Where creativity grows

Author: Jen (Page 1 of 7)

An Artist’s Date with Claire Saffitz

Last summer I finally ordered and started reading Julia Cameron’s iconic book Artist’s Way. While much of the book did not resonate with me (I am 100% in the minority here and totally ok with that), one aspect that did stick with me was her emphasis on the importance of artist dates. I have a long list of ideas in my inspiration journal and one area that I had not yet explored was diving into cooking as a creative exercise. 

Like so many others, Tom and I became master binge watchers during COVID 2020. Tom is the YouTube Maestro and he discovered the one and only Claire Saffitz. On her Bon Appetit show, she tried to recreate favorite snack items like everything from Gourmet Cheetos to Pop Tarts. While we did not necessarily have any desire to make any of these tasty treats, her show was witty and entertaining. She had a way of making everything lighthearted and look easy. Fast forward to December 2021 when I fell in love with the Netflix show School of Chocolate. It got me thinking about the conversation Tom and I had earlier in the year about wanting to try our hand at some fancy desserts. Afterall, I had pinned gobs of recipes, but I had yet to try any of them. Fast forward again to our stocking stuffer exchange on Christmas Eve. Tom bought me a beautiful copy of Claire Saffitz’s book Dessert Person. Let me start by saying I am a cookbook fanatic. I love reading them almost as much as I do making recipes from them. However, never have I devoured a cookbook the way I did this one. I was so inspired by the beautiful images, detailed directions and the incredible variety of recipes that I could not wait to dive in and try something. These recipes were different from anything I had ever tried before. Sure I had made cinnamon rolls before, but these were some serious next level stuff. Yes, I had made sous vide lemon curd, but I had never made a tart. Of course, I had made chocolate cakes, but nothing like Claire’s wave cake. Every night I would thumb through the pages and read another recipe. I would ooh and ahh about whatever recipe I was reading.

That is when I decided that I was going to take myself on a date with Claire and dedicate a whole weekend to diving into her book. Wednesday night, Tom and I mixed up the Meyer Lemon Curd for the Lemon Tart. I was apprehensive because I have heard so many nightmares about how hard it is to make homemade lemon curd. I had always let the sous vide do the hard work. Here I was signing up to stand and whisk the eggs and lemon juice and butter for ten straight minutes. The curd it yielded was OUT OF THIS WORLD! And it was no problem whatsoever to make. Tom whisked for me, but it really was easy to make. Friday night I mixed up the sweet yeast dough for the Walnut Maple Sticky Buns. Saturday morning, the buns went in the oven as soon as I got home from running. I commented on Claire’s youtube page that these sticky buns changed our lives forever. They are not the type you get at the mall covered in ooey gooey sugary sauce. These are sophisticated and brilliant sticky buns that will make you rethink everything you thought to be true in the world. And then Sunday morning, I made the Chocolate Wave Cake and finished the Lemon Tart. The chocolate cake and lemon tart were on the docket for a girls’ afternoon I was hosting. While my running tribe had had loads of my Christmas cookies, I had never baked anything like this for them (or anyone else for that matter). I was more than a little nervous. Tom reminded me that if anything went wrong, we could run to the store and pick something up. This was NOT an option in my head.

The awesome thing about Claire’s book is that she is in the process of making YouTube videos to accompany all the recipes. So I was able to see her talk her way through all the recipes I was making. These are not “throw together quickly” recipes. They all involved multiple steps and multiple recipes to make one final product. Claire’s videos humanized the recipes. They were no longer these elite fancy must graduate from pastry school to make recipes, but rather something even I could accomplish. Spoiler alert! Everything turned out marvelous. The girls loved all the desserts and we enjoyed the leftovers for the better part of a week.

Diving into this book was certainly an interesting creative endeavor for me. I love cooking and baking and trying new recipes. But this was all on a new level and it opened up creative circuits in my brain that had been dormant for a bit. I’m glad that I remembered that not all creative adventures have to happen in the Oodlearium. 

Side note- no idea how I did not get a picture of the lemon tart…it was heavenly!

Until next time,

Oodle On

4X Warrior

4x Warrior

In December of 2017, I was finishing up my book, The Many Faces of Elgin. I had spent two solid years hardly touching my camera except to photograph the people featured in the stories I was writing. I had completely lost my photographic mojo. I randomly stumbled upon a mention of a weekly photography challenge called 52Frames. It had two simple rules 1) you must take the image 2) It must be taken between 12:01 AM Monday and 11:59 PM EST Sunday. Each week there is a new theme and that’s it. I didn’t blink an eye and I signed the manifesto and looked at the first challenge. 

That first week was almost my undoing. Really— a self-portrait? There was a reason I spent so much time behind a camera— I hate pictures of myself. 

I still remember someone from the Facebook group telling me to get over myself and take the picture because no one was judging me. I won’t lie. It was hard, but I survived that first week. I went on to do something I had never done prior to joining 52F. I shot consistently through the winter- every single week!  Tom always teased me that I was a fair-weather photographer and that if I just opened my eyes to other things I could shoot year round. I had no idea what I had gotten myself into! 

With the submission of my photo Jumbo Hot Dog Ketchup Only I became a 4X warrior, which means that I submitted a photo every week for 4 straight years (209 weeks!).  It is hard to put into words what these last four years have meant to me, but I’ll try here.

Lessons I have learned:

  • Just show up. The leader of my running club gave me this advice when I was first considering becoming a winter runner. He told me that if I just got myself to the store that the rest would take care of itself. Maybe I would run five miles and have an epic life changing run and maybe I would run/walk two miles. It didn’t matter because I showed up. The last four years have shown me that this is true for 52F as well. Some weeks are epic and some weeks are meh, but the average of the last four years are photographs that I am pretty darn proud of.
  • Make making art a priority. I’m lucky. I’m a teacher and I get my summers off. That means that for approximately three months every summer, I have the flexibility to shoot whenever I want. If I want to spend three days hammering out the best shot to meet a challenge I can. During the school year, I am lucky if I have fifteen minutes on a Saturday afternoon to shoot, process and submit my picture. But I make making my image a priority every single week. It trains a part of my brain to know that it matters and that it is worthwhile. 
  • It’s only partially about the photograph. I absolutely learn something about my photography each and every week, but the lessons I have learned from 52F more often than not have come from the people that make up this amazing community. I have learned about culture, history, life and much more from all over the world through the stories people tell with their images. I look forward to reading the stories almost as much as I do seeing the images. But most of all, I love interacting with incredible people all over the world who share my love for photography.
  • There is beauty everywhere. In 2020 when the world shut down, I was forced to figure out how to shoot from the comfort of home. When I created my 2020 52F photo book, I discovered that ALL but FOUR of my 52F images were taken in our house or on our property. Never in a million years would I have imagined making 48 images in our house before joining 52F.
  • Everyone has their own why. Each and every person joined 52F for their own reason. They are on their own photography and life journey and we are lucky that they let us all be a small part of it. Maybe you see a picture in the album that appears to not fit the theme at all. There are a thousand reasons why this could be the case and none of them matter because each person is on their own journey and who am I to judge? I try to approach each image with empathy and that keeps me centered. 
  • Inspiration comes in many different forms.  If you have read Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way, you are familiar with the idea of needing to fill-up your creative cup regularly. I like to think of it as a bank account. If I withdraw more than I deposit things go sideways pretty quick. I try to get in as much creative inspiration as I can and from a variety of sources. I keep an extensive Pinterest board with photography ideas, but I also use all my other interests to help me keep that creative cup filled. Try new recipes. Listen to energizing music. Engage with other creatives. Check out my blog post on having a creative mindset. Many of those principles apply directly to my 52Frames journey.
  • Some people hunt for images. Others farm their images. I have strayed from hunting and am trying to find my way back. After a year of being stuck at home, I am ready to start hunting again. Check out the blog post I wrote about this topic last year. 
  • Gear doesn’t matter. This is such a polarizing statement. There are so many people who crave the latest greatest lens or body or gadget. My Dad had a high-end DSLR that he kept set to auto and he took such incredible photos with what essentially was an expensive point and shoot camera. There are SO many Framers in the group who shoot exclusively with their phones. The gear might make some types of shoots easier, but in general it just doesn’t matter. If your gear isn’t meeting your news, then by all means change. There was recently a fascinating blog post by world renowned photographer David DuChemin about his decision to completely change his gear to a different brand. I’m still using my Canon 7D that I got in 2011. I have gotten multiple 52 picks with that camera and more importantly, I have created images I am proud of.
  • You get out what you put in. 52F isn’t for everyone. It’s that simple, but you do get out of it what you put into it. Joining a mini group completely changed the experience for me. I had a regular group of photographers to help me decide which image to submit, give me feedback and then also comment on my image in the weekly album. From there, I joined the group of Framers who comment weekly on 25 random images. That opened my eyes to images in the album I might not ever have seen otherwise (in four years, I have only gone through the entire album ONCE when I was asked to select the banner for that week.) I have gotten to know people. I have my favorites, whom I follow. I have my friends and then I try really hard to engage with people via the Facebook group. 
  • This world is made up of some incredibly freaking cool and talented folks. It’s that simple. The people are 100% the best part of this group. Of course, I love the images, but the people rock my world week after week with their stories, their comments and their friendship. Just yesterday I received a care package in the mail from a framer in Australia. We had decided to work our way through The Artist’s Way together and explore our creative journeys together. How cool is that?

Awesome experiences I have had because of 52F

  • Zoom call with multiple framers spread across the world. Technology is incredible.
  • Discovered that a fellow-framer in Israel is also a painter, so we did a virtual pour painting together and have met multiple times since then virtually to chat about creativity and art. 
  • Did a photo walk with some members of the local Chicago group at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. We were a small group, but it was so lovely to meet some fellow Framers.
  • A fellow Framer saw that I had started doing paintings on fan blades, so she sent me a set of blades from a fan she was replacing so that I could repurpose them into art. 
  • Developed incredibly special friendships with framers all over the world. People I would truly visit if life were to bring me to their part of the world. 
  • During COVID 2020, 52Frames was an anchor for me. It was something I could rely on and use to connect with others. I cannot overstate how much it helped me through some of my darkest hours. 
  • Explore the book The Artist’s Way with a fellow Framer on the other side of the world. 
  • I am sure there are many more that I am not remembering. What I do know is that I can’t imagine my life without 52F in it and for that I am eternally grateful.

My favorite submissions

The 12 Days of Hot Chocolate

This year, Tom and I decided that we were going to focus on making our own Christmas memories and infusing our home with the joy of the season. That is how the 12 Days of Hot Chocolate came to be. While we have always been somewhat snobbish about our hot chocolate consumption (ie no Swiss Miss and hot water allowed in this household), we have never searched for a recipe that takes our hot chocolate to the next level. 

 

Our basic hot cocoa recipe (2 servings)

  • 2 cups milk of choice

  • 2 TBSP dark chocolate cocoa powder

  • 2 TBSP sugar

  • Splash of vanilla

 Heat milk in the microwave and stir in the rest of the ingredients. Serve with your favorite toppings. 

 I turned to Pinterest to find twelve recipes for us to try. The teacher in me and the engineer in Tom of course had to make a rubric to score the recipes. We went back and forth on a lot of different ideas, but in the end opted to keep it nice and simple with a 3 candy cane rating system: 

 

  • 1 candy cane – we did not even finish the mug and won’t ever make it again.

  • 2 candy canes- we finished it, but probably won’t make it again

  • 3 candy canes- absolutely loved it and will add it to our personal cookbook

 I printed off the 12 recipes and made my shopping list. We were ready to get started!

 

The results:

I don’t want to disappoint you this early in the post, but full disclosure- we ended up not trying all twelve recipes. Very early on we discovered what we like, love and hate about hot chocolate. We used the recipes to explore different flavors, but in the end we didn’t need all twelve recipes to figure that out. I will include links to all twelve at the very end in case you want to do your own experiment.

 

All things being equal:

There are a few elements that we kept standard throughout the recipes, despite what the recipe actually called for. 

  1. 70% cocoa Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips

  2. Dark cocoa powder from Costco

  3. Silk Unsweetened Almond Milk or Organic Skim Cow’s milk

  4. Anywhere that called for heavy cream or half-half, we used Silk non-dairy half-half.

 And so it began….

 

Peanut Butter Hot Chocolate 

I am obsessed with all things chocolate and peanut butter, so I started our adventure with the only peanut butter and chocolate recipe. I was sure this would be my favorite before we even started. I mixed everything up and poured the concoction into the His and Hers penguin mugs we would be using for the challenge. I took a huge sip and let out a howl of excitement. Man was that yummy. Tom was less impressed. My initial impression was that I would drink it every day for the rest of my life. Tom thought he might finish it, but he is not a lover of chocolate and peanut butter like I am. Within a few minutes though we both felt like someone had stuck a straw into a jar of Skippy. To my shock and chagrin— neither of us finished our mugs! I don’t know if it would be better with higher quality peanut butter. I only had creamy Skippy on hand from my holiday baking as Tom prefers the chunky Crazy Richard’s peanut butter for everyday use. Perhaps more milk to thin it out or even less PB, but overall this one was a big bust!

Peppermint Hot Chocolate- 3 candy canes

Not much I love more this time of year than peppermint. Next up was a peppermint hot chocolate recipe that was sure to win our hearts— except for the fact that I cannot read. I made the recipe and we both agreed it was tasty, but it seemed really sweet. When I looked at the recipe, I discovered that instead of putting ¼ tsp of sugar, I poured in a heap ¼ cup. Oops! I made it again later that week with a more appropriate amount of sugar and we both really liked it. We started thinning out the recipes a bit with this one, because we prefer to drink our hot chocolate rather than chew it. This one was a WINNER! 

Colonial Hot Chocolate

 

Our third recipe was one that we were holding on to share with some friends when they popped by for a holiday visit. The Colonial Hot Chocolate recipe had a unique flavor palette and we knew our foodie friends would enjoy doing this taste test with us. This recipe involved me hunting down a few ingredients I had never used before (star anise & ground cardamom), but overall it was an incredibly easy recipe to make. Given the incredibly unique combination of flavors and how easy it was to make, we all agreed this was one of the best hot chocolates we had ever had. This is a solid dessert hot chocolate, but could also serve as a lovely regular recipe if thinned out a bit. 

Nutella Hot Chocolate

After the peanut butter hot chocolate recipe, I was a bit gun shy to try the Nutella Hot Chocolate. I could not have been more wrong! It was awesome— just nutty enough to be unique and the perfect balance of yummo chocolate flavor. 

Hot Chocolate

After a few recipes that were next level with flavors and add-ons, we decided to step back and try a basic recipe that could potentially be our go-to hot cocoa recipe. This one was a sure fire winner— with one change. Tom and I agreed that we much prefer to drink our hot chocolate rather than almost chew it— so I added in an extra cup of milk to the recipe. Yummo!

Cinnamon Hot Chocolate

Next up was going to be a Mexican Hot Chocolate, but neither of us were excited about the idea of something spicy. Instead, I opted for a recipe for a cinnamon hot cocoa that I was hoping would be similar to the cinnamon crunch latte I had at Panera last week. We were both busy with projects and it was the perfect time to throw in a cup of holiday cheer. Tom proclaimed this was his absolute favorite recipe and I was very close to agreeing. Steeping a whole stick of cinnamon in milk for ten minutes produced a beautifully delicious hot chocolate. With some fresh whipped cream on top, this one was AMAZING! I actually made this again the very next day,

 

Parisian Hot Chocolate

We gave one last recipe a try before declaring the challenge complete. The Parisian Hot Chocolate recipe was elegant and grand, but it was WAY TOO MUCH of everything for us to enjoy. Even with me thinning out the recipe, neither of us finished the mug. We agreed that we know the basics of what makes a great cup of hot chocolate in conjunction with how we like ours prepared so that we can now mix and match a bit from the recipes we tried out. 

Here is a list of all the recipes in case you want to do your own comparison:

  1. Nutella Hot Chocolate

  2. Mexican Hot Chocolate (House of Yumm) / Mexican Hot Chocolate (Green Healthy Eating)

  3. Peppermint French Hot Chocolate

  4. Colonial Hot Chocolate

  5. Parisian Hot Chocolate

  6. Homemade Hot Chocolate Recipe

  7. Italian Hot Chocolate

  8. Maple Sea Salt Vegan Hot Chocolate

  9. Homemade Cinnamon Hot Chocolate Recipe ~ Barley & Sage

  10. London Fog Whipped Cream Hot Chocolate

  11. Thierry Rautureau’s Hot Chocolate (from Theo Cookbook)

  12. Peanut Butter Hot Chocolate

Banitsa

The Foodie Map had been hanging for a few weeks and we still had not tried a new recipe when Tom mentioned that we should have some friends over for breakfast. That was just the inspiration I needed to try and find a breakfast recipe that would be perfect for our first pin. Off to Pinterest I went. I looked at recipes for everything from shakshuka to baked Swedish pancakes with blueberries, but eventually selected a recipe for Banitsa, a Bulgarian breakfast cheese pie. I liked that it had a very simple ingredient list that I could find in a regular American grocery store. I picked up the feta, Greek yogurt and phyllo dough and I was ready to “hit the culinary road!”

This was my first time working with phyllo dough and I thought it was more similar to puff pastry, but I was wrong. It is not nearly as sturdy and well, you need to defrost it ahead of time. Oops! I mixed up the filling and after a quick defrost of the pastry sheets I was ready to assemble the pie. The recipe details three different ways to assemble it and I opted for the traditional spiral. This recipe is unbelievably easy— it took longer for me to defrost the pastry sheets than to do anything else. Once everything was assembled, I poured a bit of melted butter over the concoction and popped it in the pre-heated oven. 

25 minutes later, Tom and I were SO excited to try our first entry onto the foodie map. I cut two slices and we dove in. You might expect that the filling would be more like a dense cheesecake, but while it was rich, it was also light. It had a great balance between the filling and flakiness of the pastry. 

We talked about how this recipe would pair well with either a meat or even a fruit, but we opted to keep it traditional. Overall, we really enjoyed this recipe and highly recommend it. 

Until next time.

Making the map

Earlier this year, Tom and I were sitting on the “raft” in the family room when he tossed out the idea for a Food Map. His idea was similar to the map we have upstairs where we track our travels around the world, but this one would track our foodie adventures. If I could find a map, he wanted to take on creating a custom frame for it—his first fine woodworking project. It was the perfect collaboration. When complete, it would hang in our dining room as a conversation piece. 

I set off on an internet adventure to locate the perfect map. My search brought me to Conquest Maps and this is the map we selected. We opted for a simple customization and a week later we had our map. In order to protect the map, I had it laminated with a mat finish at a local Kinkos. Our next step was to design a frame. I found one I liked online (if I can find the link, I”ll share it here) and Tom set off to figure out how to build it. Once he had a plan, we made a trip to a Great Spirit Hardwoods in Dundee to find wood for the project. After looking at their beautiful stock, we selected pieces of walnut and sapele. This was tricky for both of us since we didn’t have a lot of experience with raw wood and what it looks like after it’s finished. Tom researched and purchased a planer (he has talked about one for years!) and he was ready to start building the frame. A few weeks later, our frame was finished and ready to hang. 

Once the frame was finished, we decided that we would not retroactively add pins to the map, but rather start fresh. The map has three sets of pins to document our adventures: 1) Gold- in country 2) Silver- at home 3) Bronze – in a restaurant. Whenever we are in the mood to try something new, now we can look at the map and see what region we haven’t explored.  Each time we try a new recipe, I’ll include a link to the blog post here with photos and links to the recipes. We are incredibly excited to see where this idea takes us. Stay tuned!

Just show up

I’m running my third half-marathon on Sunday, November 7th. I am training my butt off right now and it is really hard— especially with the start of the new school year and all the chaos/mental exhaustion that entails. But I really want to do it— and not just do it, I want to beat my previous PR (personal record). So I show up four times a week and I train my tail off. I run grueling intervals on the track every Thursday night. I drag my exhausted body out of bed early on Saturday morning to do my long runs. On Mondays and Wednesday nights I enjoy what is supposed to be an easy run with some crazy mixed in. I show up day after day— no matter how tired I am, no matter how crappy my day was, no matter how many steps I already got in, no matter how badly I want to curl up on the couch with a bag of chocolate chips. Running this half-marathon is a priority for me and short of an injury nothing will stop me from reaching my goal of a sub 3:00 finish time this fall. Most people say they could never do what I am doing. I tell them that they are absolutely wrong. What they mean is that they don’t want to do it. If they want to, there is really nothing that can stop them from doing it. I am 100% evidence of that fact. I am NOT a born runner. I don’t look like an athlete…and I really like food…and not the fueling kind. But I really want to do this and I am showing up to do it.

The same intention has to be there for your creativity. So many people tell me that they are not creative. Most people mean that they are not artistic, but I don’t even really believe that either. Every single person on this planet is a problem solver of some sort. Whether it is figuring out how to level up in a video game or how to get six kids out the door in the morning and to three different schools or some other conundrum— we are all problem solvers. How we solve those problems manifests itself in a variety of ways. In Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert she talks about how creative energy is floating through the universe looking for a viable host. When it finds someone who is open to its idea “inspiration strikes.” While you are waiting, you put the work in. If you are a writer, you pick up that pen or click on those keys daily. If you paint, you pick up the brushes every day and you put yourself out there. You let the world know that you are open and ready for ideas. You read blogs. You read inspirational books on creativity. You follow incredible talent on social media. You take yourself on artists’ dates. You write your morning pages. You show up for your creativity and you make it a priority. That hard work WILL BE rewarded! And by rewarded I am not talking about selling a canvas for 50,000$ (congratulations, Callen Schaub!) or getting your first book deal (or 100th!). You will have shown up for yourself and you will be able to answer Elizabeth Gilbert’s question: “Do you have the courage to bring forth the wonderful treasures that are hidden within you?” with an emphatic HELL YES! 

I hope that you will show up and make exploring your creativity a priority. It will enrich your life in ways you may never have imagined. 

This week despite incredible exhaustion: I wrote two new Oodle Stories, I continued my book study of Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, I listened to a myriad of podcasts about creativity, I painted my final fan blade and I did some watercolor blob sketching. 

How did you show up for your creativity this week?

Why I’ll never read another menu again

It has been a rough week here in the oodle universe. My summer break is rapidly drawing to a close and while I have had a full summer, I am far from feeling ready to start my 18th year of teaching. Yesterday I did what I do most Saturdays—rolled out of bed and met my running tribe. We ran just shy of six miles and I was feeling reenergized and excited to be alive. I got home and asked Tom if he wanted to go out to breakfast— to try a place called SYRUP in St. Charles. Two of the most powerful aspects of the creative mindset are: 1) expose yourself to new environments and 2) have new experiences. I was hoping that a breakfast outing would kickstart a mini creative adventure— I was not wrong! 

We arrived at SYRUP smack in the middle of the breakfast rush. Every table was full and there was a long line of hungry diners stretching out into the parking lot. The staff was bustling from table to table. The food smelled and looked delicious! After a short wait we were seated— a gigantic menu placed in front of each of us, but neither of us looked at it.

Our server, Amber, greeted us with an offer of coffee and juice. While waiting for our drinks, Tom asked me if we wanted to do our standard of ordering one sweet and one savory dish and sharing our meals— of course!  When Amber returned, we popped two questions that we ask every time we dine out: 1) What is the most frequently ordered item on the menu? 2) What do you think is a hidden gem that is not ordered enough? The first question yielded five or six relatively normal responses (it’s a HUGE menu). The second question is really the money question— where the unique and amazing culinary experiences are hidden. She suggested two items: 

Without even knowing it, Amber had suggested a sweet and a savory and two items that we NEVER would have picked out on our own. We love eating, but never would have looked at the items listed as “healthy.” Without even blinking, we ordered one of each item and grinned— excited to see what this adventure brought.

When the food arrived, I told Amber I might just hug her. The Home Sweet Home was exactly what we were looking for— a uniquely flavorful AND savory delight that introduced us to a new breakfast experience. I cannot overstate how delicious this entree was. We both had to stop ourselves from just shoveling it in our mouths. The Lemon Berry crepes were equally as heavenly— the perfect compliment to the savory Home Sweet Home. We both made mental notes about how we could recreate both of these items again at home. 

We have been asking these questions for a few years now— ever since Tom read about it in The Four Hour Chef by Tim Ferriss. If you are in a high-end restaurant, you could ask the server to ask the second question to the chef. Those two simple questions have completely changed our dining out experience— so much so that we have pretty much sworn off looking at menus. Sure sometimes we get a server who simply suggests the most expensive item on the menu, but in most cases they are tickled to be asked their actual opinion. Amber was grinning ear to ear as she was telling us about her two favorite items. She even went back and asked her manager the same questions— who was intrigued by the questions! We had an amazing new breakfast experience and we brightened what might have otherwise been a super busy and stressful morning rush at work. We have tried this out in restaurants throughout our travels and we have NEVER been disappointed. We tried Tri Tip in Wyoming (didn’t even know what tri tip was), lamb at an Afghani restaurant in Montreal (Tom NEVER eats lamb) and so many more! 

Give it a try! You’ll likely discover something you might not have otherwise had. Who knows where that creative exploration will lead.

Until next time, oodle on!

Jen

My Artist’s Way Journey

The 25th anniversary revision of The Artists’ way by Julia Cameron has almost five thousand 4.5 star reviews on Amazon and a 3.9 rating on Goodreads with 100,000+ votes. People like this book and many people swear that it has changed their life forever. I definitely do not fall into that camp. I have my issues with the book’s religious preachy tone, but there are two aspects of it that I love: Morning Pages and Artist Dates.

Morning Pages

The Morning Pages do not let you hide from the things in your brain (at least if you are taking the exercise at all seriously). Cameron points out that people often fall out of this practice when things are going well because they don’t feel the need to get anything off their chest. When they are feeling bad, they don’t want to face whatever is haunting them. Over the past five weeks of working my way through the book, I have 100% fallen into this camp. The past two weeks have been full of incredible highs and lows. During the highs, I felt I didn’t have anything I needed to write about. During the lows, well those were better locked away inside my brain. The resulting complete meltdown was evidence enough that I should stick to the daily practice to help me maintain an even keel. I started the Morning Pages thinking they were supposed to help with my creativity—not my mental health. What I did not realize was that by calming my heart and mind that I WAS helping my creative mojo. I have put my journal back on top of my desk and it has resumed its place on my daily agenda. 

Artist Dates

I did a lot of research on date ideas during the first week so that I could make sure I didn’t have an excuse to not go on one. My list has around 30 different ideas on it and ranges from trips to art stores to watching documentaries and people watching in the park. I specifically did not want to have my dates focused on spending money, but rather being inspired. My five dates have been VERY different, but have done exactly what they were intended to do—inspire me to delve deeper into my creative pursuits. 

I got a lot of my ideas from these lists: 101 Artist Date Ideas and 48 Artist Date ideas.

Date #1: Twisted Stitch in South Elgin, IL

I do not quit or sew— despite having a nice sewing machine. I walked in with no notion of buying anything, but just to see what creative chord it might strike. I left inspired to tackle a simple project for my niece’s birthday made of materials I had sitting at home. What was most amazing to me about this project was that I had to adjust it to work with the supplies I had. I could have returned to the store, but I didn’t want to. Could I make it work.? Holy moly, I created a super cute stuffed owl that I can’t wait to send to my niece for her birthday.  

Date #2 The Tea Tree in Batavia, IL 

I LOVE tea and have a ridiculous collection of leaves because I am incapable of passing up on something that will make a lovely pitcher of iced tea on a hot summer afternoon. I arrived after a short walk around downtown Batavia on a gloriously sunny day. The owner was excited to geek out on her offerings— and I was more than prepared to take it all in. There is nothing more inspiring than seeing someone get over the top excited about something— even tea leaves!  Her storefront has a beautiful patio that is shaded by a gigantic tree. I took my canister of tea and found a spot to take in all the textures and shapes on the patio with my sketchbook. 

Date #3 Habitat for Humanity Woodstock, IL

I am pretty diligent about only doing solo dates, but I really thought my husband could benefit from a trip, too. The last time I was at our local Habitat for Humanity Restore, someone mentioned the Woodstock store was better. It was a bit of a drive, but it was worth the trip. The store was better organized and it had more selection. While I try hard to not treat my dates as permission to go on a shopping spree, I found an awesome set of ceramic light shades and a few tiles for a whopping total of $5.40. Our trip home brought us along the Fox River, where we discovered an awesome little pub called Rosie O’Hares. We had an amazing lunch straight out of their smoker. From there we headed to Great Spirit Hardwood in Dundee, where we picked out hardwood for the frame Tom is going to build for our Foodie Map. We literally just need the frame and this culinary adventure can begin! 

Date #4 Elgin Farmers Market Elgin, IL 

Despite oppressive heat and humidity, I needed to get out of the house. This is how I ended up at the Elgin Farmers Market, which has really turned into a lovely little market. I completely violated my shopping spree rule, but I was so inspired by the hustle and energy of these local vendors that I wanted to do whatever I could to support their ventures. I returned home with coffee beans, tea leaves, Belgian truffles, Nutella filled cookies, three jars of BBQ sauce and a huge smile on my face. My adventures led to a beautiful home cooked meal with one of the sauces. This event was capped off by learning that someone had purchased one of the bricks I had painted for the Follow the Imago Brick Road campaign. 

Date #5 Imaginary Animals with Carla Sondheim

After the Sketchbook Revival, I signed up for any site that promised to keep my creative mojo flowing. Carla Sondheim was on that list. I try to keep up with the inspirational emails, but most weeks they get a quick glance and then are deleted. Something made me do a double take and keep reading about an upcoming on-line class called Imaginary Animals. The price was right for a 3.5 hour class and I was free. Within the first fifteen minutes I knew that this investment in my creativity was going to be worth every single penny. By the end of the afternoon, I was overflowing with ideas and inspiration to continue my learning. 

Over the next few weeks, I am going to invest time into figuring out r how I will continue my dates once I return to school. That will be my biggest challenge going forward. I have definitely experienced the creative rewards of this practice. It will be a priority without a doubt!

Until next time, oodle on.

Jen

Boost your creativity challenge

I have a card on my shelf right behind me here in The Oodlearium that says Begin Anywhere (John Cage). And that my friends is exactly what I am doing today. I have wanted to do a weekly or even daily creative challenge to help people revive their creative mojo or perhaps even to tap into one they didn’t know they had. Alas life (and a pandemic) happened and here I am a year later and a year wiser. For the last year I have been scouring Pinterest for ideas on challenges (for myself and for others) and I fell into the “pin it and then do nothing with it” black pit of creative sadness. 

That ends today! I went through all of my pins and I created a table of 36 activities that will serve as a creative challenge buffet for myself and hopefully for you. These ideas are supposed to serve as inspiration– as a springboard for you to do whatever gets your creative juices flowing. Yes, some of the ideas are super silly and perhaps even a bit childish. Isn’t a “bit of silly” just what most of us need these days? Don’t like writing? Then don’t do those…or perhaps do something that is a bit out of your comfort zone to shake things up a bit. Don’t have watercolors? Then try out those ideas with markers. Many of the activities have a hyperlink to a website with further explanation and examples. Others are self-explanatory. The activities that say “Be inspired by…” are invitations for you to forge your own path with minimal guidance. 

I’m going to play along, too. I will post my adventures (and mis-adventures) with hashtag #creativitygrowshere. I hope you’ll join me on this journey!

Download the PDF here.

What’s happening in The Oodlearium

Quote I’m contemplating 

Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainty. Erich Fremm

I am NOT good at letting things go, but when it comes to creating a pour painting or an alcohol ink tile, I have to let go of any notion that I am controlling the outcome. Yes, I select the colors, but after that it’s all magic and nothing is guaranteed— that is where the fun comes in to play!

What have I been working on?

I finished up my 17th year of teaching on June 8th and it has honestly taken me a few weeks to recover from what was the hardest year of my teaching career (which is why I have not done an update in a few weeks). I taught a dear friend how to pour paint (she loved it so much she offered to host my first-ever Mobile Oodlearium next month!). Last week I was in Phoenix visiting family and I did a painting session with my aunt. She went all in when I first told her about my new found obsession. She bought a basic kit, but then started playing around with mixing her own paints with Flotrol and even used a mini torch to get cells in her pours. She was very exploratory. I showed her how I normally pour and then she did one of her own on a 12×12 ceramic tile, which turned out awesome. Finally, I introduced her to 3D pouring on a plastic mask from Michaels, which turned out AWESOME! 

I designed and ordered my Oodlearium business cards, so that I can hand them out when I am out and about rambling on about my happy place.

As always, you can follow my 52 Frames journey here to see my entry for the weekly photography prompts.

In the kitchen

My best friend and her husband were over this past weekend for patio time, so I decided to try out a recipe I found for baked vegan glazed chocolate donuts. To say these were stupid good and easy to make would be the understatement of the decade. I opted to use the applesauce option rather than track down vegan butter, so I was able to make them with ingredients I already had in the pantry. They were so good that I might have eaten a few too many and subsequently made a second batch! And they got the stamp of approval from our vegan donut lovers!

We continued our exploration of grinding our own meat for burgers. I went out to Ream’s Meat Market and was excited when the butcher gave me a custom mix of meat to grind. We had one pound each of brisket, short ribs and angus chuck. The resulting burgers were excellent, but we agreed we didn’t notice a huge difference from the home ground angus chuck we normally make.

Our creative explorations in the kitchen led us to a crazy idea for a collaborative project. We ordered a map that we are going to use to track our culinary explorations from around the world. If we made a food from a certain area at home that will be one colored pin. If we ate the food at a restaurant that will be another color. And if we ate the food in that place, we’ll have yet another color pin. We are going to design and build a custom frame for the map and it will hang as a conversation piece in our dining room when it is done. Stay tuned for updates!

The Creative Mindset

After all the stress and anxiety of this past school year, I decided one of my focuses this summer would be on getting out into nature as often as possible. I have started back up with my yin yoga practice and I am doing it in our backyard early in the morning. It’s awesome to get my zen on with the chirping of birds in the background and the sun rising. I love this video, but also spend a lot of time exploring Yoga with Adriene. 

Something else I have been working on is doing art anywhere. A dear friend gave me an adorable little cloth zippered pouch with some art supplies. I keep it filled with my doodling pens, a mini sketch book and some note cards. I used these tools extensively while I was out of town. If I was killing time while my niece was taking a nap or while waiting to meet someone for lunch, I would quickly whip out my pouch and doodle for a few minutes—finding inspiration wherever I was. This is how I came up with my design for my Oodlearium business cards!

The Artist’s Way

I am decades late to The Artist’s Way party, but I finally decided to hop on the train and check out the book from the library. It was quickly clear that this book could be profoundly important to my creativity, so I splurged and bought the actual book. I reached out to a group of creatives to see how they have used the book and I connected with another photographer on the other side of the globe in Australia. We have decided to go through the book together and keep each other accountable to the process. I have been diligent about completing the morning pages, which act like a morning brain dump on paper. They have helped me to get a handle on my monkey brain for sure— at least I know what’s bugging me! This week I will take myself on my first artist date— location TBD. The goal is to have a weekly dose of creative explorations that fill your creative mojo cup— you can’t tap into an empty well. Exciting for sure! The first chapter talked about the people who have not supported my creative endeavors. I have been SO lucky that my friends and family have always supported and encouraged my exploits. For this I am so grateful!!!

Until next time, keep oodling!

Jen

#creativity

#courage

#pourpainting

#3dpainting

#veganchocolatedonuts

#meatgrinding

#foodiemap

#foodie

#mobileoodlearium

#creativemindset

#yinyoga

#yogainnature

#sketchbook

#sketchanywhere

#theartistsway

#artistdate

#morningpages

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