Artist’s Way: Tools for 12 Weeks

91llw46qu-l

I’m writing this post for any other smart, creative mamas who find themselves stretched a little too thin these days. You are my people. And I am hoping you might join me in my latest adventure with The Artist’s Way and The Artist’s Way for Parents. 

So what is this whole Artist’s Way thing, exactly?

One cultural commentator aptly describes it as “a book that can be classified as self-help but is more like common sense. Billed as ‘A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self,’ the book is a program designed to help readers reject the devils of self-doubt on their shoulders and pursue creative activity not as a profession but as a form of therapy.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself–hence the long quote!

Each chapter offers guidance for a different themed week, providing related background reading and exercises. Topics include “Recovering a Sense of Power” and “Recovering a Sense of Abundance.” In addition to the reading and exercises, workshop participants also write Morning Pages and take Artist Dates.

Morning Pages are three pages written longhand first thing every morning, though in The Artist’s Way for Parents author Julia Cameron acknowledges that many of us may have to finish our pages later, after various interruptions. Basically, the pages are a stream-of-consciousness brain dump. I like to think of them as the intellectual equivalent of unclogging a sink–all the gunk and muck has to come out to enable a healthy flow of ideas and feelings.

Artist Dates have entered the general cultural lexicon as “self-care.” It’s a commitment to do something for or with yourself once a week. It has to be alone time. And it has to be something you actually enjoy. (Finally going to the dentist may be an important kind of self-care, but it doesn’t count here.)

Those are the basic tools. But wait! There’s more! After the astronomical success of her first book, Cameron published follow-ups aimed at niche markets… hence The Artist’s Way for Parents. Here, she adds two more tools for anyone seeking more fulfillment in relationships with their children.

Creative Expeditions are known as family adventures around our house. The parent and kid(s) plan, look forward to, and take these adventures together. They’re an awesome anecdote to becoming a shut-in, or letting your life devolve into an endless round of soul-crushing errands. (So says the woman who’s spent the past few months shuttling between Jiffy Lube, the grocery store, and the veterinary clinic.)  Like artist dates, Cameron recommends taking a weekly creative expedition/family adventure.

“Highlights” is the phrase Cameron uses to describe a little parent-kiddo bedtime connection. She advocates for each person sharing their favorite moment of the day. Of course, any mama with a Pinterest account probably has a feed full of additional suggestions. In our family, we share (a) a favorite moment of the day (b) our hardest moment of the day (c) a good question we asked, something we learned, or an interesting mistake that we made. We call it the daily check-in.

It’s not terribly revolutionary stuff. I do all of it occasionally (the kid-care much more regularly than the self-care… shocker, I know). But I’d like to make each of these items a habit. And I find that the style of Cameron’s books work for me. Relentlessly positive commentary, coupled with structured assignments and deadlines? Why, you’ve managed to please both my Inner Hippie Girl AND my Type-A School Nerd! Hurray!

Who else out there is going to join me with morning pages, artist dates, family adventures, and/or daily family check-ins? (You could do it, even if you never buy or check out the book/books!) 

I ask this fully acknowledging that The Artist’s Way really won’t be everyone’s cup of kombucha. So alternatively, what are you doing to stay sane, feed your soul, create art, and feel good about your life? 

 

Writer’s Block. Mother’s Block.

Books by Julia Cameron

There is safety in cynicism.

I should know. I’ve been cruising on irony for years, and when that fails me I fall back on judgment, jealousy, and guilt. Bonus: technology has given me new tools for self-shaming. Yeah, I keep my nose pressed to the Pinterest boards like the proverbial kid with the candy store window. Do my various pins inspire me to live a better life? No, more often than not they show me how very far I’m falling short of my own ideals.

Sick, but true: I like to keep track of all the ways that I’m failing–as a wife, as a mother, as a writer, as a person. It’s cruel and debilitating and totally toxic, yet oddly enough I just can’t seem to get enough.

Who in their right mind would so willingly and consistently punish themselves like that on a regular basis? Um, apparently a lot of us. As creativity expert Julia Cameron writes, “Most of the time when we are blocked in an area of our life, it is because we feel safer that way. We may not be happy, but at least we know what we are–unhappy. Much fear of our own creativity is fear of the unknown.”

Well, I’ve got two blocked areas in my life. When I think of both my writing and my parenting, the word “quagmire” leaps to mind.

Two years ago, I quit my teaching job so that I could focus more intentionally on my kids and my creativity. Our little family would do tons of fun art projects! We’d take spontaneous day trips! We’d engage in constant dramatic play and STEM-related activities! Then, while the children were magically otherwise occupied, I would finally finish and publish my best-selling novel! Of course, this would all happen while keeping a spotless home and cooking up gourmet yet well-balanced meals. My husband would praise me! My fans would adore me! The other co-op preschool moms would secretly envy my constant and intimidating perfection!

Oddly enough, real life hasn’t aligned to my starry-eyed expectations. And my general reaction to the disconnect has born a striking resemblance to the Five Stages of Grief. But I think I’ve finally landed on some level of acceptance… which is probably why I’ve actually got the energy to confront my mother’s block and writer’s block.

Over the next 24 weeks, I’ll be working through both The Artist’s Way and The Artist’s Way for Parents, alternating focus texts each week. Having done The Artist’s Way before, I can attest to its efficacy and overall value. I’m excited to revisit it! I’ll try not to get too navel-gazey here, but I will be blogging about my process. I want to write publicly again. And I also want to offer up some thoughts for other creative mamas. So there you go.

Any encouragement would be appreciated. I’d love some company, too–so grab yourself a copy of either (or both!) books, and do a read/work-along! (Shameless pitch: both titles are readily available at most libraries.)  

RECIPE: Black Bottom Cupcakes

  

In your first mixing bowl, make the filling:

  • 1 cup cream cheese (8 ounce package)
  • 1 unbeaten egg
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • beat well, then stir in a 6 ounce package of chocolate chips

  

Sift together dry batter ingredients in the second mixing bowl:

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup cocoa

Add wet batter ingredients to the second mixing bowl: 

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/3 cup cooking oil
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

  

Mix the batter together well. Line your muffin tins and fill each cupcake a third with chocolate batter from bowl #2.  To each cupcake, add a heaping teaspoon of the cream cheese mixture from bowl #1.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes.  Watch the time on these!  They may be done in 25 minutes… the cream cheese tops should still be light-colored.
This recipe makes 2 dozen cupcakes.

Refocus: The Daily Examen

Cocoa and journaling... that's my examen!

Cocoa and journaling… that’s my examen!

So, in an earlier post I mentioned that my word of the year is “intentional.” And then later, I mentioned that I planned to give up my I-Phone (in some capacity) for Lent.

Yeah, that’s so not happening.

Strangely, I’m not very upset about my lack of commitment. I just asked myself why I’m not making any headway and came to the realization that I’m dealing with a symptom instead of a root problem. Also, I was setting up a self-help book  style Lenten fast, which never works for me.

So I’ve decided to redirect. I want to be intentional this year… so I’m going to try to complete my examen every night. This is a spiritual reflection technique I discovered while reading The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything. The examen is both awesome and adaptable–an Ignatian prayer in its original form, though easily adaptable to any faith tradition and/or secular viewpoint.

To be quite honest, the examen reminds me a ton of the lesson reflections I had to complete in graduate school. As my professors used to urge–and I still staunchly believe–we can’t improve unless we think about where we’ve been and make plans regarding how we wish to move forward.

Now, because I’m an epic school nerd I never really feel like I’ve completed my examen thoughtfully unless I write it down. Yes, I even turn prayer into an assignment. (And yes, you should feel very sorry for my former students.) That’s not the only way to do it, of course. But it’s what I need in order to focus my reflection. Otherwise, I’m apt to fall asleep in the midst of my pondering.

Unfortunate side effect: the prospect of setting up my journal always pre-fatigues me. In fact, I often forego the examen completely in favor of, say, watching She’s All That on Netflix Streaming. Not cool.

Here are the steps for my examen (I believe everyone modifies this slightly to fit their own reflection regimen). If you want to see it laid out, click here.

  1. Take a moment to center yourself and focus. If you believe in a higher power, this is a great time to ask Him/Her/It to be with you as you reflect.
  2. Mentally review your day. I break mine into nine routine chunks (waking up, mid-morning, lunch-time, etc.) In one column of my journal, I describe in shorthand what characterized that section of today.
  3. Note your blessings. Why do you have cause to be grateful? This is the second column in my journal.
  4. Consider your mistakes. Do you have to make amends for anything? Are there problem behaviors and/or times of day you hope to address differently tomorrow?
  5. Now consider your day as a whole. Any patterns or important realizations emerging?
  6. Close your examen. If you are religious or spiritual, this is a great time to wrap up your prayer. (I like to close with petitions on behalf of loved ones and the Prayer of Saint Francis.)

February 2015 Meal Plan #4: Better Late than Never

big tom

Local readers, I bet you love Big Tom’s!

My good intentions to upload this meal plan on Sunday got swept away in a torrent of toddler snot. Ugh. The creeping crud has certainly overstayed its welcome in our home. We’ve all taken a turn with it and are now simultaneously suffering. Little Man is almost never sick, which is a good thing… because I’ve discovered that baby man cold is my least favorite illness ever. Plus, it’s the end of the month (and therefore end of the grocery budget).

Needless to say, I haven’t been inspired to heights of culinary greatness. Last night we were all so exhausted that I nearly wept with relief when Smartner suggested a run to Big Tom’s. Faster than you can say “Goop, shake, fries, please!” we had dinner. (It’s times like these my man puts the “smart” in “smartner.”)

But generally this week, we are eating odds ‘n ends. These include copious leftovers, plus meals I didn’t get around to making last week.

* * * * *

Jerusalem Love – pretzel-mustard pork chops, sliced apples, and roasted potatoes with caramel and prunes. (I’ll be making my potatoes with duck fat, rather than goose. And yes, I realize the recipe link is for pretzel-mustard chicken, not pork chops. I like to mix up the  mustard sauce and crush the pretzels in advance. Then this becomes a super quick meal because I just “batter” some thin pork chops and fry them briefly.)

Vegetarian #1 –  lentil soup with homemade crusty round bread

Vegetarian #2 – orzo salad based on this recipe, but with no fresh basil… and maybe balsamic vinegar? Must see what I have in the pantry. And I will probably wrap it in a tortilla for heft because, let’s face it, everything tastes better in a tortilla. Finally, I’ll put orange slices on the side to class things up a bit.

Friday Pizza Night: this crust, topped with pesto and tilapia from the freezer, plus some roasted red peppers from a jar

Breakfast for Dinner: Yukon Gold Cinnamon Rolls (so incredibly good) with a side of scrambled eggs

February 2015 Meal Plan #3: Pantry Challenge

image courtesy of simplysogood.com

image courtesy of simplysogood.com

Looking back over last week’s menu, I realize we had a theme: heat. Put in a less savory way, it was a week of “Eat these Saltines, kids, while Mommy and Daddy enjoy this spicy nutritious meal. Sorry, once again I failed to cook something your sensitive little taste buds could handle.” Oops.

So I’m trying to do better this week with being kid-friendly. I’m also trying to use up what we have in our pantry and freezer.

And I may try to do something simple for Ash Wednesday (lentil soup, I’m looking at you) or we may just dine on leftovers. Not sure yet.

* * * * *

Decadent Picnic – Tonight, Smartner scored some pig liver from a friend with farming family members, so he made pate. We ate it with margarine on homemade crusty round bread. There were also salted cucumber slices, strawberries, crackers, salami, and Laughing Cow cheese. So, so, good.

Vegetarian – macaroni and cheese with steamed broccoli (I promise to post my mac recipe later this week).

Pantry Challenge – London Broil with parsley and barley salad 

Leftovers – London Broil with steamed broccoli and apple slices.

Slow Cooker/Freezer mealslow cooker coconut ginger chicken 

Screen Limits for Lent

image from pcmag.com

image from pcmag.com

I must confess that my family has adopted some deplorable habits regarding screen time. Somehow, my previous draconian ban (which didn’t work) has slowly given way to gobs of passive entertainment.

The minute Little Man falls asleep, Sweet Pea begs for a Super Why marathon. (One episode is never enough.)

And the other day, I caught myself wanting to snidely rebuke Smartner (always an effective and loving communication technique). Why was he glued to his phone? He should be playing with the kids so I could mindlessly surf Pinterest and Facebook!

Oh, hypocrisy. Thy name is Kate.

Having recently revisited the novel concept that I can only control myself, I’ve decided to shine a light on my own screen time. And here comes the truly relevant confession:

I-Phone, I love you. Maybe a bit too much. Which is why I need to put some boundaries on our relationship.

Let’s not get too crazy. I still need you for Mapquest. And I’d like to be able to communicate with others (i.e., use the phone functions on my phone). But I want to stop sending the message that you, O Sweet Portal to the World Wide Web, are more important than my flesh-and-blood family.

Challenging, given that I use you to take care of said family (cooking, craft ideas, freelance writing work, etc.)

For each 10-day chunk of Lent, I’ll be trying a different strategy to gain control over my I-Phone habits. (If you want to read more about my thoughts on Lent, check here.)

In preparation for Lent, I’m addressing my “gateway issues.” I often use my phone as a camera or a clock… and then I get sucked in to web surfing. So this week I will replace the battery in my watch. I’ll also finally order the camera Smartner and I planned to purchase back in November.

Any advice on how I should proceed with I-Phone limitations? I am open to suggestions!