above, Summer, 2012
It feels like it has taken me a long time to gain my momentum back with my art since Tulsi was born, but I’m thankful it’s back. I am only working part-time, but I realized about 9 months ago that the “lack” of time for my art could actually be a gift. And that has made a huge difference.
It gave me permission to let go of a lot of work that wasn’t important to me — freelance that was fun and paid well but didn’t fill my cup with energy and excitement — and also excess pro-bono projects. Can anyone relate? When I realized I could only do so much, I decided to choose one focus (for now). That was easy. Books! Books inspire me wildly and feel like a way I can really contribute to the world. One of the most freeing things I heard last year was “a ‘no’ is a ‘yes!’ to something eles.” Yes! (In case you are wondering about the financial part of that decision, of course it makes it a challenge, but there is always a way. Just gotta get creative.)
Once I made that decision, I felt like the universe supported me. I was chosen for the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Book Award for Same, Same but Different (I’m still wowed.) And then the South Asian Book Award and Frostburg State U CLC Book Award. What honors! :))
Suddenly, I also felt nervous and worried since I didn’t have more books in the works yet. Of course, that was one question everyone asked me, too. “What’s next?”
Transitions are tough. Standing in between worlds. Looking at a blank slate. No, not a comfortable feeling exactly. But necessary sometimes to grow, you know?
Luckily for me, these honors, and especially the amazing PEOPLE who offered them to me, and the other award-winners, filled my cup with encouragement. I am grateful. :)
So then what?
I admit, I still have a hard time calling myself an author and yet, I love to write and dream up stories. (Author Kristin Bair O’Keeffe interviewed me in the fall about my writing process.) In May, I was feeling stuck. Jane Yolen, the most prolific author of children’s literature, thankfully shifted something for me when I heard her say in an interview that she NEVER gets writer’s block because she works on several different things at the same time. Light bulb! So I looked through my notebooks and made new lists of ideas and themes of what felt really important to me and inspired me. After talking these ideas through with my editor last summer, she asked me to focus on bringing two (specific ones) to life.
Enter Patrick. My hubby is a rockin’ partner. We both work for ourselves and “trade off” working and being with Tulsi. He sent me off during the day, for a few days a week, during July and August — always with chai — to write in a friend’s cabin (above — so peaceful and a perfect retreat!) and then to OCHO, a wonderful local artist co-op. Patrick kept cheering me on even when I’d come home after 7 hours with very little progress to share. He listened to draft after draft after draft. He trusted I knew what I was doing when I scrapped a manuscript I had worked on for a month in order to follow a different, approach that meant drawing the entire story out in search of the text. The funny thing is, I remembered this is how I work best! This took another month though, or was it two? I then shared rough dummies and manuscripts with a few close friends (and Tulsi) which was really helpful.
I definitely questioned myself as a writer during those few months until I realized I don’t have to call myself that. I can simply be a picture book maker. I like that. After all, the words and pictures and story have a way of dreaming up something more than I know how to do with words alone. Yes, it’s scary and daunting at first…trying to bring a book alive…and I stall, drag my feet, procrastinate, but when I finally work through the scary beginning, it’s awesome. And I love love love it!
Well, fast forward 6 months and travel and holidays and one round of edits with my editor…I am in my new studio every night, still plugging away and nearly finished with both book manuscripts and dummies! Although I can’t share much yet on either of these books, I can say that it’s amazing how the universe supports dreams (and sends obvious signs) after I give more effort, trust more, believe more, and take chances. :) Plus, I’m having so much fun and feeling excited! It is certainly a journey!
Yes, every book has its own birth story! In case you missed it, in November, I shared the back story of Same, Same but Different at the Taos Pecha Kucha night. (For me, this presentation was another moment of finding courage. Luckily I didn’t faint.)
What about you? Where are you on your own journey(s)? I’d love to hear about your process, too.
Happy New Year! I feel like I am standing in front of swinging double dutch jump ropes, trying to get the timing right (and the nerve) to jump back into blogging. I’ve been away for most of the past year except for my Facebook page and Mothering With Soul. It has been quite a full year!
Of course there was plenty of fun on the homestead…And our flock of hens survived their first molt and (after looking like walking pieces of plucked meat, sorry), they now look gorgeous with fluffy, perfect plummage. Tulsi’s humor (and attitude) also blossomed this year.
And we took several adventures to Colorado, Mississippi, New Orleans, Chicago, Madison, St. Louis, Omaha, and Maryland. It was a few whirlwind trips but great to fly away from the homestead and have new experiences! We have more of the same planned for 2013. :) It’s a sweet balance. And ideal (for us).
A huge highlight was marching (and dancing) with good friends in the famous 2nd Line parade in New Orleans for 4 hours! In the past, the 2nd line of a funeral procession celebrated the loved one’s life with music, dance, color and Joy. It is still a celebration of life, only now it is a weekly parade open to everyone. Such positive vibes and groovin’. I will never forget it! The costumes were awesome! Live music is one of my very favorite things in the world! We drank it up in New Orleans.
Our excursions were sprinkled with magic, too. Twirling on the beach, jelly fish!, magic shows, puppets, backpacking in enchanted forests, and every bit was enhanced by the nonstop imagination of a 3 yr old.
These are just a glimpse, but you can imagine how our travels filled my cup! AND, upon returning, I’m always even more appreciative of the place we live — in these sacred mountains near the Taos Native Indians — sprinkled with magic, everywhere you turn.
I collaged this image of Saraswati on New Years Eve when my family was asleep. (ha) Saraswati is the goddess of music, arts, learning. Wishing you a new year full of magic and learning!
Hello again! While I haven’t had energy to write in this space after long play+farm+work days, I did take some photos and wanted to share a glimpse of the magic that has filled our summer. For starters, this barefoot garden fairy in jammies during a golden rainbow sunset. And I have to point out the shade covering with the red roof — someday, this is going to be my studio and I’ll be creating art with this lush, green view out my window. Baby steps.
After a lonnng drought, this year we were blessed (and surprised) by monsoon after monsoon which nourished our spirits (and skin!) and transformed our garden and landscape. I never tire of the Tibetan-like mountains growing in our backyard.
It’s funny how every year we get equally — if not more — giddy over our first fruits! We learned less is more, for us, with tomatoes in the greenhouse. Two plants are perfect for us. I also discovered why my cucumber plant was gigantic and covered in flowers but had only 2 fruits. Pollinators were not finding their way into our greenhouse…so I opened another window screen AND I buzzed around, painting each female flower with a male’s ‘paintbrush’. (I didn’t know the females all come with a teeny tiny fruit, like an egg, waiting to be fertilized!) By the way, have you seen this???! Still, other mysteries were left unsolved.
In August, Tulsi and I took a homesteading workshop at the Lama Foundation. I loved gathering with so many others geeking out over worms and compost, live bacteria, poop, and strange smells. We made kimchi and our own sourdough starter with Sandor Katz. It was great energy going into the harvest and preserving season!
I was especially proud of my cabbages! Which I then turned into quarts and quarts of sauerkraut that fill a shelf in our fridge. And just last week, we harvested our first 4 GORGEOUS (and decadent) winter squashes! They are almost too beautiful to eat. (Almost.) About 2/3 of our onions are now braided and hanging to cure, under my red studio roof. And aren’t these the happiest, most colorful beets?! Many are now pickled and canned, others are waiting to bake, and about twice as many are still maturing.
I think this season (our 6th) has been our best yet! Why? We were more relaxed (and experienced) and didn’t stress over weeds. We didn’t grow massive amounts of cut flowers, but our house was always full of bouquets. And we seemed to grow the right amount of everything. I think we have a TON of food for the winter (loads of squash and roots that we can store and don’t have to preserve NOW) and we didn’t waste any food. That might sound funny, but it happens! It can be tricky knowing how much to grow of what. And although I am not a Queen Preserver like some friends of mine (they are AMAZING), I have preserved a LOT already and a sweet variety. I learn more each year! (Of course, I need to figure out how to finish on canning days by bedtime so Tulsi and Patrick don’t have to migrate to the tent. Ha.) I’ll try to post a final tally later this Fall of what I preserved, and please, please share what you have preserved! Sometimes I don’t know ‘what’ to preserve!
I love this last picture. It is a seed pod dangling from a Cleome/Rocky Mtn Bee Plant. One of our favorite ‘to-do’s’ this time of year is collecting seeds. We have thousands, millions, billions of seeds stored in jars to plant and to share. It reminds me of the infinite possibilities in life, if we give our attention and love to our intentions.
We have a few weeks of exciting travel coming soon — Colorado, Chicago, Madison, St. Louis, and Maryland! I’ll share on the flipside. I’m also blogging (most) Fridays at motheringwithsoul.com if you haven’t wandered over yet. I hope you are enjoying garden goodies, too, and enjoying your Fall! It’s my favorite time of year.
Is it really June? Spring whizzed by and with all the travel, we found ourselves lost in the dust of garden dirt-devils and sneaky rabbits. We are usually eating out of our garden this time of the year but instead are still trying to prepare beds for transplanting starts from the greenhouse. The saving grace: we’ve been eating fresh greens and broccoli from our greenhouse for months and are gradually learning how to grow all year long. I’m making fresh pesto now, too. It always amazes me though how every garden year is different — always a curve ball, a surprise — that humbles, amuses, and seasons us. Last month, I transplanted 70 BEAUTIFUL zinnias and they ALL died. Um, what?? I gradually acclimated them to the cold and sun, so what happened? Yes, a portion were lost in a spotty frost but the rest? Was it because onions grew in that bed last year? A mystery. C’est la vie.
Well, we did start more zinnias, and slowly, slowly, seed by seed, we are planting our garden. I love that Tulsi loves planting, too. She is always asking for seeds or saving her watermelon seeds and planting them here and there. :) A local farmer taught me how to sprout my winter squash seeds in damp, rolled up paper towels in a glass jar (so we know the seeds are viable). Then plant them. It worked great! And another friend lined us out on electrifying our chicken yard (that we just tripled) so bears won’t bust through and destruct. Fingers crossed. Sometimes on the homestead, it is a dance of two steps forward, two steps back. So today I’m giving thanks for feeling a little more ‘caught up’.
I’m also excited about taking a workshop in August on fermentation at the Lama Foundation with Sandor Katz, author of Wild Fermentation, and others, fermenting, making herbal medicines, gathering wild foods, root cellaring and food drying, composting, cheese making, etc.
AND, for my birthday, Patrick gave me a “worm farm“! I’m one lucky woman. Tulsi and I can’t wait for the 2000 squiggly, wriggly worms to arrive tomorrow! (I’m such a garden nerd.)
How is your garden growing this year? Any lessons learned?
This morning Tulsi whispered in my ear, “Pssssst, let’s go for a ride on a butterfly.”
“Let’s,” I replied. In case you didn’t already know, you know now who keeps me in check. And busy.
There is much I want to share from the past couple months! Where to begin?
I’ll start with Hattiesburg, Mississippi…I was very fortunate to attend the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival (WOW, AMAZING!!!) where I received the Ezra Jack Keat’s New Illustrator’s Award and faced my biggest fear of speaking in public — one planned speech and one surprise-to-me-speech (gulp) in front of authors I admire ten-fold and hundreds of librarians. I think I did ok, but most importantly, I survived.
- drooled over Ezra Jack Keat’s original art. OMG!!!! I learned SO much in that hour of staring UP-close!
- am treasuring this book, a gift from my new friends in Hattiesburg. Deborah Pope also read a heartfelt letter from her father, Martin Pope, who was best friends with Ezra since they were kids. You can read Marin’s words here.
- toured the outrageous de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection (whoa–an impressive treasure!). the highlight was a 50ft + (?) long fabric collage mural by Esphyr Slobodkina!! I would love to create a huge mural someday and when I do, I’ll look to this for inspiration!
- was hosted by some lovely, lovely people (!!), and soaked up inspiration, wisdom and stories from extraordinary children’s book authors!
- scratched hashmarks of some 30-something times I was ‘hit’ by surprise from tidal waves of goosebumps during the talks. So much of Jane Yolen’s talk is still playing in my head. I’ve also got Jane’s “The Alphabetics of Story” on my mind.
- geeked out with librarians :) and loved spending time with the other award winners! Meg, Micha, and Nicola and I shared about art, writing, inspirations and motherhood.
- was beyond excited to meet Anita Silvey and hear her lecture on the history of the American Picture Book. I am hooked on her Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac!
Can you tell I had a wonderful time?! It was awesome having Patrick and Tulsi with me, too, and this photo reflects how grateful and energized, inspired and dreamy I felt (and still feel). Weeeeee!
Last year at this time, I was standing at a journey’s beginning, taking deep breath after deep breath, and contending with doubts, “Can I do this? Can I uphold the integrity of the oracle so beautifully brought to life by the authors? I can think of several other mama artists who could do this better. Is it even possible in just 4 months while being a mama?” I knew I wanted to. I had been asking the universe for a project that would inspire me in a deeper way. I’d also been calling out for guidance and support on my path of mothering. But fears can be kinda loud.
I was staring at 52 blank rectangles, an empty map of what would be The Mother’s Wisdom Deck. I paged through drafts of Niki and Elizabeth’s card passages and came to Turtle – Grounding. The passage concludes with Turtle advising: “a time-honored way of coming back to earth: lie facedown with arms extended above your head. Make sure your forehead, knees, and hands are touching the ground. This is a full bow, a prostration to the powers above. In this supplication, you lower yourself before infinite Mystery and, in turn, come closer to your basic nature.”
Almost exactly ten years ago, after driving all night, I stepped outside of my car into a frigid, New Mexico mountain landscape, just five minutes walk from our home now. The sun was still on its ascent on the other side of the Sangres. Patrick led me down a snow-covered road lined with vertical blue, white, red, green and golden prayer flags. At the end was a white, wedding cake shaped shrine. Yes, it was my first visit to a Buddhist Stupa — what my daughter lovingly now calls, “Buddha’s house”. Two golden dear sat still and awake on either side of a peaceful Buddha. Goosebumps rose up on my already freezing body — the kind of chill when you are so overtaken with beauty and a sense of “wow”. I watched Patrick kneel on the freshly shoveled flagstone and a ghost-like breath rise out of his mouth. He lay on his stomach, facedown with his hands in prayer, reaching over his head. Aside from photographs in distant lands, I had never seen anyone do this before. My response surprised me. Feeling so much gratitude for that place I was right then and there, and the friend I was with, I dipped into my first full body prostration. I really wanted to throw myself down to the ground, but I am timid. I remember at first wondering, is this ok? I’m not Buddhist. And I distinctly remember the calm and grace I felt lying on the frozen stone before “infinite Mystery”. I didn’t want to get up. I went empty and prayed, and the sun spilled over the mountains.
Remembering that winter morning, I knew the only way I could trust that I could paint these cards –and begin this journey– was to get out of my head, out of my ego, and into my heart. To focus on “why” this project is so important to us: honoring motherhood as a spiritual practice. I lay in my studio in full prostration on a child-like rug of yellow and pink flowers. I felt anchored and prayed for intuition, endurance, clarity, and wisdom. Or maybe I pleaded. :) Either way, I feel like guidance presented herself.
**To clarify, I positioned the woman on the turtle to form the five points of the mandala within the turtle’s shell (vs. full prostration when you lie face down in a straight line — legs together and arms together over your head in prayer/Namaste position.
I realize until now, I haven’t shared much of this pilgrimage here. It was a test of endurance. I learned to hone my intuition, reach out to my community, and surrender. When I was painting, Tulsi often reminded me of what was most important asking, “Mama, first tea party, then you paint, ok?” and “Please Mama, you hold me like Haumea holds her baby?”
Mothering is the most amazing dance I’ve ever danced, and I pray these images convey that spirit, beauty and love. I did my best to “get out of the way” and let the images come through me. Of course, this I am still learning. :)
A little background on the deck…The idea first came to Niki Dewart in 2009 while she was out on a rare solo walk in the woods. She envisioned an oracle deck that would speak directly to mothers, an oracle bearing and bonding, nursing and nudging, surrendering and serendipity. She then invited Elizabeth Marglin to create with her, and soon after that, they invited me to offer visual interpretations. And although the deck doesn’t make its official debut until May 1st (for Mother’s Day), I just received my first sample and had to share! :)
You can pre-order it through your local bookstore or here. **If you live near Boulder or Taos, stay tuned for May Launch events where you can purchase the deck and support your local bookstore and midwives!**
I am so grateful for this experience, and now, for the daily meditations. Today, I pulled the card, Intention/Mother Meng. You will learn her story when you have the deck and accompanying book. I loved this quote Niki and Elizabeth chose to include:
Each decision we make, each action we take, is born out of an intention. — Sharon Salzberg
AND, last week, our website+blog, Mothering with Soul, inspired from the deck, came to life. We envision it as a place for mothers around the world to come together, to be real, to support and inspire each other. I know you will love Niki and Elizabeth and appreciate their honesty and spirit. Each week we will pull a card from the deck and use that as our theme. We’ll share whatever thoughts, stories, photos, drawings, and quotes that come into our lives that week as they add meaning to the attribute. We hope you will share your thoughts there, too. Will you join us?
OH Wow! It has been an ongoing joke in our house that Tulsi says, “Mama, your books have no Caldecott Medals, but someday you’ll get a sticker!” I smile and give her sweet head a kiss. Well, I am beyond excited to share some news — The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation awarded me the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award and the New Author Honor for Same, Same but Different! Whoa. I’m all smiley and a bit teary realizing what an honor this is.
I want to sing out a thank you song to so many people who have helped this book come alive, who believed in me and cheered me on, (and who supported me while I worked on it, creatively and physically!): my husband Patrick and Tulsi, my amazing editor and book guru Christy Ottaviano and my wonderful AD Patrick Collins and designer April Ward, my rockin’ agents Jo-Lynne Worley and Joanie Shoemaker, my Mom (who came to play with Baby T while I painted my heart out) and Dad (always my biggest fans), my sister Renee (!), Neeru Dhakal and my Sunshine School Family in Nepal, my book gal friends, and countless little friends across the oceans and at home who inspired this story. This is yours, too!
This is a description from the full press release:
“Fifty years ago, Ezra’s book The Snowy Day, which featured an African American child, broke the color barrier in mainstream children’s book publishing when it was embraced by families across racial, economic and ethnic lines,” said Deborah Pope, Executive Director of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation. “Like Ezra, this year’s Book Award winners have, in their own way, celebrated the similarities—and differences—of people whose life experiences are dramatically varied.
The Book Award was created to acknowledge and encourage budding children’s book authors and illustrators who impart Ezra Jack Keats’ values—the universal qualities of childhood, a strong and supportive family and the multicultural nature of our world.”
I have been a fan of Ezra Jack Keats since I was young and dreaming of making children’s books! I really admire him as an illustrator and a person, and I am inspired by his books and mixed-media experimentations. Plus, we are both Polish! Hee. :) Thanks everyone for ALL your encouragement over the years and for letting me share this FUN news! I am playing “hard” to bring some new books to you.
And a big congrats to Meg Medina for winning the New Authors Medal! Patrick, Tulsi and I are looking forward to the ceremony on April 12 in Mississippi!
I’m loving the consistency of changing mountain weather and how it keeps us spontaneous. Friday called for a snowy walk near the silent Rio Grande goddess. L-O-V-E!
Saturday brought more Spring chicken dances,
tropical greenhouse creations,
and snuggles galore.
And on Sunday came a temple visit colored with music, community, purple bulbs peeking out of the dirt and carrots-peas-beets and yogurt mixed with fancy peacocks under the sweetest blue sky. I am so grateful to have a sacred space that I feel at home in, to sing and pray, cook and eat, give thanks, share ideas and lessons learned, and to give and receive encouragement.
Gotta soak up these radiant days because the winds are coming soon…but then we’ll be intrigued and inspired by seed catalogs and garden planning. How are your days colored lately?
Last week I came upon The M.A.P.P. Gathering, an incredible, growing ocean of mamas, coming together to relate and share, encourage and ignite each others’ flames. The Gathering is a series of interviews with some amazing, wise, gentle, BRIGHT soul-mamas who are all wholly passionate about their mothering AND their “work”: Brene Brown, PhD, Jennifer Louden, Renee Trudeau, Jill Savage, Sara Gottfried, MD, Pamela Slim, Kelly Rae Roberts, Tsh Oxenreider and Andrea Scher (links on the M.A.P.P. site). The gathering was initiated by Lisa Grace Byrne who I keep thanking over and over in my head and heart — and I have only listened to 3 of the conversations so far!
Lisa describes it as, “a collection of intimate conversations with a handful of mothers who have followed their passion and are making a beautiful difference in the world.” For any mamas out there, you know how connecting intimately with mama-friends can be a saving grace…and how it gives you strength in countless ways? I think you might find that (and more) in listening to these conversations while nodding and saying “YES!” and reflecting on your own walk of motherhood.
I feel like sometimes on this path of mothering there isn’t a lot of time to reflect, with days passing so quickly and diving straight into my art in any “me-time”. Rare alone-walks (thank the goddess, are happening a bit more and more) seem to be the best time, although honestly, I enjoy going empty and silent, too. That is why The Mother’s Wisdom Deck project (coming May 1st) was such a gift for me even though it was fast and furious. I poured so much of my experiences and emotions, courage, endurance and intuition into the paintings, which helped me grow as well as reflect inwardly. And HOW I am ready for even more connecting and mama-energy and honesty and opening on this path. We (the authors of the Deck and I) are currently creating another mama-community-site, which is set to launch in a couple weeks. I hope you will join us then AND upon reading this post, run over to The M.A.P.P. Gathering to sign up and join the expanding, awesome conversation of mothering. I know you will be grateful you did!
I just created a page “FOR KIDS” (and parents, teachers, big kids…) — it is now in my menu above. I think it’s super fun, and I hope it will inspire young authors and illustrators. At the top is an interactive page with 27 different “clicks” that shares some of my writing & art process and research for Same, Same but Different. Scroll down further and there are videos, postcards, journal entries, and more coming soon… Please share with your kids, their schools, your teacher friends, and let me know what you think. :)