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Archive for the ‘Musings and Articles’ Category

Honoring my sister Cheri’s life

November 27th, 2009 by Nikki Smith
Cheri Jo Long, 1980 - 2009

Cheri Jo Long, 1980 - 2009

My kid sister Cheri Jo Long passed away unexpectedly on November 11th.  She was 29 years old and lived more in her few years than most people do in a lifetime.  She has traveled the world and touched so many lives.

We are all looking for ways to honor her life.  My uncle Jay is giving up smoking in her memory.  My sister Crystal is painting “Cheri’s room” in her house in one of Cheri’s favorite colors and has done so much to share memories and photos of Cheri on FaceBook and with Cheri’s extended work family in Viriginia and the Twin Cities.  My father made a touching collaged photo to share with those who knew and loved Cheri, and my mother plans to plant a tree with a nice bench in her memory.  My grandmother has been baking meals and desserts non-stop for the extended family.

As for me, I’d like to honor my sister by living my life instead of just marking time.  It occurred to me that I’m working for a living, but what am I living for?  Every day the dishes get done and the bills get paid.  I’m taking care of the essentials but am I truly living?

So, in honor of Cheri, I’m re-evaluating my life.  What is important to me?  What do I want to achieve?  What will nourish my soul?  What are my goals and how do I achieve them?  How do I ensure that I stay “on track” with living my life and not fall back into a comfortable rut?  What do I not like about my life and how do I change that?  What have I been putting off for “someday” (i.e. maybe never)?  Why can’t someday be today?

My husband and I used to check-in with each other on our progress toward our goals on the first Sunday of each month.  We’ve fallen out of the habit — I’d like to start doing this again. 

NOTE:  This is a good way to keep yourself on track toward achieving your goals — find a partner and keep each other motivated and moving forward.  Make a list of your goals.  Refer back to this list each month and evaluate your progress honestly.  Tasks feel to big to accomplish?  Break them into smaller, achievable steps.  Do something from your list every month.

I’m going to share my goals and my thought process here on my blog as a way to keep myself honest.  The first step is thinking about the various areas of my life and setting some goals.  In some areas I have more questions than answers — that’s OK, the questions are an important part of the journey.  The next step is to make a plan to achieve my goals.  Finally, I need to do regular check-ins to keep on course…  Without further ado:

A.  Work-life Goals

Question: What do I want from my work-life?

“My job is not my life.”  Sometimes I get caught-up in the day-to-day aspects and lose sight of the big picture.  My work should enrich my life, or at least enable me to live a fulfilling life.  It should not consume my life.

  • Work-related stress. What causes me the most stress?  How can I reduce or eliminate this stress?
  • Time-suckers. What takes the most time with the least reward/benefit?  How can I make these tasks more efficient or remove them completely?
  • Boundaries/Balance. How do I keep my work-related tasks from eating up the whole day?
  • Stable, recurring income (including build-once, sell unlimited times services) vs. one-time projects. Continue to build up a base monthly income with these types of information-services (etc) to the point where this side of the business alone could support my needs.  Make the one-time projects the gravy and not the meat of my business.  Look for other services/projects that could be re-sold to multiple clients to build this side of the business.
  • Get the business to the point where I can eventually step-back. What tasks are mine-alone that I don’t feel others can do yet?  Can I make these tasks more automated/efficient?  Can I document these processes so that someone else could handle them without me?
  • Get organized. Keep projects on task and prioritized; don’t let anything fall through the cracks for lack of organization; make continual progress on high-importance, low-urgency tasks (not just the “squeaky wheels”).
  • Self-defeating habits. Yep, I’ve got them and I know what they are.  They affect many areas of my life, not just work.  I need to recognize them when they happen, stop and think twice.  This doesn’t make my life easier — cut it out, self!

B.  Home-life Goals

My family is my heart.  They shouldn’t take a back-seat to everything else.

  • Quality time with my daughter. More trips to the park and walks outside.  Less TV!  More one-on-one time reading books and playing together.
  • Make time for my marriage. Talk to each other (and not just about work).  Go on an occasional DATE!  Hold each other more.  Eat meals together as a family.
  • Taking care of myself is NOT OPTIONAL!
  • Build a honey-(and-me)-do list. For all of those little repairs and other projects around the house.  Do one each week or two until the list starts to disappear.  First to-do task: add a safety-chain to the tree swing.
  • Be engaged with teaching my daughter. Do some research on fun ways to integrate learning with play.  Make sure our nanny is on the same page and teaching/engaging Celeste, not just passively baby-sitting.
  • Connect with my sister, nieces, parents and extended family more. Weekly phone calls!  Send more fun-mail-day cards to my nieces.

C.  Soul-Nourishing Goals

These are the things that enrich my life.  I need to make time for myself and build a life I’m proud of, a life that makes my soul sing…

  • Make time for ART every week.
  • Learn new skills/techniques. What should I learn next?
  • Make the “Somedays” HAPPEN.  Set a date, make a plan, make it REAL. Someday, I’d like to travel and see the world.  I need to think about this more and set some specific goals.  Where do I want to go and what do I want to do/see when I get there?  Beyond the tourist-traps, what will make each trip a rewarding experience?  Someday, I’ll take an art class, go to ArtFest, TEACH a book-making class, do more art swaps, make a book for myself rather than to give away, etc. What other Somedays have I been putting off?
  • Reconnect with artists and friends. I’ve missed out on the art scene (blogs, Yahoo groups, swaps, art-dates) since my daughter was born.  This has been such a source of motivation and inspiration to me in my own art.  I need to reconnect!

Cheri, life is too short.  I hope to live a life with no more regrets for missed opportunities, a life that is truly lived to the fullest.

Nikki and CheriI love you, Cheri.  I miss you…

Nurturing your muse

October 17th, 2009 by Nikki Smith

Where do your ideas and inspirations come from?  Do they come to you in the shower or when you’re in that halfway state between wakefulness and sleep?  Do you wake up in the morning with a solution to yesterday’s challenge?

museMany well known authors say that when they are writing it is as if the words and ideas that flow from their pen are not their own — they come from somewhere else, not the author’s conscious mind.  It’s as if they are merely the instrument for conveying the idea to the world and not the originator.  I’ve always been fascinated by this concept, and I’ve found that it is true for other types of artists as well, myself included.

I have been blessed with a talented and creative muse who shows me possibilities and glimpses of the fantastic.  Late at night when I’m lying in bed and close my eyes she extrapolates from the place where my conscious mind left off.  My muse is visual and the ideas she presents to me are fully formed snap-shots of finished projects, often in rapid-fire and without the road map for creating them.

Why do I speak about my muse in the third person?  Because the ideas she presents seem to come out of the ether fully formed and without my conscious input or control.  They’re my ideas, and yet…it sometimes feels as if there’s a separate creative soul sharing these glimpses with me.  The ideas are often truly wonderful but gone in the blink of an eye before I can capture them on paper.  I can’t “decide” to be inspired and my muse is sometimes silent.  I can only lay the groundwork, create a fertile, nurturing mental environment and then be receptive.

So how do you nurture your muse?  Here’s a great strategy:

Immerse yourself in eye-candy art!
This is one of the best ways I’ve found to encourage my muse.  Just before bed I’ll read an art magazine or browse through an online gallery or two.  The more visual inspiration I give my muse, the more likely she is to inspire me in turn.

Channel your dreams.
Have you ever had one of those nights when your dreams are all about work?  That’s often because you were focused on (or worried about) work when you went to bed.  I admit, I’ve solved some problems this way.  However, I’ve also done some tedious bill-paying and dish-washing in my dreams.  (What a waste!)  Wouldn’t it be more fun to dream about creating art?  And wake up with some great ideas to try out?  Just be sure to be thinking about your art as you drift off to sleep.  Keep a pen (or crayons!) and notebook handy by your bedside table to jot down those great ideas when you first wake up and before the dreams fade away.

Explore different concepts and apply them to your art.
Sometimes I’ll explore an unrelated idea and then challenge my muse to apply that concept to my art.  For example, after reading a great magazine on “softies” (artist’s dolls and stuffed creations), I went to bed thinking about the ideas I had seen and how they might be applied to handmade books.  I (or I should say my muse) came up with several creative ideas for softies as book covers on journals, or softies with pouches to hold a small book.  The “characters,” closures, colors and materials were all there just waiting for me to bring them to life.

Give your muse a steady diet of inspiration and you’ll be amazed at the results!

Advice on Teaching Art Classes

September 2nd, 2007 by Nikki Smith

Last year I conducted an informal survey, asking fellow artists about their experiences teaching (and taking) art-related classes. I received dozens of responses, full of valuable advice. The results are compiled here, in the hopes that this information will be of help to other artist-teachers and those just taking the plunge for the first time. This article can be found in the “Articles” section, or by following this link: Read more…