Typical Tuesday with Laura Foley

I wake or, more preciously, am awoken, before 6 a.m. by our dogs, who insist it’s morning, in spite of still-dark skies. After a quick walk, I feed the beloved beasts— two German Shepherds,  Arlo and Alys; one yellow Labrador, Chloe. I prepare peppermint tea, return to bed with a cup for my partner and one for me.

But let me back up for a minute. For twenty years I was happily married to a man. After my husband died, I was busy raising our three children through their teen years; I also discovered I was attracted to women. Those years included many soul-searching, silent retreats, Zen ordination, Chaplaincy training,  Jungian analysis, Karate (I made it to second level Brown Belt) and Yoga (trained as an instructor).

And I discovered poetry.

Before that, I had been an academic, with degrees in English Lit. from Columbia University. I had read a lot, and studied a lot, but I had never written anything creative. At 45, as my husband was dying, I started writing. Today, 15 years later, I have six poetry books published, two more in progress.

On this Tuesday, I return to bed with two cups of tea, one for my partner, Clara, whom I have lived with for four and a half years.

After another snooze of the alarm, I get up at 7:15. The sky is brighter now, sun beginning to light the yard around our house. I jump in the shower, drive from our house in Pomfret Vermont to my favorite yoga class in Norwich. The teacher’s approach is Tantric, which fits nicely with Zen: a body-centered awareness, including explorations of how emotions manifest, how to work with them. Yoga class is a spiritual experience for me, a reminder of the ever-present, deeper stream beneath the busy-ness of a day.

After yoga, it’s off to a local coffee shop for oatmeal and a cappuccino. I make a nest of poetry books, my laptop, and spend some time reading poems on Writer’s Almanac, Poetry Breakfast, Autumn Sky, Poetry Foundation. Today I also watch a You Tube video interview with Sonia Sanchez, a poet who speaks about being in China, recites a haiku about the International Date Line. This triggers a memory for me. I grab my notebook, start to write about my father’s WWII experience (he was in China).  This is a subject I have tried to wrestle with before, how he always knew war would start on a Sunday, and it did, but it was Monday in China, because of the date line. Today the idea returns in full force, and I’m off, into the creative process.

After about twelve drafts, I feel the poem is ready to share with my online women’s group.  I have been in the habit of sharing rough drafts with them for many years; often receiving encouraging responses. They are my family, and I’m sharing work hot off the press.

By now it’s time for lunch,  soup and salad.  I spend the afternoon editing older poems, sending finished poems out to competitions and journals, preparing for the writing workshop I will lead tomorrow, in the local hospital, for those affected by serious illnesses.

At 5:00 I return home, over the river and through the trees, to our house far away, up on a hill in the woods of Vermont. My partner is preparing a delicious dinner of spaghetti squash with her own tomato sauce. Clara, originally from Spain, is a foodie, one of those fabulous, rare beings who loves to cook.

After her full day at the Law School, where she’s a professor, she unwinds by preparing me my favorite meals. As she stirs and chops, I carry in wood, prepare a fire in the fireplace, take the dogs out for a romp around the yard. We eat dinner, share stories about our day, sit on the couch with a cup of tea, some dark chocolate and a cookie. We watch Trollope’s Doctor Thorne on Netflix.

At ten o’clock, I take the dogs out one last time. I notice the brightness of the stars on this new moon night; Orion, reaching across the sky.

About the Author: Laura Foley

Laura Foley is an internationally published, award-winning poet, author of six collections. She won the Common Goods Poetry Contest, judged by Garrison Keillor; and the National Outermost Poetry Prize, judged by Marge Piercy. Her poetry collections include: WTF, Night Ringing, The Glass Tree and Joy Street. The Glass Tree won a Foreword Book of the Year Award; Joy Street won the Bisexual-Writer’s Award. Her poems have appeared on The Writer’s Almanac, in Valparaiso Poetry Review, Atlanta Review, Lavender Review, The Mom Egg Review, in the British Aesthetica Creative Writing Anthology, and many other journals.

A certified Yoga Instructor and creative arts facilitator in hospitals, she is the mother of three grown children, grandmother to two granddaughters. She and her partner Clara Gimenez live among the hills of Vermont with their three big dogs.

Follow her on GoodReads, Facebook, and Twitter.

Sunday Sanctuary: Bringing Copenhagen Home

SundaySancturary_WithDebraSmouse

I don’t think there’s anyone who hasn’t thought  – or at least fantasized about – running away from home. While I don’t believe there’s magic pill that can fix whatever’s going on in our lives, travel has a sort of unstoppable power to help break us out of our ruts and illuminate changes we can make once we’re back at home.

For six months, I’d been struggling with any kind of consistent routine. Nothing I tried was as nourishing, supportive, or just right for where I was in my creative life as what I needed it to be.

A recent trip to Copenhagen changed that. In fact, by the second day of our time there, I felt as if a magical veil had been lifted, allowing me to find something that worked. My morning routine while there helped me write three times as much that week than I had in the previous three months.

Here’s what it looked like:

Each morning after rising, John showered and got dressed for the day while I did the basics of care: brushing my teeth and slip on some yoga pants and a tee. I’d scrape my hair back into a ponytail and we’d head downstairs to breakfast with his colleagues.

I had a typical European breakfast: hard-boiled eggs, veggies, fruit, and a thick piece of rye bread slathered with jam. And coffee, of course. After they headed to work, I went back upstairs to shower and get dressed. As I took my time putting on my make-up, I hopped onto my Voxer account and left a message to a couple of my friends – another writer and a filmmaker. My filmmaker friend was in the middle of a challenge on her next project, and my messages to her explored her options while also talking about what it is to be a maker.

Being hooked up to earbuds and my app while I looked in the mirror carefully applying cosmetics became a ritual of sorts, forcing me to voice what it is I do. Not just as a “life coach” but as a writer, a partner, an editor, a friend, a woman. I have this theory that extroverts aren’t as good at articulating these things as introverts; because we talk to understand what we think, often what spews forth sounds like nonsense. Yet, having this lifeline to friends, knowing that no one would hear my words for hours, morphed into something holy and needed.

Then it was time to leave the hotel, so with laptop and journal in hand, I walked the block from our hotel to the Baresso, a Danish coffee chain.

I’d head to a corner booth and shed my coat and scarf. I’d plug in my adapter, set up my laptop, and pull out my journal and a couple of pens. Then, I’d head to the counter to pay for my Triple Latte, which the manager, upon seeing me walk through the door, had already begun making.

We exchanged pleasantries, sometimes sharing little details about our life or day so far.

I shared a photo on Instagram

I would begin writing. I wrote letters on paper. I wrote in my journal. I wrote blog posts. I worked on my book. Every day, words flowed like a river.

Some days, I’d order lunch before I left. Some days, another latte or Americano.

I left between noon and one each day, back to the hotel to either coach a client on Skype or drop off my laptop before heading out to shop or explore. Often, my filmmaker friend had left me a message at this point of the day, sharing stories and details and talking about art making and life.

Each day felt satisfying. Like making progress and finding my way, something I’ve been struggling with since before September.

I actually lamented this to my writer friend and her question to me – wise as always – asked me what I needed to do to bring Copenhagen home with me.

On my flight back home, I began the process of analyzing what it was that worked so well and here’s what I’ve come up with.

Breakfast right away. I always wake hungry, but more often than not, don’t bother with much beyond coffee, at least not right away. Yet, my brain needs protein and my body needs hydration. To make this easier, I do a little prep on Sundays: boil eggs, slice bell peppers and cucumbers, and chop fruit.

Getting Dressed. It’s not unusual for me to wait to shower until late in the day. I get up, and get busy. Yet, devoting just a half-hour to ready myself for the world as a loving process went a long way towards my confidence. Working from home gives me freedom to dress however, yet sweats or yoga pants all day don’t add to my productivity ever. Though I go downstairs to my office to work, I’m dressing as if I’m heading out into the world.

Articulating Who I Am. Though my Voxer messages aren’t as long as they were whilst in Copenhagen, I’ve kept this ritual at least a couple of days a week.

Not being constantly connected. While we were in Europe, my phone stayed on “airplane mode” and I only connected when I had a WiFi signal. I’ve begun putting my phone on “Do Not Disturb” AND I no longer allow my email to auto-sync. These two tiny shifts mean that my phone isn’t constantly distracting me. And, when I go to check for email or even messages, it’s a conscious choice.

A Beginning and An End. When you run your own business, it’s so easy to slip into the mode of always being “on”.  But having a set beginning and end to my “work” time forces me to focus rather than dawdle. By committing to a start to the day – after I’ve had breakfast and gotten dressed – as well as the end of the day (when John texts that he’s on the way home) focuses my time.

I know that I’ll never recapture the feeling of Copenhagen exactly now that we’re settling into our regular days. It’s hard to maintain the energy of Hans Christian Anderson, Hygge Comforts, Castles, and tales of Vikings. Yet, I was reminded that while home is always my favorite place to be, sometimes you have to leave the sanctuary it provides. In order to find the path to keeping our home a sanctuary for creating, we have to find our answers when we’re off exploring.

What about you? What do you find essential to good routines? When has travel helped you find a missing link?

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.

Word Medicine by Cathleen Delia Mulrooney

Weekend morning. I wake early and creep downstairs into the kitchen, setting the kettle on the burner and stretching my neck, my arms, my hands, shaking sleep off. Two cats circle like shadows around my feet, waiting for their breakfast–sleek and silent as the kettle starts its slow hiss and boil. Out comes the mug. The tea. My mind begins its checklist of the day ahead and the dreams behind. Because it is a weekend, the steaming mug travels back upstairs to my bedroom with me and I set it on the corner of my desk.

I settle myself in the chair, get the notebook and black ink pens out, and stare out the window, my breath a slow breeze through me. My gratitude is immediate as I rake my eyes across the neighboring field and distant tree line, still winter-stark and bare, waiting for spring. I let my eyes wander, cataloguing signs of the season shifting, watching for hawks and vultures drifting high, and geese who flock to the field all winter, their broken cries cracking the silence open wide. Squirrels erupt along the tree branches and the black cat from across the street stalks them for any misstep. Deer often graze when the field is high, bookmarking sunrise and sunset with their nervous energy. Foxes sneak past at dusk–but now, morning is just getting started and the scene is quiet but for a few crows circling, silent and black as the ink in my pen. My pen starts to move across the page. Meditation. Memory. Magic.

When it is warm out, the glass is thrown open, echoes of an old poem, “outside the open window, the morning air is all awash with angels.” Angels. Animals. And the first moments of peace I’ve had in days.

People will tell you to choose a job you love and you’ll “never work a day in your life.” But they don’t account for those like me who’ve chosen a job they love that makes them work harder than even seems possible. I am a teacher. My job is full-time, August to June, with those two infamous months off that many say make this career-path “easy” and me “lucky,” as if I am the one responsible for the academic yearly calendar. Yes. Those two months are wonderful. Like most teachers, I find them essential for recovering, recharging, and reflecting on the classes I had and the students I served all the best ways I know how. But, “easy” and “lucky” are not the words to describe how it feels to be responsible for the education of every single student who shows up in my classes with a whole history and agenda of their own.

I teach six classes this semester at the same community college I’ve been teaching at for over sixteen years now. I have 100 students I plan for, grade for, guide and (hopefully) inspire each and every day. I teach writing, so my job can’t be just assigning multiple choice quizzes or tests and calling it a day. I have the task of working with them on essays from brainstorming to multiple revisions, equalling hundreds of pages of reading each week. The emails are endless, as are the questions. I have no teacher’s assistant or co-teacher. This is a one-woman show that runs all day every day, and a couple of evenings, too. I am overwhelmed daily. I am also inspired daily. Impressed. Moved. Full of love, concern, and hope. When I leave campus each day, my bag is full of things to grade or long-range plans I am hoping to work on in between meeting the needs of the three young adults I am a single parent of–also no assistant or partner there to share the weight–a one woman show running 365 days per year, 24 hours a day. Also a job that leaves me full of love, concern, and hope every day.

I have chosen the job I have and the children I have (not that I expected to be a single mom when my family began, but then, life is full of surprises). Both my work and my children provide me with the fuel of life I need to run on. But burnout, in both the role of teacher and of single mother, is a very real concern and is something I constantly have to work against to be the teacher and the mother my kids all need me to be.

This is where my weekend morning rituals come in. This is where the waking early, hot tea, writing at the desk, and staring out into that field must be. The first twenty minutes of my writing is just brain drain–concerns, struggles, and self-doubt about whether I am doing a good job at either of my beloved occupations. But eventually, I tap into that third vocation I am called to–the writer in me sings out, full-throated, still alive in me in spite of everything.
My weekend morning ritual of time spent writing does more than stave off the possible emotional collapse from my weekday demands. It allows me to access all of the most vibrant, powerful, alive parts of who I am.

I once imagined a life for myself where all I did was write, spinning out entire invented universes from the blooming tip of my pen. I’d travel at will. I would sequester myself in the woods or alongside a mesa or a mountain or beside a tide-heavy shore, living to create. Undisturbed. A Virginia Woolf Room of Her Own dream. I still have this fantasy sometimes. I’ll teach, but teach less. My children will grow more fully into adulthood. The writer I am will take up the space she’s due.

But even this dream only works when teaching, motherhood, and writing coexist. I, quite simply, couldn’t do without all three. Yet doing with all three is staggering. This contradiction frames my life and challenges me in ways only another person working within constraints like mine could ever understand.

The pressure, the ache, and the exhilaration of these three things have taught me the profound power of self care. For me, it looks like a quiet desk by a window overlooking a field full of life. What was a weekend morning routine has been infused with a significance that makes it sacred to me. Perhaps the only line between routine and ritual is how desperately the person needs it. My ritual renews me, offers me moments of grace, and fortifies me for another week of balancing everything. Weekend mornings are my ritual. Words are my medicine. I wake early. I brew the tea and open the windows when I can, looking for angels. I channel the determination of my students, the love of my children, and the power of my imagination to slip from the sunlit field in front of me into the wild expanse of my salvation–my flawed, imperfect writing life.

Cathleen Delia Mulrooney

cathleendeliamulrooney_bioRestless. Sleepless. Book-lover. Wordsmith. Deep roots. Prodigal heart. Teacher. Guide. Wanderer. Witch. Tea, tarot, hot baths, stitchcraft. Curator of narrative relics, remnants, & curiosities.

Cat is also a freelance writer, editor, and teacher. Her poetry, fiction, essays, interviews, and reviews have appeared in a variety of online and print publications. She has been teaching writing at the college level since 2000, and has facilitated creative writing workshops in elementary schools, high schools, prisons, and private organizations, as well as workshops exclusively for women to write their body and tarot-based narratives.

Through her Queen of Cups Tarot community, she offers private, group, and online tarot readings. Find her online at http://cdeliamulrooney.com and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/queenofcupstarot/

Remembering What Matters Most by Christine Mason Miller

I have become a worrier. Within five minutes of leaving our house, whether it is to run a quick errand or go out of town for five days, I immediately start scrolling through a mental checklist. Did I leave any candles burning? Is the back door locked? Are there any stray objects on the floor that Tilda could choke on? One after another, I try to put myself back in the moment of handling these tasks. Oh right, I blew out the candle before I took a shower, I think. Oh yes, I remember locking the door this morning.

I’m not sure when or why this started, but it has become a bona fide part of my daily routine. It isn’t the kind of worry that creates stress, per se; it has more to do with not wanting to invite disaster or create chaos due to my inattention. I don’t want to lose something precious because of a minor oversight. I want to take good care of what I treasure most.

Being on the verge of fifty, and watching many of my closest friends care for their dying parents, I feel myself entering a new phase of life that isn’t about my early-twenties fearlessness and dare-to-dream-big bravado, but about a visceral awareness of the fragility of life. That sounds like a phrase that belongs on a postcard with a picture of a sunset or a babbling brook, right? Life is so precious. We only have to much time. How many times have we read or heard these phrases? In their repetitiveness, they feel trite.

But with every piece of news that has words like cancer, dementia, and hospice – with every request for a prayer for someone who is not long for this world – I pause, and I take a deep breath. It feels important to stop whatever I am doing and acknowledge that I, too, will face these experiences – with loved ones, for myself. I float upward, able to take in a wider perspective of my past, present, and future, and I see what’s coming on the horizon – possibilities that are now much closer to me than they were when I moved to the west coast at the age of 27, graduate degree in hand, ready to take on the world.

That spark in me is not gone – I still have grand ideas and imaginings related to creativity, travel and work – but I have become much more methodical in the decision-making process. I actually think I’ve become a bit too careful as of late, but this shift is something I’m still working out. I have allowed myself to lean toward the opposite extreme of my usual “Let’s do it!” attitude in order to see how far I need to go to find the right balance between my longings as an entrepreneurial, artistic being and as a woman with a husband, family, and home. For many years, it felt like these were in a battle for my time, attention, and energy. It is only in the last year that I have managed to settle down their quarrels, a mediation I’m still figuring out.

A while ago, someone asked for my advice on a work-related issue. There was a job offer on the horizon, one that would have taken her away from home five days a week – away from home as in an entirely different state. She was grappling with the feasibility of a long-distance commute and the impact that could have on her marriage, home, and family. My advice to her was simple: Get clear on what she treasured most in the world, and then decide whether or not taking the job would support and strengthen that or diminish it.

This is the question I ask myself constantly these days – any opportunity, idea, or endeavor is weighed against a very short list of personal priorities. Which, if I’m honest, doesn’t necessarily make things easier. It requires great compromise and sometimes saying no to things I would otherwise leap at. But I simply don’t want to wake up five or ten or twenty years down the road wishing I’d done a better job caring for what I loved most in the world.

Which brings me back to the worrying, which isn’t just about the doors being locked or the candles burning, but also about how long my husband has been out on a motorcycle ride with calling me or whether or not my mom is having a restful day. I want to make sure everything and everyone within this tiny realm of home and family is taken care of. I want to enjoy every bit of all these things I love most, and appreciate them while I can.

Beyond the worry, my treasured routines are very simple. I rub Tilda’s belly before I get out of bed, I make a frothy cafe au lait every morning. I almost always stop whatever I’m doing to assist my husband if he tells me he needs me. I talk to my best friend on the phone nearly every week. I wash my face every night, and always hang up my jacket when I come back home from a walk. In those routines, I am reminded that being alive is about the very small things, the very tiny experiences. And in those peaceful respites from the feeling that the world’s traumas are rapidly closing in on my tiny haven in Santa Barbara, California, I balance out those moments of fretfully reviewing my just-left-home checklist. I remember it is all OK. I recognize how fortunate I am.

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.

Dear Blinking Cursor by Tabitha Grace Challis

Copyright: <a href='https://www.123rf.com/profile_peshkov'>peshkov / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Dear Blinking Cursor,

Yes, I see you. I know that you sit there waiting. “Great things are to come,” you seem to telegraph as if you were an 18th century Morse code. My head spins with stories. They have since I was tadpole-like in my ability. I have scattered words from there to here and yet, you still blink.

I’m no Euripides. No one will probably be reading this tangled web of beautiful lies I spin thousands of years from now. I will not be quoted and misquoted on Facebook like Mark Twain when all that’s left of me is dust.

And yet, you blink. Eager to be fed.

Do you not know I have a kid who needs another glass of milk? A husband with lips made just for kissing? Do you not see my hands full of bags of cat food?

You relentlessly wait. Wearing at my mind. I close my eyes and yet you are there. I’m renaming you Godot. Curse you, cursor, and your all-the-time-in-the-world stare at me.

Sometimes I imagine that you’re the entrance to a black hole. If I could just unlock you, the words would come out on their own. It’d be so easy. Less effort. Less feeling like I was letting you down. Tap into the deep part of my brain, o blinking one. Release the wild things.

I’m so tired of disappointing. I picked up this perfection mantle at age 10 and have been unable to drop it. It is tattered, frayed and worn. I want to do it all, be it all, see it all, taste it all. Yet it leads to nothing.

The whispers I ignore tell me that I’m a writer. I was meant to tell those stories. But the siren’s call (the loud kind, not the irresistible one) of life’s essentials pulls me away from you, cursor. There’s piles of laundry to tackle, dishes to clean, a dog to wash, bills to pay, and floors to vacuum.

Life happened while I was busy making plans to return to you.

Don’t give up on me, please. There are tales that I need to tell you of chickens that live on the roofs of odd buildings. I long to lose myself to chasing you across the page. I ache for there to be more and more and more words that follow you like Orpheus chased Eurydice. Were that my ending were not so tragic.

I like to think I’d give up so much just to please you. I’d sacrifice time and effort and energy. Yet, I’m spent. There are days when I can barely lift my thought process beyond survival.

Could you wait? Or will this be like the pot of water that’s been left to boil on the stove too long? Empty. Charred. Will my words burn away and be of no use to anyone?  Will you keep blinking your slow, patient  S.O.S. that calls to me? I want to be like my author heroes. I want to stick to a page until the story unfolds. I want to chase you from here to the end. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is so weak. I binge watch old TV shows as you sit in a sea of white. I play games on my phone to drown out the noise of your silent requests.

Don’t lose hope, little cursor. Together we will do great things. Perhaps we will attack them like they did on D-Day. A full-scale invasion will march forth and you will not have blinked in vain.

Too much?

Then I’ll be truthful.

Please wait. I’m coming. In the snatches of time before falling asleep. In between the rush and bustle of the every day, you and I will dance. I will find the quiet times to put thoughts to words, inaction to action, and magic to paper.

And it will be beautiful.

About the author: Tabitha Grace Challis

Tabitha Grace ChallisTabitha is a social media strategist, writer, blogger, and professional geek. Among her published works are the children’s books Jack the Kitten is Very Brave and Machu the Cat is Very Hungry, both published under the name Tabitha Grace Smith. A California girl (always and forever) she now lives in Maryland with her husband, son, and a collection of cats, dogs, and chickens. Find out more about her on her Amazon author page or follow her on Twitter: @Tabz.

Listen by Pat West

My parents died
when I was a baby.
Family and friends passed me around.
Nine cities in six years.
Never stayed in one place
long enough to sign a lease.
You want to know more?
Before my grams died,
she told me when an intruder
appears in my dreams, it’s an omen
to move. First time, in San Francisco
I missed the signal. Next day,
an earthquake caused a fifty foot section
of the Oakland Bay Bridge to collapse
right behind my car. In Miami,
after Andrew blasted through my apartment,
I paid attention. I’m not making this up.
Thought about Toledo, but nothing happens
in that town, so I headed north
to Boston just in time for Fleet Week,
and a long string of dull men
with tattoos of serpents and dragons.
This time I didn’t wait for an intruder,
tossed a coin between here and Portland,
Seattle won. Grams also said,
when I came close to home
she’d send me a sign. Few days later,
I heard her whisper, Stay a while,
find a man to yawn with in the morning.
Then you saunter into my life.
You think I’m crazy. Here’s crazy.
When you look at me, I’m an exotic belly dancer.
When you touch me, I hear wolves.
When you kiss me, I’m one of them.

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.

Spaghetti Tuesday by Julie M. Terrill

It must be 6:30 am. My eyes are still closed but I can feel her looking at me.

I know that when I open them Bee’s nose will be millimeters from mine and her chocolate brown eyes will be watching me intently, tail wagging happily. In silence I meet her gaze and smile. She is a Rhodesian Ridgeback mix and even with my bedframe on risers we are nose to nose. She reminds me of the lion statues that stand sentinel at the doors of The Chicago Art Institute. She remains still until I say in a barely audible whisper, “you are invited.”

With a bound she joins me for our routine belly rub in silence. It is not that I am grouchy. I just don’t like to talk for a while. My family knows that a smile and a wave is the extent of my communication for the first few minutes of my morning. My mom says this has always been the case.

Bee and I enjoy our quiet snuggle and then I hear it… Rain! I love the rain and don’t want to waste a moment of it. I rush out the back door and dance barefoot in the grass. My flamingo-print pajamas are soaked and I sing “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. Bee watches and waits on the dry porch.

Provided there is no lightning, it is a pretty safe bet that if it is raining I am outside dancing.

Back inside I heat some water and go dry off. I steep my favorite tea, purchased during a recent trip to Ireland, and make a mental note to order more soon. I am enjoying my Irish Breakfast Tea in the dragonfly mug I received from my friend McGillicuddy. With a nod, I raise my mug to her and send a quick text telling her so.

The rain falls harder and the wind picks up.

After tea, a bagel and some blueberries it is time to get down to the business of Spaghetti Tuesday.

Not long ago I was a photographer and writer paralyzed with fear, unable to muster the courage needed to hit the send button on the growing number of email queries and pitches that were instead relegated to my draft folder. I had quite a collection of essays, photographs and stories that waited unseen.

I was unaware that gathering the basic tools and materials needed to build my dream of a creative life was not enough. I did not yet possess the skills to utilize those tools. Fear of ridicule, rejection and dismissal reinforced my state of inertia. I desperately needed to change and was referred to writer and business coach Christine Mason Miller. Christine re-framed the process for me.

You know how some people throw a piece of spaghetti at the wall to see if it sticks and is ready? Christine told me to throw my creative spaghetti out into the universe and see what sticks. Undercooked spaghetti is not a personal rejection; it simply needs a little more time.

Brilliant! Spaghetti Tuesdays are now a part of my weekly schedule.

Today’s spaghetti-throwing menu features half a dozen photo submissions to the stock agency, two article pitches and two applications for Artist In Residency programs. I update my Curriculum Vitae, compose both Artist’s Statements, Project Proposals and upload my portfolio. One of the AIR programs is in Europe and it is likely that I will not hear from them, but that’s okay. It’s just spaghetti.

I laugh as I remember the photo I sent to Christine of the words “Throw Spaghetti” written in purplish lipstick on my shower wall.

The rain stops and dark clouds hang low, heavy with the promise that this lull will not last long. I grab my sneakers, Bee’s leash and harness and we head out the door. Bee, as always, is incredibly curious and I indulge her. We slow to check out every puddle and I rescue each wayward snail lured onto the pavement by the storm. My house is in sight again when the raindrops resume and I, of course, dance. Bee is far less amused and picks up her pace now eager to return home.

We dry off and I wash up before I head to the kitchen to begin chopping fragrant herbs and colorful vegetables. Red roasted peppers, purple onions, deep orange carrots, golden corn kernels and bright plum tomatoes paint a colorful swirling palette in my stock pot. While the soup gently simmers and the glass lid clouds with condensation I work in my office space that sits adjacent to the kitchen. On one desk sits the gourd I have been working on for three weeks. Already etched with the wood burner, carved by hand and lightly sanded, today it is ready to begin staining. Slowly and meticulously I daub the tan stain over the uncarved portion of the gourd’s hard shell until my family returns home. I ladle supper into colorful soup mugs that were a Christmas gift.

I am pleased by the anachronism as I reach for the antique silver soup spoons that I love to use, chuckling at how my kids won’t use them because they were purchased at an antique store and were “used.”

It has been a good day, rainy days and Spaghetti Tuesdays usually are.

About the Author: Julie Terrill

julieterrill_bio

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

Connect with her at: JMTerrillImages.com

Sunday Brunch: Sleeping with Giraffes

Sunday Brunch With Melissa Bartell

Her name is April. She’s fifteen years old, and nearing the end of her fourth pregnancy. Oh, and she’s a giraffe.

Giraffes have the lowest sleep requirement of any land mammal, averaging around two hours out of every twenty-four, usually in increments of just a few minutes.

Copyright: <a href='https://www.123rf.com/profile_bondsza'>bondsza / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Like thousands of people around the world, I have become enamored with April’s story, to the point where checking in on her in the mornings and evenings have become part of my routine. Why? Because there’s something magical in watching this elegant animal as she readies herself for the birth of her calf.

Something Zen.

Giraffes are prey-animals. As such, they typically take their rest standing up, but if they are in a place they perceive to be safe, they will sometimes lie down, and even catch a nap with their heads resting on their hind-quarters. Such naps rarely last longer than five minutes, but research conducted at zoos says that REM sleep is achieved.

April and her calf’s sire, Oliver, live at Animal Adventure Park in upstate New York. It’s a family-owned petting zoo, and many of the animals are exotic pets that have been rescued by the facility.

In watching April, we are also able to see the relationship between the keepers and the animals. Clearly there is love and respect on both sides.

In the morning, as sunlight filters into the giraffe barn, their pacing increases in tempo, and the giraffes pay close attention to the inner gates of their pens. While it’s not safe for the keepers to be in Oliver’s pen with him (bull giraffes are both strong and playful, and a misplaced kick can be lethal for a human), April is docile and likes to play kissy-face with her caretakers.

Alyssa, the main giraffe keeper, returns April’s affection, and, in truly precious moments, has even been seen on camera, placing gentle kisses over the places where baby-kicks have been witnessed.

The gestational period of a giraffe is fifteen months. The mother giraffe gives birth standing up, and her calf will drop about seven feet to the ground. A newborn giraffe weighs about a hundred and fifty pounds and stands about six feet tall.

My favorite part of watching April comes around eight in my evening. That’s when the keepers come with dinner, and bed down the giraffes for the night. As much as I enjoy watching April’s eighteen-inch-long, bluish-purple tongue snake out to accept offerings of carrots and romaine lettuce (apparently these two things are like crack to giraffes), the moment when the lights are switched off, and the giraffes are left in quiet twilight is the one that truly touches me.

No two giraffes share the same pattern of spots. These patterns are as unique as human fingerprints.

Over the two weeks since the GiraffeCam went live, I’ve found myself watching it a lot at night. This past week, while my husband was away for work, I even left the YouTube app running on the Roku TV in our bedroom. I’ve never been great at sleeping, but there was something so reassuring about seeing those serene creatures, April clearly defined by the soft light in her pen, just as restless as I am (but with a much better reason) and Oliver, who ghosted past the pen’s divider every so often, sharing the night with me.

Giraffes are born with their “horns” (actually called ossicones), but they are flat against the skull, and only fuse with the skull as the animal matures.

Intellectually, I know, I’m only one of many who have made April a part of their – of our – routines, but at times it felt that I’d been granted the special privilege of sleeping with giraffes.

While captive breeding programs are reasonably successful, giraffes are extinct in at least seven countries in Africa, and all species of giraffe are rated as “Vulnerable” to extinction.

The image above is NOT April.
You, too, can watch the GiraffeCam if you visit ApriltheGiraffe.com

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.

Stirring & Settling, by Melissa A. Bartell

https://unsplash.com/@ornellabinni(Part IV of the Tea series, follows Stewing)

“Where are you taking me?” Sarah asked. She was in the front passenger seat of David’s car, one of his neckties forming a blindfold. She could have peeked around the edges – the knot at the back of her head wasn’t that tight – but her boyfriend had really wanted to surprise her, and she hated to ruin his fun.

“You’ll see,” he said, laughter coloring his tone. “Just be patient a little longer.”

“Just promise wherever we’re going has food,” she responded. “I’m starving.”

David didn’t answer.

The car kept going, with David humming lightly as he drove. Sarah could tell they weren’t in town any more – there hadn’t been any stops for traffic lights in quite a while – but she wasn’t sure which direction they’d been going. She’d have to trust him.

Just as she was taking a breath, preparing to ask how much longer they’d be driving, David stopped humming. The car turned off the pavement and onto a gravelly surface, finally rolling to a stop. “Okay,” he said. “We’re here.”

Sarah removed her blindfold. “The Japanese gardens?” she queried, reading the sign in front of their car. “I thought we were going for a late lunch. As far as I know, they don’t serve lunch here.”

“Trust me,” David suggested his tone warm with affection. He turned off the car, removed the keys and got out, moving around to open her door. “Please, Sar?”

She slid out of the car, glad she’d listened to his wardrobe suggestion. Her nautical-stripe sweater, khaki crop pants and navy espadrilles weren’t the most fashionable of outfits, but they made her feel neat and crisp, and she’d be comfortable even in the cool breeze that always seemed to linger along the river walk.

“I do trust you,” she said.

“Good.” He offered his arm, and she took it. “This way.”

Together, Sarah and David walked down the wide ramp that twisted and turned through the blossoming cherry trees. They paused on the little bridge that crossed the koi pond, laughing at the hopeful fish crowding to the surface. “We should buy some food for them,” Sarah said.

David grinned. “Right, because clearly they’re emaciated.” But he fished a couple of quarters from his pocket – he’d also worn khaki pants, Sarah notice – a change from his more typical weekend choice of jeans – and waited for the cup of fish-food to drop from the vending machine affixed to the far end of the bridge.

“Here…”

He held the cup and she pinched up some of the food, casting it into the water, and the fish waiting in it. “They remind me a little of hungry puppies.”

“All animals are adorable when they’re begging for food,” David joked. “It’s a rule.”

Sarah laughed. “I think it must be.”

When the cup was empty, they continued their walk, down the stairs of the terraced hillside, to the lantern-lined sidewalk along the riverbank.

“You alright?” David asked, when Sarah paused for no apparent reason.

“Fine…” she said. “Except… do you hear music?”

He made a show of listening. “Sounds like pan-flutes,” he said. “I think they’re coming from over that way.” He pointed in the direction of the gazebo that sat on the water-side of the walk, at the top of a curve. “Let’s find out?”

Sarah decided she was never going to get the lunch she’d been promised, and simply agreed with him, “Sure. Why not?”

Hand in hand, they kept walking, following the curving path along the water until they reached the gazebo, where, instead of the empty space Sarah had been expecting, there were paper lanterns and a trio of people playing different wind instruments.

“I don’t remember anyone advertising a musical event here,” Sarah said.

“They didn’t,” David answered. “Come with me.”

Gently, he led her up the steps and into the octagonal building, where a single, set table and two chairs were waiting for them.

Against one wall was a man in a chef’s uniform working on a portable outdoor stove. “Ah, you’ve arrived,” the dapper man said, turning to greet them. “Please sit. Lunch is almost ready.”

Sarah dropped into the chair David had pulled out for her, taking in the bouquet of daisies in a glass vase, and the vaguely tea-pot shaped item sitting on a trivet and covered by a quilted cozy. “You arranged this? For me?”

“No,” David corrected. “I arranged this for us.” He lifted the cozy from the pot and set it aside. “Shall I pour?”

Over hot tea and plates of seared beef, salmon and yellowtail sashimi, steamed rice, and cucumber salad, the couple engaged in their usual banter.

“I’ve always thought these gardens would be the perfect setting for a wedding,” Sarah said as they finished their meal.

“They have an events coordinator for things like that,” David explained. “My friend Ryo and his wife were considering it, but then her parents insisted they do a church ceremony instead, and since they were paying…”

“I guess that makes a difference,” Sarah agreed. “But still…”

The chef interrupted them long enough to clear their dishes and deliver two glasses and an open bottle of champagne.

“Personally,” David said, after they’d been left alone once more, “I’ve always imagined this as the perfect location for a proposal.” He didn’t leave his chair to kneel in front of her, but he did remove a small, black box from his pocket and place it in front of her.

“David?” She could feel her lips curving into a goofy smile, could tell that her cheeks had gone hot and pink.

“Sarah, ever since we ran into each other at the café on that day, I’ve felt like there was something stirring inside me – ”

” – inside me too – ” she interrupted.

” – and ever since you moved in, I’ve been thinking, ‘this is what life is supposed to be. Two people sharing a home and a life… fighting over their favorite sections of the newspaper, taking turns cooking dinner or making tea…” Sarah heard his voice go choky as he trailed off.

“Oh… David…”

He swallowed reflexively, and opened the box. Inside was a tea-bag, but instead of the usual paper tab, the end of the string was affixed to a delicate gold ring with a diamond that was the perfect proportion for Sarah’s slender fingers.

“Will you marry me, Sarah?”

She lifted the ring from the box, and tugged slightly. The string fell away, and she turned the piece of jewelry in her hands, holding it up to the light to catch the reflections. “Put it on for me?” she requested offering it back.

David held the ring, poised over her left ring finger. “Is that a yes?” he asked, his tone equal measures of wry uncertainty and tenderness.

“It’s an ‘absolutely,'” Sarah said. “I love you. I love the live we’ve been building together. This just… this feels like everything’s settling into exactly the places they’re supposed to be.”

Each of them half-rising from their chairs, they leaned over the table to seal their engagement with a kiss that only ended when the chef and the wind players applauded.

Laughing, Sarah and David returned to their chairs, and David poured the champagne into their waiting glasses. “I love you too, Sar,” he said, lifting his glass to salute her. “You’re my best friend, and my muse.”

“And flattery will get you everywhere,” she teased.

They carried their glasses to the part of the gazebo that looked over the water, and as the sun set, and the lanterns began to glow softly in the darkening sky, they held each other, and exchanged whispered dreams for their future.

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.

 

 

 

Counting Losses by Sheryl Cornett

Lately I’ve been losing things: car keys, umbrellas, reading glasses, a cherished leather coin purse bought in London’s Camden Market twenty years ago. I kept only British pounds sterling in that purse, as a reminder that the next trip “home” to the Bloomsbury neighborhoods was just a few months away. I go there regularly to escape the oppressively humid North Carolina summers paying my way by teaching and writing.

Classes finished, deadlines met, I wander daydreaming through Regent’s Park or along the Thames’ South Bank leg of the Jubilee Greenway. I walk miles when in that beloved city, and my fit bit holds me accountable like an exercise partner. We have a daily conversation, in real activity-tracking numbers, about how life-giving and liberating these miles are. I record the miles in a moleskin journal as an affirming reminder-log. We check in with each other often.

So, last month when I climbed out of an airport shuttle at five in the morning, I heard the leather coin pouch tumble out of my bag, spilling change on the asphalt. I searched hurriedly in the dark for the three-inch purse. American Airlines was announcing Now Boarding, creating panic as I scoured under the oafish sixteen passenger van—but the purse apparently fell into a black hole.

Let it go. You can get another one next trip.

Later that same trip, the fit bit disappeared from my bra where it was snuggly clipped in place. Somewhere in Dallas Fort Worth’s ginormous Terminal D it worked loose and went AWOL. I hope someone who really needs one found it.

This loss is a reminder to all that I’ve been counting as well as losing in the past year.

I count steps-into-miles, as I mention. I track dollars, British pounds sterling, and euros while teaching study abroad. I count numbers of students in my classes and the number of semesters taught: autumn, spring, and summer, seventy-five semesters to date! I count calories and carbs; check my weight and blood pressure, mindful of the fluctuation of each.

I count pages and chapters written by me, and those read and re-read by me, written by my favorite authors and sister-writers. I count psalms and poems by friends dead and alive that resonate in my soul like music that lingers and won’t leave the room; poems that bring joy and wisdom and a place to share our humanity. Louis MacNeice’s lines from Autumn Journal surface to remind me that my “vitality leaps” among “[t]rees without leaves and a fire in the fireplace.”

Segue here to the biggest loss of all this year—loss of a spouse through divorce. The fit bit represents this in a quirky way: my former husband used to be (a lifetime ago), my walking partner; in fact, that’s how we courted back when we were both broke and single parenting.

The fit bit that went AWOL at DFW surprised me with its loss, at how unmoored I felt.

I realized it has been—for quite a few years—my most steadfast walking companion. A way to make sure I’m actually getting as much exercise as I tell myself I am, something that a walking or jogging buddy can confirm or challenge. It’s also my creative thinking, and head-clearing, and list-making time. Random thoughts of gratitude often bloom in me while getting in my steps. I also vent, sort out teaching conundrums, and compose emails while taking paths through the urban college campus where I work; while meandering through country parks and river walks.

So, in counting my losses along with these other things, I’m finding that counting them mindfully, being intentional and aware of the letting go, of the moving on is, in fact, cutting my losses in the best way. There are fewer and fewer flash floods of anger mixed with sadness. Let it go. No marinating regrets, no festering bitterness. The absence of a regular walking partner is a small shadow in the big-sky clouds of divorce. The silver linings are the friends, colleagues, and (serendipity!) even my adult children that I now call or who contact me to make a walking date, when schedules allow. What a gift! And how hard to get consistently on the calendar.

But my friend the fit bit is always available.

Earlier today, I laugh in sudden awareness of the beauty of solitary walks as well as the companionable ones.

It’s bright mid-winter, I’m trekking the Thames Path at high noon along Oxford’s banks. I spy a kingfisher swoop into the woods; the river scintillates in wavelets. I breathe in, lift up my face to the pale sun. My heart is firmly fixed in this moment. Then I remember: I’m meeting my daughter (who has flown to England to visit me on this research trip) on the other side of the river for a hike further along this same footpath. We’ll go the full eight miles to a neighboring village and then stop for dinner at a country pub. We’ll sit by the open fire for several hours sometimes talking, sometimes staring at the flames. After writing a few letters and postcards, we’ll catch the last bus back to London.

Cutting losses has evolved into counting blessings: the gifts of faith, family, and vocation.

The riches of friends and fellowship. The treasure of genuine, healthy relationships and the ongoing healing they confer; the gift of life fully lived, apart from another’s emotional and financial behaviors that, for many years, stormed my days like a cycle of North Carolina hurricanes. Luckily, I found a fit bit on e-Bay for the right price.

We’re back in stride, the pair of us. We’ve moved forward through the stained glass autumn leaf color into the sculptural beauty of winter-trees without leaves, into the next season of finding “gains” better than those losses; in counting joys, pleasures, and the blessings that abound if only I have the eyes to see their numbers.

About the Author: Sheryl Cornett

Sheryl Cornett teaches at North Carolina State University, where she is the 2014-2017 University Honors Program Author Scholar-in-Residence. Her recent poems, stories, criticism, and creative non-fiction appear in Art House America, Southern Women’s Review, North Carolina Literary Review, Image, Pembroke Magazine, Mars Hill Review, and The Independent Weekly among other journals and magazines; and in anthologies such as In a Fine Frenzy: Poets Respond to Shakespeare, The Global Jane Austen, and Christmas Stories from the South’s Best Writers. Visit her at www.sherylcornett.com

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