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Archive for July, 2008

Get creative and save the planet, too

The website is gathering momentum in the fight against global warming:

Many think of not as a campaign, but as a global collaborative art project to promote knowledge of the number 350. So let your creativity run wild by making your own art, crafts, and more to spread the word about 350 wherever you go. So far people are making t-shirts, quilts, paintings, and more – show us what you can come up with to get the word out in your community! Just be sure to share your creations with the rest of the 350 community by uploading a photo of it on our website and tagging it ‘art’. Below are a few resources and opportunities to plug into the project artistically. has teamed up with and other crafting organizations to sponsor a couple of exciting contests. Together we’re asking people to create quilts, t-shirts, hats, needlepoint designs, finger puppets, or whatever you can think of that helps spread the number 350 in their community. The submission period will be during the month of August, when participants will be able to enter their creations in the t-shirt design competition or the general craft competition – so get started early! Visit the contest website for more details.

Be free, create, and save the world. Who could be better equipped for the job of superhero than a bunch of creative mothers?

7/30 Weekly creativity contest winner & new prompt

This time our weekly creativity contest really went to the dogs! Well, and the cats, too. Our winner is Cathy Jennings, with a beautiful image of three of her cats. Congratulations, Cathy! Your $10 gift certificate will arrive momentarily.


Lisa Worthington-Brown writes: “Here is my submission for ‘Beauty.’  This is a ‘literal’ one for me as my dog’s name is Beauty. This is a piece I made from a photograph of her at a local coffee shop.” Love it, Lisa! And welcome to Creative Construction.


From Cathy Coley:


Beauty has always been a powerful concept to me. I’ve been involved in the arts, all of them, since I was a very young thing. Something about my dreaminess in finding the most beautiful shells to collect, astounding sunsets to watch, the soul stirring of church hymns, the magnificence of a daddy long leg walking along a stick, finding my father’s collegiate anthology containing Robert Frost marked me in pursuit of beauty for my whole life. Even watching my mother get dolled up for a night out with soup can rollers in her hair while she applied her deep red lips and pressed a tissue to them before a night out was a source of endless fascination.

When I was nine years old, our ten-year-old Shetland sheepdog, champion-bred, who was previously assumed to be barren, rolled her fatness over one day, and we discovered she wasn’t just fat, she was pregnant and due any day. Years before, my parents had tried to breed her. Then one night, in her dog’s life twilight, my mother and next door neighbor, Mrs. Maxwell, who had grown up on a farm in the Midwest and was a nurse, so knew about these things, sat doula to Duchess’s long labor before Mrs. Maxwell declared, “we need to get her to the vet.” One canine caesarian section resulted in five black-and-white mutts, just in time for Halloween. One was solid black. I immediately named her Black Beauty. As the puppies grew toward Christmas, my mother kept warning me, we can’t keep any, we have to give them all away. Slowly, the little black one gained some brown detailing along her legs and snout, a white mark grew on her chest, and her name was shortened to Beauty.

Of course, we all adored all the puppies, but I saw a special sweetness in her disposition early on. I came home from school a few days before Christmas break, and my mother had taken the puppies to the pound. The house was so quiet without them. She and I, and mama dog, too, were sad and worried that they all wouldn’t find homes, and would be put to sleep. So close to Christmas, adoption was inevitable, and my mother made them promise to let us know if any weren’t adopted. The last day before break, I came home to find Beauty back in our home. My mother couldn’t stand to not keep her. That was the best Christmas yet. When we opened presents, she played in the ribbons, and Duchess kept corralling her dutifully.

Beauty lived a long life with our family. She had puppies of her own the following year, and we gave them all to friends or acquaintances, except one male we named Butch. They were nearly inseparable and from us, too. They walked us to school, ran us through the neighborhood and woods. They meddled in the neighborhood stickball games which happened in the dead-end in front of our house. Beauty ran the bases with the batters, and Butch chased the ball. Touch football in the backyard turned funny when someone said, “hut-hut-hike!” For some reason, the generally sweet-tempered, playful Beauty went doggie psycho on whoever said it, and wanted the ball for her own. When I was in a more contemplative mood, which was often, and climbed up to the top of the maple in the yard, they sat at the bottom, waiting for me to come down.

As she got older, she stopped two doors down on the walk to school, or when my younger brother and I were bopping around the neighborhood. That’s where Mrs. Holcomb, with her houseful of cats, would feed table scraps to our dog. We had a houseful of cats, too, but that’s another story. Beauty knew she had a good free meal every time she showed up. My parents took to calling her Butterball.

Eventually, I went away to college, then only saw the old dogs when I was home on breaks. A year after college, living in Boston, I got a call from my mother, “Beauty’s gone.” I will tell you, the only times I heard my mother cry were when the dogs died. She did not weep openly about her parents, or sisters, just the dogs. And then she boo-hooed. However, having pursued beauty all my life, I found a strange sweetness in the death of Beauty. She was one beautiful dog.


From Kelly Warren: TWO haiku/photo pairings!


Best Friends
Growing up so fast
They’re treasures beyond measure
Reaching for the stars

2) “If you look closely towards the middle right side, you’ll see a little ellipse of cloud poking out with a halo of green and pink around it. We were riding in the golf cart when I saw this, and I made my DH stop the cart. He couldn’t see it! I was so happy when it actually came through on film.”

Angel’s Halo
An angel’s halo lights the sky
Hands reach down to touch you
Like magic from above


From me (Miranda):

Simple Gifts
Beauty waits, clear and
patient, within silver threads
of the everyday


This week’s prompt: “Vacation”

Use the prompt however you like. All media are welcome. Please e-mail your entries to by 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday, August 5. The winning entry receives a $10 gift certificate to Writers should include their submission directly in the body text of their e-mail. Visual artists and photographers should attach an image of their work as a jpeg. Enter as often as you like; multiple submissions for a single prompt are welcome. There is no limit to how many times you can win the weekly contest, either. (You do not have to be a contributor to this blog in order to enter. All are invited to participate.) Remember, the point here is to stimulate your output, not to create a masterpiece. Keep the bar low and see what happens. Dusting off work you created previously is OK too. For more info, read the original contest blog post.

Congratulations, Lisa!

Lisa Damian’s nonfiction book, Trout Valley, the Hertz Estate, and Curtiss Farm, was released yesterday. Round of applause! From the publisher’s website:

John D. Hertz, of rental car fame, discovered Trout Valley (then a part of unincorporated McHenry County) in the 1920s. He built a mansion, barns, and polo grounds on the banks of the Fox River, calling his new country estate Leona Farms. Famous landscape architect Jens Jensen designed its scenic landscape, fishing streams, and ponds. Here Hertz raised racehorses, including two Kentucky Derby winners, and hosted Gatsby-like parties for the rich and famous, including Myrna Loy, Will Rogers, and Walt Disney. Eleanor Roosevelt was once a guest too. In 1943, Hertz sold his estate to Otto Schnering, of Baby Ruth and Butterfinger fame, who transformed the grounds from a lush playground to the headquarters of a 10,000-acre farming operation. Old-timers still remember Schnering’s six-pony hitch carrying joy-filled passengers down Main Street, the state-of-the-art livestock arena, and the trophy-winning cattle raised at Curtiss Farm.

Reinventing creativity: Keri Smith update

explorerIf you read my previous post on Keri Smith, you already know I’m a huge fan. (Cathy is, too.) Recently, Keri posted a lengthy entry on her blog entitled “truthful things about being an artist and a mother” — the second time that she’s delved into the topic, and this time much more in depth. Keri is new to motherhood, and obviously her experience will evolve as her child grows, but I wonder what everyone here thinks about Keri’s perspective. Does it resonate? Keri feels intensely — and I only wish I’d been as passionate back when I had my first child. I can certainly relate to this point, however (and it echoes with what Kelly wrote this week):

“…i get into the most trouble when I am clinging to ‘needing’ to get something done in the time frame that I want it to be done. It is a difficult shift to realize that you no longer call the shots. If I attempt to control how and when, I end up very frustrated. Even knowing this fact I still fight it constantly.”

For most creative mothers, the experience comes down to this mantra, I think:

“and i believe one of the best gifts I can give to him is to allow my own creativity to flourish. Not necessarily in the all encompassing way that it did before. now I have to shrink things down a bit to fit it into the time I have. But it is still a huge part of me and I am excited to share it more with him as he grows.”

Keri also annouced last week that she’s publishing a new book, How to Be an Explorer of the World: Portable Art Life Museum and posted a fascinating preview. The idea of mapping your creativity into the floorplan of a museum is totally genius. I’ve already pre-ordered my copy of Explorer, which will be released in October. I can’t wait to get my hands on this one — and I’ll blog on its arrival in the fall. I can only imagine that Keri’s work will, over time, more concretely address the issues that creative mothers face. Fingers crossed.

Cathy: Confession time

treeMy big goal for while my boys are visiting at their dad’s for a month is to work regularly on my youth novel. I moved it from the back burner to the front, I turned on the burner, I even stirred the pot a little. Instead of bringing it to the heady steaming boil, and really adding some spices, I turned the burner to low, and have been simmering instead.

What’s that old saying about the road to Hell? Ah yes, my road looks like this from The Monday Page last week:

this week’s goals: paper org, 2 contests, 1 blog, review and work on novel. at least 1 chapter, per 3 days. 5-10 pages each, kid novel, less ambitious than harry potter. more like a jerry spinelli or sharon creech. complete 2 by end of week. is this unrealistic with nursing baby and mil sitting in office with me?

So I re-read, check. I revised minute typos and grammar, check. I got caught up on storyline, check. Then I stared at one new paragraph about waking up on Thanksgiving morning for about 5 days straight. I bopped around the internet with the excuse that I was looking at how other creative moms squeezed in their stuff around family. I took the dog and baby C for lots of walks. I did bits and pieces of Wreck This Journal. I let myself get peeved about something about some of the time my boys are spending with their father and stewed that for about a day and a half. I took photographs on my walks. See evidence here. I even had some lovely scheduling advice from Miranda on The Monday Page, to help me with my goal. In the end, one paragraph does not exactly equal two five-ten page chapters. Then I remembered:

Baby steps. It’s been a long time since I worked on a large project. It’s been a long time since I actively thought about this particular project. I believe in an earlier blog, I mentioned admitting to myself that my creative production is a very difficult thing to schedule. It happens in its own time, no matter how hard I try to be a good doobie and write my lists, write my intentions and schedule down, what comes out seems to have its own pace and nothing I can do can force it otherwise.

Now the good part is that I have re-read it. I am swimming in the dream of what these characters are doing next. Through this website and the blogs by many of the creative women on this website, I am maintaining an open channel to my creative nature. I have a lot of thanks to give for that. Thank you. Now, let’s see how progress goes this week. I meditatively breathe out the fact that I did not meet expectations, which were after all, only mine. I breathe in the chance to do it again.

And I did complete two contest entries and this blog. My freelance business cards arrived, too. So there. Now, I’ll turn up that burner again. Maybe I’ll even write the serving of the Thanksgiving turkey this week.

Breakfast with Jean

I hope you have some tasty croissants on hand for this week’s Breakfast installment, because you’re going to want to surf over to Jean Van’t Hul’s blog afterward to stock up on great ideas for creative things to do with your kids. You’ll also love browsing through Jean’s terrific interviews with child-focused creative professionals. Enjoy!

CC: Please give us an intro to who you are, what you do, and your family parameters.
It’s funny how “who you are” changes so much, but right now I’m primarily a mama to one rambunctious little almost-three-year-old girl named Maia. I live with my husband and daughter in the mountains of western North Carolina where we garden, hike, camp, and generally enjoy the outdoors.

I love (LOVE!) art and especially love introducing it to kiddos, mine included. In my past I studied art history and studio art, and worked for an art magazine, as well as an art museum. But now I look for truly fun, generally process oriented art projects to share with children.

When Maia turned one, I started a Toddler Art Group, inviting other mothers with toddlers to join us for paint-filled messes and art explorations. We’ve been meeting for two years now, and I’ve also recently started offering an art class for toddlers and preschoolers.

CC: Tell us about your blog and business.
JVH: I started blogging 6 months ago as a way for me to focus more on the artful side of parenting as well as to share the art experiences we have with the Toddler Art Group. I want to parent in a way that encourages creative expression, imagination, joyfulness, and a love of learning. Blogging about it helps to prioritize that aspect of my life. And I’ve learned so much from the blog world and my readers and have been incredibly inspired by others’ ideas. It’s a world that I barely knew existed before I started mine, but one that I am glad I found.

As for my Etsy shop, I just fell in love with freezer paper stencils, stencilling almost every plain shirt in the house in a matter of days, so decided to branch out a bit and offer some for sale. I figured it would be a good way justify making more as well as pay for my crafting habit!

CC: You’re creative in many areas: writing and the many different art pieces in your Etsy shop. Can you give us an overview of your efforts in these different media?
Hmm… Let’s see. I love writing my blog. It’s been so much fun, and pretty much an obsession. I don’t think I missed a day in the first several months! After a beach vacation (and a little distance), I decided to give myself Sundays off as well as the occasional holiday. But really, blogging is fun! I love writing about what makes me happy and it would seem completely self-indulgent if I didn’t see from the comments and e-mails that I’m inspiring other parents out there to try more art activities with their kids and to be more artful in their daily life. And of course, I’m inspired in turn by all of their blogs and ideas and comments.

I also do some freelance writing. I first published an article in Mothering magazine a year ago about my Toddler Art Group and have since written a few other articles (mostly forthcoming). It’s such a different world from blogging. The turnaround time itself can be so s . l . o . w. But I’ve learned that you just have to have a different set of expectations.

As for the Etsy shop pieces, it’s nice to round out the in-front-of-the-computer work with a different sort of creativity. I’ve sewn since I was a little kid. My mom gave us needle, thread, and fabric from a very young age and when we were a little older, my sister and I shared a sewing machine. I stopped sewing as a teenager, but the nesting instinct kicked in when I was pregnant with Maia and I started again with blankets and quilts. For Etsy I mostly do a combo of stenciling T-shirts and sewing appliqués. I love pairing a stencil image with a print fabric and am currently enjoying the contrast of a girlie fabric with dump trucks and dinosaurs.

Sometimes it feels great to have so many different things going on, and sometimes I think I must be crazy!

CC: Where do you do your creative work?
JVH: I write at a laptop in our office, which was a third bedroom when we bought the house. Not too much to say about that room except that my wonderfully handy husband built a floor to ceiling bookshelf on one wall to hold all my books and magazines.

He also built the shelves in the art studio to hold our art supplies (tempera paint, paper, brushes, stickers, collage materials, countless bottles of glue, glitter, you name it) as well as some of my sewing and stencilling supplies. I sew at a desk in one corner of the studio, and recently made a wonderful hanging cloth organizer (from Lotta Jansdotter’s book Simple Sewing) to keep some of my supplies handy. The studio (which is really just a large laundry room!) looks out onto the backyard/garden and gets lots of sun, which I love.

CC: Do you have a schedule for your creative work?
Nope, no schedule. I grab the time whenever I can, whether it’s Maia’s naptime, late at night, or early in the morning, or somewhere in between. It’s not consistent, it’s not a lot of time, and it’s not ideal, but I do what I can.

I have two complete lifesavers, though. One is that my husband takes Maia to swimming lessons one evening a week and they go out with a friend or two from class afterwards—so that’s a decent chunk of time (during which I’m answering your interview questions). And I’ve also started swapping kids with friends. I’ll watch a friend’s child one day a week and she’ll watch Maia one day a week. A full day is such a luxury!

CC: What do you struggle with most?
Time. And feeling the need for a somewhat clean house.

CC: Where do you find inspiration?
My first instinct was to say media (books, magazines, blogs), but in truth, much of my inspiration comes from motherhood. As frustrating as it can be sometimes, and as starved for time as I feel sometimes, Maia is truly my muse. And not just that, but this new me—this mother that I’ve become—I really like her! Rather than sapping my creativity, I feel that motherhood has made me more creative. I love getting out the paint and encouraging two- and three-year-olds to splatter to their hearts’ content, I love making things for my daughter and for our home, and I love thinking of ways to make our lives a little more artful—whether that means shaping bread into teddy bear shapes, or taking a nature walk and finding leaves and flowers for a suncatcher.

CC: What are your top 5 favorite blogs?

CC: What is your greatest indulgence?
Chocolate and coffee. But really those are just everyday indulgences. I’d have to say my greatest indulgence is staying home with my daughter right now when I could be working and earning an income. Even though parenting is easily the hardest work I’ve done, it’s also so, so wonderful to be able to curl up on the sofa and read book after book in the middle of the day, or to cook something fun together. I get flak from extended family sometimes about staying home since we’re struggling financially, yet I still feel that I’m doing absolutely the right thing for Maia and for our little family.

CC: What are you reading right now?
I’m just finishing up Asleep by Banana Yoshimoto. I re-read all her books about once a year. I’m on a Japanese fiction kick right now. Next up is Snow Country by Yasanari Kawabata.

Other than that, I’m maxed out on my library card (as always). Some of the books I have out now, besides countless children’s picture books, are Simple Sewing by Lotta Jansdotter, Preschool Art by MaryAnn F. Kohl, Quilts by Denyse Schmidt, and The Ultimate Herb Gardener by Barbara Segall.

CC: What advice would you offer to other mothers struggling to be more creative?
JVH: If it’s a time issue (and it often seems to be), I think you just need to dive in and do it (whatever it is), time or no time—do it with your kids, do it during naps, make it a priority. If you wait until you have the time you’ll never do it and you may end up resenting those around you.

Also, there is so much inspiration out there if you just look! Get inspiration from other creative mamas, from blogs, from books…

CC: Many thanks, Jean!

Miranda: Choose your own creative ending

The following was inspired by Kelly’s recent post, which reminded me that I often struggle with the same issues over and over again. I figure out what works, then somehow “forget” what I figured out and find myself reinventing the wheel a few days/weeks/months later. So here’s a little lecture to myself. I thought I’d share, just in case there’s anything useful in here for you too.

The scenario (based on actual events):
A simple ambition: a trip to the park. It takes about 38 minutes to get out the door, but finally the 3-year-old and the 2-month-old are strapped into their carseats. The baby starts fussing before we’re even out of the driveway despite the fact that I just tanked him up before departure. During the 10-minute drive, I nearly break my arm off trying to reach behind my seat to rock the baby, who is increasingly frantic. When we finally get to the park, I squeal into a spot, leap out of the car, and extract the wailing baby from his carseat. I release the older child too, so that he can climb around in the car while I nurse his brother.

When the baby is sated and calm, I strap him into the front pack. I put hats on both boys, only to discover that my 3-year-old has pooped in his Pull-Up. I lie him down in the back of the minivan to change him. The baby, still in the frontpack, complains about being dangled horizontally during the process. Unfortunately I don’t have any more Pull-Ups in my diaper bag; just things for the baby and a couple of outgrown toddler diapers. I put a diaper on my son and he complains that it’s too small, and itchy on the sides. I notice that he walks a little funny. He’s not happy, but we make it to the sandbox.

The baby is still fussy; I’ve tucked a burp cloth under his chin but he manages to spit up all over both of us. In less than 6 minutes, the 3-year-old says he’s hot and wants to go home. We go back to the car and get a drink from yesterday’s water bottle. Before I can successfully convince my older child to stick it out for a few more minutes, the baby starts making pterodactyl noises and has a full-on diaper blow out, staining his clothes as well as my shirt. Second stint in the back of the car; I clean the baby and change his clothes. The preschooler still wants to go home. I feed the baby again. Then I strap both boys back into their seats and start the car.

Reaction option #1:
As I drive home, I can’t help but cry. My life is a continual struggle against a tidal wave of minutiae. My attempts to be a “good” mother are foiled at every turn. I have so little emotional margin that I snap at the kids for the littlest issues. I have no time to write. I have no time to exercise. I can’t fit in my non-maternity pants yet. I’m stress-eating bags of cookies when no one above the age of 2 is looking. My husband and I are adrift in the sea of separation that often arrives with a newborn. I’m exhausted. I’m overwhelmed and can’t deal with the fact that I really need to stop at the store and buy milk on the way home. And now my face is all red and puffy from crying.

Reaction option #2:
As I drive home, I can’t help but laugh. The morning was an exercise in futility, to the point of humor. But at least we got out of the house and enjoyed a few minutes of sunshine. The situation was a little stressful, but I kept my cool and didn’t yell at anyone or tear my hair out. Now we can stop at the store for milk, which I needed to get anyway. I call my husband to share the ridiculous story and a few giggles of commiseration.

How to increase the chances that your reaction will be #2:
As I noted in an earlier blog post, being creative on a regular basis is a natural stress reliever and perspective restorer. We know this. We know many things about how to live our lives with purpose and serenity. But, speaking for myself, it’s so easy to forget all those things that we worked so hard to learn. I CAN do a good job and feel capable and satisfied, but sometimes I forget that I’ve already figured it out.

The solution? Write it all down on one page. Create a mission statement. Make a list of the important things you’re doing, and why you’re doing them. Jot down your favorite mantras. Then, every morning, before you do anything else—or maybe while you’re brushing your teeth (tape the page to the inside of your medicine cabinet?)—read the page. The whole page. Read every word, take a few deep breaths, and remember who you are and what you’re doing. If at any time throughout the day you feel at loose ends, go back and read your page. Read it at night, too, if it helps. This is your centering point. Moi, I need centering.

Stay centered and be creative, wherever and however you can. You’ll be the mother you want to be, without even trying. (OK, there will be a little trying, but it won’t be as hard.) And maybe, just maybe, I won’t have to keep re-learning the things I know all too well.

So, today, I am going to take some time and create my centering sheet. If anyone is interested, I’ll be happy to share it.

7/23 Weekly creativity contest winner & new prompt

Wow! Lots of terrific creativity for last week’s prompt, “Chinese restaurant.” Difficult to pick a winner. In the end I had to go with a gorgeous image from Bec Thomas (check out Breakfast with Bec as well as her blog and website if you haven’t already). Congratulations, Bec! Your $10 gift certificate is en route.


From Cathy Jennings: “The chinese restaurant got me thinking about how i would like to go out to dinner and enjoy a cup of green tea in a beautiful cup.”

From Kelly Warren, a haiku and image pairing: “I collect ACEOs (art card, editions and originals) which are an outcropping of artist trading cards. If you aren’t familiar with them, the basic rule is that they must be the size of a standard playing card, 2 1/2″ x 3 1/2″. I created my first one for this prompt. Also my first Haiku! The Chinese letters are ‘Joy’ and ‘Love,’ top and bottom respectively. I’m not usually attracted to Asian art, but for a first try, I’m pretty happy with this! The stamps were in a very large collection of art supplies given to me by a friend who was moving and need to clear out some supplies. I’m having so much fun going through them all.”

Two Lovers Sitting in a Chinese Restaurant
Joyful hearts take flight
Lit by the lantern of love
Forever soaring.

From Cathy Coley, a poem:

chinese restaurant

my boys away
I thought I’d take my girl
out to our chinese takeout for lunch
four black tables in four white walls
sizzling woks behind the counter
red paper fortunes dangling golden coins
grandfather cooks
smile on his steamed face
heady onions and oil and chicken
and tofu and shrimp and beef
and peapods and mushrooms and bok choy
and sweet and sour and soy sauces
giant fat green jade buddha sits on the counter
ready to trade plastic swipes or paper money
for plastic containers and paper boxes
the best veggie lo mein in town

instead I heat up left over pizza
scarf it down
grab the stroller and the leash
walk my 2 girls around the neighborhood
the shiny black one pauses
to read her pee-mail at everyone’s lawn
the one in pink smiles and drools at me
we pause by the fingerlake
watch the ducklings skate along the surface
between mallard’s green head and mama’s mottled brown
a bullfrog croaks like homer simpson, doh! doh! doh!
dog’s pink tongue droops and waves
in the sweltering air
baby drowses fitfully and
I think of my boys
anchorless swimming motherless
through rowhouses in providence and
how they’ll fare needless of me in a few short years.

From Dana Thomas (welcome to Creative Construction, Dana!):

The Chinese Restaurant

Twenty years later, the words still roll off my brain each and every time that I feel a bit woozy after too many toddies: “You like a Shanghai Moon!”

I’d asked advice from the waiter who too zealously suggested the cool pretty blue drink with an umbrella.

He grinned with that top row of yellow, fanned teeth. “You like a Shanghai Moon. Twust me. You won’t wegwet it.”

What the heck, I thought, we’re celebrating our first date in five years since the boys were born. Bring it on!

It arrived all too quickly. I chugged it down like blueberry Koolaid on a hot afternoon. I ordered another.

The meal came and went, along with a few more Shanghais. I noticed the waiter peeking from behind the thin screen in the kitchen. He was still grinning. So was I. I tried to be romantic with my husband, looking deep into his two sets of eyes.

I should never have ordered rice–but who knew? Tasty going down; rough like metal pellets coming up. I spent the next day in bed, vowing never to drink anything that color again.

Now, when I’ve had a little too much to drink, my husband throws that grin my way and says, “What’s wrong, babe? You like a Shanghai Moon!”

But his teeth are straight and white…so I know I’m safe.

From me (Miranda), a haiku and photo pairing:

Chinese restaurant
I still believe in
the soothsaying truth and hope
of fortune cookies

This week’s prompt: “Beauty”

Use the prompt however you like. All media are welcome. Please e-mail your entries to by 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday, July 29. The winning entry receives a $10 gift certificate to Writers should include their submission directly in the body text of their e-mail. Visual artists and photographers should attach an image of their work as a jpeg. Enter as often as you like; multiple submissions for a single prompt are welcome. There is no limit to how many times you can win the weekly contest, either. (You do not have to be a contributor to this blog in order to enter. All are invited to participate.) Remember, the point here is to stimulate your output, not to create a masterpiece. Keep the bar low and see what happens. Dusting off work you created previously is OK too. For more info, read the original contest blog post.

Kelly: When Life and Art Meet Frustration

[Editor's note: The post below was written last Tuesday, but due to an admin error it's only getting published today. Apologies, Kelly!]

Funny thing just happened. It’s been one of those days. My secretary doesn’t really know it’s been one of those days, yet she just created and sent me this picture. Why has it been one of those days? It’s been one of those days because I yelled at my girls this morning. I rarely even raise my voice at my girls, yet I actually yelled at them this morning, out of sheer frustration I guess. Put me in the Worst Mama Ever category today. So far I’m not doing very well on the “savor the week with my girls” goal I put on the Monday page.

What caused me to lose it? I guess a combination of things really. Since my DH is working 12-16 hour days all week on a major plant project shutdown, I’m essentially a single Mom this week, a single Mom with a very demanding full-time job outside the home, a flourishing part-time business inside the home, and twin girls who will be five in three weeks. How do single Moms do it? And today is Tuesday, Water Play Day. Water Play Day requires that I goop up my girls with sunblock and swimsuit before we even leave the house, plus pack them a towel and extra change of clothes for the day. Oh, and don’t forget the money for shaved ice, Mom! Add to that the rest of the “must gather for the day” things that take place every morning and the long list of tasks awaiting me once I got to the office, and I was truly frazzled. Yet here I am talking to you.

That’s where the frustration must come out. As creative mothers, don’t we all have very lengthy to-do lists? Yet I keep adding things to my list, don’t you? The things that I want to do and the things that I must do sometimes completely crowd out the things that I absolutely must remember. What are those? Those are the reminders to stay sane. Those are the reminders to breathe and count to ten before I snap at my girls. Those are the reminders that my girls did not create my to-do lists. They did not commit me to participating in a Fat Book swap, they did not force me to procrastinate terribly on completing my calendar at work, they did not ask me to take the online Blackboard course, they did not ask for a dog for their birthday so they’d have to help take care of her, they did not even ask to play at Water Play Day. They simply asked me to love them. And I hope that those are also the reminders that it’s okay to screw up every once in a while…no, scratch that…it’s impossible not to screw up every once in a while because I am who I am. First and foremost, a living, breathing, emotional, creative creature who feels smothered when I can’t find that time for myself to create yet feel guilty when I spend time away from my children and family. So maybe Life and Art meet Frustration when we realize we simply can’t do all the things we want to do and be all the things others need us to be. So we must accept. I must accept. Accept things as they are and, just maybe, as they were meant to be.

So I go back to that list and try to remember why there is so much on it. I committed to the Fat Book swap because I want my girls to learn to take chances on new things like I do. I’ve procrastinated on my calendar because I’d rather go through the pictures we took on our family vacation. I’m taking the Blackboard class because I’d love to shift over to faculty full time to have more time with my family. We bought the girls a dog for their birthday last year so they could grow to love animals as much as we do while learning to take care of another creature. And about that Water Play Day? I selected that school for my girls for the growth it would provide them…emotionally, socially, spiritually and mentally. While I suppose there is a little selfishness in all that we do, maybe we all need to learn how to recognize the gifts we give our children by doing everything that we do. I’ll work on that. How about you? I think I’ll go look through those pictures again now….

Online Inspiration: Wordle

OK, I may be the last blogger on the face of the internet to post about Wordle. But I can’t help it; I have to jump on board. I’ve been playing with this toy for weeks now. Just for the benefit of those of you who haven’t read about Wordle elsewhere (there must be two of you!), here’s an intro.

Jonathan Feinberg at IBM created this addictive little toy. Wordle creates graphic word clouds using any text or RSS feed you enter. The size of each word is dependent on how frequently it appears in the text; graphics can be randomized or reset according to orientation, color scheme, and font.  Everything you create with Wordle can be used however you like (even for profit) under a Creative Commons attribution license. Paste in some text and see what happens. Here’s what I came up with when I pasted in my personal life mission statement (it’s seven years old but it still fits):


life mission

And here are two different examples of what you get using the Creative Construction feed (click on the images for a closer look):

Creative Construction
Creative Construction

Apparently we use the word “house” a lot! I think this is a result of our recent “My mother’s house” prompt, since the possessive “mother’s” is also showing predominantly in the word cloud.

You could use Wordle images to create all kinds of things. I’m thinking holiday cards…If you play with Wordle and come up with something cool (and I think it’s pretty much ALL cool!) save it to the Wordle gallery and paste a link to your design in a comment below. Ah, the beauty of words….

Online Inspiration: Creative Mom Podcast

Last week I happened across the Creative Mom Podcast:

“The Creative Mom Podcast started in June of 2006. The goal of the weekly show is to provide a creative talk show filled with good creative discussion and inspiring music for creative moms (and non-moms and artists and creatives of all types) to listen to for a feeling of community, understanding, and inspiration. The format for the show is fairly organic and changes often, but staples of the show include creative projects with kids, artist notes from the week in review, journaling ideas and suggestions, book reviews, blog mentions, weekly prompts, and, sometimes, creative non-fiction essays.”

Episode #104 includes a review of Danny Gregory‘s Creative License: Giving Yourself Permission to Be the Artist You Truly Are, one of my favorite books. The podcast’s music selections may or may not be to your taste, but you might enjoy listening to a few episodes while you’re cooking dinner, folding laundry, or commuting.

Amy Cowen, the creator of the Creative Mom Podcast, also has a blog, Threaded Thoughts:

“At Threaded Thoughts, I’m tracking, tracing, mapping, and recording the many overlapping, intersecting, often-gossamer strands of motherhood and creativity that define me. From black and white to Technicolor, from lace weight to bulky, from watercolor to pen and ink, I’m following a path with no clear map other than an internal compass and the ever-changing lens of personal vision.”

Enjoy and create!

Breakfast with Jen

Sit back and enjoy this week’s installment of “Breakfast,” the Friday series that introduces an inspiring, creative mother from the blogosphere and gives us a behind-the-scenes peek into her life & art. I originally “met” Jen Johnson when I surfed onto her blog and got hooked. I clicked over to Jen’s Etsy shop Baby Friendly Beads. I couldn’t help myself — I placed an order for a beautiful “nursing” necklace and reminder bracelet.

When my package arrived (Jen had clearly shipped it out on a Saturday morning within an hour of receiving my order), it was truly like receiving a gift. Jen cares a lot about presentation. Not only were my items wrapped in gift paper, but along with several beautifully produced promotional cards, she had enclosed a bag of mother’s milk tea. Everything in that box — especially the jewelry, of course — was sent from the heart. While I had thought that this little splurge was a gift to myself from myself, I suddenly felt like I’d received a gift from Jen. Enjoy the interview below; it’s a gift from Jen too.

jen johnson

CC: Please give us an intro to who you are, what you do, and your family parameters.
I’m the mama in “Mama’s Magic Studio,” a wife, a feminist, a poet, a teacher, a domestic goddess. I write, raise my kids, and make beautiful things, including Baby Friendly Beads.

I have been married for more than 11 years, and we have two children: a 3-year-old boy and a 1-year-old girl. I currently have the great good luck to be able to stay home full time with the kids. Before becoming a SAHM and starting my own business, I taught high school English and college composition.

CC: Tell us about your jewelry making, and how your enterprise came to be. Any other creative pursuits?
I make Baby Friendly Beads, Jewelry for Breastfeeding & Beyond, nursing necklaces and reminder bracelets to help moms (and babies) with some of breastfeeding’s challenges. I created my breastfeeding jewelry to meet my own needs as a nursing mother: when my son was about 6 months old, he started yanking my hair and pinching my skin while he nursed. When I researched the problem, I learned that it was extremely common, and I discovered several folks making nursing necklaces to help keep baby’s hands busy in a more appropriate fashion. But I couldn’t find the perfect necklace — I wanted something adjustable in length, with beads that could slide on the cord, and most of all I wanted something beautiful — so I decided to make my own. I also started making reminder bracelets, as a more discreet alternative to massaging myself in public to figure out which breast was “next” for a feeding. bf_bubbles_applesauceMoms in my playgroup loved the idea of my Baby Friendly Beads, and everything started to fall into place once I heard about Etsy (which was still in Beta mode when I joined, back in February 2006) and opened up my Etsy shop.

I have many other creative pursuits. I’m a bit of a crafting addict, and I am in the midst of opening a second Etsy shop and a general website, Mama’s Magic Studio, where I’ll be featuring other results from my crafting adventures. You’ll find jewelry, accessories, beadwork, mobiles, and who knows what else. In the past, in addition to my beadwork, I’ve made baskets, created hats, sewed quilts, and knitted scarves. Some people have lists of places they want to see before they die; I have an ever-growing list of crafts I want to try: papermaking, bookmaking, candlemaking, spinning, felting, silversmithing, throwing pots, working with glass (especially making my own beads!), sculpting polymer clay, crocheting, sewing from a pattern…

These days, most of my creative energy goes to crafting (mostly beading), but writing is closest to my heart and speaks most to my creative spirit. I’m a published poet. Since I was 19, I’ve kept a journal in one form or another; now, I blog. I’m currently working on several children’s book manuscripts. While I was pregnant with my son, I finished the draft of a novel, an achievement of which I’m proud and a process which I enjoyed, but also an end result that made it pretty clear I’m not meant to be a novelist at this point in this lifetime. Lyricism? Absolutely. Plot? Not so much.

During the last three years, since the birth of my son in 2005 and my daughter in 2007, it has been extremely difficult to get the time and focus necessary to court the muse. She isn’t silent, though, and I’m still taking notes. I have every confidence that in the future (hopefully sooner rather than later) I’ll be writing more regularly again.jen's studio

CC: Where do you do your creative work?
I work in a cherished corner of the bedroom, on a little purple desk that my husband made years ago.

CC: Do you have a schedule for your creative work?
Once upon a time — before kids — I did. Now, I fit it in where I can, doing a bit here and a bit there. Beading is good for that, which is a large part of why it is my craft of choice right now. I get a good block of daylight work time about once a week, and I also work a lot after the kids are in bed.

CC: What do you struggle with most?
Time and energy. Until very recently, I was still night-nursing with my daughter, waking with her several times a night. Sleep deprivation makes it very difficult to get through the day, much less to be creative. Caffeinated creativity is something, but it’s not my preferred work mode. I’m only now paying down enough of that sleep debt for creativity to really flourish (which is why I’m only now starting up “Mama’s Magic Studio,” an idea I’ve had for some time). And of course as a SAHM to a one-year-old and a three-year-old, most of my time goes to mothering and family responsibilities. I’m very lucky to have a supportive husband who has a flexible work schedule; without his help, I wouldn’t be able to do a fraction of the things I do!

CC: Monkeys: How much does guilt factor in your life?
Guilt is definitely a big monkey on my back, a hairy creature with a tenacious grasp and an unpleasant odor. I deeply value and absolutely need the time that I take to be creative, but because that time must often be carved out of family time, it is difficult to shake off the guilt. Even when I do, the smell often lingers. I’m usually up late working, not spending the time I’d like to spend with my beloved husband. At least once a week, most weeks, jen's studio 2he watches the kids for a chunk of time during the day so that I can work. He’s happy to do it, and quite competent at it, but I often feel guilty about it. It seems an innate response for me, which is frustrating. But then I feel guilty about the frustration, guilty that I can’t just let it go…

I’d like to repeat a story that I sometimes share when guilt comes into the conversation. I have a very vivid memory from kindergarten: sitting at my little desk, head down, sobbing silently. Somebody in the class had done something wrong — I no longer recall what it was — and the teacher had punished the entire class by holding us in from recess, making us put our heads down, telling us we’d stay that way until the guilty party ‘fessed up. I was crying because it seemed to me that if I was being punished, I must have deserved it.

Nature or nurture? Who knows. (Really, it doesn’t matter, though I’m sure a therapist would have interesting things to say about all this.) What matters most to me is what I can learn from this memory: first, I have a longstanding tendency to feel guilty, even when I’ve done nothing wrong; second, I am longer that little girl. I can shake that monkey off. It takes work and energy, and the damned creature creeps back so quietly sometimes that I don’t even notice at first, but the awareness of his presence does wonders.

CC: Where do you find inspiration?
My children are the direct inspiration for my Baby Friendly Beads. It was very inspirational to breastfeed them for as long as I did (14 months for my son, 16 months for my daughter) and their antics gave me lots of great ideas for breastfeeding jewelry. Other sources of inspiration: poetry, nature, popular culture… I’m working on a line of earrings named after a Judy Grahn poem, and another named after a popular feminist quote. I love echoing the colors and sensations of the natural world in my creative work.

CC: What are your top 5 favorite blogs?
I’ve only recently begun to explore the wealth of the blogosphere, and finding time to read online is difficult. Several of my favorite blogs belong to friends who have made them private. But some public ones I check regularly are:

CC: Just for you: What is your greatest indulgence?
Etsy! It’s a huge indulgence to browse through the abundance of beautiful handmade things, and every once in a while I treat myself to something. I also love to go thrift store shopping.

CC: Library: What are you reading right now?
Middlemarch by George Eliot, The Essential Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks), Trish Kuffner’s The Arts & Crafts Busy Book: 365 Art and Craft Activities to Keep Toddlers and Preschoolers Busy.

CC: What advice would you offer to other mothers struggling to be more creative?
When I find myself struggling (more than usual) with creativity, I find that often the problem stems from focusing more on product than process. I get my knickers all in a twist because I’ve not beaded enough necklaces that week, not written enough blog entries, not made enough progress with my children’s book manuscripts. When I’m worrying about “enough,” I know that I’m in trouble.

reading“Enough” stifles the creative energies, diverts the flow into anticipation and judgment. Being creative requires being in the moment, letting the energy flow as it will. Don’t worry about the result.

This is easier said than done, of course, when the kitchen floor is sticky and the sink is full of dishes, and when mom only has an hour (if she’s lucky) to devote to her own creativity. All too quickly, that hour becomes extremely significant, and there can be enormous pressure to use every moment in productive activity. If there isn’t a clear product to point to when that hour is up, the cycle gets more vicious the next time another precious hour presents itself. (And sometimes that sets the monkey to howling: of course I should feel guilty, if I don’t have anything to show for the time I just took!)

I think, too, that part of the challenge lies in the fact that motherhood is extremely process oriented. So many of the things we do to take care of kids and home have very little tangible, permanent product to show for our efforts. It’s so easy to get caught up in the doing, even to resent the time and energy it takes: the dishes will need to be washed again; the diaper will need to be changed again. For me, this can be one of the most frustrating parts of motherhood. Sometimes my inner voice protests, Can’t anything just stay done?!? (And if it did, just think of the time I’d have instead to work on my own creative endeavors!) If there aren’t many permanent end products in our daily lives as mothers, it can create even more pressure to make the most of our creative times, even more pressure to worry about end results instead of enjoying getting there. But ultimately, this is just another monkey howling and hanging on.

How to shut these apes up? I find that when I can be in the moment as much as possible, life is so much more joyful. I’m more creative in every way — with my own creative projects, but also with my interactions with the kids and with the challenges that inevitably occur while caring for them. (It’s a Zen thing, I suppose, and I’ve yet to have it work fully on changing poopy diapers, but my I’m truly happier when I’m simply taking pleasure in each moment with the kids — merely for the sake of the moment, whatever we happen to be doing.) And when my designated creative time comes, I find that when I can cherish the process and trust my own creative impulses, the product takes care of itself more often than not. I try to keep in mind Jan Phillips’s words of wisdom from “The Artist’s Creed” in Marry Your Muse: “I believe that what truly matters in the making of art is not what the final piece looks like or sounds like, not what it is worth or not worth, but what newness gets added to the universe in the process of the piece becoming.”

As mothers, we are very familiar with adding newness to the universe; we are directly responsible for birthing and/or nurturing new lives, bringing them into being. Motherhood and creativity go hand in hand, but not all creative pursuits work easily with the demands of motherhood. If you find yourself “struggling to be more creative,” perhaps you might consider letting your creative energies take shape in another medium for a while: for example, if you usually write, try a kinesthetic craft. In my case, the shift from extended writing projects to blogging and crafting was extremely liberating. It has helped me follow Rumi’s advice: “Hear blessings dropping their blossoms around you.” Value creativity wherever it can take root in your life, and you’ll inevitably see something start to sprout. Give it the sun and water it needs in the form of whatever time and energy you can give. Be kind to yourself if that time and energy is less than what you’d like. Don’t worry that it doesn’t seem “enough.” Creativity, once rooted, is a persistent, weedy thing. (That’s why so many of us struggle with it, I think; we try to turn the weeds to roses.) It might not be what you expected, but it’s fascinating to watch it grow!

CC: Such important points. Thanks so much, Jen!


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