Author Archive | Melissa Bartell

Sunday Brunch: Carousel of Memories

Sunday Brunch With Melissa Bartell

Calliope music, tinny and over-loud coming from the speakers, doesn’t quite drown out the sounds of human voices: small children squealing in delight, parents warning them to hold on and be careful. The lights blur as I ride by, my painted pony leaping upwards and gently descending as it chases other ponies (and sleds) around and around in an endless circle.

Asbury Park Carousel

The music slows.

The lights resolve into individual incandescent bulbs.

The ponies stop.

With watery legs, I slide off my stalwart steed, jump from the platform and launch myself at the adult who has been watching me. My grandfather, most likely, or maybe my great-aunt Violet.

“Did you see? I caught the ring!” I ask, and their answer is a blend of weariness and positive reinforcement.

I am five, six, seven years old, and I’ve just ended a day at the Asbury Park boardwalk with a ride on the carousel.

* * *

Outside the carousel house, the twilight of evening is melting into full darkness. The scent of hot dogs and cotton candy mixes with the salty brine of sea and sand. The lights on the rollercoaster are reflected upon the glassy ocean.

The night feels made of magic.

I am twelve years old, and I have no idea that it will be the last time I see the boardwalk with its rides active, with children running back and forth, with indulgent parents and grandparents handing over money in exchange for pretzels with mustard, paper cones full of popcorn, or wax-coated bags of salt-water taffy.

On that night, surrounded by the teeming throngs of little kids racing for the teacups, kids my age who are at once too cool to be seen with their parents but not quite ready to be away from them, and older kids – teens, really – making out in the gondolas of the Ferris wheel, I cannot even fathom that such a thriving place – an icon of the Jersey Shore – will be a dead husk just a few years later.

* * *

It’s 2009 and my husband, my parents, and I are on the east coast because my aunt – my mother’s younger sister – got married a few days before, and we’ve extended our trip to visit family none of us have seen in years.

The October wind blows cold through the two layers of sweaters I’m wearing, but I turn my face into it, and let it push my hair back behind me. The ocean is deep blue and steel gray, primal and fierce, crashing its fists of white foam on the cold sand.

The boardwalk is empty, save for a few hard-core athletes, sheathed in thermal exercise gear and clutching their dogs’ leashes as they pound down the slanted, weathered boards.

We leave Asbury Park, and head to the next town over, Ocean Grove, where the cute shops are open for business, hoping a few errant tourists will wander in.

My mother and I lived there for part of a year when I was nine, and walking those so-familiar streets fills me with bittersweet nostalgia. I liked my life when I was there, when it was just Mom and me in our apartment on the second floor, where you could see the ocean from the bathtub.

Even so, thirty years later, I must acknowledge, that her life and mine are both happier with all the changes that have taken place since then.

* * *

It is last Wednesday of March, 2017, and I’m in Asbury Park again, with just my husband this time.

We woke early that morning to the total darkness of the power being out, and the insistent keening of tornado sirens, drove to the airport feeling a bit shell-shocked, then landed, several hours later, under sunny skies.

Our hotel room has a view of the beach and vintage photos of the Jersey Shore on the walls, and after we have dinner – truly sinful burgers made of ground beef mixed with ground bacon – at a local pub, we go to the boardwalk.

The sun is low in the early-spring sky, and the air is chilly, but I find a bench and enjoy the peace of the waves, and smile at all the people walking their dogs, or just enjoying the pre-tourist season calm.

The city has changed since I was last here.

What was once a dead town is alive again.

Many of the Beaux-Arts buildings have been lovingly restored. The old Arcade is now home to small boutiques and a coffee roasting company (with a brewery right next door). Restaurants line the waterfront, and the town hosts many trendy eateries and bars – ethnic, Vegan, brunch – including (as their sidewalk sign proudly proclaims) “The Best Gay Bar in New Jersey.” (I take their word for it.)

My husband walks off to explore the Arcade, to take pictures at my behest, and I stay on my bench.

It’s probably just my imagination, but I can hear – very faintly – the sound of calliope music.

Asbury Park Carousel House

 

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa A. BartellMelissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Sunday Brunch: Sleeping with Giraffes

Sunday Brunch With Melissa Bartell

Her name is April. She’s fifteen years old, and nearing the end of her fourth pregnancy. Oh, and she’s a giraffe.

Giraffes have the lowest sleep requirement of any land mammal, averaging around two hours out of every twenty-four, usually in increments of just a few minutes.

Copyright: <a href='https://www.123rf.com/profile_bondsza'>bondsza / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Like thousands of people around the world, I have become enamored with April’s story, to the point where checking in on her in the mornings and evenings have become part of my routine. Why? Because there’s something magical in watching this elegant animal as she readies herself for the birth of her calf.

Something Zen.

Giraffes are prey-animals. As such, they typically take their rest standing up, but if they are in a place they perceive to be safe, they will sometimes lie down, and even catch a nap with their heads resting on their hind-quarters. Such naps rarely last longer than five minutes, but research conducted at zoos says that REM sleep is achieved.

April and her calf’s sire, Oliver, live at Animal Adventure Park in upstate New York. It’s a family-owned petting zoo, and many of the animals are exotic pets that have been rescued by the facility.

In watching April, we are also able to see the relationship between the keepers and the animals. Clearly there is love and respect on both sides.

In the morning, as sunlight filters into the giraffe barn, their pacing increases in tempo, and the giraffes pay close attention to the inner gates of their pens. While it’s not safe for the keepers to be in Oliver’s pen with him (bull giraffes are both strong and playful, and a misplaced kick can be lethal for a human), April is docile and likes to play kissy-face with her caretakers.

Alyssa, the main giraffe keeper, returns April’s affection, and, in truly precious moments, has even been seen on camera, placing gentle kisses over the places where baby-kicks have been witnessed.

The gestational period of a giraffe is fifteen months. The mother giraffe gives birth standing up, and her calf will drop about seven feet to the ground. A newborn giraffe weighs about a hundred and fifty pounds and stands about six feet tall.

My favorite part of watching April comes around eight in my evening. That’s when the keepers come with dinner, and bed down the giraffes for the night. As much as I enjoy watching April’s eighteen-inch-long, bluish-purple tongue snake out to accept offerings of carrots and romaine lettuce (apparently these two things are like crack to giraffes), the moment when the lights are switched off, and the giraffes are left in quiet twilight is the one that truly touches me.

No two giraffes share the same pattern of spots. These patterns are as unique as human fingerprints.

Over the two weeks since the GiraffeCam went live, I’ve found myself watching it a lot at night. This past week, while my husband was away for work, I even left the YouTube app running on the Roku TV in our bedroom. I’ve never been great at sleeping, but there was something so reassuring about seeing those serene creatures, April clearly defined by the soft light in her pen, just as restless as I am (but with a much better reason) and Oliver, who ghosted past the pen’s divider every so often, sharing the night with me.

Giraffes are born with their “horns” (actually called ossicones), but they are flat against the skull, and only fuse with the skull as the animal matures.

Intellectually, I know, I’m only one of many who have made April a part of their – of our – routines, but at times it felt that I’d been granted the special privilege of sleeping with giraffes.

While captive breeding programs are reasonably successful, giraffes are extinct in at least seven countries in Africa, and all species of giraffe are rated as “Vulnerable” to extinction.

The image above is NOT April.
You, too, can watch the GiraffeCam if you visit ApriltheGiraffe.com

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa A. BartellMelissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Stirring & Settling, by Melissa A. Bartell

https://unsplash.com/@ornellabinni(Part IV of the Tea series, follows Stewing)

“Where are you taking me?” Sarah asked. She was in the front passenger seat of David’s car, one of his neckties forming a blindfold. She could have peeked around the edges – the knot at the back of her head wasn’t that tight – but her boyfriend had really wanted to surprise her, and she hated to ruin his fun.

“You’ll see,” he said, laughter coloring his tone. “Just be patient a little longer.”

“Just promise wherever we’re going has food,” she responded. “I’m starving.”

David didn’t answer.

The car kept going, with David humming lightly as he drove. Sarah could tell they weren’t in town any more – there hadn’t been any stops for traffic lights in quite a while – but she wasn’t sure which direction they’d been going. She’d have to trust him.

Just as she was taking a breath, preparing to ask how much longer they’d be driving, David stopped humming. The car turned off the pavement and onto a gravelly surface, finally rolling to a stop. “Okay,” he said. “We’re here.”

Sarah removed her blindfold. “The Japanese gardens?” she queried, reading the sign in front of their car. “I thought we were going for a late lunch. As far as I know, they don’t serve lunch here.”

“Trust me,” David suggested his tone warm with affection. He turned off the car, removed the keys and got out, moving around to open her door. “Please, Sar?”

She slid out of the car, glad she’d listened to his wardrobe suggestion. Her nautical-stripe sweater, khaki crop pants and navy espadrilles weren’t the most fashionable of outfits, but they made her feel neat and crisp, and she’d be comfortable even in the cool breeze that always seemed to linger along the river walk.

“I do trust you,” she said.

“Good.” He offered his arm, and she took it. “This way.”

Together, Sarah and David walked down the wide ramp that twisted and turned through the blossoming cherry trees. They paused on the little bridge that crossed the koi pond, laughing at the hopeful fish crowding to the surface. “We should buy some food for them,” Sarah said.

David grinned. “Right, because clearly they’re emaciated.” But he fished a couple of quarters from his pocket – he’d also worn khaki pants, Sarah notice – a change from his more typical weekend choice of jeans – and waited for the cup of fish-food to drop from the vending machine affixed to the far end of the bridge.

“Here…”

He held the cup and she pinched up some of the food, casting it into the water, and the fish waiting in it. “They remind me a little of hungry puppies.”

“All animals are adorable when they’re begging for food,” David joked. “It’s a rule.”

Sarah laughed. “I think it must be.”

When the cup was empty, they continued their walk, down the stairs of the terraced hillside, to the lantern-lined sidewalk along the riverbank.

“You alright?” David asked, when Sarah paused for no apparent reason.

“Fine…” she said. “Except… do you hear music?”

He made a show of listening. “Sounds like pan-flutes,” he said. “I think they’re coming from over that way.” He pointed in the direction of the gazebo that sat on the water-side of the walk, at the top of a curve. “Let’s find out?”

Sarah decided she was never going to get the lunch she’d been promised, and simply agreed with him, “Sure. Why not?”

Hand in hand, they kept walking, following the curving path along the water until they reached the gazebo, where, instead of the empty space Sarah had been expecting, there were paper lanterns and a trio of people playing different wind instruments.

“I don’t remember anyone advertising a musical event here,” Sarah said.

“They didn’t,” David answered. “Come with me.”

Gently, he led her up the steps and into the octagonal building, where a single, set table and two chairs were waiting for them.

Against one wall was a man in a chef’s uniform working on a portable outdoor stove. “Ah, you’ve arrived,” the dapper man said, turning to greet them. “Please sit. Lunch is almost ready.”

Sarah dropped into the chair David had pulled out for her, taking in the bouquet of daisies in a glass vase, and the vaguely tea-pot shaped item sitting on a trivet and covered by a quilted cozy. “You arranged this? For me?”

“No,” David corrected. “I arranged this for us.” He lifted the cozy from the pot and set it aside. “Shall I pour?”

Over hot tea and plates of seared beef, salmon and yellowtail sashimi, steamed rice, and cucumber salad, the couple engaged in their usual banter.

“I’ve always thought these gardens would be the perfect setting for a wedding,” Sarah said as they finished their meal.

“They have an events coordinator for things like that,” David explained. “My friend Ryo and his wife were considering it, but then her parents insisted they do a church ceremony instead, and since they were paying…”

“I guess that makes a difference,” Sarah agreed. “But still…”

The chef interrupted them long enough to clear their dishes and deliver two glasses and an open bottle of champagne.

“Personally,” David said, after they’d been left alone once more, “I’ve always imagined this as the perfect location for a proposal.” He didn’t leave his chair to kneel in front of her, but he did remove a small, black box from his pocket and place it in front of her.

“David?” She could feel her lips curving into a goofy smile, could tell that her cheeks had gone hot and pink.

“Sarah, ever since we ran into each other at the café on that day, I’ve felt like there was something stirring inside me – ”

” – inside me too – ” she interrupted.

” – and ever since you moved in, I’ve been thinking, ‘this is what life is supposed to be. Two people sharing a home and a life… fighting over their favorite sections of the newspaper, taking turns cooking dinner or making tea…” Sarah heard his voice go choky as he trailed off.

“Oh… David…”

He swallowed reflexively, and opened the box. Inside was a tea-bag, but instead of the usual paper tab, the end of the string was affixed to a delicate gold ring with a diamond that was the perfect proportion for Sarah’s slender fingers.

“Will you marry me, Sarah?”

She lifted the ring from the box, and tugged slightly. The string fell away, and she turned the piece of jewelry in her hands, holding it up to the light to catch the reflections. “Put it on for me?” she requested offering it back.

David held the ring, poised over her left ring finger. “Is that a yes?” he asked, his tone equal measures of wry uncertainty and tenderness.

“It’s an ‘absolutely,'” Sarah said. “I love you. I love the live we’ve been building together. This just… this feels like everything’s settling into exactly the places they’re supposed to be.”

Each of them half-rising from their chairs, they leaned over the table to seal their engagement with a kiss that only ended when the chef and the wind players applauded.

Laughing, Sarah and David returned to their chairs, and David poured the champagne into their waiting glasses. “I love you too, Sar,” he said, lifting his glass to salute her. “You’re my best friend, and my muse.”

“And flattery will get you everywhere,” she teased.

They carried their glasses to the part of the gazebo that looked over the water, and as the sun set, and the lanterns began to glow softly in the darkening sky, they held each other, and exchanged whispered dreams for their future.

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa A. BartellMelissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

 

 

 

Welcome to Issue #5: Routines & Rituals

Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_chinnna'>chinnna / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

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

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

Is it routine or ritual?

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

Is it routine or ritual?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa A. BartellMelissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

 

 

 

Sunday Brunch: Wax, Wick, and Whispering Flame

Sunday Brunch With Melissa Bartell

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

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

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

Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_anaumenko'>anaumenko / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, candles are more than just decorations.

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

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

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

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

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

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa A. BartellMelissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Sunday Brunch: Practice

Sunday Brunch With Melissa Bartell

“We learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. One becomes in some area an athlete of God.” ~ Martha Graham

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I think I was five when I took my first ballet class. I don’t have any clear memories of my fellow students. I don’t recall the name of the teacher.

What I remember, when I think about those first classes, was the barre. I remember stretching out my arm so my hand could rest against the wood. My muscles still retain the echos of all those early pliés and tendus. Ballet class was my first experience with practice, and I loved it.

I craved it.

At home, lacking both floor space and proper equipment, I would make the back of a chair my partner as I bent my knees, positioned my feet, and kicked my legs.

But then I got older, and my focus switched from ballet to music.

I fell into cello quite accidentally at the age of nine (old for a string player), after becoming enamoured with my then-best-friend’s violin. I was lucky: Colorado schools had excellent music programs, and we didn’t even have to pay for a cello, because my teacher loaned me the one his daughter had learned on. Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_monoliza'>monoliza / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

I learned about scales and arpeggios, some of which I’d already encountered as a singer, but this was different. I memorized the feeling of my fingers on the strings, and mastered enharmonic tuning, crucial for me, since we didn’t have a piano with with to check my pitch.

Practice became something new. It was just as physical as ballet, but it was physical in a different way. I was stretching my arms down instead of out. It was my fingers that danced instead of my toes.

But every time my mother commented about how the low strings sounded when I was first learning, making croaking noises, or pretending to be a foghorn, my love of practice was diminished. By the time I finished high school, bad teachers, lack of confidence, and my inability to commit to any one art form forced me to set music aside for a while.

(I fell back in love with cello in my late twenties.)

“Don’t only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets; art deserves that, for it and knowledge can raise man to the Divine.” ~ Ludwig van Beethoven

If this were a novel, it would be in college that I found my Ultimate Muse choosing writing as my One True Pairing of the arts, but the reality is that I’ve loved the written word for as long as I can remember. I’ve dabbled in poetry. I’ve written essays and fiction, compose all original short pieces for my podcast, and have even published a book.

Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_dedivan1923'>dedivan1923 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>It wasn’t until I was married and living in the first home my husband and I actually owned that I truly developed a writing practice.

Oh, sure, I’d tried, unsuccessfully, to keep diaries over the years, but writing words no one would ever read seemed pointless to me. I’d read Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones when I was nineteen. I had stacks of college-ruled spiral notebooks with my scribblings in them, but writing was mostly a random activity unless I had to do something for a reason.

When I learned about blogging, everything changed. Not only did I accept that I would never succeed as a writer without discipline – without a daily practice – but I’d also found a system that gave me just enough external accountability to keep me going, and just enough feedback that I could learn what worked and what didn’t.

Some writers, I know, are dutiful enough to complete their requisite three “morning pages” every day. In my daily blogging, I found that writing posts of precisely one hundred words helped me more than anything else. I call these tiny entries “distilled moments,” and there are times when I do the just because they feel right, and other times when I create them, daily, for an entire month.

“Practice is everything. This is often misquoted as Practice makes perfect.”

~Periander

Life ebbs and flows, and my devotion to practice tends to do so as well. I actually do write every day, but I go long stretches without blogging, until I realize I miss it, and then I go back to it. In fact, it is this tendency to return to my first “public” forum that allowed to assure one of my best girlfriends, a couple of weeks ago, that no, it was not wrong that she would rather write in her blog than create new content for her work.

For us, I told her, our blogs have always been our practice spaces.

In ballet, when you need to rehab after an injury, or just find your focus again, you return to the basics. Barre work. Warmups. In music, you go back to etudes. You go over scales and arpeggios. In writing, we have journals and we have blogs. These are our virtual studios where we reconnect with the fundamentals.

We say practice makes perfect, but practice itself is imperfect. This is why the act of meditation is called practice. Yes, it’s because it’s meant to be a regular exercise, but it’s also because but it’s also because we are giving ourselves permission to be imperfect.

Because blogging is where I honed my writing voice, it’s my sacred space for my own writing practice. It’s the place where I’m more candid than I would otherwise be, because I’m not being a model for others; I’m being just me.

My blog is also the place where I experiment with different styles and structures, where I play with themes and challenge myself to stretch.

It is the place where I practice.

And – just like the dancer, the musician, the artist – practice is the way I keep my muscles warm and in working order.

Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_peshkova'>peshkova / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

“Someone who wants to write should make an effort to write a little something every day. Writing in this sense is the same as athletes who practice a sport every day to keep their skills honed.” ~ Anita Desai

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa A. BartellMelissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

The Way of Tea by Melissa A. Bartell

Karuna Tea - La Paz BCS

“Tea is quiet and our thirst for tea is never far from our craving for beauty.”

~James Norwood Pratt

DTiny Tea Cup ecember 26th, 2016. It’s a chilly day in La Paz, BCS, Mexico – chilly for the tropics, anyway – about 65 degrees – and sky is overcast. I follow my mother and her friend Mary into a tiny tea shop in the heart of town, near where my parents, who retired to Baja Sur just after the millennium turned, go every weekend for breakfast and the farmers’ market.

All three tables at Karuna Tea are placed end-to-end to accommodate our group. Soon, we will be joined by another of my mother’s friends, Gari-Ellen (editor of the Baja Citizen), and her fourteen-year-old daughter, Molly.

As we settle into our chairs and find places to stash our purses (in Mexico, it’s considered bad luck to put your purse on the floor or ground) we are also exchanging hugs and kisses. Gari-Ellen says she’s looking forward to “finding my tea,” and we all agree that should be the title of the article either she or my mother will write. (I almost stole it for this piece.)

“Tea began as a medicine and grew into a beverage.”

~Okakura Kakuzō

Hector and Inez, the young couple that owns Karuna, introduce themselves, and explain that there will be a short presentation on the history of tea before we begin the tasting. Along with the demitasse cups and saucers that have been set out for us, there is a two-page print-out so we can follow along.

Wet Tea LeavesThe presentation takes only ten or fifteen minutes. Hector begins by sharing that tea was originally brewed for medicinal purposes, and gradually became used as the beverage it is today. While he speaks, Inez is busy behind the counter, prepping things for the tasting session to follow. Hector is such a captivating speaker that we barely notice her bustling.

Among other things, we learn that tea is the most commonly consumed beverage in the world, far surpassing coffee, even though it’s only grown in a few places. We are also told that all tea comes from the tea tree, Camellia sinensis– and that the differences in the six varieties (white, yellow, green, oolong, black, and puerh (pronounced pooh-er) are due to the way the leaves are picked and processed. The lighter the color, the less the leaves have been allowed to wither or oxidize.

Oh, and those herbal ‘teas’ we all love – peppermint and chamomile? Those are properly called tisanes.

“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves — slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.”

~Thich Nat Hahn

White TeaWe are presented with a white tea, first, and it is so pale, it might as well be just hot water, but when we sip from our lovely little cups, we are all awestruck buy the nuanced flavor.  Hector tells us it’s appropriate to slurp a little when you taste tea, because that brings in air, and lets the aroma work with the flavor.

He also reminds us that tea is meant to be a serene drink, and that we shouldn’t rush.

We are given dishes of dry and wet tea leaves to examine as we sip, and we are told that bagged tea is generally made from dregs and dust. If it crumbles into powder in the dry tea bag, Hector says, it’s not fresh and you should throw it away. We laugh about our first introduction to tea being of the worst possible kind – bagged – and then we refocus on the tasting.

I’m struck by the way the wet green tea leaves look as though they’re the result of a fortune-teller’s reading, and I wonder what their message might be. We are all surprised when Hector tells us that the brew time for this tea is less than a minute, and even more so when he tells us that white, yellow, and green tea leaves can be re-used two or three times, if treated gently!

“Water is the mother of tea, a teapot its father, and fire the teacher.”

~Chinese Proverb

Pouring OolongAs we progress through the spectrum of tea, one of the things that we all comment upon is the incredibly short steeping time on all of these different varieties. Thirty seconds for the white teas, a minute or two for oolong, which is toward the middle in terms of strength.

Also important, Hector tells us, is the temperature of the water. White tea is best when the water is about 155°F (70°C), while the maximum temperature for the darkest oolong is 185°F (85°C). We even learn the Chinese method of learning how to gauge the temperature of boiling water by comparing the size of the bubbles.

When “shrimp eyes” appear, you’re at the right level for white teas, and this progresses through “crab eyes,” “fish eyes,” “strings of pearls,” and finally “old man’s water” also known as – “raging torrent” – which refers to the rolling boil you want for black teas and blended teas like Darjeeling and Earl Grey.

One of the green teas we try, a lighter oolong called Sencha, is an instant hit among everyone but fourteen-year-old Molly, and we all leave with a packet of it to brew at home.

Bread and water can so easily be toast and tea.

~Author Unknown

At some point, we notice that there are bowls of cookies on our tables. They’re not icky-sweet, just ginger and Puerh Tealemon biscuits meant to serve as palate cleansers between cups. After the first two cups, Inez also places a large bowl on the table, so that if we don’t wish to finish any given cup of tea, we can dump it, in a slightly more refined version of a wine tasting (no spitting). No one uses it.

We pause, every so often, to compare notes, remarking upon the delicate flavors and the grassy or herbal aromas. We don’t get to taste puerh tea – it’s very expensive, and not really a flavor that the western world has acquired – but Hector fetches a giant cake of it from his pantry and we pass it around and smell it.

“It reminds you of a barnyard,” he says, speaking of the aroma. “But in a pleasant way.”

His description is completely accurate.

“Teas vary as much in appearance as the different faces of men.”

~Hui-tsung

Pouring Earl GreyThe last tea we sample is the one we are most familiar with: Earl Grey. Hector explains that English-style black teas often include essential oils (in this case, bergamot) to alter the flavor, or soften the bitterness or astringency.

My mother remarks that it’s the drying effect that turns her off of most darker brews. Like Gari-Ellen, she has found her tea in the Sencha and the other oolongs.

I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve tasted, but Earl Grey is my favorite, and I’m keen to taste a new version. The cup that is poured for me has a deep amber color, and the aroma is both familiar but also more delicate than the blends I am accustomed to.  Hector explains that many tea companies use too much bergamot to disguise inferior tea leaves.

When we taste this version, we notice how well-balanced the flavors are. Cup of Earl GreyInstead of overwhelming floral scents, there’s just enough of the essential oil to enhance the tea. Again, Hector comments on water temperature and steeping time. He also cautions us that these leaves are not to be re-used. In fact, this is the only tea of all the varietals we’ve been introduced to that Inez has made in a tea infuser – the glass pots made by Bodum that almost all tea-drinkers probably possess.

It’s worth noting that this is the first time I’ve had this kind of tea without wanting to put milk or sugar in it, and even my mother is impressed that it isn’t “…sucking the moisture out of my gums.”

If you ask Zen people they will say tea is not something that you pour with unawareness and drink like any other drink. It is not a drink, it is meditation; it is prayer. So they listen to the kettle creating a melody, and in that listening they become more silent, more alert.”

~Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh

Six adorable tea pots are arranged on the counter, each with their wet and dry leaves nearby, and collectively, we ask Hector and Inez to pose with them.

We’ve kept our conversation on point during the tasting, but the Earl Grey marked the end. Tea and nibbled cookies are soothing, but not terribly filling, and we’re all hungry. Conveniently, Karuna offers sandwiches as well as tea.

We make our purchases, and then we order lunch. I choose their version of a peanut butter sandwich, and it’s a combination of flavors I’m eager to duplicate here at home: Savory peanut butter (no sugar) with a dash of cracked pepper, sprouts, and cucumbers on toasted multigrain bread. It sounds weird, but the flavors combine really well, and the chai I order complements it perfectly.

Molly still hasn’t found her tea, I’ve found far too many, and we all go home with one or two brown paper packets, helpfully marked with recommended brewing instructions.

I am the only one to take home any of the Earl Grey, and even though I’ve now been back in my home in Texas for almost two weeks, I still haven’t brewed it. I’m not waiting for the perfect moment, but the right one. There’s a difference.

That’s the way of tea.

Inez and Hector - Karuna Tea

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa A. BartellMelissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Sunday Brunch: Senses of Snow

Sunday Brunch With Melissa Bartell

Yesterday morning, I sat in my sunny kitchen and read an email from my aunt, sent from her 19th-centry farmhouse in Connecticut. She had included pictures of her land, blanketed in the first snow of the season, and her cozy living room with her real pine Christmas tree (ours is plastic) with the snowy outdoors in the background.

Instantly, I was nostalgic for snow.

If you asked, I would tell you that I don’t do winter, that I’ve ‘done my time’ with snow. It’s true, I never want to live in a place with Serious Winter again, but there are times – usually around the winter solstice – that I find myself longing for a snowed-in weekend.

Photo by E.P. Klindienst

Partly, it’s because of that special snow hush, that preternatural silence. It’s the opposite of rain which is so much static. I mean, I love rain, but the sound of it can be overwhelming.

(Did you know that the reason dogs dislike rain is that it confuses their ability to track the direction of sound? On the other hand, even my dainty Chihuahua who will ‘hold it’ all day, refusing to go outside if the ground is wet, loves to whuffle in fresh snow.)

But snow… snow fills the space between words and music. It quiets the incessant electrical hum that is such a part of contemporary life. It stuffs itself into our unnoticed negative spaces, leaving only a clean, white background.

We don’t often get snow in the part of Texas where I live, so I have to rely on memory when I want to capture the experience of a snow day.

– I’m six and we live in Golden, CO, and my friends and I risk certain death careening down the snow-packed hill that forms the street we live on. Thankfully we never make it to the busy thoroughfare that is the first cross-street.

– I’m a seven-year-old in Colorado, coming home from walking my dog. Her poodle-paws are matted with ice and we’re both shivering, but my mother greets us with a warm towel for her, and a bowl of tuna with hard-boiled egg mixed into it for me.

– I’m seven or eight and I’m standing on the back porch, looking at the snow falling across the beam from the amber porch-light. Years later, I’ll be watching an episode of Star Trek: the Next Generation, and the image of the star field will cause me to utter, “That’s what falling snow looks like.”

– I am ten years old, and even though it was sixty degrees earlier in the day, a soft, slow snow has started outside. My mother and I are curled up on the couch, watching the Winter Olympics from Lake Placid. It’s a perfect weekend.

– I am twenty-four, and Fuzzy (my husband) and I are driving my belongings from California to South Dakota, where we’re about to start our life together. We get iced in, as well as snowed in, in Kearney, NE. My mother covers an extra night at the Best Western, and we spend the day watching cheesy movies, cuddling, reading, and just talking.

– I’m thirty-four, and it’s our first Christmas in Texas. My parents are visiting from Mexico, and we decide to hold an open house and meet the neighbors. A few days before the party, a light snowfall coats the neighborhood in frozen glitter, and Fuzzy and I walk through our snow-dusted neighborhood delivering invitations.

Photo by E.P. Klindienst

– It’s the year I will turn forty, and February brings a “snowpocalypse.” We have eighteen inches of snow, black ice, rolling blackouts, and a frozen pipe (miraculously, it thaws without bursting). We are also (apparently) the only people on our block who own a snow shovel (a remnant of that time in South Dakota).

It is that last snowfall in my list, the one in 2010, that stands out in my mind, because that’s the year I learned that snow has a sound I never expected.

For the first time, I heard the soft hiss that occurs when snowflakes meet the water in my (unheated, but still running) swimming pool. That sound, always reminds me of the way granulated sugar also hisses as it falls into a mug of steaming-hot black tea, but with an element of cold.

We’ve had some snow since then, of course, but most years it’s ‘technical snow’ – a few flurries whip around for an hour or two and then they harden into freezing rain or fade into a brittle gray sky. I’ve learned to appreciate those days for themselves, though. I put a log (DuraFlame, not real wood) on the fire, and enjoy the flickering heat for a few hours.

Some years, I re-read childhood books that have winter scenes, so that at least the landscape in my head looks like winter. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with its opening scenes that take place in Deep Winter is a perennial favorite (always winter and never Christmas is a concept that lingers), but the book I always go back to is Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter. It’s in that book that we see Ma create a ‘button lamp,’ and Pa come up with the idea of twisting hay into sticks to use as fuel in the wood stove. It involves some of the bleakest moments of all the Little House books, but it also includes some of the warmest and happiest.

Yesterday morning, I sat in my kitchen looking at the pictures of my auntie’s snow-covered environment.

Yesterday afternoon, as Fuzzy and I crossed a parking lot to enter a restaurant for lunch, it was a sunny, if blustery, day, with a temperature of roughly seventy-three degrees. When we left an hour later, the temperature had dropped to fifty and the sky had thickened. By midnight the thermometer read twenty-two.

We won’t get snow – the sky may be gray and heavy, but there really isn’t enough moisture, but the cold has its own magic. Snow hushes sounds, but wind sings mournful songs in the trees and whispers stories into the chimney. Gray weather lends itself to lamplight and endless mugs of hot tea whether it comes with powder or pouring.

I fell for snow when I was a child, and I fall for it over and over again when I see pictures or read books, but despite the special memories, I’m glad I no longer have to deal with slush footprints, soggy feet, or being so cold my chin-muscles go numb.

Well… mostly.

 

Photos by E. P. Klindienst. Used with permission.

 

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa A. BartellMelissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Sunday Brunch: On Advent

Sunday Brunch With Melissa Bartell

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?”
~ Mary Oliver

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, but I’m not attending church. Instead, I will drink my morning coffee in the pre-dawn light of my empty kitchen, at the new-to-me library table that we just moved into the space. I’m not typically a morning person, but something about this time of year has me waking early with the urge to write, to sing, to bake, to create.

I think it’s because Advent is a time of preparation, expectation, and anticipation that my creative urges, already in a highly active state from the moment of my birthday in August, hits its annual peak. Not all that energy is directed toward the coming of Christmas (though I confess, I have an unabashed love of that holiday).

Instead, I’m diving into seasonal projects – MusicAdvent which involves posting a song a day for twenty-five days (this year’s theme involves making a chain, so that one song is somehow connected to the next) and Holidailies, which requires daily blog posts during the month of December. (Holiday themes are encouraged but not required. This year I plan to do flash fiction about contemporary magic.)

Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_katarinagondova'>katarinagondova / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

I’m also looking ahead to the new year, and beyond. I’m not ready to divulge my plans beyond an incredibly small circle of friends, but over the last few years, I’ve learned that if I know what I want my year to be like, I can hit the ground running on January 1st.

At the same time, Advent is also a period of reflection.

Maybe it’s because I turned forty-six this year, but I feel like two things are happening: one is that I find myself measuring my life a lot more – not comparing it to other people’s lives, but against the dreams and goals I had as a kid – and the other is that the tape measure I’m using is no longer marked in even increments, but in a mix of wide bands and narrow, in a myriad of colors and fonts.

This past month has been full of turmoil, in the world at large and in my own head (November is always a difficult month for me) but, as I texted a friend on Friday morning, I’ve woken up for the last few days with new lightness in my heart.

I don’t mean that I’m brushing aside things that bother me, things I must speak about or act upon, only that I’m choosing to change my focus.

Advent does that for me.

It forces me to change my focus, and make new plans, and embrace preparation, expectation, and anticipation.

It requires that I activate that sense of possibility, and that openness to the unknown.

Something is coming.

I want to meet it with open arms.

 

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa A. BartellMelissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Stewing by Melissa A. Bartell

Copyright: dogfella / 123RF Stock Photo

(Part III of the Tea Series, follows Simmering)

David had his laptop set up on the kitchen table, where he was transcribing his latest poems into a word processing program, when Sarah draped her arms over his shoulders, hugging him from behind. “Dinner’s about ready,” she said. “How much more time do you need?”

“Ten minutes?” He made it a question.

“Perfect.” She kissed him on the cheek. “Are you putting my poem in the book?”

An agent had approached him after his last open mic night, and suggested he publish a collection. “I am,” he confirmed. “But only if you let me have my ten more minutes.” He was only half-kidding.

Laughing, Sarah pulled away from him, and disappeared into the kitchen.

It was actually closer to twenty minutes before they finally sat down to eat, and after tasting her baked salmon, Sarah wrinkled her nose. “It’s too dry,” she complained. “It stayed in the oven too long.”

David disagreed, “Seems fine to me.”

“No, it’s much too dry. And the green beans are mushy.”

“You’re too critical,” David said. “It all tastes fine.”

“I didn’t want it to be ‘fine,'” Sarah snapped, though the look on her face made it clear that she hadn’t meant to speak quite so sharply. In a more neutral tone, she continued, “I wanted it to be good. It’s my last day of work until the holidays are over, and I wanted things to feel festive.” She gestured to the floral center piece and the lit candles. “Special.”

“Sweetie, it’s fine. It’s special just because you cooked and we’re eating together.” When Sarah remained quiet, her hands folded in her lap, David continued. “There’s something you’re not telling me, isn’t there?”

“You know my company has a cabin up at the Pine Lake Resort, right?”

David nodded. Sarah had mentioned the cabin many, many times.

“Well, every year the person who’s funded the most loans gets to use it for the holidays, and this year, that person was me. I thought we could go shopping for supplies tomorrow or Sunday and then head up on Monday morning, when traffic won’t be bad. It’s all decorated – the staff takes care of that.” She unfolded her hands, and brushed her hair out of her face, revealing bright eyes and a hopeful smile. “We could spend Christmas snowed into a romantic mountain cabin….”

David pushed his plate away. “Aww, I wish you’d told me sooner, Sar.”

“I only found out today. Is there a problem?”

“I always spend the holidays with my family. I just assumed you’d come, too.”

Even in the dim light of the candles it was clear that Sarah’s face had turned pale. “You mean, with your parents, right?”

“Yeah, with my parents. But also, my brother and sister and their kids, and my aunts and uncles and…” David finally realized that his partner wasn’t enthusiastic about his plan. “You don’t want to go.” His tone was flat when he spoke the words.

“I can’t,” she said. She rose from the table and carried her plate full of unfinished food back to the kitchen.

“Look, I’m sure you can reschedule the cabin,” David suggested, following her with his own empty plate and all the cutlery. “Or we can rent one, take a long weekend in January or February.”

“You should have asked me,” Sarah told him, flicking the faucet lever upward and to the left to start the hot water flowing. “I don’t… I’m not…” But her sentences remained incomplete, and when the dishes were done, she simply repeated, “You should have asked me,” before she fled through the bedroom to the master bath where she locked the door against him.

By the time Sarah emerged from her bath with damp hair and pink skin, David had returned to his transcription. When she tried to engage him in conversation, he ignored her.

* * *

The weekend had been spent in tense silence punctuated by too-brief conversations. By Monday morning, Sarah had re-confirmed the cabin for Valentine’s Day, and David had completed typing his poems, and sent them off to his agent for approval.

By Monday afternoon, they were packed and in the car, driving north up the peninsula, and across the Golden Gate bridge.

Neither spoke much during the drive.

Half an hour from his parents’ home in Inverness, David stopped the car next to a mobile home painted with the name, Knave of Hearts. “We’re almost there,” he said. “Are you done stewing? Can you tell me why you’re so upset about this trip?” He gestured to the trailer. “These people make the best currant scones on the entire west coast… I’m not above bribing you.” He waggled his eyebrows at her.

Sarah smiled in spite of herself. “Do they serve decent tea?”

“More than decent.”

“Fine.”

The coastal air was damp and brisk, but inside the trailer the oven kept things toasty. Sarah settled onto one of the three stools fixed before the tiny diner counter, while David ordered cups of English Breakfast tea, served in handmade ceramic mugs with no handles, and a basket of scones.

Plied with tea and baked goods, Sarah opened up. “I’m an only child,” she reminded him. “It was just me and Mom, for most of my life. I have no idea how to be part of a family. I’m too quiet. I’d rather read than watch sports. What if I say the wrong thing? What if they hate me?”

David’s eyes were warm and his smile was gentle as he assured her. “They could never hate you. You’re the woman I love. More than that, you’re my muse. They’re dying to meet you.”

“Great, no pressure,” she snarked.

“Sarah, I promise… they’re really great people.”

“But what if it’s too much?”

“If you get overwhelmed, just excuse yourself and go out to the deck or up to our room. I’ll come with you, if you need me to.”

She took a deep breath. “Okay,” she said. “Okay,” she repeated a moment later.

“So, you’re not mad at me anymore?”

Sarah smiled around another bite of scone. She made a show of chewing and swallowing, then sipping more of her tea before she responded. “I’m not mad.” She reached for his chin and tickled him beneath the goatee he’d begun wearing. “I might even let you sleep with me in your childhood bedroom.”

His laughter repaired the last of the hurt and confusion that had been lingering between them.

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa A. BartellMelissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

 

 

 

 

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