Author Archive | Debra Smouse

Sunday Sanctuary: Time in My First Sanctuary

It’s been a heavy travel year with suitcases packed more than 40% of the year and I’ve been longing to just be home so that we can return to our normal routines. Yet, when John was assigned a last-minute trip to Washington DC, I couldn’t help but tag along.

Long before I learned to create a sanctuary within my own home, the city of Washington DC was my sanctuary. My house was in Texas, but between 2005 and 2010, my heart found a home and my soul found sustenance for one week a month when I traveled to DC for work.

I cherished those weeks and sometimes, during the time between trips, I felt as if I were hanging onto my sense of self by only a tiny thread.

As my plane flew over the Potomac River and I saw my first glimpse of the Washington Monument, all the tightness in my body dissipated and I could finally take those deep, cleansing breaths that are the breath of life. My anxieties would begin to melt away.

What I didn’t quite get at the time, though, was that it wasn’t just that my anxieties that were melting away, but that the walls I had built around my tender soul were dissolving. For the first time in my life, I was traveling alone, and though I spent time with folks at work, I wasn’t living the way others believed I should be. More than one person – from my mother to my gynecologist – expressed the belief that my vagabond lifestyle was insane.

Yet, the vibrant, creative person I was deep inside, but had encased, was reemerging.

Like a butterfly out of a cocoon.

When I signed a long-term contract requiring me to spend Monday through Friday in the city managing a big document, I felt like it was a gift from God. Being in the city I loved combined with working with words every day felt like a match made in heaven. It was challenging work, and hard to be away from Texas for such long spells, but it was transformational to me as a person and as a creative.

I explored every museum, discovered favorite places to dine, and stumbled upon a half-dozen tiny spots within the city that held me.

The President’s Gallery in the National Portrait Gallery. The Rotunda and the founding documents at the Archives. King Street in Alexandria. The Lone Soldier at the Navy Memorial. Sipping a glass of iced tea and eating a chocolate salted oat cookie at Teaism nourished my body, while a walk into the tea shop just to smell the Earl Grey nourished my mind. Mount Vernon. The Hotel Monaco. Margaritas at Oyamel. Section 35 of Arlington National Cemetery.

Those years and the time learning to thrive in DC were a critical part of my journey in becoming me. As I explored beautiful and historical places, I slowly began restoring my soul back to myself.

It was a short trip, three days total. When we go into DC these days, I usually fill my schedule with lunch and coffee dates. But this time, I was in need of the deeper soul nourishment you can only get through solitude. So, when John went to work on our second day, I headed out to explore.

The Metro to Arlington National Cemetery. I waited for the gates to open and was one of the first visitors inside. I walked to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and skirted around the amphitheater to Section 35. There, I visited a friend’s grave for a bit and found then found the nearby grave of Astronaut John Glenn, where I left a coin to add to his many tokens. The day was warming, so it was time to head out. As I made my way to the exit, I stopped to leave another coin on the grave of Maureen Blair, known to most of the world as Maureen O’Hara; she’s there with her husband, Brigadier General Charles F. Blair.

Back to the Metro, grateful for the time to sit and think without needing to navigate myself. An exit at Federal Triangle and a short walk down Constitution Avenue led me to the National Archives. I queued through security, took the stairs to the rotunda, and waited my turn to view The Declaration, The Bill of Rights, The Constitution, and more. It seems darker each time I visit, the archivists attempt at protecting the fragile documents.

I lingered in the gift shop before I left.

I skirted my way across Pennsylvania Avenue, meandered through the Navy Memorial, and made a pit stop in Teaism. I have always loved their bathroom, almost as much as I love their cookies. I had a glass of iced tea and a cookie, and then took myself to the National Portrait Gallery, a beautiful granite building shared with the American Art Gallery.

The Presidential Gallery at the National Portrait Gallery is under renovation, but some of the portraits have been relocated. I found them, pausing to spend time with Lincoln. I strolled through an exhibit on Marlena Dietrich and then lingered in the courtyard before walking past the Hotel Monaco, The True Crime Museum, and the new Clara Barton Museum.

I had a reservation for lunch. It was just for me; you never can tell in DC how busy the restaurants are going to be.Though I hadn’t been in for three months, the very stylish head host (so much more chic than most!) stepped from behind the podium, hugged me and called me sweetheart, and told me he was happy to see me. He seated me at a table on the sidewalk, and under the shade of a big orange umbrella, I ate chips and tacos, and sipped a margarita as I watched the lunchtime crowds.

 

I indulged in two completely girly and totally me things: I visited a salon I’ve frequented often and got a blowout, and I went to Macy’s. Yes, I was in need of the sacred, but someone washing and drying your hair is a purely luxurious experience. And how could I resist a visit to the big, downtown Macy’s, which carries a plethora of things I can’t find in the smaller store I frequent in the Dayton mall? I bought a blouse and headed back to the hotel.

We had a date-night planned, dinner at The Palm, and I wanted time to refresh. I showered, re-applied my make-up, and after we shared a pre-meal cocktail at the hotel, we went dinner.

DC will always be a part of my soul, but it’s no longer the place I desperately need to get to so that I can be “home” and become myself. The city was a critical part of my journey in becoming. Now, it’s simply a reminder of where I’ve been and how important it is for us to have symbols of hope and places where we can reconnect to the sacred. Now, no matter where I roam, I am me, and home is the sacred space in which I can continue to remove layers of hiding from my own brilliant self. Because growth and becoming never halt.

I am grateful that our pre-July 4th trip, likely the last of the summer, took me to a place where I could refresh the essence of my creative being.

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.

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.

Welcome to Issue # 6: Refresh & Restore

A glass of sweet tea on a hundred degree day. A powerful embrace from an elementary school friend. A full day spent devouring a book.

All different experiences, yet ways in which we refresh ourselves: physically, emotionally, mentally.

You go to yoga class. You go to church. You take a long walk.

All different approaches to restoring ourselves in a physical and spiritual way.

You sit in silence for five minutes. You take the day just to be. You spend a weekend reveling in creativity. You take a week’s vacation to go on an adventure. You declare a sabbatical from social media, and spend several days completely unplugged.

All purposeful choices to find balance in your world, to refresh your mind, and restore your soul.

Welcome to Refresh & Restore, our 6th issue.

When we were choosing themes for Modern Creative Life, “Refresh & Restore” seemed like the perfect attitude to bring into the summer months.  I was always a lover of going to school, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t welcome Summer Break, and the way those days away from school made me hungry for my eventual return.

Now that we’re adults, most of us don’t get the summer off (from school or anything else), so we must carve out ways to restore our own hunger. And there are so many demands on our time and attention – many of which are attractive choices – that we can so easily find ourselves in overwhelm.

Part of living a creative life is the understanding that we must refill our own wells in some way on a regular basis, otherwise, we find ourselves resentful of our own lives. Without the time or space to pursue our creative ways, we will burn out.

Our souls demand that we uphold the responsibility of using our gifts.

But what does Refresh & Restore mean when it comes to Creative Living? How do our own creative processes restore our very souls? How do other makers refresh their minds and the ways in which they create?

How do each of us tend our hearts and fuel our own creative spirits?

These are the questions we are exploring in this issue. As well, we’ll consider what we must we say no to in order to carve out the time and space to refresh our bodies and restore our spirits, and the various ways in which saying yes to what matters most can help us reconnect with our art, poetry, and love of beauty. 

In this issue, you’ll get a peek into the daily lives of other creative folk in our Studio Tours and Typical Tuesday series, and meet people walking fascinating creative pathways in Conversations Over Coffee. With photos and fiction, poetry and prompts, essays and enlightenment, you’ll find a deeper understanding into all the ways in which you create.

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 look to other creatives for ways in which they nurture and tend their own creative life so that they regularly find their process – and lives – feeling nourished instead of parched.

As we share the stories of other makers, use their experiences to illuminate your path into your own Modern Creative Life.

What lessons might you have to share with the world? Share your stories with us, serving as the example or others to learn from and get a sense of permission to take time to restore their own hearts and minds.  We are open to single contributions as well as new regular contributors. Email us at moderncreativelife@gmail.com.

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is an author, life coach, and Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life.

She resides in Dayton, Ohio.

Sunday Sanctuary: Morning Person

SundaySancturary_WithDebraSmouse

Well beyond my current ability to remember, I have been a morning person.  I awake and most mornings, desiring to bound out of bed, mostly bright eye-eyed.

I say beyond my ability to remember because, of course, there are the stories told by my mother of my ability as an infant to wake early and simply be happy for it. My internal body clock drives me to wake early, ready for the adventures of the day ahead.

As I’ve gotten older, though, a few moments of lingering in bed have become welcome.

On weekends, I still wake early, but now I may lay there and listen to the quiet rise and fall of John’s breathing or on a cold morning, snuggle into his warmth. Sometimes,  I reach for my Kindle and read a bit or listen to a podcast on my iPod.

Weekdays are different as we usually wake to an alarm, set sometime between 5 AM and 6 AM. These mornings can be a little harder to bound out of bed, yet once my feet hit the floor, it isn’t long before my morning-person tendencies surface.  A good thing, considering I often begin my workdays by coaching clients as early as 7 AM.

I hum or dance as I wait for the coffee to brew and anticipate particular moments on my to-do list. Yet, mornings can feel challenging to even this morning person . It’s the pressure of that time crunch, a particular number of tasks necessary before the day can begin in earnest – John getting out the door for work or me preparing for an early morning coaching call.

The secret to loving mornings after all these years lies in my evening routine. Seemingly small details can make the difference between a fabulous flowing and productive day instead of a crappy and chaotic one.

The number one piece of my evening routine is the coffee pot. Yes, the coffee pot must be ready to go at the push of a button. We have ones of those wonderful “grind and brew” pots, which requires the loading of coffee beans in the little grinder, a filter in the basket, and fresh filtered water in the reservoir.

In the last seven years, I have failed to set up the coffee pot before bed about a dozen times and have had what Alexander would call “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day”. Well, maybe that’s exaggerating a bit, but it hasn’t been pretty.  It just sets a tone of unpreparedness for the day, the need to measure water and scoop out coffee beans whilst my eyes are trying to open wider than a squint.

As if the smell of brewing coffee has become a necessity for my middle-aged self to be that bright-eyed morning person.

I’ve always longed to live a peaceful and beautiful life. As with every part of creative living, I’ve discovered that the little things do matter.

There are other little actions that filter into my evening routines, all serving to make my mornings feel more like welcome and ease.

Like the dishes. I hate getting up to a sink full of dishes and I’ve found that I can get the dishwasher unloaded in about the same amount of time it takes that coffee to brew.  Maybe stemming from the memories of breaking a glass on the kitchen floor and the way slivers of glass find their way everywhere. Or maybe it’s in response to no longer living with teenagers who would empty a hoard of hidden and food encrusted dishes into the sink whilst I slept. Just the memory of that makes me cringe.

Mostly, though, dishes in the sink make me feel as if my ability to keep a home that’s organized and beautiful is just out of my reach.

Sometimes, these evening routines take an inordinate amount of effort, especially on a Friday evening as we close a busy week. I want to crawl into bed instead of doing dishes or counting out the ten scoops of coffee beans into the grinder.

But I do it because when I don’t, I suffer.

And purposely causing myself to suffer doesn’t feel  like a beautiful way to live.

“What we do today, right now, will have an accumulated effect on all our tomorrows.”
–Alexandra Stoddard

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.

Studio Tour: Daryl Wood Gerber

What is an office? Is it a physical place or a location in one’s mind?

I have an official office in my home and—surprise!—I often write in it. It’s a confined space and keeps me focused. I post things on the walls above my computer that help keep me in the story—maps or notes. It looks a bit chaotic, but it’s not. I know where everything is.

I also have a kitchen office where I do most of the “business” side of my career. Emails, text messages, research, mailings, etc.  I have lists upon lists of to-do chores. I’m not going to share that photo with you. It’s just too messy to behold! Here’s a peek at my book covers, though:

I have an office “outside” in my backyard. I visit when I need to drink in fresh air, admire nature, and listen to my inner thoughts. Occasionally I type!

Roses are in bloom right now. I adore roses! When we lived in Charlotte, NC  (we moved a lot for my husband’s career and finally resettled in Los Angeles, where we first met), I had dozens of roses. They took so much tending that I wasn’t able to write as much. Nowadays just a few bushes seems to satisfy my hunger for tending and tweaking.

There are times when I have an “unofficial” office at Starbuck’s. I go there after I drop my adorable goldendoole Sparky at the groomer’s because the traffic is so clogged (so early in the morning) that I take an hour to simply write while the rest of the world moves past me.

I get some great ideas for characters at Starbuck’s. I also eavesdrop on conversations sometimes, just to hear rhythms of dialogue. I like a decaf café latte. One sugar. I usually bring something sweet that I’ve baked so it’s a real treat time!  [I’m a “foodie” mystery writer; I have to bake!]

Sparky likes to join me in the official office, so he has his “office” pillow and camps out there. He knows the exact moment I’m heading there—when I pour a cup of coffee and grab my computer and a treat for him. Off he runs. So cute! So smart!

Right outside the office is a little nook filled with pretty flowers. When we bought our house in Los Angeles, there was one ugly palm tree in the nook. Yuk!  It took a while, but we were able to create a truly meditative little space. I love to open the door and listen to the birds chirping and the wind chimes tinkling.

What I find difficult when I enter the office is all the other stuff that I have to “do.”

Yes, I’m supposed to write, but oftentimes I’m preparing for a release and I have release party gifts on my couch. I donate baskets to a few charities, too, so I have those baskets “in progress.” Plus I do regular giveaways on my Facebook Author page and on Mystery Lovers Kitchen, where I blog with other foodie-loving mystery authors. Argh.

Looking at the pile of goodies is enough to keep me from ever feeling creative, but PR happens to be part and parcel of selling books. So I remind myself to breathe.

What truly centers me when I enter the official office are all the photos of family on the walls. Everyone in my family has been so supportive of my career. I don’t know what I would do without them. I’m very blessed.

Savor the mystery!

About the Author: Daryl Wood Gerber

Agatha Award-winning and nationally bestselling author DARYL WOOD GERBER ventures into the world of suspense again with her second stand-alone novel, DAY OF SECRETS. Daryl writes the bestselling Cookbook Nook Mysteries and will soon debut the new French Bistro Mysteries. As Avery Aames, she pens the bestselling Cheese Shop Mysteries.

Fun tidbit: as an actress, Daryl appeared in “Murder, She Wrote.” She loves to read and cook, and she has a frisky Goldendoodle named Sparky who keeps her in line!

Connect with Daryl (and her alter ego Avery):  FacebookInstagram | Pinterest  Daryl on TwitterAvery on Twitter

Sunday Sanctuary: When Makers Gather

SundaySancturary_WithDebraSmouse

I take the Q Train to Brooklyn on a sunny September Wednesday to have coffee with another maker. We know each other the way people know each other these days – mutual friends, becoming Facebook friends, witnessing the ways we each make art. She tells me about an idea she has for a film, confessing she’s only told one or two others so far.

There’s something about the vulnerability of a new idea for a creative – the need to share pieces of it with others, the desire for another soul to see the glimmer of brilliance within it. We need to see the sparkle in someone else’s eye or a nod of the head to let us know that they get it.

There’s also something delicate about a new idea – and we know that we can’t share even a smidge of the idea to just anyone for the idea is too tender. Nor can we overshare, knowing that too much talking about a project can shift us into perpetual talk and no action. Or worse, take the magic out of the idea.

Steven Pressfield confesses to using a code name for each project… so The Devil doesn’t Know The Real Name. We all have our suspicions around art making.

Her moment of sharing is an act of sacred trust, the acknowledgment that she sees a spark within my soul. I treat the moment like a china figurine filled with gossamer light.

I’ve brought her a gift of tea towels, one of which sported a map of Ohio. We spread it on the table between us and talk about the geography of Ohio and the surrounding states.

Her idea for her next movie involves a Road Trip through the Midwest.

***

Five months later, she asks me if I’d be willing to act as a producer for the film. There are too many logistical pieces. I agree and begin leaning into one of my favorite things: spreadsheets!

We rely upon a new-to-me app: Voxer. And over the months, as we talk about the film we do what we humans do best: we share stories. As we discuss our daily moments and confess our strengths and challenges over the months and a deeper connection between us forms.

I talk her off ledges and fill out paperwork for SAG. She talks me off ledges of art making and witnesses the ways in which I serve those I love. I remind myself and her time and again that “life is happening FOR you, not TO You.”

We set the schedule for the road trip to coincide with my partner, John, being away on a business trip.

***

Seven months after we spread the tea towel across a table in a coffee shop in Brooklyn, she pulls into my driveway. She has driven from New York to Ohio and her car is filled with people she loves: another filmmaker, an actor, and an artist. Her car is also filled with clothes and food and computers and cameras.

We hug and I usher them into the house. We have an aggressive time table for the evening, but first: dinner.

Already at my home is a local gent and his daughter. He’s part of the larger Kindred Community and has agreed to serve as a mentor for those in need of connecting with other creative souls.

I’ve reached far and wide to provide film extras. They arrive, one by one. A consultant turns storyteller. A champion of film making in Dayton. A girlfriend from my book club along with her husband. A local coaching colleague who also happens to be a musical theatre actor. Her neighbor.  The mentor’s wife and his middle daughter. A writer and member of the Dayton storytelling community.

We range from fifteen to seventy.

Folks mingle. Migrate to the porch. Connect with strangers. Tell stories. We shuffle folks upstairs and down. A mock workshop on art. A mock workshop on storytelling.  We snack, laugh, connect, and share our own stories of joy.

Folks leave and I shift into nurturing mode: ensuring everyone has a bed, a towel, and the WiFi password. We talk about future film days and locations. We review the morning schedule, agree to a 9 AM breakfast, and I ensure that both coffee pots are full of beans and ready to go. There are tea bags and teakettles filled with water, just waiting to boil.

We make adjustments to the filming schedule for the next day sitting side-by-side at my dining table.

By midnight, each of us is snug in our bed for the night. Less than six hours after they arrive, the first full day of the road trip and filming is officially complete.

***

It never matters how late I go to bed, I wake around six each morning. The morning after is no different.  Yet, my world is different. I’ve spent the last twelve hours immersed in the creative lives of others. My house is quiet as I toss on clothes and a long sweater. I start the coffee and join her on the porch.

Everyone else is still abed so It’s just the two of us as we talk about the previous night, the day ahead, and life. And how life is affecting our art.  We begin to look ahead to the rest of the road trip, the schedule, and I pull out my laptop to fire up a Mailchimp note with location details for two nights away.

She leans into me and smiles.

“I hope we get to do this again. Sit on your porch and work together.”

Others begin to rise, float in and out. More coffee and tea. I warm a breakfast casserole and set out fruit. And before long, the food disappears and it’s time for them to go.

What began as an inkling of an idea has begun to be born as a film.

***

“If we could make our house a home, and then make it a sanctuary, I think we could truly find paradise on Earth.”
— Alexandra Stoddard

When we create art, we must make it from a space of vulnerability. And safety. We need a sanctuary from the rest of the world and that safety comes from people we connect with, a favorite piece of equipment, and a port in the storm.

I am reminded that a roof and walls is a house, but what makes it a home is the choice to curate a nourishing environment. I’ve taken the best of who I am and proven to myself that creative a life includes curating a sanctuary.

As such – both an extension of my creative spirit and my safe haven – I protect it fiercely. I know that the wrong energy can damage or taint it, so it was with great care that I open my home – my sanctuary – and provide a safe haven for folks to land, be themselves, and create.

And I am also reminded that though we are often alone when we create, we are always a part of something more.

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.

The Goodnight Ritual by Kolleen Harrison

Ever since my two daughters were little girls we have had our “I love you” rituals at the end of each day.

As a single mom it was very important to me to tuck my girls into bed each night, snuggling them in just so, making certain they were warm and cuddly, and had whatever they may need before calling it a night. This time of days was hands down my absolute fav, as they were typically all sleepy eyed and mushy and willing to let me love and hug on them as much as I wanted to. Often times even asking me, “Please stay” or the obvious nightly question, “Mom, can we sleep with you?”

One night, when my youngest Sydnie was about 3 years old, I went in to her room per usual, sat down beside her as she lay in bed and said “I love you Syd”.She looked up at me with her beautiful big blues and said “I love you too mommy.”

I then proceeded to delay the goodnight a little longer, asking her, “Syd, how much do you love me?” She looked at me, smiled, and innocently responded, “I love you 47 mommy.” I sat there for a minute, smiling and laughing under my breath, thinking to myself, “This kid, never ceases to surprise me with some of the things that come out of her mouth!” I leaned down, gently planted a kiss on her forehead and quietly exited her room.

As I began making my way down the hallway towards my bedroom, I started to giggle even more, reflecting on her words and admiring the sweet innocence of my littlest.

The next day started out as “one of those” days. Syd didnʼt like the way I did her hair, I ran out of milk for their cereal, an argument arose because Syd wanted to wear her favorite pair of jeans AGAIN, (for God only knows how many times in a row!), and traffic was a damn nightmare!

On top of that Syd had to pay a visit to the principalʼs office at her school for continually not listening to her teacher. (Iʼm pretty sure this was Ms. Flippenʼs absolute last straw with my little bit and her “very social” ways!)

Unfortunately that evening when we arrived home, I had to do what I believe many parents dread doing, and implement a consequence for her behavior. Her punishment – “No TV, reading or coloring, and then straight to bed.”

As bedtime rolled around, the normal routine played out. I went into Sydʼs room, sat down beside her on her bed and began to get her all nestled in. I looked at her and softly said, “I love you Syd”. She hesitated and reluctantly muttered “I love you too mommy”. I could tell in her face and body language she was still somewhat mad at me, not really making eye contact and barely letting me hug on her. I asked her, “Syd, how much do you love me?” To which she replied, “I love you zero mom”.

It took all I had to not bust out laughing at her response presented in such a stoic, matter of fact, steadfast manner.

The following day came and went, without much fuss or drama. (Thank God!) Once again as bedtime descended upon us, the “I love you” exchange occurred between Sydnie and myself. Although, this particular night it was a bit out of the ordinary. Tonightʼs response not only completely and utterly melted my heart, it created a night time ritual to this day, 11 years later.

This special night when I asked Syd, “How much do you love me?” She looked at me, sat up in her bed, wrapped her precious little chubby arms around my neck and whispered “To the last number mommy.” (MELT YOUR HEART, right??!!) I squeezed her tightly, whispering back in her ear “I love you to the last number too Syd”.

Thus, The Goodnight Ritual was born.

Today, Syd is 14 years young and we still say those words to one another every night, although we have shortened it to “TLN”. (We decided to do this knowing it can be our little secret for when her friends may be around). It is a beautiful, tender night time ritual birthed from humor, love and innocence which I will gladly continue on for as long as I am able.

“I love you to the last number. Goodnight”.

About the Author: Kolleen Harrison

kolleenHarrisonbioKolleen Harrison is a creative living in the beautiful Central Coast of California. She is the Founder of LOVEwild and Founder/Maker of Mahabba Beads. Her passions lie in nurturing her relationship with God, loving on her happily dysfunctional family, flinging paint in her studio, dancing barefoot, making jewelry (that is so much more than “just jewelry”), and spreading love and kindness wherever and whenever she can. You can find her popping in and out at LOVEwild.org or MahabbaBeads.com

Video Friday by Jeanette McGurk

In an odd coincidence, my daughter and I had a similar writing theme this month.  She had to write a paper about a favorite ritual.  I have been ridiculously indecisive about what ritual or routine I have wanted to write about for this issue of Modern Creative Life.

As I’ve gotten older, pondering these things takes on edges of nostalgia and love that feel overwhelming. That much emotion sometimes leads to the equivalent of writer’s freezy brain.  Unfortunately it doesn’t go away as quickly as Slurpee freezy brain.

So, in desperation I went hunting for inspiration through my 5th grader.  “Umm, so what ritual did you end up writing about for school?  Easter with your cousins?  Summer weekends at Grandma and Grandad’s?  New Year’s Day cheese grits?” I ask.

“No,” she says, “I wrote about Video Fridays.”

I try to probe more, get specifics in her words but for her it is something we do every Friday.  She and her sister love this small 30 minute activity more than almost any other treat I could offer up.  And this started kind of as a fluke.

The last days of summer we tend to spend being really, really, lazy.  I have been known to pull through the McDonald’s drive thru at 3pm in my pj’s, girls in the back in their pj’s, for dunch.  Our afternoon version of brunch.  We just combine lunch and dinner.  Then around 6pm we have ice cream and hot chocolate chip cookies; custom made 4 at a time from the tube.  On these days, when all the play, and crafts and swimming are spent, the days when the Texas August heat has beaten us down into our nice cool house cave, the girls binge on their favorite YouTube videos.

These binges are epoch.

Lauren can watch 3 hours non-stop of Cookie Crumble.  A woman whose face we never see but who has lovely, well manicured finger-nails.  One of her YouTube channel activities is opening 100’s, perhaps even thousands of mystery Shopkins.  The latest craze in Kiddom is to buy mystery toy packs.  My kids love them almost as much as Video Fridays and apparently, Lauren can watch someone with unlimited resources open one after another for hours on end.

For Helen, her favorite YouTube diet consists of people sampling different mods and playing Minecraft.  She is a connoisseur and should you ask, she would recommend Pat and Jen as the best of the lot.

Does the previous two paragraphs seem foreign to you?  It absolutely did to me.  I realized one day that listening to my children talk about this stuff was like interacting with martians.  Granted, perhaps if my husband and I were better parents, the kind who meticulously screen all the content going into their young brains, we would speak Minecraft lingo and Cookie crumble.

We are not those parents.  We were 70’s kids.

We lit matches in the street.  We climbed in houses being built during the early 80’s housing boom.  We wandered for hours unsupervised on foot and on bikes without cell phones or bicycle helmets and survived.  It is not in our DNA to super screen.  But, we do like to communicate with our kids, and our kids, who are just starting to get an inkling that we are dorks, still like to hang out with us.  In fact, I was being followed constantly through the kitchen while chopping onions or putting a roast in the oven, “Mom, mom, look at this video.  It is hilarious.”  You cannot learn YouTube martian lingo in these moments.  I realized I needed a dedicated time to be immersed, undistracted.

“Girls,” I said, “why don’t we sit down after I get this in the oven.  In fact, Fridays while dinner is cooking is a good time.  We can all share a favorite video we have watched from the week.”

In that moment, a family ritual was born.

I had no idea what an instant sensation this idea was going to be.  It has spent at least 20 weeks at the top of the charts.  Any week we miss, we double up the next week.  I cannot tell you how many times I have watched the “Puppy Monkey Baby” commercial in horror.  The girls never tire of watching me cringe.  In fact, a lot of the videos are cringe worthy but occasionally I will shout with glee over a particularly fun pumpkin carving Minecraft competition or the very cool movie theater mod someone created.  It never gets old trying to mimic Cookie Crumble’s high pitch munchkin voice.  In fact I think she uses some sort of machine to make her voice do that.

I, of course, torture the kids with inspirational TED talks and nature videos.  All 5 minutes or less.  After Helen’s first 35 minute Minecraft video we had to set time limits.  So the whole thing is usually wrapped up in 20 minutes.

Seriously, it is only 20 minutes every Friday and yet, it is the ritual the kids talk about before bedtime Thursday night.  It is what we discuss at Friday morning breakfast.  It is brought up after school.  It is what Helen chose to write about above all the other rituals we have so carefully crafted over the years.

Perhaps it is because in those few minutes every week, they know, I want to know what they find funny or interesting or intense or silly.  I want to see their world, not to snoop or make sure they are not watching something they shouldn’t.  It is a ritual set aside with no purpose other than letting my children know that their world matters to me.

Years from now, when they think back on Video Friday and they have a moment of emotional Freezy Brain, I hope that is what they remember.  Well that and I hope they suddenly get the urge to look up Puppy Monkey Baby as adults and experience the cringe!

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/.

Typical Tuesday with Laura Foley

I wake or, more preciously, am awoken, before 6 a.m. by our dogs, who insist it’s morning, in spite of still-dark skies. After a quick walk, I feed the beloved beasts— two German Shepherds,  Arlo and Alys; one yellow Labrador, Chloe. I prepare peppermint tea, return to bed with a cup for my partner and one for me.

But let me back up for a minute. For twenty years I was happily married to a man. After my husband died, I was busy raising our three children through their teen years; I also discovered I was attracted to women. Those years included many soul-searching, silent retreats, Zen ordination, Chaplaincy training,  Jungian analysis, Karate (I made it to second level Brown Belt) and Yoga (trained as an instructor).

And I discovered poetry.

Before that, I had been an academic, with degrees in English Lit. from Columbia University. I had read a lot, and studied a lot, but I had never written anything creative. At 45, as my husband was dying, I started writing. Today, 15 years later, I have six poetry books published, two more in progress.

On this Tuesday, I return to bed with two cups of tea, one for my partner, Clara, whom I have lived with for four and a half years.

After another snooze of the alarm, I get up at 7:15. The sky is brighter now, sun beginning to light the yard around our house. I jump in the shower, drive from our house in Pomfret Vermont to my favorite yoga class in Norwich. The teacher’s approach is Tantric, which fits nicely with Zen: a body-centered awareness, including explorations of how emotions manifest, how to work with them. Yoga class is a spiritual experience for me, a reminder of the ever-present, deeper stream beneath the busy-ness of a day.

After yoga, it’s off to a local coffee shop for oatmeal and a cappuccino. I make a nest of poetry books, my laptop, and spend some time reading poems on Writer’s Almanac, Poetry Breakfast, Autumn Sky, Poetry Foundation. Today I also watch a You Tube video interview with Sonia Sanchez, a poet who speaks about being in China, recites a haiku about the International Date Line. This triggers a memory for me. I grab my notebook, start to write about my father’s WWII experience (he was in China).  This is a subject I have tried to wrestle with before, how he always knew war would start on a Sunday, and it did, but it was Monday in China, because of the date line. Today the idea returns in full force, and I’m off, into the creative process.

After about twelve drafts, I feel the poem is ready to share with my online women’s group.  I have been in the habit of sharing rough drafts with them for many years; often receiving encouraging responses. They are my family, and I’m sharing work hot off the press.

By now it’s time for lunch,  soup and salad.  I spend the afternoon editing older poems, sending finished poems out to competitions and journals, preparing for the writing workshop I will lead tomorrow, in the local hospital, for those affected by serious illnesses.

At 5:00 I return home, over the river and through the trees, to our house far away, up on a hill in the woods of Vermont. My partner is preparing a delicious dinner of spaghetti squash with her own tomato sauce. Clara, originally from Spain, is a foodie, one of those fabulous, rare beings who loves to cook.

After her full day at the Law School, where she’s a professor, she unwinds by preparing me my favorite meals. As she stirs and chops, I carry in wood, prepare a fire in the fireplace, take the dogs out for a romp around the yard. We eat dinner, share stories about our day, sit on the couch with a cup of tea, some dark chocolate and a cookie. We watch Trollope’s Doctor Thorne on Netflix.

At ten o’clock, I take the dogs out one last time. I notice the brightness of the stars on this new moon night; Orion, reaching across the sky.

About the Author: Laura Foley

Laura Foley is an internationally published, award-winning poet, author of six collections. She won the Common Goods Poetry Contest, judged by Garrison Keillor; and the National Outermost Poetry Prize, judged by Marge Piercy. Her poetry collections include: WTF, Night Ringing, The Glass Tree and Joy Street. The Glass Tree won a Foreword Book of the Year Award; Joy Street won the Bisexual-Writer’s Award. Her poems have appeared on The Writer’s Almanac, in Valparaiso Poetry Review, Atlanta Review, Lavender Review, The Mom Egg Review, in the British Aesthetica Creative Writing Anthology, and many other journals.

A certified Yoga Instructor and creative arts facilitator in hospitals, she is the mother of three grown children, grandmother to two granddaughters. She and her partner Clara Gimenez live among the hills of Vermont with their three big dogs.

Follow her on GoodReads, Facebook, and Twitter.

Sunday Sanctuary: Bringing Copenhagen Home

SundaySancturary_WithDebraSmouse

I don’t think there’s anyone who hasn’t thought  – or at least fantasized about – running away from home. While I don’t believe there’s magic pill that can fix whatever’s going on in our lives, travel has a sort of unstoppable power to help break us out of our ruts and illuminate changes we can make once we’re back at home.

For six months, I’d been struggling with any kind of consistent routine. Nothing I tried was as nourishing, supportive, or just right for where I was in my creative life as what I needed it to be.

A recent trip to Copenhagen changed that. In fact, by the second day of our time there, I felt as if a magical veil had been lifted, allowing me to find something that worked. My morning routine while there helped me write three times as much that week than I had in the previous three months.

Here’s what it looked like:

Each morning after rising, John showered and got dressed for the day while I did the basics of care: brushing my teeth and slip on some yoga pants and a tee. I’d scrape my hair back into a ponytail and we’d head downstairs to breakfast with his colleagues.

I had a typical European breakfast: hard-boiled eggs, veggies, fruit, and a thick piece of rye bread slathered with jam. And coffee, of course. After they headed to work, I went back upstairs to shower and get dressed. As I took my time putting on my make-up, I hopped onto my Voxer account and left a message to a couple of my friends – another writer and a filmmaker. My filmmaker friend was in the middle of a challenge on her next project, and my messages to her explored her options while also talking about what it is to be a maker.

Being hooked up to earbuds and my app while I looked in the mirror carefully applying cosmetics became a ritual of sorts, forcing me to voice what it is I do. Not just as a “life coach” but as a writer, a partner, an editor, a friend, a woman. I have this theory that extroverts aren’t as good at articulating these things as introverts; because we talk to understand what we think, often what spews forth sounds like nonsense. Yet, having this lifeline to friends, knowing that no one would hear my words for hours, morphed into something holy and needed.

Then it was time to leave the hotel, so with laptop and journal in hand, I walked the block from our hotel to the Baresso, a Danish coffee chain.

I’d head to a corner booth and shed my coat and scarf. I’d plug in my adapter, set up my laptop, and pull out my journal and a couple of pens. Then, I’d head to the counter to pay for my Triple Latte, which the manager, upon seeing me walk through the door, had already begun making.

We exchanged pleasantries, sometimes sharing little details about our life or day so far.

I shared a photo on Instagram

I would begin writing. I wrote letters on paper. I wrote in my journal. I wrote blog posts. I worked on my book. Every day, words flowed like a river.

Some days, I’d order lunch before I left. Some days, another latte or Americano.

I left between noon and one each day, back to the hotel to either coach a client on Skype or drop off my laptop before heading out to shop or explore. Often, my filmmaker friend had left me a message at this point of the day, sharing stories and details and talking about art making and life.

Each day felt satisfying. Like making progress and finding my way, something I’ve been struggling with since before September.

I actually lamented this to my writer friend and her question to me – wise as always – asked me what I needed to do to bring Copenhagen home with me.

On my flight back home, I began the process of analyzing what it was that worked so well and here’s what I’ve come up with.

Breakfast right away. I always wake hungry, but more often than not, don’t bother with much beyond coffee, at least not right away. Yet, my brain needs protein and my body needs hydration. To make this easier, I do a little prep on Sundays: boil eggs, slice bell peppers and cucumbers, and chop fruit.

Getting Dressed. It’s not unusual for me to wait to shower until late in the day. I get up, and get busy. Yet, devoting just a half-hour to ready myself for the world as a loving process went a long way towards my confidence. Working from home gives me freedom to dress however, yet sweats or yoga pants all day don’t add to my productivity ever. Though I go downstairs to my office to work, I’m dressing as if I’m heading out into the world.

Articulating Who I Am. Though my Voxer messages aren’t as long as they were whilst in Copenhagen, I’ve kept this ritual at least a couple of days a week.

Not being constantly connected. While we were in Europe, my phone stayed on “airplane mode” and I only connected when I had a WiFi signal. I’ve begun putting my phone on “Do Not Disturb” AND I no longer allow my email to auto-sync. These two tiny shifts mean that my phone isn’t constantly distracting me. And, when I go to check for email or even messages, it’s a conscious choice.

A Beginning and An End. When you run your own business, it’s so easy to slip into the mode of always being “on”.  But having a set beginning and end to my “work” time forces me to focus rather than dawdle. By committing to a start to the day – after I’ve had breakfast and gotten dressed – as well as the end of the day (when John texts that he’s on the way home) focuses my time.

I know that I’ll never recapture the feeling of Copenhagen exactly now that we’re settling into our regular days. It’s hard to maintain the energy of Hans Christian Anderson, Hygge Comforts, Castles, and tales of Vikings. Yet, I was reminded that while home is always my favorite place to be, sometimes you have to leave the sanctuary it provides. In order to find the path to keeping our home a sanctuary for creating, we have to find our answers when we’re off exploring.

What about you? What do you find essential to good routines? When has travel helped you find a missing link?

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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