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Posts tagged ‘family’

Meme of the Week

If you marry meme....

Happy Friday.

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Making Creative Hay Outside

Enjoy this seasonal reprint from the archives!

If it’s summertime in your part of the world — or if you live in a mild climate and enjoy fair weather more often than not — think about using outside resources to your creative advantage. When younger kids are out of school, making outdoor time a regular part of your routine can yield many benefits. We often end up spending time indoors just because it seems easier than setting up camp outside. But don’t let the force of habit inhibit your summertime fun and creativity.

If you have a yard of your own, make the most of this bonus. If you have a fenced-off space — even a small one — so much the better. Many mothers are able to sit on a lawn chair and write, read, or sketch while their kids play safely nearby. You can peruse that stack of magazines you haven’t read yet — any reading material that is easy to put down as needed. Outdoor time is also a great opportunity to take photographs of your kids or the world around you.

To stack the odds in your favor, use this four-pronged approach to outdoor (and indoor) downtime:

  1. Make sure everyone is well fed, watered, and toileted.
  2. Spend some time totally focused on the kids.
  3. When the kids seem engaged or playing independently after having some Mommy face time, turn to your creative work.
  4. Try to remain flexible. There will be days when the kids don’t want you staring at a notebook for even 30 seconds, and there will be other days when they’re happily immersed in their own worlds for 30 minutes. Go with the flow.

If your inventory of outdoor toys seems insufficient, yard sales and consignment shops are great places to pick up a few more. You might also send an e-mail to friends with older children to ask if they have anything hiding in their garages or attics that they no longer want.

Many toddlers and young children love to play with water. Consider filling a small kiddie pool with a few inches of water and a bunch of bath or beach toys — often good for at least 30 minutes of interest. For other outdoor play activities, do a bit of google searching and jot down the ideas you like best.

Food always seems to be more fun outdoors, too. Whether it’s just a snack in the backyard or a full-on picnic basket in the middle of a field, eating outside makes everyone happy.

When you’re headed to the park and your kids are old enough to play safely without constant supervision and won’t walk in front of the swings, don’t forget to bring a notepad, sketchbook, or something else to spend time with while you keep one eye on the children. You may find that it’s worth going out of your way to visit a playground that is fully enclosed and is equipped with a good amount of safe climbing structures to keep your kids entertained.

While you don’t want your kids to feel like you’re constantly on standby, waiting to bolt off to your own thing, you do want to be prepared to squeeze in some creative work when the opportunity arises. Over time, you’ll find the middle way that feels best for your and your family.

What works for you? Share your experience!

How to Do One Thing this Summer

kids' summer schedule planningIn the Northern Hemisphere, it’s warm and the days are long. The kids are out of school. We hope for leisurely days, hours spent outside, lots of reading, cooking on the grill, and hopefully a bit of actual time off — whether that means a staycation, an exotic getaway, or something in between.

Unfortunately, we still have to get crap done maintain some level of productivity.

If, like me, you work from a home office and have cobbled together a variety of childcare options for the next two months, your schedule may be turned on its head. Those with fulltime jobs outside the house must also navigate seasonal schedule changes. With the load of juggling that summer requires, it can seem near impossible to get through even a few things on your daily task list — despite the extra hours of sunshine. On top of your workload, you still have to maintain a vague semblance of functionality on the home front, keep everyone fed and clothed, and serve as cruise director. So we shoehorn the necessities into as few hours as possible in order to get the kids to the pool or go for a hike or spend some time working in the garden.

As you already know — all too well — when there’s a time crunch, the first thing to go is the stuff that matters only to you. Creative work, personal practices, personal care. The things you care about but that no one else particularly notices. There may be an indirect effect, as in, if you’re doing your creative work and meditating every morning you’re nicer to be around (as opposed to when you skip those things for too many days in a row and you morph into a raving lunatic get a little grouchy). But on the whole, these are the things that directly impact only one person when ignored: you.

morning freedom reminderDecide on One Thing that you’re going to focus on during the next two months. This could be a creative practice, such as writing or drawing for 30 minutes every day, or it could be that you’d like to complete a specific project during this timeframe. You might decide that your One Thing is a midsummer artist’s date; four hours on a Saturday afternoon to visit a museum by yourself, browse in a bookstore, or sit outside with an iced soy latte while you journal. Maybe you want to save one evening every week to enjoy that pile of magazines that never get read. Or you might be pulled to the self-care category: Perhaps you’d like to do yoga at home every morning. Whatever it is, pick One Thing that is important only to you, and claim it.

Can you pick more than One Thing? Of course. But One Thing, if chosen wisely, is accessible and doesn’t spawn overwhelm. Set yourself up for success. Make your One Thing something that is exciting and doable; realistic while pushing yourself just enough to feel your muscles stretching and strengthening. (I don’t recommend committing to write an 80K-word novel this summer, for example, unless your kids go to overnight camp for two months and you’re barring the door at a remote cabin. You get the idea.)

What’s my One Thing? At present my creative practice is rock solid (I haven’t missed my 500-word daily quota in more than six months), so I chose something that supports “focus,” one of my three words for 2013. I decided to enjoy my mornings and evenings without the distraction of social media and e-mail. This means no facebook, twitter, instagram, pinterest, or e-mail before 9:00 am or after 7:00 pm. Not on my iPhone, not on my laptop. When I adhere to this boundary, I avoid getting sucked into the vortex and have more time for things that matter. Social media is a amazing tool for connectivity — and I manage social media accounts for several clients, so actually get paid to be on facebook, ha ha — but on the personal front, idle social media usage that too easily too easily turns into an hour of wasted time. So the ban is essential — framed as something positive (which it is) as opposed to deprivation.

evening freedom reminderThe three steps to ensure that you do your One Thing:

  1. Put a stake in the ground: Write your One Thing in your calendar or daily schedule, as appropriate. If you have a project goal, decide how much time you’re going to devote to this work on a daily or weekly basis and add it to your calendar as you would an appointment.
  2. Create accountability: Since you already know how easy it is to skip out on what matters only to you, accountability is essential. Share your One Thing here as a comment. Then come back at the end of August and tell us how it went.
  3. Establish reminders: Write down your One Thing on sticky notes and place them in obvious locations around your house. Use reminders on your phone. Or use an app just for this purpose. I’m using the app Intention, which allows you to create visual reminders to keep you on track (the images that accompany this post are from the app; available for iPhone and iPad). The combination of intention with positive visuals is powerful. (For the record, I’m not a paid spokesperson.)

So pick your One Thing, follow the three steps, and enjoy the next two months.

I look forward to seeing what you chose for your One Thing, and supporting you in your success!

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Three Words for 2013

The new year has begun. At the two-week mark I’m ready to get specific about how I want to approach the months ahead. At about this time last year, I posted my personal review of 2011, and then my intentions for 2012. Instead of goals, l preferred the word intentions, because so many of my priorities comprised an ongoing practice, rather than end points. If you follow our Monday Post you know that my weekly intentions rarely vary. My frame for the coming year is similar. But first, a brief review of 2012, because I like to appreciate where I’ve been before moving forward. Don’t you?

2012 Highlights

  • freshly pressedIn January my nonfiction writers’ group met for the first time. A year later, we’re still going strong — each of the six of us working on books (although we have since sidled into fiction too). We meet monthly in person and share our progress weekly via e-mail. This group is hugely important to me.
  • In January I also launched my first group coaching circle, which met monthly throughout the year. An invaluable experience that will continue into 2013.
  • In March I taught the first of multiple writers’ workshops at Open Studio — workshops that were well received by my students and informed my own writing practice.
  • In March Studio Mothers made the Circle of Moms Top 25 Blogs list.
  • In May my business partner Ellen Olson-Brown and I had our first “live” television appearance as guests on a local cable show, Around Town.
  • In June I had the pleasure of being a guest on Mark Lipinski’s internet radio show, Creative Mojo. Mark is an awesome guy, and the experience was terrific.
  • For Studio Mothers, without a doubt the highlight of the year was making the WordPress Freshly Pressed page in June. The ginormous traffic increase and bump in subscribers means that we’re now reaching a much wider audience.
  • On July 4, I finished and released my e-book, The Creative Mother’s Guide: Six Creative Practices for the Early Years. Amazingly satisfying.
  • In August I began a regular writing practice. It wasn’t every day — not at first — but I realized that 500 words a day was doable, even with I didn’t “have time” to write. Often, I’d write a lot more than 500 words. Now it’s a daily habit. This may be the most significant element of 2012.
  • In September I performed in a live yoga demo for at our town’s annual festival. Nothing like getting on stage in front of a crowd in your yoga kit!
  • In November I pushed the on-stage envelope even further by participating in a fashion-show fundraiser wearing a metal ensemble that Grace Jones might have envied.
  • Throughout the year, I co-hosted various events at Open Studio: art openings, workshops, and our weekly Creative Community Hours.
  • Although I didn’t enact the marketing plan for my coaching business that I created in 2011, I had a good year on the creativity coaching front, developing a roster of ongoing clients who are doing amazing things — and I’m honored to support them in their creative journeys.
  • My editorial business, Pen and Press, had a strong year. Wonderful new clients — two of whom have become friends.
  • On the personal side, my oldest son had a fantastic junior recital at Ithaca College and started his senior year; my second-oldest son graduated from high school and began his freshman year at Berklee College of Music; my 16-year-old daughter got her license and a job; my second-grader became an even more manic football fanatic (which seemed impossible); my youngest started his last preschool year at a Montessori school, which was a huge improvement for him — much happier. In all, the children had a great year. My husband started the year at a new job and ended the year without a job, so that’s been a challenge — but a unifying challenge, which has been positive.

Between the Lines

When I think through the highlights, I see that this year was very much about connecting with other people and becoming increasingly comfortable in front of a crowd, large or small. It’s no accident that our tagline for Open Studio was Connect, Create, Grow. (I used the past tense when referring to the studio. More here.)

When I look at the list of intentions I created for last year, I calculate about at 50% “success” rate. I’m okay with that.

Moving Forward

For this year, instead of another folio of intentions, I’m doing something different. I still have the same priorities, but one concrete goal tops the list: finish my fiction manuscript. I don’t know if this is within my reach, but I’m going to try. On top of that, I’ve identified three words that are my mantra for the year:

three words for 2013

Focus is for working on one thing until it’s done. Working with the wifi shut off and/or with my e-mail turned off. Not jumping from thing to thing in a ridiculous circle. Focus is for planning my day and following the plan. Focus is for my writing practice.

Kindness is for kindness to self. Being kind to others is not a struggle, but I tend to push myself too hard. I’m working on ways to be gentler, which means adjusting my personal expectations. Treating others and myself with empathy.

Delight is for doing less and enjoying it more. Delight is for slowing down and reconnecting with the natural childhood awe that used to be natural. Delight is for not running around like a maniac. Delight is for being here now, and not wanting to be anywhere else.

How about you? What are your intentions for 2013? If you have a word — or three — will you share?

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The Artist at Work: Do You Welcome the Family, or Bar the Door?

The Daily WriterI enjoy starting my daily morning writing practice by reading a page in Fred White’s daybook The Daily Writer: 366 Meditations to Cultivate a Productive and Meaningful Writing Life. Today’s entry was particularly relevant to our scope here at Studio Mothers, whatever your medium. Here’s the excerpt:

August 30: Dealing with Family Interference

Writers mostly work at home, and that can pose a problem, especially if the writer has children. To ensure against quarrels or having the kids or the spouse feel neglected, the writer in the family needs to negotiate (not mandate like some dictator) ground rules. Another approach is to open your study to the kids. Introduce them to your work, explain your project to them in ways they’ll both understand and appreciate. You might even invite them to hang around and watch you working (about as unexciting as can be imagined for most children); it makes them feel more a part of you and gain more of an internal understanding of why you need to work uninterrupted. The opposite approach, making your study off limits, giving it the impression of being The Forbidden Zone, might prove just as effective superficially, but doesn’t do much to foster family togetherness.

Perhaps the best way to handle family interference is to let them interfere in the sense of making them feel welcome in your inner sanctum. There’s a memorable photograph of JFK at work in the Oval Office with four-year-old John-John frolicking at his feet. Children can better intuit how best to behave around a working parent once they feel that they’re included rather than excluded.

How about you? Do you include your children and/or your spouse in your creative work? What’s best for you and your family?

Making Creative Hay Outside

During August, I’ll be sharing a few choice tidbits from the archives. Enjoy!

If it’s summertime in your part of the world — or if you live in a mild climate and enjoy fair weather more often than not — think about using outside resources to your creative advantage. When younger kids are out of school, making outdoor time a regular part of your routine can yield many benefits. We often end up spending time indoors just because it seems easier than setting up camp outside. But don’t let the force of habit inhibit your summertime fun and creativity.

If you have a yard of your own, make the most of this bonus. If you have a fenced-off space — even a small one — so much the better. Many mothers are able to sit on a lawn chair and write, read, or sketch while their kids play safely nearby. You can peruse that stack of magazines you haven’t read yet — any reading material that is easy to put down as needed. Outdoor time is also a great opportunity to take photographs of your kids or the world around you.

To stack the odds in your favor, use this four-pronged approach to outdoor (and indoor) downtime:

  1. Make sure everyone is well fed, watered, and toileted.
  2. Spend some time totally focused on the kids.
  3. When the kids seem engaged or playing independently after having some Mommy face time, turn to your creative work.
  4. Try to remain flexible. There will be days when the kids don’t want you staring at a notebook for even 30 seconds, and there will be other days when they’re happily immersed in their own worlds for 30 minutes. Go with the flow.

If your inventory of outdoor toys seems insufficient, yard sales and consignment shops are great places to pick up a few more. You might also send an e-mail to friends with older children to ask if they have anything hiding in their garages or attics that they no longer want.

Many toddlers and young children love to play with water. Consider filling a small kiddie pool with a few inches of water and a bunch of bath or beach toys ~ often good for at least 30 minutes of interest. For other outdoor play activities, do a bit of google searching and jot down the ideas you like best.

Food always seems to be more fun outdoors, too. Whether it’s just a snack in the backyard or a full-on picknick basket in the middle of a field, eating outside makes everyone happy.

When you’re headed to the park and your kids are old enough to play safely without constant supervision and won’t walk in front of the swings, don’t forget to bring a notepad, sketchbook, or something else to spend time with while you keep one eye on the children. You may find that it’s worth going out of your way to visit a playground that is fully enclosed and is equipped with a good amount of safe climbing structures to keep your kids entertained.

While you don’t want your kids to feel like you’re constantly on standby, waiting to bolt off to your own thing, you do want to be prepared to squeeze in some creative work when the opportunity arises. Over time, you’ll find the middle way that feels best for your and your family.

What works for you? Share your experience!

Six Months and Counting: Where Are You?

journey of intentions, pathway

Amazingly, we’re just past the halfway mark of 2012. This is a great time to review the plans or resolutions you made at the beginning of the year. Are you on course? Do you need to make a few adjustments? If you didn’t start 2012 with a plan, why not decide on what you’d like to get done before the next six months have passed? Let’s make sure that you feel satisfied and pleased when you raise a glass to ring in 2013.

At the beginning of this year, I published two posts encompassing my New Year’s review and planning process. The first is 2011-2012: Review, Celebrate, Plan; the second is 2012 Year Plan: Practice and Intentions.

I described my plan for 2012 as a “folio of intentions.” When I look at my list today, I see that I’m not as far along by this point as I would have predicted back in January. I crossed one item off of my list entirely after deciding not to do it. I also did a handful of things that weren’t on my list that I consider to be relevant milestones, but mostly I find it humbling — and inspiring — to review these priorities. I have some course corrections to make. Here is my original list, with the six-month update in green. New items are also in green.

2012 Intentions

Deepen presence in family time

  • Consciously strengthen relationships with each child [yes]
  • Continually add to “block time” card stack (activities/project deck with seasonal focus) [yes, but not as much as I'd hoped]
  • Do at least one art project each week with Aidan and Liam — Thursdays [have not managed to do this weekly yet]
  • Schedule weekly or bi-weekly date with husband [no — we've only had a handful]
  • Spend one-on-one time with second oldest son before he leaves for college
  • Spend one-on-one time with oldest son before  he goes back to college
  • Spend one-on-one time with daughter

Continually solidify creative practice

  • Submit five pieces for publication [behind pace]
  • Blog at least once per week @ Studio Mothers [yes]
  • Maintain Project Life binder all year [I'm a few months behind]
  • Read 50 books [I'm on pace with this one]
  • Create regular time for blog & magazine reading [still only ad hoc, not regular]
  • Establish regular time slot for daily writing practice

Focus on self and spiritual practice

  • Continually strive for daily meditation practice [yes -- not 100%, but strong]
  • Prepare for new role as peer leader at sangha [I decided to decline the offer to become a peer leader as I felt I was worrying too much about being a "good" leader, and that the ego-driven thoughts were actually distracting from my practice — in addition to not having sufficient time in my schedule for the responsibility]
  • Daily journaling [yes — about 90%]
  • Continue to strengthen morning centering practice

Build coaching business

  • Add Right-Brain Business Plan benchmarks to planning calendar for year [no — this is one thing I want to get to sooner rather than later — adding it to my current action list]
  • Develop and enact marketing plan [yes, but need more time on this one]
  • Build envelope of private clients [yes]
  • Foster private coaching circle [yes]

Build Open Studio

  • Create new workshops for each quarter [yes]
  • Attract increasing number of attendees for Creative Community hours [yes — quite successful]
  • Establish working collaborations with local creative organizations, resources, and people [yes — measurable success on this front]

Up the ante on commitment to good health

  • 100% vegan, gluten-free from January 2012 through June 2012 (longer if still working) [I only managed about three months of strictly vegan diet — went back to eating eggs and dairy. I could write a 3,000-word blog post on this topic if I thought anyone would want to read it]
  • Consume 2 green protein smoothies each week [I've had a few lulls, but for the most part, yes]
  • Take vitamins, minerals, supplements, and iron every day [yes — almost 100% — I take about 16 pills every day!]
  • Exercise at least 3x per week [yes]
  • Meet benchmark of being able to rapidly do 10 full-on “boy” pushups by end of year (I can barely do 5 right now) [progress here, thanks to working with an excellent personal trainer, but I have a lot more work to do]

Improve financial stability

  • Reduce debt by 25% [sadly, not on pace for this one — and with two kids in college this year plus one still in preschool, this may not have been the most realistic intention]
  • Set up automatic savings system [see comment above!]

Where are you on your intentions for 2012?

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If you’re an artist or writer with little ones, The Creative Mother’s Guide: Six Creative Practices for the Early Years is the essential survival guide written just for you. Concrete strategies for becoming more creative without adding stress and guilt. Filled with the wisdom of 13 insightful creative mothers; written by a certified creativity coach and mother of five. 35 pages/$5.99. Available for download here.

Everything and Nothing: A Day in the Life

Yesterday was one of those days filled with everything and nothing. I bet you can relate. It started in the wee hours:

12:30 am My three oldest (Russell, Matthew, and Emma) return home from a Dear Hunter concert; I am only vaguely aware of noises downstairs in the kitchen as someone prepares a midnight snack.

4:00 am Matthew, a high-school senior, is picked up by his girlfriend and her dad. They head to school for the band and chorus road trip to Cleveland. I have left a good-bye note for Matthew; I stay in bed.

6:00 am Up for the day — late. Abbreviated morning practice. Make tea. Husband departs.

6:20 am I plan the day and drink my tea. The three cats are acting somewhat frantic. One of them, Finn, is scheduled for surgery today so no one has had access to food or water since last night. Sasha tries to eat a houseplant.

6:35 am I carefully read through the thick recital packet from Emma’s dance school, decide that I’m not going to volunteer as a chaperone, and calculate our ticket purchase. Emma is still in bed; I go upstairs to confirm that she wants to stay home today on account of last night’s late concert. She does. So I don’t need to make her breakfast or lunch. Bonus!

6:50 am Liam, who just turned four years old this week, gets up (unusually late). We snuggle and eat breakfast.

7:20 am After settling Liam on the couch watching Tom & Jerry, I go upstairs to shower and dress.

7:40 am Seven-year-old Aidan is still asleep. I wake him up, hurriedly get him some cereal, make lunches for both boys, and dress Liam. I put Finn in the kitty carry bag and make it out to the garage.

8:10 am We drive down the hill. The school bus rolls up and Aidan departs. Liam, Finn, and I set off for the vet’s office. Finn howls all the while, trying to claw his way out of the carry bag. Perhaps he knows that he’ll be leaving the vet’s office with a little less than he’s bringing in. Each time Finn howls, Liam screeches in delight.

8:30 am At the vet’s office. I fill out Finn’s paperwork and Liam kisses Finn goodbye through the carry-bag’s mesh.

9:00 am We arrive at Liam’s school. Liam hates his school, and informs me of this repeatedly, as he always does, clinging to my leg as I try to leave. I extract myself remorsefully, telling myself that Liam’s acceptance letter to his new Montessori school is surely imminent.

9:25 am Back in the car, I listen to an installment of The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton, which is lovely. En route to the studio, I pick up a cappuccino at my favorite local café.

10:00 am At Open Studio for the monthly meeting of my nonfiction writers’ group. (I am a member of this group, rather than the facilitator.) I love these women. Great feedback and encouragement on my e-book project, which is nearly finished.

12:20 pm Check e-mail from the studio, respond to a few client messages, take my turns at Words With Friends via iPhone, and plan the rest of the day before heading out. The vet calls to say that Finn did great; he’s still seeing double but I can pick him up anytime after 2:00.

12:40 pm Heading for home. On the way, I drop off two bags of shirts at the dry cleaner’s and stop at the pharmacy to pick up an rx.

1:15 pm At home. Eat lunch. Check in with daughter, who is enjoying her day off. More e-mail triage. Let dog out. Register Emma up for a creative fashion camp.

1:45 pm 30-minute phone call with student from my Wednesday writers’ workshop who missed class yesterday due to illness.

2:15 pm Brief chat with my oldest, Russell, about last night’s concert. Russ just returned home from college yesterday and I haven’t had much chance to see him yet. I also spend some time mapping out the choreography for the afternoon, as Matthew, who normally drives Emma to her voice and dance lessons, is en route to Cleveland and there is a lot to juggle being down my Thursday afternoon chauffeur. Russell is on deadline with five papers that are due tomorrow so I can’t assign him any driving.

2:55 pm Depart for Emma’s voice lesson. Emma, who has her learner’s permit, does the driving. I practice my deep breathing as Emma hesitates in the middle of an intersection, nearly causing a five-car pileup. But she’s doing great.

3:20 pm Arrive music school, late. Emma goes in for her lesson. I get into the driver’s seat and head to Liam’s school. More of The Forgotten Garden.

3:30 pm I retrieve Liam, who is always deliriously happy to see me. I have brought him some leftover candy from his birthday piñata, which he munches intently as we drive back to the music school to get Emma.

3:45 pm Depart music school with Emma and Liam. Emma is driving again. Getting to the dance school two towns over requires several highway stints. More deep breathing. Meanwhile, Russell, who is at home working on his papers, will meet Aidan when he gets off the bus.

4:10 pm Park outside the dance school. Emma goes inside for class. I check in with husband via text to be sure that he’ll be home by 6:00 in order to take Aidan to soccer practice. Everything seems to be on target. I have promised Liam a treat at the bakery next door (the piñata candy hasn’t made a dent in this child’s appetite for sugar and even though I try not to eat the stuff myself, apparently I have no problem feeding it to my children); we attempt to enter the bakery but they’re closed. Liam bursts into tears. I assure him that there’s another option a short walk away. He cheers immediately and we have a nice walk in the sun. He ends up with a brownie and apple juice. Happy.

4:40 pm Back in the car, we still have over an hour left to wait out Emma’s 90-minute class. I allow Liam the rare delight of watching a DVD in the car. I queue up Monsters Inc. With Liam plugged into the electronic babysitter as he happily strews brownie crumbs all over the car, I sit in the passenger seat and prepare to do some work on my laptop. I realize that a studio document I need is only available online, and I have no wifi access here. Instead of doing client work, I opt to make edits to my e-book based on feedback from the morning’s writers’ group. Nothing like creating in the middle of things. I make excellent progress punctuated by intermittent conversation with Liam.

5:40 pm I hear an unfamiliar beeping noise and suddenly realize what I’ve done. In my frantic attempt to jump out of the car and run around to the driver’s side, I get caught in the strap of my messenger bag and nearly wipe out in the parking lot. By the time I make it to the driver’s seat, it’s too late. The car battery is dead. I’ve been playing a DVD for nearly an hour without running the engine.

5:45 pm Call husband, who is nearly home. We decide that I’ll use the roadside service deal that comes with our car lease. I call and make arrangements for a jump. They tell me it will be about an hour. This is going to be a very long hour. Emma asks me if the battery will recharge itself just by sitting there. No, I tell her. That’s not how it works.

6:00 pm Liam is hot, as he’s sitting in the sun, and Emma is cold, as the windows are open and she’s sitting in the shade. I’m on Liam’s sunny side, and I’m pretty sure my left ear is getting burned off in the late afternoon soon. I’m unable to address any of these climate control issues, seeing as the car is dead. I tell Liam to climb into the shady side of the car. I check in with my husband, who has arrived home to take Aidan to soccer, but Aidan isn’t ready. (I neglected to ask Russell to tell Aidan to get his soccer kit on.) Aidan will be late for practice. I inform my husband, in case it isn’t readily apparent, that I will not be making dinner.

6:30 pm We’re getting hungry, and I really have to pee. Meanwhile, the vet closes at 8:00, and someone needs to get there in time to fetch Finn. The tow guy calls to tell me he’s on his way. He’s leaving from Newton, which is at least 45 minutes away. Seriously? Time for action. I decide that Liam and I will walk over to the pizza place around the corner while Emma stays with the car. As Liam opens his door, the interior light flicks on. How can the light go on if the battery is totally dead? I turn the key in the ignition. The car roars to life. Apparently that is how it works, I note for Emma’s benefit. It’s been a while since I experienced this level of gratitude for the combustion engine. We set off for the vet’s as I call to cancel the jump.

7:05 pm We make it to the vet. Liam, ever curious, comes in with me. $210 later, we come out to the car with Finn in his carry bag, which I hand to Emma. At which point we discover that it’s soaking wet. Apparently Finn, in his post-surgical state, relieved himself upon being installed in his bag. (At this point I can relate to his sense of urgency.) Given that Emma doesn’t want to hold the wet bag on her lap and Finn is meowing his head off, it’s an interesting drive home.

7:20 pm We’re home and I make a run for the bathroom. Emma takes Finn upstairs in the pee-bag and the boys sit down to eat the veggie corn dogs that my husband has set out for them. I scrounge up some dinner for myself. Aidan, recounting the day’s events at school, bursts into explaining that when he was out at recess, a second-grader named Tommy gleefully pulled a worm in half, brushing aside Aidan’s protests. Aidan, haunted by the image, is devastated, sobbing uncontrollably. I stifle the urge to do to Tommy what Tommy did to the worm.

7:40 pm My husband takes Liam upstairs for a bath. Aidan is still too emotional for bathing. We talk.

7:50 pm Partially recovered, Aidan heads upstairs to brush his teeth. I clean the kitchen.

8:30 pm It’s way past bedtime for the boys. I go upstairs to tuck Liam in and read to Aidan. We’re in the middle of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Aidan and I very much look forward to our nightly reading ritual.

8:50 pm I tuck Aidan in and go downstairs to start a load of laundry.

9:00 pm At my desk. As he has requested, I edit two of Russell’s final papers.

10:00 pm More e-mail triage. I set up a water delivery for the studio. I design a flier for an upcoming author event and post it to our facebook page.

10:45 pm Russell brings his laptop into my office and shares a few funnies from the interwebs. Emma makes an appearance and laughs with us. I advance the laundry.

11:05 pm Upstairs, I say goodnight to Emma and get ready for bed. I check my pedometer and see that I’m 100 steps short of my 5,000-step daily minimum. So I run downstairs to grab my prescription. By the time I get back, I’ve hit my quota. My husband has long since turned out the lights. I’m too tired to read my book, even though book group is on Saturday night and I’m only halfway through. Sleep awaits.

If you’re reading this line, you are the only person in the world to get this far, and I hug you for keeping me company all the way to the end.

Despite the day’s adventures, I’m pleased that I managed to create in the middle of things, and that I kept my cool rather than succumbing to stress. I know that by this time next year — heck, this time next month — I won’t remember this day at all. And yes, tomorrow is another day.

Creating in the Middle of Things

How many years pass while we wait for the “right” time to do something? Even after decades of adulthood, many of us still believe that one day — in the not too distant future — somehow, eventually, ideal circumstances will arrive at our doorstep. We’ll wake up one morning and say “Yes! It’s finally here! That day I’ve been waiting for, when my to-do list is all crossed off, my in-box is empty, the house is spotless, the kids are occupied elsewhere, and the time has come to do X!” If this day ever does come, it probably doesn’t amount to more than once or twice in an entire year. So why are we still waiting?

Eric Maisel, creativity guru (and one of my former teachers at the Creativity Coaching Association), is a proponent of “creating in the middle of things.” This framework is perhaps the only way to stop perpetually deferring ourselves with an imaginary carrot.

I have learned in recent years that I am ALWAYS in the middle of things. There is nothing BUT the middle of things. As someone who continually heaps mounds of responsibilities and projects onto her plate, if I wait for the seas to part and reveal some magical “opportunity” for me to create, I’ll die waiting.

I’ve finally learned to stop saying “I just need to get through this week/month/season.” In the well-worn words of John Lennon, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” So long as I see daily life as some kind of obstacle between me and what I really want to be doing, I’m living in a very dark and unsatisfying place. How many moments have I wasted by trying to “just get through it” while staying focused on some mirage of future calm like a brilliantly wrapped gift, eternally beyond my reach? The present moment can’t be the obstacle. That’s insanity — and many of us seem to be afflicted.

I encourage myself, and you, to fully embrace the concept of creating in the middle of things — because for most of us, that’s the only way to create. Even my clients who have no children and no work obligations still find themselves with an overfull calendar and difficulty “making” time to create. In fact, one client who has no children or job says she can’t get her creative work done because her pets distract her too much. Regardless of our circumstances, we are always in the middle of something, aren’t we? It doesn’t matter what our details are.

If we have an overflowing, double-booked planner on one hand, and a paradigm of “I can only create if I have five hours of guaranteed solitude on deck” on the other, then we either need to get very serious about going to a cave every day, or we need to figure out how to change our parameters about what’s possible.

There are strategies that help. Always having a notepad on hand while out of the house. Knowing what the “next step” is in any given project so that we’re ready to jump right in. (See Emma-Jane’s wisdom at left for visual artists.) Staying connected to creative networks to bolster of creative sense of self. Keeping an ongoing list of all the projects we’d like to work on so that inspiration is always a glance away. If we have children, learning how to create WITH them (either alongside them or in collaboration). Allowing ourselves to make the most of creative practice even if we end up deviating from that “next step” plan. And most importantly, always keeping our eyes open for slivers of opportunity.

In Eric Maisel’s words: “If we intend to create we really should be checking in with ourselves several times a day (not a few times a week or a few times a month) with the question, ‘How about now?’ Sometimes we will answer no and sometimes we will answer yes, but if we answer yes only a quarter of the time and we are checking in with ourselves four times a day, then we will create every day. We should check in with ourselves as soon as we wake up, in case THAT is a good time, as soon as we get home from wherever, in case THAT is a good time, when an empty hour suddenly looms up in front of us, in case THAT is a good time, after dinner and before television, in case THAT is a good time, and so on.”

Are you checking with yourself?

“Don’t wait. The time will never be just right.”
~Napoleon Hill

This piece was reprinted from the last issue of the Creative Times, our monthly newsletter. Click here to subscribe!

2012 Year Plan: Practice and Intentions

This is part two of my New Year’s post series. The first one is 2011-2012: Review, Celebrate, Plan.

journey of intentions, pathwayMy plan for 2012 is a folio of intentions. The 2012 list of focus areas and specific bullets looks a lot like my plan for last year. This is because about half of my priorities are what I would call a practice. They are a continual effort, not a destination. Even something specific, like “complete creativity coaching certification” from last year’s list — which I did complete — evolves this year into “build coaching business.” In this way, there are very few instances where I finish something and it isn’t immediately replaced by the next natural step. I am learning to accept this, embrace this, instead of falling for the old story that things will be “easier” next week, next month, next year. They won’t. I am on the path that I chose for myself, and while it’s a journey and I’m moving, the trees will always look like trees and the rocks will always look like rocks. So I celebrate them, and carry on with my practice, instead of fooling myself with the idea that one day I’ll be “done.”

In this spirit of practice versus destination, I am now calling this year plan my intentions rather than my goals. To my ear, the word intention speaks more to the path and less to the journey. The word goal is almost entirely end-point focused. So as a reminder to stay present in my practice, I am focusing on intentions rather than goals.

My takeaway from my review of last year was that while I’d had a banner year on the personal and professional front, I hadn’t followed my intentions in mothering. What this tells me is that my unmeasurable objectives need to be made more concrete. I am going to add more of these efforts to my calendar, so that I make time for the one-on-one outings, and make time for the projects, and make time to do the reading, preparing, and behind-the-scenes work that can turn mothering into magic.

Interestingly, my editorial business didn’t make the list of intentions. This work still occupies the lion’s share of my child-free hours, but I’m not inspired to make significant changes or re-focus on this area. I’m getting better about hiring subcontractors and delegating tasks that can be delegated. Ultimately I want to move away from this business and into coaching and writing full time. It will take me a while to get there, and for now, all I need to do with that business is continually work smarter and keep my projects contained so that they don’t spill out onto the other plans — the ones that mean more to me.

This list doesn’t include every last one of my intentions, as there are a few that I’m holding close to my heart for safekeeping, but here’s the accurate overview.

2012 Intentions

Deepen presence in family time

  • Consciously strengthen relationships with each child
  • Continually add to “block time” card stack (activities/project deck with seasonal focus)
  • Do at least one art project each week with Aidan and Liam—Thursdays
  • Schedule weekly or bi-weekly date with husband

Continually solidify creative practice

  • Submit five pieces for publication
  • Blog at least once per week @ Studio Mothers
  • Maintain Project Life binder all year
  • Read 50 books
  • Create regular time for blog & magazine reading

Focus on self and spiritual practice

  • Continually strive for daily meditation practice
  • Prepare for new role as peer leader at sangha
  • Daily journaling

Build coaching business

  • Add Right-Brain Business Plan benchmarks to planning calendar for year
  • Develop and enact marketing plan
  • Build envelope of private clients
  • Foster private coaching circle

Build Open Studio

  • Create new workshops for each quarter
  • Attract increasing number of attendees for Creative Community hours
  • Establish working collaborations with local creative organizations, resources, and people

Up the ante on commitment to good health

  • 100% vegan, gluten-free from January 2012 through June 2012 (longer if still working)
  • Consume 2 green protein smoothies each week
  • Take vitamins, minerals, supplements, and iron every day
  • Exercise at least 3x per week
  • Meet benchmark of being able to rapidly do 10 full-on “boy” pushups by end of year (I can barely do 5 right now)

Improve financial stability

  • Reduce debt by 25%
  • Set up automatic savings system

These intentions are printed and hanging on the wall beside my desk. I also put a copy inside my planner, so that I can re-read them during weekly and daily planning. I’m going to go through my yearly calendar right now and add the measurable milestones so that I don’t lose focus. After all, good intentions won’t get you anywhere if you don’t keep them alive. You know what they say about that road to hell….

What are your intentions for 2012? How are you organizing your energies?

:::

2011~2012: Review, Celebrate, Plan

My New Year’s Eve ritual is to review my goals for the past year, see how things panned out, and make note of the year’s highlights (both in successes and unexpected challenges). Then I take some time to carefully think through my goals for the coming year. Because I am a nerd and a planning freak, I love, love, love this ritual.

Due to an unusually crazy schedule, I haven’t been able to do my annual review until this morning. I’d like to share the process with you. While it is fun to share the successes, it is equally humbling to share the oversights. This will be a long post, broken into two parts, so feel free to skim the boring bits. This post is Review & Celebrate. Next week I’ll follow up with the 2012 planning post.

2011 goals review

Focus on creative practice

  • Submit five pieces for publication (almost—hit 4)
  • Finish novel, ~80K words/3K words per week Jan-May (no)
  • Paint a large format painting (no)
  • Create a piece for “nest” Creative Every Day challenge (yes)
  • Blog at least one per week @ Studio Mothers (no)
  • Maintain Project Life binder all year (yes)

Launch coaching business

  • Complete CCA coaching certification (yes)
  • Develop business and marketing plan (yes)
  • Enact marketing plan (partial)

Focus on personal restoration and spiritual practice

  • Sit daily (not daily, but solid for most of the year)
  • Daily journaling (90%)
  • Read A Year with Rumi every day (yes)
  • Read 50 books (yes — on the nose!)
  • Create regular time for blog & magazine reading (no)
  • Develop strategies to handle stress better (hmmm…..)
  • Enjoy social media without it being an interruption (good progress here)
  • Stick to the good schedules I have developed (mostly!)

Enjoy family time

  • Consciously strengthen relationships with each child (not measurable, but yes)
  • Spend more one-on-one time with each child (did not do nearly what I wanted to here)
  • Develop “block time” card stack (activities/project deck) (yes, not complete)
  • Do at least one art project each week with Aidan and Liam (no — only sporadic)
  • Create outdoor living/play space in spring (yes)
  • Eat in dining room more regularly (no — dog started peeing in dining room, so I have to keep it gated off, which makes it inconvenient for week-night meals)

Recommit to good health

  • Increase intake of raw foods (yes)
  • Consume 4-5 green protein smoothies each week (no)
  • Take vitamins, minerals, supplements, and iron every day (almost 100%)
  • Avoid sugar and wheat (on and off)
  • Exercise 3x per week (was derailed by broken foot that took 6 months to heal, but made up for that in the second half of the year by developing regular yoga practice)

Improve financial stability

  • Work smarter (day job) to increase billable hours (yes)
  • Reduce debt (no — actually increased it instead)
  • Set up automatic savings (no)

2011 personal adventures, successes, and challenges

February

  • Broke my foot by falling on my own garage stairs. It took six months until my ortho gave me the all-clear for high-impact exercise.
  • Began first class for coaching certification.

April

  • Launched monthly newsletter, The Creative Times.
  • Joined RAW New England (Random Art Workshops).

May

  • Published nonfiction essay in Wild Apples journal; read at launch party at Hill-Stead Museum.
  • Liam became completely toilet trained, ending 15 total years of diapering!!! (This may have been the highlight of the year, actually.)
  • Fabulous trip to Costa Rica with husband.

June

August

October

  • Co-led successful workshop (via Minerva Project collaboration).

November

  • Participated in Art Every Day Month.
  • Guest blog post at Bliss Habits.
  • Husband began 2.5-month stint of unemployment. While this had deleterious effect on financial situation, it was awesome to have him around, and he put in extra time with Aidan and Liam while I worked like a madwoman.

December

  • Signed lease and LLC papers for brick-and-mortar studio!
  • Husband received excellent job offer from a company he’s excited about.
  • Little Finn joined the family (don’t worry — he’s a kitten, not baby #6!).
  • Finished last requirements for coaching certification.

What all these bullet points tell me

2011 was unusually full of personal and professional successes. Working on my certification and launching two new businesses (coaching and Open Studio) added considerably to the to-do list and my general stress level. I had some success in counterbalancing that weight through meditation, yoga practice, journaling lots of reading, and creative work. In the realm of the “self,” I have to say that this year was significant. I didn’t do all of the creative work I’d intended to, but I did a lot of other, wonderful, unexpected things instead.

At the same time, I did not do nearly as much on the family front as I wanted to. I really started missing my kids as the year came to a close — time spent just hanging out a home, nowhere to go, board games and art projects and reading aloud. There wasn’t enough of that. We had too many days when I felt like I was just dragging my younger kids from one thing to the next. I didn’t invest in the extra one-on-one time with each child that was part of my original goals list.

This brings me to my plans for 2012. I’ll get to those in my next post.

In the meantime, what does your overview of 2011 look like? Will you share your top 10 successes?

:::::

Project: Family Mailbox

By Ellen Olson-Brown

mailboxThis project hits all the bases. Using recycled and very inexpensive materials? Check! Encouraging kids to create, decorate, and bedazzle to their heart’s content? Check! Motivating kids to write? Check! Strengthening family collaboration and communication? Check! Fun for kids aged 1-111? Check!

Remember when the daily snail-mail occasionally included an actual letter, handwritten, from a loved one? Oh, the satisfaction of real stationery, a personal message, familiar handwriting! Delicious!

Bring back the magic by building your own family post office. The project itself will absorb your family’s attention for an hour or two (perfect for a snow day!), but once you’ve created the post office, you can use it for years.

What you need:

  • One empty cereal or cracker box per family member. These will become mailboxes.
  • One larger cardboard box, which will become the post office (see image in opening paragraph). If your family is larger than four people, you’ll need a box with enough surface area to hold a cereal or cracker box for each family member.
  • Paint, tape in various colors (duct, masking, and electrical tape work especially well!), contact or wrapping paper to cover the cereal/cracker boxes.
  • Decorating supplies: permanent markers, magazine clippings, yarn, glue, fabric scraps, beads, glitter, doo-dads — any cool stuff you have lying around.
  • Paper, envelopes, markers, pens, rubber stamps, stickers, and other fun items for letter-writing.
  • A hot-glue gun (for grownups only!)

Directions:

  1. Cut the top flaps off the boxes.
  2. Decorate each cereal box. These will become the individual mailboxes. Make sure each family member’s box is labeled with his or her name. Hint: If you’d like to paint each box ahead of time to cover up the printing on the box, then children won’t have to wait through drying time to add their own artistic touches.
  3. Hot-glue each mailbox to one side of the larger box. Hint: Decorating the larger box is also fun!
  4. Load the inside of the large box with writing supplies. This is now your post office!
  5. Write a letter!
  6. Address an envelope.
  7. Mail your letter, and wait for a reply!

A few more helpful hints:

  • Younger children might like a set of cards with familiar words on them, so they can write letters\ on their own. Write words on index cards, punch a hole in the corners, and connect with a binder ring.
  • A quick letter can be a great way to let your child (or spouse/partner) know that you appreciate something they’ve done that day. “Dear Mikey, I noticed that you put your pajamas in the laundry basket after you got dressed this morning. Thank you so much! Love, Mom.”
  • Sometimes older children deflect direct discussions about feelings. Sending them a letter reminds them that you care — and opens up communication — without putting them on the spot. “Dear Katie, I noticed that you seemed a little sad when Jill couldn’t come over to play today. I’m sure you’ll find something else that’s fun to do, but if you need a hug, come find me in the kitchen. Love you! Mom.”

Enjoy!

Ellen Olson-Brown

Ellen Olson-Brown is a teacher, author of four children’s books, aspiring yogi, Minervan, and enthusiastic consumer of art and office supplies. Positive psychology, mindfulness, and the science of human flourishing are her current fascinations, and she loves supportively daring people to amaze themselves. Ellen lives in Groton, Mass., with her husband and twin sons. 

::: This piece is reprinted from the most recent issue of the Creative Times — subscribe and join the fun!

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