Art and Soul Adventure ~ Santa Fe!

Art and Soul Adventure ~ Santa Fe

Are you feeling the call to adventure?

Transformational Travel – Santa Fe!




Join travel writer, author and photographer Lynn O’Rourke Hayes and author and writing coach Susan Pohlman as we explore uniquely inspiring Santa Fe, New Mexico. With the Springtime spirit of rebirth, come share in this magical journey of heart and soul. Disconnect with the busyness of life and re-connect with yourself as we enjoy the art and alleyways of this historic city, rich in diverse cultures and surrounded by the expansive natural beauty of New Mexico.

What is transformational travel?

Transformational travel is the willingness to embrace the power of adventure as a vehicle to self understanding. When we venture beyond the boundaries of our everyday lives and slip out of our cultural constraints, we find ourselves opening to possibility, imagining a life of greater meaning, and seeing ourselves in a new light.

This unforgettable retreat will combine this thrill of adventure, soaking in local tradition and feasting on authentic Southwestern food and wines, with focused self-exploration workshops and quiet journaling time. Tapping into the same restorative creative energies that has made this region a mecca for artists, we will learn to listen to the voice of the artist within for guidance and possible new directions for a richer, fuller life.

Our home for the retreat will be this refurbished 200-year-old farmhouse, Santa Fe's oldest inn.Our home for the retreat will be this refurbished 200-year-old farmhouse, Santa Fe’s oldest inn.

New year, new experiences, new friends!





Now registering for both the January and April retreats. Space is limited! Click here for more information or email me at

There will be 52 weeks in 2015.

Will you save one for yourself?

A few testimonials: A soul enriching, transformational retreat! I loved every minute of this experience. Your thoughtful attention to detail and flexibility made the trip all I could have hoped for and more! ~~Sally K., MA Susan and Lynn are remarkable ladies, both in their area of expertise of writing and photography, respectfully, as well as strong, centered, inspirational women. They know how to lead a group of individuals who do not know each other and infuse a level of comfort for all participants to be genuine and respectful of the transformational process. They allowed the experience to be personal for each person in a sincere and truthful manner. For me it was it was the chance to remember what my priorities are by allowing quiet reflection as well as interactive cultural experiences and a lot of laughter. ~~ Melissa C., AZ Transformational Travel… this is the perfect way to describe this retreat. I felt so taken care of but, at the same time, on my own journey. I could share (in a safe environment) if I wanted to or listen and learn either by what others had to say or as we were guided by Susan and Lynn in journaling and the art of photography. I am the “Hero” of my own story. How I wish every woman could be as fortunate as I was to be guided by these two very peaceful and knowledgeable women. If you are even considering this gift for yourself, SIGN UP. I will forever hold in my heart how this trip/experience has positively influenced my life! ~~Nancy M. Hall., MD One of the things that I enjoyed most was the camaraderie of the women I met. We started out as strangers and quickly became friends sharing stories – some funny, some sad – but all inspirational. In sharing our stories, it bonded us. I left feeling more connected as a human being and more confident to pursue my creative side. ~~Emily Hope to see you in Santa Fe!

48 Hour Film Project Update!

A heartfelt thank you to all of you who generously contributed to our recent Kickstarter campaign!  We met our goal and were able to successfully finance a short film in this year’s 48 Hour Film Project in Baltimore. To jog your memory, the 48Hour Film Project is an event that takes place in almost every major city world-wide. It draws veteran film makers and students alike. It basically works like this: On a Friday evening at 7:00 PM our volunteer team is handed a genre, a line of dialogue, a prop and a character. Then we write, rehearse, shoot, edit and score a complete short film that we must hand deliver by Sunday night at 7:00PM. You can imagine the creative frenzy that whirls through the weekend. It is 48 hours of film making madness! This year our AVA Productions team reassembled for the sixth time.  Having developed into a well-oiled machine, we were eager to focus our efforts to deliver a thoughtful film that would bring attention to those to whom we all owe a great debt. We wanted to honor our steadfast, and sometimes forgotten, soldiers. Here’s how the weekend evolved: On June 6th, we pulled a genre out of a hat.  Sci-Fi!  Oh no!!  This did not seem to support the emotion we wanted to portray so we put it back into the hat. In this case, you are allowed one more try that you MUST use. Drum roll…   we pulled Monster/Creature film!  Are you kidding? The assigned character:  Fred.  A barber. Line of dialogue: Does this look right to you? Prop:  Lollypop The director, Joe Hall, gathered us together to deliver this awkward package of ingredients. As a team, we chewed on it a bit and, undaunted, began.  I sat down and churned out a script that approached the genre in a thematic sense:  War is the monster our character had to face. I chose the early morning of the day of deployment as our premise/setting to simplify sets for our camera/lighting/sound crew and then wove the rest of the assigned pieces into the storyline with a little creative storytelling. The basic story question explored:  How does a soldier deal with the possibility of loss as he/she heads to war? We finished the film and felt great about what we had accomplished in just two short days.  We achieved our goal and are proud of our film. A few production photos: Here is the trailer: Relentless Trailer Relentless played to a full house at the Charles Theater late last month and was acknowledged by the audience as a standout among a strong slate of films.  Unfortunately, while clearly among the festival's best entries, we didn't take the honors this year. As we head into the fall, however, we await word on more than a dozen other festivals.  We'll keep you posted.  In the meantime, best wishes for a happy and healthy summer! UPDATE: The REEL Independent Film Extravaganza in Washington D.C. and the Rehoboth Beach Festival's Regional Showcase have selected to screen Relentless!  Stay tuned for more festival news~ UPDATE: The Alexandria Film Festival has selected to screen Relentless in November!

A Time to Embrace… A Time to Speak… A Time to Love


They leave family and friends to protect and fight on our behalf -- in conflicts no longer in the headlines.

This one's for them.

After I published my first memoir, Halfway to Each Other, and began speaking to groups about our story and about my writing process, a common question was "When did you begin to write?"   I began to study writing in a serious manner when we lived in Los Angeles. Surrounded by some of the most creative minds in the world, I became fascinated with the art of screenwriting. I loved the structure, the precise dialogue, the visual poetry of chosen images and, most of all, I loved the aspect of collaboration. When a film is birthed, the family of artists kisses it farewell and the film ventures into the world to entertain, communicate, inform,  inspire and unite us as human beings on our human journey.

A screenplay is a blueprint that calls artists of every facet of moviemaking to one round table where each applies his/her vision and talents to create the masterpiece at the end. Like any art, each collaboration is an opportunity for hands-on learning. No one learns this art by sitting in an office and wondering about it.  Making a movie is "roll up your sleeves" hard work.

In seeking every opportunity to participate in an artform I love, I join a team of volunteer movie-makers every June and enter the 48Hour Film Project, an event that takes place in almost every major city world-wide.  It draws veteran film makers and students alike. On a Friday evening in June at 7:00 PM our team will be handed a genre, a line of dialogue, a prop and a character.  By Sunday night at 7:00PM we must deliver a 7-8 minute short film that is fully edited and scored. It is 48 hours of film making madness! The joy of creativity in action.

Each year our films have won honors in various categories, in one case we won the CINE Golden Eagle for Independent Short.

This year, though we have yet to know the genre in which we will be writing or any specifics, our goal is to honor those who honor us at home and abroad in our fight for freedom. Our dream is to produce a short film that will be entered in film festivals across the country and will illuminate our nation's respect and love for our military and their families.

In order to finance this effort, we have decided to dip our collective toe into Kickstarter with the hopes that you might be inspired to join our team in this year's movie short.  All of the funds collected will go to production costs. None of the people involved will receive any of the monies.

We appreciate your consideration and hope to see your name on the list of credits at the end of the movie!

Click here to learn more :)  There are also a few excerpts from some of our past films...  keep in mind they were completed in a mere 48 hours!

Thank you for your time spent in reading this extra long post!

Blessings to you and to those in your family who serve~


Below is an excerpt from the Kickstarter Campaign page.  

HERE'S THE RUB What happens when a creative team of writers, actors, filmmakers, artists, musicians and friends gather for a sleepless weekend of intense film production?  On five past occasions, the results were award-winning. AVA Independent has produced five short films to-date. Each film has been submitted to the 48 Hour Film Project and other Film Festivals and Award Ceremonies, and each has come away a winner of multiple honors -- in one case, the CINE Golden Eagle for Independent Short.  Conceived and filmed in just two days, these short pieces have successfully competed against films of substantial budgets and flexible production timelines.  (Scroll down for links to three past 48 hour films -- and behind the scenes production photos!)  What is the 48 Hour Film Project?  Now run in over 100 cities around the world, this annual film challenge invites production teams to do the unimaginable -- write, rehearse, shoot, edit and score a complete short film in just 48 hours.  Assigned a genre, character, line and prop at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, our volunteer crew will work around the clock to deliver a festival-quality film by Sunday night. The AVA team is gathering again in June for the 2014 competition -- this time, stepping into the same unpredictable format with intent to honor our steadfast, and sometimes forgotten, soldiers. STORY CONCEPT Every day, these women and men leave their families and friends to protect and fight on our behalf -- in conflicts that have long ago fallen from the 24-hour news cycle. While they are not always foremost on our minds as we go about our daily routines, we are foremost in theirs. Our film, as of yet unnamed, and, by the rules of the 48HFP, not yet written, will touch on the human story behind these daily departures. Humorous, sad, dramatic, peculiar or scary -- however the story is ultimately assigned and written -- our all-volunteer production team will deliver a thoughtful film that brings attention back to those to whom we all owe a great debt. HOW YOU CAN HELP BRING THE STORY TO LIFE Whether you're inspired by our intent to honor those who serve our country, or you like the idea of supporting a team who will create this film in just two days, your support will bring this story to the screen. Join us. Make a contribution to our effort -- any level gets us that much closer -- and then share our project with your friends by Facebook, Twitter or however you get your message out. WHERE YOUR INVESTMENT GOES We have planned carefully and are committed to maximizing resources and seeking in-kind goods and services when possible. The funds we raise through this effort will enable our team to secure the necessary logistical support required to produce an impactful film.  These items include:
  • Equipment Rental
  • Permits
  • Insurance
  • Location Fees
  • Set Design
  • Craft Services
  • Promotion and Distribution
It's important to note that no member of the cast or crew will receive compensation for their involvement.  We do it because we love it! DISTRIBUTION Within our dynamic crew is a crack promotions team that will help ensure the widest possible audience.  In addition to the Baltimore 48 Hour Film Project, the finished work will be submitted to as many as a dozen or more national and regional festivals.  We'll keep you posted with developments as the film does the circuit! WHO WE ARE Meet some of the team leadership!
AVA Independent represents an ever growing creative team. Here's our 2014 Crew Roster in development (as of 05/01/14): Joe Hall, Director/Producer Sarah Baker Morgan, Producer Yanik Ruiz Ramon, 1st AD Patricia Woolsey, 2nd AD Sarah Crahan, Script Supervisor Susan Pohlman, Writer Jonny Meyer, Director of Photography Andrew Albosta, 1st AC Jim Gilchrist, Location Sound Mark Judson, Boom Operator Jeremy Hall, Grip Will Ley, Production Design Graeme Hall, Set Dresser Samantha Ible, Makeup Gwyneth Hand, Hair Jeff Wolfram, Set Photographer Sergio Herrera, Editor Mike Greenberg, Second Editor Sarah Albanawi, Field Editor Nick Vaka, Motion Graphics Cedric Ruiz, Graphic Art Charles Randall Choice, Composer Catherine Hall, Craft Services Ruben Steck, Production Scott Rodgville, Production Alex Jones, Production Christian Hall, Production Jacob Crahan, Production Patrick Hall, Production Matthew Pohlman, Production Dave Welch, Production Matt Cloud, Production Josh Berrier, Production Dave Medinets, Production Valoree Vargo, Promotion / Distribution Vanessa Wozniak, Promotion / Distribution Pattie Roberts, Promotion / Distribution Our pre-production planning is well under way and, with your support, AVA Independent will once again deliver a Winning Short.

Transformational Travel: The Call to Journey

  “I go where I am called. To discover this destination, I listen deep within. There, in that sacred place, the destination resides. There the journey to self knowledge is already revealing itself to me.” ~ Joseph Dispenza The call to journey is an important one. It is also a call I used to dismiss as frivolous, a crazy idea, or a passing daydream. “For goodness sakes, I have to work!” I would reply when someone mentioned that they were off on some wild adventure. I used to be a person who viewed travel as a vacation, two weeks on the beach to unwind and gaze at blue waters and brilliant sunsets. I would scan the internet for bargains, book the trip and count the days. I’d type up itineraries, list the best restaurants and see all that was important according to the guidebooks. These trips were great, but when they were finished I slipped back into my life and continued on. Like hiccups in my routine, they were quickly forgotten and filed away in a box of photographs. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Then, quite by accident, I learned how to turn travel into a journey of the heart and soul. I threw away my itineraries and began to wander through destinations untethered. Without a check list of places to rush toward, I began to notice life around me in a new, unhurried way.  I noticed subtle details and nuances of culture, watched people communicate and listened to the musicality of their language, and breathed in the scents of ancient cities and pastoral locales. Wonderful things happened. Wonderful new friends crossed my path. [caption id="attachment_1000" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Giglio and Pierangela"][/caption] OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA IMG_5314 I slowly realized that this sort of travel invited me to go deeper, to explore that which connects us all as human beings on this complex and beautiful planet. Not only did the destinations reveal themselves in their own time, my true spirit began to reveal itself to me like a long lost friend. It was through this sense of meditative journeying that I found a pathway to a peacefulness I had never before known. IMG_7710 IMG_7749 When I realized that travel can become a spiritual practice that can lead to self-discovery, I began to embrace adventure as a necessity rather than a luxury. Adventure redefined as a simple change of routine or as complex as a trip into the far reaches of Asia. The key to it resting in my ability to stay present in the moment and receiving the inherent gifts of such presence. IMG_7706 IMG_5170 IMG_7741 In response to my personal call to journey, I want to share this profound experience with all of you. If you are feeling that tug, that soul call to journey, please consider joining me and travel writer Lynn O’Rourke Hayes for such a once in a lifetime Transformational Travel Retreat on the Italian Riviera this October 18-24!

A gift to yourself that will feed your soul for years to come. New sights, new tastes, new friends, new adventures.... new you!

Your room awaits!
For more details go to or email me at

Do you want to be a Story Changer?

  I am forever captivated by the power of story to connect people and affect positive change.  Through my own writing and publishing experiences I have met extraordinary men and women, both in person and via the internet, from all over the world.  One of these women is Misty Griffin. Misty is the mother of three boys, an avid blogger, High Heels for Muddy Boots , and now passionately involved with Story Company. Recently, Misty sent me an email introducing me to Story Company and asked if I might be interested in becoming a Story Changer.  Intrigued, I perused the website which showcases hand made articles by artisans from depressed and war torn communities.  Purchasing these items enables people to operate their own businesses in order to improve their lives and the communities in which they live. I have supported many of these types of ventures over the years, but this one stole my heart when I saw that some of the pieces of jewelry for sale were created from used artillery shells. This realization conjured images of women plucking from their streets the very pieces of metal meant to bring destruction and turning them into works of art, thus illustrating the indomitability of the human spirit in a profound way. Yes, Misty, I do wish to become a Story Changer, and have purchased a few of these to wear proudly, knowing that my support is helping women change the stories of their lives and those that they love. Thank you for asking me! Here are a few photos!             For more information please take a moment and visit Story Company and become a Story Changer as well!

A Conversation with Lian Dolan

I met the fabulous and funny Lian Dolan a year ago when she agreed to come to Phoenix and speak at the Arizona Authors Series.  A former radio host of the nationally syndicated Satellite Sisters, she is a relationship expert that contributes to, and has written regular columns for O, The Oprah Magazine and Working Mother Magazine. Having just finished her second novel, Elizabeth the First Wife, she is now traveling and sharing her girlfriend humor and love of Shakespeare, both of which made me a fan of this recent release. I caught up with her last week for a conversation. What sparked this book?  I wanted to explore the idea of finding and asserting your true self as an adult within the context of your family. I know a lot of people, myself included, who are confident, respected professionals in their every day lives and then Thanksgiving rolls around and they revert to awkward 13 year-olds when confronted by their opinionated parents or finger-wagging aunt. What’s wrong with us? Why are we one person in the real world and a very different person in our own families? So I wanted to take a look at that dilemma through the eyes of a contemporary woman, someone who otherwise has her act together. But that sounds pretty heavy and I like to write with a sense of fun, so I threw in the Shakespeare, the romance and a stray dog. In your first book, Helen of Pasadena, your protagonist was a woman roughly your age, with a teenage son about the age of one of your sons. She even majored in the same thing in college that you did. But Elizabeth Lancaster is younger, single, childless, and a Shakespeare professor. Was it more of a challenge to write her? Actually, it was more a lot more fun to write Elizabeth than Helen. With Helen, there were so many obvious parallels to my life that I really had to work to make it clear she wasn’t me! (I thought I’d done a fine job, but I can’t tell you how many people have called me “Helen” since the book has come out!  Or introduced me by saying, “This is Helen of Pasadena!” Um, no.) Elizabeth’s the cool, slightly cynical single gal that I’d like to think I would have been had I not gotten married and if I had a PhD. I had a fantastic Shakespeare professor in college who literally brought the material to life with her passion and sometimes brought us to tears with her lectures. Elizabeth is an homage to her, but she comes with more emotional baggage and a funkier wardrobe. Shakespeare looms large in Elizabeth the First Wife. Have you always been interested in the Bard? I grew up in Connecticut near a town called Stratford which is home to an ‘official’ Shakespearean Theater, so from elementary school through high school, seeing a play was an annual field trip. And I can still remember the discussion about The Taming of the Shrew in my 8th grade English class with my groovy, feminist teacher. I think that early exposure gave me an interest and a comfort level with the material. Let’s face it, the first few Shakespeare plays you see, you barely have any idea of what’s happening. But the more read and watch, the more you understand. In high school, I also loved going into New York City in the summer to see the Shakespeare in the Park with friends because that was a whole happening, from waiting in line for the tickets to seeing great actors on stage in an outdoor setting with a raucous audience. By college, I eagerly signed up for a full-year class, reading a dozen plays and even playing Hamlet in our in-class production. But a lifelong fascination with the Bard was cemented during my junior year abroad in Athens. I had the opportunity to see an amazing Royal Shakespeare Company/Peter Hall production of Coriolanus with Ian Mckellen in the title role. The production was staged in the ancient amphitheater on the Acropolis. There was no need for a set really because it was the ancient amphitheater on the Acropolis! Just the words, the acting and the lighting but with Shakespeare, you don’t need any more.  It was ‘mind-blowing’ to steal a phrase from the book. Just one of those experiences that connected me to thousands of years of theater, words and the whole human experiences in a single night. Made me a life-long believer in the power of the Bard. How challenging was it to write about Shakespeare, the most influential literary figure of all time? Very. The more I researched for the book, the more I realized I didn’t know jack about Shakespeare! At first, I thought I’d weave sme Shakespearean mystery into the plot, something to do with the writing of Midsummer and the noble family for whom it was written. But after dipping into my research, it became very clear to me that there were lots and lots of serious Shakespeare scholars and a ten times more enthusiasts who would bust me if I didn’t get the research right. That reality was sobering! That’s why I decided that Elizabeth’s research in the book would have a pop culture slant and be more accessible and fun than arcane. That was really a critical decision in the creation of Elizabeth’s character and the plot. As a writer, it felt really inspiring when I decided to go in that direction. I also want to ask you about the great lines from Shakespeare and your advice on how to use them. How’d you go about choosing them?  There is literally not a subject you can conceive of- lust, jealousy, love at first sight, broken hearts, bad boyfriends, dog ownership, unrequited passion- about which Shakespeare hasn’t written a dozen great lines. It’s an embarrassment of riches.  And the Internet makes reviewing all that material fairly accessible. As I was writing, I’d have the thought, “This would be a good spot for a quote.” Or “Let’s see if I can do a whole riff on break-up lines” and I’d Google “Shakespearean Break-up lines” and I’d sift through the choices.  I tried to use the lines sparingly, so that they really stood out when I did.  I think it would be easy to go overboard because Shakespeare is literally human quote machine. Is there a Shakespearean heroine you most identify with? Before I wrote the book, I probably would have said Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing just because she is fabulous and easy to like. The Elizabeth Bennett of the canon. But doing the research on all the Righteous Role Models made me appreciate so many more of the female characters for various reasons. Juliet was one tough teenager. Cleopatra worked it. Portia made a feminist statement in an age when those didn’t come too easily. There’s a lot to admire in almost all the women of Shakespeare, especially when viewed through the perspective of time. Elizabeth Lancaster sticks to her career guns and doesn’t do what her mother wants her to do. Is this an essential message for you? One of the themes I wanted to explore in Elizabeth the First Wife was the idea of breaking free of your family’s expectations and being your own person. (That’s definitely the baby of the family in me!) But, I’ve observed in my own life and the lives of others, that being your own person is not that easy, even as you slide into mid-life! With Elizabeth Lancaster, I wanted to explore a woman sticking up to not only her mother, but really her whole family who have plenty of ideas of how she should be living, what she should be doing, how she should be dressing. The Lancasters are purposefully an intimidating bunch, high-profile and high-powered, making it even tougher for Elizabeth to strike out on a new path.  Plus, Elizabeth is definitely stuck romantically at age 23 when she got totally burned, so that’s not helping her overall forward momentum. The book focuses on Elizabeth, in her mid-thirties, defining who she is and finally making choices as she sees fit, not to please her family. And I do feel that finding a professional path is critical for women to establish their adult identities. We have a lot of roles we play in society or in a family—wife, mother, sister, aunt, caretaker— and, by definition, those roles always rely on others in our family. But in our professional lives, we get to create our own persona. Be who we really are when our mother isn’t watching!  I think that’s important in a woman’s overall self-identity. And finally...does writing a novel get any easier the second time around? Nope.   :)   Visit Lian at for more information about her books and book tour!          

Transformational Travel and Writer’s Retreats

Transformational Travel is a gift that we give ourselves!

I am delighted to be teaming up with various experts to create a variety of travel experiences within the US and abroad.

 Transformational Travel - Tucson!

Yoga + Writing

The next retreat will be a Writing and Yoga Retreat held at the Historic Hacienda Del Sol Guest Ranch and Resort in Tucson, AZ  5/30 - 6/2 2013.  I will be working with Yoga Master Karen Kalil Callan.  

Go to  for details.  We are accepting registration now!  Space is limited so don't delay!!  Early bird pricing through March 1st~

 Transformational Travel - Italia!

The second opportunity is a seven day transformational travel experience with travel expert Lynn O'Rourke Hayes on the Italian Riviera. It is an amazing journey of the heart and soul.  For info and photos go to  

We will be unrolling the 2013 Italy Adventure on March 1.  Mark your calendars and check back then!

"I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world"

~Mary Anne Radmacher

It would be my honor and pleasure to meet you at one of these.

Take a what you love with your one precious life!


Valentine’s Day

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA To my Valentine, my husband, my partner in crime. I love you! (I know this is a bit long for a blog post, but if you are married, or have been, you just might enjoy the ride :) )  

Valentine’s Day

I placed a hesitant hand on the smooth metal door handle of the Hallmark store and pulled it open to the sound of tinkling bells. Ruby hearts hanging from the door jamb brushed the top of my head as I stepped inside and headed for the Valentine section, an explosion of pinks and reds.  Crowded with last minute lovers like myself, we had to jockey for position as we searched for the perfect card.  Studying people’s expressions with secretive sideways glances, I longed to hear the running commentary inside their heads. I have always been a last minute Valentine shopper because I dread it.  I can only bring myself to buy something simple that says “I love you’.  All of the other cards in the store are stupid.  With every card I read, I have to add one more sarcastic sentence in my mind.  Or at the very least, a clarifier. I can’t leave it alone.  It’s very stressful. After a quarter of a century of marriage few of them ring true.  Can we all please admit that many of these sentiments are, at the very least, stretching the imagination? I have long considered designing a line of Valentine cards the are grouped according to the number of years you have been married. I long for little ditties like this: Loving each other has been a long, hard road, but I still think you are cute. Or: Can’t wait to celebrate our love at Donovan’s Steak house because we got a $150.00 coupon from your client. Or: Let’s stay up past 9:00 PM and make out for eight minutes straight. Love is damn tricky.  An enigma.  So much has been written about it that I dare not add to the rubble.  But if I had to, if Cupid put a gun to my head, I wouldn’t waste time composing an essay as it would never capture the layers, the nuances. I would take a thousand noble words and nestle them in pairs with their less than noble opposites. Then I would shake them in my cupped hands like dice and toss the whole collection off of Juliet’s balcony and watch them scatter and bounce on the cobblestone streets of Verona until they landed in a mish-mash mural of the language of love. Maybe I would even take a photo of it and sell it to Hallmark for next year’s selection. “Excuse me,” I said to a young woman with a sparkly diamond ring. She smelled of lavender and caressed a card like it held the whereabouts of the Holy Grail.  “Just reaching for this one.” I grabbed one depicting a romantic table set for two. It unearthed a memory. My husband and I became engaged at Papa Pirozki’s in Atlanta on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor.  Who chooses to propose to his bride in a Russian restaurant on December 7th?  Looking back, I think he had a subconscious yearning to personalize the Cold War, to plant it as a seed in our relationship.  Though the rest of the world was evolving beyond such ideology, it was apparent that he was some sort of fan. I hadn’t expected it to be a night unlike all other nights as we were rekindling a relationship that had been on a long hiatus. Neither of us expected the marriage proposal to play out the way it did.  But maybe that was a good thing.  Perhaps it’s the couples who do everything according to the Prince and Princess Handbook who don’t survive when the magic wears thin.  In retrospect, I think it was better to start this union with our gloves on, in a boxer’s stance. One needs to understand strategy and battle maneuvers. It is vital to appreciate humor and build camaraderie in the unexpected foxhole. These are the necessary skills that keep a marriage alive.  Flowers and chocolate are useless. I remember sitting alone enjoying the candlelight and crystal that adorned our table for two as I held a thumb-sized glass of fruited vodka, icy and thick with raspberries. I loved the way the color matched my fingernails, the stark contrast of them against the white linens reminded me of the raspberry and cream popsicles I ate as a child. Feeling relaxed and elegant I took tiny sips as I gazed around, nodding to other couples nearby who were beginning to notice that my date had disappeared.  I wondered what was taking him so long as he had excused himself to go chat up the chef, whom he said was an acquaintance. A black door to the kitchen swung open and Tim burst back into the room, all smiles.  At 6’8” he wasn’t known for quiet entrances. “Ivan’s going to send out a few freebies.  Said he’d take care of us.” Tim plopped into his chair and smoothed his blonde hair into place.  He downed his fruity vodka like it was Kool-aide and motioned for the waiter to bring us another round of drinks. “Great,” I said picturing all sorts of exotic Russian delights appearing on plates that were once served to the Romanovs.  “So how do you know this guy?” “Met him at a radio event.  He’s from uhm,” Tim snapped his long fingers as he recalled the information, “Moscow.  Yea, that’s it.  Moscow.” “What was the event?” “Does it matter?” “No.” “So what’s with all the questions?” “It was only one question. Why are you getting agitated?” “I’m not agitated.” He picked up the second fruity vodka and downed it. “Would you finish your first drink already?” “Fine.”  I threw it back like a pro.  Then I picked up the second one and saluted him.  “Let’s just relax and enjoy this. We only have two days before I fly back. I missed you.”  He took a deep breath and exhaled through flared nostrils.  I put my hand over his drumming fingers.  Something was up. “Are you okay?” I asked. A young waiter with Ricky Riccardo hair swooped over, handed us menus and then gave a run-down of the night’s specials.  We each chose an entrée and Tim asked for another round of drinks. “Tim. Maybe we should slow down on the drinks.” “No.” “Fine.”  What was wrong with him ?  It seemed as if he had left his usual joking demeanor in the kitchen with Ivan. I threw back my second drink in one gulp and choked daintily into my napkin.  We could take a cab home. “So how are things at the airline?” Tim asked as he took a piece of bread from a silver bowl.  Thrilled to have some normal conversation, I started into an elaborate story about a new dad who tried to change his baby’s diaper on a fold down, jump seat. As I got to the part where the dad laid the baby on her back while he held the jump seat down with his knee, Ricky Riccardo came back and placed a small salad in front of me. “Zees is from Ivan,” he announced as he stood back from the table. I nodded to him and smiled.  “Thank you.” “No problem.”  He beamed as he retreated to the water station. It was ugliest, driest looking salad I had ever seen so I pushed it to the side as I continued my story.  Tim stared at the salad and then back at me.  “That’s your salad,” he said. “There’s no dressing. And what is this stuff?  It’s not even lettuce.  It’s cabbage or who knows what?” “Have some salad.”  His voice held an edge. “I don’t want the salad.”  I calmly stated, the words evenly spaced and heavy on my tongue. “Eat the salad,” he whispered through clenched teeth. Beads of sweat were forming on his brow. I gave him my most powerful defiant stare. “Eat - the - damned - salad.” “Fine.” I pulled the salad over and started to pick at it with my fork suddenly feeling other people’s eyes upon me.  I looked around and noticed them, whispering in hushed tones. “What is up with you?” I could barely conceal by growing rage. “I thought we were going to have fun.”  Blood was pumping through my veins, banging in my ears.  I took a bite of one of the bitter greens and held up my fork as I chewed it. “This is disgusting. I thought Ivan was your friend.” Then I saw it.  A velvet box of midnight blue half hidden under shreds of carrot and radicchio.  Panic gripped me like a giant hand and squeezed tight. No, no, no.  I did not want this to happen here. This was not what I had choreographed in my ten-year-old heart as I picked at my chenille bedspread on sleepless nights.  I could see our waiter going from table to table alerting the others to our impending moment. “Honey,”   Tim leaned on his elbows and bore into me with blinking eyes, "Stop blinking your eyes like that. Take the box out of the salad." “I don’t want to.” “Open the box, Susan.” “People are staring.”  I attempted another defiant stare but it was difficult to pull off with tears plopping onto the table. “Open - the - damn - box.” Though I don’t remember willing them to do so, my shaking fingers pushed away the vegetables and picked up the small velvet cube.  All eyes in the restaurant were on us.  I opened the box and a diamond solitaire caught the candlelight.  I looked up at Tim and stared as his lips moved without sound.  I glanced at the staring eyes to the left and then I glanced at the staring eyes to the right, distorted faces like funhouse mirrors. “Well?” Tim asked with a face so vulnerable and earnest that I suddenly couldn’t imagine a life without him. “Will you marry me?” “Yes.” The room ruptured into cheers as Tim handed me a third vodka and held up his.  And we burst into laughter, toasted each other and cheered along with them. The whole experience did not play out the way either of us had imagined.  It was not the traditional down on one knee sort of proposal on the beach at sunset, nor was the ring magically unveiled on a covered silver dish as he had hoped.  It was clumsy, unexpected, and filled with nervous emotion on both sides. It was real and heartfelt and awkwardly expressed the way marriage often looks on a daily basis. In retrospect it was the perfect engagement. “Must be a funny card,” Ms. I Smell Like Lavender commented as I giggled to myself. “Just brought back some memories,” I sighed as I put the card back in its place, “But it’s not the one I’m going to buy.” “I think I’m going to get this one,” she confided as she held up a photo of a sunrise on which was printed ‘Every sunrise means another day of loving you’. I forced myself not to add a sardonic comment and ruin her choice. She opened the card and pointed to a wall of poetry five inches long. “This poem says it all for me.” “How many years?” “One.  Well almost,” she said with a shy smile.  “You?” “Twenty-four.” “Wow.  So, what’s the secret?  What have you learned?” I plucked a simple white card with a simple red heart and opened it for her to see. “This is the card I get for him every year.  Because after awhile, you learn that these are the only three words that matter.”

The Next Big Thing

  Last week, my friend Karen McCann tagged me to participate in the Next Big Thing online event. Of course, I am always up for some online fun. The Next Big Thing is a way for authors and bloggers to share the news about their most exciting upcoming projects.  Karen is the author of  Dancing in the Fountain, a charming and inspiring book about her decision to move from Cleveland, Ohio to Seville, Spain.  She also writes a great blog called Enjoy Living Abroad that is chock full of information about the nuts and bolts of living the expat life.  She has a warm and honest approach, like an old friend letting you in on the secret to happiness. I can honestly say I am jealous of her Next Big Thing, a trip with her husband through the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria, maybe Albania and a few other countries. So, what’s my next big thing? I am quite full of news on many fronts as I have taken this year to start a business. I am happily teaching fiction/memoir to adults, hosting writing retreats (the first of which took place in Italy this past October 2012, the second will combine yoga/writing in Tucson's famous Hacienda Del Sol in June), teaming up with a few dynamic women to start an Arizona Authors Series, and I am in the midst of rewrites for a second book. For the sake of brevity, however, I’ll focus on the book. I am happy to answer a list of question from the NBT team: What is the working title of your book? Right now it is called Book 2.  I prefer an organic approach to writing and the title has yet to raise it’s hand and wave it in my face.  At some point, probably during draft #4 or so, a phrase will stand up and clear its throat.  I’ll let you know when that happens! Where did the idea come from for the book? Again, a story has a way of finding us when the time is right. On the eve of turning 50, I found myself emotionally wobbly and depressed. Here I thought I had already had my mid-life crisis, played out in our unplanned move to Italy, and now another was banging on my door. It just didn’t seem fair. Feeling anxious, I sought out a few experts on midlife transition and began to read about menopause and how fifty is the new forty. The books were pleasant enough. I learned that my midsection was supposedly thickening due to some ancient pre-determined survival instinct (though I would suspect it had something to do with the huge bag of M&M’s sitting to my right). There were a few moments of “Hell, yes, I am woman!” and the summoning of chutzpah to stand up for myself and tell people who I really am and how they needed to move over and give me elbow room so I could transform into all that I was meant to be. But honestly?  These books did not help much in the peace and happiness category. I felt manipulated by marketing. Fifty is not the new forty at all. There was a profound emotional shift going on for me, one for which I had no words. I decided then and there to attack the other side of fifty by recommitting myself to the transformational power of surrender. The same philosophy I had come to love and understand years earlier when we lived in Liguria.  I would wait for moments to speak to me of life: where I had come from, who I was now, and where I might be going.  I would wander this unchartered territory without the rulebooks of experts in my hand.  What do they know of me? So, with a sense of adventure, like that which had breathed new life into my soul long ago,  I headed back to Italy (I was gifted with an unexpected plane ticket... thank you God and the universe, once again.) and sought Travel as my guru and guide.  Travel and adventure are powerful teachers during times of transition. They allow us the emotional space to figure things out, to hear the whispers of our hearts, to claim our truths. Travel helps us slip out of cultural constraints for a time so we can regards ourselves in an honest way. This book is a compilation of some of these moments abroad. How they taught me to navigate transition and feel inspired once again. They look backward, forward, and inward. They are the moments that have taught me to accept and love who I have become and look forward to the next chapter of my life with renewed vigor and sense of worth. The process of this book has been so inspiring that I started a blog called ExPat Chat for people who have lived and traveled abroad to share their amazing stories of transformation. I love the joy that emanates from each post. What genre does your book fall under? Creative Non-fiction/Memoir Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? I have a great agent, Judith Riven, who will guide me, once again.  I wouldn’t do it without her! How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? It took awhile because one can’t force inspiration. That’s the hitch with this whole surrender thing... the teacher comes when you are ready. It’s about listening and following rather than leading. Quite countercultural, but worth the wait.  I’m in the midst of rewriting at this time. It is my favorite part of the process. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? The insights are wrapped around a girlfriend-y trip through Florence.  Who doesn’t want to go to Florence with her best friend?  I can’t say that the “research” for this book was torture. And now it's my pleasure to pass the torch on to four of my favorite writer pals, so that they can tell us about their Next Big Thing. Stephanie Elliot is a writer, editor, a book reviewer, and has been blogging since 2004. Her first two novels almost-but-not-quite made it to publication the traditional route via her agent. She will self-publish her third novel, What She Left Us via Kindle Direct Publishing in 2013. She lives in Scottsdale, AZ with her husband of almost 20 years and their three children. Find her at Manic Mommy, friend her on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter. Lian Dolan is an award winning broadcaster and writer. She created Satellite Sisters, a nationally syndicated radio show that won nine Gracie Allen Awards for Excellence. She created and produces The Chaos Chronicles, a humor blog and podcast about modern motherhood. She wrote regular columns for O, The Oprah Magazine and Working Mother and is now the parenting expert at Helen of Pasadena is her first book. Lynn O'Rourke Hayes For more than twenty-five years Lynn has been writing and speaking about travel, technology, and family issues. From the halls of Congress to the peaks of Peru, she has combined her passion for travel and adventure with her love of family to create a varied and meaningful career. Now through her writing, photography, and consulting, she relishes sharing strategies for balancing family, work, and exploration. She is the owner and editor of and a weekly travel columnist for the Dallas Morning News. She has worked for two hotel companies and consulted to numerous other organizations within the travel industry. Laura Munson is the author of the New York Times and international best-seller This Is Not The Story You Think It Is.  She lives and writes in Montana where she leads year-round writing retreats to help people free themselves on the page, no matter where they are in their writing journey.  Spaces are still available for the February 27th- March 3rd retreat.  For more info, click here: Laura’s website:            

Moments in Montclair: The Street

In this election year, who can restore this?

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