Archive | Refresh & Restore (Issue #6)

Changing It Up to Keep It Fresh by Daryl Wood Gerber

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author: Daryl Wood Gerber

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

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

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

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

Sunday Sanctuary: The Only Certainties in Life

As the saying goes, nothing in life is certain except for death and taxes. We hope to lessen the affects of both of those certainties: tax breaks, eating healthy, tax deductions, exercise, and praying for no one falling and breaking a hip. But the older we get, the more likely we are to come face to face with the inevitable: the loss of one – or both – of our parents.

At not-quite-fifty, I’m a little old to take on the orphan moniker, yet with the loss of my father last month, there is no one around who sat with me when I had the chicken pox at six months, slept in my hospital room when I was five and had my tonsils removed, or went to the ER with me when I fell off a chair and broke my arm when I was in the second grade.

When my mother was dying in 2010, I managed her impending loss with lots of butter, cooking all her favorite dishes to coax her into just one bite. When she died, I dealt with the loss by traveling to numb the pain and then decluttering my life down to what would fit in my car by moving to Ohio to start fresh with John.

Perhaps all that butter greased my heart and made it a little more pliable and flexible so that I could take that big ole leap of faith. Deep down I know that I could have never have made that move while she was still living. My mother was tiny in size but her big personality demanded geographical closeness to tie us to her apron strings.

While my mother hoped to tie me down to hold me close, my father was always the one giving me the wind to soar on my wings.

Go work. Travel. Explore the world. Search for what will make you happy.

Five months after my mother died, I sat down with my father and we reviewed a list of what big tasks I’d have to undertake to fix up my house to sell it. Then, we looked at the seemingly low offer the We Buy Ugly Houses Guy had given me earlier that day.

After some quick calculations, he looked me in the eye and said: “Debra, take the money and run.”

And I did.

Daddy’s impending death was nothing like my momma’s. She lingered for twelve weeks after her lung cancer diagnosis. Daddy slowly shrunk thanks to advancing emphysema.

On July 7th, Daddy was sent to the hospital. After five days there, the doctors suggested a transfer to an acute rehab hospital with the goal of rebuilding his strength. Giving him an opportunity at some quality days ahead. We’d had a good conversation on Tuesday afternoon, he sounded strong and praised the surprisingly tasty hospital food and bemoaned his inability to watch the Western Channel in the hospital.

He was dead the following Tuesday. He passed away at 12:18 AM as I sat by his beside, sitting vigil as he’d done for me during numerous childhood illnesses.

After settling in at the rehab hospital, he had a panic attack and a heart incident. The doctor sent him home to my sister’s late on Friday night with hospice care. When my daughter visited him on Saturday, she told me I needed to get back to Texas. Now.

It’s hard to be the one that moves away. To not know when to hop a plane and when to wait.

I arrived while he was still coherent: he shook his finger at me and told me I should be working, not visiting him in Texas. Thirty-six hours later, he was gone. And barely a week after arriving in Texas, he’d died, we’d had a wake, buried him, and I was back home in Ohio.

In some ways, being the one that moved away meant that I’d already in some ways mimicked the traveling part after Mother’s death as a way to manage grief. You prepare to have already said goodbye when you last visited, even though you hope for one more hello. But there had been no last favorites to cook to entice a few bites out of him. No banana pudding, no blondies, no brisket.

Back in Ohio, though, there was no where to run. There were no closets to clean out, except my own. There was no need to bake or deal with casserole dishes left by those tending the grieving.

I lost my appetite and struggled with sleeping that first week, waking around three each morning…

It was a relief when John was finally awake, too. Him heading to the shower signaled a normal day, a new normal for me. I felt the first spark of moving forward when I began slicing a cumber for a salad and that crisp, clean scent hit my olfactory glands.

As my friend Becca is fond of reminding me, life goes on. And, the truth is, the man who encouraged me to take every business opportunity that came my way – be it in Mansfield, Tulsa, Washington DC, Chicago, or Dayton – would have been shaking his finger at me if I were to linger too much in the sadness and not tend to the important things. Work. Writing. Taking care of my home. Caring for myself and for John.

So, when grief overtook me, I turned to tasks that embodied caring and tending.

I cleaned the Tupperware cabinet. Though nothing in there is officially Tupperware, I still call that collection of storage containers the Tupperware cabinet.

I emptied a drawer in my dresser, ridding the space of sweaters I’d never wear and workout clothes that were worn out. Then, I took two bags of clothes to Goodwill.

I diced onions and sliced more cucumbers. I made large batches of boiled eggs and chopped fresh tomatoes. I bought the first of the local corn and remembered enjoying corn on the cob in the summers with my father, corn being one of the few vegetables my father would eat besides potatoes.

I cleaned my office and found a spot on my bookshelves for the small cedar chest my father kept on his dresser.

I went to the dry cleaners to pick up clothes. Then, I matched John’s suits with shirts and matching ties, a very zen exercise for my overly exhausted mind.

It must have been a man who said that death and taxes are the only certainties in life. Because I know for sure that dust on furniture and dirty dishes and hungry humans are other real certainties. I may not be able to avoid the taxes and it’s been made very clear that I can’t skip death’s visits to my world. But I can channel my grief through dealing with the dust and the dishes and feeding hungry bodies.

For without my sanctuary of this space and my ability to find nourishment for my soul in household tasks, I don’t know how well I’d manage the rest.

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Clearing Brain Clutter: Discovering Your Heart’s Desire and Clearing Soul Clutter: Creating Your Vision. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

A Portrait of a Writer’s Studio by Diana Raab

Empty coffee-imbued mugs,
remnants of tea leaves
in blue Chinese tea pots,

a dimly lit purple lamp,
stacks of crinkled purple file folders
busting with shreds of wisdom,

dusty antique typewriters interspersed
with writing manuals and memoirs
once alphabetical, photos of my loved ones,

both here and gone, faded artistry of daughters
now on their own, a reading chair
beside a purple orchid crowded by

a crooked pile of books laden with stickers
on their best pages, purple pens
and yellow highlighters

clinging as bookmarks, pads of notes,
boxes of dated journals,
tins of obsolete manuscripts

flipped open for ideas,
scented creativity candles,
a sunburst mirror with an image

the computer’s back screen
paned doors facing the outside
water fountain shared with hummingbirds

and rabbits nibbling at fallen rose petals.
An Oriental end table harbors
a pen collection beside a floor heater

to dry the tears which pour from me
as my gel pen negotiates its flow.

About the Author: Diana Raab

Diana Raab, PhD, is an award-winning author, poet, blogger and speaker and author of eight books. She speaks on writing for healing and transformation. Her book, Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life, is due out in September 2017 by Loving Healing Press and is currently available for pre-order on Amazon. More at dianaraab.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/.

Dear Miracle: For the Out of Season Times by Briana Saussy

Photo by Danielle Cohen

Dear Miracles,

Earlier this year I was sitting in the dark while the full moon shined Her face out at me through gnarled Pecan tree branches and the wind was whipping through my hair, as one does. I had already completed my morning devotions and was enjoying a cup of coffee and just talking to the trees and really listening, for as you all know, the greatest part of speaking with land and tree, rock and root, is not speaking but rather listening to them as they speak in their much slower, rolling, winding, ways.

And so sitting there in the dark I heard quite clearly this, that it is ok, it is actually quite normal to have an experience where the internal season and the external seasons do not, exactly, line up. For you see, in spring of this year my family had a long visit with old Lady Death.

Now I know her well and she has been a friend of mine ever since birth, and yet, she is still like the austere great-great aunt or grandmother – the one that you are not totally sure about, she might give you a sweet or she might eat you…it is unclear.

She first came rattling into my year during the first week of January when my beloved dog died. Our doberman was 17 years old and passed in her sleep – we could not have asked for better, but I had a sense it was only a beginning.

Then, La Muerta invaded my springtime season with her ivory bones and her scent of wood smoke and apples and autumn in mid-March when my father in law passed away. My husband and I mourned his loss actively for a set amount of time, built an entire ancestor altar in his honor, and then over time became acquainted with the high and low tides that carry the unique grief of losing a parent.

Not much later, a dear friend of mine called me with the unexpected news that a beloved of hers had died – far too young and very unexpectedly. She was devastated.

And as you know, when you love someone, even if you do not know their loss as intimately, you know them, and your love for them requires that your heart be pierced too.

And so, there I was, on my swing, moon bathing, and feeling quite heartbroken. It was Springtime! The birds were signing, the weather was actually -gasp!- pretty awesome, the flowers were blooming. It wouldn’t be true to say I wasn’t aware of those things – I was, but I was also aware that inside my soul it did not feel like spring, it felt like late autumn headed into winter, and I felt out of sync with the lands where I live and all of the creatures who form my community, my home.

That is when the trees explained to me that of course we have days, weeks, months, and years, where we feel mismatched to our surroundings – be they the jobs we show up for, the partnerships we participate in, the schools we attend, the creations we make, the very bodies that we inhabit. This happens. For everything there is a season but there are also times where we feel decidedly out of season too.

Dear Miracle - Photo by Danielle Cohen

One of the reasons that the Sacred Arts have been outliers in the world of spirituality and self-help is because they speak to and resonate strongly with those who feel out of season in their lives. I suspect many of you know this feeling, right?

  • Skin that doesn’t quite fit – it is too tight, too itchy, too…something.
  • Tears that just show up in the middle of your day (usually right before the after lunch meeting of course) like uninvited guests.
  • Dreams that leave you covered in their stardust and strangeness even hours after waking.

The Sacred Arts are uniquely positioned to speak to such experiences and they call to those who have such experiences; they call to those of us who feel that we are searching…for…something, but we aren’t quite sure what. The Sacred Arts nod and wink at us mischievously.  They spit a few watermelon seeds at our toes as Kochari, the Pueblo Clown Trickster does whenever things get too serious; we might even hear them yip a bit as Coyotes are known to do, and then they tell us,

“What you are looking for amigo, you won’t find it by following the straight and narrow, and you won’t find it on the 5 lane expressway either, but if you are willing to follow me, into the moonlight, I can show you a thing to two.”

And so they do.

Primarily through story, the primary source and seedbed of all Sacred Arts, we are shown all kinds of wonders and we are reminded of the magic, dreams, divinations, prayers, and blessings, and so much more that we carry within us, yes, you too.

Spinning Gold Art by Cassandra Oswald

My Dear Miracle, stories also help us orient ourselves.

I might feel strange (well, stranger) sitting there on my swing in the pitch dark talking to trees and realizing that this is precisely it, I am out of season with the season, if I did not know stories like Tam Lin – where a hero transforms into all kinds of things within the blink of an eye, or the Snow Queen where the bite of Winter is felt in deepest Summer, or Sir Gawain and Lady Ragnelle where the physical land mirrors the drought of soul that comes over an entire kingdom. But I do. I do know those stories, and so I know that even in my hard moments, my isolated moments, my I-never-felt-so-alone moments, I am not alone but rather in excellent, storied, company.

As are you. As are we all.

And I know too, from listening and learning from story, how to create the magics and ceremonies, how to dream the dreams, cast the divinations, say the prayers, and make the blessings that carry medicine to strengthen not only myself when I have need, but other as well. For this is just one way that I spin gold from the straw of every day life and every day stuff.

With love,
Briana

PS: It is why I created Spinning Gold and it is why I hope you will join me in this one of a kind journey over the next year.

About the Author: Briana Saussy

Hi, I’m Briana! I am a writer, teacher, and spiritual counselor, and I am part of a growing community of soulful seekers, people who are looking for wholeness, holiness and healing – for better, more rewarding lives.

The best way to work with me and begin living an enchanted life right here and now is to register for my year long course of fairy tales and magic – Spinning Gold.

Image Credits: Photos by Danielle Cohen. Graphic by Cassandra Oswald.

 

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 Lavender Farm by Bella Cirovic

We made no travel plans for the summer, opting instead to take day trips to little known destinations up to an hour from our home that boasted promises of magic and beauty.

A google search for such places helped produce our list of sights to see this season. It’s how we came upon the lavender farm, an oasis of purple tucked in the hills near the shoreline of our fine state.

What a wondrous day we had walking amongst all of those sweet smelling lavender bushes, sipping lavender lemonade, and eating coffee cake drizzled with purple flowers and honey.

This day was a treat for our senses not to mention balm for our hearts.

So I ask you, if you were to search for a magical place near your home, what do you think you will find? What’s stopping you from going there?

About the Author: Bella Cirovic

Bella Cirovic BioBella Cirovic is a photographer and writer who lives with her husband and daughter in the suburbs outside of NYC. She writes on the subjects of self care, body love and nourishment, crystals, essential oils, and family life. Catch up with Bella at her blog: She Told Stories

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