Saturday, August 27, 2011

Saturday Morning Notes: Books, Creativity, and More. . .

Old photo! Haven't used this exact one before, though.

I mentioned the book Goat Song by Brad Kessler in my Monday daybook. I am reading through it again and enjoying it possibly even more than last time. On Monday, wondering what is it about a particular book that resonates with a particular soul, I wrote this: “You know how the style of certain authors on certain topics ‘clicks’ with you? That was [Goat Song] with me.”

And just this morning, I ran across words that echoed mine, written by Kessler himself in Goat Song: “A book is like a key that fits the tumbler of the soul. The two parts have to match in order for each to unlock. Then—click—a world opens.”


The author’s descriptions of his life with goats and the contemplative art of cheese-making has relit a fire under me to get hold of raw goat’s milk and begin, again, to make goat cheese, only this time I’m not only going to make farmer cheese, but I’m going to make chevre. And I am excited to get started! It won’t be professionally done with the aid of a cheese shed (a “make room”) that has developed an environment abounding with the right cultures for this kind of cheese, as well as all of the equipment for making great cheese (though maybe this is unnecessary—I’m an utter novice, so what do I know?!).

Kessler’s rhapsodic reveries over the taste of his homemade cheese reminded me of something I saw a few years ago but didn’t pay more than immediate attention to because I didn’t really know much about him then. Gourmet magazine’s website has a series that I like (I don’t know if they still do this, but they should). Various famous people share their “Day on a Plate”—everything they ate in 24 hours. (Isn’t that a fun idea?!) And Kesslershared his. I read it, I liked it, and I stayed at the computer and wrote my own. My food for the day wasn’t as exotic as Brad Kessler and his wife’s (great cheese, great artisanal bread, great wine), but it was still fun to write my own little food log, prudishly nutritious as my eating was that day. I did break free from nutritional strictness by eating delicious dark chocolate, although, in the back of my mind, I know it is full of beneficial antioxidants (but I try not to think about such things when I eat).

Another book that has me gripped is, believe it or not, Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. I was already really interested in learning more about cultured and fermented foods (these processes make the nutrition in foods far more bioavailable than in their normally eaten state), so this book would have been interesting even if it hadn’t been so nicely and engagingly written. The ideas in the book are streamlined, straightforward, and simply put. I’ve read a large number of books and articles about sourdough starters, but nowhere is it made so simple and straightforward as here. And being one who prefers to keep everything as massively simple as I can, I love this! I will be trying many recipes in this book. I’ll be pickling and fermenting everything in sight, making kombucha and sauerkraut and kefir and yogurt, as well as a number of previously unknown-to-me fermented foods. I’ll keep you posted.

Why, I don’t know, but I’ve been looking over some books on creativity. One is a book that I’ve had for years and love. You might know it. It’s called The Creative Habit by venerable Broadway and movie choreographer Twyla Tharp. In a nutshell, her key to creativity is to show up. Just show up. Day after day after day, no matter how you feel. When you are hit hard with troubles and trials or ennui or lack of motivation or inspiration, show up anyway. Just going through the ritual of getting yourself where you need to be is the biggest step. Step into the Jordan and it opens up. So, it comes down to making a habit of showing up. Rituals and routines are powerful. They jumpstart us and get the ball rolling, and once it’s rolling the battle is way more than half over. Twyla has many other tips, too, most of them down-to-earth, real, and practical. She speaks my language.

Another book on creativity is one I bought at Borders on the clearance shelves. (60% off the latest clearance price = some almost free books! Relatively speaking. I did get Marilynne Robinson’s Home for $1, so we’re talking literally close to free. Again, relatively speaking.) I only bought Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way because I remember, long, long ago, reading about it on the Pleasantview Schoolhouse blog. Anna added it to her short list of most influential books. It’s the one that lit a creative fire under her, I believe. Loving Anna’s blog and being amazed by her creative productivity, I wanted to have a good look at the book. This one takes a more spiritual tack than Twyla Tharp’s. It’s about battling your psychic obstacles to creative productivity so that you can get in there and just do it already!

Added later. . . I perused The Artist’s Way in the wee hours of this morning when I was wide awake but it was too early to be up and about. One chapter captured my attention, so I read the whole thing. And I have to say that I think I am going to really like this book. I wondered if it would be a bit too esoteric and not enough “feet on the ground” to suit me, but, no, it addresses the heart and the head and also challenges you to put your feet to the ground and get going. Now.

Some of what Cameron writes overlapped with what I remember about The Creative Habit:

“Creativity requires activity, and this is not good news to most of us. It makes us responsible, and we tend to hate that. You mean I have to do something to feel better?

“Yes. And most of us hate to do something when we can obsess about something else instead. One of our favorite things to do—instead of our art—is to contemplate the odds.”

“Most of the time, the next right thing is something small: washing out your paintbrushes, stopping by the art-supply store and getting your clay, checking the local paper for a list of acting classes. . .”

In other words, do the next thing, which is often small and manageable if we will just focus on that thing. We should all be living creative lives. Creativity is a gift implicit in being made in the image of God. It takes an artist’s flair to make a creative life out of what is ordinary to all of us, but I think we’ve all been given a unique eye for making the most mundane parts of life a thing of beauty. Rather than slogging along in the drudge of things, we should look to find and create beauty in all we do. If Brother Lawrence could do it joyfully with his monastery kitchen work, why can’t I?

But life is not lived only in the kitchen, is it? We have ample (endless!) opportunities for developing our (too often latent) creative gifts and inclinations. And creativity is not just about paint brushes or movie making or novel-writing. It’s a way to live.

Anyway (see how I wander so easily off my intended path?!). The Artist’s Way seems realistic, insightful, and helpful. No wonder Anna liked it.


I follow home anyone who comes by my blog and makes a comment. I saunter through your blogs and enjoy reading your thoughts and stories. And I have to say that again and again I am impressed. Impressed by your creativity and intelligence and your beautiful lives, and I’m always struck by the same thing: “Why are such smart, creative, talented people reading my blog?!”

One of the bloggers I trailed home showed up when I had a massive, temporary, flurry of visitors that came over because of a link put up on another blog. I enjoyed reading Monica's words and having a look at her Hawaiian life and watching her young boys practice their parkour and movie making skills. Fun! Monica is fit and knows her workout stuff. Having been an athlete myself and still careful to maintain a decent level of fitness, I’m pretty attuned to what is a good workout and what is not, what works a certain muscle or muscle group well and what doesn’t, what is effective and what isn’t (at least for me). I’m no expert, but I’m intuitive about these things. Yet in the past two years, I’ve developed a fitness Achilles heel. My core. I’ve always been naturally strong, but since I left my country home and all of the hard daily work I did there, my core has weakened. I’ve tried adding a series of ab and core exercises, but I can’t stick with them because they tend to make my back hurt, and none of them seem to really do more than skim the surface. Since I don’t want to do a full-on workout because, as always, I like to keep things simple, I won’t go to a gym and I’m not willing to undertake a serious regimen.

Enter Monica. I love what she has developed for an "ab workout." I just love it! It couldn’t be easier or more straightforward, and having done her exercise here and there throughout the past two days, I really do think this is going to make a difference! I’ll keep doing this for sure, and I’ll let you know how it goes long-term.

And one more thing. A beauty tip. (Haha--that’s about the last thing I ever thought I’d be doing here.) But this is not so much a beauty tip as it is a natural way to care for your skin. I mentioned the use of coconut water to soothe red, scratchy eyes, and now I’m letting you know that it seems to be a great facial toner, too. When I was looking for all-natural eye-drops, I ran across some information about using coconut water as a skin toner. Well, this is certainly cheaper than the “all-natural” toner I’m using now, and it’s even more all-natural, so why not give it a try? And, after a few days use, I think that it not only works but that it has improved the condition of my skin, and I tend to have soft, clear skin already. This is not a long-term testimonial, so I reserve the right to retract my endorsement, but coconut water seems to be a great all-purpose beauty product—for inner and outer use!

Soon I will be a walking advertisement for the coconut. I use coconut oil for skin lotion, coconut water as eye-drops and facial toner, coconut water in my fruit smoothies, and coconut milk in many of my recipes.

Enjoy your Saturday. I hope it’s as sunny (and mild) as mine.


  1. Thank you for the link to the ab exercise. As a person with significant back issues this should help me *a lot*. ALL ab exercises I've *ever* tried have really caused a lot of pain in my back. This one seems doable for me. :o)

  2. I saw a tutorial for making coconut milk from shredded (organic, unsweetened) coconut, just like you make almond milk. You can use the same shreds twice for milk, then dehydrate them and grind them into flour or use in cookies, etc. That seems like a pretty frugal use of coconut shreds, imho.

  3. I very much look forward to hearing about all the wild fermenting you do! That book had been on my wish list for years; I don't know why I haven't just bought it already. Oh, I know - because I have a kazillion books on my wish list. The 'art' books look worth checking into also.... my struggle in that area is more deciding if all the mess I'll make is worth it. and honestly, sometimes its just not!

    I'll have to go visit Monica ~ I need all the help I can get in the fitness department; my body is in rebellion.

    And - to add to your coconut ad: I freeze coconut milk in ice cube containers, then dump them all in a zip bag; we use a cube for small burns & minor skin issues AND - it is fabulous for use after waxing your brows!! Removes all redness and puffiness in about an hour ~ I haven't been w/out coconut milk cubes in my freezer in 6 or 7 years.

  4. From the depths of my sluggish, first trimester body, thank you. I have not been feeling "it". Now granted, pregnancy, caring for my husband and children, homeschooling, house work, excessive summer heat...can be tiring, but it is no excuse to not show up. And I have been so very absent the last month.

    I have neglected my creative soul each time I left my camera untouched and my book basket unread. I was beginning to wonder if I was depressed. Noe I think I'm just malnourished and if nothing beautiful comes in, nothing beautiful can come out.

    So I thank you for this post. For the reminder to show up, whether I "feel' like it or not.

  5. I'm with you on the coconut love, but I never thought of using it as eye drops. Ingenious!

  6. Amanda Soule had such a great impact on me years ago as she led a creative lifestyle right along with her children. I had somehow believed that having kids and having personal creativity were mutually exclusive and it was really eye-opening to me to realize that we could live fully creative lives daily in community with our children. I didn't need to "get away from them" to be creative or have a designated studio or quiet...all of my acts of my day could be creative if I chose to view them that way. Some days will look more "productive" with many products, but others days will simply be living the creative process. Thinking creatively in my home changed my life and not putting "rules" on any of it as to how it should look.

  7. Just a quick comment re: core muscles - I've had back issues for over a decade but only in the past 2 years have I been taking a bi-weekly Pilates class; ever tried it? It has been an enormous help for my back! I can't recommend it enough. Super for strengthening those transverse muscles way in there that stabilize the spine...and bring out my 2-pack. :)

  8. Michele, I don't know how well it will work (the ab exercises), but it definitely helps to some degree (I can tell!), so I'm glad you can save your back and still develop a 6-pack!

    Wow, thanks, Tonia, for a great coconut tip! I like it! :-)

    the momma, I love your tip, too! I will do that, too, for grandkids and grandmas who get too rambunctious and hurt themselves. Oh, and the art thing. Well, it's really about making everything you do a sort of work of art--it's the spirit of the thing, and we can all do that, right?! We'll can elevate whatever we do if we do it in the right spirit! And that makes life beautiful for us and for others. :-) (I know. I'm speaking to the choir.)

    Jenny, I love your comment. It inspired me. :-) Thank you.

    Emily, nice to see you here! I've used the coconut water as eyedrops more than once now, and it really seems to help! :-)

    Aimee, this is an excellent comment. I love what you say. You know, this is the only way I could think about creativity, too. I'm actually not "crafty" like so many women, but creativity really is a matter of how we live our minutes, our days, our lives. It's the spirit in which we do everything. Everything can be an art, right?! I love that. :-) Thank you for sharing your insights. You always make so much sense and eliminate needless burdens!

    Kate, thank you! My daughter loves Pilates and does them at home. I'll have to brainstorm with her for some ideas, unless of course Monica's lazy-ab workout works! And I think it might. I think I can tell a difference. Thankfully, I don't have a bad back at all, but ab exercises just strain the back, don't they? I'm glad you found something that works well for you, and thanks for cluing me in. I will definitely talk to my Aimee.

  9. First of all, I like reading your blog because I just love HOW you write….I feel like I am sitting across a table from you! :)
    Second, THANK you for mentioning me at the Grommom! :) I am honored! I hope that you have great success with standing ab workouts! Bless you.
    And THIRD, I'm so excited about all of the coconut love! Here i am with coconuts growing in my own backyard and I truly never knew all of this! I should start bottling it! :)
    Aloha to you!

  10. Monica, I still love your exercise! I do think it's making a difference. :-) So thank *you* for the exercise, and thank you, too, for your nice comment!