Things I learned from my mother

My Mother

In honor of Mother’s Day, I wanted to take time to appreciate some of the things my mother taught me–things that I, no doubt, failed to appreciate in the moment. Now, with kids of my own, I have a much different perspective, and a far greater appreciation of all those little things my mother demonstrated in her daily life. I’d like to think I have carried on the tradition, despite having long way to go.

1. Make people feel welcome.

My mother excelled at this. She might not have been the best at teaching formal manners, but if you stopped by (even if you didn’t call first), you could be sure you would be welcome. She would drop what she was doing and sit down to have a cup of coffee or tea with you, and she would listen. If it were meal time, you’d be invited to stay. Mom would have opened up some applesauce or heated up another can of corn or something to make the meal stretch. All without fuss, without drawing any kind of attention to the fact that it meant extra effort for her.

2. It’s okay to make a mess–as long as you clean up after yourself.

Baking a mess

My brother and sisters and I were allowed to cook/bake by ourselves by the time we were ten or eleven. She even let us to experiment, making up our own (frequently inedible) recipes. The only rule was that we had to clean up afterwards. Painting projects, gardening projects–my brother and I made a fort of scrap lumber in the back yard. It took up most of the yard (including the clothes line). We dug a six foot hole and made a fort out of that too. I remember turning the basement into a roller rink, and inviting the neighbor kids in to play “dark” after blocking off all the windows and doors so that you couldn’t see your hand even one inch from your face.

3. “Necessity is the mother of invention.”


This was one of my mother’s favorite sayings. Whether it was figuring out how to do something for a school project, how to fix something broken, or what to do when we were bored, this phrase meant we had to be creative. The good part was that she usually was willing to help.

4. “Chalk it up to experience.”

Chalk it up to experience

An even more popular phrase of my mother. She used to when my first boyfriend broke up with me, when I caught the gas pump hose under the raw edge of the steel bumper and ripped it, spraying gas everywhere, when I lost everything on the computer because I hadn’t saved it and the power went out, when the cake came out overdone. And she always managed to say this in such a down-to-earth, pragmatic way. Not unkind, but not in a way that allowed you to feel too much self-pity either. I should probably hang this on the refrigerator. Wouldn’t hurt.

5. Beauty is all around–take time to enjoy it.


This enjoyment of nature was evident in my mother’s gardening and in her art. Her gardens were the old “cottage” style with lots of variety and color–and that is the way her paintings showed nature as well. We went camping several times every year, even when we were little kids. Now that I’m a mother, I know it isn’t easy. Yet either my mom really loved it, or she was a very good actress. (I’m not that good)

There are, of course, many other wonderful things my mother taught me–how to laugh at myself, how to make all the parts of a meal ready at the same time (still don’t have that one down), and how to live and die with dignity and faith. One cannot ask for a better mother than that. I love you Mom.

Bleeding Heart

Unblocking — Lessons From One Medium to Another

Let the battle begin!

So I’m suited up for fighting dragons, my foot is in the stirrup (or my butt is in the chair in this case) but to be honest, I’m a bit rusty. I’m blocked. Stuck. I opened up my latest novel-in-progress, I Feel For You (IFFY in short form), and I wasn’t even sure where I had left off.

Writer’s Block

What to do, what to do. Well, even though I might be a slow learner, I do eventually get it, and when I do, I even manage to extrapolate to other situations. There are certain lessons I learned in my painting classes that I thought I might be able to use in the writing field, so here we go.

1.  Get a different/broader perspective. This was extremely helpful for me in painting.



I’d come home from painting class not sure if I liked anything at all about what I’d painted. First thing I’d do is prop the painting up on our corner shelf and leave it there for a day or two, looking at it from a distance and in different lighting situations. Seeing the painting from a distance had a way of helping me pinpoint what was working and what wasn’t.

So how does this work for writing? Nope, I’m not talking about putting your computer screen so far away that you can’t read it anymore. Nor am I talking about throwing your pages down the basement steps.

  • Print it out and read through the whole thing WITHOUT a pen in hand. For shorter pieces, chapters, or scenes, carry it with you throughout the day and read it several times. For novels, read it once without a pen and then a second time with the pen in hand.
  • Record your piece of writing and then listen to it in the car (where you can’t jump in and start “fixing” words and sentences.) This is a great way to “hear it different.” I use Audacity to record (there are definitely other audio editor software you can use), then I save it in my iTunes, transfer it to my iPod and listen in my car on the way to and from work.

2.  Use a different medium or tool. In painting that could be a different brush or


switching to a pen or some other type of paint. In writing, just switching from writing on the computer to writing on paper (or vise versa) can make a big difference. I’m older than dirt, so for me, computers feel more… serious, final, published. So sometimes when those dragons are loud and breathing fire down my neck, I find it easier to go back to writing on paper for awhile. After all, no big deal if I mess up there. I’m going to have to type it on the computer at some point anyway.

3.  Don’t go for the masterpiece on the first try. This came about because the first time I took a painting class at Kendall, I had this idea I was going to come home with paintings I would want to hang on our walls. Needless to say, that didn’t happen. My husband noticed my disappointment and reminded me of how many times Monet paintedHaystacks -- Monet haystacks. “You can try it more than one time,” he said. Such a simple thought but oh so freeing. When it doesn’t have to be hang-worthy the first time, I felt free to try new things, to be bold, and to go for it. After all, I could always re-do it. Ironically enough, my painting improved enough I even considered hanging one up this year.

  • Remember Anne Lamott’s advice in her book, Bird by Bird, about the Sh—- First Draft. Sloppy Copy.Bird by BirdWhatever you call it, just go for it. Focus on the story, the character, the action–whatever the skill it is you want to try and remind yourself that this is just your first haystack in the series.
  • Make a mess–clean up later. Definitely works with paint. Works equally well with words.

4.  Don’t get stuck in one area; keep moving around the page.This was a biggie for

Keep Moving

me this past summer. I would be working on a painting and find myself getting really detailed in one area whereas I had pretty much ignored other parts of the picture. (It really, really bites when I find out what I spent all that time on doesn’t fit with the rest of the picture–which I would have known had I roughed in the whole thing first.) My instructor frequently had to come around and remind me to MOVE ON. Great advice for writing too.

  • Keep moving. Don’t get stuck revising and adding all sort of detail on the first chapter (or first line). Move on. You will come back and add more detail after the whole page (manuscript) has been given a nice coat of words. And by then you might even know what those details ought to be.

5.  Start. Anywhere. Now. Just start. As I learned in art class, you have to put paint on the


page. Just dive in and put some color on that white page. Works the same way with writing. Put a word on the page, and then another one. Who cares if it is the right word? Who cares if it is the “beginning” of the story? Just START.

So there you go–and here I go. Happy writing.

All images are from stock.xchng. Check it out.