Author Archive | Debra Smouse

Instrumental: You Are Here by Melissa Cynova

I got a call from a friend who’d had a truly unbearable year. There appeared to be no end in sight, and instead of calling for a tarot reading for her future, she just wanted to know where she was – right now.

Tarot readings don’t always go the way we expect. You can do a reading to see if you should get a divorce, and find that your partner isn’t the only person who created space between the two of you. That allowing the only sex that enters the relationship to happen when you flip each other off while passing in the hall. You could go to the cards asking why you can’t move up in your company, and the cards will tell you that you are in the wrong career.

The question you ask doesn’t always point to the answer, and the answer is often found in fear. Fear of that hard conversation that might put your relationship back on track. Fear that you’ve invested time, money and training in a career that doesn’t work for you.

Instead of looking into the future, it can be more helpful to find out what tools you have in hand, which things are holding you down, and which can lift you up. What is here, right now, to help you deal with getting through the day. Sometimes, you can’t believe the Instagram shininess that encourages you that everything will be ok in the end – but the end isn’t here yet.

Sometimes you just need to know that right now, here and now, you are ok.

You Are Here Spread:

(Cards in a cross – one on top, one left, one right, and one at the bottom)

Card 1 – What can you reach for – right now – that will help lift you up?

Card 2 – What can you release that is making your day more difficult?

Card 3 – What tool is within reach that will help you have a position of strength?

Card 4 – What will hold you up until the light at the end of the tunnel gets closer? What if your main support?

This reading can be repeated as often as you need it. When you want to move forward, you can tuck it in your back pocket for the next time. Remember that often, when you don’t know where to go, the best thing to do is sit down. Gain your strength, and breathe.

About the Author: Melissa Cynova

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

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

Editor’s Note:  Tarot Cards are from the “Pagan Otherworlds Tarot” Deck.

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Conversations Over Coffee: Pre-Orders, Reviews, & More by Daryl Wood Gerber

I asked a few of my author friends to answer a couple of questions about publishing. Hopefully their answers will enlighten those of you who are, or aspire to be, authors. I think you’ll see a trend.

The authors who participated include (Editor’s Note: Links go to each author’s website) :

Why are pre-orders important? 

Jenn: Probably, there is a very specific answer that I’m unaware of, but I think they’re important because publishers track your sales and all pre-orders get counted up the week that the book goes on sale. Big numbers mean your publisher will pay attention and your books will get better placement, bigger print runs, more publicity – basically you’ll stay employed!

Kaye: Because they are sales, and sales mean income. If you’re with a large publisher, they can help to push your visibility for them.

Lucy aka Roberta: Pre-orders demonstrate to the publisher that the book will have an audience, and that is a good thing, as they are more likely to get behind it with their own publicity.

Hannah: I like to say that pre-ordering your book is akin to the importance of sales taken at the box office for the opening weekend of a Hollywood movie. Pre-ordering a book creates buzz and hopefully shows the publisher that readers are eager to buy your book i.e. is the print run big enough for the demand? The other thing, too, is that if the publisher believes your new book is going to be popular, they will want more in the series.

Krista: Most authors dream of making bestseller lists, and pre-orders can give you the boost you need. Pre-orders count as sales during the release week when a book usually has the most sales. Add pre-sales and first week sales together, and that week is your best chance of selling enough books to make a bestseller list. In addition, pre-orders tell bookstores how a book might sell. If there are a lot of pre-orders, it signals an interest in the book to bookstores and book chains. They may even increase the number of books they order to accommodate the interest in the book. And when bookstores increase their orders, it can even kick your book into a second printing, which will make the author and the publisher very happy. It doesn’t stop there. If you have a lot of pre-orders and a second printing is necessary, your publisher will take note and it can have an impact on how your publisher treats your next book.

Some retailers will use a book to draw customers by lowering the price. I see this a lot with Walmart. Retailers have bots that search online prices so they can match or beat them. I’m only guessing, but if your book is getting a lot of pre-orders, it will be a more attractive book to discount, which means more sales.

Daryl: I can’t state it better than what my pals have stated. I believe pre-orders help bookstores know what is hot and what is not. They are all “sales” in the long-run, so they help those first week’s numbers, but the buzz in the industry comes from pre-sales.

Why are reviews important? 

Kaye: Because many readers rely on reviews. This is more important if your books are not in bookstores since browsers can’t pick up the novel and leaf through it.

Lucy aka Roberta: Reviews help potential readers and librarians and bookstores decide to give the book a try!

Hannah: To be honest, I have mixed feelings about reviews.  Five star reviews (especially on Amazon) do something exciting with the algorithms meaning that your book pops up as a must-read. Starred reviews in Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and Library Journal are highly coveted. But others … well … so much depends on the source.

Jenn: This I have to answer as a librarian. Bottom line: reviews tell readers whether they’ll like the book or not. Even a bad review will get me to buy. For example, if the reviewer hates something – quirky characters or a small town setting – that I love, their review will likely make me buy the book. Also, the more reviews a book gets, the more attention people will pay to it. Win-win.

Krista: I do a lot of shopping online (don’t we all?). And I put a lot of weight on reviews. This isn’t rocket science. If I’m interested in a dress and everyone has given it one star, I’m going to think there’s something wrong with the fit or the fabric. When I order cat food, I look for five-star reviews. Everyone knows how finicky cats are. If everyone’s cats like it, maybe my picky puss will, too. Of course, everything is subjective. I may love a book that someone else dislikes. I think it’s trickier to rely on reviews of books because tastes in books vary widely. Having said the obvious, I’ll now go into the rocket science part of the importance of reviews. Amazon sells more books than anyone. Their algorithms are not a mystery. There are plenty of articles about them and most mention that the number of reviews impact ranking. I’m told (and my experience seems to be consistent with this), that the more reviews a book has, the more advertising the book gets from Amazon. I assume the number of stars plays a role here.

Daryl: I think reviews help readers know what is good and what isn’t. I think some reviewers can be petty, but savvy readers can discern that. My big belief regarding reviews is that the publisher is excited to see what readers are saying about a book – it helps them get excited about a book, especially a new series. In addition, I agree with Krista, that the algorithm that works on many of the online sites, due to reviews, really drives up how that site will promote the book. You know those little suggestions that, for example, Amazon comes up with when you buy a book and you see “people who ordered this book might like this book”  (and then you see a string of mini book covers)? I believe reviews drive those types of marketing tools.

What’s your next project?

Kaye: The Vintage Sweets cozy series set in Fredericksburg TX, from Lyrical Press, 2018

Jenn:  Currently, I’m working on the 9th Library Lover’s Mystery, A FINE DAY FOR MURDER, coming Nov 2018!  DEATH IN THE STACKS comes out this November. And my romance, BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE, is just out.

Krista: I have three projects in progress. For dog and cat lovers, NOT A CREATURE WAS PURRING will be released in November. COLOR ME MURDER, the first book in my new Pen & Ink Mystery series comes out in February. And you can color the cover! Finally, the Domestic Divas will be back in June with THE DIVA COOKS UP A STORM.

Lucy aka Roberta: Next project is the eighth book in the Key West Food Critic mystery series featuring Hayley Snow, 2018.

Hannah: I’m excited about a new series that is set in the Isles of Scilly off the Cornish mainland (Poldark fans will know where this is). I’m also thrilled that the Vicky Hill Mysteries (four books) will be re-released in the USA  by Hatchette in 2018.

Daryl: Next up for me is the first in the French Bistro Mysteries, A Deadly Éclair, which debuts November 7.  In 2018, I will have two new books coming out. The second in the French Bistro Mysteries, Soufflé of Suspicion (July) and the sixth in the Cookbook Nook Mysteries, Pressing the Issue (May).

Wishing you all good writing and great reviews!

About the Author: Daryl Wood Gerber

Agatha Award-winning Daryl Wood Gerber writes the brand new French Bistro Mysteries as well as the nationally bestselling Cookbook Nook Mysteries. As Avery Aames, she pens the popular Cheese Shop Mysteries.

A Deadly Êclair, the first French Bistro Mystery, comes out November 2017.

Daryl also writes stand-alone suspense: Day of Secrets and Girl on the Run. Fun tidbit: as an actress, Daryl appeared in “Murder, She Wrote.” She loves to cook, and she has a frisky Goldendoodle named Sparky who keeps her in line!

Connect with Daryl (and her alter ego Avery): Facebook | Instagram | Pinterest | Daryl on Twitter | Avery on Twitter

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Sunday Sanctuary: Blessings in Leather

I’ve never been a purse person. Well, I’ve carried a purse since I was in junior high, but choosing a purse had always been about practicality: is there room for my wallet, some lipstick, and a couple of books? Oh, and a pen and a journal (or two).

What I never understood, though, was so many lady’s love of the designer bag. Dooney and Bourke was a big deal in the 80’s and I remember shaking my head when my friend DaLana splurged on one our Junior Year of High School and I wondered: why? Why pay all that money for a purse that gets stuffed in a locker or dropped on the floor in the movie theatre?

I’m all about functionality. I usually buy black purses and black wallets.

Up until last year, the most I’d ever spent on a purse was $50 back in 2006. And that was because the strap on my purse broke while I was in DC for work and the most practical purse – a Fossil messenger bag – was on sale at Macy’s. And I had a coupon. It was black. It was serviceable. I carried it for at least three years until I just wore it out.

Then, last Christmas, I bought myself a cherry red Michael Kors Wallet at Macy’s.

My previous wallet was small: just the width of a credit card. It was usable, but not stylish, and I’m sure I got it at Kohls or Target for $10 or less. Yet, it was falling apart. In addition to falling apart, I had just read an article from Briana Saussy and buying a New Wallet for the New Year as a way to put Mojo into your Money Mindset and invite prosperity into your life. After reading Bri’s piece, I decided I needed a green, royal blue, or red wallet.

And yes, I looked at Target and Kohls for a “cheapie” wallet. Then it hit me: if I wanted to not only replace something that needed replacing, but also put the psychology behind it of choosing to invest in myself and the way I manage money, settling for a crappy clearance wallet wasn’t the way to go.

Yet, it’s in conflict with one of my core beliefs: use your good stuff every day. Wear your best perfume, use that china, and eat the best foods you can afford. And my experiment with higher quality make-up had shown to prove the adage “you get what you pay for”.

And hadn’t choosing to seduce my writing life by using beautiful journals shifted something within my soul?

And then there was the vow I made to myself shortly after the elections: I can’t expect to change the world if I’m not even taking care of myself. So, I committed to performing at least one extreme act of self-care each month. I’d already survived a several thousand-dollar dental visit. And going for what’s cheap doesn’t sound like extreme self-care.

So, why not do it in leather? If this were to be an extreme act of self-care, then I needed to invest in something that was both beautiful and of high quality.

For months, I carried that beautiful cherry red leather wallet in a $10 Target fake-leather purse. Which in some ways makes me think about the Hannibal Lector said of Clarice Starling: good bag and cheap shoes.

That $10 Target Purse, barely a year old, was falling apart and needed replacing. I may lust after the iconic Quilted Chanel bag in Vogue or obsess over an Ox-Blood Coach thanks to regular emails from Dillard’s, But the thought of spending triple figures on a purse just made that Inner Critic of mine begin to chastise me:

Who do you think you are?
What do you need with a designer bag?
Choose something practical.
And cheap.

Though I was looking for something more fun than hours at the dentist, this seemingly frivolous and surface level purchase wasn’t just about replacing a wallet. It was about the psychology of self-care and my money mindset. Since that purchase, I have been treating money – and the ideas behind personal wealth – differently.

I also treat myself differently every time I pull out that cherry red wallet: more thoughtful treats, more investing in nice things, less buying the least expensive item on the rack, and less random indulgences on stuff I don’t really need. What if a nicer purse could extend those feelings?

Then, a blessing arrived by email; a gift certificate to The Coach Store.

I’d coached a client through a challenging break-up. Yes, I’d gone above and beyond the norm, with daily calls and multiple emails and texts. But, I would do the same for any of my friends in the midst of a crisis. Providing kind words and thought-provoking questions in tandem, just as I would for anyone I cared for. He saw beyond me doing “my job” and wanted to give me a gift to show his appreciation.

We had talked about the need for him to treat himself: quality shoes, a beautiful briefcase, stylish clothes. So, he turned the tables on me, forcing me to walk my own talk. If I were to commit to extreme acts of self-care and if I were to encourage clients and readers to invest in themselves, and use their best stuff: shouldn’t I invest in something for myself?

And let’s face it, a purse is like a traveling sanctuary.

Your home for all things important, especially when you aren’t at home. There, I have not just my wallet, but my library and Starbucks cards, which gives me easy access to the life bloods of life: books and coffee. My purse holds lipstick, hand lotion, and pens. Gum. Pens and journals. And, of course, a book and my phone.

I walked into the Coach store and welcomed like an old friend. Katie seemed more excited about my gift certificate than me and couldn’t wait to help me find just the right bag. Not a purse, an investment in walking my talk. And I purposely didn’t look at practical black bags. No, I looked at their bags in Prairie Print, OxBlood, Olive, and Saddle.

A new sanctuary for that wallet. And the four pens and my journals. And my Kindle and a paperback book. And two shades of lipstick. I wanted a bag that would hold not just one journal, but two. I wanted to be able to have at my fingertips everything possible to manage bad breath, a desire for a snack, the need to check in on the world, and escape in a good story.

I had expected a snooty sales lady and feeling out of place. Yet, Katie felt like an old friend and confessed that the leather lined bags meant you could spill an entire smoothie in there and not ruin the bag. “Don’t ask me how I know!” she says as she sheepishly grins.

I left the Coach Store with a big bag, which inside contained a big black box wrapped with a copper colored ribbon. Inside was an Olive Leather Brooklyn Carryall, designed to hold it all (including a 13-inch laptop or tablet).

After unboxing it in my office – and storing the nifty storage bag – I discovered it would hold my wallet, a small make-up bag, two pairs of glasses, gum, my Kindle, two journals, four pens, two sets of earbuds, my phone, my iPod, and a book.

Then, an hour later, I got the call from my sister that my dad would be moving from the rehab hospital to hospice care in her house. Just two days earlier, I’d talked to my father and he sounded good. Stronger. Suddenly, the need for having a sanctuary in a bag became more real. This wasn’t just about running to the grocery store and stopping for a coffee, this was now a space that would hold everything I needed to hop a plane and head to Dallas.

As I sat in the Dayton Airport waiting for my flight to board, I sent (another) thank you text to my client: blessings in leather, I told him.

That bag had everything I could need for both practical reasons and comfort. At the airport, I added a banana and a granola bar. It held handkerchiefs and lipstick. A bottle of water and credit cards. My much-needed journal and pens.

When I returned home from Daddy’s funeral, I discovered that Coach had not forgotten me. In the mail was a handwritten thank you note from Katie informing me that I could bring my bag in for cleaning every three months at no charge for as long as I owned the bag.

After a week filled with grief and some drama, it was like a tiny love letter offering a port in the storm.

For me, it’s not about being able to say I own a designer bag, the reason many women tell me they indulge in Louis Vuitton or Kate Spade because of the way buying one makes them feel about themselves. I’ve learned that investing in a quality handbag provides me with comfort away from home. To have at the end of my hand a handkerchief, a piece of gum, or a pen.

And I have to confess: carrying it makes me feel different about myself. All the way down to my soul.

And I also was reminded that though I am simply a gal in Ohio with a single Coach purse, Coach wants me to feel valued as a customer. Investing in our relationship with taking care of me in a time when what I most need is a gentle gesture and kind word.

Blessings in leather, indeed.

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: The Only Certainties in Life

As the saying goes, nothing in life is certain except for death and taxes. We hope to lessen the affects of both of those certainties: tax breaks, eating healthy, tax deductions, exercise, and praying for no one falling and breaking a hip. But the older we get, the more likely we are to come face to face with the inevitable: the loss of one – or both – of our parents.

At not-quite-fifty, I’m a little old to take on the orphan moniker, yet with the loss of my father last month, there is no one around who sat with me when I had the chicken pox at six months, slept in my hospital room when I was five and had my tonsils removed, or went to the ER with me when I fell off a chair and broke my arm when I was in the second grade.

When my mother was dying in 2010, I managed her impending loss with lots of butter, cooking all her favorite dishes to coax her into just one bite. When she died, I dealt with the loss by traveling to numb the pain and then decluttering my life down to what would fit in my car by moving to Ohio to start fresh with John.

Perhaps all that butter greased my heart and made it a little more pliable and flexible so that I could take that big ole leap of faith. Deep down I know that I could have never have made that move while she was still living. My mother was tiny in size but her big personality demanded geographical closeness to tie us to her apron strings.

While my mother hoped to tie me down to hold me close, my father was always the one giving me the wind to soar on my wings.

Go work. Travel. Explore the world. Search for what will make you happy.

Five months after my mother died, I sat down with my father and we reviewed a list of what big tasks I’d have to undertake to fix up my house to sell it. Then, we looked at the seemingly low offer the We Buy Ugly Houses Guy had given me earlier that day.

After some quick calculations, he looked me in the eye and said: “Debra, take the money and run.”

And I did.

Daddy’s impending death was nothing like my momma’s. She lingered for twelve weeks after her lung cancer diagnosis. Daddy slowly shrunk thanks to advancing emphysema.

On July 7th, Daddy was sent to the hospital. After five days there, the doctors suggested a transfer to an acute rehab hospital with the goal of rebuilding his strength. Giving him an opportunity at some quality days ahead. We’d had a good conversation on Tuesday afternoon, he sounded strong and praised the surprisingly tasty hospital food and bemoaned his inability to watch the Western Channel in the hospital.

He was dead the following Tuesday. He passed away at 12:18 AM as I sat by his beside, sitting vigil as he’d done for me during numerous childhood illnesses.

After settling in at the rehab hospital, he had a panic attack and a heart incident. The doctor sent him home to my sister’s late on Friday night with hospice care. When my daughter visited him on Saturday, she told me I needed to get back to Texas. Now.

It’s hard to be the one that moves away. To not know when to hop a plane and when to wait.

I arrived while he was still coherent: he shook his finger at me and told me I should be working, not visiting him in Texas. Thirty-six hours later, he was gone. And barely a week after arriving in Texas, he’d died, we’d had a wake, buried him, and I was back home in Ohio.

In some ways, being the one that moved away meant that I’d already in some ways mimicked the traveling part after Mother’s death as a way to manage grief. You prepare to have already said goodbye when you last visited, even though you hope for one more hello. But there had been no last favorites to cook to entice a few bites out of him. No banana pudding, no blondies, no brisket.

Back in Ohio, though, there was no where to run. There were no closets to clean out, except my own. There was no need to bake or deal with casserole dishes left by those tending the grieving.

I lost my appetite and struggled with sleeping that first week, waking around three each morning…

It was a relief when John was finally awake, too. Him heading to the shower signaled a normal day, a new normal for me. I felt the first spark of moving forward when I began slicing a cumber for a salad and that crisp, clean scent hit my olfactory glands.

As my friend Becca is fond of reminding me, life goes on. And, the truth is, the man who encouraged me to take every business opportunity that came my way – be it in Mansfield, Tulsa, Washington DC, Chicago, or Dayton – would have been shaking his finger at me if I were to linger too much in the sadness and not tend to the important things. Work. Writing. Taking care of my home. Caring for myself and for John.

So, when grief overtook me, I turned to tasks that embodied caring and tending.

I cleaned the Tupperware cabinet. Though nothing in there is officially Tupperware, I still call that collection of storage containers the Tupperware cabinet.

I emptied a drawer in my dresser, ridding the space of sweaters I’d never wear and workout clothes that were worn out. Then, I took two bags of clothes to Goodwill.

I diced onions and sliced more cucumbers. I made large batches of boiled eggs and chopped fresh tomatoes. I bought the first of the local corn and remembered enjoying corn on the cob in the summers with my father, corn being one of the few vegetables my father would eat besides potatoes.

I cleaned my office and found a spot on my bookshelves for the small cedar chest my father kept on his dresser.

I went to the dry cleaners to pick up clothes. Then, I matched John’s suits with shirts and matching ties, a very zen exercise for my overly exhausted mind.

It must have been a man who said that death and taxes are the only certainties in life. Because I know for sure that dust on furniture and dirty dishes and hungry humans are other real certainties. I may not be able to avoid the taxes and it’s been made very clear that I can’t skip death’s visits to my world. But I can channel my grief through dealing with the dust and the dishes and feeding hungry bodies.

For without my sanctuary of this space and my ability to find nourishment for my soul in household tasks, I don’t know how well I’d manage the rest.

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.

Dear Miracle: For the Out of Season Times by Briana Saussy

Photo by Danielle Cohen

Dear Miracles,

Earlier this year I was sitting in the dark while the full moon shined Her face out at me through gnarled Pecan tree branches and the wind was whipping through my hair, as one does. I had already completed my morning devotions and was enjoying a cup of coffee and just talking to the trees and really listening, for as you all know, the greatest part of speaking with land and tree, rock and root, is not speaking but rather listening to them as they speak in their much slower, rolling, winding, ways.

And so sitting there in the dark I heard quite clearly this, that it is ok, it is actually quite normal to have an experience where the internal season and the external seasons do not, exactly, line up. For you see, in spring of this year my family had a long visit with old Lady Death.

Now I know her well and she has been a friend of mine ever since birth, and yet, she is still like the austere great-great aunt or grandmother – the one that you are not totally sure about, she might give you a sweet or she might eat you…it is unclear.

She first came rattling into my year during the first week of January when my beloved dog died. Our doberman was 17 years old and passed in her sleep – we could not have asked for better, but I had a sense it was only a beginning.

Then, La Muerta invaded my springtime season with her ivory bones and her scent of wood smoke and apples and autumn in mid-March when my father in law passed away. My husband and I mourned his loss actively for a set amount of time, built an entire ancestor altar in his honor, and then over time became acquainted with the high and low tides that carry the unique grief of losing a parent.

Not much later, a dear friend of mine called me with the unexpected news that a beloved of hers had died – far too young and very unexpectedly. She was devastated.

And as you know, when you love someone, even if you do not know their loss as intimately, you know them, and your love for them requires that your heart be pierced too.

And so, there I was, on my swing, moon bathing, and feeling quite heartbroken. It was Springtime! The birds were signing, the weather was actually -gasp!- pretty awesome, the flowers were blooming. It wouldn’t be true to say I wasn’t aware of those things – I was, but I was also aware that inside my soul it did not feel like spring, it felt like late autumn headed into winter, and I felt out of sync with the lands where I live and all of the creatures who form my community, my home.

That is when the trees explained to me that of course we have days, weeks, months, and years, where we feel mismatched to our surroundings – be they the jobs we show up for, the partnerships we participate in, the schools we attend, the creations we make, the very bodies that we inhabit. This happens. For everything there is a season but there are also times where we feel decidedly out of season too.

Dear Miracle - Photo by Danielle Cohen

One of the reasons that the Sacred Arts have been outliers in the world of spirituality and self-help is because they speak to and resonate strongly with those who feel out of season in their lives. I suspect many of you know this feeling, right?

  • Skin that doesn’t quite fit – it is too tight, too itchy, too…something.
  • Tears that just show up in the middle of your day (usually right before the after lunch meeting of course) like uninvited guests.
  • Dreams that leave you covered in their stardust and strangeness even hours after waking.

The Sacred Arts are uniquely positioned to speak to such experiences and they call to those who have such experiences; they call to those of us who feel that we are searching…for…something, but we aren’t quite sure what. The Sacred Arts nod and wink at us mischievously.  They spit a few watermelon seeds at our toes as Kochari, the Pueblo Clown Trickster does whenever things get too serious; we might even hear them yip a bit as Coyotes are known to do, and then they tell us,

“What you are looking for amigo, you won’t find it by following the straight and narrow, and you won’t find it on the 5 lane expressway either, but if you are willing to follow me, into the moonlight, I can show you a thing to two.”

And so they do.

Primarily through story, the primary source and seedbed of all Sacred Arts, we are shown all kinds of wonders and we are reminded of the magic, dreams, divinations, prayers, and blessings, and so much more that we carry within us, yes, you too.

Spinning Gold Art by Cassandra Oswald

My Dear Miracle, stories also help us orient ourselves.

I might feel strange (well, stranger) sitting there on my swing in the pitch dark talking to trees and realizing that this is precisely it, I am out of season with the season, if I did not know stories like Tam Lin – where a hero transforms into all kinds of things within the blink of an eye, or the Snow Queen where the bite of Winter is felt in deepest Summer, or Sir Gawain and Lady Ragnelle where the physical land mirrors the drought of soul that comes over an entire kingdom. But I do. I do know those stories, and so I know that even in my hard moments, my isolated moments, my I-never-felt-so-alone moments, I am not alone but rather in excellent, storied, company.

As are you. As are we all.

And I know too, from listening and learning from story, how to create the magics and ceremonies, how to dream the dreams, cast the divinations, say the prayers, and make the blessings that carry medicine to strengthen not only myself when I have need, but other as well. For this is just one way that I spin gold from the straw of every day life and every day stuff.

With love,
Briana

PS: It is why I created Spinning Gold and it is why I hope you will join me in this one of a kind journey over the next year.

About the Author: Briana Saussy

Hi, I’m Briana! I am a writer, teacher, and spiritual counselor, and I am part of a growing community of soulful seekers, people who are looking for wholeness, holiness and healing – for better, more rewarding lives.

The best way to work with me and begin living an enchanted life right here and now is to register for my year long course of fairy tales and magic – Spinning Gold.

Image Credits: Photos by Danielle Cohen. Graphic by Cassandra Oswald.

 

Dear Beloved Self by Kayce Hughlett

“I don’t precisely know what you need to do to take care of yourself. But I know you can figure it out.”
–Melody Beattie

Dear Beloved Self ~

Have I told you lately how much I value and support the mission of self-care in the world? Or that I continue to believe with all my heart that living life to the fullest is perhaps the one true purpose we have in life? How refreshment and restoration are essential ingredients to getting things done and stepping into our power in the world?

I know I forget sometimes, especially when the obligations of life press in and exhaustion feels like a permanent state, but if you can begin to value and accept the premises of refreshment and restoration as being one with open-heart living, then I promise your life will continue to transform in ways you haven’t even considered.

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post called “10 Lessons Learned (& Affirmed).” I re-read it today when I was pondering about sharing refreshment and restoration with you, my Beloved Self. There it was, our two passions—self-care and living life fully—merged together to create a manifesto for daily living. I’m so sorry that I sometimes forget these essential reminders and cause you to forget them along with me.

But here they are, glorious reminders to brighten any day.

  1. Follow your heart.
  2. Be open to whatever shows up.
  3. Put on your sassy and Play, Play, Play!
  4. Make essential space for connecting with friends and loved ones – the rest will follow.
  5. We are all teachers and there are lessons to be learned in everything. Pay attention.
  6. Self-care is the best way to restore, rejuvenate, and prepare to offer our gifts (and love) back out to the world.
  7. Re-entry (each day or after time away) can be challenging.
  8. “What’s next?” takes us out of the present moment and launches us into the future. All we have is now.
  9. Have an assembled toolbox of nourishing notions nearby at all times and use it! (I imagine mine is like Mary Poppins carpetbag, filled with magical delights and the perfect thing manifesting at exactly the right moment.)
  10. Sometimes it takes a full arsenal (or the whole bag) to feel relief, but with time relief will come.

I know, Beloved Self, that you sometimes are afraid your work won’t get done if you stop to refresh and restore. Trust me, the work that needs to be done will get done; it will be done better than work that emerges from tiredness of soul and spirit. Refreshed and nourished people who love and care for themselves are soul-full people.

How wonderful to know that soul-filling can begin with a simple step of showing up and following our own heart! Remember, Beloved Self, you’ve got this. Refreshment and restoration are within your reach. They’re as close as a sip or water or breath of fresh air. Stop. Pause. Indulge. Refresh. Restore. Remember.

Namaste.

About the Author: Kayce Stevens Hughlett

Kayce Stevens Hughlett, MA, LMHC –  author, life muse, ponderer extraordinaire, speaker, joy monger, artist of being alive. 

Kayce’s 2012 book, As I Lay Pondering: daily invitations to live a transformed life, is a lyrical and lucid treasure that invites readers to new awakenings throughout the year. Blue: a novel was released in September, 2014 to rave reviews. She is currently working on her third book, a travel memoir that follows her journey of good girl turned risk taker, fear-filled woman gone warrior, and sleepwalking accountant transformed into wide-awake SoulStroller.

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.

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