Category Archives: random thoughts

Halted

My sketchbook school assignment was to document my days. I didn't get far.

My sketchbook school assignment was to document my days. I didn’t get far.

While my husband was in Singapore we got something like five inches of rain in less than 24 hours. I worked to drain the pond in the driveway and keep the water away from the basement. When the French drains were overwhelmed, I set up a siphon with the garden hose to drain the water away from the foundation in that spot under the stairs where it collects. (I feel there should be some sort of merit badge for that.) We had some seepage but nothing more. The next day at school, my 12yo dropped a table on his foot. X-rays at urgent care showed a fracture; off to the orthopedist we all went, where my stomach turned as he pointed out the multiple fracture lines in my kid’s big toe. My husband came home for the weekend, and we were all so happy to see him, and then I came down with the flu, and then he left again, and that’s when everything really ground to a halt here.

Some trips are like that.

I’d meant to get quite a bit done while he was gone this past week. Sewing in the evenings, working on my Sketchbook Skool assignments and blogging about them, working on the next issue of Art Together. I am behind on everything. My world compressed to the couch, with brief forays off of it for the basic minimum, mainly, making sure my kids were fed. Here is what I know: I am glad my kids are older. It makes things much easier. They are all self-sufficient enough to get by when dad is traveling and mom has the flu. The first night, they got their own dinner–bagels mostly, I think, with the oldest making food for the youngest–while I napped on the couch. The next morning, the oldest got his younger sister breakfast before catching the bus. I did manage to slither off the couch and wait for the bus with him, sitting on a chair with a view out the garage door. (I like to see him get on the bus every morning.) The younger two played together with LEGO. The boys took turns reading bedtime stories to their sister. Gradually the bits of wakefulness between naps increased. We got through.

My house is a bit of a wreck (although dishes and laundry were dealt with). My to-do list, well, I can’t look directly at it. It’s more of a side-eye thing. I get winded walking up and down stairs; I’m not quite ready to tackle a to-do list full on. I might need a nap just to recover from writing this blog post. It’s always a bit of a miracle, though, emerging from that stripped-down survivalist mode, blinking into the light of day, newly grateful for lungs and energy and self-sufficient kids.

The Story Behind the Tattoo

tattoo

For a long while I said I’d get a third tattoo once I was done with the pregnancy-and-breastfeeding part of my life. (My first two are both small, one on my ankle and one on my hip.) But I wasn’t quite sure what, and I put it off long enough that I thought it would be a good way to mark my fortieth birthday, which was almost six months ago. Leading up to my birthday, I began pinning some ideas, beginning with trees (I have a Thing for Trees). Then I thought about wings, because running has become so important to me again, emotionally even more than physically. Then I looked at hummingbirds, because the few times I’ve seen a hummingbird in person, it felt like a blessing and a visitation.

Then, while in Montana, working with the horses, I noticed a pair of swallows flying around the barn. Once home again, I looked up if swallow tattoos have specific meaning and the first thing I discovered is that sailors would get tattoos of swallows to represent nautical miles traveled, so swallows are a symbol of journeys. That resonated. Ultimately, I decided upon a swallow tattoo on the inside of my left leg, right above the ankle. Wings near the ankle tie into running (think of Hermes’s winged sandals). The swallow is a permanent reminder of the strength I felt that day working with the horses, because sometimes, I forget. And yes, this is a journey.

Our local tattoo place works with you to come up with a sketch, so this was done by the tattoo artist. I wanted line work rather than color. I wanted it facing up. I wanted a reminder: I am strong, and I have traveled far.

Making + Listening::6/2014

Dawn is getting ready to drive cross-continent, but I thought I’d share what we’ve been making this week in the usual Thursday format. The biggest thing getting Made right now is Issue Three of Art Together, which is scheduled to be available on Monday. Here’s the cover:

Spring 2014 Cover

My daughter graciously allowed me to use one of her prints as the cover photo. She flipped through all 34 pages that I’d printed out to proofread, telling me about the photos on every page. Because of course she recognizes them all! She seemed absolutely delighted by that, too.

I am making a list of what I’d like to get to once this issue is out in the world. (I give myself a little break before thinking about the next one.) I owe my middle child a pair of jammie pants (pieces cut, but need to be sewn). I want to sew myself a bag with a yard of Japanese cotton I picked up during a sale. I have some art ideas floating in my head, and I want to do a self-led month of writing prompts using Natalie Goldberg’s book on memoir writing, Old Friend From Far Away. So, you know, just a few things…

Our local library invited kids to submit artwork to be displayed during the month of March, and my kids said they’d like to participate. I can’t even tell you how much Art we’ve made over the past month…art for the zine, art for the column, art just because that’s what we do. Yet two out of three kids would like to make something completely new to drop off on Friday. Of course. My daughter decided upon collage.

G collaging

There, she’s going through the expanding file folder of paper organized (more or less) by color. She is usually a Girl with a Plan, and I just make sure she has the materials she needs.

As for listening, it seems I’ve mostly been listening to whining, bickering, and bad attitude. I’m not sure there’s anyone in this household who isn’t at least in a funk, if not outright cranky. I blame February. My, how it’s dragged on. Truth be told, I don’t expect March to be much better, at least not for a while. We are tired of snow. It’s ugly, the way it’s piled up on the side of the road, covered with sand, dingy, disgusting, depressing. We’re tired of cold, of the need for hats and mittens and snow boots, the time-sucking process of simply getting on enough clothes to get out the door, the way waiting for the school bus with my oldest in the morning is often a feat of endurance. There are no signs of spring here except for the lengthening days–which I do appreciate. But. We’re ready for more.

Speaking of which, don’t forget there are two more days to save 25% with the THINKSPRING code in the shop. And here’s to (almost) March.

A wee bit of overwhelm

Lilies from the supermarket.

Lilies from the supermarket.

As we wind down January and head into February, I’m feeling a little…overwhelmed. I agreed to run some printmaking workshops over February school vacation. I want the third issue of Art Together complete by the end of February. I have a guest post due by the end of February, and a column due as well. My husband will be away for another full week. February is only 28 days long. It’s not looking nearly long enough right now. But these are good “problems” to have—many Good Things will be accomplished in February. Yes.

So, a column is exciting! But also a bit pressure-y in a way writing my own blog is not. A magazine that comes out four times a year doesn’t lend to an immediate conversation with the reader, so I’m left trying to anticipate what those readers might want most. I polled my family members: If you were a homeschooler or parent who maybe wasn’t sure about “doing art” with your kids, what would you most want to know? These are the answers I received:

Husband: I don’t know. What do you want to know about [his industry]??

9yo: Give them things to do—art activities.

12yo: Make sure they know it’s easy.

5yo: Tell them what Art is.

I’m not touching “what Art is” with a ten-foot pole, I’ll tell you that much! (But the 5yo definitely thinks big and all-encompassing.) I like my oldest’s response. Inspiring confidence is definitely a goal of mine.

With all this writing ahead of me, I am keenly missing my running time. I didn’t necessarily compose writing while I was running—letting my mind wander in that way resulted in slower running, I noticed—but focusing my mind on breathing and pacing left it open to work on ideas without me beaming a spotlight on the process. Running is active mindfulness for me, clearing the brain. Oh, how I miss it. I get out for one-mile walks when I can, but that’s only 15 minutes and doesn’t have quite the same mind-clearing effect. I have another follow-up with the orthopedist next week and I’m hoping he says I can at least head back to the track (a soft, level surface) for short runs.

Sewing projects in progress.

Sewing projects in progress.

So how did I spend my weekend? Was I working on those deadlines? Um, not so much. I spent it at karate with the kids. Taking my daughter shopping to spend a gift card. She loved the mama-daughter shopping time (the boys went to get haircuts with dad), and I love that she loved it, even though department store shopping isn’t my thing. Doing the weekly grocery shopping, which, until spring arrives, now includes flowers as a line item. Sewing some pouches, none of which are complete yet. Planning another linocut. Spinning the wheels in my head a bit. How about you?

Lily sketch.

Lily sketch.

Just Start. Really.

Begin Now

I’m not saying anything new here, but I heard so many thoughts around New Year’s that basically said, “I want to do [xyz] but I need to find the time/but my special circumstances make it challenging/but I don’t have what I need.” No. No, this isn’t true. If you want to do whatever it is, you will find the time. You will adjust to your circumstances instead of waiting and waiting for your circumstances to change. You will make do with the minimum amount of whatever supply you think you need to get going. If you don’t, of course, it is easy to say it’s not your fault, it’s the fault of your busy life or your circumstances (which aren’t unique, no matter what you think) or the budget that won’t allow you to buy the exact drawing pens and paper you’re sure you need to express yourself. But the truth is, if you don’t, it’s because you don’t want it enough.

Do you want to write? Get paper and a pencil and get going. You don’t need a screen and a keyboard or a special app or program. You don’t need a fancy notebook or the perfect pen or even a new pen. You don’t need a quiet room of your own and three hours per day. You can do it while the kids interrupt you (ask me how I know). You can do it in waiting rooms with background noise. You can do it ten minutes at a time. You can even do it while monitoring homework or cooking dinner or in your head while driving carpool.

Do you want to draw? Grab some paper and a pencil and get going. (Do you sense a theme?) You don’t need the perfect sketchbook. You need paper, a pencil, and your eyes. That just-right sketchbook you saw at that store you can’t get back to for two weeks plus you need to wait for a coupon…that sketchbook isn’t going to make you draw any better. Do you know what makes you draw better? Practice. You can draw on the backs of receipts while waiting in the school car pick-up line. That’s a pretty boring place to be, in my experience. Look out the car window. See that tree? Draw it. Draw your own hand—it’s fantastic drawing practice. Make a habit of bringing some paper with you wherever you go. If you choose to spend that boring pick-up line time browsing the Internet on your phone, that’s a choice that you’ve made. That’s fine, but own the choice.

“I’d love to knit, but I don’t have the time.” Is there a knitter who hasn’t heard some variation of this comment? People who knit (or sew, or embroider, whatever) don’t have any more time than the rest of the population. These handcrafts are incredibly forgiving of schedules. They are agreeable, for the most part, to being picked up and put down in the middle of things. Knitting is practically made for mothers. It fits into the cracks of the day.

Almost everything I do fits into the cracks of my day. In late December I attended a Home for the Holidays Etsy gathering in Providence. I didn’t talk to everyone there, but for everyone I did talk to, their craft business was their full-time job. I can’t do that right now. My making has to fit in around homeschooling two children and mothering three. We have what seems to be a higher-than-average number of medical appointments. My husband travels a lot. I’m unable to run at the moment, but when I could and when I can again, it’s also a priority in my day. I juggle all these things and more. I could decide it’s not worth doing anything at all if I can’t make selling my work a full-time job right now. I don’t have a room of my own, control over much of my schedule, a studio with natural light, a dedicated sewing table, an advertising budget, or the DSLR that would make all my photographs perfect, I’m sure of it. (Wouldn’t it?) Someday I may have all of those things, but in the meantime, I want to make things and try to sell them, so I fit it into the cracks.

Forget all the excuses. If you want it, you’ll do it. If you want to write, you’ll write. If you want to create, you will. You’ll find a way. If you don’t find a way, that’s telling you something. It’s really, truly as simple as that. If what you actually do isn’t matching the story of yourself in your head, you have to do some hard work. You either need to actually do what you say you want to do, or you need to adjust the story to reflect the fact that you are not a person who truly plans to do these things. You’re not a writer-who-wants-to-write-but-can’t. You’re not someone-who-would-draw-if-only. You are you, spending your time on whatever it is you are spending your time on. It’s hard changing these stories; it makes us feel bad. If you don’t want to change the story, change what you do. Write. Draw. Create. Exercise. Read more. Do whatever it is you say you want to do, with no excuses or rationalizations. I trust that you can. I really, really believe that you can—if you want to.

Finding Your Time and Space

heart embroidery at amyhoodarts.com

Playing with embroidery on a salvaged denim pocket.

A couple of months ago, I began seeing flyers around town for a creativity/art/something class. I couldn’t quite get a handle on what the class was all about from the flyer, but it sounded like the organizer felt the same way about art-making as I do: that it’s for everybody, and it’s important, and it should be a part of our lives. So I emailed her for more information. I realized we definitely think the same way. With her classes, she was hoping to gather a group of people and hold the time and space for creating. She’d provide the materials, and the participants would be free to create. I don’t need anyone to hold the time and space for me; art and creativity is fairly ingrained into my life at this point. But I would like to meet more people who feel that way in person. I know so many people online who understand what this need to create is all about, and I am grateful for that. But it would also be nice to know some people nearby so we could meet for coffee and bounce ideas off each other of in a back-and-forth out-loud conversation.

I thought about taking the class, but it was six sessions beginning in December, and it was a lot of money to spend in December solely out of curiosity. I noticed she was offering one session on a weekday morning and another on Friday nights, and I thought about how weekdays are difficult if you have children who aren’t in school or if you’re homeschooling, and how nights are hard if you’re nursing, and how in the days when I was trying so hard to claw out some time and space for creative work, a class like this wouldn’t have been accessible to me at all. She ended up deciding to make the classes drop-in instead of having people pay for six at a time, and I decided I could spend that lesser amount of money for curiosity and to try to meet other people who feel like I do. So in early December, I went, not quite knowing what to expect.

What I decided was that this is a valuable service, but I don’t need it. I have a ridiculously well-stocked art room. Almost anything I want to do, I can go to the right shelf and find the materials I want. I’m really good at making time and space to insert creativity into my day. If I don’t have time for digging into something deeply, I can still find time to write, or draw, or knit, make something that wasn’t there before emerge from the work of my own two hands. And if I’m going to spend money for a class-type thing, I need my investment to result in more than just chit-chat while I play with materials. I don’t take the money I spend on classes lightly; I want to advance my work in some way, learn something new or advance mastery of something I’m already doing.

But as I thought about this group (and I hope it takes off), I thought again about how, for a decade, anything I wanted to learn, I taught myself. I couldn’t swing classes while exclusively nursing babies who didn’t bother with bottles. I let all my babies nurse to sleep, and wouldn’t change the rules on them suddenly just so I could go take a class. Those times with each child were important and irreplaceable; of course, I had three of them, so it stretched out to a decade. During that time, I taught myself to knit, sew, and embroider. I played around with art materials and figured things out on my own. It was either that, or do nothing new until the last kid was weaned, and I’m not that patient.

I’ve spoken about this before: I didn’t begin facilitating art for my kids solely because I am a fabulous mother who wants them to be exposed to lots of different art materials and techniques. While I do want that, of course, I also wanted so much to get my hands back into paint and charcoal that it felt like a physical need. At the time, my youngest child was two and still wouldn’t sleep without my body beside her. The gradual expansion of my time that I’d expected by that point hadn’t happened. The obvious solution was to make art right alongside my kids. In between helping them and fetching what they needed, I could grab a few minutes here and there so I could create, too.

Art Together has “together” in the title for a reason. We adults aren’t just here to facilitate experiences for our kids. We have a right—perhaps even a duty—to make sure we’re getting our need for creative play satisfied as well. It would be great if the kids would quietly occupy themselves with their own projects while we work on our own (!) or if we could go out on Friday nights and have a glass of wine and adult conversation while playing around with paint. But that’s not possible for many of us, for whatever reason. Art Together—the series and the zine—is an invitation to dive into the same activities your kids are doing, to explore and have fun and relax and not think for a little bit. I came upon that solution the way most good ideas occur—by necessity. I had a need that wasn’t being met, and I had to find a way to fix that. Along the way, so many benefits accrued, not just for me OR the kids but for all of us together, the sum, as is often the case, being so much greater than its parts.

In a rambly way, I’m encouraging you to think creatively if you spend your days with children and you have a need that’s going unfulfilled. How can you work within your circumstances to make it a part of your schedule? Maybe it’s art-making, maybe it’s something else. Don’t wait for somebody to come along and offer to hold that time and space for you—that may happen, but perhaps not soon enough. Learn to hold the time and space yourself.

Hello, 2014

And it’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself
To hold on to these moments as they pass

–Counting Crows, “A Long December”

Sometime during the summer I heard this song on the radio and thought, I can’t wait until I’m slamming the door on 2013. I pictured kicking it in the ribs a few times on the way out. (I had some anger. Exercise helped.) I reflected on the past year just a few months ago in my birthday post, and I don’t have much more to add, except this: It turns out I’m not angry at 2013 after all. I’m grateful.

Just to be clear: I wouldn’t want to relive this year. Absolutely not, even though it contained some wonderful moments and experiences. But I’m grateful to have lived it. I wouldn’t have requested the situation to occur, the one that triggered such severe PTSD symptoms. When I picture the worst of the PTSD this past spring, when I try to remember, I see myself curled up, knees to chest, at the bottom of a narrow, deep hole. There’s light way at the top of it, but I’m stuck down in a close, dark place. Life is going along normally for the people at the surface–I can glimpse them going by–but down in my hole, clumps of dirt keep falling into my hair and I’m running out of air. It was like that. I don’t want to go through that again. But for most of my life I was having flashes of symptoms that I didn’t understand, blaming myself for overreacting to things, or not having gotten over whatever-it-was, guilty for feeling the wrong way. If it took that situation, this year, to trigger PTSD so severely that it had to be brought to the attention of someone who would recognize it (I will love her forever) so I could learn to understand what was going on and learn how to manage it–how can I not be grateful for that? Profoundly grateful.

Oh, 2013 was a terrible and beautiful year, all at once. I am wiser and more self-aware than I was a year ago. I like myself better. I’m more comfortable in my own skin. There was no way to get here, I’m convinced, without living through the terrible parts.

I didn’t choose a word for 2013 so much as a guidance. I hoped to remember to always choose kindness first. (The last half of 2012, it wasn’t so smooth either.) I thought if I could remember to start from a place of kindness, I’d be on the right path more often than not. I know I didn’t keep to this ideal in all situations, but it’s a good ideal, and one I will keep aspiring to. As the year wound down, I made myself a reminder. It hangs off the window that faces my kitchen sink. In other words, I will see this reminder quite a bit.

 be kind at amyhoodarts.com

I did decide to ponder a guiding word or ideal for 2014. I’ve been working on being okay with uncertainty–no small task for a control-freak Virgo who additionally thought for a long, long time that if I could just keep track of all the details, hold onto all the ropes, nothing bad would happen. (False.) I think I’ve made huge progress, but it’s going to be a lifelong practice, I believe, to embrace uncertainty. However, I didn’t want to choose “uncertainty” as a guiding word for the year. I wanted to flip it around, turn it inside out, and find a more positive-sounding word. This is what I decided upon.

serenity at amyhoodarts.com

I want to settle towards serenity in the face of whatever-may-come. Serenity, the state of being serene, that is, calm, unruffled, steady. That is my practice.

Happy New Year to you all. May it be full of good things, and remember, sometimes those good things require difficult times first.

I Dared

I daredThis month, I am following along with the daily prompts posted at write alm. I do this the old-fashioned way, with pen and a plain notebook, and while Amanda encourages sharing, most of my writing doesn’t seem like it would fit into this space for one reason or another. This one, though, I think I can share. The prompt: I dared.

* I dared to move in with a boyfriend at twenty years old, even though my mother and her family were so ashamed, my aunt did not acknowledge the relationship. My paternal grandparents, however, offered us furniture from their basement.

* I dared to move into an apartment by myself when that relationship ended. Not quite twenty-one years old, a senior in college, I dared to be the only person responsible for all the cooking, re-stocking the toilet paper, and my own happiness.

* I dared to head to Europe by myself for a month, also at twenty-one, with only a Eurail Pass, hostel ID, and what I could carry on my back. I dared to ignore everyone who told me a woman couldn’t and shouldn’t travel alone. I dared to talk to strangers in strange lands.

* I dared to fall in love with my best friend.

* I dared to start a family and trust I could do better than what I’d known. I dare every day to stumble, leaving my good intentions in my wake, and pick myself up. I dare to believe I can always do better.

* I dare to act out of love, not fear or hurt. I dare to be wide open, because closing down predetermines the outcome, and wide open means anything is possible.

* I dare to ask for help.

* I dare to say, “I don’t know.”

* I dare to stake my space and protect it. (I just closed the bedroom door to continue writing uninterrupted.)

* I dare to admit, “This is my passion,” and share it with the world. I dare to fail, because every effort carries the chance of failure, but not making an effort at all ensures a lack of success.

* I dared to put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, and hit “publish.”

Processing Montana

The pond at the ranch at sunrise, before I went for a run.

I’m back from my time at the Haven Writing Retreat. I’m sure I’ll be digesting this experience for a long while. I ended up there on pure instinct. It’s been years since I called myself a writer, at least the sort of writer who goes on writing retreats. I imagine those sorts of writers to be working towards publication, or at least working on a specific project. I’m doing neither. I chanced across the description online, registered the location and that all levels of writers were welcome, and felt I needed to go. I had many reasons not to–distance, expense, timing, and a nagging feeling that I was being selfish. We’re all familiar with those excuses, I think. But I listened to my instinct. I kept in touch with that voice, which had no supporting arguments but was insistent. It just said, GO.

Haven was transformative, and much needed at this particular time in my life. I knit out in Montana nature, I hiked, I ran through the misty sunrise, I spent time with women of all ages, and yes, I wrote. On the first night, we were asked to share our intention for coming on the retreat. This was mine:

My intention is to be far from home and everyone I know and see what comes out, given space, time, and distance.

Some amazing words came out.

While there, I also took advantage of a couple of optional activities, a guided hike and a session with horses. We weren’t riding; it was all ground work with the horses–and grounding work for the humans. In other words, equine therapy. Before getting back to the focus of this site–art, creativity, and projects–I want to share something I wrote after my time with the horses. The riding crop is used to define our personal space to the horse, and “B” was our guide with the horses.

I step out into the ring, riding crop in hand. I face the closest horse and move my arm from side to side. I hear B say, “I’m going to help you.”

“Why?” I want to do it myself. I keep my eyes on the horse but feel her come up behind me. She presses close, her right hand on mine, holding the crop, her left on my waist.

“Breathe in and relax. Let go.” I soften. The horse notices. B moves my hand from side to side with firm motions and then steps back as I carry on myself. The horse moves back. I move forward, arm still swinging. The horse turns and moves faster. I stride toward the next horse.

“You too,” I say. “Move.” The horse moves. I feel the power in me, the force of my intention, pouring out through my swinging arm. Back and forth with the crop as I broadcast: This is my space. This is my boundary. As I stride forward purposefully, the horses respond, always staying beyond my boundary. Soon all five horses are trotting in a circle around the arena before me. It’s fluid. I feel the grin on my face. It radiates through every surface of my body–my entire self smiles. I am in control of these horses.

After I’ve circled the arena a few times, B tells me to stop in the middle, take a deep breath, and lower the crop. The horses continue to move around me, powerful, but their power still under command of my intention. I stand at the calm center, still grinning, observing what my firm intention has produced: five thousand pounds of powerful equine flesh moving in controlled rhythm because of me, as I stand fearless in the middle, loose and happy.

Montana Bound

I’m leaving so early tomorrow morning that I should be in bed by now. (Seriously–I just set my cell phone alarm and it told me it would be going off in 5 hours, 28 minutes. What?!) I’ll be back in Rhode Island and this space again next week, with good things to share, I hope. I’ve been busy with my to-do list the last few days, not just packing (and unpacking, and repacking, because I’m taking three planes each way and do not want to have to check a bag) but also leaving assignments for my homeschooled kid and a master list of where which kid needs to be when.

But before any of that, I finished a project I’ve been working on, with the plan being to have it available to share with the world shortly after I get back. Then, I turned to my sewing stack, so I can add new items to the shop when I return as well.

The sewing pile.

I didn’t quite get to the end of it, but close.

I’m looking forward to September, y’all. Six days away, followed by lots of goodness to share, a birthday for me, teaching some classes, helping coach soccer again, another 5K…this is going to be a fun, exciting month.

Enjoy your week!