The New Wrap-Up

We were in the mountains last weekend, and decided to take an impromptu hike. We were delighted to find this fort made of branches. Another reminder that trying something new pays off; too often we stay home on the weekends, and we’ve never found a fort this cool in town.

This is a wrap for our ‘try something new’ month. Overall it was a productive month – we made new friends, tried new food, took new routes, and of course worked on letting go of old ways that weren’t working for us anymore.

The new, new, new focus will continue; I’ve signed up for a few workshops through the Art Students League of Denver. Much more productive than karaoke and nose piercings, don’t you think?  I already see that the kids are influenced by my own focus on art. They’re gravitating back toward drawing, painting, and just making stuff.

It also turns out that Sam is a decent art coach. I’ve been sloooowly working on a painting, and one evening, as I was working on the computer instead, he innocently asked, “Don’t you think you should do some more work on that painting? When are you ever going to finish it?”

I sort of hide behind the ten-year-process-painting plan, so that was a good nudge. I’ve got some plans for next month on the blog that will relate to finishing projects, i.e. the harvest. If you’ve ever had trouble completing a project, I hope you’ll stop by and find some inspiration – more details tomorrow!

Until then, what did you try this month that was new? What was the outcome?


Taking what was run down, grey and worn, and making something new. The theme of transformation has been running around my head this week. It’s what makes stories worth reading, movies worth watching, paintings worth stopping to take a second look – there’s always an element of transformation. In the end you see something new, but that newness only exists because of what lies beneath, what came before.

The mural had to be on that building (I’m told it’s somewhere near 4th and Galapagos) and live the history and drama of that neighborhood. I’m sure it would be beautiful in a museum too, but it wouldn’t tell the same story.

It’s the same with our relationships, our parenting, our teaching. It’s not always pretty, but the real story is built by allowing ourselves to transform, through the relationships. There may be false starts, unwanted graffiti on the building walls, painted over with grey a hundred times. And although a beautiful mural might finally emerge, it won’t stay the same either. I’m trying to remember to pause, take a second look, breathe in the color, the emotion, the energy. To fully appreciate the transformation, and then let it go, of course.

“I Declare” by Lisa Coughlin – Guest Post and Photos

I’m happy to welcome back the lovely and talented Ms. Lisa Coughlin! We’ve been corresponding by mail and on-line for almost four years, and we’ve shared some similar paths through life, even though we haven’t met in person yet. I can’t wait for that day,so we can share a few doughnuts and check out an art museum or two.
And now I’m going to go try the idea she’s written about. Thank you Lisa – I, Elise, am inspired by you and I’m glad you’re part of my life.

Recently, at a fall festival, children were invited to participate in a fill-the-bucket relay race.

There were two lines, several sponges, and four buckets.  Everyone was instructed to dunk the sponges in the bucket of water before them, then to run to the other bucket with the now soaked sponge, squeezing it into the empty bucket.  The goal being to fill up your team’s bucket to overflowing.  A couple times during the race, children ran to the opposite team’s bucket.  I couldn’t help but laugh out loud, as the adults piped up, telling the children they needed to go to the other bucket.  I thought, “This is how I feel many a day—I’m filling up the wrong bucket.”

I received some sad news regarding a long-standing, time and thought-consuming goal. What I tried didn’t work.  This is not the first time I’ve heard this type of news, and it won’t be the last time.  Only this time, I didn’t respond so well to the disappointing news.

Have you heard this anonymous saying—or one similar to it? “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% what you do with what happens to you.”  I’d like to think I subscribe to this sunny-side-up-attitude all the time, but my brain is more a scramble of this stance; more melancholy than happy-go-lucky.

In my continual quest to nourish a positive outlook, I’ve turned to writing, creating art and reflective photographyI search for ways to transform my uncertainty and doubt.

My daughter has served as a constant inspiration and motivation, giving me a healthy daily dose of perspective.  The other day, after reading one of her latest mystery books, she observed a pattern she noticed in a few of her books:  Often a character would make declarations such as “I, ______________, am ______________.”  “I, _________________, do not ______________.”  I asked her to write down statements about herself, thinking it would be a good prompt to get her writing.

Later, in my feelings of despair, I recalled this writing exercise and thought, “I need to make my own declarations.  I need to take charge of my intense sadness and turn it around.”  The news I received wasn’t going to change—at least for now—so I needed to take notice of what was in my control.  Instead of second-guessing all the decisions I had made up to this point, I needed to affirm myself.

My “try something new” was to write a list of declarations, focusing on what I am—to overthrow an inner dialogue that tells me what I am not.  In an effort to silence my tendency to be critical of myself and my decisions, instead I choose to highlight my talents and gifts.

Like the detective in my daughter’s mystery book, I want to solve big mysteries.  I want to listen and watch for the clues my life experiences and circumstances reveal to me.  I want to define and refine the way I live, so I am focused on what is important—to me, and to my family.  Making declarations is just another tool to help me do this.  As Elise reflected on her evening walk“Habits grow when we keep showing up and trying, despite varying weather and moods.”

*What are your declarations? 

“I, ________________, am _________________.” 

If you have children, how would you state them in terms of the way you parent? 

“I’m the kind of parent who _________________.”


New Directions: just beneath the surface

It turns out that my lack of direction isn’t so depressing, I just need to be reminded to not take myself so seriously, on a monthly, weekly, daily, minute-by-minute basis. My first-world-problem, of being a poor directionless soul? It’s what most humans are wrestling with each day (thanks MK and AD for the Bozos on the Bus connections). 

When I actually took a little time to think about my direction this weekend, I realized that I have more direction than I thought. Writing down some notes helped immensely. What are the ideas that I return to again and again? The ideas that, even when repetitious, feel new and exciting? Again and again, it’s photography, painting, writing – in short, making stuff. I love working with kids and the field of education, but my real dream is to create a living as an artist, and then give money to foundations and other people who do great work with kids and schools.

There, I’ve put it out there for anyone in blog land to see, which may sound simplistic, but it’s a good step for me.

It’s been an easy out, for the past fourteen years, hiding my creative desires behind a husband, two kids, a career, and a household. They’ve all kept me safe – if you advertise your supreme busy-ness to the world and announce that you simply don’t have time to create, you’re exempt from putting your creative heart on the line.

So there’s my new ‘new’ for September. Stepping out of hiding. Hi, my name’s Elise, and I’m a creative person.

I’m beginning with small actions, to continue that stepping out process. Just looking up options on-line, for various courses and workshops. Carrying the nice camera where ever I go. Drawing and painting something, anything, each day. Writing each day. There’s a certain writer’s group that I need to follow through with, by setting a date and time to get together.

I’m also working to counteract the pervasive belief of mine that pursuing a creative life is somehow a selfish route to take. I’m not going to abandon my family to go make art in Italy, but I will keep taking small steps, to live more creatively and more authentically. 

As always, some questions for you… Is there a new direction you’ve been wanting to take? What is it? What small steps can you take, to begin the journey?

New Route

I thought that changing small elements in my life would somehow result in change that was more profound. As if driving a different route each day, to and from the same places would make a difference. They say that brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand can get your brain all pepped up in the same way. I might try that instead, because I’d spend less money on gas, driving around and making wrong turns all over this city.

To pursue the metaphor, I feel like I’m driving through life with no destination in mind. I’m just driving, because that’s what people do, right? I try to be happy while I drive, expanding my blind spots in order to keep out deeper questions, that would upset the ride. Most of the drivers around me are doing the same thing, so it’s pretty easy to blend in. It’s actually preferable to blend in.

But those questions, they keep sneaking in, despite the huge blind spots I’ve been cultivating. Hey, wait a minute, where are we going anyway? I’ve heard rumors that it’s not about the destination and that if you can enjoy the journey you’re all set, but I don’t quite buy it. There’s got to be a destination point, in order to make it a journey in the first place.

This is all reminding me of a certain song by the Talking Heads (nicely covered by a happy group of people here), so it’s time to sign off, hopefully to dream about where I’m headed.

How about you? Is a new route enough, or is it your destination that needs revamping?

24 Hour Party People

Okay, the photo is completely misleading. I am actually not a 24 Hour Party Person, though I dressed as one for Halloween in 2008. But everyone else in the family turned into Party People today, even that little Punk Pumpkin Sam.

They ended up at three different parties this afternoon and evening. None of them wanted to come home. That’s a huge new thing for Sam, so I guess it’s worth celebrating. The new thing for me is that I’m letting go of expecting myself to be a Party Person.

I went to two of the parties, chatted a little, ate good food, and then when I was ready to leave (way before everyone else), I gracefully left. It’s such a simple story. I don’t have to stay until the very end. And when I leave, I don’t have to feel bad about being the person who leaves. I can be the 24 Minute Party Person and that’s enough. This is my story, after all. I’m happy to be writing it my way, and I’m happy that Bella, Sam, and Michael are each writing their own stories.

I hope you get to party this weekend too, in the way that brings you the most joy and peace.




Down with Skinny Jeans and Guitar Lessons

I headed to Target last weekend, with the small goal of avoiding my traditional, depressing, color choices. One new thing, right? Then I saw the skinny jeans (colorful skinny jeans, even better) and thought that maybe I could really push the envelope. It was amazing that they even made it to the dressing room, let alone on my body, because my resistance to skinny jeans is mighty.

I’ll spare you the details, but here’s a public service announcement: all fashion trends aren’t meant for all body types. I promise that this isn’t a body image problem. I’m glad for the body I have, and I think it looks just fine in many other styles. So there’s no need for me to choose skinny jeans as my new thing, when there are many other choices that don’t result in the loss of circulation and pride.

I noticed a parallel in an experience that Sam had this week. We decided to enroll him in a weekly guitar class, as a break from his normal after-school-care situation. It sounded new and exciting and he was all for it. We found a small guitar at a garage sale, and it seemed like the first class went well.

When the second class rolled around, the whole thing started to unravel. On the way into school he bashed the guitar into a wall and was steadily cursing it under his breath, “Stupid guitar. Stupid guitar class. Stupid school.” These are really strong words in our G-rated family! That afternoon he refused to participate in the class, opting to sit, doing nothing for an hour. I think we pushed the new too much, when there were enough new elements for him (grade level, teacher, friends, and routine).

The lesson for me, both from the skinny jeans and the guitar lessons, is that it’s pointless to choose something new just to choose something new. There still has to be a point of resonance with the choices we’re making. There’s the new that activates a giddy feeling of expansiveness and there’s the new that feels forced and constricting. It’s a tricky balance – I get it that sometimes we have to push through initial discomfort with newness, before it becomes a positive force in our lives. It’s hard for me to tell how much discomfort is worthwhile.

For us right now, I think it’s okay to leave the skinny jeans and the guitars to those who will really rock them. I walked away from my shopping trip with some brighter t-shirts and Sam is considering taking up drumming.

How do you figure out which new ideas are worth embracing? When you push away the new, is it because you truly don’t want it or is it because you’re afraid?

One New Thing

When we originally set the intention of using September as a month to Try Something New, I was envisioning a structure similar to our scavenger hunt month. We could brainstorm a list of thirty-some new things we’d like to try, and then do them. Instead, we’re changing course a little. We’ll be on the lookout for new things to try, but I don’t plan to blog about thirty new things.

I’m going to be focused on just one new thing for myself – letting go. It sounds simple, and it’s something that’s not really new, at least on paper. My logical mind knows all about letting go, you just say you’ll do it and then you DO it, right? The actual practice of letting go of attachments (to ideas, people, things, habits, you name it) is still new. I’ll think that I’ve let something go, and then it greets me again, usually around 2 a.m. So letting go will be my new practice for the month, and most likely my entire life.

The first step will be simply recognizing when I’m attached to something in a way that’s not healthy for me. Through the month I plan to keep re-reading this post on Zen Habits, written by Lori Deschene of Tiny Buddha.

Also, it’s possible that by allowing myself to try other new things throughout the month, I’ll loosen my grasp on old stuff that doesn’t work for me anymore. I’ve jokingly said that I plan to sing in a karaoke bar and get my nose pierced before my birthday at the end of the month, so watch out Denver.

The kids are both involved in plenty of new-ness at their schools. Despite the disastrous back-to-school picnic night, Sam is making new friends in first grade, and getting along well with his teachers. He’s also starting a few after-school clubs, including Lego (!!!) and guitar. Bella is beyond proud that she’ll be starting in her new preschool classroom on Tuesday. It’s at the same school, but she’ll be with new teachers and friends.

I plan to keep up with more-or-less daily blog posts, but instead of just focusing on the new stuff we’re trying as a family, the plan is to showcase other voices. There are a few guest posts lined up that I’m very excited to share. On other days I may be profiling some new-to-me or hopefully new-to-you writers and artists.

What new things are you trying this month? Are you in the mood to focus on one idea, or would you rather try many new ideas?

Eye found Ewe

Okay, it’s a cheesy rebus-based title for our scavenger hunt (aka Universe) month wrap-up, but it’s somehow fitting for our month of just doing fun stuff.

We did most of the challenges we set out to try (though we didn’t reach the top of the tallest building in Denver, yet), but the most important thing is that we kept finding each other. That might sound cheesy too, but it’s true. The things we did and the items we looked for were simple and for the most part free. It was really about spending time together and appreciating each other. And eating really good chocolate cake.

On a personal level it was important to find moments like those, because it was one of our busiest work months ever. Having our random scavenger hunt list to play with helped me be with Sam and Bella in the evenings.

The next month of trying new things might not have a list to go with it – more to come about that tomorrow!