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My Burning Question: My Deepest Place Quest 2015

Chronicle illustration by Suzi Banks Baum

What if you didn’t have to wait until your kids leave the house to answer the feverish yearning you feel every single day, or at least when your mind is free enough for a thought not about survival, school lunches or the insurance bill?

Your creative fire is not a luxury.
Your creative fire is necessary for your health and well-being.
Your creative fire needs no apology.

You may look at people who work in what we generally call creative work with envy. Why do they get to do this while I am standing behind a cash register at Wal-Mart?

Truly, we are all at different points in the engagement of our creative muscles.
But we are never more than a breath away from assuring ourselves that our fire burns and though it may look like we’ve forgotten this blaze while sunk in the mire of active parenting, maintaining careers and family life, we have not.

Suzi Laundry Basket
Me and the basket from a kid’s eye view.

I do not doubt this at all.
I spent the first 14 years of my mothering career madly knitting while soup simmered and wash hung on the line to dry. I wrote avidly, briefly and early on days when I could haul myself out of bed quietly enough so as not to wake one of the hungry small beasts in my lair. I doodled. I gardened. I did things that kept my tiny fire burning that were manageable while mothering.

Coming in the door
Once a week, I went out to write, do yoga and knit for a block of time, covered by a sitter. That sitter let one of the kids take a photo. This is what they saw.

Did I think, “Oh this is going to stoke my fire?” or “Oh just this last little row and my self-esteem will be boosted for the next run of stomach flu and attendant laundry requirements for such a mess?”

Hell no.
I just moved my hands because I knew that doing those small things felt really good to me. I knew that making things made me a more centered, resilient person. I knew I did not get so entirely frayed by the frustrations of being a mother if I kept a pair of socks on the needles and wrote for fifteen minutes without interruptions.

Test driving a sock pattern
Test driving a sock pattern

Now my kids are big. This morning, I overslept, which is rare for me. I was in such a great dream I missed the early cues to rise, light a candle, meditate, read and write before making my daughter’s lunch.

She left the house with only fresh juice in her bag and an apology from me.

I wrestle with this part of my mothering journey. I am still needed and necessary, but it is a darn good thing I have other stuff to do because the bulky caring muscle mass I have built up has to be used for something.

The life of a woman has been wired for care.
With or without children, we nurture.
Women today are waking up to caring for our selves first and noticing the change that occurs in this reordering. Just as those fifteen minutes of solitude sewed up my sanity before I entered the fray, those small moves to answer what you yearn for build resilience and activate your capacity for joy.

And isn’t that what carries us through the difficult, the lonely, the exhausted?

Almost every morning, I go to what I call my deepest place.

When my kids were little, I had no idea this place could be readily accessed. I thought I had to escape home life to locate it. Domestic life, domesticated life does not readily burble with invitations to dwell in deep quiet, so I had to find my ways in. Early morning writing was first. And all that knitting, every single knitted loop led me along a path; as if those slim knots were hand holds to a different state of mind. That state of mind was where I felt less reactive, not alone, and part of a solution to a nameless problem whose only medicine was joy.
Even knitting at the side of a sickbed.
Or in a nursing home.
Or in a meeting.
Or on a dark night waiting for someone to pull in the driveway.
All that making paved a path to what I know now is the deepest place within me where the sacred holy dwells, where what is kindled by that certain kind of quiet instills a tincture of calm to my frazzled nerves, where what is many named and nameless offers comfort and possibility. Saint Teresa of Avila called this place your inner castle where the Beloved awaits. You can call it what you want, but finding your way in to your deepest place will succor your ache. It will fuel your faith.

In winter where I live, and much like where I grew up, the weather drives me inside. When I am daring and warm it drives me to ice skate or snowshoe. Early in the morning, I light my candle and begin my day.

I hold this time as a buffer before I completely enter my family life with full on presence. I hold myself in jammies, sage and candlelit, as a way to keep myself from overoverwhelm.

Overoverwhelm, I type and I mean it.
This is my Hygge time.

Hygge is a Norwegian word for “well-being.”
Helen Dyrbye says,

“It is the art of creating intimacy: a sense of comradeship, conviviality and contentment rolled into one.”

Hygge time is what the Norse do to help get them through deep winter.

I consider my morning time alone as my Hygge time.
It is a time for inner collection, as if I could do within me what I do around this house and family: picking up, sorting, rearranging, hauling out trash and outgrown clothes, tucking fresh juice in to backpacks and setting things in to motion.

What I do on the outside, I am doing on the inside.

I create intimacy.
I listen.
I reflect.
When I allow myself to pull back, light a sage bundle, drink strong herbal tea, and glue what is at once random, a secret message is revealed. What I do in this hour is create an inner dictionary for future reference. I am filling my well.

My deepest place is the shelter I provide for myself.
It is where I allow my listening to be as slow as necessary.
It is where I stop cramming and open my palms to receive.
It is where random meets intentional and becomes message.

Hygge time, being intimate with myself in the company of my family.
All is well. All is deeply well.

This is how I keep my fire burning. In winter. And within family life.
It has become more necessary than ever.

I wonder how you find Hygge time for yourself?
I would love to hear.
Your comments are manna.

PS Here are some posts that might give you a bit of fuel.

Ingrid Wendt
Mandy Thompson
Janet Elsbach

This coming season has excitement for Laundry Line Divine.

February 22, 2015 is the Powder Keg Sessions public reading at No. Six Depot in West Stockbridge, MA.
That day also opens an exhibit in the No. Six Depot café gallery of my hand bound journals, which runs through March 2015.
Then on Saturday March 7, 2015, the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers and Laundry Line Divine present Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others. We have a new theme going for the event and the blog series. Find the submission details here. And a wave a new readers will join some of the familiar faces on stage at Dewey Memorial Hall in Sheffield, MA. Stay tuned for news!

Powder Keg Reading and Art exhibit card back



Mandy Thompson: Permission to live the life given you.


“From my earliest days, I was most satisfied when interacting with nature and, even better, carrying a favorite crayon in hand.” This is the start of my artist statement. The second sentence, however, is a bit misleading: “These passions followed me into adulthood and are now expressed through my paintings.”

Mandy Thompson

The truth is that at the start of college I made the conscious choice to set down the “crayons” for something more practical and achievable. It didn’t matter that my happiness (and possibly even mental health) rested in those moments of quietly drawing and painting and creating.


I walked away from my true voicemy true self.


Without painting and drawing, I was a fraction of my true self. This incompleteness culminated in a few years of depression. Foggy years. Hard-to-leave-the-house years. Dark, thick, heavy years. Depression led to therapy. Led to art journaling. Led to understanding my artist-soul. Led to releasing my artist-voice.


And HERE I AM, just a handful of memories later, living the best years of my life. I got those tattoos I always wanted. I cut my hair pixie-short, like I longed for since I was in first grade. I found an inner strength and external voice that my own mom didn’t even know I had.


I don’t take this wholeness and clarity for granted, and I have a passion in life to help others bring their own creative voice to life. Nurturing it. Guiding it. Calling it out.


Why? Because I can’t think of an act more violent than rejecting who we truly are.


So, let’s put our weapons down. Let’s stop pushing ourselves away from who we truly are. Let’s embrace those things that make us unique.


I’m here to give you permission to speak. I’m here to remind you that your creative voice is worth sharing. Your messages and makings are worth offering to the world.


You have permission to:

Believe in yourself. BE yourself. Know what you want to say and go after ways to say it. (Yes, you already know—it’s been in you all along.)

Give specific and real time to listening to your inner voice. This is where you will find your creative voice. Remember yourself. Think, journal, write, catalog your life, dialog with your life.

Strengthen your voice through creative play.  Practice! Experiment! PLAY!

Chase your creative dreams. Write them down and plan them out.   Spend time working towards those goals, even if its just a few minutes every day. Turn off the television and turn your dreams into reality.

MOST IMPORTANTLY: You have permission to do things differently—differently than you’ve done things before, and differently from how others expect you to do things. Permission to live your life. Wear blue jeans and t-shirts for days on end. Buy that soft blanket from Target that you always touch when you roll through that aisle. Drink coffee at dawn, or chai tea, or hot chocolate, whatever feels like YOU. Permission to be you: beautiful, flawed, perfectly imperfect, with something unique and distinct to offer the world. We need your voice. You were placed here during this time for a purpose. You are to realize that purpose and actualize that purpose. Be a good steward of the life you’ve been given—BE YOU.


So we take this little life we’ve been given, and we so desperately want it to mean something. We want to mean something. And we can. We use our own unique voices to make art as our offering, and we place it on the altar of humanity. It is not a gift received until it is given. It is not a word heard until it is spoken. We have a responsibility to share. We have a responsibility to speak. We have a responsibility to make that offering.


What is your offering? What do you have that the rest of us need to receive?


And can I give you an offering? I’ve made a few encouraging cards for us to use, as we find ourselves, believe in ourselves, BECOME ourselves. Please print some out, glue them into your journal, stick them in your planners, use them as lock screens for your phone.



All of these little things are meant to remind you: You were made to be you.




Mandy Thompson




As a child, Mandy wasn’t happy without her favorite crayon in hand. As an adult, she’s a mommy who spends schooldays “coloring” with mixed media on canvases, or working up fun tools that encourage others in their own creative pursuits. And if she’s not in her studio, check to see if she’s in an orange hammock at her favorite beach.



Erika Nelson and the Powder Keg Sessions Writing Workshops

Everything Fits

(for Suzi)

All of life fits into a walnut shell

that you found at the base of

the tree in your front yard

under a pile of miscellaneous sticks.

Before you slide the halves

back together,

you whisper all your secrets

in to the crack, filling it with words.

Then you seal it for good

and slip it into the pocket

of your apron for safekeeping.





photo by Lynnette Lucy Najimy
photo by Lynnette Lucy Najimy

Erika Nelson is one of the writers in the Powder Keg Ramsdell Sessions.

You can hear her and many other brave women read new work on February 22, 2015 at No. Six Depot in West Stockbridge, MA at 2 PM. This free event is open to the public. Come buy a cup of really good coffee and sup on the sweet deep rich words of these emerging writers.

We will gather this evening, January 7th, at the Ramsdell Library in Housatonic, MA from 6:30-7:45 PM. Bring your journal and a pen.
Our January dates are the 7th/14/28th.
There is childcare available in the Children’s Room at the library. Please email me for information.

Our Hands, My Hands Quest 2015 prompt by Scott Dinsmore

Suzi Banks Baum

Do the people around you inspire possibility? If not, it’s time to 
make some changes. The fastest way to do the things you don’t think can 
be done is to hang around people already doing them. In 2015, what changes will you make accordingly?

“God has no hands except from our hands.”

Dorothee Sölle

I rowed out to the middle of a sky lake and stopped.
In a boat, you are never truly stopped, but carried in a cup of light.
Oars tipped up to dribble and rest.
I slowly turn in the wind.

I could stay here all day.
I could even sleep here, likely be snugged in along the rocks by the wind, sheltered. But I have slept in boats before. I have no blankets here to keep the wet air out while I dream of walking.

Boats on Mohonk by Suzi Banks Baum


I stayed out in the middle of sky water until I’d had enough. Urgently, I returned to a room above the water where I’d found, in the course of a few short days, a wild pack of creatives who were forging a path that had room for me. I like to do things in groups. As a young child, my mother tells the tale, I could not go outside in to the street life of the north side of Chicago, without first calling my friends on the heavy black rotary dial phone. I play well with others.

So when others gather, I am near.
But I have learned to approach slowly.
I am rich in friends and collaborators.
I gather easily.
I burn warm and others stand close.

But I learn a new motion on the lake, in my wooden boat, my hands off the oars, I feel something deeper propelling me. The vista is getting different.


Mohonk morning light


At the gathering of Your Brave New Story with Jeffrey Davis and his Tracking Wonder team, I met people who are already doing what I long to do- living lives fueled by devotion and possibility, keenly tuned to excellence and clarity, intrigued by the world, by poetry and pine trees, and willing to ask hard questions and sit still long enough to wonder in to new answers. I am deeply grateful for finding my pack.

But this (Quest-ion) question asks me to dig a bit deeper.

I find pockets of possibility within my people more close in. Quester Tracee Vetting-Wolf created an image inspired by Jim Rohn’s belief that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with.

Tracee's art journal entry January 2015
Tracee’s art journal entry January 2015

This means I am the average of my husband, our son, our daughter, my yoga teacher, and the women in my writing workshop that meets three times a month. The greater rings of people in my life I either meet with weekly on the phone, or I miss our regular Tuesday walks for weeks on end so we text love filled messages to each other until we find ourselves in the woods, and the people I gather with monthly-my women’s Moon Circle and my other writing group. This is quite a group to average out with.




1. My husband is brilliant, verbal, gentle, athletic, and obsessed with yoga and our bird feeder. He is a diligent business owner, a thorough advocate for his clients and a fierce father. He is also tender, caring and loves chocolate. He loves me in to light. Even when I curse like a pirate on my way to a mammogram this morning after I’d knocked over the glass teapot with my chubby down coat because it is so cold here and I am about 400 pounds with that thing on, so clumsy. I swore, then stopped and looked at him. He smiled carefully and said, “just go”. So I went. And I knew he’d clean up after me. And that he’d have cocoa with me after my breasts emerged from being nearly flattened. He is that kind of man.
2. Our son? Ardent lacrosse player, studious college student, EMT trainee, joker, boyfriend, brother, best friend, social, secretive, passionate, attentive, hungry, philosophical and one of the lights of my life.
3. Our daughter? Poetic, stubborn, passionate, hungry, intriguing, stupefying, philosophical, athletic, diligent, articulate, hilarious, messy at times and organized at others, she is one of the lights of my life.
4. My yoga teacher I see at least three times a week. She is also brilliant. She is so beautiful, caring, human, and articulate. She is also one of the lights of my life.
5. My writing group at the library where, three times a month, I meet with whoever shows up, but a core group of six diligent, curious, deeply sensitive, humble, probing, funny, caring, delightful, brilliant women who have become a group because they are on to something. They generate light.

Kids at Canyon Gorge Alberta, MI by Geri Miller August 2012

Taking an average based on light and love makes me think of Brenè Brown’s Daring Greatly in which she describes Wholehearted Parenting. She writes about the face we turn to our children when they walk in the door from school, or down the stairs in the morning, or returning late at night, standing next to our bed checking in. Is it the face of “Where the hell have you been?” or “Zip up your jacket before you go out?” or “I’m running late and here is your lunch?” or is it “Hello light of my life. I am happy to see you.” Does concern and responsibility trump love?

When I consider the five people I spend the most time with, I know that each of them are bold enough to turn their real faces towards mine. Sometimes, smiles, sometimes tears, sometimes anger, sometimes need, but all the time light. And always love. Both.

Would that I could return to them what they shed so generously towards me. I live towards this assurance.

I could craft this list to include my collaborators, many of whom I know only online. Or my art making community, who I play with in real time, online, in texts, on Instagram or through blogging. These people dare me to be my full self.

But this intimate group? They dare me the most. They are unabashedly themselves in spite of whatever expectations or broken glass I have laid in their paths, they are stepping so gingerly, fiercely, bravely in to their own lives, I have no choice but to live mine. Otherwise, I will be left here, matching socks and making grocery lists for meals for one.

I could pretend to not be a woman tethered to family life, but I would be lying to you. I am a woman who responds to the world through the lens of the domestic.

To lift the domestic into the poetic is quietly radical.
~Jayne Benjulian in a review of Barbara Rockman’s Sting and Nest


So, in response to the Quest 2015 prompt by Scott Dinsmore:

yes, I am
inspired to possibility by the five people I spend the most time with. I am dancing on the fast fading ice of this neat tidy group around the table. We are all swimming in a world burgeoning with new ideas and talents revealed and vistas as yet unexplored.
Whether on my yoga mat or at the laundry line, at the library or out on a hike, these five people hold an expectation that I will meet possibility
as I create it. Stepping out in to the unknown, making it up as I go along.

The river the river the river
the river, the river, the river



Setting it all out this way fills me with excitement for 2015.
I am dusting off my compass points, understanding more intrinsically what guides me. I am more curious than ever about what courses through the runnels of my murex spiraled mind.

Tending the domestic with an ear for the poetic.

Superior Stones


I started this post out in a boat. We moved metaphors and landed inside a shell. Laundry is washed in water. Our brains float in liquid and thrive with hydration.

I tend my watery self, or my life is tended towards water having grown on up on the Great Lakes, and thus, wet, I am led to the this understanding. Long may we swim.


Ramapo Waters


How about you?
Who inspires possibility in you?



Friends with Glory #1




More about Scott Dinsmore:

Through his Live Your Legend revolution, Scott Dinsmore is leading millions of people to rise to their greatest possibilities, surround themselves with other buoyant legends, and do the work they love while changing the world. His TEDx talk has been viewed almost 2 million times and is among the top 20 most viewed TEDx Talks of all time.


You can join in the next leg of Quest 2015 by going here. It is free. And it is a deep dive in to bringing your best work forward in 2015.


Please look for new posts this week by Mandy Thompson about permission and a poem by Powder Kegger Erika Nelson. I always appreciate your comments, questions, private mails, hugs, stops in the street, phone calls or tea breaks. What I love most about living this out louder life is the light I see in others. Thank you for shining so brightly. xoxooxoxS

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