Thanks for the Reminder ~ By Julie Duncan

As I sit here scrolling through social media, numb from not understanding the state of our seemingly upside down country, from working from home for 109 days, from the tug of war between busy vs boredom, work vs life, and productive vs purposeful, I stop at a Facebook post by my dad. It said, “A 4th of July story written by a very young Coast Guard petty officer over twenty years ago,” with a picture of a magazine article.  I paused and read… a story that I, a 24-year-old Coast Guard petty officer, wrote a very long time ago.

July 4, 1994 “was the most difficult and heartbreaking, and also the most educational, day of my life.” Just three days before July 4, 2020 and three months shy of my 50th birthday, I can still say those exact words. That day changed my life forever.

Thanks for the reminder, dad, I needed that. Things are hard right now, but some of our worst days are better than others’ bests. Never underestimate the power of one. One day, one person, one conversation, one text, one smile can change the trajectory of one’s life.

I hear my inner voice say, “Anchor up, go out and continue to serve.”

This article was originally published in the 
Naval Institute Proceedings 
February 1997

What Is Really Important
By Telecommunications Specialist Second Class Julie Marie Duncan, U.S. Coast Guard

It all started with a foul odor that hit me like a brick wall. My eyes began to water; my throat tightened. On this 115th day, I couldn't begin to imagine its source. I stepped onto the main deck of the ship, unaware of the horrific and exhausting events that were unfolding. Before me was a 60-foot, makeshift sailboat overloaded with 300 Haitians. 
They were stacked three high, screaming, crying, and dying. There was the source of the foul odor; stagnant, salty air, feces, and death. That 4th of July was the most difficult and heartbreaking, and also the most educational day of my life. I needed to experience death and deprivation before I could truly appreciate all the things I always had taken for granted, and which things are most important in the long run. 

As we pulled the boat alongside and attempted to bring the refugees onboard, it dropped straight underwater as if someone had let it go from a 10-story building. We now had 300 weak, struggling Haitians in the ocean staring up add us. The look in their eyes was confusing; it seemed to beg “Help me,” yet at the same time saying, “Look what you have done.” Immediately, lifelines, survival rafts, and rescue swimmers went over the side. Our crew of 170 men and women became one; not a word was said, we knew what had to be done. The migrants were safely onboard within 30 minutes, to join the 200 we had rescued the night before. I carried 20 adults and five in infants.  I held the hand of a dead man while the hospital corpsman attempted to revive him. I spent hours searching through 500 Haitians for a women's child, only to be the bearer of bad news. We spent the next 12 hours nursing, feeding, comforting, and praying silently that this wouldn't happen again.

Imagine enduring that smell, that heat, and that pain for the next 75 days. During this exhausting patrol, sometimes there was only enough water to shower once a week. We ran out of milk, the fruit and vegetables rotted, and the bread went stale. Summoning whatever energy they had left after feeding 500 Haitians through the night, the cooks tried to put something edible together for us.  The crew would joke, “we would rather starve.” At night after the day's adrenaline had worn off, the crew is angry, thinking we didn't get paid enough for this. Then we felt sorry for ourselves; we wanted hot showers, good meals, and to see our families. Our evaporator was down, and our freshwater supply was running out fast. I just could not imagine going another day without a bath or having to wear filthy clothes for yet another week. When it was my turn to pass out a cup of water and a bowl of beans to each migrant, however, I realized that they did not care that they hadn’t bathed in weeks. When they fled Haiti, they did not know when or where they would get their next sip of water or their next meal. I was discussed by the smell of my own filthy clothes, when I notice some of the women didn't even have underwear. But they did not seem to care; they were just happy to be alive. I ran down to my berthing area, enraged at my own selfishness. I searched my seabag for anything I could give them and found 10 pairs of briefs I was issued in boot camp. That made ten Haitian women very happy, finally to cover themselves.

Suddenly, my problem seemed trivial by comparison. I always knew where my next meal is coming from. I knew I was protected from danger. I knew I had my family, a secure home, my cat, and all my dreams. There were millions of people in this world who never have been that fortunate. When they fled Haiti, our migrants were ready to give up their lives, in hopes of attaining anything better. They stayed strong and smiling, knowing that whatever the future held had to be better than what they left behind. Now they had no homes, and now some had no families. We were their only hope—the only ones who knew their true destiny was back to Haiti.

Seventy-five days and more than 1000 migrants later, we left Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for home.  I took away vivid memories of their suffering faces, their strength, and their appreciation for life. Now, I understand clearly that the true reason I joined the Coast Guard was to save lives. If I had to do this all over again, I would.

If we had not been there for them, who would have been? I learned a vital lesson about what is really important.

Julie has served in the Coast Guard for twenty-eight years. She is now a Lieutenant, stationed at U.S. Northern Command.

Tabatas? Gesundheit! ~ by Marj Ivancic

Photo: Deposit Photos
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m an advocate for exercise and physical activities for all the mental, emotional, and physical reasons touted in media channels across the board. So, I thought I would take this opportunity to share one of my favorites with you. 

It’s something called Tabata.

I think it worthy of sharing because it mitigates three key roadblocks people often site as reasons for not trying and/or adopting exercise:

Now technically, Tabata is a form of interval training, but for the sake of this conversation, I’m going to look at it as a pattern of movement. I’m doing so because when people hear “interval training,” they immediately imagine a sculpted twenty-something yelling at them to work harder, and that’s NOT how I look at Tabata.

At its most basic, here’s how Tabata works.

Photo: Deposit Photos
For twenty seconds, you move. Then you rest for ten seconds. Repeat that sequence eight times, and that is “one” Tabata. Between Tabatas, you rest a full minute. So, in total, one Tabata is five minutes long. You can daisy chain as many together as you like. 

And to make it even easier, there are companies, like Power Music, that premix soundtracks with all the start/stop/rest cues that you need, so you don’t even have to watch a clock or find music with a good beat.

That’s the structure to which I referred earlier.

Now comes the variety. 

For those twenty seconds of movement, you get to choose what you do! And you can do whatever you want. You can do the same movement all eight times, or you can mix and match. You can do cardio, weights, a combo—it’s up to you.  And you can include equipment, like treadmills and ellipticals, or simply make space in your living room for some fancy footwork. You’re in the privacy of your own home; be as silly as you want. 

Photo: Deposit Photos
And here’s where the adaptability comes into play!

If you’re limber enough and can go all out with burpees, squat-jacks, sprints, and so on—have at it! You want to resurrect some good ole Jane Fonda moves, do it!  Or if you have an ailment or an impairment, go with whatever you are able AND allowed to do—seated leg lifts, arm raises, etc. (Obviously, consult with you doctor before trying anything!!!) It doesn’t matter what “level” you’re working at, just as long as you’re putting focus and intention into what you’re doing.
Photo: Deposit photos

The point I’m making is that you don’t have to be a gym rat to use this technique. You can adjust this to fit your individual needs across the board—time, activity, level. It doesn’t matter what you do. The end result is movement. And movement is good…good for the body, the brain, and the heart.

June, A Three Birthstone Month ~ by Grace Augustine

June babies are lucky. They have a choice of birthstones in today’s society. Traditionally, the pearl is known as June’s gemstone. In later years moonstone and Alexandrite were added. One theory for that is because of the zodiac sign of Gemini which encompasses a part of the month. Another theory is that other stones were chosen because of the rarity of the birthstone.

The Pearl
“Ancients from the Middle East believed that pearls were teardrops
Photo courtesy DepositPhotos
fallen from heaven. The Chinese fancied that the June birthstone came from the brain of a dragon. Christopher Columbus and his contemporaries thought that mollusks formed pearls from dew drops.”

We all know that pearls grow inside oysters or mollusks. To explain a bit about that…a particle of sand or other medium infiltrates the shell of the oyster/mollusk, which secretes a substance called nacre, and covers the infiltrate. This is how a Natural Pearl is formed. Cultured Pearls are a bit different. A technician places a piece of mantle tissue or a mother of pearl shell bead into the oyster/mollusk and it is again covered with nacre. However, these mollusks/oysters are in “farms” that are taken care of by humans and protected from predators.

A symbol of purity and innocence, the pearl has been given for centuries as gifts at weddings. The beneficial properties of pearls include prosperity, long life, alleviating indigestion, improving eyesight, and quelling depression.

Pearls require special attention when caring for them since they are one of the softest gems we have, coming in at a 2.5-3.0 on the mohs scale. Store your pearls separately from other jewelry so they will not be damaged by metal. Never store them in a plastic bag, and always put on your pearls AFTER use of hairspray and perfumes. They should be cleaned with a soft cloth after each use.

“Moonstone is the best-known gem of the feldspar group of
Photo courtesy Pinterest
minerals. It is renowned for its adularescence, the light that appears to billow across a gemstone, giving it a special glow. The finest moonstones show a blue sheen against a colorless background. This June birthstone has been associated with both the Roman and Greek lunar deities. Hindu mythology claims that it is made of solidified moonbeams. Moonstone is often associated with love, passion and fertility; it is believed to bring great luck.”

The Moonstone was added to the June birthstones during the 60’s flower child movement and again in 1990 during an insurgence of New Age artwork.

Moonstones are found North Carolina, New Mexico, and Virginia, but also in a variety of countries around the world, most notably Sri Lanka and India.

The moonstone isn’t a stable gem, meaning it can crack under pressure. So, no ultrasonic cleaning for this beauty. A light solution of soapy water and a soft brush will suffice then a gentle polishing with a soft cloth.

This gem is named after the young Russian, Alexander II, the heir
Photo courtesy Riddle Jewelry
apparent to the throne in the 1800’s. Alexandrite’s colors are the same as the military of Imperial Russia.

“Alexandrite is the rare variety of the mineral chrysoberyl that changes color in different lighting. Most prized are those alexandrite birthstones that show a vivid green to bluish green in daylight or fluorescent light, and an intense red to purplish red in incandescent light. When certain types of long, thin inclusions are oriented parallel to each other in this June birthstone, they can create another phenomenon, called chatoyancy or the cat’s-eye effect. Few gems are as fascinating – or as stunning – as cat’s-eye alexandrite.” **

Due to mining, the deposits of Alexandrite in the Ural Mountains were depleted. Most of this gem is mined in Brazil, Sri Lanka, and East Africa. It is one of the more expensive colored gems because of its scarcity.

Coming in on the Mohs scale at an 8.5, this gem is fairly hard and because of that is a great choice for an everyday wear. Caring for your Alexandrite is as simple as a swish in warm soapy water and drying with a soft cloth.

To view the other posts in this series or any of my others, please click HERE.

**information in italics is from

Moving Day by Ruth Ross Saucier

We had just bought our first house together. We were out of school but hardly rich yet, so when we asked for help moving from our second story apartment to our new-to-us home, our friends and family volunteered.

Gracious help, graciously given.  Priceless.

One of our friends, let’s call him Keith (a total pseudonym) offered to bring a truck to make the move happen. He worked for a local pizza company that has since closed, driving huge delivery trucks that carried pizza ingredients, large bags of flour and the like, between the stores. But the trucks weren’t used after work hours, so our move was scheduled for the evening.

When you’re young, you don’t have as much stuff; but I’ve never been involved in a move that didn’t have more stuff than you initially estimated. Stuff was everywhere, surfacing from nooks and crannies, popping out of the backs of closets, and spilling out of the remote corners of kitchen cabinets. I had not had time to box it all, not even close.

But there were at least 20 people there, some of them finishing packing and some shuffling boxes and furniture out the back door and down a fifteen-foot ramp to the parking lot and then hoisting things up into the truck. 20 people is a lot of people and very quickly I was scrambling to just cram things in boxes and tell people “yes” when they asked if this or that could go.  Wasn’t long before nobody was asking permission, and everything was flying out the door.

I took the five mile ride up I-5 in the pizza truck, most of it between five and thirty miles an hour.  Not because traffic was bad, you understand.  While this was Seattle, it was 1981. Traffic was moving. Everybody else was doing sixty or more and zipping around the monster truck, blatting their horns just to make sure that we understood we were in the way.  Keith was just struggling to shift, as he hadn’t driven these trucks much, and we were busy trying to ignore the wrath of everyone else who was trying to get home.

When we finally reached our 40’s bungalow, the opposite happened very quickly: stuff flew out of the truck, got hauled up the stairs and carted up the hill into the house where it went … somewhere.  Much of it happened without a lot of supervision, but then it mostly went fine. 

Now as it happened, way back when we had first moved into the apartment it did not include a refrigerator, but the former tenants offered to sell us theirs, and we grabbed it.  It was big, with lovely swing out shelves, and a big bottom freezer. It housed an enormous amount of stuff.  I loved that fridge.

Toward the end of the evening, after almost everyone had left, I stumbled into the kitchen to find my family busily cleaning kitchen and unpacking dishes.  What a lovely gesture! But they lived at least ninety minutes away, and I started shooing them out, thanking them profusely, but begging them to go home and get some sleep.

That’s when someone said, “You know, Merilly has spent the last couple of hours washing your refrigerator and everything in it.”

What the hell? 

My darling sister had undertaken to repair the chaos generated by my friend, Keith, bless his heart.  Keith had taken the initiative to move the refrigerator… WITHOUT packing up the contents.  He had just strapped it to a dolly and humped it down the ramp and into the truck, up the stairs, bent it completely over to pull it up the hill and into the house.

It might have worked, actually…except we had a Costco-sized jar of pickles in the fridge, and it broke. The pickles, the juice, the glass: everywhere. On everything. Inside and out, refrigerator and freezer, absolutely everything. Nothing else broke, but everything else was coated and sticky and smelly. Until Merrily took it on herself to clean it all up, an act I could never repay.

My refrigerator was cleaner now than it had ever been.  Priceless.

Where Do Story Ideas Come From? ~ by Lexa Fisher

This Too Shall Pass, Award Winning photo by Mike Hornung

Authors are often asked "Where do you get your story ideas?" The answer is likely unique to each writer. Some authors get ideas from news stories to which they then add What if? to reshape the story with their own twist. Others like to people-watch in coffee shops or eavesdrop on conversations and come up with a story based on these observations.

For me, a feeling usually sparks a story. I love mysteries and family history, so the What if? question often begins with past generations.

Photo by Gustav Gullstrand on Unsplash
Let’s travel back in time with a young girl who loved to wander in the woods looking for long forgotten history. Why this fascinated her she never questioned, but she loved searching for signs of the past. The woods she wandered weren’t frightening or unwelcoming, instead, they promised stories of those who had gone before.  

Usually she only found the remains from not-so-long-ago campers and hunters. The evidence she longed to find was of early settlers. How did they live? What was life like for them? Who were they?

Photo by Steinar Engeland on Unsplash

One memorable day she found the discovery she dreamt of—an old house. Though she was but twelve, she closed her eyes and let her mind open to the presence of those who had lived there. The woods were silent, giving up no secrets.

Photo by DDP on Unsplash
After a few moments of reverent pause, she began sifting through fallen leaves to see what remained of the old house beyond its brick foundation and fallen boards. As her fingers scratched away dirt, a tiny teacup appeared and then a small chipped saucer.

A child lived here! Why were her playthings abandoned in this house? Excited by this find, she searched further and unearthed a cooking pot and a few scraps of rotting fabric. Had the cloth been the child's doll's dress?

Photo by Lester Hine on Unsplash
Night fell before she was able to collect more artifacts (a word she would learn years later). Then the changing season brought frost and earlier darkness that postponed her search of the grounds.

Years later this memory was triggered by the study of history and visiting museums in small towns across her state. Those distant memories ignited the desire to find her own ancestors. Genealogical research sparked enticing What if questions.

And I began to write...

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

A Platform for All Creatives ~ Amy Crouch and Chloe Mogg

The platform began with Chloe and Amy wanting to create a place
where both musicians and artists could share their talents in the same place during the COVID-19 Global pandemic. After seeing various Facebook groups based around music but none for other areas within the arts, the Facebook group 'The 7 Arts Still Exist' was born.

“While the world suffers, art is still being made by creatives behind closed doors. Here you can share your passion with the globe and make yourself known for your talent. The 7 arts still exist and are constantly in motion”

On March 26th 2020, Amy proposed the idea of an entirely online festival to Chloe, with the aim of showcasing live music and curating an online exhibition. On April 18th and 19th 2020, the festival went live, with a line up of 36 music acts, 18 hours of music, 26 artists and 118 artworks. They had support from their local BBC radio station, online magazines and the local news. This led the festival to great success; each live performance had an average of 650 views equaling to an overall of 23,400 views (circa) and the art exhibition had over 1000 views.

“After the success of the first festival, we knew straight away we wanted to do festival number two. We quickly started planning, and before we knew it our second festival took place 29th, 30th and 31st May - making it our biggest achievement yet.”

The 7 Arts Still Exist’s social media pages came to life with a website, Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram to go alongside the ever-growing Facebook group. Streams and artists were shared across socials to gain more coverage for the talented acts.

“We had viewers and performers from across the globe (US, Europe, Asia, Australia, Canada and more) and gained over 45,600 views approx. Split 31,000 via live streams and 14,600 via the art and exhibition, we are absolutely overwhelmed and so grateful with the response.”

Now taking a couple of weeks off to research for future events, The 7 Arts Still Exist can’t wait for whatever lies ahead in the future.

Amy Crouch is an abstract painter who was born in Worcester on
Amy Crouch, Co-Founder of 7ASE
7th February 1997 and grew up in a small town called Stourport-on-Severn. Her interests range from listening to music and attending music events to ghost hunting near and far, her favourite location being Drakelow Tunnels.

She studied Media Studies, Art & Design and English at Stourport High School and Sixth Form Centre before moving on to University in 2015; graduating in 2018 with a Bachelor's with Honours degree in Art and Design from the University of Worcester.

Amy now continues to study her artist practice back in her hometown, Stourport, where she has her own studio space in the heart of the town and will begin her Masters of Fine Art study at Birmingham City University in September 2020.


Chloe Mogg is a singer-songwriter, multi instrumentalist, music
Chloe Mogg, Co-Founder of 7ASE
journalist and now music promoter residing in Stourport-on-Severn. Chloe studied Level 3 BTEC & HND Music Performance at Kidderminster College from 2014-2018 before becoming a full time musician in 2018.

Known for her rainbow, ‘parrot’ hair, Chloe’s goal is to always bring colour to every project she participates in. Teaming up with life long best friend Amy Crouch to create The 7 Arts Still Exist, the two aim to give a platform for artists and musicians across the globe to showcase their creativity.

To learn more about this program, please click on the links below.

Meet Our Members

Lexa Fisher
Lexa lives with her husband and spoiled little rescue cat in Seattle. Transplanted from Michigan decades ago she earned her BA at the University of Washington where she now works as an IT construction project manager. 

To read more about Lexa and her former blog posts, please visit her MEMBER PAGE

Heart Shapes in Nature ~ Jacquolyn McMurray

Have you ever studied nature's patterns? I find it interesting to observe how often Mother Nature repeats herself in spirals, hexagons, tessellations, and heart shapes. 

Red Anthuriums

One of the most common heart-shaped plants in Hawai'i is the anthurium. These simple flowers grow in a variety of colors and sizes.  

White Anthurium in Vase

Although my favorite anthuriums are red, this white with a blush of pink has its own distinct elegance. 

Pink Anthuriums in Entryway

And who can deny that pink anthuriums help make this a charming place to stop and rest?

One of my friends gave me a beautiful book on Hawaiian flowers. Published in 1943, the book is a collection of lithographs and verses like the ones below.

Lithograph by T. J. Mundorff
Like a hand-carved piece of
Red Chinese Lacquer
Each wax-like, wrinkled line
Molded in dreams centuries old. 
You've sacrificed your fragrance 
To other flowers,
And held an unforgettable beauty
All your own.
                                         Raymond A. Stewart, Jr.

But, anthuriums are not the only heart-shaped objects in nature.           

There are leaves,  

coral and lava rock,


and even fruit!

Next time you take a walk, look around and see if you can spot any heart-shaped objects.  I'd love to see what you find.

Life with Mazie ~ Part 5~by Joanne Jaytanie

Hello world, it’s me, Mazie.

I’m starting to wonder if there is anything beyond the giant evergreen trees at the edge of my yard. 

Mom thought that putting my blankets in front of the window would keep me from investigating every sound I hear outside, like when the gate opens. 
Silly woman.

Don’t get me wrong, I love it that Mom and Dad are always home, but I miss visiting with friends and meeting new people.

Dad has been working on trim in the office. 
My job is to supervise him. 
It’s cool that his toys make funny noises. 

I figured he brought his toys upstairs so that I could play with them, but he says I’m not allowed to touch them. 
What’s the deal? 

I share all my toys with him.

I try and keep myself busy. There’s so much I have to take care of – like barking at the fireplace when it makes weird sounds.

And keeping tabs on both of my people.

Dinner time is one of my favorite times of the day. 
When Mom makes salads, I make sure to get my greens. 
I like lettuce, but cucumbers are the best!

It was fun to chat with you again, but I have to go. 
Mom is doing something downstairs, and I have to supervise ‘cause that’s my job.

Saying Goodbye ~ by Kristine Raymond

Copyright © Depositphotos

In the words of The Bard, "Parting is such sweet sorrow", and whether spoken at the end of a visit or when a loved one leaves this Universe for the next, goodbyes are never easy.

I've said more than my share in my almost 53 years on this earth.  To cherished furbabies that I cradled in my arms while they crossed the Rainbow Bridge; to five babies I carried for such a short time before their souls departed this realm for a higher one; to my dad whom I had no way of knowing wouldn't be there the next time I phoned.

I've said goodbye to friends I'd never see again and dreams that would never come true.  On the flip side, I've celebrated the expression of positive goodbyes - releasing bad habits and negative thoughts and toxic relationships from my life.

But the hardest farewell is the one uttered when you don't want to let go; when you've enjoyed the time spent with those you love, but must move on.  That's what this post is for me.

More than a year ago, Grace and Joanne invited me to contribute to a blog they were starting for creatives, aptly named Originality by Design.  Over the course of that time, I've written about my love of jigsaw puzzles, the inspiration I draw (no pun intended) from color, and even about the love of my life - my furbaby, Bruno.  (Not to worry, the hubs knows he's second on my list 😉😂)

I've enjoyed sharing an aspect of my life with you, giving you a peek into what makes me...well, me.  When you get right down to it, I'm a simple girl who loves nature, tea, furry critters, and good friends, not necessarily in that order.  Not in any order, in fact.  I love equally and across the board, which makes today so difficult, as it's the day I say goodbye to Originality by Design.

Oh, there're no ominous clouds hovering over my head, at least, none that I'm aware of.  I'll still be writing and recording the podcast and dancing outside in the sunshine with my critters at my feet while hummingbirds zip through the air and the wisteria vine blooms.  But this path I've been on has reached its end and it's time to set out on a new one; one filled with adventure and destinations unknown.  

What's that?  Oh, not to worry, I'll still be dropping by to see what everyone's up to.  And you can always reach out to me on social media (Facebook, mainly) or through my website

It's been an absolute joy contributing to this awesome blog.  I'm honored to have been included.  So, before things start turning mushy around here, there's only one thing left to say.  Or, maybe I won't...

Copyright © Depositphotos

Thanks for the Reminder ~ By Julie Duncan

As I sit here scrolling through social media, numb from not understanding the state of our seemingly upside down country, from working...