Dear Blank Page by Jennifer Belthoff

Dear Blank Page,

I see you sitting there in your unassuming fashion and immediately I smile.  Thank you for inviting me in the way you always do.  You have no idea how grateful I am for our friendship and how it was you who saved my life.

When was it when we first met?  I cannot remember exactly but know that our love affair began quickly.  It came at a time when I didn’t even understand how strong love could be.  Long before I knew how deeply you would become a part of my life.

You are never too tired to meet and never once worried what time it was when I reached for you.  I admire the way you don’t complain, even when I wake you up at three in the morning.  You give me space to spill out the contents of my heart and hold my hand along the way.

Oh the adventures we have gone on.  Remember when we traveled across the country?  How radiant the Grand Canyon was.  How quickly I fell for Ray.  How I didn’t want to get back in the car because we were in the home stretch and I wasn’t quite ready to be back.

You hold all of my moments with gentleness and ease.  You do not care if I am in my pajamas, my hair is a mess, and my words don’t make sense.  You understand that the healing comes from the process and that whatever spills out is what needed to get out.

You soak up each word and never once have you judged me.  It is with you that I feel the safest.  I know that I can tell you anything.  I never have to pretend.  I never have to protect how I feel.  I do not need to hid behind a curtain of joy when I am feeling down.  You see me in my rawest form and you invite me to unfold deeper.

Remember when we were sitting in the coffee shop together and I started to write about my dream of becoming a teacher.  Along the way my words began to travel in a completely unexpected direction.  Tears welled up in my eyes and you caught each one as it rolled off my cheek.  When I first sat down to write I did not know there was an untold story that needed to be told.  But you did, and you were there for me as you always are.

What would I do if we had never met?  Where would I be?  What would my life look like?  One thing I know for certain is that I would be a total mess.  If I didn’t have you I would lost.  When I said that you saved my life I wasn’t kidding.  Yes, it was you who saved me.  You who helped me navigate the heartache, the pain, the unknown.  You who celebrated my successes and pushed me to keep stretching further and further.

Oh the stories you could tell.

What I love most about you is how deeply our trust for one another runs.  I know that every word I share with you is between you and I.  What a gift that is to me.  You are the only one in this world that I have that type of relationship with.

I want you to know that the reason I carry you with me everywhere I go is because knowing you are right beside me encourages me to keep stepping forward.  I know I always have you to lean on.  And you will be there ready for anything.

I love you deeply.  From the bottom of my heart I want to thank you for always being there for me.  They say true love last a lifetime and I know that you and I will be together forever.

Sending you so much love and a giant hug!

Love,

Jennifer

About the Author: Jennifer Belthoff

Jennifer is a writer and explorer who believes in the power of the written word.  She encourages strangers to exchange handwritten notes with one another in the mail through the Love Notes Postcard Project.

Join her for the next round beginning July 9th.  Learn more at www.jenniferbelthoff.com

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Precise Ritual by Rona Laban

Night after night
it happens like this.
Lured to write she picks up the pen,
as if she had something to say,
as if inner turmoil could be explained away.
Polished with a few choice words,
like conflict and despair.
Shooed off like a stray dog,
made to hush, like a recalcitrant child,
or soothed like only a lover can.

About the Author: Rona Laban

Rona Laban is a medical professional. She’s been a copywriter, as well as an editor for a published writer. Her poetry has been published in poetry anthologies and her haikus have appeared in Extract(s)Daily Dose of Lit. Online Magazine. She was the facilitator of a local poetry group and has been a feature reader at the Plymouth Center for the Arts.

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July is for Journaling by Molly Totoro

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
~Flannery O’Connor

I didn’t really understand Flannery O’Connor’s wisdom until four years ago when the compound stresses of life nearly silenced me.

At that time I was teaching seven English classes (with seven different preps and countless papers to grade). I was the primary caregiver of my aging mother who was eventually put into hospice and died six weeks later. I became a grandmother for the first time (the birth coincided with Mom’s memorial service). And my youngest graduated high school and moved into her own apartment.

I was so busy taking care of others’ business that I failed to care for myself.

And I snapped.

All family members insisted I see a therapist, with the expectation he would prescribe one (or two or three) anti-anxiety medications. Since I loathe taking pills of any kind, I dreaded the appointment.

Imagine my surprise when at the end of the first session the therapist told me to go home and write.

Write?! Telling an English teacher she “must” write isn’t a prescription but a dream come true.

Since that fateful day, I have filled at least thirty notebooks and countless online journal entries.

I have written in good times and bad. I have journaled dreams and aspirations and reflected upon trials and failures. I have brainstormed, written letters (to myself and others), poured out prayers of thanksgiving and petition, and reconnected with forgotten passions and interests.

Journaling not only allowed me to discover what I think, but it also gave me back my voice. See, I am a rule follower, and I always believed if you follow the rules and do your best, life will be good. That is, life will be free of conflict.

But that is not how life works. So in an effort to create peace, I chose to keep differing opinions to myself. I did not want to rock the boat. But my silence did not prevent the waves of life from crashing in. My silence only served to extinguish me.

Over the past four years, I have discovered journaling is good for our physical, emotional and spiritual health.

Journaling, especially when done by hand with a pen and notebook, causes the mind to quiet and focus. It slows down the frenetic pace of life, which in turn, reduces blood pressure.

Journaling is an opportunity to release spinning thoughts in our heads and give them a place to rest. Mental space is then cleared for more creative endeavors.

Journaling by hand is also a way to connect with the right side of our brain — the spontaneous, creative side. Penmanship is an artistic expression: will we write in block letters or loopy cursive? Even if we scribble, there is still a deep connection between our thoughts and how we represent them on the page.

In addition, journaling can afford us the opportunity for distance: to see a specific event or situation from another vantage point. Often this space helps us see a possible solution where before we saw only hopelessness. Or it can show us how to forgive others even when we were the ones who felt wronged. Harboring resentment squelches creativity, but offering forgiveness opens the mind.

While I enjoy journaling throughout the year, summertime is ideal. The warmer weather offers indoor as well as outdoor possibilities to sit and write. I prefer to journal first thing in the morning when temperatures are cooler and the sun not quite so bright. The back porch is the perfect spot, with a cup of coffee and my favorite notebook and pen. The soft chirps of the songbirds and the quiet summer breeze provide idyllic inspiration.

Of course, there are times when I like to end the day with a journaling session. A glass of iced tea – or perhaps chilled Chardonnay – is the perfect refreshment. I retreat to my Paris room, light an aromatic candle, put on some instrumental music, and begin to write. Sometimes I focus on gratitude journaling, other times I recount the events of the day.

There is no ONE right way to journal. We can journal for five minutes and feel satisfied – or we can journal several pages and feel as though I’ve just started. The important thing is to give yourself time to reconnect with your inner self and allow your voice to be heard.

July is the perfect month to begin (or perhaps begin again) a journaling practice – for July is NaJoWriMo: National Journal Writing Month.

The event is held four times a year, with a specific theme for each session. July’s theme is Places and Journeys – a perfect opportunity to reflect on past or future vacation getaways.

Travel journaling is one of my favorite writing activities. I journal before the trip, making lists of possible itineraries, researching a bit of history, and imagining the sights and culture I will see. This kind of preparation builds anticipation, which increases my enjoyment once there.

While on vacation I keep journaling to a minimum. I want to experience the vacation, and live in the moment. However, I do spend a few minutes each evening jotting notes of the day’s events, focusing on specific sensory details such as the taste of an exotic meal or the smell of the open-air market.

Once I return home, I use these notes as well as my photos to document the trip. I reflect on lessons learned and relive the adventure through family stories.

Remember, however, there’s no ONE right way to journal. You do not have to journal about travel this July. Perhaps you can devote the month to gratitude journaling (listing 3-5 things you are grateful for each day) – or Morning Pages (writing 750 words each morning to release discursive thought and make room for creative ideas) – or perhaps you can choose the time to reflect on the past (use the writing prompt: I remember… and see what memories surface).

I find that I do well with these kinds of online events. I feel as though I am a part of a like-minded community. And I am more likely to maintain discipline when I know others are out there who are doing the same. I instinctively feel kinship and support.

NaJoWriMo is a relaxed gathering around the cyber pool. Care to join me for a refreshing dip?

About the Author: Molly Totoro

Molly Totoro is a Connecticut Yankee currently residing in the Midwest with her husband and trusty basset. While Molly retired from full-time teaching in 2014 to pursue her writing dreams, she continues to work with students to achieve their writing potential. Molly recently published her first book, Journaling Toward Wholeness: A 28-Day Plan to Develop a Journaling Practice with the hope of inspiring others to experience the health benefits of writing their inner thoughts.

Connect with Molly at her blog, My Cozy Book Nook  and on social media: FaceBookTwitterInstagramPinterest

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Reflections of Me by Emma Gazley

While violently scrubbing the bathroom sink, a reflection in the small medicine cabinet mirror caught my eye. I made eye contact with that mysterious person, and watched for a moment, almost unsure. Unsettled. A year ago, his person I was seeing had gotten engaged  and moved to Chicago. She joyfully married her best friend a couple months later and since then had found herself out of work.

How was it possible that after so much movement, this woman seemed so stuck – so frozen in place.

The woman in the mirror was me.

I’d been applying to various jobs for months and despite multiple interviews, I hadn’t managed to secure a steady job. Not even “low-on-the-totem-pole ones.  With a limp, tepid resume and long stretches of unemployment due to a myriad of health issues, the reasons as to why I was so “un-hirable” abounded.

Staring myself down, I ran through the list, listening to all of those voices that were quick to convince me that I was not good enough.

I pulled all my cleaning supplies together, shoved them back underneath the kitchen cupboard and moved on to my next project.

My husband reassures me, saying, “Looking for a job is a full time job, without the satisfaction of being paid. I know it’s difficult but thanks for working so hard.”

After filling out applications, making some calls, and printing resumes, it was time to go shake some hands. As I hustled by the windows of bakeries, electronics stores, and corner grocers, I repeated a mantra of self-love to myself.  I entered each place with a smile, struck up a friendly conversation, handed over my resume, and upon leaving, did my best to squash down social anxiety. Then, brace myself for the next round.

After several train stops and miles of walking, I turned to go home with an empty stomach and emptying bank account.

When I arrived home later that day I turned the oven up high and roasted a chicken for dinner, seeing that same woman in the glass as I peeked in to see if the skin was beginning to crisp.

I didn’t make eye contact this time.

To let go of the emotions of shame and helplessness, I turned to painting. Painting has always empowered me, just as writing and music always have, but somehow the projects on my kitchen table felt uninspired.

The almost comic melodrama of depression was starting to play out in my kitchen as it occurred to me that even if they amounted to much, I was unlikely to have a career doing what I love. Proven, of course, since I couldn’t manage to land a job doing something I would hate.

I was able to laugh at myself a little; how could I do so much and feel so pathetic at the end of the day?

Several weeks later, Sara, my best friend from middle school, flew in from Alaska. Our friendship has soldiered on through the pains of adolescence, loss of loved ones, moves from state to state, and the breaking and mending of many relationships.

I received her text reporting she had landed as the Blue Line train doors slid open at the O’Hare stop, showing me a rippling vision of myself in the darkened windows. A version of myself in constant motion, a transient visage.

As everyone disembarked to find their airline, the frenetic energy jostled me out and onto an escalator. I didn’t have time to catch her eyes this time.

When I saw Sara, I felt instantly home again. That deep, comfortable love of being accepted and admired exactly as I am surrounded me. I floated through the next several days on a high. I tried to shower her with love and rest, knowing that her life as a Special-Ed teacher is rarely easy.

Yet, the excitement of being together in Chicago meant we found ourselves exhausted at the end of every day. We bustled from the Lincoln Park Zoo’s gorilla enclosure to the Chicago Theater. No, it wasn’t restful, but we were both buoyed by our activities and the company.

A few weeks after Sara’s visit, my brother Al came into town. He’s my only sibling, and we spent the train ride to Clark and Lake catching up on his life in Hawaii and mine in Chicago. We talked about how busy we’ve been and what shows have excited us the most.

The next day we went to Millennium Park and I showed him Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate, which everyone knows as “The Bean”. Its shining surface showed us distorted versions of ourselves that swayed and morphed into new images with every step. My brother’s warped expression smiled next to mine.

We had a full day: pictures with his new camera, shopping, and visiting Navy Pier. By happy circumstance, the Ferris wheel was free that hour.

As Al and I walked across Michigan Avenue, with a hundred bodies marching purposefully towards their destinations, I caught a glimpse of our reflections as we passed a shop window. We look always younger in my mind’s eye than we did in that reflection .

“It’s weird, isn’t it? Being adults visiting each other?”

“Yeah, it’s weird.” He laughed. “You’ve got to come out to Maui, even if it’s just for a few days. There’s so much to see.”

I smirked and shook my head when I saw he’d fallen asleep on the train ride home. I’ve always envied him the ability to let everything go and fall asleep wherever he was sitting or standing. What would it be like to be that free for a few moments when exhausted or stressed?

That evening, we hosted a gathering to introduce my brother to friends and after goodbyes were said, I  curled up next to my husband, Shane. He was reading a graphic novel, and both of us were trying to ignore our chronic back pain. I looked at Shane while he read, and for a moment, I saw myself again. I saw a flash of whoever I am meant to be, whoever I was in the beginning.

The gap between waking and sleeping brought me close to a reality that we block ourselves from so much as we chase the light, or the money, or the power.

I saw a reflection of myself in Sara, truest of friends, filled with devotion and affection. In my only brother, who has known me longer than almost anyone, who knows all of my very real flaws and shortcomings, but loves me despite our differences. I saw myself in Shane, who has sacrificed, changed and created all this space and love in his life to include me in all its steps.

I decided to see myself a little kinder. To stop once in a while and rest in this knowledge: that it’s how I am seen by those who love me that matters.

Thankfully the measure of success doesn’t rely merely on my warped opinion of myself (or the opinion of society at large). The love of others, and indeed love of my true self, is what gives me sanctuary. It gives me purpose. It is what makes me sing a new song, paint a blank canvas, and write another story.

I breathed in deep and let it flood over me, and fell asleep with peace in my heart.

About the Author: Emma Gazley

Emma Gazley is an artist, musician, writer, adventurer and teacher. Born to two adventurous parents, Emma was destined to be an explorer of the world, and from her earliest moments displayed signs of creativity and curiosity. She has spent time in Europe, Asia, Canada, and currently resides in the U.S. She began her journey of discovering her identity as an artist in 2012, after encountering critical health problems that caused her to lose her job and the ability to do most everyday activities. Many of her projects have, as a result of this event and others, a twinge of the painful and tragic aspects of life. Emma is interested in learning about grief and how to cope with it, as well as passionate about finding joy in the day to day.

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Sunday Sensations: An Introduction

Even before a lyric is spoken there’s a visible reaction in my friends. The opening song of Hamilton ekes out of the worst sound system possible, my friend’s iPhone flipped up on the table between the three of us. Suddenly the random nothingness that we were engaged with stops. Despite the terrible, slightly tinny sound there’s power in those opening notes. It compels us to stop and then invites us to sing along.

The sensation of that moment was palpable. Relegate it as a fad or passing fancy if you must, but that opening two seconds of music siren-called us into another world. What writer can’t admit to wanting that ability to, with a single piece of work, command that much power?

Over 25 years ago I decided to become a writer. Books have always been important to me. The idea that writers could make black marks on white pieces of paper and it would have an emotional, intellectual, and physical sway over their reader was fascinating to me. When I became serious about my writing, I embarked on a journey of truly understanding sensations. It seemed appropriate to me then to entitle my Sunday column “Sunday Sensations” as a tribute not only to my journey in writing, but a reminder to myself of the nine-year-old girl tucked up in the corner of a room thoroughly wrapped up in a book.

“Show. Don’t tell.” This is a mantra countless writing teachers droned at me throughout the years. Yet, sensations squirm away from me, unwilling to be pinned down. Often, I think it’s sheer desperation that allows me to hit on how to describe something in a way that will impact a reader. Writing sensations require much thought and the ability to see outside oneself. This is the task of the writer.

cavilar king charles spaniel

So, there I sit trying to compel the magic that has entranced me for years. There’s the soft scratch of my puppy’s nails on our wood floor, but that’s not something everyone has heard. How do you describe that? Where would you start? Cliches come to the front of the mind first, but must be systematically rejected. Next, you try to think of new cliches. Those seem even worse than the tried and true cliches. At this point, you’re wishing that there was never a puppy to describe at all, much less the problem of the sound of its nails.

You turn to music, poetry, art (or possibly watch three hours of infomercials) just to find the right words. Two or three times you think you get there, but reject all attempts ultimately. There’s a vexing frustration that roils and boils. Yet, you press on, determined to describe that sound in a way that invokes emotion in the part of your reader whether they like it or not. The thesaurus and dictionary are consulted and come up dry. You spend more time than you’d like to admit on Facebook. Every life decision that has lead you to this point is reconsidered.

And then, inspiration strikes. The words flow, the description is made and all is peace, joy and harmony once more.

Until the next scene.

That’s the funny thing about the things we often call magic. Movie magic, book magic, or even the magic of the way your favorite shampoo makes your hair feel — they are actually a lot of hard work wrapped into a single, effortless-looking package. So maybe that’s where the magic comes in, where us music-makers and dreamers of the dream make all that work looks so easy. From a musical like Hamilton to my next blog post, we’re all searching for that ever-elusive sensation that will thrill and delight our audience. Here’s to hard work and here’s to finding it.

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.

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Instrumental: Turning to the Elements for Cleansing by Melissa Cynova

Regardless of the kind of energetic work you do – you’re probably aware that energy accumulates. Have you ever walked into a room where two people have just finished fighting? The air is thick and the energy is heated. Have you walked into an empty house and have just known that it was empty? The energy that flies around sometimes lands, sometimes sticks, sometimes screws up your mood or your day.

Now, imagine doing a dozen readings in a row with the same tarot deck. Every heartache. Every frustration and illness and romance and loss. It’s intense! Those intense emotions stick to your cards and make them feel – for lack of a better word – grody.

Whether you do reiki, runes or tarot.  Actually, even if you don’t do any similar work, as a creative, you are sensitive to the energy around you. So, yes, writers and artists, this is for you, too!

If you read for yourself or others, knowing how best to clean your tools is as important as how to take care of yourself. If you’re not grounded and centered, it’s hard to do your best work. I like to go to the elements when grounding myself and cleaning my cards. Here are some tips that might help you, too!

Care and Keeping of You Using the Elements

Earth:   Stomp your feet on the ground. Go running or walking. Lie down in the grass. Garden. Put your hands in the dirt. Pet your animals. Have really good sex. When I was a social worker, I would stop outside of my car before I left for the day and stomp my feet like crazy to get all of that (sometimes very negative) energy off me before I got home.

Air:  Breathe! Yoga breathing is outstanding. This breathing pattern by Dr. Andrew Weil works great for me: you breathe in for a four count, hold for seven, and exhale for eight. It feels great. You can read or meditate, too.

Fire:  Use a candle to meditate. I would say smoke, because that worked for me for a long time, but smoking is bad for you, so light a candle and stare at it for a bit. Send your energy to the wick and imagine it getting turned into smoke and blowing away.

Water:  Take a shower. Take off all of your jewelry and put it in water to disperse any energy it’s collected. Take a bath. Go for a swim. Stand in the rain.

 Care and Keeping of Your Cards*

Cleaning them energetically is a practice I would take up after every use if possible.

*Note: you can modify this for other spiritual or creative supplies, like your journal.

Earth:  Rap your knuckles on your card. Put the deck in order – Ace to King for each suit, Fool to World. Stack them up. Put them on the (clean) grass and let them go to ground for a bit. Clean with fanning powder.

Air: Use a sage or cedar stick to clean them with smoke. Breathe on them.

Fire: Tricky with flammable cards. I find that incense feels more fiery than sage sticks. Light a stick of incense or a candle in front of your cards and put your intent into the lighting of it. You can also put your cards out into the sunlight.

Water: Also tricky with cards. This might be me being weird, but I look to the Moon for water cleansing. It controls the tides, right? Put your cards on the windowsill in front of the moon and let them soak up the goodness.

Whatever your tools, the better you care for them, the better they’ll serve you.

About the Author: Melissa Cynova

Melissa CynovaMelissaC_Bio 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.  Melissa lives in St. Louis with her kiddos, her husband, Joe, and two cats, two dogs and her tortoise, Phil.

She is on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Go ahead and schedule a reading – she already knows you want one.

(The element lists were originally found in my book: Kitchen Table Tarot)

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Typical Tuesday: Anna Oginsky

At 6:00 a.m. Brett Dennen’s Oh My Glorious begins to play on my cell phone. This is my daily alarm. I press the snooze button.

At 6:09 a.m., when the alarm goes off, I press snooze again. I stretch my arms up over my head and listen, trying to hear who is awake. Specifically wondering if my oldest son, a high schooler, is up and getting ready for school.

I slowly make my way out of bed, through the bathroom, and into the kitchen. I make coffee.

The high school bus comes at 6:40, then the intermediate school bus picks up my second son at 7:30, and finally at 8:25 a.m. my daughter, the youngest, boards the elementary school bus.

In between I fill water bottles, answer questions, complete permission slips, and confirm whether it is an A day or a B day for the middle guy.

It is always a relief once everyone is where they need to be in the morning. I am grateful that my own schedule allows me to be present for my children in the morning.

From 6:00 a.m. to 8:25 a.m. my Tuesdays are typical. Once my daughter is on the bus and Johnny the dog and I go back into the house from the bus stop, we eat breakfast. Kibbles for him and it could be anything for me. Eggs, oatmeal, or a smoothie.

After breakfast, my days vary quite a bit.

For the past 15 years, I’ve mostly been a mom about town. I’m not sure where the term “stay-at-home-mom” originated because while I understand the term in theory, I don’t know any moms who get to simply stay at home.

I dream of keeping to a routine that starts with yoga and is followed by writing and art.

I have a second book I’d like to write and a business I’d like to nurture. Lately though, it is incredibly challenging just to keep my head above water.

Like so many families, we’ve got a lot in the mix. I keep forgetting appointments and assignments.

It could be that summer is in the air and I am ready for a break in the daily routine. Or maybe, it’s all. Too. Much.

Our bodies weren’t designed to take in as much as we are required to take in each day.

While I am grateful for my flexibility, I wince as my schedule fills with obligations and I sit in awe of parents who work in jobs full time as well as try to raise families. I’m not sure how anyone is doing what they do without going crazy or falling ill.

On top of all the stuff to do, there are emotions that require space and time to surface, spirits to tend to, and bodies that need nourishment and rest. We may not all be going crazy, but I know few people who aren’t feeling stressed and overwhelmed these days. Everyone is just so damn busy and personally, I don’t like it.

To invite more ease into my day, I have alarms set on the hour. These serve as reminders to take a deep breath. I stop what I’m doing and breathe as the Beatles sing Let it Be to me. If you’re nearby, I’ll invite you to take a deep breath too. Some people roll their eyes at me, but mostly my invitation is well received. Eyes light up, heads nod, and we resume what we were doing feeling refreshed.

We must remember to breathe.

I long for a Typical Tuesday. I sometimes wonder what my days will look like when my kids have all moved out of the nest. Will I be bored and miserable? Or will I be living the dream with yoga, writing, art, and a daily lunch date with a dear friend?

In the space between, I try to build practices into my day that help it to feel more that typical than not—breakfast with Johnny, a deep breath on the hour, and a moment of gratitude for stillness and silence each morning amid a big, busy, chaotic life.

At 3:00 p.m. the high school bus pulls up to our driveway. My son rushes off the bus, checks the mailbox, and comes into the house. At 4:30 p.m. the younger two arrive home together. They’re usually arguing before they even come through the door. Johnny stirs from his afternoon nap. I try to finish up whatever I’m working on in my studio.

My husband comes home at some point. We have dinner but no activities on Tuesdays. I’m trying very hard to stay present to all of it, as the days go by quickly turning into years and my children grow faster than I ever imagined growing into themselves.

Daily, I walk the balance between longing for more predictability while at the same time feeling grateful that for me, there isn’t ever a Typical Tuesday. Not yet.

About the Author: Anna Oginsky

annbioAnna Oginsky is the founder of Heart Connected, LLC, a small Michigan-based workshop and retreat business that creates opportunities for guests to tune in to their hearts and connect with the truth, wisdom, and power held there. Her work is inspired by connections made between spirituality, creativity, and community. Anna’s first book, My New Friend, Grief, came as a result of years of learning to tune in to her own heart after the sudden loss of her father. In addition to writing, Anna uses healing tools like yoga, meditation, and making art in her offerings and in her own personal practice. She lives in Brighton, Michigan with her husband, their three children, and Johnny, the big yellow dog. Connect with her on her website; Twitter; Facebook; or Instagram.

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Sunday Sanctuary: Going on an Artist Date

SundaySancturary_WithDebraSmouse

I’ve been struggling lately, feeling all kinds of ugh when it comes to my creative life. I’ve felt uninspired, as if everything  being birthed from my fingertips is beyond boring. I was in need of feeding myself, not food, but  an experience designed to tantalize my senses.

I rise on a Friday morning, showered, and take exquisite care while getting dressed. I apply full makeup, including mascara, something I rarely wear thanks to watery eyes and wearing contacts. I slip into a peach sweater, white shorts, and complete the look with the pearls I received for my 13th birthday and the pearl stud earrings I purchased when I got my first job out of college. Then, I slide my feet into white loafers.

I take myself to breakfast. I order an omelet filled with chorizo and green chilis, and served with a side of dressed organic greens. I choose to drink water, having already consumed my typical two cups of coffee. I read the Wall Street Journal while I wait for my food, and when my breakfast arrives I focus on eating with occasional forays into watching my fellow diners. I will confess: it is tempting to pick up my phone and scan through Facebook, but I resist the siren call. I can’t give into that temptation, because it’s an important day for my creativity: I’m on an Artist Date.

In her classic book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron prescribes a weekly Artist Date as assigned play.

“The Artist Date is a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests you. The Artist Date need not be overtly “artistic” — think mischief more than mastery. Artist Dates fire up the imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play. Since art is about the play of ideas, they feed our creative work by replenishing our inner well of images and inspiration.”
–Julia Cameron

I pay for breakfast and journey to the real destination for my Artist’s Date: Dorothy Lane Market.  And, yes, as the name might suggest, Dorothy Lane Market is a grocery store.

There was a time when I hated grocery shopping. Every inch of pushing my cart through the store felt like a mile. I dreaded it. I put it off. I begrudged every moment I spent doing it. But then, I got honest with myself: needing to eat is a fact of life. Our bodies need fuel and if I wanted to have a say in what I put in my body, then I needed to make peace with all aspects of my life around food.

Dorothy Lane Market is a locally owned store with only three locations, all in the Dayton area, and I credit my experiences there as a key to helping me make that mental – and emotional –  shift. As a company, they are committed to sourcing the best food available, as much from local suppliers as possible. With the ease of shopping at a big box store, I’m able to purchase local eggs, chicken, beef, fruit, and vegetables.

Within a year of regular shopping excursions here, I began asking myself: why not see grocery shopping as an adventure instead of drudgery? Adventure led to curiosity: where was my food coming from? How were my fruit and vegetables grown? How were the animals providing protein on my table treated? Was I choosing the best foods and, if not, how could I make better choices?

Curiosity led to creativity in the kitchen. Which foods were best served in their most natural form? How could I take raw foods and transform them? What would different flavors and textures bring to the table? How could I stretch my palate and nourish my body? How could I mix tried and true ingredients with new (to us) ingredients?

Being curious and creative about the process allowed me to connect to humanity on a different level.

Most of the time, of course, I pop in and out of the store to get necessities: milk, chicken, eggs, and spinach.

In all honesty, there is little that we need in the way of groceries. So, on this day, I choose the grocery shopping as an experience to tantalize my senses. A more suitable approach to seeing the adventure of shopping as an Artist Date.

“Experiencing our familiar rooms and belongings, our local supermarket and neighborhood streets as if we had never been there, is also traveling.”
― Melanie Peter

I enter, grab a cart, and head first to the coffee bar. I am coffee-ed out, still, but an iced tea sounds like a perfect treat. I pass by beautiful salads and ready-to-eat entrees in the deli department. Every aisle is an opportunity to discover something new. Each end-cap display offers me the opportunity to see consider something I may have missed. I stop in the bakery and take in the scents of yeast, chocolate, and honey, and order a loaf of Cinnamon Bread.

I make my way to the produce department and allow myself to get lost. I am delighted everywhere I look, thanks to the myriad of colors and variety of fragrances. Pungent spring garlic, resembling their cousin green onions. Sweet red strawberries grown by Jon, a farmer I know personally. Crisp green and purple micro-greens and sprouts: purple radish, sunflower, and more. I choose the most enticing items, and in my mind, recipes begin to form.

Not only have I been in a funk when it comes to my writing, I’ve been in a funk in the kitchen, too, making the same dishes time and time again.

Aisle after aisle, department after department, I open myself to what lies before me. I am transported to Alaskan waters in the seafood department and Europe in the Cheese Department. I smile at strangers and share conversation with the various employees. I leave with not only the Cinnamon Bread, Strawberries, and Spring Garlic, but the radish sprouts, wild Alaskan Halibut, a small sliver of cheddar cheese from Ireland, and eggs from chickens living less than thirty miles away.

But beyond items for our table, I leave feeling centered, and as if my well, while not overflowing, is at least no longer dry. And I am reminded that maybe, just maybe, I need to be open to seeing my regular spaces and places as the wellsprings of rich experiences to fuel my 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.

After a Relentless Winter by Pat West

you come with a slow strut
and soft buckle
of your body against mine.

Winter’s low, weak light
and even less warmth, over. Now
the sun rises high and strong,

bringing that particular alchemy
of air and earth. The rich pungent smell
of wetness. The earthy musk of damp dirt

after many months,
I open the window
and let you climb in.

I inhale long and deep, remove my apron
like someone drugged
and stumble out the back door

straight into your tenderness,
and the return
of what was absent: crocuses, daffodils

and tulips. Each a splash of color
on the canvas of nature.
A passion stirs within me,

as I sprawl under a pink canopy
of cherry blossoms giddy
in the arms of spring.

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.

Restoring Your Soul After Retirement by Jeanie Croope

I packed the last of the things left in my office into an already too-full box. A poster of Big Bird that had been on my office wall (where I would put it up at home was and remains a mystery), photos tacked to the bulletin board from PBS conferences, my personal reference books and a few odds and ends — a bobblehead of Doc Martin, a baseball signed by Ken Burns and Negro Baseball League legend Buck O’Neill, and a stuffed Abby Cadabby from Sesame Street. (She holds court now in my home art room!)

It wasn’t the first box I hauled to the car but it was the last.

I had made my goodbyes to colleagues, some of whom I’d known for the past 32 years. No, longer — I started working at our public broadcasting station as a volunteer, then a student. How quickly that time had flown by.

But I was tired. And I hadn’t been well for several months.

Our work environment was extremely stressful and had been that way for the two years leading into my retirement. There had been changes in command, office and departmental reshuffling, new supervisors, changing long developed habits. Most of our staff was operating in an environment that combined caution, fear, exhaustion and low morale.

I lived by the postcard of “The Moscow Rules” that had been given to me from a friend who had visited the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC. I kept it tucked in the back page of my daily calendar and I lived by the ten rules rigorously. These rules included, among others:

  • Assume Nothing
  • Go with the flow; blend in
  • Lull them into a sense of complacency
  • Don’t look back; you are never completely alone
  • Don’t harass the opposition
  • Pick the time and place for action.

It is a terrible way to live one third of the day, especially given that another third is spent in sleep, waiting to awake and do it all over again.

The tenth of the Moscow Rules is “Keep your options open.” And it was this one that I had clung to. When I turned 62, the best option was to retire.

I preface this article with that background story because when you know it is time to refresh and restore your soul, you have to consider what you’ve been working with and what you need to be able to make those changes without feeling guilty for taking that very important time to simply “be.”

I knew from the beginning that I didn’t like the word “retire.”It sounds so final – so “sit in your chair and watch TV” boring.

I had worked in a highly socialized and public environment and I was worried about missing that. I knew that I had loads of interests and hobbies and I had a lengthy laundry list of things I wanted to do or accomplish. But I wasn’t quite sure how to begin. How would it feel to not get up every morning, dress for work, feed the cat, drive past the lottery billboard that sent me daydreaming for the last five minutes of my journey to work and not feel terribly guilty about it.

So I did the next best thing. I ran away by myself, heading to my summer cottage, shockingly still and peaceful in September after the summer people have removed their docks and gone home for the season.

I took long walks in the late summer air and read books while digging my feet into the cooler sand. I awoke to the cawing of gulls and big black birds, watched the nightly flotilla of ducks on the lake and took trips into town for the weekly market, quieter without the summer people jostling for space around the best of the September harvest. I savored the sunsets, ravishing with colors of hot pink, royal blue, brilliant orange, changing minute by minute until the sky was an inky black. I set no clock, eating when I was hungry, sleeping when I was tired. I unplugged, calling home but staying clear of the internet.

I visited people I had known who retired in Michigan’s north country and as I spoke to each one I collected a list of tips about handling my new life.

“Make at least one date a week with a friend for socialization.”
“Volunteer.”
“Make lists to start with to keep you on track.”
“Look at classes or workshops to learn a new skill.”

All logical things. But they felt more important coming from those who had lived active lives in the workforce and now were living active lives in their new role. They were the not-so-retiring retirees.

A recently retired friend from home joined me for several days of art. We painted, created, took walks, drank wine, and talked for hours.

Bit by bit my battered soul had begun to heal.

Everyone refreshes, renews and restores in their own way. Some stay busy, never having a moment to spare. Others walk with nature, and still more find their refreshment in travel, a sport or a hobby. And many of us do it combining our passions for action and stillness.

It’s been nearly four years since I walked out that door. Since then I have been remarkably healthy for one with a chronic condition that was severe enough to motivate a major life change. It tells me a lot about what stress can do to damage your body, much less your soul.

I’ve followed much of the advice shared with me by those who had gone before, maintaining ongoing friendships and get-togethers with former colleagues, volunteering and focusing on my watercolors, showing remarkable improvement with practice.

And I still keep the Moscow Rules on the bulletin board at my desk. Many of them hold true for life, like “assume nothing” and “never go against your gut.”

But the one that I think of most, the one I still live by is “Keep Your Options Open.” After all, refreshment comes in many forms — and it’s always good to be ready for whatever comes next.

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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