Skip to content

Archive for

Mary: Portals of Discovery

Nobody’s perfect, and I’m no exception.

Still, I hope, in my vain, rose-colored-glasses kind of way, to step up and be as good a person as I can be. Sometimes it’s easy.

Sometimes it’s a little tricky.

I think of all the things I could be doing as a mother, for example. And all the endless possible reactions I might have to things my children do, things that I might possibly be letting go, blurring out, things that happen right in front of me. Jack, for example, making his sister a flower out of a pipe cleaner, a button, and some felt letters. Adding a small piece of paper for the card, and drawing a kitty on it. And, what do I say?

“It’s too early in the morning for this!” “Can’t you do this later?” “Make sure you clean up that mess.” And so on.

Meanwhile, I’m completely neglecting the obvious. Which is, my boy is the sweetest on earth for making this small gift for his sister — who was sad because at a festival we went to yesterday, he got a sword and she didn’t get anything. He got right up and made her this thing. This gift from the center of his heart. And all his Mum could say is, “Not now! Clean it up! It’s too early!” (Insert frownie face here).

Now, I know that I might be somewhat harsh on myself, but there are times at the end of the day, when I look back and see what might have been.

Mommy, will you read to me?

Mommy, look! Look at what I made!

Mommy, will help me with this puzzle?

Mommy, will you sing with me?”

Mommy, I’m going to make you some basil eggplant soup!

Mommy, look at me!

Mommy, look at me!

Mommy, look!


“Mm hm.”

“That’s nice.”


“Not now, I’m really busy.”

“Can’t it wait until later?”

In the meantime, these moments, these precious little segments that make up life, are passing me by quicker than I can spin around. Maybe I’m distracted. Maybe I’m preoccupied. Maybe I’m just plain misguided.

Because, really, how important are the dishes? Who cares if the bathroom doesn’t get cleaned until later this afternoon? And, do I really need to get the query letter out this morning? (Oh, yes. Yes, that, too. And, actually — I do).

In the end, I suppose we all need to forgive ourselves for the imperfection. Without embracing our mistakes and foibles, stumbles and slips, we would never learn about life at all, and perhaps go through our days thinking all is peachy keen and rosy. Our outlook on ourselves would be, at best, imprudent. At worst, perilous.

I need my mistakes, need to cozy up to them on the couch and talk, need to put my head on their shoulder, my arms around their neck, and give them a squeeze. After all, my mistakes are my allies in disguise. They guide me, and help me get one step closer to that state of enlightenment, which is achieved by my acknowledgment, acceptance, and my letting go of that which has been put upon me by something external — something immaterial.

When I let go, I can jump right into the mud puddle that is true life and nature, and splosh around and get really dirty with the spirit and exhilaration of a child. I can be re-introduced to myself, and then shyly take my own hand, leading myself to something better — to a better person, a better me — the me that is already there, the me that can come out at any time. The very pinnacle of my potential. (Try saying that five times fast).

Yes, I’ll make mistakes again. Quite possibly the same ones I’ve made before, actually. But if I’m careful, if I keep my eyes open, someday I can turn it around and reach a new place in my life, where I catch a glimpse of love and righteousness before it gets squashed down by some dadblasted little mistake. Where the ripple in the water outshines the grossly populated highway. Where a little felt flower never goes unnoticed.

Cross-posted from Ophelia Rising.

Miranda: The Creative Family Bathroom

Let’s face it. When you add up all the minutes, most of us spend quite a lot of time in the bathroom. Especially when you have young children who need help wiping and washing, the bathroom can be a busy place.

Here’s a glimpse of what our little half-bathroom looked like when we bought our house:

And this is what it looks like now:

When I stumbled across this wallpaper last year, I had to have it. And I don’t even like wallpaper. But the idea of being able to write on the walls — permanently — filled me with excitement. One wall of paper would do it. (I trash-picked the mirror hanging above the sink, so that added a few dollars to the budget.) Bright paint would go on the other walls. The only “rule” for writing on this wall is not to create anything obscene. (I have teenagers, so a rule like this is actually necessary.) Other than that, anything goes. I’ve added a few collage pieces, and I look forward to creating a few mini paintings. The wall has become something of a guest book, too. We encourage guests to add something to the wall as a remembrance of their visit. And of course, all ages are welcome to contribute. (Yesterday I overhead one of my 14-year-old daughter’s friends exclaim: “You mean you can just come in here and write on the walls any old time you feel like it??” And my daughter’s response — slightly smug — “Yup!”)

You’ll see that this little room features two of my recent acquisitions from Aimee Myers Dolich of Artsyville. I love her work — and I especially love how the “doodles” and black frames (inexpensive frames from Target) echo the intention and inspiration of our create-it-yourself wallpaper, as well as the color of the painted walls. (And per the doodle, there ARE stacks of books in this room too — well, a shelf full, anyway!) A beautiful fit.

Future owners of our house will either love the wall and embrace it for themselves, or rip it all off (and God forbid, return it to the original, boring off-white). I imagine that wherever I live, I’ll always want to have a wall like this somewhere in my house.

So there you have it — the creative family bathroom. Any of you who ever come for a visit are eagerly encouraged to add your creative signature to our bathroom wall!

Kreativ Blogger Award

In an unusually impressive display of bad blogging etiquette, it’s taken me more than two weeks to respond to the Kreativ Blogger award that Lisa Damian of Damian Daily kindly sent our way. Thank you, Lisa! (Read more about Lisa at our Breakfast interview.)

The Kreativ Blogger Award acceptance speech is supposed to include five random tidbits about the blogger so that readers can get to know her (or him) better. I will respond in personal terms, understanding that my acceptance is on behalf of the entire Studio Mothers community!

Did you know…

1. I was born on the 9th minute of the 9th hour of the 9th day of the 9th month in 1969. This means that I had the good fortune of turning 40 at 9:09 on 9/09/09. Any guesses as to my lucky number?

2. Each of my five children’s three given names — first, middle, and last — are comprised of two syllables. No one-syllable names, no three-syllable names. This is, perhaps, a frightening reflection of my love of symmetry.

3. My first home was a boat on the River Thames in London. I haven’t ever felt creatively depleted, but if a dry spell ever comes my way, I will remind myself of this poetic start to life and hopefully get on with it.

4. I loathe olives. Every now and then I talk myself into trying another one, but they’re almost as bad as Marmite. (Despite the British roots, I have yet to understand how Marmite is classified as a food substance.)

5. In 1989, I was an extra in David Lansky, which was rumored to be the first French TV mini series. The series starred Johnny Hallyday, who is kind of the French version of Rod Stewart. According to Wikipedia, he is “the biggest rock star you’ve never heard of” in English-speaking countries. My appearance in this mini series, dear friends, was one of the highlights of my professional acting career. Need I say more?

Now, for the part where I get to present others with a Kreativ Blogger Award. I tried to ensure that the awardees had not already won this award. (Note to recipients: All you have to do is copy the Kreativ Blogger badge and list five random things about yourself in a post.) And the award goes to…

Aimee: Heard from the corners

for today’s corner view, i’ll spare you the view and turn on the audio instead. my seven year old has a relationship with the english language like none other and these are just a few of the things she’s uttered over the past few weeks. when she was younger i begged for a translator, but none appeared so i’ve learned to figure out her cryptospeak on my own. some days it puts me in tears of frustration and other days i just grab and hug her to pieces. just reading this makes me want to go yank her and her mismatching socks out of the classroom and give her a huge smooch. she is the muse for so much of what i do, and i worry that sometimes i take her for granted. writing it down helps me not to do that.

say hello to jane for some lovely corners of homes around the world, including her own. if you scroll to her eighth photo you’ll see some familiar magnets, including one very bad word in spanish. hee.

Crossposted from Artsyville, by Aimee Myers Dolich.

Bethany: Bad Habits Are Hard to Break

I’d always wanted to be a writer. In my youth it was songs and poetry. Mostly because they were short, sweet, and easy to produce in the short allotment of time that my brain could focus. Being a nervous child, I was always full of anxiety, never sat still, and always had plans. Mornings would be planning time. I’d set small goals like: write three songs today, make a mix tape from the radio, worry about the boy in class that passed a note about me in biology, write a poem, watch television, avoid and then call my girlfriends, twice, to talk about all of this and more. Only, I didn’t talk about my writing much. For some reason I kept that secret, as if it might hide the “real” me from the rest of the world. Because then, and even now, I can’t write much without the truth seeping in. And God knows, when you are 13 and you are worried about joining chorus, or the hair growing under your arms, you don’t want the entire school making a judgement about you based on that. So notebooks were written in, hidden under the bed, in the drawer and tossed aside in backpacks throughout my childhood. Some were neatly kept hidden in the most safest of spots as it had the best handwritten pieces I could muster. Others were thrown aside in a massive upheaval (or cleaning) attempt made in my room. But the love of writing and being inside myself for extended periods of time was never lost. Even, when I hit college and “real life” when writing wasn’t a priority, I’d find myself jotting down phrases, paragraphs, a few pages of a story in the back of a notebook, only to be tucked (or thrown) away at the end of the semester.

Today, I wish I could say I finally found a way to pull all those stories together and collect myself enough to write endlessly without interruption. But the truth is, my life demands that I am scattered. I have a day job that demands constant attention, children who do the same, and a husband — that although he tries — loves a bit of my attention as well. And when you throw all of that together in 24 hour chunks, there still isn’t a lot of time for writing. Not like there was when I was a teen and my only responsibilities were eating, sleeping, dressing, behaving, and school (that I might add was somewhat easy for me). Though, thinking back, I felt just as scattered then as I do now. Just differently.

I’ve spent the better part of this month trying to regain the diligence I had only three months ago for writing. I’d write if I have 5 minutes or an hour — and time didn’t really matter. I’d take every word and add it to the count. I’d blog, write an essay, outline my next novel idea, and even hammer out a few marketing plans. All while juggling the rest of my life. But then suddenly I let one 15 minute chunk of time pass me by. And then another. Pretty soon I was just letting days and weeks slide where I writing dropped to the lowest priority. Thus, so did my stories/essays/blog posts and my general happiness about working toward my small goal of making my writing into a business after so many years.

One might think it easy to get back on the bandwagon of writing. I mean, I did it once right? How hard can it be to just keep the notebooks lying around, computers open and let the words flow… every 5, 15, or 30 minutes at a time? But have you ever gone on and then OFF a diet? How hard is it to get back on THAT bandwagon? Because really, when you take time that you once used to do one thing (in my case writing) and suddenly have it returned to you to do something else (laundry, diapers, nap, read, television, rest, thinking) giving that time up again to do something else… well isn’t as easy as it sounds. Just like the soda you’ve gotten SO used to having in the afternoon as a pick-me-up suddenly being banned on the new diet. So, alas I’m struggling. With writing. With eating. Thinking outside my normal routine. Becoming creative again. And becoming active again. All at once.

And I’m admitting (again) to being a sporadic type writer. Still writing phrases in notebooks, napkins, and in fragmented computer files on almost every computer I use regularly. Catching moments of brilliance into text messages on my cell phone. Waking before sunrise to sneak a few 100 words into the laptop. And stealing what I can from my creative side of the brain to weave a story, a message, a project together into “something.” I can’t and don’t write for hours at a time. Even when I crave that amount of time for long writing stretches, my mind might implode after 30 minutes or so. Who gets that kind of uninterrupted time? Unless of course you’re writing full time. Or maybe don’t have children or the Internet. But then again, I don’t get caught up in routines. And if writing in 15 minute chunks works for me, I’ll take it. As long as I can start writing again. Each and every 15 minutes I get.

[Cross-posted from Mommy Writer Blog]

Miranda: My new laptop doesn’t have a power cord — or then again, maybe it does

This weekend, instead of using my “off” morning time to work on my novel, I decided to immerse myself in a half-day motherhood retreat. Not a retreat from motherhood, but a retreat to motherhood. Better motherhood.

For some time — years — I’ve been moving closer to fitting all the pieces together. This process has been a conscious journey. If you’ve been reading these pages for a while, you may remember my struggles with living in the moment as a working mother with 5 kids and too many hats. There’s the vortex of caring for young children, our trouble with transitions, accepting that someday is today, problems with multi-tasking, and my recent love affair with fixed-schedule time management. I do have the occasional flash of successful mothering. But the sum total is a lot of focus on what I’m not doing, and angst about what it all means.

My frustration stemmed from feeling like when I’m doing my own creative thing I’m not being a mother, and when I’m being a mother I’m not really doing my own creative thing. Putting stakes down around my creative time often comes with a price. Yet I know that being actively creative raises my resistance to domestic disasters. I know that “blending” the two parts as much as possible is often the key to success, but there are limits to how much you can pursue your art without some amount of time and space “apart.” Aren’t there?

No more ‘shoulds’
A dear friend of mine is emerging from a potentially life-threatening illness — during which she resigned to stop living under the shroud of obligations. “No more ‘shoulds,'” she told me. She decided that living her life in terms of what she should or shouldn’t do hadn’t served her very well, and big changes were in store.

I thought about this a lot. I realized that it makes sense on so many levels. Even practical terms. I decided that I too wanted to live in the realm of “want to” and “have to” only. Those are the things that matter. I might tell myself at 5:00 that I “should” start dinner, but put it off until 5:45 when I really have to start dinner. Why muck everything up with the “shoulds”? Either you want to start dinner and you do, or you have to start dinner and you do. Either way, dinner gets cooked, and you don’t need to fret about it one way or the other. No more relationships that I “should” foster. If I don’t want to invest myself in someone, then I won’t. Why throw myself away like that, in the name of “should”?

What’s most interesting about this particular exercise is that when you remove the “should” factor, you realize that there is a lot more “want” than you thought there was. When I thought about pulling away from certain friendships, I realized that I really didn’t want to do that. Some of those relationships were actually not based on obligation as much as I thought they were. When I remove the cloud of “should,” suddenly everything is clear. There is commitment because it’s actually important to me. So all of a sudden nurturing those relationships feels like a gift, not a chore, because I’ve recognized their true value.

Putting the pieces back together
Strangely, I’ve finally figured out how broken my framework was, and the many ways in which I perpetuated that broken viewpoint. I used to think it was cliché to say “my kids come first.” Like, duh. None of us are going to let the kids burn up in a fire while we run to the studio to save the canvases. But with my new paradigm, I see beyond the cliché. It’s the kids. Creativity is important, but I can’t live my life thinking that my children are the barrier to my creativity, and I can’t live my life trying to come up with clever ways to convince myself that that isn’t the case.

Because really, it isn’t the case.

It turns out that I’ve totally missed the forest for the trees. You’ll have to bear with my slowness on some of this stuff. I’ve spent my entire adult life being a mother and some of my perspective was apparently truncated along with my youth. I was 21 when my first child is born — he’s a freshman in college now. Since there is a very wide age span between my children — the youngest is not yet 2 — I’m still in the trenches of parenting young children.

And what I have I realized? Being in the trenches, parenting young children, is exactly where I want to be. Because it’s where I am. No, I do not need to “try” to be a good mother while internally I’m just treading water until I can do what I really want to do. The relationship between creativity and motherhood is summed up beautifully in this post, which was just sent our way by Gale Pryor: “Your writing can always be revised; your children can’t.”

Creativity is a beautiful overlay to my existence, but not the reason for my existence. Motherhood isn’t the reason for my existence either. The point is just to be here and take it all in. Just be here. Breathing and enjoying and letting the magic happen instead of using a shoehorn to make it all “work.” But meanwhile, while I’m living in the moment, serving the people I love is surely the most important way to focus my time. By “serve” I don’t just mean feed, bathe, clothe, and chauffeur — although of course, those are parts of it — by serve I mean serve bring joy, bring peace, bring laughter. My job is to help everyone I live with wake up and feel excited to be alive. I am not responsible for their happiness in the largest sense, but my job is to help them along the path to self-actualization as much as possible. And that’s a job I really want.

Putting work in a box
The “job” of nurturing my family is certainly more meaningful than the one I get paid for, even though you wouldn’t know that based on how I’ve let my business consume my life like over-fertilized kudzu. Over and over again I let my professional work take precedence over everything else, and then come out on the other side thinking that I won’t let it happen again — only to crawl back under the same rock a few weeks or months later.

It’s taken nearly 15 years, but I’ve finally figured out why I keep getting overbooked. Last month I sat down and did a bunch of math to calculate my monthly quota, how much time I need to spend on my retainer clients, and how much time I need to spend on additional billables. This all sounds so obvious, but I had never figured it all out before, and as a result was double and triple booking my time — and short-changing my most loyal clients. No more. I now know exactly how many hours I have on hand to spend on “extra” work and I am not going to say yes to anything new that won’t fit inside this box. I’m just done with working day and night and ignoring my family and my creativity in the name of meeting some “important” deadline. What’s so important, exactly?

OK, so the work dragon has been slayed. I get it. It’s been two weeks since I won that battle and I feel like a new person. The drop in stress level is amazing. Suddenly I have the bandwidth to focus on all of the important things — the people — I’ve been putting in the backseat for so long. I realize that I am in the midst of a tangible gear shift as I begin to live more in accordance with my priorities. It’s an incredible sensation.

Me, in bed, with lots of books
So. Back to my motherhood retreat. (If I haven’t lost all of my readers yet!) I had just finished Jamie C. Martin’s Steady Days the night before, and was inspired build on her good advice and creative thinking about “professional mothering.” I wanted to assemble my new progress and thought patterns and capture them so that the “old” ways wouldn’t take over again. I could have slept in that morning, but I was too excited about the work ahead. So I made a cup of coffee and got into bed with a stack of relevant books, a notebook, and my laptop. My stack included a selection of trusted favorites with a few recent additions:

  1. Steady Days by Jamie C. Martin
  2. Busy But Balanced by Mimi Doe
  3. The Creative Family by Amanda Soule
  4. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
  5. What Happy Working Mothers Know by Cathy Greenberg & Barrett Avigdor
  6. Confessions of an Organized Homemaker by Deniece Schofield
  7. Take Time for Your Life by Cheryl Richardson
  8. The Family Manager’s Everyday Survival Guide by Kathy Peel
  9. The Toddler’s Busy Book by Trish Kuffner
  10. Things I Can Make by Sabine Lohf

This may not be sufficient indication, but I horde organization-related books. There are at least a dozen excellent other titles on my shelves, but these are the ones that jumped out at me that morning.

I wanted to figure out how to use my organizational resources to create a system that supported my priorities, rather than left me feeling like I had a million things to do and no time to do them. I also wanted to create a few good lists of projects and games that I can do with my 4-year-old AND my 21-month old — and figure out how to incorporate that creative time into our lives in a meaningful way. I pulled apart all of my various planning methods and organizational tools and recreated the elements into something new that actually speaks to what I believe in. Something that actually helps me live in alignment with what really matters, rather than helps me chase the dust bunnies of life.

The result is a binder. A binder that includes all of the essential building blocks, all in one place. Motherhood, domestic life, the big picture, work — it’s all here, in the planner to end all planners. I think of this as my new laptop. And now, instead of staring at a piece of equipment, I can reach for PAPER — that beautiful, evocative tool that leads me to creative paths in ways that my iPhone — much as I love it — and MacBook — much as I love that too — cannot. While my new planner is fed by various applications and digital tools, it ends up being a tangible thing that I can carry and flip through throughout the day — without the distractions of e-mail and internet, which so often pull me away from what’s important.

Some of our community members are already living in alignment with their priorities, and don’t seem to experience the struggles that I’ve touched on above. I applaud the strength of that inner compass, that “knowing” without having first spent years doing it all the wrong way. But if you don’t quite feel at peace with your life’s “balance,” take a few hours one evening or Sunday afternoon to think about your big-picture goals, your real mission, and hold that up against how you really live, you may find that there is a gap between the two. The next task is to figure out how to close that gap. The results are so exciting that I find myself leaping out of bed every morning because I cannot wait for the new day to begin. I feel like a new person, and I already see a remarkable difference in how my family and my relationships with my children are changing as a result.

The creativity part? I’m not worried about it. I have no shortage of inspiration, and I’m confident that I will finish at least one of my various writing projects. I will write when I write. Whether I write or not, I’m going to enjoy the process. Living life in this openness actually feels more creative than when I’m forcing myself to write because I “should.” I’m no longer going to let “shoulds” take the joy out of what I love, whether that’s a creative project, my husband, my children — or myself.

Aimee: Mothers of Invention

Crossposted from Artsyville, by Aimee Myers Dolich.

an EXTRA special thank you goes today to the fabulous jennifer new, who published my artwork this week on her recently started blog mothers of invention. jennifer, who is also the author of drawing from life: the journal as art (a must-read for art journalers), spun off the MOI blog from her series of excellent articles on the challenges that women face while balancing a creative career with the round-the-clock demands of raising a family. she is currently working on a book proposal to give the many creative mamas out there a much needed resource on how to manage those challenges.

jennifer’s articles have put a voice to many of the feelings i’ve had since my first child arrived nearly six years ago. in her words i recognize the despair and resentment i’ve felt from having to abandon a great idea or cut short a creative process because someone won’t take a nap, needs something, is systematically emptying out every dresser drawer in the house, or just won’t let me complete a thought.

her writing has also made me realize how much of my creativity i owe to my children. the urge to create came and went during my pre-baby years, but never consistently, nor with much conviction or purpose. once my girls burst on the scene, so did my desire to create, and that desire fed on itself until it became an essential part of my life, my way of making sense of the world.

just watching my children grow and learn is creativity in progress. they constantly push me out of my comfort zone and i think that’s essential territory for an artist to explore. they approach life with a freshness that cuts to my heart when i stop and take the time to think about what they’re seeing and feeling. life is so new to them; they’re trying to understand things that i expect and take for granted. they say and do things that would never occur to me. their interpretations of the world take my mind in unexpected directions.

my girls have also taught me to live in the moment. with children, there is no tomorrow, no yesterday, only now. because of them I’ve learned to pay closer attention to my surroundings because I have to, and I’m surprised by what I see and what I missed before. i create with an intensity and purpose that i didn’t fully understand before they came into my life. recognizing the significance of those small moments has helped me to be a better mother to my girls as well as my art.

so thank you, jennifer, for your insightful writing on such a complex topic, and for bringing together such a diverse group of women to discuss our common challenge. we are parents, we are creatives — and in order to satisfy both of those worlds, we must be mothers of invention as well.

%d bloggers like this: