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Posts tagged ‘summer’

Making Creative Hay Outside

Enjoy this seasonal reprint from the archives!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What works for you? Share your experience!

How to Do One Thing this Summer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Making Creative Hay Outside

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What works for you? Share your experience!

Christine: Summer as Intermission

Christine Brandel is a Studio Mothers contributor. She also blogs at A Hot Piece of Glass.

The summer of 2012 feels like an intermission. My kids are 4, 6, and 13, and I planned no organized activities for them this year. No summer school, no week at Girl Scout camp, no trips to visit Camp Grandma. I’m fine with that, as it saves a little money while my husband starts a new job, and it gives me the opportunity to really be with my kids.

My oldest spends the summer with her father, so that leaves the two little ones at home. We joined the neighborhood pool for the first time this year, and I signed them up for swimming lessons, free passes for bowling, and movie tickets. Our family took an epic road trip from our home in Virginia to my father’s home in Miami, Florida, last month as our family vacation, so that part of the summer is completed.

I’m surprised by how well we have been able to fill our days thus far. The mornings have been for swimming – before the pool gets really crowded, and the weather gets ridiculously hot – and the afternoons have been for everything else: Wii gaming (we’re a big geek family), making things, playing with toys, building forts and complicated Rube Goldberg-like machinery in the living room. We started a complicated jigsaw puzzle and have spent a lot of time at the barn where my middle daughter takes riding lessons. I plan to read them the first Harry Potter book, and we haven’t gone bowling yet. There’s still time.

It’s a good summer. The “intermission” part comes when I think about myself. If you’ve ever been to an evening-length performance, you know about a classic intermission. Time to get up from your seat in the theater, enjoy a beverage or snack, chat with other theatergoers, let the first half of the performance sink in, and reset your attention span so you can be fully present for the second half of the show. That’s what’s going on here. Right now, the insane heat wave over central Virginia makes it impossible to run my kiln and torch. I can’t stand to be in the garage workshop for any length of time to do any metalwork, and I feel devoid of ideas for anything I *can* do in the house for my metal and glass primary art forms. Even my “day job” has suffered, in the sense that I have had to work significantly fewer hours because I can’t get into my office with my children in tow. Telecommuting works when the kids are absorbed by the Wii, but sometimes I really just need to sit at my desk. I’m handling that by working in the evening and going to the office after everyone else has gone and my husband is home, but that’s not something I want to, or am able to, do every day.

The intermission of the summer of 2012 is a hold on the “regular” activities that make up my life. Wait, artwork and creative pursuits. I’m going swimming with my kids now. Hang on, medical records and conference calls, it’s time for doing puzzles. We chat, enjoy snacks, play, stretch, and let the last school year sink in before we prepare for the next year. It is resetting my attention span so that I can be fully present for the next parts to come. I know that at the end of the summer, when my oldest has returned to this nest and school is starting again, I will resume my usual routine – kids to school, do some work, make some art, pretend to clean the house, keep up with the myriad details of life with three children – but for now, this glorious intermission works for us. I am finally relaxing into the notion that in several weeks, all that “other stuff” will be waiting for me, and I will pick it up and continue the performance of my life, much more present, hopefully more relaxed, and ready to get on with the things I let go of temporarily. It’s been fantastic.

How does the summer change the “performance” of your life?

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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!

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!

The Art of Summer

Summertime brings inevitable changes to our daily routines. Whether it’s the longer days, kids out of school, vacation plans, or simply the warmer weather, you may be finding it difficult to focus on your creative work. Here’s how to get the most out of the summer months without losing creative momentum.

  • Use the outdoors to your advantage. If your creative work is portable, take it outside. Paint outside, play music outside, work on your laptop outside. Allow yourself to soak up the intensity of summer and invite the season to permeate your creative work. For those in northern climates, summer is gone in the blink of an eye — so get out there and enjoy it, while being creative to boot. Click here for more on making the most of the outdoors.
  • Chose a creative goal to complete before autumn. Consider the framework of your summer and decide on a reasonable objective. Your goal might be “finish five chapters in my novel,” “complete three canvases,” or simply “be creative every day.” Share your goal with others, as accountability will help you stay on track. You might also consider an external endpoint, such as a contest deadline, to add focus.
  • Set a minimum daily requirement. Summer seems to require an extra dose of flexibility — and the last thing you want is more “shoulds” in your life. That said, it’s helpful to set a “bare minimum” daily requirement as a target. Being creative every day keeps the pump primed and will make it much easier for you to resume your regular creative practice when the time comes. So decide that no matter what, every day you will write 100 words, sketch for 10 minutes, sing for half an hour — whatever makes sense.
  • Take a creative staycation. If budget and/or logistics prohibit going on a creative retreat, make your own. Pick a long weekend, design your own program, and send the kids to grandma’s. Your retreat can include a trip to a museum, a long solitary walk, browsing art magazines or an inspiring book, and of course, plenty of creative practice.

This article originally appeared in the June 2011 newsletter of the Creativity Coaching Association. Reprinted by permission.

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