Archive | Instrumental – The Care of a Creative Soul

Instrumental: That’s What Friends Are For by Bernie Brown

You can find them online. You can find them offline. In the grocery store. Or living next door.  In a singing club, or a quilting class, or a PTA meeting.

I’m talking about friends. The places they are found are as varied as the friends themselves, who differ in size, color, and adornment like sea shells on the beach. Different as they are, they all have qualities that make you cherish them and grow a little larger in their company.

Friends make you laugh. They may be great joke tellers, chances are they aren’t, but you both see the world through the same crazy pair of glasses. You both thought feng shui was a kind of sushi. And neither of you really get The Onion. You can admit you have liked Barry Manilow all along, and though they might not share your taste, they still like uncool you.

When success comes to you in small or large ways – you lost three pounds or your story won a writing contest—a friend cheers you on. And their good fortune doesn’t diminish yours. With a friend, joy is doubled, and troubles are halved.

They’ve seen you cry and put their arms around you while you dampened the shoulder of their brand new designer sweater. They don’t try to fix whatever is bringing on the water works, they don’t even have to understand why the bad thing is so bad. They are sad because you are. They don’t tell you to “get over it,” they just hang around until you feel better.

Griping! Venting! Sounding off! A friend will let you curse your boss, the government, the traffic. They will let you say the F word and make your ugliest face. And agree, agree, agree. The jerk! The collective stupidity! Insane drivers rule the roadways. They don’t try to get you to see reason.

You can tell a friend your dreams—a year in Paris or visit to the space station— and they won’t laugh at you. You can tell them your most unreasonable fears, and they will tell you theirs.

But sadly, sometimes friendships wither away. There is no animosity,  you just grow in different directions. She wants to run for political office, you want to train to be a yoga instructor. Calls and lunches become less frequent and after awhile, yoga classes fill your days and you’ve made a host of new buds.

At sadder times, a friendship goes bad. You realize this person is trying to hold you back, to undermine your goals. They don’t have your best interests at heart. Worse still, they make you feel bad about yourself with barely concealed remarks, “Oh, you’ll probably never go back to school. It’s just a passing whim. You’d be older than all the others, anyway.” When going back for your master’s is a dream you have always had.

Or you may feel this person is manipulating you. She joins a committee at school and then somehow you find yourself going along because she “needs a friend” and you really, truly hate committee work.

Some friendships just never get off the ground because you discover early on you aren’t going to click. The person is a whiner and whining gets old fast. Or they are a hypochondriac and bring you down. Or they constantly reschedule, throwing your calendar in an uproar and you begin to know they can’t be counted on. Save yourself further pain, and don’t encourage more contact.

But more times than not when you find yourself sitting over coffee, hot chocolate, or a glass of wine, and three hours have passed laughing, confiding, and setting straight the world, and you still have more to say, you are with a friend. You may have to go home and do laundry, but the laughs keep you smiling while you fold towels, the confidences have lightened your secret burdens, and the discussion has broadened your understanding of the world and yourself.

After all, that’s what friends are for.

About the Author: Bernie Brown

I live in Raleigh, NC where I write, read, and watch birds. My stories have appeared in several magazines, most recently Better After 50, Modern Creative Life, Indiana Voice Journal, and Watching Backyard Birds. My story “The Same Old Casserole” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Modern Creative Life. I am a Writer in Residence at the Weymouth Center, which is the perfect spot to work on my novel-in-progress. .

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Instrumental: Am I Going to Die Alone? by Melissa Cynova

One of the questions that I get most often as a tarot reader is, “Am I going to die alone?” Usually they work up to it, but sometimes it’s right out there.

“Am I going to die alone?”
“Are my cats going to eat me when I die?”
“Did I miss my chance?”
“Is my Person behind me instead of in front of me?”

I used to just answer that question. It’s pretty straightforward. Yes or no? If it was no, don’t worry about it. It’ll happen when it happens. If it was yes, well… I would start asking the person why companionship was the most important thing. They would say a variation of “I just want to be happy.”

And then I would get to the heart of the matter.

“Why do you think that you need someone to be happy?”

Why, indeed.

Next year will be my 30th year playing around with these cards, and I think the most important thing that I’ve learned is to listen for the question under the question. To use the conversation around the question to cultivate (see what I did there?) the conversation and get to the true worry that they’re carrying around.

If we look at ‘Am I going to die alone?”, there a few layers to this.

  1. Am I going to die alone?
  2. Why do I think I need someone to be happy?
  3. Why aren’t I happy right now?
  4. Am I afraid?
  5. Am I going to be ok?

Nearly every reading that I do can be condensed down to that last question. Am I going to be ok?

What this means is that my job as a tarot reader is to be so gentle with my clients. The world is a scary place, sometimes. What this means for my clients is this – ask yourself why you’re asking the question.

Is that the real question, or the surface part?

And as a reminder: you can divine this for yourself by using a pen and your journal. Give it a try by asking each question of and allowing the words to flow from your heart.Allow yourself to go beyond the surface and discover your own real question.

Whatever is pushing it to the surface is your true concern, and the faster you figure out what that is, the faster you can answer it.

About the Author: Melissa Cynova

Melissa CynovaMelissaC_Bio is owner of Little Fox Tarot, and has been reading tarot cards and teaching classes since 1989. She can be found in the St. Louis area, and is available for personal readings, parties and beginner and advanced tarot classes. You can Look for her first book, Kitchen Table Tarot, from Llewellyn Publishing.

Melissa lives in St. Louis with her kiddos, her partner, Joe, and two cats, two dogs and her tortoise, Phil.

She is on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Go ahead and schedule a reading – she already knows you want one.

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Instrumental: What is Your Inner Dialogue? by Kolleen Harrison

“It is ridiculous that you cannot figure this out, you are so stupid.”
“You have too many rolls AAAAAAND a muffin top!”
“Why canʼt you just follow through on SOMETHING?”

Does any of this sound familiar? I am guessing that it does.

Did you know that when we talk to ourselves in this way – in a demeaning, negative fashion, that we are actually committing an act of violence upon our souls?

I did not.

Yet, as I began to further my yogic studies, it quickly became clear to me the violence I was inflicting upon myself, through my thoughts and my degrading internal dialogue I was having on nearly a daily basis.

In order to prep for a class I would be teaching on Ahimsa, I had to consciously and mindfully place the magnifying glass upon myself and take a personal inventory of whether or not I practice this at all! (Ahimsa, in Sanskrit, means non-violence or harm, towards yourself, others, all living beings – through our thoughts, words and actions)

I had to start carefully paying attention to the conversations I held internally. I had to start to dissect the “why” behind my destructive thoughts and words. As I intentionally practiced this for over a week, I found it truly astonishing all the harsh judgments I would place upon myself in a fairly consistent manner.

And then, I had to ask myself a very important question.  Would I say any of this to my best friend?  To someone I love and care for? Of course NOT. So why? Why would I continually say harmful things to myself? The one person I am “stuck” with. The one person I should be cultivating and building a strong, stable, loving relationship with – MYSELF!

It is incredible what comes to light when we actually start to pay attention. It is incredible how quickly we can turn that self-talk around to kindness, compassion, forgiveness and love – once we gain the awareness that it is even happening at all.

So, I want to propose something to you … whomever may be reading this. I invite you to find a picture of yourself when you were a child and place it somewhere you will see it. The next time you begin to berate yourself or have nasty, ugly thoughts – I want you to go stand in front of that picture, look into the eyes of that little one and see what happens.

My guess is, you wonʼt be able to say those things at all!

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

Instrumental: A Selfie Tarot Spread by Melissa Cynova

I have a thirteen-year-old daughter, and am constantly delighted with the selfies she takes with her friends. What confidence and sass! Every new makeup experiment, silly hat and costume, or hug that she captures with her phone is a treasure. I think of myself at that age – insecure and head down into a book thinking “don’t see me, don’t see me”.

I love that embrace of self at such a young age, and feel strongly that a strong sense of confidence when you’re young will act as a shield to those who might harm you when you’re older.

In the tarot, the High Priestess looks within. In the Medicine Woman Tarot, she uses a mirror to gaze deep inside herself in order to find the power that comes from truly seeing who she is. Beyond the surface, beyond the expectations and projections of people around her – who she truly is.

There is strength in looking beyond the surface of yourself. You can see those parts that require work, and those parts that shine and shine. You can take a measure of who you are and who you can be. It’s scary, at times, to be so honest and unflinching with yourself, but it is worth it.

This Selfie Tarot Spread can help you look inside to see what you can shift and what you should leave to shine.

Card 1 – What is holding you back?

Card 2 and 3 – What supports do you have in your life to help you shrug off Card 1?

Card 4 – What is your hidden superpower?

Cards 5 and 6 – How can you best wield it?

About the Author: Melissa Cynova

Melissa Cynova is owner of Little Fox Tarot, and has been reading tarot cards and teaching classes since 1989. She can be found in the St. Louis area, and is available for personal readings, parties and beginner and advanced tarot classes. Her first book, Kitchen Table Tarot, was recently published by Llewellyn Publishing. Melissa lives in St. Louis with her kiddos, her husband, Joe, two cats, two dogs and her tortoise, Phil.

You can reach Melissa at lis@littlefoxtarot.com. She is on Twitter and Instagram under Little Fox Tarot. Go ahead and schedule a reading – she already knows you want one.

Instrumental: How to Be an Ex-Drama Queen by Dona Murphy

I’m a sun-sign Pisces with a Leo moon sign: very emotional, definite flair for the dramatic and not shy about performing. It’s no mistake that in my younger years my Mom used to call me Sarah Bernhardt. Before your time? Heck, Sarah B. was before my time AND my Mom’s. Called the greatest stage actress in the world, the Divine Sarah ruled at a time when stage acting was very much larger than life.

Through the phases of childish acting out, teenage histrionics, and young adulthood I learned that drama wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. That lesson came with having to face and deal with real-life crises rather than ones I created from nothing. The real world can be a pretty tough and uncaring place. Drama Queens often learn the very hard way that frankly my dear, no one gives a damn.

There are plenty of Drama Kings – the male counterpart of the Drama Queen – and I’m not overlooking them here. For ease of discussion, I’ll use the term Drama Queens (or even DQs) as all-inclusive.

You can whine, cry, lock yourself in your room, throw yourself on your bed, weep and wail. Unless someone’s paying attention only you will feel and suffer the effects of your drama. The plain truth? Often no one is paying any attention.

Being a Drama Queen has never solved a problem and it often makes an existing problem even worse. We can start with an honest self-evaluation of our behavior. Ask, “How does this contribute to solving the problem?” If the answer is, “It doesn’t”, we’re on the way to overcoming the non-productive, destructive behavior. Logic can help us get over ourselves.

Drama Queen syndrome grows from self-centeredness and self-absorption.

For the DQ, “It’s all about me, all the time”. The growing-up process resolves a lot of this and we’re excused while we’re young and in our developmental years (toddler to teenager). It’s getting old by the time we reach young adulthood and is unappealing and ridiculous beyond that. It’s not easy being around someone addicted to drama.

So what about the people we know – or ourselves – who live from one crisis to another? There are people we know – or see when we look in the mirror – who seem to crave drama, create drama and appear to seek drama. You will find the Drama Queen who swears that she (or he) wants a drama-free life but drama seeks her (or him) out.

I’m not buying. Anyone who wants a drama-free (notice I didn’t say “problem-free?”) life can have one. It’s a choice. But being a Drama Queen can be like other emotionally-addictive behaviors. It can be a challenge to stop even when we’ve identified that the behavior doesn’t serve us or our best interests.

So what does it mean when we say someone is – or we describe ourselves as – or someone else says we are – a Drama Queen?

It usually means a person who over-reacts in a highly emotional way to any minor event, problem or setback. These are negatives – DQs don’t go over the top about the happy, lucky, even miraculous moments in life. The DQ has an emotional outburst that’s completely out of proportion to the event, problem or setback that has caused the upset (the “trigger”). Quite often, there is no trigger. The Drama Queen produces not only a tempest in a teacup, but also creates the teacup, saucer and tea from thin air.

The DQ is often the center of a constant whirlwind of frenzied but mostly unproductive activity. There is a sense that things are already out of control or are on the verge of going out of control. They navigate everyday life with overly-dramatic, negative thoughts, words and actions. They go off the emotional deep end whenever there’s the smallest disturbance in their world.

Movies, soap operas and other works of fiction – including reality TV programs – are full of examples. If you’ve seen “Gone with the Wind,” you’ll recognize Scarlett O’Hara as a classic drama queen. She was a beautiful, strong-willed survivor capable of withstanding and overcoming tremendous hardship. She was also her own worst enemy – a spoiled brat, vain and self-indulgent.

Some of the most enduring and charismatic fictional characters are DQs. The reader or viewer understands that this isn’t a real person. Drama is conflict and tension, and we’ve come to expect and accept over the top, bigger than life characters.

Popular, pervasive so-called reality TV has brought the dysfunctional lives of neurotic and outright psychotic men and women right into our living rooms. These are Drama Queens in their full, uh – glory.

All I can say is – if you enjoy these shows, check your own level of DQ. Why? Because the more over the top and extreme behaviors we see, the easier to excuse or rationalize own behavior. Enjoy these shows for their outrageousness. Do not use them as a model for your own behavior or for what’s acceptable behavior from others. Have fun and take them with the proverbial grain of salt. They’re supposed to entertain, not instruct.

What are some of the reasons for being a Drama Queen? What do they (or we) get out of it? What’s the payoff? Can we make it stop? How?

There are times when a person is in real trouble – emotional pain and turmoil, grief, loss, illness, extreme financial, personal or professional crisis. Needing and asking for help, support, encouragement and genuine sympathy is appropriate at those times. Not all extremes of emotion are the result of an addiction to drama.

Aside from these situations, here are some reasons Drama Queens create drama and some healthy alternatives:

Boredom

Simple as it sounds, this is one of the main reasons why drama queens behave the way they do. They’re just plain bored, and they haven’t found better, more creative and adaptive ways to deal with it.

Creating drama and a scene makes them feel that something interesting is happening. When boredom combines with underlying insecurities, the creation of drama serves as a distraction. No one sees that the DQ feels vulnerable, sad or frightened.

How much more effective it would be to turn to a trusted friend and say, “I’m sad. I’m scared,” and receive comfort and reassurance. Acknowledging and accepting the insecure feelings can bring real comfort from caring others and give the individual an opportunity to self-soothe.

A first step is to get – and be willing to stay – bored. Dealing with the comparative boredom of a life without created drama is a useful tool. Then consider finding an enjoyable, engrossing hobby such as drawing or painting, beading or other craft. It doesn’t matter if you’re good at it, you don’t need to be a fine artist. Redirecting the same imagination used for whipping up drama creates activity that gets you outside of your own head and into something positive, relaxing and fun.

Family background

Parents or other important adults who use high-level drama to deal with life’s challenges, frustrations and problems become role models for growing DQs.

You or someone you know believes their problems growing up were monumental (and sometimes, they were). You or they may also believe that no one else ever had it worse than they; that everyone else lived a happy, carefree, perfect childhood. Both of these things are untrue. This is the basis for justifying behaving like a Drama Queen. We’re not kids anymore. We can choose different, better ways to deal with our problems. First, by realizing that no matter how bad things were or are, they could actually be worse. Next by understanding that if they couldn’t be worse, drama will not resolve them.

We can achieve a balance. Self-care that includes changing our internal dialog combined with time spent focusing on and helping others creates a balanced world view. It can help us gain a more realistic perspective on our problems. We can find a new appreciation of all the things in our lives for which we can be grateful.

Seeking sympathy

This is a classic trait of a drama queen – poor little me! DQs often cultivate a sad, down, or worried demeanor. If asked, “How are you?” The answer is never “Good” or even, “OK.” They – and things in their lives – are always terrible, awful, dire and in an unstoppable downward spiral. Life always sucks. The DQ’s story is: “I’ve had such a bad life and I never get a break. Please, please feel sorry for me”.

A DQ who learns to engage in gentle, positive self-talk, practices daily rituals, prayers and meditations is able to support and comfort themselves. In this way, others need not be the only source of love and sympathy for the DQ.

Manipulating others

Manipulating others combined with sympathy-seeking takes advantage of other people. It makes them responsible for our well-being. The DQ’s story: “Now that I have you feeling sorry for me, of course you must help and rescue me! I’m in so much trouble and pain, you must take care of me!”

The need to have others come to our rescue reinforces the belief that we are victims. With practice we can learn to see ourselves as responsible and competent. Finding our own solutions to life’s problems and setbacks (especially the real ones!) is empowering. Then, it’s ok to ask for help. We don’t need to do it alone, but no one else can do it for us without our active participation.

Avoidance

Many DQs don’t want to deal with real issues and would rather cause a scene and seek attention – even if it’s negative attention. Heaven help you if you offer constructive solutions. They will shoot every one of them down or dismiss them. Their story is: “I can’t deal with that right now, there’s too much going on in my life”. There will always be too much going on in their lives so they don’t have to seek ways to create productive change.

DQ behavior is not about problem-solving, whether the problems are real or imagined. Go back to step one – and allow yourself (or the DQ in your life) to get and stay bored for a while. Along with several of the alternatives already mentioned a DQ can stop avoiding and start living.

Seeking attention

Drama Queens often have low self-esteem and believe that they aren’t noticed for anything positive; or aren’t noticed at all. They believe complaining, whining and blowing things out of proportion are the best ways of getting the attention they want and need.

Many people can only take Drama Queens in small doses and many others can’t take them at all. The result is that this type of attention-seeking works in reverse. DQs end up making a negative impression on other people who then distance themselves from the DQ rather than form a close relationship.

Go to a trusted friend (not everyone in your contacts list). Ask that person to share honestly with you a good quality they appreciate about you, or one memory they have of you that is positive and affirming. Do one small, anonymous act of kindness and don’t tell anyone about it. Enjoy it for the good feelings you get from it and notice yourself doing something good. You don’t have to change the whole world to make a difference.

The Rush

DQs enjoy creating drama for the adrenaline rush it provides. Living the Drama Queen life can be an emotional addiction. Emotions and behaviors create chemicals in the body. The body gets used to having those chemicals around, then becomes dependent on the chemicals. This sparks the craving for more of them, the way a physically-addicted person’s body demands their drug of choice.

Unlike physical dependencies where we know what it is we’re hooked on, with drama addiction we’re not aware of the fact that we’ve got a monkey on our backs. We know that we have a habitual way of acting or reacting and think that is who we are, it’s our identity. It’s not our “self” – it’s our brains and bodies trying to keep a stable chemical balance.

They (or we) feel pleasure, enjoyment or a rush – the reward for creating an uproar. A DQ may need professional help in kicking the habit.

Living in the present, self-talk that provides reassurance and comfort, and mind-body integration through deep breathing and regular, moderate physical exercise are useful coping strategies in stressful situations and times of crisis. With practice, these learned behaviors offer a happier, healthier outcome than drama-creation and drama-seeking.

Using pleasurable but calming sensory techniques and tools – aromatherapy, a walk in a beautiful park or other natural setting, even purchasing or gathering a bouquet of beautiful flowers to arrange and enjoy can all produce feel-good chemicals in our brains too – without the “side-effects” of drama.

Being able to tolerate the discomfort of not going into Drama-Queen mode helps one realize how unproductive and unsatisfying it is. Drama addiction doesn’t serve our highest good and only brings us temporary satisfaction. It doesn’t bring us any closer to the things we really want: happy, healthy relationships, peace of mind, to have and enjoy the good things in life. When we know what we’re doing isn’t working, it’s time to let it go and do something different.

A DQ deciding to abdicate the throne will probably find life dull, empty and boring at first. But that means finding and developing real ways to make life pleasant and fulfilling. Nature abhors a vacuum – and there are other, more meaningful and genuine experiences available to fill the void.

Understanding what makes a Drama Queen behave the way they do is unlikely to change their behavior. You might encourage them let go of some of the underlying causes for their habit. Remember that the choice to change is theirs alone.

You need to manage your own boundaries and maintain your own methods of healthy self-care, including knowing when to walk away. Of course if you’re the DQ, you now have some tools to help you hang up your tiara for good. Not ready yet? No worries – remember, “Tomorrow is another day.”

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”.

Instrumental: Kindness Includes You by Emma Gazley

To be completely honest with you, I haven’t picked up a paintbrush in months. Between two different jobs and cities, moving across the country, living near our families for the first time since we got married, and having an hour long commute one-way, I feel like I don’t have time. I know it’s not true, and I have to make the time to paint, but while I’m being completely honest, I’ll confess that part of why I haven’t painted in so long is that I’m uninspired.

I can hear those of you who want to remind me that pursuing your creative passion means having the discipline to continue in it even when you don’t have time or are uninspired. I know you’re right. Sometimes when I see myself divided between sketching out a new project or an extra hour of sleep I hate the part of me that gives in to the bliss of rest. At the same time, I’ve been practicing something kind of controversial amongst artist-types.

I’ve been practicing being kind to myself.

When you flip through an artist dictionary, it seems like an incomprehensible number of well known artists have struggled with depression, low self esteem, anxiety, and a multitude of other mental health issues. I can’t think of many people who are highly creative who don’t struggle with some kind of crisis of identity at different points of their lives. We find almost as varied  ways of coping- some more dysfunctional than others.

As I write this, the holidays are in full swing. Unfortunately with the holidays are often conflict-ridden season, rife with uncomfortable gatherings and unrealistic expectations, many of us feel our mental health issues are amplified.

Whether you struggle with a diagnosed condition, or find yourself feeling blue, lonely, or unhappy, know that there are many others who are feeling the same way.

A common misconception is that all of our negative feelings come from negative experiences. In my case I can confidently say that this is not always the case. Sometimes extreme happiness and joy can still leave me feeling tapped out and like I need a nap. Even though most of the events I’m attended are celebrations, I still feel a lot of the time like I need to find a quiet corner and regain my calm.

The first few weeks post-holiday can still feel challenging and exhausting.

Personally, I know I can put a lot of pressure on family gatherings to be sentimental affairs of domesticity. I want everyone to feel like they had a bonding moment with everyone else. When the mashed potatoes have been passed around for the final time and everyone is falling asleep, it’s just not going to happen. My expectations can put an unfair constraint on the people I care most about.

In the midst of the chaos and glitter and twinkle lights it can seem impractical to keep to our normal routines of making; but I think we have to. I can only speak for myself, but I know that  my writing projects, collaging in my art journal, the few times I’ve been able to perform music, and baking treats for my coworkers have all helped me keep my head above the water while the societal excitement escalates.

This past season – and into the New Year – I’m committed to keeping to the things that I know work; one of them that I already mentioned is being kind to myself.

Maybe to some this would look like a weak-sauce pansy way of living life, like I’m not pushing myself or working to achieve my goals the way I should. It’s possible they’re right. I just know I can’t drive myself the way I used to and maintain wellness in my mind, spirit and body. I used to be a lot more comparative and take the upcoming new year as an opportunity to fine-tune the list of all the things I had done wrong or not enough of. To see what everyone around me had accomplished and how I fell short.

From a young age, I have had a very loud, bossy critic in my head explaining in minute and sharply accurate detail everything I was failing at. This voice was a fan of cutting down my body image, and telling me exactly how inadequate I was at writing, drawing, painting, singing, or anything else I cared about. I didn’t need anyone around me to tell me what I needed to work on, because I was uncomfortably aware of my shortcomings and how I was “failing everyone”.

It’s probably not a wildly popular idea amongst many of us (for obvious reasons; appearing conceited, lowering your expectations of yourself and accomplishing less, being considered selfish, the list continues) but practicing kindness with yourself is basically second guessing your first reaction and asking if how you’re reacting to yourself is how you would react to a friend you care deeply about. Maybe I’m wrong and this is something that everyone else has been doing for a long time, but it has taken me years to get to this point and sometimes I still feel like I’m so bad at this, so bear with me because it’s worth the reminder.

Some people will hear you saying that you have plans… and when they find out later that your plans were to go back home and stay in your pajamas to watch cartoons and eat mochi, they will judge you. When you are practicing kindness to yourself, a lot of the time it looks like this:

“I should really make that painting I bought this big canvas for.”

But I got five hours of sleep last night and the only ten minutes of that I had to myself were in the shower when I cut myself shaving.

“But it’s taking up space and if you don’t paint today then you won’t paint tomorrow and your paintings will never be seen by anyone who works at MOMA and you’ll cut off your ear and eventually commit suicide but no one in the art world will know, because there won’t be any art for them to critique.”

If I sit down and start this then I’ll be here for at least an hour and it’s already 11:30.

Eventually you have to decide, and while both voices have a point, practicing kindness means taking a step back and saying, “What’s the most rational and fair thing here?” One voice is clearly pushy, not encouraging, and a drama queen. Obviously I want to paint, but rather than sacrifice more of the sweet dream-times that make me functional, why not plan a specific time to paint the next day and listen to that voice that knows what my physical needs are? Win-win! This is living in generosity to ourselves.

This is being kind to ourselves.

I think this time of year focuses on giving to others in part because we understand a general truth about humankind, which is that we get stuck on ourselves and find it hard to break out of the everyday pattern. We need something to shake us up and get us out of the funk we live in a lot of the year, where we cycle around and around thinking about how to make a little more money, be a little more successful or recognized, or even how to create that thing that we know we are meant to make next.

We need a break from all of that, and in a weird twist of fate, I think the first step of being kind to myself is, for me, finding someone near me who needs attention and help more than I do. Getting outside of the endless word-river in my brain can give me chance to shake off my troubles and see how someone else is experiencing the big weird world we live in.

There are always people in need, and it’s a sad fact that most days we’re so busy trying to make the most of our own situations that we can forget. Even if it’s as simple as chatting with a neighbor or learning the names of the people on our block, giving a larger tip to our favorite barista, or sending a gift overseas to a child in need. I know there isn’t enough time to do it all in a day, trust me. But the weird thing is that when I do these practices, putting people first and my schedule second, I always end up having the time after all. Almost always.

We push ourselves so much, further than we know we can go. It’s admirable, sometimes even noble. But I have to think that there are times when all that’s being asked of us is to sit still and be okay, to hear words of love being spoken over us, to experience something beautiful or peaceful or wonderful without guilt.

Let’s practice generosity, to ourselves as well as others, as we welcome in another year of hope and promise. Let’s be our own friend, and help ourselves and those around us to enjoy both in time of celebration, giving, and kindness. And always.

About the Author: Emma Gazley

Emma Gazley is an artist, musician, writer, adventurer and teacher. Born to two adventurous parents, Emma was destined to be an explorer of the world, and from her earliest moments displayed signs of creativity and curiosity. She has spent time in Europe, Asia, Canada, and currently resides in the U.S. She began her journey of discovering her identity as an artist in 2012, after encountering critical health problems that caused her to lose her job and the ability to do most everyday activities. Many of her projects have, as a result of this event and others, a twinge of the painful and tragic aspects of life.

Emma is interested in learning about grief and how to cope with it, as well as passionate about finding joy in the day to day.

For the Love of Bread by Joy Plummer

I first made bread in 1994. I bought a bread machine from a friend for $75. I made one loaf, and it came out perfectly. I made a second loaf, and it was about half right, half edible. The third loaf was completely wrong and inedible. I had no idea why.

[interior crumb of sourdough]

At the same time, my mother gave me an old hippie cookbook called Laurel’s Kitchen, a vegetarian cookbook published out of Berkeley in the mid-1970s. The vegetarian recipes were awful – way too bland for today’s palate. But the bread recipes were wholesome and excellent. While I was failing with my bread machine, I started attempting bread by hand. It was awesome! I made whole wheat bread, rye bread, and I don’t even remember what else, but it was all so good. I sold my bread machine for $75.

sliced multi-grain with cranberries

When my oldest daughter was born, I found freedom by carrying her everywhere in a Baby Bjorn. I remember the first time I decided to make challah. I put Sophie in her carrier, and mixed my dough. I remember kneading the dough on the counter, and noticing that the gentle rocking, back and forth from my heels to my toes, had put Sophie to sleep. It was, indeed, entirely soothing to me, too.

sesame challah

And then, I discovered a bread revolution happening around me. Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread method started sweeping through the DIY foodie community, so of course, being somewhat undaunted by the bread process, I tried it. CRUSTY BREAD!! And it was so easy and OUTSTANDINGLY delicious! I joined a bread group on Facebook, and someone recommended Ken Forkish’s Flour Water Yeast Salt. Now this was serious. I read every page and followed the instructions exactly as written. And I was becoming more advanced with every boule I made.

4 boules of sourdoughThe next big step was attempting sourdough. I’ve failed many attempts at growing things. I used to say that I could grow anything, as long as I could nurse it. But again, I followed Forkish’s instructions, and I made sourdough! I was making bread rise with a precious mix of flour and water!

3 seeded boules

I noticed that every time I put my hands in dough that any tension, stress, or frustration I had, dissipated. I was calm, focused, content. Making bread requires presence. All the mathematical calculations (it’s a ratio, yo), the weighing, the testing, and then working the dough to where it feels right, feeling how it changes over time…. You breathe into the process. It’s a meditation.

twisted chocolate challah

Now, I’m a member of a global community of people who nerd out on milling grains into flour, trying different kinds of breads from all around the world, and who strive to perfect our craft. But bread people are also generous and kind. Someone posts a picture of a crusty boule that pancaked when they put it into the oven. “Does it taste good?” That’s all that matters. Everyone makes a loaf that doesn’t perform the way you expected sometimes. It doesn’t matter. Try again.

baguettes

I started selling bread to friends less than a year ago. My first week, I took 25 orders. The week before Christmas, I took 73 orders. Every week since I began, I have gotten one to two new customers. People are hungry for fresh bread. People are so happy when they get bread from me. Bread is goodness. Bread is for feeding your body and your spirit. Bread is for feeding your family. Bread is for sharing. Bread is love.

English muffins

About the Author, Joy Plummer

Joy PlummerJoy Plummer has been working in the food industry for seven years as a baker, caterer, and personal chef. A desire to set boundaries on food intake led her to a brief 2-year stint as a vegan, but she decided that she loved food adventures and her zaftig body more. She continues to serve personal chef clients, but bread is her true love. She plans to open a bread-centered restaurant in 2018. Joy lives in the San Francisco metropolitan area with her husband and three kids. Learn more about her on Facebook.

Instrumental: The Holiday Grieving Survival Kit by Jeanie Croope


It’s the season of hope and wonder, of parties and cookie and decking the halls. We are told to have a Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah and we say the same in return.

And sometimes we are neither Merry nor Happy.

The winter holidays can be stressful even for those who love them and “Martha to the Max.” But for those experiencing grief and loss, the first winter holidays without someone they love, they can be especially challenging.

This year there will be many who have lost loved ones in fires and hurricanes, through accidents and illness. Add to that the loss of a home or a job and the holidays don’t seem so merry and bright. For many years I volunteered at a family grief center and clearly the winter holidays were the hardest time. If you are dealing specifically with grief or loss issues, these tips on getting through the holidays might be helpful. And if you are not currently on that grief journey, you may see some ways you can help someone who is.

Sometimes Tradition, Sometimes Not

A dear friend facing a challenging holidays said recently, “I’m dreading the traditional this year. The new experiences I am looking forward to, but the old ones — I don’t know.”

Too much food, too much stress, too much pressure and too little time. Add to it a major life change and the old-familiar may be a little too tough.

So, give yourself a break. I’d never advocate changing traditions that work, but consider trying something new. Good grief, even if you’re happy as a clam, try something new, whether it’s a cookie recipe or a change of venue! It may become a new tradition or maybe it’s just an event for this year to help shake things up in a good way.

You may see your best (and most unexpected) holiday concert ever. Enjoy a walk through a dazzling winter wonderland on a zoo walk. Sample far too many treats as you stroll through a holiday gallery walk. Go caroling for the first time since college. Watch “The Nutcracker” live or on video.

Consider a road trip. If being home is too hard, venture to a new place or accept the holiday invitation to spend it at the home of friends or relatives. It doesn’t have to be a permanent tradition, but it might make the first year under new circumstances a little easier.

And if your friend is grieving? Help out with a surprise meal of pasta, salad (in a bag makes it easy, if not exciting!) and some crusty bread. And if you can, join them. Dinner alone can be tough for the newly widowed.

Be willing to listen — to sadness, to memories, to fears for the future. And remember, loss can be complicated. Not everyone is sad for a death — they may be sad for what was and now can never be. Don’t assume you know how they feel. You might know how you think you would feel but everyone’s experience with a person who died is unique.

Welcome the Person Who Is No Longer With Us by Remembering

You might light a candle in someone’s honor — whether it is at the dinner table or privately. Honor the light they brought to your life. Or stop by the cemetery to lay a pine bough or some holly.

I have the “Dad” Christmas tree (with ornaments that reflect things he loved) and the “Mom” tree, with ornaments that were some of her favorites along with new ones that I know she’s love.

Try a helium balloon flight — write a note to the loved one, tie it to the string of the balloon, then let it go high in the air. This is especially meaningful for children. When I was volunteering in the grief center, the annual balloon launch was the “event of the year” and the kids and adults alike valued sending up their thoughts to their loved one.

If stitching is your thing, consider making ornaments from one of their clothing garments or jewelry or use something that was part of them as part of your holiday decorating. Or ask your crafty friend if they can make you something in the year ahead — a stuffed bear or tree ornaments, for example. This year my friend Suzanne gave me several necklaces of her mother’s, whom I knew and liked very much. She thought I might pass them on to charity. They are costume jewelry but that long strand of pearls and another necklace are now a beautiful beaded garland on one of my trees. The others will be given away but these memories of Nolda will remain on my tree for years to come.)

Do Something that Might Make You Feel Like You Are Making a Difference. 

It can be hard to give back when you feel you have nothing left to give, but volunteering doesn’t mean just working at an organized activity with a major time commitment. You may have an elderly neighbor who might not easily be able to wrap gifts for the family. A couple of gift

bags, some tissue and you’re good to go — you’ll make that person’s day and you’ll feel pretty great yourself. Park yourself in the lobby of the nursing home or assisted living site or in a room at your church after Sunday services, loaded with wrapping paper.

Often I do what I call my “Random Acts of Christmas” — chipping in $5 at the grocery cashier to go toward the order of the old man behind me, anonymously of course. Priming the meter or parking attendant with another dollar’s worth for the next user. An anonymous gift to someone who needs a lift. Once you start, it is really hard to stop.

Most of All, Be Gentle with Yourself

Remember, holidays can be tough on a good day. There are parties when you don’t feel like partying, a whole lot of sugar and butter, things to do, like shopping and wrapping and mailing — presumably with a deadline, and so much more. Sometimes it’s good to

go out, see friends, make merry. Sometimes that’s even very healing.

But there are other times when you just can’t. Don’t beat yourself up over it. People will understand. If the cards don’t get out, it’s not a crisis. If you can’t bear to write the holiday letter that covers your year, skip it and just send a card or an e-card.

Pick a few things to do — not everything. Talk it over with your kids (young and older, too) and let them know where you stand, and learn where they do. You can probably come to consensus.

As a friend, if you are headed to the store or the post office, ask if you can pick up groceries or stamps. Bring a tray of crudites instead of cookies, maybe with a light dip or cold shrimp and sauce. There are loads of ways you can help someone take care.

Remember, There IS Hope. And There IS Wonder.

It may feel impossible to find hope when things dark and sad. But it’s the time we need it most. And seeing the wonder of the world may just be an important part of the antidote. The twinkling lights, whether on your own tree or in a shop window. The smile on a child’s face. The grateful appreciation for an act of kindness. The quiet snowfall on Christmas Eve. The blanket of stars in an inky night sky or the dazzling pinks and lavenders of the perfect sunset. There is wonder in the love we have known, that great gift that carries us through.

 

And there is wonder in the cycle of life, of knowing that flowers will bloom, leaves will change into a glorious array of colors and snow will fall. The sun will rise and set and the world will spin its orbit. And with it comes the hope that next year will be a little kinder, a little easier, a little more settled.

I will not wish you a Happy Holiday — I’ll leave that to you, and it may be hard. But I will offer my wishes for peace and healing and the hope that you will find even just a wee bit of wonder to help you in your journey this season. May that star shine brightly to lead you into a new year of hope.

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.

Instrumental: For the Final Months of the Year by Melissa Cynova

Autumn brings with it shorter days, looming holidays and a constant wonderment about where the days have gone. Is it already November? Where did the year go? We never have time to accomplish all that we wanted, it seems, and we’re so quick to discard or disregard those things we have done (and done well)

With the running down of the year, however, comes the opportunity to pause and truly reflect on who we are, where we’re going, and how we got there. It is easy to follow the path above- the quick dismissal of achievement and holding fast to our failures.

What if, instead, we took a cue from nature and slowed down the clock?

What if we were patient and kind to ourselves, even though we totally dropped the ball that one time (or three times).

In tarot, the Star card follows the Tower. After the Tower falls, the world is spinning and disjointed, and it’s hard to get your bearing. There are clouds of dust and rubble all around, and you’ve lost your main landmark. You might feel a little lost, and a little adrift.

The Star brings with her grace, quiet and comfort. She is the first deep breath after a crying jag. She is the cool hand on your fevered brow. She asks nothing of you, holds nothing against you, and gives you space to heal.

This is the space we should allow ourselves. For every goal that we missed, there were a thousand times we were present for a grieving friend. For every deadline that went by, there were a hundred times we played with our cats or took a well-earned nap. We were giving each other hope, and likely leaving ourselves high and dry.

The Star asks us to breathe. To be present. To be forgiving and to forgive.

Most importantly, she asks us to bless ourselves as well as each other, so that our hope doesn’t diminish while we’re ministering to other people.

Xo Lis

About the Author: Melissa Cynova

Melissa Cynova is owner of Little Fox Tarot, and has been reading tarot cards and teaching classes since 1989. She can be found in the St. Louis area, and is available for personal readings, parties and beginner and advanced tarot classes. Her first book, Kitchen Table Tarot, was recently published by Llewellyn Publishing. Melissa lives in St. Louis with her kiddos, her husband, Joe, two cats, two dogs and her tortoise, Phil.

You can reach Melissa at lis@littlefoxtarot.com. She is on Twitter and Instagram under Little Fox Tarot. Go ahead and schedule a reading – she already knows you want one.

Instrumental: Farmbox Adventures by Melissa A. Bartell

Two years ago, driving home from a visit to my husband’s family in South Dakota, we were in rural Nebraska when we passed by a lush, green, field. It was the kind of farmland typical of a postcard image, and it was beautiful, until we saw the sign “Presented by Monsanto” at the corner of the field, just outside the fence, and our hearts fell.

Summer Farmbox by Melissa A. BartellNearly ten years ago, on another trip to South Dakota, we saw the number of family farms that had been bought by commercial soybean growers, and found an eerie response in the fact that the high school had been made smaller, and the population was going down.

Both of these images have haunted me for years, but even though I strive to buy vegetables in season, to buy locally-sourced or organic products whenever possible, when you live in Outer Suburbia doing so can be a challenge, and while my city does have a farmer’s market that operates throughout the year, its hours are far too early to be compatible with my extremely nocturnal tendencies.

Ironically, it was my friend Tabitha (she of Sunday Sensations) who gave me the key to making a difference in my own life, as well as in my community. She’d mentioned her recent delivery from a local-to-her CSA (community supported agriculture) organization, and it spurred me to find something similar in my own neighborhood.

Choosing a CSA was easy for me: of the several that exist in my region, only one delivers to my address. I spent the weekend of my birthday reading all their information, and made my first order that week. Thus began my relationship with FarmboxDelivery.com.

While many CSAs operate as co-ops – you buy shares and get a box that represents the number of shares you have – this one is a bit simpler. They have several ‘sizes’ of boxes ranging from wee (which is apparently their most popular option, and, they say, is ideal for a two-adult household) to boxes large enough for corporations to share out (or use in the company kitchen, maybe?), and we also have the option of choosing all fruit, all vegetables, or a mix.

Even better, there’s a way to ban certain items from ever showing up in my box. I’m one of those people for whom cilantro tastes like soap (this is genetic – it means I lack a specific enzyme), so I’ve asked that they never deliver cilantro. Similarly, I’m not a fan of kale (and as someone who is extremely hypothyroid, I’m not supposed to eat it, anyway) so I’ve asked them never to send me that.

My CSA allows me to customize my box, as well. Every Friday, I can access the list of the next week’s box, and if there’s something I have too much of, or isn’t included but is available, I can add or change a few items. As well, I can add some meats, dairy, and eggs, all from local farmers. We’ve become big fans of the cherry-smoked bacon and Mexican-style ground chicken sausage we can get, and I no longer buy milk in the grocery store unless I’m making something that requires a lot of it. The milk we get with our farm box isn’t raw, but it is low-temperature pasteurized, and it comes with the cream on top.

In addition to exploring many of the various add-on options, I’m having a blast discovering new-to-me vegetables, or learning new ways of preparing familiar ones. Farmbox Sausage by Melissa A. Bartell

This fall, I’ve received acorn squash three times, butternut squash once, and delicata squash twice, and the latter was previously unknown to me. Another week, I received Swiss chard, which I’d never cooked before, and really enjoyed trying.

Even though the farm box I receive is meant for two people, there are days when I’m just not in the mood to cook, or I’m not home. When we had to make an emergency trip to South Dakota over Labor Day weekend because my mother-in-law died, the friend who kindly took care of my dogs was invited to take home anything that wouldn’t keep, and when we get behind on using things, she isn’t offended if I beg her to take things off my hands, so they won’t go to waste.

My Wednesday night routine now involves setting the empty carton from the previous week’s farm box out on the front porch (along with any empty egg cartons or cold-bags) to be picked up when the new box is dropped on Thursday.

My new Thursday ritual is opening the new farm box.

Often, I am greeted by the earthy smell of potatoes – they leave them loose in the box – but equally frequently the first thing I encounter is the greens. (I confess, I often sing “The Witch’s Rap” from Into the Woods when I’m unboxing lettuces and other greens. My life is a musical, after all.)

As I write this, we’ve just finished a lovely dinner of broiled teriyaki salmon, Yukon gold potatoes sautéed with yellow onions and garlic, and a salad of green leaf lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes, and except for the garlic, every vegetable came from my farm box. This is a fairly usual occurrence now, and there are some nights when I try to make an entire meal solely from farm box products (so far, our favorite is quiche made with the afore-mentioned chicken sausage and mushrooms).

You might be asking me, is it worth the money? Well, I pay about $25/week for my box. $5 of that is a delivery fee but when I add milk and eggs, the total isn’t much different, because I’m over the minimum price for free delivery. It’s probably slightly more expensive doing this than it would be just buying veggies at the store, but not only does it mean I’m not heading to the grocery store as often, I’m also supporting local farmers, which is vitally important.

If only my CSA delivered coffee, I’d be completely happy.

Farmbox Unboxing by Melissa A. Bartell

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

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

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