Author Archive | Debra Smouse

Conversations Over Coffee with Kelly Chripczuk

The call to create is certainly something deep within each of us, yet to take the next step and share our work with the world. Isn’t that the way of wonder, though? To witness the bravery of others? That’s just one of the reasons I loved reading Kelly Chripczuk’s new book of poetry Between Heaven and Earth as she took a collection of writings she’d been doing mostly for herself and then shared it with folks.

It was a joy to sit down with Kelly and we dive into what it takes to write, raise a family, and manage all the idiosyncrasies of life.

We call this series Conversations Over Coffee because it’s the things I’d ask you if we were sitting across the table from each other over a casual cup of coffee….. so, let’s set the stage: where would you suggest we meet near your current home….and what is your go-to beverage and/or snack were we to meet?

Café 101, a cute little coffee shop, is just a ten minute walk from my house, so we could meet there.  I’ll have coffee and, if it’s morning, baked oatmeal.  But, if one of my kids is home sick from school (as often happens this time of year) meeting in my kitchen will work too.  I’ll just put on some water for tea or reheat a cup of coffee, and we can talk around our old butcher-block kitchen Island.

Tell us about your last two books Chicken Scratch and Between Heaven and Earth

I started writing my first book, Chicken Scratch: Stories of Love, Risk and Poultry, about four months before my youngest kids were due to start Kindergarten.  As a work-from-home mom, I was anxious about weathering the transition and knew I would need something to keep me busy – writing a book seemed like a good way to fill the time.  For my birthday that year, I bought a flock of hens (because I also through selling free-range eggs might be a good way to fill the time).  I decided I’d write about tending the chickens every day for a month and see what came of it.  Six months later, after a lot of editing and revisions, I had a sixteen-chapter book filled with stories of love, risk and poultry.  My biggest goals for Chicken Scratch were to learn about writing a book, to experience the self-publishing process, and have it be fun – both for me and for my readers.

My second book, Between Heaven and Earth, is a collection of 45 contemplative poems that I wrote over the past five years.  I’m not a disciplined poet, but I find it a helpful format for times when other forms of writing fail me.  Between Heaven and Earth came out last week and, so far, I’m most excited to hear that people who “don’t normally read poetry,” are finding it accessible and engaging.

My biggest goal for Between Heaven and Earth was to Just. Get. It. Done., as it’s something I’ve been meaning to put together for a long time.

 In what ways does real life inform your writing (and vice versa)?

I wrote as an academic for years before I began writing creative non-fiction.  As an academic, the rules were clear – real life wasn’t supposed to inform anything.  But, in 2011, we unexpectedly gave birth to twin boys, doubling the number of children we had from two to four.  I left my job as an Associate Pastor and plans for a PhD in Old Testament were rather permanently shelved.  In that time, just before the twins were born, I set up a blog online.  Although a year passed before I published my first post, the blog became the one space in my life that was truly my own and the one way I could still have a voice outside the bulging walls of my own home.

At that time, real life was the impetus for my writing.  I wrote to understand and make meaning of the upheaval I was experiencing.  I wrote to maintain a sense of humor because the things that were happening in our home were too crazy to be true.  I wrote to survive – to believe we would survive – and to hold on to a sense of my own identity.  All of that to say – there’s a very natural flow, for me, between writing and life because, for so long, there was no way to separate the two.

As for writing informing my life, writing has helped me learn to risk more, to endure possible failure, to keep working and moving when the outcome is unknown.  Devotion to creativity has deepened my faith in the goodness, wholeness, and possibility of life that make themselves known when we are committed to showing up.

When did you first know you were a writer?

I stumbled into writing when I joined Facebook, just around the same time I became pregnant with twins.  Facebook gave me an audience and aroused in me an awareness of my love of words.  Something would happen and I would walk around all day thinking of the perfect way to phrase it to get a laugh online.  After the twins arrived, the level of absurdity happening in our house (4 kids five and under) and my sense of humor made my posts more and more popular.  People started telling me I should start blog and, eventually, I did.

Once I began writing, I remembered how often teachers praised my writing in high school, college, and beyond, but no one had ever suggested I might be a writer.  When I think of myself as a writer, I think of someone who loves words and enjoys the work of communicating things in a way that elucidates and/or forms a connection.

What’s your best three pieces of advice for folks that write?

The practice of writing shapes you – commit to the practice, rather than to an outcome.

Be clear about why you write, and cling to that when the writing is tough, or you aren’t getting the outcomes you want.  I write “for love and for joy.”  When I get frustrated or start playing the comparison game with other writers, I try to come back to two central questions:  Is writing helping me (and my readers) be more aware of love?  Is my writing helping me (and my readers) be more aware of joy?  If the answer to that is yes, then I am doing what I’m called to do.

Don’t spend a lot of energy focusing on your fears or the hurdles in your life.  Fear and distraction will always be there, nod your head at them from time to time, if you must, then get back to the work at hand.

What’s typical day like in your household?

During the school year, I get up at six and try to be downstairs on the couch, by the woodstove, with coffee cup in hand, by the time my daughter comes down fifteen minutes later.  We start the day together quietly while she eats and I pack lunches.  She is out the door at 7am and I quick, grab a shower before my twin boys explode out of their room at 7:10 with their older brother not far behind.  I spend the next hour and a half reading aloud, packing lunches, finding missing articles of clothing, and pushing kids out the door.  During that time, I also try to tidy a little, start a load of laundry or empty the dishwasher to get a jump on housework for the day.

I write and offer Spiritual Direction in a little building about thirty feet from our main house.  The office used to be a summer kitchen and, before that, a hen house.  I try to be in my office with Coco (our dog) by 9 or 9:30 and work until around 1.  I take frequent breaks to run into the main house and feed the woodstove, switch the laundry, and grab snacks.  I also keep a painting space set-up in one corner of my office and find that adding a layer to something I’m working on offers a good timeout when I get stuck working with words.

Some days I keep working until my daughter’s bus arrives at 3, but I often use the afternoon to run a never-ending list of errands.  From 3pm on, my day is filled with housework and family time although, if a project demands, I can always head back out to my office once my husband gets home.  All of this changes at the drop of a hat, though, if someone is home sick from school, during in summer months, and during times when I pick up other away-from-home work.

How do you manage the balance of real life and creative work? (Especially with kids and family responsibilities). How do you carve out time to create?

For me, carving out time to create, is like carving out time to eat or sleep or breathe.  If I don’t do it, I suffer, and if I suffer, those closest to me tend to pay the price.  We our kids were very young, I realized writing was key to my emotional and intellectual survival, so I hired a babysitter to come three hours a week.  The minute arrived, I would drop everything, throw the babies at her, grab my laptop, and run out the door, like a woman fleeing a burning building.  Having kids in school has made life more routine, but it remains unpredictable, especially during the summer months.

Three specific practices that have helped me carve out time are:

– All of our kids have Quiet Time alone in their rooms for one hour every afternoon.  This is non-negotiable.

– I try to think about my writing time as a set block of time (say, an hour) that can be moved around depending on the demands of any particular day or week.  For me, finding a balance between flexibility and discipline is key.

– I occasionally keep a ‘time diary’ as a way to keep track of how I’m actually spending my time and, using the insights gained, make adjustments, like adding a little housework to my morning routine, that helps free up time later I the day.

Why IS it important to write if you feel the call?

Writing isn’t a means to an end.  To me, writing is a particular way of being in the world.  It’s a posture of listening, of exploring, and of dancing between what is and what is not-yet.  I think, if you feel a call to write, its because that’s the kind of person you are and there’s nothing more lovely or more necessary to our survival, than people being true to what author Parker Palmer calls, ‘their native way of being in the world.’

What’s your advice to other writers and creative souls?

Creative people need creative community – seek it out, invest in it, offer it to others.

Also, keep learning new skills.  Teach yourself to yo-yo, cook a soufflé, chop wood or buy a flock of laying hens to tend.  Every new skill you embrace will feed your creative life, will feed your writing, if you let it.  Always ask yourself the curious question, “what does this have to do with that?”

What do you know now that you wish you knew at 30?

I know so much more now about who I am.  The stripping down of false identity was a long and arduous process, but I think, if I’d had a glimpse of who I am now when I was 30, I would have been awed, amazed, and so very surprised.

This is our “Hope & Wonder” issue. How do you keep those tenets alive in your daily life? Your creative life?

Wonder, for me, is fueled by attention to what is.  That’s why I find learning new skills (gaining new information) so helpful – when we are in learning mode, attention and focus are increased and we’re more open and aware process, more capable of surprise.

Hope, for me, is fueled by storytelling.  Writing about the crappy week when our car died and the kids were sick, or the time I was hospitalized for a nervous breakdown, helps me step outside my small, ego-centric perceptions of the world and allows me to embrace a larger narrative that seems to be hidden just behind (or beneath) all of the smaller stories of our lives – the one in which grace and mercy are new every day and love itself is what keeps us.

About the Author: Kelly Chripczuk

Kelly Chripczuk is a licensed pastor, Spiritual Director and writer who lives with her husband and four children in a 100+ year-old farm house in Central PA.  She writes regularly online at and for public speaking and retreats.

Sunday Sanctuary: The Journey Forward

Many of the regular readers of Modern Creative Life have known me for more than a decade – from when when I first began writing my blog, or since the days when our predecessor, All Things Girl was still new. I’ve always written about my life in transparent ways. They’ve read about my life as a road warrior in the past, and my life of much less travel now. They know that I sometimes engage in retail therapy, and that I believe the first cup of coffee in the morning is more than just a warming brew; it’s a ritual. What they – and you – you might not know, though, is that I’m adopted.

I have written about my mother, and I shared the challenges of grieving the loss of my daddy just this summer. The DNA of neither of these people runs through my veins. Yet, when I think of my parents, I think of Mary Beth and Tom.

Being adopted has always been simply a fact, like my hazel eyes and my love of books.

It was never a secret in our family. Our mother had been unable to carry a child to term and so the path to motherhood – the path to creating a family – was one that went through kind doctors, lawyers, and judges. The opportunity to nurture a child began with another woman, one who was selfless, giving up something precious in the hopes that this being growing inside her would have a life better than she was able to offer at that moment.

My sister and I each knew our “birth story”.

Arranged through the family doctor, my sister’s adoption took place in 1961. The doctor knew a young woman who found herself pregnant and was unable to keep the child. He had performed a hysterectomy on our mother and knew she wanted a child. And within hours of my sister being born, she was in the arms of our mother and father.

I came along seven years later. I was the child of a teenager who turned to a “home for unwed mothers.” My parents made an application and paid a deposit towards a baby the social workers found suitable for the family of three. Their only request was a child that was fair skinned, one that might resemble Daddy as my sister, Carol, had dark hair and an olive complexion like our mother. About a month after the approval of their application, they got a call that a fair-skinned red-headed little girl was available. I went home when I was two weeks old.

Of course, I’ve speculated about the young woman who had me while she was still, basically, a child herself. I was curious about that woman – courageous enough to care for herself and an unborn child, give birth, and then never know what happened after that moment.

I wondered about her, but I her identity wasn’t anything I dwelled upon.

I was never one of those adopted kids that believed finding my “real mom” was going to be the solution to any problem. It wasn’t going to make me “happy.” It wasn’t going to fix any current relationship.  It was not the answer to rescuing me from any challenge.

Besides, I already had a “real mom.” A woman who ensured I got to school each morning and to ballet practice in the afternoons. The woman who slept in a chair in the hospital when I had my tonsils out and ferried me back and forth for every orthodontist appointment.

To be honest, my mother – my real mother, the woman who adopted me as a tiny babe, the one who ensured I had seasonally appropriate clothes, birthday parties, and a full tummy – was not perfect. I always suspected that she suffered from bi-polar disorder, noticeable mostly when she was in a depressive state, as those manic states were ones we could all swing with more easily.

In the South, especially in the days before social media, we called women who struggled with mental illness “delicate,” and just hoped for the best. We’ve come a long way in dealing with mental illness, but in those days, it was a shameful secret that caused family members to walk on eggshells sometimes.

From the outside, it sounds like something challenging and dire. For me, it was simply…life. A challenge, yes, to be raised by a woman who struggled with mental illness and an inability to truly love herself. But let’s get real, every family, no matter how picture perfect it might be, has some dysfunction.

At the core of who I am, I am a realist. I may have a creative spirit, but I am logical to a fault. I had a mother, I had a father. I had no need to seek out anyone who provided the seeds to create me, so to speak, and I continued in that vein for most of my life. When I was pregnant with my oldest child in 1991, my thoughts were about the growing little girl inside me. I don’t recall ever pondering the woman who had been in my same position back in 1967 and 1968.

My second pregnancy in 1995 was different, and for the first time in my twenty-seven years, I got curious enough to ask the state for any information they had on my birth parents. My second pregnancy presented a small number of health challenges – borderline gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, bed rest due to toxemia, a need for an early delivery. Still, I didn’t really want to know who my birth mother was by name, just who she was genetically.  I got a packet of papers from the State of Texas with every identifying nugget literally cut out. It didn’t satisfy all my medical and health curiosities, but it was something. Eventually, it was filed away, and somehow, in the intervening years, lost.

After my mother died in 2010, my curiosity returned. By this point and time, I’d become a life coach, and had worked through a shit-ton of those “childhood issues” with professionals. I wrote to the State of Texas once again, and received a packet of papers. Once again, with all identifying information cut out. It didn’t matter that I was clearly an adult, and had lots of counseling to deal with the variety of issues we all deal with. The State of Texas deemed I had no right to my Original Birth Certificate.

Then on December 30 2014, I was sitting on the lanai of John’s sister’s home in Fort Meyers beach and read an article in the Wall Street Journal about DNA testing helping Adoptees find their birth families.

We’d gathered with the rest of John’s family to celebrate his mother’s 85th birthday. In the weeks leading up to that trip, we’d scanned all the family photos. In each, I saw the traces of all the men and women through the ages in each subsequent generation. All around the dinner table, on the beloved countenances of those ranging from four to eight-five, I saw how the shape of an ear or chin and hands and mannerisms brought these people together. It was a living example of the age-old nurture VS nature debate. DNA doesn’t lie when it comes to innate talents and physical traits.

I ordered the DNA Kits from both Ancestry.Com and 23andMe.Com. I spit in tubes. Weeks later, I received reports telling me that my ancestors were mostly Irish and Welsh with a splash of Scandinavian and Eastern European. It gave me insight into some of those conflicts of my teenage years – the stoic German ancestry of my mother combined with my flair for a story thanks to the Irish in me. But while this ancestor information led occasionally to a 2nd or 3rd cousin, it didn’t yield much more. And in most ways, just the ancestry information explained enough to me.

This past spring, though, my sister decided she wanted to know Where She Came From. She did the DNA and found a genealogist search angel. In less than a week, this search angel identified both of her birth parents and days later, identified my birth mother. I filed the proper paperwork to receive my original birth certificate, still only available if you knew all the answers to each blank (including the exact way a birth parent’s information was spelled on the document).

At the same time I was filling out paperwork, I was also laughing with John: how typical of my lucky sister! I’d been seeking information on and off for more than a decade and in her first foray into research got the answers she sought.

Weeks shy of my forty-ninth birthday, I wrote a letter to a woman in California. I told her about my life, my children, how blessed I was. I included a copy of my “original birth certificate”. I included a self-addressed and stamped post card for her to drop in the mail in case she was not interested in any communication, as well as my email address in case she was.

I knew had zero right to expect anything from her. How unfair or selfish of me would it have been to hold out any expectation or make any demands? I didn’t need or expect anything from this woman who had given me the gift of life and a good family. I had no desire to upset the apple cart of her life. Who knew what secrets she still kept? Who knew if anyone beyond her own mother knew she had a baby in 1968 when she was seventeen?

I wasn’t seeking my mother, I had a mother. I didn’t need to speak with this woman for me to feel whole or solve any problems in my life. I am whole thanks to therapy and life coaches and good books. What I didn’t underestimate, though, was that maybe, just maybe, the knowledge that I was safe and happy, healthy and whole, would be healing for her. Secrets, no matter how ancient, can be destructive.

She sent me an email about a week later. We spoke on the phone and she told me that the dates lined up, but she wanted to be sure. Because on the day that I was born, there were other babies born, too. She ordered her own Ancestry DNA Kit.

She confessed that when she returned home from the hospital, no one ever spoke about her having a baby. Not her, not her mother or step-father. The belief of those managing the adoptions of little babies back in the fifties, sixties, and seventies was that a young woman should walk away from the experience and pretend it never happened. That this was the key to going on with their life, unblemished. That this was the key to the child they gave up having a full and healthy life.

“The best gift I could ever receive,” she told me, “was simply the knowledge that you had a good life. That’s what we were told, that the babies adopted would have a good life.”

And I DID have a good life. I never wondered where my next meal would come from. I never wanted for shelter or clothing or toys. I didn’t go to bed cold or hungry. I was healthy. I got a great education. I had nice clothes, sturdy shoes, and never lacked the care of a doctor or dentist.

I lived in a house with a big yard and experienced what it was to have unlimited access to books and a friend in my cat.

We went on nice vacations. I learned how to be a good member of society with added tutelage on societal norms such as how to behave in nice restaurants, how much to tip service folks, and how to be a good guest. (All activities not a normal in everyone’s life, something I discovered when a high school friend asked me where to put her purse at dinner on a date to Steak & Ale).

I was loved. Maybe not unconditionally by my mother because she couldn’t quite love herself. But I was loved and adored. And I certainly learned about unconditional love from my father. What I had, though, was a solid foundation of security and stability, the elements that Maslow identified as necessary for me to blossom into the curious and creative creature that I am.

The email confirming that this woman was the person who’d given birth to me arrived on the same day we buried my Daddy.

That was in summer. Now it’s December, and in a few short days, I will sit down at a table and see her face to face.

I will have the opportunity to see if I recognize myself in the arch of her eyebrow or the curve of her neck. I’ll be able to tell if she shares the shape of one of my daughters’ eyes, or if she gestures with her hands like any of us. I will no longer wonder whose fingers I have, or where my curvy figure came from.

We’ve been emailing once a week to share the highlights (and lowlights) of our daily lives. Threads of connection to see where our interests might cross or a turn of phrase feels familiar. We have no plans beyond getting together for an early dinner on my first night.  I hope that that dinner leads to other visits while I’m in California, but I know that it might not.

And, of course, a part of me is wary. What if she doesn’t like me? I’ve never been the bubbly popular girl that other women love. My experience with John’s sisters, for example, remind me that sometimes, no matter how friendly and kind you are to others, they might not really like you, let alone seek you out to spend time with.

Deep within lies the hope that there’s a spark, a flash, some sort of intrinsic recognition, that connects us, bonds us, feels familiar. That something sustainable surfaces for the long haul.

I don’t need a mother, I had one. But I’ll never say that I don’t hope that I can create a relationship with this woman who gave birth to me. No, I don’t need her to be a mother. But it would be nice if she could be a friend.

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: on Finishing and Not

If my creative life had gone as planned, dear one, I would be sharing with you the pinnacle point of my year: the publication of my new book. I’ve been working on this book since the spring of 2016, leaning into a new way of writing for me waxing upon the ways to tend the soul and nourish a creative spirit.

I began working on the book through an Instagram project, sharing 100 days of creative living. The challenge to see – and marvel – over the details in my life that added to the richness. Remembering to be grateful for those seemingly ordinary seconds that on a whole bring me to my knees of how grace is always within my reach. Honoring the holy in the simple moments.

Forcing myself to be a seeker – an explorer – an experimenter – rather than always being The Person with The Answers.

Most of my professional and creative life hinges on that, by the way: knowing the answers. As a life coach, I share what I’ve learned once I’m on the other side of it. As the Editor in Chief here, I am the guide and mentor. Stepping into the role of being the student, the novice, the one taking a risk instead of bearing witness to those taking risks is an uncomfortable position for me.

Yet, it’s also the position I must be brave enough to explore. If I’m going to be true to my creative self, I have to stand here before you and confess: despite all my experience, I don’t have it all figured out.

I believe that finishing things, completing tasks, and reaching goals are all part of our spiritual journey.

I’m all about exploring the depths of our creativity in ways that feel fun and nourishing. I know that we should play with our craft in different ways, because without play and experimentation our creative life becomes stale or feels rote. To the depths of my soul, though, I also know that we must make part of that journey into creation with the intent to reach a finish line. Yes, the journey informs us, but we each need to regularly complete a project and share it with the world in some way.

And my dear friend, I have failed in this quest.

Sometimes, the mantra we must take up in order to allow ourselves to complete a project is “finished is better than perfect.” The coach and editor in me knows that there is no such thing as perfection and that need to make things perfect before putting them out in the world is a way in which our inner critic keeps us small and fearful. Perfection and the pursuit of it is how we self-sabotage.

There must also be discernment, though – the ability to set aside our ego and evaluate our own work from a place of love, yes, but one of truth as well.

The book I should be telling you about was a week away from departing my hands to arriving in the hands of my editor. I dutifully exported my file from Scrivener into Word so that I could give one more pass at the work before sending it along. I had it printed (Fed Ex Office is worth the wear and tear on my little ink jet printer).

94,560 words. 414 pages. Almost twice the length of a NaNoWriMo novel.

But before I completed hand-editing the first 100 pages, I began to get a sinking, sick feeling. What I held in my hand was crap.

Now, I am not the kind of person that whines about how ugly/fat/horrible I am so that others will soothe me by slathering compliments upon me. Sure, I need my ego stroked a little now and then, but I don’t belittle myself or my work to get compliments.

While I understand that there are times we writers and artists say our work is crap because we don’t feel confidence in what we’ve produced, there are other times when that description is more than apt.

My friend, I know myself and my capabilities well enough to discern when what I have written just isn’t my best. This? This book I had been working on for almost two years?

It was not my best. It was not my best at all.

And so, I wavered.

To say that this has been a challenging year for me is an understatement. I have done this grief dance before, and thought I was just wired to manage grief differently. But the loss of my daddy? It sent me to the valley of grief in ways I hadn’t imagined, finding myself unable regularly feed myself, let alone write anything of substance.

I needed the ego stroke of publishing a book this year.

It seems that everywhere I looked around me, my friends were finishing books, getting the interest of agents and publishers, and putting their work into the hands of others. I needed – am in need of – a big win. A reminder that loss doesn’t define who I am. That I still have it within me to create and nourish myself and others with words.

I want the check in the box. To finish another book. To open up my creative life for a new project that isn’t tainted with fresh loss.

I left a very rambling ten-minute message to Melissa on Voxer. Telling her that this book was crap. While Melissa wasn’t going to be editing this book (like she does the majority of my blog posts), she’s been reading my work for more than a decade.

She reminded me what I knew at heart: I am a good judge of when something of mine just isn’t great.

I spoke with John at length. We were heading to DC for the week and I decided to sleep on my final decision a couple of days. I had a week before the manuscript was due to Andi for her expertise of editing.

After settling into our hotel, we headed into the city to my beloved Penn Quarter, the neighborhood that has served me and held me for many years. Over tacos, guacamole, and margaritas consumed at a sidewalk table at my favorite restaurant in DC, I told John I’d made my decision, a hard pill to swallow: I wasn’t going to be publishing a new book this year.

I felt both relief and a deep ache in my soul about this. To be this deep into something and still not see it to the end was a failure, wasn’t it?

So, I did what we all need to do when we make a hard decision: I said it out loud. I told John and Melissa. I wrote a letter to Becca. I asked for thoughts from my friend Jenn McRobbie over lunch. She’s an author and had worked for a coach-focused publishing house and told me “this is why I love you.” I told my friend Jen Lee over Voxer. I had a conversation with Andi.

At every turn, I discovered that while finishing is a spiritual act, choosing to walk away from a project is also an act of nourishing ourselves. Sometimes, done is better than perfect. And sometimes, my dear, choosing to halt – or at least put a project in cold storage – is the best way of finishing something for a while.

It is possible that will pull this book out of cold storage after the year turns in a few weeks. It is equally possible that I will not, but either way, the words I wrote will not be wasted. Just as fallen autumn leaves eventually become nourishment for the earth, the work I did on the book I’m not publishing this year will feed a new project, a better finished product, and help me clear a different finish line.

As well, the experience has reminded me that perfection isn’t real, and that sometimes we gain as much from our successes as we do from our failures.

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.

Ode to Film Noir by Pat West

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

I love a city that can keep secrets
not to mention rain-slicked alleys
cluttered with garbage
abandoned warehouses dust hanging in the air
crowded bars boozy nights chiaroscuro lighting
slicing through venetian blinds
dark offices overlooking busy streets
a hard-boiled private detective
wearing a double-breasted suit
a good guy before one bad turn
made his life hell
I love the ballsy two-timing blonde
with thin eyebrows false lashes painted red lips
high heels snapping on the pavement
a dame who knows how to use men
to get what she wants
I love how the story unravels
conspiracy corruption murder
and how the bevy of hired hoods
barely have time to toss out more red herrings
before they get plugged
sure all the double crosses and backstabbing
make it hard to follow
but when I watch the sleuth
romance the doll with the pretty face
investigate an endless list
of seedy characters
I love the tight knot in my gut
just before the broad does him in

About the Author: Pat West

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

Sunday Sanctuary: Seeking the Light

When we laid out the themes for Modern Creative Life last fall, never did I imagine that “Light & Shadow” would arrive at a time when there was so much darkness in my own life, not to mention the lives of other members of the MCL family, or the world in general.

How could I pretend to know that come fall, not only would the trees be shedding their leaves, but pieces of my heart would be feeling battered? How could I predict the time spent pondering whether those broken pieces would be like the leaves: drifting away now only to be renewed when spring arrives? How could any of the editorial staff begin to imagine a world in which this issue would coincide with so much loss and destruction in the world due to multiple hurricanes and a gunman?

I could never have foreseen any of this. Yet, deep down I still know that light and shadow will forever be bed-mates. There’s no way to witness glorious sunrises without the reminder that moments earlier, the earth was cloaked in full darkness.

There is no joy or happiness or light in the world without understanding that the yang to that yin is sadness and anger. Similarly, there is an unspoken demand of we artists and writers, that we remember that the other side of this shadow-thing, this darkness, is always light?

I look at the breadth of this issue of Modern Creative Life,  and I see some of the best work from writers we’ve come to know and love. I see the brilliance of new voices, playing on the edges of what it means to be a maker and embrace what’s lurking in the shadows so that we can shed light upon it and us and our work in the world.

When I first began writing my column for this month, I had planned to write about what my grandmother called “breaking up housekeeping”.

I was going to talk about the purging of my childhood home, laying every household good out on tables for strangers to seek their own kind of treasures within the stuff that made up a life of another. But in truth, I can’t bear to dwell upon that any longer. I can’t think of how much my mother yearned for the chubby-cheeked children and messages of God’s love in little statues, and how we sold those figurines for $5 a piece. I can’t allow myself to dwell on the pans that made umpteen dinners or the big Tupperware container that always housed fruit salad at every holiday gathering.

One of the responsibilities we have as makers is to take our experiences of loss and change, and bleed them onto paper (and film) so that others have someone to sit beside them when they are grieving and processing tragedy and loss. Our mission is to ferry the sad and grieving to the other side, and remind them that they are not lost and will once again find light in their own souls.

So, instead, I mention it in passing to you and instead of picking at the edges of my own grief as a child would a scab on her knee, I want to share what I am doing –  in the face of all this darkness – to bring the edges of light to shine upon my own heart in the midst of grief and tragic news stories.

To share what is helping me look to the light instead of dwelling in the shadows. To share what is saving me from being forever lost in the dark and reminding me of how much joy there is to be had.

I am losing myself in the words and worlds of others. Poets and screenwriters. Novelists and photographers. Interior designers and food makers. Stories heal us.

I am seeking beauty. Flowers on the kitchen counter alongside bowls of fresh fruit. The way the light plays against the trees as it shifts through the days. And the trees, my God, how beautiful are the trees with their soft yellows and brilliant oranges? The rust colored grasses, the brilliant mums, the cheery pumpkins placed on porches. I am buying additional beautiful purses –  just because. If I open my eyes and look around me, I always find beauty.

I am moving my body. My heart wants to sag and my thoughts want to pull at the edges of sadness, but if I just get my body moving into some sort of activity, it helps heal my soul a little and allows my thoughts and feelings to move through me instead of lingering.

I am marveling at the work of others. I edit and reread the stories and essays here in this magazine. I gaze for long moments at the stylish outfits an Instagram Fashion Gal wears and reach out to that photographer with the stunning photographs.

I am seeking tenderness. I am laying naked against John in those early moments of the morning as dawn approaches, just feeling his warmth and caring. I am squatting to eye level and looking into the eyes of children I speak to. I lay a reassuring hand on the arm of an acquaintance as she shares a moment of her life.

I am nourishing my mind and soul. I am reading lots of cozy mysteries. I am taking extra time choosing vegetables when I grocery shop. I am unfollowing politically-focused friends and doom-spreaders.  I am spending more time just be-ing instead of do-ing. I am protecting what I consume when it comes to books, internet, and television. Discernment is my friend.

I am opening myself up to grace. I chose the words Unbound Grace as my guide-words for this year and I find that when I open myself up to every permeation of that meaning, I cannot but help feel a sense of lightness in my soul.

I am seeking humor. I am asking Alexa to tell me a joke and watching the ending of the last Big Bang Theory for maybe the fifth time this week. I am laughing at the brilliant excuses John can make between 5:30 and 6 AM as to why we should stay in bed all day instead of heading to work. I am laughing with friends over the silly little things that pepper each life if we just open our eyes to it.

I am purging things. I am tossing worn out sweaters and chipped plates. I am turning off the news when it feels overwhelming. I am tightening the circle of folks I allow into my inner circle, choosing to diminish my time and attention to those who bring me down or judge me.

I am witnessing other makers. I am consuming as much content by friends as I can – their Instagram, their blogs, their letters, their films in progress. I am catching stories and allowing mine to be caught as well.

I am praying. I am lighting candles of devotion and having conversations with God as I sip my first cup of coffee. I am returning to a written prayer journal, inscribing the names of loved ones and strangers onto paper with broad strokes of green tinged ink as I hope for blessings and love and comfort for them. I am cleaning my home, strewing blessings around me as I give thanks for this space that shelters me.

I am forcing myself to continue making. To write an entry for the new book. To photograph a holy moment and share it on Instagram. To make a meal that nourishes our bodies while tending my own soul.

It’s easy as human beings to feel as if we are lost in the deep, dark woods without any hope of being found again. And it’s as simple as looking to the sky, the filtering of light through the branches, shining pinpoints of light on the dappled forest ground, to find the start of our own paths out of the dark.

Because part of the commitment to living a creative life, the commitment I’ve made to curate a life that feels nourished and full and holy, depends upon me accepting the darkness in everything, but remembering that somewhere within it all are the edges of light and hope.

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: 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,

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.


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


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.

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