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Archive for September, 2008

Kristine: Hurry Up And Wait

When I quit my job to work at home as a freelance writer, I did so with much trepidation. It was a huge risk. While we had the security of my husband’s paycheck to sustain us, the loss of my full-time salary did made a dent in our financial situation. For three months, I didn’t bring any money in. I sent out resumes and approached potential clients with the hope that something would come in. Thankfully it did. My leap of faith turned out to be the best decision I ever made in my life, and I’m grateful for every day that I’m able to do the work that I do.

I attribute my success in launching my freelance career to two things: determination and patience. The determination part was easy. My desire to work at home was so intense that I was willing to sacrifice a lot in order to get there. The patience part didn’t come so easily, and it still doesn’t.

I read a book several years ago called ROMANCING THE ORDINARY by Sarah Ban Breathnach. In fact, I liked it so much that it still resides on my bookshelf. One of the chapters has special meaning to me because it has to do with the concept of waiting, a skill I don’t perform very well. Several sentences in the chapter were particularly insightful.

Waiting is not punishment, bad karma, or lousy luck, although at any wretched moment while you are waiting it feels that way. The truth is that waiting is when the magic happens. Waiting is the mystical space between the dreaming and its coming true. Uncertainty, not waiting, is the enemy.

It seems as if I’m always waiting for something or someone. Waiting for artwork or text to come in from columnists to meet my deadline. Waiting for the doctor to call me back about my daughter’s blood work results. Waiting for the scale to move back ten pounds. Waiting for the day when I can finally declare that I’ve finished my novel.

I guess it’s true that good things come to those who wait. I mean, we all waited nine months for our darling babies to be born and look how that turned out, right? ☺

Charlotte: Introducing myself

Having said a while ago that it seemed to be the polite thing to do to introduce myself properly, by the time I figure out how to do a blog post AND think of something pithy and beautifully composed to do the job, I will probably have spent months clogging up the Monday page with “comments.” So I’m asking Miranda if she could put this up for me, in case any of you might have wondered who this stranger amongst you with a blue patchwork face might be. (I rather like my piece of patchwork.)

I’m Miranda’s cousin, living in London; we’re about the same age and have never actually met, but are going to soon, because (re)discovering this blog and marvelling at how disciplined you all manage to be in making (and using) time for your own creativity while also managing households and children has finally spurred me into action. I’ve set aside a few weeks to come over to the States for a “writing retreat,” which Miranda’s mother has generously agreed to provide and police! I’m hoping this will result in something a bit more concrete than just a few pages of scribbles, though right now it feels as if it would be a step forward just to get into the habit of having a sensible timetable and writing a little every day. I need to create a pattern that I can continue back home. This is often hard for me for reasons that are not child-related, more to do with having to do a lot of work of different kinds at very erratic times.

Like most of you, I’m also a freelance juggler. “Journalist, editor, translator, actress, writer” covers most of it, I think. That’s what it says on my tax return, anyway, or does when they manage to fit it all in the box. The journalist bit means I am often working odd days and odd times — sometimes nights, sometimes very early mornings, and always very long shifts. The actress bit is fun, but in practical terms means that I might, like this summer, be away on tour for months, constantly on the road and exhausted. It also should mean that I focus on trying to get work when I am not working — or indeed when I am — which is much harder work than the working itself. I quite like translation in small quantities, and I only really translate interesting articles and stories, so that’s nice — but not really very creative (yes, yes, I know — but it’s not the same as I don’t do the actual writing). Editing (there is too much of this) drives me crazy, but it’s regular and pays the bills, and I get to take it with me wherever I need to be — which is good, but means it tends to pull my focus away from the more creative stuff, like acting — and writing.

Writing has always come last, because it’s something I want to do for myself rather than something I have to do for someone else or to pay the bills; and also because it’s something that, like most things that are really worthwhile, doesn’t come easy. I used to write constantly when I was young; I’d written two novellas by the time I was 14. Then at some point I stopped completely — probably around the time I started studying literature and literary criticism, and learned to express myself on stage instead. I forgot that I had ever been a writer until someone asked me about my writing, about 20 years ago now — and I found that, while I could still craft pretty paragraphs, I couldn’t finish anything. I felt — feel — that I have both nothing and too much to say.

However, in the past 3 years I’ve written two books for children (age range 10-13) for the series I also edit. They’re bilingual English-German (narrative in German, dialogue in English). I’m fluent in German, but I’m not bilingual. I found writing in it incredibly liberating, as was writing a children’s book which was intended to be good, but not great literature. Suddenly the pressure to be perfect was off! There was no way it was going to be perfect, or expressed EXACTLY as I envisaged it. I was writing in a language that wasn’t mine, wasn’t my primary medium, one in which I was supposed to be extremely proficient. I was allowed to make mistakes. I was able just to tell a story, for fun, without trying to make every sentence into some kind of intricate piece of jewellery. I had a great time; the characters started talking back and doing things on their own, and the story just poured out without a problem.

So now I need to work out how to do the same thing in English, without despising what I am writing for being insufficiently brilliant or beautiful or perfectly crafted. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the making of any and every excuse not to sit down and do the thing we really want (or say we really want) to do… Fear of failure or fear of success? Fear of the terrible blank page, or fear of having too much to say and getting it wrong? All of these, perhaps… In any case, being on tour this summer has taught me that while I like to be doing different things, I definitely need to be more focussed on acting and writing, whereas at the moment the scales are heavily weighted towards editing and journalism. I have to do something about this, before even more time slips by. Oh, and after a lifetime of never being very bothered about money I have also suddenly realised that you need money to buy peace and quiet. (ALL Londoners have noisy neighbours.) Since I always forget to buy lottery tickets, my only hope of ever making any money is to write a bestseller. Well, they say you should always aim high…

Jenn: Running and Writing

Hi all, it’s been a while since I’ve posted.  Summer was crazy with teaching, then my daughter, parents, and I spent 3 weeks in very remote coastal Maine and New Brunswick.  No phones, no internet, no tv, bliss.  Now I’m back in the swing of things, and the textbook is progressing rapidly.  I have 20 chapters total, and have submitted 10 of them in final draft form to the publisher.  The next 10 are transitioning quickly from rough to final, and I anticipate getting the whole thing in by the end of the year.  Yay!  It’s been so much fun to write this book, and I feel like it’s made me a better teacher as well.

The frustrating thing is that I don’t feel like my publishing company and editors have been giving the book enough time and attention.  The editors keep saying they’re going to be sending along comments soon, but nothing ever comes.  I am trying to be patient, as my rough draft deadline isn’t until July 09.  They may not have budgeted time this soon to spend on my project.  But the other concern I have is that this company doesn’t do the promoting that some of the big companies do.  When I told my representative at a big company I do a lot of business with that I am writing this book, she just about killed me for not asking her company to publish it.  I think it would sell MUCH more with that firm, but I’ve already signed a contract.  Does anyone have any idea how to navigate these waters?  Can one get out of a contract?

Also, I’m still running like crazy, last weekend I ran a 5K on Sat and a 1/2 marathon on Sunday.  I don’t usually do 5K’s, because my rule is to never run a race it takes longer to get to than it does to run.  But this one was sponsored by the University where I’m employed, and it was very close to my house.  I ran it too fast, which made the run the next day quite painful.  But it is the 1/2 marathon I wanted to write about here. It was the Maine Coast 1/2 Marathon, and only women are allowed to enter.  There’s a “significant other 5K” and one man, chosen from a lottery, got to run with us.

It was a spectacular race, highlighted by the fact that Kathrine Switzer was the emcee.  She has the distinction of being the first woman registered for the Boston Marathon, and many people recall the photos of Jock Semple (race director) attempting to physically yank her off the course once he found out a “girl” was running his race.  She’s since ran several marathons, and now organized races and does a lot of event speaking.  She’s written three books, and was signing and selling books at this race.  I purchased “Marathon Woman,”  which was a great book for the first two thirds.  By the end, it started to read like the acknowledgements section… too many names, dates, places, and races that stopped being as riveting as the first half of the book.

But Kathrine Switzer is a great example of a sort-of mom (a stepson entered her life fairly late in his teenage years) who is able to balance work, writing, running, and family magnificently.  She’s 62 years old and looks about 45.  She’s slim, solid, and exudes happiness and grace.  She also wrote “Running and Walking for Women Over 40,” which is a great starting book for those wanting to get into the sport.  I find that my best ideas are hatched while running, and my best actual writing is done immediately after running… all that oxygen in the brain.  If I’m ever stuck on something, even a quick 2-miler is guaranteed to free up any writer’s block.

Kelly: Is the Universe Speaking?

…And just what the heck is she saying? I have two close friends who are big followers of the principles in the book The Secret. If you’ve been under a rock and haven’t heard of it, the basic premise behind The Secret is that if you open yourself up to it, the Universe will bring you what you need. Okay, so I admit, I haven’t read the book, and I’ve thought it was a bunch of nonsense. I’ve always believed you create your own luck and drive your own fate. But lately I’ve been wondering if there’s not something to this Universe stuff. Back in July, I talked about When Life and Art Meet Frustration, basically the struggles I have with time in holding down a full-time job (or two), raising twin girls, and trying to live a creative life. In that post, I talked about a couple changes I was considering, one of which was shifting from full-time college administrator to full-time faculty.

So here’s where that pesky Universe thing comes in. Off and on over the years, I’ve considered joining the K-12 teaching ranks. Now that my girls are in school, that’s starting to look more and more attractive. Working their schedule would be quite lovely, not to mention those summers off, and furthermore, teaching at their school would make my life a very sweet piece of key lime pie compared to the hectic schedule I deal with now. A couple weeks ago when I emailed my girls’ teacher about Sarah’s little smarty pants reading display I talked about here, I also told her that I was considering making a move to K-12 and asked her if she knew anything about the alternative certification program we offer here in Florida. She replied why yes, “I was the professional development facilitator for the alternative certification program last year.” Okay, maybe there’s one point for Madame Universe. Last Wednesday we met and talked about my background and how it might benefit me in a switch like this (“Oh, I think you could bring so much to the children!”).  We also talked about what she felt her challenges were as a K-6 teacher. Sure, there are a few, but apparently at this school, not many, as she said, “We have such a great culture here, and I can honestly tell you, it’s not like that everywhere.” The school is an “A” school. She suggested I sit in on some classes to see what it was actually like and directed me to make an appointment with the principal to schedule the visits.

So off I went to the principal’s office to make an appointment. “Oh, she’s available now!” said her secretary. “Would you like to talk with her?” Two points for the Universe?  I wasn’t quite prepared for that, but told myself what the heck, since I’m already here, I might as well. Lovely woman, Principal Johnson. We talked easily, and I told her my thoughts. We discussed my background and what would be necessary for certification. “Given your background, there’s a good chance you could simply take the General Knowledge exam, pass it right away, and voila! You’re certified!” Hmmm…interesting. She started making some suggestions on classes I should visit and then stopped mid-sentence. “What did you say your master’s degree is in?” “English.” “Hmm, I have a 4th grade English and Language Arts teacher going out on maternity leave in December, and she’s decided to become a stay-at-home mom and will not be returning.” Okay, did Madame Universe just offer up a slam dunk, here? Seriously! What are the chances that (1) my girls’ teacher was the professional development facilitator for the program last year, (2) the principal just happens to be available to talk, and (3) said principal just happens to have an opening coming up in my subject area? And just for a few more giggles…the teacher who’s leaving? Her last name is Nelson. My maiden name? Nelson. And guess whose class my girls’ teacher’s daughter is in? Yep, you guessed it. Ms. Nelson. Do I need to go read this darn book?

Now to toss a different crouton onto the salad….I’m down a staff member and will start interviewing to fill that position soon. Today, I reviewed all the applications. I have 32. Nearly two-thirds of them are current Duval County school teachers; nearly two-thirds of those are current Duval County elementary school teachers. Are you catchin’ what I’m layin’ down here? (Sorry, I work with college kids…sometimes that stuff just comes out. :-)  First, I have that danged Universe concept potentially throwing open the doors for me, and then boom! She throws me a curve ball. Why do they want out when I’m thinking about going in? Is this just a “grass is always greener” scenario?  So what gives? Fill me with your knowledge, my friends. I’m open to advice! I’m spending the day in Ms. Nelson’s class on Monday.

Breakfast with Allison

This week’s Breakfast date introduces us to Allison Strine, the artist, blogger, and mother otherwise known as Elizabeth Beck‘s best friend. If you’ve ever doubted your creative path, read on. Prepare for an omelet of reinforcement and inspiration!

CC: Please give us an intro to who you are, what you do, and your family headcount.
My name is Allison Strine. I’m a wife, a daughter, a sister, and a mommy, and mostly I’m one of the luckiest people on the face of this Earth. It’s a bit ironic, considering the fact that for first 30-odd (and they were odd) years of my life all I wanted was to be someone else, anyone else. I never thought of myself as having a single creative bone; instead I delivered pizzas, worked with horses, and later became a television editor.

CC: Tell us about your collages, jewelry, and what’s up in your Etsy shop.
AS: Okay, I totally stumbled onto being a “real” artist. I had spent several years being very involved in the scrapbooking and altered arts industry, focusing solely on doing work for publication. I really loved seeing my work in print, especially in highly regarded mags like Cloth Paper Scissors and Somerset Studio. After a while, I started feeling like I was losing myself, doing work that I thought editors might like, instead of listening to my art heart inside. So after a short art break, I whirled through a spurt of creating highly personal little figures that talked. Since they were part lady and part bird, I came up with the brilliant moniker of LadyBirds (I know, it’s shocking, but true). A friend mentioned Etsy as a possible outlet for me, and I started a little shop. It wasn’t easy to shush the “what-if-no-one-buys-them” naysayer inside of me, but I’m so glad I did! That was about two years ago, and now I’m proud as can be to be one of the top selling artists on Etsy. LadyBirds are also sold to almost 100 girly gift shops and galleries all across the country, and I’m lovin’ it!

LadyBirds were born from a desire to bring joy and some healing feelings to my little world, all on an artist’s canvas. First, I make a colorful, textured, layered background, the kind that you have to look at closely to see everything that is there. Kind of like me! Using patterned tissue papers, transparencies, specialty papers, paint, and whatever else I can get my hands on, the background comes to life. When that dries, it’s time for the next step.

I like to let each LadyBird evolve of her own volition. There are so many negative messages sent to women about our bodies, and it is important to me that they are made of all shapes, from massive silhouettes to pencil thin bodies, and their skin and feathers come in every color imaginable. The whole process is so random that I marvel every time a finished canvas looks right to my eye. I’ve been known to blindly reach for paint colors, thumb through odd catalogs, and play a game to see if I can use something from the mail of that day in each piece (thank you Pottery Barn). I am big on recycling, and this makes me feel better about all that junk mail!

Each piece is a tiny world of detail, colors, sizes, and shapes that emphasize inner beauty and individuality. When the LadyBird is finished, I look to see what she’s saying. I’m listening for that quirky, sometimes-irreverent, sometimes-touching, but upbeat message that most of us think — but never think to say about ourselves. I want to make art that sends a positive message to my daughter about what it means to be a girl, to help her to understand that she is much more than what others see on the outside.

CC: What prompted you to start a blog? What keeps you going?
When I finally called in a website designer, it was important to create a site that changes frequently, to keep the look fresh. So the home page of my website is actually my blog, and although I find myself showing the artwork that I’ve spend money on more than anything, it’s still fun!

CC: You came to art later in life than some. How did you discover your artist self?
If you’d told me five years ago that I’d become an artist, and create collages that actually speak volumes to people, and sell my work to lots of women all over the world, well…you better believe I would have thought you were crazy! I’m learning so much about myself during this phase of my life; chiefly that I really do have my own voice, and that lots of people feel the same way I do, and that that I’m not the only one to go the whole day without putting on a bra!

CC: Where do you do your creative work?
: Ahh…I’ve taken over a huge hunk of our basement. One section is for my studio, with a couple of big tables, and bookshelves for supplies, and my new favorite thing — an idea board that takes up the whole wall. Love it love it love it! I also have a big “factory,” as my helper Lisa and I jokingly call it. It’s really a corner of the basement dedicated to storing LadyBird items like soldered pendants, prints, magnets, and greeting cards. There’s a soldering station set up for creating new LadyBirds, and of course a shipping section!

CC: How has motherhood changed you creatively?
Start with the fact that I never thought of myself as creative, or an artist. But when my Olivia, age 11, turned about 2, I discovered pottery. Oooh, the feel of the clay, the challenge of trying to throw a pot, I fell in LOVE. I think I’ve figured out that I have a bit of an obsessive personality because I soon found myself with a potter’s wheel and enough clay to keep me and Olivia busy all day. After Ethan (now 8 years old) came along the clay went away to be replaced with crayons and Play-Doh for a couple of years. Now, I love that with my basement studio, there’s a place for my kids to comfortably paint, and draw, and do rub-ons, and bead, and do clay, and make a mess! If only I could train them to clean up after themselves. Actually, if only I could train ME to clean up after myself!

CC: Do you have a schedule for your creative work? How do you manage to fit everything into your busy life?
Considering that I’m writing this at 11:19 pm, when I’m *supposed* to be long asleep, you may not think I’m great at the big juggle. Heh… Most weekdays Lisa and her two dogs join me and my dog in the morning. After a visit with Lily the guinea pig, Lisa starts with creating items for shipping while I do the correspondence and Etsy work on the computer. That’s why it’s extra great for me to paint with Elizabeth — if I don’t force myself away from the computer, I can spend the whole day working with my images on the computer, and doing LadyBird business stuff.

CC: What do you most hope to accomplish with your artwork?
It’s so funny — I feel like I’ve accomplished far more than I ever would have expected two years ago. On the one hand there’s no WAY that I’m satisfied, and realistically there’s only so much time and energy available for me to spend on LadyBirds. Part of me really wants to go after licensing my work, and part of me thinks I don’t want to spend the time doing even more business-ey non-art stuff. I really want to be featured in a national magazine, but at the same time I’m not submitting press releases. I don’t know — is it wrong to say that I’m just letting the winds sway me?

CC: Where do you find inspiration?
I think inspiration is everywhere, from artists whose work I admire to the colors of the blouses in Chico’s catalogs. But really, the best inspiration is my art pal Elizabeth. She and I paint together at least once a week, and I recommend that kind of inspiration to everyone who’s pursuing a future as an artist. We bounce ideas off of each other, we push each other, and we motivate each other to keep creating and growing in our art.

CC: What is your greatest indulgence?
What an oddly difficult question! I actually feel like my whole business-ey life is my indulgence. If it weren’t for an incredibly loving and undemanding husband (“the house looks fine, honey, we don’t need to have the laundry folded”), and relatively low-maintenance children I would never be able to spend my days in LadyBirdLand!

CC: What are you reading right now?
I’m all over the place with my books this week. Okay, here’s what’s on my night stand right now. I just finished the autobiography of Gordon Ramsay, a tough guy chef who knows how to work as hard as necessary to get what he wants — I admire that ethic. I’ve also got a book about the last Russian tsar — for some reason the story of Nicholas and Alexandra has always enthralled. There’s a Magic Tree House kids book, and for me, the childhood classic Wind in the Willows.

CC: What advice would you offer to other mothers struggling to find the time and means to be more creative?
Find that time, girls! The laundry doesn’t have to be perfect, and you are worth it! Make yourself happy with art!

CC: Thank you, Allison!

Inspiration: A Year of Mornings

The photo blog 3191 is a daily pairing of photos taken by two friends, MAV and Steph, who live 3,191 miles apart — one in Portland, OR, and the other in Portland, ME. (Read my previous blog post about this treasure trove). The friends have just published their first book, A Year of Mornings. I received my copy this week and it’s beautiful.

Cathy recently noted that she can pick up just about any book and flip to a random page to find exactly what she needs to read at that moment — and I think this book serves that purpose beautifully. Bravo.

Karen: Intro

Karen Winters headshot

Karen Winters, creative journeyer

I’d like to thank Miranda for welcoming me so warmly to this blog as a co-author.

The topic of fostering creativity is very near and dear to me, and I’ve spent my whole life in some kind of creative profession or pursuit. Art was a first love in my early years, but somehow I got put into the “writer” pigeonhole because I seemed to have an affinity for it. After UCLA grad school in journalism, I went to work for an ad agency as a writer. Somewhere into year six of that career I found I was taking all my vacations to work on documentary projects with my husband, so I made a career change and learned how to produce and write for that medium. Excitement, expeditions and Emmys followed. As time passed and the digital era dawned, I learned how to do computer graphics for our productions, which led to publishing an aftermarket book on Photoshop. By this time the circle had started to close and art was once more a major and beloved part of my life. More time passed and with our children launched into college and careers, I revived my passion in art and I am now a mostly full time fine artist. I’ve taught and managed creative people, mentored others and love to demonstrate and teach whenever I get the opportunity. These days I can most often be found doing plein air painting, being a part of the daily painter movement, studying art or getting ready for shows and competitions. My daily art blog is called A Creative Journey because for me that’s what it’s always been about. It’s not a goal but a never ending journey that brings constant challenge and satisfaction. I love to meet fellow travelers and to learn from and share with others. Thanks for letting me hang my creative hat here.

9/24 Weekly creativity contest winner & new prompt

Smell something tasty? Have a peek at what came in for this week’s creativity contest prompt, “dinnertime.” Clearly, not necessarily everyone’s favorite time of day! Our winner is Cathy Jennings. Cathy writes: “Something different from me this time. I don’t consider myself a writer by any means but ‘dinner time’ was something I needed to write about.” Cathy wins for her highly readable personal essay — and for pushing into less comfortable territory (writing). Congratulations Cathy! Your $10 gift certificate is on its way.

Ian around a year old at the table expressing some frustration.

Ian around a year old at the table expressing some frustration.

Dinner Time

Like most people I never really thought about dinner time until I was hungry. As long as I liked it, it didn’t really matter what dinner was – pancakes, burgers, soup, whatever. It was all good. When I was pregnant the only problem was that I wanted more dinner. But that wasn’t so unusual. Enter Ian, my first and only child.

Dinner time was and is completely different for him. And now mine is, too. Ian spent most of his infancy screaming and projectile vomiting. Ian has acid reflux, food allergies, anemia and asthma (because the rest of the list is not enough). When Ian’s diet needed my attention, I naturally starting thinking more deeply about food. Dinner time became a lot more complicated.

Ian takes medication for the reflux, supplements for the anemia, and has a special diet for the allergies. On top of these challenges that would make anyone iffy about eating, he is 5. An age that is still very close to the picky preschool preferences about food. Can it get any more challenging?

I see my job as getting him to eat and to stay healthy. How do you feed a restricted fuss pot? What foods aggravate reflux? Are they the same foods for everyone? How do you make bread without wheat? What can he drink if he can’t have cow’s milk? Why is corn in everything? What foods are high in iron? What foods combined with iron make it more absorbable? Will certain foods and supplements interfere with the medications? What do we do about constipation? Are there animal crackers for my kid? What about candy? How do we handle social situations with food? Do we need to see a feeding therapist or is what he is doing normal?

My head swims with questions like these all the time. I am pretty sure there is a part of my brain that processes this stuff without my being aware of it. I have been educating myself in nutrition; become a pest at the pediatrician’s and pediatric gastroenterologist’s offices, and thankfully they don’t seem to mind. I joined an awesome message board for parents of kids with food allergies. I read books about food and the food industry. I have a knowledge of food that unnerves my family…..they don’t want to know what “modified food starch” or “natural flavors” can be. As a Christian, I get oddly excited about the Jewish holiday Passover because many of the Kosher for Passover foods are safe for my son. I go down the Kosher for Passover aisle at the store and fill my cart with candies, marshmallows, juice boxes, applesauce and fruit cups, and junky looking cereals. Our Jewish pediatrician thinks I am funny and laughs about this. She won’t think it’s so funny when I scoop up stuff she was looking for at the grocery store. Passover foods are only available once a year. Those are my marshmallows!

What to serve for dinner is always on my mind. I make a weekly menu with notes about snacks, things to make from scratch or buy at the health food store, Trader Joe’s, the regular grocery store or the farmer’s market.

I have a really big cook book collection. It was bad before I needed to buy books about gluten free baking and allergy cooking. Now it’s really out of hand. The Amazon bucks I have won here have funded my cookbook habit. I have cookbooks on general cooking, Italian, Mexican, Julia, Jacques,  Marcella Hazan, Rachel Ray. Then we move into vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, cupcakes and the list goes on. There is also a loose stack of recipes from wonderful moms on the allergy board in similar situations. Those are pretty much no-fail recipes.

Dinner time has a lot of thought behind it.

Most of the time I try to make a meal that we all can eat. Wheat/gluten, soy, corn and dairy free. Did I mention that my husband has problems with tree nuts? We avoid those, too. And it has to be reflux friendly (I’m a refluxer, too)….so no obvious tomatoes or firey foods. There is still a lot you can eat avoiding those things but throw in the 5-year-old fusspot factor and the choices drop. Ian’s favorites are burgers, roasted chicken, baked potatoes, homemade fries, steamed broccoli and cauliflower, homemade chicken nuggets, gluten-free pizza with rice cheese and the reliable hot dog. He also likes pasta with olive oil and nutritional yeast. When  Ian is on a vegetable strike, I try to sneak pureed veggies into his burgers. Sometimes it works and other times it doesn’t. There are nights when we all eat different things because I am pmsing and I HAVE to have mac&cheese, or General Tso’s chicken with pork fried rice and an egg roll. And my husband has to have his pizza while Ian is happy to go on with a burger and fries. I really hope he wants to try some other things soon so we can broaden the family menu.

And I’m sure this is not the end of the journey with and about food. But to end this on a happy note, Ian was just weighed and measured at the pediatrician’s and he has grown an inch and gained 3 pounds in the last three months. All this research is helping.


From Charlotte, a poem. Charlotte writes: “Well, yesterday I was feeling proud of myself, remembering that my appointment would take me near the British Library, and taking my laptop with me in search of a nice concentrated atmosphere in which to work on the radio play. After 2 hours I was getting absolutely nowhere, not least because everyone around me was chatting, talking on the phone, discussing forthcoming exams… apparently those ‘Silence please’ notices in libraries are a thing of my long-lost childhood. To cap it all, at 6pm a string quartet started up in the atrium, which was charming if somewhat inappropriate. I find it very difficult to work with noise at the best of times, and I really do need silence to ‘hear’ the play in my head, especially as it’s radio. So instead I decided to write whatever came out in response to your competition prompt while my brain was not really able to focus — and also not able to edit/gatekeep! I don’t usually allow less-than-perfect, which of course explains why I have hardly written anything in years. Anyway, this (with a little tinkering) was what emerged and I’m going to send it now before I spend days picking at individual words…”


trays on our knees around the goggle-box
(dining room’s Sundays only, “it’s too dark in there”)
Grampa likes the Two Ronnies
Granny’s not so keen
but i don’t get the half of it
pushing peas around the plate, i’ll eat fish fingers, salmon too
any other fish a no-no
(“what is this, Granny?” “salmon. eat it.”)
Grampa’s delighted roar – slaps his knee
(“hear that one, Babs?”), repeats the joke
Granny, one raised eyebrow, feebly smiles
double entendre is really not her thing.
she has a sense of humour, though.
“you liked the fish?”
“yes, salmon.” never saw her smile so wide.
“silly girl. that’s not salmon. salmon’s pink.”
she’d always told me every fish was salmon
and i would eat it.
programme over, time for bed
tray to the kitchen and then straight upstairs
to other stories, other gentle lies
never the blatant gunfire of the news.


From Elizabeth Beck, a cinquain and a photo. Elizabeth writes: “I should write this out and frame it in my kitchen ….. it is frequently my truth ….. if you go to this photo on flickr you can scroll your mouse over it and read about what’s what on that mess of a table…..”

is not ready
nor is it even close
spent the day in the studio


From Cathy Coley, a poem. Cathy writes: “i hate to even enter this.  i was not inspired.  we tend to suffer through dinner on a nightly basis.  who wants to revisit that?  but i tried to have fun with it anyway.”


This one is yelling or humming or mom,mom, moming.
That one in arms fussying, how can cook?
Oldest one groaning about helping or about what’s served,
I am NOT eating that again.

This one has diabetic, calorie-counting diet,
lactose intolerant, and food allergies,
That one has lactose intolerance, and only likes what he likes.
I am vegetarian with other food allergies.
Soy is not an option for the lactose people, either.
They are the meat eaters.
This is just the adults.
Oldest is just plain picky,
Middle screams about it, but will grudgingly eat.
Baby is attached to my breast,
Pulling the plate or placemat off the table,
And kicking me.

I am breaking up a fight between the older two.
I am pleading for insults to stop, the screaming, too.
Now I’m yelling, too,
But just to be heard in the din I’m trying to stop.
Mother-in-law is generally suffering through the noise in silence,
But today’s anxiety meds are wearing off and we can see it on her face.
Honey is groaning about the noise. I’m telling middle child to be quiet,
have another bite, not the bread,
the chicken, tofu dog, or pasta fagioli,
Put down that bread.
eat a carrot, a bite of kale, have another green pepper slice.

Take your dishes to the sink,
Take your dishes to the sink.
I said, take your dishes to the sink.
Can I please have a tropical vacation?


From Bec Thomas, a photograph. (Ed. note: maybe this is the solution to difficult family dinners?)


From Erin Coppin, a poem (welcome to Creative Construction, Erin!). Erin writes: “Here is my very quick response to the prompt this week. I kept the bar low, like you asked!”


I can sense your mood turning as I frantically prepare.
The whining starts to etch itself on my eardrums.
Malingerers refuse to wash their hands.
After seven mintutes you want to get down -
Half a plate mashed, half a plate waiting.
So, it begins. ‘Three more mouthfuls of this and two of that.
That wasn’t a mouthful. No, come on…’

When I am done I just want to hide.
Is this how I want our mealtimes to be?
Is this ‘manners’ I’m teaching you?
Or the beginnings of an eating disorder?
‘The child seeks attention through refusal of food.’
Why do I put us through it?
Because although it doesn’t feel like it works this way
It doesn’t work any other way either, as far as I can see.

How can I lift the mood at the table?
I just sit there exhausted from getting you into your chair
Without actual soil on your hands.
I’m already dreading the long job of tidying up.
I don’t want to lift the mood. This is familiar, this is what mealtimes always felt like.
My dad made us all sit in silence some nights, not speaking.
Hey, at least I let you eat with your hands.
At least I don’t make you clear your plate.
At least you can speak and play and sometimes we enjoy it.
Let’s see how we get on tomorrow.
Maybe we will have a picnic after all.


From me (Miranda), a haiku and image pairing. While I was trying to get a few good photographs, my family grew impatient to eat. My husband decided that my still life needed a little help from him (see  below). I realized that he’d totally encapsulated what dinnertime is like at our house — and that creating a “still life” at my house during dinnertime was a pretty silly idea. Our dinners are punctuated by colorful conversation (politics, personal issues, bodily functions — you name it) and an array of sometimes-clashing personalities.

Dinner Chez Nous
Irreverent and
loud, nothing is off limits
and laughter is balm



This week’s prompt: “The notebook”

Use the prompt however you like — literally, or a tangential theme. All media are welcome. Please e-mail your entries to by 8:00 p.m. eastern time (GMT -5) on Tuesday, September 30. 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.

Online Inspiration: Your creative foundation

From the blog Art Slam, a great post full of inspiring ideas:

If you want to sustain your creative life, you have to lay down a firm foundation. You ever notice how easily you make excuses for why you can not be creative? You know the ones; you are too busy, you have to take care of the family, this is silly, you are not creative, blah, blah, blah… Well, dismiss them. Making time to feed your creative side is important. We all need a little time to play, relax and return to center. By using the following tips, you will be well on your way to establishing your creative life.

Read it here.

Online Inspiration: How to write

Charlotte sent in this suggestion, from her side of the pond. How to write from the UK’s Guardian: ongoing advice on writing fiction, poetry, and comedy. Lots of good tidbits and resources. Enjoy!

Cathy: Goldberg Gratitude


In my original post on this website, I blogged a tiny reference to Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. Now, I know if you’re a writer, you’ve most likely read this, and if you haven’t, I more than recommend it. This book changed my life as a writer. You must read it. I believe it is a great book, even if your Art lies in any other genre. The sole purpose of this book is to put your creativity to work as a spiritual practice. Really the book has many purposes, but for me, this is the most important aspect.

I remember, as a kid, someone recommended I pick up the Bible and flip it open any time I needed spiritual guidance, or daily as a spiritual practice because, whatever snippet you read will guide you for the day and be exactly what you need. Now, to some, I will sound sacrilegious in saying: I’ve discovered that I can flip open virtually any book and find what my spirit is looking for at the time I read a bit of any writing. But it is especially true for this book. A dear friend insisted I read it nearly ten years ago, thrust it at me as a gift over eight years ago, and I’ve been flipping it open nearly every day since then. Thank you, Joe Gallo. I may not always have followed the guidance I received from Goldberg, but with her nearly daily reminders I have lived with at least the feeling that I am a writer. I am a person who marks up books when I find something particularly meaningful. I underline passages, dog-ear pages, write exclamation points and notes in margins. I gave up doing so in Bones because the whole darn book would be underlined, margin noted, covered in exclamation points and every page would be double turned at the corners.

There are certain passages I read repeatedly, unintentionally, because, these are the passages I need the most. Recently, I discovered a passage I hadn’t read in a while that I felt was appropriate with recent posts — especially Bethany’s — and comments — Charlotte’s on the Monday Page — and what I especially need to hear for myself of late as I commit so fully to writing my manuscript as I’ve never done before. I am still full of self doubts and guilt for family and income, but I keep telling myself, I have to write if I am to call myself a writer. Here are the words that jumped off the page at me:

…I had a year and a half off to just write. I never could find a rhythm that worked longer than four or five days. I tried writing from nine in the morning to one in the afternoon. That worked and then it didn’t. I tried two to six. That was good for a while. Then, whenever I wanted to write. That was okay, on and off. Each week I varied my schedule. I had the opportunity to try all times of the day and night. Nothing ever became perfect. The important thing was never to give up the relationship with writing, no matter how many different tactics I may have tried….Think of writing as though it were breathing. Just because you have to plant a garden or take the subway…you don’t stop inhaling and exhaling. That’s how basic writing is, too.

I never can find a daily rhythm that works for me. But getting into regular practice lately has shown me that my most inspired times seem to be Tuesdays and Sundays. Why? Beats the hell out of me. Having said that, this past Tuesday was spent staring at my open manuscript document, so even that elongated rhythm isn’t full proof. I’ll just put it down to my love of jazz, of syncopation. Heck, I can’t sing the ABC song straight in 4/4 time, and Baby C doesn’t want to hear it that way either, when I try. But I am writing as I breathe. It’s with me when I walk the dog, when I drive S to tae kwan do, when I ask K to unload the dishwasher, when I’m nursing Baby C, when I’m thinking it’s been ages since Honey and I have had time to ourselves, and when I am yelling for the TV be to turned off for the umpteenth time in a day.

Then, in the same chapter, Natalie Goldberg reminds me:

I know…working with my tired, resistant brain is the deepest I’ll get on the earth. Not the joy or ecstasy I feel sometimes…but the nitty gritty of my everyday life and standing in it and continuing to write is what breaks my heart open so deeply to a tenderness and softness toward myself and from that, a glowing compassion for all that is around me….So, it is very deep to be a writer. It is the deepest thing I know. And I think, if not this, nothing — it will be my way in the world for the rest of my life. I have to remember this again and again.”

And I have to remember this again and again, too. I know it sounds ridiculous on some level. I know we all make fun of people who walk around saying, in an unbearably pretentious tone, “I am an Artist!” There are plays, movies, all kinds of Art that warn of this particular pretense, which frankly, makes me cringe. Then I ask, why does it make me cringe so? Is it because I am at heart an artist who feels I am not serving my Art? When I am not serving my Art, I am not serving my spirit. When I am not serving my spirit, I am not living well for myself, my family, humanity or the planet. Then yes, I sound ridiculous, too. But doesn’t the Truth often sound absurd? Okay, so now that I’m out on this limb of ridicule, I might as well walk the walk, and not just talk the talk.

Shutting up now, so I can write. But one last mallet over the head: if you haven’t read this book, read it. If you have read it and it’s been a while, read it now, especially if you’re struggling to squeeze your art into your life. Every morning I pick it up, I get a little thrill, a little aha!, a little fire under my butt to write, to create, to look at the world in which I live a little more closely, from a skewed angle, and to write.

Breakfast with Kelly

Guess who’s coming to Breakfast? Our own Kelly Warren! Blogger, jewelry designer, collage artist, guitarist, singer, photographer — Kelly is a renaissance woman in creativity. With twin girls, a menagerie of pets, and a full-time job, there isn’t much that this creative mother can’t do. Raise your glass of OJ in salute!

CC: Please give us an intro to who you are, what you do, and your family headcount.
KW: By day, I’m the college-wide coordinator of Student Life and Leadership Development at a very large community college in Florida. We are the second largest community college in the state and in the top 15 in the country in student population. After hours, I’m a jewelry designer and all-around-just-like-to-play-with-art artist, mom, and wife. I have a very supportive husband of 13 1/2 years, twin five-year-old daughters, one dog, one newly rescued baby kitten, one grouchy old cat who’s not very happy about the new kitten, two clown fish, two starfish, and depending upon whether or not we’ve been to the sandbar recently, anywhere from 5-20 hermit crabs. Hermit crab races are a big deal at our house. [Read about Kelly's silly self-portrait session.]

CC: What prompted you to start blogging? What keeps you going?
I’ve always loved to write, I’ve always loved art, and I’ve always loved creating things myself. A blog seemed to be a way to bring all that together. I already had a website for my jewelry business, so the blog was a natural extension. My blog has definitely morphed and grown as I’ve gone along and it still takes different twists and turns depending on what’s happening in my life. I blog about my latest creations, life with twin redheads, and fun art finds I stumble across. I’m the team leader for the North Florida Craft Revolution Etsy Street Team and the founder of the First Coast Art Spot, so I love to meet and promote other artists on my blog.

CC: Tell us about your jewelry making and any other creative pursuits. What’s in the offing at your Etsy shop and your own online store?
I’ve always done some sort of “creative” work, whether for fun or for employment. I started designing jewelry while I was home on a six-month maternity leave with my girls. I wanted a mother’s bracelet and could not find a double strand for less than $100, so I decided to teach myself how to make one. From there, I just got hooked, and I’m totally self-taught through trial and error. I have both a website and my Etsy store, and I do juried arts festivals. Lately I’ve been playing around with mixed-media collage and have been really enjoying that medium, so some of those pieces may appear in my Etsy store and on my website soon. And I’ve always loved photography. I really need to update my Flickr site!

CC: What does “creativity” mean to you? How has motherhood changed you creatively?
I think creativity is really a state of mind. You don’t have to be an artist, a writer, a photographer, a seamstress, whatever, to be creative. You just have to look at things with a creative eye. From that perspective, you can bring creativity into any and every aspect of your life, from how you create your grocery list and navigate the grocery store (my girls and I often create a game out of that mundane task) to redesigning your pantry once you get those groceries home to creating a new meal at the end of it all. For me, motherhood has brought out even more of my creativity because I’m able to share it with two little people who also want to play. They get me thinking about new creative ideas I can do with them, and the three of us can get lost in my workshop for hours playing with paint and paper.

CC: How do you make time for your creative life and blogging with a fulltime job and twins?
KW: Geez….that’s the million-dollar question for me. It truly is difficult, probably because I have two qualities that really trip me up. I’m borderline Type-A. My guitar teacher and I discussed this at length last night and he says I’m in denial. :-) There’s no borderline there! I do know how to sit back and relax when needed, though. (Yet, somehow I’ve just become the president of my sorority alumnae chapter here in town and I’m still trying to figure out how that one happened…must have been a meeting I missed!!) I tend to mistakenly believe that I can take on yet another project — because it sounds like soooo much fun — along with everything else I’m already doing. The mammoth Fatbook Swap I’m currently participating in is an example of that. Add to that the fact that I’m the world worst’s procrastinator. If I have a show looming, invariably I’m up late, late, late every night the week before cranking out jewelry pieces for the show. You’d think I’d plan ahead, but then all that other fun stuff just pops up! But somehow it just all comes together. Do I get everything done I’d like to get done? Heck no! But I’ve learned that sometimes it’s just more important to sit out on the dock with DH and the girls and watch the dolphins go by. I’m getting much better at learning to live in the moment.

CC: Where do you do your creative work and blogging?
I am blessed! When we built our house, we initially did not close in the ground floor (we live in a stilt house). After a few years, we closed in one side of it for a real garage, and after another couple years, we closed in and air-conditioned the other side for a workshop and playroom. That’s really where we spend most of our time now. My workshop is about 8′ x 12′ with shelves and bench space all around. It’s wonderful! Now I just have too many supplies! We also created an art bench adjacent to my workshop for the girls since they were starting to take over my space. The rest of the space includes a flat-screen TV and comfy couch for DH to hang out and do guy stuff. As far as the blogging aspect, I have my laptop in my workshop for quick stuff (and entirely too much distraction at times), and a larger desktop upstairs in my office, which is conveniently located just outside the girls’ room.

CC: What do you struggle with most?
Simple answer: TIME! Just finding the time to do everything I want to do.

CC: How much does guilt factor in your life?
I think the guilt factors in with my jewelry business more than anything else. I show in 8-9 juried festivals a year, so that means DH is home alone with the girls all those weekends. Add to that my work travel, and that “being out of town so much” guilt weighs on me. It’s a catch-22 there; we’ve invested so much into my business to get it started, and now that it’s doing well, I feel I have to keep it up, but the time factor involved brings about the guilt.

CC: Where do you find inspiration?
We have three historic districts here in Jacksonville, and I love to take photographs around there. I love the color combinations on many of the old Victorians in these areas, and they crop up in my jewelry. My art inspiration sometimes comes from the Creative Construction weekly prompts as well, and I can spend hours flipping through art magazines!

CC: What are your top 5 favorite blogs-the ones you check every day? (Aside from Creative Construction, of course!)
Well, there are lots more than five that I try to keep up with but if I can only pick five….. Wyanne Thompson, Elizabeth Beck, Kelly Rae Roberts, Ink Stains, Creative Every Day, and Scoutie Girl. Wait, that was six…

CC: What is your greatest indulgence?
Without a doubt, art magazines. I subscribe to more than I’m willing to admit and love nothing better than to curl up on the couch and read stacks and stacks. Of course, I never get the couch to myself or the solitude to do that, so that means I just keep a couple in my tote bag for work and sneak away every now and then. My favorites are Cloth Paper Scissors and anything and everything by Stampington & Co.

CC: What are you reading right now?
On my Chi Omega book club list…The Time Traveler’s Wife, Me Talk Pretty One Day, and Water for Elephants. My most recent favorites have been The Memory Keeper’s Daughter and The Mermaid Chair. I also just got around to The Secret Life of Bees and loved it.

CC: What advice would you offer to other mothers struggling to be more creative and find time for their art?
Wow, not sure I’m a good one to give advice since my life seems to be so chaotic! But if anything, I guess it would be to embrace the chaos when it happens, try to remember what really matters, and take a breath to live in the moment. And dolphins….I highly recommend having dolphins in your backyard. They are excellent stress relievers. :-)

CC: Thanks, Kelly. Whatever you’ve got, we want some!


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