Traditions — When Everything Old Is New Again by Jeanie Croope


I love that word. It brings to mind memories of times past and occasions and activities that were so special, unique, or fun that they became incorporated into our souls and repeated over and over again.

No season seems to echo the thought of tradition more to me than the winter holidays.

For me, it’s Christmas and all that goes with it. A visit to the greens market with my friend Jan. Cookie decorating on Christmas Eve with the kids. A holiday gift exchange with good friends where we choose our gifts based on the theme of a favorite holiday song.

For my friend Jane it is baking biscotti at Hanukkah. For my interfaith cousins with a large extended family, it is a way to make gift giving for Hanukkah and Christmas both fun and economical.

My holiday decorating begins on Thanksgiving weekend. And with that seasonal launch comes the revisiting of treasured ornaments, favorite recipes and memories of all the past seasons.

When I pull out the giant Gingerman my dad made for my mom, it reminds me of a tradition we used to share with our family, long before marriages and illnesses changed those holidays, making it difficult for us to get together. We would have an original gift-wrapping contest with various categories (“Best disguise of an obvious object,” “Best wrapping paper,” “Most unique”). Both adults and kids — we were all teens or in college — participated, spending hours dripping candle wax over a small, square box to create a faux candle or turning a rolled-up poster into a trumpet.

One year, after Mom had been making tiny stuffed gingerbread-man ornaments, Dad stitched up a giant one, leaving a small hole in its side where he hid a pair of earrings. It’s now the topper on one of my trees.

Other ornaments and decorations remind me of special times and people. An Eiffel Tower or dangling piece from Japan recall trips Rick and I have enjoyed together. The creche my parents bought in Mexico has a spot, along with the Santa my friend Mary Jane made for me several years before she passed. They’re all part of my Christmas and they will all be on the tree or in my home, no matter where I might one day live.

When Rick and I joined forces, his boys were quite young. That’s when we started the Christmas Eve cookie decorating tradition. I made the cut-outs ahead of time and after our dinner was tidied up, we’d get out the frosting and go to town. Some of the creations were artistic and elegant. Some were just obnoxious sugar bombs. The cookies would end up as dessert the next day, with some headed off to their mom, others shared with friends or neighbors.

Those boys are grown now and one even has two boys of his own. And we still do cookies. It may not be on “official” Christmas Eve. But we’ll gather at the table, cups filled with colorful frosting and enjoy our time together.

That’s the other thing. Traditions evolve over time. Families expand and we learn to “share” those we love with others. But we hold tight to the feelings, the essence of the holiday.

My Cleveland cousins started a new shopping tradition several years ago when getting presents for the extended family of 17 or more became a financial nightmare. With all the children as adults now, this became a fun, easy way to cut down expenses. Each person would get a one, five, ten, and twenty dollar gift that could go to a male or female. These would be exchanged by drawing numbers. They would draw a name for a special present in the thirty dollar zone for one person.

The exchange brought loads of laughs, the financial cost was significantly reduced (they used to all exchange!), and it was a fun challenge to find the right thing. (Dollar Tree certainly benefited from this!)

About fifteen years ago we started a tradition with another couple of choosing a holiday song as our theme for gift giving. We set a twenty-five dollar limit and pick a song. Sometimes we interpret literally (when we did “The Christmas Song” we both found “chestnuts” to roast on an open fire!). We’ve done “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” “Let it Snow!,” “White Christmas,” “Deck the Halls,” “Christmas Island,” “Jingle Bell Rock” and many others. The changing theme helps the concept never get old!

I will always make my cousin Bonnie’s “Jingle Balls,” (which you may know as Italian wedding cookies or snowballs), along with several other cookies that are holiday “musts.” We’ll have the roast beef Christmas Eve dinner that Rick’s grandfather used to make for them and the strata

breakfast casserole that goes in the oven while we open presents on Christmas morning. We will watch “A Christmas Story” and “Love Actually” and I will be sure to watch “White Christmas” (by myself, probably, since everyone else burned out on that one.)

And that’s OK. Because for me, traditions are both those shared with others and those we hold close to ourselves. That moment of quiet to remember those no longer with us, a review of photos from Christmases past. When I decorate the little tree in my bedroom that has fishing ornaments and other things that remind me of my dad, he’s there with me, just as mom appears when I set the table with her Spode Christmas tree china and silver. To others, it might just be a tree or a pretty table setting. But I know.

As time evolves, new traditions emerge and those that no longer work are gently set aside as sweet memories.

What are your treasured holiday traditions? Hold them close and share them, too. Pass them down to the next generation. They’ll change in time to be sure. So will we. But they will remain in our hearts as we recall family, friendships, holidays and most of all, love.

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.

Face Time by John Hulme

Facetime_01 by John Hulme

I was in Scotland this time last year…


…soaking up mountain rain.

…scribbling in margins.

So here I am, a year later, thinking about going again, while trying to grow my face back over this eerie blank thing that used to be John.

Actually, I had big plans for this year before my face faded.  I was really gonna break eggs with a big stick, Scotland-wise.

I was planning to do the full 96 miles of the West Highland Way.  I was planning to journal it.  I was planning to…

Oh, I dunno.  It’s all kinda hazy now.  But it was good stuff at the time.

Sitting here in the flat, tweaking closed curtains, closed options and the tail end of a period as an eccentric, shadowy recluse, I find myself drawn back inexorably to a guest house/pub in Oban.

Given my tendency to end up on shorelines, Oban was like a home from home, only with an extra flavouring of mountains.  It’s the place where the ferries set off for the Western isles.

I stayed there a couple of times during my wanders last year, and something about my last evening there proved particularly memorable.

I was enjoying a pint or four in the bar on what turned out to be a quiet night for local trade.  As tends to happen at such times, I found myself sharing more and more life stuff with the bartender.

This is always a hit-and-miss activity – especially when beer is involved.  But on that particular night, there seemed to be a sense of genuine connection in the air.

It was one of those evenings where the air feels rich enough to tease your face back out from behind its wounds.

Stunning mountain scenery can do this with breathless abandon.

Watching the tide roll in on island shores can do this.

But feeling your face begin to unfurl its textures in the presence of another human being…  that’s a whole other deal, no matter how many spectacular the mountain rains are.

Perhaps that’s why a couple of offhand comments about the West Highland Way, which I had discovered on my wanders, and explored a little, seemed to grow some extra gravitas.

We talked about what doing it would mean, what it would say about where my life has been in these past few difficult years…  and what it would say to others who are in such a place now.

It occurs to me that the main reason I have held on to the thought of doing that walk, the main reason it haunts me now, as I find myself hiding behind curtains…

Well, I guess it’s all about those moments in bars, where we suddenly feel shareable again in a world without faces.

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.


The Invisible Traveling Companion by Jeanie Croope

It was early September, 1973. I had just graduated from college and several weeks later would begin graduate school.

For more years than I can remember leading up to that, I had been in love with England. I loved Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Agatha Christie in equal measure. I had a small library about the royal family and yes, a crush on Prince Charles. (Dodged that bullet.) I was studying theatre and longed to see the wonderful theatres in London, to ride the underground and scoot through city streets on the “wrong side of the road” in a black British taxi.

And so, on that early September morning, my mother and I went to London for what would be two weeks of theatre, history and fun.

I was finally a grown-up (though I’d always be her little girl!) and we could talk about things in a grown-up way. I was so comfortable with England that I could truly be the “adult” and guide her around as though I’d been born there.

I chalked up her exhaustion to the differences between a 54-year-old woman and one who had just turned 21, not knowing there were underlying causes.

My mother died several years after that trip, but it wasn’t long after we returned home when she learned she had cancer. Our trips after that were limited to the lake, to relatives within driving distance and to Mayo Clinic. So, in my heart, those two weeks, one-on-one with my mom, were two of the most important weeks in my life.

Last month, I returned to England. This time I was with my life partner, the forever guy that my mother never knew. It was his first real trip there, though one might count a 24-hour layover we enjoyed a few years before. That trip I had a temperature of 102 and it rained. (It’s England. It rains.) Did I let it stop me? Not on a bet.

I didn’t let this trip stop me, either, even though I was walking around on ruptured tendons (which I learned after I returned home). I was traveling for myself and to be with Rick, certainly. But I was also traveling for my mom.

She was a constant presence in my heart as I revisited Kensington Palace. There was so much I didn’t remember from before, but I do remember that we were enchanted with the beauty and the history. This time there was an exhibit of Diana’s dresses. Mom would have loved that.

She was in my heart when Rick and I met our friends from the other London (Ontario) to see Stephen Sondheim’s new version of “Company.” Oh, Mom would have been in her glory! She loved a good musical and this one was top notch. And she would have been so happy to know that I was in London with Suzanne — one of my oldest friends and one of a very few who actually knew my mom and remembered her.

She was in my heart when the city bus we were on stopped outside of Westminster Abbey and let us all out because a demonstration up ahead had blocked the route. (We looked and never did find the demonstration.) But I remember going to Westminster with her on a Sunday morning and being in awe of this magnificent structure.

She was in my heart when I rode the escalators from one level to another in the underground, remembering how nervous we were the first time we got on one and realized how steep they really were.

She was in my heart when Rick and I went to Harrod’s and looked at the magnificent food hall. And again when we were in Fortnum and Mason where she and I shared a delectable lunch with one of her old friends.

She was in my heart when I would see brass rubbings hanging in galleries, shops and churches as I remembered our going to a small country church and making our own.

She was in my heart as I visited the church where my great grandmother, whom I never met, was christened and where her parents, my second great-grandparents,  married.

Mom never even knew their names — that was one of my genealogy discoveries. She would have been thrilled to be at my side while Rick and I tracked down information on them in the Westminster archives.

She was in my heart at the National Gallery when we saw Leonardo’s “cartoon” of The Madonna and Saint Anne,” which we had seen together so many years before. I still think it’s my favorite of all his works.

And she was in my heart when Rick and I did things I hadn’t done with my mom, too, as we made our own memories and had experiences she would have loved.

With Rick I carved out new places for my memory bank as we explored the British Library and the Churchill War Rooms; sat under a very old oak tree and ate the sandwich we bought at a deli on the way to Hyde Park; heard magnificent music and spent time with new friends, enjoying the hospitality of a blogger as warm and wonderful in person as on screen. I will remember Rick’s patience and goodness as he pushed me on a wheelchair through museums when I could no longer walk.


We visited cities that Mom and I didn’t have time to see and we made in those places our own memories of things we’d love to see again — Blackwell’s bookstore in Oxford; Evensong at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor; the countryside near Bath where we stayed in a charming cottage and enjoyed tea after a morning walk in a pub while we waited out the rain.

But even then, I knew. Mom would have loved it. Because in a way, she was there. An invisible companion, lodged forever in my heart, watching me create new memories for another day.

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.

Alchemy by Fran Hutchinson

Photo by Baher Khairy on Unsplash


Your past knows where to find you.

I’m fond of using that phrase, because it’s true.  It may sound a bit sinister, and perhaps at times it is.  But at times it’s more of a reunion than an unwelcome surprise.  My past recently paid me a visit, via a collection of old-school cassette tapes, Scottish music, and what happens when musician joins instrument creating music, when music joins technology creating memory, and memory creates… the place where your past can find you.

Once upon a time, my life was music. Lively, gentle, joyous, heartbreaking. Straight from the source… from Scotland, Ireland, Britain and Brittany, Australia and beyond, spun by artists who shone in their realms. And I was lucky enough to be surrounded by it, and them. Paths too complex to trace here dropped me into the company of the kind of people who made the purest kind of sounds.  They joined with their wire and wood, their reeds and bellows and bows and gut and voices, and together they made the air ring with magic.

That was some years ago.  Paths diverged, as they often do, and connections were lost. Some of the finest people and musicians I have known are no longer with us.  But where music meets technology, memory is created.

“Back in the day” (the 70’s) I was a denizen of a New Bedford, MA coffeehouse called Tryworks.  Some of the greatest music makers anywhere, both known and un,  played on its stage.  The director of Tryworks was a formidable woman named Maggie Peirce.  Maggi had a daughter named Cora.  Forty years on, our paths converged again when Cora began working in social services at the senior housing where I live. When we’d recovered from the shock of reunion, we fell headlong into our shared history of bearing witness to alchemy.

The alchemy of music can only be witnessed as it happens (unless you’re lucky enough to create it yourself).  No matter how many roaring choruses or stamping of feet you take part in, in all music the highest magic happens only in that place where the musician and the instrument are joined as one. There music results.  There is no space between them for anyone else.  You can only bear witness.

Which brings me to the cassettes.  Cora had, by a series of circumstances, come into possession of studio-quality recordings of some of the very people and events that once were such a part of my life. Knowing their significance, she passed them on to me.

Thus on a recent Sunday morning, as the tape spun out, I recognized a concert I had attended at the Old Cambridge Baptist Church in the early 80’s featuring two exceptionally gifted Scottish musicians.  I smiled as I recognized singer/guitarist Dick Gaughan’s rough ad libs with the audience, and positively wallowed in the guitar tunes and songs.

And then… the fiddle.

There was no name on the tape’s case except “Dick Gaughan”, but the sound was unmistakable to me.  Nobody spun fiddlesong like that except Johnny Cunningham, the unparalleled master. After that set of tunes, when the wild acclamation had died down, Dick acknowledged Johnny by name. For another thirty minutes Johnny and his fiddle swooped and soared through raucous reels, lively jigs, and finally a set of weeping airs.

There, right there, is where my past found me. And once more, I bore witness.

Your past does know where to find you.  It can and it will, often when you least expect it.  And if you’re very lucky, the result will be alchemy.

Author’s note: Dedicated to the late Johnny Cunningham… master of the Scottish fiddle, occasional whisky buddy, and my “ghost” writer for this piece.

About the author: Fran Hutchinson

Fran HutchinsonCurrently a resident of New Bedford, MA, Fran Hutchinson experienced a “poetic incarnation” while embedded in the 80’s folk scene in Boston.  Occupied variously as live calendar producer for WGBH’s Folk Heritage, contributing editor at the Folk Song Society of Greater Boston’s monthly Folk Letter, artist manager and booking agent, and occasional concert producer, she was surrounded by exceptional music and musicians, including those she had long listened to and admired.  The result was a rich source of inspiration for verse, of which she took full advantage. No longer writing poetry, Fran has recently been the recipient of a surgically altered back and two new knees, and spends her time reading and listening to music (natch), texting and emailing long-distance friends,  and hanging with her posse at the Community center.

Grace and Frankie and Mom and Me by Nuchtchas

GraceandFrankiePhoto-author's personal collection


After watching season one of the Netflix series Grace and Frankie, I knew I wanted my mom to watch this show. What I didn’t initially realize was how much I needed her to watch it with me.

If you’re not familiar with the show, Grace and Frankie stars Jane Fonda (Grace) and Lily Tomlin (Frankie) as wives whose husbands each ask the women for divorces, so they can marry each other. (The husbands, by the way, are played by Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston). While it’s absolutely a contemporary situational comedy, the show handles topics that are perfectly relevant to my 70-something mother who got divorced after 30 years of marriage. While her divorce was for different reasons than those of the characters on the show, and while many details are different, it’s the emotions, and the conflicts that resonate.

My parents divorced after thirty years of marriage, yet I was still a kid, a teen at the time. Some of the things happening, I couldn’t see anything but my side of, because I was a kid. I couldn’t talk to my mom about what was happening to her because at that time she was working on making things as safe and healthy for me as possible. Talking with my mom about the divorce as an adult is always like unwrapping an onion; we find new layers and new perspective, and at some point, we will both cry.

While Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are both playing characters a bit younger than they are in reality, the age they are playing is what my mother is experiencing right now. I watch the episodes before watching with my mother, so I can watch her and listen to her reactions when we watch together. So many times, we hit pause and talk about how what we are seeing on screen is just how things happened in life.

For example, in the first season there is an episode with a funeral, and Grace must see all of her old mutual friends. She had to face the way she was viewed, how it seemed her ex-husband was seen, how she was no longer in people’s lives, and even that she wasn’t invited to her niece and goddaughter’s shower.

When you get divorced you don’t just lose a spouse, but so much family, and sometimes that is on both sides. People who were family begin to ignore or reject you. Even your friends – they have other plans, they are suddenly too busy.

I saw tastes of that when I was younger, but I didn’t understand it till Grace and Frankie. Until I watched these two fictional people go through similar things to my mother.  This show gave me some context to talk about it after the fact. I know that watching this show has helped me deal with a lot of held-over issues I have from my parents’ divorce, but that is nothing in comparison to what my mother has been able to process.

As we’ve continued to watch the show, I’ve found that each season helps more and more, and I believe that’s true for my mother, also.

Season one, or course, is the divorce, what it is like during that.

Season two was more about what happens after, and what it’s like when dating resumes. Not only that but dating at a ‘certain age.’ This, particularly, was really close to when my mother started dating, and it opened up new lines of conversation for us. It made her feel that she could talk to me about her dates and the men she had been seeing. It’s not easy for a mother to talk to their children about dating, no matter how old those children are, but Grace and Frankie laid the ground work for us. The show built the vocabulary and language, so when we weren’t watching it, we would still have that touchstone.


Season three was about companionship and how you need more than your children at that stage of life. So many people devote their focus – their lives – to their children; then they reach an age where their children don’t need them every day, and they find they need other people. I know now that I can’t be a friend-replacement for my mom. We have a lot of things we can connect about, but I can’t do all of the things she needs. Again, Grace and Frankie gave us the building blocks for this understanding. It made it clear that just because I can’t be the companion she needs, that doesn’t mean I have failed her in any way, or that she doesn’t love me enough. My empathy for her situation is much more nuanced, thanks to these fictional characters.

Season four focuses a lot on age, getting older, your children under-estimating what you can do, making choices for you, and how sometimes you need to be able to identify your own limitations and that things have changed. This was so topical for us. My mother is still working full time, she’s an executive so she works anywhere from forty to seventy hours a week. She watches her grandkids and helps out a lot with the family, and she is still very physically active, walking almost every day and participating in 5Ks. Yet, some of my siblings treat her like she can’t care for herself, and feel the need to micromanage her health and mobility. Of course, it’s right to be concerned for your parents as they age, but you still need to find the balance so concern doesn’t turn into taking away their autonomy.

So, how did my mother and I form our mutual Grace and Frankie habit? It all started when she was visiting me: I had her cornered, and so she had to finally watch the show. Much like me, she was hooked just a few episodes in. We binged the entire first season in that week and it was excellent.

When the second season launched, we did the same during my visit to her, but we didn’t finish, so we started arranging “watching dates.” We would both watch in our homes, but FaceTime while we watched so we could talk about it. This became our thing: watching a show and visiting with each other.

Quickly it made us long for new seasons right away. We used to space them out, but come season four, we watched at least one episode every week, if not two. When we finished the existing episodes of Grace and Frankie, we knew we didn’t want to stop.

Immediately, we looked for another show to watch. Currently, we are going through another Netflix series, Schitt’s Creek, which is great, but missing something Grace and Frankie has. Still, our weekly date is set, it’s in my calendar, my husband knows to expect it, it’s a done deal. A few weeks ago, we didn’t even watch an episode, we just talked, because we needed to talk.

But Grace and Frankie is more than just a television show, and our watching dates have become so much more than mutual commentary on it. This experience brought my mother and me closer together, gave us a way to communicate about things we could never really approach before, and caused us to have weekly dates. My mother and I live in different countries; when I was in the same town we would see each other often, but after a decade of being away our time together has grown limited. Sharing this show – sharing any show – has returned some of that precious time to us.

And there’s more. As much as the show has had a positive effect on my relationship with my mother, its power has reached beyond the screen. I know that Grace and Frankie has had a profound effect on its cast and creators (Jane Fonda went back to therapy after season one) and I am so thankful that they have continued to put out this great series for all of us. But for people of my mom’s generation, it’s become a source of truth and recognition bound with laughter.

My mom is always telling her peers that they have to watch it, which has had varying reactions from, “What channel is Netflix on?” to “I can’t watch that, Jane Fonda is in it, remember that photo?” (Okay, that’s a whole other ball of yarn.) Yet, every person her age who finally watches it, is changed.  We are setting up another screening this summer with a mutual friend; she doesn’t have Netflix but will be coming to my mom’s house and watch it there with her, and me, on FaceTime.

You might think it’s a bit strange that a sit-com can change a relationship, but this show did. Thank you, Grace and Frankie for giving my mother and me the vocabulary and context to improve our relationship, and thank you, Grace and Frankie, Netflix, and FaceTime, for making it possible for me to hang out with my mom from another country every week. For giving us back that close-knit relationship. For improving the relationship we already had. Thank you also for doing all of this with humor. Being able to laugh together makes difficult subjects so much easier to approach, and you have helped us do it with Grace… and Frankie.

About the Author: Nuchtchas

RE - NuchtchasNuchtchas is an artist from NY, now living in Canada. Graphic Artist by day, working in both web and print medium, she finds fulfillment in creating fine art and podcasting. You can find more about her at

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.

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.

Color at Your Doorstep: Cultivating Container Gardens by Mary Ellen Gambutti

Marey Ellen Gambutti - 01


Whether writer, potter, musician, chef or textile artist, creative people enjoy the aesthetics of growing plants. To blend and harmonize color, experiment with texture, depth, proportion and scale, to lose oneself in the music of a garden provides a creative outlet, even to the horticulturally challenged. Container gardening, small and manageable or grand–to the limits of your time, money and scope of interest–will reward you.

I attended Horticulture school at the Temple, Ambler campus, but my gardening journey began with Nana in her burgeoning quarter-acre New Jersey flower garden. There, I pulled weeds, collected Portulaca and Four O’clock seeds, and planted annuals in her richly cultivated beds. It was a fine beginning.

Nana grew Geraniums—their formal name, Pelargoniums—in pots, although African Violets and other houseplants were her potted specialties. Standard for pot culture in the 1950’s, they remain popular in suburban and city patios and windowsills. Their full, vivid red and pink blossoms contrast with heavy, bright green leaves. In the fall, she brought the clay pots into the cellar, removed her geraniums from their dried soil, and hung them up-side-down from wall hooks for the winter. When the first warm, early spring light angled through the casements, green began to sprout from the bases of her desiccated plants, and we knew life was stirring within them. She would trim the woody stems down to the new bushy growth, repot them in fresh soil, and bring them up the steps into sunshine.

Nana didn’t combine plants in pots, except for some houseplants. Today, we might see Sweet Alyssum’s white, lacy, flowing collars at the edges of Geraniums pots. Combinations, or “combos,” we called them at the lush garden center, Meadowbrook, in Rydal. We designed and custom-planted all sizes and shapes of clay patio pots with annuals, perennial, succulents and herbs. Our Philadelphia area customers wanted their high-style containers planted, maintained, and switched out spring through fall for their terraces, small and large patios, doorsteps and decks.

Principles of garden design apply to container gardening, which provides opportunities for perfection on a small scale, since soil, pot placement and exposure can be controlled, and containers and plants are chosen to enhance each other.

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Hardiness/Tolerance: Don’t be fooled by grocery and home improvement merchants who display tender annuals and tropical plants outside in April. In Pennsylvania, our last frost is sometime in May. By Mothers’ Day, the weather has moderated, but Memorial Day can be cold and wet. Be sure to check the Almanac or Weather Channel for impending frost before putting your plants out. Consult your USDA Hardiness Zone map, if you’re new to your area.

Balance, Scale, and Proportion:  Choose plants to the size and scale of your pots, and select pots in scale to your patio or porch; that won’t dominate the space. Place a large pot in relation to a feature of your house, such as a post or a doorway. Or, an assemblage of smaller pots might be preferable to one large pot or urn. Be sure, if using a large container, that your plants stand up to one that size, or they will get lost in the pot. Scale down tall focal plants with shorter plants, or to cover bare stems. You would do the same in the garden; use plants soft in appearance as filler, and trailers at the edge of your pots.

Consider planting exotic-looking plants in simple pots, and understated plants in ornate pots. Select plants no more than twice the height of the pot. These pointers contribute to balance in your container garden.

Color: Pick colors of blossoms and leaves that work with the trim of your home, your garden furniture, your containers, your personal taste and style. Consider the size and shape of your patio in what you want to achieve visually when you choose your colors. Remember that foliage, as well as flowers, provide color.

Harmony is created by shades of one color, such as blue, lavender and purple. These particular colors tend to recede, while bold colors come forward and create drama. It just depends on what you’re trying to achieve. In a wooded setting, I’d prefer to use the blues, lavender and white, while on a hot terrace, I like bold and sunny colors. In fact, for best culture of orange and red, like Marigolds and Geraniums, put them in the sun. Blues, like Felicia Daisy and Plumbago, and the herb, Lavender, prefer sun.

Structure, Focal Point and Texture: Both pots and plants provide structure and a framework to your design. Groups of containers can create a focal point on your patio. Large, branching plants create structure; a framework. A tall plant, like a standard red Geranium, or braided pink Bougainvillea, in an oversized planter is a dramatic focal point in a large doorway. In a medium sized or small pot, a single bold plant or leaf color draws the eye. Many retail pre-made combination pots use a Dracaena or “spike” tropical plant as focal point. You might choose an ornamental grass, a Canna, or colorful banana hybrid as your focus. Place it at the center or back, and surround it with plants of varying heights for dimension.

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Vary foliage texture and density to create interesting plays of light. Wiry, fine or airy foliage, such as Asparagus or Maidenhair ferns, combine well with denser plants, such as Hosta or Tuberous Begonias, on a partially shaded terrace, and provide texture, structure and depth.

Practical Placement: If possible, position your pots prior to planting–since they can be unwieldy and heavy once potted up–in sun or shade, depending on your selections. Use small pedestals or ceramic feet, bricks or blocks, to facilitate drainage. Wheeled dollies allow safe re-positioning of large pots.

Moisture Matters – Soil and Water: Use a moisture-retentive, yet well-draining soil medium, except for cacti and succulents, which need a gritty mix. Bagged mixes with added slow-release fertilizer, and beads that hold moisture, are ideal for most patio pots. Supplement feeding with water-soluble, liquid fertilizer, or a bloom booster to maximize health and blossom.

Glazed clay pots hold moisture and work well for tropical and annual plants that require evenly moist soil. Ensure the bottom hole drains freely. Line the pot bottom with a square of landscape fabric, layers of newspaper, or place a ceramic shard or stone over the hole to prevent soil loss, yet allow the pot to drain. Most plants object to sitting in water. If you must use clay saucers under your pots, be sure to tip them soon after rain.

Planting and Care: Plant your containers as you would a garden, using enough plants to give an ample, filled-in look, and allow them to spread naturally. The Sweet Alyssum planted to trail in spring can be lost under a full Geranium later in the season, unless they are both groomed. Remove spent blossoms; deadhead, and clip dried or yellowing leaves routinely, to keep containers fresh all growing season. Now, sit back and enjoy your creations, as well as the butterflies and Hummingbirds that visit your container garden.

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.

In Shadows and Sunbeams by Æverett

Photo by Dmitry Bayer on Unsplash


I used to just lay in bed for hours listening to music and just daydream.
I miss that.

No, really. That’s how much of my life pre-anxiety happened. Lying still, with all that sound, staring up at the ceiling or my own hands, and thinking.
About everything.
Sometimes, I’d think of nothing and just observe the lines on my palms or the shapes my fingers would make.
More than once, I sat listening for hours and literally watched the sun move across my floor.
And most often I spent those long hours wrapped in the escapist embrace of characters I loved. Walking them through arguments and battles and romances that would never canonically be.

Whole afternoons dedicated to watching the sun move across my floor.

I think these observational stretches made me a more empathetic person. I asked questions of the Universe. I watched Time and learned what pores look like.
It made me a better writer.
Seeing the pace of Time taught me how to stretch it with words. It taught me the impact it can have.
It taught me how to use silence — a lack of dialogue — to an advantage.

There’s profound beauty in stillness, in silence and forgoance of voice. In the sun moving at a slow constant across a wood floor. In gazing up at the ceiling and wondering at the workings of the Universe, of god, of Being.
It teaches listening.
It teaches patience.
It teaches Being.

I see, in those memories, part of myself that has become forgotten and tired and sorely neglected. I have shunned it for doing, for noise, for The Scroll. I have forgotten it’s perfect majesty and pure truth.
And I have suffered for it.
I have burned out and struggled, and I have found chaos where there should be none.

Silence cultivated my creativity into what it Became.
Stillness gave me Myself.
And watching the sun walk across the Sky gave me Time.


About the Author: Æverett

ÆverettÆverett lives in the northern hemisphere and enjoys Rammstein and Star Trek. He writes both poetry and fiction and dabbles in gardening and soap making. She has two wonderfully old cats, and a dearly beloved dog. He also plays in linguistics, studying German, Norwegian, Russian, Arabic, a bit of Elvish, and developing Cardassian. Language is fascinating, enlightening, and inspirational. She’s happily married to her work with which she shares delusions of demon hunters, detectives, starships, androids, and a home on the outskirts of a small northern town. He’s enjoyed writing since childhood and the process can be downright therapeutic when it’s not making him pull his hair out. It’s really about the work and words and seeing without preconceptions.