Welcome to Issue #5: Routines & Rituals

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“My ritual is cooking. I find it therapeutic. It comes naturally to me. I can read a recipe and won’t have to look at it again.”
–Iman

We rise each morning, pour a mug of coffee or tea, and spend half an hour checking personal email, catching up on social media, or reading a favorite blog post before we get ready to leap into the work day.

Is it routine or ritual?

We train our dogs to sit at doorways, or before we give them their meals. We make them give us their paw in a ‘high five,’ or wait for them to greet us before they’ll go out in the morning.

Is it routine or ritual?

We put the wedge of lemon in the glass first, add ice to the 1/3 full mark, and then add water on top.

It’s routine, right? Or maybe it’s ritual.

Every Saturday evening, we fill the tub with hot water and lavender-scented bubbles, light a row of candles, and listen to actors reading short stories on the radio while we soak.

That’s more than just routine, isn’t it? It must be ritual.

“The time I spend in the morning – praying, sipping coffee, and coming up with my list – is a ritual I relish. I have done it for so long now that I subconsciously measure whether or not the things I’m doing match with what I should be doing, what I want to be doing, and the life I want to live.”
–Kristin Armstrong

Where do we draw the proverbial line that separates the mundane routines that govern our days from the deeper rituals that truly enhance our lives? Can a daily practice be both routine and ritual?

What about when a writer must use a favorite pen, a specific kind of paper, or listen to only music without lyrics in order to truly focus? Does the act of preparing one’s writing space for the day transcend routine and become ritual?

How about cooking? The act of nourishing ourselves and others may seem like a routine, especially when it’s associated with that perennial question, “What’s for dinner?” But isn’t there also a sort of ritual to be found in peeling, chopping, roasting, broiling, serving, and, most importantly, sharing the product of our labor?

“When you’re writing, you’re conjuring. It’s a ritual, and you need to be brave and respectful and sometimes get out of the way of whatever it is that you’re inviting into the room.”
–Tom Waits
Welcome to the fifth issue of Modern Creative Life, Routines and Rituals.

Join us over the next few weeks, during which we will explore these questions, and also talk about the routines, rituals, preferences, and practices that make us tick and keep us going as artists and writers, as musicians and makers, and as creative people in general.

You’ll get to glimpse the daily lives of other creatives in our  Studio Tours and Typical Tuesday series, and meet other people walking fascinating creative pathways in Conversations Over Coffee. With photos and fictionpoetryessays and enlightenment, you’ll find enough ideas on how to structure time, make moments into memories, and turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.

 As always, our mission at Modern Creative Life is to honor the pursuit and practice of joyful creativity. We believe that the creative arts enrich our everyday living, enhance our environment, create lasting connections, and sustain our souls. Please join us as we bring to you the stories and suggestions of other people walking the creative path.

Whether you use routines simply to keep yourself on track, or embrace ritual as a way to transform yourself, we want to hear from you.

We are open to single contributions as well as new regular contributors. Email us at moderncreativelife@gmail.com.

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa A. BartellMelissa 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, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

 

 

 

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The Magic of Gathering by Natasha Reilly-Moynihan

How is it that we come to know one another? One could say it is the moment we first meet and exchange pleasantries and yet, is what we learn in that moment enough to say we know someone? How is it that we truly come to know one another? We find each other inside stories. When we gather together with someone or with a number of others to tell our tales, we are seen and we see others in the most authentic light. After attending a recent gathering, I discovered that within a community of kindreds there lives the magic of true connection and belonging that we all seek.

The acceptance or extending of an invitation to come together instantly opens the door for infinite possibilities to arrive in our lives. As we invite people we know alongside people we have only dreamt of knowing to join us, a beautiful, diverse group assembles to share their truth which electrifies imagination and conversation. In those inclusive spaces, we can talk about the things that make us unique just as we are free to discuss the things that make us different. We are safe to share issues and find creative solutions. The most stunning part of our conversations is when we push beyond the things that we think divide us to find the many similarities that connect us. The differences and the similarities give way to a celebration of our humanity.

Within the communities we build, we practice not only heart-centered sharing but heart-centered listening.

In taking the time to deeply listen to someone, we are reminded that we are not alone. We listen knowing that we are being given a wonderful gift when someone grants us permission to truly see them. We build a trust with people who may become lifelines for us in moments of great joy and tremendous challenge.

Gathering allows us to not only share talents and passions with one another but it permits us to create our tribe. As you find your kindreds, the possibility that someone may inspire you to make a dream come true simply by sharing their story or vice versa increases significantly. The support and encouragement that develops helps serve as a reminder that we all have wings and together we can fly.

So often our society tells us that we have to “go it alone.”

If you want to make something, get out there and make it happen. “Don’t depend on anyone else”, we are told,” you can do it.” Yes, we can do it but often times what people forget is that we need one another to make it happen. We need the stories, the connection, the encouragement, the resources and most importantly, we need the nourishment that can only be found within our creative communities.

A community of kindreds is like a well of creative goodness. Coming together with people provides sustenance for the soul. So many of us work in isolation, creating works that express what is in our heart. That work is powerful and necessary but so is stepping out of that space and into a community of kindreds.

Becoming part of a community that believes all are welcome and anything is possible has such a powerful effect upon people. It provides a constant reminder that you can create the life you want, you can make your dreams happen and, while you are building, you have the support and love of a community of friends.

About the Author: Natasha Reilly-Moynihan

Natasha Reilly-Moynihan is a writer and artist who is part of The Local Community Initiative, a program to grant resources and online support to new and beginning community gatherers. For more information or to apply, visit jenleeproductions.com.

 

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The Smell and Taste of Things Remain Poised a Long Time by Pat West

After a line by Marcel Proust

Winters my mother stirred her rustic root vegetable stew
in a kitchen dizzy with steam. The aroma of rosemary
and turmeric saturating the entire house.

That scent of sawdust circled my grandfather.
A man who used lathe, grinder, chisel, plane
and rip saw. A man with hands rough as a rasp.

A summer evening in Kentucky
visiting my sister. Glasses of Shanghai silk
merlot, savoring black cherry, currant, cedar
and green olive, still so clear on my tongue.

Damp air, heavy with seawater,
sunlight cathedraling through a torn place in the clouds.
My husband and I on the north cusp of Pike Place Market,
where we shared Etta’s Dungeness crab cakes
with tomatillo cocktail sauce, tangy yet sweet.

The smell of fresh-cut grass that June evening
we spread a blanket in the backyard,
under a sky whose wide-apart edges
would spend all night coming together.

On mornings when my muscles harbor a rusty ache,
my husband’s old, blue sweatshirt feels like a hug.
Even though he’s been gone twenty-five years,
and it’s been washed hundreds of times,
I inhale his cologne, fresh, spicy oak moss.

About the Author: Pat West

PatWestBio

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.

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Sunday Sanctuary: The Picky Details

SundaySancturary_WithDebraSmouse

I was reading Lauren Graham’s I’m Talking As Fast As I Can and found myself nodding in agreement, saying “me, too!” and realizing that according to the advertising world, I am a woman beyond their preferred age and spear of ideal influence. Why? Because I have a favorite / preferred / won’t-choose-anything-else brand of paper towels.

She tells the story of how, despite the fact she needed paper towels, she turned down a huge pack of free ones from a friend because they were the wrong brand.  Lauren Graham of Gilmore Girls fame and I share a love for the exact same paper towels. Bounty. Select-A-Size.

On the rare occasion I accidentally pick up the full-sized-sheet ones, I almost recklessly go through them and make sure Hope uses them when she cleansI don’t like the full-size sheets. I only use a half-sheet to clean the grinder when I make my morning coffee. And three halves is just the right size to cover my 2-cup Pyrex Measuring Cup when I heat a can of John’s (almost daily) can of tomato and basil soup. And when I pack his lunch, that perforated line is perfect so that I can provide two neatly folded lunchtime napkins.

But it isn’t just the paper towels I’m particular about. I only like the Glad Force Flex trash bags, Charmin toilet tissue, Tide Laundry Detergent, and Cascade Action Packs. And the best scent to indicate a freshly cleaned bathroom is PineSol, like my mother and grandmother used.

The tending of my creative life also plays favorites. Though I’m not too picky on the color of my ink, I only use Uniball 207 Gel Pens (medium tip) when I write letters or write in my my Leuchtturm 1917 Hardcover Journal.  (The A5 size with dot grid paper. )

From this little litany you might be thinking that I’m both picky and spoiled. Or wound incredibly tight with a series of anal rules for the way I choose to live my life. And while I admit that all three descriptions might fit me, the selection of individual elements that populate my daily life are deliberate choices I make in order to cultivate a kinder, more nourishing home environment. As Alexandra Stoddard writes in her book Living a Beautiful LifeWhen something small is right you can then forget about it and think about more lofty ideas.”

The little things matter because it allows me the grace of creation. When those seemingly small details are automatically tended, I have brain space. When those tiny physical needs are  met, it gives me the permission to get uncomfortable when it comes to my creative work.

I have learned in my almost forty-nine years that attention to these small details matters to the overall quality of life. Some choices are due to nostalgia and the deeper parts of my DNA. Though I rebelliously flirted with Gain in my twenties, deep down I know that my mother chose Tide for a reason. Realistically or psychologically, I believe that Tide makes my clothes cleaner.

Sometimes, tactile reasons drive our choices, drawing in a particular scent or feel. Pine Sol in every bathroom smells like my grandmother’s house. Soap & Glory’s Righteous Butter Body Lotion is the perfect example of that mix of tactile and scent with its silky texture and soft scent of roses.

When John first moved to Ohio and couldn’t find his preferred bar soap for the shower (Coast) I didn’t hesitate to search in every store until I found it. It mattered to me because it mattered to him and this seemingly small gesture was a way to choose the creation of a beautiful daily life.

Just like my day runs more smoothly when I have those perfect Bounty paper towels, his day begins swathed in the scent that means both clean and comfort. As a bonus, I now have the olfactory magic of connection any time I get close to him, that scent that is uniquely him: Coast Soap, Old Spice Deodorant, and freshly starched shirts.

No matter what your art may be  – writing, painting, film making, fiber arts – tending the tiny, seemingly insignificant details opens the door to feeling safe and comfortable. The magic of comfort is that it allows you to be uncomfortable when it comes to your art. Because, as we all know deep down, doing the hard stuff and choosing to expand and grow our art will always present us with scary and uncomfortable moments.

Cultivating my home has provided one of the least stressful ways to give me that safe space of expansion. And, outside of the ways we are makers, we are also in the midst of making in each moment of our day.

“Intimate, necessary details add up to one’s private life. Select them with care because they are your life.”
–Alexandra Stoddard

What about you? What details matter to the quality of your life? How does seemingly picky details enhance your creative life?

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.

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Instant Mystic: Stirred, not shaken by Jeanette McGurk

Stealthy and luxurious.
The original super spy.
It creeps in unnoticed until it is everywhere,
thick,
quick sand of the air.

You see something,
an arm reaching out to take you within.
But it is only a tree branch.
A lonely blanket heavy with chill.

It feels deceivingly safe.
Right until CRASH!

Then it is gone.
No trace left behind.
Only the memory of a lover’s breath on the back of your neck.

About the Author: Jeanette McGurk

jeanette_mcgurkJeanette McGurk is a Graphic Designer who entered the world of writing through advertising. She discovered writing a lot of truth with a little fluff is a lot more fun than the other way round. Now that she is no longer spending time making air conditioners, tile floors, IT and Botox sound sexy, she writes about the unglamorous yet wonderful moments of life for people like herself; in other words, anyone looking for interesting ways to put off cleaning and doing laundry.

She is a curmudgeon and doesn’t Twit or Instagram. She has heard the blog is dead but since she has finally figured out how to do it, that is the museum where you can locate her writings. http://jmcpb.blogspot.com/.

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Thin Places by Julie Terrill

I heard about a Celtic belief that this realm and the next are separated by a veil that is substantially thinner in sacred sites. I was immediately intrigued and began researching how to experience these ‘thin places’ for myself.  It didn’t take long to discover that it is almost easier to find information on what a thin place isn’t than what one is. Thin Places are often holy sites but not all holy sites are thin.  Thin Places are generally quiet; not flashy or showy. If there is a gift shop it is likely not a  thin place. They are often not easily accessible. Okay… but what are they?

As a photographer I was unsure how I would capture this intangible element that I didn’t entirely understand but trusted that I would do so in a way that was representative of my experience.  I had a list of suggested sites gleaned from many hours of research. The town of Mountshannon and nearby  Inis Cealtra, or Holy Island, had somehow managed to elude the books and websites I had referenced.  I learned of it from our host while checking into our cottage the day we arrived in Ireland.  She gave me contact information for Gerard, the boat captain, who has a tiny kiosk at the Mountshannon Harbor.  There he schedules boat rides and sells photos and books on the history of the 50 acre island, most of which he authored.

The island’s artifacts, spanning in age over 6,000 years, illustrate its long existence as sacred ground. Dating back to 4,000 BC, Pagan bullaun stones with carved depressions to collect water are found across the island. There are five churches in various states of ruin and excavation as well as grave stones dated from 898 AD through present day. The island is peaceful, enchanting and bucolic, with cows grazing while they, too, walk the historic pilgrimage path around the island.

In Killaloe, Linda my travel companion, and I both felt deeply connected to a stone chapel built in the 6th century along the banks of the River Shannon. Saint Flannan’s Cathedral was built 700 years later at the south end of the chapel,  an ornately carved screen separated the two spaces. We entered the chapel in reverent silence. Occupying the otherwise empty space was a scattering of ancient stone artifacts, including a high cross and a large stone inscribed in Viking script on one side and Ogham on the other. The massive wooden doors slammed shut behind us and a reverberating din filled the stone walls. The acoustics were amazing. I began to sing very softly, quite surprised that my voice carried through the building. Just as quietly, Linda joined me and our song echoed through the chapel.

Stone circles dot the Irish countryside and predate Christianity, originating in the Bronze Age dating 2,000 – 4,000 BC.  Just standing amid these stones is bucket-list material. But placing my hands on the altar stone in the center of the circle, I was overwhelmed with an indescribable connectivity to the countless hands that had been laid on the same spot for six millennia.

Some sources I researched cited the Cliffs of Moher as a thin place. This seemed counterintuitive to me. Between the cliffs and a huge bus-filled parking lot, is a large visitors center with several cafes and a numerous of gift shops. Instead, Linda and I parked in a dirt patch several miles from the visitor’s center and its throngs of tourists. We walked alongside livestock pastures, traversed a number of stone walls and hiked in relative solitude as a small rise gave way to an Amuse Bouche for the eyes, there to delight and entice us with the promise of what lay ahead.  We arrived at a mossy bluff where the earth, sea and sky intertwine forming the beautiful tapestry of The Wild Atlantic Way.  This was an incredible vantage point to photograph the legendary cliffs.  I sat on the thick carpet of moss that cushioned and cradled me. I felt strangely compelled to put away my camera to be fully present.  This was a new phenomenon. I usually felt more present and more me with my camera in hand. Eyes closed and feeling completely at peace, I felt as if I was sitting in the lap of God; a little girl enveloped in the protective, loving arms of my Father.  It was not until the wind stung my wet cheeks that I realized I had been crying. Linda and I remained for hours on our bluff in silence, journaling and knowing we found the undefinable experience we had been seeking.

I do not believe it is necessary to travel to the British Isles for this experience. I think a thin place can be deeply personal. A space where the veil is whisper thin for me may not evoke those feelings for anyone else. I have such a place in the woods of Maine. A fern filled clearing under a canopy of leaves is my place to connect with the earth, myself and my faith; usually barefoot, always with gratitude.  My thin place is not marked on any map or on a list of sacred grounds. I can return there, or to the mossy cliffs, by simply closing my eyes and opening my mind.

About the Author: Julie Terrill

julieterrill_bio

Julie Terrill is a photographer and writer with a passion for travel. For ten years, she’s told stories of empowerment through the lens of her camera in an array of unique landscapes, environments, and projects – from a shelter for children rescued from trafficking in Thailand to Faces of Courage, complimentary portrait sessions she offers to cancer patients in her community. She is a photographer and facilitator at Beautiful You and Soul Restoration retreats.

Connect with her at: JMTerrillImages.com

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Sunday Brunch: Wax, Wick, and Whispering Flame

Sunday Brunch With Melissa Bartell

There’s an iconic scene that occurs in almost every novel from a certain period: a (usually young) woman will light a candle (or remove an existing one from a table or candelabra). Then, carrying it with great caution so that the flame doesn’t sputter out and her hair doesn’t catch fire, she will tiptoe up a well-worn staircase to continue with quiet pursuits until the wax has pooled and the wick is spent.

I have never been this woman, but I share her love of candles.

There’s some magic in the combination of wax, wick, and whispering flame that doesn’t merely add a flicker of light. For me, at least, a lit candle is an infusion of warmth, joy, and creativity.

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I don’t remember when I first became enamored with candlelight.

I don’t remember a time when candles weren’t part of my life.

When I was a very young child, my mother and I made sand candles – where you pour melted wax into damp sand that’s been patterned – sort of like a reverse sand castle, or an inverse stencil. The merging of the salt-scented beach sand and the warm wax may have been more craft than art, and maybe I remember it so fondly because it involved time with my mother.

Since then, candles have made their expected appearances at birthdays and on the dinner table during special meals, but I’ve incorporated them into other aspects of my life, as well.

– I keep a row of candles on the shelf at the end of my bathtub. Most are votives but I always have one large jar-candle among them. I like combining scents to evoke a mood. Since I’m a beach baby and bathtub mermaid, I use scents that remind me of trips to the shore. Currently, I have “Seaside Memories” in a jar and several “Clean Cotton” votives. This “recipe” reminds me of being sprawled across a line-dried beach towCopyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_ambrozinio'>ambrozinio / 123RF Stock Photo</a>el with my toes covered by warm sand.

– I have candles in my Word Lounge (the room in my house that is dedicated to writing, voice acting, and podcasting). I have a big blue denim couch in there, so when I’m not actively writing, I’ll sometimes light a candle, make a mug of tea or coffee,  and curl up with one (or more) of my dogs to read, or plan, or plot.

One of the candles in that room is nestled into a fish-shaped bowl full of shells and pine cones retrieved from beaches in Mexico, Connecticut, California, and New Jersey. Its scent is strong tea with a hint of citrus.  Another pair, in matching hot pink holders, are on the “altar to creativity” that lives on my desk. I light them when I’m working in there, but I also use them when I’m channeling my inner Scarlet Pimpernel – their flames light my sticks of sealing wax. A final set of mini-votives are set into a wooden sign that says BEACH and is adorned with tiny shells and grains of sand. Those are “Beach Walk,” obviously.

– I have a shell-wreath that sits on the coffee table in the living room. Sometimes I put a vase of flowers in the center, but most often, the vase that sits there holds a candle. The default color is a sort of deep coral/not quite orange, but I change to a red one during the winter holidays, and sometimes I put a white one (lightly scented with pear) inside during the summer.

– I fill all the votives and light special seasonal candles at almost every holiday. For Valentine’s Day, I have matching glass, square, flower holders (they’re not really vase-shaped) that each hold two votives. One’s red, the other is clear, and I love having them out. At Halloween I have holders shaped like haunted trees and a trio of ceramic ghosts, among other spooky shapes.

But, candles are more than just decorations.

– I celebrate every rainstorm by lighting a few candles here and there. I’m not sure they possess actual magic, but I’ve noticed Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_mihalec'>mihalec / 123RF Stock Photo</a>that whenever I pre-emptively light candles, we don’t lose power, even during tornadoes. As well, even the gentlest storm is made into a special experience when you add a little candle-flame.

– I use candles as memorials. My grandparents had a set of monogrammed highball glasses, and when my grandmother died I sent one to each of my aunts and immediate cousins with some of their ashes, and a votive in the glass. It makes the ache of loss so much softer, knowing that we all have the essences of these beloved people mixed into the soil of our gardens, but I feel like they exist in the flickering light that dances atop each wax cylinder, as well.

Candles have been used in spiritual and creative magic – as well as the ordinary magic of every-day living since the first chandler figured out that tallow or beeswax could be fitted with a wick and turned into a source of light, and they will continue to be used in a similar fashion.

Still, no musing upon candles would be complete without my confession: Although I’ve lived my entire life in an age where technology has been advancing almost daily (don’t you love living in the future?), there exists an imaginary version of me who is, just like the girls in those nineteenth-century novels I love so much, wrapping her hand around the handle of a metal candle-holder, shielding the  flame with her other hand, and creeping up the creaky stairs of an old house, either to a sacred corner where I’ll write stories into the wee hours, or to a bed where my dreams will be sweet and free of care.

“If there is moonlight outside, don’t stay inside! If there is candle inside, don’t stay outside! Moments of romanticism are too valuable to be missed!” ~ Mehmet Murat Ildan

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa A. BartellMelissa 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, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Spirit Guides on the Ancestral Highway by Jeanie Croope

When you travel down the ancestral highway, the things that cross your path sometimes happen in at the most unusual moments.

I’ve always had a curious relationship with the ancestors on my mother’s side, a sense of longing to know them better, physically touch them. I spent much of my childhood time with my dad’s parents, learning to bake at my grandmother’s side, picking vegetables with my grandfather on their farm.

But my mother’s mom died several months before I was born and my grandfather was a rather gruff guy who died when I was 10, taking with him many family secrets. Most of my thoughts about them were filtered through the memories told by my mother and her sisters.

I’d like to think the creative streak that runs in our family came down through Minnie. Her craft was sewing and she would do it hour after hour. All of us kids had little cats made from material that had the front of the cat on one side and the back on the other. Mom would say those cats would line the window sill, straight as soldiers in a row.

As I’ve done some genealogical research over the past year, bits of Minnie’s life have been filled in as I’ve learned a little more about her parents. (I still can’t figure out when they emigrated to America, though! There’s always more to discover. Trying to find records on people named “Wood” and “Granger” in England in the 1800s is not, I’ve learned, a piece of cake!) My fascination with her has continued to grow. Yet the only physical connection I had to this little woman, apart from countless photos, was a stuffed cat.

That is, until one serendipitous moment. Collecting vintage postcards is a passion of mine. I use some in my art, others remind me of places I’ve been or, in the case of the “up north” cards, of the area where my summer house is and where, a short walk away, my mother and her sisters spent their summers with Minnie. I always looked for photo cards that might show the resort where the cottage stood but those that had included house itself were non-existent, perhaps because it was set back further onto the land and in wide shots, the trees blocked it.

As I was going through the alphabetical city list of cards, I picked up those that included lake views and, as usual, most of the cards didn’t appeal. They were too recent. Or they were area attractions that held little personal meaning. They were not the spots on the lake I longed to find.

That is, until I saw one that had a somewhat familiar look. The writing on the front said “Wah Wah Soo,” which was the area of the cottage and it looked like — just at the very top of the card — a bit of the old cottage was visible. Although I didn’t notice it on first glance, I would later discover that an “X” was drawn at the top of the card, with a line dipping into the trees and pointing to a house set back from the shore. It looked very familiar.

I turned it over, surprised to find it had been addressed to my grandparents’ next door neighbor, the woman who served as my baby sitter until I was three. I looked at the faded handwriting in pencil, the date, “Thu., 1940.”

“Dear Grace,

X marks the spot. We have been quite comfortable up here this summer. It hasn’t been too warm here. We will be seeing you all before very long. Love, Minnie L.”

What magical thing brought me to this show — one I often skip — on this day? What led me to this very spot and what was it that brought my grandmother’s handwriting — the first time I had ever seen her handwriting — into my own hands?

Tears ran down my face and I didn’t care who saw.

I’ve long wondered how one can feel so connected to someone they never met. It’s more than a bloodline. It is more than an interest in crafty things or a love of the cottage. I find it deeper and inexplicable. And yet, it is as tangible as the photograph I can touch.

Are we guided by the spirits who have come before us? Do we hear their voices in our heads when we do something we know they’d love? Does their guidance help us form our thoughts and actions, thought we think those thoughts and actions are ours alone?

We’ll never know but I would like to think that’s so. For it seems that Minnie is one of the guides in my life. And with every bit of research — the name on the census document, the death certificate, the marriage license — she becomes more and more real.

My genealogical journey has just started. In less than a year I have found ancestors who were persecuted and died for their religion, another who died in an asylum. I have found farmers and beekeepers, confectioners and shoemakers. I have learned about women who died young leaving large families behind and children who died all too soon. I have even discovered that a dear friend with whom I’d had no sense of family connection was my fifth cousin. But that’s another story.

It has become a quest, this walk down the ancestral highway. It is a dive down the rabbit hole of family trees with deep roots. It can be dark and frustrating and often confusing with information coming from all directions, some spot on, some far off. And yet, with each computer key I tap, there is a sense of those spirit guides, urging me to tell their stories.

And so, down the rabbit hole we go.

 

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.

A Letter from the Heavens by Christine Mason Miller

I had an astrology reading done for the first time at the end of 2014, right around my birthday. As far as my knowledge of astrological meanings and intricacies before that reading, I knew I was a Scorpio, and that this meant I was fiery and passionate. My husband is a Scorpio too, and whenever we share this, the reaction is always, “Oh, wow!” (I get the impression they think we must have a) fierce clashes, b) wild sex or c) both. Maybe at the same time.) I like the persona of Scorpio—the intensity, the spiritedness—and I’ve always looked at it as something to live up to and honor.

Although the scorpion is not my totem animal—which would mean “I am a very strong person with the ability to inspire others” according to spirit-animals.com—as my zodiac sign, it has been with me for as long as I can remember, serving as a point of reference as I’ve tried to figure out who I am and who I want to be.

This week, I listened to my reading for the first time since it took place. I was struck by how clearly I remembered some parts of it and how quickly I had forgotten others. This was my natal chart, so it involved looking at what was happening at the date, time, and location of my birth, all of which tell a story about that particular time and place. Meaning, there was a very specific arrangement of things in the solar system, around planet earth, that were different from any other time and place. We all come into the world this way—with connections and relationships between the sun, the moon and the planets that are specific to the latitude and longitude of where we are born.

Astrology is something I can’t say I’ve even so much as dabbled in, but I think it’s possible I could get hooked on it without too much cajoling. The engineer in me loves the very precise diagram of where things were when I was born, with lines marking their angular relationship to each other. I love the symbols and the symbolism—the woman who gave my reading, Carol Ferris, uses the language of Greek mythology to tell the story in an astrology chart, so different characters were explained in a familiar context. Being able to visualize these characters and their stories was easy, which enabled me to understand their role in my chart.

After listening to my reading again this week, I walked away feeling affirmed. As in, the things that are going on for me right now internally are, in fact, reflected in the story of my natal chart as interpreted by Ms. Ferris. Which is not to say I got to the end of the recording and thought, “Yep, that’s exactly who I am!” but that I saw the connection between my existence and the vastness of the heavens that surround our planet. They say we’re made of the same stuff as stars, right? So perhaps the stars and the planets and the sun and the moon made their imprint on me the day I was born, which, like, fingerprints, might not necessarily determine my fate, but have been part of me from the moment I took my first breath.

In my search for meaning, understanding and awareness, I’ve read books, watched films, discussed, debated, and prayed. Getting an astrology reading was part of that process. It is helping me make sense of some of the forces at play within myself—my longing for beauty, my ambivalence about certain possibilities, the way I love being at home. I don’t see it as a guide that is telling me what to do but as a letter from the stars that says, “You’re doing just fine. Everything will be OK. Trust us.”

About the Author: Christine Mason Miller

christinemasonmillerChristine Mason Miller is an author and artist who has been inspiring others to create a meaningful life since 1995. Signed copies of her memoir, Moving Water, are now available at www.christinemasonmiller.com.

Sunday Salon: A Room of My Own

Sunday Salon with Becca Rowan

As I write these words, I’m sitting in a soft chair, upholstered in warm buttercream colored fabric, my legs tucked underneath me, my computer propped on the chair’s wide arm. There is a cup of coffee on the walnut cedar chest beside me, along with piles of books I’ve been reading lately – poetry books and memoir and Zen Buddhism philosophy. A summer breeze shushes through the open window, and it occasionally strikes a chord on the wind chimes, which hang from a strong tree branch outside.

There is a desk in this room, a wide topped writing desk, on which stand pictures of my son as a baby, another of my two dogs nestled side by side, and one more of my mother holding my grandson on her lap. A cup filled with pens, pencils, markers and reading glasses is close to hand. There are two heart shaped paperweights which I sometimes use for their original purpose (propping open the pages of a book) or occasionally as something to hold in my hands while I ponder my next move on the page. More books stand in the corner, books I refer to time and again when I need some inspiration to keep me moving – through writing and through life. I’m careful to keep nothing on this desk that doesn’t pertain to writing – no bills, no to-do lists. All those practical matters are taken care of in the kitchen at a small counter I’ve appropriated as a daily desktop.

This desk belongs to me and to my creative work. So does this room.

We just got home after spending six weeks in a rented vacation home in Florida, a lovely home with a heated pool, a water view, within a stone’s throw of  lovely restaurants, shops, and sunsets on the beach. The weather was warm, the sun shone every day, and I began to see the appeal of leaving midwestern winter winds behind for an annual sojourn in the sunny south.

You wouldn’t think there was anything missing from this scenario, would you? And I feel selfish even suggesting there was. BUT, although there was plenty of time for musing, there was no room of my own, no quiet place to retreat where I could enter into the world of my own thoughts and imaginings.

It was novelist Virginia Woolf who first introduced the idea of a woman needing such a room. “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write…” she says.  Of course, she referred not only to the need for space,  but also to the need for time. For most women, writing time comes in fits and snatches – after coming home from a job, feeding children, preparing meals, helping with homework, walking the dog, collecting the laundry, watching a soccer game, paying some bills, putting gas in the car, reading bedtime stories …and on and on and on. Finally, at the end of all this, there is a few minutes to gather thoughts together and put them onto paper – that is, if there is one ounce of energy left.

My child care days are over, and my working life has winnowed down to mostly volunteer activities. I have room and time and space in my life to create.  I am so fortunate to have a sanctuary in my house, a place where I can retreat at any time of day to read, write, meditate, listen to music, or even take a nap underneath the cross-stitched quilt my great-aunt made for me when I got married over 40 years ago. The furnishings are feminine, gentle, and meaningful. The room is on the second floor, it’s bright and quiet, and I’ve set my desk in the corner between two windows so I have an expansive view of the yard and street.

It’s perfect. It’s mine.

A room of my own.

 

About the Author: Becca Rowan

becca_rowan_bio_may2016Becca Rowan lives in Northville, Michigan with her husband and their two dogs. She is the author of Life in General, a book of personal and inspirational essays about the ways women navigate the passage into midlife. She is also a musician, and performs as a pianist and as a member of Classical Bells, a professional handbell ensemble. If she’s not writing or playing music you’ll likely find her out walking with the dogs or curled up on the couch reading with a cup of coffee (or glass of wine) close at hand. She loves to connect with readers at her blog, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.

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