Tuesday, April 28, 2015



In this wide world of social media, and platforms and ways to share... sometimes things feel fragmented. Maybe it's just me. But I can't remember what I've shared here, or what I've shared there, and it almost feels like each forum has different personalities, and I'm trying to manage them all. 

It's tiresome. 

I'm done catering to the different groups of Facebook and Instagram {the two that I most use} and so if you're on Facebook you'll likely notice more posts coming from me{or maybe not, because who knows what people actually see with the FB algorithms and whatnot... but to my chagrin, FB is most certainly not going away anytime soon, so I'll embrace it}. Mostly from my Instagram account. I'm starting to look at Facebook as a tool to be the hub of all things... blog posts are posted there, Instagram posts will be as well. Since I'm not blogging as much as I used to, Instagram has become sort of a mini blog, and I'm happy to share. 

There's pictures of the kids, of my writing life, some selfies... serious stuff and silly stuff. If you don't like it, hide it in your feed. But I'm done trying to figure out what to share where. It's all going out there. It's all me. It feels scary and brave to share it all, and silly to have to write a post about it. But again, that's me. I'm waving my flag to say hello, as always, and maybe some of what I write and share will resonate, inspire, or simply make you smile. 

So here it is, dusty corners and all, in an effort to make things more fluid... more whole... more authentic.

Monday, April 27, 2015

creating in the midst: Jennifer Hoppins

Welcome to Creating in the Midst, an interview series where homeschooling parents talk about their creative lives.

Our guest this week is Jennifer Hoppins. Jenny is a mother of two, writer, artist, outdoor enthusiast, and one of my most supportive and encouraging friends. I met Jenny years ago through blogging, and look forward to one day sitting in the sunshine and sipping iced tea while picking her brain about all things writing and education.

The about page on her blog, Imagined, Remembered, Believed, reads: "Writing is engaging in memory and imagination and happens by trusting and believing in yourself." and what better words could usher us into our interview?

~What does an average day in your house look like? 

In our house, we begin working before we are fed, dressed and showered. For years I filled six am to seven with social media and coffee. (Who am I kidding? Curious George ended at 8:30 and my son was suddenly HUNGRY). In this way, I kept up with regular posting on my blog, chatted on fb, and generally gave myself plenty of time to wake up before rushing into chores or planning our educational projects. Lately, Elliot is no longer interested in the PBS programming and wakes earlier to squeeze in some Minecraft time while I make tea and breakfast. I now share less online, focusing more on developing my personal writing projects. In that liminal space before “school” begins, I often take notes on the writing knots I’ve tangled myself into. Sometimes I am brave and open the file of my book project.

Usually by 8:30, (a habitual schedule based on former television viewing) we eat breakfast and begin work on the general areas of study. This varies in no particular order from journal writing, reading, math, grammar workbooks and music. We save art and larger, all consuming projects for the afternoon. I consider our style of learning to be project based. The current project helps to shape the areas of academic focus. Recently we read the Birchbark House series by Louise Erdrich and are exploring early America through a Native American lens. I found some interesting workbooks that have a few inspiring projects, but sometimes an idea hits us and we just run with it. I have a friend who said “learning is like a spiral” and I agree. Two years ago we made a large tipi in the back yard and painted it with images inspired by Native art. At that time we weren't actively reading historical novels or informational texts on the subject. It was one of those whimsical ideas that suddenly land in my consciousness as a worthy time investment. It turned into a family activity and included neighborhood children who were delighted to come over and play.

We have discovered that whatever is living under the surface of our imaginations can be brought into the light and developed with great and lasting effect. The projects we've done individually and together as a family have enriched all of us. When we do a collaborative or individual project, Elliot remembers. The learning sticks. The stuff we do in the workbook fades.

So an average day in our house, during an active project, is usually messy, all consuming, and without deadlines. In between projects, I attempt to restore a measure of orderliness and maintain that, but it all eventually slides into something more interesting than clean.

At the end of the day, we read, take walks, or watch movies. Sometimes we venture out and go downtown. Sometimes we meet with local friends for play and conversation. Home education is the fullest, most active lifestyle I've ever experienced, even busier than when I was finishing college with a baby and an adolescent. People tell me that they could never do what I do, and I think silently that they wish they could. I say, take the leap. You will begin to know and understand your child in a way that you can never truly know them if they are still in school. And as you struggle to make sense out of the challenging topics they are meant to learn, you will also rediscover yourself. Especially if you simultaneously embark on your own creative life. You just might find that you are more valuable for who you are than what you do.

~Your writing is often emotional, and so full of hard won truths, so I’m curious...can you jump right in to writing, or do you need to ease into it? And similarly, can you jump back into your homeschooling life after writing, or do you need to ease in? 

When writing, I hope to evoke emotion in the imagined reader rather than being emotional. Through the actual writing of a piece, I will sometimes get caught up in a memory so powerful that I rush to write it using as much detail as I’m able before it vanishes. This leaves me feeling a little bit raw and dizzy for a while. I recently wrote about the most traumatic day of my life. A few days later, I experienced profound relief. It was as if the character that was me in the past (who exists now in a reconstructed form outside of myself) began to carry a large portion of that emotional burden.

In another way, memoir writing impacts my present moment. I’m reminded that I went through some kind of soul-fire, and now stand in new growth, more vigorous and ready to reach out for the life I’ve chosen. I become freshly aware that I am really happy now, even when things go wrong and my expectations get blown. I find that I want to go play outside with my family, riding bikes together, roller skating, hiking in the woods or building a fire. I want to look at the moon and stars and soak up everything that exists outside after being so intensely focused on my internal thoughts and feelings. To go right back to textbooks after a writing jag makes me feel impatient. I have pent up energy to burn and lively conversations that want to fly out of the silence. So this lifestyle does affect goals and schedules. In a word, we are fluid. There are no hard boundaries between the structured education and the one that we construct through our projects and activities.

~Can you tell us a little bit about your writing life?

At least half of it happens before I bring myself to the page. It is a thought process, sometimes born of a question that I’m trying to untangle. Sometimes I construct sentences and phrases in response to something I've heard or discussed. I was always the kind of person who came up with a response too late. In my childhood, I was trained to be a listener and not a speaker. I think I've spent my adulthood trying to have a voice. My writing life is becoming more natural as I age. In my thirties I knew I wanted to be a writer, but didn't feel confident enough to try. In my forties, this impulse and desire only grew stronger. I no longer feel that I’m not worthy to call myself a writer, despite the fact that I do not have a book published by a publishing house...nor that I've never before attempted this legitimizing process. This bold daring of calling myself a writer is a result of years of reading books on writing and then connecting with people who write. I can trace the development of my body of work (unpublished and self published) with the friendships I made in the blogging community. One friend read over fifteen of my stories through email exchanges. She critiqued each one and encouraged me to keep going, without a single negative comment or correction. Now, I know that this is not what is really supposed to happen...a truly honest critique will contain at least one thing to correct or adjust. But my friend believed in me so much that she gave me gift after gift of loving praise. From those words, my confidence grew. Today there’s not much to stop me from writing, no matter if I go to an official “academic style” critique group and they shred my lines in red pen. I know at least one person in the world will love it, and that is enough for me.

I write in the morning before getting out of bed. It’s not actual physical writing. I call it “writer’s mind.” It activates as soon as I become aware that I’m awake. Sentences form. I have to get out of bed and go downstairs to my journal. The pets always bug the heck out of me for breakfast, and I lose some of it. I keep scraps of paper by my bed to scribble the essence of it. I likewise write in the shower the same way. The best stuff comes to me when I am unable to write it down immediately. The writer’s mind happens when I’m driving. When I’m sewing. While washing the dishes. When I’m at the gym on the elliptical strider. It happens whenever I mow the lawn (loud buzzing and repetitive tasks draw me inward). I have a pile going now of scraps written on envelopes, copy paper, on post-its. There’s no order. There are no wide open blocks of time to put it all together. Except on Sunday mornings. And then, when the house is quiet and there are no expectations, a flow begins to pour. But it was all building like rain that collected and spilled over. If I am intense in the delivery, it’s because I've been waiting and waiting for the chance to get to my files.

~What measures do you take to protect your creativity?

I don’t. Then it builds until I can’t take it anymore and I end up blowing everybody and everything off until I've gotten something crafted that satisfies the need. It’s like thunderclouds that keep rising in the humid summer afternoon. The storm of words relieves the pressure. Then I go back to being present in the demands of chores, school, dinner, exercise and errands. We live in a beautiful southern city with many opportunities for learning outside of the home. We have many places to go, and several friends who invite us for play. These are all blessings and golden opportunities. So I have learned to integrate creativity in short sessions. I also have a handmade shop on Etsy. I discovered that having a customer helps to protect that creative time. When you have a due date for a project, it always gets done. But so many of my writing projects are open ended and never get the full attention and finishing touches that would make them shine. I realize how important it is to make deadlines to share my writing with someone.

~Do you need absolute quiet to write? Or do you prefer noise, and how does that impact your day?

I prefer rain falling on the roof and tapping on the windows. There is something magic that turns on my writer’s mind when there is a gentle, repetitive, natural noise. I should probably move to Seattle. Or put on my headphones and listen to rainforest sounds or meditation sound baths. But I’m learning to write amid interruptions and questions from my husband and son. They love to have me home with them instead of at the library, and I enjoy the comforts of home over the institutional and quiet spaces of study.

~Do you have a set time of day put aside for writing? 

I love mornings best of all. But evenings are nice too. Everything in between is too hectic to try.

~Do you set goals for your writing? 

No. Except for when I joined a writer’s critique group. That was amazingly motivational. And incredibly hard to swallow. I did once challenge myself to write 50 short stories in a ten month period. I made it to fifteen. 

~What is the most challenging aspect of being a writer and a homeschooling parent? 

The fluidity of our lifestyle. It helps and it restricts. If there were more boundaries for specific activities, I would probably produce more viable work. I need to get better at making deadlines to share what I’m working on.

~What is the most rewarding aspect of being a writer and a homeschooling parent? 

Being a homeschool parent has expanded my writing more than my traditional education. I must be immersed in the learning journey with Elliot, and this extends my worldview. I’m not limited by the old stuff that was taught to me years ago about life or writing or relationships. The world is new to me as a home educator. It’s always changing, there’s always more to discover. I used to be rigid and judgmental in my thinking. Now, the scope of topics and philosophical questioning is broader, deeper, filled with possibility. It continually flows outward and inward with every leading we follow.

~How do you feel about balance?  Is there such a thing?

I believe that there is a balance to life when I stop trying to control it. Things level out. Problems come to solutions. I’m not as desperate as I once was about making my idealistic versions be manifested on my schedule. Yes, we are busy. But one day, when my body is old and my child is grown, the house will be silent. It will be just me and the cat here. I’m not really looking forward to that much peace.

~Has your creative process changed since homeschooling?

YES!!! We are so very free to create our own learning, that we do something creative every single day. When reading aloud together, we are creating close bonds through our conversations. Since age seven, Elliot has been raising money through the sale of his ninja themed artwork for people experiencing homelessness. He paints a lot. He also has a special room we keep just for Lego building. In the backyard, my husband built a fort for Elliot that he got to help construct. It’s nearly finished. Inside, there is room for all of us to have a real camp out together. It has solar powered lights and a canvas tarp for a roof, so when we’re all inside, we can imagine we’re living in the colonial era. That we are surviving on a frontier. On a warm evening, we can bring in candles and read our historical fiction books. It makes everything feel so real, as if we’re living the story as it unfolds.

All of this helps my creative process. I know that everything good I've ever written came from a time when I immersed myself in life, fully, without the numbing distractions of cable TV, the internet, or radio stations that play ads. I have grown closer to my desire to write from seeking nature, from bonding with my child and my loving husband who takes a very active role in this journey. We are creating as well as receiving life as it arrives...and this is exactly how the writing happens for me. The more I create, the more raw material arrives to continue the flow. There is some kind of magic that comes from deciding to live fully in the moment first, really engaging with people and the natural world, then crafting useful pieces of it. I love to write scenes with landscapes. I love to absorb the sky in a piece. What clouds do is kind of what emotions do. Sometimes they float, sometimes they rage.

In this way, it does not matter if you are a beginning writer at the elementary level, just learning to write your first poem, or if you’re 89 and want to finally write the memoir that has burned in your heart all these years. Decide to live first, and the writing material will arrive of it’s own accord, like a gift. You can turn it away, or welcome it in.

~What advice would you give to someone who is passionate about their creative pursuits, and just starting out on their homeschooling journey?

I’m sure this has been said by many people, but finding a community of supportive people is a priority. If you take a risk and encounter a negative, unhealthy person, let them go and keep looking. The way to do this is to invest your attention into lives. Show that you are interested and care about others...and mean that sincerely. Do this and friends will arrive to reciprocate that love. Don’t limit yourself to the qualities that you think are ideal for a friendship. One of my friends is a former homeless person. She once was addicted to crack. Her mother was a librarian, and taught her daughter to love reading form birth. During her darkest days, when living in an abandoned building, she kept a backpack with library books. She read through the highs and lows. This friend continually supports me with a solid, steady flow of encouragement. Through her, I realize again how incredibly, abundantly blessed I am to have this exact life.

This knowledge inspires me to write through the challenges that led to the bursts of light.

Being creative means being expressive, and since I’m an introvert with a great need for expression, writing is the way I get that need met. My son is an extrovert who needs active, verbal engagement with people. I realize that his learning needs to happen as much outside of the house as it does inside. It needs to happen in a community, where he can have some exposure to his world. Maybe not exposure to all the hard things all at once, but to a life not washed out and handed back to him in a product designed to raise his test scores. He comes alive with purpose and imagination when the context for learning is not sterile and orderly like many traditional classrooms.

I think many of my writing blocks happened because my life was so constrained to home and school that I never really had anything exciting to write about. I couldn't breathe or share my thoughts aloud without encountering some kind of evaluation, correction or judgment. In order to get really healthy and happy, I had to get comfortable with who I am and how I respond to the world. That response means everything. And this is why anyone who wants to write should be absolutely encouraged to write, no matter if what they say is not mainstream...in fact, especially because it might not fit the status quo.

~Jenny, I can't thank you enough. Your words are so thoughtful, and inspiring to me. Just reading your responses make me want to jump into not only my writing, but into life in general! I love especially what you said about the challenge of the fluid lifestyle that comes with homeschooling. Thank you again!

Links for Jenny:
Imagined, Remembered, Believed

If you are a homeschooling parent who is in the midst of creative pursuits, or know someone who is, and would like to contribute to this series, please contact me at crnnoel(at)gmail(dot)com.

Monday, April 20, 2015

creating in the midst: Melanie Haney

Welcome to Creating in the Midst, a blog interview series that focuses on homeschooling parents who are in the midst of their own creative pursuits. Today marks our first interview, and I'm thrilled to introduce you all to my dear friend Melanie Haney.

Melanie is a homeschooling mother of four, a writer, creator, and photographer extraordinaire. She is the author of The Simplest of Acts: And Other Short Stories and The Perfect Mess, and she muses poetically about ordinary, beautiful moments on her blog: The Frozen Moon. And of course, I can personally recommend Melanie's photography business, Simply Mella Photography!

Without further adieu... onto the interview.

~What does an average day in the Haney house look like? 

 Oh, I don't know that I can say that any day looks like the next, especially in our living situation (two homeschooling families under one roof.) ;) Alex, my oldest, is a constant though. He wakes up, tends to the pets, gets breakfast for himself and Evie and is normally half way through his school work for the day before I've even made the first pot of coffee. Lila tends to need more guided instruction, but not much beyond assigning her specific subjects and/or pages to accomplish. Asher is in kindergarten and all of his learning has happened organically. I've let him lead, in part out of the busyness of life, and in part, because I just don't have the energy to push a five (now six) year old to copy his name for three pages, until he's doing it perfectly. Imagine my surprise, when he taught himself to read and do addition and subtraction, simply because he wanted to do so.

We are usually done "school" by noon or one at the latest, and then, if it's a day that we don't need to go out to co-ops or classes, the footsteps up and down the stairs begin and both floors of the house are littered with the chaos of eight children, two dogs and two cats. There are approximately eighty-two snack requests per day, two loads of laundry (and a third that gets washed and then forgotten and stuck to the sides of the washing machine tub, until the next day), two loading and unloading of the dishwasher, approximately one broken cup/plate/bowl per day (between the two floors) and at least three debates over screen time and what constitutes "educational" viewing material. Grocery shopping, meal planning, shuttling of children to and from drama, or choir or karate, all squish in there somehow too.

In the midst of the craziness, if I am able, I run/jog/walk for at least an hour in the day, and then again at night, on my sanity saving treadmill. Vinnie comes home from work and we essentially high-five to transfer the duties of parenting. I sneak to the basement during the bedtime routine, to start actually working on editing and responding to client emails, or, if I'm not backed up with work, I write. I stay up far too late, often past midnight, unable to pry myself away from the quiet, child-free time...and the binge watching of Mad Men.

 ~From the outside it appears that you bring a bit of creativity into all areas of your life - from photographing the ordinary moments that add up to a day, to decorating beautiful cakes and adding bits of garnish to dinner plates - is this something that you do naturally or something that you make an extra effort to do? 

 Truthfully, I just get bored very easily, and this leads to wanting to do things, like, make a fun cake or play around with cooking and plating dinner. Luckily, along the same lines, I am also inspired very easily. I think this is why I am so fascinated with the ordinary moments. I like to shower with the lights off, so that I can watch the sunlight catch the dust motes and then swirl in the steam while I'm rinsing my hair. It's like poetry. Of course, it's actually only me, not cleaning my bathroom well enough and then standing too long in the shower, with the curtain cracked enough to let the light in...but...I choose to see art and verse. I would much rather be busy than bored, and so, I take pictures, I opt for fresh whipped cream and maybe a patterned dusting of powdered sugar over dessert, I linger in good light and watch dust swirl...because all these things keep my mind, and soul, happy. It's not an effort, it's more of a creative compulsion, a drive.

 ~Can you tell us a little bit about your writing life? 

My writing life, if I'm being honest, is abysmal at the moment. I'm in the limbo of motherhood and career, somewhat clinging to the idea that by the time I'm forty, I'll have this miraculous wealth of time bestowed upon me, and I'll finally be free to write out all of the characters and stories that have taken up residence in my soul for the past decade. The practical woman in me knows this is not going to happen, and so, I have started to try to commit to writing *something fictional* at least once a month. Most of my other writing lately, is just in blog format, where I pour out whatever is on my heart, whatever situation has struck me as needing to be recorded for later remembrance. But, these are all just accounts of motherhood, womanhood and myself. But, non-fiction is not my genre, and I have worlds to write, scenes that haunt me and characters that nudge me to find the time...before I'm forty.

~What measures do you take to protect your creativity? 

I don't know that I take any. I think I just see most anything that I do, perhaps outside of filing taxes, as a potential creative outlet, and I embrace it. So, maybe that? Maybe creativity is a muscle, and I just flex it as often as possible. Humming and daydreaming while doing the laundry. Really feeling things, like the grit of dried oats in a bowl in the sink. People watching at the grocery store checkout line, imagining what they are making with those bundles of herbs and the white wrapped packages from the fish counter - a bottle of wine, maybe it's romantic, or maybe they're having company?

~Do you need absolute quiet to create, or do you prefer noise? And how does that impact your day? 

If we're talking specifically what I need to create writing - I need quiet. No children. No television. No music. Not even the sound of Vinnie chewing tortilla chips. (See above where I said I retreat to the basement.) Photography is the complete opposite. I like a bustling, swirling, life going on all around me, atmosphere, one where I can disappear and be invisible behind the lens...witnessing the art of life, of an elderly couple holding hands during a wedding toast, or a little girl twirling her hair during the first dance, eyes fixed on the bride on the floor. Stories everywhere, and instead of a pen, I shoot.

 ~What is the most challenging aspect of being a writer/photographer and homeschooling? 

The most challenging aspect is the silencing of mommy-guilt, turned client-guilt. I've gotten better at this, but there is still always a lingering doubt that I'm somehow failing someone at any given moment. It could be that I am convinced on a Tuesday that Lila will never pass her end-of-the-year exam, because I haven't devoted enough time to her multiplication skills - or it could be because I'm too quickly approaching a delivery deadline for a client and haven't had the time to sit long enough to finish their gallery. Or, it could be that I am still paying for my MFA in creative writing, but haven't worked earnestly on the novel that sits 3/4 of the way finished in a folder on my desktop.

Silencing the voice in my head that tells me I'm failing, that is the battle.

~What is the most rewarding aspect of being a writer/photographer and homeschooling? 

On the ride to co-op yesterday morning, Alex excitedly started to tell me all about how he was just reading about the Panama Canal the other day, how it was built and why and what a difference it made - and that the book he was reading right there in the van, was talking about Roosevelt and his connection to the Panama Canal. Alex loved connecting the dots, on his own, from two totally different texts. And I thought, what an amazing kid.

On the way to the circus today, Asher couldn't stop reading aloud every sign he laid eyes on. Grand Slam Pizza. CVS/Pharmacy. Union Oyster House. And I thought to myself, my son did this on his own. What an amazing kid.

Being a homeschool mom, I've come to find myself far less of a teacher than I thought I would be. In fact, I am a terrible teacher. I rely on Google and Khan Academy far more than I should admit. That said, the role I'm growing into is far more rewarding. I'm a witness. I'm their witness.

How homeschooling plays into my work is simple: most wedding and portrait photography takes place on the weekend. If my children were in traditional school, with after school activities, I would not see them. I'd witness them climbing a bus, and not in everyday moments, and certainly, not through my rear view mirror, smiling and telling Alex that his dad and I once went through the Panama Canal, too. (Of course, then he asked how it works - exactly - and so I told him, "we'll Google it when we get home.")

~How do you feel about the word balance? Is there such a thing? 

Balance is like happiness - it only really exists if you make your own. Happiness, I've got. Balance, I'm still working on. It requires going for a run and also doing some deep, thoughtful breathing techniques while stretching, or laying flat on my back and staring up at the ceiling...until I'm interrupted by a child or a dog. 

~Has your creative process changed due to homeschooling? 

Only in that it has made me need to be more intentional. I have "creative" work that is actually work (photography) and so, writing has become something that is limited to the quiet moments, when my editing queue is light, that I'm able to find.

~What advice would you give to someone who is passionate about their creative pursuits, and just starting out on their homeschooling journey? 

This might sound counter-intuitive, but, don't read (too much) about how other people do things. I know that my process is different than all of my homeschooling friends' processes, it's even different than my very creative best friend, living just one floor below me. It's a personal journey, one that you take with your family. And much like everything else in life, comparisons are never going to be fair. Will your son decide he wants to just learn how to read on his own? Maybe. Maybe not. Either way - it's fine.

The only way I've found to live through this journey, is to embrace it, every bumpy, confusing, am-I-making-a-monumental-mistake-moment of it.. Because, eventually, your children will read - and you'll witness it. Eventually, your children will do their first multiplication table and you'll talk about it over toast with jam - you'll witness it. Eventually, your children will want to talk about things like, how the Panama Canal was important - and you'll witness it. (You may need to brush up on your history lessons, but you'll do just fine.) 

And, eventually, possibly even sooner than reading or the discussions of the Panama Canal, you'll have time to be creative. If you're anything like me, you'll have to, as a matter of sanity.

The best advice I have, is to not look over your shoulder, or to your neighbor, or to Pinterest or even to blogs. I'm no expert. I'm just a photographer/writer/mom in the trenches, who used three clean bath towels to sop up the lake of water her four year old spilled all over the floor tonight, while she was doing a sanity-saving treadmill run. We're all learning, even the experts, even the people who post the most inspiring instagrams or post the most wonderful shares on Pinterest. Do what's best for you, creatively. And do what's best for your family.

Witnessing the journey is worth any sacrifice, I've found.

But...then again, I'm the woman who is clinging to aspirations of accomplishing more writing when she's forty.

~Melanie, thank you so much for your words here. I found myself nodding as I read countless times as I read through your answers! Thank you again!

Be sure to visit Melanie at:
Simply Mella Photography
The Frozen Moon

If you are a homeschooling parent who is in the midst of creative pursuits, or know someone who is, and would like to contribute to this series, please contact me at crnnoel(at)gmail(dot)com.

Monday, April 13, 2015

creating in the midst...


Today I'd like to introduce a series that will be unfolding here in the coming weeks: Creating in the Midst.

This past year as I've begun to dive deeper into my writing I've been more intentional with my time, creating space for my words... my art. It's been tricky, to say the least, with two kids at home who are not just vying for attention, but who are my responsibility to educate and walk beside through the day. Homeschooling is a choice that we stand by, and are so thankful for, but that brings with it unique challenges and struggles, especially when trying to fit a writing life into the picture.


While there are endless blog posts, essays, interviews, series, etc... for working parents who create, creative parents in general, and motherhood at large, creating in the midst of homeschooling is a subject that is severely lacking in support and guidance. While I've been able to learn much from all of the groups of work from various parents, this year in particular I've craved words from people who have been in my shoes, who create while also having their children of all ages underfoot.

And so, with Creating in the Midst, we will hear from writers and artists who are passionate about their creative work and who also homeschool {and I'm using the term homeschool to include the wide range of families from unschooling to traditional homeschooling}. Not to exclude any group of parents, but to encourage and learn from this specific group. There are many of us in this boat, trying to navigate our own creative pursuits while also honoring the time, space, and needs of our school age children. This happens regardless of how you chose to education your child, so I hope that many will read this series of conversations with an open mind.


Homeschooling our children brings so much joy and many challenges. Most days there is no nap time. Most days we are not actually at home. Most days don't look like the one before, or the one after. Most days we struggle - like any other parent - to find that elusive balance or even just a smidgen of peace and harmony. In choosing to homeschool we often choose a lifestyle of learning that knows no boundaries, where anything and everything is a life lesson. With that comes time constraints for our pursuits. Mental fatigue. Physical fatigue. And that can do a number on the creative process... the space one needs to hold for forming words and thoughts, let alone stories or essays! But all of these things can also enhance our creative lives.

There is nothing better than walking alongside a child, hearing their insights and seeing the world through their eyes, to expand the horizons of your creativity. 

I've got a wonderful group of homeschooling parents ready to participate in this series, and I look forward to learning from each of them. Our posts will be casual, in a Q&A format. I will be publishing the interviews/conversations here on Mondays as they come in. We might not have a post up every Monday, but keep a look out!

My hope is to encourage not only homeschooling parents, but any parent who feels lost in the depths of parenthood and is having a hard time finding their footing with their creative life. We don't have to give up our pursuits because we also want to have a family, and we don't have to give up the option of homeschooling because of our creative dreams and ambitions.

Everyone's process is different, everyone's lives are different, but hopefully we can find some commonalities and learn from each other... possibly catching that life preserver we all need thrown to us at one time or another on this incredible journey of creating in the midst of it all.


If you are a homeschooling parent who is in the midst of creative pursuits, or know someone who is, and would like to contribute to this series, please contact me at crnnoel(at)gmail(dot)com. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

April showers...

It's snowing. Big fluffy flakes that jump over the porch railing and dance on the wind.

Today was slow. We hung out in bed, my girl said "let's get up..." And then moments later she giggled and pulled the covers back up to her chin.

I'm noticing gray hairs and crows feet, but it's easy to look past those things in the mirror and focus on my eyes. Sometimes they sing.

There are baths to run, books to read, dinner to put on... but the snowflakes are dancing on the wind, laughing in the face of April showers.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

March's book pile


March's list is diverse and full of both fiction and non fiction. Here we go...

1. Etched on Me: A Novel by Jenn Crowell
This novel was absolutely hearbreaking. I cried several times, and cringed through passages that if it were a movie I would have covered my eyes and hoped for the best, all the while expecting the worst. But the beauty of this book is that there's hope. Even if the main character can't find it, the minor characters that support her most certainly give and hold hope for her. A brilliant read, but be warned that the subject matter is difficult and you will find yourself raging at the injustice of bureaucracy...

2.This Perfect Mess by Melanie Haney
I met Melanie several years ago through blogging, and I've had the absolute pleasure of getting to know her in person and call her my friend. When I saw that she had self published a collection of short stories and essays I ordered it right away. Focusing on motherhood, Melanie has an honest way of sharing her truths, from the difficult to the beautiful and everything between. I love her writing, and will read anything that she puts out into the world!

3.The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo
This book... I wanted to love it. And I liked it very much! But I did find that some of her practices were difficult to implement in a house with (relatively) small children. I did use her method for my clothing, which was an incredible process. It was so freeing to look at what I had in terms of what brought me joy, and the rest went out the door! I felt so much lighter after! What I took away from the book was the concept of only keeping what brings you joy, and I've moved through the house keeping that in mind, but also taking consideration the rest of the family. I'd love to do a whole sweep of the house, but I'm realizing that I'm not the one with the hoarding tendencies... if you catch my drift... and I'm working with the kids on this issue. What's interesting to me is what the kids say brings them joy. We went through their playroom and while there was a lot more left than I would have liked, they were able to weed down a bit. Long story short, I enjoyed the book, but found the author a bit... immature... but the concepts are certainly applicable to any household.

4.Flicker (The Shine on Trilogy) (Volume 1) by Anya Monroe
As mentioned last month, I enjoy Anya's books tremendously! This was no different, and I'm looking forward to reading the next two books in the trilogy... but I'm trying to pace myself!  I found the characters believable, and enjoyed their journeys to find purpose and light... and just like her other books - this wasn't a predictable ride!

5.Splinters of Light by Rachel Herron
I've read most of Rachel Herron's other work, and this was one of my favorite books that she's written. I've watched her writing career, from her first memoir to her steamy knitting inspired fiction {seriously, it's a thing!} and then her exploration into more.... serious... fiction. Splinters of Light was another heartbreaking story. It centered around a mother who finds out she has early onset Alzheimer's, and how it plays out with her and her family. While this was a heavy story, there was Herron's trademark humor to help pull us through.

6.Dear Thief: A Novel by Samantha Harvey
Oh boy. I loved the beginning of this book, and the language throughout. Samantha Harvey's writing reminds me of Jeanette Winterson... that luxurious use of words that capture emotion so masterfully. Ultimately the language and writing kept me reading, though by the second half I was bored and was fairly annoyed that the story kept going... BUT it's worth a try. With lines like:
 “When I got you home and we asked where you had been, you said, ‘I’ve been in an elevator, going up and down.’ So we sat you out in the garden at the mossy table and gave you tea, and asked you again. ‘I’ve been in an elevator, looking for love.’ ‘For two years?’ we asked. ‘Love is hard to find.” 
how could you not enjoy this book even just a little?

7.Beautiful Ruins: A Novel by Jess Walter
It took a few chapters for me to get into this one, but ultimately I loved it. I loved changing time line, the different perspectives, and the many - many - story lines that were all tied up together to make this gift of a book. The story spans decades, and was so fun to read... and now I want to watch Cleopatra... if you've read this you'll know why!

8.Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
I didn't love Wild, Cheryl Strayed's memoir, so I wasn't sure what to expect from this book. I was blown away. Strayed writes with such honesty. The advice she gives in her columns is what you'd want your best friend to tell you... only you probably wouldn't listen because it's hard to take at times but it is ultimately all so true. The humanity that is shown in the pages - both from the letters that people write to her and her responss are eye opening, and heartwarming.  All I can really say is: read this book, you won't be sorry.

“I'll never know, and neither will you, of the life you don't choose. We'll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn't carry us. There's nothing to do but salute it from the shore.” ~ Cheryl Strayed

9.The Rosie Project: A Novel by Graeme Simsion
This was a cute story with a quirky narrator. I wanted to like it more than I actually did... I skimmed most of the second half because I wanted to know what happened, but I found the narrator very distracting and almost annoying {think Sheldon from The Big Bang theory... fun for 30 minutes at a time...} For this story I understand why the author chose to write it from the first person, and I appreciate being inside the character's head and some of the insights we gain from that. However, I think I would have preferred at least some sections to be third person - or even first, but from a different characters perspective. Again, a cute, light read!

10.Hausfrau: A Novel by Jill Alexander Essbaum
This is one of those stories where the writing was much better than the story, but still it was such a well crafted book. You can tell the author is a poet, her words are crafted in such a way that they make you feel all the feels. It reminded me a bit of The Awakening by Kate Chopin {which I liked better... for the record...} I was rooting for the main character right up to the end, waiting for her redemption. I won't give any spoilers, but I will say that I was incredibly disappointed in the ending. I'm sure some will argue that it was the only way to end the book, to stay true to the character, but I'll argue that there's always another way. Regardless, this was a well crafted book, and as a writer I appreciated the structure and the writing style.


The past month or so I've loved hearing what you all have thought about some of the books on the monthly lists! As with all of the lists, I'm not recommending everything, just sharing what I've read. I take no responsibility for your enjoyment or displeasure in reading any of the books I've listed :)

What are you all reading this month?

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