Change: pt. 2

by on August 11th, 2015

My husband and I have been cleaning house. He has a new job, investment building, and he needs more space in his office. We have been purging old paperwork, making room for receipts and invoices, blueprints and design ideas. We both got new computers. There is more purge-of-the-old in transferring my life onto an new laptop. [Funny story: My husband thought that all my documents and computer stuff would fit on a thumb-drive. I was a little horrified to think that my entire life, a 9 year old computer, would fill such a small thing. Was that all that I was worth? Anyway, it didn’t. The photos alone filled the little driver. My music needed to be transferred to a hard drive. And then there were my books. All my writing filled another drive. I AM worth more that a thumb-drive!]

In the face of all the change-ness coming, I am also re-inventing myself as a writer. My perspective is changing, so is my image of the out-ward me.

My Turn To Grow Up has been a great venue for me to express my fears and loves. It  has been a place to vent and cry, explain and reason. But like an old notebook, it’s time to close the cover on these worn out pages. It’s time for me to turn over a new leaf. (I love this grounding platitude.)

Today I have a new website. I am no longer hiding behind a nameless entity, I am coming out to the world as Tracey Strohm Phillips, Author. In embracing my maiden name, there is a lot of fear coming up. There are issues I need to face involving my dad and brother. Issues that won’t be resolved painlessly. My need to write is growing. I have two new thrillers bouncing around in my head. Thrillers that are trying to escape. Thrillers that want to be written.

In the process, I feel like I’m bouncing off walls in a pitch dark room.

Change: pt.1

by on August 7th, 2015

It’s inevitable. Change. As unstoppable as the tides and as determined as waves beating down the edges of a shoreline.

I’m in it now. I see it as clearly as my hand in front of my face. The tides are pulling me.

A little history first: Family dynamics are an interesting thing. In mine,  the dynamics have remained- for the most part- the same since I became an adult. As Nana, our matriarch, rounds the curve into her one hundredth year (97 next week and still going strong) we all still pussyfoot around her rules and standards of perfection. But as the rest of us are aging, we have ripened into solid characters. Our roles in the family are developed and strong now. Our positions in the dynamic field, solid.

Allow me to clarify. Last week was my petite family’s reunion. There are 15 of us. If my brother was still part of the picture he and his family would make 18. Without him, we are a small bunch, not a crop. Hardly even a grove. Nana is the head and has been for a quarter century-since my grandfather died on a trip to Russia. Next in line come my mom and her sister. Both in their 70’s and both struggling with illnesses that will eventually take their lives. Of the next generation, there are 3 of us. My two cousins- the eldest and her family: a faithful husband of nearly 23 years and two sons, 22 and 16. Her brother never married but I count his girlfriend/companion  in the mix. The last 5 of our bunch include me, my husband, 2 adult children, and my daughter’s beau.

As far as dynamics go, the two sisters’ lung diseases have become a constant part of our lives-something they have been dealing with for ten or more years. The serious nature of the illness (both are diagnosed with mico-bacteria infections, asthma, and chronic pneumonia symptoms) has led us to consider that Nana will out live them both. But then what happens?

Though is seems closer than ever, the inevitable change, the deaths of the three matriarchs will come when it comes. I cherish every moment with them now. I try to learn as much as I can from them, conscious of what they contribute. I’m able to put a positive spin on the lessons they teach.  FYI, my learning process has always been a little backwards. I tend to first see the negative, (That’s the controlling, narcissistic part of our family dynamics shining through.) then I put my own positive spin on things: ie, this is what NOT to do.

What I’m struggling with isn’t really even important in the grand scheme of things.  Given the way things are in the hierarchy, the matriarchal matrix of our family, when the top three decline, the logical next “ruler” should be my eldest cousin- the one with the family. She should be the one to organize gatherings and pick us up when we are down. She should be the one to care take the sick and elderly, and help them organize and prepare. As it turns out, she is sick too.

I (well, yes I’ve seen it coming) am the only member of my generation capable of care-taking and organizing. I am the only one who can step up to the plate when the shit hits the proverbial fan. I am the one giving support where it’s needed. I am the advice giver, teacher and nursemaid. I am the leader.

This realization has come to me slowly. For many years I’ve been in denial, thinking that my cousin would magically recover from her mental illness and become responsible. I have let her brother manage things. He doesn’t enjoy it, but he lives in the same city they do. And I have stayed away.

Tides change. I am beginning to see the need for me to step up and take on this role of leader/caregiver/head of family. It is staring me in the face. It is calling me to duty. My mother is very sick now.

Sumac: A beginning

by on July 18th, 2015

“The snake committed suicide. It swallowed its own tail.”

Orhianna screamed. Wearing shorts and a cream colored sleeveless top with buttons, she sat on the couch with her bare legs up underneath her. The summer heat had come early.

“That’s obnoxious, Orhianna.” Liam, her older brother, admonished her. “Aw man, look what you did. Now, I’ve been shot.” He remained focused on his video game.

“I can’t help it.” She said.

Thane, the tall young man telling the story, laughed and brushed a lock of dark blond hair away from his green eyes. He smiled at Orhianna.

“Snakes scare me to death.”  She pulled her pony tail which had caught behind her back and combed through the long auburn tresses with her fingers.

“So anyway,” Thane continued. “When I told Dave it was dead, that’s when he says, ‘Cool. Can I hold it?’”

“He didn’t either. That’s disgusting.” Despite the content, Orhianna was engrossed in Thane’s story, mostly because he was the one telling it.

“He did too. So I said, knock your self out, Dude. And he picked the dead snake up and started playing with it.”

“Wait, the snake ate itself?” Liam slouched on the couch, focusing on his video game with the X-Box remote in his hand. He’d swiped a couple beers from his parents’ fridge and was feeling pretty good.

“Yea, I told you already, it committed suicide.”

“I’m not really sad that your snake died.” Her dark brown eyes sparkled. Orhianna had had a crush on her brother’s friend since she was twelve. Home from Ball State University for the summer, she was happy to be hanging out with her two favorite guys. As kids, the three of them had been inseparable.

The three hadn’t seen each other since the holidays. Thane and Liam came by to visit with Orhianna, who was staying with their parents. They had just finished their junior years at the local University of Pennsylvania in West Chester, their home town.

Liam threw his video game controller on the carpeted floor. “Come on!”

Thane continued, “Anyway, so Dave picked up the snake like this.” He had Orhianna’s attention, so he mimicked his friend. With his hands out palm up, he raised and lowered them alternately and while making a goofy face.

Orhianna squealed.

“Wait, but that wasn’t even the funny part. Then he said, ‘We should bury it. You know, give it a funeral.’ So that’s what we did.” He blinked matter-of-factly.

“You gave your dead snake a funeral?” Liam was more focused on the video game.

“Where did you bury it? If I come over to your house, I want to be sure I never go near it. What if it wasn’t really dead?” Orhianna braided a strand from her pony tail. She had missed this; even if Thane was talking about the one thing that freaked her out the most.

“It’s in my parent’s back yard.”

She cringed again. “Did you put a headstone on it?”

Liam shot another alien then, with a flurry of thumb action, he leaned forward, grunted and nearly stood up. “Oh, crap. Oh, crap. Ooh.” He threw the remote down on the floor and flopped back down on the couch. Exasperated, he ran a hand through his short brown hair. “That’s it, your turn, Thane. I’m done.”

Thane sat between Liam and Orhianna. “We didn’t put a headstone on Diego’s grave.” He noticed Orhianna’s big eyes were surrounded by long dark lashes.

“No? Why not?”

“Because, it was just a snake, O. Jesus. Thane, you going to play?” Liam finished his beer.

“I’ll make sure you don’t step on the grave.” Thane watched O twirl her silky hair. “Maybe now you can come over some time. I mean now that the snake’s gone. I mean, now that there’s nothing to be afraid of.”

Orhianna smiled. “I’d like that.” She looked up into his green eyes.

“Thane, you going to play?”

“Naw, not right now. Let’s go to a movie or something.” He suggested.

“I’ll see what’s playing.” Orhianna thought a movie was a good idea. She imagined Thane holding her hand in the dark theater. Even after a year of college, she still crushed on him. She pulled her cell phone out of a pocket in her shorts and started typing in the name of a local movie theater. Oddly, her phone started ringing as she did so. Liam’s phone began ringing, at the same time.

Brother and sister looked across the couch at each other. “Jinx!” They said together, laughing.

The smile disappeared from O’s face as soon as she read the caller ID- West Chester Police Department. “Liam?”

Liam’s expression went sober. “Answer it, O.” He instructed. “They’re calling me, too.”


© 2015

Camping Trip

by on July 18th, 2015

Orhianna could see her breath. Little clouds puffed out of her into the cool air. Leaves were in full color now, yellows, reds and orange. Mom and Dad both loved this time of year, but she had a hard time understanding why. For O, it meant back to school, study and work. After school there were sports, hers and her brother’s and as a family, they attended every game. There wasn’t much time to relax.

“Can you hold the tent stake tighter, honey?”

“Sure, Dad.” Orhianna pulled it a little more away from him.

Tap, tap, tap. Dad pounded the first stake into the soft ground. “Got it. Now, just wait right there till I get the next one.” He kneeled over the second corner and after pulling it tight, tapped the second stake into the ground. Sunlight streaked through the trees, one beam landed right on her Dad’s jet black hair. He looked up, “There.” His face was all aglow from the sunlight. He looked like an angel.

Gowan squinted and blew out a cloud of hot breath. “Isn’t this great, O?”

Orhianna smiled, “I guess.” She was thirteen at the time, the memory was vivid. Dad looked so goofy in his plaid flannel shirt something he never wore normally, but for some reason he felt compelled to dress up as the proverbial woodsman for this particular trip. He spent real money on a pair of the ugliest hiking boots she and her mother had ever seen, and even an orange camo hunting hat, which he picked up off the ground and put back on his head.

“So the hunters know I’m not a deer.”

“The camp ground is off limits to hunters, dear.” Mom called from the SUV.

“I’m just being safe, Luciana.”

“Well thank goodness for safety. I don’t know what we’d do without you.”

“For starters, we might all be mistaken for deer.” He put his hands on his hips.

“Right, Dad. Deer who camp in a big blue tent.” Orhianna didn’t think this was the best use of her long weekend, but she told her parents she’d try to have fun. She had lots of homework, reading and a paper due on Monday.

“Two down, two to go. Can you pull that a little bit to your right, O?”

Orhianna adjusted the position of the tent corner for her dad. “Are we all going to fit in here?”

“No, the tent’s just for you kids and your mom. I’m going to take in nature and sleep out here in the great outdoors.”

“With the raccoons and dears, you mean?”

“Of course.”

“And mosquitos and bears?”

Dad smiled. “All of that. I’m sleeping out with nature.”

“Orhianna, can you come help me over here? I need some dry sticks to get the fire started. Where did your brother go anyway?”

Tap, tap, tap. “Three down, one to go. I’ve got this, O. Go help your mother.”

“That hat’s really goofy, Dad.”

“Sure is chilly. Once we get the fire going it will be much nicer.” Mom puller her sweater closed and tightened her puffy red knit scarf. “Did you see where Liam went? I thought he was going to help out.”

Orhianna looked down a nearby path that led into the dark woods. “I don’t know, he’s probably gone off to text his friends.”

“What?! He can’t do that, we made a no cell phone rule for this trip.” Dad stood up to admire his work. “See that? A perfect tent. Who says I’m a novice camper?”

“Google makes everyone an expert, Dad.”

“So these are the size sticks we’ll need, O.” Mompointed to a pile of dead wood, sticks about as big around as her finger. “Can you collect as many as you can find? And make sure they’re dry.”

“Ok. Should I go over there?”

“This is the woods, Orhianna. There are sticks everywhere.” Dad encouraged her. “Just watch out for bears.”

“Yeah, right Dad.” Orhianna rolled her eyes.

She decided to walk up the dark path to see what was beyond the hill there. Her hands were cold now, so Orhianna tucked them into her jacket pocket. Dad had spared no expense for this trip, everyone got new outerwear. Hers was a white shell with purple liner, and would last all winter. Though it was chilly, she didn’t even need to zip the front. Underneath, she wore a green V neck shirt.

Orange and brown leaves crunched beneath her black boots, she veered off the path in search of more sticks. There were quite enough, the trees were thick in this part of Northern Wisconsin. A sunbeam lit a clearing ahead of her. It was so peaceful here. No traffic noise, only birds and the sound of squirrels chattering. Orhianna decided she was going to like it.

She bent to pick up a few more sticks.

“Hey.” Liam had snuck up on her.

Orhianna jumped. “Geez, Liam, you nearly scared me out of my skin!”

“Did you think I was a bear?”

“Of course not.” She stood.

“What are you doing?”

“Mom needs sticks for the fire. Where have you been?” She bent to pick up another stick. She almost had enough.

“Around. I found something I want to show you.” Liam had a strange gleam in his eye. A look that Orhianna knew meant he was up to no good.


“This.” Orhianna hadn’t noticed that he’d had his hands behind his back, but now he threw something at her. At first, she thought it was another stick, but the thing writhed in the air. She didn’t scream at first, Orhianna quickly determined that the thing was a snake. Since their friend had a pet snake which she had held on numerous occasions, she had no reason to be afraid of it.

Orhianna flinched anyway. She backed up one step while the reptile flew in the air towards her, and unfortunately created enough distance for the cold thing to hit her squarely in the neck and slither down her jacket and into her shirt. She dropped the sticks.

Liam laughed, but Orhianna didn’t think it was funny. The cold smooth reptile writhed against her skin. She flailed about, trying to get to the unhappy snake, which was caught under her shirt.

Now Orhianna screamed. Once, twice. As she struggled with her jacket zipper, the creature sank its teeth into her soft skin.

“Ow. Get of off, get it off!”  She finally got to her shirt, but it was too late. The poison had already entered her bloodstream.

The sound of her own voice screaming echoed through the woods as she sank to her knees. Liam smiled.

© 2015


Lake House Dream

by on July 18th, 2015

Sunlight poured in the open windows of our cozy old lake house as Luciana bustled about the kitchen. She was humming some haunted melody and her beautiful voice filled the house. Wearing a bright yellow flowered dress, she brought cantaloupe, fresh berries and homemade donuts from a local farm to the breakfast table. Gowan sipped coffee on the porch in a white wicker chair and read news on his Nook. Liam, the lanky older brother, hovered around the table and after shoving a whole donut into his mouth, ran upstairs to put his bathing suit on.

After breakfast, Luciana massaged sun block into her daughter Orhianna’s back in preparation to be out on the boat all day. Birds chirped in the trees, and a pair of ducks paddled around near the edge of the water. The relaxing rhythm of the water lapping lightly against the mossy retaining wall conjured memories of long summers at the lake house and simpler times. It was peaceful. And here, we could be ourselves.

Liam emerged smiling from the side of the house, carrying the new O’Brian slalom ski and an inner tube. He carried the gear out on the dock while  his dad, Gowan, lowered the boat into the water. The sound of the boat lift clicking echoed off the quiet, glassy lake, which mirrored the pale blue sky in reflection.

Dad hopped into the driver’s seat of the boat, and Mom sat right behind him with a pile of clean towels, and Liam took his place right up front, facing forward and holding on to the inner tube to keep it from flying off. Orhianna joined them and smiled. That was just the way she wanted to remember them.

The water on the lake was so smooth as they motored out away from the house, that Orhianna could see the sandy bottom flecked with stones and shells. Occasional lake weeds hid schools of minnows that darted away from the shadow of the boat. The air was warm already, promising a beautiful day ahead. She looked back at the rickety old house. It had been in the family for nearly eighty years, belonging first to her great grandmother, then passed on to her children, and finally to Luciana and her sisters.

Dad hit the accelerator and the boat took off. They made their way to the north shore of the lake, the water grew choppier.  When he reached the destination, Dad cut the engine, and the boat drifted, rocking with the waves. Dad asked, “Who’s up first?”

Liam jumped up and pulled on his ski vest. “Me. The water looks awesome.”

The water wasn’t like glass anymore though, it was choppy. The waves were growing in size and number as the wind picked up it whipped Orhianna’s long auburn hair into her eyes and mouth. The boat began to rock back and forth with the waves. Liam jumped in the roiling water, and Dad threw him the ski. “Head’s up!”

The sky was suddenly black with storm clouds and the waves grew higher and higher, cresting over the edge of the Ski Nautique. Orhianna was getting wet and cold, yet her Dad and Mom acted like nothing was wrong. Mom threw out the ski rope to Liam, who bobbed up and down in between the waves.  What was wrong with them, Orhianna thought. Didn’t they notice? She worried that it wasn’t safe, but being the youngest, didn’t have confidence to tell them that what they were doing was dangerous.

Dad revved up the boat engine again and when the rope was taut and Liam was in tow, he yelled, “Hit it!” at the top of his lungs.

They watched Liam bobbing up and down behind the boat, so when Dad punched the accelerator, none of them saw what was coming. The boat launched forward right into a huge wave. There was no time for panic, or even for fear. The wave was so large that it swallowed the whole boat, washing Orhianna and her family from it. She swam, but was tossed around by the wave and had difficulty finding her way to the surface again. When she finally found air again, she gasped for breath.

Orhianna looked around for the boat and for her parents. They were gone. “Mom! Dad!” She cried out.

“Orhianna!” Liam was swimming nearby.

Waves tossed the two about like toys in a tub. Everything else was gone.

Orhianna’s brother looked her in the eye. “We’re going to swim for shore, O. We can make it. We can do this without them.”

She wanted to trust her brother, he was all she had left.

“Take my hand, O.” He said.

Orhianna reached out to take his hand, and Liam tossed his head back and laughed maniacally. Then he lifted a handful of snakes out of the water.  *****


© 2015

Best short story

by on June 30th, 2015

The rules are only this. It has to be 200 words – exactly.

There was a photo of two stone sarcofogi in a tree filled cemetary. The trees were dripping with Spanish Moss. The story had to be about the picture.

In Time

The cold concrete slabs were slid into place. Certain finality hit home for Orhianna. She leaned on her brother Liam for support. The lids to their parents’ sarcophagi were closed.
“In the midst of life, we be in death.” A priestess spoke to the huddled family.
Across from the two stone boxes, uncle Brennick stared at them. His amber eyes were wild. Liam thought, of anyone, his uncle would know how his parents were killed.
“Earth to earth, ashes to ashes…” The priestess continued reading, “And dust to dust.”
Brennick walked away from the mourners, ducking behind a cluster of Spanish moss.
How dare he, Liam thought. He let go of Orhianna. “Brennick, wait.” He jogged to close the distance. “You know how they were killed, don’t you?”
Taking one last glance at his approaching nephew, Brennick slipped behind a tree.
Liam caught up. He saw a flash of light. Nearby tree branches lit up. Then Brennick was gone.
Turning to face his sister, Liam felt confused.
Orhianna approached, “Take this passport to Sumac.” She handed him a silver card.
Sliding her passport through a handheld reader, she said, “Let’s find out who did this.” Then she vanished.

In Time (revised)

by on June 30th, 2015

In Time

The concrete slabs were slid into place. Certain finality hit home for Orhianna. She leaned on her brother Liam for support. The lids to their parents’ sarcophagi were closed. Cold concrete encased them.
“In the midst of life, we be in death.” A priestess spoke to the huddled family.
Across from the two stone boxes, uncle Brennick stared at them. His amber eyes were wild. Liam thought of anyone, he would know how his parents were killed.
“Earth to earth, ashes to ashes…” The priestess continued reading, “And dust to dust.”
Brennick walked away from the mourners, ducking behind a cluster of Spanish moss.
How dare he, Liam thought. He let go of Orhianna. “Brennick, wait.” He jogged to close the distance. “You know how they were killed, don’t you?”
Taking one last glance at his approaching nephew, Brennick slipped behind a tree.
Liam caught up. He saw a flash of light. Nearby tree branches lit up. Then Brennick was gone.
Facing the caskets and his sister, Liam felt confused.
Orhianna approached, “Take this passport to Sumac.” She handed him a silver card.
Sliding another like it into a device, she said, “I’ll meet you there.” And disappeared.

Which story grabs you?

In Time

by on June 30th, 2015

This story is only 200 words-including the title!

In Time

The concrete slabs were slid into place, and certain finality hit home for Orhianna. She leaned on her brother Liam for support. The lids to their parents’ sarcophagi were closed. Cold concrete encased them. Tears would not stop.
“In the midst of life, we be in death.” A priestess spoke to the huddled family.
Across from the two stone boxes, uncle Brennick stared at them. His amber eyes were wild. Liam thought if anyone knew how his parents were killed, it would be him.
“Earth to earth, ashes to ashes…” The priestess continued reading the prayer, “And dust to dust.”
Brennick walked away from the mourners.
How dare he, Liam thought. Liam wanted to go after him but remained supporting his sobbing sister, who spoke the prayer loudest. “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.”
Brennick ducked behind a cluster of Spanish moss.
Liam let go of Orhianna. “Brennick, wait.” He jogged to close the distance. “Tell me how they were killed.”
Taking one last glance at his approaching nephew, Brennick slipped behind a tree.
Liam caught up. He saw a flash of light. Nearby tree branches lit up. Then Brennick was gone.

Tummy Trouble

by on June 21st, 2015

Having esophagus issues- in metaphysics- means life is hard for you to swallow. Hard to get down. At the same time, lungs fill with possibilities. Or they don’t. When there are too many possibilities, or not enough, it becomes difficult to breathe. These are just 2 of the physical symptoms my mom is suffering from these days.

In an attempt to come to terms with all the physical issues that are plaguing my mother, I see the metaphysical reasons for the illness. Good or bad, I see how her personality caused her physical disabilities. The list is too extensive to tell all here,  but includes auto-immune disease of the connective tissue, asthma and mico-bacterial infection of her lungs and hiatal hernia. She has issues swallowing, breathing and now moving. She’s been on prednisone  for going on 4 years.

You may not agree with me, but I believe that we are our own creators. I believe that for what ever reason, we prove ourselves right. Our thoughts manifest in our bodies.

I have been unable to digest it all and have caused myself some difficulty in the process. I’m working on taking it in: processing. I can handle this. Life changes. I will find a way to get everything done.

I tell myself, “Take it slow. Take it with a spoon of sugar…or a dose of enzymes.”

New Dawn

by on June 11th, 2015

Just when you have a plan…This Spring has been a whirlwind. Between conferences and recitals, I finished editing Elements with a professional editor. I’ve sent pitches to twenty agents. While waiting for those responses, I’ve been planting tomatoes (24), lettuce (12) and herbs. I planted cucumbers (4) and zucchini (4)  too. Flowerpots (Six 18″ and 3 small ones) and hostas (25). I’m taking up a new career as a two piano player with a friend and have begun practicing new piano pieces. I started to do re-writes to Sumac. And just when I thought things would settle down and give me time, my Mom got sick again.

In the past 2 weeks I’ve been back to Indy to help her get back on her feet. It will be a long road for her and I’m infinitely worried. Mike took me to Chicago for my birthday after that. A splash of fun after a week of helping out Mom. But I’ll save the details of that for another blog.

I haven’t written a single new thing since April.

My summer schedule starts next week…that only means that I start earlier 2 days a week, but I get done earlier too. I’m doing yoga 4x a week to clear my head and give some sanity back. We have plans to go to Concerts on the Square and American Players Theater.  We have plans to go to Culver with my family again in July…a lake trip at the old family cottage. And in August, I have the Police Academy for Writers.

Things aren’t slowing down.

On top of that, Mike has begun a project with friends, building four houses. He will be working hard, long hours. We have a deck to stain and trim to get hung. We have windows to paint and yard-work to do. And I doesn’t stop there. The garage needs to be gutted, I swear there are raccoons living in a back corner underneath all the piles of trash. And the wind has taken it’s anger out on the trees over our driveway.

I haven’t been to Bujinkan training since May. Before that, once in April. I guess something had to give. If I’ve given that up, you can’t believe what it took for me to get here today.

When I woke up, I planned on putting my fingers to the type pad, but kept thinking of all the other things that need doing. I had to drag myself away from email and work communications. My fingers are fighting it now. Words come like pulling healthy teeth. Without pain killers. With the pliers in my own hands.

Now my teeth hurt.

I’ll get there. Life gets thick with to-do lists sometimes. Then, like a refreshing morning dawn, all those things clear out of the way and make room for what I want to do. Life will settle down. I have to keep telling myself that for sanity’s sake. I have to have hope.

Maybe today is the day of new dawn.