The Creative Mama » inspiring art, encouraging women

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of rice bags and remnants and REAL

It was exactly ten years ago. A Friday in late December 2004. At a mere 25, I worked my very last day in Corporate America. The tension of trying to maintain a perfect home, be a good wife, all while struggling (and failing) to be a successful chemical engineer finally broke me. I passed on all my project paperwork, removed all my personal items from the desk, and turned in my employee pass. I was no longer a career woman. I was now a rare and unusual thing: a stay at home wife, neither ready to begin a family nor desiring to rise up the corporate ladder.

That Christmas, a mentor/friend gifted all the volunteers at our church with hand made rice bags. They were soft flannel and denim pouches filled with rice, ready to be heated in the microwave. I loved mine and wanted to make them for all my family. My mentor/friend insisted they were easy to make. But I didn’t sew. She extended the invitation for me to come over to her home so she could teach me. I was sure she didn’t have time for that, being a stay at home mom. Yet she insisted; was quite persistent. She suggested Monday morning — that first real day of my unemployment. December 20, 2004.

I descended upon her door that cold morning and she welcomed me in, already busy with the tasks of stay at home motherhood of a five and eight year old. The dining room table still held the remnants of their breakfast, and she had to clear that away before we could begin our work there. The children were still in warm and cozy pajamas and she never asked them to dress for the day. I remember feeling a sense of bewilderment at the lack of preparation for my arrival.  

As I stood and waited for things to get to the place where my friend could begin to show me what I’d come to learn, my meticulous, perfectionistic, judgmental self couldn’t help but notice the lack of perfection in this home. Those breakfast remnants on the table. Old crumbs on the floor. Last night’s dinner dishes in the kitchen sink. Piles of books and papers here and there. Dried toothpaste in the bathroom. Her home wasn’t “company ready” by any stretch of the imagination. Yet here I was, as invited. I’d never been in someone else’s home in a state like this. It wasn’t sterile. It was real and lived in.  

I remember feeling a little bit embarrassed for my friend, that for whatever reason, she’d not managed to get things in ship shape before I came. I remember feeling that I couldn’t imagine having someone over to my home without having swept, vacuumed, mopped, dusted, and sterilized. And I remember feeling this strange disconcertment about her motherhood.  

My limited exposure to motherhood at this time was with moms who were controlled, perfectionistic, diligent, dedicated to routine and structure. Everything was just so at all times. Finishing all tasks came first. Here in my friend’s home it was the antithesis. It was not perfect, not controlled, not structured, not any of those things. People came first.  She had welcomed me in — welcomed me in to the unique comings and goings of their day as if I belonged there just as much as they did.  

A hot cup of Tea by Carey Pace on The Creative Mama

She fixed me a warm cup of tea. She quickly taught me how to use the sewing machine. Then she left me to try it on my own while she went about the business of being a mom to two young children at Christmastime. She wasn’t going to coddle me or do it all for me. She believed in me, that I could do it. And all the while, the children were about us. They were so happy and thriving, engaged in our conversations, having “tea” and cookies with me, being part of the atmosphere of home, rather than cast away to play by themselves in a playroom. It was chaotic and messy, but so full of love and warmth and joy

What do I remember most about that day?  
I remember not wanting to leave

I came thinking I would learn how to operate a sewing machine. I left with a heart cracked open. I left with my entire understanding of what it meant to open one’s home to another soul ripped to shreds. I left with my concept of how the world worked, how we relate to each other, how we choose and don’t choose to be vulnerable, what motherhood meant, turned up on its head. 

All those homes I’d visited over my life time that were the magazine picture of perfection… felt cold, and empty, and reserved. Yet this home I’d been invited into, that I’d initially believed wasn’t “ready” for my arrival, felt warm, soothing, and a haven I had to pry myself away from. I wanted nothing more than to stay and revel in its love. My enjoyment had absolutely nothing to do with how spic and span the house was. 

Carey Pace on The Creative mama blog on being real

It’s been a decade since that day that changed me forever.  

I recently confessed all this to my mentor/friend, and she shared that she had intentionally let me in on a ‘bad day’, a real day. Of her two grandmothers, one was perfectly neat and the other was more relaxed. What she learned from her relaxed grandmother was to welcome others, even when things weren’t perfect. The best choice is to focus on people and their needs, instead of on shame.

It was embarrassing for her to allow me to see the mess, but she knew that the perfectionist, controlling me needed to be freed from that expectation. She knew that walking into a home that was focused on me and bringing me into their family would be a balm to my careful, meticulous soul. Five days before her only Christmas when her children were 5 and 8, she put my needs ahead of her own and sacrificed her pride. She gave me a taste of what home should feel like, while demonstrating that motherhood isn’t about denying your own interests in order to have a clean home and perfectly behaved children.  

How grateful I am that I tasted a cup of hot tea at her dining room table that cold December day.

Quote about REAL from The Velveteen Rabbit 


loved it! (28th edition)

The other night at our neighborhood Bunco game, we played dirty Santa. Don’t you love to play dirty Santa? I like the anticipation of unwrapping a gift, so I rarely steal from someone else. But alas, I pick a gift to unwrap and then usually end up with a gift that I otherwise would not have picked. (This year the best worst gift I opened was an ornament shaped like a piece of bacon, which I so generously gave to my bacon loving friend Allison!) After this year’s round of dirty Santa games, I’ve concluded that for any future games, I will play it dirty and steal someone else’s gift! The gift I wish I had opened was a book titled Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton. The book is a collection of Stanton’s portraits of people he meets on the streets of New York, each telling small stories that “… are outsized in their humor, candor, and humanity”. I had yet to hear about it, but according to Amazon it is the top rated book of the year in Photography. And there are over 11,000,000 (now +1) fans on facebook. Where have I been?!

I love story telling through photography. We each have our own story of regrets, achievements, failures and favorite things as we grow older. You see people in a different light when you know their hidden truths.

Stanton writes, “I always cite this photo as representing the most emotional interaction that I’ve ever had on the street. I came across this 100 year old woman just south of Central Park. She was walking in a rainstorm with a very bright umbrella. After I took her photo, I got under the umbrella with her, and asked her for one piece of advice. She said: “I’ll tell you what my husband told me when he was dying. I asked him: ‘Mo, how am I supposed to live without you?’ And he told me: ‘Take the love you have for me and spread it around.'”

 This book would make a great gift for the photographer in your family, or you can always follow along for free on Stanton’s Humans of New York blog.

If a stranger asked you to tell your story, what would you say?

Indoor Snow Photo Tutorial

Looking for a fun and creative winter photo idea? You’ve come to the right place! We live in Georgia and never know if we will see snow. So I decided to bring the snow indoors and capture the reaction of my three-year-old. We had a BLAST! How fun would this be for a holiday card photo?!? Why try to get your child to sit still for the camera when you could capture them being sincerely joyful instead?! 🙂

What you need:

  • A cute child who has no idea what he or she is in for 🙂
  • A dark backdrop. I used black felt. You could also use a dark blanket, fabric, or seamless paper.
  • Clamps to hold up your felt/fabric/blanket. I clamped my felt to my dining room chairs.
  • Fake snow flakes. I got mine at Target for a couple bucks.
  • Optional – a snow blanket for the floor. You could also use regular cotton batting or skip this entirely.
  • Readiness to laugh until your cheeks hurt.
  • A vacuum 😉

What to do:

Clip up your dark backdrop, ideally across from a window. Place your kid in front of the backdrop, so they are facing the window. Take turns throwing fake snow at each other while you snap away. Giggle until you cannot giggle anymore.

If you want to get technical, my settings for these images were f/2, SS 1/320, and ISO 400. Next time I would bump my shutter speed even higher and raise my ISO to compensate.

Make sure you capture the details as well!

This was seriously the most fun I have ever had taking pictures. My daughter and I then went outside afterwards and shook all the “snow” off ourselves, which resulted in a lot more laughs and maybe a few strange glances from neighbors. I hope you give this a try if you’re looking for a fun photo opportunity! Please let me know if you have any questions!!

This article was written by Tiffany.