Gravity’s Never Been My Friend by Pat West

I remember falling¬¬¬¬

out of a pear tree at seven,
playing Follow the Leader
with my older sister.

Off a bicycle onto gravel,
grass and blacktop
unable to push through the wobbles.

Solid on my tailbone in the Crystal Theater.
(Mouse Merriman thought it funny
to fold my seat up when I wasn’t looking)

During a high school field trip to Chicago,
first time maneuvering high heels and an escalator,
I fell down the up staircase.

Busy reading the bio of the visiting conductor,
missed the curb outside the Schnitz. Stumbled,
parted the crowd flailing, perfect four-point landing.

Over backwards from a ladder holding a full pan of paint,
Martha Stuart butter-cream yellow splattered
like a Pollock painting on kitchen cabinets and floor.

The tumble off that sloped-roof
shed behind the barn
doesn’t count. I was pushed.

About the Author: Pat West

Pat Phillips West lives in Olympia, WA. A Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee, her work has appeared in Haunted Waters Press, Persimmon Tree, VoiceCatcher, San Pedro River Review, Slipstream, Gold Man Review and elsewhere.


Sunday Sensations – Power Outages, Baby Chicks, and Miracles


Sometimes it’s hard to believe in miracles. Slammed in the face with harsh reality day after day, you soon start closing your eyes to the world’s wonders. In the current political, social, and cultural climate it’s hard to believe in miracles.

Spring is a confirmation of miracles. The dead earth brings forth new life, exactly on a schedule. The sun remembers it’s duty and comes back from a long extended nap. Even when I lived in Los Angeles, where the sun always shone, spring was when everyone could breathe a collective sigh of relief. We’d made it through fire season, mudslides, and general chaos.

This spring, after a particularly dark winter, we had our own miracle. Enter, Nova.

If you’ve followed my column for long, you know that I have chickens.

Nova started out her* life as an egg, mailed from Ohio to Maryland. Due to the post office, she came to our house days after she should have and that ruined her chances of even being viable.

The one thing that you need to know about hatching chickens is this — to have the best chance at hatching they need to be kept warm and at the right humidity consistently or terrible things can happen.

Nova was placed in a terrible inconsistent incubator (we’ve since returned) that kept running too hot or too humid.

Then, we had a multi-day power outage that ruined her chances even further. My husband hurried her over to our neighbor who still had power, then she made a 20 minute trip to our temporary housing. Then, after three days, she came back home.

Every single one of these should have made it impossible for her to come into the world.

Yet, she did.

We had given up most hope. My husband hadn’t even looked at the incubator that morning. Then, out of nowhere, a crack in the shell. 

Nova was born.

Due to her hard start, she’s missing a toe. Her legs were bent. Because of this, the flock of other chicks we bought the same day, may have rejected her.

But she was accepted. She’s growing stronger every day.

She’s a miracle.

There’s so much joy every time I look at her. She’s a little ray of sunshine and hope in the midst of any dark day.

I hope you find your miracle today.

*We have no idea if Nova is a boy or girl and won’t until she feathers out. But for now, she seemed fitting.

About the author: Tabitha Grace Challis

Tabitha Grace ChallisTabitha is a social media strategist, writer, blogger, and professional geek. Among her published works are the children’s books Jack the Kitten is Very Brave and Machu the Cat is Very Hungry, both published under the name Tabitha Grace Smith. A California girl (always and forever) she now lives in Maryland with her husband, son, and a collection of cats, dogs, and chickens. Find out more about her on her Amazon author page or follow her on Twitter: @Tabz.


Romance by Æverett

curve of your back

the curve of your back
against the navy cotton
of your t-shirt as you remove it
and the sage sheets an hour later

he loves you
he hates it
he has commitment issues
just give him time

the curve of your spine
as you dance
in the dazzling sunlight
out where the monsters are

you’re not afraid of anything
you’ve got your Red Devil
and Precilla
you know?

he laughs
it’s a good sound
and then he kisses you
the surprise is real
for once not private

and dark hair under broad hands
and the curve of your back

skin like leaves on water . . .

i lay my lips against his skin
and breathe
we are one—   none.
give me time.
i’m not ready yet.

not for this.
not for the curve of your back
or the silk of your side

my laptop sits abandoned
on the coffee table in front of my sofa
the music’s still playing
as you melt me.


red head and broad shoulders
what a thing
all thighs and cries

you still hesitate when i kiss you.
yeah, commitment issues.

but  the curve of your back
is worth it
as you stretch in the mornings
with the light bright through the glass wall
and your feet tripping
on the clothes left on the floor

the curve of your back.

Photo by Jason Schjerven on Unsplash

About the Author: Æverett

ÆverettÆverett lives in the northern hemisphere and enjoys Rammstein and Star Trek. He writes both poetry and fiction and dabbles in gardening and soap making. She has two wonderfully old cats, and a dearly beloved dog. He also plays in linguistics, studying German, Norwegian, Russian, Arabic, a bit of Elvish, and developing Cardassian. Language is fascinating, enlightening, and inspirational. She’s happily married to her work with which she shares delusions of demon hunters, detectives, starships, androids, and a home on the outskirts of a small northern town. He’s enjoyed writing since childhood and the process can be downright therapeutic when it’s not making him pull his hair out. It’s really about the work and words and seeing without preconceptions.


Leaving a Legacy by Keva Bartnick

My sister sent me an article about not going viral, but leaving a legacy thru small contributions. My “legacy” is raising children who aren’t afraid of being. In doing this I’m helping heal seven generations forward and seven generations back. When you heal something in yourself, that one act of healing heals more than you realize. You start to reverse the damage done in the past and what would have been possible in the future.

Other than that I have no idea what my legacy will look like. This year in fact I’m only worried about doing two thing…living in the moment, and taking care of myself. I’m not worried about what is happening out of Facebook, or the interwebs. I’m taking my moments one at a time. I’m spending time working on refining my inner lover of Hygge. I’m taking the time to figure out who I really am, and what I really think, how I really feel about life in general. Self-care is paramount this year.

I’m also branching out to experience things outside of my comfort zone. It’s been said that if you don’t do one thing a day that doesn’t scare you then you aren’t truly living. Now, that’s a huge stretch for me. I’m a homebody, seriously, an introvert that loves to introvert. I need my space, but with that said, once a week doing something out of my comfort zone wouldn’t kill me right?

I’ve decided that this year I’m branching out and taking an interest in cooking. Let me be clear, I can cook. I also bake, but I’m a better baker than a chef. I figure that while I’m teaching myself new things I can spend this time sharing these new experiences with my girls.

They can see that I’m trying, that I too can expand, taking pleasure in life. I want that to trickle down to them so they know life isn’t always so serious. That there is a time and place for that, but right now I’m choosing to live my best life.

It’s not outside the possibility to Hygge the crap out of this whole cooking thing. When your perspective on a situation changes, the situation itself changes. I’m embracing and exploring what food and nourishment means to my soul.

I’ve always looked at eating as something I had to do to survive. Not something that could be enjoyed, should be enjoyed, or take in pleasurably. Look at the Italians, the French…they love food. They are passionate about food, they take it to the next level of enjoyment and pleasure. I want that. I want to experience that. I’m the one that is the last to sit down at the table and the first one finished, plate cleaned. It’s gotten worse since I’ve become a mother. I want to change that this year.

Leaving a legacy starts with the smallest step forward. A constant step forward into your best self every single day. For me, my constant stepping forward begins with morning gratitude for all things; ending the day in the same way.

I hope that my legacy looks effortless from the outside when it’s my time to transition to the other side. I want people to know that I didn’t struggle to leave a good legacy. That my constant everyday act of becoming better than I was the day before be the mark I leave on the world.

That I leave my daughters in a better sense of self then they were when they arrived into this world. That I teach them that it is possible to leave people and places better than you found them. The act of becoming is our legacy, for better and hopefully not for worse. That becoming is our birthright that we give to ourselves everyday. For me, I will make mine a great one just by becoming me.

About the Author: Keva Bartnick

Keva Bartnick is an artist, writer, and lightworker. Happily married mother of three; she’s been inspiring people to be their most courageous selves since 2015.


Sunday Brunch: 28 Plays Later

Last month, I wrote about the first few days of an intense writing challenge I was part of: writing twenty-eight plays in twenty-eight days. The project, sponsored by Theatre Delicatessen in London, involved a couple of hundred writers from around the world (mostly in the U.K., though) and one Evil Overlord (well, he’s not really evil) named Sebastian.

Every day at 4:00 PM (U.S. Central Time), we’d receive the daily brief from Sebastian, and then we’d have thirty-six hours to write a play using his brief for inspiration, although the last twelve hours of a given brief overlapped with the first twelve of the next.

Copyright: <a href=''>dedivan1923 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Very quickly, I began to question the wisdom of committing to the project. I’d never written a play before (not really, anyway) and I spent a good chunk of the first week fighting with formatting. WORD, my software of choice, has a downloadable screenplay template, but not one for stage plays, and even the screenplay one is kind of klunky. Eventually, with some encouragement from friends, I scrapped the template and did my own thing. Freeing myself from the constraints of someone else’s formatting did much for my mindset.

But I was still floundering.

The first few briefs had been relatively simple. The initial prompt, for example, was the phrase, “Brave Little Soldier,” with bonus points for setting it in your hometown. Well, my actual hometown (as opposed to the town where I live) had a significant number of losses when the towers fell on 9/11/01, so I made my characters the adult children of people who had died that day. Emotional, yes, but relatively easy.

As the challenge progressed, the briefs became more demanding. When I wrote about this in February, I mentioned the first weekend challenge, about nightmares, but once I got past my fear of the material (my nightmares are weird… and personal…) I ended up having fun with it. After all, the brief also said we had an unlimited budget to work with.

More than once, I was tempted to throw my laptop into the pool and never write again. Ever.

More than once I whined to friends, family, and the dogs – basically whomever would listen, or pretend to – that I was too stupid or too boring to respond to these things that expected you to come up with edgy, even avant garde ideas.

More than once my husband had to talk me down from the proverbial ledge.

My friend Clay, the Creativity Guru I mentioned in my previous post – the one I’d convinced to do this challenge with me – finally gave me the key to my frustration.

“Look,” he said. “You’re a level 40-something human.”

“Forty-seven,” I specified.

“Okay, but you’re only a level one playwright.”

“That’s fair,” I responded, “But I’m a level thirty-seven writer.” (The first ten years of your life don’t count.)

“Yes,” he said, “but you’re using that writing muscle in a new and different way. And really, this shouldn’t be called ’28 plays in 28 days.’ It should be ’28 shitty first drafts of plays.'”

That conversation became my guidepost, and parts of it morphed into a mantra, over the rest of the month.

And as things evolved, it turned out that the briefs I balked at the most, or felt like I had nothing to offer for, ended up resulting in my best work.

An instruction to “write shite” and “let yourself go” inspired me to pull a bunch of my notecards (sticky notes leftover from the 100 Days of Making challenge, each with a scene, sentence, or snippet of dialogue) off the fridge and order them into a play. A couple of weeks later, given a time-restriction exercise, I went back to the fridge for more notecards, and I really feel that the two plays that resulted from those  – “Scenes From a Marriage” and “Theories of Everything” – are the most cohesive of my creations.

But there are others I’m proud of. The math brief led me to a piece where the dialogue was all based on the Fibonacci sequence, and mentioned Phi and the nautilus shells. (“Nautilus”) A brief asking us to interview people and then write a monologue suitable for teens, making it seem as if it was one person speaking, gave me “Wo(Man)Hood” about a young woman who experiences anxiety but is also bi-gender, and a brief asking us to write about truth and art inspired me to write a monologue about body positivity – and the really cool thing about that one is that when my friend Nuchtchas read it, it inspired her to make art.

One brief, in particular, I have dubbed “Calvinball from Hell,” and when I read it, I told Clay that I was certain Sebastian had once been kicked out of an improv troupe. Here are the instructions we were given:

Let’s be super duper strict. Below are the rules for your play:

1. You must have 4 characters in the play – and the gender for 3 of them must be undefined! You can add two more – but only if they are not human.
2. One of the characters plays the banjo – really badly, and one character only speaks in rhyming couplets (can be the same if you like).
3. There must be a minimum of 3 pauses in the play, one of them must be a super long pause (think Pinter to the power of Pinter).
4. One of the characters has had relations with everybody else in the play (as well as characters that are mentioned but not seen).
5. Every line of dialogue must have one of the following: either 7 words, 12 words, 22 words, 29 words, 56 words or 99 words (you can punctuate as you like).
6. The play will contain three acts/scenes, but you can add one more if it’s a dream.
7. At some point, everybody on stage falls down to the ground.
8. Each scene/act must contain one person being told off for shouting (even though they didn’t shout), and another person revealing a big secret (even though it may not be true).
9. Each scene/act must have at least 10 lines of dialogue and 10 lines of actions.
10. Oh – and you must pick one letter of the alphabet (not Q, X or Z) for each character (each one can have a different one or the same) that they are not allowed to use in their dialogue at all.

If just reading that gave you pause, you’re not alone. And I admit, I whined about it  and railed against it for a good chunk of my available writing time. But in the end, I ended up with a play called “Frapping Pachelbel,” where all the characters were the instruments in a string quartet, except the Conductor, and Cello complained about their part, but in the end Viola was jealous over Conductor’s relationship with Cello, and started a duel (with bows used as swords, obviously) and everyone died.

Admittedly, it was kind of silly, but being outrageous felt like a breath of fresh air at the halfway point.

Others of the difficult challenges were less happy.

One of our challenges was to write something that would offend people. The obvious choice would have been using a lot of blue language – and honestly, that was one of Sebastian’s suggestions – but after nearly twenty hours with zero ideas, a meme posted in a feminist forum I belong to resulted in a play about the way men who commit domestic violence are not out of control, but so very in control that a group of them was able to come to a consensus about how long to wait, after starting a new relationship, before actually abusing their partners.

Chilling stuff.

Writing it made me squirm, and after I submitted it, I had to have my husband bring me a mug of cocoa and stay with me for cuddles.

The final week was my favorite. One challenge was to complete an unfinished piece of our own writing. Since I didn’t have any unfinished scripts, or any scripts from the challenge that I was ready to revisit, I adapted one of my own pieces of flash-fic into a play: “The Weather Man,” and for the penultimate challenge, which was to pick a previous challenge and go a different direction with it, I asked two of the people who’d read everything to pick for me.

My friend Fran asked me to revisit the challenge that required us to begin with this line: “Take of the girdle, Gertl, and tell me everything about Onun’s onions, or else little Dicklberg here will get it.” My first use of the line went in a science-fiction direction. My second use, for challenge 27, went to a more noir place, though, technically, there was a voiceover line before the first exchange of dialogue. Still “Up in Smoke,” is one of the pieces I’m really proud of.

So. What did I learn from this experience?

Well, I’m probably never going to be a playwright – and that’s okay, because I don’t really want to be a playwright. I much prefer to watch theatre or perform on stage. When it comes to writing, essays and narrative fiction are where I’m really comfortable, and I prefer to exercise those muscles.

Still, it’s good to stretch, from time to time. I accomplished something that scared me, and I learned a lot about myself, as a person and as a writer, in the process.

Will I participate again next year?

Ask me next January.

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, listen to her podcast, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.  All 28 of the plays she wrote for 2018’s 28 Plays Later challenge can be found here:


Under the Candles by Selena Taylor

Under the Candles via Flash PromptThe afternoon from hell was finally wrapping up and crashing into night. Today was supposed to have been her day. The best day of her life. Except “best” had been completely skipped and she had been given “crappiest.”

He wanted the outdoor wedding. He wanted the vows to be exchanged at dusk.  He wanted her dress to be dark red instead of a white one.

He also wanted her maid of honor, her sister, and his co-worker Lauren.

He wanted so much.

Her dress now represented the blood she wished she could spill.

She thanked the stars that they’d never actually spoken the “I do’s.”

What kind of life would she have had with that kind of man? The thought gave her chills. She snorted, appreciating  the sudden irony: just yesterday, she couldn’t have envisioned her life without him.

The remaining guests were getting drunk and she was right there with them.

He, on the other hand, was gone.  He’d been outed as the controlling bully he was, and embarrassed in front of his family, but his embarrassment was nothing compared to hers. She’d been treated like a possession – a mindless doll – humiliated, and made to feel like a fool.

Open bottle of wine clutched in her hand, she let her wandering feet carry her to the place where he’d wanted their vows to be exchanged. Under the candles, which were hanging from trees. Under the candles with their sickly, glowing light that was already attracting bugs.

She stood under the candles a free woman instead of a married one.

She stood under them, and she smiled. Then she lifted the bottle in a toast to herself and turned to go.

At the edge of the candlelight, where the waxy warmth merged with the cool night air, she raised her free hand and gave the candles the bird.

About the author, Selena Taylor

Selena TaylorSelena Taylor is a wife, a mother, and a woman who strives to tell the many stories that occupy her mind. She is active in the Rhett & Link fandom and appreciates dark humor.  She and her family live in Illinois, where she takes every opportunity to lose herself under the stars and let her imagination run wild. For more from Selena, check her out on Facebook.





Josie Says What She Thinks by Patricia Wellingham-Jones

You may think I look blowsy and fat,
perched here naked with that red
ribbon dangling down my cleavage.
Not quite naked, matter of fact,
as I’m wearing those wicked
high black boots and a sparkling
butterfly clip in my storm-tossed hair
(that’s what one guy called my ‘do).

Sure, I billow over that ridiculous chair
the artist sat me on and my flesh waves
and ripples in enticing hills.
But, honey, my breasts are soft pillows
where grown men nestle their heads
and sigh and my hands have cute little dimples
they like to lick. I could go on…

Men want a bit of comfort, you know,
and that skinny arm candy with their lettuce leaf
diets don’t offer much cuddling
with those bony frames. Nope, I’ll keep
my billows and pillows, deck them out
with wild colors, big sizes, and swallow
every bite of everything tasty
that comes my way.

About the Author: Patricia Wellingham-Jones

PatriciaWellingham-JonesPatricia Wellingham-Jones is a widely published former psychology researcher and writer/editor. She has a special interest in healing writing, with poems recently in The Widow’s Handbook (Kent State University Press). Chapbooks include Don’t Turn Away: poems about breast cancer, End-Cycle: poems about caregiving, Apple Blossoms at Eye Level, Voices on the Land and Hormone Stew.

Sunday Sanctuary: Connection, Nourishment, and Intuition

I am passionate about food. It isn’t that I just love to eat. I derive immense pleasure from all the stages of bringing a meal to the table: shopping for the ingredients, chopping and preparing fruits and vegetables, and transforming raw ingredients into something that will nourish our bodies. I find a seductive beauty in many of the ingredients I choose – from the rich orange yolk of pastured eggs, to deep red strawberries grown by a farmer I know, to the way simmering chicken bones (and feet) with onions, carrots, and herbs creates a deeply layered stock.

Approaching food through the lens of passion has catapulted that passion in other areas of my world: my work, my writing, my home. It allows me to see how important the exquisite details of life are to me, no matter what their form.

I am giddy when a new idea for a meal results in something delightful. I doubly appreciate it when scientific research on nutrients or how our bodies process foods allow me to create something that takes nourishment to a whole new level. Food is comforting and sensual and life-affirming. Food is one of the ways I lavish affection on those I care about and show folks I honor and appreciate their presence.

In my “day job” as a life coach, I write a bi-weekly (used to be weekly) newsletter. To date, I’ve written 300 newsletters, a level of consistency I wondered if I had within me. In addition to sharing a recent blog post and a personal note about what’s happening in my world, early on I began ending each newsletter with a recipe. Then, I went to a retreat designed to help me take my business to the next level.

Out of more than three hundred participants, I was chosen to get up on stage and be advised on some ways to level up. When the Biz Guru reviewed my newsletter with me, she told me to ditch the recipes (as well as any book recommendations) because it didn’t promote my coaching practice or any of the programs I was selling.

I’d paid a lot of money to travel to this conference and, after all, she was the expert. So, without tuning into my own intuition, I blindly listened and stopped sharing the recipes.

After a few weeks, I realized that I was diluting the connection and love I wanted to convey to people who gifted me with their time and attention was missing something – like the way spices and herbs turn a blah ingredient into something special.

So, I added the recipes back in and ignored any other guru who told me to ditch ‘em.

How can I say I am devoted to curating a life that’s loving and nourishing – the theme of my coaching practice – if I don’t listen to my gut? I know that usually our intuition is wiser than any expert. A reminder for my business life. Yet more important when it comes to our creative life and the ways in which we make things. Because being a maker is a path to curating a life that is fulfilling.

Yet, because we are human, we often dismiss what our gut is telling us. We listen to the experts, following a paint by number for success instead of coloring outside the lines.

To get clear, I had to dig into what my true purpose of writing and then sending a newsletter to subscribers. Of course I want folks to buy a book or course from me sometimes; it is a business. At heart, though, I am a maker who hopes that the work I create matters to anyone that experiences what I write.

My goal for every single newsletter I create is that I nourish the subscriber in some way.

Maybe my words make someone feel less alone. Maybe a paragraph serves as a wake-up call. Maybe a single sentence I write is just what that person needs to read so that she make that decision she’s been putting off. Maybe a photo I share makes him smile. If I’m lucky, maybe my words allow you to connect more deeply with your own soul or someone you love.

And if nothing I write nourishes the mind or spirit, then at least that recipe at the end is a way of sharing a way you can nourish your body.

“Food… is something holy. It’s not about nutrients and calories. It’s about sharing. It’s about honesty.It’s about identity.”
–Louise Fresco

The ways in which we create things matter not to just us as makers, but in the ways in which we can connect and nourish others. The stories of others save us, a lesson many of you have learned. Creating something – a knitted blanket, a photograph, a poem, a painting – saves the maker, too, doesn’t it?

When the words refuse to flow to the page or every note I sing comes out as flat, I can soothe myself by heading to the kitchen. Whether I chop some vegetables, try a new recipe, or bake a cake, the act of making something from just a bunch of raw ingredients nourishes a part of my soul, and then it nourishes my body – and the bodies of anyone else I share the meal with.

I am also reminded that I am connected to a long lineage of beloved mothers and grandmothers and great-uncles,  creating with flour, eggs, and bounty from the earth. Food is a necessity to live, yet it’s also a factor in the creation of who we become. Our mother’s spaghetti, something we’ve never been able to duplicate. The way in which our grandmother deviled eggs were presented on the good china at Easter bonds us to ourselves and others. The stories and laughter shared over cakes and pies and coffee.

I am by no means an expert or a guru, yet I can tell you these two truths about living a creative life.

When you find yourself in doubt, it’s okay to listen to advice of the experts, but let your intuition overrule that expert at every turn if it doesn’t feel right. And when all else around you seems to be floundering, heading to the kitchen to create may be just what you need to pull you out of the deepest creative – and life ruts.

Or at least nourish your tummy with a delicious treat. Bon Appétit!

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Clearing Brain Clutter: Discovering Your Heart’s Desire and Clearing Soul Clutter: Creating Your Vision. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Instrumental: A Selfie Tarot Spread by Melissa Cynova

I have a thirteen-year-old daughter, and am constantly delighted with the selfies she takes with her friends. What confidence and sass! Every new makeup experiment, silly hat and costume, or hug that she captures with her phone is a treasure. I think of myself at that age – insecure and head down into a book thinking “don’t see me, don’t see me”.

I love that embrace of self at such a young age, and feel strongly that a strong sense of confidence when you’re young will act as a shield to those who might harm you when you’re older.

In the tarot, the High Priestess looks within. In the Medicine Woman Tarot, she uses a mirror to gaze deep inside herself in order to find the power that comes from truly seeing who she is. Beyond the surface, beyond the expectations and projections of people around her – who she truly is.

There is strength in looking beyond the surface of yourself. You can see those parts that require work, and those parts that shine and shine. You can take a measure of who you are and who you can be. It’s scary, at times, to be so honest and unflinching with yourself, but it is worth it.

This Selfie Tarot Spread can help you look inside to see what you can shift and what you should leave to shine.

Card 1 – What is holding you back?

Card 2 and 3 – What supports do you have in your life to help you shrug off Card 1?

Card 4 – What is your hidden superpower?

Cards 5 and 6 – How can you best wield it?

About the Author: Melissa Cynova

Melissa Cynova is owner of Little Fox Tarot, and has been reading tarot cards and teaching classes since 1989. She can be found in the St. Louis area, and is available for personal readings, parties and beginner and advanced tarot classes. Her first book, Kitchen Table Tarot, was recently published by Llewellyn Publishing. Melissa lives in St. Louis with her kiddos, her husband, Joe, two cats, two dogs and her tortoise, Phil.

You can reach Melissa at She is on Twitter and Instagram under Little Fox Tarot. Go ahead and schedule a reading – she already knows you want one.

A Journey of Self Discovery Through Family History by Jeanie Croope

I like to say it’s all Dr. Henry Louis Gates’ fault.

For many years I’ve enjoyed his PBS shows on tracing genealogy and I had plenty of questions about my own. Last year I decided to dig into my past in earnest.

Anyone who has engaged in family history research knows that there are a million rabbit holes into which one can fall. Start googling or using one of the several more common genealogy web services out there and you begin to find names you never heard of and stories you never knew. I knew that the results would be interesting. What I didn’t realize was the effect those revelations would have on my sense of self and family.

My mother’s family was a bit of a mystery to my cousins and me. We had a few stories on my grandmother’s side, but Grandpa’s family was a complete unknown, never discussed. Mysteries evoke speculation (there was plenty of that!) and I was determined to learn what happened to my great grandparents, Henry and Angeline (whose names I never knew until I started this journey).

It took awhile but I discovered things I never would have imagined, some sad, some inspiring, some just interesting. As this information was revealed, bit by bit, like layers of an onion gently falling off to reveal its core, I realized that I, too, am part of this story. These men and women and the struggles and challenges they faced, were all part of my DNA, my true self.

Call me ignorant, uninformed or too far beyond the American history I learned in school, but I had long forgotten that not all American settlers in the 1700s came from England and for a variety of reasons. I had no idea that the first immigrants of my great grandmother on my grandfather’s side came as a result of religious persecution that began in Switzerland during the 1500s.

Switzerland? Really?

They were Mennonites and part of a group that came to Pennsylvania in the 1700s from Germany known as “Pennsylvania Dutch,” a group that also included the Amish. My Swiss ancestors, those of our great grandmother, Angeline, after fearing torture and even death for their beliefs, fled to Germany and from there to America. They would later move north, to Canada.

My grandfather’s paternal side also came to Pennsylvania in the 1700s, but their initial motivation was to find a better life during a period of financial challenges in Germany that lingered after the Thirty Years War. Many sons in this family also joined the Mennonite movement and my ancestors were among them.

These brave families were indeed pioneers. Pennsylvania had just been established as a commonwealth by William Penn and promised religious freedom and the hope of prosperity. My ancestors, as did many of yours, came thousands of miles on a ship that took months to arrive and on a journey that for many resulted in death at sea. Quite literally, they had nothing but the clothing on their backs and what they could pack. They built the towns, the stores, the schools and farmed land never before cleared.

Think about what it would be like to move into a new community with no ready communication sources, no schools, no stores, no doctor or dentist unless one came along with you. It puts things in perspective.

As the generations moved on, Henry’s ancestors moved west, first to Ohio. In fact, his father walked to Ohio alone, purchased land, established a farm, and then returned to Pennsylvania to bring back his parents and wife in a covered wagon. It was in Ohio where Henry was born and raised. As an adult, he came to Michigan to settle about an hour from where I now live and started his family, my grandfather being one of the youngest of his six children.

I unraveled all sorts of stories about relatives on both sides but the mystery of Henry continued until we learned that he had been committed to a mental institution and in a stroke of great luck, found his commitment papers, which tell a sad story of mania and perhaps schizophrenia.

His counterpart, my grandmother’s father, William (presumably born “at sea” but I’m still looking for documentation), emigrated as an infant to Buffalo, NY and set out on a long career as a confectioner during the booming years of candy making in New York. It was a life of relative prosperity and comfort, much unlike the life of a farmer in the 1800s. Their stories simply couldn’t be more different.

As I’ve studied these stories and others in the family line, I have more than once pondered how I feel about this history and how I fit into this narrative.

And the short answer is proud. And sad. And impressed, in a way.

I have lived in the same city since the day I was born. Sure, I travel, I get around. But I’m not what one would call adventurous. I’m not a risky person. And so to consider that my people lived in such conditions where leaving their homeland was the only reasonable solution to their life situation evokes such a feeling of respect and awe. There are many who would simply deny their faith, fit in with the norms of the time and live in relative safety. But my family took a different path. To make that very long, often dangerous trans-Atlantic crossing required commitment and courage, a courage I’m not sure I have.

I am filled with admiration for their dedication to a faith that provided so many obstacles. While this is not the faith I practice, I admire the Mennonite’s basic tenets of belief, particularly the strong emphasis on peace and not bearing arms, and my ancestors’ willingness to die for it, to hide in caves and to worship in secret. It takes strength of character to defy the rules for one’s beliefs. I like to think I have some of that — but I’m not sure I am that strong.

As I’ve learned about farming in the American Victorian period, I’ve realized how difficult it was when technology had not brought tractors and other farming implements to make the work easier. We all know this, rationally. But it wasn’t until I both read more and then actually saw the property that was my great grandparent’s — 100 acres of farmland in western Michigan — that I realized the challenge of it all. Farming was a family job. The children worked alongside their parents and that work was done manually. Michigan winters are tough and west Michigan tends to have some pretty rugged weather due to the lake effect snow. My people had to work hard, very hard, relying as farmers today do for weather conditions throughout the growing season to provide the best crops.

I have trouble growing tomatoes. In pots.

I am so soft.

I’ve learned I am much like my grandmother — a creative soul who loves to laugh. I had heard stories from my mother, her sisters and my mother’s best friend about my grandmother and her wonderful sense of humor, her creative streak and her good nature. What I didn’t know was that her parents had come to America in the 1800s from England to settle in a new city. Why they left remains a mystery. But somehow, through the chance happening of two people working in the same confectionery business, Minnie’s parents met.

Try as I may, my candy making ventures will never be store-worthy. (Witness the peanut butter fudge epic fail at Christmas.) Yet to know my great grandfather William was a candy maker — and indeed, I have his handwritten recipe book — gives me the confidence to try again.
My ancestors were not academically educated. I believe my mother’s generation was the first in her family to attend college. But they had a toughness and determination to build a good life, a new life, in a new land and to thrive.

I look at today’s news, stories of refugees fleeing oppression and seeking a freedom — religious or otherwise — they do not have. They are no different than the families of Angeline and Henry, William and Bessie. I find myself nurturing a desire to help those who come to my community settle into a new life. I haven’t quite figured out how to do this yet, but if there is one legacy I hold dear from the stories of my past, it is that in challenge we can triumph, over generations we can soar. These new immigrants deserve the same chance as my people did.

Perhaps one day, their descendants, too, will look back with awe, admiration and respect at their courage and strength and feel a little bit changed. I know I do.

About the Author: Jeanie Croope

Jeanie Croope bioAfter a long career in public broadcasting, Jeanie Croope is now doing all the things she loves — art, photography, writing, cooking, reading wonderful books and discovering a multitude of new creative passions. You can find her blogging about life and all the things she loves at The Marmelade Gypsy.

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