Archive | Routines & Rituals (Issue #5)

On the River with David Raines

David Raines is a river barge captain, a killer Scrabble player, a doting father, and a recently engaged husband-to-be. He’s also a natural storyteller and has an amazing eye for photographs. When I first learned what he did for a living, I had all these images of Mark Twain in my head, but the modern reality of David’s life is that it’s one of searching for balance between work on the river, and home-life ashore. (It’s also about not falling in the river while you’re working.)

This is his story, in his own words and pictures.

Photo by David Raines

I started working out on the river when I was 18. I instantly liked the structured life, the danger, wealth of knowledge, history, and most of all – that no one could fake doing their job. It’s a world semi cut off and one that can never be fully understood unless you are actually out here for a few years . I did not have a plan to be the captain. I enjoyed working my way through the ranks. It wasn’t until I became a father that being a captain set in.

Photo by David RainesThe little Wookie is something that my girls ( worms ) got me for Father’s Day many years ago. I take pictures of it each time I leave home . It’s one of many small things that we have developed to stay close . Notice the “crusty captain” logo? The worms started calling me that, so I made shirts for us all with a logo.

I let family and friends know when I get home. I have uninterrupted time to be a dad. I fought hard to be their dad when I am home and I have always been 110% involved. I have custody of them when I am home . We do all things together. It’s all about the memories. We cosplay, bike ride, cook, and do cultural events.

Boat life is very hard on relationships. It was taken me until the age of 44 to find and feel real and unconditional love from a woman. I can go on and on about the dual lives I live, and how both have love, passion, joy, dedication, and much more.

We are our own fire department and first aid out here. Chain of command is very important. I go from being obeyed out here to doting on my girls and finding moments to live in with my girls… it’s completely different.

I can see where many captain ( leader ) skills are transferable to being a doting dad: Never letting up on standards, Being hard core, Chewing people out, Breaking down young men, Having follow-through, Being calm in a crisis, Patience.

Photo by David RainesRiver Lessons #2: Know who you are working with December 14th 1991 at 2:30 pm in Caseville, Illinois I was a green deckhand. It was a normal winter day and we were building tow (putting a block of barges together ) with the boat.

Physically I was tightening the outside fore and aft wire; mentally I was pondering my life choices.  In particular as to why a sane person would want to work in this each day, or why do we have to we woken up twice a day, or why can’t I find a sugar momma?

The other deckhand was 20ft away and just as zoned out as I was. I do not recall his name. I remember that he had a wonderful dream about starting a chain of meth labs and that breaking rocks with other rocks would have confused him. As I went to check as see how tight the wire was I kicked the outside bite of the wire and my foot connected with ice and away I went for a splash.

I was yelling for help while I was still under water and believe me, the Ohio river tasted dirty. I swam back to the barges and could barely reach the rounded edge. The life jacket held me afloat easily but I could not pull myself up . I did not feel any cold because my adrenaline was running hard. I began to yell for help.

The dePhoto by David Rainesckhand 35ft away never heard me but the mate did, and he was 400ft away. As he ran past the the deckhand he said “Dave fell in, grab a line now,” but what the deckhand heard was “take a break.”

The mate was not the best I have ever seen. Matter of fact he was very lazy and quite grouchy. None of that matters in certain moments. He grabbed the coming and stuck his hand down and pulled me out. I crawled to the coupling and as soon as I knew I was safe my adrenaline wore off and hypothermia set in.

As I walked into the boat the captain looked at me as he fired up a cigar and said, “No swimming on watch dumb—. Get warm and dry and get back out there.” Later on each detail was written down and talked about with the entire crew. I learned to not focus on getting to know the person but instead look at the work ethic. Will the person on watch be competent enough to rescue you , turn on the general alarm, notify someone in time? Suddenly spacing out was no longer am option and I could never forget it.

Watching out for one another had nothing to do with being friends or with color or rank and maybe the guys higher up the chain were sharper than I thought. Still, I should have gotten a cake or something for my troubles.

Photo by David Raines

Out here a person in fully immersed in the job. There is no going home. One truly learns the value of watching out for someone even though we may never get along. It also brings what is most important to your heart to the surface. Your hopes and fears will not leave you out here . And once you are home you can be complete and it’s like a holiday each time… even after 25 years.

Photo by David Raines

About the Author: David Raines

David RainesDavid Raines was raised in SE Missouri, and moved to Texas when he was thirty. He works on the river as captain of a barge, but home is ashore, where he devotes his time to his three daughters and fiance. For more about David check him out on Facebook.

 

 

 

 

 

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Sunday Sanctuary: Morning Person

SundaySancturary_WithDebraSmouse

Well beyond my current ability to remember, I have been a morning person.  I awake and most mornings, desiring to bound out of bed, mostly bright eye-eyed.

I say beyond my ability to remember because, of course, there are the stories told by my mother of my ability as an infant to wake early and simply be happy for it. My internal body clock drives me to wake early, ready for the adventures of the day ahead.

As I’ve gotten older, though, a few moments of lingering in bed have become welcome.

On weekends, I still wake early, but now I may lay there and listen to the quiet rise and fall of John’s breathing or on a cold morning, snuggle into his warmth. Sometimes,  I reach for my Kindle and read a bit or listen to a podcast on my iPod.

Weekdays are different as we usually wake to an alarm, set sometime between 5 AM and 6 AM. These mornings can be a little harder to bound out of bed, yet once my feet hit the floor, it isn’t long before my morning-person tendencies surface.  A good thing, considering I often begin my workdays by coaching clients as early as 7 AM.

I hum or dance as I wait for the coffee to brew and anticipate particular moments on my to-do list. Yet, mornings can feel challenging to even this morning person . It’s the pressure of that time crunch, a particular number of tasks necessary before the day can begin in earnest – John getting out the door for work or me preparing for an early morning coaching call.

The secret to loving mornings after all these years lies in my evening routine. Seemingly small details can make the difference between a fabulous flowing and productive day instead of a crappy and chaotic one.

The number one piece of my evening routine is the coffee pot. Yes, the coffee pot must be ready to go at the push of a button. We have ones of those wonderful “grind and brew” pots, which requires the loading of coffee beans in the little grinder, a filter in the basket, and fresh filtered water in the reservoir.

In the last seven years, I have failed to set up the coffee pot before bed about a dozen times and have had what Alexander would call “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day”. Well, maybe that’s exaggerating a bit, but it hasn’t been pretty.  It just sets a tone of unpreparedness for the day, the need to measure water and scoop out coffee beans whilst my eyes are trying to open wider than a squint.

As if the smell of brewing coffee has become a necessity for my middle-aged self to be that bright-eyed morning person.

I’ve always longed to live a peaceful and beautiful life. As with every part of creative living, I’ve discovered that the little things do matter.

There are other little actions that filter into my evening routines, all serving to make my mornings feel more like welcome and ease.

Like the dishes. I hate getting up to a sink full of dishes and I’ve found that I can get the dishwasher unloaded in about the same amount of time it takes that coffee to brew.  Maybe stemming from the memories of breaking a glass on the kitchen floor and the way slivers of glass find their way everywhere. Or maybe it’s in response to no longer living with teenagers who would empty a hoard of hidden and food encrusted dishes into the sink whilst I slept. Just the memory of that makes me cringe.

Mostly, though, dishes in the sink make me feel as if my ability to keep a home that’s organized and beautiful is just out of my reach.

Sometimes, these evening routines take an inordinate amount of effort, especially on a Friday evening as we close a busy week. I want to crawl into bed instead of doing dishes or counting out the ten scoops of coffee beans into the grinder.

But I do it because when I don’t, I suffer.

And purposely causing myself to suffer doesn’t feel  like a beautiful way to live.

“What we do today, right now, will have an accumulated effect on all our tomorrows.”
–Alexandra Stoddard

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.

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Connections by Christine Mason Miller

The postmark on the first letter was August 14, 2000. The red rubber stamp on the left side of the envelope read “C.R.C. State Prison.” It was a letter from a woman named Nicole, who described herself as a “recovering addict serving a civil addict commitment at California Rehabilitation Center, Norco.” I was five years into my own greeting card business at the time, and she’d received one of my cards. When she found my address on the back, she wrote to ask if I would donate materials to her—cards, cardstock, envelopes, and paper. At the close of her letter she wrote, “Your trash is my treasure.”

I sent her a package the next day.

About two weeks later the next letter arrived, the same red “C.R.C. State Prison” stamp glaring on the front like neon. Packaged inside an envelope created from a brown paper bag, there was a handmade card on orange paper, a detailed illustration of a teddy bear wearing blue boots on the front. He was holding flowers and blowing on a dandelion, the little fluffy seedlings seeming to scatter off the edge of the card. There was color, shading, and depth created with glitter pens, magic marker, and pencil. It was Nicole again, saying the package I had sent her was denied. I’d included posters, which meant it exceeded the prison’s size limits on mail.

I sent her a second package, smaller this time, no posters.

One month later I received a note from Tracie, who explained that a “friend had let her have one of my cards,” and that if I sent a package it could not weigh more than three pounds. She said she was allowed to receive paper, cards, envelopes, and stamps. The prison would also accept pens, as long as they had clear, see-through barrels. She wrote her letter in ballpoint on a piece of stationery with five geese on the front, each adorned with blue and white polka dotted bows around their necks.

I sent her a package, under three pounds.

Six weeks later—another letter. It was from Stephanie, who wrote in purple ink in loose, large handwriting on the back side of the paper with the three binder holes on the right. She was succinct and direct, saying she had “seen a few of my cards around” and was wondering if I could send her a “variety pack or assorted pack” of my cards.

I sent her a package of assorted cards with envelopes.

The next two letters arrived within two weeks, a few days after Thanksgiving. One was from Gretchen, who wrote in ballpoint pen on loose-leaf paper. She detailed her love of cards, how she enjoyed sending them, and that she thought mine were “some very nice cards.” She went on to explain which card she received from another inmate, describing the image and colors in detail—it was blue with a moon and stars. I knew exactly which card she was talking about. She told me she mailed it to her husband the same day she received it.

The other letter was written in large black script from a woman named Sasha, who got right down to business: “I’m writing requesting to know if there is anyway of receiving greeting cards from this company…to send to my boys and family.”

Two packages were mailed the same afternoon.

The month of December passed with exponentially more letters in my mailbox each week —two letters the first week, seven the week after, eleven before the new year. Thirteen more letters came in January, so I contacted the C.R.C. directly with an offer to send a large inventory of cards and envelopes to be distributed to the inmates. The arrivals from the C.R.C. in my mailbox dwindled quickly after that. The last letter I received was postmarked December 26, 2001.

Most letters were requests for cards written on loose-leaf paper, but I also received thank you notes on bright blue stationery, envelopes adorned with curlicue script, and letters mailed in envelopes I’d mailed not long before. Barbara told me she had three children and explained, “They need me more than a card, but until I can be there I would like to brighten their day.” A woman named Tanya began her letter with “I’m here in prison.” There were references to children, recovery, families, and addiction. There were misspelled words and notes written on pieces of paper torn in half. All letters were courteous, appreciative, and forthright. None of the women tried to tiptoe around the fact that she was in prison.

**   **   **

A greeting card business is a funny thing. By the time I started receiving these letters, I had been running one called Swirly for almost five years. I started it when I was twenty-seven years old with a grand vision of inspiring the world. I was not interested in merely designing and selling cards, I wanted to spread messages of encouragement and light the way for others to follow their dreams. One of my very first designs was an illustration of a tree with stars all over its branches. Its caption read “Plant Your Dreams and the Miracles will Grow”, which became the Swirly tag line—the phrase attached to the back of every card, whether birthday, sympathy, or thank you. Swirly cards were whimsical and bold, filled with stars, ladybugs, and sunflowers. Vibrant and graphic, they were paired with envelopes the color of gumballs—purple, lime green, and turquoise.

Through Swirly, I aimed to spread positive messages about creating a meaningful life to people from all walks of life, so when I started receiving letters from the C.R.C., it never occurred to me to not respond. Everyone who wrote received a package that included a short note in which I tried to manage the delicate balance between being uplifting without pretending they weren’t in prison. I did not write with any expectations of hearing from them again, and did not care if the main reason for their letters was boredom or the promise of something for nothing. If anything, the vision of prison gossip channels carrying news of a greeting card company willing to send free stationery gave me a peculiar kind of delight. Word obviously got around, and I kept imagining someone walking by another inmate’s room, noticing a card with a bright, smiling sunflower and being told, “All you have to do is write her and she’ll send you free cards!”

**   **   **

The women in the C.R.C. had made mistakes, but were in a program designed to steer them toward a healthier path. In a strange way, there was hope in their letters, even in the face of a few key details. When a stranger introduces herself by name and prison ID number, any ambiguity about the state of her life is wiped away. From all of the other letters I received (as I actually received a fair amount back in the day when social media didn’t exist), it was easy to imagine any number of domestic scenes, such as one-story bungalows with lace curtains, cozy apartments with floral dish towels, and red brick townhouses with sleeping cats in the windows. With the letters from the C.R.C., it was hard to imagine much beyond a bed in a bare room with a worn out blanket. Even when trying to lean on the more purposeful aspect of their being in a center focused on rehabilitation, my imaginings were stark, crowded, and bland. Perhaps these details came to mind from watching Shawshank Redemption too many times, but I kept seeing the same details—linoleum, gray metal, and glaring fluorescent lights.

During the six years I ran my greeting card company—designing, printing, and packaging cards, filling orders, managing reps across the country, and eventually staying on top of more than twelve hundred accounts—I experienced a comically consistent flurry of reactions to the news that this was my job. I still marvel at how often people’s eyes would light up when I told them I had a greeting card business. “Oh really?,” someone would say, “My sister has always created great cards”, or “I’ve always wanted to do that!”

Everyone seemed to know someone who was eager to crack into the greeting card business, and everyone thought it was a dreamy, rainbow-hued job that allowed me to spend all day everyday lost in drawings of cupcakes and flowers. So many people were asking for advice about the world of greeting cards I turned it into a consulting business, but stopped doing it after just a few clients. Seeing the look of disappointment on one face after another upon hearing the news that my vocation actually involved hard work became quickly dispiriting. Having spent so much time and energy figuring out how to do what I did on my own without a single business course to my name, I had no patience for people who wanted easy answers. I also sometimes wondered what they would think of being contacted by strangers from unsettling walks of life, such as prisons and state-run rehab centers.

Swirly evolved into a licensed brand with a product line that included everything from journals to watches. It came to life through a vision that extended far beyond its beginnings as a line of handmade greeting cards, and I wove this story as all of the women from Norco were in the midst of trying to unravel their sins. I was creating a company about following dreams while they were confined to routines, rules, and cells. Our worlds were so far apart, our experiences so wildly different, yet somehow our paths crossed. Through a strange confluence of greeting cards, mail, pens, and paper, our stories collided, and in that collision we each wrote a line in one another’s narrative.

**   **   **

Years after those letters had arrived in mailbox, I spent an afternoon reading and re-organizing all of them, feeling a bittersweet sense of gratitude for everything the women had shared with me as I stacked them chronologically and tied ribbons around the bundles. For all their mundane simplicity—ballpoint ink on loose leaf paper—they were stark reminders of all the ways life can turn on a dime and testaments to the truth that there is always more to a story than I’ll ever know. They made me aware of all the ways I, too, am capable of making monstrous, devastating mistakes that, whether intentional or not, could send my life down a path too dark and confining to imagine. They shined a light on the possibility that somehow, some way, I could have been the one sending letters from prison to a greeting card company asking for donations. To believe such a scenario could never happen, to believe I am somehow immune from life’s larger mishaps, mistakes, and mess-ups, is to deny my very humanity. My flaws, rages, and inclinations toward self-preservation exist alongside my strengths, ambitions, and good intentions. I am human, and therefore capable of the entire spectrum of human behavior, including those of a criminal nature.

By acknowledging and embracing this truth, I recognize how indelibly connected I am not just to my family, friends, and kindreds, but to the women in the C.R.C. No matter what—no matter how far apart my story might feel from someone else’s—there is always a thread connecting us, even through prison walls.

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. Signed copies of her memoir, Moving Water, are now available at www.christinemasonmiller.com.

* Note:  All names have been changed.

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Feathers by Patricia Wellham-Jones

Gently I place today’s hawk feather
amidst the others bundled
in my grandmother’s
cut-glass tumbler.

Its bold brown and white stripes
contrast with the barn owl’s
rust smudges on cream.

A trio of dusty black buzzard spikes
form a background, graceful
arches from an unfortunate
rooster bracket the group

and tucked into the foreground
the glossy feathers of smaller birds,
scrub jay, crow, kestrel and dove.
I can’t bear to throw away

these gifts dropped on lawn,
driveway, road from birds
busy about their lives,
enriching mine.

About the Author: Patricia Wellingham-Jones

PatriciaWellingham-JonesPatricia Wellingham-Jones is a widely published former psychology researcher and writer/editor. She has a special interest in healing writing, with poems recently in The Widow’s Handbook (Kent State University Press). Chapbooks include Don’t Turn Away: poems about breast cancer, End-Cycle: poems about caregiving, Apple Blossoms at Eye Level, Voices on the Land and Hormone Stew.

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Sunday Brunch: Holding Hands

Sunday Brunch With Melissa Bartell

When I imagine my mother, she’s always holding cup of coffee. Her hands are square-ish, sturdy, with the calloused fingers and tiny cuts to the palms that are inherent to women who often work with fabric. (She calls herself a ‘sewist’ these days, because a ‘sewer’ is something where dirty water goes, and a ‘seamstress’ implies that she works in a hot, noisy factory.)

Coffee is one of my mother’s touchpoints. I was practically weaned on the stuff, and I have more than one memory of choosing a mug for her as a gift, making sure to pick one with a handle large enough to comfortably fit three fingers.

Woman holding coffee cup

If you asked me, I would tell you that she prefers her hair short, that she likes tailored cuts the same way she likes tailored clothes, that her eyes are brown and that her brows are shaped in soft arcs, unlike mine, which are angled like flattened carats.

I can hear her voice in my head, but when I think of her, it’s her hands that I think of first. I remember (vaguely) the way her hands kept me upright when I was learning to walk, and the way her grip kept me close when we went out together.

I am familiar with the length of her fingers and the Dutch Tulip color of her nail polish and the blue tinge of the subcutaneous lump on one wrist, the remains of some childhood accident.

What I don’t remember, though, is when I became ‘too old’ to hold her hand in public, and when I finally became ‘old enough’ to reclaim the practice.

I remember holding hands with my grandmother no matter what my age was. Her hands were nothing like my mother’s. She had slender fingers, the tips slightly angled from age and arthritis, the nails incredibly strong, and ridged from base to tip.

“Your hands are so warm!” She would say, folding hers into mine, as if she could absorb all the warmth I had to offer.

“Cold hands – warm heart,” I would tease her.

(We never talked about the opposite. Did my warm hands make me somehow evil, or just mischievous?)

When we walked up and down her block, or on the beach, or wherever, my grandmother would never wrap her hands around my palm. Instead, she’d grip my fingers, mashing them together until they were crossed over each other, and circulation became impaired.

Last month, my husband I spent a few days visiting my aunt – my mother’s younger sister – and her husband in rural Connecticut, and reaching for her hand as we walked around her town, seemed like the most natural thing in the world. After years of not seeing each other, we still fit.

My aunt’s hands are a blend of my mother’s and my grandmother’s. She has long, elegant, fingers, but she also has the tell-tale signs of a person who (like me) does a lot more work with computer keys than fabric and notions (although, my mother also writes).

My hands, like my eyebrows, don’t look like any of theirs. They’re small and plump and no matter what fresh foods I eat or supplements I take, my nails are always breaking just when they’re at the ‘perfect’ length.

My grandmother died the year my parents moved to Mexico, but sometimes I’m certain that I feel her hands, so cool, so gentle, smoothing the hair away from my forehead when I’m sleeping.

My aunt lives half a continent away, but visiting her didn’t feel weird or awkward, and I would have liked more time.

And my mother. My mother is one of the two constants in my life (the other is my husband, who has musician’s hands, but this isn’t about him). Sometimes, when I visit her, and we’re walking along the malecón in La Paz, we’ll hold hands, and in those moments, I’m five years old with bouncing braids and sun-browned skin, and everything is innocent and safe.

Most of the time, when I think about my mother’s hands, they’re wrapped around a coffee cup.

Then again, most of the time, when I’m thinking about my mother’s hands… so are mine.

Woman with coffee and laptop

Image Copyright: amaviael / 123RF Stock Photo
Image Copyright: morganka / 123RF Stock Photo

 

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa A. BartellMelissa 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, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

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Grocery Store Flowers: Jack by Melissa A. Bartell

Photo by Neirfy via 123RF.com

Daisy Morris ran a tired hand through her long red hair, grimacing when the ring on her left hand caught in her braid. The day before Mother’s Day was always crazy-busy, and her flower kiosk had been the epicenter of a steady buzz of traffic. She lowered her hand to glance at her wristwatch. It was four-thirty and the kiosk didn’t close until seven.

Taking advantage of the brief lull, she walked through the seasonal fruit and pastry display to the espresso bar in the grocery store lobby. “Our Daisy isn’t looking to fresh,” quipped Jolene, the wrinkled, gray-haired woman who claimed she could ‘still sling espresso shots with the best of them.’

“Not feeling so fresh, either,” the younger woman admitted. “Every year it’s the same thing… all these men and boys coming to buy cards and flowers as if Mother’s Day is some kind of surprise. Makes you wonder how they cope with the rest of their lives. Can I get a – ”

“Grande soy no-water chai,” Jolene finished with her. “Sure thing, honey. As to Mother’s Day… at least they’re getting something. My husband was a soldier… so many years holidays went by without any kind of acknowledgement because he was deployed. These days, these youngsters in the service have email and facetime and skype and sat-phones but in my day… ”

Daisy grinned, listening to Jolene’s mini-monologue as she watched the older woman expertly crafting her drink. “Oh, come on, Jo – you are not that old.”

“I’m older than you think,” she replied, handing over a cardboard-wrapped paper cup. “And this one’s on me. You have a customer waiting, and I think you’re going to need the fortification.”

Following the barista’s gaze, Daisy turned to her flower stand, and saw a boy who looked like he was about ten hovering around the carnations and daffodils. “I’ll be right there,” she called to him. “Thanks, Jo. Really.”

“Aw, it’s nothin’ but a thing,” Jolene said. “Now, scoot!”

Laughing around the rim of her cup, Daisy took a swig of her drink, savoring the spiciness of the chai and the comforting warmth of the steamed soymilk. It had been a wet spring, and a chilly one, at that, and she was constantly in and out of the refrigerators where the more delicate flowers shared space with prepared arrangements.

The boy was still hovering as she returned to her station. She tucked her cup behind a roll of ribbon on the work-desk below counter-height and smoothed her apron. Then she went to check on the kid. “Hi,” she said gently. “I’m Daisy. Are you looking for something special?”

They boy’s gray eyes betrayed the kind of hurt that was usually only evident in older faces, but he managed a faint smile. “I’m Jack,” he said. “I need to get flowers for my mom,” he said, with a hint of a quiver in his voice. “But I only have eight dollars.”

Daisy did some quick accounting. For that money, the boy could get a bunch of mini-carnations, or five irises or… “I think we can work with that. Do you know your mom’s favorite flowers?”

“Dad used to get her roses, when I was little.”

She swallowed her grin. She’d initially thought the boy was ten, but now, noticing the softness of his sandy-brown hair and the sprinkling of freckles across his cheeks, she thought he might be eight or nine. Definitely an age that still qualified as ‘little’ in her estimation. “Is your mom with you in the store?”

“She’s paying for groceries. I said I’d meet her at the door.”

“Okay,” Daisy said. “Well, for eight dollars we could do three roses and some baby’s breath and greens…” She could see the boy deflating in front of her. “You don’t want to do roses?”

“Sometimes when Mom sees roses, she gets sad,” the boy said.

Daisy couldn’t help it; she started inventing scenarios in her head. Maybe this boy’s father had been a soldier, like Jolene’s husband, and had died serving his country. Or maybe it was something much more prosaic: a separation or divorce. She shook her head, realizing that the kid was still talking.

“… and it’s been a year since he moved out, and I just want her to smile.”

Her smile was soft and wistful. “That’s very sweet. Well, okay, no roses. Do you know her favorite color?”

“Yellow.”

“Yellow,” she repeated thoughtfully. “Hmm. Yellow. Okay, Jack, how about we do a bunch of these…” She led him around the stand of fresh flowers to the bucket of daffodils. They were on special – only a dollar. “Or maybe two bunches. And then add an iris or two for a little punch of color.”  She went to the fridge and drew out two of the long-stemmed purple flowers, glanced at the boy, and then added a third. “Three would look better,” she explained. “Does your mom have a vase at home?”

He nodded. “She has lots of vases.”

“Good. Let’s wrap these in tissue then.” Daisy paused a moment. “Do you want a card to go with these?” Before the boy could answer, she tacked on. “The floral cards aren’t very big, but they’re free.”

The boy nodded, grinning. “Yes, please.”

Daisy took the flowers to her work-desk behind the counter, pausing to sip from her all-but-forgotten chai. Still warm, she thought. Good. Selecting a handful of small cards, she handed them to the boy.

He handed most of them back. “This one,” he said, holding up a card that had yellow tulips and the words Happy Mother’s Day printed on the front.

“Do you need a pen?”

“Yes, please.”

Jack was too small to reach the service counter. “Come around here to the opening and you can lean on the end of my workbench to write, okay?”

“Thanks.”

Daisy grinned, and resisted the urge to reach out and ruffle the boy’s hair. Softly, she said, “Jack, do you mind me asking… you said your dad used to bring roses to your mom?”

“They got divorced last August,” he said. “He has another family now.”

Oh, poor kid.

“I’m sure he still loves you,” she assured the boy.

The boy shrugged, the way young people sometimes do when a concept is just too big for them to truly understand. “I guess.” He put down the pen. “I’m done.”

Daisy took the card with its topsy-turvy lettering, and slotted it into a plastic card-holder which she tucked into the tissue wrapped flowers. She cut two lengths of ribbon – yellow and purple – and tied the bundle together.

“Alright, Jack, let’s ring you up.” Daisy punched buttons on the register, then looked up to see Jack’s stricken expression. The total had come to $8.64.

“Can we put one of the bunches of daffodils back?” he asked quietly.

Daisy hesitated. “We could, or… hey, Jack… do you think you could lift that empty bucket… the one near the sign that says, ‘Mother’s Day Bouquets?’ Because if you could bring it to me, you’d be helping out, and I could give you my employee discount.” In a conspiratorial tone, she added, “It would bring the total down to just under seven dollars.”

The boy didn’t answer. He just ran to get the bucket, and bring it back to the counter. “Here.”

“Well, thank you, Jack.” She punched another button on her register. “Six dollars and ninety-two cents, please,” she said.

Jack counted out seven wrinkled dollar bills. “I’ve been saving my allowance,” he said.

Daisy grinned. “I wasn’t very good about doing that, when I was your age. It’s nice that you’re getting flowers for your mom.” She handed him the nickel and three pennies that were his change, and then came around the counter to present him with the wrapped flowers.

“Tell your mother, she’s lucky to have you,” she told the boy.

Jack grinned. “Oh. She knows.”

She watched him turn and catch the eye of a woman standing near the door with a cart of bagged groceries, saw him place his tissue-wrapped bundle in the child-seat part of the cart, and smiled broadly when his mother, tired face suddenly suffused with delight, pulled her son into a rough embrace right there in the grocery story lobby.

Yeah, the day before Mother’s Day was always crazy-busy, and she was pretty sure there was going to be another rush between five-thirty and seven, but sometimes… sometimes she got to see love in action, and that made everything worth it.

Image Copyright: neirfy / 123RF Stock Photo

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa A. BartellMelissa 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, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

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Clouds by John Hulme

Clouds-185947 by John Hulme

I know you, I found myself thinking.  I have stood beneath you before.

At the very least, I have stood beneath your spirit, packaged in different billow from a long-forgotten voyage across the invisible ocean roads.

 

That was when it struck me –

I really don’t see the same clouds everybody else does.

I don’t see a cloud that looks like a face… or a dinosaur… or a teapot.

 

Clouds-190222 by John Hulme

 

Sure, they conjure their fair share of reflections, positioned as their world is in that upside down place above our own.

There are phantoms here, to be sure –

the ghosts of distant mountain ranges set afloat,

or the crazy nocturnal barbecue where some careless giant has left the heater on and toasted a layer of fluff into sunset red.

 

But generally, I do not see clouds as visions of something else.

 

When I find myself transfixed in the shadow of some leviathan traveler, reaching out with what’s left of my heart to connect somehow with the presence woven behind moonlit billow…

it is what it is.

 

It won’t promise a tour of distant galaxies by looking any more like a starship.

It won’t promise a monstrous ride over the coast by looking any more like a floating plesiosaur.

 

It simply is…

something that calls to me from that thrilling place in our memory where something else has always lived.

Clouds-200248 by John Hulme

About the author, John Hulme

John HulmeJohn Hulme is a British writer from the Wirral, a small peninsula near Liverpool in the North of England. Trained in journalism (in which he has a masters degree), John’s first love was storytelling, trying to make sense of the world around him using his offbeat imagination. Since the death of his mother in 2010, John’s work has grown increasingly personal, and has become heavily influenced by Christian mysticism. This has led to the publication of two poetry books, Fragments of the Awesome (2013) and The Wings of Reborn Eagles (2015). A mix of open mike performances, speaking engagements and local community radio appearances has opened up new avenues which John is now eager to pursue. He is hoping to go on a kind of busking road trip fairly soon, provisionally titled Writer seeks gig, being John.  Find out more about John on Facebook.

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Instrumental: Nature Walks as Ritual in Spring by Bella Cirovic

When the flowers begin to bloom, I happily partake in one of my favorite Springtime rituals: a nature walk. The air feels so fresh while the sun casts a perfect temperature and glow on all the pretty buds that line my path. What a treat for my eyes after a long, dreary winter. I never tire of the scenery.

I fill my calendar with day trips to the farmer’s markets, coffee shops, and museums in and around my town. Seeing like minded people on the streets with their sunglasses on, some walking their dogs, others running with their earbuds in makes me feel like I belong to a family – a community of sun cravers getting their daily fix.

Just before the blooms hit their peak, I know it’s time to tend my own garden. I begin by clipping away anything old and dead. I then crouch down on my knees and start pulling weeds, creating space for leaves and roots to spread. The dirt gets a turn and a spread of new soil before anything gets planted. It’s so fun to plan what vegetables I’ll choose for our small garden. It’s even more fun to collect the bounty at the end of the summer.

My wardrobe colors don’t change much, but I do stray from my all black routine to include some light gray, navy blue, and white clothing. I pull out my collection of nude lip glosses and pack away everyone’s winter boots. The sun has come out to stay. The colors are spectacular. My being feels restored.

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

Sunday Salon: Sands of Time

Sunday Salon with Becca Rowan

 

“Lately I’ve been hearing a whispered admonition in my ear as I go about my business. Or perhaps admonition isn’t quite right. It seems more of a quiet, urgent instruction issued from a place in the deep anterior that holds within it everything I still need to know… Be careful, the voice says.” ~from Hourglass, by Dani Shapiro

Hourglass, Dani Shapiro’s elegant new memoir about her marriage, arrived in my mailbox early last week. The timing was perfect – my own wedding anniversary is tomorrow, and reading this book provoked much thought about the nature of long term relationships, the role of memory, and how our expectations change.

The book’s structure mirrors thought, so it feels as if we’re inside Shapiro’s head as her thoughts bounce back and forth between the present and various memories of her 17 year marriage to film-maker Michael Maren (whom she refers to only as M. throughout that book). She quotes from her own journals, the ones written on their honeymoon and in the early days of the marriage. She recalls events in their lives that illustrate the complexity and steadfastness of their relationship. She interjects pertinent quotes from writers and philosophers that illustrate her thinking, like this one from philosopher William James that stands alone in the middle of a page: “The constitutional disease from which I suffer is what the Germans call Zerrissenheit, or torn-to-pieces-hood. The days are broken in pure zig-zag and interruption.”

Looking back over the course of a long-term marriage – and mine spans 41 years tomorrow – it does seem marked by thousands of zig-zags and interruptions, any of which could be altered and the course of life changed forever. What if – we had moved from our old neighborhood a long time ago? What if we had had more children? What if one of us had taken a different job?

But it’s useless to dwell in the land of might-have-been. What concerns me at this stage of the game is the what-will-be. At 61, there isn’t nearly as much of it left as there once was. It’s important to handle it carefully and thoughtfully. Shapiro seems to be coming to that conclusion herself. That whispered admonition she writes about, the one that hold within it everything she needs to know. “Be careful,” it says.

“I’ve become convinced that our lives are shaped less by the mistakes we make than when we make them,” she writes. “There is less elasticity now. Less time to bounce back. And so I heed the urgent whisper and move with greater and greater deliberation. I hold my life with M. carefully in my hands like the faience pottery we brought back from our honeymoon long ago. We are delicate. We are beautiful. We are not new. We must be handled with care.”

After 41 years, a marriage is, in many ways, a sturdy old thing, more like a strong wood box than a delicate piece of pottery. But lately I too feel that whispered admonition. Be careful. I want to shield our time together from outside intrusion. I want to protect us from the stumbles and falls that would have quickly healed in our younger selves, but that could be disastrous at this stage of life. I want to hoard every moment of tenderness and passion against the time when one of us might be left alone.

Time. Memory. Like sand shifting through the narrow passage of an hourglass, piling at the bottom of the glass. I look back and see the kaleidoscope of years: the white wedding dress, the chapel filled with people, countless dinners cooked, holding hands on the sofa watching endless television programs, pushing a stroller and walking our dog, being  separated with traveling for work and long days and nights alone. One parent dead, then two, then all four, gone. The loneliness of a child moved far away, the joy of a grandchild’s arms around your neck.

Four decades of marriage. A lot of sand in the depth of that hourglass.

Time to turn it over now, let the new memories begin.

 

About the Author: Becca Rowan

becca_rowan_bio_may2016Becca Rowan lives in Northville, Michigan with her husband and their two dogs. She is the author of Life in General, a book of personal and inspirational essays about the ways women navigate the passage into midlife. She is also a musician, and performs as a pianist and as a member of Classical Bells, a professional handbell ensemble. If she’s not writing or playing music you’ll likely find her out walking with the dogs or curled up on the couch reading with a cup of coffee (or glass of wine) close at hand. She loves to connect with readers at her blog, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.

If You Step on Ants by Pat West

it will rain comes to mind
on my walk this morning.
Such odd things people believe.
Knocking on wood to avoid
tempting fate. Saying bless you
when someone sneezes
because the heart comes close to stopping.

They seek truth in Tarot cards
or expect answers from shamans
about good and evil spirits.

Some are certain guardian angels
protect them, others think life insurance
will cover everything.

Myself, I’ll marry in black
rather than white, break a mirror
on purpose, give a witch a lock of my hair,
lap up dragon’s blood.
I point at the rainbow and shout, So What!

About the Author: Pat West

PatWestBio

Pat Phillips West lives in Olympia, WA. A Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee, her work has appeared in Haunted Waters Press, Persimmon Tree, VoiceCatcher, San Pedro River Review, Slipstream, Gold Man Review and elsewhere.

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