How Can a Mama Schedule Creativity Into Her Life?

Note: This column was printed in the June 27, 2012 edition of the Barrow Journal.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to write more on this topic ever since my fellow blogger, Renee Tougas of, wrote the definitive e-book for busy moms who want to find time for their own creative pursuits.  How do I schedule it into my life, she asked?

Another friend of mine commented that she doesn’t see how I have time to do it all.  The truth is, I don’t do it all, and there are days that I feel like pulling my hair out.  Still, having children has taught me more about time management skills than any high power job could ever do.

It’s ironic that I’m writing on this topic at an unusually busy time for me.  With summer in full swing, I never guessed how many unexpected things could pop up at this time of year for young children.  Besides my son’s mini-camps and a summer class, I’m happy to shuttle him around to play dates so that he can enjoy this beautiful weather.

I also have a magazine article I’m trying to finish and get in the mail, a photo shoot coming up, another set of photos I did for a friend that I’d like to finish, and of course I continue with my weekly column.  Then there’s the magical laundry bin that fills up every time I empty it.

I work very hard at keeping perspective, and I also make sure that I don’t let my personal goals take my attention away from my kids.  I keep mindful that this is a short time in my life, and someday I’ll wish I could step back into this moment when my children were young.  But staying positive doesn’t take away the fact that I have to get things done.

It’s all about sorting priorities and making lists for me.  Luckily I found a little app for my computer that lets me make several to-do lists.  (I use To-Do Queue, but I know there are other good ones too.)  I use some lists for brainstorming ideas on what to write about, and I use other lists for the real gotta-get-it-done stuff.

Keeping these lists separated is what makes my life easier.  I’m never looking at a comprehensive, mile-long to-do list.

I make sure I get the important stuff done first.  I usually reserve certain days of the week for certain tasks, such as my weekly column.  Just as I mentioned last week in my “how to get the house clean” column, having specific days for specific tasks takes away the angst of “When will I get to this?”  Thinking about everything at once is too overwhelming.

When the must-do stuff is done, I use my lists to remind me of what I want to work on next.  Having this reminder open on my computer is important because it’s so easy to open up Twitter or Facebook and waste time.

But how do I get any of it done with young children who quite literally suck up every minute of the day?  Most of it happens at night after they go to bed, and some of it gets done in the afternoons while they watch T.V.  There are also nooks and crannies throughout the day when I manage to load laundry or write an e-mail while also sculpting clay creations with my sons.

While it would be ideal to have a few hours every week when I could retreat to a private office to get my work done, that will never happen.  What helped me gain perspective on this is what a friend of mine told me once.

He teaches news writing at the university, and he told me that while his students are writing in class, he’ll put the radio on.  He said he wants them to get used to distractions because in a busy newsroom, it’s not always quiet.  When he told me this, I realized that getting work done despite distractions is something we can learn to do.  It’s something we can train ourselves to do.

Distractions are always at hand for moms of young children.  A subtitle for this era of our lives could be “Ten Years and One Million Interruptions.”  So instead of waiting for the perfect time to get creative, learn to use the time you’ve got.


There’s also something I’d like to add that wasn’t in my column.  It’s about keeping perspective as I mentioned briefly.  I have many personal goals that I’d like to do, but I just can’t at this time.  I only do what little I can, and I try to appreciate this moment with my children first and foremost.  I’m pretty sure that being a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom is going to be the happiest time of my life.  Why do I dream about doing something else when in reality, I have everything I want?

On the other hand, it’s good to have personal goals because one day these kiddos will grow up and leave my house.  I’m glad I’m pursuing my hobbies and career goals even if it’s a little bit.  I think it will lay a foundation for my life after kids, and from what I hear from “empty nesters,” it will be good to have a distraction at that time.

Remember that wonderful children’s story, The Tortoise and the Hare?  Be the tortoise.  Plod along and do what you can. After all, if you had all the time in the world, you might not use it wisely.

How do you make time for yourself?

Will T.V. Hurt My Kids? Part 2 of 3

When my two-year-old took naps, he watched considerably less T.V., but now he watches along with his brother in the afternoons and evenings.

Note:  This is a follow-up to my previous post about the research I found on T.V. viewing and young children.

When I was a child, I had several favorite shows I liked to watch, and I always watched Saturday morning cartoons.  I also had a little black and white T.V. in my bedroom that I could watch whenever I wanted, and I ate my dinner while watching T.V. by myself.  I can’t remember exactly how much time I spent in front of the T.V., but I don’t think my mom ever worried about it, and I don’t think she restricted it.  I also loved to play make-believe with my stuffed animals, and I went in the backyard to play alone in the snow too.

When I grew up, I became a well-rounded adult who could live with or without T.V.  After leaving my parent’s house, I rarely watched T.V.  When I lived in Japan for a year, I didn’t own a T.V.  Just before I met and married my husband, I lived alone and kept my T.V. in the closet.  I used it to watch movies on the weekends that I rented from the local video store.  I do like watching T.V., but only quality T.V. and entertaining movies.  When I moved in with my hubby, he got me hooked on watching some of my favorites like Lost and Battlestar Gallactica. (Don’t tell me how they end!) For me, television is a way to relax and also learn in a visual way.  As a visual learner, I love documentaries and travel shows.

I think there are many children in today’s society who are watching too much T.V., and they are watching inappropriate programming for their age.  This is probably why the The American Academy of Pediatrics felt they had to make recommendations, and it may also be why we’re hearing about Nature Deficit Disorder.  But if you’re a parent and you’re reading this, then I bet you’re a homeschooling parent or at least a parent who takes time to think about your child’s education, well-being and future.  I doubt you’re letting your T.V. babysit your children all day long.

So let me repeat the final sentence from my last post: “I believe that when parents balance age-appropriate, commercial-free T.V. viewing with other, healthy activities, television can’t hurt kids.  And it may be good for them if they watch educational, prosocial shows.”  

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying you should let your kids watch more T.V.  If you have a schedule that keeps the T.V. out of your children’s day then by all means, keep it up.  If I could, I would prefer my boys watch less T.V., but I’ve found that without letting them watch T.V., I don’t get the time I need to:

  • rejuvenate
  • write my newspaper column
  • get some chores done
  • rest
  • get my ducks in a row
  • in other words, rejuvenate, rejuvenate, rejuvenate.

I am an introvert and so is my husband.  Maybe we’re even extreme introverts.  Right now I’m reading Introvert Power by Laurie Helgoe, PhD, and it’s fascinating.  Someday I’ll write about it (I did! – click here), but for now I’ll say that while reading this book, I’ve learned to not feel guilty about spending time at my computer, writing, and reading whenever I get a chance.  I never thought it was wrong to do those things, but with kids, the only time I get to myself is while they’re sleeping or watching T.V.  We can’t afford babysitters, and I have no outside help (except when my husband is off work or my mother-in-law is visiting once a year.)  I get secretly irritated when well-meaning people tell me I deserve to take a day off on a regular basis.  I want to say, “Are you going to come to babysit for me?”  I can’t expect my husband to spend all his free time with the boys – he needs to rejuvenate too.  There are simply no other options.

More importantly, by giving up guilt and worry over how much T.V. they are watching, I have found that I stay centered and cheerful (most of the time) while I’m with them.  I have more energy overall, so I can do more fun projects.  I can be fully with my children instead of being tired and wishing I had a little time for myself.

Usually in the afternoons around 2 or 3 o’clock I have a sinking spell.  When I was young and single and working full-time, my productivity went down around this time.  I will never understand our culture of having to work 9-5.  Those countries who do “siesta” have it figured out!  If I have to, I can keep going and force myself to work, but I become drained and uncreative.  Giving myself a break gives me the fuel to keep going the rest of the day.

So this is how I do T.V. time in our house:

  • My kids get to watch T.V. at certain times only.  They have come to expect to have their “T.V. breaks,” and I consider it their “quiet, resting time.” By having a set schedule and letting them each pick one show, I don’t get many arguments about watching more T.V.  If they do argue with me, I remind them that this is how we always do it. If I want to give them extra T.V. for a special occasion, I make it clear that it’s a special occasion, and they understand that.
  • They usually watch two, ~20 minute educational kids’ shows that we can watch via Apple TV/Netflix every afternoon around 2-3pm.  In the summer this is a particularly good time because they have usually been playing outside, and they need to come inside to cool down and rest.  It’s just too hot here to play outside all day.
  • Sometimes I let them watch one 20 minute show and one 50 minute show if I need more time.
  • In the evenings after bath time, they watch two ~20 minute, educational shows.  This is when I take my shower and get ready for bed.  After that, we go upstairs to play for about 20 minutes, then read a book or tell a story and go to sleep.
  • Extra perk:  This schedule has allowed me to have fairly well-behaved children.  Nothing works better in this house than saying, “No shows tonight…” to get these boys to cooperate with anything I need them to do.

And, surprise, this is not the only T.V. they watch.  They also watch T.V. with me and my husband at lunch and dinner.  I know some people feel watching T.V. during meals is the sin of parenthood.  I resisted for years, and it’s only been recently that I finally gave in to watching during dinner.  I grew up eating dinner by myself in front of the T.V. with a T.V. tray (remember those?) because my siblings were 10 years older than me and doing their own thing, and my father was usually away at work.  More than anything I have wanted to have my own family sit around a table and have a conversation about their day, but it just hasn’t worked out that way.  So why I am committing this sin of all sins?!

  • As my husband reminds me, he’s usually working at home, so we’ve been talking with each other and the kids off and on all day.  By dinnertime, we’ve seen up close what we’ve done all day.
  • We converse quite a bit about what we’re watching, and it can stimulate interesting, educational conversations.  We’re also stopping and starting the show several times during mealtime in order to get more food or someone has to use the bathroom.  Sometimes it can take an 45 minutes to watch a 25 minute show!
  • At dinner we usually watch a documentary.  (I think this is how my husband lured me to the T.V. during dinner.)  There are hundreds of wonderful documentaries and nature programs on Netflix, and we’re slowly going through them all.  We talk about them, and I bring out the globe to show my son where the show is taking us.  My husband and I both feel this is very educational for our children, and since we stay busy at other times of the day, dinner has just been an easier time to enjoy this type of programming.
  • I should note that we usually only watch about half of a program at dinner and save the rest for the next day.  They usually run from 50-60 minutes.

In preparation for writing this blog post, I thought I would keep track of my kid’s T.V. viewing during a two-week period.  Some days we watch much more and other days they watch very little because we fill our time with other projects and outings.  The weather has a lot to do with it too.  (Now we’re watching less because of the beautiful weather!)  So here I am, laying it all out for you.  I took these numbers back in early March:

March 5 – 3 hours; March 6 – 1.25 hours; March 7 – 3.5 hours; March 8 – 2 hours; March 9 – 3.25 hours; March 10 – 1.5 hours; March 11 – 2.5 hours; March 12 – 3.25 hours; March 13 – 2 hours; March 14 – 2.5 hours; March 15 – 2 hours; March 16 – 3 hours; March 17 – 1.5 hours; March 18 – 1 hour

This averages out to 2.30 hours of TV viewing per day, which is in line with the recommendations by The American Academy of Pediatrics.  As you can see, there are days that the boys watch more, but there’s also days they watch much less.  Considering the quality of the programming they are watching, I’m not worried about an extra hour here and there.

The reason I am homeschooling is so that my children can have more time to play, be creative, spend time outdoors, and not have their sleep interrupted by an early morning school bell.  I consider T.V. their time to relax and a time to expose them to places and ideas that I can’t do easily any other way.  Furthermore, they are awake approximately 13 hours per day.  We are spending a good 10~11 hours per day away from the television.

If you’d like to read more on this subject, Camp Creek Blog (my mentor in project-based homeschooling) wrote a series about screen time that was right in line with my thoughts on the subject:  “Why I don’t Worry About My Kids Screen Time, Part 1” and “Part 2,” and a related follow-up, “Trusting the Process – Trusting the Child.”

In Part 3, I’m going to list of all the shows my boys watch and what we’ve watched with them.

Nurturing Creativity and A Free Give-Away

Notes: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on March 21, 2012.  To read the details of this give-away, please scroll to the bottom of the page.  (UPDATE:  GIVE-AWAY IS NOW CLOSED.)

I was flattered recently when my favorite blogger, Renee Tougas, asked me to contribute a few words to her first mini e-book titled, “Nurturing Creativity: A Guide for Busy Moms.”  The book is “part philosophy and part practical – with ideas for how busy moms can make time for creativity in their lives.”

Whether mothers work, stay-at-home, homeschool or not, many of us find little time to nurture ourselves.  For those of us who are creative (who isn’t creative?), it’s very hard to find time for artistic pursuits or other hobbies.  This can be draining, and it doesn’t always make us happy mothers.

She asked me what my favorite creative activity was and how do I make time for it during this busy season of my life?

If you read my column every week (thank you!), you can probably guess that I love to write.  I have been writing in one form or another since I was ten years old.  That’s right, in the fourth grade, I said I wanted to be writer, and unfortunately, I never changed my mind.

I say unfortunately only because I never had the right guidance, discipline or foresight to know what to do with my passion.  I believe everyone should go after what they want to do, but you can’t be too picky about your options within that field, and you have to work your butt off to get anywhere.  I never worked my butt off until now, which means I don’t make much money with my chosen vocation.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not happy.  If you told me 20 years ago that I would find the creative life I was yearning for in being a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom, I would have been horrified.  But here I am – loving every minute of it.

And I learned a few years ago that neither failure nor having children could keep me from putting pen to paper.  Just when I gave up on writing, the Barrow Journal landed in my mailbox.  I let the idea of a column float around in my head for a few months, and now you know the rest. I don’t know if many people read my corner of the paper, but I appreciate the few people who have stopped me in some local store or sent an e-mail to tell me they like my column.

So no matter what, I’m going to write because it’s just something I do, and I have no idea why I feel the need to tell strangers my story, but I do.  It’s as essential to me as breathing.   I credit this column for keeping my sanity during these last few years.  Even when I want to throw in the towel, I know I can’t because if I didn’t have some kind of creative outlet, I might start to resent motherhood.  I dare not let that happen.

So when I do I get a chance to write?  Sometimes I write in the afternoon when my boys are watching T.V., but mostly I write at night after they go to bed.  I make sure I start early in the week because I never know what kind of interruptions I might get or how tired I might be on any given night.

But it can’t go without saying that in order to do this there’s also a lot I don’t do.  My house is not very clean, and (here my husband will stand up and nod vigorously) I rarely cook.  I do clean once a week to keep the house livable, and I make sure everyone eats, but my abilities in homemaking are lackluster.

I appreciate my husband’s support in my attempts to keep up with this column and my blog and all my other creative attempts.  Though he may grumble from time to time, I think he knows (because he is similar) that without being able to do something for myself and without being able to be creative, I wouldn’t be happy.  And you know what they say, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!”

AND HERE’S THE BEST PART:  Renee is offering one free e-book to one of my readers.  I had the pleasure of reading “Nurturing Creativity: A Guide for Busy Mothers,” and I assure you it’s worth the time to do so.  I found much inspiration and encouragement in her words.  In addition, Renee wrote with busy moms in mind – it’s short, under 50 pages.  So, you have no excuse not to read it.

To enter this give-away, all you need to do is leave a comment before midnight on Tuesday, March 27th, 2012 and tell me why you’d like a copy of this inspirational e-book.  That’s it.  Nothing else.  I will let my five-year-old draw one of your names from a hat on Wednesday, and I’ll contact the winner by e-mail that day.  I’ll also post your name on my blog unless you tell me not to.  You have nothing to lose and much creative inspiration to gain.

One More NoteThe wonderful artwork on this page was created by Erika Hastings of Mud Spice: Mucking about in Art and Motherhood.

Free Give-Away This Week for Creative Moms

Just a quick note to give y’all a heads-up!  Later this week I’ll be offering a free give-away for creative moms who need a little inspiration and practical advice on how to make time for creative pursuits.  I’m able to offer this because one of my favorite bloggers is giving me something special to share with you.  So please come back and participate!  I’ll post it sometime Thursday….I can’t promise an exact time because, well, you know how it is with little kids.

I’d love for you to sign up for my RSS feed or sign up to receive my posts by e-mail in the left margin…..>

Thank you for your support.

Homeschooling’s Biggest Challenge: No Break for Mama

The hardest part of homeschooling for me is not getting enough rest/breaks/”me time”/time alone/time to get my ducks in a row.  I love it.  Don’t get me wrong.  But we all need and deserve some down time.  After my second son was born two years ago (see photo above), the time I got to myself decreased dramatically.  As an introvert, I really need time alone to recharge, yet I have surprised myself at how I can thrive with such little time to myself.  I think this is because I love my job.  I love my boys, and I love being with them most of the time….but that still doesn’t take away the need to have a break sometimes.

I can get tired, cranky, and I can yell.  Sigh.  I’m not perfect.

I knew that I couldn’t be alone in this, so I put out a message on one of the homeschooling e-mail lists I belong to, and I asked other moms to share with me how they do it.  Do they get any free time?  Do they hire someone?  Do they suffer through it? Or maybe I am just a selfish mama?

Thankfully, there are others like me who need their “me time.”  And they allowed me to share their comments in the latest column I wrote for The Barrow Journal.  I hope you’ll click here to read it and then come back and tell me how YOU do it.