Amanda Soule, author of the recently published book The Creative Family: How to Encourage Imagination and Nurture Family Connections and of the blog soulemama, has kindly answered a few burning questions about her book, her blog and parenting. [and read on for a chance to win a copy kindly donated by shambhala press]
The Creative Family: How to Encourage Imagination and Nurture Family Connections by Amanda Blake Soule, published by Trumpeter (April 1, 2008)
Amanda’s new book is a little about craft and a lot about parenting – this book has made me excited to be a parent again.
Amanda: Oh gosh, that’s just about the best kind of ‘review’ words I could ask for! I do know that it is so easy to get dragged down by the mundane of our days sometimes. Surely it was my hope that this book could be one of those little reminders for us (yes, me too) of how amazing this time with our families can be. So, thank you!
Kath: Amanda you have just finished book no. 2 how exciting – can you tell me what this one is about – is it a follow on or completely different? there is so much more you could have included in this book – so I am really interested to see where you go next.
Amanda: I think readers will find it to be a natural second book, though it is quite different from the first. It’s definitely more of a ‘craft’ book than The Creative Family, which is really a parenting book. The second book is full of craft projects for the family home, all with a focus on re-purposing. There’s some ‘lifestyle’ writing in there, as well as lots and lots of photography. I’m still in the process of working on that book, so it will be released in 2009.
Kath: Your blog has an enormous following these days – congratulations – there is obviously a lot of people out there attracted to your lifestyle choices and really interested in knowing more, and your writing style is so friendly and personal it really does get people interested. Do you find it overwhelming having so many readers commenting on your daily everyday life – on the state of your curtains and your children’s gorgeous creativity? your blog has come a long way since the early days when you started it as a homeschooling (unschooling) document? is that why you started it? and has it ever been a chore to keep it going? I know that you have said it has been an invaluable tool in honing your writing skills – do you ever feel it gets in the way of family life and creativity?
Amanda: Oh, thank you! Yes, it has grown quite a bit. I did start it to keep in touch with people, to record our days, and to have a ‘reason’ to write. It continues to be all of those things, and of course, many more now. In general, the number of readers doesn’t overwhelm me – I’m quite honored that so many people spend a few minutes of their day reading it. I don’t really pay attention to the stats much – none of that has ever had much importance in blogging for me.
Blogging fits rather nicely into my day – the time that it takes has found a place in my day that works – often at night when my babes are sleeping. Sometimes, though, I’ll start a few posts in one sitting, so it’s not even everyday that I’m doing the actual writing. When it begins to feel like a chore or I feel uninspired, then I know it’s time to do something different – a photo project, different kinds of posts, a guest blog, etc.
For me the challenges to blogging are a small few: Negative feedback never feels good, though it has become easier to let go of with time and frequency. And the biggest challenge I feel is wanting to have more time to respond to the lovely emails and comments I get each day. Truly – those words from readers are so meaningful to me, and I always wish I had more time to say ‘thank you’ individually.
Kath: Lets talk about the book. I love that it is really your voice that comes through loud and clear – good honest practical advice. Not preachy or overly sweet – just everyday stuff – you discuss a little about your days being filled with your children’s creativity – can you tell us a little how you structure your days – you homeschool the children – unschooling is that right? do you have a daily structure that you follow or does the day does take its own form?
Amanda: Our days don’t really have a ‘schedule’ per se, but I definitely feel a rhythm to them. I feel my role as ‘guiding’ that rhythm along – with a lot of paying attention along the way to feel out what’s working and what’s not working for us individually as a family at home. Every day starts out with each of us talking about what it is that we want to do most that day, and our day weaves around working together to make that happen. Today, for example, Calvin really wanted to build a new ramp for his bike, Ezra wanted to do a Sound of Music performance, Adelaide said she wanted to paint outside, and I said I really needed to wash all the windows (I know, sometimes it’s not always something very thrilling!). So those four things were our ‘focus’ for the day, with some of the everyday things woven around those – baking, cleaning, reading, writing, drawing, etc. “What” we do changes a lot with the season, and whatever outside activities we may have going on.
Kath: I really love how you talk about ‘slowing down’ and observing and nurturing and how it is the process rather than the end result that is important. Can you talk a little about how you have come to this … is the way you are raising your children a lot different than how you were raised? and what led you to your current parenting philosophy?
Amanda: I was raised in a fairly traditional home environment, but I think I always had different ideas about how I wanted to do things. Even before having children, I read lots of books on education and child development – it just really interested me as I was forming ideas about what I wanted for my children. That continued as my children were born – lots of reading and lots of talking to other parents. I took bits and pieces of what I liked from many different philosophies…and then just followed my gut, I suppose, about what felt to be the right thing for my family – and now, for each child individually. It feels a bit like a combination of knowledge and intuition – I’m sure many parents identify with that – both are important in parenting.
Kath: I am really interested in how this book is a little bit about parenting and a little about creativity but mostly it is about how it all comes together – and how much we learn from our children – what are the main lessons do you think you have learnt from your children?
Amanda: Oh, gosh. A lot! Rachael Carson said, “One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, ‘What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?” And that – children’s ‘seeing’ of the entire world for the first time is such a lesson for me in looking at things differently.
Kath: There are few projects in the book – not as many as i expected – but i wasn’t disappointed at all – there is so much else in this book and in a way i am glad it is not just another ‘craft’ book but a book about living. can you tell me how you chose the projects you did and which ones you were sad to have left out?
Amanda: One of the first things I said about this book when talking with my editor at Shambhala (who agreed wholeheartedly) was that I really didn’t want it to be ‘another kids craft book’ – there are so many wonderful resources already out there for that. I really wanted to focus on the why and how of creating with children, with some practical applications of that sprinkled throughout.
Craft projects won’t ‘work’, be successful, or even fun for parent and child if they aren’t done in a relaxed way that is supportive of children’s creativity. So, yes, the book does include more about that end of it all.
There were only a few projects that didn’t make it into the final book, and the only ones I was sad about were the pregnancy/birth related crafting projects. Looking at the book in it’s entirety, I don’t think they fit very well after all, but I do think I’ll find the right space for them sometime.
Kath: I love how you say ‘don’t be afraid of mess’ and to just ‘be in the moment’ it is so true that many creative ideas get stifled because we are afraid of the aftermath – can you tell me who cleans up in your house? you don’t talk about discipline in this book – which in a parenting book is very unusual – with your life style and slow pace there is no need to rush and hurry everywhere – which is usually the cause of conflict (in our house anyway) can you tell me what your discipline methods or style are – or aren’t?
Amanda: We all do a bit of the picking up. Of course, the older the children are, the more they’re able to do. Meaning, of course, that those over the age of 30, do a LOT of it. While I may not address ‘discipline’ head-on in this book, I do think our parenting approach comes through. I’m not sure that I’d ever really want to write a discipline book. The way we handle conflict is always evolving – I’ve read a lot of parenting books, I talk about parenting with many friends, and we talk about what we’re doing as a family too. As the children grow and as new challenges come up, the specific ways in which we handle things change – taking the best of what we like from the ‘advice’ out there, and listening to our hearts for most of it. My favorite parenting book is Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting by Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn. In times of need, I find a lot of comfort in their words.
Kath: How do your children feel about this book and being part of your creative project?
Amanda: It was really such a family effort to get this book (and the second one) out the door, so they’ve been a part of the process in many aspects – from inspiration to photography subjects to editors, in a way. They’re a little young, I think, to really understand what it all means, though they’re the first to jump up and down with me when the book arrived for the first time. Or when we spy it in a bookstore. I do hope that when they’re a bit older this book will be something they’re proud of, and something that will tell them a bit of the tale of these years of our family’s life together. I work really hard at finding the balance between sharing what we do, but not sharing too much of ‘them’ in a way that they might be unhappy with in later years. I suppose time – and they – will be the ones to tell if I’ve been successful at that!
get involved: theres a flickr group
My thoughts on this book: I love this book – if you have children then you need this book. If you only buy one book this year – make it this one.
More: see amanda on this online interview/tutorial about the book and one of the projects in the book – she might be embarrassed by this – I think she was a little nervous. but I thought it was really lovely
Win a copy of this book:
comment here about your own family creativity – comments will close Tuesday … and will be drawn wednesday.
Images: images in this post are from Amanda’s blog. The top image is Amanda’s embroidery, second image some freezer paper stenciling and the third image her children creating at the family table and lastly Amanda herself in the snow wearing her own snow beret.
edited: winner announced – chosen by my random number picker Laura Weber
When I was young, my mother was one of those hands-on get dirty have fun kind of Moms. From gardening to cooking to sewing, we would do everything together. Now that I have a child of my own and a hectic full time working schedule, I find myself drawn to same hands-on approach. My daughter and I sit down to bead, or make an old shoe box into a dog house, or bake, and it gives us time to stop our crazy schedule and enjoy each other – while creating something lasting (or in the case of baking, not so lasting!) together. Thanks, Soulemama for giving us some new creative ideas, and reminding us of what’s important.