Archive | Stories – Nonfiction

The Art of Hope and Resilience by Julie Terrill

This summer I finally got to go to Cuba. The island had been high on my bucket list for almost 50 years, before people called them bucket lists. My father and grandfather often referred to Cuba as The Pearl of the Antilles, shook their heads and commented what a shame it was that I would never have the opportunity to see it. That pretty much sealed the deal, sending Cuba straight to the top of the list, demoting my desire to be Evil Kenevil’s protégé to second place. Now I wanted, no, I needed, to see The Pearl for myself.

Fast forward approximately 48 years… My business coach introduced me to Mary Drobney of Cultural Journeys. Mary is a college art history professor who began leading people-to-people art education tours to Cuba 15 years ago. ( ) Prior to our trip I visited Mary’s home, an amazing eclectic gallery of Cuban art, where she told me of the difficulties that Cuban artists face. Due to embargos art supplies are very limited and are much needed. Many of her tour participants bring supplies as gifts. Some artists obtain materials through the black market. Others creatively use alternative materials such as found objects. When resources are scarce nothing is wasted.

As a whole, Cuba values the arts. I observed a reverence for poetry, dance, music, sculpture and painting. But where, I wondered, does an artist fit into a society where jobs are provided by the government and consumer goods are sanctioned? Most tourist-type shops have the same handful of authorized items. Art is one of the few exceptions if you go to the source.

Mary seemed to know everyone. Over the course of more than 100 art tours she has forged personal relationships with numerous artists across the island. We explored national galleries of work by established artists, but what about other hopeful artists? Their work can be found at artist tables set up in parks, near attractions and UNESCO sites, as well as studios and galleries located in the artists’ homes. The Taller Experimental de Grafica is a large printmaker’s co-op amidst the maze of tangled streets of a Havana neighborhood. The large industrial space was full of great light, working artists, presses, blocks and thousands of prints. I could have happily spent days there watching, listening and learning. Begrudgingly we finally did leave, my arms cradling long cardboard tubes containing original works of the artists I met.

We saw numerous monuments to historic or political figures. But throughout the country beautiful public art is abundant in the forms of colorful murals, sculptures, intricate iron works, fountains and mosaics.

Fusterlandia, a kaleidoscopic neighborhood in the coastal town of Jaimanitas, is the urban beautification project of artist José Antonio Rodríguez Fuster. Fuster is a ceramicist, painter, illustrator, sculptor, print maker and the creator of the ultimate public art installation. Starting with his small home and studio he has transformed over 80 neighboring houses, parks, benches, walls and even swimming pools into a vibrant wonderland, which Fuster initially financed himself.

Sculptures by Martha Jimenez dot the streets near her studio in Camaguey. Jimenez portrays Cuban life in her art. He sculptures depict scenes using real-life models from the community working, gossiping, visiting on benches and a man reading his newspaper. This particular model comes out daily to read the paper next to his likeness while beaming with pride. Jimenez’s studio holds an extensive collection of paintings and prints featuring beautifully curvy women.

Music is constant in Cuba and where there is music there is dancing. Strolling troubadours, musicians sitting on their stoops and organized musical groups on stages, in courtyards or town squares fill the streets with song. Traditional Cuban music, son Cubano, combines the influences of Spanish Guitar with West African rhythm, percussion and call and response style.

And the dancing… oh the dancing… I literally danced my way across the island. I danced with street musicians. I danced with strangers who grabbed my hand to join a Conga line or whirl me into the midst of the action. I danced with children and with silver-haired gentlemen with whom I could not keep up. And on a sweltering evening in Santiago de Cuba I danced alone in an empty pedestrian mall during a brief downpour while locals ducked into doorways to wait.

A month after my trip Hurricane Irma, the second in a string of destructive hurricanes in the Caribbean, devastated the Cuban coast. Thirty-six foot waves crashed down on the island destroying 4,000 homes. Today as the hyperactive 2017 hurricane season is coming to an end, the high season for tourism should be getting underway. But many travelers have cancelled their tour and cruise plans, bringing secondary waves of devastation to already struggling communities.

Mary’s tours have resumed. Communities have come together and restoration has begun. The spirit of hope and resilience still thrives in the Cuban people. They have learned not only to adapt to the circumstances and hardships of the embargoes, but to thrive and create joy. Is Cuba on your bucket list, too? The Pearl is ready to welcome us.

About the Author: Julie Terrill


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

Connect with her at:

Stems from My Bouquet of Hope by Jeanette McGurk

Halloween night and I am back-tracking with a tutu’d black cat and my super bright flashlight app, of which I believe can be seen from outer space.  According to my husband, this is not true and has told me on several occasions that all phone flashlights are created equal due to the fact that there is a certain level of brightness all LED screens can achieve. It is apparently silly for me to think my app is special or better because it is not, yet I am not convinced.  In this situation, I have faith that a certain phone which has been dropped by my black cat companion will soon reveal itself due to the illumination of the brightest flashlight app on the planet.

“You, know,” says Black kitty, “I am starting to think it was a mistake for Mom to give me her phone.  Or perhaps I should have left it at your house.”  Black kitty is looking very concerned.  We have retraced our steps for more than a block and a half with no luck.

At about this moment, a very friendly and observant witch looks at me, “Hmmm, you wouldn’t be looking for a phone would you?  You have that look.”  I picture myself, the human equivalent of a helicopter scanning the night for an elusive fugitive.  “Why yes,” I say, “I am.”

The lovely witch directs us back to a house with a giant pan, the kind that folks who don’t want to answer the door put on their front porch. It’s filled with candy hoping children will have the good manners to grab  1 or 3 pieces and leave an abundance for the 900 kids who appear like ants from 6-8pm in our neighborhood.  We arrive at the pan, empty.

To add to the disappointment, there is no phone in front of the pan as described by the witch.  Next door a man yells to us.  “Ya looking for something?”  “Yeah,” I say, “a phone.”  “yep, I got it right here,” he says.  “THANK GOD!!” Yells Black Kitty who breaks from character to be an elated 12 year old girl for just a moment.

I walk over to the man, who happens to be the husband of one of the ladies I am out chaperoning children with.  He had given all us Moms tiny little bottles of flavored vodka earlier.  He knows exactly what treats chaperoning parents want.  In fact, after fearing a phone had gone missing under my watch, I could actually use another.  Instead, I leave him at his candy post and hurry back to join our crew a few streets over.

After all, Black kitty has missed valuable time gathering candy.

The other Moms are pleasantly surprised the phone was found.  I mean this is a night for Tom Foolery and no one Tom Fooled with it.  We live in a neighborhood that really gets into Halloween.  There are several houses that decorate at Griswold levels but with creepy graveyards and leaping spiders.

What this means is that kids are dumped off by the car-full into our neighborhood.  Five or six bags of candy – the big ones –  are not going to be enough.  That is why most every one turns off their lights at 8pm.  We aren’t 85 with an early bedtime, we are out of candy!  All of this to say, even with hoards of people grabbing candy like mad, a $600 phone left in plain view, on a well lit sidewalk, in front of someone’s house who obviously was not there, did not get taken.  It was certainly noticed.

This is one of those little moments in life I pick and add to my bouquet of hope.

Seriously, in a time where there is a lot of fear going around, I love tying a lifetime of hope together into one huge bunch and sharing it.  Here are a few stems from my bouquet.

One – In 49 years of interacting with the human race, the majority of people I have interacted with are good.

I figure this is the experience most people have.

You see the bottom dwellers splashed up on front page news but if you really think about it, there are not a whole lot of these characters.  The bottom dwellers only seem more prevalent because we are shocked by their stories and tend to read them.  No one wants their breaking news feed interrupting an episode of Stranger Things to tell them about a phone not being stolen on Halloween or someone changing a tire for an older lady in the Sprouts parking lot.

Most good flies under the radar.

The millions of times a day a child gets lost and someone takes a minute or an hour to make sure they are safely reunited with their family.  There are millions who exercise once a year to support a walk or run they believe in.  There is a reason Walmart asks if you would like to give $1, or $3 or $5 at check out to St. Jude’s hospital.  It is because we want to give.  We want to help.  Even if it is only a $1 at a time.

People are good.  We are not perfect, we make mistakes but by and large we are good.  If this was not the case, why would so many keep trying to make the world a better place?  The fact that collectively our hearts continue to break whenever bad, senseless things happen to complete strangers gives me hope.

Two – Diversity is happening.

When I went to elementary school in central Texas basically every single kid was white.

I remember the first black boy who went to our school.  He was very dark and his skin looked like velvet.  One day I got up the nerve to ask if I could touch his skin in the lunch room. I told him my hypothesis which he thought was funny.  Apparently there were other people who thought his skin would feel different to.  He actually let us form a line, each of us softly running our finger down the side of his cheek.  We weren’t meaning to be rude, we were just curious.

This would never happen today, not because things are too PC but because every since preschool, my kids have had classrooms filled with kids whose families originated from all over the world.  Without traveling the world, the world has come to them.

In our neighborhood friends from different cultures celebrate, Diwali, Ramadan, Chinese New Year and Hanukkah.  They introduce us to delicious foods and spices.  I eat almost as much Indian food now as Mexican.  My children have friends who spend summers in Asia and the school year here.

Today’s kids are savvy knowing that friends can believe in different things, be from different places and still enjoy a hot September afternoon together playing in the sprinklers.  This gives my hope for their future.

Three – Kindness.

The older I have become, the more I view kindness as almost a super power.

I have done soooo many stupid idiotic things in my life.  Things where the last thing I deserved was kindness.  And yet, when I least deserve it, there it is, a reminder of one of the better parts of being human.

Many a time I have been zoning out to talk radio, only to look up and notice the freeway is going down to one lane. I have failed to pay attention and am now in the group of last minute assholes.  The ones I typically try my hardest to not allow in front of me, yet look at this nice man motioning me in….I totally did not deserve that.  I wave like mad.

The policeman just doing his job who pulls me over for speeding.  I am in the wrong, I shoot daggers from my eyes as I pull out my driver’s license.  He gives me a warning and reminds me he is there for my safety.

These are the small things.  The big things have been life changers.

I was assaulted in college and my best friend sent me a card every single day for the rest of the semester.  She was majoring in computer science at Texas A&M, and had a beast of a schedule.  Still, in an age before cell phones and social media, when a long distance call would have been half our semester spending budget, she found a way to reach out to me every single day to let me know I was loved.

Years later, my husband was out of town when I had my first child.  She stayed all night with me in the hospital with this tiny little person. I was frightened to be alone with.

She had her own husband and daughter but met my new Mom panic with kindness.

So while some of the other Moms were surprised on Halloween that Black Kitty’s phone did not slip into the bloody pocket of a zombie, I was not.  Bad, horrible things happen, but good wonderful things happen even more.

Why else would strangers open their doors to strangers one night a year, offering buckets of candy and assorted treats?  It is because we believe in the good in one another, we depend on it, our lives, legends and futures are built on it.

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.

What Do You Do with a Baby? by Jeanie Croope

I am an only child. I’ve never had a baby of my own and the ones I am fortunate enough to have shared with Rick were already young boys when I met them. I don’t know what to do with a baby.

But when Kevin and Molly told us they were expecting their first child, I was elated. To be fair, probably not nearly so much as their birth parents who would see another generation of their own come to be, but pretty darned close.

And perplexed. What do you do with a baby?

I know how to play with puppets and even change into all sorts of different voices to make them different. But you can’t do that with a baby. A child needs to be a little older — a toddler, at least.

And I know how to color and help a little one discover the joy of crayons and play dough and markers. Big paper. Cover the table. Not on the walls unless your mom says “OK.” And coloring in the lines is not a requirement. But a baby doesn’t have the hand-eye coordination to do that. So, that’s out.

As we watched Molly come closer to her due date, both my joy and anxiety grew. I was going to be such a flunkie gran. And besides, he would have two other grans and a great grandma, too. Would I be up to snuff? And what could we do together?

I know hide and seek and peek-a-boo. That’s a possibility. And I can show him the wonders of baking — but not till he’s a little taller and a little more stove-and-knife savvy. Stirring is a good start. We can plant things and he can help harvest his grandpa’s garden. But first he has to get a little older. So, what will we do till then?

Our Baby Grand was born on the night of the 2017 Oscars. (I never did to see the Best Picture announcement snafu, and that was just fine by me!) Around 10:30 we got the call; Molly was in labor and I think we were  on the road to the hospital so fast it was a blur. We finally heard the good news about our baby boy’s arrival and soon we got to see him for the first time.

I’ve never seen a baby that small — and all I could think of was the joy and wonder of it all. His hands and feet — they were so tiny. He was all wrapped up in a swaddle like a baby burrito with a little red face and itty-bitty fingers. And he was beautiful.

My dilemma of still not knowing what to do with him continued. I loved him to bits, but all I could really do was hold him, maybe feed him, watch him sleep. I still haven’t done the diaper thing. There seems to be quite a routine to it. I know that if I can make Julia’s Boeuf Bourguigon, I can put a Pamper on a little pooper but somehow, I find this daunting and secretly hope he’s an early toilet trainer and I miss that part of grannying.

But with every visit, as I’ve watched him get bigger, stronger, taller and more awake and alert for longer periods of time, I’m beginning to see a light, a time when I don’t just hold him or smile or talk with him, but actually can play.

One of our most recent visits found him at seven and a half months. He was on the threshold of crawling — right now he looks more like an army guerrilla fighter in the jungle or a Pilates expert doing a plank. He can work the knees and he can work the arm motions but he just doesn’t quite have the left-right/arm-leg thing going yet. He will soon, though, and when he does, watch out!  Perhaps even as I write these words he is scurrying across the floor!

Our Baby Grand is learning how to do things, to process and understand. He has little toys he can open and close and seems to get the if/then concept — if I hit this button, then it opens; if I press it down, it closes. Of course, he doesn’t know open-and-close. But he sees cause and effect. He can throw things and loves to and pet the dogs. And he adores his swing. There’s that great big smile when he’s pushed back as far as you dare and he comes toward you. Oh, this boy is loving life.

He smiles and laughs and talks up a storm — not in any intelligible language, but I’m sure he knows just what he means. He has two tiny teeth and eats baby food and a little bit of real food — and when he doesn’t like it, his eyes get big, his bottom lip juts out just a bit, his pale brows wrinkle into a confused frown and his eyes look betrayed. Oh yes, he has language — it’s written all over his face!

His hands are bigger than in those first  moments, a few hours after his birth. It will take some time before they are as large as Grandpa’s but Grandpa’s strong hands will be there to catch him, hold him and love him, to push him in the swing, to teach him to ride a bicycle like the wind.

Those hands will grow more in good time, to hold cooking spoons and paintbrushes, Scrabble tiles and Candyland cards. Yes, there will be real board games involved.  One day, and perhaps not a day too far away, he will be able to hold a crayon and pull it across a page. It will be a scribble but it will be his scribble. With a little luck, he’ll pick up his Uncle Greg’s artistic talent or mine and those scribbles will turn into something you hang on the fridge because it is good — and not just because someone you love did it!

I realized that I have never seen anything except a kitten grow from infancy to adulthood on a regular basis. The process, I am discovering is one of great wonder with every encounter bringing new thoughts, hopes, dreams, wishes and great gratitude that I am allowed to follow this journey with our Baby Grand and his parents.

I think I’d better start looking for my puppets. Time goes much faster than it seems.

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.

The Great Leap by Christine Mason Miller

“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” – Joseph Campbell

In just a few days, I’m crossing over. Good-bye forties, farewell first half of life. The big one is here—I’m about to turn fifty.

I’ve never felt daunted by any previous birthdays, but my fiftieth has had me, at times, in a mild state of panic. What does it mean to turn fifty? What lies ahead? How will this change the way the rest of the world sees me? How can I make the most of the time I have left? Because there is now no denying that what remains is limited—time to not only to be alive, but also to be healthy, energetic, and able to do all the things I want to do. I have lately been feeling a unique kind of pressure to make the right choices; my fear of reaching old age with a suitcase full of regrets about what I did or didn’t do when I had the opportunity has been a lingering presence all year long.

In a nutshell, I don’t want to blow it.

I’ve also never been one to create a master plan for my life. I’ve made big plans for business, creative projects, and even dinner parties, but not for the totality of my life. I’ve never had an age-related goal (married by 25, homeowner by 30, etc.) and have rarely tried to predict exactly where I might be or what I might be doing beyond a few months. This has been especially true since my divorce, when I was inspired to take an entirely different approach to my future.

Since then, I’ve steered my life in a way that is less about focusing my sights on specific hopes or dreams and more about setting my compass according to my values—the kind of person I want to be and what I want my life to look like. But even then, I try to hold onto any plans as loosely as possible. Experience has shown me that there are other more mysterious forces at play, and, if I’m willing to let go of the desire for control, there’s a very good chance things will unfold in ways more magically, abundantly, and beautifully than I could have ever orchestrated.

As my husband and I get settled in our new home and community here in Milwaukee, I’ve been watching him connect with an assortment of friends, colleagues, and classmates from years past. He is catching up with people he hasn’t seen in thirty, forty and fifty years, hearing about the highlights of their lives as well as those of other mutual friends. I’ve been involved in many of these conversations, and they have inspired a pulling upward of perspective. I’ve been imagining myself on a cloud above the earth, only it isn’t just the physical entity of our planet but all of time. It is a dynamic universe filled with moments and memories and experiences – mine included, many of which haven’t even happened yet, of course—and I’m up above, watching all of them collide and twinkle and carry each of us along different paths and trajectories. This decision went this way, that one turned things completely around. Those are the points of no return. These are the things we’ll never get back. And over there—that’s what is still entirely possible.

After hearing a few too many stories of lives being consumed by things like lawsuits, family estrangements, and addiction, I keep thinking about the finiteness of our existence.

This week I’m turning fifty, but the day might come when I turn seventy, and what will I be looking at then when I let myself float up above the atmosphere and take stock of the time I’ve had? What do I see now? Has my general approach—values first, pursuit of dreams second—served me or hindered me? Which regrets and heartbreaks from my past are still in need of redemption or transformation for my future?

The funny things is, my birthday will arrive and then it will be over. After all the build up, the angst, and hearing David Byrne’s “How did I get here?” in my head over and over again, it will happen. I’ll be fifty. And that will be that. But what is true about turning fifty has, in fact, been true all along – I don’t know how much time I have left. I don’t know what’s coming around the corner. Each day my work is the same—to make sure my compass is in alignment with what I love and value most, open the sail, and let the flow of life carry me toward my future, whatever the future may bring.

About the Author: Christine Mason Miller

Christine Mason Miller is an author and artist who has been inspiring others to create a meaningful life since 1995. Follow her adventures at

When Reality & Fiction Collide (as told to Krista Davis)

by Little Miss Sunshine (aka Twinkletoes)

My mom, Krista Davis, thinks she created me. Can you imagine anything more preposterous than imagining that she put the idea of me out into the universe and then I showed up?

I was born in a house where animals were hoarded. Our people left and when the contractors arrived to fix up the house, they were shocked to find us. Being really terrific people, they divided us up, and each one took three of us to find us homes. In my case, a super guy dropped me (and two little brown Chihuahuas) off at his favorite animal hospital. I was there when he said, “Clean ‘em up and find them homes. I’ll pick up the bill.”  Is that a great guy or what?

I was just a baby and covered in fleas. Yuck! It was on the day of my second bath that Mom came along. I was in a cage, sopping wet, and trying desperately to dry my fur. She had a huge dog with her. For the most part I ignored her. I was wet! That was my priority. But I heard the vet say, “It’s a long weekend. Why don’t you take her home for a test drive?”

There was a lot of giggling after that. They knew they’d found a sucker! And just like that, she took me home.

The first night I was there, Mom went outside on an upstairs balcony. She thought she had shut the door behind her, but I snuck through when she wasn’t looking. When she went inside, I jumped and jumped, and went higher and higher until I had the most fabulous view of a world I had never seen before.

An hour later, I heard her calling me. I thought she’d never find my clever spot! But when she went outside in the dark and called me, I mewed to her. The truth was that I wanted to go back inside where it was warm, and I was getting hungry, too.

Have you figured out where I was? On the roof! On top of the world.

She fetched a ladder and climbed up (in the dark!). She reached up to me, and I very slowly and carefully walked down the steep pitch of the roof until she could scoop me up. And then I purred. I figured she’d be a pretty good mom, so I never did that again.

So why does she think she created me? Well, look carefully at the cover of THE DIVA DIGS UP THE DIRT. There I am. It looks just like me! The thing is that she wrote that book before I was born. And then I showed up at her vet’s office. Spooky, huh?

It was meant to be.

Now I have my own series under the pseudonym, Twinkletoes.

My latest escapade is in NOT A CREATURE WAS PURRING. That’s me on the cover with Trixie, the Jack Russell Terrier, who likes to think she’s the star of the series.

But I know the truth. Cats never make a fuss about things like that. We know we’re in charge.

Now Mom has written about a dog named Duchess. We expect to see her come trotting down the road any day.

About the Author: Krista Davis

New York Times Bestselling author Krista Davis writes the Paws and Claws Mysteries set on fictional Wagtail Mountain, a resort where people vacation with their pets. Her 5th Paws and Claws Mystery is NOT A CREATURE WAS PURRING, which releases on February 7th. Krista also writes the Domestic Diva Mysteries. Her newest series debuts in February with COLOR ME MURDER. Like her characters, Krista has a soft spot for cats, dogs, and sweets. She lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with two dogs and two cats.

Connect with her on Goodreads  |  Twitter  | Facebook

The Making of Ourselves by Emma Gazley

On the way to work this morning I drove by a hundred advertisements and flashing lights, dozens of billboards covered with intriguing colors and bare figures. I passed men and women walking, driving, on their phones, listening to music. I usually enjoy music or a podcast during my commute, but some mornings lately I’ve been leaving in silence and trying to soak it all in, to remind myself in the midst of those lights and colors that that message of “You should have this or do this or be this” isn’t going to bring the happiness it guarantees.

I arrived earlier than I expected and decided to practice a meditation in the car. I know in my head that intention breeds contentment; but there are times, especially recently, when I’ve been at such a loss for energy that I’ve gone through the motions and lacked intention in the day.

For several years I’ve struggled with various health issues, beginning with a hormonal problem that’s affected my organs, muscles, skeleton. When I first felt something going wrong in my body, I ignored the symptoms. I can’t pinpoint the original moment, but I remember fragments tied together that make a messy mosaic of pain and discomfort. Losing sleep at night, losing the ability to carry anything remotely heavy, losing mobility. I remember trying to shift a backpack onto my shoulders and my arm going out of alignment. I remember the misery of going to work, being in the car, doing dishes. I lost the ability to drive, to pour water, to hold a dinner plate.

My mom had driven me to a healthcare professional for a regular treatment and the next day I could tell I needed another treatment. After scrambling to make another appointment, then rushing to the next city, we sat in the car together. I was reclining in the passenger seat, wearing a pink shirt-dress my cousin had given me looking at the cloudy sky; my mother hadn’t turned the key in the ignition yet, her eyes filling with tears.

She turned to me and said, “It’s worse than we thought, isn’t it?”

In my mind I could see myself smiling and riding horseback, standing in line for a roller-coaster on a hot sunny day, running on a treadmill with energy and confidence. Those images were wiped clean and replaced with a picture of myself laying in bed, crouched over on a couch, limping to and from the car.

I know my imagination can be a drama factory, which is part of why I had spent years ignoring myself, denying the reality of the pain I was in.

Something about those pictures in my mind rang true to me in a way that my imagination’s reel rarely does. I felt it- I felt the loss of the person I had been and I felt a pricking in my fingers that told me that there was a new person I was becoming, and I couldn’t control the body that person lived in. It was a bizarre and palpable feeling. I could feel myself changing, as not even adolescence had changed me.

My illness reached the point where I had to call all my clients and tell them I was unable to continue my work. I changed doctors, as mine wasn’t providing the care I needed. And I started to make a plan for my new life.

I’ve had to rework my plan several times, as my health has improved and weakened over the years. Coming up on the anniversary of when I was first diagnosed, I am trying to regain intention.

Everywhere throughout our winding life-paths we encounter those blinding lights, flashing signs telling us which way to go, what we should desire. Who we should be. I am trying to ignore the distractions, the alluring siren cries of what society and my own brokenness tell me I should be.

There’s a new image I’ve had in my mind this week. I’ve seen a version of myself who is strong, and gentle.

Someone who takes sadness and turns it into pure gold, who can work harder every day and burn through the bar that I had set so low for my body. I’m trying to reshape my expectations to fuel the goal of who I want to be, instead of allowing pessimism to predict a mundane version of myself.

This is a whole area of creativity that those of us who are “makers” can sometimes neglect; the making of ourselves.

In a podcast I listened to recently the speaker talked about people who have suffered from chronic pain, how they begin to own their pain and make it a part of their identity. With the history of mankind and the way current events are trending, we can absolutely guarantee that all of us will at some time feel pain and suffer. The heroes we admire in folklore, on the silver screen and in real life are people who overcome their disadvantages, their pain, and make something of their situations, in spite of fear or obstacles.

As I listened to this podcast I realized that I didn’t want the pain I have experienced for so many years, the weakness, or the fear of it to be “my pain”. I don’t want to be victimized by any of the health issues I’ve experienced. I don’t want my identity to be what’s wrong with me.

Last night I turned on the ceiling fan, shifted some new furniture out of my way, and fell onto the couch, brushing my bangs aside. I felt strong in a way that I never thought I would again. I’ve been managing stress better, exercising more, eating nutritiously; when I eat junk food my body’s been keeping pace better.

Then I stood up to open the window and pulled a muscle in my neck.

All that confidence was shattered as I sat stiff and crying on the couch, waiting for the waves of fear and disappointment to roll over me. They came; but the waters stilled sooner than before. I kept picturing in my mind the person that I want to be, but I didn’t let myself grieve over that image this time. I chose to believe she was in my reach.

Someone with strength, with endurance and stability, who might one day ride a horse or even a roller coaster.

I see those billboards every day, I hear in our music that alluring idea of hypersexuality, affluent lifestyle standards, drinking till you drop, and I see how all of these ideas call us to indulgence. Online I read articles that tout self-care while encouraging lavish living. Treating yourself is, in my opinion, a necessity in life and taking care of yourself of utmost importance.

Yet in my short life, I’ve experienced far more satisfaction from discipline and self control than from indulgence.

Indulgence led me down a path that said I was as strong as I pretended to be, that my behavior wouldn’t have any affect on my well-being. It was through the constant practice of disciplines, emotional and physical, that I was able to get to where I am now, and I don’t want to jeopardize that by falling for the lies that leave their seeds everywhere waiting to take root in our minds.

I don’t want an ideal body, I want a strong one.

I don’t want to be able to drink as much coffee or alcohol as I used to. I want to be able to eat food that gives me life and energy and confidence. And I don’t want to be surrounded by excess, or fueled by a desire for material gain. I want contentment, joy, and acceptance that strives for excellence.

In the lifelong ambition of creating myself, I want to be able to remember, when I fail, how to go back to intention, to that strength that I know I could have; that perhaps I have had all along.

About the Author: Emma Gazley

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

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

Being Light by Anna Oginsky

Near the end of last summer something completely unexpected happened.

It went something like this (bear with me): My husband, Dan, and our oldest son, James, went hiking with James’s Boy Scout troop on North Manitou Island, which is in Lake Michigan. It’s an incredibly beautiful area with magnificent views at every turn. The fresh lake air is cleansing and any amount of time spent in that area of Michigan is a treat for the soul. At the end of the trip, our friend Dave, who was also hiking his son, told Dan he’d like to own a lighthouse someday. Dan agreed.

Within a few days, Dan received a text message from our friend Jake sharing a link to a story about a government auction for an offshore lighthouse – southeast of North Manitou Island.

Within 24 hours, Dan received another text message from another friend, Todd, sharing the same article.

It was funny. Four men, suspiciously close to the time when one might experience a “mid-life crisis”, sending text messages about a lighthouse up for auction and alluding to the possibility that they might place a collective bid on the lighthouse with hopes of winning it. I didn’t think they were serious.

To be eligible to bid, the group needed to form a non-profit organization and on August 16, 2016 the North Manitou Light Keepers was born. A bidding war ensued. After every bid the auction allowed for 24 hours to pass before a winner was determined. I watched in dismay, wondering how on earth my already overextended husband could possibly have space in his life for a lighthouse. At my lowest moment, I was sure my marriage was over.

The price grew higher than anyone imagined and text messages were flying. It was intense. Before long, I reluctantly joined the four as member of the Board. What started as a fun, light-hearted adventure began to feel heavy and honestly, it was just too much. We decided to stop bidding.

For the first time in weeks, I received no text messages about this lighthouse. I began to wonder if the auction had closed and whether our competitor had won. I decided to try to find the auction website, just to make sure. And there it was. I found the site and laid eyes on The North Manitou Shoal Light for the first time and as crazy as it sounds I heard a voice say, “Don’t give up.”

I texted Dan. We placed one last bid. 24 hours later, we won the auction.

Since the auction, North Manitou Light Keepers and the lighthouse we are on a mission to restore has received a lot of our attention. Attention I didn’t think we had. It’s been fun and also stressful to launch this project. The lighthouse was in bad shape and it will require a huge amount of money and time and resources to restore it. But, it is a LIGHTHOUSE.

In a time where the shadow parts seem to be running the show around town, this beacon of light provides a ray of hope.

I’ve been paying closer attention to lighthouses in general. They are usually quite striking structures. And whether they are quaint or stately, what strikes me most is their mission: to be light. Specifically, they exist to light rough passages. I’ve thought about the light keepers who steward these structures through big waves, tremendous winds, and harrowing storms. And the Coast Guard.

The North Manitou Shoal Light was manned by the Coast Guard until the station was automated in 1980 (the actual equipment will continue to be used for navigation and will be maintained by the Coast Guard). I am in awe of the men and women who serve on the Coast Guard working to save lives in terrifying conditions.

While I’ve learned a lot about the structure of the lighthouse and have devoted much time to the organization supporting this endeavor, it is the light that has my attention.

There are undoubtedly too many lighthouse metaphors to count and with good reason. These structures symbolize something we all need and in our own ways hope to embody: a light in the darkness. I wonder what that means for me now–in these times of massive heartache, violence, and strife for so many? When earthquakes, hurricanes, and wildfires are causing unprecedented damage to the land and the people we love.

When my own children seem so vulnerable amid the chaos that surrounds us. When so many I love are hurting. I keep asking myself: how will I be light? How can I sustain light? Because I really want not to dwell in the shadows. By nature, I seek light and I aspire to be light.

Some days I simply cannot muster an answer to this question. It takes all my energy just to keep moving and to keep showing up. I love that Anne Lamott said, “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” Could it really be that simple for us too?

Rather than wracking my brain trying to figure out what to do next, would I make a difference by simply be-ing? Can I just stand here shining? I’m sure the answer lies somewhere between being and doing. Both are necessary and even vital on a daily basis. There certainly doesn’t seem to be a right way to be light.

Of all the lighthouses I’ve seen in the past year, I can’t think of any two that are exactly alike. The one thing they have in common is that they shine light in dark places. There are no easy answers, but I am sure about one thing. No matter what kinds of storms you or I face, we can’t give up. We must trust in the light.

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.

To learn more about the North Manitou Light Keepers and the restoration of the North Manitou Shoal Light, visit

The Little Black Cloud by Jeanette McGurk

There has been a little black cloud hanging over my week.

Nothing terrible, I am not on life support, I didn’t get the unbearable news that I am highly allergic to chocolate, coffee or Moscow Mules. It was the impending doom of my youngest daughter’s ARD meeting.

If you are not acquainted with this term, it stands for Admittance, Review, and Dismissal. At the start of each year, we have an ARD meeting to discuss what services will be offered through the elementary school to my Learning Disabled daughter. It’s been three years since she was tested and the requirement is that she’ll need to be rested to see if she’s achieved her goals and can be dismissed or is she stays in the services.

There is absolutely no chance of dismissal. At 10 years years of age she barely reads on a 1st grade level.

When she was little, everyone had a helpful suggestion. “Have you tried flash cards? Sesame Street? Do you read to her? Do you have the magnetic letters? Have you tried Leap Frog?” “

“No!” I wanted to scream. “I take her outside and put tin foil on her head and hope that will get her little grey cells working.”

Of course I have done all of that, and more. My husband and I have spent thousands of dollars on every sure to get your kid reading strategy we could get our hands on. Alas, 5 years later, here we sit, $600 a month in tutoring, special programs at school, ADHD medication and still, we are only inching along.

It was easier when she was younger. The gap in her skill set wasn’t so blaring. The L’s she pronounced as w’s were cute, as was calling her back pack a pack pack. Now, I worry about her being bullied, not fitting in, and being made fun of.

We flitted through a wonderful summer of traveling and play-dates. Oblivious to all the nasty reminders of how off path we are academically. Until of course, the diagnosticians and resource room teachers start contacting me with forms I need to fill out for the ARD meeting. Drafts of 504 goals and accommodations she will be given to help her “succeed”.

I am a bit cynical when it comes to the meeting because I am CEO of my kid’s plan only on paper. The few times I have gone in asking for anything, the room has gone dark and cold. The principal and diagnostician sprout fangs from their plastic smiles. When their heads eventually stop spinning they announce with ferocity,

“She is getting all the speech allowed per student. 30 minutes twice a week.
She has been dismissed from OT, the teacher may want her to have access to the room, we say NOOOOOOooooo!
How dare you think we would test her for dyslexia, she is too low on intelligence to even test to see if she might be  dyslexic or to see if that program would work.”

That last one is really what is up my craw.

I have been fighting for 3 years to get the school to test her for Dyslexia. I would be happy to test her outside the school, but my husband has been stubborn. We pay a hefty amount in property taxes for schools each year.

So limbo. Limbo because the school thinks my daughter does not have the brain power necessary to go through the dyslexia program and my husband doesn’t want to fork out $1000 for a test the school may not accept from an outside source.

And truth be told, I was willing to accept that she was better off being taught to read by the resource teacher.

However, practically every adult who interacts with my child, including the pediatric neurologist, tutor, and teachers believe she is not low on intelligence. These folks feel her problem is a processing challenge combined with a severe case of dyslexia. Apparently, if it is really a bad case, a child can text poorly across the board.

Which is exactly what my child has done in everything except problem solving and non-calculation math. On those two things, she does rather well.

So Thursday, my dark cloud and I headed into the ARD meeting. I am expected to play nice so as not to draw out the dark forces, and by Christmas be forced to move my child into a private school.

My daughter’s pediatric neurologist told me it was my number one job as her parent, to keep her self esteem up. What I had not realized, was how gloomy, cynical, and devoid of hope I had become about the whole situation.

For a week before the meeting, my attitude was just bad. I didn’t want to do anything. I was pitifully preparing to go in and be pummeled by people who without really knowing her had already giving up on my daughter. Believing she didn’t have enough brain power to get through 1st grade reading.

People who would not fight for her the way I was supposed to. People who were not there to be her hero, the way I am supposed to.

The problem was, by Thursday, kryptonite had robbed me of any superhero powers. I went in, defeated before I had even begun.

So, it was a great surprise for me to sit down at a table where the roles had reversed.

I was the dark shadow.

From every other person, I heard stories of what a joy my daughter is. How delightful she is to teach.

Her science teacher told me she looks out for her on the playground and sees her playing with one other little girl almost every day. A few days when my little peanut was alone, she asked, “are you okay?” And peanut said, “Yes, today I am in the mood to play by myself.” The next few days she was with a big group of kids.  This wonderful teacher took it upon herself to make sure out of the eighty 4th graders running around like a kicked ant pile, that one little slip of a girl would not be alone in the mix.

The speech teacher commented how they had bonded over kid’s bop. The goals they are now working on go beyond the basic from year’s past to verb tenses and synonyms. Progress.

The new resource teacher said just that day they had leveled up. Progress.

This year she finally gets writing as well and this woman, this sweet woman, looked at me and said, “Don’t worry, we will get there. I have complete faith in your daughter.”

Now I am starting to blink back happy grateful tears. Darn brutal school florescent lighting.

Most shocking of all, the Principal had pulled in the dyslexia specialist without me asking, so they can start testing her next week. The diagnostician still thinks she is too low for it to do any good, but after basking in the glow of my daughter’s own private Justice League, I am not so sure.

They are there all day fighting for her. Lifting her up, getting her to that next step, and the next.

No one in that room had given up hope except for me. It won’t be easy, it will never be easy. But it isn’t hopeless either. In fact, much to my surprise, I left the meeting without the company of my little black cloud.

A loving breeze had blown it clear away.

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.

I Sit at a Table for One by Bella Cirovic

I sit at a table for one. I order a drink and settle in while listening to the conversations around me. I wonder how many people have sat here before me and how many will come after.

I remember one Friday night I had a group of women gathered around my table talking about everything from weight loss and gain, to love, to lost love, to friendships and relationships gone good and gone sour, to where we all find ourselves now in our life journey. We had champagne cocktails and little bites of different cheeses, crackers, almonds, fig spread, salamis, and our staple: blue corn chips and salsa. The spread felt extravagant in a way. The oracle cards came out. We went deep.

In both scenarios, alone or in a group, I do fairly well. I believe it’s because I possess the qualities of both an introvert and an extravert. I also have a kind of confidence that has come a long way since my 20’s minus the bravado or aggressive need to let my presence be known. Silence speaks volumes. So does a smile.

Side note: I smile more often now at strangers. I make conversation with the elderly at stores and lunch spots. It makes their day (and mine) and they have the best stories to tell. This you must try at least once.

There are so many different flavors of people. We adjust our seasonings to fit how we want to feel in our daily life, in our skin, and who we want to become next. We evolve. We change. It is a blur of onward motion, a train that keeps moving. Some people stay on for the ride, some jump on or off when they need to, and some just fall away because they’re comfortable at a different pace.

I so get this now.

I used to wonder if it was just me. What was wrong with me?

Gathered around my table (and for the sake of all that is good, I have been gathered in circle around many fires but have never GOT THIS) I realized that I am not the only one who goes through these achey growing pains. We’re all moving at a pace that is right for us, going through our own evolution, experiencing what our light and shadow looks like.

My daughter is inside of her own evolution. She is going back and forth on decisions around school and life choices. She is thriving in both theater and music. She wants to couple those skills with a degree in education and see where she lands with it. She’s driving and working and living the typical teenager life.

Mine, right now, requires massive amounts of space. My home needs tending. My body needs some love. My spark has reignited and I am ready to do great things but my body wants to move slow. So I listen.

I sit at a table for one. I listen to the stories that swirl up into the ethers. I tune in, absorbing the details. I feel less alone in my own life when I’m privy to hearing what others are going through. I don’t find that creepy if I find myself alone within earshot and I am NOT an eavesdropper. Well. I may be.

I sit at a table for one and pour out my heart and soul to the person sitting across from me. I let the tears go. I wonder if anyone is listening or if my release just floats on up into the celestial bubble above me.

And still, I feel blessed. Because it doesn’t matter. I know what I need and I allow myself that so that I might level up. It opens up a big amount of space within me for more salt, more mercy, more love.

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

Out of the Fog by Therese Wood

I wish I could say that my thirteen years in a religious cult were just a bad experience, or that I’ve been out for so long now that they’re a distant memory. For my everyday life this is true, but when I reflect on my inner life I am faced with the fact that I have distanced myself from almost every form of spirituality because of those thirteen years.

I rarely share my experiences of this time in my life because inevitably there are comments from people that are either ignorant “How could you be so gullible” to arrogant “I would never fall prey to anything so extreme”.

If it were only that simple no one would ever join, but cult recruiting and the subsequent group assimilation is complex and most often misunderstood.

During those years, when life was black and white, I felt confident and righteous. Life was very easy and compartmentalized-there was right and wrong and it was dictated by the word of God, period. Of course the interpretation of the word of God was filtered through a warped and craven ego-driven philosophy of bible-believing cult leaders. There was a clearly defined “us” and “them” that was cultivated by culling us from our families and friends and slowly building a sense of “community”.

There was also a repugnant sense of elitism instilled with a hatred of anyone who was not “us.” The current political climate has reminded me of how easy it is to hold firm to ideology that appeals to a sense of being right, even if at the core you fear it isn’t. The fervor at rallies often builds a sense of belonging, and affirms one’s sense of truth with others that believe the same.

One of the distinctive constructs of any cult is that they keep you busy serving others and keep your mind occupied with the tenants of the common beliefs. Our days and nights were full and we were committed to constant meetings, prayer times and work. We were constantly told to remain free from the world and to refrain from engaging with others or participating in anything that smacked of popular culture.

Anyone who might meet me today would never suspect that I was ever a cult member, or that I was obedient to a code of conduct that the Amish might find restrictive, but I was. Every small decision in my life, I gave over to the higher authorities who, I was told, knew better. This of course never turns out well and after years of struggle I left the cult having given many years of total commitment to the group, and almost none to myself.

I had to find out who I was again, who I had come to be.

Now, all these years later I realize that my spiritual life then was like a bright colored helium balloon. So full, so buoyant and light. Full of lies, but easy to carry. When I left the cult it was like someone took a pin and popped that balloon hard. In an instant my life went whirling, crashing and spinning until I stopped. It felt good to stop, and it also felt empty.

If all those things I learned were lies, and I knew they were, then what was true?

Over the years I have looked high and low for the truth about God, about life and about me. I still have no solid ground to stand on. I know more about what I don’t believe and less about what I do. I cannot give myself to any church, can no longer read the bible without bile seeping up my throat and have been unable to say I have any solid space to call my spiritual home.

Here is my philosophy, born out of tattered scraps of soul searching- I believe there is something more, something hidden, something larger than us, unseen and ever present. I hope that this true, but I don’t know for sure. As I get older I don’t have to have all the answers anymore.

I just continue to hold to the truth – that my past is just a shadow and there is still more light ahead.

About the Author: Therese Wood

Therese Wood is an essayist and has written most extensively on the topic of death and dying. She enjoys reading and writing poetry, collects sacred kitsch, practices Tai Chi and dabbles in art just for pleasure.

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