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.

Unaccompanied by Melissa A. Bartell

Copyright: belchonock / 123RF Stock Photo

Below the melody, I can hear the pressure of his fingers, blunt force pushing the string down to meet the fingerboard. Pale flesh meeting ebony wood with wire sandwiched between.

Copyright: belchonock / 123RF Stock PhotoThe actual piece doesn’t matter. It’s something by Bach, of course, baroque and brooding, an elegy at times, a discourse at others. I know that it’s Bach in the same way most people know the difference between the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, but the name of the specific piece eludes me.

Between the notes, I hear him draw a breath. If I were watching him, I’d probably see him reposition his bow in that same moment. As it is, I hear the air being released from his lungs, from his lips, just before the bow attacks the strings.

I can’t watch him.

I look at my phone, observe the deep claret colour of the wine in my glass, devote close study to the remains of the dark chocolate mousse cake on my plate.

Anything to avoid his eyes.

Behind the music I catch the rasp of his sleeve where it brushes against the bridge on an up-bow. I lift my eyes – just for a second, I tell myself – and drink in the crisp white of his shirt, the jet black of his tie.

Finally, I am caught, trapped in the warm brown of his eyes.

He notices me staring at him, but his playing never falters, though there’s a slight quirk of his brow that just matches the note he flourishes.

Beneath the chords, I hear the faint buzz, not quite a wolf-tone, from the titanium strings, and discern – barely – the soft contact of his thumb resettling itself in the saddle of his cello.

As he lifts his bow from the strings, the faint tang of sweat and rosin assaults my senses. I lick my lips, anticipating the moment when he leaves the stage and joins me at my table.

People warned me about dating a musician. “You’ll be alone at all his gigs,” they said. “You’ll feel like a groupie; you’ll lose your identity.”

They were wrong.

I’m never alone, merely… unaccompanied.

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.

First Letter: March 8 , 2016

Dear Friend,

I am excited about our project of letter writing, of sharing our thoughts about this creative process that is so much a part of our lives. With our letters, we join a long history of other writers and artists who have used personal correspondence as a way to inspire and support one another.

I’m writing this letter early in the morning, in that fresh and open space right after Letterwaking up before the demands of daily living hijack my thoughts. This is what I want to tell you today.

Recently I had coffee with a friend – not a writing friend, but one who has always had kind things to say about my work. We talked of our lives, our families, our past experiences, some plans for the future. As we were finishing the last sips of coffee and wrapping winter scarves around our necks, she asked me this:

“What are you writing about now?”

I sighed heavily before I answered. “I’m not really writing at all,” I admitted. “I can’t seem to get anything on paper these days.”

She looked at me thoughtfully for a moment, before saying: “Well then, what do you think you might write about if you were writing?”

Such a good question.

If I were writing, I told her, I would write about how suddenly my world has become consumed with caring, of thinking about ways to physically and emotionally support the people in my life who are struggling with their health and well being. If I were writing, I might describe the ways my life has narrowed in the past 10 years, how much less I have and how much less I do, and how I am so very fine with all that. If I were writing, I would write about the ways technology has become a pervasive and disruptive presence in the world, how the noise from it hurts my ears, steals my attention, and fractures my time. If I were writing, I would relate my fears for this nation of ours, this America with its bold dreams and promises, and how this election year has revealed a dark underbelly to the place I’ve always been proud to call home.

But I am not writing. I am wondering – what do YOU do when suddenly the words don’t come? Do you feel as I do now – washed up, useless, spent?

Here’s the truth I know about myself: When the world is too much with me, it’s hard to find a way into the words, even if the words are the very thing that can save me.

I read something today, and found it helpful and insightful. It’s from a small book called Art & Fear, by David Bayles and Ted Orland. Maybe this idea will speak to you as well.

The hardest part of art-making is living your life in such a way that your work gets done, over and over – and that means finding a host of practices that are just plain useful. The details of art-making we recognize tend to be hard-won practical working habits and recurrent bits of form we can repeatedly hang work on.”

Like Frederic Chopin and J.S. Bach, composers who wrote piece after piece in certain formulaic patterns – Chopin with his Mazurka’s and Waltzes, Bach with his Preludes and Fugues in each of the 24 keys – there are artists who know the value of having a familiar and successful place to start.

So maybe this is what I need. Instead of looking for a new thing to inspire or motivate me, instead I should be looking back at those “recurrent bits of form” that provided reliable gateways in the past.

Maybe “what’s next?” is really “what used to be” – the writing I made part of my daily routine in the past, but have abandoned lately in the midst of many upheavals in regular life: writing morning pages, religiously every day; writing blog posts, once or twice a week at least; putting good sentences in my ears with inspirational books. These are my Mazurka’s, my Preludes and Fugues. They bring me to the page, prime the creative pump, and start the well of words flowing.

And who knows? It may turn out that these very letters I’m writing to you will be something new to “hang work on” in the future.

“Over time, the life of a productive artist becomes filled with useful conventions and practical methods so that a string of finished pieces continues to appear at the surface. And in truly happy moments those artistic gestures move beyond simple procedure, and acquire an inherent aesthetic all their own. They are your artistic hearth and home…”

I like the idea of an “artistic hearth and home,” work I can return to time and again and where I feel comfortable and safe. I think we need those kinds of havens for work and for life, in order to muster the courage to go forward and try those things that feel risky and dangerous.

The discovery of useful forms is precious,” write Bayles and Orland, “and once found they should never be abandoned for trivial reasons.” So here’s what I want to ask you, dear friend. What are your practical habits, your Mazurka’s and Preludes, your artistic hearth and home? Are you returning to them regularly, and letting them nourish you on your creative journey? I hope so.

Until next time,

About the Author: Becca Rowan

beccarowan_bio2Becca Rowan lives in Northville, Michigan with her husband and their two dogs. She is the author of Life in General, a book of personal and inspirational essays about the ways women navigate the passage into midlife.  She is also a musician, and performs as a pianist and as a member of Classical Bells, a professional handbell ensemble. If she’s not writing or playing music you’ll likely find her out walking with the dogs or curled up on the couch reading with a cup of coffee (or glass of wine) close at hand. She loves to connect with readers at her blog, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.

New Moon Creative: Moon in Pisces

What would happen if you were to commit to your own creative life each month? How would you feel if you nourished your own need to create? How excited would you be if you didn’t just create something, but also shared your creation with other people who were also stepping into their creative lives?

While all of us at Modern Creative Life hope that each of our readers is indulging their creativity (even if it’s in small ways) frequently, we are also dedicated to the idea that we get to choose our own paths to creative living each and every day of the year, by writing, painting, cooking, or even making and artful arrangement of the books on our shelves.

As well, we believe it’s important to honor the cycles of life that form currents through all our lives. As part of our ongoing celebration of those cycles and currents, we will be releasing a collection of prompts to inspire you on your creative journey.

Since the New Moon is traditionally been a time of new beginnings, we’ll be sharing those prompts on the date of each month’s New Moon. This month (March) that date is the 8th.

Here is our first round of prompts:

New Moon Creative: Moon in Pisces

Write a poem, essay, or short story. Take a photograph and leave us with the image alone. Create a photo essay.

Post your creation in your blog and/or share your work on Social Media, be it Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or all of those spaces. Use the tag #NewMoonCreative so we can find you. Leave a comment here (with a link) so we can read your words and lovingly witness what and how you are creating.

On the Full Moon (March 23rd), we’ll post a collection of the work that was inspired by these prompts and post them here, with links back to the full work (and you).


Welcome to Issue #1: What’s Next?

As we steadily make our way from Winter to Spring here in the Northern Hemisphere, I count the ways in which I IMG_20150202_074036am blessed – especially the opportunity to help birth a new Literary / Arts Magazine into the world.

I have loved words (and pictures) from the time I understood that, combined, words created my beloved stories. It brings me great pleasure to share my stories, yet I must admit that the ability to share the works of other makers fills me with an equally intense joy.

Modern Creative Life has been many months in the making.

When we chose to put All Things Girl on hiatus in 2015, it opened a huge space for each of us entrenched within that Classic ‘zine. Many of us made good use of that time and published books while on hiatus – including myself, Melissa Bartell and Becca Rowan.

It’s critical for an artist to share her work… yet, the loss of regular opportunity to celebrate the work of others left many of us feeling as though we had a hole in our hearts.

In many conversations and multiple emails (and letters) we talked about the kind of space we’d like in the future to celebrate other Makers. To pay homage to the choice to pursue our own creativity and forge a path forward for living a creative life.

Moreover, we asked the questions: How do we nurture our creative spark and stay afloat? How do we continue to make our art while still getting dinner on the table and keeping a roof over our heads? How do we go back to the page (or canvas) when we are feeling parched? We are all naturally curious about how people DO it. What is life is like behind closed doors those of us who must create?

We began to labor in earnest back in December and today, you’ll see the fruits of those labors ripen.

For the first issue of Modern Creative Life, we chose the theme: “What’s Next?”. It’s a question I asked myself (and cherished advisers) after my book was published. It was a question I asked both out of excitement and fear. That question lies at the heart of every creative person: what IS next for my creative life? What deserves my time and attention?

Rather than flood you with more content than you can consume, we’ll be sharing today:

  • New Moon Creative Prompts – a way for us to join together in creation. On the first seven days of a new moon cycle, we’ll release prompts to inspire you creativity and hope you’ll share with us in your Social Media spaces whether you write a poem, take a photo, craft a quick blog post, or find your way into a new story.  Note that when the full moon arrives, we’ll round up a collection of YOUR inspired works to share here.
  • The lovely Becca Rowan will share with you a letter. One that she could have written to me… or you.
  • The fabulous Melissa Bartell will tantalize you with a snippet of a story. Just a taste of her ability to turn a phrase in one of my favorite short stories.

Then, between now and when we launch our 2nd Issue on June 4th, you’ll be presented with tastes of what it is to Honoring the Creative in YOU and MElive a creative life, how we keep the flame burning, and how we determine “What’s Next?” in our lives.

We’ll see a variety of ways to express how we live creatively and how we explore “What’s Next?”.  From essays to poetry to stories…to letters and diary entries. We’ll also explore what’s behind closed doors through our series Typical Tuesday , Through the Lens, and Studio Tours. We’ll also dig into the how – through our Instrumental Series….and more.

Our mission:

Modern Creative Living honors the pursuit and practice of joyful creativity. We believe that the creative arts enrich our everyday living, enhance our environment, create lasting connections, and sustain our souls.

When it comes to fresh voices, we are always open to single contributions as well as regular contributors. (Email Me at if you’re interested).

We look forward to hearing your thoughts and anxiously await your submissions as you share with us: What’s NEXT?

Here’s to honoring the pursuit of joyful creation. Together.

With Love,






Debra Smouse, Editor in Chief