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The Secret Of The Lilies – Part 2

Read The Secret Of The Lilies – Part 1.

I winced as I plunged the pan into the hot water. My hands felt raw from the heat and scrubbing, but there was still a stack of dishes next to the sink. The yeasty smell of freshly baked bread wafted towards me, but I ignored my grumbling stomach. I wouldn’t be given dinner until the dishes were done. I wasn’t sure I wanted to eat anyway. 

“Haven’t you noticed? No one on the property is allowed to eat meat.” The voice of the Lillies came back to me. 

I had noticed but thought it was due to the family being conscientious about natural resources or vegan. I snorted as I placed another stack of plates into the soapy water. Vegan? Ha! 

The view from the window over the farmhouse-style sink was of the garden. I glanced up every now and then, hoping to catch a glimpse of Joe. As the head gardener, he was usually wandering the paths, making notes of what needed to be done, and supervising the other gardeners. I now knew that the garden provided almost all of the food for The Cromwell House’s inhabitants; only a few things were purchased from local farmers on occasion. 

I looked out the window again, and Joe was coming down the path towards the house. He was a reedy-looking man, with salt-and-pepper hair that made him look distinguished despite the blue overalls and work boots that were the gardeners’ uniform. As he got closer, I studied his face. From a distance, his hair made him seem to be in his late forties or early fifties. But the skin around his eyes and mouth was unlined, free from wrinkles or laugh lines. His body possessed the lean strength that came from a physical job, yet there was no sign of stooped shoulders or aching knees. If I had to guess, I would say he was closer to thirty.

Joe looked directly at me and winked as he walked by the window. He was always friendly to me and never hesitated to help me pick the herbs and vegetables Cook wanted if he was available. But I cringed inwardly as I realized he caught me staring at him, studying him. I hoped he didn’t think I was being rude or, worse, flirting. 

“Are you about finished, Emma?” Esther’s clipped tones broke into my thoughts. 

“Yes, ma’am,” I replied without turning. 

“Good. When you are through, take your meal, then come find me. You are wanted upstairs.” 

“Yes, ma’am,” I said again. 

I waited until I heard the head housekeeper’s heels clicking down the servant’s hall before heaving a deep breath. 

“Well, girl, you must be doing well.” Cook’s voice was raspy from all the heat in the kitchen. “Esther doesn’t usually take new employees upstairs until they’ve been here at least six months.” 

“So, that’s good?” I asked hesitantly. 

“Of course, it’s good! Didn’t I just say so?” Cook huffed. “Are you through? Here’s your plate.” She plopped a dinner plate down on the side table where the staff took their meals. “Best hurry; you don’t want to keep Madam waiting.” 

“What will happen? Do you know what she’ll ask me, I mean? I want to be prepared.” I sat and began eating the gorgeous salad. 

“Well, let’s see.” Cook leaned an ample hip against the counter as she studied me. “Madam will ask how you are getting along, if you like it here, that sort of thing. She might ask about your family and friends. She’s very concerned about her employees’ happiness. Oh, and she’ll ask about your health. We don’t have insurance, but the Cromwells will pay for any illness or injuries, and they like to know we’re healthy to begin with.” 

I hid my frown behind the napkin as I wiped my mouth. The trumpet lilies told me the Cromwells needed new housekeeping staff every few years as they were used up. They had used the word “drain,” as if the Cromwell family was sucking the life out of their staff. The questions about family and health seemed to fit in with that. 

“You’ll meet Madam today, and then if she likes you, you will meet Sir sometime in the next week or so. The children will find you when they’re ready. They are very sheltered and shy,” Cook continued with her musing, oblivious to my concern. “Stand up straight, don’t mumble, and be polite. You’ll be okay.” 

“Thank you, Cook,” I said. “I should go find Ms. Esther now.” 

I stood and took my dish to the sink. Beth usually finished up the dishes in the evening since her shift started later than mine. 

As I left the kitchen and followed the servant’s hall to the set of rooms reserved for full-time staff, I wondered how badly I actually needed this job. I still hadn’t tried to contact my parents, but Lori said they missed me. Should I resign and go home? But I was curious to see the Cromwell family in person. They rarely made public appearances and were usually surrounded by security when they did. No one in town knew what they looked like. Plus, according to the lilies, I had a few years before I would be used up. 

I squared my shoulders and knocked lightly on Esther’s bedroom door. I could do this. One day, after I had met all the family, I would leave without warning and take their horrific deeds to the authorities. 

Anthology Release!

I have been a part of Coffee House Writers for almost 3 years now. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long! I am a writer and editor for them, and really love it.

This year, CHW has been working on publishing an anthology which they have split into two volumes. I am excited to announce that I have two pieces in each book. And I am SUPER PROUD of the writers on my team who will also have their works in these anthologies. I work with them weekly on their writing skills, and have seen them grow so much in the last year.

It’s getting soooo close to the release date! I have butterflies in my stomach from nerves and excitement. These will make great gifts for people who love to read!


✨☕️PRE-ORDER NOW!! ☕️✨
Coffee House Writers is releasing two anthologies with twenty-eight contributing writers in December! With over one hundred pieces total, there is something for everyone in these collections.


Paperbacks of both will be available internationally on the two release days as well!


Volume 1: Poetry & Nonfiction releases December 8.

Pre-order here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08N2Y4ZHD

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/55877282-coffee-house-writers-2020-anthology

Volume 2: Fiction releases December 15.

Pre-order here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08N3C92P7

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/55877286-coffee-house-writers-2020-anthology

The Secret Of The Lilies – Part 1

It is my second month as an assistant housekeeper for the Cromwell family. They are what was called “old blood.” Their ancestors were rich, they were rich, and their great-great-grandchildren would probably be rich. As I entered the kitchen from the backdoor that we commonly called “the help’s door,” I questioned my choices that got me here. 

At seventeen, I ran away with my boyfriend. I thought we were madly, inescapably in love. Apparently, that was just me. After a few months, I started to talk about finding an apartment to live in instead of couch-surfing, and he decided it was better for us to go our separate ways. Okay, so that was a nice way of saying I woke up one morning in his sister’s spare room to find him gone. He left a note, though. “It was fun. See you around.” 

I wanted to go home but was too stubborn and prideful to admit to my parents that they were right about Nate. I convinced my friend Lori to talk to her family, and they agreed that I could stay with them for two months while I got a job and found a place to live. At the time, I envisioned nothing but fast-food or retail in my future. 

Every day, I scoured the want ads over breakfast and dropped off applications until almost dinner time. One morning, there was an intriguing ad that caught my eye. It was in a larger font than the rest, with a black box border around it, indicating the employer had paid extra to get more notice. 

Wanted: Assistant Housekeeper. Duties include general household cleaning, light gardening, and some errands. Anyone with a good attitude and willingness to work will be considered.
Apply at Cromwell House; ask for the head housekeeper, Esther Stone. 

My spoon clattered into my bowl as I grabbed the newspaper and carefully ripped the ad out of the section. 

“What’s going on?” Lori asked, coming into the crowded kitchen with her dark hair in a towel. 

“I think I just found a job I can do! It’s just cleaning and gardening, and they didn’t specify a huge list of skills. I’m going to go apply right now!” 

“Good luck!” Lori called after me as I ran to her room to get changed. 

I dressed carefully in a dark blue skirt and cream-colored blouse. I added low-heeled black shoes and small silver earrings. I didn’t want to appear like the homeless waif I was, so I added a silver necklace with a small heart pendant. After pulling my blond hair up into a neat ponytail, I dabbed a tiny bit of lipgloss on my lips but forwent any other makeup. I felt that simple and understated would be best. 

The Cromwell House was the most prominent building in the area. It sat on a small hill overlooking the bay. Once a month, tours were given of its grounds and public rooms. Some locals called it The Castle, and they weren’t wrong. A brick wall surrounded the property, and the house sat at the top of the hill. Flower gardens and soft green grass lined both sides of the driveway. A black iron gate stood sentinel at the driveway’s entrance, with a little guardhouse next to it. 

The bus stop was only one block away from The Castle. I used the short walk to compose myself; excitement was churning in my stomach, threatening to bring up the cereal I had scarfed down. 

When I reached the closed gate, I wasn’t sure what to do. “Hello?” I called. 

The door to the guardhouse opened, and a thin man with greying hair stepped out. “Tours aren’t until next Thursday,” he said and then turned to go back into the guardhouse. 

“Wait, please! I’m here about the job. Can I please see Esther Stone?” My words rushed over each other, trying to get out before he could close the door. 

He paused a moment before coming closer to the gate. “The job, huh? You think you want to be a housekeeper here?” He looked me up and down. “Well, come in, then. Let’s see if she’ll take you on.” Drawing a set of keys from his pocket, the guard unlocked a smaller door cleverly inset into the gate. 

I stepped through and shivered a bit when I heard the door clang shut behind me. 

“Head on up to the house, but be sure to use the back door by the kitchens. Take the stone path to the right of the driveway when you’re near the garage, and it will take you around. I’ll call up to Esther to let her know you’re coming.” 

I thanked him and then started up the driveway. It was about half of a mile long and curved around the hill, so you could only see the house’s top through the landscaped trees. I worried that I would be a little sweaty by the time I got there, so I flapped my arms a bit as I walked to cool off. 

The pathway was exactly where the guard said it would be, and as I followed it behind the garage, I noticed the flower gardens turned to herbs and then to vegetables. There was a door at the back of the house, one of those old-fashioned ones that split so you can open the top half while keeping the bottom closed. The top half had a thick glass window set into it and was open to the summer breeze. Once again, I found myself unsure of what to do. Should I knock? Call out? The decision was taken away from me as a stern-looking woman dressed in a knee-length black dress suddenly appeared, pushing open the bottom doorway. 

“Here for the job? Charles called up. I’ll interview you in the kitchen. Come in.” 

That was Esther, and she gave me the job. Obviously, since I’m here now. The job came with a small room, shared with the other assistant housekeeper, meals, and a decent wage. So far, the work hasn’t been hard. I pick vegetables in the morning if Cook needs them for lunch and dinner, sweep and mop the floors, do the dishes, and water the flowers. I have every Sunday afternoon free to do what I want. I’m not allowed upstairs yet. That’s where the family lives. The main floor is laid out for entertaining, with a large entryway, a formal sitting room and dining room, and a music room.

I placed the basket of tomatoes and peppers on the counter in the kitchen and moved to the side sink to wash my hands. Once done, I hung up my coarse red apron – to only be used in the gardens – and donned my pristine white house apron. I had a black dress, like Esther’s now. 

“Thanks, girl,” Cook said. “Esther told me to have you start with the plants in the foyer today. She said the lilies are looking a little drab.” 

“Okay, I’ll see what I can do for them.” I kept my reply short. Cook was kind, but Esther disliked unnecessary chatter. I scooped up a watering can, filled it with cool water from the side sink, and added a little of the plant food that Joe, the head gardener, said was good for all the indoor plants. 

I walked through the door that led to the hallway behind the dining room. The Cromwell House was laid out in such a way that servants could access most of the main floor without being seen by guests. This hallway went from the kitchen to the entryway, and doors led into the other main rooms. From the main rooms, the doors weren’t noticeable unless you were looking for them. At the end of the hall was the door to the foyer. No one was scheduled to visit today, but I still checked the peephole to be sure there weren’t any guests. Esther told me to make it a habit. If I ever came out of a door while guests were present, either I had better be serving dinner, or the house was on fire. 

As expected, there wasn’t anyone there, so I pressed the latch that allowed the door to swing quietly open, closing it behind me. 

The trumpet lilies sat in large containers to either side of the front door. They were a stunning variety called African Queen. Dark gold on the inside with magenta hues streaking the petals outside and magenta pistils, I was in love with them the first time I saw them last week. 

“How are my gorgeous beauties doing today? Are you a little dry?” I murmured to the plants. My mother always talked to her houseplants, and I guess I was more like her than I wanted to admit. She always said the plants had feelings and grew better if you talked nicely to them. And, at times, I swear I heard Joe talking to the vegetable plants in the garden. 

I prodded the soil in each container, noticing that they were dryer than they should be. “Oh, you poor things. I  am so sorry. I should have watered you yesterday. Let’s get you fixed up.” 

“Maybe you should worry about yourself.” The voice was soft, and I turned around, expecting to see Beth, the upstairs maid, standing behind me. No one was there. 

“I know I didn’t sleep well, but I’ve never heard things because of being tired before,” I muttered. I began watering one of the planters, being sure to move the stream of water over the soil so not one spot became too saturated. I leaned closer to the lilies to get to the side against the wall. 

“We like you, so we’re warning you.” This time the soft voice sounded as if it was right next to my ear. 

I pulled back and looked around again.

“We know you aren’t stupid, Emma. So listen.” 

This time I was sure of it. The lilies were talking to me! 

“Am I crazy?” I asked. 

“No, Emma. We are talking to you, just like you talk to us.” 

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Then I pinched my arm as hard as I could and opened my eyes. I must be daydreaming.

“Emma, listen to us. The Cromwell’s who live here now are the same Cromwell’s who lived here a hundred years ago when this house was built.” 

I decided it was worth playing along until I could see a doctor or get some sleep. “What do you mean?” I moved to the other container and began watering. 

“The Cromwell’s are immortal. Have you ever seen them?” Now I could tell it wasn’t just one soft voice, but several, as if each flower was speaking simultaneously. 

“Not up close,” I admitted. 

“Good,” the lilies replied. “They want you to replenish them.” 

“Replenish them? How? Wait a moment.” I rubbed my head and then moved to the servant’s door. I opened it a crack, just enough to be sure no one was coming, before closing it again and turning back to the lilies. “Okay, tell me everything.”

Books Are Here To Stay

The following is an actual conversation with my son.

“Wow, Regal Cinemas is closed until further notice,” my husband announced as he scrolled through his Facebook feed. 

“Why?” Our almost sixteen-year-old son, Tim, asked.

“Because people aren’t going to the movies due to COVID,” my husband answered. 

“Movies aren’t being made due to COVID,” I said. “It’s impossible to make a movie and social distance at the same time.”

“That sucks,” Tim muttered. 

“What if the movies we have now are the only movies we will ever have?” I mused. 

“No, don’t say that!” 

My son was horrified, but it got me thinking. 


Movies are a recent invention. The first one was created in 1878 when a racehorse owner wanted to know if all four of a horse’s hooves left the ground while galloping. The film, titled The Horse In Motion, is only 3 seconds in length, but it paved the way for motion pictures. Over time, technology increased in all areas and the results are the movies we know and love today. 

Books, however, have been around for several millennia. It is common knowledge that the ancient Egyptians used papyrus scrolls to record their history. Other nations adopted this method and improved upon it, and around 600 AD, people began adding illustrations to parchment pages. These pages were then sewn together and placed inside a leather binding to protect them. 

The first printing press was invented in 1454 by Johannes Gutenberg and, like everything else, technology advancements improved it. We now have practically unlimited access to any book we want through digital means; however, the printed book is still going strong. The publishing industry has shifted to favor e-books since they cost less to produce. There is some speculation that printed books will become obsolete, but printed books aren’t disappearing.

Humans have told stories to each other since they first began to talk. Stories were used to tell the location of a good hunting area and pass down the tribe’s history. This is also how myths and legends originated. Books were not originally used for entertainment, but to disseminate information and history. Once again, time proved to be the changing factor, and now we read books for entertainment as well as to gain knowledge. 

What does all of this have to do with the movies? It’s simple: Books can be created while social distancing is observed. Writers are, for the most part, solitary creatures. We like to get together to give and receive feedback about our work, but the actual writing is done solo. Editing, proofreading, and cover creation can all happen via email. Publishing, especially e-publishing, can be done without close contact with other humans. 

I feel that this is hopeful for humanity. Creativity, imagination, and innovation are still prevalent forces in our world. History has shown us that, no matter what is thrown at us, we are resilient. Even if, in the unlikely event, that the internet disappears, books will still be created.

So much has been taken from us this year, and there have been numerous changes. I think, for good or ill, most of these changes are here to stay. I am optimistic that movies will return, but if they don’t, that’s okay. We have books.

The Swimming Pool

I burst through the front door and ran into the dining room where my mom was paying bills. 

“Mom, Robin and Erica are going to the Y to swim today. Can I go?” I bounced up and down a little on my toes, impatient for her answer. 

My mom looked up from the checkbook. “What time is open swim?” 

“Three to five, and then five-thirty to seven.” 

“Okay, you can go for the first session, but be home for dinner by six.” She handed me a five-dollar bill. 

“Thanks!” I ran to my room and quickly changed into my blue swimsuit. Pulling my shorts and t-shirt over the top of it, I grabbed a towel and shoved it into a plastic grocery bag along with a pair of underwear. 

The YMCA was only a block from our little neighborhood, making it the perfect place for kids to go when the games of tag and hide-and-seek got boring. When I turned twelve, my mom finally thought I was old enough to go there by myself or with my friends. 

“Bye, Mom!” I called as I ran out the front door, letting the screen door slam behind me. 

Jumping on my red Schwinn bicycle, I peddled to Robin’s house, where we always met up. She had a fort in her back yard that was our favorite place to hang out, besides the Y. I leaned my bike against the fence and went into the fort. It was an old shed filled with a few rickety chairs and fraying throw pillows that her mom didn’t want in the house anymore. But we added things like books, paper and pens, and toys to make it a place just for us. 

“Hi! Your mom said you can go?” Erica greeted me. 

“Yep, but I have to be home for dinner.” 

“Me, too,” Robin said. “Let’s go!” 

We got on our bikes and wound our way through the neighborhood, taking the shortcut through the small park to get to the main road. It was a busy, four-lane street, but the bike path was set away from it far enough that we didn’t even feel the wind of passing cars. In just a few minutes, we arrived at the YMCA. 

We locked our bikes on the bike rack and headed in. 

“Hi, girls!” The lady at the front desk greeted us. “Here for open swim?” 

“Yes!” We chorused. 

“It’s two dollars. Do any of you need a lock for the lockers?” 

“Just one,” Robin said. We usually shared a locker.

“A dollar for the lock, refundable when you return it.” She passed Robin a lock with a key attached to a giant safety pin. 

Once we paid, we hustled to the changing rooms. We all already had our bathing suits on under our clothes, so we were ready for the pool in minutes. Robin carefully secured the lock on the locker and attached the safety pin to her suit’s strap. We entered the door at the other end of the locker room, and I stared at the pool’s blue-green water. 

We were the first ones there, but the lifeguard was in place, and he motioned for us to go ahead. Robin and Erica immediately jumped into the deep end of the pool, bobbing up and wiping water out of their eyes. I sat down on the pool’s edge closer to the shallow end and slipped in. 

“What’s wrong, Anna?” Robin yelled. 

“Nothing, I just wasn’t sure how cold it was.” I shivered a little to demonstrate my point. 

“Okay. Let’s get the diving rings!” Robin pulled herself up on the poolside and grabbed several of the weighted red and blue rings from the bucket next to the lifeguard’s stand. 

I took a deep breath and slowly moved into deeper waters. As my toes left the bottom of the pool, I moved my legs in the bicycle motion that my dad taught me. My hands frantically paddled the water, and I edged closer to my friends. I was not a very good swimmer but didn’t want them to know. I reached for the edge of the pool and waited while Robin tossed the rings into the water. 

“Whoever gets one first, wins!” she called before jumping in again. 

“I just want to float for a bit,” I said. I was good at floating on my back and was afraid to try to dive down to the bottom of the pool. 

“Whatever you want,” Erica said, frowning. 

I could tell I lost some cool-kid points just then, but my fear was more substantial than my desire to be popular. Plus, we were still the only ones in the pool. When more people showed up, the water would be choppy and splash on my face if I tried to float then. 

I pushed back from the wall and felt my legs become buoyant as I leaned back. I kept my breathing slow and steady, focusing on the sound of the air moving through my lungs as the water covered my ears and muted the shouts of my friends. After a moment, I closed my eyes. I didn’t try to direct my position but allowed the water to push my body around the pool. After a few minutes, I bumped into the wall and, without opening my eyes, I gently pushed my hand against it to set me afloat again. 

A wave of water came crashing over me, causing me to splutter and splash as I attempted to regain my bearings. I realized I was all the way in the deep end of the pool, and it was twelve feet to the bottom. Still coughing, I managed to grab the side and wipe the water from my eyes. 

“Are you okay?” Robin swam over to me. 

“Yeah, just startled.” 

“Those boys are annoying. They stole the rings from us.” Robin glared over at a group of boys our age who were splashing and dunking each other. 

“Ugh, let’s go get a snack,” Erica said, coming up on my other side. 

Relieved, I followed Erica and Robin back to the changing room where Robin opened the locker to retrieve our towels and money. I shivered again as the chilly air of the lobby hit my wet skin. 

“You really don’t like being cold!” Erica laughed a little. 

“No, I don’t.” I fumbled with my dollar bill as I eyed the vending machines. 

“Too bad you live here, then,” she responded, punching the button that would deliver a candy bar to the pickup slot. 

“Anna wants to go live with her grandparents in California,” Robin stated. 

“No, I don’t,” I protested. I liked Alaska but didn’t enjoy the frigid winters. “I liked visiting them and eating fresh oranges, but I also like living here. Besides, I would miss you both too much!” 

I finally decided on a package of chips and put my money in the slot. We settled on a bench near the main entrance to eat our snacks, knowing that the lady at the front desk wouldn’t let us back into the locker room until we finished. She was always nice to us, but she was also strict about the rules. 

Once we threw the wrappers away under the watchful eye of the desk staff, we headed back to the pool. It was busier now. The group of boys were still rough-housing, and the lifeguard blew his whistle several times at them. There was also a mom with two small children, a few older girls, and a cluster of children a little younger than us. 

“What do you want to do now?” Robin asked as we took turns climbing down the ladder into the water. 

“Let’s play volleyball!” I said. We played in the middle of the pool since it was hard to jump up to hit the ball when you couldn’t touch the bottom. 

“Okay!” They both agreed. 

I grabbed a ball that was floating by, and we stood in a rough triangle. I served the ball towards Robin, who jumped and slammed it into the water with her palm. 

“Point for me!” I called. 

Robin scowled but took the ball and threw it to Erica, who managed to strike it with her forearm. The ball veered towards me, and I leaped up to hit it before it went over my head. I connected with the ball, and it went sailing back to Erica. Before she could get to it, one of the boys cannonballed right in the middle of us. He grabbed the ball to his belly on his way down. When he popped up, he was grinning. 

“We’ll play!” He announced. 

“No, thanks.” Robin swam towards him. “But I’ll take our ball back.” 

“If you can!” The boy chucked the ball to one of his friends, and they laughed hysterically. 

Robin and Erica immediately swam after them. I sighed. I thought something was wrong with me since boys didn’t interest me as they did my friends. All the other girls in my class were starting to wear makeup and talk to boys as if they were appealing. I saw boys as just friends to play tag with. But I didn’t want my friends to know the water scared me, so I pretended to swim after the boys as well. I stayed close to the edge of the pool and motioned at Robin and Erica to toss the ball to me if they got it. I hoped they saw it as a strategy to get the ball away from the boys. 

Finally, I saw Erica swimming towards me. I looked around and spotted Robin talking to the boy who interrupted our game. 

“It’s no use.” Erica shook her head. “She’s totally flirting.” 

I looked at the large clock on the wall near the lifeguard. “Oh, I need to go soon! Let’s get Robin. Her mom will kill us if we leave her behind.” 

“Yeah, okay,” Erica agreed. 

Robin wasn’t pleased when we broke in on her conversation to tell her we needed to leave. But just then, the lifeguard blew his whistle in three long blasts. “Everybody out!” he shouted. 

Groans of disappointment met his demand as everyone made their way out of the pool. Some kids stood near the wall, wrapping their arms around their torsos to try to stay warm while they waited for the pool to open. 

Robin, Erica, and I headed to the locker room to change clothes before riding our bikes home. I went to one of the toilet stalls to change. I always flush the toilet even when I don’t use it, just in case one of the other girls wonder why I change in there. 

On the way through the lobby, the boy stopped us. “Give me a call sometime.” He smiled and handed Robin a slip of paper. 

“Sure!” Robin smiled back. Her short, tightly curled blond hair was beginning to frizz as it dried. I self-consciously pulled my longer curly hair into a ponytail. 

Once we were on our way home, I asked, “You aren’t really going to call him, are you?” 

Robin laughed. “No way! He probably has a girlfriend.” She let the slip of paper flutter through her fingers and watched as the breeze caught it and took it into the road. 

As we passed Erica’s house, she veered off into her driveway, calling, “See you tomorrow!” 

Robin’s house was next, so I traveled the last couple of blocks to my house alone. I didn’t mind, really. Being around people was exhausting sometimes. 

Reaching home, I went around to the back and put my bike in the shed, being sure to lock it and take the key with me. I went inside to find my mom in the kitchen, cooking dinner. 

“Did you have fun, sweetheart?” she asked. 

“Yep! I can’t wait to go again!” 

Why You Should Prioritize Self-Care

We hear the phrase “self-care” a lot lately. There are hundreds of blogs and articles out there listing acts of self-care, but this is not one of them. Instead, let’s talk about why you should make self-care a priority. 

When I’m in a seminar and the presenter asks us to list the things in our life in order of importance, self-care is always at the top of my list. Some people would argue that God or religion should be first, but on my list, that’s part of self-care. Other items on my list might change positions, however. Here is my current list:

1. Self-Care

Faith

Exercise

Good sleep

Boundaries

2. Family

There are a few more items that fall into some of these categories, but you get the general idea. Go ahead and make your priorities list. I’ll wait. 

Is self-care at or near the top of your list, too? If not, why not? How can you care for your family or be effective at work if you are feeling drained? 

“Put your own oxygen mask on first, before attempting to help those around you.”

The instructions airline passengers receive if there’s an emergency and oxygen masks drop clearly state to put your own mask on first. I know that as a mother, my first instinct in an emergency is to help my children. Every time I hear the flight attendant tell me to put my own mask on first, I wonder if I could really do it. Could I watch my child struggle for a few moments while I ensure my own survival? 

I’m grateful that I’ve never been tested in a life-and-death situation. But day-to-day events? You betcha. I put my survival above all else. My family can survive for an hour while I go to the gym. They can wait 15 minutes while I journal. They give me 3 minutes of peace while I use the bathroom. 

If you are not caring for yourself, you will not have the capacity to care for others. It is impossible to give time and energy to your family and obligations if you are depleted. Lack of energy can easily translate to depression, which makes it even more difficult to fulfill others’ needs. Exercise, a good sleep routine, and practicing faith can all boost both happiness and energy. It makes it easier to care for others. 

How do you develop a self-care routine? First, make a list of your stress-coping mechanisms. From that list, pick 3 things that you can do daily. These things should easily fit into your schedule and not involve doing anything for someone else. Next, add these items to your daily to-do list and block out time on your calendar. Finally, and this is the most important step, do them! Don’t allow other things to infringe upon this time. Talk to your partner and children and let them know that this time is important for you to be able to be a better spouse/partner/parent/employee, etc. 

If you have to get up earlier, stay up later, trade babysitting, or hire a sitter in order to have the time you need, plan for that. Will there be days that your self-care doesn’t happen? Absolutely. The goal here is to have this time more often than not. Then those few days a month that you don’t get your workout in or miss journaling won’t affect you as much. You will still be grounded, centered, and filled, ready to take on whatever arises. 

Fibromyalgia To Wholeness

This is an outline of my journey from living with incredible pain due to fibromyalgia to wholeness. There wasn’t just one thing that worked. I wish I could say I found the magic solution to fibromyalgia. And I’m not “cured,” not by any means. But I am healthier and happier than I have been in a long time. This is super long so I broke it down by topic. I hope it helps! And feel free to ask me any questions. 

The timeline is a little messed up. I didn’t just do one thing and then the next. I started with one thing, added another, and then a few more. 

PAIN

It started with the prescription medications making the pain less, but the memory and brain fog issues worse. It started to become dangerous for me to drive, and since my husband worked out of town, I was the sole caregiver for our 4 children. I began researching – and keeping lots of notes! – herbal remedies. This naturally let me to the world of essential oils. 

I started with a DIY muscle relief cream. The recipe has morphed over time, based on my knowledge and needs, but the base has always been the same. 

1/2 cup coconut oil and 10 drops each of PanAway, Lavender, and Peppermint. 

Other oils that I started adding to get better results are Lemongrass and Copaiba. 

The first night, I rubbed this all over my legs just before bed and when I got up the next morning, it didn’t hurt to walk. I was amazed! I also use this after a big day, such as going to the fair, when I know my nerves and muscles will hurt afterward. 

Once it didn’t hurt to get out of bed, I started to work on my sleep. 

SLEEP

Good, quality sleep is sooo important. I think it’s even more important when you have pain that results in difficulty sleeping. I used to not be able to fall asleep and would lay in bed for HOURS, watching the clock and listening to my husband snore. Then, when I finally fell asleep around 2 am, I would be awake again at 4 am. I would lay there until around 6 am when I needed to get up to get the kids ready for school. Then, by 8 or 9 am, I was napping. I would wake up around 10 or 11, do a couple of minor chores, then go back to sleep. The kids would get home from school, and I would be awake again until 2 am. Repeat, repeat. It was terrible. 

I created a good sleep routine, started diffusing Lavender, and using Sleep Essence. 6 months later, I started falling asleep at 11 pm and staying asleep until 4 am. Now? I go to bed around 9:30-10 pm and sleep until 6 am – unless the dog wakes me up to go outside or my grandbabies are here and they wake up. I get a solid 8 hours of sleep on the regular now. 

GUT

Next, I worked on my gut. I kept hearing that whole health is in the gut. I had all kinds of stomach/gut issues. Constipation, diarrhea (sometimes in the same day!), noises, heartburn, cramps… and the doctor just wanted to medicate me. I learned before, though, that sometimes the side effects are worse than the issue. 

I looked up the top culprits for gut issues and, no surprise, came up with gluten, sugar, and caffeine. There were others, but these were the ones I focused on. 

I started by doing a 10-day sugar cleanse. Some people were super serious and didn’t eat anything that had sugar in it, including fruits. I just did no processed or added sugars. For this challenge, I started drinking Ningxia Red – an antioxidant nutrient drink. It helped with the withdrawal symptoms. After the challenge, I found I have more energy and less brain fog. 

Then I started phasing out gluten. This one is hard for me because my entire family is a “meat and pasta” club. However, when I do eat gluten, I end up extremely tired within 20 minutes. I have a migraine within an hour, and all kinds of gut issues for 3 days afterward. I have not been tested for Celiac. Gluten-free products are super expensive, which was another hurdle for me. I use corn tortillas, make zucchini noodles, and chaffles, and eat a lot of real foods now. 

Caffeine…oh my dearest coffee pot. We must break up! Well, sort of. I still have coffee, and black tea, but for a while, I didn’t. I did another 10-day detox for caffeine, but by accident. I was working out every morning (more on that later) and my heart rate wasn’t dropping. The trainer told me not to drink coffee in the mornings before class. So I listened. But by the time class was over, my body didn’t feel like it needed caffeine. Now I have tea on non-workout days and coffee once a week on the weekends. 

I recently posted in my Facebook Group some more healthy eating tips and other valuable points.

I also take AllerZyme, EssentialZyme, and use DiGize essential oil. Ningxia Red helped me with gut things, too. 

EXERCISE

By this time, we were living in a small, single level home with only 2 steps instead of 3 flights. This one was probably the hardest of all to get going. When I first got sick, we lived on the third floor of an apartment building and there was no elevator. If I went grocery shopping, I would come home and have to crawl up the stairs. Literally, on my hands and knees. My dad made me a cane that helped when I had to be out for more than a few days. Yes, a 30-year-old woman walked with a cane! 

Everything I read said that exercise was important to combat fibromyalgia. But how can I when it exhausts me and makes me hurt? 

I started REALLY slow. As in, I would walk from the front door to the end of the driveway and back. Then the next week I would walk to the end of the street. Then I would walk to the end of the block. Eventually, I was able to take my dog on walks all over our little town and we walked about 3 miles every night. 

I also re-started yoga. I loved it before I got sick, and knew the focus on being present in the moment would be helpful to my journey to health. The stretching, balancing, and breathing exercises both strengthened and relaxed my muscles. 

I used a LOT of my homemade cream recipe, but now I will reach for pre-made things like Cool Azul Sports Gel, Cool Azul Pain Cream, Ortho Ease Massage Oil, Deep Relief roll-on, and CBD Muscle Rub. I basically reach for whatever is handy or what I think would work the best in the moment. 

STRESS

Stress can exacerbate fibromyalgia symptoms. I had to learn how to set clear boundaries and expectations of myself and my family. I had to learn how to say no when people asked me for help – which is really hard because I love helping others! I can’t say I’m totally stress-free (is anyone?), but I can say I manage it better. I use StressAway, Calm roll-on, time-blocking, meditation, and exercise to keep the anxiety monster at bay. I also get regular massages and chiropractic adjustments. 

Where am I now? 

I still have hard days, when it hurts to move, my husband can’t hug me, and I just want to sleep. But those days are less than they used to be. Winter is the hardest, with the cold and dark, but I can cope with it now instead of staying in bed all day. 

I work out 4-5 days a week doing kickboxing, weight training, and yoga. I also will go for walks or jogs, work in the garden, and play with my kids and grandkids. I can clean house and go grocery shopping in the same day! I write, edit, and run my business. I still have to write everything down, but now it’s just because I’m so busy and not because my mind can’t hold any information. I walked 12 miles in one day while in London. I feel stronger than I ever remember being. 

True health and wholeness is not using or doing just one thing. It’s about looking at the big picture and all the pieces, sort of like a jigsaw puzzle. What worked for me might not work for you. The products mentioned above are the ones I use most often, but there are lots of others that I use to support my body and mind. I’m happy to chat with you and work with you to discover your whole health self!

The Modern Mom And Stress

Disclaimer: This article is not meant to discount dad’s roles, single dad’s, or male father figures. This is simply the perspective of a modern mom who wants to help other modern moms!

The modern mom is stressed out and overwhelmed. It’s hard to keep up with everything and everyone all the time! Some moms work full- or part-time. Other moms do not have a partner to help share the workload. Some may even not have a sound support system in place, such as extended family members and reliable friends. There are a lot of factors contributing to the modern mom’s stress levels.

Why is this issue so common? It’s generally accepted that moms do not always prioritize self-care or “me” time. Parents usually focus on the needs of their children, which means their own needs are not being met. On top of that, the modern diet and lifestyle provide less than optimum nutrition. The body can’t healthily handle stress when it is not given proper nourishment. Finally, there are so many sources to learn from and a lot of conflicting information out there. There’s no clear direction or focus. Moms are confused and overwhelmed. 

If stress is not solved or at least reduced, moms can experience more health problems. Issues like eating disorders, depression, colds and viruses, heart problems, and more can be related to stress. Stress can also cause relationship problems as there can be breakdowns in communication, less physical affection, and more conflict.

Most modern moms have already tried to solve their problems with things like a KonMari book, shopping at a health food store, buying “green” products, or buying a new cookbook like 30 Minute MealsBut these things are just patches and do not solve the underlying problem.

By the way, not all products labeled as “green” or “eco-friendly” are actually natural. It’s called “green-washing,” which means companies are misleading consumers into thinking the products are toxin-free. Why is this a concern? Because toxins also cause stress to the body. Moms who are trying to do better for their families are deceived by the packaging. But you don’t know what you don’t know, and now you know. Check out this list of common toxins in the home, and try to avoid any products that contain them. Hint: ingredients such as “fragrance” usually include some combination of yuck.

I know about stress and using products to fix the problems temporarily. I’ve been there. I’ve done all the above and more. These things didn’t work because they weren’t sustainable or actual remedies. It was like putting a band-aid on a broken bone. So how did I actually reduce the stress in my life? I used a five-step process, which I want to share with you.

Step 1: Get Clear and Set Intention.

Journal about your worth as an individual, and in the context of your relationships. Your needs are important, too! Then take a few minutes to focus on the belief that you have the power to create the life you want, which does not include a ton of stress. You may want to create a mantra or find a motivational quote to print out and put in a visible place.

Diffuse Frankincense and Lavender to create a sacred, personal space (wherever you can get it!). Affirm your worth as an individual, then in the context of your relationships. Apply Valor to your wrists, and meditate on the belief that you have the power to create the life you want.

Step 2: Make a list of the most important priorities you want to tackle. Work on one at a time.

My list looks like this:

  1. Family time
  2. Me time
  3. Family wellness
  4. Home organization + cleaning

Step 3: From that priority list, pick one new habit you can introduce weekly, once a day for 4 weeks. Here are some examples:

  1. Habit 1: Diffuse quality essential oils weekly. Diffusing helps set the mood of the home.
  2. Habit 2: Drink Ningxia Red daily.  This powerful antioxidant drink can combat the effects of stress and improve memory function. 
  3. Habit 3: Start exercising with your spouse and/or children. Bike rides, hiking, playing at the park (join in, don’t just watch!), or jumping on the trampoline are all ways you can have fun and get fit as a family.
  4. Habit 4: Switch out all those bottles of toxic cleaners for one bottle of Thieves Household Cleaner. Using toxic cleaners in the home has been shown to cause health problems. 

Step 4: Create a family task board (or Trello board!) to delegate & assign tasks, so everything isn’t on your shoulders!

Talk with your partner if you have one about sharing the mental burden. Get a support network in place. Trade babysitting services with other moms who also need a break. Chore charts for your kids are your friend! Children can begin doing simple chores around age 4. Again, Pinterest has lots of examples of age-appropriate chores and even simple charts you can print off, so you aren’t spending more time getting a system in place.

Step 5: Commit to a “treat yourself” day one time (or more) per month.

“I don’t have time for that!” I can hear you say. Trust me, you don’t have time not to make time. Your mental health is essential! If you are feeling stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, you need to devote at least one day each month to get an emotional reset. It doesn’t have to be expensive, either! Take a bath, spend the day reading a book, meet a friend, watch a movie, go window shopping. The list is endless! Do something that makes you feel good and only serves you. Again, fill your cup.

Stress does not have to be normal, and it certainly isn’t healthy. There are ways to combat it, and even almost eliminate it. It won’t happen overnight, but you can get there! And, please, friend, if you’re feeling so miserable that you don’t see a way out, reach out to someone to get help. See a counselor, talk with a friend, call a crisis hotline. You are important!

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)This post may contain affiliate links.

Essential Oil Usage

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DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical professional of any kind. I cannot prescribe, diagnose, or treat diseases. All the information contained in this article is from my own research and experiences. 

Earlier we talked about how to choose a good brand of essential oils. Now, let’s talk about essential oil use and safety. Knowing how to safely use essential oils is extremely important. First, what is an essential oil?

MedicineNet defines essential oils as: “An oil derived from a natural substance, usually either for its healing properties or as a perfume. Some pharmaceuticals, and many over-the-counter or ‘holistic’ remedies, are based on or contain essential oils. For example, products containing camphor or eucalyptus essential oils can help relieve congestive coughs, and many essential oils are used in the practice of aromatherapy.”

The U.S. National Library of Medicine states that an essential oil is: “The scented liquid taken from certain plants using steam or pressure. Essential oils contain the natural chemicals that give the plant its “essence” (specific odor and flavor). Essential oils are used in perfumes, food flavorings, medicine, and aromatherapy.”

Notice both definitions indicate that essential oils are used in medicine. You wouldn’t take a cough syrup or prescription without knowing the proper dosage, and the same should apply to essential oils. When starting out with essential oils it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the information available. I’m going to break it down for you as simply as I can.

There are three ways to use essential oils: aromatically, topically, and internally.

Aromatic use is probably the most common and is usually done by placing the essential oil in a diffuser which then expels the scent into the air. You can also place a drop of essential oil in your palms or on a cloth and then inhale the scent. In general, this is considered to be the safest way to use essential oils. Some things to consider before aromatic use are pet safety (remember, some types of pets are more sensitive to some essential oils than others), child safety (extremely young children should not be exposed to some essential oils), and the desired result of use. Sometimes I diffuse because I want the house to smell good, other times I use it to boost my mood on gloomy rainy days.

Topical use is placing the essential oils on the skin and it includes massage therapy. When using essential oils in this way, it is very important that you follow label directions for dilution requirement. Some oils are considered “hot,” and can be irritating or even harmful if applied without being diluted first. It’s easy to dilute an essential oil. If the label indicates to dilute one drop of essential oil with one drop of carrier oil, simply put one drop of your choice of carrier oil in the palm of your hand, add the drop of essential oil and apply as needed. What are carrier oils? It is any vegetable oil derived from the fatty portion of a plant, such as olive oil, grapeseed oil, coconut oil, jojoba oil, sunflower seed oil, and many more. Most likely you have a carrier oil in your kitchen. Something else to remember when using essential oils topically is that some are considered photosensitive and should not be applied prior to going out in the sun or tanning. Mild to serious burns might result.

Internal use is controversial because of the use of synthetic ingredients in some brands of essential oils. As we talked about before, many people think all essential oils are the same but they are not. The result is the improper use of essential oils. Only oils specifically labeled for internal use should be taken internally. Always follow the label’s directions. When using a dietary essential oil, you can drop it in your water (but not if the container or straw is plastic), put it in a vegetable capsule and take it, or use it in cooking to flavor your food. I just made my children blueberry lemon pancakes this morning using Young Living’s Lemon Vitality Essential Oil. If you are not sure if the essential oil can be taken internally, don’t use it that way. The label will clearly state if it is for topical and aromatic use only, or internal.

As always, do your research, ask someone knowledgeable, and follow the label directions. Consult your medical professional before using, especially if you have underlying health issues. Some essential oils can react with prescription medications.

Choosing Essential Oil Brands

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Please note: I am not a doctor or veterinarian and cannot give medical advice. The information contained in this article is from my personal knowledge and research. I have been using Young Living Essential Oils for four years, including around and on my children and pets, without any ill effects. I have done hours upon hours of research before using them, and I still study their uses and effects.

Lately, there have been a lot of posts on social media about the dangers of essential oils to pets. People read these, share them without another thought, and essential oils are blamed for illness and death in pets. This causes frustration on many levels because those same posts don’t always state what brand of essential oils were used. Some brands include synthetic fragrances and are not truly pure plant matter. The FDA does not regulate essential oils and states the following:

“There is no regulatory definition for “essential oils,” although people commonly use the term to refer to certain oils extracted from plants. The law treats Ingredients from plants the same as those from any other source.”

For example, “essential oils” are commonly used in so-called “aromatherapy” products. If an “aromatherapy” product is intended to treat or prevent disease, or to affect the structure or function of the body, it’s a drug. To learn more, see “Aromatherapy.”

Similarly, a “massage oil intended to lubricate the skin is a cosmetic. But if claims are made that a massage oil relieves aches or relaxes muscles, apart from the action of the massage itself, it’s a drug, or possibly both a cosmetic and a drug,” 

Wait, what?

“The law treats Ingredients from plants the same as those from any other source.”

This means that an essential oil containing only steam distilled Lavandula angustifolia (lavender) and a lab-created synthetic fragrance of lavender can both be labeled as pure essential oils.

This is why knowing where your products come from is so important. Essential oils — the real plant matter ones, not the lab-created ones — have been shown to help support overall feelings of wellness in all kinds of animals, from humans to dogs, from cats to guinea pigs, and even birds. But there are a lot of cheap, fake oils out there and people are not educated on the lack of regulation of essential oils, how they are made, or their proper use. They buy a diffuser, set it up, and start making their homes smell good without a thought to what is actually in that little bottle. How, then, do we know that it’s the Eucalyptus globulus and not eucalyptus fragrance that is causing our dear pets to have medical emergencies? We don’t, and yet essential oils, in general, are being blamed.

If you’re interested in learning how to live above the wellness line with essential oils, it is highly suggested that you seek out a reputable company and not purchase essential oils from the local grocery store. Do some research and ask some of the following questions:

1) How long has the company been in business?

2) Does the company own their farms or have partner farms?

3) Does the company control everything from planting to bottling?

4) Are the essential oils steam distilled and is the oil going into the bottle from the first distillation?

5) Are the oils tested both by the company’s quality control and by third parties?

6) How many tests are done? There are currently 20 possible tests that can be done to check an essential oil’s quality and constitution. (We will talk about these in a future article.)

7) Are they synthetic-free?

8) Are they organic?

9) Are any labeled as a dietary supplement?

Next, do your research. Lots and lots of research. Please don’t take your neighbor’s cousin’s sister’s word for how to use essential oils. Definitely ask your friends and family questions, but then follow up their answers with studying. Find out which oils might irritate the skin if used improperly. Learn about carrier oils, photosensitivity, and possible prescription drug interactions. Study the use of each oil, including what they can be used for, how to use them, and general safety information. When you start to use essential oils, start slow! Don’t set up your diffuser and add 15 drops of lemon. Instead, use 2 drops and monitor how you (and your pets) feel.

Yes, you can diffuse (real) essential oils around your pets. Place the diffuser in a main living area and make sure your pet is able to go to another room if they don’t like the smell. Never apply essential oils topically to your pet without consulting a veterinarian, and never apply undiluted essential oils. Start with ones that do not have phenols or salicylate in them. Oils that contain phenols or salicylate include, but are not limited to: Wintergreen, Basil, Oregano, and Tea Tree. Many people pick up essential oils because they smell good, and then use them similarly to candles or wax melts, but they can be so much more with the right quality and information. They can also be harmful if you are not armed with knowledge.