lessons of a creative

i'm learning some hard lessons these days about what it means to be a creator.  i'm sharing these to help me remember  & also for you dear fellow creatives who might be in a rut - or a ditch, or a deep oceanic cave - & need a push.  so let's give it a go together.  here is what i'm learning: 

>> creating is mostly devoting yourself to that thing you desire & are dying to create.  artists tend to talk a lot about their artist selves and go on & on & commiserate and while some mindful discussion can be helpful,  let's cut to the chase:  your time is better spent making something.   which leads to my next hard lesson:

>> creating is a choice.  this is obvious.  somehow i am only now realizing the magnitude of this reality.  i get up at 6 a.m. & i carry my coffee mug (& thermos) out to our garage where i turn on my twinkle lights and sit down and write elaborate musical orchestral magnificence. just kidding. i'm lying. most mornings in my garage-studio i stare at the piano. and then the wall. and then my notebook. and then i play something that sounds terribly unoriginal.  & then fear raises its ugly head.  but THEN, i slay the fear one choice at a time.  if i stay with it for a while and i listen really closely and i put my pen to the paper songs begin.  it is a mystery i don't comprehend, this bringing songs into the world. but a lot of it is simply choosing to be there, to be ready & poised and to do the work.

>> in the words of Elizabeth Gilbert,  "fear is boring".  thank you, elizabeth for saying what we need to hear.  it really is boring.  &  i think often i  / we use fear as an excuse to keep ourselves more safe, in the fringes, tip toeing around the thing we're meant to do.   enough of it already.  we must revisit the previous lesson:  let's choose to do the work.   (if you are a creative go find the book Big Magic and read  the chapter titled "fear is boring", & then read the rest of the book too.  it will kick you in your creative shins and get your thoughts stirring.)

>> even with the fear, we face this truth:  'if your calling is to make things, then you still have to make things in order to live out your highest creative potential -  and also in order to remain sane".   (E. Gilbert)    

>> and finally, one more quote from a book i've been chewing on steadily this month, Crossing the Unknown Sea by poet David Whyte:  to set out boldly into our work is to "make a pilgrimage of our labors, to understand that the consummation of work lies not only in what we have done, but who we have become while accomplishing it. "   this is tied to the keeping sane part of our creative action.   we must make what we are meant to make, because we simply can't not.  or we become bitter and angry and skewed and so very sad.

>> you & me:  giving ourselves over to the actual creating part is the best thing we can do in these times of resurfacing, rising back up, digging and working at the thing we're meant to do. 


the Search for Community

photo by Ash Parsons

photo by Ash Parsons

you know those days - the ones when there's a sudden compiling of many many littler & larger things that crash into a heaping pile of discouragement.  a few days ago i had one of those.  i found myself standing in our kitchen staring at a pot of soup on the stove.  standing, staring, pausing & thinking.  coincidentally i had just finished reading Out of Sorts by Sarah Bessey and my thoughts about community & place were ruminating... thoughts provoked by Sarah's writing about what community is, how we are all, each and every one, longing for deep relationship.  i felt my need in that moment.  while i stirred soup.  a pretty mundane but thought-full state of affairs.  

and then a couple things happened - small as they were, simple as they seemed, but miraculous in nature.  a darling family a few houses down from us- neighbors we now call our 'new friends' - came by and dropped off a plate of homemade crepes, sweet & savory, cream cheesey and fruity jammy with comforting eggy batter.  with the crepes came handwritten notes, crafted with colorful markers and construction paper from their three young girls, thanking us for being their neighbor. i almost cried. such a simple, thoughtful gesture but to christopher & i, we felt cared for. it was the best thing that had happened all day. 

& then i took the pot of the soup i had been staring at to a new friend who wasn't feeling well. literally we met two weeks ago. maybe delivering soup was a bit over the top for a new friendship? but come on now, let's get over ourselves. so i delivered the soup, which led to us visiting in her living room about genuine relationships, about empathy, about transparency and the lack of it, and how hard it is to really share who you are and where you're at with people. 

amen to this. it is hard. but that unexpected twenty minutes in andrea's living room bolstered my spirit, in a real & true, acute and alive kind of way.

& then soup
& then a few honest words in a new friendship... 

these are just snapshots of moments in my Tuesday,  examples of people in houses in neighborhoods in a city choosing to do little things that might not seem all that important or special. our neighbors chose to build some darn good crepes. and andrea chose to open up to me about what she was pondering.

seemingly small things, yes.  but hardship is a real thing,  loneliness is real too. sadness is prevalent around us.   and small things can matter a great deal in someone's day and in their search & deep need for a community.  

these moments in my week have reminded me of some hugely important truths:

+ doing something to say, "hey, i'm thinking about you, and i care about you" can go a long long ways.

+ community happens over time, in small ways that lead eventually to big ways, because of the choosing and the doing.

+ and last but not least, loving people doesn't always (or EVER?) have to look like kinfolk magazine and certainly rarely looks like pinterest.  there, i said it.

christopher & i are here to stay in this vast place of northwest montana, in this specific place of Kalispell, in our neighborhood, on our street in our little house. we have hopes, even on the hard days, that our staying will grow friendships and a close knit tribe of people who share meals with us and their victories,  their hurts and grief and who laugh really loud with us, and cry on the porch with us too.

"What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to creat stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured."  - Kurt Vonnegut

"I used to live the Gospel beautifully in my own head;  I thought about it all the time. But the radical act of staying put, a commitment to practicing a theology of place, is teaching me - the overthinker - that thinking isn't quite the same thing as doing. My intentions and beliefs and pontificating about community don't matter one iota if I am not engaged in living out the reality of it".  - Sarah Bessey

Proximity is your invitation to live out the Gospel of loving, of doing, of maybe, in some unexpected way, being a facilitator of something bigger like community.

it's not magic -  it's just a choosing.  the truth is:  community isn't a buzz word we should all be humming like it's a hot new perfect-looking trend for the coolest people out there.  it is for you and for me and the person next to you. we are all in deep need of knowing and being known.

The life of Jesus was marked by "everything from catching fish to baking bread as a sign and a foretaste of the ways of Christ and His Kingdom"  - Sarah Bessey .  i hope that wherever you are, in whatever place, rural town, city metro- wherever God has you- you are moved to reach out to the people around you.

reaching out to those people in your proximity can look like crepes or soup or flowers from your yard or a handwritten note in crayon or a hug or just looking someone in the eye to let them know, ' i am listening, because you matter immeasurably to God and in this moment you matter to me too'.


Grandma Mabel's feather rolls & welcoming winter

our first snowfall of the winter arrived yesterday and it meant business.  the sky flurried all day long here, and i got swept up in the beauty of it-  the light in the house, the feeling of warmth, and my desire naturally this time of year to bake something.   white glory, look at those frosty windows!

also, this is my sink.  this means good things are happening in a snowstorm.  

namely,  my Grandma Mabel's feather rolls.   they're rising on the farm table, ready for the oven.

my mom makes these rolls every year for our Thanksgiving meal, and this year I'm making a batch of my own for a down home dinner we're hosting today.

these little buttons of dough will forever give you incentive to whip up a fresh batch instead of buying those perfectly uniform little squares called “buns” at the grocery store.  light & feathery, hence the name feather rolls, these rolls are so delightful straight from the oven, warm with a smidge of butter.   they’re delicate & airy but still perfect for those turkey leftovers sandwiches.  simple & plain goodness.  did i mention fresh out of the oven into your face with a dab of butter? let's explore this.

if you're like me the thought of baking bread feels intimidating.  all your friends are doing it.  food blogs are doing it.  kinfolk is doing it (plus it looks perfect). they all make it sound so easy but somewhere along the line you tried making bread and it turned out like a cement bowling ball.  or is that just me?  well,  this recipe my Grandma & mom have baked for forever made bread seem possible, so i decided i would give it a go.  it worked and it works every time.  bread phobia relinquished!   next maybe we'll bake real big loaves or something fancy like sourdough.  

happy thanksgiving-ing!

Grandma Mabel's Feather Rolls

1 cup of milk ( i use almond milk, but feel free to use whatever milk you prefer )
1/3 cup melted butter
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. salt
1  1/2 TBSP active dry yeast
1 cup of water
2 cups of flour
3 eggs
3 more cups of flour

In a medium saucepan on the stovetop warm the milk.

*here's the only part you need to give a little special attention.  be sure not to get the milk too hot because you're going to be adding yeast and high temperatures can damage the yeast. ideally the milk should be in the 120-130 degree range, and never over 140 degrees. i use a little kitchen thermometer to tell me this helpful info, like a scientist. 
you have your warmed milk in the saucepan.  now add to it: the butter, sugar, salt & give it a stir. then add the yeast, the water & 2 cups of flour.  

beat smooth with a hand mixer or an antique hand-held egg beater, which is how i roll.

add 3 eggs- beat again until smooth.

stir in BY HAND the additional 3 cups of flour.

the dough will be very soft & gooey.  cover the pan with its lid and let the dough rise to top of pan like magic!   then scoop out your dough, place it on a floured surface because it's really sticky, get your hands floured and start folding the dough into itself to make a nicely workable ball of dough.  use your intuition for this part!  you'll press & shape & press & shape & work in more flour as needed.  make your mound, then roll out the dough with a rolling pin.  don't worry about making it super thin; these rustic rolls can be whatever thickness you'd like them to be.  i make mine about an inch thick. 

cut out your rolls into circle shapes.  i use the top of a wide mouth mason jar as my dough cutter, it works great.

butter a cookie sheet and place your raw dough buns onto the cookie sheet where they will rise for a good while.  i let mine rise for about 2 hours, or until they seem like a nice size.  

finally, bake at 400 degrees for 12 minutes or until the buns are lightly browned.  if desired, brush a little butter on the tops for that extra buttery love.   & voila!  feather rolls for your table and your keeping-cozy-in-winter spirit.  

November Reading Frenzy

this november reading frenzy is brought to you by october, who ushered in the beginning of the cold months here in montana, the shorter days and wool blankets.  these are the perfect backdrop to devouring books by lamps & candlelight.  my to-read list is an ever-evolving pile i stack up in my mind - or on goodreads - and thanks to the library, i keep finding more gems. there's a heap of books on our farm table constantly for admiring and perusing. & i've been enjoying so many lately i just had to share them with you so you can welcome your winter months with some books-worth-reading in your hands.

first out of the gates is my current obsession:  Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic.  have you read this yet?  i'd love to hear your thoughts.  this is a book i kept hearing about so i skipped this bestseller's lengthy-hold-time-wait at the library & just bought it outright so i could devour it with underlining and some occasional coffee spills.  i've stuck with Elizabeth through all the hype & criticism of her earlier works ( Eat, Pray, Love, namely ) & this book feels like she's busted out, ripped down the curtains & is speaking boldly & with experience earned clarity about being a creative.  this is a must read.  the end. 

i just read Sasha Martin's Life from Scratch, wildly, in 3 sittings.  i cried.  it is a deeply moving recounting of her childhood and life story which leads her to the present:  her successful cooking & food blog & being a wife & a mom.  i hadn't heard of her blog before reading the book, so i had no preconception of what the book should be talking about : ie.  cooking.  it's more of a memoir,  and one of the best i've encountered.   a lovely, lovely read. 

any essays or non-fiction by Barbara Kingsolver these days is on my reading list, and now on my bookshelf thanks to a crazy library fundraising book sale at the local mall here.   i detour for a short story:   

we have one mall, it's on main street, and we go there hardly ever. i'd rather be at the library.   however, however, on a particular Sunday when we were looking for something like a pair of jeans or a sweater -  i can't even recall - we stumbled upon the library's annual fundraising book sale. i did not know this existed, as we've only lived in Kalispell for 5 months now.  but there we were, embarking unexpectedly on a sea of long tables drowning in books and people gathered around them hovering like expectant book vultures.   the signs said "book sale at 11".  it was 10:55. we had struck a literary gold mine.  at precisely 11 the invisible gates were unhinged and folks were digging through books swiftly and wild-eyed, yet all the while cordial, of course, because we're dignified readers.  but i grabbed a brown paper grocery bag & started digging along with them.  the price of books?:  fill your big paper grocery bag for $2.00.  TWO DOLLARS. forget the mall & the potential of jeans, this was epic!  best use of the mall, ever.  i dug & dug & found wendell berry, ruth reichl, michael pollan and six of barbara kingsolver's books. this was one of my favorite days ever.   all that to say: Barabara's writing stops me in my tracks and makes me think, really think.  the way her mind works keeps me flabbergasted at the intricacy and beauty of language and story. Small Wonder is a favorite books of essays, right alongside with High Tide in Tuscon.  

also,  a humble opinion ---  essays are the new blog posts.    something to think about.

my friend ashley gifted me the book What It Is by Lynda Barry for my birthday a few months ago, something unexpected & nothing i had ever heard of.   ashley is one of the most vibrant, creative souls i've ever known and when she told me this book opened her up and blew her mind, i paid attention.   made of full-page collages Barry has crafted with photographs, handwritten notes, sketches, text... it's a book you sit with for a long while, taking your time, page by page,  with a cup or four of coffee.  i'm currently about a third of the way through and when i read/look at the pages i keep a notebook closeby.  there are moments of revelation that come to mind about creating, about determination, and for me, even a thread of creating midst depression.  this book is an avenue to places inside untapped,  or hidden away with cobwebs.  

the book Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals that Brought Me Home  caught my eye because of the cover, which, let's be honest,  is true for a lot of books and bottles of wine.  & then i read the title and knew i had to get my hands on this book.  the library here is a revolutionary place and i simply asked them to order it for me and they did.  i want to hug them.  i read Stir... on the heels of Life from Scratch, and although i felt it lacked the depth and raw expression of Life from Scratch had, it was still a very good read and again, a food memoir about healing, which might be my favorite genre at the moment.

when my friend alicia told me about Marie Kondo's book, she said something about "tidying up" and "magic" and my ears perked up because those words generally aren't used in the same sentence. the premise is this:  only keep in your home things that spark joy.  i'm reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up right now and happy to say it's not the usual "get your shit together" kind of self-help book i've seen so often. Kondo's writing about the tangible clutter we keep in our homes is intelligent and entirely insightful - also, bold and honest.  i think this book has something to offer everyone, which is why it's a best seller.  

what are you reading these days/ this colder month?  i've found most of my favorite books have come to me via friends and their personal recommendings, which is why i wanted to share these books with you this morning. valso, to promote the heck out of the library.  seriously.  do you have a library card?  if not you should acquire one immediately and then gather up a stack of books that strike something curious in you, take them home and dive in.  the joy & discovery is infinite.  words and new ideas, blankets, firewood and snow.  bring on the goodness of the colder months.