Archive | Essays

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.

The Human Reset Button by Jeanette McGurk

I recently read an article in National Geographic titled “the next human”. It basically outlined the crazy advances in technology that are ready to redesign our genes, beat our hearts, and pick up the pace on our brains. It was one of those deep and thought provoking articles that had me wondering if a brain reboot would be included in the human master plan. Some sort of 30 second reload to refresh the brain.

Of all the advances discussed, that is the one I want.

A little button on the back of my head that I can push at around 3 am when my brain has hit overload, and thus I am wide awake worrying about all the things I forgot to do the day before. What could exciting accomplishments could prevail with a 30 second worry wipe when the brain hits sleep sabotage mode or productivity freeze?

I picture the same sort of magic that unsticks my laptop when I have opened, 60 windows worth of information I don’t want to close. The computer is smart enough to announce “not responding”. Until the Human Brain Reset Button is invented, the best reset I have found for “not responding” is an ancient one.

Several years ago, I met the most wonderful level-headed woman from the Midwest. She is the type of person who gets to appointments on time, keeps her fish tank crystal clear, and never gets below a quarter tank of gas. You get the picture: she is responsible and solid. Not at all the type of person you would expect to be a mindful meditation coach.

Yes, I had a pretty strong stereotype. Someone who jingles around barefoot in a swirly skirt, no bra, sitting on the floor in an inverted pretzel position, palms up, saying “ommmmmm”. Not that I think any of that is bad, it invokes a level of mysticism that has eluded me my entire life. For years I tried to juggle, be free enough to go braless in public and meditate but failed at all three. I am only a hippy want a be.

I think that is what made me fail over and over at meditating. I was expecting some floaty out of body experience. Ha! If only some higher power would take control and make it easy.

There is a reason my dependable friend meditates. It takes as much discipline as exercising the rest of your body. Attempting to clear your head of thought for just 20 minutes a day is hard. I would have given up by now had I not gone to her class once a month for over a year.

The class is where I discovered, it is okay that thoughts creep in.

Alone in my house, I would set the timer, and try to empty my head. But then I would start my to do list of everything I needed to do. My head would never get clear, I would give up. I was a complete failure at it. I might as well tear up my granola liberal card. What self respecting liberal minded individual can’t meditate?

In class I learned EVERYONE has trouble creating quiet with the little grey cells. The deal is you don’t give up.

I discovered that hearing the air come through the vents or feeling the breeze doesn’t have to be a distraction. It is the mind becoming clear enough to notice the very basic. I remember sitting in class on a pleasant evening. The window was open and a cool breeze caught the hairs on my arm, I would never have noticed this had I been rehashing a conversation in my head, my thoughts out of control, over analyzing.

Mindful meditation removes the extra, to reveal what is below all the thoughts floating around.

What are the benefits? For me, it is an ability to get out of my head more often and into what is actually going on.

The end of the school year is always really busy. This year was particularly bad for some reason. Two days after school was out, my niece came to stay with us. I was working frantically to finish a project that was consuming my every moment and feeling guilty because I was working instead of taking the girls to do some fun summer activity.

At that moment, I looked outside and saw them. They had taken sticks and wrapped crape paper streamers around the ends, they were swirling them through the air. It was absolutely beautiful. They were happy.

I could have sat at the table, having a conversation in my head that was completely wrong. But, I have meditated enough that I now have moments where I can actually step back from a moment and try to be mindful. Realizing I needed a reboot, I took a breath, looked up, and saw what was really going on.

It isn’t a magic button, but is magical to stop thinking and be part of life’s moments.

About the Author: Jeanette McGurk

jeanette_mcgurkJeanette McGurk is a Graphic Designer who entered the world of writing through advertising. She discovered writing a lot of truth with a little fluff is a lot more fun than the other way round. Now that she is no longer spending time making air conditioners, tile floors, IT and Botox sound sexy, she writes about the unglamorous yet wonderful moments of life for people like herself; in other words, anyone looking for interesting ways to put off cleaning and doing laundry.

She is a curmudgeon and doesn’t Twit or Instagram. She has heard the blog is dead but since she has finally figured out how to do it, that is the museum where you can locate her writings. http://jmcpb.blogspot.com/.

In Search of the Peanut Butter Power Bar by Jeanie Croope

The other day when I opened up my blog-reading notifications, I noticed a post from Jenna, a wonderful artist who also shares loads of recipes. The title was Peanut Butter Power Bars. (Link here if you want the recipe!)

Now, I’m no stranger to power bars. In fact, it’s one of the things that always goes in Rick’s Christmas collection — sometimes in the stocking, sometimes a box of 12. They help provide the energy a cyclist needs to get over that last hill or make that last sprint worthy of the green jersey.

But I’ve yet to find the “recipe” for a power bar that can give you the energy to create when you are feeling uninspired, to pick up the house when you’re having a down day or to move you off the couch when you’d rather be a slug. (Maybe I shouldn’t say “you.” Maybe I should cut to the chase and say “me.”)

Recently I returned from my summer house to spend a week back in the city. The city. Makes it sound like New York, doesn’t it? My city is a small one, a state capitol, to be sure, but not a particularly large one. There are museums for artistic stimulation, walking paths, an arboretum, lovely gardens. You’d think the inspiration would flow.

Yet I found myself wandering from room to room in my own house, trying to decide which thing to do next. Shall I pack up things for Goodwill? Clean the guest room? Paint the ceiling in the shower? The weeds are growing like — well, weeds! In a week filled with appointments, book club, a gallery opening, and a birthday (arranging several celebration elements), I couldn’t find the time to paint, couldn’t find the time to write, couldn’t get my brain to settle in and do it.

Couldn’t? Or wouldn’t?

A little bit of both, I think. I needed a peanut butter power bar.

Inspiration. It sure doesn’t strike on cue, does it? One of the most talented young artists I know has trouble finishing. I sometimes have trouble getting started.

And then, I returned to the lake. A beautiful summer afternoon, hot but not stifling. Sunny but with enough passing fluffy clouds to offer protection from the heat. A lake as smooth as glass, cool but not cold — perfect for a good swim.

I brought my bags into the house, fed the cat (freed at last from the bondage of her carrier), turned the radio to my favorite classical station and within fifteen minutes had started to paint.

It just came. The colors fell together. The drawing not perfect, but not bad. The end piece? A remarkable resemblance to a sweet little baby who happens to hold court inside my heart.

What is it that lets us do what we want to do, freely and expressively? Is it the lack of competition for time and brain cells? Is it passion? Discipline?

I took a break from cottage time to check out an exhibit of Ansel Adams photographs at an art center about an hour away. They reflected the photographer’s work in two periods — early photos and later ones — and featured some of his best known work, classics you see on Christmas cards and calendars. While not every photo had a lengthier backstory printed out beside it, some did and they were fascinating.

Adams did not have an easy job. It takes a certain amount of fortitude to climb mountains to capture the perfect image. It takes physical strength (along with balance and a good deal of confidence) to make it up the mountain carrying a forty-pound camera and the additional equipment required. And it took a certain amount of vision to know that making this hike would be worth his while.

Then when he returned to his studio he had to carefully work to manipulate the negatives into the exact look and feel he desired. The process was long and painstaking and he wasn’t always satisfied. And yet he continued to persevere.

The exhibit didn’t speak much of his personal life — did he have a family? A home to maintain? A basement from which to purge the accumulations of a lifetime — out of date clothing, home decor, books and childhood toys? Obligations that pulled him away from his work? Probably. (Note to self: Add an Ansel Adams bio to the summer reading list.) But the fact of the matter, so plainly clear on those gallery walls, is that he didn’t let those things distract him from his work.

I do know that the creative process is different for everyone. There are those who create in chaos, those who require total silence. Some must have it all in front of them, others are more contained. Adams visualized the finished piece before he even started. He defined this as “the ability to anticipate a finished image before making the exposure.”

When I begin, I’m never quite sure what the end game will be.

But seeing how I felt when I left this quiet haven where I seem to create more easily in both words and in paint and then venturing back into the familiar and beloved environment of home, was revealing. I lost something when I left here. And when I returned to the less frenetic environment of the lake, the ability to move forward was renewed.

Maybe I have found my peanut butter power bar.

But how do I pack it up to take on the road?

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.

Falling Trees by Christine Mason Miller

I’ve just moved two time zones and more than twenty-three hundred miles away from the place I’ve called home since 1995. My husband and I pulled out of our driveway in Santa Barbara, California on June 21st and, after putting nearly everything we own into a storage unit not far from the house we bought in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (long story) we headed a bit farther north to spend the rest of the summer in Door County, a pinky finger of a peninsula between Green Bay and Lake Michigan.

After all the weeks of preparing for our cross-country move—the purging, organizing, and packing—we now have the extraordinary gift of a bona fide summer vacation. Which feels glorious (yes, glorious) not only because it has been one of our favorite getaway spots for years, but because it allows us to exist in a magical bubble of in-between where it is easy for me to stay clear of the sharp edges of our move.

I’m not necessarily heartbroken to leave southern California.

With each passing year, I’ve had an increasingly difficult time with the extremes of that particular part of the world. Between outrageous real estate prices, the years-long severe drought, and the threat of earthquakes and fires, something deep in my body has been longing for an environment that feels more in alignment with the steadier, more natural rhythms of life and nature. It seems crazy to most people that I would voluntarily leave a place with year-round sunshine and flip-flop weather in February in order to go somewhere with a fleet of snowplows at the ready as early as October, but it no longer makes sense to me to take in the scenery outside my kitchen window and, from that perspective, have no idea what time of year it is.

What is heartbreaking about this move is that we have left behind a community of loved ones that includes family, neighbors, friends we’ve had for decades, and even people like my dentist. That is the part that swooshes into my heart and almost knocks me over—the reality that we won’t be running into our neighbors across the street on our morning walks with Tilda like we used to and that we can’t call our best friends down the street to join us for dinner. The physical distance that now sits between us and so many of the people we love most in the world is an undeniable fact of our relocation, one I had to start absorbing the day we left Santa Barbara and turned our car away from the Pacific Ocean, knowing it was the last time we’d see it as residents of California.

Over the past year and a half, I’ve watched three trees die—two of them fully grown, mature oaks that loomed large in our yard in Santa Barbara and one a towering evergreen next to the house my husband and I have rented here in Door County. The first tree fell on a Christmas night when fierce winds pushed an already dying oak out of the ground and onto our roof late at night, hitting so hard the whole house shook. (Believing it was an earthquake, we didn’t get up to investigate and therefore didn’t realize what had actually happened until morning.) The second tree fell with a whisper a little over a year later. One night we went to bed, the next morning the tree was on its side. I had been thinking for many weeks I was imagining things when it seemed like its lowest branch kept getting lower, but after it fell I realized I had been watching it slowly fall—and slowly die—as if wanting to take in every last breath of air and push out as many new leaves as possible to ensure a gentle landing. We ended up moving just a few months later.

The house we’ve rented in Door County is surrounded by trees. We hear barred owls at night, see deer on our morning walks, and watched a raccoon scurry by one evening while sitting in our screened-in porch. For hours after a rainstorm stops, we continue to hear the pitter patter of raindrops on the leaves. This was the sound I woke up to three days ago, but it was interrupted by a loud, sudden crack. I looked out our bedroom window just in time to hear a second crack and see an eighty-foot tree come crashing down toward our house, landing next to the deck. No real damage was done, and I was overwhelmingly relieved I hadn’t yet taken Tilda outside for her morning romp, but I almost laughed out loud when it happened. Another tree? Here?

I thought this was all behind us! In Santa Barbara, the trees fell because they were diseased or old or dying of thirst. Now that we are situated in a thick forest of trees that enjoys regular rainfall, what could this possibly mean?

~

While we are in this territory of not living in California but not quite settled in Wisconsin either, I know I am living a little bit of a lie. I know that while our time in Door County is providing us with a much-needed opportunity for rest and recovery from the first phase of an emotionally intense move, it also allows me to swim in the shallow waters of denial. For the time being, I get to enjoy a vacation we planned many months before we even contemplated moving. It won’t be until we pack up our swimsuits and bicycles for the drive south to Milwaukee in September that I will have to face the reality of our new existence head on. Our drive home won’t take us back to the Pacific Coast Highway. Our journey home will only take three hours, and as soon as we arrive it will be time to start unpacking boxes.

Our time in the bubble of in-between will be over.

~

After the second oak tree fell right outside our bedroom window in Santa Barbara, my husband, an ardent lover of trees, wondered if it was a sign – that our time in California was finished, that we were being called to make a big change. In order to make the leap to a new life in Wisconsin—a leap primarily inspired by my husband’s longing to return to the place where he grew up—a profound sacrifice—a death, if you will—was going to have to take place. We weren’t just going to have to pack up our belongings and transport them to a new zip code, we were going to have to say goodbye to the life we’d spent decades building and nurturing.

When the third tree fell (just a few days ago), I didn’t make too much of a fuss about it, but the experience of seeing three trees fall in such dramatically different ways and such a relatively short period of time will stay with me for a long time. While the idea of our move wasn’t even a blip on our radar when the first one collapsed, it has since become a marker of a time when we had no idea where we were headed. If someone had told us that morning we would be putting our house on the market less than eighteen months later, we would have been incredulous. Yet here we are, sending out a change of address notice with a Wisconsin zip code.

It took a while to get used to the new views outside our windows after each of the two oak trees fell in Santa Barbara. We lost shade, but we saw more of the sky. We noticed things we hadn’t before, and we enjoyed new perspectives. We were also given stark reminders that no matter how strong or beautiful or seemingly integral something seems to the world we inhabit, a time will come when some form of transformation needs to take place—for reasons we might not even understand until long after it happens.

After endless discussions about whether or not we should move to Milwaukee, my husband and I reached an important conclusion, which was that time was going to continue marching forward all the while we hemmed and hawed and debated the merits of staying versus leaving. We realized our window of opportunity to do something this bold and daring was not endless. This year he turns sixty-five, and I turn fifty. We eventually looked at each other and said, “If not now, when?”

I can’t decide if all the falling trees are symbolic of the way we’ve uprooted our lives or of the way we’ve put to rest our life in California in order to plant new seeds in Wisconsin. I don’t know if they are supposed to be reminders of the way life can be suddenly, irrevocably altered or if they are meant to teach us how to be brave when the time comes for us to go through our own metamorphosis. It might take a gale force to push us in the direction where we need to go, or we might slip quietly toward our fate. Or we might, with a loud snap, break away from what was toward what might be, all the while trusting we will have a soft place to land.

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.

The Magic Inside a Text Thread by Kolleen Harrison

“Friends can help each other. A true friend is someone who lets you have total freedom to be yourself – and especially to feel. Or, not feel. Whatever you happen to be feeling at the moment is fine with them. That’s what real love amounts to – letting a person be what he really is.”
–Jim Morrison

On my phone is a beloved text thread that has been there for several years now. It is a text thread with 6 other women, that I lovingly refer to as my sacred sisters, my council. These women have become a safety net, a soft place to land, an outreach center not only for myself, also for one another.

I have watched one sister lift another up from the painstaking ache and paralyzing grief of divorce. I have watched another sister make one laugh so hard, knowing this was much needed medicine, as she was moving through one sorrow after another. I have watched prayer request after prayer request after prayer request be asked for and received, with an echoing, “Yes, I will pray. Yes, I will light candles. Yes.”

I have watched every single one of us come to the rescue of each other in the most loving of ways. I have watched life lines get thrown out over and over again. I have seen these words more times than I can count – “WE ARE RIGHT HERE. YOU ARE NOT ALONE”.

I have watched love weave in and weave out, creating a beautifully sacred web, word after word, day after day, month after month, year after year.

Looking back, I donʼt believe any one of us could have imagined what this daily text thread would become. After all, we were just 7 women, with different backgrounds, lifestyles, etc… who happened to come together through retreats, blogging, art. (I truthfully cannot recall how the seven of us even began this thread or why.) Yet, in my heart of hearts, deep within my soul, I know that God, The Universe, The One with No Name, whatever you may call It, brought us together.

What we have created over these last several years, has become, what I like to call, a “Healing Center”. It is a place each one of us can show up “as is” – in the rawest, ugliest, completely stripped down, most vulnerable way you could imagine and still be loved, accepted and asked the question, “What is it you need most, right now in this moment?” It is a place to reach out and say “I need help…” It is a place of  hard truths and secrets revealed. It is a place to ask for advice, to vent, to cuss, to weep, to “just be”. It is a place to be supported. It is a place to be challenged. It is a place to learn, and to grow. Ultimately, it is a place to heal, and always, always, always a place to restore.

About the Author: Kolleen Harrison

kolleenHarrisonbioKolleen Harrison is a creative living in the beautiful Central Coast of California. She is the Founder of LOVEwild and Founder/Maker of Mahabba Beads. Her passions lie in nurturing her relationship with God, loving on her happily dysfunctional family, flinging paint in her studio, dancing barefoot, making jewelry (that is so much more than “just jewelry”), and spreading love and kindness wherever and whenever she can. You can find her popping in and out at LOVEwild.org or MahabbaBeads.com

The Year to Nourish by Molly Totoro

2016 was a physically challenging year. In January, I tripped over a doggie gate, one I had successfully traversed hundreds of times before, and broke my left humerus. The next day I underwent surgery to insert a rod and two pins. Two days later the doctor discovered I had also cracked my left hip, which necessitated a second surgery to insert three screws.

I spent the next several weeks in physical therapy. By May I had regained 95% range of motion. The worst was behind me. Or so I thought.

In June, I managed to trip over the basset and break my right humerus. While I did not require surgery or additional hardware, the recovery time was longer. And my spirits were low. When did I become so frail? Was there a lesson I was supposed to learn from this?

Later that fall, I participated in a Bible study that focused on the armor of God. The author pointed out that Roman soldiers needed a strong core for strength as well as balance. This resonated with me. After two falls in five months, I knew I needed help with balance – and my weakened arm muscles definitely needed strength.

I always take time in December to consider a Word of the Year – one word to guide my daily thoughts and actions. In pondering the possibilities, I wanted one that would help me focus on such key issues as gaining strength, developing core balance and learning to slow down.

My search led me to a word association activity – a brainstorm technique that often serves me well. I started with RELEASE: this would help me let go of my constant need for productivity and my impossible pursuit of perfection.

I then pondered the word INTENTIONAL: a reminder to be mindful of actions rather than going through life on automatic pilot.

As I know all too well, negative self-talk is a hindrance to personal growth. It is hard to  love others if we do not love ourselves.

Words such as TRANSFORM or RENEWAL seemed to address these concerns. But then I discovered the word NOURISH.

The definition is spot on for this time in my life: to supply what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to strengthen, build up, and promote.

I even love the sound of the word. The long, lingering vowel reminds me to slow down and rest. The quiet “sh” at the end literally tells me to be still and listen to divine guidance.

Yes, NOURISH would be the perfect prescription to bring this broken body back to wholeness – physically, spiritually and emotionally.

Physical health:

I focus on regular exercise and a nutritional diet. No excuses, no cheating. I want the time I have left on this earth to be quality life, not mere existence.

To help me stay on track, I maintain a weekly tracker system in my bullet journal. I strive to complete arm-and-core exercises five days a week. In addition to walking the basset, I also try to include a thirty-minute cardio walk three times a week.

I’ve discovered that Nourish sometimes means doing things I don’t necessarily want to do in order to achieve desired results. For years – decades really – I’ve viewed exercise as a form of corporal punishment. It’s not so much the workout that deters me, as it is the lingering sweat afterwards. What is supposed to take half an hour inevitably stretches into two hours or more, once I schedule time for a shower, hair style, and make-up application.

However, I know if I want my latter years to be fruitful and productive, to pursue dream adventures and keep up with grandchildren, then daily exercise is a small price to pay.

I also make a conscientious effort to prepare more meals at home and eat out less. I avoid processed foods and instead spend more time shopping the perimeter of the grocery store. I love the colorful rainbow of fruits and vegetables in the cart, and I’ve learned to slow down in the kitchen and actually enjoy the daily slicing, dicing and chopping.

Spiritual and Mental Health:

I focus on accurate thought: God loves and accepts me – just as I am. Self-acceptance is the first step in sharing love with others.

To this end, I take more time to pamper myself.

When I was in my 30s and 40s, there was rarely time for such luxury. When I wasn’t working at school, I was chauffeuring children to various activities; when I wasn’t monitoring homework schedules, I was grading papers. Pampering in those days was an extra cup of coffee in the morning.

But I now have more time to indulge. Something as simple of painting my nails in the evening nourishes my well-being. I feel younger, frivolous, and more daring.

I am also more mindful of my everyday surroundings.

Since all my children have moved away, I have transformed a spare bedroom into my Paris oasis. It is decorated with all things French, including a bistro table and chairs, and a beautiful red sofa. This is often where I escape to journal, read and meditate.

But it isn’t so much the room as the ambiance that makes the difference. I have rekindled my love of music. I prefer instrumental music when working, but I also enjoy creating thematic playlists. My favorite so far is the accordion music of French Cafes.

In addition to music, I also have a fragrant candle burning nearby. I typically prefer scents that are reminiscent of the beach or a warm summer’s day. I try to stay away from the bakery scents, however, or I will find myself hungry for sweets.

I’ve learned it doesn’t take much to transform an ordinary space into something inspirational.

Emotional Health:

I make time to pursue creative endeavors simply because they bring me joy – no productivity goal allowed.

I am a life-long learner and crave knowledge. The world-wide-web is my best friend, and self-help books are my constant companions. But lately I’ve learned to embrace fiction and allow myself to escape into the story world.

While most of my creative energy is spent in crafting words on a page, I also enjoy paper crafts, like card-making and scrapbooking. I love the colorful paper, the whimsical stickers and stamps, and the thought of bringing a smile to someone’s face. My artistic skills are mediocre at best, but the process brings me joy.

I’ve focused on nourish for six months now.

While I haven’t noticed dramatic transformations, I know overall health has improved. Flabby arms are toned and the muffin-top is less pronounced. I’m not as anxious. I’m more confident. I pursue excellence without comparing my efforts to others.

Nourish isn’t a one-time event, it is a lifestyle change. It’s taking one baby step at a time toward a bright and joy-filled 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

Restoring Myself with Self-Portraiture by Julie M. Terrill

Self-portraiture has proven to be a useful tool in my growth, not only as a photographer, but in my personal life as well. I am not talking about selfies, though I do have some selfies that I love. These images are portraits using my DSLR, a tripod, a remote shutter release, light meter and purposeful composition. I conceptualize a shot, set it up, run into the frame and using the remote shutter release, give myself the same directives I would give to other subjects. After several shots I go back to the camera to see what needs to change technically and aesthetically and repeat the process. As a result I learned how to better communicate my directives to my subjects by becoming more specific and more easily understood.

My first experience with this process was in workshop on self-portraiture by Kate Inglis. I signed up as a way to gain a greater understanding of the people I photograph. Our assignment was to capture ourselves where we are in this moment our personal journey. Where was I? Newly widowed, grief stricken, lost… The image I had conceptualized was the stripping away – the stripping of my walls, of grief, of fake strength and finally surrendering to tears.


At first it was uncomfortable and awkward. I did not enjoy the process. Sadly, I hated my images and didn’t want to share them with the other participants. I was so critical of my body that I couldn’t see the artistic beauty of the shot. The self-deprecating internal dialogue spewed forth. My perception of my body quickly expanded while my confidence withered until it occurred to me that I would never view that same image of another woman and compare her to the Michelin Man or the Staypuft Marshmallow Man. For the first time I afforded myself the same gentleness and grace that I gave others. I chose an image that I could see as beautiful and I decided to share it at the end of the workshop.

Using monthly self-portraits I documented my emotions, thoughts, feelings and growth. These images reflect periods of grief, depression, anger, acceptance and strength. While I still take self-portraits, the changes are now more subtle. I didn’t think I wanted to document this process but am glad that I did.

The images are powerful reminders of the restoration process of becoming ME again. Though I was initially resistant, the process was everything I didn’t know I needed. I am eager to see what insight future sessions will hold.

About the Author: Julie Terrill

julieterrill_bio

Julie Terrill is a photographer and writer with a passion for travel. For ten years, she’s told stories of empowerment through the lens of her camera in an array of unique landscapes, environments, and projects – from a shelter for children rescued from trafficking in Thailand to Faces of Courage, complimentary portrait sessions she offers to cancer patients in her community. She is a photographer and facilitator at Beautiful You and Soul Restoration retreats.

Connect with her at: JMTerrillImages.com

The Poetry Scene – Twenty Years Later by Serena M. Agusto-Cox

 

My hands don’t sweat my nerves; they shake them out through my fingers.  I sat in the front row with five other poets, ones I consider more accomplished than myself.  Only last year was my poem, “Dignified Opposition,” nominated for the Pushcart Prize by Dime Show Review.  I’m still working on a poetry manuscript, one I’ve put together, torn apart, and started over with completely different poems and themes.

Have you ever had that moment when you’re struck dumb? That happened to me when an email from Lucinda Marshall landed in my inbox.  She was organizing a poetry reading with local poets and wanted to know if I was interested.  Was I interested?  Of course!  But I was equally terrified that I would be a blubbering mess.  I was reminded by my lovely first reader that I needed to send her samples of my work first, which I presumed would be rejected.

I haven’t read my own work in public for about 20 years, and I don’t think I’ve shown anyone else my work, except my trusted first reader.  The pressure not to disappoint seemed insurmountable.

I remember that eagerness, picking out poems I loved and wanted to share in our small literary community at Suffolk University.  I rarely had a second thought about reading my poems.  The dark basement lounge with its small furniture in bright rainbow colors, musty but inviting in a bohemian way.  It was a delight to share the shadowed space with so many young, vibrant poets.  We were all searching for our own voices, and we were doing it together.

Life changed after graduation, and the reality of student loans and needing a job to live off of soon crept into my worldview.  College seemed like a carefree place where I could spend my afternoons writing and creating — learning — but the workforce is much more rigid.  For 20 years, I’ve been writing off and on when I found the time between work, getting married, and having a daughter.  Writing came in spurts or not at all for many years.  Publications in journals trickled in, and with each fleeting moment of delight came the dreary feeling of failure.

Literary work is hard, even harder than working in a rigid job.  It’s full of rejection and very few moments of praise and encouragement.  Not reading for those years allowed my anxieties to loom larger, and I allowed those rejections to feed that anxiety.  It’s crazy how things can accumulate over time without you realizing it.

After speaking with my first reader about what poems to send Lucinda, my heart began racing once they went to her inbox from mine.  I worried that they weren’t good enough, even though many had been published previously.  I realized through all my worrying that I didn’t want to inadvertently blow a chance to share my work again.  Yes, work I had been holding onto, but proud of, even as my editorial brain told me they were not polished.

When Lucinda told me that I was added to the lineup with Katherine E. Young, Gregory Luce, Leeya Mehta, and Donald Illich at The Gallery at Chesapeake Framing in North Potomac, Md., in June, my brain froze.  I flailed for a while after her email, despite my answers to her queries for a headshot and bio. It was coming down to the wire, and while the fear whirred, I struggled to pin down what poems I’d read.

I admit I was beginning to allow anxiety to take over.  I didn’t select or practice my poems beforehand.  In fact, I did just two dry runs the day of the reading.  Even as I listened to the poets before me in the lineup, my hands were shaking uncontrollably.  I still struggled with the poems I had in the folder; I wanted it to be perfect, knowing that it wouldn’t be.  In the end, I pushed the fears aside, reordered my poems, and stepped to the podium.

Click Image to Listen to Serena’s Poetry Reading

 

As I read each poem, I traveled back in time to when I wrote them and why, and it was trip I will remember for a long time because I felt closer to my daughter when I wrote how she would save the world in “A Poem to Save Us,” to my nana who filled my life with music in “Piano,” and to both my grandmothers and my own mother in “Just Mom” and “Dear Vovó.”  I feel freer for having shared these poems that are so close to my heart, and I wouldn’t hesitate to struggle with my anxieties to do it again.

About the Author: Serena M. Agusto-Cox

Serena M. Agusto-Cox, a Suffolk University graduate, writes more vigorously than she did in her college poetry seminars. Her day job continues to feed the starving artist, and her poems can be read in Beginnings Magazine, LYNX, Muse Apprentice Guild, The Harrow, Poems Niederngasse, Avocet, Pedestal Magazine, and other journals.  An essay also appears in H.L. Hix’s Made Priceless, as does a Q&A on book marketing through blogs in Midge Raymond’s Everyday Book Marketing.  She also runs the book review blog, Savvy Verse & Wit , and is the founder of Poetic Book Tours.

 

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