Listening for the Muse’s Whisper

I recently finished the novel that has taken me two years to write (two years, two houses, two states, endless revisions). It’s done. Or as done as I can make it right now. I sent it out to a few interested agents and am waiting. Ugh. The waiting. Waiting for the feedback. Waiting for the rejections. Waiting to send it out to the next group. Waiting for the one yes.

The finishing was entirely anti-climatic. There was no celebration. There was no champagne. There was simply real life crowding out the fictional one and fast. And the real life mess I found (and continue to find) myself surrounded by has completely thrown me out of my creative routine.

In the weeks since real life’s descent, my fictional lives took a back seat. More accurately, they took a separate car and their GPS and mine apparently did not match up – I haven’t seen their car for days. I have spun out in several different directions about what to do next, how to accomplish my creative writing goals, how to get my freelance writing off the ground. All roads feel like dead ends, my brain unable to take any single route to its destination.

For a little while, I couldn’t write anything. The whiplash of switching from full-on, months-long revision mode in my fictional world to real life problems with no easy solutions for me to conjure up out of the ether left me dazed, confused, empty. I admit, I was scared. I have never had my mind feel so empty, so quiet. It was disconcerting and disorienting.

But I kept reading: books, articles, interviews with authors. I went to lunch with fellow WFWA writers. I added books and blogs to my growing to read piles. I wrote a new blog post. I kept putting in an effort, even when it felt wasted.

I walked. I listened to music and to podcasts. I watched a movie or two. I gave up some days and ran errands.

I kept showing up – butt in the chair, hands on the keyboard. Determined. Aware. Ready or not.

This week, while perusing a spreadsheet of upcoming deadlines for possible contests to enter, a line of dialogue popped into my head.

“Open the door.”

Boom.

I quickly opened a doc and typed it. A response followed like a gift. Lines poured out. Not many, but enough. A short scene appeared on the page. What was happening? Who were these people? Who were they to each other? Why was she so scared? Why was he so angry? Is that actually fear? Is that really anger? It’s not a novel. It’s not the next big story. But it’s a story. A short piece that may be strong enough to stand on its own two feet or, at the very least, get me back on my own.

It was a whisper. A drip. A start.

Real life, writer’s block, busyness, it’s all going to happen, to me, to you, to Stephen King and Ann Patchett and probably happened to Shakespeare, too. There is so much noise in our lives ready to drown out the muse. But if we keep showing up, keep putting in the effort, keep feeling, exploring, seeing, trying, we may be able to still ourselves long enough that a single whisper will make it’s way through the cacophony and the emptiness won’t be empty anymore. The whisper will grow into a sentence, a paragraph, a page, a chapter… The words will start to fill the page again.

I am learning to live in the quiet, to seek out the peace, to listen to the whispers.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
 -Emily Dickinson
The muse doesn’t leave. It’s waiting. Are you listening?
Advertisements

The Story of the Shells

IMG_0614

On the left hand corner of my desk in a small, glossy, eggshell-colored bowl, rest a pile of shells. These shells are remnants, pieces of larger shells, worn down fragments that tumbled and swirled along the ocean floor for months, years, decades maybe. They are flattened like Play-Doh, smooth like stones. They are striped in layers, like sedimentary rocks. I picked them up where other shell seekers had left them in the sand while they searched for the pretty, the unique, the whole.

But I love these pieces. The smooth remains of something beautiful and broken.

I hold them, rub their grooves, warm them in my palm while I puzzle over a problem in my writing. They jingle in the bowl as I search for the right one. The one that might unlock the solution. The cat sometimes paws them, enjoying the sound they make against the bowl. Occasionally he succeeds in sneaking one out and over the side of the desk skittering it down the hall with Pelé like precision until I rescue it once again.

I work my stories, scenes, characters over like these shells. I smooth them, reduce them, expose their layers, until the stories, the scenes, the characters are beautiful and broken for the reader. Or at least I hope I do. That is the goal. To take what was once a whole and living thing and whittle away until I find the one truth of it that can fit in your hands and rattle in your pocket.

The whole shells are beautiful. They are treasures and worth our admiration, awe, display. The whole shells are our whole lives. Complete, perfect in their living.

But the truth of our lives lives in the details. In the nicks, the chips, the strange colors, and occasional barnacle attached.

I’m in search of those fragments, those bits of shells we shed or hide or try to forget that hold the lessons the oceans teach: rest and let go. Let the ocean carry it to a safe place, polish its edges, expose its layers, deliver it to the shore. Then wait for someone to pick it up, admire the flaw, and tell the story.

The Maybe of Muses

On July 28th, I went to the NC Museum of Art. The kids were back at school. We were 21 days post move. I needed to recenter. To come back to my creative self. The months of March through July were so tumultuous and busy and mind numbing that I was afraid I would need an ice pick to chip my way back to my creative core.

Art, the visual, is one of the fastest ways for me to touch that core. Music can be fleeting, at least for me. Each song brings its own emotions but when the last chord sounds, it’s gone, dissolved into the air again, it can be hard for me to pull it back.

But art? Art for me hints at a story. It shows me just enough and nothing more. It leaves me with questions and, on a good day, avenues for answers, the possibilities spinning, weaving, endlessly simple, inextricably complicated. Someone saw something – a bowl of fruit, a blackened barn door, a look between lovers – and captured it in paint, on film, in stone. The subject is nothing without what the artist brings to it. And when it is combined correctly? Pure magic.

I wandered the over air conditioned museum, happy I brought a sweater so I wouldn’t be distracted by my physical feelings. I happened into a temporary exhibit of photography. I was floored. I was immediately sucked into the fifteen to twenty photos on display. I love photography, although admittedly couldn’t name any famous photographers beyond the big A’s: Ansel Adams and Annie Liebowitz. But this photographer intrigued me. Or rather his work did. I moved slowly, staring down each one. Going back. Taking a closer look, then a wider. I think I made the security guard nervous. I was in front of the same two photographs for so long I think he suspected I was planning to make off with one. And if I had a malicious mind and could have figured out how to get away with it, I might have.

The months passed and I can still call to mind his images. There were the famous Woodstock photos and the chilling images of a waxen Martin Luther King laid out in his coffin at his funeral that would certainly stick. But there were also the images of twisted and blackened books with only a few words still visible through the carnage from his “Burned” series. There was the back of a blackened barn from his “Just Add Water” series, the barn’s doors thrown open wide in the front, our perspective making it impossible to see what could be hiding inside, discarded bottles littered the weeds around it, dents and scratches marred the exterior walls, and there is the black. The barn painted in some haphazard fashion of what looks like buckets thrown at it, black drips streaking like tears, blank spaces cloudy like smoke. These images left me wondering, thinking, considering. They left me melancholy, yet full. They sparked. The creative core in me had warmed.

But this was all months ago, remember. A long time. Spark ignited, I was back at the keyboard, working on my own projects, the blackened barn now just an image in my phone.

Then, today, during lunch, I grabbed the Sunday News & Observer I didn’t have time to read yesterday from the counter. There, on the front page of the arts section was a beautiful feature on a North Carolina photographer. He’s embarking on a fascinating portrait series celebrating African American culture. His thought process and care with each subject were fascinating. I found myself curious when they mentioned his bio, his credentials. They seemed so familiar. Could it be? The same man? The one who caught my eye months ago at the art museum?

It is. A quick Google search confirmed it. So why? Why is Burk Uzzle suddenly popping back into my life? Coincidence? Maybe. Sure. Probably. Perhaps it is no more than that. But what if it’s not? What else is it?

I have been scrolling through his web page and staring at images (the black barn is in the Just Add Water gallery on his page). I have subscribed for updates on the documentary currently filming on his life and work (watch the trailer here). I have written this post all without really knowing or understanding why. I just feel I need to. I just know that his work is flat out beauty to me. Beauty in the honesty of it. The heart of it. The ugly truth of it.

Maybe it’s his camera’s insistence on shining a light on things often forgotten or hidden or silenced. Maybe it’s his sense of humor (just check out some of the titles of his work). Maybe it’s simply good photography and I appreciate his art.

Maybe.

Or maybe it’s a muse. Maybe it’s someone trying to tell me something. Show me something.

Maybe it’s all those things. Maybe none.

 

But whatever it is. I feel it. In that creative core. Something has been planted. What it grows into, only time will tell. When it has blossomed, though? That will be the story I tell. Then it will be my turn.

And so the cycle continues.

Creative Re-Entry

Back in March, my second novel took a turn. Or, more accurately, I set it free to make room for what was a better story. I was digging in on research and finding my way through this new, much more daunting idea, getting to know my new protagonist and trying to fill in her life a little. Then, we were suddenly discussing moving. Upending our lives and starting over. My mind was filled with debate. Once we made our decision to indeed follow this course of action, my hands were filled with tasks to complete it. Staging, repairs, finding movers, it all became my job. Research on new neighborhoods, the end of the school year and trips to see possible new homes of our own took up my time. Packing and moving and living in limbo at my parents for three weeks while parenting our boys through this transition demanded every iota of my attention. The idea languished. The research stalled. The words stopped. My computer has seen many a map search as we learn our new town and plenty of online shopping as we fill our new home, but very few full sentences were typed from left to right across a blank page.

But the boys are in school now. The house is mostly put together. And for the first time in months, I felt the lack of writing in my bones. Kind of like when I get sick. When I’m really sick – laying in bed with the door shut and the covers pulled up and the medicine nearby and the hubby taking on all one hundred percent of the life tasks – I don’t notice the mess. The toys on the floor. The clutter accumulating on the counters. The laundry exploding from the hampers, the pantry’s empty shelves. But one morning, after moving from bed to couch and cruising HGTV, I will suddenly look around from my sick bed haze and finally notice the mess. That’s how I know I’m feeling better. When I start to see all that has fallen by the wayside in my absence and it starts to bug me.

Now, with the book (or at least the idea for the book), I’m starting to see all that hasn’t been done, all that needs to be tidied and filled in. Similar to being sick, however, when I start to see the mess, it doesn’t always mean I’m well enough to do something about it yet.

I don’t know if it’s simply being out of the routine, out of practice or out of excuses, but I’m a little scared to start writing again. Okay, a lot scared. I recognized this week that I need a plan. A plan to squash the doubt and ease myself back into a creative life.  Julia Cameron outlines the importance of the artist date in The Artist’s Way. Doing things for your creative soul can inspire, offer new perspectives and open up new pathways of thinking. This seemed like an easy place to start. So I spent an afternoon this week brainstorming locations – museums, coffee shops, historical spots – in our new town for me to explore. And for now, I will commit to visiting one a week. These field trips may have nothing to do with the topic of the new book or writing, but they will force me to dedicate time to nurturing the part of me that needs strengthening. The part that has been left forgotten and dusty for the last few months. The creative part.

Although I was tired and cranky and really didn’t feel like it, I took myself out on an artist date anyway. My first date was to the NC Museum of Art. Art has always been an easy way for me to unblock. What better exercise than to sit in front of a painting and then write about it? Write about the scene, the people, the emotion. The visual is already there, you just need to capture your imagination’s interpretation. Today, I didn’t write. I let my self simply look. I let my mind settle and my eyes wander. I found myself entranced by a Burk Uzzle photograph, The Black Barn. It was just a barn filling up the frame. But I felt my writer’s eye start to wake. I noticed the beer bottles discarded in the grass by a corner. Did teens find this abandoned barn? Did they sludge through the fallow field burdened down with coolers or six packs to spend an evening drinking and bellowing the laughter of youth? I noticed the impossibility of the paint job on the barn. Did someone try to spray paint it? Why? How was it both cloudy and dripping streaks of black at the same time, as if clouds of paint were raining on its rough hewn wooden canvas?

I wandered through Egyptian artifacts and European still lifes. There were the Monets that always manage to settle my soul a moment with their hazy light and thick layers of paint. There was the Andrew Wyeth that felt so real I nearly expected the curtains to move in the breeze if I stared at it long enough. And there was the Rodin sculpture garden with his impossible ability to capture weightless movement in the heaviest of mediums.

IMG_7934

And I wasn’t breathlessly inspired. I didn’t rush home to write. In fact, I stopped by the grocery store, the most mundane of all tasks, on the way home.

But I did feel something open. A small crack that let the air rush back in to my writer’s soul. And I found myself here. At the keyboard. Wanting to share, to tell you about it, to write about it.

For me, frustration was the first indication that I was neglecting myself. I stewed on that frustration for awhile. Probably too long. But this week, today, I was ready. Ready to turn that frustration into some kind of action. And although it was a small step, it was a step. A step towards re-entry into writing. Re-entry to the novel to be. Re-entry to the creative life. My creative life.

What places inspire you? Will you honor yourself to take an artist’s date this week?

Three Hours

Three hours.

Every weekday I drop the little dude off at preschool, come home and have three hours before pick-up. Three hours to spend focused on those adult-only tasks that are done so much more productively without interruption or carousing  children running about the house. Three hours for writing. Three hours to take care of busy work. Three hours for a kid-free grocery stop. Three hours for neighborhood committee work. Three hours for school volunteer tasks. Three hours for errands. Three hours to start a load of laundry. Three hours to wash dishes (damn the broken dishwasher). Three hours to straighten up. Three hours to email a friend. Three hours to schedule appointments. Three hours to get to those appointments. Three hours for quiet.

Three hours.

If only one of those tasks were on the docket for any given day, three hours could be ample. But let’s face it. Who in this non-stop world of life, not to mention parenting, has only one task on their to-do list? Inevitably, I am forced to choose. Forced to squeeze, manipulate, compromise.

Typically, I block out writing time. I may run a quick errand on my way back after carpool drop off, but I try to treat my writing time as sacrosanct. The errands book end the writing time. The tough days are when I can’t do that. When an errand takes longer than a quick stop. When planning for a neighborhood event takes more than just sending an email. When volunteering and morning dinner prep because of a late afternoon baseball game collide.

Three hours.

I used to think that I needed to be in the right mood to write. The “write mood,” you might say. If the “write mood” wasn’t available, the words weren’t either. I’m not sure what the “write mood” is anymore, other than a procrastination and avoidance technique. I will always be too tired or too hungry or too distracted. There is no perfect storm that allows the muse to appear, holding your mind and fingertips in creative ecstasy so that the words just flow and the story just builds and the brilliance descends onto the page. There is no music or candle or writing position that will make me a better writer. Only the writing. And so I have learned that the only true muse is my ass. And a chair. And putting the two together. Once they are connected, creativity is available. You can’t force creativity, they say. Well, sometimes you just don’t have a choice. You practice it by just doing it until finally your creative muscle is like any other and responds more willingly, more eagerly and with more strength each time.

Three hours.

I don’t have time for perfection. I don’t have time for inspiration. I only have time for writing. For sitting down. For dedicating. For forced work. Today, I had 50 minutes. That’s it. And I knew it was the only dedicated time I’d have. So I sat down. And I hated it. I didn’t want to. I tried Facebook and Twitter for a few minutes before I turned them off. Before I forced my ass into the chair and my fingers to the keys. It wasn’t pretty at first. There was a graph that was instantly deleted. A mental reboot. Although I was short of a typical productive word count day, what I wrote wasn’t half bad. It was progress. It was another step forward on the path to completed manuscript. It was a step forward in a character’s evolution. It was a step that wouldn’t have been made if I’d waited. For the muse. For inspiration. For time.

Three hours.

Summer vacation is looming in my peripheral vision. With no paying job to help supplement our income, we’ve decided to go summer camp free. The boys aren’t thrilled, but I know it will still be a fun and lazy and adventurous summer filled with pool time and hikes and parks and movies and Legos and neighborhood football games. What scares me is three hours. Where today I look at three available hours to squeeze in carpool volunteer duties, an errand, yoga and 50 minutes of writing as not much time, I see three hours on a summer as a luxury I can’t afford. Literally and figuratively.

So I’m practicing. Practicing to force the work. Practicing working in strange conditions. Right now I’m writing this like my keyboard is on fire while the 5 year old watches a post-picnic-in-the-park-endless-game-of-tag-playdate and just before the 8 year old’s bus completes afternoon dropoff. I could be reading a magazine or getting those nasty baseball pants out of my sink and into the washing machine or working on background for a possible upcoming project, but instead, I’m practicing. Practicing writing under pressure. A different kind of pressure. A noisy kids, spontaneous availability pressure. Can I write in the park while they are playing? Can I write while they play Legos? Can I write during screen time? Can I write at night (trust me, I’ve tried this one over and over and it never works but perhaps I need to try again)?

Three hours.

Fitting in time for our passions shouldn’t be a luxury, but as a parent, I understand that sometimes it is. Particularly when I have chosen a path that doesn’t pay immediately and therefore requires certain responsibilities and sacrifices. The fact is that I am the at home parent. I am the designated chauffeur, cook, nurse, teacher and playmate. I am also a wife and a friend and a thinker and a reader.

I’m not sure if I’m a believer in “making time.” I think that concept insinuates too much, requires us to take on too much, to stay up too late, to multitask to the point we are merely competent instead of excellent. I think we have time already. I think we need to find time. Time we’re simply using in other ways or afraid to use for our passion purpose. Time we think isn’t appropriate for the muse. Right now I have three hours to spend on whatever I decide. Three hours to work, whether on my manuscript or on our family life. This summer, I may have three minutes. The big question will be how I decide to spend it.

A Love Letter (of Sorts)

Although I sat down at my desk this morning to focus on the work in progress, I found myself browsing Etsy for my father’s Christmas gift and then scrolling through my Facebook feed. Writers are excellent procrastinators (or at least this one is). While scanning Facebook, I came across the Literary Mama journal prompt for today. Since I had actually started a post about books and reading last week, I thought I’d dust it off, finish it up and share it. Finalizing and ordering my impossible to shop for father’s gift and getting some writing done, even if it wasn’t what I intended…that’s some pretty productive procrastination, if I do say so myself.

******************************************************************

I fell in love with books as a kid. I devoured them. I couldn’t get enough. Beverly Cleary, the Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew, Anne of Green Gables, Choose Your Own Adventures, C.S. Lewis, Little Women, E.B. White, Judy Blume, Sweet Valley High, fairy tales, Where the Red Fern Grows…. I had the shelves of our local library memorized, able to hone in on the section or book I wanted within minutes, scanning for new covers, returned titles, old favorites. Stepping into the cramped space of the book mobile in the busy Food Lion parking lot on a Saturday morning was like stepping into another world where I was envious of the driver who got to spend time with so many books and the strangely intoxicating scent of their plastic-wrapped covers. A small, independent bookstore in a nearby shopping center was cozy, dimly lit and full of magical possibilities to a bookworm like me. I wanted to move in and live there. Sleep with the books, wake with them, eat with them, breathe them in at all times. I ate many a free personal pan pizza at Pizza Hut in my elementary school years thanks to their BookIt! program (by the way, did you know BookIt! was still around!? I didn’t.).

With a more flexible schedule this year, I signed up to help in my son’s elementary school library a few mornings a month. I can’t even express to you how happy I am in that space. I love the books, the covers, the old familiar favorites that are still checked out as eagerly as they were when I was a child. Re-shelving returned books, I can touch and feel new-to-me series, find out about new authors, see stories about magic and powerful girls and strange creatures and mysteries to be solved. Helping the kids check out books, I secretly want to pocket all of their choices. Instead, I exclaim things like “Oh! This looks so good!” Or, “My son loved this, I hope you like it!” Or “I loved this as a kid!” Or “And have you read…?” They kind of look at me sideways, stamp their due dates, smile politely then high tail it back to their classroom. Stocking newly arrived books means I get a front row seat to the classics of tomorrow. Wonder and Sisters and Jacqueline Woodson.

I want to read them all. I want to open each cover and dig in. Perhaps, more honestly, I want my old Pink Panthers pink plastic framed classes. I want a quiet spot on my twin bed, a rainy afternoon and a stack of these books. I want the innocence and wonder of magical worlds and endless time with little responsibility other than to show up at the table when my mother called me down for dinner. I want stiff legs and lost afternoons. I want that feeling of rebirth to the real world by stepping outside into the reality of kids on roller skates and bikes and jump ropes after being immersed in the haze of some other person’s far away fictional reality.

I still experience magic when I read. I still can be immersed in a story. I have cried at the end of a book, not because it was sad or tragic, but because it was over (most recently, Tell the Wolves I’m Home). I have felt lost in the days after a great book, afraid to start a new one that it wouldn’t compare to the greatness I’d just imbibed.

But that initial magic that the titles of my youth still hold over me? That newly minted miracle of words is special and reserved for the younger readers among us. The novices. The rookies. They are in the midst of falling in love, experiencing that mystical, heady time when they are engulfed and obsessed and can’t possibly fathom what life was like before…before they could read, before Harry Potter’s scar, before a wimpy kid’s diary, before a magical tree house or a principal donned underpants. As an adult, I still love books, but it’s like a long relationship – sometimes you take them for granted or are disappointed or simply forget to call.

Then I spend a morning at the elementary school library and remember what it felt like to fall in love with books. I already know which shelves are home to my favorites. I keep a list of ones to recommend to the 8 year old. I hold their weight and remember what it felt like to roam and wander and seek and discover. I breathe in the ease that being surrounded by words provides. I am home in that library. Any library.

I have the unique privilege of watching my boys fall in love one word at a time. The 8 year old comes home every day with five new books from his classroom library or we catch him under the covers well past his bedtime reading by the light of a tiny book lamp. The five year old has started sounding out words, spotting sight words and imitating his favorite characters (Mo Willems’ Pigeon, Elephant and Piggie being favorites).

It’s true that money can’t buy you love. But perhaps, just maybe, a library card can.

Find Your Food

The first week of no school was rough. This is the first summer in two years that I didn’t have work as a brief respite for a few hours a day each week. I really wanted to make my writing a priority and after week one, I hadn’t written a word that wasn’t a grocery list. The boys were at each other’s throats. I started the week with a low-grade fever and sinus pain. Things weren’t going well.

The second week, they were both in camps. (Insert sigh of relief here).

The first day the boys were in camp, I came back from drop off and managed to bang out 1700 words of the book project I’m working on and a draft blog post. I still had time to reward myself with lunch and an episode of Parenthood (ironic choice, no?).

I was amazed at how great I felt, how light, energized and happy after spending just two hours with fingers to keyboard. I felt fed and satisfied and inspired. I had to take a notebook to camp car pool pick up with me for all the ideas suddenly bubbling up.

It’s so easy to forget that creativity begets creativity, that your brain needs a workout as much as your muscles. And let’s be honest, every day parenting isn’t exactly a mental workout.

So, how am I going to ensure that when the boys aren’t in camp this summer, I’m still flexing my creative muscle?

First step is identifying what feeds me:

  • Writing – Whether it’s here, in a journal, on the book project, a letter/card to a family member or friend, I enjoy watching letters form words and words form sentences and sentences become thoughts. It’s not always easy, but it’s always rewarding.
  • Being Outside – When I get into a mood, often just taking a cup of coffee onto the front porch or ushering the kids over to the park for an hour can drastically change my (and their) outlook. Fresh air, natural elements, birds chirping. Plus, when we’re outside, we tend to be doing something active – playing, walking, hiking, running, kicking a soccer ball. Involving all the various senses of sight, sound, smell and feel outside can only serve to feed the creative parts of my soul.
  • Water – I’m an Aquarius and the water has always been my solace. The bigger the better, but without an ocean nearby, a stroll by the river or a hike to a waterfall or even throwing stones in the creek and watching the ripples all restore a certain balance to me.
  • Reading – Hi, my name is Monica and I am a bookworm. I feel unmoored and a bit lost when I don’t have a book to read. I love watching characters evolve, feeling myself pulled along with the story, seeing other authors so effortlessly craft a story. I read at breakfast, lunch, bedtime, carpool line, waiting rooms, whenever I can sneak it in. I don’t understand people who say they don’t have time to read. I don’t have time NOT to read. Even five minutes a day is enough to take me outside myself.
  • Driving – I’m not sure if it’s the open road, the pull of possibilities, but I tend to get most of my inspiration in the car. To clarify, I tend to get most of my inspiration when highway driving. Shuttling kids to activities and errands around town doesn’t leave me much time for inspiration, but long road trips or a commute or those rare moments when I’m riding out to an appointment alone – those moments are priceless for me.
View during a recent hike to my happy place in my hometown.

View during a recent hike to my happy place in my hometown.

Now that I’m more aware of how these activities feed me, I can work to incorporate them into my daily routines and, yes, with the kids. So we’re taking a few picnic hikes, visiting the local botanical gardens, going to the library. Each of these small activities with the kids are like small snacks for my soul. Certainly they don’t allow me the physical time at the keyboard to write, but they feed my senses, stretch my experiences and relieve the stress of breaking up arguments between the boys when we’re just at home building Legos and grating on each other’s nerves. This dedicated time with the kids exploring our world and things that inspire me also inspires them. I’ve watched them build rock collections on our hikes, marvel at tadpoles in a rock pool, discover new books and invent new playground games. Spending this time engaged with them outside the walls of our home also buys me a few extra minutes of quiet when we return as they rest or read new books or watch a movie.

Adjusting to this new schedule has been challenging. Seeing how much better I am at writing, mothering and living when I feed my soul has inspired me to take my inspirations seriously. And to take my kids along for the ride. After all, who knows how that inspiration might feed their souls?

So what feeds you? Is it crafting, cooking, hosting parties, volunteering, music? How will you feed yourself this summer?