In His/Her Honor - Framing Memories Since 1981

Jan BertwellJan Bertwell“Framing Your Memories Since 1981” is the motto for Jan Bertwell’s custom frame shop, Finishing Touches in Wakefield, Rhode Island. Framing memories is also what she’s been doing in her own life since her husband of 37 years died suddenly about four years ago. She has re-invented her life, found strength in needlework and weaving threads, and with great hesitation, has developed the business that she and Steve began together as partners. They worked together day after day, and now, with her son Evan by her side, and memories of Steve never far away, she is thriving in the Wakefield community.

Jan and Steve met when they were teenagers and lived in the same Warwick, R.I. neighborhood. They started dating and went on to college with Jan pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in home economics with a focus on textiles and clothing from University of Rhode Island, and Steve attending the Community College of Rhode Island for tool design. In 1972 the teenaged sweethearts got married. In 1980 they built a home in Richmond, preparing to settle down for a lifetime of love.

Jan was doing needlework finishing work while still in college and people brought her their needlework projects, which she turned into pillows and other household accessory items that featured their beautiful needlework. Often, people wanted their handiwork framed.

In 1981 the couple began working full time together in their home based business. Jan did needlework finishing and Steve did framing. At the time, she remembers, there were many needlework stores in the area, and they had small displays in the different stores advertising their services. They took orders and did the work at home. When their business took off, they had to expand from their house to the garage.

“We grew as much as we could with the space we had,” says Jan. In 1989 they moved into rented commercial space in Richmond, even though they were still doing mostly wholesale work. “Early in the 90s, with the downturn in the economy, many of our wholesale accounts closed, and we found our retail business growing. In 2007 Steve and I realized it would be smart to look for another location but our plan hadn’t really crystallized yet. He died suddenly of a heart attack in 2009 after playing a round of golf with friends. He was 58.”

People marveled at how well they lived and worked together. Some might think that few relationships could withstand that kind of togetherness. But it was never an issue for Jan and Steve. His family was really important to him.

“We had our moments but we really enjoyed each other’s company,” says Jan. “Even on our day off, we would hang out together. He was really outgoing. And he cared a lot about people and they really liked him. Steve had a great sense of humor. To lose him was a great shock. One minute you are thinking in terms of what to make for dinner and then you are at South County Hospital. It was a big shock.”

Their sons Evan and Dan had grown up in the business and their father had taught them well. Evan had worked full time with them for years before moving to Florida for seven years. When his father passed away, he packed up and came home. Jan had no plans to continue the framing business. She was ready to pack up herself, and just do needlework finishing out of her home. But with Evan’s arrival and his conviction that they shouldn’t give up that part of their business his father had built, they pushed on in their Richmond location.

Fiber dyed by Jan BertwellWeaving by Jan Bertwell“It was as smooth a transition as it could be,” says Jan, but she couldn’t help but feel a little bit guilty with every change they made. In some ways, their businesses were very separate, with Steve doing everything involved with the framing end of it while Jan had complete control of the needlework finishing. With Steve gone, they learned there was a lot they didn’t know and had to figure out. Changes and growth had to happen. It was inevitable. They found a lot of support from suppliers as they worked to learn about pricing, ordering and a plethora of other details that Steve knew, but had not written down. He was a pencil and paper guy and had been reluctant, despite prodding, to enter into the digital age. With Evan’s encouragement, Jan purchased new equipment and upgraded technology to make their services top notch. So much was happening at once, and with each change, Jan felt a twinge of guilt and longing for her partner. In 2012 Finishing Touches moved to their Main Street, Wakefield location for greater visibility, and most of their customers followed.

Business is running smoothly now and Jan makes time to reach beyond her pain, and give back to the community that has been so supportive of her. She has been active in helping promote the HopArts Studio Trail, an open studio event for artists in and around Hopkinton and Richmond. In November of last year, she did a presentation (similar to a Ted Talk) about organ transplants for Ignite Southern Rhode Island, a program of the South Kingstown Chamber of Commerce.

“I like to do what I can, donate where I can,” says Jan. “When Steve died he had organs that were useable. The New England Organ Bank offered me support and let me know how other people had been helped by Steve. Seven months after he was gone, I learned that two people were given the gift of sight from his corneas. They were blind and now they can see. I wanted to increase awareness about organ donations.”

Jan has also belonged to the Moonlight Weavers Guild since 2001. They are a group of weavers who meet monthly at different member’s homes and occasionally at the University of Rhode Island campus. She loved the process but hadn’t been very active with weaving, despite her husband’s encouragement.
“Steve was really supportive. He loved everything I did. He’d wait up for me to come back all excited from weaving. He said, as long as I enjoy it, that’s the important thing.”

Jan hand dyes fibers that are later woven on a loom. With encouragement and guidance from celebrated weavers Jan Doyle and Grace Farrell, of the Octagon Fiber and Fiction Center in Carolina, she picked up weaving again after Steve passed away.

“After I returned to the loom, it was nice. Though I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of missing him now and again,” says Jan, “You really do have to concentrate. There is no room for other thoughts. I like the meditative nature of weaving. It keeps me in the moment. And if done correctly it’s beautiful and you can watch the progress of it. I have mixed feelings about it but I’m glad I started up again. I do things now and I realize I am so far from the life I had.”

Finishing Touches is located at 311A Main Street, Wakefield, RI. Contact them at or call (401)284-3700.

Ask Jane - Love and Loyalty

Love trust affection

The loss of a spouse leaves us overwhelmed with many feelings. One of the most frequent issues that arises among widow/ers is determining when it is appropriate to begin dating and explore another relationship? The answer depends on you, your feelings about the circumstances of the loss itself, and your readiness personally to do so. There are many variables and there is no right answer for everybody. These thoughts and examples that might help you decide for yourself. 

First of all, there is no rush. It is your decision alone to decide to date again. For some, it’s never right. But give yourself the space and time to process what has happened, how your life is changed, and where you want to go from here. Being on your own is not always a bad thing. In fact, many people find that a period of being single is what they need to find themselves again and to discover a new direction. It can be a very freeing experience.

Let’s think about the example of a man who has been married for 25 years and unexpectedly becomes widowed. Besides the obvious shock and grief, he had never planned on going through the rest of his life without his wife. They were planning to do lots of things together that they never could do while they were raising their children. They looked forward to traveling around the country after they retired. He’s not used to being alone, and he can’t imagine going with anyone else. But after a year or more, he has grieved as much as he can handle. He begins to accept the loss and to think about what is next for him. He is lonely, and his children are grown and have their own families. He thinks about finding a lady friend, but feels as though he is somehow betraying his late wife if he does so. His intellect knows that it isn’t true, since he is now a widower, but he can’t shake the feeling that it’s wrong.

Whether and when he moves on to another relationship depends on a number of factors. Since his wife died suddenly and unexpectedly, he needs time to process the trauma he has suffered, and it’s best that he not move on until he has done so. Rushing into a new relationship might be comforting in the short run. But in the long run he may find himself not able to give his lady friend the love she deserves, as he finds himself still in love with his late wife. While he will always hold his late wife lovingly in his heart, he needs time to process and accept the way his life has changed before he is ready to begin a new relationship.

Ask Jane

In addition, his children, friends, or siblings may be uncomfortable with his sadness and encourage him to become more social before he is ready to do so. Conversely, some adult children have their own issues about a parent beginning a new relationship. They may be the ones who see it as a betrayal of their late mother. They may resent his future lady friend, and it may cause hurt feelings in the family. For this reason, it may be a good idea if, before introducing his adult children to his lady friend, he have a conversation with them. Give assurances that this is a new relationship, having nothing to do with him not loving their mother, nor does it replace her. Then it is more likely that his children will realize that their father’s lady friend makes him happy, and perhaps that will make them happy too.

Let’s consider another example, this time of a woman in her fifties whose husband dies after a series of strokes and heart attacks over a period of 5 years. He recovered from the initial stroke reasonably well, but over the next few years he has more of them and gradually suffers congestive heart failure and paralysis. By this time, he may have been in a nursing home for several years.

His wife has had five years to think about the future if she loses him, and she has grieved the potential loss of him, even as he lives in his hospital bed. It is not only possible, but common, to grieve for someone who has not yet died. In this case, however, the woman may be more ready to move on to a new relationship after his death than the man mentioned earlier, as she is farther along in the grief process at the time of his death. She has had time to experience what life will be like without him, and she is better able to let go of any loyalty conflicts she might have. She may have already given herself permission to begin to live again for herself, perhaps with a new partner.

This is a good time to consider what we’ve learned from our first marriage. What parts of it did we love, and what might we learn from our mistakes? Any learning that we can do will improve our chances for an even better relationship in our future. This introspection takes time, and this time is a good investment in our future.

If these questions are uncomfortable I suggest you consult a Grief Counselor or a Marriage and Family Therapist to help you sort through the factors related to your situation. When you are ready to move on, make a list of all the qualities you can’t live with in a potential partner, and then another list of the things you must have in a partner in order to be happy. Then use those lists to decide who you should date, and if you stick to them, your next relationship may be better than you ever thought possible. Good luck!

Health & Wellness - I Really Need To Sleep!

Sleeping art

Dreams timeMy friend Beverly walked down the hall to the bedroom to dress for her husband’s funeral. She stopped short, unable to even re-enter that room to get her clothes. My friend Betty never again slept in the bed she had shared with her husband of 50 years, sleeping in the living room for 20 years. The bed is the one place we can’t distract ourselves from our loss. It is in bed that we feel the loss so acutely, and where we have the time to grieve most intensely. It is no wonder that sleep is elusive, and so many of us suffer from insomnia. Should we worry about it? Should we seek medical intervention? Or will it just go away after a while?

Widow/ers may find it easier to first enter the bedroom with someone else. My daughter-in-law helped me change the sheets after my husband died, and her presence was comforting to me. Lying on my husband’s side of the bed kept me from having to look at that empty place. I resisted putting a television in the bedroom at first, but did eventually, at the urging of my friends. I find it does help to have some “company” from the late night pundits at times. Retiring to the bedroom to watch tv before falling asleep also gets me out the kitchen area, and I find that I eat fewer evening snacks. Another bedroom addition was a small desk. I keep a journal there, and write about whatever is on my mind. Even with those modifications, I found that I fall asleep an hour or two later than usual, or that I wake up for an hour or two during the night. I had to change my work schedule, so that I now start at 9:00 instead of at 7:00. So if I am just getting into a deep sleep as morning approaches, I can enjoy it.

Our sleep patterns have certainly been thrown off by grief and anxiety. According to the Mayo Clinic, people who don’t get enough sleep function less well in several domains that we are just beginning to understand. They have slowed reaction time while driving. Lack of sleep exacerbates both depression and anxiety. And we know that depression and anxiety cause insomnia – what a downward spiral that sets up! And when we are tired, we tend to reach for a sugary snack for a boost of energy. And though the snack works in the short term, the weight gain that ensues makes life more difficult. Lack of sleep also predisposes us to high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. Neurons that control sleep interact closely with the immune system. Infectious diseases tend to make us feel sleepy. This probably happens because cytokines, chemicals our immune systems produce while fighting an infection, are powerful sleep-inducing chemicals. Sleep may help the body conserve energy and other resources that the immune system needs to mount an attack. Lack of sleep can also be attributed to side effects of some medications, or to an underlying medical condition.

What happens in the brain during sleep?

We now know that our brains are very active during sleep. Short term memories are cemented, and creative strategies to deal with issues are developed.

Scientists at the University of Rochester found that brain cells in animals shrink during sleep. This creates a greater space between the cells, so that the waste products of metabolism and toxins can more easily circulate out of the brain. They extrapolate that the same mechanism occurs in the human brain.  

According to the National Institute of Health, chemicals called adenosine and melatonin build up in our blood while we are awake and their increasing levels cause drowsiness. The chemicals gradually break down while we sleep. If we don’t get enough sleep, the adenosine is still in our system when we rise, causing a tired feeling right from the beginning of the day.  Also during sleep, nerve cells are nourished so that they have enough energy for the next day.

What Interferes with Sleep?

Mange these on our own

Consult with physician/sleep specialist

Caffeine: coffee, chocolate

Cardiac or pulmonary conditions

Drugs, such as diet pills and antidepressants suppress REM sleep

Any painful conditions

Heavy smokers often sleep very lightly and have reduced amounts of REM sleep. They also tend to wake up after 3 or 4 hours of sleep due to nicotine withdrawal

Sleep apnea is a common problem that interrupts sleep frequently due to closing of the larynxSleep apnea is characterized by lapses in breathing, followed by a snore or snort.

While alcohol does help people fall into light sleep, it also robs them of REM.

Depression, anxiety

Behavioral therapy

Behavior therapies teach you new sleep behaviors and ways to improve your sleeping environment. They are generally recommended as the first line of treatment for people with insomnia. Typically they're equally or more effective than sleep medications.

Behavior therapies include:

  • Education about good sleeping habits: Have a regular sleep schedule, avoid stimulating activities or caffeine or alcohol before bed, and have a comfortable sleep environment.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: Learn to control or eliminate negative thoughts and worries that keep you awake.
  • Relaxation techniques: Progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, biofeedback and breathing exercises are ways to reduce anxiety at bedtime. These strategies help you control your breathing, heart rate, muscle tension and mood.
  • Stimulus control. Limit the time you spend awake in bed and associating your bed and bedroom only with sleep.
  • Sleep restriction. Spend less time in bed, causing partial sleep deprivation, which makes you more tired the next night.
  • Remaining passively awake. Also called paradoxical intention, this treatment for learned insomnia is aimed at reducing the worry and anxiety about being able to get to sleep by getting in bed and trying to stay awake rather than expecting to fall asleep.
  • Light therapy. If you fall asleep too early and then awaken too early, you can use light to push back your internal clock. You can go outside during times of the year when it's light outside in the evenings, or you can get light via a medical-grade light box.
  • Exercise and stay active. Get at least 20 to 30 minutes of vigorous exercise daily at least five to six hours before bedtime.
  • If you take medications, check with your pharmacist to see if they may be contributing to your insomnia. Include over the counter medications.
  • Don't put up with pain. Get a good diagnosis and treatment plan.

The Rewards of Sleep

When we’ve had a good night’s sleep, we awaken refreshed, with a sense of readiness for whatever lies ahead that day. Our brain works well. Our memory is good, and we can think clearly to solve problems. We feel calm and at peace with ourselves and with those around us. It’s easy to be patient and kind. We have enough energy to do all of our chores with enough left over for something that we’d like to do.

"Finish each day before you begin the next, and interpose a solid wall of sleep between the two." – Ralph Waldo Emerson

See this video on insomnia, Lisa Saunders interviews Dr. Joanne Moore & Rachel Baer about insomnia and yoga.


Featured Widow/er - The Argentine Tango, a dance of healing for Paul Formica

Paul FormicaPaul FormicaOccasionally, tragic loss can lead us to places we haven’t been before and out of those experiences the healing process can begin. Such is the case with the gentle spirited politician Paul Formica. Paul is the First Selectman of East Lyme, Connecticut and a widow since 2009, when he lost his best friend. Paul and Donna met while she was working at the Lyme Tavern owned by his uncle, and he had come to town to oversee a new venture his uncle was starting.

“We fell in love and never looked back,” says Paul. They got married September 11, 1982 and began their life together. They opened Flanders Fish Market and Restaurant in East Lyme in 1983, and in 1984 began their family when their son was born.

“We kind of brought the kids into the business as soon as they were released from the hospital so she could work,” says Paul.

Donna used to bring the bassinet in and put it on the counter and it was clearly a family business They daughters arrived in the years to follow. As the kids grew older, they bussed tables and worked in the restaurant. They were involved in the community with Donna a great homemaker and mother, serving on the PTO at school and working at the fish market on weekends. Paul says it was her therapy to work on Friday nights.

“Donna had a wonderful personality, meeting people and speaking with them. She brought people together. She was kind of the maestro of the dining room, and I really think she was the reason for our success.”

Eventually he took an interest in zoning issues in town and ended up serving eight years on the zoning commission, followed by eight years on the Board of Finance.

In January 2007 he started planning a trip to Italy in October to celebrate his and Donna’s 25th wedding anniversary, wanting to surprise her with the trip of a lifetime. He planned for them to renew their vows at St. Peter’s Basilica, and to visit Paris, and Sicily where his grandparents were from. When he started Italian lessons in January, she thought he’d lost his mind.

In June of that year, he was asked to run for first selectman. But with the election scheduled for early November which was right around the time of his trip to Italy, he initially declined to run. He yielded to persuasion, but still took the trip. When Governor Rell came to town in support, his supporters viewed a video taped apology for his absence to his constituents, which Paul delivered in Italian. He won that election, and enjoyed great support from the community as he was re-elected. In early December 2009, Donna attended his inauguration and his term began. They got through the craziness of the holidays and with her doctors insisting there was nothing to worry about, she went about feeling not quite herself. Paul awoke around 5 a.m. the day after Christmas and found her on the living room floor. She was gone.

“Our kids, then 19-26 years old, were devastated as I was. She was my best buddy,” said Paul.

Their youngest daughter had just finished her first semester of college at UCONN and they were empty nesters ready to rekindle their romance. During that semester, Donna accompanied Paul to a conference in San Antonio. While he attended the seminar she looked around the shops, and at night they enjoyed each other’s company and went out for dinner. They loved being together.

“Since she’s passed away I’ve encouraged my married friends to stop once in a while and hold each other’s hands,” said Paul. “Go for a trip, go for a walk. Do something for each other.”

Asked what his fondest memories of Donna are, he says,” her spirit, her love of life, her ability with people, her complete, absolute faith and support of me and the kids. There was no greater advocate for us than her. And she was my best friend. We just wanted to spend as much time together as possible. I don’t think we said a cross word to each other in the time we were together.”

Since then, life has been very difficult with a tremendous void in their lives. She was 56 years old when she died and it’s been a difficult transition for all of them. Paul is determined to get through it and to support the children in their process. He has dated a little, and had one “fairly long term relationship”, but that didn’t survive the pressures of replacing the irreplaceable.

In 2010, in an effort to help the healing process, the family got involved in the Rocky Neck Heart Walk.

“The community wanted to do something for us and there’s only so many meatloaves you can eat,” says Paul. “The community rallied around this Heart Walk. We ended up with a number of wraparound events that led up to the walk in October 2010. We raised money and people got involved. Three hundred and fifty members of the team walked that day. It was an important part of the healing process.”

One of those wraparound events was a dance event at Arthur Murray Dance Studio. He had gone to other events but remembers being petrified of going to this one, not wanting to have to dance with anybody. He and Donna had tried to take lessons off and on over the years, but life got in the way and they never finished. He always thought he had two left feet. He got up his nerve and attended the fund raiser at Arthur Murray and was invited back for free lessons.

“They talked me into it,” says Paul. “It was kind of a way to get back into the world again. I started dancing and I’ve been dancing there a couple times a week ever since, learning the basic steps to the Rumba, Salsa, Tango and Swing. I ended up getting involved with this wonderful community of young people, a completely new group of friends.”

Since then over the past two years he developed a particular passion for the Argentine Tango.
“I don’t know why. I just love this dance.”

He began taking lessons specifically for that dance and has participated in a couple of showcase events dancing in front of 200 people. He recently returned from Argentina where he spent a week immersed in the culture, dancing the Argentine Tango each night.

“I’ve been blessed with an enormous amount of friends. But this is a whole different community and a passion I’ve never expected to have in my life. It’s given me something to grab on to. When I go into my lessons, it’s like nothing in the world exists except for that dance, for 45 minutes. It’s been a wonderful opportunity to get lost in my thoughts.”

He speaks of his trip to Buenos Aries with fondness. “They dance the Milonga at 2 a .m., and the really good dancers come out around 3 and I wouldn’t dance then. I just watched these wonderful dancers. The culture and lifestyle… you just become part of it. I can’t wait to go back. I can’t wait to get better. It’s been a wonderful resource in the healing process. I credit the good folks at Arthur Murray. I just love the Argentine tango. I just love the music, the feel of it, the tradition, the culture, the subtleness of every move. The slight movement of your foot or twitch of your shoulder makes all the difference. When you dance the Argentine tango you have three minutes with your partner and that’s all that matters, is the dance. It is a whole culture I find fascinating. I’ve never been so passionate about anything like this dance in my life. I’m hoping to get better. It honors Donna’s memory a little bit because of those lessons we never did. And it’s a way to heal.”

Paul feels fortunate to have been re-elected, and is currently running for state senate for the 20th district.

“I’m trying to move on to the next step. We’re getting stronger as a family. I’m finding that the hole that was created with this loss gets filled with love and laughter. I’m able to have this relationship with my children that I wouldn’t have had. Until I get to the other side I won’t understand what God’s will with this thing was. When you stop to think about it, life’s pretty good, but I miss my buddy.”

Spirituality - The Sacred Space We Create

Jill ButlerJill ButlerWhen we think of sacred spaces, all kinds of images might be conjured up. Churches, synagogues, pilgrimages to holy lands, trekking up Machu Pichu, and a plethora of other very religious visions surface. But what if sacred spaces are a lot closer and perhaps a bit less holy than we imagined? What if sacred space can be found right in our homes? What if sacred space can be found within us as well as around us? According to Jill Butler, author of Create the Space You Deserve, you can’t have one without the other.

“In order to make space sacred, you’ve got to clear the clutter or there’s no way to get centered in that space. Clutter clearing is not the goal but one step in the process.”

Clearing our outer space facilitates clearing the inner space. “Clearing the Clutter, Quiet the Mind,” are workshops presented by Butler in hopes of helping people get control of their stuff, their space and to embrace the sacred that is an essential part of living life to the fullest. She points out that if we have a house full of stuff that no longer serves us, all of that excess baggage follows us everywhere. We need to ask ourselves when we walk through our doors upon returning home each day, “How do we feel?” And is that how we want to feel?
“You never get to have a relationship with your stuff if you can’t find it,” she says.

Claiming a space as sacred is important as we seek to live with greater intention and awareness. We can choose to create homes that are sacred and honor what they provide for us or we can fill them to overflowing with stuff that means nothing to us. It is a conscious choice. But sometimes we fill our spaces unconsciously. We acquire family heirlooms we don’t want, we save 40 year old kindergarten report cards and 30 year old masterpieces from grammar school. In our consumer driven society, we shop til we drop and get so caught up in our stuff that we sometimes live in a vacuum of stuff we’ve acquired. But there is another way. And identifying our homes and the nooks and crannies within it as sacred space can help us to see with a new vision.

Butler recognizes her entire home as sacred space and she chooses carefully whom and what she invites into it. Within her sanctuary, which can be viewed in her book during its renovation as well as its completion, there are special places that speak to her at different times. She has an altar space filled with intentionally chosen items that make her feel connected. A favorite chair has her books within reach, while pictures, candles, and gifts she has received from special people in her life are close by.

“I visually connect with people through the things they’ve given me,” she says. “I only have things in my home that resonate with me. Something as simple as a chair can be sacred space. There’s not always room for a separate space, but we can find space that can be our sanctuary.”

Recognizing a certain area within our home that helps us to get still and centered, invites us into the presence of the holy, that sacred other. There is that stillness that comes when we can be present, in the comfort of our own home, surrounded by things that touch us in a deep way. There, we feel supported, strengthened, comforted.

“If our whole house is sacred space, then it has to be clear of all the stuff that is no longer useful,” says Butler. “When we walk through our homes, and find things we’ve inherited from our families, we need the courage to let go. Don’t dump that responsibility on your kids.”

She recommends finding the one thing that best represents the family member you are trying to connect with, and remember it’s the story of that piece that moves you, not the thing itself. She encourages setting boundaries rather than having so much stuff thrust upon us as keepers of tradition. We are indeed entitled to our own lives. We don’t need to hold on to things we don’t need or more importantly, don’t want. It is the memory we hold dear, not the stuff. In an effort to clear the clutter to begin honoring your space as sacred, she suggests, letting adult kids know you will no longer keep everything and invite them to take what they want and let them know you will dispose of the rest. Assuming responsibility for these unwanted treasures is a choice, not an obligation.

According to the Self Storage Association, there were over 48,500 self storage facilities in the United States at the end of 2013 with total self storage rentable space in the U.S. consisting of 2.3 billion square feet. That figure represents more than 78 square miles of rentable self storage space, equal to more than three times the size of Manhattan, New York. They report that 8.96 percent of all American households currently rent a self storage unit.

So we have all this stuff, that we don’t feel we can get rid of, and as the statistics show, we often end up paying someone else to keep it for us. But we don’t have to do this. Butler suggests we keep our eye on the prize. The idea that clearing out what we no longer need or want, without guilt, frees us for other things, in our homes, our spirits and in our minds.

Butler invites us to ask, “Are we ready for something new?” Let’s reward ourselves for letting go and making room for something new in our lives. Creating sacred space in our homes is just the beginning because once we no longer have all the stuff surrounding the outside of us, we may feel compelled to consider what’s going within us. And in that silence, it is there where we’ll find the sacred as well.

American author, conservationist and activist, Terry Tempest Williams writes, “The world is holy. We are holy. All life is holy. Daily prayers are delivered on the lips of breaking waves, the whisperings of grasses, the shimmering of leaves.”

Today, find a special place in your home that speaks to you. Gather a comfy throw, an overstuffed pillow, a good book or two. Light a candle, maybe some incense and carefully choose a few mementos, that help you feel grounded and in the present moment - Maybe something that helps you connect with nature or a loved one. Or grab a journal, your favorite pen, maybe some watercolors and perhaps Pachelbel’s Canon in D, and just enjoy the moment in gratitude for your holy and sacred space.

To learn more about Jill Butler’s books, workshops and products, visit

Expressive Arts - Marie Burkitt finds freedom in painting

Marie BurkittMarie BurkittMarie Burkitt grew up at Moosehead Lake in Rockwood, Maine as one of seven children in her family. Times were tough and her father, who did carpentry for a living, moved his wife and kids to Marlborough, Connecticut to find more work. Despite the hefty size of her family, she somehow managed to be the fortunate recipient of music lessons at the Connecticut Valley School of Music in Portland and it was there that her love of music began. She took guitar lessons and later taught herself banjo and mandolin, her favorite of the three. She dropped out of high school after one year and ran away from home at the age of 16 heading back up to her grandmother’s house in Maine for refuge. She later returned to Connecticut. Marie is a survivor in many ways and it was her drive for independence that kept her going.

She worked at a chicken farm in Glastonbury for several years, doing whatever needed to be done including cleaning and grading eggs. She even did a stint as a bus driver for a time. But it was her love of music that helped her get through tough times.
“I’ve had a hard life, but I live for music,” says Marie.

Eventually she got married and later divorced but she made a career out of teaching young and not so young folks how to make their own music. Initially, she taught at Connecticut Valley School of Music where she had learned to play, coordinating recitals, costumes, visits to nursing homes for performances and more.

“It was really something I enjoyed,” she says. “I think it’s nice to be able to teach the young ones, and the older ones, well, they think they are too old to learn.” She showed them otherwise. “You feel good when you make somebody happy,” adds Marie.

Marie BurkittMarie BurkittWhen she remarried, it was to Garrett, an older man. She gave in to her desire to enjoy the benefits of being her own boss. She gave lessons in her home music studio for 45 years. She doesn’t play any of those beloved string instruments anymore, because at 72 years old, she is concerned it will interfere with a second, somewhat newfound passion for painting.

Marie picked up pastels in 2004 when Garrett became ill. Though he passed away a short time later, she continued to nurture her art. She first started exploring creative art in response to a community listing for a pastels class at the library in Ansonia where she was living. She enjoyed so that when she learned that the mother of one of her music students was an art teacher, she bartered music lessons for art lessons. It was there, that she fine tuned her skills with pastels and was introduced to working with acrylic paints, and later oils. She particularly enjoys painting New England scenery and landscapes. She paints from photos she has taken, improvising here and there as the spirit moves her. Although she enjoys all three mediums, she is particularly fond of oils, appreciating the texture of the paint as well as the end result. With four or five paintings in process all the time, it’s hard to walk away. “You feel it in you. You can actually feel the painting within.”

Garrett often praised her creative efforts and even bragged about her. But she never quite felt worthy of his praise, even after losing 116 pounds through the Take Off Pounds Sensibly program. It was an effort that crowned her TOPS Queen for the state of Connecticut in 2002. Garrett grew less impressed, and as he got older and sicker, he was less affirming. When he passed away, she moved to Middletown to be closer to her son and to her mother.

“I’ve always been very independent. I feel free. I do what I want, when I want, if I want.”

Marie BurkittMarie enjoyed being married but enjoys her freedom and independence now too. She is very active and continues to perfect her craft through classes at the senior centers in Middletown and Meriden, where she learns from Doe Bartlett, whom she refers to as, “the best.” “You can always learn more,” says Marie, who also enjoys the camaraderie of being among others. Her memberships in The Art Guild of Middletown and the East Hampton Art Association afforded the opportunity to exhibit her work in various community venues. She had more than two dozen paintings on exhibit at the Durham Public Library earlier this year, as well as a smaller exhibit of oils at the Levi Coe Library in Middlefield. She took it upon herself to go down to the Russell Library, located right in her neighborhood in Middletown, to inquire about showing her work. She was not surprised when they said, “yes.” When she exhibits, her work is for sale. Though she sells an occasional piece, she gives more away to family and friends who are very supportive of her creative endeavors.

“I go wherever I can,” says Marie. “I love to display my work. My home looks like a gallery with my art all over the walls.” She divided her living room into about one third seating space and two thirds art studio. But that’s fine with her. She isn’t really someone who entertains much. She is just too busy painting. She does other things in the morning upon waking, but once she starts painting in the afternoon, she is likely to just keep that brush moving, sometimes into the wee hours of the night.

“I feel so blessed that this (painting) came into my life. I get lost in it. You have to keep going. I love it. I really do.”

She might pick up her music again although she’s in no hurry, with painting being her primary focus right now. Although it’s not true for everyone, she suspects that when people lose a spouse or partner, they often don’t want to marry again. For those folks she has a suggestion.

“Find something you are interested in. Everyone has a hidden talent. Find it. Try things. Go out. Spend time with people who lift you up and find something you love to do.”

Marie’s work is available at Fireworks, 112 Bridge Road, Haddam, CT. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


view sea beach


It’s clear this place
is sacred. As if east
winds and early frost
once carved the softer

parts of these granite walls
into fissures meant simply
for safekeeping. As if those
who gathered here knew

it was a lasting space, where
life, surging forth, would
recede through veins of quartz
into an ageless bank of time.

The island birds, I believe,
especially love this spot—
I’ve heard their rollicking
call as they wheel overhead,

eyes pinned to the minnow’s
shine, littering the tide-
washed rocks, over
and over again, one

hundred times a day,
with shattered skins
of mottled crabs and clams.
I love it, too—walking

old shores refurbished by time,
feeling life’s forces at work, there
in the same crevices where those
before us left them.

- Mary O’Connor

(As published in Dreams of a Wingless Child, a collection of poetic reflections on nature and life by Mary O'Connor. Wheatmark, Tuscon, AZ © 2007) Mary O’Connor is an artist and writer who lives on and is inspired by Connecticut’s shoreline. Visit

Books-Movies - My Morning View – An iPhone Photography Project about Gratitude, Grief and Good Coffee

Tammy StrobelTammy StrobelTammy Strobel invites readers to consider a new perspective on loss and grief in her latest book My Morning View- An iPhone Photography Project About Grief, Gratitude & Good Coffee. Using her iPhone, she captures life as she sees it, seeking to work through her own grieving process after losing someone close to her. Her stepfather, Mahlon was not just family but a close friend. They shared a lot. And within her grief she decided to take a deeper look at two passions she and Mahlon shared; coffee and the great outdoors.

Living in northern California, Tammy has loads of opportunity and a gift for capturing images that make you want to head outside. She is one of a growing number of movers and shakers who are embracing voluntary simplicity and in 2012 she published, You Can Buy Happiness (and it’s cheap): How One Woman Radically Simplified Her Life and How You Can Too. The book shares her journey of simplifying her life to the extreme, when she and her best friend and husband of 13 years, Logan, made the radical decision to sell most of their earthly possessions and build a 128 square foot tiny home on wheels. They’ve created a minimalistic, way of life that led Tammy to more meaningful time with those she loves, and greater intention in how she lives her life. And that included time with Mahlon. Their home is now parked on a farm owned by Logan’s parents where they barter rent in exchange for helping on the farm, the perfect location for exploring what Mother Nature has to offer.
My Morning View touches not only a loving relationship but shares an experience of living in the extraordinarily beautiful northwest. Her two cats Elaina and Christie make their way into many of the thought provoking, often whimsical images, some of which just plain take your breath away. In addition to it being a photographic essay, it is a how to, for folks who are interested in exploring their own story in images.
Tammy has been a writer as long as she can remember and in 2007 she began a blog called Rowdy Kittens: go small, think big & be happy. With a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics and two Masters degrees in education and public administration, she did some writing as director of outreach for a local non-profit. But in 2010 she began writing full time. She teaches e-course on writing, photography and tiny living, that can be accessed through her blog, that include audio, written lessons, webinars and Facebook groups.
“I consider teaching, a big part of my job,” says Tammy who has been featured on the Today Show, in the New York Times, USA Today, CNN, and MSNBC among others. Like many creative spirits, she didn’t call herself a writer and photographer because she wasn’t making money doing it.
“In 2008 I realized I don’t have to make money to call myself a writer and photographer. This was a big perspective shift for me, a powerful shift. If you can claim that identity, you are more likely to pursue it.” And that shift was the beginning of her pursuit of a more creative, more simplified, more meaningful life.
Her stepfather came into her life when she was about ten years old. Her father was not, and still isn’t an active part of her life and Mahlon filled that void and so much more.
“Mahlon was an amazing person,” says Tammy. “He was a great Dad a business owner and very involved in the community. I’m so grateful he was part of my life.”
In 2010 he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and in 2012 he had two massive strokes. Over the next five months Tammy helped take care of him as he was cognitively and physically impaired. He passed away in 2012.
“I was pretty devastated. The grief I felt took me by surprise. You can’t ever really be ready for the loss. For the first six months I tried to find a balance, taking long walks with my camera. In January 2013 I began my photography project, starting my day to honor his memory. I decided to do one positive thing each day to help me deal with the grief I was feeling.”
She decided to place a coffee cup in each frame, to represent one of the things she and Mahlon enjoyed together. Tammy enjoyed the challenge of integrating the cup into each photo in a way that looked good. She made a conscious decision to use her iPhone for the project rather than a traditional camera.
“My iPhone is amazing. You can do a lot with it,” she says.
Her conscious decision to simplify her life has affected her in many ways. She feels closer to nature and there is an overall slower pace to life when living in a tiny space. She notices the changes in weather patterns and is quick to notice an occasional rainbow. Life has become more intentional, more purposeful. She operates her business and does writing and teaching out of her tiny home. At the moment she is just enjoying My Morning View being out in the world and has no immediate plans in place for her next project.
“We all see the world differently,” writes Tammy, “so how you capture images depends on your perspective. I think this is where the magic lies.”
“This is especially true of writers and photographers,” she says. “We all have a story to tell. Slow down and notice things. It’s grounding and makes me appreciate ordinary moments. Life is short. If you can

Nutrition - How to host a meal at your home for one to three friends

Chicken with olives or peppersBy Rosemary Collins, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

There is nothing more enjoyable than hosting a casual meal for your friends at home. Almost everyone, though, feels a little nervousness during the preparatory stage.

You just need a little planning and some good ideas for simple and easy dishes to serve. There is no need to be a wonderful chef or to have to prepare the whole meal; your friends may be happy to bring along a dish to share on the day.

The most important part is the friendship and a chance to get together and chat whilst enjoying your summer meal.

*The first step is to invite your friends and choose a time which works well for everyone; lunch can be a wonderful time to get together especially on a nice summers day. A shaded area out on the deck or patio can be a very inviting place to eat.

*Next try to make everything easy for yourself. If you are feeling creative try choosing a new recipe from a summer magazine or try one from my recipe selection. Alternatively repeat a favorite you have tried a few times and you know works well!

*Then call your friends to see what they might offer to compliment your menu. If they agree to bring a salad, a side dish, or a dessert, then your menu is complete! Even if you have a friend who doesn’t like to cook it is easy to pick up a tasty readymade salad or dessert from the store.

*The next step is to make a list and shop a day or two before your lunch or dinner.
You might even like a visit to a local farmers market where there will be a healthy selection of fresh vegetables, corn, tomatoes, lettuce and all the really fresh and tasty summer produce.

*These are some quick and easy summer recipes you might like to try.

Chicken with olives or peppers - Mediterranean style (Servings 4)


4- chicken breasts (boneless, skinless)
2 Tbs. Olive oil
½ lb. tub olive selection from supermarket deli bar- my favorite is lemon with garlic or as an alternative red bell pepper selection with sun dried and cherry tomatoes.


1.Preheat oven to 375°F
2. Turn chicken breasts in olive oil until lightly but evenly coated in an ovenproof glass dish
3. Use olives or red pepper / sun dried tomato topping or both if you prefer to top chicken breasts. Chop into smaller pieces and spread evenly over chicken. Cover with foil and bake for 20- 25 minutes until chicken is thoroughly cooked.

Serve with: baby new potatoes, couscous or rice, green salad.

Sonoma chicken saladSonoma chicken salad 


1-cup plain yogurt or light salad dressing
4 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
5 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons poppy seeds
Light salt and pepper, to taste

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
¾ cup pecan pieces, toasted
2 cups red seedless grapes, halved
3 stalks celery thinly cut

In a bowl, combine yogurt/salad dressing, vinegar, honey, poppy seeds, salt and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to dress the salad. This can be prepared up to 2 days ahead.

Preheat the oven to 375 °F. Place the chicken breasts in one layer in a baking dish with ½ cup water. Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes until completely cooked through. Remove cooked chicken breasts from pan, cool at room temperature for 10 minutes, then cover and refrigerate.
When the chicken is cold, dice into bite – size chunks and transfer to a large bowl. Stir in pecans, grapes, celery and dressing.

Serve with a selection of fresh whole grain breads as a main dish.

Black Bean SaladBlack Bean Salad (Servings 4)


1 ripe avocado mashed
¼ cup chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 (15oz) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can of kidney beans, rinsed and drained
4 cups shredded romaine lettuce
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1-cup corn kernels
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
½ cup pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds (optional)


In a large bowl, whisk together avocado, cilantro and limejuice until well blended. Add all other ingredients and stir evenly until coated.

Serve as a side dish.

Meringue with Berries (servings 4) adapted from Delia Smith online recipes

Meringue with BerriesThis is one of the nice and easiest summer desserts


4 individual meringue cases
For the topping
¾ lb. of strawberries or raspberries or a mixture of blueberries, strawberries and raspberries
Place meringue cases on individual dishes
Top the meringues with an equal mixture of fruits.
For a little extra touch on presentation serve with a sauce of pureed fresh raspberries.

Serve with: Whipped low fat cream or vanilla Greek yoghurt on the side.

Keeping preparation easy on the day

*On the day spend a little time chopping and preparing items in advance - you can even put your prepared items or a dressing in a container in the fridge get them out when you want to finish and serve the dish.

*An hour or so before your friends are due to arrive prepare and put any hot dishes dish in the oven and remember set your timer!

*Set up your table with a summer theme -nice bright colored placemats or tablecloth, paper napkins, silverware, water glasses and a few flowers from your garden if you have some to add a touch of summer. Place a jug of iced water with lemon slices in the fridge to chill ready to serve.

*Then you are ready to greet your friends, relax and enjoy!

Friendship - Reflections on Friendship and Grief

friendship hands friendsBy Gunilla Norris

friend handsWhen we lose a partner in life especially if the relationship has been a close one it is as if we have been torn asunder. Not only do we miss the daily presence of our partner and the things we did together but now have an entirely new set of circumstances to come to terms with. Our social life, for instance, changes a great deal. It is often hard in this world of “coupledom” to include a widow or widower. Even if we are included the absence of our partner becomes so exquisitely felt in these circumstances that it is sometimes very hard to be part of them.

Grief can seize us at the most unexpected time and place. We suddenly don’t want to have breakfast where we once happily did with the one we loved. Eating the eggs feels like eating sorrow all over again. We learn that grief takes as long as it takes and is processed and integrated differently by each one of us. Some people throw themselves into activity to distract themselves from feeling until they can face loss. Some go to ground like badgers and are somehow stopped from doing anything. The process of grieving should never be prescribed, and if we are to be a friend of someone with such a loss we are not to tell them how they “should” feel or what they “should” do.

And this leads me to write about the role of friendship in the grieving process. We so need a friend, someone with whom we can let things be as they actually are. It is known that to cry by yourself does not release us as much as to cry with someone who cares. We need our loss to be acknowledged and witnessed. We go through anger, despair, numbness, fear and confusion, but we can bear all that with a true friend who trusts our capacity to come through what we must.

Sometimes such a friend needs to be a professional. Sometimes a grieving group becomes a kind of collective friend because the issues of everyone in the group are allowed and shared. Sometimes we are lucky to have a family member or a long -standing friend who steps in to be that steady shoulder we so much need to lean on. Odd as this may seem sometimes it is a stranger who has no history with us that provides the compassion and objectivity to let us be free in the way we grieve.

We can also learn to ask for what we need though we may not quite know what that is.

Here’s a list of suggestions in that regard which may stand us in good stead when we are in the tsunami of loss. If you are grieving ask someone you think you can trust for:

1. A daily phone call or very quick visit. We may not want to talk, but it is good to be remembered. It helps to know that outside of our despair is a world where someone is keeping track. Think of it asking for a simple checking. Life is continuing however hard it is.

2. Have a friend or two who help you respond to the condolence cards you need to write.

3. Have your friend take you out for coffee just to get out of the house. Do the groceries with that person or something that is just simply about going on with life.

4. Ask your friend to help you find a skilled masseuse so that you can release the pent up feelings stored in the body.

5. Ask your friend to go to church with you if you belong to a religious denomination. Sitting in the pew alone where you once sat with your partner is very hard. But spiritual consolation is important to have if you are a faith- based person.


When we are physically wounded we don’t want to be touched directly on the wound, but having it dressed and protected helps us heal. These suggestions are like dressings of sorts. We know that at the heart of it all to have a friend (or to be one) in the grieving process is life saving. Such a friend needs to know that we will come through in our own way and in our own time. Such a friend does not shell out advice or take over but knows that just being fully present without a personal agenda goes further than anything in the process of grief.

We don’t need tons of friends. One conscious caring person is a wondrous gift. Once we have experienced such a companionship we can offer in our turn to someone in need. We will know first hand how precious it is. To grieve is normal and necessary. We will all at one time or other experience a great loss. We only feel loss if we have loved deeply. It is the lived love that will finally sustain us. As a friend of someone grieving holding to that knowing will let a lot of necessary emotional fluctuation be released. We don’t have to do anything about all those feeling. We just have to be a loving presence and trust the one who is grieving that they have what it takes to chose life again.

To be a compassionate and tender presence in the face of loss is a big thing. It is to be spiritual friend. When we have grieved long and well enough, a tenderness towards ourselves will emerge and also gratitude for the goodness that has been part of our days. It is really then that we can begin to build a new life.

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