Grandmother’s House by A.M. Moscoso

Photo by A.M. Moscoso

“I have one very firm, very strict rule in my house ” Sunny Longyear’s Grandmother told her on the night she stayed at Grandma’s house for the first time. Sunny stood straight and looked up, seemingly up for miles to her Grandmother’s stern face. Sunny did not blink, she did not grin or fidget. “I will not tolerate you sneaking off to the kitchen in the middle of the night for snacks. Your mother did that and she left crumbs and greasy smudges all over the bed linens and the door frames and everywhere else sticky messy fingers could leave a mark. I hate messes always as much as I hate disobedient children.” Photo by A.M. Moscoso

“Yes, Grandmother.” Sunny said.

Her grandmother looked down at her. “Yes?”

“You hate disobedient children.”


“Do you know what I hate?” Sunny asked.

“I do not care.”

“I hate not having midnight snacks.”

Grandmother’s mouth twitched. “Go and put your things in your room.”

Sunny picked up her bags and she bounced – her long black pony tail swinging from side to side – down the hall and up the stairs to her very own bedroom that was on the top floor of her grandmother’s three story house which sat alone on a cobblestone road called Hideaway Hills.

Grandmother’s house was old. Very old. It was older then Grandmother, and it had been brought stone by stone, with all of it’s woodwork and doors and mantelpieces, from the place where the old woman had been born.

“Where was that?” her family had asked once, when she was in the kitchen making dinner

“None of your business ” she had answered. She’d had a knife in her hand at the time. She had been standing with her back towards them, and she had lifted it up to her face and used it to see their reflections over her shoulder. Her dark eyes had flared in the wide band of silver.

The question had never been brought up again.

Sunny and her grandmother had spent the afternoon in her grandmother’s garden where they tended her herbs and weeded her vegetable patch and took care of her bee hives.

“Can I have a snack?” Sunny asked, when they were done and they were headed back into the house through the kitchen door.

“Yes. There’s some things in the pantry you can choose from. Don’t forget to cover the food back up with the cheesecloth, and if you open any containers shut them.” Her grandmother lifted a key from the inside of the door and handed it to Sunny. “Lock it back up when you are done, and young lady, I mean it: do not take any food up to your room. That’s why we have a kitchen and dining room table.”

Sunny took the key and she trotted merrily off to get her snack.

Photo by A.M. Moscoso

* * *

Sunny, her Grandmother safely assumed that evening, was in bed and either reading a book or listening to music- either Mozart or Ravel. Those were the choices she had given the child,  and she had no reason to think that wasn’t what was happening in the bedroom she had specially decorated for her first and only grandchild. At least, she had no reason to think otherwise until she heard the thunder of footsteps racing up the stairs at the end of the hall.

Her breath slowed – dangerously slowed –  in her chest. She smoothed her covers carefully, and pushed them to her left. Then she swung her long legs over the side of her bed and stood up.

Grandmother heard the symphony coming from above her head – and it was most certainly not a symphony by Mozart. It was a symphony of feet.
There was a little thud and then she heard Sunny say, “Uh-Oh. That’s going to leave a stain.”

Grandmother reached for her robe.

Before she had become Grandmother, before she had even become Mother, she had been Saturnina Guillermo, the woman who had once ridden alone through a mountain pass with a murderous band of men and women on her tail, and nothing to protect her but her wits. And now? Now she was being played for a fool by her eight-year-old granddaughter, who was every inch the ill-mannered pup her mother had once been.

Saturnina opened her door and threw it  to the side. She didn’t run down the hall or up the stairs. She hit each step hard with her heel. Then, standing before her granddaughter’s bedroom, she took a moment to collect herself before pushing the child’s door wide open.

Sunny was standing beside her bed, her nightdress covered with Saturnina’s special marinade  – the one that smelled like cinnamon and a touch of basil. There were was more of it on her handmade quilt.

“I dropped it.” Sunny confessed.

“I can see that.”

Sunny pointed under her bed and hung her head.

Saturnina walked slowly towards her granddaughter. She hovered over her for a moment, and then she reached out and grabbed the girl by the front of her nightdrePhoto by A.M. Moscososs and threw her up and onto her bed. She leaned down, reached beneath the bed, and  and then Saturnina leaned over and reached under the bed to retrieve the child’s snack.

Still leaning over she looked up at Sunny, who giggled mischievously, and said, “My, Grandma, what big teeth you have.”

Saturnina’s teeth had grown more prominent, and her eyes were huge in her weathered face. She pulled her arm from under the bed, to reveal a hiker – a woman named Gilly Anne – being held in her huge, clawed hand.

“Get yourself cleaned up, and if you ever sneak a snack into this room again I will ground you until you’re as old as I am. Do you understand me?”
The old woman stood up, and with a skilled flick of her wrist snapped the hiker’s neck.

“I mean it young lady ” she said to Sunny, whose soft, black and white fur was beginning to sprout in downy poofs all over her face and arms and whose eyes  had also grown bigger – big enough to see easily in the moonlight streaming through the bedroom window. “March.”


About the Author: A.M. Moscoso

Anita Marie Moscoso Anita Marie Moscoso was nine years old when she decided to become a Writer/Pirate/Astronaut. She is now so far away from the age of nine that it’s comical, but it turns out that she did become a writer, and she’s told stories about Pirates and Astronauts. Anita has also worked in a funeral home, explored the cemeteries of New Orleans alone, and has a great dog named Hamish and had a cat named Wolfgang.

More about Anita (in parts) can be found at her blog: Enduring Bones.





Leila: Lost and Found by Mary Ellen Gambutti

M.E., Karen & Leila

On this September, 1994 morning flight from Pennsylvania to South Carolina I gaze out toward a new chapter. Soon I’ll reunite with the woman who gave me life. On the down escalator, I spot my welcoming party.  Karen, my half-sister, waves and calls to me in the drawl now familiar from our calls since my year-long search bore fruit.


“Momma, a lady called from up north. She said she might be your daughter,” Karen coaxed. “Not true!” But she yielded. Yes, she had given birth to a girl in St. Francis Hospital when Karen was two. She thought the nuns would take good care of the baby; find her a home.


I step off the escalator to broad smiles and greetings. My young adult daughter is the only genetic tie known to me prior to this search and reunion. I’ve pondered her thoughts on family–no one is more important to you than those who stand beside you, no matter what. A sense of unreality floods me, as I embark on the next stage of this journey to cultivate kinship.

Karen introduces her beautiful daughter, Barbara; Josh, her burly middle-schooler, and Daniel, her handsome elder son. I’m relieved and grateful for their warm hugs of acceptance. “This is Momma, Leila Grace.” Standing proud, she refused to greet me from her wheelchair. She’s smiling, this large woman, and Karen has looped her left arm under Momma’s right elbow to support her.

Leila. I learned her name this summer, and could never conjure her face. I heard her gospel songs from within her womb, heard her speak, her inflections. I felt her

laughter and heard her cry, maybe felt her tentative touch before I was swaddled and taken away by the sister. Maybe she held me briefly. Her face reveals the sadness of years. Moist, puffy eyes, face flushed with unknowable emotion. Flood of recollection or regret? Or pang of pride, or guilt, confusion, or the anxiety I’ve inherited?  I take charge of my feelings, and wrap my arms around her. “Hello, Momma! So good to see you!” She yields to my embrace–a murmur, perhaps meant for the gods—is she hurting or happy? What will this reunion bring to either of us? Has she dared dream the infant she left in the hospital would be happy and well, and would return to her one day?

At Karen’s double-wide trailer home, our family celebration continues. Can it be we haven’t yet spent a couple of hours together? Momma rests in the recliner. Her legs elevated, I see her left prosthesis below her pastel polyester pants. On her right upper arm is an angry scar from the dialysis shunt she’s had in place since she returned from Texas. Her short salt and pepper hair is tightly permed, but she’s more relaxed now, and chatters in a faint, high voice. Karen serves dinner at the kitchen table: fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, green beans and sweet tea. We peruse photos, many of Karen’s children, and only a few of Momma in her twenties and thirties. Karen wasn’t raised by Leila, either. She abandoned her to her parents and a difficult life. Another girl born to Leila, and raised by her, died at sixteen in a drowning accident. No mention of my father—maybe she’d recognize him in me—I hope there’s a secret photo stashed away.


Karen & LottieThe rented house in Texas had been neglected–diabetic needles, clothes, food and trash all around–when Karen arrived, summoned by the rehab hospital. Leila’s husband of thirty-two years had been dead for over a year when she was admitted for a foot infection that cost her a leg. Karen brought Leila back to South Carolina, and tried to make her comfortable in her small home. But Leila was ill-tempered with the boys, whom she had never met. Karen moved Momma to a State-managed senior-living apartment with basic possessions and minimal housekeeping skills. But for Karen’s kindness, we would not have connected.


Karen told me Momma would stare at daytime shows that featured adoption reunions, promoted by private investigators and TV producers. She fixated on birth mothers who emerged from behind the curtain in tears to hug their long ago relinquished sons or daughters on the studio stage. She never let Karen in on her secrets. It was left to fate that a twenty-six year old Leila would ever see her child again.


I returned to Greenville six times to visit, while Momma’s health continued to worsen. She died at sixty-nine, two years older than myself at this writing, and left behind her regrets and foggy memories. We two sisters were among the few at her funeral, a year after we reunited. Karen and I continued to be curious about more kin, but I focused on a DNA search for my father. Ancestral searches had become a successful tool for adoptees.

Valentine’s Day, 2015, Karen and I stumbled across a South Carolina internet message board post from 2007 by a woman searching for her mother, Leila Grace Cox. She had been abandoned to the care of her father and grandparents in Charleston when she was six weeks old, in 1954. If only Leila had been able to tell us, we would have located Lottie while our mother was alive.

Deep wounds of separation might have calloused over, but longing and fate intervened. She never learned to give, and lost more than she could bear. But, we sisters believed it possible to find Leila.

About the Author: Mary Ellen Gambutti

Mary Ellen writes about her life as an Air Force daughter, search and reunion with her birth family, gardening career, and survival of a stroke at mid-life. Her stories appear or are forthcoming in Gravel Magazine, Wildflower Muse, The Remembered Arts Journal, The Vignette Review, Modern Creative Life, Thousand and One Stories, Halcyon Days, Nature Writing, Post Card Shorts, Memoir Magazine, Haibun Today, Borrowed Solace, Book Ends Review, Storyland Literary Review, and SoftCartel Magazine. Her chapbook is Stroke Story, My Journey There and Back.

Rainy’s Paper by Patricia Wellingham-Jones

Photo by Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash

I write on a scrap of paper
you tucked into my book,
paper you made in your backyard studio
from pulp you shredded,
soaked, patted into frames to dry
with bits of weed stalks
adding texture to the mass.
At bottom left you pressed
a full-blown pansy, its little face
beaming as I write.
I’d like to wax brilliant
about the depth and worth
of my words on your art
but I know they’ll never mean
as much as this paper you made
and gave to me.

About the Author: Patricia Wellingham-Jones

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

Sunday Salon: The Room Where it Happened

There’s a song called The Room Where it Happened in the hit musical Hamilton, a song that describes the debate which occurred in the room where the Founding Father’s placed their signatures on The Declaration of Independence. Like many of the songs in that musical, it’s rousing and invigorating, bestowing a huge sense of importance on this particular place in time.

I suspect we all have significant rooms where things happen in our lives that serve as tipping points for our own personal history. A few weeks ago, I was able to return to one of those rooms for the first time in over 40 years.

The occasion was a final walkthrough of the building where I went to high school, a Catholic school for girls that recently announced it would be closing due to lack of enrollment after 75 years in the community. And though I didn’t love high school like I loved elementary school and junior high school, had not in fact ever been back inside my alma mater for anything since the day I graduated in 1974 (even though I live only a couple of miles away), I decided to pay my respects on this final day when the school was open to alumni one last time.

There was really only one room I wanted to see, and that was the music room. When I stepped inside, 45 years fell away and I was the tiny, shy sophomore walking into her first choir class, a room full of girls dressed in blue plaid skirts and saddle oxfords. I don’t recall feeling nervous, although I must have – I didn’t know anyone in the room, having transferred from public schools in another town. And I hadn’t sung in several years, choosing to play in the orchestra during my middle school years rather than sing in choir. (I do remember feeling horrified when the choir director – a little spitfire of a nun named Sister Alexis, who was also my French teacher – went down the rows voice testing us individually.)

A few days after that first day, something happened in that room that set my life on it’s course for the next 40 years. Sister Alexis asked if anyone played the piano. I raised my hand, along with three or four other girls. Each girl was called to the piano and asked to sight read the music on it. As they fumbled their way through, I became more and more nervous. What was this horribly difficult piece that no one could play?

When it was my turn, I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I say it was a simple version of Amazing Grace, which I played through without a problem. Sister looked at me, her dark bird-like eyes shining. “Can you play something else?” she asked. So I played Bach, a Two Part Invention. The class applauded.

I tell you this story not to be boastful, but to recall that simple action was a tipping point in my life. I became the official choir accompanist that day, a role I would play for choirs of all ages over the next 50 years. A role that has led me to some remarkable experiences, some remarkable friendships, some remarkable growth.

And for the first time since I left in 1974,  I was back in the room where it happened.

The room itself looked remarkably the same, rows of chairs lining the built-in risers, a bank of windows along the wall showing the long driveway leading up to the front of the building, the upright piano in the same place on the right of the podium. There were a few other women looking around the room, ranging in age from their early 20’s to over 70.  I heard one phrase repeated over and over again.

“I lived in this room!” a young woman exclaimed.

“So did I,” said the oldest among us.

“Me too,” I agreed.

My friends and I ate lunches here, often gathering around the piano as I played Carly Simon or selections from Jesus Christ Superstar. I had three classes every day in this room – Choir, Orchestra, Theory – and when I wasn’t in class was often practicing in one of the tiny practice rooms or gathering with other officers on the music department student board. I stole time during study periods to sit along the wall of windows and write letters to my boyfriend who was away at college. I sat in the hallway outside the room and comforted a friend who was crying because her parents were getting divorced. I rehearsed for hours with singers and instrumentalists, working our way through everything from the Messiah to Rodgers and Hammerstein.

I lived in that room.

I’ve lived in a lot of music rooms like that one during the past 45 years. So much happens in  rooms where art is created – living, working, dreaming, expressing emotion through music, sharing the joy of working together to make something beautiful for others to experience. Music touches something deep in our souls, helps us connect with our feelings and memories in a way nothing else can.

These are the rooms where life is lived on a special and significant level. May we all live in rooms where this happens.


About the Author: Becca Rowan

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

Cultivating Happiness Anchors by Keva Bartnick

We all live in a world that can lack a sense of happiness. Far to often we have to fake it to make it. I am no different. I speak of healing and goodness, yet I have to work at being happy and healing myself too. I know I am not alone in these struggles, which makes it easier to manage.

Since my husband and I have children I admit that they have taught me more than I could have ever dreamed. They teach me something new everyday. They bring into my sphere a new way of seeing the world and all its wonders.

Because of them I can’t begin to tell you how many Lego movies I’ve seen. Here’s a hint… it’s a lot! Every one of them better than the last surprisingly. And thus brings into our lives the topic of anchors.

You might not have ever heard the term so let me let you in on the best kept secret of our house. Anchors.

They are a cherished piece of time set aside. A time that has already been scheduled in advance so everyone knows what’s coming. For instance, Taco Tuesday is an anchor. Every Tuesday we have tacos for dinner. (Thank you Lego Movies for introducing Taco Tuesdays.) Also, if you’d like, I have a great fish taco recipe that we’ve been using and the kids LOVE it!

This is what I mean, intentional living. That’s a good way to describe an anchor.

We also looked to ‘The Big Bang Theory’ for our second anchor of the week. Like Sheldon, Leonard, Penny and the rest of the gang we’ve set aside one night a week as pizza night. Every Wednesday, we don’t have to think about what to make for dinner, we already know that it’s going to be pizza. Everyone looks forward to it, and everyone is happy. It’s a win win.

We have other anchors in our house, but those two are the best. Maybe it’s because I’m mom and I’m the one that has to feed them so anything to make my life a little easier. I’m all for that. I’ve discovered another anchor that I plan on implementing as soon as possible.

I’m calling it The Friday Night Champagne Toast.

It was inspired by my husbands cousin and the birth of her daughter.

At her baby shower, as a parting gift, she sent us home with a Brut Split. If you’ve never worked in the restaurant business, Splits are those smaller bottles. Purchased for a celebratory occasion between two people, hence the word Split. The instructions were that when we heard of the birth we had to break open the bottle and toast the newest addiction! I LOVED THAT!

So as we were popping open the Brut on a Tuesday night to celebrate Anna’s birth it hit me like a ton of bricks. Oh My GOSH! Why are we just now doing this? Where has this been all my life? I kind of think I need another anchor for celebrating, and I believe that we are going to do it weekly.


Let’s think about this, how often do we celebrate? Birthdays, holidays, special occasions. Like normal people we have our yearly celebratory anchors, the ones that you can count on.

Many of us have daily anchors like praying and worship, but we don’t have something set aside weekly. Acknowledging the fact that we do awesome things every week. So why not celebrate that!?

Justin Timberlake brought sexy back. Well I want to bring The Friday Night Champagne Toast night to the forefront. For those who don’t drink, choose something special. Juice, juice works just as well. Buy something that you normally wouldn’t buy for yourself and use that. It’s a special occasion.

So treat it like one.

If you don’t want to spend the money, chalk yourself up as a Spiritual Money Launderer.

Yes, it’s a thing.

Think of the money you are spending as putting something good back into the universe in a monetary way. You are celebrating! So treat each part of this endeavor as a celebration. Even if it’s a $1.50 Yoo-hoo from the gas station down the street. It still counts.

Think of it as a sacred act of being grateful and happy. Cultivating and creating a space of positivity in an otherwise normal day. Taking the time out to celebrate life! That we made it thru another week.

I will be taking the time to list out everything I’m grateful for. For instance that we survived with our wits still intact and that we didn’t lose our minds along the way. That in and of itself is HUGE with three kids. Some days probably were tough, but we kicked this weeks dupa and got the things that needed to get done done. Or that we only fought once this week! Pick any number of ways to chalk up the fact that we all survived!

Cheers to us!

Taking time out of our week to recognize what we are grateful for gives us room for more gratitude, more happiness. I do it everyday before I go to bed and before my feet hit the floor in the morning, but those moments are personal. This would be a time spent with just my husband and I, together. To acknowledge the fact that we matter. What we accomplish together matters. Congratulating each other for doing what needed to be done that week. When your other half feels appreciated, wanted, and gratified magical things happen. So that settles it.

Anchors away!

About the Author: Keva Bartnick

Keva Bartnick is an artist, writer, and lightworker. Happily married mother of three; she’s been inspiring people to be their most courageous selves since 2015.

Letting Go of Expectations by Anna Oginsky

It’s been over eight years since my dad slipped away and took my life as I knew it along with him. Of course, I was devastated when he died, and I have found that no matter how much time passes, there is always a part of me that misses him. At the same time, I have come to appreciate the outcomes of his death that have shaped my life for the better. The gifts he left behind weren’t gifts of conventional value; instead, he left me with the opportunity to rethink the ways I was choosing to live up to the time of his passing. Like so many women, I had completely lost myself in the midst of mothering and in all the roles I had taken on through adulthood. It was in the space I created to grieve after my dad’s death that I rediscovered my long-lost love for creativity.

At first, as I began to share my writing and art, I heard people say things like, “Oh, I would love to ______ (write, paint, craft…), but I just don’t have time.” I completely understood. Before my dad’s death, I wouldn’t have thought that I had the time either. What I quickly discovered though, was that if I didn’t make the time to create, there were parts of me, essential parts, that would surely perish. It was vital to my own well-being that I make time to create. The same is true today.

In grieving places, we are often told that grief comes in waves. Those waves we ride in grief are actually an appropriate metaphor for describing the journeys we take with most matters of the heart. “Riding the waves” is a saying that aptly describes the ways in which I am required to navigate the ebb and flow as I work to cultivate and sustain a creative life.

I tend to shy away from writing about how to do things; but, sharing what has worked for me seems essential in the realm of creativity. As humans, we ourselves are creations and as such, we were made to create.

We are creative beings.

We are all artists and we do best when we give ourselves the gifts of creativity. I have found that what I do to nurture my creativity is less important than how I do it. Much of my work around creativity involved some aspect of redefining what it meant to me to make things.

My first task was to let go of expectations about what it meant to create a piece of art.

I was drawn to ways of creating that were focused on the process rather than a specific outcome. In my grieving space, I took numerous online art classes in intuitive painting and in collage and mixed media. My goal was never to replicate something I had seen before.

It was always to play and to explore.

Mixed media art allowed me to incorporate my love for color and texture and layers into my creations. I worked with multiple mediums, just playing, never knowing where I was headed or what my piece would look like when it was complete. Abstract art gives an artist a lot of space to play and explore and I revel in that space. With each piece of paper I cut and glue to my canvas, I am in some way piecing myself back together. In that time and space, I am fully present and fully me. Not someone’s mom or wife or daughter or sister, just me.

The creative process is a moving meditation where the thinking brain can rest and where we can give ourselves permission to simply be. It took very little time in my practice of the creative process for me to realize how powerful it is to create without expectations, and an even shorter amount of time to feel the positive impact of cultivating my creativity. That was the flow.

The more time that passed after the day of my dad’s death, and the more my children grew and needed me, the less time I had to devote to my creativity. I had to find ways to keep creating that didn’t require as much of my time.

This was the ebb. This was when I let go of my expectations about what art actually was. It wasn’t just a painting, it could be a page in an art journal or even just a few strokes of paint. It could be a meal, a planter filled with flowers, or a carefully selected filter on an Instagram photo. It didn’t need to be an entire blog post, it could be a mere caption.

As long as I was creating something, big or small, the act of that making had the effect of a potent medicine.

Depending on what is happening in other areas of my life and where my work is currently focused, I can be in the ebb, the flow, or somewhere in between with my creativity. Yes, I sometimes dream about having unlimited days and days to paint and play with words and papers, and sometimes I can actually make those days happen.

Mostly though, I am okay with a few minutes here and there to engage with the creative process. It is all art. At the very least, the lives we create for ourselves are our art. As artists, we are obligated to nurture our creativity. By letting go of any predetermined expectations we carry about what the creative process should look like or lead to, we create more space for flow.

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.

Cultivate the Why by Molly Totoro

I am a personality test junkie. I love learning a bit more about myself in the hopes of discovering why I operate the way I do. Most recently I took a test sponsored by Personality Factors. The test confirmed that I am a serious planner. That is, I scored near zero percent for “gregariousness” and near 100% for organization.

But the test also revealed an area of surprise. I scored near 100% for dutifulness.

Now responsibility and independence are two of my core values. I strive to be a woman of my word. I think for myself and refuse to ask someone else to do a job I can handle. My parents joked that “me do” were my first words.

I consider these traits positive attributes – they show strength of character.

Dutifulness, on the other hand, appears weak. It is an act of surrender rather than autonomy. It is allowing others to dictate my life rather than taking control myself. And we all know when a toddler does his “duty” it is a stinky, messy business.

Shortly after taking this test I went for my daily walk with the basset. Since he sniffs every tree and blade of grass, our leisurely walks give me time to ponder. As I mulled over the daily calendar, I discovered a pattern of thought. Every potential activity was prefaced with the phrase “I should…”

  • I’d like to go the library and write, but I should stay home and do laundry.
  • I’d like to finish reading our book club selection, but I should grade papers.
  • I’d like to try my hand at painting but I should do a “real” artist date and get out of the house.

When I realized I was “should-ing” how to do take a personal Artist Date, I knew I was in trouble. The adage, “Don’t should on yourself” seems rather appropriate for someone who is so immersed in duty.

I decided to embark on a little experiment: brainstorm the perfect ordinary day.

While I am fond of carpe diem, I also know chores need to be done. My goal was to see if I could replace duty with a bit of fun.

I began with my morning routine. I quickly outlined the daily tasks. But without premeditative thought, I also included a why statement to each activity.

  • I wake up before 6:00am because I don’t want to be rushed. I like taking my time and slowly greeting the day.
  • The first cup of coffee makes the early alarm bearable. While I only drink coffee in the morning, that first cup is pure delight.
  • Reading email and checking social media is a fun way for this shy reserved introvert to connect with others.
  • I look forward to morning pages and discovering the thoughts rattling inside my brain. Oftentimes I surprise myself.

I continued this exercise for various activities throughout the day. In the end, I discovered the secret to a joyful schedule: cultivate the why and weed out the should.

Rather than saying I should do laundry or I should go the store, I rephrase that thought. I say I want to do laundry so I have clean clothes to wear. Or… I want to go grocery shopping so I can have healthy food in the house.

Of course, there may be times when should is unavoidable. For example, I should grade final papers because the academic year is coming to a close. But I find if I think about the task rather than rely on auto-pilot, there is a more valid reason than duty. I like teaching and a part of teaching is grading papers. In essence, I choose to grade papers because I want to teach.

Old habits die hard. Retraining the brain after fifty years of “should” is not going to happen overnight. But I continue to tend the garden. I pluck the weeds on a regular basis – giving myself a bit of grace when they grow out of control. And I cultivate the why by giving myself permission to nurture the desires of my heart.

About the Author: Molly Totoro

Molly Totoro is a Connecticut Yankee currently residing in the Midwest with her husband and trusty basset. While Molly retired from full-time teaching in 2014 to pursue her writing dreams, she continues to work with students to achieve their writing potential. Molly recently published her first book, Journaling Toward Wholeness: A 28-Day Plan to Develop a Journaling Practice with the hope of inspiring others to experience the health benefits of writing their inner thoughts.

Connect with Molly at her blog, My Cozy Book Nook and on social media: FaceBookTwitterInstagramPinterest

Sunday Sensations – The Feeling of Safety Personified

I’ve always been afraid of the dark. The shadows, the shapes, the sounds—they all frighten me.

One person could always assuage that fear. No matter how long the night or how deep the darkness, I felt secure when I heard my father’s voice.

I remember nights when my dad worked late. I would make my mom promise that she’d send him in for a goodnight kiss. Then I would lie awake, darkness clawing at my imagination, waiting for him to come home. If sleep came, it was fretful and worried. I felt so small in those moments.

Then he’d come in. I’d hear his car, the rumble of his voice, the footsteps in the hall and instantly, I felt relief. It’s amazing how his simple presence would change the fear. I was in the same bed, the same room, the same home, but nothing felt safe without him.

My dad would smell of the earth then (he was working in construction with my grandfather). He’d look tired, but he was the best sight I’d ever seen. I would happily fall into a peaceful sleep after he left my room.

People can be lighthouses of safety. When I had surgery to remove my appendix when I was six, my mother stayed by my side through the entire thing. I remember waking up, groggy, and having her voice right there. Just that simple presence chased any fear away. Even now, I can feel that level of security and warmth.

Since the beginning of mankind, we’ve sought security and refuge from each other. There would be no great cities or countries if this wasn’t the case. From the U.N. to the family unit, we’re meant to live in a community. This gives us safety.

The sad fact of the matter is that as much as people can bring a feeling of safety—people can also be harbingers of danger. In today’s world, a larger spotlight is being placed on the men who abuse their power and position to abuse the women they are meant to love. I can’t imagine living in a situation where I’d dread hearing my father’s voice at night, but there are so many vulnerable children who do. All too often, the people who are meant to love us can be the ones to rip safety out the fastest.

This Father’s Day, I celebrate the men who are safety bringers to their family and those around them. If you didn’t (or don’t) have a great dad, know that there are some lighthouses out there for you if you know where to look. And, thanks to my dad for always being my safe lighthouse.

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.

Snapshots from the Shore by Melissa A. Bartell

She stands at the edge of the sea, her messy sun-gold braids hanging down her back, her tanned face and hands sticky with watermelon juice.

59743115 - portrait of a happy charming little girl on the beach“Rinse off,” her grandmother urges from beneath her enormous straw sunhat, the one that offsets the prominence of the equally large bosom sheathed in a practically bulletproof bathing suit.

(She remembers once on a family trip that it ended up on the floor, and she fell on it and hurt herself. But she’d been little then – two or three – and maybe the memory isn’t really hers. Maybe she’s just heard the story so many times that she’s absorbed it into her psyche, the same way she’s absorbed the foghorns that wake her and put her to sleep every night.)

Bending over, a little, a lot, a lot more, her tiny hands can’t quite meet the water. She takes another step forward, and then another. She’s not afraid of the gentle, rolling waves. This water has been her second mother almost since the day of her birth.

Here, in this water, she learned to swim before she could even walk.

A few more steps and she’s waist-deep, and now her grandmother’s encouraging tone has become one of caution: “Not too far! Stay where I can see you!”

But when the next wave comes, she ducks under it, even though the knows that the older woman on the beach will clutch at her chest in melodramatic worry.

She surfaces, laughing. The melon juice is gone, she is no longer sticky from sugar, and her braids are soaked through. She’ll be itchy from the salt when they finally dry, but it’s worth it. It’s always worth it, the freedom she feels in the sea.

* * *

“Just put your feet in,” she coaxes the man who has come to drive her to the flatlands in the middle of the country. The flyover states, they call them. Except now they’ll be the land-in states. She wonders if the wind on the prairie can ever come close to the soothing sound of her beloved waves.


“Come on,” she urges. “Seriously, it’s not that cold. At least take your shoes off. You will not actually melt into goo if your bare feet touch the sand.

But he refuses. And she wonders if maybe she’s making a mistake in choosing someone who doesn’t love the beach the way she does. Still, she splashes in the choppy surf, dodging sharp white-crested waves and body surfing the gentler blue ones until she’s tired and sated.

Swimming in the sea, she thinks, is the only thing that even comes close to being as good as sex with the man she loves.4483503 - blond girl sitting on the rock at the seaside

Two weeks later, in their new townhouse, where there are no foghorns, but she can hear the mournful sound of a train whistle at night and in the morning, he locks himself into the downstairs half-bath and makes her promise not to open the door until he says it’s okay.

She assumes he’s settling in for a reading session – doesn’t everyone read in the bathroom? But she’s never been more delighted to be wrong, because he opens the door a couple of hours later, and she sees that he’s hung a string across the room. A string to which he’s clipped a collection of black and white photos of her last day at the beach.

She hadn’t even realized he’d had the camera out.

She smiles and kisses him, and they end up making love on the living room couch because it’s just too much effort to climb the stairs to their bedroom.

They finish the evening with a shower for him, and a bath for her, and then they share a carton of Ben and Jerry’s Cherries Garcia ice cream while watching a science fiction movie in bed.

* * *

They are back on the coast after three years on the prairie, and he learns to navigate cloverleaves and to say highway and freeway instead of interstate. The beach is half an hour away, and they don’t go as often as she might want, but it’s enough, most of the time, to know they can.

Still, they do go.

They drive to the beach in the funky town that was used in that movie about the vampires where they ride the wooden roller coaster and walk on the sand (he still insists on wearing shoes) and drive out to the end of the municipal pier and have clam chowder and beer and feed bits of sourdough to the seagulls that buzz the windows.

They buy calamari and feed it to the pelicans, the bold-as-brass birds that have no fear of humans and are nearly as tall as she is. He snaps a picture, one grey day, of her with her golden braids streaming behind her as she’s nose to beak with one of the birds, and there’s a kinship in the way the two are standing: human and avian. Woman and Bird.

The photo is accepted by an ezine that specializes in digital photographs, and people print it for greeting cards, and wonder who the woman is.

They will always wonder.

* * *

They never make love at the beach, though they’ve come close more than once. Their favorite spot is further up the coast, and to get there you must park across the road, dash across the highway, cross a field of artichokes, and climb down a flight of rickety stairs 43804508 - back view of a couple taking a walk holding hands on the beachthat are just enough too tall that he must help her.

She secretly likes having him help her. Or rather, she likes that he cares enough for her that she never has to ask for his help.

They spread a blanket on the warm sand and in between her trips into the surf, they read novels aloud to each other, a page at a time.

It’s at that beach that she nearly drowns.

A rare combination of undertow and rip-tide. A moment when she has her back to the waves because he’s got the camera out and pointed at her, and just this once, she wants to be an active participant in his art.

The wave knocks her over and drags her backwards before she can surface. She is rolling in white-water and cannot track the bubbles to find which way is up. She does the one thing she has never done at the beach: she panics.

And then there are sure hands clutching at hers, strong arms pulling her back toward shore. Blindly, she lets him guide her back to the blanket, wrap her in towels, whisper soothing words into her ears.

“I’m sorry,” she says when she can breathe – when she can speak. “I was stupid.”

“Not stupid,” he says, “just not paying attention.” He smooths her wet hair away from her tan face. “You lost a braid.” The observation comes in a soft and tender voice.

They hold each other, touching forehead to forehead, until she laughs, “I finally got you into the water.”

He registers his wet sneakers and soaked khakis, and he chuckles ruefully before he swallows her laughter with his kiss.

* * *

The next time they go to the beach, he takes off his shoes and socks, rolls up his pant-legs, and lets the water tease his toes while he snaps photo after photo. She, of course, has her hair in braids.

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

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


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The Power of Design Can Change How You Feel About Your Home by Laura Pursley

Every space in your home evokes a feeling. It can either evoke a good feeling, or a bad feeling. Consider this; if you walk into a room, and it is filled with clutter, your eyes don’t know where to land, you are overwhelmed with all of the images that your brain is trying to process, and eventually you are going to have a feeling of anxiety. On the other hand, if you walk into a well-organized space, that has function and is aesthetically pleasing, you may get a feeling of calm or a sense of happy. I feel both of these feelings when I walk into my kids playroom, depending on the state of chaos in the room at the time. Either a feeling of anxiety if there are toys all over the floor, or a feeling of calm if it’s clean and organized. Using design to change up the function or look of a space can also help to evoke the feeling that you want for a space.

The difference between just existing in your space, without considering your surroundings, and thoughtfully creating a sanctuary, a space you love, is astounding. Even making small changes in a space can have a big impact.

Here is a space in my home at the bottom of the stairs in the basement. The “before” is basically a blank wall.

A blank space does nothing to inspire, or evoke a happy feeling.

With some fairly easy changes and some décor, it now looks like this:

The nook, after. With a little focus, some texture on the wall, and some accessories, it’ now a focal point when walking down the stairs! Talk about a mood changer!

Now, the feeling that I get when I walk down the stairs is a pleasing, happy feeling. I am sure everyone has spaces like this in their home, and you probably aren’t even aware of how a space like the “before” affects how you feel.  We get so used to our surroundings and don’t think that we have the power to cultivate a more beautiful space, but really even small changes can have a big impact!

Your home should be your safe haven, your happy place. You spend a lot of time in your home, you deserve to love it. Using design or decorating your home can have an impact on how you live, your mood, your attitude, and your lifestyle. It doesn’t have to take a lot of money or time to create a space that you love. And, you don’t have to be a designer to have a great space.

What this looks like will be different for everyone, and you have the power to cultivate the space that’s right for you. In other words, you do what’s right for you, and don’t feel intimidated or feel that you have to do anything to please others. If all you do is buy things to follow the trends, you are decorating for other people, not yourself, and ultimately you may end up not liking the changes.

I talk to a lot of people that want to have a warm, welcoming, pleasing home, but just don’t know where to start or what to do. They also may think that it takes a lot of money, but I have seen people transform their spaces with small changes, adding old vintage finds, repurposing items, or tweaking a space with small changes. Adding texture (with wood or wallpaper), or color (paint or accessories) is another easy way to transform your space and make it feel more welcoming. You would be amazed what one small change can make.

Here’s an example.

Here is what my shelves previously looked like. I liked what I had on the shelves and was happy with how they looked, but felt I wanted to jazz them up a bit.

Here are the shelves after a quick makeover of adding wallpaper to the back of the shelf

All I did was add some temporary wallpaper and now they have a whole new feeling. It only cost $30 and a couple hours of work. And, in case you were wondering, I am definitely not a DIY person. If I can do it, anyone can.

It’s not about having more “things”. Randomly buying things to fill your home is not going to give you a feeling of peace, or satisfaction. It’s better if you buy things that have meaning for you, or speak to you in some way, or give you that feeling that you want your home to have, whatever that is. And even better is doing this over time, so it’s a true reflection of you.

Sometimes you may make a wrong choice. It’s ok. It’s going to happen. One example of making a wrong choice, was when we were building our new home. We used a builder that had a certain number of floor plans to choose from, and you have to make all of your design choices in two meetings. Talk about daunting! There are good things about doing it this way and not so good things. What’s hard about this is that you are making choices without seeing how they will look together. It’s much better if you can build your home’s story over time and let your space evolve, but we didn’t have this luxury during this process.

One of the choices that we had to make was to choose all of the lighting fixtures. Choosing those were also at the end of the process, so by that time, I was burned out from making choices, so I just picked from the catalog simple fixtures that I “kind of liked”, but in hindsight, didn’t really love.

Here’s an example of two lights that we originally picked for our Dining Room, and Entry Way:




After living with both lights for about a year, I decided that they just weren’t me, or what I wanted for my space, so I switched them out for these:

In hindsight, I know that I shouldn’t have settled for something when I knew it wasn’t exactly what I wanted. (Later, I realized that I should have told the builder to give us a credit and I would choose my own lighting elsewhere… one of the many lessons we learned from building our first house… I will save the rest of those stores for another day). The moral here is, don’t pressure yourself to make choices if you are not ready.

I talk to a lot of people that say they really just don’t know where to begin in decorating their home. So, what usually ends up happening is that they do nothing, and never truly experience the feeling of joy that can come from creating the space that is right for you.

Here is some advice that I give to people that want to love their home but don’t know where to begin:

  1. Make a list of the top 3 spaces that you want to change, update, or decorate
  2. Think about what feeling you want the space to have (calming, fun, functional, etc) – see it’s not even about a design style at this point
  3. Think about what things that you currently have that give you these feelings – move things around in your home and they will take on a whole new look/feel
  4. Slowly over time, come up with a plan to change one space, one element at a time, then another

In the end, it comes down to what makes you happy, and layer those items in your home, to work with you, and your lifestyle. Just start small, and over time, you will cultivate a space that you love.

About the Author: Laura Pursley

Laura is a home decor blogger, marketing professional, mother of 2, living in Michigan. Laura has a passion for design that she uses to transform her home into a comfortable, livable, beautiful space for her family. Her design motto is that you don’t have to be a designer to have good design in your home. She believes that everyone deserves to be in a space that they love, whatever that means to you.

Laura likes to mix a little bit of modern with a little bit of farmhouse, and she likes textures, patterns, and in some instances, is not afraid of color. It is her hope with her design blog to inspire others to transform their own spaces into something they love.

Visit her blog at to get inspired, or follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest