Welcoming The New Year: Happy 2017

Happy New Year (Photo by Edd Sowden via Flickr Creative Commons)

In the circles of magic and superstition, special attention should be paid to your actions on January 1st. Each action you take is an invitation to get intentional and align yourself with the New Year Mojo.

Whether you believe in magic – or not – why not give yourself over and create a very intentional kind of day? Why not choose what you eat, drink, say, write, buy and do as an action on this day to help with those goals for a 2017?

So what do you want more of in 2017? What do you want less of?

This morning, I woke before John and spent those first waking hour of 2017 in quiet personal time doing what I love at the beginning of the day: I read a little, wrote in my journal, drank lots of water, and had a little snack. Most of this was done in The Chair and each little action held power.

If I’ve learned nothing during this past couple of weeks, it has been made abundantly clear to me that I need personal quiet time. I need to sit and think and just BE.

Reading is like breathing to me, and I can’t imagine my world without books and letters and taking in the wisdom of others. I love my coffee and wine, but water is life. And frankly, as much water as I drink, I’ve gotten lax as the weather has cooled. And what would a year be without intentional writing?

There was no getting on the computer, no working, no mindlessly scrolling through social media….

Ah. And the snack. To be honest, I am the worst when it comes to breakfast on the weekends (or when John is home). I typically wait for him to be hungry, which often means I’m S-T-A-R-V-I-N-G and irritable. I operate best with a little protein, so choosing to nibble on a couple of sausage balls was about the intention of tending my needs as a priority. (And, pork for Good Luck in the New Year).

When John began stirring, I crawled back into bed with him. There’s nothing more critical in a couple’s relationship than tending intimacy. We cuddled and made love – both good omens for our year ahead together. (Maybe TMI, but an important component to my personal life: sex, intimacy, quality time)

After we both got up and moving, it was time for coffee our Normal Morning Activities.

Check email, read the news, the side-by-side companionship of coupledom. Couples need quality side-by-side companionship. We need the ability to be able to BE together and be happy doing our own thing.Far too many couples miss the importance of this, or believe if you aren’t actively interacting, it’s not special….

I had one purchase to make, a token if you will: a new journal. There’s nothing worse for a writer or a successful year of writing than to not have something to write in, is there? Since shifting to the “nice” journals, I make it a habit to have a stash of empty journals ready and waiting.

What better intention for 2017 than to ensure that the first penny I spent in the New Year was for my creative life?

Speaking of Creative Life…

I opened the Scrivener files for both of of the Books I’d like to birth in 2017 and spent a little time with them. I read some of what’s already there, added fresh content, and did some research. My timeline for one of the books feels pretty aggressive….

Tending and nurturing this work feels important today. What better action to take on the first day of 2017 than to write towards something that matters to me?

Then, it was time to get physical!

We made our way into our home gym soon after some writing time (for me) and some XBox time (for him). We have a series of stretches given to John by the Physical Therapist the last time his back went out and we do those together. He was in a helicopter crash in the 80’s and sustained damage to his back and shoulder, so he should be stretching daily. After stretching, I did some weights while he did his pushups and some cardio.

I need to get back in shape this year.  Honestly, so does he. This was a good intention to carry into 2017: working out together.

Sure, I’d like to lose about 15 pounds as a part of that, but mainly, I want more umph in my step. I want more stamina. I am a high-energy kind of gal, but I’ve noticed that my energy just isn’t as long-lasting as I’ve aged.  And, I also know that if I’m in better shape, my immune system will be more resistant. This Christmas Cold is almost over, yet honestly, is at day 8 of not being “well”.

I thrive in routine, so if I make working out a part of the norm, I will be more successful. The goals are small for January: weights twice a week, stretching of some sort daily, and walking three days a week. This past week, we purchased a Bike Trainer (to use our existing bikes indoors) as well as a top-of-the-line treadmill (which they should deliver and install it by the end of this week or early next week).

After our workout, I threw some laundry on and then I showered.

The act of fueling our bodies with intention.

I made a late lunch / early dinner. All traditional foods: pork medallions, sauerkraut, sauteed spinach, black-eyed peas and cornbread. All of the ingredients were well-sourced. We ate at the dining room table, lingered over a glass of wine and chatted. Then, we cleaned the kitchen together.

Nice, healthy meals are important to me. Allowing him to help is a biggie, too, because far too often, I just take-over and Do It All My Way. A nod to being willing to be helped….

And, to be honest, I kind of fell out of love with my kitchen this last year, relying on my back-pocket recipes for most of our meals.

We are ending the day with quiet time.

I’m sensing a theme for me this year: more quiet time. Grace requires time to BE and Think. I can’t be Unbound if I’m always busy. A solid entry into 2017 almost demands this of me.

So, this evening, I’ve done some reading. I wrote this post, set my 2017 Reading Goals over at Goodreads. I’ve looked in on my Social Media spaces. I made hot toddies for us to sip and did my evening routine stuff: setting up the coffee pot for the morning, took a peek at our laundry hampers to plot tomorrow’s laundry, and ensured the bed was neat and tidy and awaiting us.

I’d say that the entry into 2017 has been a great one. What about you?

on Unbound Grace for 2017

“You can have the other words-chance, luck, coincidence, serendipity. I’ll take grace. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I’ll take it. ”
― Mary Oliver

Since I made peace with my conflicting beliefs between my relationship with God and The Church (as a Formal Institution) back in 2008, the belief that we are always within reach of God’s Grace and Mercy has been a core part of my spiritual life.  As part of this space of peace, I started going back to Mass in 2008 after missing it for many years, seeking spiritual nourishment when I was living in a hotel in DC.

Throughout my coaching practice, I’ve encouraged folks – whether they are random passersby, participants in a course, or one of my clients – to play with the concept.  One exercise has been to write a Letter to Grace from the standpoint of childhood, back when we were less influenced by the outside world. The exploration of Grace made its way into the latest version of Clearing Brain Clutter released this past October.

I guess you could say I’ve been flirting with Grace for years.

Flirting with Grace and seeing it as a shining beacon, though, are two different things. And believing that I am within reach of Grace and also extending it towards myself are two totally different things as well.

During the Lenten season of 2015, I reached out to a friend’s husband, a retired Episcopalian Priest, for help understanding Grace and Mercy – and how they both connect and differ from one another. He understood my confusion, my desire to understand, and reminded me that we put our own ethics and sense of justice based on a personal compass, with a tongue in cheek statement that God is rather promiscuous in his extension of mercy. My takeaway on grace, though, was this:

“So grace flows out like a river, and one element of grace is mercy.”

I tend to stop up the river and never allow neither grace nor mercy to flow to me, myself. To my failings.To my inability to be perfect.

So, part of Grace for me in 2017 is learning to be more merciful to myself. To find more beauty in my failings. To see my lack of perfection as perfect in their own way. I’ve come such a long way in all the years of self-development, but I know that this tender spot is ripe for exploration.

I am the Queen of Compartmentalization. It’s how I survived the challenging years of my mother and my ex-husband and my crazy Gypsy Years. Yet, Grace seeks to see Me on the Whole: not a single piece of who I am or a role I play, all of it. I am woman, mother, lover, self, artist, daughter, professional, and more. But all of these are the parts that make the whole of me, yet I tend to look at each tiny area of who I am and judge it as a whole.

This has become less and less over the last six years, but I can’t deny the way stress sends me back into this tight view of who I am.

I am at a crossroads. Professionally. Personally. Spiritually. I did an enormous amount of personal work around the the phases of womanhood (Maiden, Mother, Crone) this past fall. I see myself morphing into the Crone (a word I’m not fond of, but the meaning I get). I dove into ancestral waters two years ago when I had my DNA done and discovered my Celtic and Irish Roots along with the mother line of Romanian Gypsies who migrated into Wales and Ireland and dove deeper into those waters this fall.

To make peace with this, I must call on Grace.

In my reading from Amy Palko, as she gifted me with the Goddess Hsi Wang Mu , she  said:

And as these selves slip like veils softly sliding to the floor, I see – we see – the true oneness of being.

And later added

So, how will she present to you? Well, I see her stepping forward and assisting you in finding that still place inside which exists in eternal grace. She is guiding you towards experiencing and determining the great ‘I am’ which is not defined by ideas of self-hood, roles or identity, but which exists beyond.

The age old question: who am I? what is my purpose? What is the great I Am beyond the roles I fill?

To be in a State of Grace, though, I must also find Freedom, which is where the word “Unbound” comes into play.

One of the coaching tools I use is to ask a client during a decision making process: “does this feel like shackles ON or shackles OFF.”

Shackles ON meant something made us feel as if we were bound, tied up against our will. Shackles on was a bad choice, acting from or making a decision from a space of doing what others expected of us. Shackles OFF feels like freedom, that moment when the ties that bind us to life are suddenly released and we feel free, to make a choice for our deepest good.

I’ve used this tool for myself over the years, too. I’ve applied it in many of my decision making processes in terms of my personal life and my professional life.

And on the flip side of this, I am the first to admit that I am wound tight. I am an ENTJ, a believer that life is black and white without much grey. The ENTJ part of my soul demands that I follow the rules, and it bothers me when others don’t follow the rules. Nothing winds me up more than traveling and witnessing others believing that the Rules Don’t Apply to Them.

I want folks to stand in line, take their turn, follow the rules of society. This makes me feel safe, this makes me feel secure, this reduces my stress levels. (This is one of the reasons the political climate has been so upsetting to me.)

But life isn’t like this. People feel entitled to exceptions from all the rules. It’s ok to discriminate against someone because they don’t believe a particular way, but I’m not seeing the same side of mercy when it comes to the other side. This feels hypocritical to me. I believe in live and let live,  yet don’t understand those who stand up for the Rights of Others, who them damn those Who Don’t Agree With Them.

Aren’t we all equal in the eyes of God?

In my need for rules and seeing the world in black and white, I want less judgement, less rhetoric, less vitriol, more compassion.  I want family members to treat all family members the same, with no favorites.

This is the part of me that sees the disparity in the world.

This causes me an immense amount of undue pain and suffering.

This also highlights a space that I need to work on in the coming months. How can I unwind myself? How can I extend more grace and mercy to those who seem hypocritical to me? How can I loosen up and find that tiny space of mercy for my own inability to be perfect? How can I find GRACE if my brain wants to focus on the space of being bound up?

This is my task for the year ahead: find Grace, extend Grace, be Unbound in all the ways I approach my life.

My Words for 2017

Every year since 2005, I have chosen between one and three words to serve as my guide, my theme, my beacon of light for the year. Nowadays, everyone is on the Word of the Year bandwagon….I see this as a good thing, because doing this practice for (now) twelve years, has shifted my DNA and how I think about life, love, and my personal work in the world.

(Side Note: If you need some help choosing a Word for 2017, I do have a Free Guide to help)

I’ve written…if not extensively…at least a little here in this space about my Word for 2016: Create.  Other years have been sometimes a complex variety of words and other years, a more simplistic approach.

After more than a decade of this practice, I also know that a Word of the Year never arrives on a schedule.It can be frustrating when you want your life to running in a seemingly tidy way. And, I have to confess, the years of running a coaching practice has conditioned me to strive to have my Word(s) up and READY to go on January 1st.

Some years, though, they lag and fail to reveal themselves for days or weeks, and frankly, with the hustle and bustle and busy-ness of the holiday season, I can see how it’s hard to hear the voice of your heart. My word for 2010 didn’t arrive until March, and it taught me that sometimes waiting is the best possible thing.

Other years, the word begins whisper in your ear long before it’s time to say goodbye to the previous year.

This year, I’ve had an inkling to what my Word for 2017 might be back in September.

I had spent the morning with Jen Lee in a Tea Shop in Brooklyn. After tea, I stopped at The Big Macy’s at Herald Square and was back in my hotel to get some rest. It had been a day of extremes. The New York City Subway at the edges of rush hour then intimate conversation about life, creating, projects, and life as a maker. Back to the throngs of people shopping in Macy’s and then to the complete quiet and solitude of my room.

It was my last solo day in New York – John was due to arrive the following day for our vacation. I changed out of my clothes and into some lounge wear and as I stood in the window of my room, watching the rain come down on Times Square, both the idea of What I Had To Write in 2017  and my Word for 2017 began to whisper to me.

I’ve done more praying and thinking since that moment than I have in years past.

This feels like a big year.  I’ve accomplished a lot professionally: three books in twelve months, the successful launch of a new literary/arts magazine with a follow up of a print anthology, and a solid group of clients in my coaching practice.

I also have big goals for the coming year when it comes to my writing life: two books in 2017, all original content.

Personally,  the girls both hit big birthdays this past year: Em turned 25 and Katie 21. John and I are beginning our 7th Year together, an auspicious year no matter how you slice it. I will be fifty next year, a milestone age.

This year had felt challenging in a lot of ways, much of it external thanks to the political climate and unrest in the world. Yet, I have a good life. And though I am not blissfully happy every second of the day, each day I experience joy.

I did some of my standard practices for the last few years.I did my own workbook. Played with the inquiry process. Reread some letters and perused my past journal entries.

I looked to outside sources of wisdom. I get quarterly (or so) readings with Theresa Reed. I get an annual Goddess Reading from Amy Palko, though this year, I mixed it up a bit and got a Goddess Gift reading instead of her Word Goddess Readings. I’ve spent some time in church this fall and purchased a Sunday Missal as well as a little collection of Daily Readings from the Church. I also set up an Ancestor’s Altar.

All of this led me to make peace with not a single word, but two words together for 2017:

Yes: Unbound Grace.

In the days and weeks and months to come, I’ll tell you more about them.

Create in 2016: 100 Days of Creative Living

Back in April, I chose my 100 Day Project: 100 Days of Creative Living

So, for the next 100 days, I am going to notice my own life. To see the tiny moments that create my existence. To lovingly describe the moment, using my preferred craft of writing.To honor the way creative living plays into my everyday life. For this is what the core of making is to me: making a life.

I began them over on Instagram and somewhere in the middle, the project stalled.

It isn’t that I stopped noticing my life, it’s just that I didn’t always stop to photograph it. In our social media world, do you ever wonder that failing to photograph and share a moment means it didn’t really happen? A bit of a joke, but also the reality of thinking these days, right?

And stalling a project is, honestly, a natural part of being a maker.

Yes, we need to be true to our need to create, to give power and time to our creative life. But we also need to be realistic and compassionate when a project stalls or other projects take center stage or real life demands temporarily get in the way.

I’ve picked up a day here and a day there, with the goal of finishing the project before 2017 arrives. A good way to honor my Word for 2016: Create.  Here’s a selection of some of my #100DaysofCreativeLiving Photos.

Day 2

Day 6

Day 15

Day 26

One thing I know for sure is that sleep is crucial to the quality of my daily life…yet on rare occasions I rise long before dawn. The waking isn’t by conscious choice, but rather than curse the dark, I am choosing to seize the opportunity to tend my creative life in some way. Upon finding JB’s pillow vacant around 1:30 AM, I slipped into a robe and found him wide awake…his mind too distracted by work matters to sleep. I went back to bed, but my own worries over his inability to sleep continued to roll around in my own brain. He showered. I made coffee and his lunch. He went into work. At 4 AM, I came downstairs to my own office…lit my candles and said a little prayer. It would be so easy to click around the internet and fritter away my time. Instead, I grab a 2nd cup of #coffee and sit down to #write. This is the art of creating a life: to choose myself and my creative life when it could be so easy to just choose ways to numb. This is day 26 of #100daysofcreativeliving for the #100dayproject #love #soultending #amwriting

A photo posted by Debra Smouse (@debrasmouse) on

Day 38

Day 44

I took myself on an Artist Date today: A manicure and pedicure followed by lunch al fresco the patio. Then a long walk around the park where I ogled Super Hero Sand Sculptures and chatted with the artists….into a café for a double espresso and some writing…and wrapped the day up with a stroll around the farmer’s market, where I got a dozen eggs and pork burgers from @carrollcreekfarms We all need to take time and fill the well and being around other makers, like the sculptors and the farmers. To watch the people and eavesdrop on conversations… And it doesn’t hurt to pause with my journal and caffeine. #love #coffee #soultending This is the art of creating a life: to fill the well when we’re feeling parched. This is day 44 of #100daysofcreativeliving for the #100dayproject #love #soultending

A photo posted by Debra Smouse (@debrasmouse) on

Day 50

We’re on Day 13 of John being out of the country and it makes the days long and the nights longer. Skype helps bridge the distance and we talk every morning and evening. No matter how long they may seem, time still advances and passes from one day to the next. And as we share the stories of our distant days, I turn my camera to the setting sun here in Ohio and he turns his camera to show the approaching sunset in Bogota out his hotel window. Even when we aren’t with loved ones, we are all still connected, witnessing the same sun set in different ways. This is the art of creating a life: bridging the distance between lovers with the reminders that we are still connected. This is day 50 of#100daysofcreativeliving for the#100dayproject #love #soultending

A photo posted by Debra Smouse (@debrasmouse) on

Day 54

Day 56

I order a doppio espresso, a go-to order since my dairy-free experiment began in May. I sit and slowly sip the slightly bitter brew and watch the constant flow of office workers from the building next door stream in. When I was waiting to order, I notice the pastry case has been decimated and now see that in addition to creamy caramel macchiatos and thick iced lattes, almost everyone exiting the gauntlet of a line has a pastry bag in hand. This is the 3rd day of our trip… and never has the pastry case been this empty during previous visits and it gets my mind to wondering if the rainy morning is responsible for the cravings of sweet and flaky pastries. Or is it the need for hand-held comfort? Because despite it being a Thursday, the weekend still feels like a world away in the high-stress environment of DC and interoffice politics. This used to BE my life: high heels, sheath dresses, and seeking comfort in liquid and carby forms. This used to be my life: navigating the shark-infested waters of Office Politics. This used to be my life: dealing with the undercurrent of intense energies of people running on adrenaline, caffeine, butter, and vodka. I miss this city when I’m away and when I’m here I still love the city, yet am reminded how peaceful and drama-free my life is now that THIS isn’t my daily life. I am grateful for the hard choices I’ve made when it comes to career and doubly grateful that I have the support to choose creating my life on my terms rather than existing in the high-stress environment. This is the art of creating a life: to look at our past selves and be grateful for the hard choices because they were worth it. This is day 56 of #100daysofcreativeliving for the #100 day project #love #soultending #Starbucks #grateful

A photo posted by Debra Smouse (@debrasmouse) on

Day 65

A summer storm is brewing and the air is thick with humidity. Four miles on the bike, and since I’m already sweaty, I head downstairs and tend the flowerbeds. I intended to only pull the weeds and grass encroaching the periwinkles, and find myself stripping away dead strands from the daylilies. It’s before 9 AM and I’m feeling pleased as punch about my morning productivity. Now to sit a moment, sip some sparkling water, and breathe before I head inside, take a shower, and start to work. This is the art of creating a life: to honor the holiness of a tiny now in our day. This is day 65 of #100daysofcreativeliving for the #100dayproject – and in honor of @ModernCreativeLife #NewMoonCreative prompt for 7/7 is: “A Tiny Now”. #love #soultending #creativeliving #latergram

A photo posted by Debra Smouse (@debrasmouse) on

Day 90

This is the first moment today I have taken to just sit and BE. My bed is beckoning me…but first, a few minutes to sip this glass of wine, write in my journal, and read the latest issue of @bellagracemagazine . Today was my first full day back #OnTheGround at home after spending the early part of the week in DC. There were necessary errands to run – mailing copies of my books out…..and so much editing to do. Finalize a new ebook for subscribers to help them choose a Word of the Year. Work on the 2016 Anthology for @moderncreativelife . Transcribe my column for Sunday from my journal to Word. John is still in DC til tomorrow …which means I stayed at my deak til after 9 tonight. It’s 12 degrees and snowing…and a smidge may stick…and the woosh of the wind can be heard over the sound of the furnace kicking… This is what creative living looks like some days: the push push push to move projects along…then delaying bedtime a few moments to fill the well with nourishment. #love #soultending The prompt for #decemberreflections2016 is “On the Ground ” This is my Day 90 post for #100daysofcreativeliving for my #100dayproject

A photo posted by Debra Smouse (@debrasmouse) on

Day 91

On my way to pour my 2nd cup of coffee, I got distracted by this: the edges of the sunrise from the Northeastern perspective….the soft pinks tinged with gold as it melds into the pale blue…. Until the leaves fell, I hadn’t noticed the little nest in this tree. I am glad the occupants have moved somewhere warm…but look at how well-built and sturdy it is, clinging to the branches after all the snow and winds. Maybe that’s my lesson for the day: you are made of strong stuff…no matter the winds and storms…life always has beauty This is my (almost forgotten) (almost completed) Day 91 of #100daysofcreativeliving for my #100dayproject : the reminder to pay attention to the signs from nature. #love #soultending #sunrise

A photo posted by Debra Smouse (@debrasmouse) on

As I mentioned, my goal is still to finish this project before January 1st rolls around, to complete at least the 100 Days of Creative Living – on Instagram by then. But my work as a maker, my real work in the world, is not to stop noticing my own life and the details that make it richer.

As I said when I began this project is still true:  if we want our creative lives to be sustainable, we need to learn to subsist on tiny sips of inspiration and see the infinitesimal moments of beauty and perfection as our building blocks. 

To see the small moments of my life as holy as the big ones. To recognize that the way the light falls across a birds nest left in the maple tree outside my dining room window is as important to my creative life as publishing two books this year. To recognize myself that these days of not feeling at my best, yet sitting in the side-by-side companionship with John are just as important, or maybe more important than our vacation this fall.

“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”
― Mary Oliver

Christmas Day Letter: Dear Tender Heart

On Sundays over at Modern Creative Life, we rotate our columns – Sunday Sanctuary from me, Sunday Salon from  Becca, and Sunday Brunch from Melissa. And on the extra Sundays, we feature Letters. Sometimes by one of us, sometimes by a staff member, sometimes from an outside maker’s submission.

The Christmas Letter is by me…written a couple of weeks ago and the final edits were made last night. I wasn’t sure who to write it to: Love, Compassion, Grace, Tenderness, Forgiveness… and ended up addressing it to my own Tender Heart.

It’s an ode, in part, to the mystical power of prayer and the magical transformation that can occur when it comes to healing our own broken places. It’s also about the power of symbols and carving out altar spaces in our homes and hearts.

You can read it here.

“What is Christmas? It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present,hope for the future. It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal, and that every path may lead to peace.”
–Agnes M. Pahro

on this Christmas Eve: Lessons from Mary Oliver

I had grand plans for writing this week. I planned to work hard on my 2017 coaching content, with the goal of completing drafts for at minimum the three blog posts needed for January’s “consumable content“. Earlier this year, I had planned not only the topics for my first quarter of content for 2017, but had also gone through the task of choosing the art to use for each post. A task I love yet a task that tends to slow me down. A way to drag my feet a little, procrastinate as we all can do.

I also planned to write, if not daily, at least several times here. I miss this space, I need this space, a return to my roots of writing, when daily blogging began to break open the chains I had around my heart and creative life. Blogging back in 2000 resurrected the writer buried within me. Back then, writing online seemed safer than writing on paper.

Sixteen years later, I am in the midst of a creative evolution, I know that I need to write in order to think. I also know that the new routines and rituals I am needing haven’t gelled yet. Honestly, I don’t even know if I’ve found them yet.  I need to write in my journal, a place that is finally safe for me. But writing here gives me the illusion of some outward accountability. It’s easier to bury my head in the sand and pretend that my writing life is solid when I am am only sharing 1000 words every couple of weeks for work and another 1000 words over at Modern Creative Life.

Writing here regularly also dovetails with the adage of: the more you write, the more you write. Even though the illusion of outward accountability is mostly a trick since I only have a half-dozen or fewer folks popping in here. But, the thing is, tricks work to help us form new habits and strengthen our muscles. Yes, even our writing muscles.

This week has not turned out as I planned.

John decided to tele-work most of this week. I have yet to master getting solid amounts of writing done when he’s home. In part because early on in our relationship, I established the firmest boundaries for my work life I’d ever created: work when he’s at work, don’t work when he’s home. I’ve been self-employed since 2003, so this was a big deal for me when we first set up house together: to not work 7 Days a Week.

This has evolved over the last six years, of course, with me saving the more mindless tasks for work, like scheduling social media posts, for his tele-work days. Or reading while he plays his XBox  and replaying to emails while he analyzes the statistics for the Cubs.

My friend Melissa tells me this is something I must learn to do: to write when he is home. He plans to retire between the ages of 65 and 66, which means I will be 55 or 56. My long range goal for those retirement years is writing books and editing the brilliant work of others. I know she is right, but I’m not there yet by a long-shot. And trust me, I berate myself in the head for not having better discipline or a better ability to focus on my work and tune out what’s happening outside my office door.

I was feeling pretty frustrated about this (again) and then found comfort in words in Mary Oliver’s brilliant new book of essays Upstream.

“Creative work needs solitude. It needs concentration, without interruptions. It needs the whole sky to fly in,and no eye watching until it comes to that certainty which it aspires to, but does not necessarily have at once. Privacy, then. A place apart – to pace, to chew pencils, to scribble and erase and scribble again.”

As always, I learn from the wisdom of others. I have become accustomed to complete solitude during my writing hours. I pace, not just my office, but the entire house. I talk to myself, go up and down the stairs, spread out laundry, all the while plotting and planning in the space of no one seeing my crazy work habits.

Like most of my reading these days, Upstream has been borrowed from the library. There are so many books I want to read, but frankly, few I will read more than once or twice. I haven’t finished reading it, yet based on the sheer power of this single essay  “Power and Time”, I need this book on my own shelves.  I will return to the essay time and time again to remind myself that I am not alone. That my need to create isn’t selfish, but critical to my ability to feel alive.

“Power and Time” speaks so strongly about the creative life – the need for silence and privacy, the truth that we create during ordinary time that, because of our work, transforms into the extraordinary. How we must tend our creative work or else find ourselves living a life of regret because we gave our creative life neither importance or time.

There’s another major factor in my writing plans going awry: I’m sick. For the second time this year, I am fighting a cold/respiratory thing. This time, though, John isn’t sick. I’ve been fighting the edges of it for more than a week, and yesterday was the worst day of it. I spent a couple of hours on the couch just resting, watching The Librarians as I sipped chicken soup.  Then, John came upstairs and we watched The Thin Man and other movies, ordered a pizza, and did little else.

Today, it is Christmas Eve. I am still not back to 100% but do feel better. I’ve showered, had some eggs, and then made a brunch of breakfast tacos and hash-browns. We planned to go to Mass today, but the last thing I want to do is spread my germs to others celebrating the holiday. So, we will be staying home.

This cold is another slice of reality for me, though: another thing I have yet to master is learning to rest and be idle.

My body needs more rest than I am giving it, and by rest, I don’t mean sleep necessarily. Though I no longer live “busy” as my lifestyle, I do keep busy. This year has been busy, what with two new books of my own and the editing of the Anthology for Modern Creative Life. Not to mention madly working on the third book I planned to release this year, but didn’t.

I have expended enormous doses of energy without being as diligent as I need to be about preparing myself for the work.  I’m not taking enough time away from the internet. I haven’t been exercising as much as I need to, and though I stuck with a fairly conscious approach to eating from May through September (mostly a Whole30 approach). In October,I began indulging in way too much gluten in the form of biscuits, sandwiches, and the occasional slice of cake.  Though I am not allergic to gluten, it is an inflammatory food to my body and after a summer of being mostly pain free, the joints in my hand and hips are making themselves known.

Again, Oliver reaches out to me from the page:

“Like the knights of the Middle Ages, there is  little the creatively inclined person can do but to prepare himself, body and spirit, for the labor to come – for his adventures are all unknown.”

Committing to a creative life means preparing my body for the work to come. Writing requires large swaths of time sitting while using my hands – be it with a pen or keyboard – is an undeniable requirement.  Writing also requires that my body is rested and my soul is tended and fueled.

I have been planning to take from Christmas through Candlemas off from heavily working on my coaching practice or focused on a new body of work. My soul has been begging me to stop harvesting and rest. My brain, oh my brain, has pushed me to do a little more here and a little more there.

My body finally said “enough” and laid me low.

Though I had already committed to 2017 being a year when I turn the microscope on myself and examine where I am neglecting myself, my body has chimed in to remind me that it needs tending alongside my heart, mind, and soul.  It needs, not just the commitment and not just the actions I’ve taken thus far to seal that commitment, but the reminder it demands more from me, and the more from me it demands is sometimes….less.

The Return of the Light

Today is the Winter Solstice. The longest night of the year, the day that marks the first night of winter, and the day that also marks the return of the light. It’s a moment steeped in magic.

As I shared several months ago, one of my morning rituals is to choose a Tarot card for the day (usually from Joanna Powell Colbert’s Gaian Tarot Deck) and today’s card is Temperance. To seek the balance, the middle way, to balance your own light and shadow. An appropriate theme for the day: the middle way. To find that space between my light and shadow.

To seek the light when it’s the darkest, longest night of the year.

My desk is a mass of books this evening: Home Comforts, the Gaian Tarot Book, Henri Nouwen’s Sabbatical Journey, my emerald journal just recently filled with words alongside the orange one just begun, and the olive green bullet journal. Oh, and my Kindle, too, containing a dozen books or more, some of which I read, some of which I am reading, like Mary Oliver’s Upstream….and some of which I hope to read.

I wish I could say I’ve done a lot of writing today, but mostly, I’ve thought. And prepared for the holiday.

I went to the grocery store, getting supplies for Christmas dinner and all the days leading up to it. Tonight, I made a big dinner of braised beef in tomatoes in my new Instant Pot and served them alongside all the orange veggies in the fridge: sweet potatoes, carrots, and butternut squash.John said it was good, but said it smelled like dirty socks. Hmmmm…maybe not the aroma I was going for?

And now….time to slumber, to dream, to find the magic there and sometimes answers in the voices of those who visit my dreams.

Happy Solstice.


The Year of CREATE and….

I didn’t do a very good job of writing regularly about my 2016 Word of the Year: Create. Yet, every action I took this year and the decisions I made in 2016 about my personal, professional, and creative life were fueled by – and supported by – the concept of being true to it.

Oh, not as true as I wanted to be to it – or else there would be more personal meanderings here in this space. And that’s something I desire to remedy in 2017.

I miss the opportunity to sit here and connect with my words in this open journal format more than I would admit to the average person. Because most folks wouldn’t get how I could long to write more each week when one of the goals of 2016 was to write less articles for my “real” work – my coaching practice.

The thing is, when I write as Debra Smouse, Life Coach, it is imperative I have the answers. Maybe not all the answers, but at least enough answers to help others move their life forward.  Frankly, I am good with answers. I have one of those quick brains that can see a plethora of possibilities and can offer up a smorgasbord of choices for the folks I work with. I believe that each one of us has our answers deep inside of us, we just need someone else to ask us the right question, offer up the right book, or point us in a particular direction.

The problem with being good with the answers it that it’s harder for me sometimes to admit that I don’t have my own answers.

Especially when my deepest desires seem to be different from those of my peers and friends. I want more peace and less conflict and more trust and less activism. There are those I love that are so passionate about stating their opinions and taking a repeated stand and frankly, that isn’t who I am at my core.

It isn’t that I don’t care or have no opinions. I just prefer to keep those opinions…within my own four walls. John and I discuss the state of the world. I do talk about political things with a couple of girlfriends, only by phone or in person, though.

I am not the person that is going to write THE ARTICLE that everyone MUST READ. I don’t have a talent when it comes to tackling social justice issues.

But, it has made me question myself: my heart, my ethics, my womanhood, my sense of propriety, my faith, my patriotism, and my desire to see good in the world where others can only see negativity. Am I not brave enough? Smart enough? Am I uncaring? Am I shallow? Am I not passionate?

Have I not stepped out of my own upbringing of being a “Good, Southern, Girl” enough to be comfortable talking about politics or religion or asking someone how much money they paid for their car?

I would rather see the blow-by-blow of a friend’s brunch and how the book they are reading is shifting their DNA over their need to share how ANGRY they are at the world.  I long to see the beauty, the stark, irrefutable beauty of daily existence over how a beloved may be responding to news of the world.

Because, trust me, I am reeling here when I read about what happened in Berlin and Turkey and Syria and HERE and There. Yet, each day, I witness so much stark beauty: a young mom creating her best life, my mail lady sharing a story of her grief over the loss of a sister-in-law – laughing through our tears….

Though my call to CREATE in 2016 has been to create differently, I still came to the conclusion that that didn’t mean I was ready to create that differently and suddenly begin writing about those topics.

And that decision to not write about any of those things means that often, I don’t write at all. Because, writing about ordinary beauty, moments of perfection in an imperfect world, and the tiny details of tending a soul seem….boring.

I long for peace and beauty and hope. I seek what’s good in the world, not what is wrong. Maybe I am too Pollyanna-ish.

No one can deny that 2016 has been a challenging year. My life – my daily, every day life – is one that I love and I cherish. It’s a daily life I only dreamed of having when I was a little girl.

But that doesn’t mean that it’s been perfect in my own little piece of this world.

I wrote to a friend in a letter that maybe all this upheaval meant that the one place I needed to turn the microscope wasn’t on the world at large, but on myself. Where am I neglecting myself? Where am I bullying myself? Where am I disenfranchising my own soul? Isn’t the place to begin…within my own life?  Isn’t it imperative that I be true to my number one commitment of ensuring that the daily life that I create nourishes me, John, and our relationship?

I still don’t have all the answers, but I do have an inkling to what direction I need to be looking for those answers. Or, at least more of them.

As we wind our way towards Christmas and 2017, I know that my Word for 2016 will continue forward with me….because I desperately need the support of it as I get a glimpse into what my personal work for 2017 must be….

As we move towards 2017, I’ll be sharing some highlights of how CREATE came front and center

Thanksgiving for Two

For the first time in our seven years together, John and I are spending Thanksgiving at home – just the two of us.It’s harvest_fall_thanksgivingthe most relaxed I’ve felt on this holiday since long before we were together…and I am doubly grateful for the opportunity to create a beautiful meal. There are so many things I enjoy about Thanksgiving with his family, but one thing I miss is the opportunity to contribute something I’ve made by hand. Traveling for 4 1/2 hours (or more when there is traffic) doesn’t lend well to contributing much to the table beyond wine or more sturdy baked goods.

The part of me that loves cooking misses the opportunity to be of service in a way I show love, through food. I felt left out, unable to contribute….

It feels a little strange, to be frank, and the worrier in my can’t help but wonder if grudges will be held, a staple of my childhood. Unlike my mother, John’s mother doesn’t seem to hold grudges. She’s more of a “let it go” kind of woman, realizing after 87 years here on this planet, there is a lot to let go of. (I’m not quite sure of all of the sisters, but I am hopeful).

As I sit writing, the turkey is in the oven, turkey stock is simmering on the stove, and there is cornbread dressing in tableissetforthanksgivingthe crock-pot. A slightly modified version of my Aunt Dot’s cornbread dressing, to be exact. There is a chocolate pie in the fridge and the table is set.

I still have cooking yet to do, though for now am grateful for the opportunity to come here in this space and write as I sip a glass of wine. Though I still cook a turkey after Thanksgiving, after being gifted a beautiful free-range bird each year by my favorite grocery store, I had forgotten how much hard work goes into wrestling with one. Especially with the added work of the trimmings…something I skip when I do the post-Thanksgiving turkey roasting.

I did some prep work yesterday.

John requested a chocolate pie as our dessert, something I was happy to make over the traditional Pumpkin or Pecan. It’s my grandmother’s recipe and the one her mother made: an old-fashioned custard style pie made with egg yolks, whole milk, sugar, and a lot of patience. As was typical of previous generations, it’s a base that can be customized to make chocolatepiebanana pudding or coconut cream pie, as well.

It takes an hour (or more) to make, and that hour of stirring the custard on low connects me with three generations of women.

I am grateful to play with my Aunt Dot’s Cornbread Dressing. A recipe my sister sent me, as neither of us can find our Mother’s recipe. Aunt Dot’s is close, though, with corn bread, “light bread”, and chopped boiled eggs. I made a few substitutions: whole grain bread for the white Mrs. Baird’s and real butter instead of “oleo” and I’m baking it in the crock pot (4 hours on low). I pared the recipe down from 40 servings to 10, something that took a bit of math. It’s the one dish I’ve missed the most the last six years, because folks in the Midwest tend to make bread dressing.

I can still recall that first Chicago Thanksgiving, missing cornbread dressing and mayo for the day-after Turkey sandwiches. Wanting the comfort of familiar foods and thanksgivingdinnermissing my mother so much it hurt.

This morning, I made John’s mother’s cranberry sauce: one bag of cranberries, one whole orange, and 1/3 cup of sugar tossed in the blender. We may only have a spoonful, but it’s a traditional flavor (and better than opening a can of Ocean Spray Jellied).

Now, all that’s left is for the turkey to come out of the oven. I’ll let it rest as I turn to baking potatoes and Parker House rolls, making gravy, and composing a little salad. We’ll light the candles, fill our plates, and linger over this seventh Thanksgiving together.

As John mentioned to me moments ago: we have a good life. It’s something we’ve worked hard for and something to celebrate. And certainly something to be Thankful for….

In fact, we have so much to be thankful for: health, love, friends, family, memories of the past, and hope for the future. I hope you are feeling the same.

Happy Thanksgiving and so much love to you and yours.

Saying Hello to October with Saturday Morning Rambling

I’ve been itching to come back here to this page all the while my Logical Brain asks: “WHY do you need to write in img_20160427_071632your personal blog space when you have…

  • a journal for private thoughts and to work things out
  • a professional blog to talk about work, your books, and ladle out advice
  • the new magazine, with a regular column to share a little more about your life
  • and lest you forget Instagram, where you share both photos and snippets about real life

I don’t quite have the full answer to assuage my logical voice, yet here I am on a Saturday morning, typing into empty WordPress window. Going back to my writing roots, words on an internet page that folks might happen across…or not. Allowing my less-than-perfect self to be witnessed.

Maybe that’s what is compelling me this morning to write here: to allow myself to be less than perfect AND to allow that to be seen. I won’t be running this through Hemingway to remove excess adverbs and passive voice. I won’t be choosing a “key word” and optimizing this post for SEO. I won’t be writing this in Word, letting it sit for a bit, and then editing it.

It’s raw. And possibly too real. And a part of me is OK with that.

And while I allow myself to be naked and vulnerable and imperfect in my journal, that space is 100% safe from prying eyes, a necessity. Yet, having that safe space to work things out doesn’t negate the fact that I am also in a messy space that needs witnessing.

That in my less-than-perfect pouring of words onto a page, I want to connect with other souls.

When I am writing in my role as “coach”, I am an authority figure, taking the lessons I have learned in my life and img_20160413_134928shifting them into teachable examples. Though another side of my writing voice has begun to shine over at Modern Creative Life, I am still the “editor”, another authority figure.

I am falling out of love with my role as coach when it comes to the online world. I do stellar work with my one-on-one clients. I am both loving and no-nonsense. It’s a role I am comfortable in and a role in which I still shine and do some of my best work. Yet, the trappings of that – the SEO, the BRAND – are losing their shine.

I am in a transition year for my coaching practice. I am still actively coaching clients, yet not seeking new clients. I am also in the midst of retiring the products I’ve sold in my practice. I am turning two of my 30 Days to Clarity courses into books and that feels right on target.

When it comes to my role as “editor”, I must confess that I fall more in love with it each day. How magical is it…to take the works of others and help them shine? To put a spotlight on beautiful and talented souls? To reach out to people I admire and say “please can we feature your work” and “how can we serve you in some way”.

To be honest with you, I got out of bed before John on this Saturday morning to edit Clearing Brain Clutter.  And you’ve probably caught onto the fact that, no, indeed, I am not editing. Am I?

I got up and prepared to do it.  Came downstairs to my office, made a “short” pot of coffee (just enough to tide me over til John wakes), pulled my “card for the day” (a practice I began in August), posted a book review for a friend’s book, and wrote a little in my journal.

I just poured my 3rd cup of coffee. The folder with my hand edits for Clearing Brain Clutter is still closed and I haven’t double-clicked the Word icon yet.

The biggest issue is this: the person that first created the course Clearing Brain Clutter isn’t the person sitting here turning it into a book. When I first decided to begin retiring products as saleable eCommerce items and turning them into real books, I thought it would be a fairly easy task. And yes, it’s easier than beginning with a blank page, but in order to be happy with releasing this into the world as a hold-in-your-hand book, I need to do more work.

I discovered this when I was working on Clearing Soul Clutter. Yet, I powered through that process and got it to “proof” format before we returned from vacation.  And I am kicking my own ass because I didn’t get the same done for Clearing Brain Clutter. I wanted to get it done before vacation, but it wasn’t humanly possible. Because the editing and formatting process took three times as long than I had first thought.

Just as I am not the same person who wrote those courses that I am turning into books, I am not the same person that left here on September 13th, bound for New York City.

I had a couple of days of solo time, and during that time alone in the “city that never sleeps” I was able to better listen to the still, small voice of my inner wisdom. I’d shared coffee with a film-maker friend earlier that day, had some some shopping, and came back to my room to rest. As I stood in my hotel room, overlooking Times Square and the bright lights of Broadway and got a glimpse into what my work is to be in 2017.

Damn and double damn.

My solo time in the city ended. John arrived. We explored every nook and cranny of the Intrepid and then set sail for 20160923_125349our planned cruise. On the last evening, after a perfectly lovely outing sailing in Newport, John came down with a fever. We had some excellent travel karma and were able to catch an earlier flight home after disembarking, arriving home at noon rather than the planned 8 PM last Saturday (the 24th).

He showered and took a nap, I began tackling laundry and shoring up our supplies (groceries!). And by Sunday evening, I, crawled into bed feeling less than stellar. We had Monday off together – and rested. Tuesday, we both went “back to work”. And frankly, I only had energy to devote to client calls and not enough energy to go back to the task of editing.

I am rarely sick. In fact, it’s been at least three years since I’ve had even a cold. But this respiratory infection has been a doozy. Most of this week, I’ve coached clients and rested on the couch.

Not what I had planned for the week, that’s for sure.

I had planned on finishing the edits and ordering a physical proof by the week’s end, but I didn’t touch Clearing Brain Clutter until yesterday.

So here I am on Saturday morning. Not editing. Needing instead to write through this, make some sense, be seen. To pour out some words, then pause.

[dropcap]F[/dropcap]rom the time I began this blog post to now, John has risen. We moved out onto the deck to breathe in the fresh fall air. I made a full pot of coffee and am sipping my 5th cup. (Which is unusual because I typically have 2 cups).

I’m still feeling like I’m under the influence of too much cold medication (cough syrup) though I’ve been up for a couple hours and have been med-free since midnight.

I am in limbo and at the edges of my own new beginning. We had a New Moon yesterday, today is October 1st.  John’s work stress should be abating thanks to a new team (officially effective today). The earth is shifting and morphing in ways that are both new and familiar as she prepares for winter.

Because I am the gal that lives to dive in feet first, I long to begin the work on the new project. It is whispering to me in my dreams. It’s calling to me as I put sugar in my coffee and beckoning me as fold freshly laundered handkerchiefs into neat rectangles.

I am shifting right along with the earth. I am wishing for the hard work of autumn – the harvest – to be completed. But I must face facts that there is work to be done. We are still three months away from 2017’s arrival. And before I can begin that work, I must do the work before me.

When we get a glimpse into what’s next, it can be easy to abandon what’s now. Yet, it’s irresponsible and it would taint the what’s next.

I must do the work of the harvest. Finish editing Clearing Brain Clutter in the coming days, order the proof, and do the final work to release both it and Clearing Soul Clutter into the world on October 16th. To do this in a way that feels nourishing to me means that I need all my little ducklings in a row for this no later than Friday, the 7th.

I need a clear head to go along with my strong heart to get it done. Thank goodness I created a robust task list to guide me through the final steps of this process, the proof, the publication, and the marketing pieces. The covers have been designed, the sales page is being written, and I am poised to move quickly.

img_20160819_164811Then, the rest of this month’s creating time goes to the new book for 2016 – and all of November’s energy goes into the editing and formatting the NEW book.

Yes, in addition to the two 30 Days to Clarity books, I will be releasing a brand new book into the world before Winter arrives.  The book that demanded that I write differently is the work that opened the way for the next work to be born.

I see the two 30 Days to Clarity books as a way to harvest some of the best of my body of work from the last five years and a share it with a broader audience.

The New Book is something I have been meant to write for years now, but just wasn’t ready. Little did I realize that it wasn’t a pinnacle of my body of work, but a gateway to what 2017 is demanding of me.

It is the way of the creative mind, to introduce us to what’s next as a way to keep us going, engaged. To help us to not lose heart when we labor away.

I think it’s no coincidence that my word for 2016 is CREATE.  I need to honor it. To complete the work I’ve been given this year – the finalizing of the two 30 Days to Clarity books, the finishing of my 100 Day Project (which stalled on day 85), and to be devoted to the NEW book, to be finished before Winter arrives.

To clear the slate, clear space physically and metaphorically for the new work to emerge from a place of clean energy. To tidy up the 2016 Harvest and allow winter’s call of rest and restoration to nourish my soul. Then, to plant my tiny seeds of new growth in 2017 for the next harvest.

I think sometimes we forget that each year’s harvest relies upon years and years of seeds that were planted.

I had forgotten how much I needed this space here – a personal blog that few read, yet a space that anyone might stumble across.  To step away from being on-brand-perfect.

To allow the messy parts to be seen.