Summer + my first book + finding time to be creative

zanni and rosie beach

Ah summer. You warm, languid beast. Are you really nearly over?

We’ve spent the last few weeks literally baking in sunshine, and basking in good family time. Our family has been out from California, and it’s been so good hanging out with them. Days have slipped by, while children play easily together, and adults sip G&T.

There is something about family. The minute my daughters and their cousins got together, they fell into an easy groove, as if they have known each other their whole lives. Well, they have known each other their whole lives, but we live on opposite sides of the planet, so this is about the first time the cousins have spent playing together.

There is no inspiration to go away on holidays when you live near Byron Bay. Every summer, people come to us. Locals who now live away come home for Christmas. Family gathers. Old friends pop up for a night or two and a swim at the beach.

My work has slowed over the holiday period. As a contractor, it’s a bit of a stress when this happens, but a good stress, because I am forced into holiday mode. I have to sit idly on the beach, looking over a pristine ocean. Life’s hard sometimes.

The extra time has given me time to focus on writing. Supportive husband Gregor whips the girls away for a couple of hours, and I spend time working on a junior fiction I have been mulling over.

I steal moments too, from unlikely places. Like this moment. Sitting in my car, getting eaten alive by mozzies. It’s 9pm, and I am escaping the usual routine of lying down with my daughters. This hour has always been my creative hour, but since summer began it’s been sucked away by late nights and over excited children not sleeping when they should.

Tonight, though, we’ve switched things around. Husband has the children. And I am in the car, writing. It’s fun. But kind of itchy {mozzies}.

Meanwhile, exciting stuff has been happening. My publisher, Little Hare, sent me the internals of my first book Too Busy Sleeping. It came in the disguise of an ordinary email with PDF attached. But opening it was far from ordinary.

Reading my own words, my very own words, embedded in Anna Pignataro’s beautiful illustrations, my own story, my very own story, became something else altogether.

I felt the emotional pull of my own words in a way that doesn’t come often when you have been staring at the same set of words for hours and hours on end. The magic that had worn off came back again as I read them with pictures.

Anna’s illustrations are so so lovely. I couldn’t have imagined anything better.

When I say I have written a children’s book, people often ask am I illustrating it. They know I paint etc. so it’s not an unfair question. But the thing about picture books is that they so often are a collaboration between two people – the writer and the artist. And that’s where the beauty lies.

Anna has taken my story, and created a new lovely story around it.

For those wondering, my book, Too Busy Sleeping, will be out in July this year. Biggest of yays ever.

Eleanor, from Too Busy Sleeping, illustrated by Anna Pignataro

This is Eleanor, from Too Busy Sleeping, illustrated by Anna Pignataro. I love her.

Hope you are getting time to be creative, or do whatever it is you love doing. Happy remaining days of summer to you.

xx

Learning

learning dance

My two year old has been studying. She’s doing a course in Humpty Dumpty and Friends, and is getting a lot out of it.

She focuses intently on each page. “What’s that letter?” She points to the page number.

“10.”

“And that one?”

“29”.

She repeats what I say, and repeats the songs. She asks about the detail in the pictures. Each page gets a thorough workout.

It’s a good book. Actually it’s just a bunch of nursery rhymes with simple illustrations, but it’s a good book for her. Then, just about every book gets the same treatment.

It’s so intent. Was I ever so intent when studying? I must have been… pre Facebook and other online distractions. I made it through a university degree and a post grad. I must have had some kind of focus.

It’s so natural with children though. At this minute, one child cuts shapes from paper, and the other studies her favourite book Humpty Dumpty.

They are made to learn. To absorb. Children learn more in their first year of life than at any other time. Little sponges.

As my older daughter embarks on the academic learning years, I am curious about this childhood passion and inclination to learn. How do we keep it alive? What does it feed on?

Here in the sunshine house, I leave out craft materials, and books. The door to the back garden is always open. I try and allow plenty of time and opportunity – empty, unstructured space in the week – for learning to happen on its own accord. I can’t make them love learning, but I can allow them to love learning.

Do your kids gravitate to learning? Have you noticed changes as they’ve grown older? 

Quiet, you: Dealing with the internal saboteur

Facing the internal saboteur

Did I tell you how much I loved being interviewed on the ABC Gold Coast last week? Yes, I think I did. Actually, I was at home feeling blue just before it aired because I was worried that people were sick of me promoting it on various social media channels.

Social media has so many advantages, but one of its disadvantages is that it puts social concerns, such as saying the wrong thing, or worrying what people think of you, in overdrive.

Leading up to the airing of the interview {which I totally loved doing, and actually enjoyed re-listening to} I was sitting at home, listening to my inner critic – my negative, internal voice that speaks up every time it looks like something good might happen to me.

Quiet, you.

When I was a teenager, I saw a doctor, who was Austrian. He sported a fine-groomed grey beard, small round glasses and sat behind an oak table. Above his head, hung a portrait of Freud. In a broad Austrian accent, the doctor stated my diagnosis:

“You, my dear, have an internal saboteur,” he said.

I thought ‘interno-sabatur’ was a German word, or maybe a word he made up. Years later, when I saw the word ‘saboteur’ written, I worked out what he was saying.

It turns out that eccentric Austrian doctor was making a fairly good point. But it’s hardly a diagnosis. Don’t we all have an internal saboteur? Someone who mocks us when we feel good about something, or questions our success in some way? We have an in-built tall poppy slayer, determined to cut down the goodness is us, lest we should become too wonderful.

As a kid, there was about one thing my brother and I agreed on: The most important thing in life was to not think too much of yourself. A person who thinks they are good is the worst kind, we told ourselves.

But despite this, both my brother and I have always had drive. We have always had confidence to try things, and have had little fear of failing. We have embraced failures, and turned them into strengths. We have sometimes failed, but we have also done good stuff.

Post-interview last Saturday, I reflected on my relationship with my internal saboteur. These days, I think it’s fairly healthy. He/she lives somewhere within me and pipes up occasionally. But I usually have a fairly good defence argument, or if not, I ask my supporters {i.e. my husband} to counteract the noisy inner critic. He generally does a spectacular job of grounding me, and allowing me to enjoy the good while it lasts.

When my supporters aren’t available, my challenge is to listen to that inner critic, politely nod, and thank it for its opinion, and feel generous towards me. Because, hey, I may as well enjoy this.

Do you have an internal saboteur? What’s your strategy for dealing with its Big Opinion?

For more tales from the sunshine house, book ideas and imaginative activities, visit me over at Facebook. You might also like to visit my new website, The Quincys ~ Good Music For Kids.

Linking with Essentially Jess

Lately, in the Sunshine House

It’s been a busy time in the Sunshine House, as you may imagine.

We’ve been Quincy’ing, and creating, and working…Leading up to launch, Gregor told me to relax, it was all going to ease up after the big day, but noooo…Now the Quincys are alive, we need to look after them!

Not that I am complaining. It’s an adorable project, and I love all the creativity it’s opening up for me. I have started painting again. I love the marketing side of the project. I love the connections we are gaining from it. And the school visits.

I love the feedback we are getting, especially from the kids themselves. They love the first song! It’s getting shared widely. One person told me it was the only thing that stopped her baby screaming that day. Wow.

Meanwhile, I’ve been working on my picture book manuscripts. We’ve both been working loads.

What’s the sacrifice?

Time. Down time. Our laundry. The weeds.

A friend, Renee, recently commented that it must be lovely for our girls to be growing up in such a creative house. In many ways it is, particularly if this wall is anything to go by:

Elkas art wall

Creativity rules the house. And the fridge. It’s more important than laundry, and weeds.

But not more important than love.

We were a bit frazzled yesterday afternoon, following a birthday party and a quick visit to the Lennox Head Markets.

The frazzledness started with the purchase of a bee suit for our school visit bee mascot, and ended up in hours of tears from our older daughter.

In the crazy heat of the afternoon, and the post-sugar slump, my daughter mourned the fact that she did not have a bee suit too.

The Notorious Bee Suit...but it looks so cute!

The Notorious Bee Suit…but it looks so cute!

The compromise was that I was to make her a ladybird suit, but when my sewing machine broke, the mourning turned hysterical. It continued well into the afternoon, and until pre-dinner, when I found myself screen-painting stripes onto a yellow tee-shirt. It was a vague substitute, but one that got her to the table for dinner without too much resistance.

Eating together that evening, my girls either side of me, all was quiet. Calm washed over me, and over them. We ate cucumber, carrot, and hummus, and no-one complained.

We sat nestled together on the day-bed, turned evening-bed. A small head rested on each of my shoulders.

We fell asleep in our usual position, on the mattress on the floor. Me between the girls. Me still singing Hallelujah {every night for almost five years and counting}.

It’s good being busy, and creative. It fills me, and my husband. It connects us as a couple. But like every parent, I carry with me a bucket for my guilt. Its content is a weight I am responsible for, that keeps me in check, and grounds me when it looks like I could soar into creative land forever.

But the other side is this:

If you were at our Creative Business Women’s High Tea earlier this year, you will probably remember my godmother Jenny Johnson’s talk about being a creative business woman, and the unforgettable text she asked Monique, a dance teacher and business woman of many years, to read aloud.

It was a text from Monique’s daughter, who lives overseas. She wrote thanking her mother for the inspiration of being a busy, industrious, creative mother during her upbringing. From her mother, the daughter wrote, she learnt skills which have set her up for life.

Jenny said she could hear us young mothers talking about the torture of guilt, and our promise to ourselves and our children to spend as much time as possible with them during the day. We diligently do our creative work at night, or pre-dawn.

“Don’t feel guilty,” Jenny said. “You are role-models for your children.”

And yet another side of it is this:

My daughter was drawing at our kitchen table. She scrunched up her page. She started again, and scrunched the page again.

“I can’t do it,” she said.

“Of course you can,” I affirmed. “You are a brilliant. See your wall? I think everything you do is amazing.”

“But I can’t draw as well as you.”

I felt bad. That bucket tugged at my arm. Should I be hiding my drawings away, so hers will shine? So her creative self will flourish, undiminished?

I decided no. We talked about it.

“Your stuff is amazing. When I was a kid, I couldn’t draw like I can now. But I did draw a lot. And so do you. That’s how you learn,” I said.

That’s the beauty of being human. We learn from each other. We appropriate. Copy. We add to each other’s developments, and sophisticate.

Life is full – busting sometimes, and bustling other times. My laundry pile is screaming at me, as are the weeds. But it’s sunny here and blooming, and hopefully, so are our kids.

How’s your week been? Ever found yourself making an imitation bee suit, just to stave off hysteria?

For more tales from the sunshine house, book ideas and imaginative activities, visit me over at Facebook. You might also like to visit my new website, The Quincys ~ Good Music For Kids.

The Quincys-logo

 

Linking with Essentially Jess

How to paint with flowers

painting with flowers

My friend Nell came over for a coffee the other morning. While I made her a flat white, she pulled out a mini mortar and pestle and frozen blue pansy petals. She told Elfie to find a few flowers from the garden. We were intrigued.

Nell began grinding the flower petals using the mortar and pestle. She added a speck of boiled water, and then, curiously, added chalk dust.

She painted the colour onto white paper. Blue…like duck eggs. Lovely.

The following rainy Sunday, Elfie filled her basket with petals, leaves and weeds from the garden. We sorted them into colours, by putting the petals in ice cube trays and put them in the freezer for a couple of hours.

painting with flowers

painting with flowers (rainbow)

It was fun grinding the different petals and discovering the colours. Surprisingly, the colours were strong and vibrant. We experimented, adding a little chalk dust to some, and salt to others.

painting with flowers

making natural paint from flowers

natural watercolours made form flowers

To make natural paint from flowers:

1. Collect petals and leaves

2. Separate into colours and kinds using an ice cube tray

3. Freeze for a couple of hours

4. Grind a small handful of petals or leaves one colour at a time using a mortar and pestle, or something similar

5. Add a few drops of boiling water to activate the colour

6. Experiment by adding chalk (alkaline) or salt or vinegar (acidic)

7. Paint onto paper

According to lovely Nell, the colours don’t fade if kept out of direct sunlight.

Have fun! x

For more tales from the sunshine house, book ideas and imaginative activities, visit me over at Facebook. You can also sign up for my monthly newsletter, which is full of sunny goodness.

 

Linking with Essentially Jess.

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