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Posts tagged ‘family’

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


  • 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.


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


  • 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.




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


  • 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.


  • 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!)


  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.”


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!

Filling the Well with Well-Being

Mothers take care of other people. It’s what we do. And we don’t get sick days. You’re so tired you can barely move, but you still have to scrape yourself off the floor and go change that poopy diaper or drive your teenager to ice hockey practice at some ungodly hour.

With so many non-negotiable tasks at hand, it’s easy to slip into an abyss without even realizing you’re in free-fall. Everything seems fine on the surface: you’re taking care of home and family, getting your work done, and nothing unusually stressful is going on — and yet something isn’t right. You’re vaguely aware that you aren’t spending much — if any — time being creative, except you’re too busy to think about it. But you start getting irritated with your spouse and children. Even the dog starts bothering you with her constant shedding and slobbery ways. Your beautiful home morphs into a giant pair of shackles, and you’re suddenly only the laundress, cook, scullery maid, assistant, chauffer, accountant, and charwoman — and likely also earning a paycheck. No one appreciates what you do, or the fact that between 6:30 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. you have about five minutes of downtime. You get resentful, sometimes even angry, which may mean you stop talking and perhaps drop each loaded dinner plate onto the table a little less graciously than you’d intended.

When you spend your life careening from one responsibility to the next — even if you enjoy those responsibilities — it’s easy to lose sight of yourself and start resenting the people you live with, which doesn’t work for anyone. Consider the aphorism “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” If you’re feeling grim, all the little sponges in your house are going to pick up on that vibe, even if they don’t verbalize it.

When you’re already doing so much that you can’t imagine doing more, how can you find time to reconnect with yourself? Start small and simple. Reconnecting may or may not involve “art,” per se. Chose something that makes you feel good. The feeling of ease is what restores your center. This spills over into your creative process.

When are you at your happiest? Interestingly, some mothers aren’t able to answer this seemingly straightforward question. Can you? Grab an index card or a notebook and write down everything you can think of that makes you feel good. Is there a way to integrate some of those conditions or activities into daily life? What can you do every day to help ensure that the present moment feels like the gift that it really is? Are there three small things you can commit to doing every day that might impact your sense of well-being? This is really about developing a few new habits, rather than about heaping more “shoulds” onto the pile. (Goodness knows, the last thing we need is more shoulds.) With a bit of intention and some new routines, you may find yourself living more fully — in art and motherhood — than you ever thought possible.

What works for you?

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

Making Creative Hay Outside

If fair weather has come to 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.

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!

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

Kelly: Surrendering My Superpowers

One of the gazillion images I need to edit, this one captured in Virginia last month.

I had to meet with Olivia’s teacher yesterday morning regarding her reading grade. Livvie started out poorly this year, then made the A/B honor roll for the second and third quarters, and now has dropped back down as the school year is winding down. Ever feel completely powerless? Have a conversation with your second-grader’s teacher about her failing reading grade.

We talked through why this might be happening. After all, she did make the A/B honor roll for two quarters! I think with Olivia, it’s all about concentration, or lack thereof (something she, unfortunately, probably gets from me). Ms. G said that lately she’ll race through her reading comprehension quizzes and just circle random answers, seemingly without giving any thought to what the correct answer might be. She’s one of the first to turn in her quizzes. We asked Livvie about this at home, and she said that when she sees other classmates start to turn their quizzes in, she feels like she needs to hurry up and finish and turn hers in, even though these quizzes are not timed. Wow, ever feel like you are trying to keep up with everyone around you when you really don’t need to? I know I could learn from that lesson. Food for thought there… I asked Ms. G to send home several sample quizzes so I could work with Livvie on them over the long holiday weekend and try to get her grade back up. Her reading skills are fine. She’s reading above grade level. It’s just the patience it takes to actually complete the quizzes that she’s struggling with. I also need to help her realize that she is a wonderfully beautiful individual and doesn’t need to compare herself to her twin sister.

I do often feel powerless when it comes to trying to do what’s best for my children. Sounds crazy, maybe, but that’s how it hits me at times. I’m not home for homework time. Most of the academic year, I get home about 6pm Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and 9pm on Tuesdays. Fridays are my only decent days since I can usually get home by 4pm.  DH picks the girls up from school about 4pm and does homework with them when they get home, so by the time I get home, it’s time for dinner, baths, snuggling, a little reading, and bedtime. DH is great with helping them with their math, but he admits he struggles helping them with their reading and writing. And those are my strong points! That’s where I can and really should be helping them! It all comes down to time.

And that’s also where I’ve been feeling powerless lately and am trying to find ways to make some major changes. Overall I think I’m at a point in my life where, though I’d love to be working on my creative endeavors more, there simply isn’t much spare time most of the year. And I have to tell ya, if I hear one more person tell me “Oh, you make time for what’s important to you,” I think my head will pop off. You can’t create more time, so, no, you often can’t make more time for what’s important to you without something that’s just as important suffering. That’s where reality kicks in. “Find some time after the girls go to bed!” others have told me. My girls go to bed between 8:30pm and 9pm. I can’t give up sleep due to my balance disorder. It’s crucial that I get at least eight to nine hours of sleep a night or my spins pick up. My dizzy meds work to reset my balance while I’m sleeping, so that sleep is ultra-important. I have to get up at 5:30am or 6am, so that means my bedtime is typically about 9pm.

But there are changes I can make, and that’s what I’m working on. Read more

Robin: Transitioning

my family (minus our two older boys — ahem — MEN!)

I have had a whirlwind of change going on over here. I can’t believe that hubby was here two weeks ago on leave.  And in those two weeks, I have said “YES” to a couple of major things:

These things feel like they are bringing me back to my purpose. This year marks 4 years since I graduated from Fuller Seminary and I have struggled in my heart and on this blog the reasons for why I even took that step. This year seems to be the year that this all fits. Josey heads off to kindergarten in a matter of months. The stress and tension I used to feel over finances and loneliness due to hubby’s deployments are starting to subside a bit. And I feel a bit more settled in my identity.

I LOVE that I can connect creativity with my faith. I LOVE the idea of putting the two together and helping others to do the same. The process of writing the creativity workbook really made some things click as far as next steps. And I am VERY PLEASED with this new direction.

Cathy: Love and writing

I really do often feel stuck between what I “should” be doing instead of writing, and my writing. If I don’t put it first right now, I will only be a resentful pig of a mother and wife. And that’s the truth. Plain and simple.

So yesterday, when I needed a moment in the midst of writing, I doodled this instead.

It’s really almost done. This is the final push. So if my family sees less of me, if you see less of me around the blogosphere, etc., this is why. I am hard at work. I will be back in my family’s life more when I can focus on them better because I will not be dissecting and rearranging a manuscript in my head during our interactions.

And that’s it.

[Cross-posted from musings in mayhem]

Miranda: Summer Vision

Summer 2010

As of next week, all of my kids will be out of school and summer will begin “for real” at our house. I’ll no longer need to get up at 5:45 every morning (although I may still do so). Schedules will open and priorities will shift. The prospect is tantalizing.

Summer tends to fly by, of course, and I’m sure this year will be no different. That said, now that my youngest has turned 2, our bandwidth has definitely increased. We’re doing more — and sleeping more, thankfully — than we were last June. To make the most of my increased capacity, I wanted to focus my hopes and framework for the summer. (OK, so I’m a sucker for any excuse to make a list.) What kinds of memories do I want to create for my family this summer? Where can I invest in family relationships? In what ways can I further my personal growth? In what ways can I work toward my bigger goals, without getting stressed about deadlines and “shoulds”?

I sat down to think about all the things I wanted to do this summer, and areas where I have an opportunity to focus on my family, my creativity, and myself. I came up with a list of 18 things that I want to be mindful about and enjoy fully. Some of these activities are things that I’m already doing — and some are new. Some of these things will surely stay on the list well into next season and beyond. In total, the list represents all the “cylinders” I’d like to hit in the coming months in order to feel balanced (as much as I don’t like that word) and good about how I’m using my time.

Then I decided to turn my list into a vision board (above — click on the mosaic for a larger view). Each photo in the mosaic represents one item on my list. Some of the photos are mine, and some are from Creative Commons (photo credits noted). From top to bottom, left to right, the images/activities are:

  1. Having picnics. Eating outside is just plain fun. I want to enjoy al fresco dining as much as we can during the warm months, whether that means packing up dinner and eating on a big blanket on the grass at our local park, or just eating out in our own backyard. (Photo credit.)
  2. Doing art projects with the kids. With more time at our disposal, I hope to get through some of the craft projects I’ve been thinking about. Of course, doing something creative with the little guys is a great way to satisfy my own creative itch without needing solitude. (Photo credit.)
  3. Meditating. I’m trying to meditate every morning. It doesn’t always happen, but my plan is to still get up before the little guys do, and start my day with mediation and coffee before “momming” begins. (The photo is of my zafu and zabuton, where I practice in my bedroom.)
  4. Eating mindfully. I’ve been reading a lot about mindful eating, from Geneen Roth to Jan Chozen Bays to Thich Nhat Hanh. The Buddhist perspective on compulsive eating has opened new doors for me, and I need to stay in touch with this learning on a daily basis. (Guess what? I put my scale away about six weeks ago — something I never, ever, ever, ever thought I’d be able to do.) (Photo credit.)
  5. Running. I’m running 4-5 miles three or four times a week, and liking it, a lot. I’m getting faster, too, which — after nearly 15 years of running at about the same pace — is quite satisfying. (Photo credit.)
  6. Doing art projects for myself. I have a few painting and collage ideas percolating that I’d like to explore. I have such a steep learning curve in this department that it’s hard for me to tune out the inner critic. “What? What are you doing? This is the most hideous thing anyone has ever created!” <sigh> (Photo credit.)
  7. Writing. It’s been a few months since I’ve worked on my novel, and even longer since I worked on my nonfiction project. I’m getting itchy to return to both. This probably won’t happen unless I schedule the writing time. (Funnily enough, unless I commit to a writing session, I tend to find a million other things that need doing instead.)
  8. Going to the beach. It’s time at the beach that makes summer so memorable, isn’t it? I plan to take full advantage, from our local watering hole to our beautiful New England coastline.
  9. Baking with the kids. We already bake on a fairly regular basis, but I want to keep at it this summer — especially with my oldest son at home from college to help eat the end results before *I* do (see item #4 above, lol).
  10. Gardening. I love working in the garden, and this year I’m able to do so while the little boys play outside. I still have to keep an eye on them, of course, but I don’t have to worry quite so much about the youngest one eating ants or crawling into the rose bushes.
  11. Going out with my husband. We miss having a regular date night, and this summer I’m going to rope the teenagers into helping out each Thursday night. They only have to take care of the little guys for an hour before bedtime, so it’s not a hardship — oh, and I pay them, anyway. My husband and I really need this regular connection time and I’m looking forward to a “regular” date night, even if much of the time we end up doing something on a shoestring, like browsing at Barnes & Noble and chatting for an hour or two. (Photo credit.)
  12. Reading. Been reading a lot lately, both fiction and nonfiction, and I want to keep it up.
  13. Doing yoga. I haven’t done yoga in years — aside from the occasional DVD session at home — but with my meditation practice and Buddhist study, I feel like yoga practice is a natural addition. I have yet to find the right class at a convenient time and place (ha ha) but I’m optimistic. (Photo credit.)
  14. Connecting with teens. I haven’t been spending enough one-on-one time with my three older children (ages 19, 16, and 14). Tuesday evenings this summer are now reserved for time with my teens in rotation — whether that means going out for a decaf cappucino at Starbucks with the oldest, a music-blasting joy ride with my 16-year-old, or staying in for pedicures and a movie with my daughter. (Photo credit.)
  15. Taking pictures. I love photography, but I don’t know enough about the finer points and I feel like my lack of technical knowledge is holding me back. I’d like to make some time to begin reading through an excellent guidebook that my husband bought for me a couple of years ago. (Photo credit.)
  16. Keeping house. Don’t laugh. I actually like a lot of things related to domestic chores. In addition to mindfully enjoying the regular, daily tasks, I’d like to get to a few of the things on my household project list.
  17. Studying Buddhism. I find that I need to take notes from the books I’m reading, which usually means reading the book once through while making a few notes in the margins and then going back through the whole book again, page by page, to put all the pieces together. I also find that writing out notes longhand helps me “learn” and remember more effectively. (Photo credit.)
  18. Blogging. I hope to get back to writing at least one personal blog post a week, in addition to posting the usual items from our wonderful community of creative mothers and sharing at our Facebook page.

The list is long, but I have to keep in mind that I’m already doing a bunch of these things. I’m grateful for that; grateful for being able to do so many things that I enjoy and spending so much time with my family. This summer feels like an unprecedented opportunity in many different ways.

How about you? Have you thought about your summer in macro and micro terms? Are your “plans” as simple as “relax and enjoy” or do you have something more elaborate in mind? If anyone has created or intends to create a list — or even a vision board, digital or handmade — please share.

Cathy: The Universe works in mysterious ways

I will kvetch no more — this week anyway — as after my last two days of considering every option and feeling like I had none left, suddenly:

a friend offered to barter my tutoring her 13-year-old daughter for watching my 2-year-old daughter on writers’ group days.  So I don’t need to find and pay for immediate daycare just so I can have a few hours of writing and critique time a couple of times a month.


drumroll, please…..

Honey’s cousin needs some of Honey’s professional expertise on a public speaking gig in Colorado in a couple of weeks. And he offered to let me tag along, too. I will go to his public speaking gig, but largely, I am going to blissfully sit in my hotel room, without any interruptions and edit the bejeez out of my manuscript on Honey’s laptop!!!

and Grandma offered to watch the kids for that weekend.

I hope I didn’t die, because this sure feels like heaven.

[slightly edited crosspost from musings in mayhem]

Kelly: Memory Making for Mermaids

I was out for lunch today when I pulled up next to an old Ford Pinto. Wow, what memories. I couldn’t help but smile. And I also couldn’t believe that there was still a Ford Pinto on the road! When I was growing up, my mom had a red Pinto. Two particular memories jumped out at me. When I was 12 and my sister was 2, my parents divorced, and Mom, Kim, and I moved to Orange Park to be near my Nana and Granddaddy. We were driving down Blanding Blvd (which was three-lane at the time…one northbound, one southbound, and one turn lane…today it’s seven lanes), and Mom hit a dog that was following a little boy riding his bike. I remember her being devastated, far more devastated than the little boy. She stopped and picked up the dog, put it in the trunk of that Pinto and followed the little boy home on his bike. Kim and I stayed in the car when we got to the little boy’s house, so I don’t remember what happened from there, just that Mom cried for quite some time that day. She would have been 32. Years later, I learned how she felt. A few years after DH and I got married, I hit a kitten coming home from class one night, and I cried for days. I was right about 32.

The second memory was far more fun. I think I was about 13, so Kim would have been 3. Mom was trying to take me to school and Kim to Nana’s for the day so she could go to work, but the Pinto wouldn’t start. She got out of the car, beyond frustrated, and Kim and I followed. She kicked the car and said, and I remember this soooo clearly, “This f*#%ing car isn’t worth a s*^t!” Kim looked at Mom and then kicked the car and repeated word for word what she said. That was the first and last time I ever heard my mother cuss.

Isn’t it interesting what memories stick with us? I honestly don’t have a lot of early childhood memories; I wish I did. Most of the memories I do have revolve around my Nana since I spent so much time with her, like the time we visited Aunt Livy and Uncle Wilbur in Key West when I was 7 or 8 and Nana discovered that I was a sleepwalker. I went to the mall that night, sitting on the end of the bed pretending to drive and then walking down the hallway to Sears, Nana told me. (I still sleepwalk and now tend to move furniture and groceries in my sleep, go figure.) I also learned how to play penny ante poker that week. My Nana and Aunt Livy were card sharks, and I still love to play poker today. DH is a very sore loser and says Aunt Livy and I cheat. And at 88, she just grins at him and hands me a card under the table…naw….just kidding…sort of. 😉

Before my parents divorced, Mom worked all day as a nurse, and Dad often worked two jobs, one of which was at Sears selling appliances. I know they did their best, and I’m thankful for the determination and independence they created in me. I want to create determination and independence in my girls as well, and I’m hopeful that I’m also creating lots of memories for them. I want them to remember these days. Maybe that’s one of the benefits of blogging; hopefully they’ll be able to go back and read these stories and they’ll spark memories.

Right now, the girls and I are taking an online class together called Mermaid Warriors. It’s with McCabe Russell, and we’re loving it. McCabe works with young girls using art to help build self-esteem, and she’s taking us through her class with wonderful videos and a discussion blog. One of the things I want to do with the Purple Cottage is mother/daughter art retreats combined with lessons in self-knowledge, self-esteem and good citizenship, and when I stumbled across McCabe’s blog and class that teaches you how to do just that, I knew the Universe was speaking to me! (I’m slowly learning to listen to her.)

This weekend, the girls had a friend sleep over and we created our first Mermaid Warrior project together, these fun little journals out of scrapbook paper and ribbon. We had so much fun! DH even pitched in where we’d let him. It was a girls-only event after all. 😉 I took some video of the girls creating their books and talking about what they wrote in them. If I can ever figure out how to create a movie, I’ll share it with you (anyone point me to a good tutorial?). They’ve since continued to write in them and add stickers and drawings. They even created journals for their primary teacher and their art teacher and are so proud of their work. I know we’re on to something here. 🙂 More Mermaid Warrior projects coming. Don’t you just love that name? Perfect for us, don’t you think?

Cross-posted from my personal blog….

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