Seducing My Creative Life by Debra Smouse

I chose “Create” as my word for 2016 and so far this year, I’ve written less than I have the last four years. It’s a cosmic joke when we choose a guiding word and it challenges us. I try to laugh about it, but I’m the first to admit MyWord2016DebraSmousethat I’m feeling incredibly frustrated. I’m not writing as many blog posts or making much progress on my next book. I’m not doing morning pages or writing in my journal consistently.

I’m not even consistently making my to do lists.

There are external circumstances: some travel, household renovations, etc. My Inner Wisdom whispers that it’s not exactly true.  Beyond the external distractions and demands, the deeper truth is that I am evolving as a creative being and that means that I must create in different ways to grow into that next evolution.

That brings us to the real truth around my lack of writing in the year I chose Create as my guiding word: FEAR.

In order to write differently, I have to go into the unknown. I must leave the comfy routines that have sustained me over the last few years and shift them. My inner critic is digging in her little heels, crossing her arms, and protesting this need to change.

I know I’m not alone in this, but fear also convinces us that we are the only one who could possibly be feeling this.

I’d read a blog post about Bullet Journals and wondered if it would be a helpful. I Googled it like crazy, read tips, and went on Amazon to purchase a (serviceable) black journal Leuchtturm1917 notebook to experiment with the process. It was serviceable and delicious. Not only would the journal fit into my purse with ease, but it was all kinds of delicious in the details: index at the front, numbered pages, two bookmarks, a pocket, and sewn in pages so it lays flat. A solution!

The main purpose for a Bullet Journal for me was all those To Dos that were slipping past me. I’d finally have a place to keep up with all those little things John would toss out like… “the next time you’re at the Auto Parts store, would you pick up…”. Of course, I never go to the auto parts store, but I pass one frequently and having it down on paper would be that reminder I needed.

servedmewellNow I had all those needs, requests for unusual items, and practical lists of tasks with due dates in one place.

Which is when it clicked: I was willing to buy a $19 notebook to hold lists of all my tasks, but I was using $4 sketch books (less if I had a coupon!) for my “real” words.

Don’t get me wrong. Those sketch books and the three solid years of using them were part of my own healing process when it comes to putting my words on paper.

A big part of my coaching philosophy is to encourage clients to use the good stuff. Wear the expensive perfume daily. Use the china for Thanksgiving and a random Tuesday night dinner. Stop saving that favorite dress. Use the good towels and sheets. Don’t save that yummy shower gel.

Didn’t my own creative life deserve to use the good stuff? Didn’t my most sacred writings deserve to be penned into beautiful made notebooks with an index and numbered pages? Didn’t my creative life deserve to have a notebook that fit in my purse so I could take it with me?

Maybe part of learning to create differently this year was to seduce myself with a luscious place to create.

I went back to my good friend Google and began seeking a source for those Leuchtturm1919 notebooks in a different color. I discovered The Goulet Pen Company, where I ordered an Azure Blue notebook for myself and a Royal Blue notebook for a birthday present.

Our creative lives deserve to be seduced and nourished in every possible way. Because how we fuel our inner needs to create lays the foundation for how we cultivate a beautiful daily life.

On March 6th, I wrote my first words in the beautiful azure notebook. Two days later, I wrote a chapter of my next stockingupbook and notated the page number in that handy dandy index at the front so I can find it later.

(And because I know that I need a stock of empty journals waiting in the wings, I ordered notebooks in royal, berry, lemon, and orange.)

I believe one of the most important – and most challenging – parts of creative living is the evaluation process. What is nourishing me? What isn’t working? Where have I evolved? What needs to shift?

It’s important because it is how we continue to grow and evolve. And yes, it’s challenging. Because we thrive on the some level of sameness to the tools we use and the way we work.

There comes a time, though, that in order to be of service to our creativity, we must make some changes. And when it’s feeling frustrating and difficult and when our souls demand we evolve, we need nourishment. To survive the inevitable discomfort, we must remind ourselves that we deserve to use the good stuff.

That maybe in order to grow into our next evolutions, instead of playing the harsh taskmaster, we instead choose to romance our creativity with beautiful things and lots of love.

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Create a Life You Love: Straightforward Wisdom for Creating the Life of Your Dreams. She resides in Dayton, Ohio where she practices the art of living with the Man of Her Dreams. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

What’s Next? by Jeanie Croope


I’m looking at my desk right now. You wouldn’t want to see it. It would make you crazy. It makes me crazy! But I know that underneath my calendar, a jar of scrabble tiles, six paper mache boxes that didn’t get jazzed up for

Christmas, a couple of notepads, a few pieces of inventory from my last art sale, a Pandora catalogue and way too many pens I will find the family tree I scribbled from an online site that I couldn’t get to print last night.

That family tree chart is part of “what’s next” for me. Well, not quite next. Almost next.

Next is a poetry book chronicling the past year Rick and I have spent together. This project is an annual event and by the time you read this, hopefully given and cherished. The concept began early in our courtship as a collection of poems about our travels, the kids, the events and places we shared together, illustrated with — well, whatever I happened to be into that year! It might include photographs or drawings, watercolors or printing. The books ranged from the converted journal to handmade books, folded and stitched by hand (with more than a few unprintable words — sewing is not my forte!

Next after that is is trying to pull together a piece on the power of creativity to enhance mental health for my blog. (Although there is something ironic about stressing out to pull together a piece on creativity’s positive affect on mental health.)

And then Next is finding and ordering a new camera to replace the poor thing that was dropped on its head too many times. I have come to the sad realization that a poor camera does not make for good photographs, no matter how carefully they are framed.

And finally, next is some sort of art journal piece, perhaps a prototype for something larger, that will incorporate some of that information I’ve been ferreting out of this family history site and that one. Maybe I’ll use photos or maps. Who knows? I’m barely getting to know the names of these people who somehow, generations ago, made relationship decisions that would end up in my DNA.

Focusing on any one thing during the white world of winter — even a light one — is not something I find easy to do. It’s a wonderful time to be inside if you’re not a snow bunny, a time to read, paint, draw, print, write. I look at the two tall columns of books, the blank page of the journal, the glare of the computer screen and think, “Maybe I’ll go play ‘Chopped’ today.” Yes, that’s it. Throw some chicken stock in the pot, add some onions and celery. What else is there in the fridge or the cupboard? Mushrooms! Yes, that’ll do. A can of pumpkin. Oh, and what about shredding that chicken breast from last night. A squirt of sriracha sauce. No, make it two. And some ginger. Or cumin. Yes, cumin. It may or may not be tasty. But it will be creative.

During my professional career, I had to be creative on cue. I had to write everything under the sun and under deadline — and to be honest, I found the deadline a blessing. A mixed blessing, sometimes, but nonetheless, it mandated focus. I could juggle multiple projects simultaneously but if the clock was ticking down I knew where to put my energies and exactly how I would do it. The deadline imposed a powerful discipline that I find I often lack in my more recent independent life.

And so, in these last days of winter, as we look forward to longer days and brighter skies, I also look forward to the deadlines I must impose on myself. A Saturday class doesn’t wait until Monday, nor does any assignment that comes from it. A party scheduled is a date that must be honored. And as I begin to again maneuver through a schedule and follow my calendar, I suspect I will find play dates on my calendar, a few more “assignments” that I must “turn in,” if only to myself.

And yes, I know. I have made these deadlines. I can break them. No one cares if I do a new art journal page or a canvas but me. There is a bit of comfort in that idea. But somehow, I think I’ll stick to my plan pretty well. After all, there’s a lot I want to do and probably more than a few things that will lure me away to something new. I can work with that. And now, a deadline is looming for my poetry book! Onward!


About the Author: Jeanie Croope

Jeanie Croope bioAfter a long career in public broadcasting, Jeanie Croope is now doing all the things she loves — art, photography, writing, cooking, reading wonderful books and discovering a multitude of new creative passions. You can find her blogging about life and all the things she loves at The Marmelade Gypsy.

Play to the End of the String by Imelda Maguire


(after Beethoven’s 3rd string quartet, Contempo quartet)

Draw the bow down,
and when you think
you’ve wrung out all
the sweetness that melody
offers, go on.
Play on.
Play to the end of the string.
Play what you know,
then what you think you know,
then what you don’t know.

Play it, let it fall from your bow.
Play to the end, to the last
of the string.
Play on,
play on,
play on.


About the Author: Imelda Maguire

Imelda Maguire bioImelda Maguire has lived in all four provinces of Ireland, and now resides in Donegal, the far north-west of the country. Her poetry has been published widely in journals in Ireland, and she has read at many literary festivals and events throughout the country. A practicing counsellor, she facilitates creative and personal development activities with individuals and groups. Her first collection,  Shout If You Want Me To Sing, was published in 2004 by Summer Palace Press. Her second, Serendipity, was published by Revival Press in 2015. They are both available by contacting her on Facebook or by email at

Ireland Professor of Poetry, Paula Meehan, says “There are many ways Imelda Maguire will lure us into her world…”, and poet Denise Blake recommends Serendipity as a “collection to cherish, (to) keep close at hand.”

Me Before Chickens, Dogs, Cats, Even My Husband: A Typical Day in this Writer’s Life by Andi Cumbo-Floyd


It’s 5am – or 4:50am or 5:11am – and I’m awake. I’m mostly awake because this is the time I typically get up, but I’m also awake because Mosey, our basset hound, typically wakes at this moment and is sharing his joy with me by licking my toes.

I then feed Mosey and Meander, our other hound dog. By then, the coffee is almost done, and I’ve built a fire in these God's Whisper Farm sunriselate spring mornings. I’ve packed my husband’s lunch and washed the few eggs we gathered late last night.

By 5:30, I am settled into my grandfather’s tufted leather chair and have my mother’s Bible in hand. A chapter from there. A daily read about fasting that I consider intellectually but not physically. A few prayers jotted into a notebook. Then, I lean back with as many chapters of my book of the morning – at this moment, it’s Christie Purifoy’s Roots and Sky – as time and the chill in the air will allow. These are my quiet moments, my centering moments. The only words that I let precede my own for today.

Here in the cold days, I work from our dining room table. (I’m eager to return to my office in what was the summer kitchen of this 200-year-old farmhouse, but that will call for days of sun that warm the walls.) By 6am, I open my laptop and quickly shut down all the browser tabs I forgot to close last night. I slip open MS word and begin.

I tap words ahead into the rising dawn. I do my best not to change anything, trusting that I’ll see better what needs revision when I have plotted the full path of the book. I resist – mostly – the urge to open one of those browser tabs. I keep going until I reach 1,000 words, the magic number Shawn Smucker suggested to me years ago. When I am in rhythm, this takes less than 20 minutes.

For all intents and purposes then, the most important work of my day is done when I get those 1,000 words finished. That’s not to say what I do for the rest of the day – the edits for clients, the manuscript reviews, the notes to communities I organize and writers I love – is unimportant. But for my mental health, for my clarity of mind, for my ability to speak with integrity about the writing life, those 1,000 words are my bedrock.

I have to say there’s another component of this urgency I have to do my personal creative writing first; it has to do with my identity as a Southern, Christian woman. All three of those aspects of my societal upbringing have taught me – through model and intention – to put myself last, to always do what is most important for others before what I do for myself. And while the central underpinning of those teachings – the lessons about selflessness and the need to avoid selfishness are important – many Southern, Christian women, myself included, have come to believe that we are as always to subjugate our calling, our health, our own needs to the wants of others. So when I do my writing first, I am establishing my own personhood as fundamental to the rest of the work I do. I am important, and those 1,000 words help me remember that.

When my 1,000 words are done, I feed our chickens, goats, cats, and Great Pyrenees and then come in to sit with my husband before he leaves for work. Once his truck pulls out of the quarter-mile drive, I’m back to the laptop – writing email missives to clients and crafting newsletters. Then, I edit or listen to client manuscripts for a few hours before taking a lunch break.

This lunch break thing is new for me. I don’t have colleagues to break with, and I don’t have an hours-per-week expectation set from a boss. Therefore, I don’t have boundaries coming from outside myself, and if I’m not careful, I feel pressured to do more every day. Thus, I never stopped for lunch, powering through until my husband came home and the animals needed another round of food. This continual 10 hours of work – 6am-4pm – not only made me cranky and exhausted, but it also made me frenzied and unable to quit work when the day needed to wind down. My belief that it had to all be done now made my chest ache, and I always felt like time was scarce. Somehow, a lunch break has changed all that.

So I eat lunch and watch a TV show on the DVR – Supernatural is my show of choice at the moment. Nothing like some vampire hunting and some pop religious questioning to give the mind a break.
Then, I go back to work for three or four hours until that truck with my beloved rolls back down the lane.

Feed everyone.

Feed ourselves.

Then, by 6pm, we’re back to something else. My husband is usually in his shop working on a car. Some God's Whisper Farm duskevenings I have to work, but I’m making that need more and more rare these days. Instead, I read or listen to podcasts if my energy is still high. As spring comes on, I’ll have garden chores to tend in these hours when the sunshine stretches himself.

Some nights, I’m exhausted and just settle into my recliner – crochet nest nearby – to work on an afghan or stitch a hedgehog. On the days when I’m most tired –usually later in the week – I just watch TV, letting the stories get along without me just fine. (Since I’ve been a full-time editor and writer, I’ve found that I take great comfort – GREAT COMFORT – in the fact that movies and TV shows don’t need my help to get to a resolution. It’s a strange thing to find myself relieved that I don’t have to work out the story myself, and it’s a gift that lets my mind let go of sifting through word choices and point of view strategies. )

9pm means I’m in bed, blankets tucked up to my chin and a book at hand. I’m asleep by 9:30 unless that book is REALLY good . . . and sometime after, my husband and two hound dogs join me under the covers.

It’s not the life everyone would choose, but it’s mine, and it’s so, so good.

Incidentally, this essay is 1001 words. Got my word count in for today. ☺

About the Author: Andi Cumbo-Floyd

andibio1Andi Cumbo-Floyd is a writer, editor, and farmer, who lives on 15 blissful acres at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband, 6 goats, 4 dogs, 4 cats, and 22 chickens. Her books include Steele Secrets, The Slaves Have Names, and Writing Day In and Day Out. You can connect with Andi at her website,, or via Facebook and Twitter.

Using Essential Oils as an Aid in Seasonal Transitions by Bella Cirovic

Instrumental_Care of Creative Soul

I absolutely love this time of the year. We are not quite out of the grips of winter, but we can see spring on the horizon, like the light at the end of a long tunnel. After an indulgent season of nesting, catching up on movies, TV series, and audio books, I feel like I’m ready to dip back into my creative writing and photography.

For me, the cold months were a time of deep rest and rejuvenation with limited social commitments and absolutely no work deadlines. My work feels like it’s on the verge of deepening into its next evolution. I’d really love to explore this a bit more but my body is finding it difficult to match the pace that my mind is moving at.

Bella Oil Article 2When this happens, I rely on my sacred essential oils to aide in lifting me out of one season and ushering me into the next. There are a couple of different ways I use the oils and I’d like to share them with you. But first, let me explain what essential oils are.

Therapeutic grade essential oils are derived from plants via steam or dry distillation. They carry the pure essence of plants which makes them highly potent and alive. Essential oils have been used for centuries for healing purposes. A therapeutic grade essential oil will come in a dark colored glass bottle to shield it from sunlight which can alter its potency.

Essential oils can be used in multiple ways. They can be added to a spray bottle with water or witch hazel to create a room spray, they can be added to an oil diffuser to permeate a room with scent, they can be diluted with a carrier oil to create a perfume, or they can be directly applied to the skin (be sure to patch test prior to check for rash or reaction).

There is so much information that can be found online with regard to essential oils and their uses. I have spent many hours researching and taking notes on which oils will help with a particular ailment or feeling I’m having. It’s really helpful to have this information at hand and in a pinch when it is needed. However, another way to choose an oil would be to tap into our intuition and ask ourselves this question: “What do I need right now?” I have found that each oil I choose this way has been the best oil for me at that time.

I love the scent of lavender oil. It’s calming and relaxing, exactly what I need just before bedtime. Instinctively I know just by how it makes me feel that when I am in an overactive or excited state of mind and I need to calm down, I can reach for lavender oil. I highly encourage experimentation and play as a way to get to know the oils better.

So in the transition from winter to spring, my intuition tells me to reach for citrus based oils. I think it’s Bella Oil Article 1because they remind me of summer and sunshine. Bergamot, lime, orange, and lemongrass have been my go to scents to diffuse at home and at work. It is said that citrus scents are energizing, uplifting, and they increase our mental awareness. Yes please! Because citrus fruit grows on trees, I feel like they pair well with a wood scent.

At my office I have been diffusing a combination of grapefruit and sandalwood which is said to aide in calming anxiety. This combination works really well in keeping me aware of my surroundings while feeling relaxed enough to begin writing.

I created a lime and cedar wood combo in a spray bottle with water that I spritz around the house when I get home from work. The lime is tangy while the wood is earthy and warm. It’s a vibrant and welcoming scent that piques my curiosity and imagination which is perfect for when I am ready to cook dinner.

Pairing citrus with woods has worked really well for me at the end of this cold weather season. It helps prepare my mind, body, and soul for the warmer weather that is just around the bend and it infuses my work with a fresh perspective. I daydream a little bit longer which creates space for ideas to grow. Essential oils play a huge role in the expansion of my creative work and tend to my spirit through any transition. They are playful healers and I encourage you to give them a try to see how they enhance your creative life.


About the Author: Bella Cirovic

Bella Cirovic BioBella Cirovic is a photographer and writer who lives with her husband and daughter in the suburbs outside of NYC. She writes on the subjects of self care, body love and nourishment, crystals, essential oils, and family life. Catch up with Bella at her blog: She Told Stories

Sunday Brunch: Guitar Journey

Sunday Brunch With Melissa Bartell

There’s something magical about walking into a store that sells musical instruments, even if you’re not a musician. Maybe it’s because all the wire and wood, all the skins and snares, represent more than just the instruments they compose, but the music they will eventually produce. Maybe it’s because bows and sticks and mallets and pics whisper to the most innocent, childlike, fun-loving parts of our brains, telling us, no – urging us –  just to play.

Maybe it’s because we know that when we’re sitting at a piano keyboard, stretching our arms out to get a violin ‘fitted,’ or cradling the curves of a cello against our bodies we’re not just considering the purchase of a musical instrument, we’re buying possibility.

I hadn’t been into an instrument shop in years, but last August, I recognized that it was finally time to follow through on a dream: after 31 years of cello, I was finally going to take the guitar journey I’d been flirting with, and never committing to, for years.

I was going to buy a guitar.

I started on the internet first, of course, researching types of guitars, and learning a bit about the instrument so that, at the very least, when I entered a brick and mortar store, I’d be able to speak intelligently.

My research taught me that I wanted a six-string acoustic guitar. My taste informed me that I wanted an instrument that would be good for folk music. My history with my cello, and the process of shopping for that told me that I wanted a guitar that had as much real wood as possible. Guitar HandsMy size – I’m exactly five feet tall and have fairly small hands – made a smaller instrument seem like the wiser choice. My budget dictated that I not spend more than $500 for my first guitar.

Armed with this information, recommendations from friends, and a few things I’d learned from a guitar blogger who also reviews instruments, I went to my local Guitar Center.

At first, I was a little daunted. Most of the people in the room were sporting visibly edgy looks – I saw piercings that surprised even me – and the vast majority were twenty-something males. I was expecting them to look at me, short, round, white, old (although I still get carded), hobbling because of a recent knee-injury, and not give me the time of day.

I was wrong of course, mostly because I’d forgotten the bond of musicians, the one that is just intrinsically there. It’s this little undercurrent that says I know you even if you’ve never met the other person, and even if you play drastically different instruments.

“I’ve played cello forever,” I said, “but I’ve always wanted to play the guitar.”

The long-haired sales clerk who sported a few very well-placed tattoos on his muscular arms and had the piercings in his ears filled with discs the diameter of quarters, smiled at me. “Okay, let me ask you some questions.”

And he did.

What kind of music did I want to play? Was I looking to record or just have an instrument to learn on. Had I tried any guitars already? Was there a make I had in mind? How much did I want to spend?

I answered his barrage of questions and he led me to a room full of guitars. “There really isn’t that big a difference between a ‘travel’ guitar like the Little Martin that Ed Sheeran uses and a full-size guitar, but those few millimeters can make a difference. Try some out, let me know if you have questions.”

My husband had come with me for support and consultation. Like me, Fuzzy is a musician, but not a guitarist. He’s not even a string player! His instruments are piano, trumpet, and accordion. (No, really, accordion.)

Still, it was nice to have someone there to help me lift the guitars off the racks, and give me an external opinion that wasn’t colored by my initial overwhelmedness – I mean, a room full of guitars – really.

I strummed about five guitars that day. Luna Safari I had no intention of buying one on the first outing unless I fell in love with it, and left pretty much thinking I’d be back in a week to get the solid spruce-top Little Martin. It was at the top of my price range, but Martin is a good brand and I liked the feel of it.

I’m glad I waited to buy it, though, because in the meantime, I discovered a brand called Luna, that specialized in guitars that were designed by, and marketed toward, women. The Luna guitars that I looked at online had everything the Little Martin had, but they were also pretty.

Obviously, what a guitar looks like does not affect its sound in the slightest, but when I bought my cello, I was able to customize it so that the fittings are rosewood, which gives it a more feminine look. Was it wrong, all things considered, to want my guitar to be sort of pretty and feminine also?

My next issue was that the spruce-top travel guitar Luna wanted was not in stock at any of the instrument shops near me. I could have ordered it from Zzounds (a company I highly recommend for recording gear), but even when you think you know what you want, you should never buy an instrument without trying it first.

I did more research, and finally, the day before my birthday, Fuzzy and I drove to the Guitar Center in Dallas (as opposed to the suburban branch I’d initially visited), where a man who was a dead-ringer for Anthony LaPaglia (back when he played Joe in Empire Records) greeted us.

“I know you don’t have the Luna I’m looking for,” I said. “But you have a Luna travel guitar that isn’t spruce-top and it will, at least, let me see how it feels.”

He showed me several smaller guitars, including a Baby Taylor, that was too pricey and not as pretty, and then I played the laminate Luna.

It sounded like a cigar box.

But it felt like I’d met an old friend.

(Just for fun, even though I’d just made my choice, I also played a cotton-candy pink Luna electric-acoustic, but I didn’t like it nearly as well, even though it looked cool.)

We went back to talk to not-actually-Anthony-LaPaglia and he said, “Oh, we can special order the model you want. If you have it delivered to your local store, there’s no shipping fee.”

Four days later, I was holding my Luna Safari Supreme in my hands, tuning it with an app I’d downloaded to my iPhone, and taking my first guitar lesson via a collection of YouTube videos. I haven’t started formal lessons with a live teacher yet – that will probably be this summer’s project – but I’m enjoying the challenge of learning a new instrument after all these years.

I’m also enjoying telling people about my guitar shopping experience, which is best summed up thusly: When I told not-actually-Anthony-LaPaglia that I’d played cello for decades and wanted to take up a new instrument, he looked at me like I was some kind of musical goddess.

“I tried the cello once, a long time ago,” he confessed. “I couldn’t figure it out. Dude… cello’s hard.”

I don’t remember what my response was, but I know that my journey with this guitar – with the wire and the wood, and learning a whole new way of using my hands and fingers, feeling this instrument become part of me – is only just beginning,   and I can’t wait to find out where it takes me next.

I mean, anything’s possible.

(Image credits: Guitar Player is from djoronimo / 123RF Stock Photo; Guitar Face is from Luna Guitars.)

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa A. BartellMelissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Conversations Over Coffee: Jeni Britton Bauer

Conversations Over Coffee with MCL

I believe that ice cream is the solution for many of life’s problems. Even on our worst days, a scoop of creamy-delicious goodness can bring smiles to our faces, and on our best days, celebrating with ice cream only heightens the positive experience.

But there are so many brands out there? Which one deserves my love, my loyalty, and my willingness to spend money for an indulgent treat?

If you’re me, that brand is Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream (especially their Whiskey & Pecans flavor). Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream combines the best locally sourced ingredients, dairy, and produce with fair-trade enhancements, resulting in interesting, original flavors that tickle the palate and tease the imagination.

In Summer of 2013, All Things Girl was lucky to interview the founder of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream: Jeni Britton Bauer. Not only is Jeni the founder of my favorite ice cream, she is also the author of The New York Times best-selling Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, which earned Jeni a 2012 James Beard Award (the Oscars of the Cooking World).

This is a re-run of that 2013 interview (which is no longer available online). I can’t think of a better first interview to feature here at Modern Creative Life as we kick off our “Conversations Over Coffee” series.

When it comes to living a creative life, I think you’ll find that Jeni epitomizes everything about it. I hope you are as inspired as I am as you get to know the Woman behind the Scoop.


Some folks (fortunately not me!) may never have heard of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. First of all, tell the readers about Jeni, the woman behind Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.

I’ve been working with ice cream ever since a day at home in the mid ’90s and ice cream occupies my whole life. I pretty much devote every waking minute to thinking about ice cream and how to make the best-possible ice creams in the world. I like to think I haven’t met a wall I can’t get over or through.

Can you tell us the story of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams?

One day in the early ’90s in a figure drawing class at Ohio State University, a model walked in who I didn’t like to draw. I’d been messing around with ice cream and that day I decided I just wanted to go home and make ice cream. So, I stood up and walked out, leaving everything—my portfolio, my art supplies. And I quit everything else in my jeni_7_300life—school, other jobs—and started my first ice cream business within six months.
That business didn’t work.

So, then I took time off, learned about customer service (namely that it’s a great idea to be consistent in the flavors you offer repeat customers), traveled, lived, and learned more about ice cream. In 2002 in the historic North Market in Columbus I opened Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. It was there in that amazing place where I learned from farmers, producers, and mongers everything I know about ingredients. It is also where I learned about how a successful business is run, customer service, product display, and signage. Now, we have 12 shops, our pints are in more than 750 grocery stores coast to coast, and we ship ice cream to any address in America. It’s been a blast and it continues to be.

I think I remember hearing that you began creating ice cream in your home kitchen. Where did that spark of passion for ice cream begin?

It began one day when I mixed cayenne essential oil into regular store bought chocolate ice cream and let it melt slowly on my tongue. It was cold, tasted like chocolate, and about 5 seconds later it burst into flames in the back of my throat. No joke, it was like the sky tore in two, light enveloped me for a moment and I knew right then that ice cream would occupy my whole life. I didn’t know how I would do it, how long it would take, how many people, how much money (of which I had NONE), but I knew it was my path. At that moment, I realized that I had found what I was looking for—a place where art, perfume and culinary collide, and I set sail. I began to make ice cream constantly at home.

What advice would you give to other small business owners to create and maintain a top-notch company and retain quality employees?

We didn’t set out to make the best ice cream in Columbus, or the best ice cream in America, or the world even. We set out to make the best ice cream we could imagine.

This means that we make better ice cream today than we did yesterday, and we will make better ice cream tomorrow than we do today. My advice is: don’t build a better mousetrap, build the best you can imagine. That will keep you on your feet, moving forward. That will keep your team inspired. That will keep you proud of the team, because what you can imagine is always better than what already exists.

What is your first memory of creating something in the kitchen?

My first memory is eating raw scallions, parsley, and cucumber peels from my Grandmother Bette’s garden. We were making salad.

When did the passion grow to a point that you knew you wanted to be a chef?

I don’t think of myself as a chef. For me, ice cream is where art, pastry and perfume collide. That is the craft of our ice cream. You can tell stories and transport people through flavor, texture and scent.

In what ways did your childhood and family influence your choice to follow a career in food?

My grandmother is an artist and she and my grandfather owned a large forest where we would frolic every weekend. We had honey bees, tapped our maple trees for sap which became syrup, and tended gardens in every spot where the sun shone through the trees. We also foraged for wild berries, mushrooms and other edibles.

As an artist, my grandmother taught us to be aware of our senses in the woods. The smell of the forest floor in every season is a vivid memory to me, the air there, the bubbling stream where we would swim in the summer and the sounds in the vast and mysterious space beneath the canopy of trees in each season were unique. If I close my eyes I am transported back there as if I never left.

It isn’t about food for me. It’s about scent. It’s always been about scent. Layering and balancing ingredients to unfold slowly top, middle and base notes. As in music, or perfume.

There is no other food like ice cream. The fat in cream holds and carries scent to your nose. If you add vanilla Jeni Britton Bauerto a cookie, for instance, and then bake it, most of the vanilla will evaporate in the hot oven. In ice cream, you steep ingredients and fuze oil-soluble scents to the butterfat. It gets locked in when the mixture is frozen. The fat in cream is special because it melts perfectly at body temperature. Other fats don’t do this, so when you lick an ice cream the warmth of your tongue releases the scent from the fat in perfect timing. This is important because if it has to stay on your tongue too long to warm up, then you swallow it before you ever taste it. A good way to illustrate this is to freeze a high quality dark chocolate bar. You have to chew it and hold it on your tongue for a long while before you can taste it. It has to come to body temperature before it releases its scent. This is because cocoa butter melts at a higher temperature so it takes much longer to melt on your tongue.

All of this is to tell you that learning to be aware of my senses and to remember them and to connect emotionally with what I hear, see, smell or taste or the way the wind feels on my skin is what I learned as a child and it’s why I make ice cream today.

When I say that fresh watermelon sorbet tastes like a broken concrete sidewalk and sunburned cheeks, this is an emotional connection that I have. It’s bigger than the watermelon, the experience of eating it becomes transcendent. It’s because I was raised to be aware of life going on around me. It started at the woods, but it went everywhere with me.

Part of our goal here is to slow you down enough to enjoy that ice cream deeply to bring you into the present and maybe connect you with someone, a farmer who grew an ingredient or the friend you are with. To give you something to think about and talk about while you are eating the ice cream.

It’s more than a passion for food that my grandmother gave me. It’s a love of emotion and of people. I explore that through ice cream.

And beyond food, how did your upbringing influence you as a person?

I had a very casual upbringing. Full of exploring and alone time. I moved almost every year growing up – to another neighborhood, another school. I’ve always embraced change maybe because I got used to it. Though I was painfully shy, it never bothered me to start again. To make new friends. To start new clubs in the neighborhood. To roam around barefoot, climb on the tops of roofs, and cause a bit of trouble. I never felt that the rules were there to hold me back, but to support me. So, I felt that they were optional.

I believed, and still do, that if you are mostly a good person you can break the rules here and there (read: whenever you want to). I was encouraged to do this by my mother. She never did anything she didn’t want to and encouraged me not to do homework. She believed that when we were home, it was family time and time to learn from what we did at home. And we did.

I barely remember school. My after school life and weekend life was rich. I daydreamed and doodled the whole day in school and couldn’t wait to get home to do whatever I was working on there. There were always projects, like creating a new business, writing and producing a play, trying to raise money for a charity, or running one of my many clubs. This was how my sister and I played. It was very productive, high output.
Jeni Britton BauerThere were hard times, too. And those made my sister and me fight even harder to get over the fence. To build security in our lives. To find safety. We both did. And I don’t wish anybody hardships, but you have to find a reason to become a fighter. You’ve got to own it. And to learn to hustle. I mean work every single resource you have to move forward, even when it seems like you have nothing.

Speaking of . . . We’ve all heard of the person who “started with nothing” and built a great big business. I’ve always thought that was stupid.

Nobody starts from nothing. We all have something. Even if it’s only our hands, feet, eyes and brain. The person who wins is not the one who started with all the right tools, but the one who learned to live without them and made up for them in persistence and the endurance of a slow and steady pace. You start where you are, put one foot out, and take the step. You surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. If you feel comfortable, you’re not going anywhere. You’ve got to take risks, fail, get up. I mean you have to forgive yourself immediately for looking like an idiot, which is hard sometimes. Most of all, you’ve got to stick it out when it gets difficult, when it gets boring, when you loose, when you burnout.

The concept of “slow foods” and buying local and eating local is very popular right now. And I know you source quite a bit locally. Can you share why you are so passionate about sourcing your dairy and produce local?

The first answer is for flavor. But, it all stems from my experience at the North Market where I started my first ice cream business in 1996 (I started Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams in 2002). I would often trade ice cream for ingredients to make other ice creams. And the merchants began to seek out new and exciting things for me to use in ice cream.

My relationship with them was what made the ice creams taste so good.

It’s about people. When you know your suppliers, you often get better flavor. We think of our company as a community where we all support each other. From our growers and suppliers to our team and customers.

For dairy it’s important because there is absolutely no question that grass-pastured milk tastes better – particularly the butterfat. If we exist to make the best ice creams we can imagine, then we’ve got to start with the best dairy we can find – and not ruin it when we get it — ie: minimally pasteurized, and only once.

What can the average person do to eat more from local sources (and why?)

In Ohio, we are blessed with incredible soil and different growing regions. We grow lots of food, in lots of varieties and have an abundance of innovative growers/farmers. Local is something that we do here because we’ve always had farm markets and farm stands all over, and just outside, the city. It’s part of our culture, not simply a trendy thing to do. We are lucky for that.

Eating healthfully means nourishing your mind, body and spirit. We can incorporate more variety when we eat from jeni_9_300local and regional sources, but without question, the most important thing we can do is to eat more fresh vegetables—wherever they come from, local or not.

Tell us about “Local Matters” the non-profit you helped found.

Local Matters exists to make our food system more secure, just, prosperous and delicious. We do these amazing classes for Kindergartners that have a profound effect on how they eat. My daughter’s school does the program and she is so much more aware of what she eats now. I have seen first-hand how it can affect a child. We also work to get fresh foods into neighborhoods that don’t have them, and to create demand for our local growers.

Let’s talk more about ICE CREAM! You have some unique flavors. Where do you get your inspiration?

I always start with what’s in front of me. In a way, ice cream is how I encounter the world.

Sometimes I will taste something new and get an inspiration, or a grower or producer will bring me something lovely and I will make ice cream with it. I always start with classic combinations and then branch out from there. There is always a thread that begins to form and that leads to the flavor.

So, if I taste some really sweet beets, I’m thinking: beets are like carrots, carrot cake…spice, cream cheese icing. Beets are hot pink, what’s hot pink, what’s red? Red velvet cake roasted beets and chocolate. Beets….I had them in Brooklyn with lemon, mascarpone and poppy seeds – a classic Northern Italian combination — these ingredients work in ice cream.

Or . . . I may see a 1973 lemon yellow trans am and think what flavor is that car? Maybe it’s a crunchy, hard, lemon scented candy, crushed and and layered into lemon cream? Should there be licorice there? What about salty lemon crackle? Reminds me of preserved lemons or a really tasty margarita. Could work for ice cream, let’s try it. (and now I really must)

The world is full of flavor.

Fun seems to be an important element for all really successful chefs. Do you think fun is important?

I think being an optimist is a nice way to go. Being impatient. Curious. I don’t know about fun, like I don’t know Jeni_1_650about passion (which I also get accused of). Sure, things like fun and passion are a part of it, but you have to work really hard to get there. You have fun when you build a team that is challenged, secure and excited about the future.

Most importantly, you have to be a good team leader, it doesn’t have to be fun, but it does have to be inspiring on some level in order to build a team that can perform together.

I think you make the most of all the things you are committed to. I would have fun wherever I go. Whatever I was doing. . . Because I commit myself fully to whatever I do.

Do you think that a chef’s joy in what they’re making transfers to the end product, when a stranger is tasting it?

I think the chef’s commitment and pride transfers to the end product. Making something beautiful, seeing a person enjoy it. And that brings her joy.

I’m sure ice cream isn’t served 3 meals a day in your house. What are your go-to meals for your family?

We always eat together for breakfast and dinner. For time, and health reasons, we eat simply and meatless most of the time: a sliced tomato or avocado on hearty bread, sauteed mushrooms and kale stuffed into a baked potato for lunches or dinners.

On Sundays I might make roasted chicken with super-crisp and salty skin and a green salad, then make stock with the chicken bones. Or, I might make street tacos with pork or fish and accoutrements, hopefully with plenty of leftovers for lunches. We do not have ice cream very often at home—maybe twice a month.

Speaking of family, how to you manage to balance it all – parent , run a successful business, be a good partner in your marriage?

I don’t. I have a lot of help and the best partner/husband anyone could ask for. I do not believe you can “have it all” through management and control. You just have to steal it. Enjoy the chaos. Roll with it.

When I travel, I try to fly there and back in one day so I can put the kids to bed and wake up with them the next day.

If my afternoon opens up during the week and I find myself with some time, I will go pick up my daughter and son and go to the park – I know that everybody else is at the office or kitchens working, but I also know that I will more than make up for this stolen time later in the evening or on the weekend – I almost always work some part of the weekend.

My husband, Charly and I will stay up late talking at least once a week — it’s usually a weekday and then we are tired the next day, but it’s worth it. Being tired sucks, but being a robot sucks more. I need the time to connect with him.

So I steal it. Best I can describe it. I don’t want to sacrifice anything. I don’t want to miss anything.

What next?

To fit in as much as we can in the short time we have to do it. To grow, learn, create, build, and make even better ice creams than we did yesterday.

Visit Jeni’s Website  (Buy Her Books & Ice Cream!)

Jeni on: Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, author and life coach. She resides in Dayton, Ohio where she practices the art of living with the Man of Her Dreams. When she’s not eating ice cream, you’ll find her reading and plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life.

Experience Being Seen by David Lazarony

Through the Lens

I’m curious, it is part of my human nature. One day while looking at one of my paintings, I felt like the person was looking back at me. How is this possible? How could a few brush strokes of paint cause me to feel like I was being seen? Then it occurred to me that I was doing the seeing. Since then I realized that each of my paintings, whether it was a portrait, a still life or a landscape is really a self-portrait. You dear viewer are experiencing the world through my eyes and my hand. I hope my paintings are able to convey the feeling I was experiencing while I was painting them. Yet no matter how pure my expression once you view my paintings your life history literally enters the picture and your experiences reflect in how you experience the paintings. Let’s go on a little tour of a few of my paintings together and I’ll show you what I mean. But before I tell you about each painting, first just notice how each painting speaks to you. How does viewing the painting make you feel? What thoughts enter your mind?

2014-10-14-Fluff by David Lazarony

Fluff oil 30” x 24”

Fluff was an experiment in exploring textures. The smoothness of her skin compared to the softness and fluffiness of the coat and chair. I also was exploring creating a sense of depth. I wanted her to feel like she is sinking into all that fluff. She is there, yet not paying you any attention. Why?

2011-09-01 The Alluring Stranger

The Alluring Stranger oil 20” x 16”

The Alluring Stranger is all about creating a sense of intrigue with the peacock feather at her third eye. The third eye is usually about awareness, but here it actually obscures more than it enlightens. This adds to the sense of mystery. Yet the real surprise is how she appears when the painting is viewed upside down. Go ahead, try it!

2010-05-10 Contemplating Despair

Contemplating Despair oil 30” x 24”

Contemplating Despair is a true self-portrait composed while I was going through some dark times. Yes, it felt like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders, yet isn’t it interesting how there is light all around me. I wasn’t consciously aware of the light at the time. Yet it was there. I painted it.

2009-03-10 Well

“Well?” pastel 18” x 24”

“Well?” was the painting I was talking about at the start. This was my first painting that was literally a mirror for me and my emotions. I’ve heard every emotional interpretation of this painting from angry to bored to seductive. How does she make you feel?

2002-08-26 Verenique

Verenique oil 14” x 18″

Verenique was the first portrait that I painted that really conveyed a sense of feeling and presence. This painting was the beginning of me exploring our human condition in paint.
As I continue to explore our shared human experience through my painting I keep running up against my own limiting beliefs about myself and what it means to be human. The more I simplify the expression down to simply light falling across the human form, the deeper I seem to be probing into our humanity. It is ironic that as I strip away the outer world and simply paint the stark naked figure bathed in light, I get closer and closer to experiencing what it feels to be human.

I hope you enjoyed this short tour of my paintings.

About the Artist: David Lazarony

davidlazaronybioDavid Lazarony grew up curious.  As a young boy, he was intrigued by the world around him, constantly asking questions and determined to figure out tangible solutions for everyday problems.

David challenged himself to build models, write computer programs, and explore his creative genius. When it was time to choose a profession, rather than becoming a “starving artist,” he choose a high-tech career instead.
Formally trained at The Ohio State University as an Electrical Engineer, he spent more than a twenty years working in computer graphics and technology.

In 1999, David answered a call from his creative muse, taking classes for seven years to move his art beyond craft to concept, as well as translate his view of the world into a tangible art form.

David believes that his paintings are the mirrors to the soul; and it’s his strong desire to evoke emotion in others that fuels his creativity. He also views the art of painting as a silent meditation, encouraging him to live a more authentic and elegant life, full of never ending curiosity.

Find out more – and connect at DavidLazarony.Com


Editor’s Note: Our Through the Lens series explores how the things we make reveal new and interesting things about us as makers. What does your creative work express about YOU, the artist? How are the things you make like looking through a lens into your heart and soul? What have you seen in your creative viewfinder that surprises, delights, or perhaps frightens you? As we follow along with you on that journey, we may be inspired to look at our own individual creative projects in very new ways.

What Comes Next by Patricia Wellingham-Jones

confidentgreycurlsShe wandered past the perimeter
of midlife, replaced blond curls
with natural iron-ore gray.
At this new stage of life
she wondered
at all those efforts
over all those years
to be the aunt with gifts
she thought her sister’s kids
would love. To be the person
Tired of trying
to satisfy others
she sighed and slid with relief
into her next decade.

About the Author: Patricia Wellingham-Jones

PatriciaWellingham-JonesPatricia Wellingham-Jones is a widely published former psychology researcher and writer/editor. She has a special interest in healing writing, with poems recently in The Widow’s Handbook (Kent State University Press). Chapbooks include Don’t Turn Away: poems about breast cancer, End-Cycle: poems about caregiving, Apple Blossoms at Eye Level, Voices on the Land and Hormone Stew.

Threads by Bernie Brown

Like hunger, the urge to create nags me and growls at me until I satisfy it. I know that any creative project will bring me just as much pain as it does pleasure, but my imagination works overtime, anyway. And sooner or later, what is happening in my head demands to be turned into reality.

Let me tell you how one sewing and one writing project both frustrate and fulfill me.

My heart beats a little faster when I walk into a fabric store: the Hawaiian prints, the embroidered denims, and the Needleandthreadslush velvets all put possibilities in my head. Even the neat little packages of zippers, thread, bias tape, and buttons—arranged rainbow-like—delight me. I want to buy them all, but time and money won’t let me. So I work one project at a time.

Two years ago, the sweetest, smartest, most adorable granddaughter on the planet arrived in our lives, our Helen. When she turned a year old, I imagined sewing a custom-made playhouse for her, a cloth cover that would turn an ordinary card table into a magical cottage with windows, a door that works, a roof, a bird’s nest, some flowers, butterflies, ladybugs, a mailbox, and a few garbage cans. Then I pictured Helen crawling in and out of this playhouse and wearing a smile that lit up my heart. For the past several months, that masterpiece has been taking shape.

At the same time, I have been writing a novel. Sitting down at my computer to write is like a visit to a fabric store. Just like all the bolts of fabric tempt me, a blank computer screen begs me to fill it with the stories of love affairs, family squabbles, heroes, villains, suburban homes, and country cottages. But I can’t write them all. I need the characters, setting, and conflict that will tell the story of Weaver Days.

Most days I help the book and the playhouse move forward, side by side. But some days, my projects disappoint me. Something just doesn’t click, doesn’t match my vision. That’s when I have to step back, even when that’s the last thing I want to do.

The first chimney for the playhouse, made of fabric printed with puzzle pieces, didn’t look at all like the whimsical chimney I envisioned. Instead, it just looked like a colorful box stuck to the roof. I fretted over the loss of several evenings’ work and my inability to bring my vision to life. But the thing had to go. My sewing machine whirred and I said naughty words and cried as I cranked out a second, more ordinary chimney of plain red cloth.

The novel proved equally uncooperative at times. In the first draft, several chapters near the end took one of the small town characters to a big city for spring fashion week. How could that go wrong? Up to-the-minute clothing styles filled the scenes. An eccentric, minor character enjoyed a bittersweet annual romance that would win readers’ hearts.

But no. The fashions and the eccentric’s love affair weren’t the real story. Like the colorful chimney, they had to go. In a bold move, I gritted my teeth and cut five thousand words, whimpering the whole time. I had spent countless precious writing hours and creative energy on those chapters.

Each time I stepped back on the sewing or the writing project, the finish line looked further and further away. But soon I found my rhythm again. I knew that someday I would finish both. I will watch Helen crawl in and out of her custom cottage, talking to imaginary friends, involved in adventures she created. And some day I will hold a published copy of Weaver Days with my name on the cover. In each case I will shout, “I did it!” and dance around the living room.

The thrill of personal goals achieved will satisfy me for weeks. But sooner or later, after I tire of resting on my laurels and patting myself on the back, other projects will take shape in my head, projects that demand attention. In spite of plans going awry, in spite of backslides and sidetracks, in spite of cuss words and tears, I won’t be able to resist the siren songs of the fabric store and the blank computer screen.

And I will ask myself, “What next?’

And the whole painful and wonderful process will start all over again.[hr]

About the Author: Bernie Brown

berniebrownI live in Raleigh, NC where I write, read, and watch birds. My stories have appeared in several magazines, most recently Every Writer’s Resource, Still Crazy and the Raleigh News and Observer. I am a Writer in Residence at the Weymouth Center. Get to know me better my website and connect with me on Facebook.