My blog has a new home

Hello lovely friends,

As of today, I will no longer be updating here. I’m in the process of creating a brand new website – the basics are there but adjustments and customization are still ongoing – where my website and my blog are all found in one location. No you can find everything at one spot: jencushman.com 

newhome

This change has been a long time coming, but I’ve been afraid to tackle the task because I had to teach myself how to build my own website on WordPress.org. I’ve built every website I’ve ever had as an independent artist and writer, but I’ve always used templates and muddled through with my drag-and-drop design skills that I learned ages ago. I’ve rolled with the changes from traditional print to digital media fairly well, but I stayed behind the 8-ball when I didn’t jump on the bandwagon to combine my website and blog.

I’ve pulled in my past posts to the new website. Because of that things are still a little wonky. I’m leaving for Bali, Indonesia in 4 days so this next round of customization (read TIME) is going to have to wait until December.

For those of you who’ve subscribed to my blog and been following me for a while, you know this has been a year of massive changes in my life. I’ve taken time the past four months to re-evaluate where I’m spending my time and what I want my life to look like. I’ve rested, grieved for the loss of my parents, reconnected big time with my family and friends and am in such a great place! I’ve also made a new business plan for myself for 2017 and am going to tackle many of those in-the-works ideas that I’ve been wanting to implement. I would be so very honored if you continued to join me on my journey as an artist, writer, instructor, blogger, mother, wife, friend and sister. Thank you for the time you’ve spent with me so far. I appreciate all of you more than you will ever know.

Artfully and respectfully yours,

jenblogsigredheartweb1

 

Sharing morning pages

For the past few months, I’ve been back to doing my morning pages. For those of you familiar with Julia Cameron’s incredible book The Artist’s Way, you’re already familiar with the concept. You might also use it as part of your creativity toolbox. [Here’s an interview she did where she spoke about morning pages and creativity]

For those of you who don’t know the concept, it’s simple. When you get up in the morning, before starting your day, grab a notebook and begin free writing. Don’t edit your thoughts. Do not try to make sense of the words. Just get it out. Anything and everything that is in your head..spill it onto the page and release it. As crazy as it sounds, it is amazing how productive your days can be when you get into the practice of dumping all the monkey mind stuff rattling around in your head.

tips-for-morning-pages

The first week of practice this my journal entries looked like this:

“I have no idea what to write and this feels so stupid and not worth my time and effort however I’ve read Julia Cameron’s book and I know it is fabulous and was so very helpful to me when I first did the program in 2000. It helped me define myself as an artist and it gave me so many personal insights. Oh, damn today is the day I have to get my car into the shop. I hate that. Damn fuel pump recall, why did that have to happen? I need my car to run about a million errands today. This means that I won’t be able to finish the canvas I’m working on. Just about done…”

I will NOT bore you with any more details, but I want to share exactly what I’m talking about. Monkey Mind — rambling thoughts that take up space and effort with no real purpose. We all have it, some more than others depending on the length of our to-do list.

However, like any good practice, morning pages can also offer some incredible insight and lead to artistic ah-ha moments! Also, as I’ve found myself doing this, my mind rambles much less throughout my day. It’s easier to get into my studio and get to work, and it’s easier to break away for my domestic responsibilities.

A couple of weeks ago I was feeling melancholy and having a few introspective days. Here’s a morning pages entry. Mind you, it still took a few paragraphs of rambling to finally hit upon this:

I find it fascinating the way the Universe works. 2016 is a year of changes. Endings of many things both career and personal. With endings, though, comes New Beginnings. The space between the ending and the new beginning is the Void. The Void feels a little shaky, like walking on cobble stones created by masons centuries ago where you’re not completely certain how to place your feet so the ground won’t shift. But it is also a primordial soup of creativity and possibility. It’s a time when you can intentionally make every single choice of what to add to this next pot of soup. It’s a time to look at life and tell yourself…hmmmm I’m DONE with that, but I want MORE of this. It’s not about reaching for anything in particular. It’s about getting clarity on the essence of who you are and how you wish to spend your days.

I’m not sure what I will do with this paragraph yet, or even if I will do anything with it. For now I circled it a dozen times with a fine point Sharpie marker with a note to revisit at a later date. My journalism mentor, an incredible editor who won a Pulitzer for her reporting on the early days of AIDs, calls this “gathering string.” It’s a concept she introduced to me in my 20s that I took to heart and have been doing ever since in my creative work.

No great wrap up of this post. Just wanted to share with you a snippet of my life. I’m curious though, have you ever done morning pages? What are your thoughts on making this a practice?

Artfully yours…

JenSig

 

 

Love, Gratitude and Labor Day

This long holiday weekend was filled with family, friends and FUN. Many moments have taken root in my mind and will be known from here on out as simply “good times”. As I go about my work today, one memory keeps coming to the forefront. To tell it though, is to tell a little story.

I have two generations in my children; an almost 17-year-old son and a 7-year-old daughter. It’s challenging when your children’s ages are a wide gap. The teenager is into his electronics and wants to stay up all night. He doesn’t care too much to talk, but when he does have something important on his mind, you bet he wants to talk about it at midnight. The little one wants to play make believe, Minecraft and art and gets tired by 9 p.m. (thank goodness, as does mommy). They rarely play together because their interests are too varied. Sure, they love each other. My son is a caring big brother and watches over his sister who absolutely adores him. But my time as a mother is split between two distinct generations with different levels of needs and wants.

The one common denominator my kids share is that they are home bodies. They love being with their friends, but they both believe every play date (for the littles) and general hang out time (for the teens) should be at our house. This is something my husband and I enjoy. Sure it costs more in food and mess and pure parenting energy, but I know where my kids are, what they’re talking about and what interests them. When they get with their friends having fun, they forget mom and dad are within earshot and we get a glimpse into their world from a different vantage point.

Even the bigs still act like the littles sometimes at the family cabin.

Even the bigs still act like the littles sometimes at the family cabin.

Such was the case this Labor Day weekend at our cabin. We have a separate little mother-in-law house complete with bathroom that we’ve essentially handed over to the teenagers. The littles take over the living room. If the weather is nice, like this last weekend, the grownups get to enjoy the deck all to ourselves. Well, until the littles come looking for a snack, a drink or a hug.

My son has two best buddies who’ve been like my own “spare set” of kids since kindergarten and first grade. I love these boys and have done my fair share of play dates, camping trips and sleepovers. These boys came to the house Friday about noon and didn’t leave until Monday at 4 p.m. Other teenagers came and went in those three days. At one time on Saturday I looked up and there were 10 kids milling between the hang out house and the pool table in my husband’s garage. I made tacos for them and they scarfed the food like a plague of locusts, leaving no crumbs behind.

At the same time the teens were hanging out, my daughter’s best friends — my second set of “spare kids” also spent the long weekend with us and my daughter was beyond happy to have the company.

Feeding our friend's horses is always a fun family activity when at the woods.

Feeding our friend’s horses is always a fun family activity when at the woods.

Sunday evening, my husband and I took a walk around the neighborhood. I put the big kids (son and spares) in charge of the little kids (daughter and spares) and told them to all play tag in the yard. We heard laughter and yelling from children as we were walking up the hill a few streets over. My husband dropped my hand and put it to his ear.

“Is that our kids?”

I cocked my head sideways to listen closely. “Yes,” I said with a big, happy smile. “All six of them.”

I was quiet the rest of the walk, my heart filled with gratitude for my children, my friends’ children who entrust them to our care, our family cabin and holidays in the woods where we gather. There’s no place on earth where I’m more at home or more at peace.

I've loved this little face since he was just a few days old. One of my "spare kids" whom I love as though he's my own.

I’ve loved this little face since he was just a few days old. One of my “spare littles”

Here’s wishing you a week filled with love and gratitude.

JenSig

Summer veggies, yum

FarmersmarketSummer

This past Saturday, hubby and I spent the morning doing one of our favorite summer activities. We spent some time at the local farmer’s market picking out organic vegetables. The little market in Pine, AZ is small but mighty. It’s run by one of my best friend’s partners, and let me tell you this man’s garden is his one true passion. Bill is able to grow vegetables here that, frankly, provoke envy from others in town who’re also into their summer gardens. Diane is an artist and she created all the ambiance to showcase the veggies. Check out her cute chalkboard signs and red bins for color. She’s also hand carved a cute linocut logo and screen printed cotton bags and aprons.

We’ve had Diane and Bill for dinner at our family cabin many times and I’ve learned a lot about the subject, including all the little nuances people love to tell when they have a passion. For me, buying the fruits of Bill’s labor is a little like buying a piece of art from someone who I really like. Whenever we bring them home, I immediately jump onto the internet to look up a fabulous new recipe to experiment with. It’s really fun to know we’re immediately going from garden to table.

This week, we bought sweet little potatoes, leeks, zucchini, carrots and a mix of salad greens. I had pulled out a ham bone from the freezer the night before and decided to cook it down. I had planned to make some lentil soup and use the ham leftovers, but after visiting the farmer’s market, I decided to make potato, leak and ham soup. My family always gobbles this up, so I make it quite often during winter months. This is a recipe I know like the back of my hand. Hubby was so excited about fresh zucchini that he asked me to saute them up immediately for a snack while I was getting the soup ready. You can see them in the photo above.

Since I’m on summer break with my kids right now and not spending much time in my studio, I decided to share some creative cooking. Here’s my own recipe for this yummy soup.

potatosoup

4 cups of diced potatoes

3 leeks, white and bright green parts of the stem

3 carrots (four if they are smaller from the garden like mine were)

1 1/2 cups diced ham

2 tablespoons Better than Bouillon chicken broth

1 1/2 tablespoons Avocado oil or Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 tablespoon dried Herbs de Provence (if you don’t have it, use dried Italian seasoning spices)

salt to taste

4 cups water

1 cup half and half

2 tablespoons flour

1/2 stick butter

Directions:

Put diced carrots into pot with 4 cups water, 1 tablespoon of chicken Better and Bouillon and bring to boil. Cook carrots until they are soft.

Caramelize leeks in a skillet with extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil (I’ve been buying avocado oil at Costco and using more than my EVOO)

Add diced carrots to caramelized leeks and cook until soft

Add cooked carrots and leeks to pot with cooked potatoes

Add diced ham

Make a roux —

place 1/2 stick of butter in a skillet and melt

Add 2 tablespoons of flour to butter and 1 tablespoon of chicken Better and Bouillon and stir until its a thick paste

Add 1 cup half and half to the mixture and stir until its creamy and smooth with no lumps

Add the roux to the potato soup

Add salt to taste

Cover pot and turn to simmer

And just for a little fun, I wanted to share this Ryan Gosling meme that I found on the Internet that relates to my theme. Um, yeah, he can cook for me any time.🙂

famersmarket4

I hope you’re enjoying your summer and getting time to be creative in whatever way your muse inspires.

JenSig

Miss you!

Today is the one year anniversary of my beloved father’s passing. From the moment I woke this morning, I’ve felt him with me. Hanging out just over my shoulder. Teasing me softly like he did when I was a child. Poking me ever so gently in the ribs so I will notice him and come in for a cuddle. My dad wasn’t one to just come out and say, “hey, give me a hug” when he needed one. He was more likely to find a joke or a pun or a silly way to make me stop in my tracks and look at him. Almost like a little boy who pulls the little girl’s ponytail to get her attention.

Jendad

My father was witty and clever, so much so that he always managed to break the shell of this very serious little girl and make her burst into full belly laughter. My husband has a very similar humor, and while he’s very different from my father in a myriad of ways, I think the fact that he can always make me laugh is one of his most endearing qualities.

My father and my husband were/are fun people. While I can definitely have fun, I have to work a little harder at it. I’d rather spend my time getting to know someone for who they are. Their hopes and fears. What do they love? What do they need? These men – these beautiful men — are more likely to make you feel so safe and secure in their presence that you just melt into a naturally relaxed state where fun is simply the best option.

When I jumped onto Facebook this morning, it wanted to show me memories of one year ago today. What I saw were the photos of us in France with our students. While they were truly happy memories, I decided not to re-post them again to my wall today. When my dad passed last year, I wasn’t able to fully take it in because there were some big responsibilities on my shoulders; A dozen women whose dreams were to visit Paris and La Cascade and learn jewelry from Susan. It was an incredible trip, and the distraction of it was divine.

My dad was in hospice for three months before his passing. Even as he grew weak and ready to return home, he knew what he was doing. He made me promise to continue my trip. He and my mother never traveled outside the US in their entire lives, and he was extremely proud that both his daughters have traveled many parts of the world.

What a difference a year makes. Today I am home in my studio. I have the air conditioning turned down low and my studio is spotlessly clean and ready for me to work. As soon as I finish a few things on my computer, I’m planning to put some singer/songwriter music on Spotify and pull out my paints and canvases. My soul wants to do some intuitive abstract painting today and I’m going to listen.

My daughter is at art camp, hubby at work and son at his summer college classes. The house is quiet and my dad is with me. Time to see what my inner creativity wants to do.

JenSig

 

A Mother’s Day First

Mother’s Day is usually a pretty great day for me since I became a mom. I love my kids more than anything and it’s always fun to get my macaroni necklaces and hand drawn cards and lots of hugs and kisses. This Mother’s Day is a new first. It’s the first one in my life where my mother is no longer here.

Don’t get me wrong. She is with me. In spirit. In Love. In my heart. Always and All ways.

However I can no longer touch her. No longer talk to her and hear her voice. No longer hug her, cry on her shoulder or call her just to chat.

This post is for all of you whom I share these thoughts and emotions with. I am your soul sister now because now I know a little bit of what you’re feeling. Here’s a big {{{hug}}} to you on Mother’s Day just because you deserve it.

This is also a day that I am making sure to celebrate ME. I have the most important job in the world – MOM. When my daughter gave me the macaroni heart necklace she made with such care in her first grade class this year, you can bet I gave her and extra big hug. It is my newest favorite piece of jewelry, and I will treasure it. One day when she’s an adult and goes searching for photos of the two of us, she will find this necklace saved for her a safe spot. Hopefully she will save it next to the one her future son or daughter makes for her with the same amount of joy and love. It’s a silly sentimental object, but right now, it’s what I’m holding on to. I wish I had found my macaroni necklaces when we went through my parent’s belongings. I’d wear it with pride layered with my daughter’s.

I decided to go looking through and old backup hard drive of mine with family photos. I found a few of me and mom. I admit I shed a few tears looking at them, but they make me happy. Memories are good. Good memories are better.

Here I am as a baby. My mom was 38 when she had me. Hard to believe when I see this photograph.

Here I am as a baby. My mom was 38 when she had me. Hard to believe when I see this photograph.

 

I don't have any memories of this, however, I've been told my whole life how much I loved it when we went bicycling when the weather was nice in Phoenix.

I don’t have any memories of this, however, I’ve been told my whole life how much I loved it when we went bicycling when the weather was nice in Phoenix.

 

Photo of my mother, myself, my sister, her favorite dog and my grandparents. My grandmother passed away when I was 5 so I never knew her, but my family told me she kept scrapbooks and read constantly and loved art. They tell me I’m a lot like her. I know we both like pie…a lot.

 

Another pic of my mom and me when I was young. I have a devilish little look in my eyes. Wonder what I was thinking? Probably where's my crayons? I want to color on that sidewalk.

Another pic of my mom and me when I was young. I have a devilish little look in my eyes. Wonder what I was thinking? Probably where’s my crayons? I want to color on that sidewalk.

 

Happy Mother's Day Mom. I miss you.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom. I miss you.

JenSig

Smile baby girl

thegirls

Here’s a familiar week day scenario. My daughter comes from her babysitter’s house and thumps her backpack on the table. I’m in the kitchen chopping vegetables and working on dinner. She immediately starts fishing in her backpack for the day’s papers and hands me semi-wadded messes of important information intermingled with the day’s take home school work. She’s talking a mile a minute because it’s been 10 hours since we’ve seen each other and a lot has happened in her world while we were apart. (Truth be told, a lot has happened in my work day, but hers is more important so we focus on her).

I wipe my hands on a towel, give her a huge hug, take the wad of papers and put them on a counter in the kitchen so I can look at them after dinner. I pull up a kitchen stool and she continues talking about her day while I keep cooking.  Sometimes we talk through the entire dinner prep time, but more than likely she jumps down from the stool and heads to the living room to play on the iPad before dinner. My husband or teenage son has picked her up from the sitters and they disappear until dinner time the moment they walk in the house.

This time before she jumps down from the stool, she heads over to the papers to put the one about school picture day on the top of the pile. She wants to make sure I see it because it’s important. “Mama, I can wear something pretty because it’s school picture day. We don’t have to wear our uniforms!” (The navy collared shirts and blue or khaki pants/skirt uniform causes consternation with my hot pink and sparkles fashionista).

“Awesome. Why don’t you go pick out what you want to wear tomorrow,” I tell her. She bounces off happily, ready to make this important decision independently.

The truth of the matter is I’m not and never have been a fan of the non-creative photos that are done in public schools across the nation. The whole predictable grey mottled background and cookie cutter way of taking school photos nauseate me. It’s one annual ritual I wish we could just skip. To that end, I have never cared what my kids wear for these photos. The chances of me buying them are 1 in 10. I’d rather donate money directly to the school for something useful, like field trips to the museum or science center than purchase or (gasp!) display them in my home.

I’m doing my best to be a good mom though, so I never express these feelings with my kids. We have creative family photos all over our house. I have a real passion for photography, so we have some fun family home decor and they get to see their beautiful faces everywhere (much to my daughter’s delight and my son’s chagrin.)

Fast forward to bedtime. As I’m tucking my daughter into bed, she asks if I can lay next to her so we can snuggle for a few minutes. As I crawl in next to her, I can see her brows knitted in worry.

“What’s going on, love?”

“Mama, I don’t like picture day at school because I have to smile,” she says.

My heart sinks a little. I know the reason she’s saying this is because she hasn’t had any front teeth since she was two years old. It’s our fault. She screamed and wiggled and fought getting her teeth brushed so we didn’t do as good of a job as we should have and she developed “baby bottle teeth” and they had to be removed. Yes, her adult teeth will come in, but she’s not had teeth for so long that she doesn’t even know what it’s like. She’s been teased about it, and it makes her sad and want to hide this part of herself that she feels ashamed about.

I kiss her on the top of her head and then look into her eyes. “You listen to me honey. YOU are beautiful. YOU are divine. YOU are gorgeous. You are a million and one amazing things, least of which are smart and kind and loving. You are a friend to everyone. When picture day comes tomorrow and the photographer tells you to smile, I want you to give him the biggest and brightest 10,000 watt smile that you have inside of you. YOU let that inner beauty of yours SHINE because you are perfect just the way you are.”

She flashes me a huge smile and me and then hugs me tighter than she has in a while. For a moment, my heart leaps right out the top of my head. Yes, good mama moment. Important mama moment. Success!!!

Here’s a little secret of my own. I have a crooked smile that I’ve often felt ashamed about it. I’ve also done a tight-lipped grin for important publicity photos, like when I was at F+W shooting my DVDs/digital downloads. I didn’t want strangers to look at me and my creative work/products and think less of me or judge me because I don’t have a perfect row of pearly whites. Sometimes when I do selfies with my artist friends at the retreats and events, I’ll keep my crooked smile to myself so it doesn’t show up in their social media news feeds.

However, this little girl of mine is proving to be one of my most valuable life teachers. Being her mama makes me face my own fears and insecurities. Trying to raise a strong, smart, beautiful woman makes me realize that when I’m talking to her, I’m often telling my childhood self the things I most needed to hear, and, wow, these moments can be most empowering and healing.

I hope my daughter takes this lesson to heart and follows through. I promise, if I open that photo package and I see her proudly showing her gums and letting her inner beauty shine, I will buy the entire thing and hand them out to every family member and close girlfriend I have. Boring background and cookie cutter pose be damned!

And next time — hopefully every time — I see that cell phone camera coming my way, I’ll remember to light it up with my crooked smile and inner beauty as well.

Smile baby girl, you’re perfect just the way you are!

JenSig