The After Picture

I have a long-standing battle with body image. It has taken me down many, many times, and sadly, when it does, it seems to spill over into every area of my life. Suddenly, not only do I have love handles and thunder thighs, I now also find myself targeting other innocent parts of myself and going to war on my entire entity: horrible mom, wife, housekeeper, friend—just all of it. I’m chubby and worthless.

I hate being in that place. I have recently brought this issue before some of my very best friends. (I am exceedingly blessed with the best friends in the universe who will tell me the truth even if it rocks my world, and I love them for it.) One of the things I mentioned is that I am the queen of taking “before” pictures. Every workout regime that is started, every New Year’s Resolution jotted down, every healthy choice I vowed to make all began with a “before” picture. I wanted to see the amazing results and bask in my glory. But my next admission is pretty sad: I never took an “after” picture. Not to say that my body didn’t change or that I didn’t accomplish a great deal, just that I was never satisfied with the work I’d done. It was never enough. I was never enough. I can’t take an “after” picture yet—I still look awful! Sad, but true.

One of my friends has battled for me in this area and downright harasses me to see the truth about myself. (I am so grateful for her tenacity and for not giving up on me.) She came to me today and showed me a picture of myself that Facebook had given her as her memory of the day. I was, as she put it, a lot fluffier then. She said, “I just want you to see what you’ve accomplished.” And then she said, “You can take an ‘after’ picture now.” I laughed at first, but then what she had said hit me like a ton of bricks, and I nearly cried. Yes, yes, it’s time to take the “after” picture. It’s time to acknowledge what I’ve accomplished. It’s time to love myself and be okay with where I am right at this moment.

This revelation doesn’t just feel like it’s just for this one area of my life–it’s for a dozen others. Why am I waiting for perfection?! Yes, I will strive for excellence in all that I do, but I will also learn to acknowledge how far I’ve come and how hard some of the legs of the journey have been. I will pat myself on the back, and then I will give myself grace for where I’m at right in this moment. Then I’ll keep working on becoming. Not becoming some unachievable dream person, but becoming the “me” that I will be meeting at the next moment in time when I stop and say, “Okay, now, take another ‘after’ picture.”


8 Ways to Encourage Creativity in Your Kids

“How do you have such creative kids?” This is a question I seem to get asked a lot so I thought I’d attempt to answer it.

Our family is very lucky to live in a small mountain town that is brimming with talented artists. My kids have been raised around songwriters, musicians, painters and authors…this is who makes up our community.

My kids used to think that everyone wrote songs or was an artist, because everyone in their world created.  Which brings me to my first point, help your kids see the creativity around them. Point out to your children the things your friends do that are creative even if they don’t fall into the typical “artist” category. Something about seeing other people around them actually creating inspires children to believe that it’s normal.

Second, as their parents, become creative yourself. I have always wanted to create. I love art in so many forms. I love drawing and painting, I love singing, playing guitar and writing songs and I love writing stories. Every human has something, some area in their lives where they enjoy being creative. It might be decorating a room or rebuilding an old car or running a business. We all have creativity in us, but many of us have let it gather dust. We don’t play that instrument anymore or getting out all our paints is too much of a mess and we’re not that good anyway. There are a million reasons why becoming an adult in our world has also equalled hanging up our creative desires. But I believe that our kids NEED to see us engaging in these things. From the time my kids were very young they have seen me creating. I would draw and paint with them. I wrote a novel while they napped. I wrote songs while they climbed all over me. I sang with a band. Stepping out and doing the things you love and being creative isn’t being selfish…it’s a gift to your children. You’re giving them permission.

One of my favorite moments in this journey was around Christmas one year. I started making some simple little nativity paintings that I thought I would try and sell to get some extra present money. I went to a shop after picking up the kids from school one day. It was a trendy little shop that carried local art as well as cute clothes and other eclectic items. The lady at the store turned her nose up at my art and said she wasn’t interested in carrying it. I was so glad that my kids were with me. It was so good for them to see the reality…if you put your art out there…you risk rejection. It also provided a great opportunity for them to learn that just because your art isn’t accepted by one person doesn’t mean that’s the end of the line. Thankfully, through Etsy and a local art fair I couldn’t keep up with the demand for my paintings. I sold them all.

The next thing I think is really important is to shape the way your kids see art and teach them that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Modern art is not necessarily my thing, but many people are moved by it, it speaks to them. Teaching your kids to judge art not according to what other people think but what they actually like is important. Expose them to lots of different kinds of art. Visual art, music, literature, help them find the art all around them.

Teach your kids about mastery. I don’t want my kids to think that producing great art is easy and takes no work. Malcolm Gladwell talks about this in his book Outliers. He says it takes 10,000 hours to develop mastery of something. I have told my kids this over and over. Encouraging them to practice and put in the hours. Trying to help them understand that if they just keep at something they will eventually master it. I try to help them understand that hard work is just as important as inspiration and talent.

Encourage your kids. Obviously, a budding artist (heck, even a world renowned artist) needs encouragement. They need to understand that you believe they are capable of great things in whatever they are attempting. I have never been one for flattery and I try to be really honest with my kids in an age appropriate way. For instance I might think a drawing my six year-old did is really amazing, but if my thirteen year-old had done it I would not be impressed. Think about finding ways to encourage them. You should be your child’s very best cheerleader. The world will give them plenty of rejection without you doing it too.

There is a balance to this in that you should help them find their way. You can help your kids improve their art. I say this very hesitantly because I hate to think of parents looking at a piece of art from their kid and immediately pointing out how it could be better. Ouch, please don’t do that. This area has to be handled with incredible finesse. You have to know your child and how to handle their heart. Some kids can’t handle criticism at all…and in that case just be an encourager and make sure they know you love them. I usually wait till I am asked for advice. “What do you think, mom?” And then I always tell them first what I love about it and I don’t follow that with the word BUT…I follow it with “What if you tried…” or “Have you thought about…”. This opens their minds to possibility instead of getting bogged down by feelings of rejection. It’s a fine line my friends…tread carefully on those tiny hearts.

I mentioned earlier that you as an adult should pursue some sort of creative endeavor. Here’s another little tip. Don’t dog your own art. When you produce something your kid looks at it and thinks it’s the most amazing thing they have ever seen. When they hear you say that it’s no good imagine how they will feel about their own creations. Don’t crap on the beauty your kids see you produce. This also goes for judging others. I am so careful about what I say around my kids. Even when we watch American Idol…if a contestant is horrible I try to find the good in them and point it out (such as “Wow, that took a lot of courage”). Your kids are going to believe the audience before them is a group of people that will respond much the way their family does. So be a family of encouragers. Your kids will feel that every audience is just waiting for them to shine instead of waiting for them to fail!

And finally, enable your children’s art. Have art/music/whatever supplies on hand. Find ways to encourage and support them in what they’re interested in, not just the things you like. If they’re interested in a particular area find YouTube videos or local mentors or workshops or classes for them to learn more. That speaks volumes to them that you believe they can do it. Remind them when they have free time that art is an option and most importantly give them permission to create.

Anything Worth Doing is Worth Doing With a Bad Attitude?

I was reading a blog the other day. The woman was talking about doing obligatory chores with joy. Cranking up the music and dancing while doing the dishes. This is great, I thought, I’ve got to read this to my kids. And then today while I was, of all things, doing dishes it hit me… “Hello McFly”!!!

Let me give you a bit of history. I am 90% pleasant person and a joy to be around most of the time (I think). BUT…I sometimes have a bad attitude. And when I say bad attitude I mean baaaaaaaad attitude. As in teenage angst, jilted lover, cornered politician, you get the idea. It happens when I am doing something good (ironic isn’t it) something like making my family dinner or exercising or laundry or doing an elimination diet. I think we shall use the diet as an example because I am in the midst of it right now.

I LOVE food. LOVE it…in what I am coming to realize is probably an unhealthy way. But, in an attempt to keep myself healthy and support my husband (who is on the diet for health reasons) I decided to hop on the bandwagon. It’s a very empty bandwagon with only a few skinny socially awkward people on it (see what I mean…bad attitude). Anyway, here’s an idea of what the first week was like.

Day 1: “This is awesome. Why doesn’t everyone do this? It’s so easy and I love vegetables.”
Later in the evening of day 1 we go to a movie for my husband’s birthday. I LOVE movies (almost as much as food) and I always, always get popcorn and a coke. “I hate this stupid diet! Why do we need to be healthy anyway? I just want a huge tub of buttery popcorn and a coke!” I enjoyed the movie, but struggled with being distracted by sulking a lot of the time.

Day 2: “This diet isn’t so hard. I’m so glad I’m doing this.” (We went for a hike and then my husband cooked curry for me.)

Day 3: This is the day I got cocky and was all… “I got this. I am disgusted by those other humans out there who don’t choose to do something like this for their health.”

Day 4: “This is the dumbest thing ever I HATE this @$@#&*! diet. I will stay faithful to it, but I REFUSE to be happy about it.” This is when I started having detox symptoms, you know cause your body is trying to dump all the toxins you normally eat out of your system. My kidneys hurt, I had sciatic pain, headaches, blah.

Day 5, 6, 7: See day 4

Day 8: We took our kids to a tea factory, but first we stopped at Chik-fil-a where I got some sort of fruit chicken salad with no dressing and water and watched my kids scarf chicken strips and waffle fries while drinking lemonade. Enter the angsty teenager. I refused to be happy about anything!! When we got to the tea factory I had spent enough time sulking and enjoyed the tour. Thankfully they had a lot of herbal teas that I could taste (that helped keep the hulk away from the factory that day).

So, there you go. A little taste of my crazy. I am done with this crazy. I don’t want it anymore! When I see these attitudes in my kids I get so frustrated, “you should be grateful you even have food”! Yeah…I guess in some ways it is just a simple shift of perspective.

Jesus talked in the Bible about being cheerful in giving. I always thought that was kind of strange. I mean, honestly, imagine you are in the grocery store and a woman in front of you is struggling with 3 small children and buying only the necessities and when the total comes she realizes that she doesn’t have enough. If you on the other hand were standing behind her and had plenty of money in your pocket would it be anything, but a joy and a privilege to get to help this woman. I’m guessing Jesus said this for a reason. Even something we find great joy in can become obligatory. As a mom of 4 I have a LOT of obligatory chores in my life. I could list them, but I don’t want to risk sucking the joy out of your day. But, if I can find some way to shift my thinking about these things it could change my life. I could find more joy more life.

To be grateful. In. ALL. Things. I believe I can change. I will start to shift today.

Inspiration, Shminspiration

Artists can be a funny and sensitive crew. The sun must be shining just so. The pencils aligned in the right way. The correct sharpener must be sitting at the ready…and how can you expect creation to occur without the favored hot beverage sitting contentedly on the perfectly prepared desk. And then, of course, there is inspiration. Inspiration is that piece of magic that floats in on a cloud and is delivered by one of those fat baby angels. It is mystical and so very far outside the realm of our understanding. Some people seem to have baby angels waiting outside their window all the time. A long line of little puffy clouds longing to give more magic to this incredibly gifted artist.

Oh if only it were so…if only a cherub would come down and sprinkle fairy dust on the “artists” of the world and bring them inspiration daily. Well, it’s not gonna happen. And, in a way, we should be grateful. Because we don’t have to worry about the fact that we might not be in that special chosen group worthy of a visit from the Heavenly realms. The truth about inspiration is really a two-edged sword. It’s good news and bad news. It’s up to you. There it is, the good news and the bad news. It is all up to you.

Inspiration is a result of hard work. Yeah, that’s the bad news part. It doesn’t come from the sky. It comes instead from blood, sweat, and tears. From sitting down and investing time and part of your soul into what you want to create. Something about this process opens up an idea catcher in your brain and invisible nets shoot out of your head. A simple phrase or conversation or just watching someone put groceries in their car can create all sorts of inspiration because you put in the work and it opened the idea catcher. Sadly, it doesn’t stay open forever once it is opened. Once you start pushing your art to the back burner a few nets get put away. When the art table is pushed to the side and the pencils are gathering dust then your idea catcher closes completely and goes into a dormant state. Sad isn’t it. Not to worry. Blood, sweat, and tears will open it up again and inspiration and ideas will again flood your mind.

Don’t be afraid of hard work. It is the doting parent of inspiration. Do the work and find yours.

Judge Not Lest it Hinder Your Creative Process

I grew up in the South during an era when it was acceptable to judge people, to whisper harsh words about them to your friends. You could even pass as compassionate as you did it if you just added “bless her heart” to the end of your criticism. It felt like our duty. These people needed judging and we were just the people to do it.

What I failed to realize at the time was the effect this was having on me. I was right…that woman had no business singing a special at church, she couldn’t find the right note to save her life. But, with every one of these sentences that I passed I was piling weights and assumptions on my head. I found that going on stage to perform or writing or drawing was becoming more and more difficult. I started to believe that everyone that I performed for was the same as me, that they were measuring my imperfections and looking for opportunities to judge me.

Thankfully, later in my life I met some artists who were also gifted encouragers. I watched them take newbies under their wings and speak words of life, breathe hope into them. I was appalled at first because I could see with my keen judging eye that these young artists were not worth investing in. I was dead wrong. I started to understand the beauty of living a life free of judgement. It doesn’t only free us up from being uptight, unpleasant people. It also frees us up to perform and create with less fear.

When you become the encourager instead of the critic…you empower those you encourage and you free yourself. Like my momma and daddy always said, “look for the good in people and you’re sure to find it”.

The Elusive Cool Factor

I admit it. I have lived for quite a long portion of my life with a strong desire to be cool. I want to be Ripley from Alien or Trinity from The Matrix….but it doesn’t have to be a superhero type figure. How about Juno? She is cool always. Witty, self-assured, and just, well, cool.

I watched a movie the other day and finally accepted that I am uncool. Bridget Jones…she did me in. I may not be like her in many ways, but I related all too well in the important ways. The constant foot in the mouth, the trying so very hard to be witty and improve one’s self, the inevitable public humiliation.

I have a friend who is always ridiculously cool. She can go to the local thrift store and pick out things that are horribly out of fashion and then wear them and suddenly they too are cool because they touched her cool skin. I do not understand this. I have tried to wear only things that are hip and have not pulled it off, then attempted to be cool by wearing things that are not cool and found that they are really, well, not cool even after touching my skin. My friend is James Dean and I am Buddy Hackett (if you don’t know who he is just google his pic…you’ll get the idea).

I’m chronically uncool. I rap along with my ipod when I run. I don’t hear the real runners or cyclists, who actually go a decent speed, sneaking up on me. They get the privilege of hearing my white Oklahoma version of Salt-N-Pepa and probably already got to witness me digging out my underwear that insists on jogging with me if ya know what I mean. Damn sneaky fast athletes. Being cool in sport is a whole other level of cool…I will never achieve.

I love geeky stuff and dream of someday attending Comic-con. This has been yet another of my reasons I am not cool, but it seems as though it may be my salvation. Geek is the new cool. I am holding onto hope….a new hope.

Back to Bridget Jones. She is an idiot who does not have it all together and in the film this beautiful and brilliant man comes to her and tells her he likes her just the way she is. Love it! Embracing my uncoolness even as we speak. My husband is that man…genius, charismatic, neat, got it together, beautiful….and as they say opposites attract. He loves me just as I am. I am very lucky to be so very uncool.

Fires and books

The Waldo Canyon Fire hits Colorado Springs

Today I am writing this blog from my parent’s dining room table in Penrose, Colorado. A few days ago, my family and I were heading to the Springs to run a few errands. When we drove down highway 24 (the pass that connects our little mountain town of Woodland Park to Colorado Springs) there was a fire just starting in the forest. It was growing fast, too fast, and smoke was creating a terrifying chimney in the sky.

We finished our shopping as fast as we could and hoped that the highway would still be open so that we could get back home. It was and we made it back. Then we sat and watched the news in horror as the fire crawled across more and more of our beautiful forest.

My husband went to work in the Springs on Tuesday and as he left the office for the day he witnessed flames racing down the hill and into a neighborhood (pictures of what he saw first hand have been plastered all over the news this week). He came back very sobered and suggested that we evacuate just in case. Fire is very unpredictable and he had just witnessed it moving very fast! We packed up the necessities and headed to my parent’s home. The next day much of our town was put on a mandatory evacuation.

So, here I sit. It’s a strange feeling. When I left my house the hardest thing to leave was my books. I sat staring at the shelves. Then said out loud to myself, “they are only books, they are only books”. Yes, the really important things are here with me…my family is safe.

But those books are not only books. They are so much more. They are little pieces of me. Every book I give myself to changes me in some way, brings me new understanding, more things to love, things to hate, friendships to develop, ties to sever. A little piece of that book stays in me, like part of my molecular makeup. Unseen strings tie us together.

I am ready to admit that I have a problem. If you don’t believe me ask anyone who’s helped me move and carted way too many heavy boxes full of books into the new house. Maybe problem is not the right word…addiction. Not all addictions are bad…right? I am addicted to story. Books and movies. A good story is my favorite thing.

This fire will change our little piece of the country. It will leave an ugly scar on our beautiful landscape that will take years to erase. This is a tragic story right now. I hope it becomes a story of redemption because those are my absolute faves!

Frankenstein Syndrome

I am tired of being unhappy with myself.

It’s just really a drag. I keep thinking someday I’ll be happy with my body and it will look just like Gwyneth Paltrow’s, someday I’ll be happy with my domestic skills and I’ll cook like Jamie Oliver and clean like Heloise, someday I’ll be happy with my art and I’ll write like Stephen King and paint like Van Gogh.

But I realized something today. The only story where I remember hearing about different humans being knit together to create one individual, they created a monster. There is not a magic pill that allows us to pick the best traits of others and dump our bad ones and become a super perfect human.

I think part of the problem is that we think that super-humans exist. We look at a beautiful goddess like creature who is a mom of 5 with a perfect figure who bakes cookies and writes screenplays in her spare time and all we see are the beautiful, stage worthy bits. We don’t see her imperfections and she doesn’t offer them up either.

But, I’m coming to understand with the more people I meet and the older I get, there is no such thing as a super-human. The closest in my opinion was Mother Teresa and she didn’t have any of the things I always seem to be striving for. What the heck?

I’m starting to get it…someday is now. I need to choose today to be the day that I am happy with my…everything. I need to like me now, as I am…and if I happen to improve in areas…bonus! We were not meant to take pieces of other people and try to make ourselves into some strange clone quilt. We would be freaks of nature. We are meant to be uniquely who we are.

You be you and I’ll be me.