Running Dry

October 29, 2010

If you work or play in a creative field such as writing, painting, quilting, making jewelry, etc., there will likely come a time when you find yourself running dry of ideas and inspiration—and sometimes even the will and desire to create. When this happens to me, it usually indicates a lack of “filling the well.” I’ve denied my inner artist raw materials with which to create new things, and it’s time for replenishment of emotional and physical resources.

Here are some things I've found help fill the well when I'm running dry:

Immerse yourself in something related to your own creative field. For me, that would be reading instructional material related to writing and/or reading good writing by authors I admire. Sometimes a good drenching with the words, images, music, and so on, by masters in your field will inspire and encourage you.

Try doing something unrelated to your field. If you write, try drawing or photography or needlework. If you paint, maybe try journaling or working with clay. You get the idea. You don’t have to master this new creative endeavor—just let your inner artist dip her toes into something new.

Get physical. Take a walk, dig in the garden, ride a bike, paint the living room. Often a mindless physical activity allows buried thoughts and ideas to bubble to the surface.

Go on a formal artist’s date, a la Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. It doesn’t really matter what you do, as long as you set aside a chunk of time that is yours alone in which to explore, and you do your artist’s date alone. If someone is with you, he or she will subtly influence you, even if you don’t realize it. The artist’s date is for your inner child as well as your inner artist, and you might not feel as free to be yourself if you have a companion.

Artist’s dates can be of varying lengths, from 15 minutes to a whole day. I’ve taken my camera to a local botanical garden, gone solo to a matinee, and wandered through art supply and book stores. Other possibilities include going to a flea market or secondhand store, watching the sun rise or set, playing with Play-Doh or coloring in a coloring book—really anything you think will be fun for your inner artist/child to do.

Creativity must be nurtured. If you want to continue to live a creative life, you have to fill the well, not just continually draw from it. As Cameron notes, your inner artist needs pampering and she needs to be listened to. Stimulate your brain with new sights, sounds and activities, different from your normal routine. Take time to reflect on how you felt and what you learned.

I’ve been feeling a little dry lately and could use some new ideas for creative refreshment myself. What do you do to refill the well?

Take Back Your Time Day

Take Back Your Time

October 22, 2010

"Time is the coin of your life.  It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent.  Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you."
 ~Carl Sandburg

Did you know that we in the U.S. work more hours than any other industrialized nation? In fact, we work more hours than medieval peasants!

This Sunday, Oct. 24, marks the seventh annual Take Back Your Time Day. This movement, which grew out of the voluntary simplicity movement, is a “major U.S./Canadian initiative to challenge the epidemic of overwork, over-scheduling and time famine that now threatens our health, our families and relationships, our communities and our environment,” according to the movement’s official Web site, (The date of Oct. 24 is significant: it falls nine weeks before the end of the year, and symbolizes the fact that Americans now work an average of nine full weeks more per year than Western Europeans.)

Time for contemplation and awe

Time Day organizers encourage both personal efforts and local and national legislation to help people win back their time. If you want to learn more, you can visit their Web site, read the official handbook, check out Take Back Your Time’s channel on YouTube, or read my article.

No matter what your paid work situation, it’s good to evaluate periodically how you spend your time, and whether or not you’re using it wisely. As a freelancer as well as a mother, I find that even though I don’t go to an office 40+ hours a week, work has a way of filling my hours and days. My paid and unpaid work and personal life tend to bleed into each other. Sometimes I have to adjust how much time I’m spending at the barn with Tank or with friends socializing (ahem) and how much time I spend keeping the house running or meeting writing deadlines, even and especially self-imposed ones. Sometimes we have to take back our time not from someone or something outside of ourselves, but from our own habits. I think it may be time for a reevaluation of how I spend my time.

Time to explore the natural world

Whether or not you work full time for pay, I’m pretty sure you work hard at whatever you do. So this Sunday, take back your time—spend a few hours with your family or friends, alone doing something you enjoy—or even doing absolutely nothing. Be mindful and deliberate about what you’re doing, or not doing, and see how that feels. I plan to spend the afternoon on my lanai, with a good book and my journal so I can write out what’s going on, what’s working and what isn’t—I’m going to take back my time.

What about you? How have you been spending your time? How do you want to spend it? How can you take back your time?

Time well spent

Everyday adventures

Speaking of Adventure...

October 19, 2010

I was called for jury duty yesterday. I’ve never been able to serve before, and I can’t say I was all that happy to see the notice arrive in the mail…but, hey, here was an everyday adventure, ready and waiting for me.

I arrived at the courthouse a few minutes before my scheduled appearance time, and promptly set off the walk-through security alarm. After being wanded and showing my ankles (!!) to the security guard, I rode the escalator to the second floor where I checked in. Thus began the waiting.

After an hour in the main area with probably 150 other people, the clerks called my name in a group of 36. We were given two and a half hours until we needed to appear at the appointed courtroom, where we would be questioned by the prosecuting and defense attorneys as they chose a jury for a criminal trial set to take place later in the week.

More waiting.

It was too early for lunch, so I found myself a padded chair in a quiet area where I read the book I’d brought (Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety, which I highly recommend) until I was ready to eat. When I was ready, I decided to opt for more mild adventure: skip the courthouse cafeteria and find an appealing restaurant downtown.

I set off briskly, avoiding the occasional giver-of-pamphlets or homeless person. It was a beautiful day, sunny and not too hot and quite a few people were out. I noticed the downtown area had the same smell many large cities have: a combination of exhaust and rotting garbage. Nice. Fortunately, the smell wasn’t constant. Right about the time I began to regret my choice of shoes (I was dressed in “business casual,” instead of my usual shorts and t-shirt), I glanced down a side street and saw: a used and out-of-print bookstore! I detoured to spend a few blissful minutes looking through the shelves and breathing in that special used-bookstore smell. I found no treasures, but discovering the store there at all was a treat.

After lunch at a First Watch, a breakfast/brunch/lunch restaurant, I reentered the courthouse (setting off the alarm again…wand…ankles…) and returned to my quiet corner. At 1:30, I and my fellow prospective jurors met up outside the courtroom, where we found them running behind, and guess what? More waiting. Finally, after 2:30 we entered the courtroom.

According to Wikipedia, the process by which prospective jurors (also called veniremen) are questioned regarding their backgrounds and possible biases is called voir dire. (Voir dire also refers to the questioning of potential expert witnesses. The words come from the Anglo-French, literally meaning “to speak the truth.”) I won’t further bore you with the details, but two hours later, the attorneys from both sides had questioned every member of the 36-person group in some way. I was impressed by the professionalism and patience of all the court personnel I dealt with (even Wand Guy), and gained respect for the whole process. I felt that both defense and prosecuting attorneys treated the potential jurors kindly and respectfully, even when questioning us about some pretty personal matters (though we were given the option of speaking privately with the judge and attorneys if something was too sensitive for public consumption).

Six hours after I arrived, I left for home. I wasn’t chosen for the jury—and I’m glad. A girl can stand only so much adventure in one week.

Everyday adventures

The Everyday Adventurer

October 15, 2010

Many of my posts focus on simple pleasures, as I try to slow down and appreciate what a richly blessed life I have. But there is a second part to the tagline of “Catching Happiness”—what about everyday adventures?

I’m not what I would automatically think of as an adventurous person. Sky diving, bungee jumping, sailing around the world and other feats don’t appeal to me. But is that really what being adventurous means?

As adventure consultant Matt Walker wrote in “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,”  “At its core, adventure is the willingness to commit to an uncertain outcome with an open heart and an open mind. It is the ability to take a leap into the unknown with mindfulness and grace. Framed this way, opportunities for adventure present themselves to us every day…”

(Notice the word “open” in there?!)

He continued, “Adventure isn’t something that’s reserved for the extreme athlete or the daredevil. It is an expression of your heart’s intention and passion for life.”

I may not be a stereotypical adventurer, but I truly am passionate and curious about life. I’m interested to see what each day brings, even when it scares me to death. Personally, I’ve found marriage and parenthood to be incredible adventures…talk about your commitment to an uncertain outcome!

Walker concludes that to bring more adventure into your life, you don’t have to scale mountains or travel the world. You invite adventure in by making small changes to your routine. Perhaps changes like choosing a different sandwich at your favorite lunch place or picking up a magazine you’ve never read before.

I see many of my blogging friends opening up to this sort of adventure: Teresa at Blueberries, Art and Life taking on Twenty-Minute Challenges and sharing what she learns, Cheryl at Scrappy Cat participating in a new author challenge, and Laure of Painted Thoughts stepping outside the studio to paint and sketch on location. I’m inspired by their efforts, and encouraged to make more small changes of my own. I recently went to the movies by myself—something I’ve never done before. Soon I’m going to try packing up my laptop and working at the library (where I can’t be distracted by laundry). Very small changes, true. But that’s the way it goes for an everyday adventurer.

Tell me, how do you invite adventure in?

The road less traveled?



Reading Roundup

October 11, 2010

When I’m not busy taking care of the family/house, writing, or providing equine spa services, I’m probably reading. It’s one of my favorite things to do and I usually have more than one (or two or three) books going at once. I just finished Dickens’ Bleak House, one of my “classic” reads for the year. I can’t remember ever reading Dickens before, and I found Bleak House absorbing, though not an easy read—and long (989 pages). I had recently watched the PBS miniseries with Gillian Anderson, so that helped keep some of the myriad characters straight in my mind. My trick for getting through long or difficult books is to commit to reading a certain number of pages per week, which allows me to keep up with the story line, but also read other things if I feel like it. I don’t like turning reading into a chore, but I also like to push myself a little in my reading choices.

While I was finishing up Bleak House, I began reading The Anthologist, by Nicholson Baker, a novel about a poet struggling to write an introduction to an anthology of poems. I enjoyed the main character’s personality, and had to smile when I read this on page 140:

“Thursday is the day of fear. On Monday you’re in great shape because you’ve got the whole week. Then Tuesday, still pretty good, still at the beginning more or less. Then Wednesday, and you’re poised, and you can accomplish much if you just apply yourself vigorously and catch up. And then, suddenly, you’re driving under that huge tattered banner, with that T and that H and that U and that frightening R and the appalling S—Thursday—and you slide down the steep slope toward the clacking shredder blades that wait on Sunday afternoon. Another whole week of your one life. Your one ‘precious life,’ as Mary Oliver says. You don’t have too many Thursdays left. There are after all only fifty-two of them in the year. Fifty-two may sound like a lot, but when Thursdays come around, fifty-two doesn’t seem like a lot at all. I just wish I had more money.” (Don’t we all?)

Another lovely book I read recently was Slow Love: How I Lost My Job, Put on My Pajamas and Found Happiness by Dominique Browning. Browning was the long-time editor-in-chief of House & Garden who lost her job when the magazine was abruptly shut down. Browning states, “I want to write about moving at a gentler, more loving pace in everything I do, learning to appreciate the beauty of everyday moments, the wisdom of thinking things over. I was forced to slow down when I lost my job--and the journey of grieving and recovery is what my book is about. Slow living led me to falling in love with the world, what I think of as slow love.”

Some of my favorite snippets:

“My basic decorating rule of thumb is to create as many lovely places in which to sit and read as possible. By this time in my life, I need a certain kind of chair and a certain kind of table nearby, a place on which to prop my feet, and a kind of light that suits my eyes.” (A woman after my own heart!)

“Over the years, though, I’ve learned not to worry so much about what will or won’t make it: I’m learning the ‘So what?’ lesson. So what if it fails? That doesn’t mean it was all a mistake. So what if it ends? That doesn’t mean it should never have begun.”

“‘Nothing to do’ is not the same as ‘Nothing can be done.’ One is hopeless; the other, the place from which hope becomes possible.” (You can visit Browning’s related blog at

What have you been reading lately? Let’s hear about what has entertained, inspired, encouraged or taught you.

As promised, Tank's "after" shot.

Breast cancer awareness

One in Eight

October 05, 2010

October 2010 is the 25th year of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Did you know:One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.
  • Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in American women (skin cancer is the most common).
  • There are approximately 2.5 million breast cancer survivors living in the U.S.
  • Men can also develop breast cancer, but the disease is 100 times more common in women.
  • For the best chance at early detection, women should have a yearly screening mammogram beginning at age 40 (though there has been some controversy about this, this remains the American Cancer Society’s recommendation). In addition, women should also have an annual clinical breast exam and perform a monthly breast self-exam.
For more information, visit the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Web site or National Breast Cancer Month.

Chances are you know someone touched by breast cancer, whether friend or family member. My best friend Kerri was diagnosed at age 47 (you can read her story here). Since then, I’ve become more aware of breast cancer research and recommendations, and more careful about my own habits.

This month, I encourage you to educate yourself about breast cancer, support companies that donate to breast cancer research and/or donate yourself. Here’s to a healthy future!


A Little Off the Top and Sides…and Belly?

October 01, 2010

My horse, who was born about five miles from where he lives now, apparently thinks he lives in Siberia. Every year in September he begins to grow a wooly winter coat suitable for life on the tundra. This is unfortunate, because we do not live in a tundra-like environment. We live in a tropical-rainforest-like environment: hot and sticky for much of the year. Once he’s grown his winter coat, he can be covered in sweat just from standing placidly in his paddock. If you add in a ride, he’s one soggy and overheated mess.

 So every year at this time, knowing we have at least three more months of not-so-wintry weather, I pull out my trusty clippers and give him a whole body clip. (He immediately begins to regrow that winter coat, but by the time it comes in completely, he’ll need it for the few cold winter days we have.)

This year before clipping, we added a new service to salon day at the barn: hair color. Since our horses live outside, not in stalls, their manes and tails bleach in the sun. So before his bath and clip, Tank had his mane and tail dyed. (You can imagine how much we all enjoyed this.)

At work on Tank's tail--a two-person job
Pitiful forelock
 After the dye job, it was time to clip. Clipping a horse is one of the less-fun jobs a horse owner has, because to get a good clip without ruining your clippers, you must bathe the horse, let him dry, then clip him. The whole process takes hours. So here, for the uninitiated, is what happens when you bathe and clip horse.

Take horse to wash rack. Spray all over with hose (the horse, not yourself, though you might just as well spray yourself and be done with it). Shampoo horse, taking special care with legs, as the hair there is often particularly thick and hard to clip. If you’re a girly horse owner, shampoo and condition mane and tail. While rinsing off shampoo, try not to let water from hose run down your arm and into your shoes as you spray the taller parts of the horse. Fail.

Are you sure we have to do this?
Squeegee horse with sweat scraper and dry with towel as much as you can to shorten air drying time. Go change your socks and, possibly, your shirt and shorts. (I frequently wear a bathing suit top and quick drying shorts when I bathe my horse.) Take horse for a walk, looking for edible things until you’re too tired and thirsty to do that anymore. (You can’t just turn him loose because he’s sure to roll and dirty up his clean coat.) While he’s drying, spray the hair with a silicone spray, such as Show Sheen, to help the clippers glide through easier. This adds a little to the drying time, but is worth it in the long run.

Tie up horse, and even though he’s still a little damp, you optimistically think there are some areas dry enough to start on. Begin clipping. Keep even pressure on the clippers so you have no gouged spots. Some people clip the legs first because they’re more technical (and ticklish) and it’s good to do them when you and the horse are fresh and your clipper blades are sharp. Some people start on the face. I personally like to see immediate progress, so I start somewhere I can see inroads, like the neck, chest or hindquarters. I also skip around when I get tired of working on one area, so my horse looks like nothing on earth until he’s completely done.

Making inroads
If you’re lucky and you have a cooperative horse, you may finish your horse clipping in one session. If you tire out, your clippers die or your horse decides he’s had enough, come back another time to finish the job. Better to have a funky-looking horse for a day or two than risk either of you melting down in the process.

Horse hair sticks to everything, so when you are done, you will be covered from head to foot with little pieces of hair. In fact, YOU will look like you need clipping. Turn your horse out or put him in his stall and offer him treats for being such a good boy. Go home, take a shower, pour yourself your adult beverage of choice and inform the family that dinner will come from the nearest pizza place that delivers.

The finished tail
Right about now you're thinking you're really glad you don't have a horse.  It's a testament to my madness that I think salon day is a whole lot of fun. (Many thanks to my friends Marianne and Mary Ann for their help in coloring and clipping.) 

P.S. I have to go back this weekend and clean up a few areas--I'll post a picture of the finished product at that time. Stay tuned!