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Archive for February, 2009

Breakfast with Nina

So glad that you stopped by for our latest Breakfast installment! And you’re going to be glad too: Meet Nina Johnson, clothing designer, blogger, and single mom of two. Nina’s commitment to her creative life — and her ability to make it happen — are a huge inspiration. So whip up a fruit smoothie and enjoy!

nj1CC: Please give us an intro to who you are, what you do, and your family headcount.
Let’s see…some know me by NeoSewMama. My given name is Sha’Nina — although most everyone calls me Nina. I’m a 29-year-old funky, vegan, urban hippie, rockin’ a nose ring and a curly red ‘fro, who designs clothing, sings way too much, and spends most of my time making the lives of those around me lovely. I’m currently living in my hometown of Portland, Oregon, which just so happens to be the metropolis of everything funky, vegan, indie, and Earth conscious…therefore I fit right in!

nj2I am a single SAHM to two beautiful and full-of-life little people — Jade, 6, and Myles, 3. I also have a special guy in my life who we call Buckets, that I spend as much time with as his busy college football coaching job allows (long-distance relationships aren’t for the faint of heart).

My journey as a SAHM began when we learned shortly after birth that Jade had a rare condition called VACTERL Association. She spent 3 1/2 months in the NICU, had countless surgeries (open-heart, diaphragmatic hernia repair, TEF repair…just to name a few) and once home, required my around the clock TLC. nj3Although she has long-lasting medical issues, Jade has made remarkable strides from where she once was.

A few years ago (after becoming a single mom and having Myles), I began providing in-home daycare so that I could bring in some extra income and remain at home with my children. About 10 months ago I realized that the long hours and stress was putting too much of a strain on our little family, so I quit and decided to pursue my clothing designing on a more full-time basis.

CC: Tell us about your creative work and what’s on the offing in your Etsy shop.
Although my true love creatively is clothing construction, baking and crafting with my children come in a close second and third.nj4 I can and will make just about anything. Lately I have been focusing a lot of time on learning (and mastering) dyeing, printmaking, crocheting, knitting, and weaving. I used to think it was bad that I was so all over the place with my creative interests. I now know that it’s great because it expands the possibilities of what I can create.

My goal is to incorporate all of these various mediums into my clothing creations as embellishments. My dream is to build a complete line of clothing and accessories and to successfully maintain a boutique of my own. Right now, my etsy shop consists of a few hand-dyed items and a handful of my favorite vintage finds. Over the next month or so I plan to introduce many new designs…mostly one-of-a-kind pieces for spring and summer.

nj5CC: What prompted you to start a blog? What keeps you going?
I originally decided to start a blog as a project of sorts with my best friend and sister, Ki. We are inseparable (even though we live thousands of miles away and didn’t grow up with each other) and are ALWAYS finding things that we can do together. We thought blogging would be a good way to document all the things happening in our lives and provide a visual scrapbook not only for the two of us to share, but also something that we could show our children someday. Gradually it grew into much more than that as I found it becoming a part of me…my voice. As a single, stay-at-home mom with very little family and few friends, I spend all of my time with my children. There is only so much that I can share with them…meaning there is not a lot of deep, intellectual conversation being had here. So a lot of my thoughts and ideas where being stifled. I have found that blogging is just a new form of the journaling that I have used as an outlet throughout my life. I’ve also met so many wonderful people blogging. I feel blessed to have made many lifelong connections through the blogging community.

CC: Do you find that your blog keeps you “honest” creatively? Meaning that you have a place to state your intentions — and that you need to keep producing work in order to have something creative to blog about?
I do believe that it keeps me honest creatively…just not necessarily so that I have something to blog about. I mean I do believe that mentioning my works in progress helps keep me motivated somewhat. I’m a firm believer in the idea that we speak things into being. So once I state it there…and can visually see it, I am much more determined to see it completed. As much as I am blogging to share my creations with others, I am also doing it to encourage myself.

nj6CC: Where do you do your creative work?
I do most of my creating in our living room/dining room. I began working in a small space I set up so that I could work while watching the kids play. My work has now spilled over to the dining room table (it has a larger cutting surface area). I have also created a dye “studio” in my basement in which I spend quite a bit of time as well. I want to move my work elsewhere so I can feel better about leaving things messy, but that will have to wait…more than likely until we move into a bigger place.

nj7CC: Do you have a schedule for your creative work?
I have a schedule. I even went as far as setting alarms into my BlackBerry to stay on track. It worked for a while but as of late we have had a lot of distractions and illnesses that have really curtailed things on the creative end. Since I’m at my best in the morning, I try and spend the first two hours back home after dropping Jade off at school blogging, e-mailing, picture taking, packaging, fabric cutting and/or sewing. From noon til 8:30 it’s pretty much mommy duty. After the kids are in bed I try to fit in as much sewing and dyeing as I can before I pass out (which lately has been well before 10 p.m.).

nj10CC: How has motherhood changed you creatively?
My journey through motherhood has pushed me to pursue my creative endeavors with much more passion. I was originally planning to go to college for fashion design right after high school. But for whatever reason I thought it was impractical, so I put my interest in clothing design aside and focused on becoming a teacher instead. I packed away my sewing machine and let it sit collecting dust. After many, many years of always putting everyone else’s needs first and going out of my way to make sure everyone else was happy, I made the choice that it was time to do something for me. I rediscovered my first love…sewing.

nj9CC: What do you struggle with most?
NJ: My biggest challenges are time management and staying productive. There is hardly enough time in the day to do all the things that I need to do, even less to do all that I should do and NEVER enough to do all that I want to do. I have tried many tactics — some that have worked better than others (lists and prioritizing), but it continues to be a struggle. I want so badly to be able to become more productive as far as my shop is concerned. I have very small blocks of time to work within, so a dress that I should be able to finish in day usually takes me days (sometime a week) to complete. I know there is a solution…I just haven’t discovered it yet.

nj11CC: Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration everywhere…literally. Playing outside with kids. The colors in ads or product packaging, old movies, African and Japanese culture, magazines, people on the street, blogs, the way my daughter puts her clothing together, vintage fabric, my imagination…the list goes on. I sketch out ideas as I get them…sometimes in my sketchbook other times on napkins, receipts, bills, or on whatever I have near me at the moment.

CC: What are your top 5 favorite blogs?
Just five? Hmmmm…this is hard. I’ll have to do the first five that come to mind…

  1. Quejimenez — my sis
  2. Fly
  3. Heart Handmade
  4. Jubella
  5. Puhti

nj12CC: What is your greatest indulgence?
Indulgences…another hard question. It used to be fabric and magazines but I have cut both my fabric and magazine buying drastically in the last year or so. I’d have to say that drinking tea or coffee in the morning before the kids wake up…and again at night after “cuddle time” is over is something I like doing just for me. The occasional pint of Ciao Bella Blood Orange Sorbet or a movie via Netflix (when I can stay awake) is always a lovely treat. With all that said, my most favorite thing — hands down — is spending time being silly with my children. Our singing/dance parties are much more lively than any nightclub could ever be.

CC: What are you reading right now?
I’m always reading something. There are stacks of books all over my house to prove it. Never been much of a novel person. I was always that kid reading biographies and home improvement/how-to manuals…which is probably why I can figure out how to make just about anything. The books I’m currently dragging from room to room are: Donald Trump’s Think Big and Kick Buttocks (I don’t use the real word), The Unschooling Handbook, The God of Small Things, Ralph S. Mouse (with the kids), Fast Knits Fat Needles and a constant source of reference is Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth.

nj13CC: What advice would you offer to other mothers struggling to find the time and means to be more creative?
I know it sounds like the obvious, but be creative when and wherever you can be. As a single mama with very little help, I’m almost never alone. If I waited for free time to create it would never happen. I find things to do that are portable and take them with me to Jade’s doctor’s visits, to the park or anywhere else we go. It may take me a bit longer to finish things, but at least I’m continually creative.

Although creating for self is great, I believe making time to create on a daily basis with your children is just as important. Teaching kids to be creative at an early age helps open them up to self-discovery and gives them methods in which to express themselves. It puts the power to dream in their fingertips.

nj8It’s never too late to learn a new craft or skill. I’ve always wanted to learn to crochet or knit but could never quite get the hang of it. I had come to the conclusion that maybe it just wasn’t for me. But after Jade learned to knit from a kit she got last Christmas, I was determined to pick up a pair of needles myself. I’m happy to report that since then I have not only taught myself to knit, but I have also figured out crocheting and we have made a weaving loom as well. I guess I’m trying to master all the fiber arts.

Last but not least, NEVER let anything or anyone keep you from expressing yourself creatively. There have been many setbacks and detours in my life that at times had me questioning whether or not I should pursue my creative endeavors. But to suppress that desire would be to deny all that is within me. And what good are you to anyone — yourself, your family, or society — if you aren’t your authentic self? I have known from a very young age who I was meant to be and what I wanted to do with my life. I am not settling for anything less than living this dream. Don’t stop until you have become the you that you see in your dreams!

CC: Love, love your advice and perspective, Nina. Thank you so much!

Brittany: A Half-Finished Life

The first time I ever saw Hungarian embroidery was the first time my new host mother took me on a tour of Pécs, the town where I would be living for the year. It hung in the window of the local souvenir shop, a cheery beacon in the newly post-communist landscape. It was the only thing cheery in town. In 1995, inflation was rampant, new construction had halted, the economy was in turmoil, the people downtrodden. It was everything you imagined in your worst Cold War nightmares. And I had just found my 18-year-old self in the epicenter of the once-communist block, without a single word of Hungarian, homesick, and slightly panic-stricken. I had just seen the house next door insulated with hay. Hay! And never mind the next-door neighbors who, when their house was condemned, moved their farm animals into the living room. I truly thought I was going to die in that godforsaken, backwards, barnyard-animal-in-house-dwelling world.

The embroidery stopped me in my tracks. “What is that?” I asked my host mother. “I want to learn how to do it.”

That weekend, my host father took me to the market, where I perused stalls of crisp white tablecloths covered in blue dye patterns. I chose one that didn’t look too complicated, as well as needles and embroidery thread, and headed home to my host mother and my first lesson.

The embroidery kept me sane during my first months in Hungary. When I was bored, I embroidered. When the family watched TV that I didn’t understand, I embroidered. I used it to wind down at the end of the day, to appear more social than I felt, as a way of connecting with a foreign culture. finembroidNo one objected at all to the exchange student who sat quietly embroidering all day. And the more I fell in love with embroidery, the more I fell in love with Hungary.

It took me the entire year, but I finally finished that first tablecloth the week before I came home.

I have struggled to finish another one ever since. This week, while doing some early spring cleaning, I ran across two more I had started, but never completed. They were wadded up in a ball in the furthest reaches of my closet. I had forgotten they were there or that they’d ever existed.

bv1The first I started as soon as I got home. I worked on it in my spare time all through college. It traveled back to Europe with me, then came all the way home to be abandoned when I started grad school and became too busy to work on it anymore.

The second I started several years ago, when we moved into this house and I decided I wanted to make a tablecloth for our table and the bright Hungarian colors wouldn’t fit in with the color scheme we’d chosen. Then I started work on my novel, the boys were born, and I didn’t have it in me to sew on a button, much less embroider a full-sized tablecloth. bv2

When I rediscovered the tablecloths, it was with deep regret that they were still unfinished. Even more than my writing, embroidery feels like pieces of my soul made of cloth. Along with strands of my hair and pin pricks of my blood, I have woven my hopes and dreams and aspirations into the fibers. Both unfinished tablecloths represent a different period of my life when I didn’t know what was next on the horizon. The first, during a bright, colorful, chaotic time. The second, when my new life as a mother was right around the corner.

Lately I have been beating myself up for not accomplishing more. Like the delicious newness of a freshly printed tablecloth, I itch to start over. I want to do something bigger, more elaborate, and prove to myself and everyone else that I’m not squandering time, that I’m challenging myself, and that I’m not taking my life or my creativity for granted. I’ve also been acting like a person with an expiration date.

Yesterday, watching the Elizabeth Gilbert video, I was struck by a comment she made. She was talking about how quite possibly her best work was behind her, but then she added that she was 40 years old, and probably had 40 more years of work in her. I thought to myself, “And I’m only 32. I might have 50 years. Why am I killing myself to do it all today? I can save some of this mojo for tomorrow. It’s not going anywhere.”

Right now, I need to find a creative outlet where my mind can drift. An activity that requires no concentration. That I can pick up and put down as the mood strikes. As a creative mother, my soul will always be split in half. One half will be with my art, one half will be with my boys. What better use of my fractured time than finishing the partially-embroidered tablecloths from my (not quite) half-finished life?

2/25 Weekly creativity contest winner & new prompt

Ah, the eyes have it! Lovely submissions for this week’s creativity contest. Our winner is Elizabeth Beck, for this beautiful collage. Elizabeth writes: “i just finished this collage this week …. and intentionally left out the eyes …. to leave it all more ambiguous and mysterious ….. so … for my eyes entry, i give you no eyes!” (I just love your work, Elizabeth, and I’m anxious to try my hand at collage with the SIX BOXES of potential collage materials I gathered up while packing for my move.) Congratulations, Elizabeth — your $10 gift certificate has been issued.



From Karen Winters, a watercolor painting. Karen writes: “I have always admired the way Egyptian women were portrayed in sculpture and painting, so I decided to do a closeup watercolor just featuring the eyes of an exotic beauty. Unlike the ancient paintings that were very stylized and graphic-looking, I chose to represent the eyes in a more realistic manner. The kohl that Egyptian women and men used for distinctive outlining served more than a decorative purpose. Originally made from the soot derived from burning sandalwood paste, kohl served as a medicinal aid and protection against strong sun. Modern preparations may contain lead, so caveat emptor.”



From Jen Johnson, a poem. Jen writes: “My submission is a quick little poem dashed off during naptime (because that’s all the time I had this week!) based on something I seem to remember reading somewhere a long time ago. Your prompt reminded me of it — not sure if it’s scientific fact or not (and a quick google search with the kids in my lap can’t confirm it) but I like the idea anyway.”


They say that the dark side of the moon,
The side blind to human eyes,
Has a gigantic crater, so big it could be seen
With ease from our own Earth –

If ever we could see what can’t be seen.
It would look like an enormous lunar eye,
Peering down at us each night.
The huge hole a dark iris, pale moondust sclera.

What myths would have been made,
What stories spun, what gods imagined,
If each night we looked up to see
A changeable gaze staring down from the sky?


From Rebecca Coll, a painting that she created this week as a gift to her husband on their anniversary. Rebecca writes: “I stretched the theme of ‘eye’ to include how we use it and experimented with the whole optical illusion thing. I figured after 19 years a marriage is about so much more than you can see on the surface. It’s about who we are and the love we have shared. To show this I painted a tree (growth, stability, branches for our independent passions, etc.) using both of our profiles to create the trunk. Then, up in the tree I added 19 hearts for the 19 years… Can you see them all?”



From Kelly Warren: “Pure goofiness…the eyes are two of my evil eye pendants.  I’d say this is me after one too many margaritas.” Love it, Kelly!



From Cathy Coley, a poem:


My eldest son’s mossy deep forest green
glow in the sun and mute to wood.
They are the unusual eyes
of my grandfathers,
both of Carolina Cherokee blood.
I wander lost in those eyes
when they look at me.

At a powwow when he was three
a young Mohegan boy of eight
smiled and said,
‘He has the eyes of my tribe,
the eyes of the wolf.’

From boy to boy passed more
than a stick of rock candy.
This is his second early memory
after the red and licorice
ladybug birthday cake.
He has the eyes of a wolf.

My second son’s eyes kaleidoscope
from bright blue to green to slate.
My mostly Irish father’s eyes are aqua green,
Turn to crystal blue, even lavender.
My boys’ father’s Irish eyes switch, too –
Sky eyes clear blue to thunderclouds.
My young son’s eyes are big as the sky.
I can fall into them, and rarely swim back out.

My daughter’s eyes are deep,
clear, warm bullets,
black brown depths of her father and me.
My mother, my grandmother,
his father and generations
back into the hills and across the ocean.
The deep history of continents
collide in our daughter’s eyes –
founders, natives, immigrants,
brown as earth’s rich soil.

Histories upon peoples read
in our children’s eyes.


From me (Miranda): A header image that I several months ago — it’s one of my favorites. Naturally, I am enchanted by the eyes of all of my children, but I have to say that Liam (the youngest) has extra depth to his baby blues.



This week’s prompt: “Light”
Use the prompt however you like — literally, or a tangential theme. All media are welcome. Please e-mail your entries to by 10:00 p.m. eastern time (GMT -5) on Tuesday, March 3, 2009. 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.) All submissions are acknowledged when received; if you do not receive e-mail confirmation of receipt within 24 hours, please post a comment here. Remember, the point 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.

All eyes on you!

Don’t forget to send in a submission for our weekly creativity contest. The prompt is “eyes.” Deadline is tonight, 10:00 p.m. eastern time. Come on, “see” what you can do!

Relieving yourself of genius

If you loved Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love, then you’re going to love this video of Gilbert discussing her paradigm of creativity, and how it might help you too. Recommended viewing. Do you subscribe to Gilbert’s philosophy? If not, do you want to?

(Thanks to Suzanne Révy and Rebecca Coll for alerting me to the clip.)

Cathy: Stopping the analysis

The February Finish-a-thon has been a great tool for all of us to realize where we fit in setting ourselves deadlines, what project we’re working on, how far we have to go, and whether can we finish it in a certain time frame.

For me, it turned my otherwise small penchant for analysis of why I’m not writing as much as I set out to into a life’s purpose in a public forum. I spent more energy on thinking about not writing than I spent on writing my manuscript. In the meantime, and it took 21 days of this, to realize that I was actually keeping the same pace I had been keeping on the manuscript since I re-opened it last spring: exactly the same pace. The six weeks around the holidays were taken up with the holidays and everyone in the house being very ill in long phases, including me. Otherwise, I have written a small burst of between three to six pages on one day per week, while Baby C naps in the morning, since the beginning. Those naps are rare these days.

There are reasons for this, not excuses. I am incredibly sleep deprived, and can barely function on normal household stuff, let alone have a clear thought for continuity in a novel. I am now on the older baby chase besides her usual kicking keyboard cuteness. She motors everywhere and I follow. We don’t have baby gates up or cabinet locks on, etc. I am all for letting her learn her world. The rest of the world doesn’t have baby gates, why should I here, except it would make my life easier in getting basics done. I am vigilant, and how will she learn to cope on her own, if she doesn’t understand how to get around safely. She needs to learn the stairs, so we teach her, when she wants. She wants to now, so there I am, following the climber up, and keeping her from repelling to her doom. I hold her hand while she scoots down on her butt. We do this over and over, and she laughs and learns a little more each time. The dog and cat enjoy it, too. We’re having a blast.

In the meantime, the little nagging voice in the back of my head tells me I’m making excuses to go fly kites, tend the baby, and bake cookies to avoid the writing. Once, it was a huge voice in the front of my head that told me who the hell do I think I am to write? Who wants to hear what I have to say? The voice shrinks and fades into the background, because, yes I am almost done with this novel. Now it’s just the voice that still wants a voice as I gain my own. During Feb-Fin, I let it out and let it inhale deeply in order to spout through my all my public analysis of not writing. Well, it’s time to show that voice the back door. I won’t give it anymore fanfare.

I will escort it back to where it belongs, as the distant echo in the back of my head. I will get on with writing, my little bit as I can. I will tend the baby, bake cookies, and fly kites. I will enjoy my kids, my husband and dare I say, the housework. I will do so without the dread that the time I am doing something else, or better yet, nothing at all, is time not writing. If my ideas percolate away from the keyboard, so be it. They will form better in the single two to three hours I really have to hobble all those ideas together.

As for the writing itself, I have blogged before that I can’t set a schedule for it. That’s just an axe at the throat of my writing. I can set a maybe schedule, but have to be realistic that if I “set aside” three mornings a week, really only one will serve for the possibility. John Updike may have written six days a week, but that’s just not how my muse works. Mine sprints and recoups. She’s always been like that to an extent. She’s never been a marathoner. Since motherhood, it’s her modus operandi. Regardless of my whining online about not writing, I really have been pretty good about recognizing this pace and letting the writing happen in its own time, and Baby C’s.

Kelly: Humming John Lennon

gypsy-moon1The girls and I lay down and stared at the moon and the stars last night, all cuddled up like three little ladybugs, telling stories. We weren’t outside. No, we were laying in Sarah’s bed, staring up at this particular moon and stars you see here. Aren’t they fabulous? This now covers our attic access, which just so happens to be in the girls’ room, courtesy of my friend Gypsy who came for a visit earlier this week. Not the best picture, but the best I could do shooting up while laying in Sarah’s bed! Gypsy, her apprentice Michelle, and I spent two days doing some painting, having some heart-to-hearts and enjoying a sunny Florida afternoon in Fernandina Beach gallery hopping and scarfing down some awesome barbecue at the Happy Tomato Café (highly recommended if you are ever in Fernandina!). Gypsy’s visit was definitely food for the soul for me.

Gypsy (otherwise known as Lizz Hundley) is a wonderfully free spirit, making her way in the world while living life to the fullest each and every moment. I’ve been trying to do that more lately, too. In case you haven’t read my comment in my Dodging Curve Balls post, I got good news from the surgeon Monday, so I’m going to be fine for now. Dr. H met with the radiologist and pathologist again and decided that sometimes radiologists and pathologists are a little too quick to recommend further surgery in cases like mine. He wants to wait a bit and re-evaluate in six months. I’m glad Dr. S sent me for that surgery consult as a second opinion.

These past few weeks have made me slow down a bit, though, and I think that’s good. Between this little health scare and learning of a friend’s death by a massive heart attack at the ripe old age of 39, I’ve definitely taken a step back from my usual going in eight different directions. When we started the February Finish-a-thon, my “I can do anything” self took over. I definitely didn’t need to add another thing to my plate, but I went ahead and signed on anyway with the goal of creating a new affordably priced pendant line in preparation for the kickoff of the Riverside Arts Market April 4. Well, today’s February 20 and I haven’t made a one. Heck, I haven’t even gotten around to photographing all the new pieces I finished in November and December! My workshop has been sorely neglected. But I’ve decided that that’s really okay (and that seems to be a realization hitting a few of us right now). Yep, I’ve decided that’s just fine because what I have been doing instead? Just hanging out…and I’ve really been needing to just hang out. I’ve been hanging out with DH and the girls…hanging out on the dock looking at the river…hanging out with my furry four-legged friends…hanging out with all the art currently leaning against the walls of my great room waiting for me to rehang it all…hanging out with my students on Facebook (I actually had to learn Facebook for work!). I’ve been moving at a snail’s pace, and it’s been nice.

blue-doorI’ve been keeping up with our running comments on the February Finish-a-thon post. Obviously, since I’ve made zero progress, I haven’t had much news to post, but I’ve tried to be encouraging to the rest of you. I have noticed one thing coming through though. This is truly an incredible group of women, but from my prospective anyway, I think we all have “superwoman disease.” We think we can do it all, and we get frustrated with ourselves, our self-imposed deadlines, and our self-inflicted failures and misgivings when life gets in the way (okay, go ahead and throw darts at me if you think I’m wrong :-) ).

I refuse to do that anymore. Life should not be what gets in the way. Life should be what it’s all about. It should be about taking a few days off to spend time with a good friend and go chow down on some barbecue. It should be about making up stories about the things we see in a whimsical painting of the moon and stars while cuddling up with our children. It should be about creating simply for creating’s sake, not for a deadline hanging over our heads. And don’t tell me you can’t do this because you’re too busy dealing with the kids, ladies…we’re all in that boat together. Sure, sometimes deadlines are necessary, and I’m not knocking the idea at all; I think it was a good one to give a kick in the pants if needed. But for me a deadline takes all the joy out of creating. It becomes a “I must do this to meet my deadline” instead of a “Hey, I wanna try this just for fun.”

There’s definitely been some good wisdom in the comments, all from different perspectives, but as I mentioned in one of my comments, something Kristine said has struck the biggest chord with me: “So I’m taking a step back and giving myself a break. I’m taking pleasure in my daily accomplishments and no longer obsessing over what I need to accomplish by the end of the month. It’s a journey, not a sprint.” Yep, it is a journey, not a sprint. I shared a John Lennon quote in my “Keeping Calm and Carrying On” post on my Happy Shack blog last week, and it bears repeating here: “Life is what happens to you while you’re too busy making other plans.” And life in general is the best part of the journey. Don’t let it be what gets in the way; make it what counts most instead. Go live it.

Open House

Happy Friday! I hope everyone has something fun to look forward to this weekend. Here’s our bi-weekly roundup of noteworthy blog posts from the Creative Construction community.

  1. Suzanne Révy shares a creative dialog with her son.
  2. Jacqui Robbins fights with part three.
  3. Elizabeth Beck sets the record straight on her favorite colors.
  4. Emma-Jane Rosenberg had some challenges with the challenge.
  5. Suzanne Kamata’s short story won an SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Magazine Merit Award for Fiction.
  6. Kristine Coblitz took to evening power writing for the February Finish-a-thon.
  7. Kate Hopper asks why write?

Have a wonderful weekend! Grab onto a few moments for yourself, somehow, somewhere.

Georgia: Those Literary Mamas Know How to Inspire

georgiaSomething wonderful happened last Friday night.

It was one of those nights that stands out and can inspire for days, months, who knows…even years. I had put the event on my Facebook calendar at least a month in advance.

In conjunction with the Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference being held in Chicago, Literary Mama editors and columnists were having a reading at an independent bookstore. I even put it on my computer calendar, I was determined to go and nothing was going to stop me from going.

Well nothing was going to stop me, but me. I was feeling down last Friday and after weeks of eying the event on the computer, I decided I didn’t want to make the 20-mile trek to the bookstore. I had a dozen excellent excuses, like staying home and getting some things done (not sure what things and they never get done). Like many times before I was talking myself out of getting out there and meeting people. It’s just so much easier to just slip on some pajamas and fall into someone else’s reality on TV. Yet, at the last minute I forced myself to get dressed and told my husband, after changing my mind a dozen times, that I was in fact going out.

My mom, who now lives with us, suggested I invite my husband to go with. My four-year-old son miraculously agreed that he would be fine with Grandma, and he would let her put him to bed. In shock, I invited my husband to join me, he agreed, and we set off across Chicago to the quaint neighborhood of Andersonville.

My husband was relieved that there was another man in the audience, and the “mamas” were a friendly bunch. It was an intimate gathering of about 20 people. One by one different “literary mamas” took the stage and read their work.

It was truly amazing to hear these women, these mothers, talk about their struggles and triumphs with children, parents, partners, the world, and even themselves. I was already captivated by their written words, and now hearing their powerful words in their own voices, was all the more moving. The essay read by Susan Ito especially encouraged me. She writes a regular column at Literary Mama called “Life in the Sandwich,” which she explained follows the adventure of her family since her elderly mother moved in. Personally, my dad who is 90 and my mom who is 82 recently moved in with us in our “cozy” house. Ito’s experiences in her piece entitled “McMemories” were mirrors to my own.

After the reading, I bought a book I couldn’t afford (unfortunately I couldn’t buy all of the books by the group), and my husband and I went to find a place to eat. We got a delicious pizza and calamari at a charming restaurant on the corner, where we discussed the readings and my own writing projects. It was a real adult date, something that has been rare in the past four plus years.

You must check out the website of Literary Mama (“the magazine for the maternally inclined”) if you haven’t already. And the many books that members of this group has generated such as The Maternal Is Political: Women Writers at the Intersection of Motherhood and Social Change, Literary Mama: Writing for the Maternally Inclined, A Ghost at Heart’s Edge: Stories and Poems of Adoption, Real Life & Liars (forthcoming novel by Kristina Riggle) and Mama, PhD: Women Write about Motherhood and Academic Life.

Brittany: A New Focus

Once upon a time I made dolls. It started when I was little, maybe even before elementary school. My great-grandmother, a seamstress, often babysat me and her house was a treasure trove of fabric scraps, spare yarn, and mismatched buttons. One day I asked her if I could make a doll. She showed me how to make a pattern, supervised as I hand-sewed the body, and basically left to my disposal her arsenal of craft supplies.

I made dozens of dolls after that. Long before I was able to write, I used dollmaking as a kinetic activity to tap into my creativity. As I got older, writing supplanted dollmaking as creative hobby #1, but I still made dolls whenever I needed a jumpstart. I have made a number of different types of dolls over the years, but my favorites are made of cloth, with faces sculpted with the needle. I was working on my face-sculpting technique when life intervened. I graduated from college, found a job, had two boys who cared little for needlecraft and even less for dolls, and before I knew it, it had been years since I’d attempted a new project. I kept saying I wanted to make dolls again, but always put it off.  There were only so many hours in the day and if I was going to indulge in a hobby, writing always won out.

But lately, I haven’t had much interest in writing. The final push to finish my novel, combined with my months-long recovery from whooping cough and pneumonia have left me stripped and bare and uninspired. John is also becoming more curious and isn’t happy to sit idly by anymore while I type page after page. I’ve been through this before with Sam, but this time, instead of trying to fight it, I just put the writing aside. It’s no longer an all-consuming fire for me. I’m still writing, never fear, but only in a piddling manner, writing in fits and starts, and only when the mood strikes me.  My life is chaotic right now, and to force yet another to-do on myself would be counter-productive.

Which brings me to Saturday…

It was Valentine’s, and aside from the usual card exchange with Tom, was an ordinary day in every regard. We got up early to take Sam to his gym class, ran a few errands before lunchtime, came home, put the boys down for naps, Tom got to work finishing the last of the tile in the powder room and entryway, I went to my novelist’s critique group. It was a good time, we all laughed, I got excellent feedback, drove home. And yet I found myself totally overwhelmed with angst. There was no reason for it, but nonetheless, it was there — this undeniable feeling of anxiety and dread.

In the meantime, my brother-in-law got engaged, and posted the news on Facebook for all to see. I got online as soon as I got home, hoping I would be comforted by the familiarity of my laptop, and saw his change in status. I couldn’t be happier for them. But I also felt like it was about time he proposed to her.

An image popped into my head of Cupid, wearing oversized boxing gloves, hitting slowpoke boyfriends upside the head on Valentine’s Day. My fingers began itching to sew him. I went upstairs and found the perfect fabrics in my long-neglected stash of craft supplies. I got to work on him right away, and slowly the anxiety began to fade.

He was a quick project as far as dolls go. I finished him Sunday afternoon. Unlike a novel, where train of thought matters, I could pick him up and put him down as needed. Sam sat beside me while I sewed, entranced with his train videos, and I was able to escape a bit more deeply into my sewing than I ever could have with my writing. I’ve needed that — the ability to shut out the rest of the world like that — and having that time in my own head was just what I needed to shrug off the funk I was in.

Since then, I have felt a bit of my spirit revive. I am a little bit happier now that I have reclaimed a bit of my former self. My writing life is still on the horizon, but for now, my new focus is on the dolls.

[Editor's note: Brittany's cupid doll won this week's creativity contest!]

Cathy: Can someone please explain how all the time in the world disappears without writing?

[Editor's note: Shortly after she submitted this post on Monday, Cathy wrote to ask me not to publish it after all. She worried that her post sounded too whiny. I told Cathy that I thought she didn't sound whiny at all, and that she was covering ground that many of us can relate to. (Me, for one!) At my urging, she agreed to the posting. Thanks, Cathy!]

Right now, I am a stay-at-home mother with a baby who won’t sleep off of me and must have one hand pinching, rubbing, or tweaking my muffin-top under my shirt at virtually all times, not just when she’s nursing. I look around my home, and think I need to do laundry, wash dishes, plan meals better, etc., but feel like I am accomplishing nothing because of little miss clingy or I’m on the chase because she must crawl, cruise, etc in the rare moments she is not attached to me. I know the regulars here are thinking my lack of sleep and how Baby C won’t sleep off of me are becoming like a Zen mantra of complaint: noooo sleeeeep….oooommmm…..noooo sleeeeeep. I’m sorry, but this is what I’m living right now. I have raised two other kids out of this phase and nannied a handful of others when the boys were little, so I know not all babies are this clingy and shallow sleeping. Just mine, apparently.

I must add that while it seems she is preventing me from getting anything done, she is generally a pretty mellow baby who is kicking my keyboard when I’m not giving her my full attention because I’m trying to have a creative life or a somewhat internet based social life. She’s not a screamer, like at times, my eldest could be, or always, like my second was. She’s generally the most pleasant baby I have known. But if I put her down in the port-a-crib, she won’t sleep and fusses for me like I’m breaking her heart. If she’s crawling around when I’m trying to accomplish something, S (by some miracle) is the only person who can pick her up and put her in the port-a-crib, and she’ll entertain herself nicely for enough time to make dinner, as long as she can see me hovering at the stove.

Now I can and do easily and often analyze the part I’m playing in this, such as giving in to her baby demands when I should let her be, put her down, train her to sleep off of me, etc. But then I turn around and don’t remedy it with all the advice I can readily give others. Part of me says, I’m 43, I had no business having this baby at this age, but in having her, I appreciate and want to hold her and have much more patience and appreciation for her than I did when my boys were little and I was 10 and more years younger, working, etc. I think my age difference is very telling about patience and perspective.

However, I’m trying to finish writing a novel. It’s not a very big or complicated one, it’s a children’s novel for goodness sake! A good old friend peeks in on this blog, but doesn’t comment because he’s a guy. He calls periodically with concern. He’ll say things like: are you sure now is the best time for you to be trying to finish the novel — because I remember when my son was that age, and it was impossible to write between lack of sleep and divided attentions. I thank him, tell him, I need to finish it now because I’m that close, and if I can sell it, it may bring some much needed income and assuage my guilt in that department.

Then I think: when S was in part time integrated preschool thru first grade and K was in kindergarten through fourth grade, I was working upwards of three part-time jobs, going through an unpleasant divorce that took forever, and began writing this novel. I was able to write it in the 30-minute snatches between my arrival home from job number one and when S’s bus arrived. I was extremely stressed, had no time, little to no child care, terrible finances, yet I wrote and managed my home by myself. And read The New Yorker within the week, novels and the collected poems of Robert Penn Warren repeatedly. I also journalled a la The Artist’s Way every morning while staving off the boys with the mantra “mommy’s morning pages!” How the heck did I manage all of that and start a relationship with my current husband, too? I seem to recall passing out on him often when we’d rent a movie at the beginning of our relationship. He claims that’s why he fell in love with me: I drooled on his shirt sitting on his couch on our second date.

Now I can barely see the time fly by while I feel like I am incapable of reading a book, doing anything beyond the wash and fold stage of laundry re: housework, yet I am home all the time! I have no brain to maintain a level of writing on a regular basis that I can honestly say: yeah, that sustains from the last part, and I can be proud of it. Is it that in being able to be more present for the baby, at my age, I am also less able to multitask in the ways I needed to at a much more stressful albeit younger time in my life? Or is it merely, I have baby-fied lack of sleep brain and forgot exactly how that taxes the mind from when my boys were also less than ideally sleeping babies?

I also know that I don’t feel like I’m having a heart attack for most of the day, because my stress level is nowhere near what it was then.

Someone please explain. Maybe I’m just having an overly critical moment. I did only write the first not quite 30 pages then, now I’m on page 85, after a four-year hiatus.

2/18 Weekly creativity contest winner & new prompt

It probably wasn’t too difficult to figure out where the “box” prompt came from in this week’s creativity contest. (For anyone not in the know, I just moved!) This week’s winner is Brittany Vandeputte. Brittany writes: “I was inspired for this week’s contest when my brother-in-law finally proposed to his girlfriend yesterday (it wasn’t soon enough for our taste). I thought to myself ‘Cupid must’ve finally knocked some sense into him…’ Then ‘Hmmmm… isn’t our prompt for the week “box”?’ Cupid is approx. 4 inches tall, adapted from Laurie S. Wagner’s Mini Baby Mannequin pattern. He is entirely hand sewn (I hate using a sewing machine) and made from hand tea-dyed flannel, black vinyl, polyester fiberfill, and craft feathers. I embroidered his hair, face, and tattoo and used white embroidery thread for his boxing glove laces. His diaper is made from a scrap of interfacing and a spare safety pin.” Very creative, Brittany — love your pugilist take. Your $10 gift certificate has been issued.


From Jen Johnson: “My submission this week is a little poem, one of those ‘came to me in the shower’ creations. It was also inspired by the deteriorating ‘playhouse’ that has become a fixture in our dining room over the last few weeks.”

Boxes (Thinking Outside)

Crayon, canyon,
match, mail, window,
gear, strong, jury,
car, kite, music,
ballot, chatter,
soap, Pandora.

Black, juke, sentry,
signal, compass,
sound, snuff, witness,
office, coffin.
Jack’s in, cat’s out.
Cardboard spaceship.



From Cathy Jennings, an image created in Adobe Illustrator. Cathy writes: This was fun. ‘Box’ got me thinking about spring cleaning and emotional baggage.”


From Cathy Coley, a pair of photographs. Cathy writes: “No better entertainment exists for a baby than a box! S was about the same age Baby C is now in this photo from ten years ago. Look how he adored his big brother! So, yes, I went for the obvious once again. It was nice to break out the old photos! Baby C was too active to get a good shot of her sitting in the box to mimic the old one. I liked this one of her heading in.”


From Rebecca Coll, a piece just for me! (In the interest of full disclosure, Rebecca is my BFF.) Rebecca writes: “So I wasn’t able to finish (as you can clearly see!), but I figured I’d send it in anyway. The piece is actually going to be your housewarming gift once it’s done — hence my comment earlier about not being in the running to win this week :-) . It’s a shadowbox, loosely depicting your family and your new house. I glued the frame and started to place some of the elements (people, your front columns, windows) but I didn’t have a chance to finish and I also need to paint it. It obviously looks very underdone in the raw colors of the board I am using. Trust me, it will look VERY different when it’s done.” (Editor’s note: Look’s like I’M the big winner this week, ladies!)


From me (Miranda), a prose piece and photograph:

All of my wordly possessions, my life in the most mundane terms, wrapped in sheets of gray paper and boxed by strange hands. Hands that had no interest in my bird’s nest diorama, my reams of manuscript pages, my hundreds of books, the many ceramic treasures that my children have created over the years, the quilt that my mother made for me, my prized sugar bowl. Three Guatemalan men packed my house in silence — except for when one of them accidentally pushed a button on a small key-chain found in the kitchen desk: “Dr. Fart.” From the next room, we heard the eruption of laughter.

The hands packed without interest, and perhaps without judgment, although I wonder what the inventory of my household looks like through someone else’s eyes. I catch a glimpse, I think, as I unfurl each carefully wrapped item. I open a thousand presents, sometimes with a smile as I discover a favorite object; sometimes with a sigh as I unwrap yet one more thing that I’m not sure I really want to keep. In the light of a new home and shifting priorities, I wonder why I paid to have it packed and moved. Out it goes.

The mover’s boxes are my appreciated friends, but our friendship is fleeting. As soon as a box is empty, I am anxious to remove it — immediately — from my living space. Each emptied box feels like a significant accomplishment. Box by box, my life comes back to shape, as much as I wish my life weren’t so thoroughly defined by my material goods.

Two days ago, a couple came by and took masses of boxes from the collection in our driveway — mostly flattened, but many bulging full of crumpled newsprint. I was relieved to see most of the boxes go, and glad to know that they would be serving another family rather than heading to the recycling center.

Ten days after moving, there are just a handful of boxes left in my living space. By the end of the coming weekend, those will be gone too. Back to “real” life, out of the box.

Maybe I’ll save a few in the basement, just in case I’m not quite ready….



This week’s prompt: “Eyes”
Use the prompt however you like — literally, or a tangential theme. All media are welcome. Please e-mail your entries to by 10:00 p.m. eastern time (GMT -5) on Tuesday, February 24, 2009. 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.) All submissions are acknowledged when received; if you do not receive e-mail confirmation of receipt within 24 hours, please post a comment here. Remember, the point 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.

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