of a pie.

I am so happy that this restaurant made it through the pandemic. Julie developed a takeout menu for 3 times a week, and all the loyal LO fans came and kept them afloat. Coming back when they could actually, physically, open again was like old home week. Staff and diners all greeted one another like long lost friends.

I think when you’re are doing the right thing for the right reason you’ll make out OK. And I think they are proof of that. They just do everything right. It’s always a pleasure to be there. Glad we all got to see you on the other side. And thanks.

Bespoke Traveler

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