52 Photo Challenge: Week Two

“The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize, the less I know.” —Michel Legrand

A dear friend of mine invited me to participate in a 52-week photo challenge and I happily agreed. Each week a different aspect of photography will be explored. I’m excited to play along and hopefully learn as I do.

This week we were asked to feature a silhouette. As it’s been raining and stormy outside, I did my best to use a sliver of sunlight to backlight some trees and birds. I’m not sure these are successful, but I had fun trying. As I can only submit one photo to the challenge, I’d love to know which of these is your favorite.

Thanks as always for cheering me on and have a wonderful day!


  • Photos were taken with an Olympus OM-D and edited with ON1 Photo RAW

Week One’s assignment was to create an image that shows bokeh or shallow depth of field. I used the freeway image from Stormy Downtown Sacramento as my first submission. It wasn’t my best bokeh shot ever, but I’m trying to stick to photos taken within the week of the challenge.

Finally, my camellia has its first baby bloom and it’s too adorable not to share.

  • If you want to join the 52 Photo Challenge, you can find all the information at nicolesy.com.

52 Weeks: My Year of Becoming a Writer

“Rule one, you have to write. If you don’t write, nothing will happen.” –Neil Gaiman

“Somehow, even at that young age, you know that writing can be a wind that blows through you, makes you more spacious inside, more free. You feel it from the very start. You will still feel it, decades later.” –Gayle Brandeis

Last year I decided to stop messing around and write already.  The decision was born out of working through the “Artist’s Way” program during the pandemic with my dear friend Anna. I learned the ways in which I held myself back, and made myself smaller, and the reasons behind those things. I was ready to step out of the shadows and be visible.

So, I wrote 52 short stories. I showed up every day to the page and I thundered through my anxiety, depression, and past trauma. I wrote through all the negative voices and all the pain.

What I found was a roadmap to calling myself a writer—a way to step further into this cavernous place inside myself to mine and question everything. It’s made me curious and hungry. It’s become my life.

I don’t wake up each day fully confident I’ll someday have a book published, but I do wake up excited to try. The path ahead doesn’t seem so murky anymore and I’m getting to know my golden watery muses. I’ve named them and invited them to tea. We are friends.

While my internal shift feels big, I’d like to share some other things I’ve learned through this process:

*Deadlines work for me. Not only do I need concrete deadlines, but once I have them I can expand on them. I went from publishing one story a week to adding a photo essay and a poem. Having clear deadlines not only pushed me to write and create daily, but it propelled me to explore more avenues of expression.

*My life struggles can be explored in my writing. During a year a lot happens. My daughter graduated from 8th grade and her mental health declined. My mother-in-law passed away. I went on several vacations. In the past, it would have been easy to quit writing during these times, but instead, I used my life in my work. As a result, I processed things in a healthier way for me. I found writing saved me in times when I didn’t think I could go on.

*Each story must be written differently. While I expected to find a clear path to writing short stories, I did not. Each week I’d stare at the blank screen and rewrite the first two paragraphs until the voice of the characters emerged. Nothing about discovering the story ever became easy. Sometimes I’d start writing a character and it was clear they were in the wrong story. Other times, I’d start a story and realize it was far too big. False starts and stops became the norm, and I learned to be patient.

*I’m always going to freak out. You can ask my family, each week I’d get to a point where I’d say “this is the week I don’t finish my story” or “this is by far the worst thing I’ve ever written.” It became a joke and I realize it was part of the discovery process for me. It’s exhausting, emotional, and hard, but I did it 52 times and I can do it 52 more.

*Write around the mess. Life is busy and crazy. While sometimes I’ll be able to write in my now beautiful workspace (photo above), it won’t always be the case. Places I’ve written this year: coffee shops, my van, under a tree at a music festival, outside a hotel room in Oregon, on my phone beside my dying mother-in-law, on my daughter’s bedroom floor, and in various hotel bathrooms and beds.

*Investing in myself. From paying more to remove ads from my website to taking writing classes, this year I’ve learned to invest my time and money into myself. I also hired an editor to give each of my 52 stories a read-through. She was invaluable in moving me forward, showing me the common words/mistakes I made, and helping guide me toward using more descriptions. If you are interested, you can find her at breecedigitalservices@gmail.com. She’s encouraging, kind, and a phenomenal editor! She also happens to be a dear friend.

*Reading is as important as writing. It’s hard to make time for reading with everything in my life, but it’s vital to my growth as a writer. I’ve joined a few book clubs and I’ve decided to make a goal this year of reading 52 books. It seems a bit overwhelming, but I know reading will improve my writing. Period.

*WordPress is about cultivating relationships. I’ve made so many wonderful friends during this last year! This wasn’t something I expected to happen and it’s been such a wonderful bonus. I can’t thank you all enough for every kind word you’ve given me. As much as I want to think otherwise, having someone read and comment on my writing has kept me going on the weeks when I wanted to quit. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

*I can do hard/scary things. Putting yourself/your words out into the world is a scary thing. I still remember hitting publish on my first story and wanting to puke. For some reason I thought people would be mean or simply wouldn’t read it. I was wrong. Getting over the anxiety of hitting publish has given me the courage to not only push through the 52 stories but start trying my hand at poetry and photography. It lead me to open mic poetry nights where I stood before a room full of people and read my words. I still have anxiety, but it’s far easier to push it away now. The more I do it, the more I realize I can.

*The stats. I couldn’t do a recap without including numbers/stats. This is kind of crazy for me, but here we go:

Where do I go from here? 

It’s Saturday and I’m publishing this recap in place of a short story. It feels weird. Part of me wants to continue doing the exact same thing—photo essay on Monday, poem on Wednesdays, and short story on Saturdays. However, I have other goals and I need time to pursue them.

My word for the year is balance. I plan on still publishing three times a week here, but it could be any number of things. It could be a short story, a poem, a photograph, a personal essay, a book review, or maybe even a peek at one of the novels I’ve got in the works. I need to work on getting my physical body into shape and continue to grow my writing skills. I need to find a better balance in all things.

I’m not going away, but I do need to say goodbye to my 52-week challenge.

Before I close, I need to thank a few people.

My family. My husband reads every single story before I hit publish. He gives me feedback, protects my writing time, and brings me cups of coffee on the weekends. My daughter listens to me talk out every story idea and sometimes gives me the direction I need. My son bursts into my room to bring me levity and remind me it’s time to eat (or rather, it’s time to feed him). I’m so lucky to have a family who loves and supports me in doing this crazy writing thing.

Anna. We came up with this project together and I loved the first 25 weeks we wrote together. You are an incredibly important person to me and a wildly talented writer and artist. You are the first person I call when I need to talk about something and you always know the exact right thing to say. You already know this, but I’m your biggest fan and I look forward to what you create in 2023. loscotoff.com

Angelica. You know I’ve loved you since you were born. It’s been wonderful getting to know the adult version of you and writing alongside you since week 21. That means we wrote for 31 weeks together—cheering each other on and commiserating when the prompt just didn’t lead us in a good direction. I’m so happy to have been on this journey with you and to see you thrive. I can’t wait to hold your first published novel in my hands. reecewriting.wordpress.com

To everyone who supports me in big and small ways, thank you! I’m grateful for your love and support. I couldn’t have done it without you.


My 52-Week Challenge Journey

Poetry: Strawberry Tree

You’ve lived nestled along
our side fence—undiscovered
until now. Touching your
water-soaked trumpet flowers
I marvel at how

perfect you are. Why
didn’t I see your
blushing bright cardinal-red 
berries as more than
background noise? How could

I miss your intoxicating
honey-rich smell? Ancient
Rome called you good
luck charms, could you
be what I’ve searched

for—an answer disguised
as hidden treats plopped
into my aching hungry 
mouth? Gritty, muted treasures—
arbutus gems. Help me

truly

see.

Photography: Stormy Downtown Sacramento

“The night is darkening round me
The wild winds coldly blow
But a tyrant spell has bound me 
And I cannot cannot go”
-Emily Brontë, The Night is Darkening Round Me

To say I’ve fallen in love with photography is an understatement. Not only do I love it, but I get giddy with excitement when I see something interesting I might be able to play with. It’s an adventure every single time I grab my camera and head outside.

This week I took photographs during a rainstorm in downtown Sacramento. It was filled with challenges—navigating fallen branches, stepping in puddles, looking for a safe place to park, and getting soaked. However, it’s totally worth every second for the thrill of downloading the images and seeing what I got. It’s like Christmas every single time. Magic.

While some of my images are blurry from raindrops, and others are far too dark, I liked the overall feel of my images. I spent a fair amount of time today editing them—experimenting with contrast and exposure to give them each a slightly different feeling. I’m still a novice in every sense of the word, but I adore the process of learning.

I hope you enjoy this walk through the rainy city.

Here’s a bonus photo with a little color. The red was from the reflection of my brake lights as I pulled over to snap a picture of a puddle.

  • Photos were taken with an Olympus OM-D and edited with ON1 Photo RAW

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Rainy Day Recruit | A Short Story

A scrawny rat, eating Raisinets out of a crumbled yellow box in the dark alleyway, freezes when two thin blurry shapes blink into existence. The shapes flicker and wobble, slowly changing from straight fuzzy lines to the round full shapes of two women. With a squeak, the rat scurries along the brick wall and disappears behind an overflowing green dumpster.

Despite one being damp and the other smelling of rot, the two women remain untouched by the wall of icy cold rain falling heavily between the large brick buildings. In fact, the water seems to bend around them, creating an invisible umbrella-shaped shield. Neither of the women seems in a particular hurry to move.

“Kind of a shit-hole,” the tall one, named Tulsi, says as a damp unlit cigarette bobs between her bright purple lips.

Skeletal thin with slick white hair perpetually damp with sweat, Tulsi has sharp cheekbones and an even sharper chin. She wears dozens of clinking silver bracelets and bright purple track shoes. Her nose constantly sniffs the air and she has large front teeth, making her appear slightly like a rabbit.

“Didn’t choose it, did I?” the short one named Borage says in a slow, lazy voice before lobbing a glob of foamy spit into an oily puddle.

A woman of large fleshy proportions, Borage wears a billowy blue dress made of an aquatic-looking textile with moldy black stains along the uneven hem. She’s got long, tangly brown hair parted into dozens of tiny braids tied off with fraying pieces of multi-colored string. Thick droopy bags sit heavy beneath her milky grey eyes.

Neither of the women has been to this realm before, but it’s kind of the job. You go where you are told, traveling with the water, landing at a time and place perfect for collecting the next recruit. It’s a job neither of them loves or hates. It’s simply the job they have.

Tulsi reaches out her hand so the rain splatters on her long, curving purple fingernails. She’s thinking about the last few jobs and how much they fucked it up losing the recruits and almost getting seen. This time, she tells herself, she’s gonna pay attention and not let anything distract her. Lady Devlynd won’t give them any more chances. Borage stares at a fat silver watch on her left wrist and seems to be thinking the same thing.

“Our recruit will be here soon. Pull your hand back and be ready.”

With a hiss, Tulsi slams her arm to her side. She hates being told what to do, especially by her inept partner. They are equals after all, despite how bossy Borage has become lately. How long have they worked this job together? It’s been at least 52 cycles, perhaps more. Time doesn’t matter in this job. Collection is key. Completion is key. Colors are key.

Tulsi runs her hands down the length of her slender body, touching the living art hanging from her shoulders. Lilac, plum, violet, periwinkle, eggplant, grape, amethyst, iris, orchid, mulberry, wine. She collects shades of purple everywhere adding them as patches to her long, slick overcoat. Maybe she’ll find a new one tonight.

“Don’t even think about it.”

Reading her partners mind, Borage stamps her thick black boot hard onto the slick pavement and summons up the harshest scowl she can manage. She doesn’t like being stern, but one of them has to start leading. They can’t afford another fuck up.

Tulsi sticks out her tongue in response. They have the kind of deep understanding grown from time spent together, but it doesn’t mean they like each other. It’s all become so tiresome.

Borage touches the bulging leather sack tied around her wide waist with one finger before quickly pulling it away. She does understand. She’d much rather sweep through this uncharted world looking for wildlife to add to her etched bone collection instead of convincing yet another young recruit to come with them. They promised Lady Devlynd though—no gallivanting or wanton side missions tonight. This one is important.

Borage is about to ask Tulsi what the boy looks like again when a skinny teenager comes around the corner dressed in a dark black hoodie pulled up over his head. He’s got colors dripping from his hands and a backpack filled with spray cans. He’s already working.

“Hey kid,” Tulsi says. “Where ya going in such a hurry?”

His bright blue eyes snap toward them and widen. Instantly he can tell they aren’t cops, but a gut instinct says they might be something far more dangerous. He should never have come to Las Vegas, this wholesale freak show of a town.

“What do you want?”

He’s got a slight English accent and his voice sounds raspy, as if he’s fighting off a cold. The street lamp at the end of the alleyway lights up his face, revealing a thick silver septum ring and a tattoo of a green leaf on his left cheek. It’s definitely him.

The women exchange a confirming look and the boy steps backward until his backpack hits the brick wall behind him, making the metal cans inside clink loudly together. He’s got nothing left to steal, but he’s still scared. People find things to take even when you’ve got nothing left to give.

“We need you to come with us, kiddo. Don’t be scared.”

It’s the tall one speaking and she’s got the kind of fidgety energy the boy associates with drug users. Neither of the women moves toward him but he feels like they could be quick if they wanted to. He doesn’t intend to be a part of whatever they are selling.

“I’m not interested, ladies. My dad’s waiting for me and he’s not happy if I’m late.”

He presses harder into the wall behind him and realizes the rain isn’t falling on the women but instead arches over them like a watery rainbow. It must be some kind of trick to lure him in, but it doesn’t really make any sense. The larger of the women thrusts her hand into the rain and twists it in a circle. He finds himself unable to move.

“Ulrich, dear. We know you don’t have any family.”

Her voice is honey-thick and slow. He doesn’t like it.

“How…how do you know my name? Who are you?”

Smiling wide, she exposes a mouth full of brown teeth and bright red gums. In her thick hand is an orb of flickering water glowing as if lit from within. He stares into it and memories wriggle forth in waves. The ground tilts and rumbles beneath him as emotions take hold in terrifyingly rapid succession.

His mother is standing at the boarding gate with a small brown suitcase in her hand. He’s crying with his tiny fists clenched at his side. The adults are using words like radiology, chemotherapy, and metastasized, but he’s thinking only of burying his nose into his mother’s soft red curls and breathing in her rosemary and mint smell. Don’t go, mother. Please don’t leave me.

He’s drawing with crayons in a yellow kitchen crowded with hundreds of empty plates from his mother’s funeral. Her midwest family sent for him to come across the ocean, but they don’t want him. He hears them talking about foster care and youth shelters in the other room using words like burden, stupid, and troubled. He wishes the floor would swallow him.

A puffy-faced man hits him with a slender black leather belt in front of a room of other children all trying hard to not make eye contact with each other. He’s yelling words like idiot, moron, and useless as spit flies from his cracked lips. When it’s over, Ulrich packs up the few art supplies he’s managed to steal into his old backpack and runs away into the rainy night.

The orb of water falls to the ground with a tiny pop and flows instantly into a nearby puddle containing an old sneaker and a green tennis ball with a gaping hole in the side. Ulrich looks at the faces of the two women, screams, and runs from the alley. A streak of bright white flashes across the sky followed by the crashing sound of thunder.

“Shit,” Tulsi says.

Borage frowns.

“Go after him. I’ll be right behind you.”

The women are forbidden from entering buildings or interacting with creatures not being collected, so it makes it complicated when they run. Sometimes the memory bubbles are so intense the recruit falls to the ground sobbing and other times they choose this route. Borage hates the fleeing ones.

Lucky for them, this one isn’t hard to find. Tulsi follows his loud echoey sobs in the night, weaving through several blocks of dingy, greasy buildings until she locates the scared boy. His knees are pulled up to his chest and his back is pressed against an old rusted car at the end of a narrow lot. Weeds poke up through the cracks and it smells of gasoline and lighter fluid. The boy doesn’t notice when Tulsi arrives and stands quietly beside him.

It’s a long time before Borage finds them and she’s shocked to see both the boy and her partner crying wildly. She coughs and Tulsi lifts her eyes, pulls out a light purple handkerchief from her jacket pocket, and blows her nose loudly.

“What are you crying for? You’re not supposed to cry!”

“I hate when they are sad like this. This one’s had a hard time.”

They aren’t supposed to show emotion, but Borage puts a hand on her colleague’s boney shoulder and gives it a light squeeze. It’s hard to not feel for these recruits, these lost souls who Lady Devlynd will use to fuel her power. It’s a better life working for her, yes, but it’s not great. It’s not free.

“What do you want with me?”

The boy’s voice sounds deflated and his eyes are red and puffy. Rain pours in sheets upon him and Borage presses closer until her shield covers him as well. He wipes at his eyes with his wet sleeves.

“We’ve come to take you away from here. Where we come from we need people like you—artists. We need your vision, your artistic skills, and your colors.”

Tulsi sniffs loudly and hiccups. She hands the boy the slightly used handkerchief and he takes it. In a soft low voice, she adds, “We need your pain too.”

They aren’t supposed to say this part, but it doesn’t matter because the boy doesn’t seem to understand what’s going on. She can tell he’s going to come with them by the way he’s moved a bit closer. She wishes they had other options, but they do not.

If they don’t deliver the boy to Lady Devlynd they will be cast back out into the blackness. It’s their last chance to prove themselves useful and neither she nor Tulsi wants to return to living without colors or feelings. She pinches her arm as hard as she can to avoid drowning in the memory of the blackness. She can’t go back.

Lobbing a wad of spit onto the ground, she touches her leather pouch and attempts to push away the swelling of emotions infecting her from being this close to the boy. They aren’t supposed to let the recruits’ emotions penetrate and soak through them, but tendrils of his pain snake through her layers like tiny spikes. Shit.

Although it’s not allowed and it’s a very bad idea, she can’t help herself. He’s so sad. She has to help just a little. A tiny bit can’t hurt.

Opening the leather pouch she pulls out a bone of a small absorbent animal from her original home—a water creature like her. She spits on the t-shaped white porous surface and spins it through her fingers three times before touching it to the forehead of the crying boy. Tulsi gasps.

“No!”

Borage doesn’t respond. The bone burns red hot in her hand changing colors as it takes the sadness into itself—moving from light sky blue to the deep color of the bottom of the oceans of her home world. Tulsi grabs her shoulders and shakes her violently. Her head snaps back and forth.

“Stop! Please, Borage! Stop!”

She jerks the bone from the boy’s forehead and thrusts it back into her pouch, tying it closed instantly. The boy’s face has changed and she wonders if she took too much pain because he’s smiling. He’s got two perfect dimples in his soft cheeks. Shit, again.

Tulsi steps forward and grabs the boy’s hand, pulling him to his feet. He seems far sturdier than before. She plucks “Purple Rain” off his shirt and slides it into an empty spot on her jacket with a satisfying smile. Borage shouldn’t get all the fun.

“Time to go,” the big woman says.

The boy leaps at Borage and hugs her tightly around her middle. She feels his warm face press against her fleshy body and suddenly it’s all worth it. Even if she took too much and she’s cast out into the blackness—this moment is worth it. Feelings flood her and she does nothing to stop them.

With the boy holding hands between them, Tulsi casts the portal into the rain, and all three step through and disappear into the night. They leave behind a tiny puddle on the ground and a purple bud.

Author’s note: For my final story of the year I wanted to write a take on the classic henchmen story only turning them into women. It started out as a character piece and somehow drifted to being about a lot of things—52 stories, beginnings, endings, feelings, and connections. I love this little story and I’m so proud of how far I’ve come in this year of writing. I want to thank every single person who has given me a like or a comment. I’ll be writing a complete wrap-up sometime next week where I’ll tally up the number of words I wrote, how many comments/likes received, and the lessons I’ve learned. It’s been a wild ride and it makes me very excited for 2023. Happy New Year!


Short Story Challenge | Week 52

Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story about being caught in the rain. We had to include the words Las Vegas, radiology, etch, funeral, textile, sweep, wholesale, wildlife and English.


My 52-Week Challenge Journey

Poetry: Bath

I’m an island jutting
out—warm fleshy curves
dotted by bright sparkling
water drops. Sinking beneath

calm seas, breath moves 
as rhythmic ocean waves
I control. My hand
twists through dark, tangled

seaweed while steady drums
beat, beat, beat—soundtrack
of me. Moonlit skies
fill with phoenix song

promising protection from sea
monsters pressing sharp claws
into soft skin. Foggy
dreams dance with wild

wind, whispering gentle truths
sometimes forgotten. I’m an
island jutting out—carving
a place my own.

Photography: Rainy Day

“Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby.”-Langston Hughes

It’s the last week of the year and I’m spending it reflecting, journaling, and making goals for the new year. It’s important to keep growing and striving to be the best version of ourselves. For me, it means writing more, having a better self-care routine, and spending time with my family.

In the spirit of beauty and growth, I’d like you to join me for a small photo journey into my backyard during a pause in the pouring rain this morning. I hope you enjoy these images and are staying warm. Happy New Year!


  • Photos were taken with an Olympus OM-D and edited with ON1 Photo RAW

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Christmas Eve in the Graveyard | A Short Story

Sebastian doesn’t mind the dead. He’s lived his entire life surrounded by towering stone tombs, crumbling brick walls, and iron fencing. It’s the living he has a harder time with.

He let Tim and Matthew leave early, to be with their families, and microwaved himself a slice of cold pizza. It’s best to do this ritual alone anyway. He’s not sure the others take the responsibility as seriously as he does and they talk too much. Sebastian prefers the silence of the night.

After pouring raspberry tea into a dark green thermos, he wraps his red woolen scarf around his neck, buttons his peacoat, and leaves his little stone cottage on the edge of the graveyard. He doesn’t bother locking the door. Nobody comes around after dark on Christmas Eve.

The tiny twinkling lights of his small decorated tree can be seen through the yellow frosted window, it makes him smile. Mother would be proud he’s carried on her traditions. He hoists the big burlap sack onto his shoulder and gives a nod to the glowing, full moon casting its light in rings through the thick grey fog.

Although it makes sense to start in the center of the graveyard and weave himself out like his mother taught him, he makes a quick detour to her grave. It sits in the furthest south corner under a sprawling oak tree draped in soft Spanish moss. The silvery strands of garland look like flowing water in the moonlight—ancient silken gowns.

Setting the bag on the damp grass, he unties the brown twine holding it closed. Gently, he pulls out a small pine tree clipping tied with a soft red satin ribbon—the prettiest piece for mother. Kissing it softly, he places it on the curling carved letters spelling out her name. Margery Higgins.

“Merry Christmas, mother.”

His voice sounds soft in the night and it brings with it a memory of her singing “Thankful Heart” while cooking split pea soup on the old gas stove. She’s got her bright red hair pulled back into a massive curly bun at the base of her neck, and she’s wearing an old tattered apron covered in stains. Her voice manages to be both soft and strong—exactly like her.

“With a thankful heart that is wide awake
I do make this promise every breath I take
Will be used now to sing your praise…”

Wiping at his eyes, he closes the bag and weaves his way to the large mausoleum in the exact center of the dense city of the dead. Passing hundreds of stone crosses, carved marble angels, and granite slabs, he at last arrives at a crumbling plaster tomb carved with over 50 names. Reading each one quietly to himself he holds within his heart a space of honor and love.

After he’s finished he opens the bag and places a large pine branch across the names. His fingers brush a soft patch of moss pushing through a splintering crack in the gravestone. He whispers into the night.

“Merry Christmas.”

Repeating this process he makes his way through his workplace and home, one of the oldest cemeteries in New Orleans. He takes his role as caretaker seriously. Around hour three his back feels tight and he stops to take a drink of his hot tea. Silence spreads around him in all directions, thick and cold.

A feeling wiggles its way through his layers and lands heavily in his chest. He’s running out of time to find her. He turned 40 a few months ago and although he’s told himself he’s fine on his own, visions of a woman walking beside him continue to haunt his dreams.

She’s got soft eyes and bright pink cheeks. They’d make the cottage a home again, filling it with music and laughter. He’d teach her how to honor those forgotten and she’d tell him nothing is impossible with love. The thought makes him smile, but it quickly becomes a frown. It’s too late. He’s out of time. He missed his chance.

A part of him wants to fall onto the ground and sob at the thought of spending another Christmas alone. His mother died 10 years ago and he’s tried so hard to remain hopeful, but loneliness presses in on him from all sides. Its crushing weight makes him stumble and almost fall.

He looks at the night sky, hoping for a sign, a bright star peeking through the foggy gloom or the call of a night heron signaling change, but the misty darkness remains still and silent. Sebastian wipes tears from his eyes and takes a big sip of tea, letting the warmth fight against the paralyzing fear which has settled firmly in his gut.

Flipping open his grandfather’s golden pocketwatch he confirms what he already knew, its almost midnight. He sighs. He better get to it if he hopes to finish before the first rays of morning light peak over the horizon and burn off the thick fog. Love must be given first in order to receive it. He tucks the thermos back into his pocket and continues.

Lost in his rhythm of reading names and leaving a pine offering on each grave, Sebastian doesn’t see the woman until he almost bumps into her. A thick scent of vinegar and roses fills the air and he clears his throat to announce his presence. She responds by turning slowly toward him with a graceful, smooth movement reminding him of a swan or crane.

Dressed in layers of smoky grey and black clothing, the plump woman has thick silver ringlets peeking out from beneath a dark, lacy bonnet. The word “matriarch” comes to mind. Her eyes are cloudy but contain a hint of blue—hydrangeas in autumn when the color has almost fully drained. 

She’s holding a white handkerchief covered in tiny pink embroidered butterflies. Sebastian finds his voice but it sounds shaky and small in the night. Almost a whisper.

“I’m sorry if I startled you. Not many people visit graves in the middle of the night.”

She doesn’t look startled and it’s a lame apology. He’s not sure he should be giving her one anyway. People aren’t allowed in the cemetery after sunset and he wonders if perhaps Tim forgot to lock the front gate. It wouldn’t be the first time.

The woman makes a small movement, a sort of slight wave, and the handkerchief blows from her hand and lands at his feet. Sebastian lifts it and gently shakes out a few dried leaves which instantly clung to the feathery soft piece of cloth. He hands it to her and she smiles.

“Thank you, dear.”

Her voice sounds rumbly—a snare drum in the night. He knows he should tell her to leave, but the softness of her eyes stops him. It’s Christmas, a time of magic and love. She must miss the person she’s visiting an awful lot to risk catching a cold or getting caught. 

He gives her his best reassuring smile. She’s standing at the foot of one of the oldest graves, a tiny brick house covered in cracks and adorned with a simple marble vase he sometimes fills with flowers. She speaks in a scratchy, dry voice—an old voice.

“I called him Benny and he called me Etta. In our 50 years together we never spent a Christmas apart. When love burrows its way deep into your heart nothing can stop you from finding each other again and again. My home is with him…always.”

The old woman smiles at Sebastian and reaches out her hand. It doesn’t quite reach him. Her voice rumbles louder now—cracking like weak thunder.

“You know what I mean, don’t you dear?”

Sebastian looks at his feet and nods. He doesn’t know the kind of love she’s talking about, but he wants to. The painful sensation of time slipping away vibrates through his body ringing like a brass bell. Where is she? Why can’t he find her? He presses the toe of his boot into the ground, making a round hole in the soft dirt.

The woman doesn’t move but, somehow, suddenly feels closer. Her eyes meet his and a rush of wind blows around them filling the air with swirling bits of dirt and dust. Sebastian closes his eyes and the woman speaks directly into his ear—a cold breath sending shivers through his body.

“It’s never too late for love. Don’t give up hope. She will find you. Keep your heart open. Magic happens for those who love and care for others like you do. Oh, dear, sweet, Sebastian. Don’t. Give. Up.”

In an instant, all is quiet and still again. Sebastian opens his eyes and isn’t entirely surprised to find he’s alone. Pulling out a small sprig of pine with tiny blueberries, he places it across the names Benedict Murray and Henrietta Murray—Benny and Etta. He smiles.

“Merry Christmas, Etta. I won’t give up.”

Throwing the burlap sack back onto his shoulder he moves to the next gravesite. This time he sings a little song.

“Stop and look around you
The glory that you see
Is born again each day
Don’t let it slip away
How precious life can be.”

Author’s note: With Christmas upon us, I wanted to write something sweet and hopefully touching for those reading during such a festive time. I hope you enjoyed my little ghost story and if you are feeling blue this time of year, please don’t give up. Keep being the loving beautiful soul you are and things will get better. Thank you for supporting me and lifting me up with all your wonderful comments on each of my stories. May your holidays be merry and bright!


Short Story Challenge | Week 51

Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story where magic interferes in New Orleans. We had to include the words matriarch, throat, impossible, vinegar, apology, snare, choose, raspberry, microwave, and slice.


Write With Us

Prompt: Caught in the rain
Include: Las Vegas, radiology, etch, funeral, textile, sweep, wholesale, wildlife and English


My 52-Week Challenge Journey

Poetry: Grandma Kate

I was far too small 
to reach the dusty glass 
jars stacked on the wooden 
shelves of your garage. I’d
skate by wondering what orange

or yellow or green meant
and if you’d teach me
your secrets. I outgrew wanting
to know before your mind
forgot all the things—including 

me. It’s been 17 years 
since you left without meeting
your great-grandchildren and now
I wonder if my persimmon
jam would fit beside yours.


Photography: Sutter Street

“And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!’’ -Charles Dickens

The pressure we mothers place on ourselves during the holidays is remarkable. In our desire to create magical memories, we take on so much responsibility. It’s often too much and we lose the magic ourselves. If you need a reminder today, here it is—you’ve done enough. It’s okay to stop now and enjoy yourself. You did your best and it’s wonderful.

This year got away from me and I did all my shopping yesterday. I set the intention of being peaceful and it made all the difference. Not only did I get plenty of things my teens are going to love, but I had some great conversations in line. My day ended with homemade chocolate chip cookies made by my daughter and her best friend (see the bonus photo at the end of the blog) and a trip to photograph Sutter Street in Folsom. What a beautiful day!

Please enjoy these holiday photos and consider them my Christmas card this year. May your days be merry and bright!


  • Photos were taken with an Olympus OM-D and edited with ON1 Photo RAW

Bonus cookie photo taken with my iPhone 13. Teenagers can be pretty amazing.


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