Sunday Salon: Life Lessons from the Gym


I would never consider myself an athletic person. I don’t enjoy watching or participating in sports, I hate to sweat, I get headaches when I exert myself. I’m not very coordinated, or graceful – my dad used to tease that I was the only person he knew who could fall up the stairs. (I had a peculiar way of stumbling over my own feet when I raced up the stairway.)

During my elementary school years, I counted myself extremely lucky to have exercise induced asthma which meant I was excused from gym classes throughout my entire school career! What an amazing gift for a chubby, shy, couch potato.

It wasn’t until I was well into adulthood I began to appreciate exercise. Moving my body, getting a little bit winded and shiny with sweat, feeling my heart start to pound and blood race through my veins really did give me a tiny bit of a “high.” Besides that, it helped keep me slim, and having once been decidedly “not slim,” I’ve always been a little bit paranoid about gaining weight.

Being an introvert through and through, I only liked to exercise alone. I had a library of VHS tapes: Jane Fonda, Kathy Smith, and my all time favorite, Leslie Sansone and her Walk at Home Program. I had such a collection I could workout everyday for a month in the privacy of my basement and never do the same routine twice. When the VHS machines wore out, I replaced everything with DVD’s and continued my walking, yoga, pilates, and strength training.

Of course there were times when the regimen was interrupted for varying lengths of time. Months – even years – when life in general was simply too hectic and I couldn’t muster the energy to trek downstairs for that 30-45 minutes.

That’s the thing about a routine – exercise or otherwise – it’s easy to fall out of the habit.

And then it’s difficult to get back in.

But for the past several years, I’ve been happily back in the basement at least three or four mornings every week, walking away the pounds with Leslie or doing yoga with Rodney Yee, or strength training with  Petra Kolber (I love her Scottish accent).

This past January my husband retired and one of the things he wanted to do was start a regular exercise program. So we joined Planet Fitness, conveniently located just a mile from our house. I started accompanying him to workouts, because I knew he was much more likely to keep it up if I kept it up with him. So for the past seven months, we’ve been attending quite religiously twice a week for an hour’s worth of strength training and cardio.

I’ll admit, I didn’t think he’d stick with it. He’s not much more athletically inclined than I am, although he did enjoy golf for a while back in the 1980’s. Lately though, working the gears on a six-speed transmission in his classic muscle car was about the most work he was interested in doing on a Sunday afternoon.

But like me, he got hooked on the feeling. Hooked on feeling better, to be more precise. On losing weight and having his clothes fit nicely. On having more energy. On knowing he was doing something good for himself.

Certainly there are days when either one or the other (or both) of us really doesn’t feel like going to the gym. We hem and haw and drag ourselves out the door. But once we get in and get started on our routines, I think our mojo starts working and we leave a little sweatier than we went in, but also with a clear head and a spring in our step.

In other words, (to paraphrase Dorothy Parker) we may not feel like exercising, but we love having exercised.

So what does all this have to do with art? Or Creative Living? Or “the intersection of art and life,” which is what these Sunday Salon posts are supposedly all about.

I think you know. It’s about discipline and habit and routine. It’s about getting yourself to the page or the keyboard or the easel or the sewing machine or the garden or the barre. It’s about making time and space for your art whatever it might be, and showing up when the time is right.

Even when you don’t really want to.

I’ve been proud of myself for my Planet Fitness attendance this year. I’m less proud of my dedication to any of my artistic endeavors. I’ve yet to develop the kind of discipline needed to carry through on self-imposed deadlines, and those are the only ones I currently have. It’s so much easier (and more fun) to go for picnics in the park with my husband, or catch a matinee in the afternoon. Curling up next to him on the couch with a book is lots more appealing to me these days than writing or revising or practicing piano.

My favorite at-home exercise guru, Leslie Sansone, has another piece of advice I think is as appropriate to creative work as it is to exercise. “You don’t have to spend an hour on your workout,” she says. “If you can only spend 15 minutes a day, then spend 15 minutes a day. Believe in the small doses! It all counts.”

Believe in the small doses. Perhaps that’s something I could apply to my creative living with some semblance of regularity. A small dose – 15 minutes a day? 15 minutes of free writing, or responding to a prompt. 15 minutes on one page of a Mozart Sonata.

More than likely, the 15 minutes would stretch into 20 or 30. My hands might get a little achy from holding the pen or running 16th note passages. My heart might race a little with excitement at finding just the right words or mastering the phrasing of a difficult passage. And no matter what the end result, I know I’d feel a sense of accomplishment for having written, for having played.

For having the discipline to Just Do It.

It all counts.

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, books 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. These days if she’s not curled up on the couch reading with a cup of coffee (or glass of wine) close at hand, she just might be on the treadmill at Planet Fitness. She loves to connect with readers at her blog, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.

Instrumental: Cultivating a Healthier Mind by Keva Bartnick

We all know that our world has seen its fair share of mental illness these last few years. It’s no secret that mental illness is at the forefront of many news stories today. Anything from the school shootings to using vehicles as ram rods rolling thru crowds. It breaks our hearts and makes us wonder if there is anything we can do about it.

When we see the issues for what they are, a lack of mental illness initiative, we need to ask ourselves what can we do? For starters we can start looking within ourselves asking some pertinent questions. Are we depressed? Do we have anxiety? What is our mental health status?

When we start looking inside, evaluating where we are personally it takes on a new way of seeing. We have to be honest with ourselves though, and that’s where we may start running into issues.

Self-evaluation can be especially hard. It’s not for the weak. When we put our own mental health under the spotlight we may want to sugarcoat what is actually going on. It can be harder than it looks. We may say, “oh I’m fine, it’s no big deal, it’s just a little (fill in the blank).” In actuality it can be a big deal. It may be something that we may want to discuss with our partner, our friends, or a therapist. We are never alone in what we are going thru even if we feel that way sometimes. There are plenty of others going thru and experiencing exactly what we are.

Our mental health is no joke. It is as important, and sometimes even more so than our regular health. Yet, many of us put it on the back burner. Pushing it away, saying we will deal with it later, and never putting in the effort to see it for what it is.

Healing takes a ton of courage. Take it from a woman who knows.

Healing is one of the most courageous acts we will ever encounter. It is something that no one can physically see even though it takes a lot of energy to manage. It is something that many of us keep hidden even when we are in the right mind to act. Yet, people don’t talk about their healing process. It’s a taboo subject. And a lot of people don’t want to know. They believe it is too hard. They perceive the person healing may be shining a spotlight on what they aren’t doing themselves. Others take it personally, making healing even harder.

Yet these things, these incidences, shouldn’t sway our self-reflection. We owe it to ourselves. If for no other reason then to be the healthiest we can be.

So what needs to be done to cultivate a healthier mind? For starters we can take stock of how we feel. We can start asking ourselves probing questions about what stresses us out? What makes us sad and how often we feel this way?

When our answers to those questions are more than 50% of the time then we need to start asking ourselves more questions. How much more than 50% of the time? Are the numbers higher than 60%? If so, then maybe it’s in your best interest to talk to someone about how you are feeling. If you don’t want to find a therapist, talk to a friend, hell talk to a stranger. Talk to anyone. If you don’t want to do those things than journaling or writing may be a great way to release some of that stress.

Better out than in I always say. The more we can get in touch with how we feel the healthier we become. If that means writing it all out then that’s great, but we need to release the pressure somehow.

I find a great way to manage when I don’t want to talk to someone is write it all out and then release it by burning what I wrote. I release all the pent up feelings and emotions onto the page, then release it into the universe by burning it. Put it in the sink, in a burn pit, in the grill outside. It doesn’t matter where you burn it as long as it’s safely dealt with.

Our soul always knows what it needs to heal. We can heal our mental health issues if we start small. Focusing on what we want to privately deal with and handle is a great place to start. We can cultivate a weekly practice of journaling or writing down what bothers us. Feeling all those feelings seep down thru our fingers and out of the pen or pencil out onto the page.

When we are finished we can get up, release it, thanking it for coming to the surface and allowing it to leave our bodies.

We are allowed to be human. We are allowed to feel all of our feelings. We are allowed to heal privately or publicly. We are allowed to express ourselves in ways that are conducive to the betterment of society. We are allowed to feel courageous and heal our mental health issues without stigma. And for the love of all things holy we are allowed to love ourselves without condition.

When we put ourselves and our mental health on the front burner, we cultivate a healthier mind set. In doing this we help more than just ourselves. We help everyone around us know that they can be who they need to be in order to heal what they need to heal. We show them by being a good example and being honest. Healing may take time, effort and a ton of heart, but we know that in doing so we are important. Our mental health is important. Building into our lives a practice of cultivating a healthier mind is the first step in healing the collective. I believe we owe it to ourselves to heal, whatever that healing looks like to you. We owe it to our loved ones and in doing so we help our society become the best it can be.

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.

Cultivation by Lisa Zaran

My father’s spirit, built of plank, flew
into the afterlife’s eye like a stone thrown.

Old bone, I’m sure he made its ledge,
narrowly escaping the turnstile of reincarnation.

In that calm of death where even moss can be discerned
growing against the rivers edge,

his soul, unbidden, lifted as his heart
blued inside his breast. Slender as a
sprig on a silver buttonwood.

Oh good earth, he was a decent man.

About the Author: Lisa Zaran

Lisa Zaran is the author of eight collections of poetry including Dear Bob Dylan, The Blondes Lay Content, If It We and the sometimes girl. She is founder and editor of Contemporary American Voices, on online poetry journal in its twelfth year of publication. Lisa lives in Arizona where she works full time for a Community Service Agency serving individuals with substance use and mental health disorders

Sunday Sanctuary: Summer Night Air

I sat out on the lower porch for an hour last night.  My companions: a glass of wine and a spy novel. It was a clear evening and I watched as the sky went from brilliant blue to purple and finally inky.

The trickles of the pond, the softness of the breeze, and the sighting of an occasional firefly invited me to employ all my senses as I sipped the cold, crisp glass of rose.

It was just the heart medicine I needed.

I am taking a break from myself and my focus on writing for my coaching practice. I am sorely in need of this break and cannot recall the last time I simply sat in my beloved space breathing in the night air. We’ve had heatwaves, reconfigured our pond, and have traveled.

There’s a special quality to the night air of summer.

“I always forget how important the empty days are, how important it may be sometimes not to expect to produce anything, even a few lines in a journal.”
–May Sarton

Earlier, John had sat alongside me.

We alternatively read and chatted. He’s reading David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers and shared tidbits with me. Despite being together 24-7 for the last week, there is always more to talk about: how the plants are faring after the heatwave, the return of frogs to our pond, and a strange interaction with a neighbor.

We also sat for long moments doing neither. Not talking or reading, simply sharing the nourishment of side-by-side companionship. At times I take advantage of the soft motion of rocking. Every piece of outdoor furniture rocks in some way.

When he went back inside to play his Xbox, I stayed. Another type of comfortable companionship: home together yet allowing each other some necessary solitude.

“Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is richness of self.”
–May Sarton

My mind drifted to summer nights when I was a child. My parents would drag out their lawn chairs and sit near the front porch. My mother rocking, both sipping iced tea. Sometimes talking, sometimes not.

I could never quite understand the point of just sitting!

I was always needing to move. To run, to jump, to dance. Though I wasn’t one to go long without talking, the only advantage I saw to the summer evenings sitting outside was the way the sounds of the night came alive. The cicadas and frogs singing in harmony.

I would sit in my own chair or sometimes my mother would get out the big blue quilt and let me throw it on the grass so I could gaze at the stars. One of the rare times I could be (mostly) still and (almost) quiet.

Now, at fifty, sitting on my own porch on a summer night, I finally get the point of just sitting outside and allowing the night air to soothe and comfort me.

I also finally understand why my mother loved a lawn chair that could rock. I desperately wished for that blue quilt with the tiny red splashes.

Once more
I summon you
Out of the past
With poignant love,
You who nourished the poet
And the lover.
–May Sarton (from her poem “For My Mother”)

Mother and Daddy at their Wedding Shower

I am taking the weekend off from work. Though it seems to be something I should do, I rarely do it. At my core, I am a workaholic.

I also like to check things off my list, mark them done. Right now, I am in a perpetual cycle of tasks for work that will take weeks, if not months, to complete. These undone tasks hang over me, and true to my ENTJ nature, I obsess.

When I am not writing, I am planning to write. When I am not planning to write, I am creating a plan of attack to manage the updating and rewriting of old pieces I have written. My archives are a valuable commodity; however, they must be modernized to fit new rules of search engine algorithms and the ways in which we consume content.

I have spreadsheets.

When I make progress on the plan of attack, I take action and begin editing and re-writing old blog posts. Often, I am cringing at things I wrote back in 2011 or 2012. Adding to the sense of urgency to get them all reworked.

And when I am not writing, planning, editing, or re-writing, I am pouring over stock art websites. In April, I began a soft rebrand. Rather than using line art for blog posts, I switched to photos. It fits me better now, the person I am at fifty rather than the person I was at forty-three when I began my coaching practice.

Because the aesthetics matter to me, while I am doing all that revising and editing, I am also changing out the art. I’ll admit that I have an inner perfectionist, too.

“A day when one has not pushed oneself to the limit seems a damaged damaging day, a sinful day. Not so! The most valuable thing one can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let it rest, wander, live in the changing light of a room.”
–May Sarton


Though I am needing to take a break from this obsession with writing (and rewriting) for work…and though I have committed to take this weekend off, I admit that I miss it. It takes every ounce of self-discipline I possess not to at least open one of my spreadsheets with my various plans….

The challenge excites me. The need to push myself fuels my creativity and mind in ways that nothing else does. In many ways, I had allowed myself to become complacent, my work to become stale.

As creative beings, we must regularly feed and water our creativity. Infuse it with challenge to amp up the joy. To cultivate new work, we must cultivate pieces of our heart and soul.

“…I feel more alive when I’m writing than I do at any other time–except when I’m making love. Two things when you forget time, when nothing exists except the moment–the moment of writing, the moment of love. That perfect concentration is bliss.”
–May Sarton

After dinner tonight, I plan to return once again to the porch.

I only came inside last night when I did because a skunk made an appearance nearby,adding an unnecessary element to the perfection of the summer night air.

My hope is that he finds another space to play.

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.

Cultivate Possibilities: A Risk Capable of Turning A Tide by Ellen Weber

Copyright: <a href=''>stockbroker / 123RF Stock Photo</a>It happened in a grad leadership circle, but it could have been an intense exchange at my kitchen table, over green tea or a glass of wine. Everybody spoke at once, so we heard the last student’s sentence overlap with the next person’s question. Then suddenly our roundtable session fell silent for what seemed like minutes when Mohammed, a Palestinian, and Hahn, an Israeli, heated up our debate.

We’d told stories of leaders who lose employees to drugs, and employees who lose their cool over conflicts. So their interjection of middle-east peace possibilities didn’t seem tied into reality, much less our conversation.

“Ok, it’s nothing but chaos,” Hahn said as he held up his iPad and refreshed the screen to show a new protest in Gaza. “But that’s cause nobody’s ready to risk…”

“Risk what?” Mohammed asked.

“Imagine the peace we’d cultivate in the middle-east if just one Israeli leader acted through one Palestinian’s viewpoint, Mohammed said. And he added, … “and picture one Palestinian responding through an Israeli’s perspective.”

Silence again. You could almost taste the tension in the room.

“But think of the huge risk that would take,” a student suggested. Several others agreed that such a risk would be enormous in the current climate where people reach for chemical fixes before conflict resolutions. Nelson Mandela

“So where’d a person begin?” I asked, hoping to see what grad students think it would take to turn their own rough tides toward calmer shores. “What risks do you cultivate … if any?”

The notion of empathy suddenly came up and Margaret said her granddad’s favorite saying was, “Risk speaking to every human as if that person was wounded.”

The group gradually concluded that the right risk could turn a tide for yourself or somebody you know. And you don’t always have to move a mountain, or erase the entire opioid crisis at the same time.

Even in our current drug epidemic, where researcher Dr. Tara Gomes in Toronto, warns us that opioids account for one in five US deaths of those aged 25 to 34, grads insisted that one risk can turn the tide in a drug user’s favor.

I couldn’t help wondering, what if we looked at life through a depressed friend’s eyes? Or a lonely peer’s perspective?

A lifetime of brain research taught me that our brains both rejuvenate and refuel for risks and rewards with natural drugs such as dopamine. Stockpile dopamine by taking smaller risks on ordinary days, and it prepares you for a mental makeover when bigger challenges loom up. Dopamine needed, for example, to sky-dive may be far more than any risk-potion required to pull-off a belly-flop into your backyard swimming pool.

It’s clear that my grad students want more than survival in our current climate of emotional slumps, drug overdoses and increasing suicides. They accept that it depends on an ability to risk new approaches. They seem ready to reboot human possibilities rather than stall over social shortcomings.

They even spoke of starting small. “Even a walk along a new path to work builds more do-it-different-power,” one said. Madeleine L'Engle

“Sure, but how do you help older employees who refuse to try anything new?” one student asked.  Heads nodded.

“They criticize technology and won’t try to help us improve the boring routines that hold us all back,” another student complained.

I pulled up a research survey that supported the grads’ grumbles. When asked what one thing they regretted most in their lives, a group of senior citizens listed, above any other: “I regret the fact that I didn’t take more risks.”

The survey kindled a new discussion. How can two generations look to the future and support risks to progress together?

It may start by repairing a broken relationship at work so that both generations gain a new boost of confidence! Eleanor Roosevelt put it this way: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” She also said: “You have to accept whatever comes and the only important thing is that you meet it with the best you have to give.”

Before long the grads moved from stomping on seniors’ comfort zones to explaining the risks Madeleine L’Engle had in mind when she said: “The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.” Through reflection they began to hedge their bets, and reach together for better odds that they could make a difference.

“We have to reflect if we’re to risk and adjust,” one gal from the English department said. “I like to listen to music – go for a walk – read, or talk to a close friend,” another added.

One student referred us back to the regrets from seniors. “What if we took a minute at the next staff meeting to “write one sentence you’d enjoy posted on your gravestone”?

They discussed how to encourage workers to take one step toward making that gravestone dream a reality at work today.

As students clothed fantasy into facts and facts in fantasy, they plotted for ways to help older workers risk want to come on board.

“We could journal our feelings to get into sync so peers and seniors begin to bridge generational differences,” Margo suggested.

“Listen more? Ask co-workers to help fix a broken thing at work?” Mark added.  They discussed people that elicit thanks they might show to a peer or boss.

To capitalize on others’ talents is to step out, they agreed to step up and use more of their own potential, even take risks if older workers failed to recognize or use their potential.

Paul SimonThat suggestion brought the grads back down to earth like an air balloon without air. “Unfortunately, most established leaders where I work block renewal of any kind,” Mark said. Steph jumped in to agree.  “Comforts of tenure and secure leadership positions take precedence over risk-taking or learning from one another.”

I shared how I’d addressed leaders at an international conference the week earlier, on the topic of brain based risks for renewal. After my first talk, a young CEO asked, “Why do older leaders at work criticize or kill every innovation introduced?”  That question bothered me during my entire time overseas, partly because I’d heard similar laments from graduates, and partly because I’m “older myself.”

On the trip back, I discussed this with fellow leaders, and listened for cynicism. We spoke of enormously broken systems as well as a desire from many for the freedom to change. A desire to take risks to fuel that needed change, though? Not so much.

“Intimidation plays a bigger role than we realize,” I suggested to grads.

Look at how many people feel threatened by new ideas about brains. Some worry about watered down knowledge when we learn interactively, and then try to battle paradigms embraced by a system stuck in outmoded lectures.

One grad said, “It’s equal to mending methods of slavery, in past.”

Another student came back with, “Just as we had to rid society of slavery, we need to abolish stale systems before we can create changes based on how human minds operate.”

They concluded that without opportunity or motivation to cultivate a taste for risks and innovation, we create cynicism from roots upward.

As I thought about my recent leadership conference, I challenged the grads again, “Ever heard any stories of older masters of their trades?  Folks who let go of traditional turf for fresh renewal rivers that splash new life?”

Concerns were raised about walking the talk, “We preach renewal theory, but then support outmoded leaders only,” one grad said. Others jumped in, Excuses ranged from, “Renewal doesn’t fit,” to “There isn’t enough time.” In response, one person asked, “Time for what?” It became clear that to carry on as usual looked like time spent efficiently, where many of them worked.

No wonder research shows that very few people enjoy what they do all day at work.

“So why can’t social structures embrace new insights the way medicine experiences change with every new breakthrough in science?” I asked them Maya Angelou

“Not every brain breakthrough arrives fully developed,” one scientist argued. “Let’s build on what we know and test new hypothesis together,” another suggested.  

Discussions heated at times, but we typically came back again and again to the key question, “How can risk-taking cultivate more curiosity and build better possibilities?”

Renewed ideas crisscross our tables with risks much like mechanics take to adjust airplanes before each new successful flight.

The graduate students agreed that when a full range of intelligences is welcomed in any community, “harmony begins to replace exclusion and discrimination.” It made sense in our discussion, but they saw it as less possible where they worked.

“Sure, people find contentment when they use intellectual gifts and capabilities to conquer challenges they face,” Pete said. “But at work we often do whatever leads to acceptance from others. “

“The opposite is also true,” I pointed out as one gifted writer and teacher, Maya Angelou risked speaking up for change.

Angelou’s friends often tell you that she spoke up without fear whenever racial or sexist slurs slink into her circles. On several occasions Maya asked prominent people to leave her home abruptly, because in conversation they subtly slammed somebody else’s culture. Can you imagine asking an invited guest who arrived for the weekend to leave your home, as other guests unpack for the night?  In front of an entire circle of celebrity friends?  It makes me wonder where people like Maya find passion and purpose to slice silence and diffuse discord.  If honest, many of us have endured subtle slurs to other cultures with silent complicity if not with sanction for racism and sexism expressed as jokes.  New lyrics for harmony hummed by a few in my lifetime provide melodies that prevent cruel crashes some cultures feel on a regular basis.  As I have come to know Maya through her many books, I grew acquainted with a woman not only scarred by vicious slights and slurs, but also met a model scholar with rare sensibility to risk for all humanity.

“No wonder so many applaud her life and work,” one student said. “And she was old too.”  He then told us another story to drive home his point.

To cultivate possibilities for harmony does not require the same risk from everybody. Yet risks that lead to excellence and renewal melds humans together in benefits for more than any one age group.

And when either equity or excellence is sacrificed, unity calls for shattered silences the way Maya spoke out even when it means risk to her reputation.  In contrast, slavery slithered into even faith filled hearts through history. If we confront our grim reality today we trace its oppression. Light over darkness takes courage to pierce seething silences of discrimination.  Broken societies still scream from ghettos, unheard by many.

A grad student reminded us of words in “Sounds of Silence,” where Paul Simon expressed shock over John F. Kennedy’s death in 1964. Still today we talk without speaking, hear without listening, share small-minded jokes that seal lids on oppression of people steeped in silent bloodbaths of discrimination. Rather than risk shared journeys across cultures we stumble and stall in our own nemesis, again and again. Copyright: <a href=''>rawpixel / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

People like Angelou, traded popularity for silence shattered, and paid high fees for freedom. Nelson Mandela sat in prison a good part of his life to risk breaking a silence that slaughtered people like Martin Luther King and that still adds its stench today. Name after name came up of those who crossed over differences and risked cultivating peace.

As our roundtable ended, Hahn shared how Mark Mathabane escaped South African ghettos, by looking at possibilities through a wider lens. From his book, Kaffir Boy in America, Mark’s healing words challenged our group to risk speaking to one person in the coming week, as if that person was wounded. We fully expected to turn a tide or two by addressing a broken situation through another’s eyes.

About the author: Ellen Weber

Dr. Ellen Weber teaches a grad leadership class called, Lead Innovation with the Brain in Mind, in a New York MBA program. The author of several brain based books, Ellen recently retired from international work with leaders who wish t use more mental potential. She now hopes to inspire others through creative non-fiction, to live, learn and lead by unleashing newly discovered neural benefits into their efforts. Connect with Ellen through social media at Brain Leaders and Learners Blog, Mita Brain Center Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and on LinkedIn.

Cultivating a Creative Kitchen by Jeanie Croope

Not long ago, a friend asked me for my pasta sauce recipe. And so, I wrote it something like this.

  • Brown Spicy Italian Sausage
  • Brown an onion with it and some garlic.
  • Add 1 big can of crushed tomatoes (or puree)
  • Add 1 small can of diced tomatoes, drained (but if you want, skip this or use diced fresh). Save liquid in case sauce is too thin. Or not.
  • Add kalamata olives, capers, artichoke hearts, oregano, basil, bay leaf, wine and whatever and let it go.

Needless to say, I got questions. How much sausage? Large onion or small? How much garlic? How much of the spices and wine. How long do I cook it?

And I didn’t have answers to any of those questions except — “Whatever you think works for you.”

Some people cook by the book. Some cook by the seat of their pants. I do both.

How do you cultivate a passion for cooking in yourself or a child? Just do it. A lot.

My mother was a “dump cook.” Remember, this was back in the 1950s where you dumped a can of mushroom soup into anything creamy. She rarely measured, except when baking (which I do faithfully). She just seemed to know how much to add and how long to cook it.

And so, that’s what I learned too. Decades later, when I went to make her scalloped potatoes, I had to fish for a recipe (and found it in her original “Joy of Cooking”) just to figure out how long and at what temperature to cook it! But the rest I remembered — layer thinly sliced potatoes, dot with butter, salt, pepper and flour, to the top of the pan. Fill with milk till it comes to the top of the potatoes and cover with paprika. I could do it in my sleep. And now I can again. (For those who care, 350, 1 hour, 45 minutes! And yes, you can add ham and cheese if you like. Don’t ask me how much!)

I think we learn to cook partly by the book and partly by our gut. I equate it gardening — you start with the basics but then you modify as you choose. Natural fertilizer or chemical? Or none at all? In pots or the ground?  Sun or shade? Perennials or annuals? And then you just have to do it, maintain it, keep at it, to make it all you would like it to be.

I have quite the collection of recipe books (and printouts and cards passed down from generation to generation and bits torn out from magazines) and yes, I do use them! I use the baking recipes almost every time (only a few are committed to memory and I even mess with those!). The others, main dishes veggies and sauces, I use at least once or twice and then only as reference, mostly for timing, or if I’ve not done it in a long while.

But I didn’t start out that way. I certainly learned to wing it and modify things from Mom. But I remember the anguished times of following everything word for word, minute for minute. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it was flat.

So, enter experimentation! And I will say this comes with mixed results, especially at the beginning. I’ve burned things, made them so spicy that even Rick didn’t ask for seconds and turned down a take-away of leftovers. I’ve omitted key ingredients because I thought I was above checking the recipe. Once I threw out a batch of the cakey part needed for pumpkin rolls because I only doubled half the recipe.

And I learned.

It comforts me to know that Julia Child tried recipes 50 times or more (quite often, more) before adding them to “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” Many of those recipes she would send to her friend Avis DeVoto, thousands of miles from France in Boston, to test. Avis would send her feedback ranging on everything from availability of ingredients to instruction specifics. That detail is why “Mastering the Art” is a classic and the recipes — at least the ones I’ve tried — work.

Years ago, when working on a cookbook for a charitable organization, we had to test recipes at least six times by six different cooks to a group of six or more people who had to rate each one. There were hundreds of recipes tested by dozens of cooks who entertained at holiday gatherings, family events and club meetings or who took treats to the office.

Recipes were ruthlessly eliminated, but chosen based on the feedback from both the cook and the diners. The result was that the cookbook itself (which is no skinny thing, by any means) remains a tried and true friend because the recipes work.

I find that when I grow my own herbs, I use fresh herbs more. And I use them in all sorts of things. During herb season, my scrambled eggs are brightly speckled with basil, dill, thyme, rosemary and tarragon. I’ll give sugaring mint leaves or viola leaves a try because why not? It’s pretty (they taste good, too!).

And before you go all thinking I’m some gourmet kind of person, bear in mind, I know my way around a Lean Cuisine and the deli. Sometimes I’ll try to figure out what’s in the deli salad I love and make it (and sometimes I’ll even try to look it up!). And sometimes I’m just lazy because life is too short to limit yourself to only one passion!

I had to ramp up my cooking skills when I met Rick! But we have different styles so it works like a charm. And talk about cultivating cooks — when they were small, both his sons played a big role in the kitchen and now they both are wonderful cooks with, like us, different styles in both cooking and dining. One is a four star grill master and can pull out great party food; the other is into all things exotic. But the fact is, they learned it young and grew with it over time.

My great grandfather was a confectioner — his recipe book included one for opium lozenges in a distinctive scrawl. My grandparents on Dad’s side owned a bakery until it burned down in 1919 and I learned to bake at my grandmother’s side. In their line of work, things needed to be consistent; you had to follow a recipe so that your customers would know what to expect, much like a McDonald’s burger is pretty much the same no matter where you have it.

But times have changed. We can still trust the cooks who work hard on their recipes and techniques and are gracious to share them with us. And I respect their skill, practice and testing.. But we can also swap things out, ramp up or take down the heat and add ingredients that work for our palates and purposes.

I think my mom would be happy to know that I’ve followed in her footsteps to some degree.

But remember my friend who asked about the pasta recipe? Well, I recently returned from a visit to Rick’s cousin who made a killer chicken and rice dish, which included adding broth and soup mix. She told me the ingredients (I immediately forgot three of them because I didn’t write them down). When I later went back to it and I looked at her shorthand note (it included BSCT — which is boneless, skinless chicken thighs, in case you were wondering), I had to ask those same questions my friend once asked of me — how much of the broth and how much soup mix and by the way, how long and how hot should I cook it?

Maybe I’m not as inventive as I thought!

About the Author: Jeanie Croope

Jeanie Croope bioAfter a long career in public broadcasting, Jeanie Croope is now doing all the things she loves — art, photography, writing, cooking, reading wonderful books and discovering a multitude of new creative passions. You can find her blogging about life and all the things she loves at The Marmelade Gypsy.

Dark Noise by John Hulme

Photo by John Hulme

Sitting in the car again.


Summer night.

Warm and still.


Looking out on blackness,

the lapping of some gentle water –


nonchalant in the shimmer of streetlights.


Back on the main road, a gang of lads were acting like they owned the street.


It’s the thing you do. Yell out.  Fill the space with your noise.






It’s just something you shout…

when you’re pissed…

and out with your mates…

and a fucktard.



Judgemental of me.


Far less judgemental to scare the shit out of anyone else on the street, shouting a word that means nothing, signalling you’re a fucktard over several blocks.


I’ll stick with quiet ripples.


There are enough people taking the street.


The streetlamps form an honour guard down the promenade.


It’s for people who need to see their way home.  But I’m not going that way.

About the author, John Hulme

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

Sunday Brunch: CD, Baby?

It’s not a new story, really, even though my local news station posted it on their Facebook page on Friday evening: as of today, Best Buy will no longer sell CDs (though you can still buy vinyl records in their stores) and other retailers, like Target, will be reducing their stock, selling discs on a consignment basis.

This was initially announced back in February, so it’s not really a surprise, but with most media time going to sports, politics and the occasional celebrity wedding or death (not necessarily in that order) it’s no wonder that many of us missed it.

Still, when my local news station asked, “Do you still buy CDs; when did you last buy one, and what was it?” I was struck by the question.

Copyright: <a href=''>tatabrada / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

The reality is, I’ve gone from a kid who grew up on vinyl (and I’m sure you can imagine how many times I’ve cursed the day I gave away my collection of Disney books & records, original pressing of “Free to Be, You and Me,” and the black cardboard case that contained the original cast recording of My Fair Lady on multiple 78s) to a teenager who recorded songs off the radio, made mix-tapes to share with her friends, and was embarrassed by her off-brand Walkman-clone.

CDs didn’t really become the default medium for music until I was approaching my twenties, and I was twenty-one before I bought my own CD player, and I still remember – and own – the first CD I ever bought: a collaboration between Yo-Yo Ma and Bobby McFerrin called “HUSH.” 1806.29 - HUSH

I suspect that just as I was part of the first generation to own CDs I am part of the last generation to have held a membership in the Columbia Records & Tapes clubs, which, of course, I didn’t join until it became a CD club, and which, to my ultimate shame, I still have a few CDs from sitting in the rack upstairs still in their original shrink-wrapping… this despite the fact it’s been at last a decade, and possibly two, since I was a member.

Honestly though, most of my music has been digital since at least 2010, and even the CDs I own are typically ripped to my computer and added to iTunes for access from anywhere. My iPhone has become my primary listening device, especially since my desktop computer was chosen for it’s quietness. It makes it fantastic to record on, but I never bothered to put external speakers on it.

Still, there are times when I really want a physical CD, and it’s not solely because of my addiction to liner notes (though, I am as big a fan of those as I am the audio commentaries on Blu-Ray and DVD movies).

I buy a lot of soundtracks on CD because they usually have cast lists and lyrics inside, and both of those things appeal to me, but they’re also something tangible for favorite performers to sign on the rare occasions that I want autographs. (I do not, as a rule, collect autographs on photos, but signing the liner notes on a CD, or signing a book, is a whole different thing. Those are tangible representations of the act of creation. Yes, I am a snob.)

1776SIGNED1776, for example, has long been one of my favorite musicals, so I was really excited when Brent Spiner (you know him from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Night Court, and Outcast) starred in a revival in the mid-90s. We were living in South Dakota, then, and couldn’t get to New York, but the CD kept me happy for years, and when I asked him to sign the liner notes for me at Dallas Comic-Con two years ago it led to a lovely conversation about the artwork, his time in the role, working at the Public Theatre, and how there’s a line in Hamilton: an American Musical that directly references the score of 1776. It’s the conversation that sparked our trip, a year later, to finally see Hamilton, but I didn’t buy that soundtrack on CD.

Then there are the CDs I buy, or keep, because there’s something meaningful about the artist. I have a CD that my parents gave me for Christmas one year, Tiempo de Amar by Myrna Trasviña. She was the singer at a favorite restaurant in La Paz, BCS, Mexico, and we all loved the simplicity of her performances as she strolled with her guitar. Her rendition of the classics “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas” is a favorite of mine.

Having Myrna’s CD, the one she printed and distributed herself, doesn’t just represent access to music I love; it’s also a memory of a balmy night, a lovely meal, and a time when my parents’ time in Mexico was new and the romance of being there hadn’t yet worn off.

MYRNATRASVINAFinally, there are CDs I buy to support an artist whose work I love. Most recently (two years ago), I bought Leslie Odom, Jr.’s second solo effort, Simply Christmas. Like 1776, it’s autographed (on the actual disc, this time) because I requested it that way, but it’s become one of my favorite Christmas albums. It’s gentle and mellow, professionally produced but not slick or commercial, and his jazz interpretations of classic holiday tunes are the perfect backdrop for a seasonal brunch or a moody, rainy, drive to meet friends for an annual yuletide breakfast

Sure, I’d heard of Leslie because of his Tony-winning performance as Aaron Burr in the afore-mentioned Hamilton, but I bought his CD because I wanted something I could play in the car, in my office, and over the good speakers in the living room, on the sound system that is just old enough that it can’t connect to an iPhone/iPod with a lightning port.

We who have embraced digital media have done so trusting that it will be there, but digital rights management comes with the ever-present risk that the Cloud might dissipate, or companies may remove favorite content. And that’s certainly something in the back of my head when I buy a physical CD, but as much as it should be a major factor in my purchasing decision, the real reasons I want an actual disc of certain music are far more ephemeral: nostalgia, meaning, and, superficial as it may be, the knowledge that I’m in possession of something a favorite artist has touched.

Are CD’s a dead medium? Who knows? I understand that retailers must make decisions based on numbers and trends, rather than the less-than-definitive considerations I listed above, but I suspect that consumers who want tangible media will find their sources.

After all, who could have anticipated that vinyl would make a resurgence?

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.

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.