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Kelly: Weekly Challenge…What’s Next?

dog days

The dog days of summer are upon us, and the leaves of my gerbera daisies have browned along the edges, having long given up having the energy to bloom.  These dog days bring about the start of Fall term in my world, which usually brings about a renewed sense of energy for me. Yet this year, it has not.  Today is the first day of Fall term, and instead of feeling invigorated and ready for the start of a new year, I’m tired, hot, overscheduled and, as I set up a tent and lugged around 30 cases of water and drinks for Welcome Back at 7:30 this morning, sorely missing my staff person whose position was recently eliminated.

I spent a good part of the weekend doing what I so rarely do: absolutely nothing but sit on the couch and watch movies (well okay, in between six loads of laundry and a few updates on my website). I really needed that down time.  The girls lounged around with me, and DH took some good long naps, not feeling well.  Over the course of the weekend, I did a lot of thinking about what’s important and what’s not…what’s needed to keep me happy and what just weighs me down.  Being overscheduled is nothing new in my world, and as a working mother, much of it is out of my hands, but I’ve hit the point where I need to take some things back to make the required parts of the juggle a little more manageable.  I find that I probably spend a little too much time online, and while some of that is necessary to manage my online business presence and keep up with good friends who are far away, some of it is voluntary.  It’s those voluntary parts I need to let go of to make room for those more important things…like more time with my kids and more time to make art just for me and no one else, the kind of art I don’t have to worry about keeping an inventory of for the Riverside Arts Market and my juried shows…the kind of art I can make with my girls…the kind of art that just lets me play without feeling the pressure of a deadline.

One of those voluntary things I’ll be letting go of is my role as team leader for our North Florida Craft Revolution Etsy team.  I’m proud of the blog I created and manage for the team, but I’m also tired of having it all rest on me; I spend more time on the team blog than I do marketing my own work, and that seems a bit backwards, don’t you think?  Another of those things is this weekly challenge.  I’ve enjoyed keeping it going, yet submissions have dwindled without that $10 Amazon prize carrot, and it’s become a struggle to make sure there’s at least one entry each week.  I do this with a catch in my heart because I’ve gained much through this community, but my time is becoming more and more precious.  So with this, I bid you adieu, weekly challenge.  Should someone else want to take over the coordination, I’ll participate when I can.  

It’s scary to let things go sometimes, isn’t it? I know it is for me.  Since I’ve started blogging I’ve come across more and more blogs that talk about being true to your authentic self.  I have to admit, at first I thought that was a bunch of baloney.  I’m very much a “what you see is what you get” and “it is what it is” kinda girl.  Yet there are pieces of that authenticity movement, if you want to call it that, that have hit home with me.  And maybe the biggest part is taking charge of your life, doing the things that mean the most to you, letting go of the things that don’t matter, and finding that balance between managing your day-to-day real life while still reaching for your dreams.  It’s in my nature to juggle, so I know that won’t change, but I am working towards not having quite so many balls in the air at once.   

Cathy: Uninspired

I don’t know if it’s because I’m still waiting for some feedback on my manuscript, or because of the weather and time of year, or because I recently completed my first larger scale writing project since my thesis in college about 20 years ago, but for a couple months now, I have felt completely uninspired to write.

In the past, when I have felt this uninspired, I generally have felt depressed or frustrated by the absolute emptiness of my head. This time around I just feel pooped which can be attributed to the lack of sleep with a toddler who still wakes three times a night at least. The other feeling I have is vaguely satisfied, generally upbeat. Now, again, I’m not sure if this has anything to do with the manuscript or just maturity level over aged forty.

It’s summer and all the kids are as around as a teen can be when all his friends are back from their extended vacations that did not coincide with his visit to his father the previous month. S is always around, hovering upstairs drawing and reading or tapping me on the shoulder and Momming me repeatedly; and of course, Baby C is generally underfoot, when she’s not on top of something like Honey’s closed laptop on his desk. So, for me to sit in front of the computer is generally a continuously interrupted thing to do times three. During the school year, I generally have the mornings to myself, with my mother-in-law out doing her exercise thing (which is better than I can say for myself in that arena), and of course, C is still with me constantly.

I think some of this lack of inspiration is just the simple down time from writing something that was a huge deal for me to finish, so to speak. A first draft is a first draft, after all, and I am very aware that what I wrote is not a completed novel. But I wrote the story from beginning to end over one hundred pages. To me, that’s a big deal, not the page number, but the story arc, the things that the main character, who felt like one of my own kids, underwent and his growth and transformation.

I think this month especially has been one of considerable downtime, maybe a fallow field. Usually, when I lived in New England, anyway, the inspiration really starts popping like corn as soon as the first hint of autumn is in the air. So I wonder if some of this is just the dog days of a hot, humid August for me.

S’s eleventh birthday is on the 26th. This and Kenny’s advancement to high school and C’s toddlerdom have really had me considering the constant mutability of time. It seems not so long ago that my boys were C’s age, reaching those initial milestones. Time is simultaneously standing still and speeding by for me. I am constantly considering what is important to pay attention to in the long run, as my children are representing three distinct developmental stages.

I am also in the process of applying for positions outside of my home after a considerable amount of time in which I focused on my kids, my recovery after bedrest pregnancy and my manuscript. In some ways it was a necessary luxury, as Kelly mentioned in comments on Brittany’s recent post that must end. I took offense to the term luxury when Kelly used it, but I can see now is that it is a luxury to be able to be home, to be available to see the magic daily that is the kids growing and changing before my very eyes. Maybe some of the lack of inspiration can be attributed to refocusing on the outside world after being very insular for a long time.

While I have been very philosophically minded, I have not felt the urgency to write that has largely defined my life. This is the first time that to be so uninspired feels like a good thing.

8/24 Weekly Creativity Challenge and New Prompt

Only one entry for this week’s challenge, “grade school”.   Does the August rush have everyone extra busy?

From Kelly Warren:

Today is my girls’ first day of 1st grade.  Where has this summer gone!?  This morning I’ve been thinking about that and realized that the older I get, the older my girls get, and the more scattered-brained I become.  I suppose it’s the constant juggle of full-time-work-outside-the-home mom, wife, creative artist, friend, sister, and every other role I have in this crazy life of mine.  I’m forever losing and misplacing things these days.  Last week it was my wallet.  After a day and night of panic, I finally found it under my desk at work.  I must have missed my purse when I was trying to put it back in there, and it just ended up on the floor.  DH has found the peanut butter in the fridge and the milk in the pantry on many occasions (well, okay, I’ll admit I’ve had that strange form of dyslexia for as long as I can remember…I’ve also been known to sleep walk and move furniture in my sleep but that’s a whole other story). 

Comtemplative Sarah

Car keys are also a big thing for me.  I’ll leave them in the typical absent-minded professor places like on top of my van, in the front door after unlocking it, or in the bathroom sink.  But I must admit that the strangest place I’ve found them is probably the freezer.  And no, it’s not the girls putting them there; I’m quite certain it’s my missing brain.  A few weeks ago, walking out to my van after having lunch with a friend, I couldn’t find my keys yet again.  I finally found them…in the van…with the van still running.  I should have just left a banner in the front windshield that said, “Free van!  Here for the taking!  Already started and nice and cool for you!”  I’ve caught myself almost doing that same thing more than once. I guess my brain is just thinking about other things when I park and I just get out…  Thank God for OnStar.  It’s a little creepy the things they can do, but their service is one of the main reasons I drive a Chevy.

Contemplative Livvie

I don’t remember being this scatter-brained before I had children.  But then I guess my life is far fuller and far richer than it was before I had children.  Funny that I didn’t decide to take on a creative business on top of my full-time job until after I had children.  Though I’ve always been creative, I do know that having children has brought out even more creativity in my day-to-day life.  These top two pictures are two of my favorites from this summer, and they seem appropriate for today…almost like the girls are saying goodbye to summer vacation.  The bottom one I took this morning, saying hello to a new school year with their new teacher.  Yes, where does the time go?  Those tiny little babies that were born no longer than the length of my forearm are getting taller and taller every day.   Any first day of school memories you’d like to share?

1st day 1st grade nolan      

This week’s prompt: “dog days of summer”
Use the prompt however you like – literally, or a tangential theme. All media are welcome. Please e-mail your entries to by midnight eastern time on Sunday, August 30, 2009. Writers should include their submission directly in the body text of their e-mail. Visual artists and photographers should attach an image of their work as a jpeg. Enter as often as you like; multiple submissions for a single prompt are welcome. There is no limit to how many times you can win the weekly challenge, either. (You do not have to be a contributor to this blog in order to enter. All are invited to participate.) All submissions are acknowledged when received; if you do not receive e-mail confirmation of receipt within 48 hours, please post a comment here. Remember, the point is to stimulate your output, not to create a masterpiece. Keep the bar low and see what happens. Dusting off work you created previously is OK too. For more info, read the original contest blog post.

Cathy: I can’t even peek.

In my travels over a week ago, I retrieved one well inked copy of my first manuscript draft I had sent to a dear friend in the Boston area for critique and suggested edits.

Many moons ago, I lived in a 2nd floor walk-up on Newbury Street dubbed the shoebox, and he rented a room in the former servants’ quarters on the fourth floor (even more stairs, I had to take them two at a time at a momentum run to survive the ascent) of an old Commonwealth Avenue townhouse that had been broken into condos. We regularly spent entire days walking around Copley Square, sitting on benches on Comm Ave, in the BPL Courtyard, a few regular cafes, Newbury Pizza or each other’s humble abodes, discussing Literature, Art, listening to Mozart, Schubert, old time Rockabilly, Frank Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours, and critiquing poetry and plays each wrote. We really dissected each other’s work, at times taking personal affronts, at others, able to make useful and take useful suggestions. Sometimes another friend joined us, but mostly it was just the two of us, picking apart each other’s work in order to build it back up again into something better. That was fifteen and then some years ago.

When he handed back my baby, er, first draft in Cambridge, he very kindly told me it was a great story and excellent characterizations. He gave a few verbal points of interest. But mostly, I noticed just how much ink he laid on each page in my quick thumb through in the dark of the rainy night under a street light.

How very film noir.

I still can’t look at it.

8/17 Weekly Creativity Challenge and New Prompt

Thanks to Cathy Coley and Kelly Warren for this week’s “old friend” entries. Two very different takes on the same subject…

From Cathy Coley:

Old Friend

I’ve reached an age where most of my friends are old friends.  I’m not pointing out their age or mine for that matter here, rather noting that I have known them for at least two decades.  Anyone who has stood by you and you by them for more than a decade qualifies categorically.  I have been thinking a lot on this topic lately.  Between Facebook reconnections, and the fact that I am still regularly in contact with a couple of my old Boston buddies after leaving the area three years ago, the endurance of real friendship has really been on my mind.  It helps that I was just visiting my old stomping grounds and was able to reconnect in person with a number of people I either hadn’t seen in years, or who I at least email with or talk with regularly.   I’ll only mention a few here.

I’ve known one since second grade, 1973-74.  That’s thirty-six years.  Granted we were not really in contact for many of them, but when we regained contact around our 20th high school reunion, we fell right back into easy conversation via email, and have maintained that for the past five years on a daily basis.  Big topics and small, often in the same conversation.

I moved to Boston after college in September of 1989.  I met my longest continuous friend then, and another a year later.  It took me about 15 years to get the two of them to hang out together, and now that I’m gone, they regularly lunch and shoot street photography together.  People who don’t know us really well, are always surprised by my friendships with both of these men, but they are my brothers in spirit. We are very different in many ways, but the essential heart of my friendship with both of these guys is the stuff other people wish they had.  We are just there for each other.  No question about it.  Ever.

When I was a freshman in high school, I made friends with two girls, and the three of us were nearly inseparable for the rest of high school, into college and beyond, we’ve had our times living away from each other, and of living too closely together over nearly thirty years, but to this day, though we don’t talk often, I know when we do talk, the conversation easily picks up where it left off.  For now, one of these friends has been estranged for a number of years, and I think sometimes it is too painful for the other two of us to talk knowing the absent one will invariably enter the discussion.  We both still feel betrayed, not by her, but by our friendship with her, how we always defended her to others, how we put up with so much nonsense from her for so many years of really tried and true friendship.  I think we both still question why we didn’t lift the veil from our eyes sooner, and still hope that she can change, be what we had imagined her to be for all those years, but have each witnessed the opposite.  I want to speak with the standing friendship more frequently than we do, but I know, I am always there for her when she needs it, and I believe the same is true for her.  Again, when we get on the horn, little gets in the way of our old ways of speaking deeply one moment, laughing our faces off the next, and covering trivial domestic details in the next breath.   There’s no need for explanation of background and meaning because we were there when it happened. 

Something is to be said for the ability to maintain friendships, or the ability to choose friendships that can sustain all the verities and varieties that life and tests of time offer.  Some of it is pure loyalty at work.  I like to think I am fiercely loyal.  It takes not one, but a series of serious dramas to really test my friendship.  Admittedly it used to take a lot more.  I don’t have the time or inclination to deal with unnecessary drama in my life anymore.  I have enough of my own.  I’ve gotten past most of my own even, and that took some doing.  But as for friendship, once you’ve got mine, I’m pretty hard to get rid of. I think the rest is about choosing to keep the people in my life who have added more positively than negatively.  Those who I know, if I’m ever in a dark alley with a bad guy, they’ve got my back.  If I ever get into a whacky relationship, these are the people who will tell me to open my eyes.  These are the people I can laugh with the hardest, and who if I cry or wail against the world, will be there to help pick up the pieces, or to tell me I’m overreacting.  Hopefully, they believe the same of me, because it is true, I am there for them, and always will be.

From Kelly Warren:

Though I’ve weaved in and out of various art mediums for as long as I can remember, the one thing that has remained a constant for me is photography, my old friend. 

old friends

I took my first “real” photography course my freshman year in college.  This one didn’t include darkroom techniques, just shooting techniques, so I just learned the real basics.  My instructor still teaches adjunct at the College that has been my place of employment for the past 16 years!  It was for this class that I got my first “Big Girl Camera”, a Pentax A3000, on the right in the picture above. When I transferred to Florida State I was able to take more photography classes, including two that taught me dark room techniques. I can still remember sitting in that little black booth, learning the feel of taking my film out of my camera and prepping it for development in that pitch blackness. 

I worked as a professional photographer in college for a company that photographed all the sorority and fraternity functions on campus as well as 90% of the high school and college graduations in the state of Florida. The sorority and fraternity socials were actually the most fun….nothing like being the center of attention at a large party simply because you had the camera!  I have to admit, I knew a LOT of people at Florida State (or at least a LOT of people at Florida State knew me) simply because of my camera. I was one of only two female photographers on the staff for quite some time, so you can imagine Evie and I were often requested by the fraternities.  Summer always meant grad season and, since Jacksonville was home, I was usually scheduled for all the Jacksonville schools….long days in the old Jacksonville Memorial Coliseum photographing grad after grad as they walked across the stage to shake their principals’ hands. 

Shortly after DH and I got married, I upgraded to a Pentax Z7 with built-in flash so I could finally get away from that cumbersome top-mounted flash.  When the girls were born, I bought my first digital camera, my trusty Fuji Finepix A-210.  To this day, I use my little Fuji to photograph my jewelry for my website.  Three years ago, I finally coughed up the cash for my digital SLR, a Nikon D40, near the top of the line at that point! Now Nikon has shot on up the line with the D700 and D3000, waaaay out of my price range. My D40 suits me just fine. 

Somewhere along the way at a random antique shop, I picked up the Zeiss Ikon Ikoflex you see pictured on the left here.  It’s in pristine condition short of one little part I’m searching for. The Ikoflex was made in Germany between 1939 and 1951, and best I can tell from the body and case, mine was manufactured in the earlier part of that span. I keep it on a shelf in my bedroom to remind of my quest for that missing part.

I have a large camera bag in my closet that contains all my cameras, including all the little point-and-shoots I’ve had along the way, some functional, some not.  Just can’t bear to part with them.  When I picked the bag up to prepare to take this picture, the weight of it struck me as quite heavy yet very familiar.  All my old friends happily tucked away together, just waiting for me to find the right time to break them out again.  Kodochrome may no longer be in production, but the images he left behind will be timeless. I think Paul Simon said it best; take a listen.

This week’s prompt: “grade school”
Use the prompt however you like – literally, or a tangential theme. All media are welcome. Please e-mail your entries to by midnight eastern time on Sunday, August 23, 2009. Writers should include their submission directly in the body text of their e-mail. Visual artists and photographers should attach an image of their work as a jpeg. Enter as often as you like; multiple submissions for a single prompt are welcome. There is no limit to how many times you can win the weekly challenge, either. (You do not have to be a contributor to this blog in order to enter. All are invited to participate.) All submissions are acknowledged when received; if you do not receive e-mail confirmation of receipt within 48 hours, please post a comment here. Remember, the point is to stimulate your output, not to create a masterpiece. Keep the bar low and see what happens. Dusting off work you created previously is OK too. For more info, read the original contest blog post.

Brittany: Fly Anyway

There’s something about that line that speaks to me.

Lately, I’ve found myself having a near-obsession with birds. Not real birds, but folk art birds. The kind in profile, that are painted and embellished, and look as unlike real birds as it is possible to get. During my latest trip to Asheville, my grandmother insisted that I go through all my great-grandmothers old craft books. And in them I found pattern after pattern for these birds. Bird statues, bird mobiles, bird appliques, bird sculptures, paper birds, cloth birds, clay birds, wood birds… It was like some kind of sign, because I had previously spent hours scouring the internet for folksy bird patterns and came up empty handed.

I don’t know why I’m so drawn to the birds, except that they’re colorful and friendly, a little quirky, and make me feel happy. People who know me well know that I’m a deeply grounded sort of individual. I dislike flying — literally and figuratively. If you had to describe me in zoomorphic terms, I wouldn’t be a bird. And maybe that’s where the attraction lies.

I read an interesting interview today about Lady Gaga’s new tattoo. What, I’m sure you’re thinking, does that have anything to do with the conversation topic? Bear with me.

First of all, I like Lady Gaga’s music. It’s catchy, fun, better than some other options on the radio. But Lady Gaga herself? I hadn’t given her much thought, to be perfectly honest. But according to the article I read, this is what she recently had tattooed down her arm: “In the deepest hour of the night, confess to yourself that you would die if you were forbidden to write. And look deep into your heart where it spreads its roots, the answer, and ask yourself, must I write?” It’s a quote by Rainer Marie Rilke. I’ll admit I was a little impressed. I don’t really have a thing for tattoos (although I could probably be persuaded to ink a 1940s pinup to my bicep as a conversation piece), but as a writer, I can’t think of anything more appropriate to permanently etch on myself. And then she added something else in this interview that I can’t quite get out of my head. The article said “Rilke’s ‘philosophy of solitude’ spoke to her. The New York native called solitude ‘something you marry, as an artist. When you are an artist, your solitude is a lonely place that you embrace.'”

We talk here a lot about the demands on us as mothers, about how we’re pressed for time and space and energy to write. But one thing we don’t talk about is the inherent loneliness that comes with our chosen occupation. Recently, on my personal blog, I wrote about how being creative and near-mental illness go hand in hand. Part of that is likely due to the fact that creative people have deep, complex inner lives. As such,we’re driven by the compulsion to write (or create) that Rilke speaks of, and soon live mostly in our creative mind. Add to this the loneliness that is inherent to motherhood and you really do have to learn to embrace the solitude or you lose yourself in it.

Which brings me back to the birds…

I said it once before, but it bears repeating. Creative mothers are like caged birds. Our children have clipped our wings, our families, and the sheer domesticity of our mothering lives have become our cages, as have our responsibilities, and financial obligations. We can’t escape from any of it, but then again, maybe we don’t want to. Motherhood was a conscious choice we made. As was following the creative path. And yet we all yearn to fly around. See the world. Live in it a bit.

But ironically enough, life isn’t so free and easy for birds either.

They spend an inordinate amount of time caring for their young. According to a birding website at Cornell University, “Sitting on a nest may look easy, but it involves more trade-offs than meet the eye. When birds sit on eggs, they are not simply relaxing. They are regulating the temperature of the clutch… Although most people think of incubation as a warming process, birds may need to cool their eggs by shading or moistening them in hot environments. For example, one pair of Black-necked Stilts at southern California’s Salton Sea made 155 trips in one day to soak their belly feathers in water to cool their eggs.” It went on to say that, “Incubation requires a balance between sitting on the eggs to maintain their temperature and leaving the nest to refuel by foraging. Incubation thus involves a series of trade-offs: a female gains energy by leaving the nest to forage, but she must expend energy to rewarm or cool the clutch after returning.”

Isn’t that an apt metaphor for the life of a creative mother? And what bird, or mother, has the time to carve out time for relationships with all that traveling back and forth? Sitting on her nest, creating life, is not different than one of us being holed up alone in her studio/office/corner of the sofa working on her latest project. I look at birds differently now. Sure they like to hang out in flocks and travel the world, but when parenthood enters the equation, they are as tied down, lonely, and exhausted as any of us.

I think back to Cathy’s most recent post, where she described the temporary nature of parenthood. And I think of the yearly cycle of nest building, baby hatching, and nest leaving I witness each year in my own backyard. My boys are bigger now than they were yesterday. Soon they will fly away from me. Soon I will have plenty of time for free-flying and writing. But I will not want it. I will want my boys back.

Maybe I am more like a bird than I thought I was. And maybe I should look to the bird as a symbol for the course my life will take. Right now is my time to hatch my clutch, but soon I’ll have to fly anyway.

8/9 Weekly Creativity Challenge and New Prompt

We had three entries for this week’s “sprout” challenge, all from the same art table!  Kelly Warren and her daughters created the pieces below on an art-filled Sunday afternoon.  Kelly’s piece is on the top, then Sarah’s and then Olivia’s.  Guess who the diva of the household is?  Yes, those are rhinestones.🙂

sprout kelly117

sprout sarah119

sprout livvie118

This week’s prompt: “old friend”
Use the prompt however you like – literally, or a tangential theme. All media are welcome. Please e-mail your entries to by midnight eastern time on Sunday, August 16, 2009. Writers should include their submission directly in the body text of their e-mail. Visual artists and photographers should attach an image of their work as a jpeg. Enter as often as you like; multiple submissions for a single prompt are welcome. There is no limit to how many times you can win the weekly challenge, either. (You do not have to be a contributor to this blog in order to enter. All are invited to participate.) All submissions are acknowledged when received; if you do not receive e-mail confirmation of receipt within 48 hours, please post a comment here. Remember, the point is to stimulate your output, not to create a masterpiece. Keep the bar low and see what happens. Dusting off work you created previously is OK too. For more info, read the original contest blog post.


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