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Creativity

I'm frustrated with the state of our yards. Truthfully, I am a frustrated with a few things right now, but we'll stick to the yards.

We have a front yard and back yard. As the main floor tenants we can do what we please with both, which is a real gift for a gardener apartment dweller like myself.

I appreciate so much the beautiful front yards I see in our neighborhood and city. I enjoy city life when beauty abounds in both large green spaces and the little nooks and crannies people claim for gardening.

I have dreams and intentions to transform our own green spaces, to create beauty for our own enjoyment and our neighborhood. Perennial beds, bulbs, a small vegetable garden, annual flowers, I have space to cultivate all of that. But right now I keep coming up against my two greatest problems. I don't have a lot of money to spend and in this month especially, I am hard pressed for time.

Not enough money, not enough time. Perennial frustrations, gardening pun not intended.

Earlier this month, I scored big when I discovered our borough's free compost weekend. At that point in the month drama hadn't yet taken over our life so I spent a Saturday making trips to the eco-centre to pick up the compost, bringing it back to the house in buckets and bins.

But so much work remains and there has been very little time, and very little funds with which to purchase plants or even the tools I need to step back into the role of gardener.

I am currently without a rake or a spade. The last time I needed to own those tools was when I lived in Maine. I left them there with our tenants to use in the maintenance of our property. To add insult to injury, the weed whacker, which Damien uses to buzz cut the-patch-of-weeds-we-don't-even-bother-calling-a-lawn, refused to start this week. So we have to visit a small engine repair shop. We are smack dab in the most intense time of a drama production schedule. We don't have time to get the whacker fixed, never mind the fact "fixing the weed whacker" is not a line item in the budget.

Earlier this month I was able to borrow our neighbor's tools, which was great for the compost weekend but borrowing doesn't work so well on a day-to-day basis when I might have a random 15 minutes to work in the yard and no tools at my easy disposal.

I'm frustrated and I feel restricted by my limitations.

The state of our yards does not represent my vision or values. And I feel ashamed because I am a tidy person, I create and share beauty, and I have strong sense of contributing to community. That we are "those people" with the scrappy yards irks me to no end. If all that wasn't enough, I have the contentment-stealing thoughts that, "if only Damien was interested in gardening I could achieve my goals quicker."

I want a beautiful garden, and I want it now.

I have desires, dreams, and goals - for writing, blogging, and gardening. But progress in those areas seems to be moving like molasses in this season.

Deep breath Renee. You have no idea how often I say this to myself.

Wednesday this week, our one day off from driving, rehearsals, and performances I had an hour (in between laundry, getting a few groceries, making brownies for the bake sale that accompanies each performance, and picking up stuff for the play) to do something about the problem.

I created one small area of beauty.

Our front yard has a lot going for it with its maturing shrubs and large trees. It has a good foundation and I can totally work with it, but it's weedy and needs to filled in with shade-loving perennials (hostas are the obvious choice). And I'd love to enliven the space with spring bulbs and colorful annuals.

Our bedroom window and balcony overlooks the front yard, and every time I go into the bedroom, which is often because it's the guaranteed tidy and quiet spot in the house, I am reminded of the state of affairs in the front yard. All that is not done, all I want to do. (Gardening never fails me as a metaphor for life.)

The yard has so much potential but my eyes needed something beautiful, now. So using the leftover free compost I planted a $3 begonia in a cheap colorful pot, and placed it on the rusting white chair I rescued from the trash last summer. The planting and placing of that begonia took five minutes.

I also washed the balcony and the windows. That part took 45 minutes. And then I reluctantly returned to the intensity called drama production week. I made something tidy. I made something beautiful. It's small but it's something. It's all I can give right now.

I placed the pot in such a way that I see it from all the angles inside my bedroom. And having clean windows really helps.

Earlier this month I did the same thing on our kitchen balcony. I planted colorful pansies that catch my eye every time I wash the dishes, or sit at my little table to eat, read or write, as I am doing right now.

I've started building the gardens in the backyard but there is so much left to do. The weedy patches far outweigh the cultivated ones. And the only thing blooming are dandelions.

On free compost weekend, when I borrowed my neighbor's tools, I started a flower bed along the fence. This year, until I have the budget for perennials, I'm planting it with annual seeds. A few dollars of seeds will give me a lot of color come July and August.

I weeded the rose bed, planted cosmo seeds, found a long forgotten concrete bordered bed under the grass, dug up that turf, composted and seeded that space with a package of mixed wildflower seeds.

I also started (what will one day become) the vegetable garden by digging up the weedy turf along the back wall of the garage and planting a couple rows of sunflower seeds.

We won't even see those sunflowers from our kitchen window, those beauties are for the neighbors.

Perhaps that gesture will make up for the fact that, on a hot windy afternoon this week, our scrappy yard full of puffy dandelions (the kind my young children would use to make feather beds for fairies) single-handedly seeded the entire neighborhood with this pesky weed.

For the people who are quick to point out the utility of dandelions, I must add that I'm not interested in eating the barely edible young leaves of dandelions from my urban yard or roasting the roots to make fake coffee. I'll wait for the apocalypse to put that knowledge to use.

The backyard looks pitiful right now, full of denuded dandelions, but the pansies are bright and beautiful, which is why I've placed them where I have, the first thing I see when I look out the window.

These are small solutions to larger problems. A little bit of beauty is better than no beauty.

All creative endeavors of transformation and growth - raising children, planting a garden, putting on a play - take time. In my weak and tired moments, when I am stretched and stressed (from the aforementioned play), I am easily frustrated that my goals, my dreams and aspirations, require more time and resources than I have to give.

But an inexpensive pot of flowers, carefully placed to catch my eye, before I see the mess, actually helps. Giving me something pretty to appreciate in the process.

Happy Boxing Day!

Some friends have asked me about the time commitment required for the Hibernate retreat.

It requires none, and there is no guilt or pressure to prioritize or participate in the content. It's completely self-paced.

My approach to last year's retreat was to read, experience, and connect with others around the ideas as much as I could. And some ideas I put off for later in the winter or another season altogether.

Meditative drawing is one of those ideas.

I'd seen this idea floating around and had noticed books at the library. Heather taught a couple meditative flower drawing patterns in Hibernate and I KNEW I wanted to learn more.

I started researching meditative drawing and came across Zentangle. I was hooked, and overwhelmed. I wanted to learn but wasn't sure where to start.

So I reserved all the Zentangle books in the New Brunswick library system, that's the library we used when we lived on the Peninsula, and perused each one to decide which one I wanted to buy.

I settled on One Zentangle A Day and have since discovered a few more resources which I review near the bottom of this post.

I started doodling the beginning of June. I had no idea what I was doing. I have never considered myself an artist, and I've always said, "I can't draw". I'm sure some of you can relate to this.

There are still many things I am unable to draw, that I haven't even tried drawing, faces for example. But what I have learned is that I can draw, with practice. And what is so wonderful about Zentangle and other abstract drawing is that it's not supposed to look like anything you can recognize and so you can't draw it wrong (but you sure can draw it wonky, as I have experienced!)

It feels so good to be joining the artists in my family. All of my family draws. Damien has a hidden talent that only those closest to him (that would be his family) know about and my kids have been drawing since they were toddlers and have never stopped. Their artwork features regularly on the blog because I think it is beautiful and I love it.

But now, I am drawing too. And there is something so satisfying to me about getting shading advice from my son, who's drawing experience vastly outweighs mine.

Fear not, you don't need a resident artist for tutorials, learning to Zentangle doesn't require you to know about shading, or anything else other than connecting points with curved or straight lines.

Zentangle is a pattern-based, abstract drawing technique. And if you want to get really picky about it, it's done on square pieces of special paper called "tiles". I don't use square pieces of special paper. I use a high-quality, blank spiral-bound journal I inherited from Damien who used the first few pages for some doodling of his own.

What I love about Zentangle:

  • No expectations. What I draw on the page doesn't have to look like anything in real life. Phew.

  • Relaxing. I have to admit I'm sometimes a bit jittery about making mistakes but that's also why I keep doing it. To learn that each mistake I make is not that big of a deal.

  • Open-ended. I don't naturally thrive in open-ended scenarios but Zentangle is "going with the flow" in your drawing. You have to let go of preconceived notions of what you think your art should or will look like and let it unfold. I create a Zentangle drawing, pattern by pattern, without a plan. This open-endedness helps me see and experience for myself, the beauty in not knowing, not planning, not controlling.

  • Accessible and space-small. The tools are simple, the supplies easily accessible and doesn't require a special studio or equipment.

  • Guidelines, but it's also very creative. "Official" Zentangle drawing uses certain pre-determined patterns. As you learn to Zentangle, you learn how to draw the individual patterns and combine them with other patterns. I don't know who makes these up or how new tangles are added to the "official" mix. I guess this is what makes it Zentangle specifically vs. abstract doodling. But even though you're following a pattern, called a tangle, how you draw that is very subjective and then there are tangelations (mixing it up). And how you pair and layer patterns next to each creates a new piece of art every time.

  • Therapeutic. I've been doing a lot of things this summer and fall to face anxiety head-on. CBT, mindfulness, meditation, supplements, and drawing. I don't know how significant a role the drawing plays but it helps because it is a type of mindfulness and the fact that I can't do it perfectly is very good for me mentally. A lot of resources profess the therapeutic benefits of Zentangle. I can't disagree with them but mostly I just think it's really enjoyable (so, I guess yes, it's therapeutic).

In trying my hand at Zentangle I completely adopted the posture of a learner, a student. I knew virtually nothing, other than what I learned in Hibernate, about meditative drawing and I have made some ridiculous drawings in my practice. It's supposed to be a "zen" experience but sometimes it's a snort laughter experience as my lines go places I didn't intend.

But I've also drawn tangles I'm really pleased with and I can flip through my journal and see the progression of my skill. This is very rewarding. I'm a learner, I'm not experienced, and it's good to be in that position.

Ever since I started posting photos of my tangles on Instagram I've been asked how I learned and what books I recommend.

Like I mentioned above, I chose One Zentangle A Day because it was my favorite book from what I could borrow and preview from the library collection.

What is Zentangle?

First, I need to define my terms. According to One Zentangle A Day, Zentangle is:

a miniature abstract work of art. It is created from a collection of patterns not meant to represent anything. It is created on a 3 1/2 x 3 1/2 inch piece of art paper called a "tile". This size allows for a work of art that can be completed in a relatively short time.

I'm not so technical about my Zentangle definitions. I draw tangles in a sketchbook and I call it Zentangle. The more precise term for what I draw is Zentangle-inspired art, or art following the Zentangle Method. All those words seem so fussy, and I'm not into fussy. I just call my drawings Zentangle.

This post may bother the Zentangle purists but I'm calling any drawing created with tangles (the abstract drawing patterns) a Zentangle. Technically, a Zentangle is a 3 1/2 x 3 1/2 tile.

What I like about One Zentangle A Day is that it teaches a step-by-step progression of how to draw individual tangles but it teaches you to create multi-patterned Zentangles from day one.

Supplies

OZAD gives an extensive supply list for creating Zentangle art. If you want to do everything the book teaches you'll need these supplies but it's overkill for getting started.

All you need is quality paper, a couple pens, and a pencil. If you want to do black tiles you need white pastel pencils, white gel pens, black tiles. But to start, you don't need any of that.

The huge supply list at the beginning of OZAD is a drawback of the book because it can easily overwhelm a newbie. But it's a good list if you intend to get serious with Zentangle.

I'm still in the newbie basic stage and use very simple supplies.

Lessons

The drawing lessons in OZAD are given out over 42 days of instruction. The premise, like the book title suggests, is that you can do one zentangle lesson each day.

For someone like myself with no drawing experience this is a laughable proposition. I started the book's lesson on July 9th (my first tangle is dated) and I have tangled most week days since then and I'm now on Lesson 22, just over halfway through the book. I'm averaging about one lesson every week.

OZAD is very in-depth but not too in-depth for a beginner. Lessons from the halfway point involve color instruction - using watercolors, gouche, colored pencils, and markers to color tiles. I'm just not ready for that yet, so I'm holding off on that for now and continuing with the blank and white tangle patterns taught in the second half of the book.

After these color lessons, the last 14 lessons (days) are quite artsy and in my opinion, advanced. Whereas the first section of the book I followed fairly closely, this part I will pick-and-choose from as it features mostly Zentangle inspiration vs. teaching how to draw tangles.

All together this book teaches how to draw 70 tangles.

More Resources

Joy of Zentangle teaches tangles with less emphasis on the meditative aspects of Zentangle. More drawing, less zen. I only recently discovered it at a local DeSerres, the library didn't have it in my original search.

I like this book and will be adding it to my personal library soon.

I recommend this book for the variety of tangles it teaches and its shading instruction, something I find quite difficult to learn and is not taught very well in OZAD. I've sought Laurent's advice in this regard, but not everyone has a Laurent in-house.

I haven't adequately previewed any other beginner Zentangle books to provide any more solid recommendations. There is a series of twelve Zentangle art books published by Design Originals that teaches a lot of Zentangle art.

The first in the series, Zentangle Basics is a workbook style publication, with lots of blank space for practice. I've come across other workbook style Zentangle "manuals" that provide more blank space than instruction. I prefer sketching in a notebook/sketchbook and I chose OZAD since I wanted an instruction book primarily.

I've also found a few Zentangle books that provide a lot of artistic inspiration with less focus on instruction, not so great for beginner.

When you start looking for Zentangle books you'll invariably come across a lot of meditative art coloring books. These seem to be wildly popular but I haven't gotten into the experience myself. I LOVE color; bright colors, contrasting colors, and someday I want to color my Zentangle drawings with watercolors, markers, and colored pencils. But coloring in pre-drawn lines just doesn't hold the same appeal for me. My preference is definitely drawing.

I've only scratched the surface of Zentangle, in my own art and explaining it here. I have enjoyed learning how to draw Zentangle inspired art immensely over the past few months even though I do not consider myself an artist. If you are interested in developing your own drawing skill I think Zentangle is a great place to start.

This post has affiliate links.

About five or six years ago I recognized my need for a proactive winter health strategy. There are things I love about winter; the Christmas holidays, the afternoon light in January (swoon), and skiing, for example. But winter is my most difficult season for the sheer length of it, the shorter days, and probably other factors (nutritional deficiencies, environmental toxins, negative thought patterns?) I'm not even aware of yet.

Each year I have added more tools into my toolkit to support my winter health, joy, and wellbeing.

Naming my difficulty was a huge first step. Not everyone in my family struggles with winter and to speak up for myself in this regard, and to be ok with being different from the crowd (in my very own living room), was a good first step.

Choosing to appreciate winter, regardless, was my first strategy. "By golly, I will make the most of this winter!" And then I swing my arm just like Rosie the riveter. This attitude, paired with a fairly serious commitment to getting outdoors everyday and looking for the beauty, was a good starting point.

Skiing was a game changer. I adore skiing. Telemark, alpine touring, alpine downhill (the kind people are most familiar with), and x-country. I've experienced all of them in the past few years. Huge thanks to my husband Damien for moving our family forward in this direction.

This will be my third winter using a therapy light. This is the model I use. (That is an affiliate link.) The first winter I used it, there seemed to be a noticeable difference for me. But that was also the winter we were prepping for our thru-hike, a lot was different that winter, there was no control, in the scientific sense. Regardless, I really think the light helps.

Supplements. A couple winters ago I started taking supplements - 2000 IU's of vitamin D and 1250 mg (750 mg EPA and 500 mg DHA) of omega-3 fatty acids daily. Now I take those daily all year round, and a few others to help out my sensitive amygdala. (In other words, for anxiety.)

A change of scenery has also helped. For me this means traveling, if possible, at the end of winter.

Three years ago, after a very difficult March, my lowest SAD experience to date, we decided on a whim to go to my parents for Easter. And we left the next day. It was one of the best spontaneous decisions (that cost a bit of money) I've ever made.

Two winter's ago we were so busy prepping for the AT I didn't have time to get SAD and our departure in late March shifted us into a geographic region that was experiencing spring. In two days we went from winter to spring.

Last year we took a house-hunting trip to Montreal and this shift in energy in our home during the month of April helped me get through the end of winter.

Last year I did something else to support my winter health, I joined Heather's hibernate class.

I have participated in almost all of Heather's classes except Summer Soul Camp and Harvest.

Here's my brief rundown:

  • Whole Food Kitchen - Love the recipes. I refer back to them often.
  • 30 Day Vegan - I actually know how to do that, so while the course is interesting, it's like preaching to the choir.
  • Hibernate (2nd run) - Knocked my knitted socks off.
  • Freezer Cooking (the one that just wrapped up) - Game changer I'm not going to tell that story here. Now's not the time but it shifted things significantly for me in a much more positive direction. (It's been a hard kitchen year.)

Hibernate

I didn't take Hibernate the first year. I wanted to, my body craved it but I was just too busy with our hike prep. I got through winter fine, no SAD, but the pace of that winter didn't set me up very well for what followed: the most physically, emotionally and mentally demanding experience of my life. By the following fall I was broken and bruised. You know the story. I learned that lesson the hard way.

I need winter as a time for rest, reflection, and fun. Winter is not a pushing through season for me. It's a time to be cozy, as much as our schedules allow, and a time to really nurture myself.

Life is life. Stuff happens. You can't make everything go your way in terms of arranging your seasons just so. But I can create intentions for the seasons of the year, and seasons of my life. As I learned from this past year.

I need to take care of myself all year, but I thin out in winter. Summer fills my well and I feel really healthy during those months, but the well is starting to run dry by mid-winter especially and I need to proactively refill it with life-affirming winter strategies.

Hibernate is part of that.

I was so blown away by it last year. The quality of the content, the vibe it brought into my days, and the skills I learned. Last winter I re-wrote the script for that season, in part because of Heather's workshop. I vowed if it was offered again I would shout it from the rooftops.

Because it was so wonderful for me I decided to gift a registration to a friend this year because Heather makes an impossible-to-turn-down offer where she allows a 2-for-1 registration for a limited time.

It's that time. Hibernate begins January 11 and registration starts today. The 2-for-1 deal is good till Monday.

This year is recycled content from year one and year two. Some content will be new to me and some will be familiar. If you've never joined, it's a great year to do so. I assume you'll get the best of both.

I appreciated so many aspects of last year's retreat. Each weekday for four weeks there were fresh ideas to inspire creativity, rest and renewal, physical health and wellness, and/or relationship building.

Heather organizes the self-paced workshop around five themes: renew, gather, nourish, create, and rest. In addition to beautiful essays, there is a Facebook group to connect, instagram hashtags to share our photos, and blog commenting. (I love all that stuff. Some people just want good content, you get that in spades.)

I didn't even try half of the ideas presented during the course and some of the content I saved specifically for later, candle making for example. I started that last month and now that I'm well stocked, with easy access to more supplies, I will make those in batches throughout winter.

Another favorite of mine from the course was the herbal chai recipe. I ordered a bunch of ingredients in bulk the end of last winter so I'm all set to start my herbal chai routine come January. It is the perfect nourishing, non-caffeinated, not-too-rich winter beverage. I can't wait.

And then there was the meditative drawing, which opened the door to Zentangle, which is an art and therapy I have been practicing, almost daily since summer. I will be publishing more about that next week, fingers crossed.

I loved all these things and more but what I appreciated most is that Hibernate helped me set an intention for the winter season.

I'm the only one in my house who seems to need a season-honoring focus for the winter months. My kids are, well, they're kids. They operate at a different level than me. When I was a kid I don't remember ever thinking about how the season affected my moods, etc. And as a teen I just wanted to do stuff all the time. Just like my kids.

I am not a teenager. I'm a life seasoned mom, supporting three teens. And as it turns out, my needs are different from those of my family, both teens and husband. He loves winter, loves skiing, loves snow. He wants to ski until June. He doesn't get moody in winter. He can power through without much attention to seasonal shifts. Not so for me.

(Interestingly, he isn't as buoyed up by summer the way I am. I'm high and low, and he's steady.)

I'm making a big effort to live according to my own seasonal rhythms, while providing a home environment that allows everyone the freedom to meet their needs also.

Hibernate is a winter gift to myself. The gift of friendship and beauty. The gift of cozy and craft. The gift of learning new skills and trying new recipes. It's just a really good thing. Join me there?

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