Learning to Slow Down

Lately I feel as if I’m always in a hurry. As if the days are hurtling by and I can barely keep up. I’ve been feeling like this for a while and I don’t like it. One of the reasons we moved out of the city was to live a slower life, but here I am rushing, again.

Watercolor Violet Painting by Anne Butera

If I think about it, I’ve been feeling this way for a while. My word of the year for 2018 is PRESENT, chosen to help me create a sense of calm and slowness in my life. When I wrote about it in January I said:

I want a word that will help me grow and find wisdom, whether I accomplish my goals or not. In Present I see mindfulness. I see slowness. With Present as my word I hope to be more aware and relaxed. I hope to listen more closely to my intuition.

I’m not sure I’ve been entirely successful at this, but I have been working on it. Just being aware helps.

I noticed a basil seedling sprouting from the cracks in the patio

I noticed a basil seedling sprouting from the cracks in the patio

And I do try to be aware. When I feel myself rushing, flying through a task to get it done as fast as possible, I stop for a moment and tell myself to slow down. It’s helping.

While I was thinking about all of this, I immediately blamed our society, the internet, smartphones and social media for shrinking attention spans. I did a bit of research so I could trot out some statistics for you. What I found was interesting. Those claims of our shortening attention spans (shorter even than that of goldfish) don’t have science to back them up. And goldfish’s tiny attention spans and no memory? Ends up that’s not true, either.*

Even if I can’t blame the the internet for a quickening pace, limiting my (unproductive) time spent on the computer and with my phone is something I’m working on. After all, there are other, more satisfying things I’d rather be doing.

squash and sage from the garden for a version of  this recipe

squash and sage from the garden for a version of this recipe

So what else can help?

Is it even possible to slow down? Maybe not. But it doesn’t hurt to try.

I’ve put together a list of some things that help me stay present. I hope they’ll help you, too.

  • Pay attention to where I am and what I’m doing. This might seem obvious, but so often I find myself rushing through my tasks on auto-pilot. I don’t know about you, but that’s not how I want to live.

  • Breathe. I stop when I realize I’m rushing and spend a few moments breathing deeply to help ground myself.

  • Pay attention to my senses. Being aware of what I taste, smell, feel, hear and see immediately brings me back to the present.

  • Go for a walk. As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, getting outside can be healing. I often return inspired. Yesterday I spotted a bald eagle swooping over town and discovered some violets blooming in the corner of my yard. These gifts are always there for us if we’re open to them.

  • Make sure I’m getting enough rest.

  • Give myself extra time for scheduled tasks and include transitions between one thing and another so I’m not rushing. I’ll be honest and tell you I’m not always good at this!

  • Pay attention to my natural ebbs and flows of energy.

  • Make time for healthy cooking. Matthias and I have gotten into the habit of leisurely cooking big meals on the weekends that will help get us through the week. We don’t usually get home till after 8 most evenings and it makes all the difference to have healthy food ready when we get home. Plus, spending the time together cooking is fun.

  • Be stingy with my time.

  • Make something! Crafting and making art forces me to slow down. Painting, sewing, crochet have all been wonderful teachers in patience.

a shawl I recently crocheted using the  Secret Paths Shawl pattern by Mijo Crochet

a shawl I recently crocheted using the Secret Paths Shawl pattern by Mijo Crochet

What about you? What helps you slow things down and remain present while still allowing you to accomplish everything that you want/need to?

*Read this article and this one for more.

Allowing The Change (And New Calendars)

I’ve been thinking a lot about change lately. In part with the changing of the seasons as I wrote last week, but also because change seems to be all around.

Giant Sunflower Seed Heads from My Garden

Isn’t it always?

The other day on her blog Flora Bowley shared her only painting “rule” and it’s simply “Allow the change”. Such a good rule not only for art-making, but for life in general. Change is always happening and it’s better to step back and let it come than to constantly fight it.

Marigolds and Purple Basil Hanging on in My Autumn Garden

I do feel a coming change in my art (and my business), or maybe just the need for change. In truth, I’m already constantly changing and making changes. Sometimes the changes are tiny, things that only I would notice. There are changes on my website and this blog. There are ebbs and flows in my creativity and in my focus. Some changes are seasonal — and it finally makes sense to me that as a botanical artist it should be this way — and some are not. Learning new skills helps to shape some changes. And others come as a sort of trial and error as I navigate my way through art and business.

Sometimes changes come easily and sometimes I really stress over them.

Zinnias in My Autumn Garden

This is the 6th year I’ve designed a calendar with my art but it’s the first time I’m having someone else print it. I really dragged my feet about this decision and kept putting off making it. I probably should have done it last year, but I was so reluctant to give up control of the process and the moniker of “handmade” (even though I was using a computer and machine to make them!). Printing and trimming them myself was so labor and time intensive. The paper and ink were expensive, too, and at times the paper I was using was hard to find. Financially it didn’t make sense for me to print them myself. And then last year I had printer problems which made things even worse. Wasted time. Wasted materials. I know it was the universe telling me it’s time to move on. Even so, when I started working on my new calendars this summer, I put off looking into printing options.

Now that they’re printed I look back and wonder why it took me so long to take action on a change I knew was necessary.

Recently Amy Butler announced that she is leaving the quilting industry and her new collection out this month will be her last. When I first started making quilts and learning about fabrics (and their designers), I became smitten with Amy’s designs and her “midwest modern” aesthetic. Getting glimpses into her studio in books and magazines (and online) was both magical and inspiring to me. Although I was a bit shocked by her announcement, seeing an icon in a creative field change direction like this is also inspiring to me.

Dahlias Still Looking Glorious in My Autumn Garden

Change is an inevitable part of life. There’s no way around it. Even when we drag our feet about decisions for change, we know it will eventually happen. I’m going to work on being more open to change. To let go of preconceptions. To allow the change.

I know it won’t always be easy, but I’m working on it.

an encouraging note I wrote in my sketchbook

an encouraging note I wrote in my sketchbook

Are you with me?

Honoring Seasons, Transitions and Change

Last week the weather shifted dramatically from summer to full-on autumn. Suddenly the days were cold. Dark. Wet. I layered on sweaters and hats and scarves. We turned on the furnace and brewed pot after pot of hot tea.

I felt lethargic, melancholy. It was hard to get out of bed in the morning. I made soup and baked bread. I wrote Joy Lists. But nothing seemed to help. I was uninspired and discouraged in my art, too. All I wanted to do was snuggle beneath my quilts and crocheted blankets to wait for the sun to come out again.

My Black and White Rescue Cats in Their Usual Place in the Chair in My Studio

I scolded myself for feeling that way. You are safe. You are healthy. It’s just the changing of the seasons. There’s no reason to feel so dejected.

But then I started to think a bit more about what a change like this means. In my garden the first hard frost will kill some of my plants. Others will lose their leaves and wait, suspended, till light and warmth return. The insects and animals that don’t tough it out through winter either leave or hibernate or die.

This change of season is a profound change.

Flowers Cut from My Autumn Garden in the Cold Rain

As an artist almost all of my inspiration comes directly from my garden. Very soon all of my outdoor plants and flowers will be crumpled to nothing. Of course I’ll feel a loss when the gardening season slips away.

So what’s the answer?

First, I’m giving myself permission for my feelings. No more chiding myself for mourning the summer.

And I’m sending out extra thanks for each small grace that lingers. The herbs in the glass on the windowsill. The freshly picked vegetables on my plate. The flowers on the table.

Dahlias from My Garden and Mini Pumpkins from My Mom's Garden on my Dining Room Table

My journal is always a place of solace. Whether I’m feeling good or bad or uncertain, putting pen to paper always helps. Sometimes the words flow for page after page. Sometimes I only manage a few sentences. The ritual of sitting down with myself and my journal is one of the best forms of self-care I know.

I’m also trying to slow down and pay attention to the beauties of autumn. The changing colors. The acorns on the sidewalk. The mushrooms appearing overnight.

The other day Rachel Wolf posted a beautiful piece on her blog about the healing we find when we venture away from the warmth of the fire and out into the medicine of nature. Although I live in town, I find healing walking beneath the trees even when there’s concrete under my feet. I can bring home pockets filled with acorns and interesting leaves. I might notice a bluejay hunting for seeds in a nodding sunflower head or happen upon a charm* of goldfinches trilling as they swoop away from someone’s spent coneflower patch. Snuggling beneath quilts has its place, but I need to make sure I venture outside, too.

Change is one thing we can always count on. The seasons change predictably. Other changes and transitions take us by surprise. Change can come as a welcome friend. Or arrive as an irritation. Sometimes change can be devastating.

No matter the type of change, we need to give ourselves room for it. Even if our busy lives don’t always seem to allow it. I’ve been feeling a change coming in my art. I don’t yet know what that change will look like, but I’m being patient as I figure it out. Like with all changes I need to remember to honor the process, the uncertainty, the discomfort.

I don’t know what you’re going through at this moment, if you’re in a moment of change or transition. I’m wishing you gentleness and grace. Give yourself time and space. Be patient and honor the season you’re in.

*aren’t collective nouns fun? A group of goldfinches is called a charm and also a drum, a troubling or a chirm. There are many resources on the internet and in print to help you find these magical words. I usually just google it and see what comes up.

Giving Ourselves Permission for Rest and Play

Do you (regularly) schedule time for doing nothing or for projects that don’t have a specific end result? Do you put “play” or “rest” on your to-do list?

If you’re anything like me, probably not.

Upper Peninsula Lake Michigan Shoreline in Early Autumn

I came back from vacation last Friday night and it’s spurred me to think about rest and play. Our society is so results oriented. The smartphones in our pockets discourage us from quiet moments of doing nothing. And although I agree it’s good to work hard and achieve goals, I’ve been thinking more and more about how it’s also important — no, necessary — to make time for rest and for play.

Dipping My Toes into Lake Michigan at the First Chance

We spent our vacation on Beaver Island in Lake Michigan. I brought a sketchbook, a crochet project, my journal and lots of books.

On the Ferry from Charlevoix Michigan Arriving at Beaver Island

I didn’t touch my sketchbook once while I was away and truth be told, I almost didn’t pack it because I didn’t think would. Even so, not working in my sketchbook brought out rumblings from my inner critic.

At first I went along with those negative thoughts, but then I stopped myself.

Heart Rocks Found by the Water on Vacation on Beaver Island

I realized I need to be gentler with myself. Hadn’t I just claimed that winding down and rejuvenating can bring more joy into your life? And didn’t I recently write about remembering to hold on to the fun?

How easy it is to fall under the pressure of what’s “expected”, or what we assume is expected.

I enjoyed my vacation. I read my books, I crocheted, I soaked up sunshine, I hunted for rocks and fossils and played on the beach with my boys (who needed no encouragement to enjoy the sand and water). Not working in my sketchbooks didn’t take away from my enjoyment.

My Two Retired Racing Greyhounds Love Running on the Beach and Lounging in the Water

Of course, for many people vacations are all about rest and play. They’re a time to recharge our batteries and soak up tranquility, beauty and inspiration.

Peaceful View from the Deck of the House Where We Were Staying on Beaver Island

But I don’t think such rejuvenation needs to be limited to vacations. In fact, I think making rest a regular part of our days is beneficial.

When we’re well-rested we’re happier, healthier and more creative. Society may pressure us to go-go-go, but we can’t keep going for long unless we also recharge.

It’s difficult to find the perfect balance, especially when we’re focused and busy juggling all the things we want to do each day.

This week I was having trouble sleeping, feeling a little exhausted and overwhelmed. I sat down with my journal one morning and brought out my two oracle decks to inspire some writing. I know, I know, oracle decks sound a bit woo-woo, but working with them has been very interesting for me. I have two, both beautifully illustrated by artists I admire. One is Lisa Estabrook’s Soulflower Plant Spirit Oracle Deck. The other is Jessica Swift’s Animal Allies Oracle Cards.

I’ve never used them together, but that day I decided to pull a card from each deck and see what happened. I pulled “Coyote” from Jessica’s deck and “Zinnia” from Lisa’s.

Journaling with Two Oracle Decks

Sometimes the message from the card doesn’t quite fit with what’s going on in my life. And that’s ok. I’m not trying to run my life based on a deck of cards (even cards as beautiful as these). I take insights when they come and when I don’t I move on.

That morning, though, I was struck by the similarity of these two cards. Both suggesting that I lighten up, be more playful and have more fun.

It was a powerful message and one I don’t want to ignore. And so, I’m working on it.

Finding Joy in a Funny Face Spied in a Stump on the Driveway of Where We Were Staying On Beaver Island

Working on giving myself permission to do things just for the fun of it. To play without expectations or pressure. To let go of what’s not fun or fulfilling or joyful (when I can).

If we give ourselves permission for rest, for play, it’s easier to invite those things into our lives. And maybe it’s a good idea to add play and rest to our to-do lists. Maybe it’s time to pencil an afternoon dance party into our schedules.

What do you think?

11 Ways to Invite More Joy Into Your Life

When is the last time that you were filled with joy? How happy are you right now?

I often talk about joy. The joy I find in the magic of nature. The joy I find in creating and sharing art. I talk about keeping Joy Lists and I call myself a "Joy Collector".

Of course, like everyone, I don't always feel joyful, but I do believe I have the power to invite more joy into my life.

Here are some ideas of how to do it:

  • Get outside! When the weather is beautiful, take advantage of it. When the weather is not good, do what you can (wear warm boots, take an umbrella...) to make it bearable. Taking daily walks is a great way to make this happen. Bonus if you're walking with a friend and/or a dog (or two).

Walking with Greyhounds
  • Pay attention. When I am fully present I am able to feel the most joy. Be aware of what sensations you're feeling. Keep your eyes open to the beauties and magic that surround you. There is so much magic in this world (like this and this).

  • Surround yourself with flowers. Plant a garden if you have the space for it (you'll have the added bonus of garden visitors like birds and butterflies, too). Pots on a balcony, a windowbox or a houseplant on the windowsill are great if you don't have a yard. If growing real flowers is a challenge for you, treat yourself to cut flowers (your local flower farmer will thank you) or cultivate a "garden" of floral art or fabric in your home

  • Limit screen time. This can be a hard one, but I think it's important. Especially if you find yourself feeling bad by comparing your life to what you see online. And with your eyes on a screen you're likely to miss some of the magic that’s going around you, too.

  • Write in a journal. Even if what you're writing in your journal is not joyful, connecting with yourself, how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking can help you to release negativity and invite joy. A journal gives you the freedom to be 100% yourself. It's a wonderful place to show some self-love and for pep-talks. Joy and Gratitude Lists fit perfectly between the covers or a journal, too.

  • Read or listen to a good book. Books and stories have always been my thing. Getting lost in the magic of words is one of life's greatest pleasures. It's why I ended up a librarian before I started painting. Thanks to public libraries everyone has access to books (and movies and magazines and newspapers and music...). Audiobooks are great for when your eyes and hands are busy (in Lilla Rogers' Creativebug class she recommends them as a way to block out our inner critics). Podcasts are another option. I recently discovered the podcast Levar Burton Reads and am looking forward to having him read to me.*

  • Reach out and make connections. Spend time with people you like, with people who laugh and make you feel good. If possible, limit your time around negative people and do your best not to let them bring you down. Cherish each day with those you love. Our days together are finite.

  • Share your life with a pet (or a few!). Matthias and I have two cats and two dogs. Each and every day they make us laugh. Each and every day they share snuggles and hugs and love. There are many, many homeless animals waiting to be adopted into loving homes. My days would be so much less joyful without my boys.

Rescue Cats Bring So Much Joy Into My Life
  • SLOW DOWN. This one is hard for me. It's a message the universe often has to shout. I'm often in a rush. Being in a hurry, putting pressure on myself to get on to the next task makes me anxious and it keeps me from fully enjoying what I'm doing. When I get to the end of a day and wonder just was it that I did all day, I know I've been going too fast. Even when life gets busy, I know I can slow myself down. It takes awareness. I’m working on it.

  • Learn something new. As I mentioned the other day, trying new (or different) things is good for your creativity. Learning something new is joyful, too. Bonus points if it includes making something with your hands.

  • Take a break. It's important to give yourself a rest. Take time off. Let go of obligations for a while. Wind down and regenerate.

Find Joy in the Little Things

What about you? What ways do you invite more joy into your life?

2019 Tea Towel Calendars and Coordinating Fabric

I want to thank everyone who voted for my Tea Towel Calendar design. Although this year’s tea towel didn’t place as high as in the past, my Blue Roses tea towel is now one of the Community Favorites on Spoonflower.

It’s now available to purchase from Spoonflower as a fat quarter of fabric that you can hem yourself or from Roostery as a finished tea towel.

I created this year’s design to coordinate with my Watercolor Rose Garden in Blue fabric.

Painting the roses with Prussian blue gouache this winter and then creating the repeat pattern was such a joy.

Prussian Blue Gouache Paintings in My Sketchbook Will Later Become Part of My Fabric Design

Designing tea towel calendars has become an annual tradition for me. It is a lot of fun (the calendars make great holiday gifts, too).

Last year I painted nasturtiums, which, you might have noticed are one of my very favorite flowers to grow (and to paint).

My Nasturtium Painting Created to Use in a Tea Towel Calendar Design by Anne Butera of My Giant Strawberry

Recently I updated that design with 2019 dates (I also added white space to the edges to make hemming much easier).

The nasturtiums tea towel calendar coordinates nicely with my nasturtium fabric.

It makes fun napkins. But you don’t have to take my word for it, see for yourself in Karen’s blog post. In that post you might recognize another fabric used for napkins:

The Watercolor Kitchen Garden design coordinates with the tea towel I created for 2017. So many sweet motifs. It’s now updated it with 2019 dates, too.

There is something so satisfying about seeing my art on utilitarian items like this. Looking again at my designs I’m itching to do some more sewing with my fabric.

Do you sew? What sorts of projects have you been working on or dreaming about? I’d love to hear about them.

I’m behind on my sewing, but I’m so excited about this project on my to-sew list!

It will have to wait, though, because I'm taking a little break to unplug and spend time in nature.

Until next week, I hope your days are filled with many simple joys and small beauties.

Joy List Monday

It's been ages since I've done a Joy List Monday post  (I've never done one in this space), but this morning I am overflowing with joy and wanted to share it with you (and encourage you to discover some joy at the start of a week, too).

Sunflowers Blooming in My September Garden

We have been having the most perfect weather and once again I'm struck by how easily the weather affects my mood. But more than that, our area was hit with devastating storms and record flooding. We made it through fine, but many people around us lost so much.* The sunshine and clear skies feel hopeful.

We spent as much time outdoors this weekend as we could, soaking up the sunshine and savoring these perfect days. I had other projects I could have been working on, but this late in the season I didn't want to be inside.

A Jumble in My September Garden

My garden is a jumble right now. Plants flopping over from the weight of flowers or fruits or seeds. Many things past their prime and plagued with powdery mildew or rot. BUT there is still so much beauty. Flowers are still blooming everywhere I look.

September Roses Blooming in My Garden

We're still eating daily from the garden. The bees and hummingbirds are enjoying the flowers and the chickadees and goldfinches are eating the seeds of spent sunflowers and coneflowers. So much beauty.

I've been working on letting go of summer (and not beating myself up over all the things I didn't get to do this year). I've been working on taking things slowly. Not rushing myself and not letting myself feel rushed. It makes a big difference, even when things are busy.

And Joy Lists always help, too.

Here's today's:

  • sunshine, blue skies and perfect weather
  • garden salsa on repeat
  • sunshine coming in the windows, again, as the sun shifts its seasonal position in the sky
  • my nasturtiums on the current issue of The Essential Herbal Magazine
  • my sweet JoyLetter subscribers (I'm giving away a copy of the current issue of The Essential Herbal Magazine to one subscriber... I'll be choosing a name on Wednesday, so if you want a chance to win, sign up before then!)
  • a walk through my parents' meadow with grasshoppers leaping at each step
  • visits with extended family last week
  • my 2019 Tea Towel Calendar design (you can vote for it in Spoonflower's contest here)
  • upcoming time off
  • eating apples picked from my parents' trees
  • projects, plans and ideas

I hope you are finding joy and beauty surrounding you today, too. I'd love to hear what's on your list.


*I'll be donating 10% of my sales from the month of September to flood relief.



Why trying new things and even making mistakes is good for your creativity

When you're learning how to do something or if you're building up a business, it's important to focus your energy in one direction.

When I first started teaching myself to paint I didn't do that. I sewed. I crocheted. I was selling handmade purses and jewelry on Etsy. I was trying all sorts of things and learning and experimenting. Eventually I came to realize what I wanted to do more than any of those other things was paint.

At first I didn't want to "give up" everything else. Even with the advice I kept running across, I was hesitant to focus on just one thing. But over time I saw how valuable such focus could be. Focus allows you the most growth. It gives you purpose, direction. It makes everything clearer.

And so I painted, letting go of my other projects, narrowing my attention to art. It made a huge difference to my development as an artist and it brought some wonderful opportunities.

I'm a naturally creative and curious person, constantly overflowing with ideas. I have so many projects I want to tackle and things I want to try, but I also know I can't do everything.

Despite what it might look like sometimes on social media, no one can do everything. We must choose how we spend our time and that means something always gets left out.

While pondering this I went back to my old blog and found these words in a post written about three and a half years ago

"I've come to realize it's not abandoning dreams that's happening when we let go of ideas and desires which aren't right for us, it's refining an understanding of who we truly are."

Isn't that a powerful thought? It's beautiful to imagine this clarified understanding. To me it sounds filled with self-love.

On Instagram I'd seen a few people mention Lilla Rogers' new class on Creativebug. It's called Treasure Hunt Your Artistic Style. When I first heard about the class I discounted its usefulness. I know what my artistic style is; I don't need to hunt for it. But I was curious and yesterday I watched part of it. 

It's so interesting to look at what I like and dislike. To nestle in to what I love and think about why I love it, about how what I love and who I am influences my style.

Flying Pigs on a Shelf in My Studio Bring Me Joy Each Day

But what does any of this have to do with trying new things and making mistakes?

Both trying new things and making mistakes help us refine our understanding of who we are. More than that, trying new things keeps us curious. It keeps us moving forward. Almost two years ago I went through a long creative slump. Since then I've thought a lot about creativity, inspiration and creative energy.

Creativity is not a static thing, but sometimes we can get stuck in a rut. Although focus is a wonderful thing, it can sometimes lead us into the rut. Being ok with the idea of creative ebbs and flows helps a lot, but so does being open to new things. Experimenting. Changing gears. Having fun.*

Reminders in My Studio

The "It's supposed to be fun" note came from Ria Sharon, a gift in one of her newsletters. It's a great reminder not to take things to seriously, a reminder I often need.

Although it takes time and energy to try something new, we need to remember to hold onto the fun.

I recently started crocheting again in the evenings. Instead of hemming and hawing I simply chose a pattern (the hardest part for me) and got to work.

A Top I Crocheted Using One Dog Woof's Wildflowers Tunic Pattern

It was a simple pattern, but in picking up crochet I challenged myself to try something different and to learn something new. The pattern taught me a new technique which started with quite a bit of mistake-making, but ended up empowering me with a new skill.

Last weekend I pulled out my fabric stash, unearthed my sewing machine and sewed a top. Trying a new sewing pattern, looking at fabrics and matching them up, thinking about future projects... all of those things stretch my creativity. They help me problem solve. They open me up to new ideas and possibilities. This carries over into my art, too.

A Top I Sewed with the New Look 6284 Sewing Pattern

The tomato and eggplant pieces I painted last week were a change of gears for me. A slight shift of subject matter, yes, but also a change of format -- square -- and a change of paper type -- cold pressed after painting mainly on hot. Doing something different doesn't have to be BIG, but it can open up big possibilities.

Trying something new can help you face your fears, too. I never draw or paint people, in part because I find it a bit scary. But I think in order to continue to grow as an artist I need to stretch myself and face those fears. I've been dipping my toes into those waters with Charlotte Hamilton's 31 Days of Faces Creativebug class (talk about making mistakes!).

A 2 Minute Marker Sketch Portrait Created with Charlotte Hamilton's Creativebug Class

It feels good. All these creative experiments. All this play. 

Trying new things gives you a different perspective. It makes you ask the question "what if?". Like the question I asked last week: What if I roast eggplant with taco seasonings and use it instead of meat in my tacos? I did that this week, too.

My focus has not changed. Watercolor is still my passion.

A Watercolor Painting of Dahlias in Progress in My Studio

I might be sewing and crocheting in my free time. I might be drawing wonky-looking people in my sketchbook. I might be experimenting in the kitchen and even making soap, but I'll still be painting every day. I think my paintings will be enhanced by all my other creative play.

So what about you? Have you tried anything new lately? Or maybe come back to something you love but haven't done in a while? The changing of the seasons and beginning of the school year is a perfect time to embrace "back to school" thinking. I'd love to hear about it!



*Working through my own creative slump and pondering it afterwards helped me to create a Skillshare class designed to help you break out of a creative slump

Summer Love Songs and Savoring Each Day

It's the last day of August. I can't quite believe it. Throughout the month I've been noticing the beginnings of fall. It seems early this year.

Summer's my season and although autumn can be beautiful its arrival always makes me a bit melancholy.

I will miss:

Some of the last roses blooming in my garden
  • cut flowers from the garden
  • tomatoes and peppers and herbs (and all the other edibles)
  • endless salads (kale, kale and more kale)
  • being barefoot (or if shoes are necessary, sandals)
  • leaving the house without a jacket
  • spending whole days outside
  • having the windows and doors open (and cats stretched out in windowsills)
  • bees and butterflies and hummingbirds
  • the songs of crickets and cicadas
  • late sunsets
  • the color green (and all the other colors)

I could keep going, but you get the picture.

A little toad is a welcome garden visitor

This week in our area there's been terrible flooding. We weren't hit badly as we live in town at a high point (and my parents, out in the country, are on a ridge), but it's heartbreaking to see devastating flooding happening more and more frequently so close to where we live. It puts my troubles in perspective. Reminds me, again, to savor each day.

So instead of lamenting the loss of all I love about the summer, I've been making a point to savor the days.

Each day.

I try to stop what I'm doing periodically and pay attention to everything around me, to be fully present. Stand in the garden and feel the grass between my toes, to note the perfect beauty of the moment and send off a thank you to the universe.

Three years ago on my old blog I wrote about painting a "love song to summer".

It's one of my favorite paintings, the biggest I've ever done. Truly a love song to my favorite season. 

Some years I paint a lot during the summer. Some years I don't. Creativity ebbs and flows. Energy ebbs and flows. In the summer it's always a challenge to stay inside when my garden is calling me to BE OUTSIDE. It's a bit ironic because summer holds the most inspiration for my art.

In a way you could say that a majority of my paintings are love songs to summer. This one, finished the other day, certainly is.

As are the vegetable (or fruit, depending on your perspective) paintings I've been inspired to paint this week:

What better way to celebrate the joys of summer than to paint them?

Although, I think eating them is a prefect celebration, too. In the summer with abundant garden produce it's easy to quickly pull together delicious meals. 

Many days I make the easiest tomato salads. Large chunks of tomato dressed with shavings of onion, shreds of basil, splashes of balsamic vinegar and a bit of salt and pepper. Nothing tastes more summery.

And eggplant, chopped (with the skin still on), mixed with splashes of olive oil and a shake of some salt and pepper roasted in a 400 degree for about 40ish minutes is a versatile addition to pasta or salads or rice. It pairs as easily with Italian flavors as it does with Asian ones and I'm thinking about trying it in some tacos, too.

I'd love to know how YOU have been celebrating the season these days.

Will you join me in renewing a commitment to savor the moment, in focusing on gratitude as we shift from August to September and begin the transition from one season to the next?

For me, I think it might be a good time to bring out my Joy Lists* again.

I hope your lists are long.

Magic in the Garden, Part 2: Black Swallowtails

Back in July I spotted some black swallowtail caterpillars on the parsley in my garden. I was thrilled to see them. I think butterflies are some of the most magical creatures in the garden.

These caterpillars were pretty small and I didn't recognize them at first. Their early phase doesn't look at all like their later ones*. In fact, at this point they looked kind of like bird droppings, a natural defense as protection from predators.

Tiny Black Swallowtail Caterpillars in the Parsley in My Garden

I found five caterpillars in all and I watched them obsessively, checking the herb bed multiple times each day to see their progress.

Black swallowtail caterpillars feed on parsley, dill and fennel as well as things like carrots and queen anne's lace. Some people consider them a nuisance and other people plant their favorite foods to attract them to their gardens. Although "my" caterpillars ate a lot, they left plenty of parsley for me.

As they grew their colors changed quite a bit and they became more recognizable.

A Developing Black Swallowtail Caterpillar on the Parsley in My Garden

Slowly their numbers dwindled. I don't know if they were just hidden in the foliage or if they left or were eaten. One day after we had a big storm I couldn't find a single caterpillar, but I never stopped looking.

A couple days later one appeared on the opposite end of the herb bed where it had crawled up a fennel stem.

A Black Swallowtail Caterpillar Getting Ready to Pupate

It didn't seem to be eating much or moving around. It was so chubby! I figured it was getting ready to pupate.

I looked for information about the process, wondering how long it would take for the caterpillar to pupate and how long it would spend in the chrysalis. As I mentioned last week, I learned that black swallowtail caterpillars form a silken thread to hold them in place while they're in the chrysalis.

A Black Swallowtail Caterpillar Attached to a Stem of Fennel with a Silk Thread and Getting Ready to Pupate

I learned something else, too. They don't form a chrysalis to enclose their bodies the way a moth spins a cocoon. When they shed their exoskeleton for the last time as a caterpillar it reveals the chrysalis beneath.

I was fortunate enough to catch it happening.

A Black Swallowtail Caterpillar Beginning to Shed its Skin and Reveal its Chrysalis

The caterpillar wiggled and wiggled and the outer layer peeled back, almost the way you or I would peel off a sock.

A Black Swallowtail Caterpillar Shedding its Skin and Revealing its Chrysalis

Once it began the process was finished quickly.

A Black Swallowtail Caterpillar Almost Finished Shedding Its Skin to Reveal its Chrysalis

And by the end the transforming butterfly was still attached to the fennel stem with the silken strand. It continued to wiggle around for a while before settling down to rest.

A Black Swallowtail Chrysalis Attached to a Stem of Fennel in My Garden

I wasn't sure if the butterfly would emerge this year or not. If it's late in the summer, black swallowtail butterflies will remain in the chrysalis overwinter.

How late is late? I couldn't find a definitive answer. With our August weather feeling more like September I wondered if this would be considered late. 

I checked the chrysalis every day. Not much changed. But then about two weeks later I noticed it had gotten darker and I could just about make out the patterning of the wings beginning to show through. I knew it wouldn't be long before the butterfly emerged.

Tuesday morning was cold and wet and dark. I worked in my studio a bit before going out to check on the chrysalis. 16 days after the caterpillar shed its skin to reveal the chrysalis , it was empty.

The Empty Black Swallowtail Chrysalis

Why had it chosen such a bleak day to emerge? 

At first I didn't see the butterfly anywhere. I was looking too high. Matthias spotted it nearly on the soil at the bottom of the plants in the herb bed.

The Black Swallowtail Butterfly Emerged from Its Chrysalis

The day remained wet and dark and cold. I kept running outside to check on the butterfly. It stayed where it was, perhaps waiting for the sun or a rise in temperature. When I left for my job at the library it was still there, but by the time I came home it was gone. 

I keep hoping that I'll be in the garden and see a black swallowtail fluttering around my flowers, but so far, I haven't. And that's the funny thing. I haven't seen them in the garden at all this summer, though the presence of the caterpillars proves there had to be at least one. I'm grateful I was able to witness the life cycle in all its magic. Perhaps next year I'll raise some caterpillars indoors.

What about you? What magic have you witnessed lately? 


*Each phase of a caterpillar's development is called an instar and is measured by the shedding of the caterpillar's exoskeleton.

Magic in the Garden, Part 1

I am constantly amazed by the magic occuring just outside my back door. When I I step into the garden it's with a sense of childlike wonder. There's no need to conjure giant strawberries. I just need to look

A tiny seed grows into a plant that will feed me all summer long. A flower unfurls to reveal a spiral of petals. Dew drops gild the intricate weaving of a spider's web.

A Dew Gilded Spider's Web

You can't tell me that's not magical.

There's magic at an even more basic level: color, taste, fragrance... Each is amazing when you stop and think about it, when you pay attention.

A Mug Filled with a Colorful Bunch of Nasturtium Flowers

I am constantly surprised and delighted in the garden and reminded how much there still is to learn. Observing the black swallowtail caterpillars this year has been such a joy, and a learning experience! Did you know that before they pupate these caterpillars create a silk thread harness to keep them attached to the branch? Can you spot it in this photo?

A Black Swallowtail Caterpillar on the Fennel in My Garden Preparing to Pupate

I'll share more about the caterpillars once the butterfly emerges from its chrysalis. (Fingers crossed that I'll be able to witness it).

Magic happens in the garden in other ways, too, like an anemone flower suddenly appearing in a pot of (summer-killed) ranunculus.

A Surprise Anemone Blooming in My Garden

No doubt a mistake at the garden center, but magical nonetheless.

One year I had a squirrel plant a peanut in one of my houseplant pots. It sprouted inside at the end of winter. I repotted the peanut and ended up harvesting and roasting the nuts at the end of the season. Not something I would have ever thought of doing! Another year had potatoes sprout in my compost pile, one more gift from the universe.

I think when we're open to these bits of magic they occur more frequently. Or maybe we're just better at noticing them. This summer I was dumping kitchen scraps on our compost pile when I saw something green and growing in the corner of the pile. It was a begonia.

Begonia Boliviensis Survived Dormant all Winter and Then Burst Back to Life

Some of the plants were purchased as annuals for the garden and brought inside at the end of the summer. Last autumn I brought in a few varieties of Begonia boliviensis. Very quickly they began to languish and then each of them collapsed into nothing in the way of children's thumb puppet toys. I left them on the windowsill for a while in case they might sprout back up, but nothing. They were very clearly dead. Because everything was frozen outside I emptied the pots into a tub in the basement, waiting to add the soil and roots to the compost pile come spring.

Begonia Boliviensis Plants on My Potting Table

But apparently they weren't dead after all. The tubers were dormant and waiting for warmth and sun and rain to begin growing and blooming again.

These little plants could be a good lesson. Definitely a reminder to be open to grace, to joy, to magic. But also, as an encouragement not to give up. Don't give up, even when things look darkest. Sometimes we just need to wait for the next season to bloom again.

Where are They Now? Catching Up with Some of the Artists I Interviewed

You may have noticed that I'm posting on a Tuesday instead of my usual Friday. I'm working on sharing some shorter posts between my regular posts. I'm not sure how often I'll do this, but it's fun to experiment and try some new things in this new space.

And speaking of trying new things, I've been contemplating starting up another interview series. What do you think? Do you enjoy reading interviews with creative women who are living their dreams? Are there specific kinds of questions you wish I would ask? Let me know what you think.

In the meantime, I thought I'd catch you up on what a few of the women I interviewed on my old blog have been up to lately (and if you weren't around for the original interviews, you can go take a look at those, too). The bravery and success of others helps us all to find a bit more courage in ourselves. I've said this before and I'll say it again, we're all in this together. Let's learn from one another and cheer each other on.

Sarah Venema's was the first real interview I did on my blog. Sarah is a Colorado-based professional photographer whose work is stunning and whose positive outlook is so inspiring to me. Her photographs capture "sun-drenched, love-filled laughing moments".  (My not-so-secret dream is for Sarah to be my photographer, taking photos of me in my studio and garden for my website).

Sarah Venema Selfie Project

Recently Angie Noll interviewed her on The Not Starving Artist Podcast and it was a lovely, inspiring conversation. Angie has interviewed many inspiring women and I hope you'll find some time to listen to her interviews. Learning about others' successes and definitions of success, especially those that might go against the norm, is encouraging when we're trying to forge our own paths.

In February of 2016 I interviewed Jayme Marie Henderson who writes the blog Holly and Flora. At that time Jayme lived south of downtown Denver and worked as a sommelier in a landmark Denver restaurant. On her blog Jayme shares her cocktail inventions, often focused on local, in-season ingredients. Her photography is gorgeous and I always enjoy seeing snippets of her garden and hearing her honest thoughts about her life which are often sprinkled throughout her posts.

Jayme Marie Henderson -- Holly and Flora and The Storm Cellar Vineyard and Winery

Not long after our interview Jayme leapt for a big dream and today she and her fiancé are co-owners of The Storm Cellar Vineyard and Winery on the western slope of Colorado. They've transitioned to living on the property and farming the grapes full-time with a goal of offering their first wines for sale next summer. It has been a monumental amount of work and I am so excited for her! You can watch the trailer they created for this project here and follow along with the vineyard on Instagram here.

One more for today... In March of 2017 I interviewed Jill and Kayla Haupt, the mother-daughter team behind Under a Tin Roof. I "met" Jill and Kayla in the issue of Artful Blogger Magazine where I was also featured. Kayla's article really resonated with me and I was curious to get to know more about her.

Jill and Kayla Haupt Under a Tin Roof

This past year these women have skyrocketed their dream of a handmade, country life even further when their family purchased a farm and added a CSA to their offerings. It's been beautiful to watch their progress (follow along on Instagram and their blog).

What about you? What successes have you been celebrating lately? Let's celebrate together!

Or maybe you're still dreaming. What have you been dreaming about? I know it's scary to leap for your dreams. It's hard to risk failure. And when you look at the successes of others it can be intimidating as well as inspiring. The truth is that no one's success comes easily. Every one of these women has been faced with failure. But they kept going. I hope you'll take a little step today in the direction of your dream. I promise you, it will be worth it.



*photos in this post © the artists