Archive | Essays

Are Selfies Selfish? by Molly Totoro

The idea for this post came in the middle of a back-to-school meeting. As part of our professional development, we seek to understand students in order to teach effectively. We read relevant articles and then share as a group.

One such article identified today’s Generation Z as “intimate exhibitionists” – an interesting label that fostered discussion. One fellow colleague used this as an opportunity to voice her frustration with selfies. She interprets them as narcissistic. Why must they post every meal they eat?

While many agreed with her observation, I wasn’t so sure.

First of all, I’m not convinced this obsession with sharing selfies is limited to the younger generation. My newsfeed is filled with images of Baby Boomers sharing their latest adventure, or Millennials taking part in local political protests. While some of these pictures are frivolous and perhaps place too much emphasis on self, I enjoy this sneak-peak into the lives of others. And often, they inspire me.

For example, my high school friend posts pictures of her before-and-after weight loss of 80 pounds! She has maintained a healthy weight for three years and wants to encourage others they can do the same. Her self-discipline and honesty (she still occasionally gives in to her sweet-tooth) motivate me to take the necessary steps to ensure a healthy retirement.

Another example is my co-worker who recently learned her cancer returned after a three-year remission. Her gaunt face and scarfed head demonstrate a different kind of beauty. She faces this deadly disease with courage and bravery. I do not view her selfies as narcissistic. I applaud her vulnerability and willingness to show us true authenticity.

Unlike my teaching colleague, I enjoy mealtime selfies. From a practical standpoint, I find new restaurants to visit or recipes to try. These posts help me get out of my rut and experiment. But more than that, these everyday photos show me how to celebrate ordinary moments.

I spend too much of my life on autopilot. I can’t tell you what I had for dinner last night. I just know I didn’t go to bed hungry. I can’t tell you what I did all day, but I know I was exhausted when I got home.

Taking the selfie forces me to slow down. Setting up the food shot before taking the picture increases the anticipation of that first bite. I am more likely to savor the flavor and appreciate the texture. I learn to eat with my eyes as well as my mouth. I taste rather than gobble. I sip rather than guzzle. A simple meal becomes a memorable experience.

Selfies are also important because they draw us out of the shadows and into the light. As someone who suffers from low self-esteem and Impostor Syndrome, my comfort zone is behind the camera. But as I sort through boxes of family photos, I realize how few images I have of my mother and grandmother. And what I would give to have more tangible memories of them.

This “intimate exhibitionist” generation is teaching me to ignore what others think. Instead, I need to embrace who I am and share what I have to offer with the world around me. If I’m not willing to do that, I become invisible and ineffective.

In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown discusses the difference between fitting in and belonging. She defines fitting in as assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be in order to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, does not require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.

Selfies help us learn to accept ourselves. They force us to slow down and live in the moment. And they reconnect us with our past and inspire us toward a brighter future.

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

Eyes on the Enter-Prize by Theresa Reed

Although I hire people for various tasks, my business is a one-woman show. I manage all the main details myself. Partly because I like being in control, but also, because of the nature of my work, strict client confidentiality is a must. Which means: I cannot have someone poking around in my inbox.

I do a pretty good job at managing all the different aspects of my work but over time, I began to feel overwhelmed. It’s a lot to handle and made even harder by my tendency to be an idea machine – cranking out posts, podcasts, and new offerings in record time. When you add that aspect on top of the daily grind, you can guess how tough it is to maintain at that output level for long.

This winter, I did myself a little favor. I took a short weekend break in the middle of January to attend the CEO Retreat, hosted by Rachael Cook, a business coach that I admire. This was a big leap for me – I never travel in winter due to weather fears but also: it’s the heart of my busy season. That being said, the stars were aligned (yes, I always check what’s happening in the cosmos before making a business decision) so off I went.

It turned out to be just what my business needed.

For one, I was able to spend time with successful female entrepreneurs, something I crave. Also, that time-out from work was a much needed break in a jam-packed schedule. But the most important thing for me was getting someone else’s eyes on what I was doing in my business.

The exercises that Racheal lead us through revealed something that I needed to see: I was doing too many things and my calendar for 2018 was beyond ambitious. It was outrageously full with too many ideas that I wanted to pursue. The risk of shiny object syndrome, or in my case, shiny idea syndrome, threatened to take me down a path that would have left little time for breathing room – or work that paid. This was no good.

I ended up scrapping 90% of my ideas.

I’m not kidding. They went back into the vault, where I could check back on them perhaps at a much later date.

This simple act freed me up more than I could imagine. No more wasting my time or energy on situations, products, or services that didn’t make sense or pay well. I’m crystal clear on my right audience and perfect offerings.

Better yet? I have time to do things that I haven’t been able to do in a while. Like finish a stack of books on my shelf. Take more cooking classes with my buddy, Jackie. Talk on the phone with friends that I haven’t spoken to in a decade. This is essential stuff that I often neglect due to work.

Sometimes you need to get other eyes on your business because you can’t always see what is plain as the nose on your own face. I’m happy that I took the weekend to look under the hood of my business with the support of someone who knows how to see the forest though the entrepreneurial trees. If you’re running a business and  perhaps running yourself into the ground, you may also benefit from getting an expert opinion on your business.

Another pair of eyes sees clear.

About the Author: Theresa Reed

theresareedTheresa Reed (aka “The Tarot Lady”) is a full time professional tarot reader. She’s also the author of The Tarot Coloring Book an illustrated romp through the tarot cards, and The Astro-Biz Digest, a weekly astrology forecast subscription service for entrepreneurs.

In addition to doing private Tarot readings, teaching Tarot classes, and speaking at Tarot conferences, Theresa also runs a popular website——where she dishes out advice, inspiration and tips for Tarot lovers of all experience levels.

Follow Theresa on Twitter and Instagram for her daily “Six Second Tarot Reading”—plus photos of her extremely handsome cats, TaoZen and Monkey.

Top and bottom photos by Danielle Cohen. Middle photo by Theresa Reed

Hope is Never Lost by Dona Murphy

I had a client who was very anxious about the development of a relationship say to me, “I know you’re always honest with me. I just don’t want to have false hope.” That set me back a little – to me, hope is never “false” at least not as I define hope. Hope is dynamic and evolving.

Hope is not an attachment to a specific outcome to the exclusion of all other possibilities.

I watched a beloved relative of mine battle cancer for several years. His hopes and ours – our desires – changed form and expression as circumstances changed. Life happened. First we hoped for his disease to go into full remission. Then we hoped for a good quality of life for as long as possible, and finally we hoped for a peaceful death with dignity.

None of those hopes were false.

The false belief that only one person, situation or outcome is the best and most desirable leads us to give up hope. The belief that only one specific thing will make us happy can render a situation hopeless.  We mistake our preferences which are temporary and mutable as the absolute best thing for us.

We forget that our conscious, ego-minds operate from a limited perspective. We lack objectivity. Our conscious minds see through a narrow filter. We have the power to create and influence our circumstances. We define our own experiences.  But we forget that we are neither all-knowing nor all-powerful. Our ego-minds need and want control. We forget that we are co-creators. The divine spark of creative power within us doesn’t guarantee lives free of pain and loss. Pain and pleasure, gain and loss, happiness and sadness are the birthright of every life.

The Universe (the All-Mind) contains and resolves our experiences through unity, oneness, wholeness.

Another way we fall into error is that sometimes we don’t realize all the possibilities that are open to us. If anything most of us make the mistake of dreaming too small; we don’t ask for or expect too much, but too little. We cheat ourselves by fixating on something that might represent a fraction of all that could be ours. What we long for may not serve our highest good. It might disappoint us rather than bringing us the joy and fulfillment we desire. Having hope allows us to receive in ways that can far exceed our expectations.

It’s not hope that is false, it’s the limits we impose either on ourselves or on the Universe. There are limits not to what we can desire or hope for but to what we can control. The Universe is limitless. All we need is to gratefully and graciously receive. Falsehoods eliminated.

I know these things: “What is yours will not pass you by” (anonymous) and “What you’re seeking is seeking you” (Wayne Dyer).

You will hope. If you claim your desire knowing that its own fulfillment is contained within it, you will not hope in vain. Hope is asking for what you desire and then opening yourself to receive what the Universe gives you. If you will hope, you will find your desires fulfilled. Hope is an invitation to believe and trust. Believe that you are part of a limitless, loving Universe. Trust that the Universe always provides exactly what you need, exactly when you need it.

If you will, hope.

About the Author: Dona Murphy

Dona Murphy is the owner of Destiny Tarot. She lives and works in Lake Bluff Illinois as a Tarot reader, Intuitive Counselor and Life Coach. Dona combines her metaphysical and spiritual studies, natural gifts and real-world experience to help her clients solve problems and live their best lives. As she says, “The cards don’t predict your future, they help you create it”.

Pivot to Hope & Wonder by Keva Bartnick

When I saw the theme was “Hope & Wonder”, I wasn’t sure how to write about hope and wonder because lately it seems that I have been short on both. I don’t know if you believe in God, or Spirit, or the Universe stepping in with a helping hand every once in a while, but I sure do.

Though this sounds like the strangest gift ever, when my mother-in-law got me a subscription to ‘Prevention’ magazine, I was thrilled. I love this about her, she seems to know what people need in their lives. She reminds me of Spirit in this way.  I had received the December issue in the mail sometime last week and have been too busy to open it. Seems to be that my editor and Spirit were on the same page, not that that should surprise you.

Sometimes waiting for a serendipitous moment takes some patience and a little luck.

Today I want to talk about ”the pivot.” The Pivot can be described as a mental transformation from a desire into an expectation, and life will sometimes deliver what you hope for. As described, it’s the process of stopping destructive thoughts and consciously exchanging them for the best possible outlook. This outlook had been influenced by Esther Hicks, inspirational speaker and author. I ask myself:

“How can I use the Pivot to influence my outlook with the upcoming holiday season? To bring hope and wonder back into a season that has notoriously seemed to lack these sentiments for me?”

I have three young daughters. You’d think that these three minions would bring me all the hope and wonder that I could ever need in my life. They remind me of three hurricanes, smack dab in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle. Life is never boring. It feels like I meet myself coming and going. It’s always windy.

I’m always trying to find my “wanna.” My wanna to NOT do anything besides sitting on a beach somewhere with a drink in my hand, and my toes in the sand.

The last time I clearly remember feeling hope and wonder was the day they were born. Hoping that I don’t screw this up, and wondering if I was going to be the best mom for them. Every day after that has been a blur. But having to write about hope and wonder has got me thinking about how far I’ve come. How using the pivot in my everyday life would make my simple everyday experiences better.

More meaningful moments are the bees knees, right?!

I am a person that believes that when I set my mind to changing the direction I am going nothing will stop me. The universe hears me and conspires in my favor. I truly believe that with my heart and soul. Maybe, just like the Grinch, my heart can grow three sizes bigger this holiday season.

Maybe, I can look on every rough moment and embrace my inner child, sticky fingers and all.

I believe that God, Spirit, the Universe gave me our three beautiful daughters to help me FIND my hope and wonder. To help me embrace the moments fully, to help me work on my pivoting skills. To help me feel young again, to make me a better person. I am blessed beyond measure. I find my hope and wonder in the little moments, looking at them look at the world with such a big light in their eyes. They are my hope and wonder expressed in human form.

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

Rays of Sunshine through a Glass filled with Amber by Clay Robeson

Photo by Clay Robeson

The neighborhood in San Francisco called “The Bayview” is the part of the city where you don’t really believe you’re actually in San Francisco until you catch sight of the skyline between buildings, or see the Bay Bridge peeking over a warehouse.  It’s industrial.  It’s relatively flat. It’s mostly a grid, at least to the east of 3rd Street, where the street names cycle alphabetically from Amador to Yosemite and start again at Armstrong and make their way to Meade. I’m not quite sure why Z gets no love, but much like Z, Bayview gets very little love in the grander scheme of San Francisco.

Home to Candlestick Point (and the formerly Candlestick Park), Bayview was at one time known as South San Francisco, until South San Francisco incorporated and took that name in 1908.  It has seen its share of coal power plants, sprawling meat processing facilities, ship yards, and violent crime throughout it’s history, and is still widely considered the most dangerous neighborhood in San Francisco by some.

Revitalization of Bayview started ten years ago with the opening of the T – Third Street Muni line, connecting Bayview (and beyond) with the rest of San Francisco.  In the intervening years, the “Third Street Corridor” has seen an explosion of restaurants, housing, and general overall awesomeness: warehouses replaced by apartments, shuttered storefronts reopening with new shops and restaurants, and areas rezoned to allow for new industries to get a foothold in an otherwise inaccessible city.

Seven Stills Brewery & Distillery, Bayview, San Francisco, CA

But even with all this revitalization, at dusk Bayview can be a little forbidding.  And that was why, on a cold (for San Francisco) February evening, I felt a little nervous as I was walking from a MUNI stop in Bayview towards a place I had never been before.  A friend had recently written an article around this business’ struggles getting their block rezoned so they could actually sell their wares.  The business themselves had recently taken over the Instagram feed of one of the community newsletters I followed and proved to be quite entertaining. And so, when they announced they were having their first “First Friday” event, I decided I needed to support a community business and show up.

Photo by Clay Robeson Beer making equipment.

I wandered in through the big, roll-up, loading dock door, eschewing the actual front door mostly because I didn’t notice it thanks to the music coming out of the big door.  At the far end of the large warehouse space, I could see the fermentation vats and the mash tun. Closer to me was a bar with several taps and a sign that said “Beer Bar.” Closer still, were several tables with padded barrels for chairs.  And finally, to my right, was what had piqued my curiosity.  The Whiskey Bar.

Photo by Clay Robeson The still where dreams are made.

I had arrived much earlier than my friends, so I decided to start gently.  I ordered a beer, and sat down at one of the long tables.  A younger man with his dog sat at the other end, also enjoying a glass.  He asked me if it was my first time here, and I nodded and started in on my raison d’être for the evening.  You see, in my youth I had been an avid homebrewer.  The art and science of brewing had fascinated me (and still does).  One of the things I had always wanted to try was distilling the beers I made into liquor, but I was never able to thanks to those pesky laws that prevent home distilling.  So, when I read about Seven Stills, and the fact that they made their own beer, and then turned those beers into whiskey, I got really excited, and that spark of wonder from my youth returned.

The young man smiled and introduced himself as Tim, one of the owners of Seven Stills.  It was the start of a beautiful friendship.

Photo by Clay RobesonLiquid Amber

That was February 3, 2017.  Prior to that date, I had very limited experience with Whiskey. Most of it was from my father’s Scotch cabinet, and to be frank, I was particularly nonplussed. So, when my friend James arrived, we sat down at the Whiskey Bar and ordered a flight from Christine.  That was the start of the second and third beautiful friendships of the evening.  The second being with Christine, who was delighted to spend some extra time elaborating on what she was placing before us despite the growing First Friday crowd.

Photo by Clay RobesonA flight.

The third friendship is more of an obsession.  And that one is with the Whiskey that Seven Stills creates.  It’s not your 15 to 20 year barrel aged, peat tinged, smoky, oaky, or any other-y liquor.  Tim and his partner Clint start with a very specific craft beer, and distill that down into a whiskey with a very specific flavor profile.

Now, this is the point in my raving about Seven Stills where my friends usually stop me and say, “Wait, you can make whiskey out of beer?”

Photo by Clay RobesonWhiskey, aging in barrels.

All whiskey is made from beer, actually.  It’s just that most distillers don’t call the first part of the process “making beer.”  But that is what they’re doing.  Extracting the sugars from grains and adding yeast to ferment those sugars into alcohol.  Most distillers have their own “mash” recipe that the rest of the world never sees, nor likely even hears about unless they go on a distillery tour.  They distill the alcohol from the wort that is fermented after the grain is strained off from the mash. It’s the aging process and type of barrel that gives typical whiskey the unique flavors and colors of a specific label.

Photo by Clay Robeson Barrels provide whiskey its color, and some of its sweetness.

What Tim and Clint are doing is starting the whiskey making process with marketable beers first, giving the resulting distillations interesting flavor profiles before they even hit the barrel.  Aging still gives the whiskey it’s color and adds to those flavor profiles, but each Seven Stills release is complex and robust, without the 5+ year aging process.

Photo by Clay Robeson There are moments when the sunlight hits the bottles just right…

The Seven Stills team doesn’t limit themselves to their own beers, either.  Along with their core releases, there have been a few collaborations and several “Experimental Series” releases with other breweries, too. So, as I sat there, making my way through my first Seven Stills flight, I discovered this whole new world of flavor that I didn’t realize was out there. The fact that these two guys had tapped into something I had been fantasizing about for years, and were not only doing it, but doing it well, gave me hope that that maybe some of my OTHER ideas weren’t so bad, either. It was inspiring.

Photo by Clay Robeson “Sea Farmer” – Seven Stills 2017 collaboration using Fieldwork Brewing’s Sea Farmer IPA.

Half way through that first flight, I stopped Christine and demanded that she sign me up for the Seven Stills Founder’s Club, so I had premium access to EVERYTHING they did from that point forward.  And let me tell you, I have not regretted that decision for a moment.

Photo by Clay RobesonEvery flight is different, depending on which of their releases are available.

In the ten months since, I have stepped out of my alcohol comfort zone and tasted the world beyond what I thought I knew.  And I get it now.  And every time I sit at a counter and try a new whiskey, I hold the glass up to the light and laugh a little at January me, who had no idea at the wonder he had been missing for so long. I hope I keep on finding new things to challenge me and open my mind like Seven Stills did.

About the author: Clay Robeson

Clay RobesonClay is an improvisor, photographer, puppeteer and part-time goat herd living in San Francisco. He likes to make things.

To learn more about Clay, or find his social media links, go here:

To learn more about Seven Stills visit

Faith + Believe = Hope by Molly Totoro

Twinkling holiday lights reflect in the bay window as I reflect on 2017 in preparation for the New Year.

I spend November focusing on the blessings of life. I try to practice gratitude each day of the year, but the days leading up to Thanksgiving and Christmas are a time of intentional focus. I strive to give thanks not only for the blessings but the difficult times as well. I’ve lived long enough to know that our greatest failures – our worst obstacles – can prove most beneficial in the end.

When December arrives I relish the holiday festivities as I anticipate the New Year. I use this time to reflect on the past and ponder aspirations for the future.

First, I think about my 2017 word of the year – Nourish. I review what I wrote on January 1st as an explanation for its selection:

Nourish will help me focus on physical health. I want my retirement years to be filled with quality life, not mere existence – and that requires regular exercise and a nutritional diet.

One look at the Weekly Tracker in my Bullet Journal indicates I show improvement in this area. The range of motion in my previously broken arms is nearly 100%. I exercise about four times a week and walk the dog a mile a day. While I know there is room for growth, I am pleased with the progress made.

But I wrote something else on January 1st:

Nourish will also help me focus on mental health. I need to build myself up with positive affirmations and stop with the negative self-talk.

I didn’t fare so well in this regard. While I spent time nourishing my physical needs I continued to ignore the emotional ones. The negative self-talk was loud and unrelenting. I named the voice Delilah because she feigned friendship while plotting my demise.

In October I decided it was time to silence her constant criticism. I spent the month researching and journaling about what psychologists call “Impostor Syndrome”. I developed a series of quotes and scripture verses to use as weapons against her vehement lies. This was a necessary first step to nourishing and transforming my mind, but I know I have more work to do.

That leads me to my focus for 2018. While I have not yet committed to a single word, I have a few in mind. October’s study of positive affirmations taught me faith is a necessary component to life – not only faith in a religious sense but also faith in self. I must have faith that I was put on earth for a specific purpose, and I must have faith that I already possess the skills and talents to fulfill that purpose. Low self-esteem, it turns out, is not a demonstration of humility but rather a deterrent from living the abundant life.

While Faith is a possibility for the 2018 Word of the Year, Believe is the lead contender. Believe is more powerful. Faith is a noun – it states a condition. We have faith, but believing is putting faith in action. I don’t want a passive lifestyle. I want to step out in faith and actively pursue a creative purpose.

Delilah doesn’t like this kind of talk. Delilah wants to keep me locked away in my comfort zone. She tries to convince me this is a safe place – a desired destination. There is no pain in the comfort zone – no fear of rejection or failure – a space devoid of conflict.

Her lies hide the truth: comfort zones are prisons that keep us from becoming who we were meant to be. Trapped by our fears, we live shallow, discontented lives. We don’t try new hobbies or interests for fear we won’t be good enough. We don’t share our passions with the world for fear we won’t be accepted. We begin to shrivel up from within and die.

Believe is the antidote to these lies. It is the necessary action we must take to reclaim our authentic selves.

I believe I was created for purpose. I believe I possess the skills and talents to bring this purpose to fruition. While I know there will be setbacks and obstacles to overcome, I believe I have the self-confidence and determination to continue the journey. I believe I have something to contribute and share with the world.

As I reflect on this past year and the insights I’ve gleaned, another word comes to mind: Hope. Interestingly, hope is both a noun and a verb. We have hope – a feeling that all will work out for the best. And we also hope – believe or trust that something desired will happen.

Hope is not an expectation, which is tightly connected with a desired result. But rather, hope is the security of knowing all will be okay, regardless of the end result.

Hope is the forerunner for my 2018 Word of the Year. Hope that I will finally silence the harsh criticism of Delilah and replace it with God’s truth: I am loved. Hope that I will find the confidence to step out of that comfort zone, try new things, experience new adventures and live a creative life with unashamed joy.

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

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 and Facebook:

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


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

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