Monthly Archives: April 2015

Creativity (and Yumminess) Has a Price…

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And that price is MESS, ladies and gentlemen.

As a work-at-home, homeschooling mom, I often find myself making sacrifices.

I sacrifice showers, quality time with bad television programs, and peer interaction in order to fulfill my dream of writing for money, and educating my kids at home. (I also give myself less time to wonder why I didn’t come up with a more lucrative dream, which saves on existential angst.)

Sometimes, if we’re being honest, I also sacrifice good parenting.

Or, rather…I feel like I do.

Case in point; video games.

I hate them. I loathe them–I believe the world would be a better place without them.

But my children are totally in love with them, as they are with anything that involves a screen and technology. (If I hadn’t had several of them with midwives, and no other newborns around, I would wonder if there had been some sort of hospital switch up.)

It’s one of my life goals to open my children’s eyes to the wonder of the world beyond Dark Souls, and Halo, and whatever other violent crap finds its way into their hearts and minds.

Rather than simply limiting and forbidding, I try to inspire, educate, and above all else, emulate what I believe to be good and true and beautiful on this earth.

But this work of mine requires a good deal of introspection (and Skype meetings), and in desperate times, this means that I surrender to the Power of the Screen to keep my darlings calm.

I’m also reminded, when I finally come out of my Work Daze and gird my loins to do some Actual Parenting, that encouraging creativity, prompting children to follow meaningful pursuits, etc., etc., blah, blah, blah…is, well…hard.

And it almost always involves some kind of mess. (Which is not something I’m excited to deal with, when I come out of the Work Daze.)

Every once in a while, however, I get a good, solid reminder that the pursuit of something real and honest, creating something–no matter how messy the process–can be rewarding.

Recently The Baby (as I still refer to my 10yo son, which is probably telling) had to be prompted with strong verbiage and a raised tone of voice to leave his natural habitat and seek out something Constructive to Do.

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The Baby, in his Natural Habitat

I had no idea what he was going to do, I just knew that he needed to put down the controller before it became part of his hand.

And what did he do, when forced to abandon his digital world?

He got his sister to help him find a recipe for vanilla cupcakes online (:::sigh:::…yes, of course they had to use a computer) and then he adapted it…

…to make some of the best cupcakes I’ve ever tasted. I’m not just blowing smoke–I’m usually not even a fan of cake, cup or regular, but these were fabulous, and I told him so.

The next day, he dug up an old cupcake cookbook (Sarah E. Thompson’s wonderful CUPCAKES: Make, Bake & Decorate, which has a fold out stand on the back of the book–easy for young bakers to handle and read), and modified the chocolate recipe, again, with astounding results.

So, now, in addition to holding a high body count in Kill Zone…he’s also a cupcake savant.

And that’s okay. I’m not trying to change him, just bring a little balance.

My point (and there is one here, believe it or not) is that we have a responsibility to teach our children what we believe to be right and best, but we also do well, I think, when we respect their intrinsic desires and bents.

I invite them into my world and encourage them to appreciate it, but I also try to make myself welcome in theirs, and see what they enjoy through their eyes.

I also try to remember not to have a vision of what I think they should be, ultimately…just a hope for how I can influence one part of that final person. It’s up to them what they become, in the final sense.

Anne Frank (quoting her father) said, “…all children must look after their own upbringing. Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.”

I believe we have a responsibility to our kids, but part of that involves letting them become who they’re meant to be. Your relationship with them is ultimately more important than the limits you put on them, or the amount of information you put into their heads, because it’s the relationship that will dictate the degree to which they listen to what you’re saying, and emulate what you do. (They may also choose not to follow in your footsteps if they disagree with some of your beliefs. That’s one of the problems with raising kids to think for themselves.)

If you’re patient and respectful, I believe kids can surprise you. (Yes, I realize my story above involved getting exasperated, which can also be a useful tool in getting kids off their butts when respect and patience fail.)

The other obvious parallel (if I can just hit you over the head with it, briefly) is that sometimes those of us who lose the “oomph” it takes to constantly encourage kids in pursuits that don’t involve screens have to be reminded every now and then that the fruits of that labor can be sweet.

Sometimes, literally.

Charlie’s Vanilla/Brown Sugar Cupcakes

1/2 c. softened butter

3/4 c. brown sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/2 c. all purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

2/3 c. cold milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and eggs together (adding eggs one at a time and beating well after each addition). Stir in vanilla. In a separate bowl, sift dry ingredients together, and then add to butter mixture, alternating with milk. Fill cupcake tin lined with liners half full, and bake for 18-24 minutes, checking for doneness a few minutes before end time. (Don’t overbake). Yields 12 cupcakes.

The Art of Sarah Collier, a.k.a., The Charm School Dropout

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I’m not a yearly regular at the Arts Council of OKC’s Festival of the Arts.

(Is that a horrible thing for a blogger who partially centers on art to admit?)

It’s crowded, the food is overpriced (although always delicious), there’s the whole parking situation…some years, I just don’t go.

When I do, however, I’m always reminded of what a powerful experience it can be, to connect with artists on a personal level. (Or with their spouses, or enlisted helpers, if you happen to stroll by their tent during a bathroom break.)

This year, a couple of people caught my eye, but no one arrested my attention like The Charm School Dropout.

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Collier’s images are arresting, both for their vivid use of color and the juxtapositioning (I really tried to think of a different word to use, but unfortunately that ridiculously pretentious term is sometimes the only thing that can express, well…juxtapositioning) of iconic American cultural images with literary references. (The print I bought is enough to make me cry every time I look at it. Three Shakespeare quotes that could be be proclaimed my mission statement for life, alongside a Grace Kelly-esque woman in an evening dress.)

Cowboys. Candy. Guns. Evening gowns. Astronauts. Super heroes. Frida Kahlo. Horses.

Sound bytes that make you go…”huh”.

Word play that doubles as cultural commentary. (One piece featuring a beautiful woman in a bathing suit is set up like a postcard to read, “Weather is Beautiful…WIsh You Were Her.”)

One of art’s most powerful qualities is that it can connect us, through time and across multiple barriers. You can see an image and think, “Yes. I get it.” (You can also be amazed by something that totally baffles you. But that’s fodder for another post.)

I told Collier’s husband, “I think your wife might be one of my soul mates.” (I’m not sure what he thought of that, although he laughed politely and showed me where to go pay for my print.)

It’s a great experience, to connect with art and an artist on a personal level, as I said in the beginning of this post. And I’ll remember that next year, when I’m tempted to stay home and park for free, instead of living out that truth at the Festival of the Arts.

Visit The Charm School Dropout website to see more of Sarah Collier’s art.

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Blogger Sits Down to Write…YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT…

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Have you noticed this phenomenon? You’re scrolling through your “news” page when you fire up the computer in the morning, or gazing at your friends’ infinitely interesting Facebook pages, and you realize that almost every blurb lead-in for a story is followed by six words…

you won’t believe what happens next

There’s no variation. There’s no creatively worded synonymous phrase, even though these are all written by different people. They’re all simply using the same verbiage, designed to get you amped up about whatever puppy video or Ted talk or sangria recipe they’re touting.

YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!!!!

This is actually handcrafted for folks like me.

The people who cannot STAND to miss out on anything. Ridiculously curious individuals who will spend all morning wondering, after passing up the headline Woman Opens Refrigerator…YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT…”What if I really would not have believed what happened next?”

As a writer, the lack of originality bothers me to an incredible degree, and keeps me on this one woman boycott of avoiding clips with this tagline. (I think “boycott” is a strict word, since my avoidance stamina is at about 25%.)

Why not try…”You would be astounded at the outcome!” or…”The end result is baffling!”?

Can we not change it up just a little? Or do we want the catch phrase of the 2010′s to be…”You won’t believe what happens next!”?

Because we know what happens next. The puppy/baby does something cute/meaningful/tear-inducing. The elderly person/guru/hipcat-in-an-urban-setting dispenses wisdom/witty insight/life changing advice. Either in the form of a rap or slam poem, or perhaps on pieces of cardboard, Bob Dylan-style.

Let the kitten video stand alone.

It’s tempting to fall into the trap of thinking that everyone in the world now has to be tricked into watching a video montage of something poignant (and as I type these words out, I have to admit that it might largely be true) but we can still hold onto our humanity in this small way, by trusting that there are a few out there who will still be drawn by the urge to know and understand, without the promise of this new knowledge blowing their minds. (Yes, I just talked about “holding onto our humanity”. Because I think that if we continue to overuse this phrase, the terrorists and the robots win.)

I get that it’s harder and harder to induce people to click through and read actual text. (I write copy for a living. This struggle is near and dear to my heart, believe me.)

But running this one phrase into the ground is not going to fix it.

In fact, it’s going to make an Internet joke out of the loss of literacy, meaningful content, and simple enjoyment of good things. Not everything has to be earth-shattering.

There’s value in the mundane and the simple. Still.

Livin’ It Up in the City!

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Beautiful Sister Billie and I hit the Slice magazine Best of the City party this past week.

If you don’t currently get Slice, you can always subscribe and start receiving all of the info about everything there is to do, see or eat in and around the Oklahoma City metro area.

And consider joining us at the party next year! There’s plenty of fun to be had, although it is a completely serious event.

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Try emphasizing to your children that you’re leaving to go to a work-related event, and then have this show up on Facebook the next day.

Also, try getting excited about amping up your look (the work-at-home mom budget usually only allows for and necessitates yoga pants and torn t-shirts) only to have your 19 year old son say, upon your arrival home…

“I honestly thought you were wearing your pajamas.”

Ego blows aside, the evening was quite enjoyable, as it is every year.

Come join us next time!

Browse Beautiful Sister Billie’s Blog!

You may not have known this, but my Beautiful Sister Billie has her own blog, and it’s almost as moving and hilarious and deeply meaningful as mine. (I’m kidding–she’s actually the pretty sister and the smart one, combined. It’s supremely unfair.)

You’ll also notice it’s a photography blog, because Beautiful Sister Billie, in a addition to a full-time career at a busy vocational school (that serves one of the lowest socioeconomic sectors of our area), and her single mothering and volunteering and blog writing, ALSO runs a photography business. In all that spare time she has. (Peruse the rest of the blog to see her work. Or just start with this entry–one of my faves. Contact her if you have a reception or senior graduating, or just want some unique family photos taken that truly capture your essence…she can do it.)
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The Power of Touch: Massage is Mental Therapy, Too…

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The above is an image of one of my favorite sculptures, La Masseuse, by Edgar Degas.

Degas was a master of movement; his fascination with the female form is most famously conveyed in his paintings of dancers–this is one of my favorites because it seems to be a peek behind the scenes, at the less glamorous side of all that “movement”. It can jack you up, and require rehabilitation.

(But Degas still makes it look beautiful, doesn’t he?)

This piece caught my eye during one of my trips to the Dallas Museum of Art, one of my favorite art museums, anywhere. (And yes, I’ve been to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Getty in Los Angeles..I’ve even been to the Louvre.)

It immediately made me think of my massage therapist, Amanda.

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Now, of course in my head, the sessions where Amanda coaxes my muscles into submission look just like that Degas sculpture. (My muscles get a little upset with me occasionally about all the jiu jitsu, the paddling, the handstands, etc.)

The reality is something less artistic, of course, but it’s no less beautiful.

Amanda greases me up like a game hen going into the oven, and then kneads me like a knotty lump of dough, all the while engaging me in some seriously funny-yet-deeply-spiritual banter. (A little side note here, about one of the hang ups people have about massages; if you’re squeamish about someone touching your naked body–and yes, I know some of you think, “Hey, I’ll just leave my undies on…I can get a good massage in just my undies, right? Or a scuba suit?”–get over it. Being naked is part of the experience, I believe. Letting yourself be vulnerable opens you up, and will EVENTUALLY make you relax. Most likely. Probably. Maybe.)

It’s more than just physical rehabilitation, for me, my need for regular massages. Human touch is an important part of feeling connected, and we’ve lost that, for the most part. (Mostly speaking about “us” in the U.S. here.) We’re hesitant about hugging each other, we laugh at the Italians and the French for kissing each other on the cheek…and if you’re not in an intimate relationship, you probably have even less opportunities for the most basic physical interactions. Not sleeping in a longhouse or cave with 25 of your closest tribesmen may seem like advanced civilization–and don’t get me wrong, I like my personal space–but that advancement has a price.

I know, not everyone has that need for another human’s touch.

But even if that’s not your “bag”, your outlook and your mental state can still benefit from massage. Stress relief is a huge benefit, and studies have shown that there are many conditions that can be alleviated by regular massage. (You can read about benefits and cautions here, and as always, check with your doctor if you have questions about your particular needs.)

The lovely Amanda (who studied kinesiology and physical therapy before moving into massage) has additional thoughts on the mind/body connection. (Oklahoma City area peeps, you can read more about Amanda on the massage page of the Park Harvey Athletic Club website, and you can stop by the club or call (405) 606-7100 to schedule your appointment for a magical massage).

“Pain and stress block receptors, and leave you unable to function at your best,” Amanda says. “Massage helps to soothe muscles and release tension, providing optimal body potential.”

It may not be for you, but I’m betting it is. GIve Massage a Chance!