Archive | Essays

Life in Light and Shadow by Cathleen Delia Mulrooney

I begin with a reading—what I know to be true—what is light—illuminated: the Empress. My strength. My connection to the Earth. My self-empowerment and strength. What I need to see—what is shadow—darkness: the Knight of Pentacles. My blind spot is my lack of routine. My inability to finish what I start. My work. My commitments. The light is that I am resilient right now, but the shadow is how changeable every moment currently is. I don’t have the Knight’s consistency. Day by day, the rules change. Day by day, my body changes. Day by day, my heart is in revolt. I throw cards and light candles. I look for beauty in this ruthlessly bittersweet in-between.

I know I am not alone in this. The whole world feels like it is mutable. Inconsistent. Unsettled. We all tumble through the latest headlines and heartbreaks and blessings and brokenness. Finding ourselves, if we are lucky, tangled in a large swath of light. Finding ourselves tangled in a lover’s arms. A kiss as remedy. A conversation as medicine. A flare in the darkness. A touch and we remember what hope feels like. Or we are our own disciple. Telling ourselves stories and whispering prayers to the shadows until the sun comes back. Mapping our narrative until we see the path through all of this. Promising we will go home again. We are already home. Here. In our bones, we are home. Light breaks across them and we know.

And when we just don’t know—when we are lost, when it is all incomprehensible and even words and touch and cards fail us, all we have to do is go outside again and look up. By sunlight or by starlight, we can navigate our way.

I end with a blessing for the in between—I will seek light wherever I can find it—in every being I meet, in myself, even when all I can see are my own shadows. I promise myself love, creativity, and kindness. I commit to tolerance, solitude, introspection, time outside in the trees, watching the leaves fall and the flight patterns of birds overhead. Life will always offer darkness. It is up to me to keep the repository of light replenished. I swear to always burn candles and throw cards—to savor the story and the kiss—to look to the bones and the branches. I vow set my roots into the depths of this mercurial world. At home in the shadow and the light.

Cathleen Delia Mulrooney

cathleendeliamulrooney_bioRestless. Sleepless. Book-lover. Wordsmith. Deep roots. Prodigal heart. Teacher. Guide. Wanderer. Witch. Tea, tarot, hot baths, stitchcraft. Curator of narrative relics, remnants, & curiosities.

Cat is also a freelance writer, editor, and teacher. Her poetry, fiction, essays, interviews, and reviews have appeared in a variety of online and print publications. She has been teaching writing at the college level since 2000, and has facilitated creative writing workshops in elementary schools, high schools, prisons, and private organizations, as well as workshops exclusively for women to write their body and tarot-based narratives.

Through her Queen of Cups Tarot community, she offers private, group, and online tarot readings. Find her online at http://cdeliamulrooney.com and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/queenofcupstarot/

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The New Normal by Christine Mason Miller

It’s now official. I am a resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Driver’s license? Check.

Brand new long puffy parka jacket hanging in my closet? Check.

First snow flurries? Happened yesterday.

After months of talking about it, then planning for it, then diving in and heading east, I have arrived.

My husband is originally from here , which is the main reason we decided to relocate. The thing he says to everyone who wants to know just a wee bit more about his longing to return home is that being here feels normal. There are no palm trees. It rains. A lot. When shopping for a Christmas tree, it will be cold. Guaranteed. Our motivation for packing up everything we own and moving to the Midwest was not so much about reasons that, while understandable, are also vague – “It was time to return to my roots!” – this adventure is more about countless smaller details that we’re now moving through everyday.

I’ve moved here after spending twenty-two years in California; I moved to California after spending the first twenty-seven years of my life on the east coast, mainly in Alexandria, Virginia. I’ve experienced winter and its requisite accessories – snow boots, ice scrapers, electric blankets – so the thought of Wisconsin’s colder climates never daunted me. I’m indulging my own particular longings in this move, in fact, mainly having to do with growing weary of southern California’s nearly year-round sunny-and-72 climate. Because it isn’t sunny-and-72 anymore, but blazing, dry, and extreme. Just last week it was 102 degrees in Santa Barbara, an occurrence that is fast become de riguer rather than exceptional.

During this time of getting settled into our home, learning my way around, and figuring out new routines related to cold-weather preparedness (when in doubt, bring the hat), I’ve been surprised to see and experience how so many everyday details of this place feel normal to me, too. A deep normal, a cellular normal.

I’m not from Milwaukee, but Milwaukee is a much closer kindred to Alexandria than Santa Barbara. When I take a deep inhale in our backyard, hear the rain pelting our windows, and watch gold leaves twirl down to the earth like weightless ballerina fairies, everything within me says, “Yes – this makes sense.”

I hadn’t expected to feel this way when we got here. I was looking forward to the seasons, to not having to worry about fires and earthquakes, to something different. What I didn’t know was that my very cells have long been harboring desires for the kind of seasonal rhythms and routines that were never possible on the west coast. Right here, right now – looking out my window at a soft gray sky and nary a shadow in sight – I feel normal.

When I set these new views alongside the ones we had in Santa Barbara, it is the quality of the light that sets them apart the most. Just over four months ago, everything around me was bright and glittery and intense. On the hotter days, after months without rain, it seemed like I was literally watching the sun scorch the earth. The scenes outside rarely gave any insight as to the season or time of year. For some, this sounds heavenly. For me, over time, it became oppressive.

When I try to explain this, most everyone responds with, “Talk to me in February.” Fair enough. Maybe by then I’ll be totally over it by then – the cold, the gray skies, the muted light. It is entirely possible. But for now, I’m savoring every bit of it, feeling grateful for the gentle blanket of gray that seems to be snuggling us down for the interim. I don’t miss the glaring light or the sharp outlines of palm trees at dusk, and I am ready to hunker down and let nature do its work where I can’t see it – beneath the ground, in the dark, while I sleep.

About the Author: Christine Mason Miller

Christine Mason Miller is an author and artist who has been inspiring others to create a meaningful life since 1995. Follow her adventures at www.christinemasonmiller.com.

 

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Changing It Up to Keep It Fresh by Daryl Wood Gerber

Some days I like to write mystery; other days I like to write suspense. Aren’t they the same, you ask? No. Not at all. My cozy mysteries are much different than my stand-alone suspense novels in tone and theme as well as tempo.

For me, changing it up keeps my writing fresh. However, if I find I’m uninspired by what I’m writing, I move on to another project. On certain days, I’ll write the first page of something brand new to see if I can find the voice.  On other days, I might write a two-page short story or a blog or an article. Or I’ll do a live chat on Facebook looking for inspiration from my fans.

Writing is like exercise. If you do the same exercise every day, your body gets used to the movements and it doesn’t tone. Walk, walk, walk. Boring. Walk, ride, swim, golf, yoga, pilates, run on the beach. Now that sounds like more “fun.”

Oh, sure, when I’m near a deadline, I can press myself to stick with only one project. I will read it and tweak. Read it again and tweak some more. Check for all the words that I’ve repeated—I have a list of over 100 words to search for. Tweak some more. Read it again—aloud. If it’s ready, turn it in.

But when I’m in the muddy middle—the part of a book where I hope the reader will turn the pages fast—I find I can get bogged down. So I pace. I exercise. I bake. I sing. If those activities don’t energize me, I write something else. As a last resort, I slam doors (not too loudly; don’t want to scare my dog Sparky).

When I come back to my material with fresh eyes and enthusiasm for the project, I feel invigorated and ready to rock and roll…or write.

Do you ever feel you need a jumpstart or a change of pace?

About the Author: Daryl Wood Gerber

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

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

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

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

Shades of Gray by Molly Totoro

All or Nothing: the erroneous idea that something is either good or bad, light or dark, right or wrong.

Also known as black-or-white thinking, this dichotomy separates opposite ends of a spectrum into two mutually exclusive groups. Rather than acknowledge a continuum of degrees, it fosters a disunity of superlatives. Common ground does not exist and battles ensue.

Until recently I held this legalistic view as absolute truth. I refused to accept any middle ground. But often I would rephrase these opposites in the negative. I am either right or not – intelligent or not – accomplished or not. The voices within hammered the message “You’re not good enough.”

About a year ago we decided to redecorate our living room. Our thirty-year-old house needed an update. I went to the home goods store to select a new shade of paint. I wanted something neutral and bright to bring life back into our home.

I scanned the wall of paint chips. So many neutral colors with such enticing names: snowflake – linen – eggshell. Not a single shade of “white” existed. In fact, I counted more than two-dozen different hues.

These light neutrals transitioned to grays: stratus – cashmere – cinderblock. Again, I saw at least two-dozen different shades, although not a one was actually called “gray”. It didn’t take long for me to realize this was true for every color scheme.

I learned a valuable lesson that day standing in the middle of Home Depot. Life situations are not often black or white. This mindset fosters exclusivity and the idea that one is better than the other. Rather, life is a mix of black and white. Both colors co-existing side by side. Dichotomy fosters an exclusive mindset. To be inclusive, I need to replace “either/or” thinking with an “and” mentality.

I easily adopted this paradigm shift to visual colors. However, it is proving a bit more difficult to apply this to other areas of life. In fact, dichotomy thinking is so ingrained, that I often don’t realize I’m doing it.

For example, I love to scrapbook. It combines three areas of creativity that feeds my soul: writing, photography, and paper crafts. I rarely view a photo without thinking of the story associated with it. And I love to enhance the words and pictures with colorful mats and borders. In addition, scrapbooks preserve our family legacy for generations to come. It is a worthy pastime.

However, I rarely scrapbook more than once a year. Why? I reason I must have at least a weekend to devote to the project or it isn’t worth the hassle. The supplies take over the dining room table. It is time-consuming to match the photos with cardstock. Once I start, I don’t want to stop. So if I don’t have a chunk of time available, why begin?

I’m not much of an athlete, but I do enjoy walking, especially in the fall. I admire the colorful leaves. I appreciate the cool breeze. I clear my head of mental clutter and get a bit of exercise at the same time. Win-win situation, right?

But most days I talk myself out of going to the park. Why? Because I crave routine. I need to know what to expect so I can plan accordingly. But the weather is unpredictable. Temperatures may be nice today, but next week it may rain. Fall weather is more conducive to outdoor exercise than the freezing months. I don’t walk today because I may not adhere to the schedule next week. And everyone knows, consistent exercise maximizes health benefits. So, I reason, I either must walk every day or not at all.

This condition might be genetic. Mom once told me the story of her aunt. This woman wanted nothing more than a fastidious home. She wanted the kitchen sparkling clean, living areas dust-free, and beds made with fresh clean sheets. If these conditions could not be met on a daily basis, however, she refused to do any housework at all.

At the time, I thought this ridiculous. After all, who changes the sheets every day?! But more importantly, those lofty ideals prevented her from having the neat, clean house she desired.

Dichotomous thinking and perfectionism are closely related. Both set up unrealistic expectations. Both demand devotion to the best. Either I clean every cranny of the house or I don’t clean at all. Both foster a feeling of unworthiness. If I can’t do this perfectly, then I am a failure.

What does life look like if I incorporate “and” into my vocabulary?

I could choose to walk today because I have the time and the weather is nice. I will clear my head, my marvel at nature, and I get a bit of exercise. After all, one day of walking is better than nothing. Rather than thinking myself a failure because I don’t walk 10,000 steps every day, why don’t I celebrate those days I do exercise?

In this retirement stage of life, I don’t entertain as often. The dining room table goes unused for months. What if I leave out my scrapbook supplies? When I have a few free minutes, I could create a page layout. I don’t need forty-eight hours to indulge in my favorite pastime. Thirty minutes here and there will complete an album.

I also sabotage my writing efforts with this faulty logic. I rarely start an article unless I know exactly what I want to say and how to say it. I mentally labor for days over the content and structure, but don’t write a single word. The deadline looms and I grow more anxious. When I finally force myself to open the file, I stare at the blank page, completely paralyzed.

Rather than agonizing over every detail before I begin, I could open the document in advance of the deadline. As thoughts come to mind, I could jot them down. This is not the time to worry about structure or angle. Complete sentences are optional. The point is to capture ideas on paper. And when the time is right, I can trust the process of crafting the raw materials into art.

Life is lived in the small spaces. If we wait for perfect conditions – lots of free time, ideal weather, peak physical health – we will never progress or accomplish our goals. Let us be mindful to “start where we are; use what we have; and do what we can.” (Arthur Ashe).

About the Author: Molly Totoro

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

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

The State of the World Today by Keva Bartnick

What if I told you that it will in fact get better, that it does get better. Would you believe me? What if I told you that we all have to go thru a lot of darkness to make it thru to the light. Would you believe me still?

Here’s the kicker though, it takes time, lots and lots of time. Time is the magical word that will transport us to our desired destination.

Time unfortunately is also an illusion. The past is a memory, the future isn’t here, so all we have is the present. Our present is vital to our healing. The act of being present should be our salvation. Unfortunately, how many of us actually live there?

I’ve read one way is to practice mindfulness. Mindfullness starts with taking a few minutes each day to BE in your body. Sitting in silence, alone with ourselves, with nothing to keep our minds busy is torturous to some. Not running away to check our phones, checking Facebook, or other media outlets. Sitting, breathing, being. Feeling all the feelings when they arise.

We have a duty to ourselves to heal. We believe that the fight is outside of ourselves, and sometimes it is. What if I told you the greatest fight is not outside, but inside. If we heal our own darkness bringing it into the light, the outside starts to become lighter somehow.

Working through our own issues is the hardest work we will ever perform outside of being a parent to a child. When we shine the light into the darkness it seems scary at first. Like the boogie man under your bed, you believe him to be MUCH scarier than he is. When we get the courage to climb out of bed, tip toe to turn on the light, we find that the scary monster is nothing more than a pair of crumpled up socks. Looking inside ourselves works like that too.

When we bring our darkness to the surface time and time again with mindfulness eventually less will come to the surface. Overtime we will have worked through all the issues healing ourselves. When we do that work first, I can promises you that the world will indeed look very different than it did before.

What if World Peace actually starts with being mindful of ourselves?

About the Author: Keva Bartnick

Keva Bartnick is an artist, writer, and lightworker. Happily married mother of three; she’s been inspiring people to be their most courageous selves since 2015.

She can be found at Taleoftwofeathers.com

All in Its Time by Tamara Palmer

In retrospect, like the best-laid plans, it all worked out great. This past spring I released my novel, Missing Tyler, twenty years after I began the first draft. To the world my launch appeared nuanced and executed with amazing precision. But what I know now, being in the driver’s seat, is that the years building up to the release are what enabled my novel to receive such a tremendous reception. The novel and I grew up together.

I take comfort in the knowledge that the years my novel went unpublished was not wasted time. I often scolded myself for not doing more at various times and society further reinforces that notion for all unpublished authors. But not only was that period not wasted time, it was perfect and necessary. Now that I’ve launched my novel into the world, I can honestly say it was released at just the right time.

I began writing Missing Tyler in the mid-nineties in a writing group in Lafayette, Colorado. At the time I was Tamara Wachtel. I was a few years out of college, bursting with creative energy to finally see a story all the way through to the end – to write a damn novel. Prior to that point, the most I’d written was a fifty-page screenplay as a senior thesis in college. I had various novel starts, all around the same page count. One of my favorites of the unfinished novels featured a main character who mainlined caffeine the way others shoot heroin.

As I matured past my early twenties and moved into a house with my fiancé, it was time to tackle a novel. To completion. One story was screaming for attention over the others. It wanted to be told. Those early drafts of Missing Tyler still exist somewhere on a floppy disk in a box buried in the house I now call home.

As I grew, Missing Tyler grew with me. I matured from girlfriend to fiancée to wife, becoming Tamara Palmer. Then I became a mother. I grew in my day job, carving out a career path from recruiter to manager to director to career coach.

It’s tempting to regret life achievements not having happened sooner but twinges of regret are tempered with understanding that if I had had my daughter when I was younger, my second novel, Finding Lancelot, would never have been written. The freedom I felt to attend a ten-day creative writing retreat in England in the early 2000s likely won’t return for many years to come. And when it does, I’ll be a different woman, post-menopausal, with a lifetime of history to fuel a different story.

According to my original plan, I was supposed to have sold Missing Tyler in 2008. At that time, I had secured a reputable New York agent who was shopping the book around. It was a terrible market though, and while there was some interest, no one was willing to take a stab at a newbie writer tackling death and grief. After my agent accumulated a substantial pile of rejection letters from all the big publishers, she told me she was out of ideas. Being seven months pregnant, I countered that I was out of time. With a baby on the way, I didn’t have time to continue exploring a creative venture.

Besides being immersed in new motherhood, the next group of years found me entrenched in learning the ropes of running a business. I gained exceptional knowledge in marketing and, more importantly, social media marketing. These have been my secret weapons in getting Missing Tyler launched into bestseller status on Amazon and, I hope, will be my ticket to getting Missing Tyler known beyond the confines of my communities.

The years I spent raising my daughter coincided with the burgeoning acceptability of self-publishing. I couldn’t have published Missing Tyler on my own in 2008 and achieved anywhere near the reception I have today. The backbone of social media has been the key to marketing my novel and social media has grown up a lot since my daughter was born.

And while I crave the legitimacy of inclusion in the writing club that a check from Random House confers, with self-publishing I was able to design my book cover exactly as I wanted. I didn’t have to modify my ending or change my title or make myriad other creative adjustments that the establishment likely would have insisted upon. Retaining complete creative control reminds me that this is truly my accomplishment. Even if one day Random House comes calling and offers a check in exchange for my book, I’ll know the offer is rooted in wanting a piece of what the world already loves and that I created on my own.

Also, had I published in 2008, I would not have had the last five years of public-speaking practice, during which I have honed my voice and have come to understand what it is to command a crowd and truly engage an audience. I’ve loved the book signings I’ve had thus far, feeling comfortable speaking to an audience about my journey and the importance of creativity in my life. I am a captivating speaker because I’ve learned what people respond to in my delivery. I look forward to every new speaking event.

And, had I published in 2008, I would not have had the years of maturing that allowed me to fine tune the manuscript. I would not have been able to read my novel through the lens of a mother. I would not have met my critique partner, David, who edited Missing Tyler through the eyes of a father.

They say everything happens in its time. Some say it’s God’s will, some say it’s just the roll of the dice. Whether it was fate, God, or a fluke, I’m grateful that I sit here at 45 reflecting back on a lifetime (to date) of experiences that brought me to this doorway. I crossed the publishing threshold armed with good writing chops, social media savvy, public-speaking ease and comfort, and a twenty-five-year working history of strong connections. Into the proverbial Crockpot they went to bring my novel into the world with force.

No regrets.

About the Author: Tamara Palmer

Tamara Palmer knew she was going to be a writer before she could even write. She would play elaborate dramas out with her Barbies for days, even weeks, on end. As she got older, the stories made their way onto a typewriter. Tamara obtained a BA in English/Creative Writing from Eastern Illinois University, and has had a handful of short stories and essays published online and in print.

Tamara blogs frequently for the career advisement business she founded in 2012, greyzone. “Missing Tyler” is her first novel. She lives just outside Chicago with her husband, daughter, and assortment of pets.

Sun Spots and Sunsets by Jeanie Croope

I’ve had a heck of a time figuring out what I wanted to write for this issue’s Light and Shadow theme. It should be so easy. If nothing else I could come up with some art-related post looking at the brilliant chiaroscuro techniques developed by the old masters, like Caravaggio and implemented in so many ways in art since then. The brilliant light of the Impressionists. The gray-and-black shadows of Picasso’s Guernica.

There’s something there, don’t you think?

But I couldn’t make it work.

How about writing on how the light changes as we move into autumn? We see long shadows, earlier twilights. Deeper sunsets find brilliant oranges, purples and pinks contrasted with the shadows of the dark clouds and disappearing light, coming in to rest for the evening. Heaven knows I have enough sunset photos in my bank to illustrate an entire photo essay on the subject.

But the words wouldn’t come.

I think part of the problem in nailing this is that I am a “light” person. I prefer to see the light in a situation instead of the dark, even when the dark is pretty murky. it’s not that I avoid reality, I see it for what it is. But I’ve been around enough to know that in all tragedy or dark times, there is the light that comes from goodness, caring, rebirth.

You can call it Pollyanna. (I sometimes do.) There is little good in hurricanes or earthquakes that decimate entire communities. Yet I also see the helpers who fight so valiantly to rescue the trapped, who leave their comfortable homes to go to another place and work hard to help rebuild.

I think you can see that it is very difficult for me to go into the “shadow” mode. I don’t need to add that to bring me down when something is already swinging on the downside.

But recently, after many months of self-diagnosing (don’t do that), doc visits that offered remedies that worked for a few weeks and then didn’t, I finally went to the dermatologist for a very pesky lip problem. When the biopsy came back it was cancerous.

They told me it was no doubt from too many hours in the sun back in the days of long ago. Before sunscreen became an essential piece of summer outdoor wear. (And do you put sunscreen on your lips? You should.)

I know many readers may have dealt with squamous cell carcinoma. Basically, a skin cancer. It’s about as common as a Hershey bar at a grocery store check-out stand. Rarely are these life threatening unless left too long and metastasized. This is not your deeply concerning liver or stomach, ovarian or breast cancer.

Rick calls cancers like these “candy cancers.” You do the treatment, it works, and off you go to enjoy life. It’s a bit cavalier but in a way it’s spot on. No fun, but you probably won’t die.

But when you hear the C-word, one can’t help but feel a bit of a shadow come over things, even when the doctor has assured me that it was on the surface, hadn’t spread and that the radiation would do the trick. There’s a lot of light there.

And I see that and am immensely grateful. I keep reminding myself of that. See the Light.

But has I’ve tried to wrap my head around the fact that now I, too, am part of a club to which I never wanted to belong, there is a bit of shadow. I remember the mother who died before I was a fully-formed person, the friend who battled her cancer for years and died too young, and so many others who fought valiantly and others who do to this day.

Their cancers, I remind myself, were far more complicated than a little curable candy cancer on the lip. There simply is no comparison.

But as I watch the heron on my lake come to visit during the day and again at twilight, and then fly off into the sunset to rest, I am reminded once again to grab every bit of beauty and joy from life and celebrate it, cherish it. Next time one may not be so lucky.

There is beauty in the light of the sun. Blinding, sometimes searing, sometimes dangerous, but great beauty. And there is also beauty in the sunset, the shadows of evening, the silhouette of a blue heron, winging his way through the sky to meet the light again in the morning.

And I hope to meet that light in the morning for many sunrises to come.

About the Author: Jeanie Croope

Jeanie Croope bioAfter a long career in public broadcasting, Jeanie Croope is now doing all the things she loves — art, photography, writing, cooking, reading wonderful books and discovering a multitude of new creative passions. You can find her blogging about life and all the things she loves at The Marmelade Gypsy.

Uncertain, Scary, Thrilling by Christine Mason Miller

In a last-ditch effort to ignite the spark of inspiration needed to compose a meaningful, thought-provoking piece of writing around the theme of light and shadow, I went on a two-hour hike today through Peninsula State Park. As excited as I was to explore this theme when I was invited to write about it, I’ve been stumped for days. With a looming deadline (that would be today), I put on my hiking shoes and headed to the trails I’ve been wandering and cycling on for years.

When my husband and I made our plans for this visit to Door County, Wisconsin—the third time we’ve come here for an extended stay—we chose to rent a cabin for the entire summer. Between the time we finalized those plans and the day our rental period started, we decided to move to Milwaukee, which means our drive back home won’t involve a cross-country return trip to Santa Barbara, but a mere three-hour drive south.

On that day, we will move into our new home.

If you know me, follow me on Instagram, or read my latest piece here, you might very well be sick of hearing me talk about this move. It has been the main topic of conversation in most areas of my life since last spring and still dominates my thoughts. Because we had our Door County plans in place before we decided to change zip codes, I’ve been in a state of in-between ever since we pulled out of our driveway, and I won’t really begin to come through on the other side until the moving van shows up at our storage unit to take everything we own to our new address at the end of September.

The good news is that in the meantime, I’ve been relishing these first experiences of living in a part of the world that doesn’t provide blue skies and sunshine 24/7. You read that right—I’ve been loving it—the rain, the morning chill (it was 54 degrees outside this morning), the way the clouds hover low above the horizon like a puffy ceiling of cotton. And when I look outside our windows, hike in the park, or ride my bike along trails in the woods, it is the shadows that make things interesting.

On my hike today, the shadows created a perfect halo of light above a tiny mushroom the color of a persimmon and they created small sparkles of sunlight that danced all over the ferns. All around me, I’m discovering some of the unique flora and fauna the shadows nurture and protect. I happened upon an Indian ghost pipe this week, growing along our street like a lone soldier, which is a plant—not a mushroom or fungi—that is entirely white. Lacking chlorophyll, it gathers all of its nutrients exclusively from the soil, and has been known to help alleviate both physical and emotional pain when utilized as a tincture. Who knew such a thing existed? (Apparently many people, as a quick post on Instagram with the question, “What the heck is this?” gave me an answer within minutes.)

Strange and exotic wonders are abundant in the shadows, a fact that is true not only in the woods outside our cabin windows, but also within my very self.  I have been thinking about that particular landscape quite a bit this summer, eager to clear out what doesn’t belong and what I no longer need as I become a new resident not only of the Midwest but also of midlife, as I’m turning fifty in less than three months.

As I ponder what lies beyond my summer of in-between (and my forties), there is much that feels uncertain and kind of scary, but also thrilling in its mystery.

Many of the roads in Door County are surrounded by wide open fields of corn, wildflowers and farmland, but some cut a smoothly-paved swath through thick forests of trees. I find those stretches especially fascinating. The density of the foliage means it is almost impossible to see what is beyond the tree line. There is much more shadow than light, which feels—can you guess?—uncertain and kind of scary, but also thrilling in its mystery. Beneath the canopy of happy, healthy trees, there is much to inspire wonderment and awe—a particular kind of beauty that only exists in the shadows, and only thrives beyond the light.

About the Author: Christine Mason Miller

Christine Mason Miller is an author and artist who has been inspiring others to create a meaningful life since 1995. Transplant: A Podcast about Home, inspired by her recent move to the midwest, can be found at www.christinemasonmiller.com.

At-Home Weekend Retreat

As a teacher, August always signals the end of summer and the start of a new academic year.

While I relish the relaxed routine of June and July, I am always ready to return to the familiar fall schedule. However, I know once Labor Day is passed, life becomes a blur of activity. It is nice to have a smooth transition from one season to the next.

A spa weekend is the perfect prescription. It offers an opportunity to rejuvenate the mind, energize the body, and restore the soul.

Some may enjoy a retreat to the mountains or lake, surrounding themselves with nature. Others may prefer the pampering of a full body massage and facial. No matter the location, the idea is to escape home, with its myriad distractions and to-do lists, in order to focus on self.

If money is an issue, however, or if you are a homebody like me, travel is not necessary to enjoy this same kind of personal renewal. All that’s needed is a bit of solitude and some advanced planning.

The first step is to set a date. I initially wanted to plan an entire weekend getaway, but 48-hours is a long time to escape life’s demands. So instead, I chose a day when I knew my husband would be out-of-town, and my calendar empty: Tuesday, July 25.

To honor this commitment, I wrote the appointment in my schedule. We need to take our personal time as seriously as we take other relationships.

Next, I blocked out time to brainstorm and plan the retreat. The purpose of this day is to do what energizes, relaxes, and renews our spirit. I began to list activities that would help me achieve this goal. My options included:

  • Journal: While I try to write a bit every day, I would enjoy setting aside a full hour or two to delve more deeply into personal analysis and reflection.
  • Scrapbook: I love the idea of making family scrapbooks, but I never make the time. Scrapbooking for me is practical (I’m finally doing something with all those loose photos), creative (matching colored paper to the photos for eye-catching pages), and purposeful (writing the story behind the photo).
  • Read: Writers are readers, and to that end, I do strive to read at least thirty minutes a day – usually right before bed. However, I long to escape into a novel for an entire afternoon.
  • Take a Walk: A day off does not necessarily translate to a sedentary lifestyle (although it wasn’t too long ago that I would have argued otherwise). Actually, any kind of movement can energize our body and engage our creativity. I’m not advocating a cardiovascular walk or the routine walking of the dog, but rather a long, leisurely stroll to enjoy and connect with nature. I am fortunate to live in an area with a beautiful walking trail around the reservoir – or the town’s Arboretum is filled with possibilities.
  • Visit the Museum: The Nelson-Atkins, my local museum, just recently installed a new gallery of Impressionist art – my favorite! The museum is an easy thirty-minute drive from home. The atrium restaurant, in the style of a Venetian palace, is ideal for a light lunch before visiting the artwork.
  • At-Home Spa Experience: I rarely take the time to pamper myself. Why is that?! It doesn’t take long and it does wonders for my peace of mind and self-acceptance. I could luxuriate in a warm bubble bath, exfoliate my skin with a facial mask, and beautify my nails with a manicure.
  • Massage: I adore a good massage, and my husband is more than willing to accommodate. But I’m also learning that Yoga can achieve the same results. Gentle stretching exercises, coupled with deep intentional breathing, is quickly becoming my go-to relaxation technique.
  • Evening Movie: I rarely go to the movies. And quite frankly, I enjoy the buttered popcorn more than the film. But watching a favorite oldie in the comfort of my own home, munching my decadent movie snack, would be an ideal way to end the day.

Some of these options may not be of interest to you, which is fine. But that is why you need to set aside a planning period before the retreat. Discover what you enjoy doing and then make time to do it. Shopping and a nice lunch out? Quilting or cross-stitching? Painting or lettering? Working on a project that has lain dormant far too long? Whatever it may be, honor your creative side.

Once I made the list of possible activities, I next needed to decide on meals. Since this retreat is to rest and rejuvenate, I wanted to be sure to have all ingredients in-house ahead of time. I considered three full meals plus snacks.

I decided breakfast would remain my typical coffee and yogurt. I like it, and there’s no need to modify routine for the sake of change.

A trip to Costco helped me solidify the other meals. Spinach chicken wrap with fresh fruit for lunch, and Rotisserie chicken with grilled vegetables for dinner. A bag of pre-popped popcorn would be the movie munchies and a small container of gelato for an impromptu treat. Perfect.

Next, I took inventory of any other items I might need. For example, I wanted a new color nail polish, and I needed a clay mask for my facial. I made sure to have enough notebooks and pens for journaling (really… is there such a thing as enough?) and plenty of interesting reading material. I spent a few minutes reviewing Netflix to find suitable movie options.

Another consideration was ambiance. I wanted my common-place home to be something more special. I created a new playlist of inspirational songs I enjoy. I placed scented candles throughout the house. I thought of buying a fresh bouquet of flowers to brighten up the dining room table. Things were coming together.

Advanced preparation was almost complete. Now I just needed to develop an itinerary. While I wanted to leave some room for spontaneity, I knew I had a lot to accomplish. A loose plan would help me manage my time and avoid disappointment.

For some, the perfect retreat may begin with a late morning wake up call, followed by lounging in pajamas until noon. However, I enjoy my typical morning routine and decided to stick to it. I got up at 6:00am, sipped my morning coffee while reviewing correspondence, completed my daily exercises, and took the basset for his walk. I was back home by 9:00 and ready to start my special day.

I planned to journal a bit first and then transition into some scrapbook time. This would bring me to the noon hour when I would take a break and enjoy the chicken wrap and fresh fruit.

I decided to save the museum excursion for another day, and instead, I planned to spend the afternoon at Chez Totoro spa and boutique. I would begin with a luxurious bubble bath and perhaps indulge in a glass of Chardonnay. Next, I would give myself a facial using the clay mask, and then end the session with a mani/pedi.

It would now be mid-afternoon. The perfect time to escape into a good book for a couple of hours before I would begin prepping the vegetables to roast for dinner.

After the evening meal, I might stroll through the neighborhood before returning home, snuggling on the couch with the basset, a good movie, and that buttery popcorn.

That was the plan.

In reality, family obligations prevented me from devoting the entire day to these pursuits. But that’s okay.

Because I had the plan in place, I could easily scrapbook for an hour in the afternoon, and polish my nails the next evening. I used the facial mask one morning after my shower. Popcorn and a movie became date night.

And that luxurious bubble bath? I plan to indulge next week before teacher in-service meetings begin.

About the Author: Molly Totoro

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

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

Summer Vacation and Restoration by Anna Oginsky

It’s summer vacation here at my house and with its impending start in June came dreams of my children and I enjoying long, lazy days reading, writing, and making art— preferably on a beach or in the forest—nourishing our bodies with an unending supply of fruit and herb infused waters, fresh berries, and concoctions made with heirloom tomatoes picked from the vine.

I seem to begin running this film in my imagination around Memorial Day each year, one where it is summertime and the living is easy, as the old song goes. The reality is it is summertime and the living is living. Sometimes it is easy and sometimes it seems impossible. I have always been one to think in extremes. I exaggerate. It is a tendency that runs through my blood and I can most likely attribute it to my relatives who were active in community theatre outside the home and all-around general theatrics everywhere else.

Consequently, when I think about what it means to feel refreshed or be restored, I go right to the mountain top, the beach, or the forest.

What I’m noticing is to limit myself to the possibility of only feeling restored under the dreamiest circumstances and to overlook the possibilities for restoration in my daily life means I will rarely find the restoration my body, mind, and spirit needs. What I’m learning, not only about restoration, but also about every significant area of my life, is that what is most refreshing and where I experience the most peace, ease, joy is somewhere between the mundane and the mountaintop.

My most enriching life encounters happen in that space between the dream and the reality.

What this means is that a small shift of my perception can open the space for restoration, not only on vacation but also throughout the course of my day. I’m also learning that at this point in my life, a vacation simply isn’t enough to sustain the feeling of being restored. It is essential that I practice restoration daily. I’m not suggesting this is easy, but with the amount of information I am exposed to and the pace at which my life moves (which is the same for most everyone I know), a week away on vacation just isn’t enough and so restorative time has become just as pertinent, if not more pertinent, as eating well and moving our bodies—our beacons of hope for health and well-being.

My fifteen-year-old son just told me about an opinion he recently read that said in some ways our bodies die each night when we go to sleep and are born anew when we wake in the morning. I told him that I loved the idea of waking up to a new life each day. He asked me what I thought about the idea of dying each night. I find it refreshing to imagine a nightly death of sorts where my body naturally sheds what is no longer serving me, whether that be cells or ideas or worries that I carried through the day. I appreciate my body’s need for restoration and continuously marvel at the ways it shows me that it can restore itself—if I let it.

Contrary to what I formerly believed, opportunities to restore are all around me.

There are many practices like making art, writing, walking, meditation, and yoga that I can use to refresh and restore my body, mind, and spirit. I have really enjoyed these practices for a long time. What I’m seeing more clearly now is that restoration isn’t always about the place or the practice. Restoration is truly possible anywhere, anytime when I take a deep breath, let my mind off the hook, and allow my body to do its thing. What a relief!

About the Author: Anna Oginsky

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

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