Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Time to Rest

Like many of my BBEST teammates, I am finding it difficult to rouse my blogging creativity in the deep, dark center of winter.  It's cold and I would prefer to snuggle in my cozy flannels while sipping tea and reading a good book. So, in keeping with the theme of rest and hibernation, I will resort to offering something I wrote a few years ago and stored away in place of something freshly written. I hope you enjoy it. Now back to my tea and jammies!

The air is getting chilly and the birds are winging their way south on their seasonal journeys. I have been feeling the need to retreat from the busy world, to begin my own process of hibernation just at a time when the rest of American culture is resuming its busyness, plunging headlong into hectic school and work schedules. There is something amiss in our cycle. The natural world is winding down and we humans are gearing up. Fruits and vegetables ripen and are harvested, and their vines die away, becoming part of next spring’s humus. Chipmunks and bears prepare for prolonged sleep; birds take flight. The days become cooler and shorter, and the trees stop feeding their leaves, going out in a blaze of colorful glory. Yet we have forsaken that natural rhythm and have chosen to flip the seasonal pancake in a reverse scenario: We rest when the balance of the earth is producing and growing, and toil when nature is asleep. How did we become so seasonally nocturnal?

It wasn’t this way for thousands of years while we were consciously dependent on the land and our fellow animals for survival. Farmers knew that they would have a limited growing season and they had better stock up for a long winter’s dormancy. Our ancestors knew that when the sunlight lessened, it was time for lessening their activity levels, giving their bodies time for rest and revival. However, when we started to rely on ourselves and our technologies more than we relied on nature, we began to see ourselves as self-sufficient and independent of changes in the seasons. We could control the cycles and make them fit into the schedules we created for ourselves. Perhaps we purposely switched the order as if to demonstrate our command over nature. It is becoming more obvious that this is a false feeling of security, and we had better examine our choices more closely in the near future. Now that we are out of step, it will become very difficult to rejoin the natural march once too much time has passed and we are far behind the rest of the pack on its migrant journey.

I am choosing to buck the trend by slipping into wintry slumber with the rest of my fellow earth-mates. I’ll line my nest with layers of soft, fuzzy fleece blankets and sweaters, and gird my larder with extra tea and hot chocolate and copious amounts comfort food. I will join the birds in their migration and I will fly away from the strenuous regimen of classes and holiday activities, concentrating instead on making small home improvements that will make my den suitable and comfortable for those long, snowy days inside. I will feed my hearth and celebrate the declining daylight by opening my thoughts to the inner light of my heart’s fire.

My choice is to retreat – but not a retreat in the usual sense of giving up. Rather, this is a retreat back into step with the rest of the natural flow of life. It is a retreat that is defined as a period of retirement, of silence and solitude, a time of withdrawal to a refuge for contemplation and renewal. My hibernation will hopefully allow me to better adapt to changes in my physical and mental environment in order that I may survive the harsh times ahead. Perhaps this state of rest will preserve my mental faculties as well, as I keep my brain cells insulated from the overstimulation of the hustle and bustle of schedules and obligatory seasonal commitments.

Most of all, by staying in step with nature and out of step with the rest of our culture’s frenetic pace, I hope to let go of my false sense of control over the cosmos and over nature, releasing that feeling of always fighting with my true self. I am, after all, like all the other animals and plants that exist in this place, tied by billions of ancient cells to the primal call of earthly rhythms. We block our ears with electronic white noise, and keep our minds and bodies constantly moving with busywork. Yet in the crisp stillness of a deep azure winter’s night, in the brilliant quiet of a crystalline snowfall, in the mysterious shadow of sparkling icicles as they drape past our windows, a small, whispering voice can be heard calling us to sleep, to sleep deeply and dream of our spring reawakening.

© 2006 Olivia Herbert. All rights reserved.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Well Hello 2010

Blog friends, I’ll be honest, the holidays have fried my brain. My every attempt at writing a clever little post for our blog has been lame. ‘New Year Resolutions’ , blah blah blah….., or my other choice, ‘Laugh Until your Depends are Soaked’…. probably needed a lot of fine tuning. So here is what I know…. I made a fabulous cake for Christmas and here is the recipe. I should have taken a photo of my cake, this one is from the old magazine I got the recipe from. Two words… Deeeee Lish.

Chocolate Chip Caramel Cake

1 package white cake mix (18-1/4 oz)
1 ½ cups vanilla yogurt
4 egg whites
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 cup miniature semisweet choc chips

Caramel Topping

¼ cup butter or margarine
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons evaporated milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup confectioners sugar

Chocolate Drizzle

¼ cup semisweet choc chops
½ teaspoon shortening

In a large bowl combine the first 5 ingredients. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Stir in the chips. Spread into a well greased and floured 10” fluted tube pan. Bake at 350 for 50 minutes (took a little less for me) or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes and then invert onto plate.

For topping, combine brown sugar and butter in a saucepan, bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil for 2 minutes. Stir in milk and vanilla. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Add sugar. Beat on high with a portable mixer for 30 seconds or until thickened. Drizzle on cake. Sprinkle with nuts.

In a microwave, melt chocolate and shortening; stir until smooth. Drizzle over the top.

And just let me combine those well intentioned ideas I had for a post. New Years Resolutions? Laugh more. Life is good…. And funny. A Happy and Healthy New Year to you all!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Renewing the creative spirit

As I sat down to breakfast one morning this week, I opened the newspaper to the local section to read an article called “These elves carve Christmas smiles,” a story about six men who reside at The Reserve on Walnut Creek, an independent living community for retirees. The men, the oldest of whom is 93 years old, created a woodshop in the facility’s underground parking garage, where they produce wooden trucks and cars for the U.S. Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots program.

“I think we act like elves down here sometimes,” says Dick Enoch, age 76.

“We set up a small assembly line. We cut out the bodies and sand them, drill holes for the axles and put them together,” Gene Baker, age 93, reports. “We might cut out 20 of them from a board and work them through the process. We usually spend about three to four hours at a time.”

The men have been making cars and trucks for the past five years, since the time that Baker retired from his own business, Baker Electric, and he donated all of his tools to the retirement facility for the woodshop.

The need to give back to the community—to be useful and needed—is sometimes why people create. Perhaps, too, a part of that is the need to be thought about or remembered as a contributing member of society. We have all heard stories about creative handmade endeavors such as Newborns in Need, which donates handmade baby layettes, blankets and quilts to families without means, or the ComfortCaps program, adopted by Viking Sewing Machines as a corporate project, which sets up sewing events to create handmade head coverings for chemotherapy patients.

In Iowa, a creative Boy Scout named Aaron Eilerts sewed pillowcases for hospital patients across the country, made blankets for dogs in animal shelters, sewed ties and scarves for his teachers, and created napkin holders for his local Senior Center. When a tornado destroyed the Little Sioux Boy Scout Ranch in June 2008, four Boy Scouts lost their lives, Aaron among them. In honor of his creative spirit of giving, Governor Chet Culver proclaimed February 24th as the Aaron Eilerts Day of Service and Giving.

While a charitable cause is a legitimate reason to create, often people create simply because they cannot do otherwise.

“I create because I must,” says Native American beadweaving artist Joni of jstinson. “I have enjoyed many creative genres in my life time. I have always been curious as to how things work, how they were put together, what process and/or skill was involved. I’m inspired by the beauty in nature and most of my designs are borrowed from something ‘natural’ that moves me. I come up with an idea and can’t wait to give it a try. Creativity is not something I can put on a back burner. I am compelled to strike while the inspiration iron is hot. It is my hope that the things I create will be pleasing to others and I visualize who might like it, how they will use it, where it will be worn, etc., as it is being created. Thus, each piece has a story to tell even before it is completed. Each time I see pieces of my work being worn by others, it is the greatest thrill. I create because I must.”

Polymer clay artist Zuda of ZudaGay echoes this sentiment. “Why do I create? I think I have to. Even when I am having a creative block in my art I am creative. I am creative in most every area of my life: cooking, work and—when I get around to it—even in cleaning the house.”

Mike of gimmebeads, who creates delicate blown glass baubles and ornaments, does not feel the act of creating is a choice, but instead a given. “I think that everything in the universe contains all of the rhythms of the universe in miniature,” he says, “and a very big part of that rhythm is the creation of all of the things that there are. I don’t think that creating is a choice; it is a part of being.”

In this downturn economy, sellers of handmade items who experience decreased sales sometimes forget the reason they began creating in the first place: to bring a little more beauty into the world, especially when you can re-use, recycle or upcycle materials.

“I create because of a need to make something beautiful,” says stained glass artist Linda of Nonnie62. “I’m driven to express my dreams, express inspiration I get from a melody, or nature. The creative urge is with me all the time, and it has to be expressed. If I don’t let it out, I’m out of sorts and unfulfilled. It’s a sense of accomplishment in making something out of scraps of glass, too. The major projects are fulfilling, but there’s just something thrilling in rescuing throw-away bits and creating beauty.”

7-1/2 inches, with Beveled Glass,

For Joon of joonbeam, whose motto is “art with heart,” creating is synonymous with happiness. Her desire for self-expression has created an affinity for folk art.

“I think that creating is a natural state for me. In childhood, individual expression was not encouraged. So my childhood was rather unnatural in that sense. Square peg in a round hole, I suppose. I spent a lot of time pondering: What’s wrong with this picture? My ‘environment is everything’ mantra is what I took away from that. Maybe I’m creating new pictures. Creating is rewarding and stimulating and colorful and fun. And it connects me with a lot of wonderful people who I never would have met if it weren’t for my somewhat silly creations. I love that about folk art. What it lacks in refinement, it makes up for with heart. I just find that in its simplest form creating equals happiness. For anyone and everyone.”

Recycled Art Pinback Buttons,

For fiber artist Judi of VintageLegacyStudio, her reason to create is tied in with a need to use the talents endowed by her Creator. “I create because it’s part of my unique design. When I am able to create, whether through writing, stitching, cooking, decorating or learning other artistic media, I am fully alive with the spark of the one who designed me to be all that I can be.”

1920s Style Flower with Feathers,

But the need for adventure—the need to experience discoveries through the creative process—is also what motivates Judi to create.

“I wanted a ‘Knitting for Barbie’ kit when I was about ten,” she says. “My mother said, ‘But you don’t know how to knit—and nobody in the family knows either!’ That didn’t stop me. I took toothpicks and perle cotton to school, and a little friend taught me to knit with those simple materials. When I showed my mother—of course, I got my desired Christmas gift. I still have the skirt and turtle neck sweater I knitted for Barbie. Through the years I either took classes or taught myself a variety of art forms. I love the adventure involved in the discovery of new ways to use my creativity!”

Another fiber artist, Julie of stitchesbyjulie, enjoys the self-expression and variety that creativity provides. Why does she create?  “Because I have to!” she expounds. “It’s something inside of me and it just has to come out. I can’t imagine life without the possibility to create. That’s the short answer.”

She adds, “I absolutely love to create, in all areas of my life, with all sorts of materials and mediums—and can’t remember a time that I didn’t. I used to make up awesome stories for the kids I babysat and they would beg me to tell them more. So I guess with my creativity I tell all kinds of stories, whether I’m knitting, crocheting, making candles or soap, whatever . . . it’s all a great adventure!”

Phyllis of pfdoriginalartworks, who paints nature, points out the importance of putting your own pleasure in what you create before the admiration of others. Like many of the other creative people described in this post, making items is for her as natural as breathing.

“I create because there is something inside me that has to create,” she explains. “All my life I have created in some way, shape or form. Some little girls played with paper dolls; I made my own paper horses to play with. When in high school I wrote poetry. As a young mother, I sewed. When my time freed up again and the kids were older, I wrote short stories and a few more poems (some were published). I moved to Duluth and started beading. A few years later decided I would do the HGTV thing and paint something for my living room wall. Forty or fifty paintings later, I still not have done that. And I still crave creating. I think for me it is a wonderful gift from God that gives me comfort, peace and pleasure. Whether it pleases anyone else, it really does not matter (though I do feel good when it does).”

Jewelry maker Liv of thefiligreegarden finds that creating items channels her energies, whether they are directed toward making earrings, necklaces and bracelets; gardening; spinning yarn and weaving, or simply writing.

“Why do I create? Hmmm . . . for me, it’s part of who I am. I don’t think I could comfortably go through life without creating something. I can’t seem to stop myself from thinking of projects and wanting to get my hands on materials and tools. When I am not involved in some creative pursuit, I feel very unsettled and restless. So I guess making things is an outlet for my energy. Plus, I like to see how a design develops as I work on it from idea stage to finished piece. It’s always a bit of a surprise to discover how things turn out, and I love the moment when an idea turns into an actual finished item. However, not all my ideas need to be realized; sometimes just having the project in my head is enough to keep me feeling satisfied.”

While creating is for many artists a solitary pursuit, for others the pleasure is connected to sharing the effort with others. Bead artist Pam of MagdaleneJewels, for example, initiated a remembrance quilt project to which others contribute quilt blocks about memorable triumphs and tragedies of the last decade. She describes how this project got started in her blog.

Myfanwy of sassalynne shares her love of creating with her students. She recently completed a teaching segment in the video series called “Talking Threads,” and just announced the release of her DVD about using the Embellisher, “Inspired: Embellishing Level I.”

Likewise, Marion of artmixter finds pleasure in the social aspects of creating through her readers. Her books include Lovely Lutradur and Finding Your Creative Focus, both titles of which are available on her blog.

Judi of VintageLegacyStudio, who is a fiber artist, writer, and life coach, explains how she is energized by others’ creativity.

 “I once had a very boring job as an administrative assistant where most of what I did was shuffle and file papers. That was all I needed to remember to choose work where I can bring more of myself and my highest motivators to work. As a result, I bring my creativity to everything I do now. And—I love empowering others to be creative with their own strengths and unique design.”

Whether you create to fulfill a need for self-expression, to donate to a worthy cause, to produce an item of beauty, to develop innate talents or find an outlet for your energies—or simply because you cannot keep your hands still, it is important to step back occasionally and appreciate why you create. It is easy to become distracted by the business of selling your handmade items, but being mindful of the reasons you work with your hands in the first place helps you to re-center yourself, to be re-energized by your passions and to renew the creative spirit. “None of us,” says Ralph Waldo Emerson, “will ever accomplish anything excellent or commanding except when he listens to this whisper which is heard by him alone.”

© 2009 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved. Please note that the images in this post are owned by the artists and may not be used without permission. Simultaneously published at

Monday, December 14, 2009

M is for .......

M is for My wish for you.....

Whatever the time of day

Wherever you are

Whatever the weather

However you are travelling

Whatever you are giving

Whatever your musical preference

Whatever your age

Whatever you are drinking

Christmas Greetings To My Many Bbest Friends.

And may 2010 bring you much peace, prosperity, health and happiness.