That was then. This is now.

Sunrise Photo

The Christmas holiday has passed and I turn my thoughts and actions towards the new year that’s around the corner.  I find myself meditating more often as I contemplate where I am going in life.


During a late night mediation, it became clear that it is time to tell the world about my journey over the past 13 months.  You see, unbeknownst to most in my life, I went through a huge life transformation during this past year.



My marriage of 30 years had fallen apart and although I was living in the same house with my husband, we had been living separate lives for over a year.  It was what felt like a precursor to the dissolution of our marriage.

My relationship with my two adult sons was strained at best; they were busy living their independent lives and didn’t want to get in the middle of their parents’ relationship issues.  What kid wants to acknowledge that his parents are breaking up?  My interactions with them weren’t very fulfilling for the most part; they left me empty and feeling alone much of the time.

I felt there was something more, but didn’t know how to make the changes to find out what it was.  During therapy, I was encouraged to separate from everyone in order to return to an independent way of living and explore what I really wanted out of life.



The catalyst to change came about when Thanksgiving loomed in front of me and no one wanted to celebrate in a traditional way.  A lot of emotions were stirred up in response to that reaction and to exacerbate this heightened emotional response I faced an ultimatum from my husband: continue living in no man’s land or leave (since he had no intention of doing so).

And so I left.

I rented a house out of state for a fresh start.

I filled my car with as much personal belongings as I could.

I temporarily secured my canine companion and

said a tearful goodbye to my sons, my home and the town I had lived in for 30 years.



Over the next 6 months I would be required to make so many life changes that it was like I had been through BOTH a hurricane and tornado all at once.

The future I had envisioned at the beginning of my husband’s retirement and after I became an empty nester no longer existed.  My future had to be redesigned, but I was no where near ready to think about it as I was just struggling to get through each day.

Somehow I managed to survive those beginning days.

It was one step at a time, one task at a time, one room at a time … some days even one thought at a time.

I outfitted the house with the basic necessities to live and slowly moved most of my personal belongings and small furniture from the home I left.  I traveled back to that home several times throughout the year, each time dissolving a different tie.

I muddled through several passing illnesses, a few minor surgeries and established myself with a team of medical doctors to handle my health conditions.

I survived.  And…



My life continues to change…even grow.  I’m continuously learning about myself every day.

I am finally settled into a house that I now consider home.  I’ve become familiar with the area and although I’m not sure it will be my ‘forever’ location, it will do for now.

I’ve spent a great deal of time over the past year understanding my inner emotions and dealing with the effect they’ve had on my psyche. I’ve healed many hurts as well as resolved several lingering childhood issues.

I’m working on making my relationship with my sons stronger & healthier; setting boundaries and holding them accountable while expressing how I feel at times and not allowing anyone to diminish those feelings.

I created a temporary backyard garden for creative inspiration and even put up decorations for the Christmas holiday this year.  The house feels more like a home than a just a temporary residence and I find this grounds me.

I’ve even started rethinking my business and taken baby steps to change its direction.  As well as (and this one’s the big Kahuna) I’m starting to plan for next year; defining personal dreams to explore and detailing business goals, all through a vision board.

I’m embracing life as it is now.  So…



The ending is unclear.  I consider my life a work in progress and I’m okay with that.

I haven’t completely figured out where my marriage is going.  Is it ready to be dissolved or can it be resurrected?  The answer I’m not sure of yet, but I DO know that I will know what it is when it’s time for me to know it.

I realize that the beauty of designing one’s own life is that you can change it at anytime.  For only YOU are the writer of your own novel and YOU get to write each chapter and the ending however you choose and as many times as you like.

So, finally, I am able to tell the story of That was then…This is now.

And I can easily say that I’m pleased with how it reads….for now!




Are You Living By Default?

A Guest Post by M. Shannon Hernandez

of The Writing Whisperer

Are you living by default?  According to the dictionary, by default means

  • through lack of positive action rather than conscious choice 
  • because of a lack of opposition

Do you wake up each day and continue doing the same thing you did yesterday? If the answer is yes, are you getting the results you desire with your daily actions, or are you doing it just because it is the by default action?

I recently spent 11 days on a road trip with my husband, Michael. We left Brooklyn with our final destination in mind, Edisto Beach, SC. We had digital directions, snacks in the cooler, money for fuel and fun, our bikes attached to the vehicle, and each other. We didn’t plan too much else, because we wanted to experience the trip as it happened.

We made a pit stop in Richmond, VA, to see a friend on a whim, and decided to spend the night in the downtown area. We walked by the river and happened upon a bluegrass concert and ate at an amazing vegan spot which served BBQ jackfruit sandwiches – one of the TASTIEST things I have ever eaten in my life. The local beer was delicious too!

The next morning we continued our journey. We arrived in Edisto Beach, checked into the condo, and began thinking about how we wanted to spend the next 7 days. We knew we wanted to bike, kayak, hike, and hang in the sun. But, Mother Nature had other plans, which included violent, stormy weather, at times flooding out roads and trails, lightening strikes, and scary wind!

In a past life, Mother Nature would have ruined my trip, literally. I would have stayed inside, waiting for the weather to break, and missed tons of fun. But this time, I decided I would not live by default.

We rode our bikes in the storms. We got rained on poolside. We kayaked, out of the middle of the ocean, with an angry sea beating its fury against us. But in the end, we won, because we chose NOT to live by default. We made conscious choices every single moment, and I am thrilled to report, this was one of the most delightful and fulfilling trips I’ve ever taken.

Life is short. You can either choose to make decisions each day, ones that fill you with a sense of purpose and bring joy and meaning to your life, or you can choose to live by default, walking blindly through the day, doing things the way they have always been done, without conscious thought or action.

I sincerely hope you choose to live life not by default, but rather on purpose. [Tweet This]

Experience new things each day, take a different path home, try a new flavor of coffee, call a friend and schedule an impromptu visit, dance in the rain, naked or clothed. Take that gardening class or learn to draw, since you have always wished to do so, and ride that roller coaster this summer that scares you to death!

Drop us a comment below and share your experience and, most importantly, how it made you feel to live on purpose and not by default.

M. Shannon Hernandez The Writing WhispererM. Shannon Hernandez has been passionate teaching others from a very early age.  As owner of The WritingWhisperer, her specialty lies in coaching and motivating women to hone their writing skills, particularly in non-fiction and business writing. Shannon is a leading voice in the world of authentic business writing and writes regularly for The Huffington Post. She coaches others to find their voices in business writing, because the words they use define their brands. Connect with Shannon on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

My Photo Journey of the Country Living Magazine Fair 2013

Recently, I had lost a little of my focus after having been sick with a cold for a week; I wasn’t sure how to find my mojo again, so I did what everybody does when they want help finding an answer – I asked my Facebook fans!  A recurring answer was to go somewhere that helps you clear your mind and I had the perfect place just a few minutes away.  I put aside my to-do list this weekend, hopped in the car and headed across the river to Rhinebeck, NY, where Country Living Magazine was holding their vintage flea market for the first time at this new venue location.

And, boy, was I ever glad!

It was an awesome day filled with traipsing through stalls of fantastic vintage chic treasures, meeting lots of different vendors and artists and listening to an awesome group of ladies from “Sisters on the Fly”.  I thought you might like to share in some of the highlights from my experience – come join me for a photo journey of this awesome outdoor event!

Opening to Sisters on the Fly RV Exhibit

The fair started with the delightful Sisters on the Fly exhibit of ol’ time renovated RVs displaying cute vintage sale items.  I remembered hearing about this group, adventurous women vacationing in the outdoors with renovated RVs all on their own, but couldn’t recall the particulars. (I found out more later in the day.)  We didn’t linger long as we were anxious to get closer to all of the awesome vendors and merchandise.


As we continued, there were so many gems along the way…starting with a little glimpse into the past as well as a science & history lesson where we found out how old-time glass automobile batteries were used.  Who would have thought!

Old Time Automobile Batteries


Moving along, we encountered

 the quintessential vintage sale vignettes…

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and old era-like jewelry.

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As we moved through the covered stalls filled with the colorful displays everywhere, we came into the building with Americana items….a little slice of heaven showcasing items from all over our country that evoke so many memories of our past.

The bike from an era gone by


the handcrafted americana art

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and the items that showcase our country’s heritage

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After a short break sipping old-fashioned lemonade, we strolled onward…

enjoying the warm sun as we gazed upon the outdoor displays of repurposed everyday items

IMG_20130608_133116_729  IMG_20130608_133226_140  IMG_20130608_133152_528  IMG_20130608_153316_931

and heading down the path to find some more wonderful treats.

Whether it was a little something from the Provence of France such as vintage home goods, lacy textiles swaying in the breeze or a french provincial vignette

IMG_20130608_134050_035     IMG_20130608_134041_349    IMG_20130608_134020_525

or lovingly handcrafted items right from our very own backyard,

IMG_20130608_134329_204     IMG_20130608_153935_624     IMG_20130608_155523_456

there was a plethora of beauty for everyone.

From the unusual …. 3 floor, 36 room bed & breakfast for birds

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to the whimsy of a windchime created from old utensils;


and back to something unexpected –

IMG_20130608_133918_392   who knew a light fixture could be made out of burlap?

Everywhere you turned, there was an explosion of creativity, nostalgia and charm.  We didn’t only spend a lot of time browsing, though.  We also spent lots of time gabbing with artisans, from all over, who love to share not only their techniques, but the unique stories behind their art like:

  • Kathryn Kosto from, right here in our very own state of New York, who loves to tell the story of poetry through collages created out of vintage textiles and memorabilia
  • to Mike Rawson from, an amazing wood-carver donating proceeds to cancer from Ohio and
  • Ryan McPhail from, again from New York, who creates amazing tables of states carved out of wood.

No matter who they were, they loved to share their skill, passion and creativity.

But I couldn’t let this post end without highlighting our favorite vendor of the fair, Sweeter Than The Tea, who had these wonderfully repurposed mason & canning jars.

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Our spectacular day ended by re-visiting the Sisters On The Fly exhibit (read all about them here) and chatting with several RV-ers who described the amazing journey to customize their vintage accommodations.

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The day was amazingly wonderful and words (and pictures) cannot adequately describe it.  What started out as an activity designed to refocus my tired brain became a memorable life experience and something that inspired me to look for the next vintage fair!  I think a vacation is now in order and definitely one with a vintage fair will be on the horizon.

If you’ve visited somewhere recently that inspired you, helped you refocus or brought you great joy, please share it belowIt might inspire someone else!

A GOLDEN MOMENT OF CLARITY: How Playing Opened My Heart & Freed My Soul

Mr. & Mrs. Potato HeadAs many of you may remember from my last blog post, I recently had a day filled with Aha! moments while watching Super Soul Sunday and listening to Oprah talk with Brene Brown.  They were discussing the 10 Guideposts to Wholehearted Living from Brene’s most recent book,  Daring Greatly,    specifically  concentrating on the last 5.  I mentioned towards the end of the blog post that there were many other golden moments of clarity that I would share with you as I blogged through the Ultimate Blog Challenge.  This is about one of them and it comes from Ms. Brown’s Guidepost #7.

exhaustion as a status symbol & productivity as self worth.

Brene Brown explained this guidepost with this quote by Stuart Brown, “Play is defined as time spent without purpose” and states that shame often prevents us from playing.

This concept had a huge impact on my psyche this week; I’ve been thinking about it ever since I watched the show.

HERE’S MY SECRET: I DON’T PLAY MUCH; haven’t in a long, long time.

Oh, I played as a child, of course: the typical coloring, Barbie dolls, dressing up and outside with my brothers, all with great abandon. I played as a young girl: crafting, reading and baking, but with less abandon. At first, the abandon diminished; as a young teenager I was needed to help take care of my brother, help with the household chores and even work at a part time job to help with expenses – there wasn’t much time for leisure activities or playtime. Then the abandon stopped altogether; I think I learned during my teens that my time needed a purpose and I lost the idea of play. Could shame have caused that?  After all, teens were supposed to be cool – was playing considered cool?

As a young adult play became different – it was more social oriented and in groups. As a young mother of course I would play with my children, but not with abandon – after all I was a grownup and abandon was for children. (Maybe shame made me feel that way.) 50 years later I have come full circle and once again become reminded of (HERE’S THE AHA MOMENT) the importance of play and its absence in my life. Now, what do I do with this Aha! moment?

Well, on Easter Sunday, I figured it out: PLAY! I sat down to a time honored tradition in our house that had been lost by the wayside: COLORING EGGS. With no purpose in mind and little preplanning, I spent a good 2 hours with my husband pricking holes in eggs, blowing out the white and yolks and picking colors at random to drop the eggs into … JUST PLAYING. Easter EggsSome came out vibrant and bold, others were subtle and unusual and a few were downright ugly; the end result didn’t matter, though.

For the two hours that we played, we also reminisced about what it was like to do this with our kids, what our favorite egg dying kits were and enjoyed the comical memories of the mishaps we shared. We spent a lot of time laughing (much to my oldest son’s total amazement) and enjoying letting our minds and hands just play while our hearts opened for the joy of doing something without purpose. IT WAS AMAZING!

I do not think that this guidepost will quickly leave my mind; it’s too important of a concept to bring back into my life. Hearing Brene Brown’s profound words opened my mind to the importance of it; enjoying the actuality of it on Easter Sunday opened my heart to it. Today I already feel my soul being freed with the contemplation of what I can do this weekend to “play”.

Having shared this golden moment of clarity, I ask you this:

When was the last time you “played”; when you just did something with no purpose or intent other than to realize the joy and beauty of your soul? Share with me what it was, won’t you? Inspire others to play, open their heart and free their soul to experience the amazing feeling PLAYING can bring.

An Aha! Moment of Enlightenment

An Aha! MomentHave you ever seen, heard or read something that was so profound it stopped you in your tracks and made you say “Oh my gosh”?  An “Aha” or “light bulb” moment that just grabbed your attention and even took your breath away?  I had that kind of moment the other day and I was so unprepared for it that I screeched loud enough to jolt my sleeping dog awake!  It came to me when I was watching Super Soul Sunday with Oprah.  Read on to learn more about it.

I love Oprah Winfrey’s new Super Soul Sunday (more info),  but haven’t been able to watch any of the aired shows so I’ve been taping them.  (Hoping that during those long nights of insomnia I could do a marathon!)  I was particularly interested in the shows with Brene Brown.  For those of you who haven’t heard of Brene Brown, she is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work (as well as a NY Times best-selling author and renowned speaker) and has spent decades studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness and shame.  (About)  All feelings that so many of us struggle understanding and for which I have a keen fascination.

I finally found a day where I could listen to the playbacks.  This wouldn’t be any ordinary day either; this was going to be a day of pampering and I made sure to give it the attention it deserved: I came to the living room in my most comfy pjs, a warm cup of tea and all electronic communication shut off (okay, maybe not shut off, but at least turned down)!  My faithful companion and I curled up on the sofa together and I hit play; wouldn’t you know, Murphy’s Law kicked in immediately – the first part never taped!  Sighing, I thought, oh well at least there’s another part.  Taking a deep breath (and crossing my fingers that Mr. Murphy didn’t show up again), I pushed play one more time.  Oprah and Ms. Brown began discussing a myriad of topics and settled upon the 10 Guideposts to Wholeheartedly Living that was the subject of her latest book, Daring Greatly.  (I had missed the first 5 from part 1, but at least they were going over the last 5.)  And then it happened and only a few minutes into the discussion!

They were talking about the 6th guidepost: Cultivating Creativity: Letting Go of Comparison.  This is what I heard:

Creativity has to be cultivated.  Unused creativity is not benign; it metastasizes and turns into: grief, judgment, sorrow, rage and shame.  It can be very dangerous.  We are divine beings and by nature creative.  But our creativity gets lost along the way and is often shamed out of us.  

I gasped, “Oh my gosh” so loudly that the dog jerked her head up and stared intently at me for several minutes.  THIS WAS MY “Aha” MOMENT. 

You see, as a professional organizer, I surround myself with structure, order and planning, but what many people don’t know is that I am also very creative.  The two sides of my brain are often at war with each other because most of my life has been spent concentrating on using the structure, order and planning side.  The creative side always got pushed to the back waiting for me to take the time to cultivate it.  As a wife and mom of 26 years, I had been solely focused on raising two sons, running a home and working full time; there never seemed to be enough time to cultivate my personal creativity.  In that instant though, I understood that because I had been stifling that need, I had been experiencing many of the feelings that Brene had just described; it was as if she was pointing to me through the screen when she said it.  I realized I was close to a danger zone – I could see that resentment had started creeping in from not using the creativity locked deep within myself.  It was as if Ms. Brown had unlocked a door that I could walk through.  It was clear as day.  I understood it was now time for me to unleash and cultivate my inner creativity; there was nothing to hold me back anymore. YES, A LIGHT BULB MOMENT FOR SURE! 

Once I heard those words, I knew that I couldn’t just sit back and “listen” to this show; I needed to pay attention and make sure I took notes along the way.  I was certain that there would be other golden moments of clarity that I would want to remember.  There was, but I’m not going to let those secrets out just yet….that will be subject of future blog posts of introspection, so you’ll have to tune in again to find out!

TELL ME SOMETHING: Have you ever had a moment like that – a moment of clarity that was so profound it stopped you in your tracks and took your breath away?  If you have, would you share it?  For, I believe that, in sharing we find the greatest gift of our Aha moments: passing them on to someone else who is open to experiencing the profoundness of our enlightenment.

Celebration of International Women’s Day

International Women's Day LogoToday is International Women’s Day

Did you know that today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day.  I just recently learned how this special day came about and, through that learning, wholeheartedly embrace everything it stands for. I’d like to share what I’ve learned with you and invite you to embrace its meaning also.

What is International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. It started in the United States in 1909, in accordance with a declaration by the Socialist Party of America, and was celebrated for the first time on February 28th.  Later in 1910, Clara Zetkin, who was the Leader of the Women’s Office for the Social Democratic Party in Germany, proposed a NATIONAL Women’s Day (which was adopted) and the observance was moved from February to March 8 in 1913.  It quickly was embraced by the women’s community worldwide and, subsequently, adopted as International Women’s Day.

What it Has Become Today

It has grown to become a global day of recognition and celebration across countries and is regarded as a national holiday in many.  However the work of those before us is not completed.  Although great strides have been made for women’s equality, many more are still necessary and the tone of this movement continues to evolve.  The tone and nature of the current International Women’s Day has also shifted to keep up with the times; it has moved from a reminder of negatives to a celebration of positives for women worldwide.

We Honor Those who Came Before Us

As an honor and tribute to the women who have come before us to make the world a better place and what it is today, I invite you to join me in thanking our inspirational leaders who came before us.  Those leaders who were trailblazers, cleared the path and empowered us to become the new leaders of today.  They have opened the door for us to be who we are, starting in:

1840: where more men than women graduated from
Harvard Medical School;

TODAY, there are more women than men in
several graduating classes.

1850: where half the working women in the UK were
domestic servants and men held the most of high
status jobs;

TODAY, there are more female lawyers,
doctors & architects in the UK than male.

1914: when Madame CJ Walker became the 1st female
self-made millionaire;

TODAY, there are 14 female self-made
BILLIONAIRES with 7 residing in China.

1960: when Serimavo Bandaranaike (of Sri Lanka)
became the world’s 1st female elected head of state;

TODAY, there are 29 female world
leaders in power.

1972: when men owned 96% of the biz in the US;

TODAY, 1 in 3 business owners are women.

1990: when 32% of women were active in the workforce
in Latin America & the Caribbean;

TODAY, 53% of women are part of their workforce.


I challenge you to think about what will you do to contribute to the next generation of women trailblazers; what path will you clear to pave the way and who will you inspire to follow in your footsteps?

Join with us in celebrating each other’s achievements: TELL US what ideas you have to make the world a better place for women of the future and and how you will inspire others to become the powerful women leaders of tomorrow as did our foremothers?  WRITE US a COMMENT below.

Don’t just be one, join with the many women who are making a difference for the next generation.  Set the tone for the future of the women of our world and inspire others to blaze a new trail like those before us.

Click Here to read more about International Women’s Day’s history.



My friend, Dorothy Wills-Raftery, recently invited me to join in a writing project called “The Next Big Thing”.  Dorothy is an author, photojournalist and owner of five, adorable Siberian Huskies, one of whom has epilepsy.  She has written the book What’s Wrong with Gibson and her blog at FiveSibes blog is all about the life of her beautiful “children” to help raise awareness for canine epilepsy.  This project is all about finding out what the next big thing writers/bloggers are working on and is passed by torch to others each week.  I was honored that Dorothy “tagged” me and thrilled to participate.  Here is a sneak peak of my next project!    

What is the working title of your book?  A Guide to the Jewish Holidays: Honoring the Special Times at Home with Simplicity & Ease.  Completely a “working” title as the concept is just beginning to evolve.

Where did the idea come from for the book?  During the last Jewish holidays, I was chatting with a group who were lamenting about how much work it was to celebrate holidays at home, specifically the Jewish ones.  Many stopped having home celebrations because their family had scattered, they were alone and it was easier to go to gatherings elsewhere.  I could relate to this lament as my children have grown older and moved out and my extended family is scattered as they spend holidays in their own childrens’ home.  I recognize that this mindset often happens as we grow older and our families disperse.  

Following that conversation, a friend and I were chatting and she complimented me on the wonderful events I had created; she even suggested I get back into event planning because I did such a nice job.  What a nice compliment, but been there, done that!  I worked for a synagogue for 11 years and planned upwards of 35 major events a year and didn’t want to make it my primary focus again.  I have to acknowledge that she was right, though… I do love creating special gatherings and am very good at it. 

I felt there was a hidden message in the fact that these two incidents happened back to back.  Was fate trying to enlighten me about something?  I think so, for after further consideration, the idea to create this book was formed. 

What genre does your book fall under?  It’s definitely a “How To” guide.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?  I don’t foresee this type of book moving towards a movie script as it is a How To guide, but one never knows!

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?  I would sum up this book as “a guide to honoring the Jewish holidays at home with simplicity, style and ease”.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?  The literary world is a foreign territory for me, so I am going to create this in an EBook format and see where it goes.  In the future, maybe it can be turned into an agency published book.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?  My first draft is currently under construction.  I’m looking to collaborate with a few other individuals and I haven’t worked out the details just yet.  My target date for first draft completion is by January 15, 2013.  A good way to start the New Year, don’t you think?

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?  I’m a firm believer in not comparing things as everyone’s own work holds its own merit and is unique in itself.  There is one book, though (which I refer to at every holiday) that I would like mine to be modeled after: Jewish Holiday Style by Rita Milos Brownstein.  It is a visually stimulating book with wonderful ideas for celebrating Jewish Holidays.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?  My love of Judaism, writing and organizing is the fire of the concept; my friend, Colleen is the ignitor.  It was what she said to me after the first incident that prompted me to develop the concept that I think has been inside of me for many years.  It was just waiting for the right opportunity to pop out! 

I consider this project as a way for me to channel all the wonderful things I’ve learned about Judaism over the years, combine it with my talent for organizing and create a meaningful piece of writing that others can enjoy.  I also look at it as an opportunity to help others learn that honoring or celebrating Jewish holidays can be easy and fun at home.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?  I’m sure that with 11 years of planning Jewish lifecycle and religious events, numerous years of teaching young children about Judaism and a lifetime of my own family experiences, there will be some humorous (and maybe not so) escapades sprinkled throughout the book!  The intent in including those embarrassing moments would be to share the human element of entertaining so readers will understand that perfection is not the goal, enjoyment is!

Now that you’ve learned of my next project, here are some others I know who are working on special things to come:

Christina Workman Johnstone: Christina is a wonderful web developer who has started her own company looking to help others develop their websites.  She brings to her clients a wealth of knowledge in a quiet, but intuitive manner (and many times quite funny).  I am always amazed at her ability to think what I’m thinking, sometimes before I even think it!  Visit her website at Amethyst Answers to find out what will be her “Next Big Thing”.

Please check back for more torch bearers and find out what will be their “Next Big Thing”!