Wednesday, September 29, 2010

easy thank you's

Cowgirl's sixth birthday is not over until all the thank you notes have been written. I am a stickler on sending cards or a note and Cowgirl has already learned when someone takes the time to send you a gift, you should take the time to acknowledge it. In the past I have had her color a picture or draw faces and sign her name. I also have her dictate a message to me which makes the cards extra fun.

One fun activity that I thought I would share and which is perfect for personalizing notes or cards is making your own rubber stamp. It is super easy and relatively inexpensive. I have made a stamp for Cowgirl before and decided it was time for a new one. I had her draw an image - a heart - and then write her name out. I then take tracing paper and with a soft pencil trace her design. For my stamps I like to use Mastercarve which is super easy to cut into (cuts like butter) and comes in different block sizes. I cut off a piece the size I need for my stamp and then rub the tracing paper over the surface to transfer the pencil design to the block. I then use my Speedball cutter (mine came with an assortment of different carving tips) and carve away!

In just a few minutes we had a new stamp which was ready to use! I have made dozens of stamps and like to use ink pads and acrylic paint to make designs on letters, packages and in my journals. Just be careful when carving to keep fingers out of the way of the very sharp blade!

Once you have the basic supplies, it is easy to crank out a couple of new stamps. And once you start thinking about making your own, you will find ideas for designs everywhere.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Monday: Creativity's Gifts

fabric print by Marisa Haedike

Something powerful is happening ...

I cannot articulate it yet, but little shoots of hope and excitement are sprouting within me and a quiet confidence - which is not my normal state - is settling around my shoulders. I am recognizing my being as a Cherished Creative perfectly describes who I am and how I live my life. I celebrate and cherish the richness of this life through acts of creativity. In turn, the act of creating opens up my heart and eyes to the deep truths of my life and all that is offered to me. I am feeling less frantic or anxious about creating as I find old fears that inspiration might dissipate, now are dissolving in the light of this truth: Creativity is who we are; Creativity patiently awaits her chance to flow through all who are willing to open and trust her power. Sounds a bit like trusting Love: we have to become vulnerable and risk wounds in order to grow and be transformed.

I want to start a new practice on Mondays of giving thanks to the gifts of Creativity as it manifests in my life. I would love for all to join me each week, sharing in the celebration of the gifts you created or received or recognized through your art and your life. Art resides in the details. Share us what you've discovered.

Here is my offering; some images from the past two weeks that I wish to celebrate and cherish:

a new day: last morning at Squam

Cowgirl on her sixth birthday

documenting her day

end of a day

Friday, September 24, 2010

Weekly Reflection (week 36): Comfort

I am still decompressing from Squam ... I find myself wandering around both aimlessly and a tad frantic as odds and ends seemed to pile up in my absence. I am like an old dog scuffling around the house looking for a misplaced chew toy and then distracted from my task by a squirrel or passing truck. Add to my list of things to do: one birthday party tomorrow for Cowgirl who will be turning six. I joined her for lunch today at her school and I am concerned for my sanity tomorrow as we will be in a bounce center for 2 hours. Lunch only lasted a half hour and I was blinking and twitching before I left!

But today is a more leisurely day and as I pottered around the house, I was thinking about what comforts me. As much as I love travel and new adventures, I am happiest when I am back in my routine with lots of fresh ideas and inspiration. And I discovered something about my working habits while at Squam: I do best when I have a number of projects going on at one time. Today I pulled out my large journal and began painting a background; while waiting for it to dry I grabbed a smaller journal and started filling in random color there. With paint still on my palette, I started two art postcards. I then returned to my first piece, added an element and then cycled my way through the lot again.

One exercise Sarah Ahearn had us do at Squam was a timed prompt circle. Each person was given a card with a prompt on it, like "stencil a word on your piece" or "paint something in a color you dislike." You had only 2 minutes to do your prompt and then the cards were passed to the left and you received a new prompt. There were about 12 prompts and it got pretty frantic as people ran around the room grabbing paint, collage materials, sharpening pencils or paging through a book for an image. One woman next to me declared "I won't be drinking coffee at lunch" and while it was nerve-wracking, it was also liberating. There just was no time to agonize over details; I had to go with my gut and allow the ideas to just spill out. And when my board got hopeless messy, I had to adapt and readjust. While the piece I ended up with in no way matched what I had hoped to create (something soft and whimsical; totally wanting to paint like Sarah) I do love what I created. I feel like it captures the spirit of my creative life right now.

So returning home and settling back into my practices, I find I am trying to capture that more spontaneous, intuitive way of creating I tasted in Sarah's class. And I am realizing my natural tendency is to set up lots of work stations and move between them, all in an attempt to sidestep the intellectualizing part of my mind. And when I am working in this way, my attention is 100 percent focused and there is no room for worries, fears, doubts or judgments. It is creative meditation in motion!

I find comfort in this realization and comfort in returning to my practice refreshed, cleansed and enthused. One truth that settled upon me after a couple of days of healthy lake gazing was the fact that my life does not need to be an either/or situation. Living a creative life encompasses all aspects of living, including the prosaic and dare I say mundane. I think there is this notion of being completely free of the practical world and just living in this wonderland of creating 24/7. I don't think that exists nor do I think it would be healthy for me. I do know I've integrated creativity into my life and it will always be there. I no longer feel anxious about "losing it" or having it diminish in any way because I have to spend my day at work and then caring for my family. It will be there waiting for me when I am ready. What I did learn from Sarah were some "tricks" by which I keep in touch with the wellspring of ideas and inspiration and which I will turn to when I feel stale or uninspired. (And I am excited Sarah has a book coming out which is available for pre-order through Amazon - it is called Painted Pages and it looks incredible!)

I am recalling that my style statement, clarified over a year and a half ago, is "Cherished Creative." As I settle back into my homey life, I savor the details of my day that awe and inspire me. I turn to my artwork whether it be my camera, paint table, sewing machine or kitchen and celebrate those details. Cherishing and celebrating, that is what gives me great comfort. It puts me squarely in the middle of being me and being present for my life.

What brings you comfort? How do you create space and time for comfort in your life? Are seeking and comfort compatible states? Or is a level of discomfort necessary for growth? A cycle much like breathing - in, and out?

(An inside joke: inspired by a comment from a fellow Squammie who wrote she was in her apron and headlamp wandering around the house listening to Jonatha Brooke, here is my homage):

Lily, I'm coming for you!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The gifts of Squam

So, you know when you wake up from a really good dream? For the first couple of moments, you are not sure what you dreamed about, but you just know it was really really good. And if you can rest in the feelings for a bit, slowly the details of the dream come back to you. But often it can be like trying to capture a snow flake: the minute you try to grasp it, it melts away.

The memory of Squam is like that snowflake: in danger of dissolving but captivating my attention as it floats through my body/mind. And like waking from a delightful dream, I want to steep in the feelings in the hope that I can put down all the details to save for a future inspiration-challenged day.

Here are some thoughts I wrote down in my journal while journeying home:

My intention for Squam was to be cleansed; emptied so that I may be filled; and to go in deep and ride the wave.

I leave feeling connected to a new group of creative souls; I leave feeling like I found a mentor/source of inspiration in Sarah Ahearn; I feel excited to know new teachers I wish to experience and learn from in the future.

my piece from Sarah's class Mix It Up!

I leave more confident in myself as a creative being; trusting I will continue to nourish my creativity and it in turn will feed me.

I leave Squam feeling lighter, free from the doubts and concerns that previously nipped at my heels - why do this? why bother? who cares?

I care, I matter, I know I am a light in a constellation of stars illuminating the way back to our source, back to our original purpose which is to Shine. Pure energy released, feeding others, feeding myself.

I leave Squam certain of the knowledge who I am is a work in progress; is a creative adventure unfolding into new layers of light, inspiration, beauty and truth.

I leave Squam understanding my intention is to live life with arms wide open, taking it all in, paint splattered hands lifted to the sky and offering back myself whole and complete.

I can somewhat articulate the what of Squam, but have been thinking about the how. And the answer came to me in the wisdom of my soon-to-be six year old daughter. Apparently her school has been addressing the issue of bullies by using the image of a bucket: there are people who fill your bucket by being nice, helpful, caring or supportive (known as "fillers"); and then there are those that try to take from your bucket by being hurtful or mean (she calls them "dippers".) So I started my day today thinking "I will only acknowledge the fillers and not allow dippers to rob me of my positive energy."

And then I understood the magic of Squam: it is a place inhabited by fillers and devoid of dippers. For four magical days I was surrounded by people who understand what I care about; understand the gremlins that threaten the creative spirit; and stand ready to support, encourage and inspire me knowing that to do so not only fills my bucket, but in turn fills their own.

group shot by Thea Coughlin

So the dream of Squam is a world of nurturing, caring spirits that stand ready and eager to fill my creative bucket. There was no space for dippers at Squam. Indeed, as my daughter is learning in martial arts class, when threatened by bullies - which in my case are those nasty gremlins of doubt, judgment, and comparison - the only response is to step back, plant my feet firmly upon solid ground, hold out my hand and confidently shout "Leave me alone!"

some of my lovelies from Eldorado Cabin

And now I know the other gift of Squam is a tribe ready to shout out with me. I know my Squammie friends have my back. And I have theirs.

Did I mention I was cleansed by the lake? In the moonlight? In my birthday suit? Checking off one more thing from my list of 100 goals for the year.

Thank you Squam for these gifts and the many more I have yet to uncover. And yes, I have lots of lake, feet, and horse shots I will continue to share!

Stephanie & her snazzy socks ♥ i think i took pix of all her footwear!

My advice? Get thee to Squam somehow. You will not regret it. Just bring a heating pad.

Monday, September 20, 2010

coming down post Squam

I am still gathering my bearings after returning last night from Squam (never mind the over 300 photos, primarily of the lake at sunrise and sunset.) I feel dangerously close to self-immolation from the flames of creativity that were sparked over the course of the weekend. I cannot put into words just yet what happened, but I can say something powerful occurred. An internal shift has been made; a change in my perspective, my attitude and my commitment to my creative life.

Squam: noun; picturesque cabins by the lake; a circle of supportive, inspiring, encouraging women; an atmosphere of joy, play, possibilities, expansive growth and fulfillment; a space of nurturing care; a sanctuary for the creative soul.

Squammies: noun; sisterhood of creative spirits; artsy warrior goddesses; a tribe of fearless women.
(yes, there were men at Squam; but my experience was a women-only one.)

I will write and share more details soon. In the meanwhile, scroll through these yummy shots by Susannah Conway whose class I took the first day. I am proud to say, that is my green and blue printed self in the first and third picture.

And today registration opens for 21 Secrets: An Art Journal Playground. I am sharing my art post card secrets and would love to have you join me! Click here to view more details

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

q & a

I am in a frenzy getting ready for Squam ... so it is therapeutic for me to take time to pause and consider these juicy questions Soraya posed to me over on her inspiring blog My He(ART)-Full Life. Soraya, you always give me so much to think about and I am constantly finding myself nodding my head, thankful you have uncovered what I've been groping to understand within my life as a creative being, mother, and woman. It is no wonder I've met so many other beautiful souls hovering around the flame of your blog!

On to the questions!

1. Am I a dog or a cat person? For 14 years we had both a cat and a dog which was the fulfillment of a childhood dream! (I grew up with a dog; my mother never trusted cats!) I loved having both because each loves in such a unique way: my cat was the cuddly, quiet, gentle love; the dog more playful, boisterous form of loving. I've been forced to limit myself to one animal and so we went with a dog. I have to say, I do not miss the litter box or the hairballs! I guess I lean towards dogs in that you don't ever own a cat; they own you. I admit, I like the fact that dogs love you with an intense loyalty that would be uncomfortable with a person; in my dog's eyes, I am his sun and moon and I enjoy that status.

I think the wisdom of dogs is best summed up in this Mary Oliver Poem:

The Percy Poems (Ten)

I Ask Percy How I Should Live My Life
Love, love, love, says Percy.
And hurry as fast as you can
along the shining beach, or the rubble, or the dust.
Then, go to sleep.
Give up your body heat, your beating heart.
Then, trust.

2. If I could spend a week anywhere in the world, where would it be and what would I do?
Tough one - there are places I know and love - Italy, Scotland, the ocean, the mountains - and there are places I long to visit, like India or New Zealand. But if I have only one week, I would go to a Greek Island like Ios and lie in the sun, eat fresh foods, paint, read, hike, do yoga and stare at the sea.

3. What is my favorite home cooked meal? I am a vegetarian and my husband is not. So some of my favorite meals (sweet potato and black bean burritos with home made salsa) are ones I would have to cook because he is the meat cooker! But I think a favorite home cooked meal is one someone else makes for you, right? Part of the pleasure is having a loved one prepare foods specially for you ... so from that angle, I would have to say I love my husband's home made pizzas cooked on the outdoor smoker/grill.

4. What is my perfect evening? Coming home after a long day spent either hiking, at the beach - anywhere outdoors on a beautiful day - and having a home cooked meal, a bubble bath, and a good movie to watch.

5. If I could be anyone in history for one day, who would I pick and why? I've been pondering that question for over a week now and I am still not sure of my answer. I know there are some amazing people I would like to know more about, famous times I would love to experience. My honest answer? This is a tender one: I wish I could be Cowgirl's birth mother on the day she gave birth. I would do anything to know the details of Cowgirl's entry into this world; I would love to be able to give to her that story. And as painful as it would be, I would want to know the heart and mind of the woman who gave life to my child. I would want our hearts to be one for that day, in hopes that the gaps we each feel could be filled in and passed on to our daughter.

6. A Quality I most admire in others? Least? I admire people who are comfortable in their own skin; people who embrace and accept all parts of themselves and who are able to see and value others for who they are. I am bothered by people who don't care. Don't care about themselves, don't care about the world, don't care about others. I guess some people care too much and that causes problems, but that caring usually originates in some sort of fear or sense of lack.

7. The scariest thing about aging? Prior to Cowgirl, I honestly believe I was at a point where I knew I had enjoyed a good life and anything else would be icing on the cake. I felt like my hold upon this life was very relaxed. Having a child tethers you to the world in ways both exhilarating and frightening. My greatest fear is something happening to me and not being there for my daughter as she grows up. I guess the scariest thing about aging is not knowing how long one can live life independently and worrying about becoming ill and infirm and having to depend upon others for care.

8. At the end of my life, what is the one thing I will regret having not tried? I traveled a lot in my twenties and spent some time abroad. The longest period I spent out of the country was 6 months and I was just finding my stride when I came home. I regret not having spent a year or more living in a foreign country and learning the language. I would love to know a place like Italy or China or India that intensely. I would have like to have spent time in a spiritual center or ashram; I wish when I was younger I had given myself that kind of time to empty out, study myself and go deeply into spiritual practice. I know one day I will spend some intense time in spiritual retreat, but probably not of the length or depth possible when I was younger and less attached to creature comforts!

Okay, I am wading in a sea of journals, papers, socks, scarves and emergency Chinese medicines ... back to packing! I will off the grid for the rest of the week. Wish me luck traveling and stay tuned for all the juicy details.

And don't forget, registration for 21 Secrets: An Art Journal Playground starts Monday, September 20th. Looking forward to hanging on the monkey bars with you!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Weekly Reflection (week 35): Cleanse

I have been cherry picking an amazing book I found in the stacks of my local library. I just love it when I find something from my Amazon wish list available in the library! The book is Creative Awakenings by Sheri Gaynor and there is a ton of inspiration to be found inside. She has a process called the EnVision Art of Intention which is a ritualized time to stop, relax, and open oneself up and deeply listen to one's intuition. There are a series of question or prompts you can gently drop into your consciousness when you are relaxed and receptive or you can allow questions and responses to arise. Modifying one of her prompts, I toss into my relaxed mind the question: How can I nourish my creative spirit this month?

There are detailed instructions in Gaynor's book for the entire process and I adapted her steps a bit. After daydreaming with my question floating in the background of my mind, I got up and began to tear images and words out of magazines. Then I glued them into my journal and began to fill in the space with crayon, paint and pen. I really enjoy the process of just letting myself doodle and paint my way towards a formulating an intention for myself.

My intention for September is deceptively simple: empty, cleanse, and open up. I think the emphasis is on the emptying process; I feel I have filled myself with so much in the past months, there is little room for more to be crammed in. The sense of a fresh start appeals to me right now; accepting things as they come for themselves and not feeling a need to pastiche it all together. A strong image during my meditation was a clear wide night sky filled with stars - letting the light in and being filled by it. I also saw a lot of water washing my life clean.

In the journal page I ended up with seemingly contradictory images: a tree forming deep roots and then the rolling energy of a wave. But I know from my yoga practice that we can and often need to hold within ourselves what seem to be contradictory states: expansion and groundedness, opening and drawing in, stillness within movement. Duality has been a theme in my art and in my life lately and I am coming to understand myself as a union of opposites which complete each other rather than compete with each other. I can root down, be grounded and ride that wave. I can settle in and explore. I can find richness within simplicity. As I write this, it all seems pretty elemental but I am experiencing this understanding in a more visceral way.

As I make my final preparation for Squam (I leave on Wednesday) I am aware of preparing myself mentally and emotionally. I want to shed any expectations and open myself up to receiving what will be offered to me. I drew a goddess card to see what energy I need to invoke and as if to confirm my intention for myself, I drew the card Sulis:

"Spend time near water, such as a lake, river, or the ocean, to recharge your batteries." Water represents both a purifying element and the emotions, so in addition to the notion of emptying or clearing myself mentally, I can use this time to help me smooth out any disturbances in my emotional flow. I wrote this and then watched as Cowgirl went through the equivalent of an emotional deluge.

As powerful as her emotional states can be, I know that the end of every storm is a clear sky. Her energy spent, something shifts. A new level of trust and understanding between us but hopefully within herself. Fearful of her intense emotional states, she expresses a desire to flee. I try to help her understand she can move through her feelings and not fear being stuck or overwhelmed. We talked about watching a thunderstorm and how scary it is when it is in full swing, but how it always moves on and we are safe. I am reminded again of duality: holding fear and trust at the same time.

I hope she can learn she may be afraid at times but she can trust she is safe and protected. I realize as I watch her, I too must learn this lesson: giving my emotions their space to flow while knowing that in the end I will not be swept away. Hopefully, I will still be safe and dry inside while the storm rolls by. As I prepare for my adventure, I realize fear and excitement fill me and I am okay with that. I plan on sitting by the lake and allowing its energy to cleanse, soothe and renew me. I can only hope Cowgirl's tears and my embrace did the same for her.

It seems the theme for our entire family these days is an overpowering need to cleanse, rest and retreat:

I'm wet, so off to join Moose for some rest!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Sneak Peek!

And wow ... my 200th post! When I think back to where I started, I can honestly say in my wildest imagination I would never have guessed utterly and totally in love with my life I would be right now. I hope that doesn't come off "rah rah me!" but truly I am having so much fun! I am inspired and energized to get up every day (well, most days!) and see what magic occurs. I choose to believe in fairies and evidence of the fae's magic making things all shiny and wonderful can be seen everywhere in my world.

I am excited to share this snippet of goodness with you all about an upcoming project certain to delight, inspire, and generally knock your sock off.

Drum roll please:

Stay tuned for more information! Check out the list of awesome contributors here:

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

random notes wednesday (checking in)

I am feeling like one of Santa's elves: overworked, underpaid and on a tight schedule! Besides getting ready for Squam next week, I am busy working on a lesson plan for an upcoming art journaling online workshop. I will be one of 21 artist's presenting a tutorial, and based upon the descriptions from each participant, it is going to be a jam packed program filled with juicy ideas and techniques guaranteed to knock your socks off! I will post course details as soon as I have them.

I am also preparing for Cowgirl's birthday party. I am finding it hard to wrap my brain around the fact she will soon be six! Let me tell you, planning a kid appropriate and budget-friendly party is no small feat. Some moms make it look easy, but me? You will see me sweat. Summit on Global Warming - that is a cake walk in comparison. We are talking about keeping a herd of six and seven year olds busy and happy for 2 hours. I have a few successful parties under my belt, but I never assume it will be easy. (Ask me about the year I had them decorate pumpkins AND their cupcakes - oh yeah, mayhem with paint and sprinkles.)

To top it all off, I had some dental work done today and for the better part of the day I felt like the left side of my head had morphed into Elephant man with drool. Not pretty, but I worked through it. (Hey, I even recorded my art tutorial video! And to anyone who think making a video would be much easier than writing up a lesson plan with pictures, let me just say this: lots and lots and lots of outtakes! My hat is off to you divas of the "how-to" films.)

So after this crazy day - which included martial arts class - I did what all good mommies do: filled the giant tub with bubbles and had a mini-spa night with my girl. My girl who is, by the way, a budding writer. Today she came home with a drawing from art class and across the top was her first full sentence in writing on her own:

"We love dogs."

Yes, we do!

Sounds like a good opening line for a future novel, doesn't it?

How has your week been treating you? We want to know:

And here's a great question from my mother after seeing Eat, Pray, Love: what three countries would you choose to live in for one year? I am still considering my answer.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Weekly Reflection (week 34): Uncertainty

I am continuing the intuitive painting process begun in BIG through monthly topics/exercises with Connie of Dirty Foot Prints Studio in Tribe. This month's theme is Balance which I suppose has been the theme of my life! I vividly recall a summer afternoon 25 years ago (gulp!) sitting on my porch reading a book on the painter Raphael as I prepared for a class in Grad school. I was eating an omelet made of fresh veggies, cheese and eggs purchased that morning at the nearby farmer's market, with my book on my lap. It was a moment of sensory delight: the blue skies of summer, the freshness of the food on my plate and the sumptuous color plates of Raphael's paintings. I remember that moment as one where I knew perfect balance. All aspects of my being felt sated.

Over the years, I've tried to duplicate that feeling in my life. Having tasted it once, I continue to seek it out. I also know from practicing balance poses in yoga, that falling out of balance teaches me how to find balance. It is like drawing a form by looking at the negative space around it. I don't know if it is possible or even desirable to live in balance all of the time; but I do feel I am strengthening my skill at recovering myself, finding my center and returning to that place where all aspects of my being feel fulfilled.

So how does this tie in with uncertainty? I'm not sure. But what I've been facing in my intuitive painting is allowing myself to live in uncertainty; letting go of my need to control or understand or predict everything. Painting right now means grabbing my paper, paints and brushes and diving right in. No thought, just instinct, impulse, intuition. What color does my hand reach for? What movement does my hand/wrist/arm ache to do as I hold my brush above the paper? And once I've made a mark, allowing myself to respond to that action without knowing where it is taking me.

Talk about lack of balance! Rather than relying upon my rational mind to guide each stroke towards a preconceived goal - a painting that exists in my mind - I must let go and allow intuition, inklings, reactions to guide me. I must make my peace with uncertainty because I cannot know what may arise after I paint in a particular color, shape or line. I am in dialogue with the painting itself and I cannot predict what it will say next.

It is a wonderful, unnerving, surprising and exhilarating dance with uncertainty. And it pushes me to repeatedly find balance within myself by stepping outside of myself. Or rather, stepping outside my big brain. And I am seeing how unbalanced living with a need for total control can be. What has been emerging as I drift in not knowing is a wonderful zen like experience of knowing. Truths emerge when I allow them the space to be.

So I while I have no idea what I will do next in my painting (she is far from being finished with me), I have been receiving fortune cookie like affirmations in my other artistic endeavors. First there was this page:

Then I was inspired by Lisa of LifeUnity to create an affirmation page:

And finally there is this collage card I made yesterday:

I swear I grabbed the magazine clipping because of the flower in the O complimented the other flowers in the papers. And then I read the text.

Yeah, like I said, a fortune cookie truth.

So uncertainty is leading me into a more graceful, balanced dance with my life. A dance where I do not try to lead and so far, no toes have been stepped on. And I am seeing how this new partner of uncertainty can dance many in forms: creativity, teaching, parenting and spiritual growth.

Embracing uncertainty, I am understanding the value in its practice. It is like the high wire act of being a mother: living every day in a state of awe, vulnerability, intense love, fear and hope and joy.

What is your relationship with Uncertainty?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

september 1 - speechless

Four years ago today, in China ...


And Double Happiness:

Cowgirl at 3 1/2 (left) and at 5 1/2 (right)

I am overwhelmed by how blessed my life really is and I am reminded to take nothing for granted.

How does your life leave you speechless? Pretty cool feeling, isn't it?