Macrocosmic Marvels, Muse, Musical Monologues


Sunlight touches my face at dawn
A butterfly lands on my hand
Bees kiss wildflowers on the lawn
Crimson cardinals present their demands
The last glow of sunset reveals a doe and fawn

Fireflies twinkle in dewy evening starlight
Crickets and bullfrogs sing their soulful tune
Moon-eyed owl keeps vigil in darkest night
Witnessing myriad moments of nocturnal bloom
And blackbirds’ sonorous morning flight

Manderley Swain
May 22, 2022
Invocation for Bridging Service ORUUC
At the request of Patton Fishel

Muse, Musical Monologues

The Day the Muse Returned

My friend, Mare, moved away from Tennessee for about 5 years. We’d just begun to become close friends, each other’s muses, when she left. Even long distance our mutual love for art and poetry sustained the friendship and creative energy we’d found.

In March of 2019, she returned for a visit–we’d all waited so long to see her that her impending arrival thrummed in the air. When she arrived, I was in disbelief that she was really here. Our reunion crackled with creative, artsy energy.

She’s since moved ‘home’ to make art and mayhem again here in Tennessee. We’re grateful to have her back and we’re still making art back and forth in our various creative pursuits.


She stood there
Giggling on the doorstep
Shining beacon that she is
Smiling lips forming sounds
I sat in my chair
Yearning toward her light
Joy and disbelief
short circuited my sight
Senses confounded
Weeks waiting
Imagining anticipating
So arriving as if
She never left
Time slowed
Stood still
Mind and body
Drifted apart
My seat kept rooted
In fear that she
With flash quicksilver
Might take flight
And disappear
As dreams do
In the morning light

Written March 29, 2019

Edited November 11, 2021

Madness, Muse, Musical Monologues

Deeper Stillness

My dear friend Mare The Human wrote a poem called Under Covers in 2018 and challenged friends to write something inspired by it. This is my answer to the challenge.

Morning calls me out to play
Lost in the depths of my pillow
I lose my way
Deeper stillness comforting darkness
My nest of blankets hiding my sorrow

Persistent morning calls my name
Come on out! Sieze the day!
One more hour, please, I pray.
Soft, snuggly cover quietly whispers
The world outside is too loud
Tomorrow is another day

As I burrow deeper still
Drifting, dreams and memories sifting
Sands shifting in my shuttered eyes
Your ghost, your voice
Restoring my will
I follow your flight from Neverland
Greeting the morning, I rise

Written January 2018
Based on Mare Martell’s poem ‘Under Covers’ 2018

Memoir, Miracle Max, Muse, Musical Monologues

Prom Season Alterations

In April of 2019, our sewing shop had a particularly stressful prom season. My two coworkers and I started this poem as a way to let off steam between dresses. I think we altered about 60 or more prom and wedding dresses in less than a month, and we created the custom gown (pictured above) AND my younger son’s prom suit and accessories! Added to that were all of our non-formal alterations!

The poem was fun and a great stress reliever for all of us to write. I didn’t include some of the more colorful language verses we scribbled down. As it is, it’s a little bittersweet now. Little did we realize that 2019 would be our final prom season together. 2020’s prom season brought us about 10 dresses, little income and all the proms and spring weddings were canceled.

None of us have any regrets–that part is absolutely true. We know that we made a difference in teen lives and in their self images, if only for one night of their high school year. We comped more than one gown to help students in need and donated occasional used gowns to the prom closets at local high schools, along with any needed alterations to make them fit.

I’m thankful for that part of my life. I lived out a dream of fashion on a small scale and we became the best in the area at what we did. We didn’t get rich financially, only in experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything. I’m sad for the ending, but satisfied that I did my best and helped a few people along the way. It was truly worth every late night, weird sewing dream and heartache we incurred on the journey.

Prom Season

On caffeine and chocoate drips
Customer service quips
Thanks and compliments
Curling our lips

Around the mannequins
Pinning laps
Atmosphere intense
Missing naps

Visions of sequined seams
Hemming horsehair nightmares
Beads fall and fill my dreams
Yards and yards of mermaid flares

Glamorous dresses
One more Sherri Hill*
Filled with stresses
Our guts will spill

Glamour blurs to silhouette
Colors reduce to numbers
Annual erosion of debts
Until another year pulls us under

Loving our work
How long since we’ve slept
Dancing flowing skirts
Insecurities they forget
We’ve no regrets

(written by Manderley Swain, Zen Lane, Dawn Elwartowski –April 2019 and November 2021)

My younger son in his junior year prom suit. We created his vest, Jacket, tie and boutonniere. His senior prom was canceled so we never got to create that one.

*Sherri Hill is a designer prom dress brand–extremely popular, gorgeous gowns. Well made to a fault and often incredibly challenging to alter.

Memoir, Menagerie, Muse, Uncategorized

Backyard Superheroes

My own children at ages 5 and 7 in costumes I made for them

Wonder Woman, Wolverine, Batman, Storm, Rogue, Spiderman, Superman, Kitty Pryde, Bionic Woman and Bionic Man– heroes a child could find in popular culture, not just in comic books, in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

As children, we wore all of their mantles, my best friend, and I. In the twilight between our houses where we played all summer, weekends, and after school. From comic books to movies to TV shows, we tried out each one for our imaginary play.

Before cosplay was even a word before Halloween costumes graduated from boxy painted vinyl jumpsuits with cheesy plastic masks. And long before you could easily find replica props for your favorite characters, we became all of our favorite characters with nothing but our own minds’ eyes. Visualizing every detail of costuming as we played, we ‘saw’ each other vividly as the characters we portrayed every day together.

We imagined complex worlds for our heroes to play in–worlds rich and nuanced and complete in every detail as if we’d been transported there by Scotty himself.

Onlookers, outsiders, or parents only saw a couple of kids, playing, riding bikes, rollerskating, running, yelling, laughing and dreaming together. They couldn’t see the villains we battled every day as we saved the world in one-hour increments, one afternoon at a time. Every. Day.

We rarely, if ever, allowed anyone into this sacred space of our imagination. It was an unspoken agreement, but we both knew that others, especially adults, were unlikely to comprehend us and how we played, nor even how we discussed plans for play.

There was nothing sinister or sneaky here. It was simply a private world where we could truly be whomever or whatever we wished, without fear of bullying or teasing. We could be real behind the safety of our make-believe masks.

Though we could not have articulated or even fully identified it all ourselves at the time, we knew, on some level, that our games of pretend were unique. We knew that we were tackling deeper problems through play than anyone would expect children to even consider, let alone understand. It didn’t even matter that we, ourselves, were not conscious of all the complex emotions and concepts inherent in battling imaginary foes. It was all still there, bubbling beneath the surface. Inner demons, bullies, the unfair powerless feelings children often experience for any number of reasons–all these were processed through putting the bad guys in jail–usually after great chases, grueling battles, wounds and scars, captures and daring rescues.

Powerful discussions and profound healing took place daily under the metaphorical disguises of larger than life superheroes and villains.

As we grew older and found that the heroes on page and screen were no longer multi-dimensional enough to hold all that we ourselves were becoming, we created our own characters, our own alter ego heroes. Never committed to writing or art but instead, indelibly etched into our psyches as all the old masks fell away. We didn’t need physical representations of these characters–we simply saw them in ourselves, in each other, with no question of the accuracy in the details. We’d been playing together our whole lives, best friends. We had a connection so strong that we might have been communicating telepathically anyway.

To quote my friend “Like the X-Men and most other heroes, we didn’t ask for these powers, we just had them. We just were them. And we always will be.”

Our imaginations were our greatest superpowers. And still are.

Knowing that playtime hour awaited us at the end of most days allowed us to conquer whatever challenges our ordinary days held for us, large or small. Because we had our secret identities, the selves we presented to the workaday world could withstand whatever we had to. We knew we were strong, invulnerable creative beings.

Myself, age 4, 1974

We knew we were able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, along with any other obstacle we encountered. We knew had each other’s backs. We knew we were heroes.

My own original childhood character’s superpower was turning illusions into reality, hiding in plain sight or being noticed, colorfully, at will. She shaped the world around her into whatever she wanted to see, she manipulated colors, all the colors in her world. She was a living Rainbow. She often made something from nothing.

Now, as an adult, it is my great privilege to bring to life those cherished visions everyone has of their favorite character, real or imagined. I sew cosplay costumes, I make ordinary people (children AND adults) feel and look like movie stars, kings and queens, gods and goddesses.

My job is to make the world more colorful. I manipulate colors. I am a Rainbow. I often make something from nothing. What’s your superpower?

Memoir, Menagerie, Muse, Uncategorized



Yesterday I was surprised with another family’s button box! This was an unexpected and truly wonderful gift. My friend Helen, having no one in her family who wanted her button collection, offered me a simple white cardboard shoe box on Sunday morning just after church. I am both honored and excited to receive it!


We opened the box together so that she could tell me about one or two of the items inside. Right away I could see that these were treasures. Helen had lovingly sorted them by color and some by style or use into small plastic bags. They were clearly labeled as well. Many of them were stitched together in sets with single strands of teal thread. There are enormous coat buttons and tiny shirt buttons. And all sorts of in between sizes.  Also included are buckles of all sizes and a few other adornments that are not, strictly speaking, buttons, but are wondrous all the same.  She pointed out some of the fancier ones and was somewhat apologetic over the modest white shirt buttons. As we talked, she was searching through the box for the buckles. She pulled out two of them to show me specifically.


These two special buckles had been bagged, not with the rest of the assortment of small buckles, but instead, were in the bag with the fanciest of the buttons. The label on these reads ‘very nice buckles’. At first glance these two buckles seem somewhat plain and a little rough and uneven, with some dents and scratches in the bargain. Upon closer inspection, it becomes evident that they were hand crafted, many years ago. They have no signature or maker’s marks on them but it’s obvious they were carefully designed and constructed. Both buckles are pewter, created for a 1 and ½ inch belt width. Designed by and for a lady to wear, and would have been quite stylish in their time. In any time really. Helen tells me that they were hand-crafted by her own mother around the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor. I fully intend to find a way to wear them, and proudly.

I will also, no doubt, find some way of adding some of the other, equally beautiful and dramatic buttons to clothing of my own design. Whether I wear them or not, though, I will spend hours in the months and years to come imagining stories that must go along with the many treasures that are tucked away in this simple shoebox.


Helen had never read my story about my own grandmother’s button box and so she could not have known how much I will truly love and cherish her gift. I am humbled and honored that she would think of me. And I am delighted by the serendipity!

Memoir, Muse, Uncategorized

Grandmother’s Button Box

20170520_185003Grandmother’s button box was always kept on her sewing machine desk. it was more of a small canister, really, made of tin with a terra cotta colored plastic lid. There were images of Victorian era people shopping for fabrics and notions. I do not remember a time without it’s presence. The button box was another constant thing in my day to day world, reassuring to see and comforting to touch, a delight to open and explore.

The tin sits there with it’s old-timey pictures on it, full of mystery and promise beckoning to you–young or old. Beneath the cover you know you’ll find her timeless collection of buttons and other random treasures that inevitably make their way into boxes and tins in all sewing room-safety pin, snaps and more. It is an archaeological dig site–artifacts of days gone by, treasures and the wisdom of the ages lie within. All you need to do is dig in!

Giving in to the anticipation, you plunge your hand in and soop them out, sifting buttons through your fingers. falling back into the trove with the most satisfying jingles and clickety clacks of metal and plastic! In that moment these ordinary bits and bobs are the most extraordinarily precious objects you’ve ever held in your hand. They exist to be studied, counted, sorted and inspected again and again. The buttons are alluring and exciting and full of tiny fairy adventures with Tink, The Borrowers, Thumbelina and perhaps even Ariel on any given day. Exciting and mysterious, full of never-ending stories you make up anew with each time the box is opened. It is a great privilege to be allowed to open it and play with these magical jewels!


Later on buttons were part of my first sewing lessons. So many things to learn about buttons in sewing! So many things that button sewing teaches you in sewing too. Patience is one of those things. Buttons are final details on a project, but are often the most important and the most noticed. Buttons taught me to pay attention to the details, take care to make them secure, but neatly–one of Grandmother’s hallmark traits too. Sew each stitch with love.


While sewing buttons, one has time for inner reflections and daydreams. Sooner or later you begin to consider the history of a particular button in the box. She told me stories of where many of them came from, whose clothes and in what season. Sometimes there was a funny story about how the button came to be in the box or about the person who wore it. So now the button box was a treasure trove of family stories and history. Buttons from Grandmother’s childhood clothes and one or two from Grandaddy’s time in the army. There were some from her mother-in-law, my great Grandmother, Estelle. Her buttons were always fancy and fashionable. She was an incredibly snappy dresser and gifted seamstress too. Her button sewing taught me precision, as did her life. But those are other stories, for other days. Estelle’s buttons added to my fashion knowledge and enthusiasm.


Among the sparkly button treasures, sorting, sewing, stories and daydreams there was wisdom gained as well. Saving extra or found buttons is an obvious one–you never know when you might need a button. Throwing them away would be wasteful. Many things are useful for more than their originally intended purpose–this was a lesson Grandmother taught me time and again, in so many more ways than the button box. Follow the trail of stories in your breadbox. Like breadcrumbs, they can lead you home. Listen to the lessons of patience and persistence and care about the details in your life as well as on your shirt. Make it secure–do the job right the first time. You may be glad you did. A job worth doing is worth doing well. All these may be cliche, but they are cliche for a reason. Listen to the stories of your grandmothers and grandfathers. And remember that even the old, shabby looking buttons are still useful, still beautiful and they carry the wisdom of the ages.



Madness, Memoir, Miracle Max, Muse, Uncategorized

Welcome To Manderley’s Soapbox


Creativity has infused all aspects of my life since birth. Through all the good and bad times, the accessibility of this wonderful tool has helped to keep me grounded and centered. I feel fortunate that creativity was fostered and nurtured in my life right from the start. It was never in some box, reserved for the “talented few”.  I was never taught to believe there even was a ‘box’ or a ‘talented few’. Without ever stating it directly, my whole family showed me that creativity takes many forms and is accessible to everyone in everything we do.  I have, at many  times in my life, suffered from bouts of low self esteem or self doubt, but I have never once doubted my innate sense of creativity. As long as I remember to seek it, creativity is there inside me, just waiting for my call. Creativity is inside everyone, including YOU.


Humanity is hard-wired to be creative. From basic survival–learning to make fire and tools and clothing–to storytelling and cave painting and then on to writing, languages, numbers, higher math and fine art– humans and creativity seem to have been born together. From the first moments of life, creativity is constant. Every parent knows this to be true. Children creatively challenge us every minute they are awake! And as parents, we meet these challenges with every ounce of creativity we have! Learning is a creative process. Creativity is a learning process.


So many people suffer under the misconception that creativity means one is skilled, gifted or talented at some kind of visual art such as drawing, painting, ceramics or the performing arts. Those are certainly all creative art forms, but they are by no means the only ways to be creative. That would be a narrow definition of creativity indeed!  While creativity is needed and fully realized in all of the arts, the arts themselves are learned skills. Some people may have a greater affinity for or dedication to a particular art. Just like athletes and sports, that dedication leads to more practice time and thus, greater skill. But given time and opportunity, anyone can learn skills necessary to participate in all of the visual and performing arts. In many cases, only basic skills are required in order to simply enjoy the process of creative self expression through arts and crafts. Classes are available in most towns and online.


“But I’m not artsy”, you say. “Crafts bore me” you say. “I’m just not creative” you sigh. It is at this point that my husband sighs and takes a giant step back as I step up onto my soap box. (he is actually afraid of getting hit by stray bits of glitter as I begin to actively help you dig in and find your inner well of creativity–he has seen this happen once or twice).  So, let’s do it–let’s look for it together. Trust me–I have experience.


First, just ask yourself a few questions (have a cup of tea and get comfy-this may take a few minutes).  What is your favorite color? Why is it your favorite color? What are some ways you bring this color (or colors) into your everyday life? How do you feel when you discover new ways to use your favorite color(s)? What is a color you DIS-like? What are some ways you avoid it?  I  know what you’re thinking – “is she for real? What does this have to do with finding my creativity? Is this some trick to get me to make a macaroni duck?” Whoa! I promise it’s no trick, although we could make a macaroni duck if you think that will help. I’ll follow your creativity wherever it leads….but I digress. Stay with me a few more minutes. ok?


The same questions I asked about color could apply to most aspects of your life. What are your favorite and least favorite activities, tasks, sounds, foods, people. The actual answers are not quite as important as how you think of them, the process of answering the questions. There, in the middle of coming up with the answers lies your creativity.


Creativity is in every choice you make. It is in how you see and interpret nearly everything you see and hear and taste. It is in your own unique experience of the world in which you live. You only need to open your mind and expand your perspective. Allow your own creative self to bubble up out of that box you set aside to contain it. Let your crayon wander outside the lines and ask yourself “What if?” a little more. Imagine the possibilities, and choose a few to explore. I promise you’ll be glad you did. Admit to yourself  that you ARE creative. Give yourself permission to wade into your creative river. Then dive  in and keep swimming! Share your experience-it will become more real. I’d love to hear about your creative journey!


And say to yourself  every day —

“There is no wrong way to be creative!”


Let’s repeat that together–


Madness, Muse, Uncategorized

jumble 5/6/17

I am finally alone for a day and have time to do things. My mind and to do lists are so full I don’t think I can prioritize. I feel paralyzed with all the many things I need to do, want to do. I am energized and exhausted all at once. I think I truly need a day of emptiness. A day of nothing. It’s too cold to go and sit by the lake. But sitting here at my desk or at home, I can feel all the ‘to do’s’ calling to me. It is not relaxing. Not helpful. Even the words aren’t really flowing for writing. At least the silence is restful. I can embrace the silence today, float on its soft, comforting ocean. Maybe I will just drift with its currents for a while. I wish it could last for a week. With this space to be quiet and rest I could calm my thoughts and begin to let go of the racket of day to day life for a time. I could begin to hear the song of what is most important and forget the rest. There is too much noise in the day to day. Too many lesser things crying out to be heard and drowning out vital needs, pushing aside things my heart needs. No harmony, only dissonance. I find now that I wish to hear the sweet melody of simplicity rising above the chaos. I wish to let go of the fear and worry and just be in the moment. I have long since forgotten how to do this consciously. Sometimes it happens by accident and is the sweetest surprise. I try to hold on to this fleeting experience but that is counter productive and takes me out of the present. I cannot get back to it with all my pushing and pulling. It’s like fighting the water and drowning instead of remembering to be still and simply float.

raindrops in pool edited

Memoir, Muse, Uncategorized

Little Things

Grandmother was born premature–tiny enough to fit the palms of her daddy’s hands. Many in her family were sure she would not survive. But survive she did! Still, they treated her as a fragile thing to be protected even as she grew strong and thrived. Always the most petite of her seven siblings, she was given the kitchen and indoor chores on their busy farm instead of some of the heavier jobs farther afield. Perhaps this fostered her love for keeping and decorating her home. She was creating little tablescapes and miniature scenes in her decorating long before HGTV and DIY were trendy.


Every holiday was an opportunity to make or arrange a new tableau or an old one in a new way.  There was usually a Nativity scene in every room at  Christmas. There were tiny bunnies and chicks and candies among the Easter eggs and leprechauns in her shamrock plant. She kept all manner  of tiny figures and goodies with which to create ornaments for any holiday. Somehow even ordinary days were made more special with all the little touches of decorating and scenery she set up all over the house.  My dolls never wanted for places to explore. My creative needs were well filled with craft supplies and inspiration everywhere.

Her love for tiny things extended to all areas of our lives. Almost anywhere there was a full sized object, there was likely a miniature version nearby. She collected bells so there were also tiny ones with delicate fairy sounds. There was a display of miniature perfume bottles on the wall and on the backsplash in the guest bathroom. In the kitchen there were dozens of mini Tupperware gadgets and containers, hor d’hoevres utensils  and tiny tea sets and cups, little salt and pepper shakers too.  Displayed throughout the house you could find souvenir thimbles, spoons and statues from places visited like the St. Louis Arch (didn’t everyone have one of those at some point?)

If games were your thing there were little playing cards and itty bitty dice, complete with tiny pencils and notepads for keeping score. The tiny pencils were perfectly sized for drawing too. She absolutely loved tiny pencils. You could also find travel size chess and checker sets to keep you entertained for hours. (There was also a set of giant checkers with the board printed on a beach towel)-we had  great fun with that as kids.   We had plenty to do when we could not go play outside.


When spring flowers began to bloom each year, we’d help pick the first little wildflowers, yellow buttercups, purple and blue violets and even dandelions to bring inside to put in little bud vases and maple syrup bottles she’d saved from Cracker Barrel. We’d place them all over the house. Plants and flowers were also a vital part of her decorating. Upon closer examination you might find little houses, animals or other figures tucked in among the houseplants. She made her own fairy gardens before pinterest even existed. I also remember a terrarium in an egg shaped glass jar. I spent hours exploring it, imagining who might live there in that tiny world, complete with its own rain. I’m fairly certain this terrarium was one of many doors to Wonderland.

Little things Grandmother collected and created filled my life with magic. Little things she did and said filled my life with love. Little things lead to the biggest magic and love.