Blog

What Next?

This time last year, I was holding Thing1’s hand as he recovered from major surgery and navigating an unwanted gap year. I was still working at home, and Thing2 was still getting his feet wet in middle school. They were the center of my world and the center of my life, and I thought I knew who I was – a mom, writer and artist. The last twelve months, however, have changed all of that.

When I first started this blog seven years ago, I was a work-at-home-mom. The boys were 12 and 6 and, in addition to being the center of my world, were the centers of my days. At the time, the messes and chaotic rituals that go with raising creative kids in the country were endless sources of entertaining and, sometimes, heartbreaking, inspiration for post after post. Trying to preserve the moments, I got back to drawing/illustrating and then found my way to painting.

While Thing1 and Thing2 starred in many posts, I resisted making this a “mommy blog“ for reasons I couldn’t explain then but, after this year of change, I am starting to understand now.

I changed work venues and careers at the beginning of summer. Then Thing1 left for college after a summer of work. Thing2, a case study in extroversion, waded enthusiastically into the middle of middle school, and, while they are still the centers of my life and my heart, they are not always at the center of my day. Thing1 is carving out his own life. Thing2 is working his heart out to be better than his brother at everything. I’m getting to know them both as young adults, and it is an exhilarating experience. It’s also a confusing one.

The kids seem to be forging their identities almost effortlessly. I’ll always be a mom, but with each snip of the apron strings, my ‘mommy’ days seem to be slipping away. I’m still new enough at teaching to think of it as something I do and not yet as something I am, and that distinction has, over the last few months, repeatedly prompted a question about the other important part of my life of “What do I create?” Am I a writer who paints or an artist who writes?

With our family stories evolving away from the kitchen table near the wood stove, for the first time in seven years, I don’t know what to write. I don’t know what to paint. I even started taking internet personality tests (always a reliable source of wisdom), hoping the results would spur an obvious answer and direction.

Then a friend reminded me that an artist is an artist, regardless of the medium. That meant the answer was simply in getting back to creating again. The task, now, is to start with writing something – anything – every day.

I know he’s right.

I know that the act of creating will be the discovery of the next stage of life. So bear with me as I get my new bearings. All topics are on the table, and the journey has just begun.

Blog

Kickstart – No Funding Required

I’m kicking off the new year with a jumpstart to my blog.

The recharge includes a return to a name – Picking My Battles. It’s mantra that helped keep me focused on creating for the first few years — even when I was almost as busy as I am now. And, what the hey? The formula worked before, and sometimes sequels are better than the original.

When I inaugurated Picking My Battles, Thing1 and Thing2 — then 12 and 5, were the primary focus of my and the Big Guy’s lives. Six years later the domestic front, much like the deck chairs on the Titanic, has been rearranged a bit, but the chaos still seems to be the consistently constant.

Six years ago, the day would go from peanut butter sandwiches to carpools to work to bills to homework. Fast-forward to the present, and I’m still a domestic anti-goddess, the Big Guy is still a rock, Thing1 has morphed into a college-bound, jolly greens-eating Giant, and my tutu-wearing free spirit, Thing2 is a bigger free spirit with way more expensive fashion sense. So, somehow, in order to carve out time to create books or paintings or cartoons and get healthy and strong again, life still boils down to learning to pick the important battles.

You can read the updated blog by visiting http://www.rachelbarlow.com or http://www.pickingmybattles.com.

Art · Blog · Sketches

Head in the Clouds


I love to stop and ponder the headless statue whenever I go over to Bedlam Farm, the home of bestselling author John Katz and artist Maria Wulf.
This weekend I was there to participate in their semi-annual Open House, celebrating Rural Art and the creative spark that lives in all of us. I love the Open House because you can’t get up the driveway without running into an old friend and fellow art junkie, but this year there was something deeper to love, and it gave me a clue as to what might have happened to the pilgrim’s head.

As happens with every Open House, people from all walks of life and points of view came together to enjoy the art. Throughout the day I overheard people praising the work of others. Sitting under the apple tree on a wicker love-seat, I heard one visitor contemplating reviving her creative life as another enthusiastically encouraged her. We watched sheep herding and listened to kids relatively new to this country sharing their musical talents with a damp-eyes audience.

This weekend ended up being, for me, about nurturing the idea that the things we have in common–the things that bind us–are more beautiful and powerful and than those that divide us. There seemed to be a mass mutual recognition that our creative sparks are worth fanning and when we come together to encourage people’s gifts, we are all better.

That thought kind of carried my head into the clouds as I sat on that love-seat on Sunday, and I realize that’s probably what happened to the little pilgrim statue at Bedlam Farm too. I think he found himself at the altar of creativity (featuring a recycled art sculpture by Ed Gulley) and, keeping his feet on the ground, let his head get lost in the clouds as he chased his own creative spark. 

It’s a worthy pursuit, and I think all of us who had a chance to sit near the altar this weekend went home full of sparks to nurture and share.

Blog · Cartoons

Layers

Most people wear multiple hats in their daily lives.  Me, I don't just have hats.......I have a whole closet full of costumes and superhero identities and one recurring problem...I'm never sure which one is my secret identity...  The Real Me  Clearly it's time for a little fall cleaning.  But this weekend I needed my geek gear to help a new friend (Pamela Rickenbach of Blue Star Equiculture)  build a blog at a workshop we were part of..Then I went home, put on my Wife-Mom super identity (a.k.a  Frumpella, Domestic Anti-Diva)......had a nice dinner with my guys......and decided that fall cleaning (like all cleaning) is a crock. Layers are better anyway. That's how Superwoman does it... Right?
Most people wear multiple hats in their daily lives. Me, I don’t just have hats…….I have a whole closet full of costumes and superhero identities and one recurring problem…I’m never sure which one is my secret identity… The Real Me Clearly it’s time for a little fall cleaning. But this weekend I needed my geek gear to help a new friend (Pamela Rickenbach of Blue Star Equiculture) build a blog at a workshop we were part of..Then I went home, put on my Wife-Mom super identity (a.k.a Frumpella, Domestic Anti-Diva)……had a nice dinner with my guys……and decided that fall cleaning (like all cleaning) is a crock. Layers are better anyway. That’s how Superwoman does it… Right?

 

Blog

Blessed Burdens

Laundry peace

Living off-grid means every scrap of laundry gets hung on a line, but if you think because the clothes dry more slowly I would be able to stay ahead of the folding, you’d be wrong.  

I can wash and hang three hampers full of biohazard-quality laundry in a single day, but the to-be-folded pile only grows.  I usually tackle it before Google Earth registers it as a new land mass, and I rarely mind the activity.  The rhythm of the sorting always stimulates meditation.  

Last Saturday, it stimulated something else.

Hoping to disrupt the strange biorhythms that, only on weekends as soon as I sit down before dawn to write, rouse my children and send them searching for snuggles and cereal, I’ve fled to the nearby country store to work before heading to Hubbard Hall, to help with the tech side of a blogging class.  The class has provided plausible cover for my morning escapes, and each afternoon I’ve come home thinking I couldn’t be more thankful for anything else that day than I was for a little grown-up time.

This last Saturday I came home to a different kind of grown-up time. A neighbor phoned looking for computer help.  I glanced around our kitchen/great room and at the laundry pile and said, “Come on over!”  He would be here in a few hours.  

Folding sessions usually occur after bedtime (the biorhythms only manifest when Mom is doing something fun), but  with impending company, I made an exception and began my folding dance, aided by my iPod and earbuds.  

The couch and table were soon dotted with neat multi-colored piles.  My antics immediately drove thirteen-year-old Jack to his room to study.  Seven-year-old Thing2, however, remained, quietly dancing over from the TV area.  

I sorted and thought about writing and chores.  I didn’t really think about the folding aside from which things should go to Goodwill.  Thing2 interrupted my ruminations, wrapping his arms around my waist as I was in mid-fold.

“Mommy, can I help?”  he asked.

“You really want to fold clothes?”  I asked.  

“No,” he said.  “But I want to help.”  He released me and spun around the living room.  Then he returned for another hug.  “Maybe I can play some music for you,” he suggested.  He sat down at the nearby piano and plunked out “Do-Re-Mi”.  

I took out my earphones so I could listen.  I kept folding, but there was no rhythm now.  Thing2 sang softly with the piano.  Too small items rotated out of inventory, sometimes taking with them a last tangible souvenir of this family vacation or that event.  Jack’s old shirts went into Thing2’s piles.  The piles grew and so did the memories.  

Well before the to-fold pile was gone and the folded clothes packed into baskets, the task ceased being a burden.  It was a reminder of the things that make a life worthwhile.  And, for once, I didn’t just make the best of the laundry pile. I was thankful for it.