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Posts tagged ‘breakfast’

Breakfast with Liz

You may not be looking for a new best friend, but after you read this week’s Breakfast installment you’re going to want one — and you’re going to want her to be Liz Hum. She’s a writer, designer, mother, and the blogger behind My Other Car is a Tardis. Liz is smart, funny, and plain old nice. Plus she’s a FOL. (Friend of Lisa. As in Damian and Guidarini.) Eggs Benedict for everyone! (Just make mine with veggie ham, please.)

CC: Please give us an intro to who you are, what you do, and your family headcount.
LH:
My name is Liz Hum and I will be 30 years old next month. I am the proud mama of (so far) two wild and brilliant daughters, ages 4 and 1 1/2, and wife of the best man that could ever have happened to me, my beloved Viking, with his long red beard that stretches nearly to his navel. (I’m married to that too — by now it is practically like having another family member.) I am a writer, photographer, filmmaker, editor, designer, painter…a jack of most arts, really. But, being a stay-at-home mom, I find so often that I am a master of none.

CC: Tell us about your creative endeavors.
LH
: Right now, I have a side business, Lotus Pictures. I put together video slideshows, and documentaries and design books that center around personal tributes. I cut together demo reels and things like that. I also have done design work and invitations for weddings. I belong to the Algonquin Area Writer’s Group, serving as the Membership Coordinator, where I collaborate with the other members, like your own Lisa Damian, to think of new ways to keep our writers motivated and creative. I’m also supposed to be working on a novel and a children’s book, and I am if you consider surfing the net and beating myself up about wasting time “working.”

CC: What prompted you to start a blog? What keeps you going?
LH:
I started my blog for two reasons: One, being that I desperately needed to talk to someone. I used to work for a video production company in the city before I had my eldest and I missed talking to the diverse, intelligent, funny, and sometimes plain crazy people that came in and out of the office. They used to joke that I needed my own soapbox-inspired show, because I could often be heard saying, “Let me tell you about that…” to some hapless sap waiting in the reception area. Or to anyone else who happened to be passing time by my desk, be it the FedEx guy or a local celebrity. Reason number two is that I wanted to record some anecdotes of family history for my daughters. Every year, I create a yearbook where I print every blog post from that calendar year and intermingle them with family photos so that one day the girls can look back and laugh. This way, too, if I drop dead, I have shared my stories and my thoughts with my children who will one day be hungry for them. (Not to imply that I am not doing everything I can to prevent myself from dropping dead in the meantime.) Recording our history and having a sense of community with other bloggers keeps me going.

CC: I’ve found women who are most satisfied with their creative lives watch little or no television. You are an unapologetic fan of TV, and also seem to be highly productive. How do you avoid the brain-drain byproducts of TV that sap many tired mothers at the end of a long day?
LH:
DVR, my dear Miranda. DVR! This fabulous invention allows you to record shows and watch them at your leisure, sans commercials. It is the only way to fly. No, but seriously, we save our TV viewing until after the tots go to bed. We don’t watch many brain-draining type shows, so Darin and I are always engaged. Most nights we end up laughing about something, discussing plot points or conjuring up wild fan fiction or hilarious crossovers. If one of us is motivated to create, we save our shows for another day or we just say to ourselves, “Meh. I don’t need to watch Real World verses Road Rules, anyway.” If Darin wants to watch a show that I am not interested in, I go to the computer to work on my writing…and surf the net instead and beat myself up about wasting time. THAT is what I have to work on avoiding…getting sucked into the brain-draining BS on the net.

CC: Where do you do your creative work?
LH:
I have no personal space. My writing, editing, and book design work is done at our shared computer and my fine arts and crafts are done wherever I can keep them out of prying hands, usually the dining room table or a fold-out banquet table. My only true creative space is in my head.

CC: Do you have a schedule for your creative work?
LH:
Schedules: Do you mean those things that I keep making and having to crumple up and toss out the window because the kids aren’t cooperating, my husband got sick, and the laundry won’t wash itself?

CC: How has motherhood changed you creatively?
LH:
I had to hone the ability to tune out a lot of noise. Before I had kids, I would crank up my stereo and dance around my apartment in my underwear while painting. I had long silent spaces to think coherent thoughts and write them down. Now, it’s like being constantly under assault, with the yapping and the squealing and the toys being thrown over the gate we have erected around the perimeter of the computer desk. I think in fragments and rarely have the time to write them down. So I put on my “tune out” helmet and now find I can Zen-out amidst chaos…most of the time.

CC: What do you struggle with most?
LH:
Guilt. The guilt of not creating when I try to be a mom. The guilt of not being a mom when I’m trying to create. The guilt of feeling like a crappy artist when I try to rush through a creative project just to get it done. Not to mention the guilt I feel for not being able to be all things at once. Marketing makes it look easy to “have it all,” doesn’t it? We can wear our babies to the coffee shop after yoga class where we can bang out another chapter on our novel, take them to the park, whip up an optimally nutritious meal, teach our children some brilliant skill or new language and then have them delightfully fingerpaint on the floor next to us as we finish our own masterpiece? Did I mention we’re supposed to be cool and stylish at all times as well? I’m in awe of creative moms who can crochet a sweater while breastfeeding or create their crafts while rattling off their kid’s math problems, but I don’t know if I have fully forgiven myself for not being one of them.

CC: Where do you find inspiration?
LH
: When I see women older than me actively involved in life. Anytime I see a mom with kids say she just finished her novel, or went back to school. It reminds me to slow down and take the toddler years slowly. Creative life is not over after kids. It just takes a backseat for awhile.

CC: What are your top 5 favorite blogs?
LH:
Most of the blogs I keep up with are personal blogs of family and friends. I always check the Algonquin Area Writer’s Group, Damian Daily, (thanks again for the nod, hon!), and Bluestalking Reader (the latter two are Creative Construction participants and members and heads of the AAWG). For a laugh, and a little guilty pleasure, I check out What Would Tyler Durden Do too — he makes fun of celebrities. True or not — who cares. It’s often hilarious.

CC: What is your greatest indulgence?
LH:
I always (by always, I mean once a week) buy a few bottles of 2-buck Chuck Shiraz and a chocolate truffle bar at Trader Joe’s.

CC: What are you reading right now?
LH:
I am reading Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert to offset the emotional damage I sustained while reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy. My book club’s November selection is The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie.

CC: What advice would you offer to other mothers struggling to find the time and means to be more creative?
LH:
Give yourself a break. When you find you have free time, go for it! But you know what? If you don’t, don’t sweat it — you will. If you live in the present instead of fretting about all the projects and dinners you’re trying to juggle, you’ll start enjoying your time with your kids more and you’ll be able to recognize and utilize your pockets of free time. Sometimes you have to put your art on the back burner and take care of your kids while they need you. Baby & Toddlerhood is a temporary condition, mommas, remember that. They’ll all be in school soon, right? And we’ll have a few hours every day in which to get to know ourselves again. Eyes on the prize, ladies…eyes on the prize.

CC: Wonderful advice, Liz. Thank you.

Breakfast with Carmen

You’ve seen her at this blog before before: artist, mother, and blogger Carmen Torbus. Sit down for this week’s installment of Breakfast and enjoy getting to know the lovely and talented Carmen!

CC: Please give us an intro to who you are, what you do, and your family headcount.
CT:
My name is Carmen Torbus. If I had to describe myself in one word, it would be “dreamer.” I currently wear many hats. I’m wife to my wonderful husband of 9 years, Dan. I’m mom to my little monkeys, Morgan (6) and Colin (5). I work fulltime as an admin/personal assistant in West Palm Beach and I’m a college student, studying to become a licensed clinical social worker. My passion is in development… I’m an artist. I’m finally comfortable saying that sentence.

CC: Tell us about your creative work and what’s on the offing in your Etsy shop.
CT:
My art is continually evolving. I love learning new techniques and ways to incorporate them into art. My artwork is often a collage of texture, quotes, words, paper, fabric, and lots of paint. The focal point in my art lately has been girls with a whimsy, folksy, funkiness to them.

I’m embarrassed to say that my Etsy shop is a little bare right now. There are currently two paintings listed. One of them, “Personal Growth” [at left] is one of my very favorite paintings. It represents my growing, evolving heart.

CC: What prompted you to start a blog? What keeps you going?
CT:
I picked up a copy of Artful Blogging at the book store one day and started flipping through it. I was mesmerized by the artwork of Bridgette Gurzon-Mills. Her artwork on her blog, Contemplating the Moon, drew me in and when I got home, I jumped online and started reading. Her blog lead me to other blogs and I was hooked. I knew I just had to find a way to become a part of this amazing community.

I’ve never considered myself much of a writer, but my blog gives me a place to document what I’m up to, share with my family and friends as well as serve as a journal that I can go back to and see how far I’ve come.

The inspiration I get from bloggers across the globe keeps me going along with the connections I’ve made with some of them. The comments, e-mails, and thoughtfulness are truly amazing.

CC: Where do you do your creative work?
CT:
Right now, I work in the corner of our master bedroom in the condo we’re renting. We just bought a house though and when we move I’ll finally have my own room to serve as my studio. I’m so excited to have my own creative space.

CC: Do you have a schedule for your creative work?
CT:
I don’t have a schedule for being creative. I fit it in whenever I can. My life is so full with work, kiddo activities, support groups I attend, and school, that it makes scheduling time for art difficult. I do most of my painting late at night or on the weekends.

CC: How has motherhood changed you creatively?
CT:
That’s an interesting question. When my kids were born, I stopped being creative and I didn’t even realize it. It wasn’t until that day that I picked up that issue of Artful Blogging that I realized how long it had been since I had painted.

What I find really amazing is how much my creativity affects my kids. They want to do whatever I’m doing. My daughter is a very talented little artist. She is so creative and I get a lot of inspiration from her.

CC: What do you struggle with most?
CT:
Probably believing in myself and thinking my work is “good enough.” I think that’s probably a common theme with artists. Developing a style all my own is a struggle as well, but it’s coming. I just have to remind myself to slow down and be patient with myself.

CC: Where do you find inspiration?
CT:
Oh gosh, everywhere. I live in paradise. South Florida is just beautiful. I sit at my desk at work and literally stare out at the ocean. It is incredible. I’m truly blessed.

I also get a great deal of inspiration from other artists that blog. Especially the ones that share themselves and their journeys openly. The raw emotion that can be felt by looking at someone’s work and reading their truths inspires me like nothing else.

CC: What are your top 5 favorite blogs?
CT:
Only 5? That’s tough!

CC: What is your greatest indulgence?
CT:
It’s a tossup between art supplies, books, chocolate *wipes drool from chin* and big ole Pumpkin Spice Lattes from Starbucks.

CC: What are you reading right now?
CT:
A book by Dr. Brené Brown called I Thought it Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame.

CC: What advice would you offer to other mothers struggling to find the time and means to be more creative?
CT:
Just do it. Get the supplies and sit down and do it. Don’t worry so much about all the “stuff” on the to-do list. Get your fingers messy in paint, dump that old box of pictures out on the table and get to it, dig out the tools and beads and make that jewelry. If it makes your heart sing, don’t put it off. You deserve it.

CC: Thank you, Carmen!

Breakfast with Leslie

We’ve talked about cake for Breakfast before, but this week you’re really going to want a big slice — seeing as it’s being served by Leslie F. Miller: mother, writer, artist, blogger, and cake lover, among other creative pursuits. Have seconds. You won’t regret it.

Leslie Miller, ready for Stephen Colbert

Leslie F. Miller is ready for you, Stephen Colbert!

CC: Please give us an intro to who you are, what you do, and your family headcount.
LM:
You’re supposed to be able to sum up every project in a sentence, so I used to tell people that I like breaking things and putting them back together in a random, yet tasteful, order. It covers artist, designer, and reconstructionist — with words and mosaic shards.

I do less with mosaics these days, but I’m still a writer, a graphic designer, and a photographer. I do all those things for pay when they pay and for fun when they don’t.

My husband and I moved in together in the early eighties, got married in 1994, and have been together for a total of 26 years. Our only daughter, Serena Joy Utah Miller, will become a ‘tween (eleven) in January. We have two dogs, Cleopatra (12) and Chance (5). We used to have snakes and, because of the snakes, mice. I’m glad they are gone.

Tree of Life

Tree of Life

CC: Tell us about your book, your photography, and other creative endeavors.
LM
: I have always wanted to write a book. It shouldn’t have taken me so long, and I will probably go on regretting that it did. But the truth is that it wasn’t as easy as it looked. I never had trouble writing short, but writing long was a different beast. I committed by enrolling in an MFA program (Goucher College), where I knew I would have mentors to help me work on a book.

I chose to write about cake because I love it. Passion is what drives the best writing. I don’t care about Abraham Lincoln. I couldn’t devote three years to him without beginning to sound like Eyeore. But cake I could do. A short essay I’d written got enthusiastic applause at an open reading during my MFA residency, so I thought: What could be better than a whole book like this? We’ll see if I’m right. [Leslie's book, Let Me Eat Cake: A Celebration of Flour, Sugar, Butter, Eggs, Vanilla, Baking Powder, and a Pinch of Salt, will be published in April 2009 by Simon & Schuster.]

As for the photography, I take pictures for similar reasons-to express passion and enthusiasm for a subject. Sometimes the pictures illustrate words or thoughts. Other times they inspire the words. And then there are the times that photography becomes science. I like to get in really close to things, especially bugs. I like the make the tiny big and the big tiny. I like to see the hairs on a fly.

Crow

Crow

CC: What prompted you to start a blog? What keeps you going?
LM:
My first blog post was June 11, 2004 at A Doggy’s Life. I used a blog called Essay This! to post assignments for the college writing courses I taught. Then I started a project blog when I made a mosaic crab for Baltimore City. Then I started a food blog as a homework assignment during my MFA. Then I started a cake blog for my cake stuff. Most of that is hidden now, and I concentrate on my current blog. It’s a little prettier, and the writing is stronger and more purposeful. I sort of had to do it for my editor — so that I’d have my own PR out there. And I didn’t want to be so random.

Writing, like playing music or soccer or acting in a play, requires practice. Journals are terrific places for writers to practice. But I actually dig the idea of practicing in front of an audience. My writings are dress rehearsals. I go through the brainstorming, rough draft, revision, and publication processes quickly, but I don’t skip a phase (unless the writing sucks, and then I just toss it and lament my wasted time). Journals usually stop at the spew! But editing and revising require practice, too.

I doubt I would do it now if no one commented. I did early on, but now — writers need affirmation. It’s not enough to know they read. I need them to say something. Otherwise I’m talking to myself. I recently gave a reading in a small space. Eighteen people came, and that was nice. But I would rather ham it up in front of 100. I’m much more self-conscious in front of two than I am in front of a big crowd.

cakelove

cakelove

CC: What goals do you have for your creative pursuits? What do you most hope to accomplish?
LM:
I’ve written the book, so now, I guess, my next goal is to sit on Stephen Colbert’s lap and feed him cake. I’d also like to go on the Diane Rehm show. And though I am serious about those things, I guess I would also really like to finish the proposal for my next book and have it accepted. And I want to be a rock star, too. And get younger.

CC: How has motherhood changed you creatively? How would you define your “life’s work”?
LM:
Well, I’m selfish. My life’s work is always going to be the work part. Because even though my daughter can be tough, she’s not really work. My job with her is to make sure she can talk to me about anything, to keep her from developing my bad eating habits, and to remind her to make her bed and finish her homework. Everything else is what she does, and it mostly just makes me proud. Every day.

Clones

Clones

CC: Where do you do your creative work?
LM
: I work in my kitchen and sometimes, when it’s nice outside, on my deck. But the kitchen is the place. It has water, cake, coffee, beer, lunch, a phone, a TV, a stereo. We once joked that if I put a sofa in here, I would never have to leave.

I recently herniated my disk, so I have to alternate between sitting and standing. I can do that at the kitchen table, then the countertop.

CC: Do you have a schedule for your writing and other creative activities? How do you do it “all”?

Find Yourself

Find Yourself

LM: If I am a good girl, I write a page a day when working on a project, and I spend between nine and 2:30 writing. I do my best writing in the morning and my best research after lunch. The writing is of primary importance, though.

Of course, if a murder of crows gathers in the tree by my front window or seventeen monarch butterflies swarm the butterfly bush out back or a pair of flies mates on a chair on the porch, I break with camera.

I guess I do give the appearance that I do it all. I think it’s because I do everything fast. I eat fast, sleep fast, cook fast, drink fast, write fast. Yes, I have sex fast, too. (Not that you asked.)

I also schedule the leisure. At 4:00, it’s beer and guitar time. I practice guitar and drink a beer just about every day at 4:00.

Midlife Crisis

Midlife Crisis

CC: What do you struggle with most?
LM:
So much of what I do requires sitting. I have to sit less. Probably the hardest part is that my work only happens when no one is home. I can do no writing without complete solitude! I can write with the television or stereo on, but I cannot have anyone in the house.

When you are writing SERIOUSLY, interruptions can destroy your work. A few years ago on Thanksgiving day, I wrote an essay. It was for fun, but I spent five hours writing, doing nothing else, with my family home and my mother-in-law visiting. I felt like I was being rude, but I knew it was something that had to get written. The next day, I spent another seven hours on it. My husband thought it was the biggest waste of time.

But that essay took honorable mention in an annual contest, was published in an online literary journal, and won a $1,000 grant. Not bad for 12 hours.

CC: Where do you find inspiration?
LM:
Oh, the birds. The flowers. Sunrises and sets. Something my daughter says or my husband does. A kindness. Gosh, just waking up is an inspiration. If you told me to write about a banana, I could find something wonderful to tell you about it. Like the fact that my husband eats one every single day, along with an apple, and rarely gets sick. Or that laying banana slices on top of banana bread batter, then covering it all with cinnamon sugar before baking it, will make the most incredible — and gorgeous — banana bread you’ve ever eaten.

(Just don’t ask me to write a book about Lincoln.)

My Girl with Pearl Earring

My Girl with Pearl Earring

CC: What are your top 5 favorite blogs?
LM:
I have trouble reading those insanely popular blogs because I feel so far behind in their lives. And sometimes I just don’t get the attraction. I guess I also like more of a rapport between reader and writer — someone who appreciates my comment and might actually respond to it. I can’t help but respond to people who comment. I want to thank them all personally.

  • As a writer and a person, Jennifer König is the tops. I wish she’d update her blog more frequently, but she writes on Flickr, as do most of the people I read regularly.
  • My favorite must-read blog is by Your Neighborhood Librarian, who lives two blocks away, so she’s literally my neighborhood librarian. I adore Paula’s sense of humor, her insane mommy-ness, her technological savvy, and her pink hair.
  • You gotta love Cake Wrecks because, well, you just gotta.
  • My friend Barbara Benham is a superb writer, even if her Travel Sweeps is a weird idea for a blog. She tells you of all the travel contests you can enter (she’s always trying to Win Trips, the blog’s subtitle), and she does it with these fringe-ly related essays that are like little poems in their language economy and elegance.
  • Michael Kimball writes life stories on post cards. Mine will be one of them — maybe today. But they are so clever and sweet. I read him all the time.
  • (My cheap thrill (don’t tell anyone) is Fugly. Those ladies are hilarious writers. So sarcastic. They make me laugh.)
Strawberry Tongue

Strawberry Tongue

CC: What is your greatest indulgence?
LM:
I sure love a facial. I am trying to get them more than twice a year. But, honestly, some people see my whole life as an indulgence. I am self-employed, and my husband is a social studies teacher at a Catholic middle school, so we have no money. Still I work from home on miscellaneous freelance projects, and I have everything I could want or need. It is a good life, a cake life at times. I blog, write articles, take pictures, go for walks, and cook all day. Sometimes I have lunch with a friend.

CC: What are you reading right now?
LM:
I just finished Dear Everybody, by Michael Kimball, and now I’m back to researching for a new book, so I am reading This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, by Daniel J. Levitin, and Guitar: An American Life, by Tim Brookes.

Makeup

Makeup

CC: What advice would you offer to other mothers struggling to find the time and means to be more creative?
LM:
After the birth of my daughter, so much of my life had changed. I had stopped writing and singing. I had not written any poetry. And I also stopped sleeping. I saw therapists and psychiatrists to help get me back on track, but I struggled for about five years with medications that only worked sometimes. Then I met a therapist who told me I needed to write poetry or join a punk rock band. I learned the importance of meditation when I felt at my most harried. And I learned that being selfish with the time I needed to write was the best thing I could do for my family.

Now, maybe I err on the other side. Maybe I do too much me stuff.

Nah. ;-)

CC: It’s been sweet, Leslie. Thank you. Keep us posted on your book release.

Breakfast with Lindsey

This week we have Breakfast with Lindsey Cheney, crafter and homeschooling mother of three. Lindsey is a pro at doing 83 things at once — all with a little extra creative flair. Enjoy!

CC: Please give us an intro to who you are, what you do, and your family headcount.
LC:
My name is Lindsey Cheney. I’ve been a wife to Sean for 8 years now and a mom to Gracie (5), Lily (almost 3), and Silas (14 months). I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for the past five years, and just began homeschooling my kindergartener this year. The same week I began homeschooling I also launched my new business blog, the pleated poppy, where I offer a number of handmade items. I cannot say I was smart in my timing! But staying at home with my kids allows for a lot of flexibility in our schedules and having two kids that nap allows for a little extra creative time.

CC: Tell us about your creative endeavors-and what’s on the offing in your shop. What does “creativity” mean to you?
LC: Creativity has always been a way of life for me, for as long as I can remember. My mom encouraged me to be crafty from a young age, from sewing to painting to decorating to decoupage. It is a way of life for her that has always seemed natural, so I think I just picked up on it by osmosis! To me, being creative means looking at things from a fresh perspective, putting your own twist on something, looking at something and saying, “I can do that.”

Since I am a mom of three little ones, I generally only put up a small amount of items for sale at a time, so I can keep up with the demand. I’ve offered zippered pouches, notebook covers, headbands, hair clips, pushpins, and magnets. My most popular items are my posy pins. I just can’t seem to make enough of those!

CC: What prompted you to start a blog? What keeps you going?
LC:
My sweet friend Lisa Leonard [former Breakfast guest] started a blog a couple years ago, and I got sucked into the blogging world. I first started my personal blog, imperfect, as a way to connect with family and friends, but also to show some crafty endeavors that would hopefully inspire others as I had been inspired by the mass amounts of creative blogs out there. I definitely have an ebb and flow with blogging — sometimes it’s a week between posts, and other times I get to it daily. I’d love to have more consistency. What keeps me going is when I find another blog where someone has used an idea or tutorial of mine and made it their own. I love sharing and borrowing creative ideas!

CC: How has motherhood changed you creatively?
LC:
So many ways! I have to be creative with my time first of all. Instead of working when I get some inspiration, I work when I have someone napping or playing happily. My projects tend to be smaller and quicker. I can’t leave too many projects sitting out, otherwise I may have some extra help from little hands.

CC: Where do you do your creative work?
LC: Part of my husband’s business involves creating storage. Last Christmas he gave me an incredible work station in the kids’ playroom. Before he had even finished building it, I had it filled up and still needed more space! I love having a work space where the kids are. I’m sure I’d love a studio of my own, but that’s really not an option for me to hide away for hours on end in a space away from my kids. Maybe in 10 years! For now, I love that I can sneak in a little time here and there when the kids are busy coloring or building block towers or “nursing” their babies. On bigger projects I tend to migrate toward the dining room table where I can really spread things out, but in general, I love my space where everything I need is within reach.

CC: Do you have a schedule for your creative work? How do you manage to fit everything into your busy life?
LC:
I try to get right to work as soon as the kids are napping, but I so often get pulled in other directions, like e-mail or laundry. As fun as creative work is, it’s still a discipline to set a specific time for working. One thing I love about what I do combined with homeschooling is that I can do them both at the same time. While my daughter is working on a project, I can guide her verbally and do my own busy work with my hands. I also stay up waaaay too late most nights, so I can get a couple hours of uninterrupted work in.

CC: What do you most hope to accomplish with your artwork?
LC:
I hope that my work can bless others, that it can bring them a smile and maybe a compliment! But what I really hope is that from my children constantly being a part of my work, that they learn to be creative in their own ways, too.

CC: What do you struggle with most?
LC:
I definitely struggle most with balance. Balancing my time, attention, and thoughts. I hope that someday being a wife, mother, friend, teacher, and crafter all fit in together and feel natural and not forced. And I hope that I can get to the point where I stop forgetting so much — I don’t know if that’s a result of having too much on my plate, or having three kids!

CC: Where do you find inspiration?
LC:
Magazines (good ol’ Martha), catalogs (have you looked at PB Kids lately!?), and a ridiculous amount of incredible blogs.

CC: What are your top 5 favorite blogs?

CC: What is your greatest indulgence?
LC:
Chocolate. Definitely. Nuff said.

CC: What are you reading right now?
LC:
Hmmm…reading? Do magazines count? Actually, I’m pretty notorious for starting books and not finishing them. So the books that are currently gathering dust on my bedside table are mostly homeschooling books: Homeschooling: The Early Years, When Children Love to Learn, A Thomas Jefferson Education, Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, and The Creative Family.

CC: What advice would you offer to other mothers struggling to find the time and means to be more creative?
LC:
Give yourself some grace. Perfection is not going to happen, but life will. Squeeze in a little something here and there. Be creative with decorating, entertaining, photography, in places you already spend your time, just do it differently.

CC: Many thanks, Lindsey!

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.
AS:
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?
AS:
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?
AS:
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?
AS
: 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?
CC:
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?
AS:
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?
AS:
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?
AS:
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?
AS:
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?
AS:
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?
AS:
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!

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?
KW:
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?
KW:
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?
KW:
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?
KW:
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?
KW:
Simple answer: TIME! Just finding the time to do everything I want to do.

CC: How much does guilt factor in your life?
KW:
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?
KW:
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!)
KW:
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?
KW:
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?
KW:
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?
KW:
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!

Breakfast with Emma-Jane

Another tasty, international Breakfast coming your way this morning. We travel to the UK to meet prolific artist and blogger Emma-Jane Rosenberg. Prepare for inspiration.

CC: Please give us an intro to who you are, what you do, and your family headcount.
E-JR:
I’m 38 and live in East Anglia, UK, with my husband and our daughter, who’s just turned 2. I work from home as a freelance editor two days a week.

CC: What prompted you to start blogging? What keeps you going?
E-JR:
I started my blog when my little girl was 5 months old, and I was keen to get back into the habit of sketching and painting. I joined the Everyday Matters group, and since many other members there kept art blogs, this seemed the obvious way to record and share my own progress. Apart from the interaction that my blog has afforded me with other artists and crafters, what appeals to me about it is that, like sketchbook journaling, it’s an ongoing record of my life that’s mostly pictorial, and with only as much of a written element as I feel comfortable including. I have always enjoyed the idea of keeping a diary, if not the act itself: not one word remains of the many thousands I’ve scribbled in paper diaries since my early teens. Although I very much enjoy words (my background is in languages), I’m far less self-conscious when it comes to making images.

The communal show-and-tell aspect of blogging is also a great spur to keep creating. I find a certain amount of guilt creeps in if I’m away from the blog for very long! Recently I merged my art blog with the erratic knitting/crochet blog I’d been keeping in tandem, and though this means that “Omphaloskepsis” is now going through something of an identity crisis, it at least reflects the fragmented nature of my creativity these days.

CC: Tell us about your art and any other creative pursuits. What does “creativity” mean to you?
E-JR:
For me, it can mean knitting and crochet one week, then a couple of weeks of sketchbook stuff, then an urge to dig out my oil pastels the week after that. I recently realised that I don’t need to compartmentalize these aspects of my creative life anymore: it’s all good. I can do something creative—enjoy colour and texture and the excitement of making something—every day, whether it’s painting a still life, knitting a sock, making thumbprint butterflies or plasticine animals, or even drawing all the items on the shopping list so that my daughter can help me find what we need at the supermarket. Much of what fills my day isn’t high art, but it’s definitely creativity, and though that might sound obvious, I’m amazed how long it has taken me to get to grips with this truth and to stop expecting that I should be doing things a certain way, achieving certain things, making x amount of “worthwhile art” while M is only little.

CC: You’re prolific. How do you make time for your art; managing creativity and motherhood?
E-JR: Even before I had my daughter, as soon as the decision had been made to have a family, I could feel my relationship to my art changing. When I was expecting her, after turning in a couple of soft pastel commissions I then did very little sketching or painting for a year. Learning to knit and crochet became my substitute creative outlet, since they allowed me to indulge my love of colour and learn new skills from the comfort of my sofa, with minimal mess and with the exciting prospect of being able to make things for the baby. When I became a mum, it wasn’t practical to be working with pastels anyway because of the dust, and I no longer had a dedicated art space in which to leave still life setups or art materials lying around, but in the early weeks and months I barely had the time or energy to open my pastel box anyway! I’m certain I will pick up my soft pastels again someday, but for now I’m exploring other media. It takes me longer to build up an image with oil pastels than it used to with my softies, for example, but they are cleaner and easier to stash away between sessions. If I have an extended period of free time for art, say a few hours, I’ll work on an oil pastel painting. An hour or so, while my daughter is napping? The oil pastels again, but just a sketch. If I have less than an hour, maybe a sketchbook page, or part of one, in pen and watercolour. And if there are only minutes to spare (such as when my husband is putting little one to bed), it’ll be a line drawing only.

I’ve definitely felt these past few weeks that I’m losing the struggle for creative time, yet when I recently spent a couple of evenings uploading all my stuff to Flickr, organizing my sketches, paintings and photos of my knit and crochet projects, the sight of all those little thumbnail images packed together, representing everything I’d created at times when I thought I was failing to make art, I was astounded.

CC: Where do you do your creative work and blogging?
E-JR: My art space is a large desk in the bedroom that stores all my materials, sketches, and books I’m feeling inspired by—as well as a newly-acquired vintage Singer sewing machine. Because the desk tends to be covered in my clutter, I rarely use the space for actually making art. It’s easier for me to work on the living room floor or on the bed—or out and about with my sketchbook. In the evening, when the light’s poor and I’m weary or have been working, I knit or crochet on the sofa and catch up with blogs and podcasts. I mostly do my blogging from the sofa too. The sofa’s a great friend!

CC: What do you struggle with most?
E-JR: The piecemeal nature of free time as a parent. I would love the luxury of being able to develop ideas more fully over time, to play around with different approaches and techniques and do loads of preparatory sketches for a piece, then spend as many long sessions at the easel as I needed to make the imagined painting a reality. But as the parent of a small child, snatches of time are often all you have. You can build up a project slowly, but it’s that much harder when you’re sleep deprived or your thoughts are constantly being interrupted, and using your limited time to play around with different media can be more rewarding. I do find I need to jot down anything and everything that inspires me, any ideas I have for future subjects, or they’re soon lost in the brain fog.

CC: Where do you find inspiration?
E-JR:
Colour, colour, colour. More often than not, the prompt to create will be an impression left on me by a particularly colourful painting, by flowers I’ve seen on my daily walks with M, or from art and craft magazines. Lately I’ve been dipping into magazines and books about crafts I don’t even practise—yet!—because I find that ideas, techniques, and images start to feed off one another when you‘re not focusing on just one medium. I’m also taking a vast number of photos of M every day, because she is so photogenic. I love capturing her. I have painted her in oil pastel and sketched her while she was sleeping, and there’s a sketch I made of two of her favourite cuddly toys that I’m planning to frame for her bedroom. We’re surrounded by toys here, so it’s not surprising they get in on the art too!

CC: You participate in the EDM Challenge—is that something you do regularly?
E-JR:
I discovered the Everyday Matters group on Yahoo early last year. It is a very active group, in which members share sketches and paintings and visual journals and art supply recommendations, as well as approaches to drawing and painting. The challenges offer no-pressure encouragement to get drawing: a weekly suggestion is posted to the group which is then added to the ever-growing list of subjects to sketch, and members tackle it as and when and if they please, then share with the group. My approach to the challenges is a haphazard one, mostly because my mind tends to go off in too many directions at once for any kind of prompt to stay lodged there for long, but I enjoy doing and posting them, and seeing what other artists have come up with in response to the same prompt.

CC: What are your top 5 favorite blogs—the ones you check every day?
E-JR:
It’s so difficult to narrow it down to five, especially with Yahoo groups, Flickr, Ravelry and podcasts also competing for my time now. I check the EDM Superblog daily, as it’s a good way of accessing the latest blog posts of a large number of the group’s members in one place. I’m also an avid listener of the Creative Mom Podcast and Cast On. The Artful Parent blog is a recent discovery that’s very inspiring too [check out Breakfast with Jean]. The stuff I read regularly is listed on my own blog.

CC: What is your greatest indulgence?
E-JR:
Art and craft magazines! The Pastel Journal, Interweave Crochet, International Artist, Knitscene—and whatever magazines in French I can lay my hands on. If there’s a glass of wine handy with which to wash down all this information, that’s always a welcome indulgence too.

CC: What are you reading right now?
E-JR:
The Quincunx by Charles Palliser—a novel I’d been daring myself to read about 15 years, and which, now that I have less free time than ever, I’ve somehow decided I should get stuck into. I think it may be precisely because I’m resigned to the fact that I can no longer devour books as greedily as I used to, besides which I’m usually dipping into several non-fiction books at the same time. At the moment, these include Feutres: regarder le ciel et créer, Françoise Tellier-Loumagne‘s book about felting, and Ruth Issett’s Glorious Papers.

CC: What advice would you offer to other mothers struggling to be more creative and find time for their art?
E-JR: For me, the way forward is to embrace those periods of, say, 10 minutes to crochet a few rows of my scarf, knit a row of my shrug, draw the outline of a simple still life to be painted at a later date, or scribble ideas in a notebook. Time that only presents itself to you in small amounts becomes all the more precious, I think, and you learn how to be more productive in a short space of time, picking up whatever tool is to hand instead of faffing around looking for a particular pencil. When I go anywhere, my bag is always over-optimistically crammed full of stuff—sketchbook, pen, watercolour bijou box, and waterbrush, a small crochet project, my digital camera, a knitting magazine—in case I get 5 minutes. And since I work from home, there’s nobody to tell me on my work days that I can’t use my lunch hour to sketch what I’m about to eat, or listen to a knitting podcast as I clean the kitchen.

In order to use the time more productively, though, I do think you need to have some idea of what it is you’re trying to produce, even if it never materializes in the form you envisage. Setting monthly goals can be helpful. I hope September will see me becoming more familiar with my sewing machine, managing a couple of oil pastels, coming up with my first ATC [artist trading card] for an exchange, filling a few sketchbook pages while I’m on holiday later in the month, and keeping up with Project 365 (to take a photo every day for a year). If I achieve all of these things, I’ll be surprised. But I’ll be even more surprised if I don’t manage a few of them, now that I’ve fixed them in my mind. In between all of that and work, I expect to spend a lot of time at the kitchen table with my daughter, finding new ways to make a mess and have fun. I love buying new art materials for her as much as I love acquiring them for myself. The other morning our explorations with paint lasted a wonderful 90 minutes. At 2 years old, she now exclaims “Yeah! Painting!” and rushes to the table whenever I suggest an art session. I’m not sure which of us is more excited. And that’s a joy.

CC: Thank you for the wisdom and inspiration, Emma-Jane!

Breakfast with Benita

I am so excited about this week’s Breakfast guest! We’re off to Sweden to meet Benita Larsson, blogger behind the insanely popular Chez Larsson. Of all the dozens of blogs I read regularly (I’m up to 52 in my Google reader), Benita’s is an absolute fave. She blogs about organization, creative hobbies, and domestic life with an inspiring, original flair. I can’t read her blog without itching to go clean out a cabinet. True, I happen to be an organization junkie — but this stuff is so good! Since my birthday arrives in a few days, this interview was a gift to myself. Birthday cake for breakfast? I’ll take a big slice, please.

CC: Please give us an intro to who you are, what you do, and your family parameters.
BL:
I’m 43 years old, the visual merchandiser of a chain store in Sweden where I’m in charge of the look of the marketing campaigns. I buy the props, the promotional materials, and the gift wrap for 150 shops. I live in small house in a Stockholm suburb with my husband, 14-year-old son, and two cats.

CC: What prompted you to start blogging? Are you surprised by your blog’s popularity?
BL:
I had a Flickr account and people were noticing my photos and commenting on them and blogging them. I got Flickr mail requesting house tours and quite a few questions on whether I would start a blog. I resisted for a while thinking I don’t have that much of interest to share but then thought I might as well give it a go. I’m completely overwhelmed at the popularity! To think that people all over the world are reading what I write and find it interesting amazes to me. I get the sweetest e-mails from readers who say I’ve inspired them to become more organized and I love that!

so many crafts, so little time...

so many crafts, so little time...

CC: You have many creative pursuits, in addition to a talent for organizing (to which you bring much creativity). Can you tell us about your various creative hobbies and interests? What does “creativity” mean in your life? How does your design background figure in?
BL:
I always take on way too many creative projects… Most are to do with our house. I love renovating, organizing, decorating, and gardening. I sew pillows for my home and my Etsy shop, screen print fabric, gocco print card for my shop. I wish there were more hours in a day to fit it all in… Creativity to me means seeing possibilities in everyday items and being able to turn nothing into something. I don’t really have much professional training in the design field. I started out as a trainee at Ikea more than 20 years ago and I think that Ikea influenced me in thinking economically about design and decorating and keeping things simple. I worked there for three years and have since worked for many companies but I think the simple Ikea way is probably my biggest influence. Although I don’t think of my home as an Ikea home. There are not that many Ikea pieces in there. I guess I have a sort of love/hate relationship there…

blogging spot

blogging spot

CC: You clearly like to be busy and productive. How do you prioritize among family life, work life, blogging, domestic work, and creative projects? What are your time-management strategies?
BL:
All of it at once! I’m very impulsive when it comes to doing things. I think of something and want it done immediately and finish it off quickly. Problem! Like I said there are not enough hours in the day. The way I’d love to prioritize is 1) Family 2) Creative projects 3) Blogging 4) Domestic work 5) Work life. That would be ideal. The truth is more like this 1) Family life, domestic work and work life in a jumble 2) Creative work 3) Blogging. I so wish I didn’t have to got to an office five days a week but at the moment we can’t afford to cut down. I’d love to come up with something which would allow for me to work from home…

craft area

craft area

CC: Where do you do your creative work and blogging?
BL:
I blog at a standing desk in the hallway of our house. The creative work is done all over the house, depending on what it is. Carpentry in the garage/workshop, sewing in the living room, papercraft at my craft desk etc. There are usually projects going on in all of these spaces.

CC: Challenges: What do you struggle with most?
BL:
Lack of time!

CC: Where do you find inspiration?
BL:
I read design blogs and housy blogs. I love foreign interior design magazines and books and I occasionally travel abroad, which is inspiring too.

gocco in the kitchen

gocco in the kitchen

CC: What are your top 5 favorite blogs—the ones you check every day?
BL:
That’s a difficult one. Only five huh? I love these, but many, many more too…

CC: What is your greatest indulgence?
BL:
Getting somebody to clean my windows twice a year. I hate doing them as I can never get them perfectly clean and this guy arrived and swoosh, they are perfect! I love it!

garage space for building furniture

garage space for building furniture

CC: What are you reading right now?
BL:
I just finished reading a nostalgic coffee table book about candy and ice cream. I also love crime novels…

CC: What advice would you offer to other mothers struggling to be more creative and find time for their interests?
BL:
Please try to fit it in somehow and skip something that’s less important to you. I skip going out in favor of staying in to do my creative projects. To me a movie and a meal out or a party is of less importance than finishing a project I’m on. That’s me, but you may want to skip doing your ironing and get somebody to do that for you to free up that time for some creative project.

CC: Tack så mycket, Benita!

Breakfast with Amy

Amy Grennell is overflowing with creative mojo. Not only does she have a beautiful blog, fabulous art journals, altered photos, and many other creative interests—she’s due to give birth to her second child in a matter of days. We’re so glad she had time to join us for Breakfast before the baby comes, sharing her ideas for getting started with art journalling for the uninitiated. You may want to rush out and get your hands on a journal posthaste. Enjoy!

CC: Please give us an intro to who you are, what you do, and your family headcount.
AG:
I am a 33-year-old stay-at-home mom who spends her “free” time doing lots of creative projects, from painting and photography to art journaling. Family: Me, my husband, 3-year-old daughter Melody, and Baby (coming September 3); miniature schnauzer Odin and four hens (Lucy, Glenda, Irma, and Betty).

CC: Tell us about your many creative endeavors and what’s on the offing in your Etsy shop.
AG: I do painting, drawing, collage, journaling, photography, jewelry-making, and sewing. It rotates a lot according to my mood or current interests or even the time of year.

I started off doing some mixed-media type collages using free images a couple of years ago and I have always done photography. I took a quilting class in 2004 and made a quilt before getting into sewing a bit more.

My creativity sort of blossomed from there and I ended up doing altered books and then teaching a class at a local paper store. I also started making jewelry because I could make it very easily and even sell it to make some extra money. Then I got into art journaling last year as a way to do some mixed media with my own images and handwriting as sort of a scrapbooking meets collage-type of expression. I really liked the outlet it gave me to create a little something every day to represent that day (even if I don’t always do it every day).

As my daughter got more into painting and collage herself, she was spending up to 30 minutes doing her own artwork at the dining room table and so I experimented using her supplies too. Now I do mostly art journaling as well as some painting and photography. With the photos I have been doing a lot of altering in Photoshop to make them look a bit more surreal or artistic. I would like to experiment more with combining photography with watercolor too.

In my Etsy shop I sell jewelry as well as a few other items like prints of artwork, photos, and soap.

CC: How did you get started with your beautiful visual journals? Any tips for those of us who may not be “artists” but would like to start an art journal?
AG:
First off I don’t consider myself an artist so when I first started one I called it a “visual journal” because I was so worried about using that “a” word. I really didn’t know what I was doing but I liked the idea of incorporating more than just writing into a journal entry. I had been doing altered books with images and text but then was inspired by some art journals I saw by Randi Feuerhelm-Watts, Mary Ann Moss, and Kira Harding.

I had already collected random images from magazines and such for use with collages so I just got a Moleskine journal and started drawing or doing rubber stamping at first along with some other images every day. From there I found that I like using white cardstock and a three-hole punch to make a larger journal that I could keep the pages in or out of while working on them.

To get started, all you need is some paper and a pen and maybe a few things to color with or even a few images you like. The basic things that I use are: white cardstock, black Sharpie or Pitt artist’s pen, cheap acrylic paint, some sort of images, scissors, and a glue stick. Most people have these basic items on hand anyways.

Don’t compare your pages to anyone else’s and don’t share them with anyone if you don’t want to.

See how you feel about journaling this way and then keep at it. When you look back on older pages you will see not only that you are “getting better” at it but are able to fine tune which symbols, colors, and themes you are using.

CC: What prompted you to start a blog? What keeps you going?
AG:
I think I just started reading quite a few and then realized that it would be a good way to keep track of my creative goals. If I shared a project on my blog then I would have to share the end result as well. This has really helped me get things finished.

I try to share things that I love and hope to inspire others while I am at it. I think of myself as a positive person and if one reader gets a smile or feels a similar feeling I think it’s very meaningful.

CC: Where do you do your creative work?
AG:
The dining room table really. I had set up a space in what will be Baby’s room and then never really did a lot in there. I still don’t do much where my supplies are so I tend to carry them around in a tote bag or keep them on the table or a side table in the family room area.

CC: Do you have a schedule for your creative work?
AG:
Not really, just that I usually do things in the late morning because later in the day and the evening I am tired and just feel like reading before bed. My husband usually takes my daughter out for a walk in the morning for a while so I often get a little “me time” then or work on something when my daughter is playing or doing her own painting at the table. I also try to have my camera with me all the time, especially in the backyard so I can take a photo or two every day.

CC: Any planned strategy for keeping your creative fires burning with a new baby at home?
AG:
I think my outlook is realistic in that I know everything is going to change and I really won’t have time or energy to do much. The weekends hold some promise but also I have been trying to sketch or write down ideas for things as they come to me right now so that when I do get a little time and I can’t remember something I wanted to make, I can just look at the sketch or the notes. I do a lot of things in short little spurts of 5 to 10 minutes—especially on the couch—so I think I can squeeze some time in here and there.

CC: What do you struggle with most?
AG:
Trying to narrow things down in my creative life so that I can just focus on one thing. I know that this isn’t really possible for a lot of people, but I seem to have a hard time with identifying who I have become in the last couple of years. I was a writer; then I pushed some of the creative or artistic limits I had imposed on myself after my daughter was born. I look at the time spent at home raising our children to be partially a time for me to hone my true life’s purpose. I know that sounds a bit cheesy. This is easier said than done because I have so many interests it’s always challenging for me to really narrow myself down even though I would like to a little more.

CC: How much does guilt factor in your life?
AG:
It used to, when I would be working on something and really wanted to finish it but my daughter was whining and pulling on me. I realized that creating things makes me feel better so I am a better person and parent overall because of it. Also when I sell something and go to the post office now with my daughter to mail it off she asks “who I am mailing it too?” I explain someone bought that necklace or earrings I made last week. They gave me money for them so I am mailing it to them.

CC: Where do you find inspiration?
AG:
Nature and my daughter, as well as children’s books.

CC: What are your top 5 favorite blogs?

CC: What is your greatest indulgence?
AG:
Chocolate and naps.

CC: What are you reading right now?
AG:
Tao of Watercolor by Jeanne Carbonetti, Painting From the Inside Out by Betsy Dillard Stroud, and All Year Round by Ann Druitt.

CC: What advice would you offer to other mothers struggling to find the time and means to be more creative?
AG:
I think being creative is an integral part of everyone’s life whether they think so or not. Doing something creative every day no matter how small is a great outlet for stress and expression so you are doing everyone a favor if you spend some time doing a creative project every day. I don’t think guilt or frustration should factor in. Plus you can always involve your children too in a project if you simply can’t do it alone.

CC: Thank you, Amy!

Breakfast with Elizabeth

If you’re looking for a dose of inspiration, voilà. I guarantee that what artist Elizabeth Beck has to say is going to hit you like a double espresso. When you finish reading (and laughing), you’re going to leap up and get busy. (Just don’t leap up so fast that you twist an ankle.) So here, for your bloggy delight, is the latest installment of Breakfast.

Elizabeth

CC: Please give us an intro to who you are, what you do, and your family headcount.
EB:
I’m Elizabeth, a wife, a mom, and an artist—those are the big ones, anyway. I was a teacher before I started staying home with my kids more than 11 years ago. When I was ready to go back to work, I decided to pursue art as a fulltime career choice—or, as fulltime as I could manage it. Andy and I started dating in college, dated a LONG time, and have been married for 18 years. We have boy/girl twins who are 11 and start middle school this week and a little one who is 7. I would be remiss in discussing my family if I left out the dog. We have a five-pound Maltese named Dixie. My twins asked for a dog, and I gave them a baby sister; the baby sister asked for a baby brother, and I gave her a dog. I wonder what the dog is going to ask for?

CC: Tell us about your artwork and your Etsy shop.
EB:
Eep! I’m kind of slack on my Etsy shop. I have some prints of my art there, and have sold some—like five! But I’ve sold about 200 of those prints at art shows and such. I think the groovy thing about them is that they can be completely personalized. I have an Etsy shop because it seems like the thing to do, but I never really got on board with the marketing of it. Those prints are from original collages that I make on stretched canvases. I sell my canvases through a GREAT gallery, Lola’s in Roswell, Georgia. A couple of other galleries carry my work as well, on a smaller scale. I also do a couple of art shows a year, have some decorators who sell my work for me, and have quite a few word-of-mouth buyers. My collages are not the typical collages that are prevalent now. I primarily do NOT use other people’s imagery. Instead, I paint groovy papers and use them to make my imagery. I tend to have traditional compositions done with a non-traditional kick.

CC: What prompted you to start a blog? What keeps you going?
EB:
when I started REALLY trying to be an artist, the hardest part was the business end: the marketing. I could paint a thousand paintings, but I worried that they’d all end up in my basement if I didn’t tell the world I was making them. I started with flickr, just putting my art on my page. My signature line on my e-mails had my flickr site, so everyone I had any e-mail contact with knew I had “started” being a REAL artist. That flickr community was a perfect way of networking with other artists and I even sold some pieces online when people who found a piece on flickr contacted me.

Moving on to a blog from that was a natural progression. I wanted to write about my art: what I was doing, how I was doing it, how it made me feel, what I was planning. It took me a while to figure out that I wasn’t doing it for my friends and family to read, but for an art community that has developed in the blogosphere—and I do think that someone interested in investing in art is more likely to do so if they “know” the artist, even if that knowledge of them is from a blog. Why do I keep on blogging? I think it is partly accountability. Nearly every day I can say, yes, I did something artsy today and can post it. Having that blog keeps me from having long stretches of no creativity. I’m always working on something. I also do it because I like it. I enjoy it; it makes me happy.

CC: Where do you do your creative work?
EB:
I have a very groovy basement. I even have a whole flickr set of its evolution from messy to tidy to messy to tidy to messy. It is currently on the rapid descent to disaster area. After my next art deadline passes, I’ll do a big cleanup. It’s a cyclical thing I have going. When we bought this house, the basement was an unfinished, unwindowed, dank, dark, yucky spot. But it is now finished out. I put in a sink and yummy yellow happy walls. It has perfect cement slab floors that give me no angst when I spill or splatter paint. It has lots of organizational drawers and bins and cupboards—and it is ALL MINE. It used to be my kids’ playspace with a tiny nook for my art. But as they’ve grown, my space has expanded and theirs has shrunk. The nice thing though is that my kids are all artsy, fun, and usually have their own projects going in my art studio.

CC: Do you have a schedule for your creative work? Tell us about your leap to fulltime art.
EB:
When my youngest child was nearing the age for kindergarten, I had a fleeting “oh-my-gosh-what-am-I-going-to-do-without-my-baby” thing. I considered going back to work as a teacher. Then I figured that I could actually give fulltime artist a try. It was a very conscious decision. Before the kindergarten year started, I had signed up to participate in an art show that fall with no paintings to show!! But it was a plan, and I love a good plan. That show went very well I sold loads. And all it takes is one sale to make you want to sell another. I have all this art in me trying to get out—but I think it would manifest itself differently if I weren’t selling it. Because I am fortunate enough to sell my pieces, I take risks, like painting giant canvases or doing a series of 18 canvases. if they were collecting dust in my basement and not getting sold, I’d be working smaller or less or in different media. I actually love sewing and ceramics and painting furniture. I’m pretty sure I’d like woodworking and welding and wedding cake decorating if I had a go at them. So if I wasn’t selling what I create, I might be creating something altogether different.

That was my leap to fulltime art. I skipped the “do you have a schedule” part of the question…Yes, when my kids are in school I try to do art EVERY day, skip none. Sometimes that time is an hour or less but some days I walk the kids to school, walk the dog a couple of miles, and then start art at 9 o’clock. I can get in six hours with just a couple of dog-walking breaks. I try to do more than 20 hours of art a week. Some weeks I can do 30 or more, especially if I’m building up for a show. It took me a while to figure out that my art time is not actually JUST while a paintbrush is in hand. All the business parts of it need to count. During the school week, when my kids are home, I am not painting—instead, I’m busy doing that mom thing that really takes full attention.

The best thing that I have going for me is that my best pal, Allison Strine, is an artist too. We paint at each other’s houses frequently. She pushes me to be more and better and riskier and cooler and groovier. We do a lot of our shows in side-by-side booths. We talk each other through the rough spots of being artists. She’s my biggest cheerleader. She gets it.

CC: What do you struggle with most?
EB:
Wow, I’m pretty struggle-free. My big picture is very, very happy. So the stuff that isn’t so easy doesn’t seem like too big a deal. I’m pretty laid back but I do have struggles, of course, everyone does. Three kids and all their activities keep me hopping. I don’t much like to cook, and yet I cook dinner for my family every night. Maybe that’s their struggle, not mine (spaghetti, again?). I’d join a nudist colony if you promised I’d never have to do another load of laundry in my life. That won’t happen because my family shouts me down every time I suggest it (do you want to join a nudist colony or help me with laundry?).

And art wise? I’m so happy to be doing art that it never feels like much of a struggle. My biggest art struggle at the moment is a September 1 deadline for two four foot by six foot canvases. SO big is not SO easy, but “struggle” might be overstating. It’s more of a procrastination thing at this point. Another struggle is a gorgeous green canvas that I made about two years ago, four feet wide. At the moment is has a cow I cut from a map taped to it, waiting for me to be brave enough to move on with it, glue it down. Rather than actually work on it, I expend all my moments dithering on it. So, considering I started the paragraph saying I’m pretty struggle free, that’s a lot of struggles—but all low-rent struggles, as struggles go.

CC: How much does guilt factor in your life?
EB: I don’t really do guilt and I don’t know why. I think it is actually a pretty unique thing about me. Nearly every woman I know feels guilt about something or other, or even about multiple things. Mostly I do what I think is right—and what I need to do and what I love to do. So where’s the need for guilt? I think I don’t bother to take the time for guilt. It’s just not productive enough. Rather than feeling guilty about eating another bowl of ice cream, I just enjoy the ice cream. Same with chores. Oh, I didn’t go to the bank for the ninth day running—I hope I go tomorrow—now where is that check I’m meant to deposit? Hmmmm, what should I have for dinner? Noodles are easy, and we didn’t eat them last night. Oh! Here’s a true confession. My son had noodles all three meals yesterday. In his words: for the first time in his life! Leftover mac ’n cheese for breakfast, leftover tortellini for lunch, spaghetti with meat sauce for dinner. You might think I’m a bad mother, but I have no guilt—and he did have a banana with that mac ’n cheese to make it a bit more breakfast.

CC: Where do you find inspiration?
EB:
This is the hardest question. I don’t KNOW where I find inspiration. I THINK I find it everywhere, in maps and dictionaries, in the perfect red paint (Van Gogh’s), in the perfect paintbrush (feathered), in huge canvases, in tiny canvases, on flickr, in my backyard, in my heart, in my head, in colors, in books, in letters, in stencils, in stamps—it kind of just happens. I’ll work on this answer and see if it is conscious or subconscious and where it comes from. So ask me again later.

CC: What are your top 5 favorite blogs?
EB: My read-it-every-day-and-feel-so-enlightened-and-smarter-for-having-read-it blog:

My never-met-in-real-life-pals-who-are-artists-and-have-happy-artsy-blogs-that-I-try-to-visit-every-day blogs:

I know that’s too many, but I’m not much for rule following and those are all artsy happy blogs that I really enjoy.

CC: What is your greatest indulgence?
EB:
At the moment? Tennis. I had to think for a while about if that was just too weird to write, but it’s my favorite thing right now. I’ve been playing not quite two years and I’m not very good, but I play on a team and I take lessons. I scheme with a best pal, Dana, how to play more, more, more. It takes up some very precious commodities: time, money, and energy.

she: e, what are you doing today?
me: oh, I’m planning on spending 9 to 3 in my art studio, yada, yada, big plans, green canvas, map cow, yada yada
she: can you play tennis at 9:30?
me: yes

Without batting an eyelash, it seems I’ll drop anything for tennis. That’s indulgent, right?

CC: What are you reading right now?
EB: I am reading Snakehead, an Alex Ryder mystery, by Anthony Horowitz. It’s teen fiction. My 11-year-olds have both read the whole series—this is number seven for me. I finished Ark Angel yesterday and am already on page 100 or so of this next one. One of my most favorite joys is that my kids are growing up and matching my interests. I love playing games, and they all are happy to play the games I love (Rummikub, Life, Sequence, Yahtzee, Apple to Apple, Ruckus, Set) and the big two are finally reading books that I can read and love too. Another series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan, was awesome. I think we’ve read four of those. They are smart and interesting books, made all the better because I can talk to my kids about them.

Redux on indulgences: Books are my indulgence. I don’t just love READING books; I love buying them, I love having shelves and shelves of them. When I was a kid, my parents had books in every room. When I had to read a book for school, my parents ALWAYS had it on a shelf somewhere. My freshman year in high school I started reading Agatha Christie—and probably read fifty of them that year, just because my dad had them sitting there available to me. (I just googled it: Agatha Christie wrote 79 mysteries, 6 romances under a pseudonym, and 4 nonfiction books! Gosh, I love google.) So, that said, I hope to have loads of grand books in my house for my kids to choose from. I want everyone to always have a good book available.

CC: What advice would you offer to other mothers struggling to find the time and means to be more creative?
EB:
Be happy. Find the things that you love and do them. If you love playing on the playground with your kids, play on the playground. If you HATE playing on the playground, skip it. They won’t grow up thinking themselves playground deprived; they’ll remember the great stuff you did do. My kids have logged in countless bike miles, because that’s what I love. Some people think that taking your seven-year-old on a ten mile bike ride is torture. My seven-year-old thinks she’s lucky I let her come. She knows she’s strong. My kids had used more paint by the time they were three than most people use in a lifetime. We painted because that is what I love. My kids know our bookstore as well as I do. When they were especially little, we did what made ME happy and it made all of us happier. When the kids were little, I did NOT enjoy (or play) Candyland but I loved Hi Ho Cherry-O, Busy Town Bingo, and Concentration. My son has been beating me at Concentration since he was 2. My husband played a lot of Candyland—it didn’t bug him.

So, while you are with your kids? Be happy, do great things, have fun, be happy. And, just as important, make a point of not being with your kids. Whether it’s naptime, after bedtime, with a babysitter, a girls night out, or a date with your husband, be a grown up with interests and a life. Find what you love and do it. Be happy make a point of being happy.

CC: Thank you so much for sharing. You are truly an inspration, Elizabeth!

Breakfast with Brenda

We have a few “Breakfast” chefs-d’oeuvre coming your way in the next few weeks, and here’s one of them. Squeeze yourself a fresh glass of OJ and sit down with Brenda Ponnay, perhaps better known as the blogger Secret Agent Josephine. Brenda is also a mother, freelance graphic designer, illustrator, and painter. Brenda says that her secret to being creative is “I drink a LOT of coffee and I’m not a perfectionist (obviously). I think perfectionism hangs up a lot of talented people.” She may not be a perfectionist, but she certainly is talented.

Brenda (aka Secret Agent Josephine)

Brenda (aka Secret Agent Josephine)

CC: Please give us an intro to who you are, what you do, and your family headcount.
BP:
My real name is Brenda Ponnay but I go by Secret Agent Josephine on the web. It’s a silly little name I made up when I first started blogging when I had no idea what I was doing. It’s since become my own little identity and freelance business. You could say I’m a mom first, illustrator/graphic designer second. I just try do what I love and make sure it pays for itself and doesn’t take away too much of my time from my family. Balancing my freelance career and my family life is a constant struggle but I don’t think I could stop being this way even if someone unplugged me from the internet and forced me to live in some commune in the desert. It’s just who I am. As for my family, they are my husband Toby and my daughter Helena but we call her Baby Bug.

CC: Tell us about your design business and other creative pursuits.
BP:
I mostly illustrate banners, logos and various web graphics. From time to time I help someone design business cards, brochures, etc., but I prefer not to work in print anymore because it takes up too much of my time outside my home. I like doing web work because it is just me and the customer and I don’t even have to meet them face to face. Business by e-mail works best for me. My customers don’t care if I work at midnight as long as the work gets done!

Painting al fresco

Painting al fresco

Right now my other creative pursuits are limited to a few paintings that I sell in my Etsy shop. I don’t have any up right now because they sell pretty quick. Someday I’d like to do a children’s book and perhaps some games (like a matching game for toddlers). I’d also like to do a second version of my alphabet cards. What I’m really working on though is getting my website up and running again. I had to take most of my pages down a while back when I had an illustration theft scare and it’s taken me quite a while to even think about getting them back up. I also have quite a few side websites swirling around in my head that need to be created.

CC: Your blog is something of a phenomenon. What got you started?
BP:
I wrote about this on my Who is Secret Agent Josephine Anyway? page. But really all I want to say is that I started the site on a whim. I wanted to write about my personal life somewhere that was electronic and easy to use. Blogging fit that need perfectly and I have never looked back. I never realized it would become what it is now.

CC: Where do you do your creative work?

Brenda's office

Brenda at work

BP: Ha! I work in a box. Seriously. I have issues because I do not have my own space in my house. My husband promises me that I will have a studio someday when we buy a house…where I can paint and make big messes but right now I do not have that. I had to put my laptop (where I do most of my work) in a box in order to keep out the glare from the bright windows in our living room. What happened was really strange. I found that having my own space, no matter how small it was, gave me tremendous creative freedom. I feel more motivated to work when I am in my box. I love my box. As Virginia Wolfe says, “a woman must have money and a room of her own…” Mine just happens to be really really small.

CC: Do you have a schedule for your creative work?

BB

Baby Bug

BP: I get two hours every day to do “me” stuff. These two hours are basically my daughter’s nap time so they are not always predictable. But life is what it is and I make the best of it. Most of that time I spend trying to get work done because I’m always behind. But sometimes I do what I want because I’m the boss of me and I can. I also try to do fun crafts with my daughter (when she is awake of course!). Firstly because it’s a great way to burn hours when I don’t know what else to do besides the endless housework and picking up after a toddler and secondly because it is fun for both of us. I really want her to grow up to enjoy being creative as much as I do.

CC: What do you struggle with most?
BP:
Balancing. Every time I think I have it all figured out and I have a routine that works and keeps everyone happy, something changes and I have to start over again. Those first few days of a change (like two naps a day turning into one because my daughter is growing up) are terrible and I whine and complain like nobody’s business. But then I learn to adapt and things get better. I think the hardest part for me is realizing that this is all a cycle and I have to roll with it. I need to remember that I’ve been through it before and what didn’t kill me made me stronger. Being a mom of a small child is only a short amount of time when you look at the big picture. I have to make sacrifices. I can’t do everything I want to do. But I know there will be years in the future (I plan on living to 102) when I will have more time. I’ll only have this time with my daughter once. So I have to do a good job for her sake.

Desk

Desk (note slippers & Hello Kitty mousepad)

CC: How much does guilt factor in your life?
BP:
Hahahaha. What kind of question is that? Guilt. Well, after the screaming monkey that is my child is asleep, I often feel guilty that I got so cross at her when she was awake. I think feeling that guilt makes me try harder to be a better mother the next day. I think that is why God made children so adorably cute, so we wouldn’t kill them when they are being horrid.

CC: How has motherhood changed you creatively?
BP:
This is a good question. I think Keri Smith answered it best. The only thing that I can really say on this subject is that while my child has greatly hindered my productivity she has also quadrupled my inspiration. So it works out. She is my muse. She is my inspiration. I wouldn’t have half the ideas I have now if I didn’t have her around. I wanted a daughter very badly for a very long time. I felt like a part of me was missing. That sadness hindered me. So now she hinders me in the flesh but I would rather put up with that any day.

Inspiration board

Inspiration board (click for larger image)

CC: Where do you find inspiration?
BP:
Wow. I keep answering these questions before I get to them. My daughter inspires me. Her great big eyes make themselves onto a lot of my illustrations. I’m also inspired by the books she reads and the cartoons she watches. There are so many amazing children’s illustrators out there that I never knew about before. I never feel hard up for inspiration. If I do feel a little sluggish, I just drink a cup of coffee and I’m buzzing again.

CC: What are your top 5 favorite blogs—the ones you read every day?
BP:
I hate this question because I don’t really have a top five. First I read my friends and family and then I read about five other random sites but they change from time to time. Here are my top random five of today:

Cookies

You know you want some, baked or not

CC: What is your greatest indulgence?
BP:
Making cookies and eating about a third of the dough. It always makes me sick and then I hate myself for days afterwards but I still do it.

CC: What are you reading right now?
BP:
Hardly anything. I have a stack of books on my shelf to read but I am not reading them. The last really great book I read was Beautiful Boy by David Sheff. This was a good book for me but mostly because I have an addict in my extended family and I was struggling to make sense of it all. This book was an amazing comfort for me.

CC: What advice would you offer to other mothers struggling to be more creative?
BP:
My best advice to others is to do what you love. Don’t beat yourself up because you aren’t doing what you think you should be doing. You can only do so much and what you really enjoy doing will rise to the top. Pick one or two things and do them well. Then give yourself a break about the rest.

CC: Thanks, Brenda — er, Secret Agent Josephine. (Brenda is on blog haitus until September 15, so check back soon!)

Breakfast with Suzanne

Get your passport out, because this week we’re meeting in Japan for Breakfast. Meet Suzanne Kamata: mother, writer, editor, blogger, expat, and wife of a baseball coach. Oh, and she’s been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Five times. Batter up!

Suzanne Kamata

Suzanne Kamata

CC: Please give us an intro to who you are, what you do, and your family headcount.
SK:
I’m an American writer, sometime editor, and stay-at-home mom living in rural Japan with my Japanese husband and our nine-year old twins.

CC: Tell us about your writing life. Any other creative pursuits?
SK:
I have been writing and publishing short stories in literary journals since my early twenties. Not long after I arrived in Japan, I started an English-language literary journal of my own called Yomimono, which enabled me to connect with other expatriate writers. This gave me the confidence to edit and publish an anthology of expatriate fiction: The Broken Bridge: Fiction from Expatriates in Literary Japan. During this time, I’ve always been at work on one novel or another. I finally published a literary novel — my third attempt — this past January. It’s called Losing Kei and it’s about an expat mother in Japan who loses custody of her son then does what she has to do to get him back.

Having children inspired me to start writing children’s stories, and over the past year I’ve published fiction for kids in Ladybug, Cicada, Skipping Stones, and an anthology called Summer Shorts. My first picture book for kids, Playing for Papa, will be published in a bilingual edition (English and Spanish) by Topka Books in November.

I’ve also developed a deep interest in literature about individuals with disabilities. (My daughter is deaf and has cerebral palsy). I recently collected literature on parenting disabled children. The resulting book is Love You to Pieces: Creative Writers on Raising a Child with Special Needs.

Losing Kei

Losing Kei

CC: What got you started blogging, and what keeps you going?
SK:
Originally I was hoping for free books, but now I have a sense of audience. I write for my readers, for the people who keep coming back.

CC: Where do you do your creative work?
SK:
At the computer, in my car, at the kitchen table, in restaurants and coffee shops, and occasionally while sprawled across my bed.

CC: Do you have a schedule for your creative work? Is this different when you’re working under a contract?
SK:
I don’t really have a schedule. I usually have a couple of days a week when I am free between dropping my kids off at school and picking them up in the afternoon. If I am working under a contract, I use that time to get my work done. If I don’t have an assignment, I try to use that time for creative work.

CC: What do you struggle with most?
SK:
Time, of course. There is never enough of it. And I always feel like I should be cleaning the house or exercising or writing letters to my 92-year-old grandfather or something, instead of writing. I also feel that I should be out making money.

One of Suzanne's muses

One of Suzanne's muses

CC: How has motherhood changed you creatively?
SK:
It has changed the focus of my writing and it has made me less precious about my writing time. It has made me more productive! I used to have hours and hours — entire days to myself, where I accomplished so very little. My novel and my second anthology, as well as half a dozen short stories, essays, and a bunch of newspaper articles, were published after I became the mother of twins, one of whom has special needs.

CC: Where do you find inspiration?
SK:
From my children, of course, and also from newspaper and magazine articles. When I was teaching English, I was often inspired by stories that my students told me. I’m also inspired by Japanese culture. And I dig back into my memories.

CC: What are your top 5 favorite blogs — the ones you read every day?
SK:
The blogs at LiteraryMama and MotherVerse; Mothers Who Write [see Breakfast with Kate], Disabilities Studies Blog, and various blogs by expat moms, such as Here in Korea, and mothers of kids with special needs, such as Vicki Forman’s blog Speak Softly [we join Suzanne in extending our mother hearts to Vicki and her family on the recent and unexpected passing of her son, Evan] and Pinwheels.

A selection of Suzanne's credits

A selection of Suzanne's credits

CC: What is your greatest indulgence?
SK:
Books. I buy lots of lots of books and I’m always getting in trouble with my husband when the Visa bill comes. That, and green tea lattes at Tully’s Coffee shop, where I often go to write.

CC: What are you reading right now?
SK:
I’m reading Opa Nobody by Sonya Huber, which is an interesting hybrid of fact and fiction; Mama PhD, edited by Caroline Grant, which is a collection of very accessible essays on motherhood and academia that anyone trying to juggle meaningful work (and/or creativity) and motherhood would be able to relate to; and finally, a short story collection, Apologies Forthcoming by Xujun Eberlein, a Chinese writer whose work I first discovered in MotherVerse.

CC: What advice would you offer to other mothers struggling to be more creative?
SK:
Don’t feel guilty about getting a babysitter once in a while and going off to a cafe or a locked room to be creative. Also, I think it’s important for us to share creative work with our children. When asked, my son once said that his dad was a teacher, and his mother did nothing. After that, I made sure that my son knew I was writing and producing. Now he’s very proud of the fact that his mom is a writer.

CC:Thank you, Suzanne!

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