Sunday Salon: Reading Between the Lines

Sunday Salon with Becca Rowan

I grew up in a home with two Southern cooks. My grandmother lived with us for most of my childhood, and since she was raised on a small farm in central Kentucky, I was fortunate enough to eat authentic Kentucky Fried Chicken from the time I was old enough to chew. Not to mention angel biscuits, southern fried okra, homemade fruit and cream pies, and – the piece de resistance in my mind – her warm, yeasty bread with its crisp buttery crust. Paired with a platter of garden fresh tomatoes, warm slow-cooked green beans, and a glass of iced tea, we feasted for many a summer lunch.

I-love-cooking-free-license-CC0-980x652My mother insisted she could not cook as well as her own mother did, but most of us begged to differ. My mom’s specialties weren’t the country cooking my grandmother learned in the farm kitchen. My mom excelled at dishes with a slightly international flair -like spaghetti and lasagna, Swedish meatballs, quiche lorraine. She was the chief cake baker in the family, and her German chocolate cake with caramel frosting was the most requested dessert at every family potluck.

Last winter, when we knew my mother was dying, it occurred to us just how many of our favorite foods we’d never taste again. My husband and I would be sitting at the table, picking at our food between trips to the hospital. “Cheese cake,” I said once. “We’ll never have her cheese cake again.”

“Or beef pot pies,” he said dejectedly. “Or baked spaghetti.”

“Potato salad,” I yelped.

“Ohhhh,” he groaned.

Should this sound less than respectful toward my mother’s final days, rest assured there is little she would rather be remembered for. She considered her cooking one of her proudest accomplishments, one the world recognized and rewarded. One year her neighbors gifted her with pearl handled cake server, engraved with her name and the words “Redford’s Best Baker.” She prized that just as much as her diamond rings and full length mink coat.

One of my projects this summer has been an attempt to replicate some of my mother’s most popular recipes.  I’m really not the cook my mother was (and no one in my family would beg to differ on that assertion), so it’s been a daunting task, and one I’ve met with varying degrees of success.

There’s an old saying: If you can read, you can cook. Meaning, if you can follow the recipe, you can expect an edible finished product. I’m here to tell you, that’s not quite so. I’ve followed my mother’s spaghetti sauce recipe to the letter, and it still doesn’t taste exactly right. And while many people have attempted the caramel frosting, no one has ever made it successfully. She was often accused of sabotaging the recipe, which she always denied. “It takes time and patience to get that right,” she’d say with a little smile. “Just keep practicing.”

Often there is a secret ingredient to the best dishes, one that you don’t find listed in the lines of the recipe.  Part of it’s the kind of wisdom we gain by watching someone work, and I will always regret not spending more time in the kitchen with my mother, soaking up some of her knowledge about bringing a recipe to life.

But more than that, there is a certain creative something only a few people possess, and it’s not something you can study or read or even be taught. In my handbell ensemble we talk about this very quality – in fact, it’s our (legal!) trademark. “Ringing in Color,” we call it, and it means taking the black and white notes of music and bringing them into vivid color with various creative touches – dynamic changes, movement, the particular lift of a musical line. Thus the finished product is made up of more than just following the music notes on the staff, more than just putting the ingredients in the recipe in a bowl and stirring them up.

My mother had that special quality, and she seasoned her cooking with it as well as the rest of our home. She was the kind who could arrange a vase of flowers just so, wrap a package so beautifully no one wanted to undo it, place a picture on the perfect wall to show it off to its best advantage. She knew exactly how to put things together  – from clothes to jewelry to home furnishings – so it looked stylish and elegant. If I were to suggest that she was being “creative,” she would laugh. “That’s nothing,” she’s say. “You’re the creative one with your book writing and your music.”

I believe each one of us has a unique creative gift, an ability to bring an extra touch of beauty to life. Yours might be in painting or sculpture, writing or music, sewing or crafting, cooking or gardening. Discovering that individual gift is one of life’s great adventures, and why it’s important of offer children the opportunity to participate in all kinds of activities. We learn by doing, by putting our hand to something, by feeling our way through the black and white instructions and uncovering our inherent ability to add the “color” that makes it come alive.

I nearly wept for joy the first time I made potato salad and it tasted exactly like my mother’s. I wonder if it’s because there was no written recipe, and I had to go purely on instinct and “feel.” Sometimes we can become so caught up in those black and white instructions we forget to trust our own creative instincts. So I’ll keep working on the spaghetti sauce. Maybe I should trust my inner wisdom and stop trying to follow the recipe so exactly.

If I’m really lucky, I may discover that I’ve inherited some of that kitchen creativity after all.

About the Author: Becca Rowan

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

Seeking the Wise Woman Within by Christine Mason Miller


I’ve long considered myself a spiritual seeker, but sometimes the thought of trying to attain lasting wisdom feels, well, unattainable. I imagine what it might look and feel like to be a wise woman and I envision myself sitting in the folds of a shiny, oversized pink lotus blossom. Radiating perfect calm and serenity, I observe all of humanity’s dramas and shenanigans – most especially my own – with a detached, bemused expression that is rooted in compassion. I do not react. My ego has no power. Every once in awhile, I let my imagination run a little wild and I see a unicorn stroll by. This feels appropriate because the image I’ve constructed is a fantasy. The vision I’m conjuring is a mirage.

Simply put: I’m not Buddha. I’m a messy human – subject to mood swings, grouchy days and the occasional door-slamming freak out.

My soul’s march through early adulthood and into my early thirties was fueled mainly by ambition. I wanted to inspire the world, and believed my most important work needed to be expressed outwardly – toward an audience I aimed to build with my artwork and words. After my spiritual journey took an unexpected, sharp turn to the left the year I turned thirty-four, I realized I had it backwards. Wisdom and contentment weren’t going to come to me because I was working hard to be a good person in the wide open world, trying to inspire as many people as possible. In order to be in alignment with my (potentially) wisest self, I had to hone in on something much closer to home, closer to my very skin.

Lao Tzu says if you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading. That year, I didn’t merely adjust my course from north to south. I started digging into the ground beneath my feet and kept going – building tunnels, discovering hidden caverns and swimming through underground pools of water. By the time I burst back through the ground, I was committed to a practice of mindful observation. With that established, I proceeded to move through the world in an entirely different way.


Mindful observation is simply this: stepping outside of myself to observe my own behavior, reactions, attitudes and thoughts.

Oh look, there I am freaking out because the box I shipped wasn’t delivered.

How fascinating to see I just burst into tears because the doctor appointment I thought would happen this week can’t actually happen until next week.

Take a look at this – I still haven’t returned that phone call even though it has been on my to do list eight days in a row now.

After years of honing this practice, here’s what I have to say about wisdom: it provides me with opportunities to recognize and acknowledge what a monumental bonehead I can be. I yell at my dog. I complain. I shake my fist at slow drivers ahead of me.

But on the other side, I see this: That all my human follies and foibles are actually quite precious. They are invitations to pull out my spade, do a little digging and pull out the detritus and weeds that might otherwise tangle up my spirit.

Tilda starts barking at a squirrel, startling me in a moment of quiet.
I immediately lose my s***, and I yell at her.
I observe myself yelling.
I look beyond the surface of things to explore where my reaction came from.
I recognize it’s because I have a dentist appointment tomorrow and I’m nervous.
I am on edge, and I am feeling vulnerable.
Deep exhale. Soften.
Give Tilda a hug. Make myself a cup of tea.

There is no judgment or labeling. I don’t declare that my yelling at Tilda because I’m worried about my dentist appointment makes me a bad person. There is only observation and open-hearted curiosity. And with that, understanding. It is envisioning whatever is happening in the moment as something taking place on a stage, whereby I have the ability to pull back the curtain and see what’s really going on.


I don’t always know what to do with things I observe myself doing, and I don’t always immediately change my behavior in order to shift things in a different direction. Sometimes I say, Oh look at me gossiping, and I keep gossiping, practically daring the divine to come down to earth in a bolt of lightning and write me a ticket for violating my own moral code. There are days when I observe myself acting like a complete spoiled brat, irritated by every interruption and distraction, and say There I am acting like a total jerk – what of it?

Mindful observation is not a practice that prevents me from being human. I have yet to find that giant pink lotus blossom for me to nestle into, secure in my practice of detached curiosity and kind consideration of my misdeeds. What mindful observation provides is an immediate entry to compassionate inquiry, should I dare to take that opportunity. Sometimes I’m able to do it in the moment, other times it takes days or weeks or years. The nice thing about it is that there aren’t any expiration dates, so the ability to take a closer look at anything I’ve ever done, said or thought is always at my disposal. It is always possible to see things from another perspective, and to consider the different facets of each experience without judgment.

I still do a lot of work that is expressed and shared outwardly – across miles, continents and the world wide web. It is important work, and it is meaningful to me. But my real work – my life’s work – has been an inward journey. It is the moments of mindful observation, of giving myself a break, of holding myself accountable. It is the moments when I recognize the situation in front of me as an opportunity to make a choice, and to carefully consider whether the choice I am inclined to make will support what I value most in my life or diminish it.

I’m not sure that makes me a bona fide wise woman, but it certainly makes me feel more in tune with what it means to be human, and in sync with greater flow of life.

Oh look, there’s a parking space that I trusted would be waiting for me.

What do you know – my doctor can see me this week, because she just had a cancellation.

How fascinating to see so much beauty all around me, and all I have to do to enjoy it is look up, stay still, and take it all in.

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.

Buy her book on Amazon. Go on Retreat . Join Christine at her upcoming retreat in Ojai with Wild Roots, Sacred Wings.

You can follow her adventures at

Welcome to Issue #3: Wisdom

Wisdom Profile MCL

You find a book that changes your life, giving you a perspective you didn’t have before the words on the page seeped into your soul.

You attend a friend’s gallery opening, and witness the world seeing what you’ve always known about your lovely and wise confidante.

You re-read an old journal entry or blog post you, yourself, wrote, and discover just the right words of guidance or encouragement as you embark upon a new chapter of your life.

You flip open a magazine, and catch your breath at the combination of insight, beauty, and style in a single photograph.

You need advice, so you pick up the phone and call that friend. The one who will shoot straight, but do it in a kind and loving way.

Welcome to Wisdom, our 3rd issue.

When we were choosing themes for Modern Creative Life, the fall theme of Wisdom felt like a natural progression from the never-ending question we began with: “What’s Next?” and then followed up with “Nourishment” as we considered the many ways that nourishing ourselves both creatively and in our daily lives leads us to deepen our own Wisdom.

The timing of this issue speaks to me – and hopefully to you – in other ways, as we arrive at Wisdom on September 1st, the date of both a new moon and a Solar Eclipse:

We go back to school in the fall, seeking education and learning. School makes me think of children, both mine and others, and the way the wisest words sometimes arrive out of the mouths of chubby-cheeked youngsters.

If you relate the stages of womanhood to the seasons, we arrive in the fall of our lives as we evolve beyond the Maiden and inch our way towards becoming the Crone, the wise woman who exists in each of our tribes and families.

And who hasn’t sought the knowledge of others by picking up the phone, searching for the right book, or turning to the modern trusty answer guru, Google?

But what does Wisdom mean when it comes to Creative Living? What does our own creative process teach us? How do other makers enhance the ways in which we create? How can we sit at the feet of masters who’ve come before us?

What must we say no to, so that we can say yes to what matters to us at our depths, the ways in which we bring art, poetry, and beauty alive?

You’ll get a peek into the daily lives of other creative folk in our Studio Tours and Typical Tuesday series, and meet people walking fascinating creative pathways in Conversations Over Coffee. With photos and fiction, poetry and prompts, essays and enlightenment, you’ll find a deeper understanding into all the ways in which you create.

 As always our mission at Modern Creative Life is to honor the pursuit and practice of joyful creativity. We believe that the creative arts enrich our everyday living, enhance our environment, create lasting connections, and sustain our souls. Please join us as we bring to you a meeting of wise minds, both young and old. Sit beside other makers as they demonstrate how they’ve found insight into nourishing and prioritizing their creative pursuits.

As we share the stories of other makers, use their experiences to illuminate your path into your own Modern Creative Life.

What lessons might you have to share with the world? Share your stories with us, serving as the teacher for others – a karmic payback for the wise teachers you’ve learned from. We are open to single contributions as well as new regular contributors. Email us at

About the Author:  Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is an author, life coach, and Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life.

She resides in Dayton, Ohio.

New Moon Creative: Moon in Virgo

We say Goodbye to our Nourishment Issue, we say HELLO to a new theme: Wisdom.

If there is one piece of Wisdom we’ve learned here at Modern Creative Life, it is that we must create. It’s a part of our DNA.

What would happen if you were to commit to your own creative life each month? How would you feel if you listened to your own wisdom, inviting you, asking you, begging you to tend your creativity and life?

While all of us at Modern Creative Life hope that each of our readers is indulging their creativity (even if it’s in small ways) fairly frequently, we are also dedicated to the idea that we get to choose our own paths to creative living each and every day of the year, by writing, painting, cooking, or even making and artful arrangement of the books on our shelves.

As well, we believe it’s important to honor the cycles of life that form currents through all our lives. As part of our ongoing celebration of those cycles and currents, we continue our New Moon Creative Prompts with a twist: a single question to inspire you on your creative journey.

The New Moon is traditionally been a time of new beginnings; here is our 1st Prompt in honor of our Wisdom Issue (and in honor of the New Moon in Virgo).


Write a poem, essay, or short story. Take a photograph and leave us with the image alone. Create a photo essay.

Between now and 9/15/16, post your creation in your blog and/or share your work on Social Media, be it Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or all of those spaces. Use the tag #NewMoonCreative so we can find you. Leave a comment here (with a link) so we can read your words and lovingly witness what and how you are creating.

On the Full Moon (September 16th), we’ll post a collection of the work that was inspired by these prompts and post them here, with links back to the full work (and you).