Sunday Sanctuary: The Picky Details


I was reading Lauren Graham’s I’m Talking As Fast As I Can and found myself nodding in agreement, saying “me, too!” and realizing that according to the advertising world, I am a woman beyond their preferred age and spear of ideal influence. Why? Because I have a favorite / preferred / won’t-choose-anything-else brand of paper towels.

She tells the story of how, despite the fact she needed paper towels, she turned down a huge pack of free ones from a friend because they were the wrong brand.  Lauren Graham of Gilmore Girls fame and I share a love for the exact same paper towels. Bounty. Select-A-Size.

On the rare occasion I accidentally pick up the full-sized-sheet ones, I almost recklessly go through them and make sure Hope uses them when she cleansI don’t like the full-size sheets. I only use a half-sheet to clean the grinder when I make my morning coffee. And three halves is just the right size to cover my 2-cup Pyrex Measuring Cup when I heat a can of John’s (almost daily) can of tomato and basil soup. And when I pack his lunch, that perforated line is perfect so that I can provide two neatly folded lunchtime napkins.

But it isn’t just the paper towels I’m particular about. I only like the Glad Force Flex trash bags, Charmin toilet tissue, Tide Laundry Detergent, and Cascade Action Packs. And the best scent to indicate a freshly cleaned bathroom is PineSol, like my mother and grandmother used.

The tending of my creative life also plays favorites. Though I’m not too picky on the color of my ink, I only use Uniball 207 Gel Pens (medium tip) when I write letters or write in my my Leuchtturm 1917 Hardcover Journal.  (The A5 size with dot grid paper. )

From this little litany you might be thinking that I’m both picky and spoiled. Or wound incredibly tight with a series of anal rules for the way I choose to live my life. And while I admit that all three descriptions might fit me, the selection of individual elements that populate my daily life are deliberate choices I make in order to cultivate a kinder, more nourishing home environment. As Alexandra Stoddard writes in her book Living a Beautiful LifeWhen something small is right you can then forget about it and think about more lofty ideas.”

The little things matter because it allows me the grace of creation. When those seemingly small details are automatically tended, I have brain space. When those tiny physical needs are  met, it gives me the permission to get uncomfortable when it comes to my creative work.

I have learned in my almost forty-nine years that attention to these small details matters to the overall quality of life. Some choices are due to nostalgia and the deeper parts of my DNA. Though I rebelliously flirted with Gain in my twenties, deep down I know that my mother chose Tide for a reason. Realistically or psychologically, I believe that Tide makes my clothes cleaner.

Sometimes, tactile reasons drive our choices, drawing in a particular scent or feel. Pine Sol in every bathroom smells like my grandmother’s house. Soap & Glory’s Righteous Butter Body Lotion is the perfect example of that mix of tactile and scent with its silky texture and soft scent of roses.

When John first moved to Ohio and couldn’t find his preferred bar soap for the shower (Coast) I didn’t hesitate to search in every store until I found it. It mattered to me because it mattered to him and this seemingly small gesture was a way to choose the creation of a beautiful daily life.

Just like my day runs more smoothly when I have those perfect Bounty paper towels, his day begins swathed in the scent that means both clean and comfort. As a bonus, I now have the olfactory magic of connection any time I get close to him, that scent that is uniquely him: Coast Soap, Old Spice Deodorant, and freshly starched shirts.

No matter what your art may be  – writing, painting, film making, fiber arts – tending the tiny, seemingly insignificant details opens the door to feeling safe and comfortable. The magic of comfort is that it allows you to be uncomfortable when it comes to your art. Because, as we all know deep down, doing the hard stuff and choosing to expand and grow our art will always present us with scary and uncomfortable moments.

Cultivating my home has provided one of the least stressful ways to give me that safe space of expansion. And, outside of the ways we are makers, we are also in the midst of making in each moment of our day.

“Intimate, necessary details add up to one’s private life. Select them with care because they are your life.”
–Alexandra Stoddard

What about you? What details matter to the quality of your life? How does seemingly picky details enhance your creative life?

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.

Thanksgiving by Debra Smouse


((Part Three of the Colleen Series – Follows Sundays))

Colleen stared at the dancing flames of the fire, her Party at Holly’s-tipped fingers loosely cradling a half-full glass of Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais Nouveau. She laughed a deep, throaty laugh when she looked down at her hand holding the glass and realized the color of her nails almost matched the wine.

Her laugh woke Ingrid, who scrambled to her feet, looked expectantly at her owner, and ambled over to see if she could cadge another bite of turkey. While she wasn’t exactly a wine connoisseur, the large dog was the consummate optimist, certain that a nibble of something tasty would soon be forthcoming. After sniffing around and smelling nothing delicious, she accepted a few moments of chin-scritching before settling down near the fire once again.

It was Thanksgiving. For the first time since she’d become a mother, Colleen had spent the day without her daughters. Every time she thought she’d adjusted to her new life as a divorcee, these “firsts” popped up and she had to navigate new territory and unfamiliar emotions.

With each first, she found a way to either make it her new norm or make a game out of it.

All the weekends without the girls had given her time to nourish herself and indulge in some sacred solitude. The previous month, she’d finally turned a corner of her office into a space to paint – something she hadn’t done since college.

This first holiday alone, she handled by making an adventure out of it. Gretchen, a girlfriend from college, had offered her parents’ cabin in the Smoky Mountains. Jumping at the opportunity, Collen had packed herself and Ingrid into the car along with her acrylics and a couple of canvases. By late Saturday evening, woman and dog were ensconced in their cozy retreat.

On Tuesday, Gretchen had also arrived at her own cabin. Another divorcee, she and several of the members of her book club were sharing the close by cabin. Much like Colleen, all the women were well educated and fun loving, and each had also found the silver lining in spending the holiday without family.

Though she couldn’t imagine life in the cabin becoming her new norm, Colleen squeezed every drop out of her adventure. Being busy kept her from missing the girls too terribly much.

Her days quickly fell into a pattern: Colleen took long walks with Ingrid. Religiously, she wrote “morning pages” over strong cups of coffee. She set up her easel and painted a little each day. She fixed elaborate brunches just for herself ingrid_fall2and created beautiful charcuterie boards in the evenings to share with her friends, both new and old.

Thanksgiving dinner was an adventure in itself. Each woman had created a favorite dish from holidays past and crowded into Colleen’s cabin to share them, along with copious amounts of wine and a beautifully roasted turkey.

Of course, all were happy to fuss over Ingrid, and the dog basked in all the attention.

It had been a good day, a highlight in a year that had seen Colleen surprising herself over and over. Looking back, she realized she’d faced each ‘first’ with some sort of grace.

She couldn’t say the same for her daughters, who had been unhappy when they realized the entire holiday would be spent without their mother. Their disappointment only grew upon learning that, instead, they’d be spending it all with her: their father’s new girlfriend.

So far today, Colleen had received three phone calls and more than a dozen texts:

“She wears the most hideous clothes.”

“Are you really in a cabin the mountains? Is there snow, yet?”

“Seriously, Ma. I think she’s closer to my age than dad’s”

“She doesn’t like dark meat, so there are no turkey legs! And she put MARSHMALLOWS on the sweet potatoes!”

“Can we go to the mountains for Christmas?”

“She BOUGHT a pie instead of making it! Who BUYS pie on Thanksgiving? I miss your pecan pie….”

“Are you sure you’re okay, mom?”

“Does Ingrid need leftovers from here? There’s a lot ‘cause her turkey breast was dry!”

“Maybe you should look into getting a boyfriend, mom!”

Colleen had responded to every ding or ring from her phone in the same cheery manner. She’d advised the girls to give their father’s new flame a chance, and cautioned them not be so judgmental. She’d also assured them that she was fine, and ignored their prodding into her own love life.

Off the phone, she firmly turned her mind to other things each time her ex-husband’s new girlfriend dared to intrude upon her thoughts. She had yet to officially meet the young woman, but she’d caught a glimpse of her by accident at the grocery store. The other woman was a classic beauty: late twenties, leggy, blonde, and with a flat belly that had never been faced with childbearing, and the resultant stretchmarks.

Her ex-husband’s choices had nothing to do with Colleen beyond how they affected the girls, so anytime she pondered a catty reply to one of the girls’ texts, she stopped herself. The best thing she could do for her daughters was find some way to connect with their father’s girlfriend, especially if their relationship continued to go in the direction of marriage.

After all, no one would gain by painting the woman as the “evil stepmother.”

For a moment, Colleen wondered if she was playing ‘chicken’ when it came to love. Though she’d dated since the divorce, she was keeping all her relationships casual. Was she making a mistake? Was her heart closed to the possibility of love?

No, she concluded. She was just enjoying rediscovering herself, and that took glorious amounts of solitude.

Solitude that, at least over Thanksgiving, Colleen could find in a cozy cabin, a cuddly dog, a crackling fire, and an excellent glass of wine.

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach,and author of Clearing Soul Clutter: Creating Your Vision.  She resides in Dayton, Ohio where she practices the art of living with the Man of Her Dreams. She resides in Dayton, Ohio where she practices the art of living with the Man of Her Dreams. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Sunday Brunch: On Advent

Copyright: katarinagondova / 123RF Stock Photo

Sunday Brunch With Melissa Bartell

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?”
~ Mary Oliver

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, but I’m not attending church. Instead, I will drink my morning coffee in the pre-dawn light of my empty kitchen, at the new-to-me library table that we just moved into the space. I’m not typically a morning person, but something about this time of year has me waking early with the urge to write, to sing, to bake, to create.

I think it’s because Advent is a time of preparation, expectation, and anticipation that my creative urges, already in a highly active state from the moment of my birthday in August, hits its annual peak. Not all that energy is directed toward the coming of Christmas (though I confess, I have an unabashed love of that holiday).

Instead, I’m diving into seasonal projects – MusicAdvent which involves posting a song a day for twenty-five days (this year’s theme involves making a chain, so that one song is somehow connected to the next) and Holidailies, which requires daily blog posts during the month of December. (Holiday themes are encouraged but not required. This year I plan to do flash fiction about contemporary magic.)

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

I’m also looking ahead to the new year, and beyond. I’m not ready to divulge my plans beyond an incredibly small circle of friends, but over the last few years, I’ve learned that if I know what I want my year to be like, I can hit the ground running on January 1st.

At the same time, Advent is also a period of reflection.

Maybe it’s because I turned forty-six this year, but I feel like two things are happening: one is that I find myself measuring my life a lot more – not comparing it to other people’s lives, but against the dreams and goals I had as a kid – and the other is that the tape measure I’m using is no longer marked in even increments, but in a mix of wide bands and narrow, in a myriad of colors and fonts.

This past month has been full of turmoil, in the world at large and in my own head (November is always a difficult month for me) but, as I texted a friend on Friday morning, I’ve woken up for the last few days with new lightness in my heart.

I don’t mean that I’m brushing aside things that bother me, things I must speak about or act upon, only that I’m choosing to change my focus.

Advent does that for me.

It forces me to change my focus, and make new plans, and embrace preparation, expectation, and anticipation.

It requires that I activate that sense of possibility, and that openness to the unknown.

Something is coming.

I want to meet it with open arms.


About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

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

Is Vanity Fair? by AR Hadley


it was a lie
the woman trusted in nothing
or no one
for herself
the reality wasn’t real
she believed in everything reflected off another
the others lit up her mirror
satisfaction in their shining
while her own accomplishments
were shrinking
the corners of her mind
or they were never there to begin with
with tonight’s dinner
the chicken in the oven
the red potatoes cut and mixed with onions
the brownies done and squared
tasting divine
oozing a chocolate fudge
the fridge full of goodness
but mind you a little disorganized
the lemon scented mop ready to hit the swept floor
breakfast and lunch already served
dishes washed
laundry folded
how much more
how much more
it’s never enough
it’s piddly
another human
could do it with ease
a superwoman
one of those other-worldly neon light blinkers
and not just today
but every day
the dishes
the clothes
the floor
always doing homework
and chores
missing my own sparkling banner
focusing instead on something else
on other women
always comparing
to the ones on the magazines
the super shiners
their neon signs somehow blinking brighter

a headline grabs my attention
the magazine article reflecting every evil disbelief
I saw in myself
what I was afraid of
everything I thought I lacked
and then
in an instant
I wrongly assume the other woman
the magazine superhero
is more skilled
more adept
more loved
she must be better
her species must be far advanced
making leaps and bounds past me
and in that
in that instant
my thoughts suddenly become
on my disappearing accomplishments
the consumed chicken
the clean clothes
the spelling
the fractions
I’m focused on my daily
I am doing something
caring for other human beings
no cover of Vanity Fair wants to take my picture
I would not sell a magazine
SEX sells magazines
and today it sells past lovers
both male and female
whom the superwoman touts
the forty-five-year-old face looking pristine, practically godly
tall and blonde
cheekbones to die for
and the skill of make-believe held in more esteem than the honor of a king
I like her cheekbones though
I like my cheekbones
like my tongue

It’s the end of the day
I’m going to sleep
my face is soft
free of touch ups
free of rouge
my face has lived
is living
and is alive

my daughter cuddles up next to me
touching my fabulous cheekbones
“what are those bumps along your jawline?”
I can’t sell a magazine
I don’t want to sell a flipping magazine
and in that blink
in that instant
of magazine cover sexuality, touch ups and blazing career achievements
I. Am. Me.
pimples on my cheeks
do you see me
of course not
I am not on the cover of Vanity Fair Magazine

About the Author: A.R. Hadley

ARHadleyBioA.R. Hadley writes imperfectly perfect sentences by the light of her iPhone.
She loves her husband.
Her children.
And Cary Grant.
She annoys those darling little children by quoting lines from Back to the Future, but despite her knowledge of eighties and nineties pop culture, she was actually meant to live alongside the lost generation after the Great War and write a mediocre novel while drinking absinthe with Hemingway. Instead, find her sipping sweet tea with extra lemons on her porch as she weaves fictional tales of love and angst amid reality.

A creative writer since elementary school, A.R. all but gave it up after her children were born, devoting herself to the lovely little creatures, forgetting the pleasure and happiness she derived from being imaginative.
No more.
She rediscovered her passion in 2014 and has not stopped since — writing essays, poetry, and fiction. She is currently working on completing several novels as part of a romantic trilogy.

Day or night, words float around inside her mind. She hears dialogue when she awakens from sleep. She is the one who has been awakened. Writing is her oxygen. Cary Grant fans the flames.

Happy Thanksgiving: A Celebration of Gratitude and Creativity


In the United States, it’s Thanksgiving. A time to gather around the table with loved ones and celebrate our many blessings. We celebrate creative living in ever aspect of the meal: from setting a beautiful table to creating each delectable dish served upon it. We try new dishes to stretch our tastes and try to create the tastes of our childhoods with heirloom recipes handed down from grandmother to daughter.

It’s also a time to honor the harvest, gathering the fruits of seeds planted in fertile ground. And fertile minds. Because what is creativity but harvesting the fruits of the seeds we’ve planted?

In celebration of this holiday, we won’t be offering you a new poem, story, or essay, but a collection of two dozen gems of wisdom on gratitude and creativity.

“There is no better opportunity to receive more than to be thankful for what you already have. Thanksgiving opens up the windows of opportunity for ideas to flow your way.”
–Jim Rohn

“Artists are among the most generous of people. Perhaps inherent in the appreciation of creativity comes a deep, underlying love of humanity and our Earth.”
–Kelly Borsheim

“The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.”
–Friedrich Nietzsche

“Gratefulness translates into a joy-filled understanding that informs art making – a simplicity that goes beyond preconceived ideas and moves us toward truth.”
–Dean Taylor Drewyer

“Art is the giving by each man of his evidence to the world. Those who wish to give, love to give, discover the pleasure of giving. Those who give are tremendously strong.”
–Robert Henri

“I’m very grateful for an entire lifetime spent involved in this creative process.”
–Ron Howard

“An artist gives. Gives visually, gives through courses, or with free advice, through generosity of spirit and through a need to share.”
–Veronica Roth

“Music and art both spring from a grateful heart.”
–Katie Wood McCloy

“I want to thank anyone who spends part of their day creating. I don’t care if it’s a book, a film, a painting, a dance, a piece of theater, a piece of music. Anybody who spends part of their day sharing their experience with us. This world would be unlivable without art. Thank you for inspiring me.”
–Steven Soderberg

“There is no one harder to live with than an artist. Therefore an artist is a real gift because he or she raises the sanctity of everyone else in the community.”
— David Steindl-Rast

“Gratitude is a many-colored quality, reaching in all directions. It goes out for small things and for large.”
–Faith Baldwin

“The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest.”
–William Blake

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”
–Albert Schweitzer

“Make a gift of your life and lift all mankind.”
–David R. Hawkins

“The essence of all art is to have pleasure in giving pleasure.”
–Dale Carnegie

“In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.”
–Elizabeth Gilbert

“We can live artfully through a thousand little everyday gestures, as well as a multitude of creative pastimes. I define art in the broadest sense-it is every possible medium of human expression. It is in what you say and how you say it.  It is in using the rich resources of your senses to connect with the beauty in life. The art is in the message and in the medium you use to express it. Art is simply the name for how you live your life and how you tell others what you think and feel.”
–Sandra Magsamen

“Everything is a gift. The degree to which we are awake to this truth is a measure of our gratefullness, and gratefullness is a measure of our aliveness.”
–David Steindl-Rast

“The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.”
–Friedrich Nietzsche

“I am filled with gratitude for the ability to live the artist’s life. In my studio. Being an artist. Everyday.”
–Mickie Acierno

“Gratitude opens the door to… the power, the wisdom, the creativity of the universe.”
–Deepak Chopra

“I have walked this earth for 30 years, and, out of gratitude, want to leave some souvenir.”
–Vincent van Gogh

“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
–Melody Beattie

“The act of giving something to others is an art of flowering your heart.”

Here’s to your personal harvest and all the ways you honor your own creative spark. We are so honored to witness the ways in which you you celebrate your creative life with a full and grateful heart.

With love from our creative table to yours.
The Staff of Modern Creative Life

Stewing by Melissa A. Bartell

Copyright: dogfella / 123RF Stock Photo

Copyright: dogfella / 123RF Stock Photo

(Part III of the Tea Series, follows Simmering)

David had his laptop set up on the kitchen table, where he was transcribing his latest poems into a word processing program, when Sarah draped her arms over his shoulders, hugging him from behind. “Dinner’s about ready,” she said. “How much more time do you need?”

“Ten minutes?” He made it a question.

“Perfect.” She kissed him on the cheek. “Are you putting my poem in the book?”

An agent had approached him after his last open mic night, and suggested he publish a collection. “I am,” he confirmed. “But only if you let me have my ten more minutes.” He was only half-kidding.

Laughing, Sarah pulled away from him, and disappeared into the kitchen.

It was actually closer to twenty minutes before they finally sat down to eat, and after tasting her baked salmon, Sarah wrinkled her nose. “It’s too dry,” she complained. “It stayed in the oven too long.”

David disagreed, “Seems fine to me.”

“No, it’s much too dry. And the green beans are mushy.”

“You’re too critical,” David said. “It all tastes fine.”

“I didn’t want it to be ‘fine,'” Sarah snapped, though the look on her face made it clear that she hadn’t meant to speak quite so sharply. In a more neutral tone, she continued, “I wanted it to be good. It’s my last day of work until the holidays are over, and I wanted things to feel festive.” She gestured to the floral center piece and the lit candles. “Special.”

“Sweetie, it’s fine. It’s special just because you cooked and we’re eating together.” When Sarah remained quiet, her hands folded in her lap, David continued. “There’s something you’re not telling me, isn’t there?”

“You know my company has a cabin up at the Pine Lake Resort, right?”

David nodded. Sarah had mentioned the cabin many, many times.

“Well, every year the person who’s funded the most loans gets to use it for the holidays, and this year, that person was me. I thought we could go shopping for supplies tomorrow or Sunday and then head up on Monday morning, when traffic won’t be bad. It’s all decorated – the staff takes care of that.” She unfolded her hands, and brushed her hair out of her face, revealing bright eyes and a hopeful smile. “We could spend Christmas snowed into a romantic mountain cabin….”

David pushed his plate away. “Aww, I wish you’d told me sooner, Sar.”

“I only found out today. Is there a problem?”

“I always spend the holidays with my family. I just assumed you’d come, too.”

Even in the dim light of the candles it was clear that Sarah’s face had turned pale. “You mean, with your parents, right?”

“Yeah, with my parents. But also, my brother and sister and their kids, and my aunts and uncles and…” David finally realized that his partner wasn’t enthusiastic about his plan. “You don’t want to go.” His tone was flat when he spoke the words.

“I can’t,” she said. She rose from the table and carried her plate full of unfinished food back to the kitchen.

“Look, I’m sure you can reschedule the cabin,” David suggested, following her with his own empty plate and all the cutlery. “Or we can rent one, take a long weekend in January or February.”

“You should have asked me,” Sarah told him, flicking the faucet lever upward and to the left to start the hot water flowing. “I don’t… I’m not…” But her sentences remained incomplete, and when the dishes were done, she simply repeated, “You should have asked me,” before she fled through the bedroom to the master bath where she locked the door against him.

By the time Sarah emerged from her bath with damp hair and pink skin, David had returned to his transcription. When she tried to engage him in conversation, he ignored her.

* * *

The weekend had been spent in tense silence punctuated by too-brief conversations. By Monday morning, Sarah had re-confirmed the cabin for Valentine’s Day, and David had completed typing his poems, and sent them off to his agent for approval.

By Monday afternoon, they were packed and in the car, driving north up the peninsula, and across the Golden Gate bridge.

Neither spoke much during the drive.

Half an hour from his parents’ home in Inverness, David stopped the car next to a mobile home painted with the name, Knave of Hearts. “We’re almost there,” he said. “Are you done stewing? Can you tell me why you’re so upset about this trip?” He gestured to the trailer. “These people make the best currant scones on the entire west coast… I’m not above bribing you.” He waggled his eyebrows at her.

Sarah smiled in spite of herself. “Do they serve decent tea?”

“More than decent.”


The coastal air was damp and brisk, but inside the trailer the oven kept things toasty. Sarah settled onto one of the three stools fixed before the tiny diner counter, while David ordered cups of English Breakfast tea, served in handmade ceramic mugs with no handles, and a basket of scones.

Plied with tea and baked goods, Sarah opened up. “I’m an only child,” she reminded him. “It was just me and Mom, for most of my life. I have no idea how to be part of a family. I’m too quiet. I’d rather read than watch sports. What if I say the wrong thing? What if they hate me?”

David’s eyes were warm and his smile was gentle as he assured her. “They could never hate you. You’re the woman I love. More than that, you’re my muse. They’re dying to meet you.”

“Great, no pressure,” she snarked.

“Sarah, I promise… they’re really great people.”

“But what if it’s too much?”

“If you get overwhelmed, just excuse yourself and go out to the deck or up to our room. I’ll come with you, if you need me to.”

She took a deep breath. “Okay,” she said. “Okay,” she repeated a moment later.

“So, you’re not mad at me anymore?”

Sarah smiled around another bite of scone. She made a show of chewing and swallowing, then sipping more of her tea before she responded. “I’m not mad.” She reached for his chin and tickled him beneath the goatee he’d begun wearing. “I might even let you sleep with me in your childhood bedroom.”

His laughter repaired the last of the hurt and confusion that had been lingering between them.

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

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

Living Out Loud with Lawrence Davanzo

“The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.”
–Rabindranath Tagore

When my husband retired four years ago, he heard the same chorus: “You’re going to be so bored!” I suppose I could see their point (sort of) – my husband was stepping away from a forty-year career, during which he’d built his own company, served as President of another, and was so respected in his industry that when he returned to work after a larry1three-year hiatus in 2004, he hired nearly a dozen former employees within two months. My husband’s identity is fueled first and foremost by his role as a father, but as far as making his mark on the world, it was his career that steered the ship.

So for those who knew him primarily in that universe, it shouldn’t have been terribly surprising that their reaction to the news of his retirement was an assumption that he would turn the corner away from his work life only to find a barren stretch of land where nothing more than a few lone tumbleweeds bounced by from time to time. My husband was driven, ambitious, and successful, so how on earth was he going to find fulfillment once he had all the time in the world?

Here’s the thing about my husband that might have surprised those who couldn’t imagine him living a happy life without his suit, tie, and title – work was never his number one thing. It was never all-consuming. It wasn’t even a part of him I knew much about during the first two years of our relationship because he was on a sabbatical when we met. I heard stories and saw glimpses, but it wasn’t something I experienced firsthand until he returned to work.

Even then, and over the course of the ensuing eight years before he retired for good, I never saw my husband as a workaholic. larry2Aside from travel and the occasional business dinner, when he came home at the end of the day, he was home. When we went on vacation, we were on vacation. He never brought his laptop to bed and he never spent a Saturday on a golf course with clients. So when someone proclaimed he would end up being bored without his work, we both laughed, knowing these comments were more likely a reflection of what the prospect of a life beyond work and career would mean for them rather than what was true for my husband.

Four years later, we’re still laughing – and slightly gobsmacked – to find he is not only not bored, but more active than ever. He has continued to do the things he could only do on the weekends while he was working – bike riding, playing violin, reading – and now has the time and space to dive deeper into other passions and interests that he’s had for most of his life. He isn’t merely taking more photographs – an interest that first took hold when he was given a camera as a ten-year old – he attended a photography workshop in Berlin, had a solo show in Los Angeles, and goes on photo shoots with Santi Visalli – one of the most renowned photographers of celebrities and public figures of the last four decades.


My husband is also on the phone a lot. Friends and former colleagues call him frequently for advice, guidance, and encouragement. He coaches and advises his son and son-in-law – both entrepreneurs with their own businesses – on everything from cash flow to employee relations. It also isn’t unusual to hear him perusing the pages of his favorite larry3cookbook while chatting with his best friend – a chef who helped ignite my husband’s passion for cooking.

Here’s another thing my husband (well, most of us, really) hears a lot: life is short. My husband happens to think the opposite is true. In his opinion, life is long. At first, I thought he had it backwards. Life isn’t long, I’d think, Life whizzes by faster than I can keep track of. But over time, I’ve come to appreciate his way of thinking. It might seem like the entirety of my life up to this moment has traveled along at warp speed, but when I stop and take a closer look at all the adventures I’ve had, I see how much is there. How could I have experienced as much as I have unless life were, in fact, long?


Boredom is simply not in my husband’s vocabulary, and because his approach to life is that there is plenty of time to do the things he loves, he has been able to find that elusive balance between exuberant creativity and much-needed, well-deserved downtime. In between his bike rides and photo shoots and music gatherings, he writes letters to his granddaughter and reads at least one book a week. He takes naps. He plays with our dog. He loves washing our cars. He is the same man he’s always been – curious, engaged, and eager to live out loud.

Learn more at

About the Author: Christine Mason Miller

christinemasonmillerChristine Mason Miller is an author and artist who just completed Moving Water, a memoir about the spiritual journey she’s taken with her family.

You can follow her adventures at

Letter to My Creativity, Anna Hodges Oginsky

Dear Creativity,

Here you are. Saving me once again. While the vitriol simmers in the air like a warlock’s brew, its spell disables me… anna_o_055double, double toil and trouble. It bubbles: the hatred, the sadness, the anger, and the grief.

We are in mourning.

The comfort we had thinking everything was okay while others suffered, us unknowing; or knowing and not caring enough to act upon that knowing; perhaps wanting to act but overwhelmed by the enormity of it all; knowing and caring and wanting to act but unsure where to start. Them pleading in desperation for mercy, aching to be seen, to be heard, to be acknowledged. The comfort is no more. We are all so uncomfortable now. The shadows, the goblins, and the monsters have all emerged from the darkness. The bitterness is all out on the table. We see it. We smell it. We feel it in our bones and in every cell in our bodies. We still don’t know what to do, but we know we must do something.

I turn to you, my Creativity, my loyal friend. My light.

You are my connection to the Source, after all. You are the thread that sews me to all that is.

Where will you guide me? Us?

I am counting on you, as always, to help me heal. To help us heal.

Will we write letters, posts, essays, and books? Expressing our sorrow. Asking for help. Begging for forgiveness from others and from our own selves? Can we even begin to forgive each other? Do we even know what to forgive?

anna-oginsky-image2Will we take to the streets with paintbrushes and as we collaborate on painting a new landscape, will we see that we are one? Will we recognize that in the beginning we were but a creation and in the end we are nothing more than what we created? What are we creating now?

How do I solve these riddles for myself, Creativity? How do I weave my voice into the solutions for the whole, for all of us, for the greater good?

Thank you for giving me ways to ask these questions. Thank you for showing me these questions exist below the surface, under the spell. Thank you for giving me words and colors and images and tools to use to help me process these questions. Thank you for the music that sings to my soul while I mix potions and emotions in search of a soothing balm for my grief.

Thank you for curiosity. For wonder. For awe. Thank you for inspiration.

Thank you for giving me space to feel. For translating my feelings into something tangible. Thank you for helping me get it out. Thank you for helping me let it go.

Thank you for giving me the confidence to know that all the answers I am seeking are already inside me. Thank you for empowering me with the discernment to know that your wisdom is also mine. I trust that as inherently creative beings, we have the power to change things. To create new things. To let old things go.

Like you, we are powerful. We are the change agents that transform groceries into meals, seeds and dirt into gardens, paper into books, bricks into buildings, and blank walls into murals. Surely, we can transform ourselves. And we can transform each other. With acknowledgment, with validation, with love, patience, and compassion we can transform. We will grow. I have faith in you, in me, in us.

I remember the relief I felt after my first entry in the journal my Baba gave me in 1983. We had been shopping. She must have known that words would be my medicine. Words have always been my way in to you, Creativity. You saved me then. I am indeed indebted to you. You showed me everything would be okay. You showed me that the only way out is through. Again and again. You sat with me for many years while I stuffed my feelings into you and again when I was learning to let them out by way of you. You have always been there for me. You transform my grief to healing to peace to joy. For then and now and everything in between, I thank you.

With you by my side, I have no fear about what is to come.

With love and gratitude,


About the Author: Anna Oginsky

annbioAnna Oginsky is the founder of Heart Connected, LLC, a small Michigan-based workshop and retreat business that creates opportunities for guests to tune in to their hearts and connect with the truth, wisdom, and power held there. Her work is inspired by connections made between spirituality, creativity, and community. Anna’s first book, My New Friend, Grief, came as a result of years of learning to tune in to her own heart after the sudden loss of her father. In addition to writing, Anna uses healing tools like yoga, meditation, and making art in her offerings and in her own personal practice. She lives in Brighton, Michigan with her husband, their three children, and Johnny, the big yellow dog. Connect with her on her website; Twitter; Facebook; or Instagram.

Learn more about her book at

Piece of My Heart by Pat West



Tapping the yellow notepad in time with Wichita Lineman,
I try to figure out the eulogy for my friend’s memorial.
So far, I’ve shoveled burnt toast
and the whole morning’s writing into the garbage.

I think back to how we’d nodded at one another
for weeks in Grant Park, then he stopped
to introduce himself.  Harvey, the retired Marine
with a gray ponytail and his miniature schnauzer.
Right off, he asked where I lived.

There, I pointed to the white Craftsman across the street.
After that, he dropped by with his Seahawks travel mug.
We’d sit in weathered brown wicker chairs
on my front porch.  My mother would have called this
a coffee klatch.  One day he pointed to a couple
of young people in the park,  My guess, they’re doing it,
she’s on the pill.  That’s paradise.
The way he’d laugh so hard he’d snort,
made me laugh, too.

Over the years, he’d bring up Vietnam or Nixon
or the Democratic National Convention back in ’68,
a year that we both agreed rattled us to our bones.
Harvey, you lean any farther left,
you’ll fall off my porch flat on your ass.
He grinned a grin that began in his eyes
and spread everywhere at once.

A few weeks ago, after one of the primary debates,
he ranted a volcanic stream
against Republican candidates’ tough talk
regarding banning Muslim immigrants
and bringing back waterboarding.
I offered no argument, just sat there
and listened to this loud old liberal, this man
who could change gravity in any space he occupied.

Since the writing isn’t going well, I’m also making a mix-tape
with Glen Campbell, and the simple sex
of Simon and Garfunkel—
the professionals, the ones
who can translate my heart’s handwriting.

About the Author: Pat West


Pat Phillips West lives in Olympia, Washington.  Her poems have appeared in various journals, including Haunted Waters Press, Persimmon Tree, San Pedro River Review, and Slipstream, and some have earned nominations for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net.

Staying Healthy and Creative as I Age by Joan Z. Rough

In my thirties I was busy raising two kids, being a housewife, and a fiber artist. Cleaning toilets, doing laundry, and cooking meals were all part of the job. I also cared for a small flock of sheep and Angora goats. A dozen hens kept us supplied with fresh eggs all year round. I learned how to spin yarn from the fleeces my sheep and goats provided, then dyed those yarns with plants gathered from my garden and the roadsides of Northern Vermont, where I lived at the time. After weaving those yarns into a variety of goods, I went to craft fairs where I sold my finished products … pillows, bags, ponchos, and scarves. Amidst all of that I found time to go cross-country skiing most days in winter, sit in the shade and read a good book in summer, and spent lots of time with family and friends. Sure I was tired at the end of each day, but I rarely felt as overwhelmed as I feel these days.

I’m seventy-five years old now and live with my husband, two dogs, and a cat. I have a housekeeper and help in the garden when I need it. No I don’t have the energy I had way back when, but I’m an active walker, take classes in Yoga, and Pilates every week. My book, Scattering Ashes, A Memoir of Letting Go, was published in September. In addition, I publish a weekly blog post and a newsletter on the first of every month. I rise at dawn and by the time 9 PM rolls around I’m ready for a good night’s sleep.

But I’m frustrated and overwhelmed by all that I have to do.

I simply want to have more time in my studio for free writing, painting, keeping a visual journal, and making all kinds of visual art. Add to that, time for reading and puttering in the garden. You’d think that without all the responsibilities I used to have I’d be sitting pretty with all sorts of time to spare. But along with my age, and my energy levels, times have changed. We live in a culture driven by the rush, rush,woman-with-a-cup-of-tea-picjumbo-com rush of technology. Speed limits on Virginia roadways, where I now live, have been raised. A peaceful, 55 MPH drive to Washington, DC, ten years ago, is now an anxiety riddled, 65 MPH race to the finish line. Even if I wanted to drive more slowly, it’s impossible because like everyone else, I get caught up in the pace of today’s timetable.

What ever happened to the old rumor that once computers came into their own, work weeks would become shorter and we’d all have leisure time for whatever it is we love doing most?

I heard a statistic that the average American checks his or her email eleven times an hour. I don’t know if that’s actually true, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all. Using a cell phone, we can connect to anyone, anytime, anywhere. Maybe we do have fewer absolutely necessary things to do in physical time. But now we’re expected to fit more into our days. Stress levels are higher than ever and we all suffer from the new ailment, FOMO, Fear of Missing Out. Regardless of bumper to bumper, fast-moving traffic, too many of us make calls and answer our cell phones when we’re behind the wheel, causing accidents. We’re a high-speed, be there first, crazy society that is on it’s way to causing it’s own destruction. And we’re moving so fast we’re not paying attention to how we feel and what this craziness is doing to us.

It’s taken me a long time to notice that my body tells me when I’m moving too fast, tired, about to get sick, am anxious about some world crisis, or trying to make important decisions. Until the past year or so I didn’t connect my sudden, painful but brief headaches with the fact that I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off and stressed beyond reason. Naturally, when they hit, I would sit down. Once my body relaxed and my heart rate slowed down, the headaches magically disappeared. I think it’s something all of us need to pay attention to.

When I’m tired and must keep moving because of an approaching deadline, I often notice that my vision isn’t as acute as it usually is, my energy level starts lagging, and my body feels heavy. If I take a breather from my work, take a short walk around the block, do some much-needed stretching, or take a twenty-minute nap, my energy bounces back and I can easily pick up where I left off. But being an unreasonable citizen of this crazed time, I often don’t do those things because I feel I’m too far behind. My weekly Pilates sessions are late on Monday afternoons, about the time I’m dragging and wanting to crash and burn. I force myself to go, but once I’m there and start moving my body, a new energy kicks in. I always feel like a new person afterwards and I’m good for the rest of the day and into the evening.

Making decisions has always been messy for me. Being somewhat lazy and a people pleaser, I’ve found myself just going along with whatever someone else wanted to do, even though all I wanted was to stay home, have a big bowl of homemade chicken soup, and read a good book. (A typical sign of FOMA.) But after years of wondering what was wrong with me, I finally accepted the fact that I’m an introvert and always will be. In order to feel happy and healthy I need to be careful about what I agree to do, keeping in mind that the big event a friend or family member wants me to attend with them is not my cup of tea.

So I’ve come up with a way to make decision and keep myself on an even keel. I consciously invite my body, mind and spirit to help me figure out what I want and/or need. We’re all one, after all. Not separate entities. If I feel especially excited about going to an event and can’t wait to go, there is not doubt that I’ll be there regardless of what it takes. If I feel only somewhat interested in attending, I take extra time to think about what I really want. If I push myself to give in to things I feel so-so about, I’m usually sorry later. I like to sleep on those items until all the pros and cons come to the surface, even if it takes a few days. If nothing arises to peak my interest, it’s a no go.

I’ve also discovered that sometimes it’s a good idea to procrastinate about deciding what to do. More often than not, something else arises to let me know that I don’t need to worry about it. I’ll suddenly remember a forgotten promise I made to be somewhere else, or something even more interesting and exciting comes along. And at my age, it’s okay to change my mind if I realize at the last-minute that I need to stay home and take care of myself.

When I feel the need to do that, it usually means I’m noticing that I’m exhausted, need to slow down, landscape-690617_1280meditate, take a walk or a nap, or simply sit and stare into space. On cold nights in the winter it helps to soak in a tub of steaming hot water, laced with Epsom salts and a few drops of lavender oil. Sipping a cup a hot tea while reading with feet up is also one of the most relaxing things I can do, as well as writing in my journal. I’ve learned that being able to say NO isn’t really a big deal and that setting aside an afternoon to throw paint around in my studio is one of the best medicines out there. And nothing beats laughter to get back on the map. I often see life as a slap stick, comedy of errors. Why not laugh about it? What else can we do?

I’ve been stuck on a treadmill of SHOULDS, needing to keep up with the world in order to be successful. I’m finally letting go of that idea. Unless I do so, there will be no time for a new story or poem to blossom. The pages of my visual journal will remain blank. And like my mind and spirit, the pots of paint waiting for me on my worktable will dry out and harden. My curiosity will die.

These days I’m not measuring my success by how many books I sell or whether or not I’m at the top of the heap. Noticing the changing of the seasons, cutting back, and replanting overgrowth in my garden, noticing an unusual birdsong, and spending quality time with myself, my family, and my friends are the things that fill me with joy. It always beats feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and anxiety ridden by a long shot. And it’s how I keep my creative mind at work.

About the Author: Joan Z.Rough

joanauthorbioimageJoan Z. Rough is a visual artist and writer. Her poetry has appeared in a variety of journals, and is included in Mariflo Stephens’ anthology, Some Say Tomato. Her first book, AUSTRALIAN LOCKER HOOKING: A New Approach to a Traditional Craft, was published in 1980. SCATTERING ASHES, A Memoir of Letting Go, was recently published by She Writes Press. She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with her husband, Bill, her two dogs, Sam and Max, and crazy cat Lilliput. You can follow Joan on Facebook and Twitter.