Day trip: Quinn’s Hot Springs

Spontaneous adventures are my jam. The kind that are casually planned over a post-ski beer and then happen the following day. I am enlivened when I’m “unprepared” — when I get to dance about in the early morning hours fashioning road snacks out of back-of-the-pantry bits, feverishly gathering the pieces we will need and then leaving. As ready as I’ll ever need to be.

I let the kids sleep, aiming to get the car all packed up and then scoop them straight from bed into their seats. Part of this plan is practical: I have to get a lot done to meet our 8am departure and if it’s just me, hip hop and the to-dos it’ll be lightening fast. And part of this plan is magical: I remember being 6 and 8 years old and I decide it would feel thrilling and cozy to climb from bed to carseat where my blanket, doll, bagel and open road await. Mom at the wheel.

photo by Ruby

We meet our friends and begin the caravan north along the fierce, alive Mission Mountains, through the Salish & Kootenai Reservation and then west along the turquoise blue Flathead River. We drive to Quinn’s Hot Springs.

Ruby: How much longer?
Me: Ten minutes.
Ruby: How long is that?!
Margot: Not too long! Just count to 60, ten times.
Ruby: one two three four five six seven eight…

There are several hot springs around here and I’ve been to most more than once. Each has their own unique vibe and lore. Quinn’s vibe: tidy and strict.

We arrive in the pouring rain, change into suits and tip toe across the cold cement to the healing waters. We all slip into the pool, feeling that welcome pin prick of warmth seep into our winter-cold Montana bodies. Eventually the four kids don goggles and find the slightly cooler pool where they romp and squeal. Kara and I find the hot hot pool. The hot hot pool followed by icy cold pool followed by moderately hot pool is my favorite sequence. Oh the luxury in willingly taking your breath away at a temperature shock.

notice the rainbow!

Most places in Montana – especially remote places – are famously trusting and chill. At Quinn’s, there is a lot of “you can’t do that here.” Like, they approach all things with a noticeable skepticism. It’s a funny quirk, really, but I have been annoyed before. No personal water bottles, no keys to your room until your friend who made the reservation arrives, no babies in the karaoke bar, etc. On this trip, I am hollered at from the edge of the pool. “Ma’am I know that is fun but it is DANGEROUS to lift your daughter that high.” (#troublemaker) There is a positive side to all those rules: it’s clean and predictable.

We soak and luxuriate for almost three hours, moving around between the six pools of varying temperatures before we get out, dry off and head out. It is still pouring rain – harder now – so we huddle under our car hatch for a snack before deciding to explore up the hill. It’s wildly lush and green – feels more like the Oregon coast than Montana, feels more like April than February. Kara reminds me that this valley is kind of a banana belt; the farmers up here grow a fruitful bounty. The Dixon melons, the Forbidden Fruit Orchard peaches.

We planned to be heading back home by now but nobody is ready for this to end and us moms convince ourselves that work can wait. So we drive a bit further west to a roadside spring we adore. I’m not sure if the water is actually the best tasting water in the world or if it is just my history with stopping and filling water bottles here that makes it so. Either way, I love the abundance of water from this risky place.

We take our time on the road home, stopping for photos and running and snacking and staring at the river. I’ll forever be an amazed admirer of rivers. Tiny, inconsequential droplets of water join together to create a holy force that inscribes earth and supports life.

Margot: Mom how does the ocean move because of the moon? Is that kind of like technology or something?
Me: That’s nature, baby.
Margot: It’s nature’s very own technology!
Me: What is technology anyway?
Margot: When things connect to make other things happen.

I try to always stop by The Perma Store to see if there are things we might buy. But mostly, to talk with Harold.

He remembers me this time, notices the girls have grown since the last time we stopped. His store sells earrings, lukewarm sodapop, fishing tackle and other provisions. His chicken coop sits between the store and his small cabin; it’s all just a few feet off highway 200. Harold has a gentle, interested way I appreciate. We always start with small talk. I wait with restricted earnest for him to reveal what is on his mind. He seems to delight in sharing his wisdom and theory, earned from his many years on this planet and lots of time to think about stuff. On this day I notice he has fewer Native American handworks and he proclaims a dissatisfied acknowledgment of youth choosing iphones over making medicine bags. “It’s hard to find young people who care enough to keep making this stuff.” He tells us about his hunting lineage, how he was raised to hunt for meat and not for the rack. Last fall he stumbled into a pile of six decapitated deer bodies. Killed for their antlers, left to rot. It’s a thing, we learn: people want antlers to decorate their homes and so poachers are making a living off of it. His neighbor found 20 headless deer last year. With all the antler-shed around here, I have always assumed those antlers-for-sale were found in the mountains. Silly, naïve me. I deeply detest this reality and silently promise myself I will tell everyone I know about it, starting with you, here. Because I trust that people who admire antlers also like and respect the lives of all animals and want to be responsible about where their decor comes from.

We make a long day of it, stretching our 1 hour drive into 4 hours. Our last stop is for milkshakes at the Bison Café. My mom and dad used to stop here with us on our way up the Flathead Lake, I think. Or some place like it. Any which way, these old diners with milkshakes make me pause to smell that good memory. Of being on an adventure with my family and getting malted treats at foreign restaurants.

That night Andy and I lay in bed with our kids; I (mostly) successfully try to enjoy the last bits of the day without thinking of all that is now piled on tomorrow’s agenda. Ruby’s face is pressed into the curve of my neck. Margot is next to her and Andy on the far side of our queen bed. Mabel and Sam at the foot. George on the window sill waiting for a vacancy.

Ruby: Mama? Stay here until I fall asleep ok?
Me: OK.
Ruby: You’ll know when it happens because I’m hugging you so tight right now. When I loosen, that means I’m asleep.
Margot: You know that moose show when the mama moose kicked her calf out when she was just one? That made me sad. I wouldn’t like that. That won’t happen, right?
Andy: That won’t happen buddy. You can stay here as long as you want.
Margot: Like forever?
Andy: Yeah, forever.
{ pause }
Margot: What’s college like?

:: :: ::

Details, with links:

Our sturdy new adventure rig, a Honda CRV, c/o University Motors (please email Toby if you’re interested in a special deal for dig readers)
Quinn’s Hot Springs
Favorite road trip snack: honey balsamic almonds
Soundtrack: Modest Mouse, Taylor Swift, Bill Harley
Old Perma Store
Natural spring location: on hwy 200, just west of the hwy 135 turnoff to Quinn’s
Bison Café
Forbidden Fruit Orchard (where I get my peaches every year!)

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38 things

I missed last year! And the year before! Both drafts are immortalized as drafts. Things happen that way and I’ve found – as I age – it is often best to give in than to muscle through.

Click to read: 30 things, 31 things, 32 things, 33 things, 34 things, 35 things

My birthday weekend began with a snowshoe into my friend’s cabin with girlfriends. We pulled our gear up a super steep hill, making that mountaintop beer so so delicious.


We came up in a few rounds, the first being myself and Amanda (my extraordinary co-worker who kept shouting “team-building exercise!” which never failed to make me laugh). At the very top, we were tired and happy and I unlatched my hip belt, let my grip off my sled just as the pitch turned downhill. All my stuff sailed down a near-vertical slope, off a huge rock and into oblivion. Amanda told me later that I stood there in total silence; I didn’t say a word as I watched all my clothes, food and gear fly down by the old mountain lion den.

Mabel ran up and down and all around my stuff without effort. Hmpf.

We got it all back. There was no staying upright to get down there so I slid on my butt on the snow and mud, gripping tree roots and branches to keep my speed down. The hike up was exceptionally difficult because I didn’t want to do it more than once so I shoved each bag uphill inch by inch, involuntarily grunting at the effort. And regretting packing in a cast iron pot. Amanda tried to lower straps to help me but the whole ungraceful (and hilarious) fiasco couldn’t be helped. The avocado and apples were obliterated but the vodka and camera held up. Team building exercise!

Once we were all there, we cleaned the cabin, chopped wood, started the generator and settled in for two days of bananagrams, hikes, fabulous food and storytelling. My friends surprised me with a full length butter yellow chiffon ball gown to wear. It was a size 4 and the gaping space in the back just added to the energy of my immediate alter ego. She was a little bit Beyoncé and a little bit Fraggle. My girlfriends also each packed in sparkles and we danced and danced and danced in the tiny cabin in the middle of starry, moonlit wilderness.

I often think about setting the tone for an experience — to be thoughtful about what I hope to achieve. Not an outcome, but a vibe. Some people choose a word to guide them, I choose feelings. When we identify what we hope to feel, our actions will naturally support the goal.

Last week my yoga teacher asked us to set an intention for our practice that day. Immediately, I thought of the word success. It surprised me a bit, that word. But I quickly made sense of it. Success in that space, in my body; I sought to achieve a satisfying and rich hour on my rectangular mat. To feel successful without comparison or worry. To be. With my body, both corporal and spiritual.

On the mountain with friends I started the adventure with the intention to feel at ease and alive. On the hike out, I smiled at the fun I’d had, at the strength and connection to people and the planet. Effervescent, fallible, messy, successful in just showing up.

So I am here this year on my 38th birthday with 38 things I love right now.

  1. Flipping my pillow in the middle of the night to reveal a fresh, cool surface.
  2. Cooking with Ruby.
  3. My lover’s winter mountain man beard and his spring shaved face.
  4. My lips fit perfectly on my daughter’s eyelids.
  5. My new exercise routine. I joined a gym a few months ago and go to four classes a week (pilates, yoga, weight lifting). I feel strong and energized and tall and fast. I have stomach muscles again. Holy, I needed this.
  6. Taking heaps of stuff to the thrift store.
  7. Taking risks.
  8. Eye contact.
  9. Day old braids.
  10. Warming by the fire, inside and outside.
  11. Them, in their bedroom together in the mornings – readying, talking, arguing, sharing.
  12. Making our new kitchen messy with real life.
  13. Birds on our feeder.
  14. Working on my next thing: We are partnering with other makers and releasing a new online storefront called Dig + Co. Co = Company, Collaborators. The store will feature well-designed, handmade objects that support adventuring, homesteading and artful living. Have something we should know about? Tell us!
  15. My new essential oil diffuser.
  16. Walking to school with my kids.
  17. Ordering seeds.
  18. Ruby still, at six, wants to be held all the time. I felt frustrated the other day and she said, “Mama I just want to be so close to you.”
  19. My friend’s hand balm.
  20. Collecting eggs.
  21. Textiles.
  22. Those two freckles on Margot’s left brow.
  23. Last fall’s cross-country adventure with my daughters.
  24. The books I made for them for Christmas documenting our trip.
  25. Dreaming about where we will go this fall. (Yes: I plan to do another October car adventure with my daughters!)
  26. Kefir.
  27. This space. This time capsule, accessible with a click.
  28. Home.
  29. Talking to Margot on the chairlift. She tells me every detail of everything in her world and asks the best questions.
  30. Planning for my husband’s dream concert that we recently got tickets for: two days, Pearl Jam, Wrigley Field. It all makes zero financial sense but when he was losing sleep over wishing so badly it could happen, it all made 100% financial sense. What do we work so hard for? I asked him. Let’s do it.
  31. Tumeric Twirl tea.
  32. Our pets.
  33. Teaching art in my kids’ classrooms.
  34. People who try hard for betterment in this world.
  35. This gift from a friend: an antique cake pan full of dirt and grass seed. The most hopeful thing.
  36. Jeggings from H&M.
  37. All the jumping rope that happens around here.
  38. Learning new things with my kids.

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Me: What makes me happy?*
Ruby: Snuggling with me! And I like snuggling with you!

I have this dear old friend whom I hardly ever see. Even though she lives in town. Even though every time I see her it feels like we are again 22 and the cosmos made extra special room for our relationship.

It’s because our lives veered – just a bit – away from one another. Me: more settled. Her: more wandering. The thing that makes it work so well is that we both deeply love and appreciate each other. We both have a bit of each other in us. She is equally settled and I am equally wandering. Sometimes it feels like a glacier is plowing down the valley between her things and my things, widening the gap. But then we gather and we realize that gutted out ravine symmetrically curves up and into two great expanses. Wide open prairies of adventurous spirit, needful wonder, wistful want.

Me (frustrated, after repeating myself for 20 minutes): Margot. Seriously. Right now it is time for bed.

Margot: I know mom! I just have to real quick ride this blanket like a skateboard down the hall a few times until I’m good at it. Geez!

Me: What was I like as a child?*
Margot: Me!

My friend is two weeks older than me and, last weekend, she planned a celebration for her 38th birthday: Skiing in costume and then a night concert in costume. The theme: Sparkle. Sunday night after I failed to show up skiing, I was in bed with my kids, reading books with a glass of wine. I was tired and noticed it was 8:00. The concert was just starting. I grabbed my phone and looked on Craigslist. I found a few tickets available for sale. I can rally, I thought. Paint your eyelids with glitter, throw on that gold shirt. Buy the ticket.

Me: What is my favorite thing to do?*
Margot: Spend time with me and my sister.

My 17 year old cat Sam started yowling in the middle of the night a few months ago. It kind of crept up on me. Like, I suddenly noticed it was a habit. One night I woke – instantly wide awake – in the middle of the night and heard him differently. He spoke to me, begged me out of bed. I went to him. He told me he is confused. Things are changing. I knew in my bones. Panic, senility is taking hold in the darkness. So, now, every night he calls for me from the living room. I rise and hold him close, bring him back to our bed where he sleeps the purring and dreamless sleep of a spry kitten. My bubbas.

Me: What makes me sad?*
Ruby: When animals die.

Ruby has a double ear infection. The first administration of 1 teaspoon of sugary medicine took every molecule of patience in both my husband and me. It was an hour of clutching a plastic syringe carrying neon pink liquid. Negotiating, raising voices, leaving the room for deep breaths. She drank it. She spit it out. She hates it. And maybe she ought to. As a child of the 80s who was prescribed amoxicillin like orange juice, I am quite thoughtful about big meds. Or maybe she needs to feel her fear and do it anyway. Yes. That. I yelled. Margot got really upset with me for yelling. She asked, “Mama, how would you feel if you were sick and afraid of medicine and your mom yelled at you?” And then Ruby, with giant watery eyes looked at me and said, “I love you mama.” Good grief. I believe I can do better next time.

Me: What is something I’m not good at?*
Margot: I don’t know. Wait…Do you think you’re not good at jumping rope?

She eventually took the medicine. I eventually calmed down and hugged my girl while we talked about life and how it’s hard to do things we don’t want to do. I thought about how parenting is this sometimes graceful/sometimes struggled dance between soft and strong.

As mothers, it is our charge to be the soft place to land and to carry a strong resolve. To soften into feelings and nowness; to be the strong grown up. To have a soft heart and strong guts.

Me: What makes me sad?*
Margot: When we don’t like the dinners you make.

Me: What do I do when you’re not around?*
Ruby: Sew and cook.

The kids ask me all the time if they can brush my hair. They are fascinated at the fact that I didn’t own a brush until I had daughters. One night I said yes and they howled at the frizz bomb.

Margot left the room to do something.

Ruby: Margot told me not to touch the bun. But I can take out the braid right mom? Right? Actually, can I take out the bun? (pause) I can. Because Margot is not the boss of me. She’s just not. (long pause, holding my in-tact bun and not moving). Right mom?

Me: Right baby.

Me: What’s something I always say to you?*
Ruby: I love you.
Margot: I  love you.

* I copied these questions from an interview my friend did with her kids. I sat down with each of my daughters separately and casually asked them a series of questions; these are a selection from the lot.

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watch for the aura

I received an email a little over a month ago. The subject line read:
Being an Artist vs. Being Materialistic.

Hi Nici!
My name is Sarah Brousseau, I’m a fellow creator, writing you from Baltimore, MD.

I read your blog posts often, follow your Instagram feed and earnestly ooggle over your newest creations. Whenever I read your words, hear your stories and view the images you take, I feel an undeniable connection to what you’re sharing. Many times I find that your experiences help me relate to my own! (As a creative myself, this is what I hope to do for others)

So, you may be wondering, why am I telling you all of this? Well, your latest blog post evoked a question that I ask myself often but have never been able to answer. I wonder, as artists who makes physical objects, how do we translate the isolation from materialistic needs and mindsets to our creations? In my darkest moments of creating, I feel almost guilty for making more “stuff”, for playing into the commercialism of art or falling into a business oriented mindset. I was wondering if this something you or your husband have ever questioned? And if so, how have you dealt with it? How, as artists who believe in minimizing materialism, deal with our inherent desire to make more things?

Here’s a link to my artist website and personal blog. I make paintings as well as letterpress prints. One day I hope to run my own printing business making greeting cards, stationary and other fun paper goods.

I look forward to hearing from you!
Warmest Wishes,
– Sarah

One of Sarah’s mixed media pieces.

I loved this email so much. It is thoughtful and thought-provoking. I wrote back:

Hi Sarah!

I love this question. YES, I think about that all the time!

I want my kids to be materialistic. Meaning, I want them to make smart choices, invest in and value the objects in their lives instead of buying the cheap stuff that gets tossed. People think of materialism as a bad thing but I think our culture needs more of it, in a certain sense. We purchase the cheapest leggings/vacuum/art supplies that get a hole/falls apart/breaks and throw them away and buy more. And we are disconnected from the maker/seller of the objects we purchase, creating a thoughtless void where there ought to be a handshake.

I love beautiful things. I love making things. And I love to invest in another’s beautiful, made thing. I hope that when people purchase something from me it is because they value my creation and will use it well, enjoy it for a long time.

I feel the guilt you feel, at times. I think all sensitive artists do. Wondering if what I do is the best use of my time on this planet, for this planet. And if the answer is maybe or no, I use that information to make changes. It keeps it interesting and intentional. And, having my goals be mostly about doing what feels good and right and alive and purposeful forces my work represent those things.

Thanks for your email.

with love,

PhotobucketMe, installing a sculpture at The Brink in 2011. This piece was everything I’d written since becoming a mom. I printed it all out, cut it up, sewed it together and used straight pins to attach to wall in the shape of a tree.

Our emails continued and the exchange came up in conversations with friends. So I asked a few pals how they approach their tree-hugging ideals and their need to make things. They said smart things. I hope you’ll weigh in too!

Paige is a photographer and one of my very best friends since we met in the University of Georgia dorm bathroom in 1996 when I was all angsty and bulimic and dying my hair red. We bonded over being two of the only women not in a sorority (at least it felt that way), art, love of animals, environmentalism and cheap beer. 20 years later, it’s now much deeper than that. The first image is of Paige documenting the second image.

“Yes. Totally. I feel that way… which is why I don’t create “stuff” often. And that is one reason I had trouble in art classes in school, because of the waste of paper, resources, chemicals (paint, turpentine, dark room stuff.)

For me, taking photos of people’s lives feels ok. It feels like a more worthy way for people to spend their money than on expensive jeans made in Malaysia that pollute the environment and hurt the people making them.
The truth is we live in a capitalist society driven by consumerism. If we don’t shop and spend money, we are all out of luck. Teaching people how to consume smarter, better, more thoughtfully… by supporting local artists who are sourcing their materials in thoughtful sustainable ways is the best thing we can do. Bring it home. Bring it local.
We need art and creative people to survive. To feed our souls. If you are making “stuff” you don’t believe in that doesn’t fuel your soul then you are probably contributing to the problem. If you are making art and inspiring community and encouraging people to think about sense of place and their connection to people and the world, then you are helping make the world a better place.”

Bobby is an artist and retired art professor from the University of Montana. Bobby taught art education at the U when I was there and, while I never had a class with her, I was always drawn to her big love. And then, years later, she emailed me and said “we are selling my parents house and this might sound wild but I imagine your family living here.” I told her thanks but that we weren’t looking for a house. Long story short: we now live in that house! And Bobby is my neighbor. My kids have French Toast with her every Friday.

You might recognize this piece! We own it. A  fun story: Andy and I were in art school, no money and loved this piece. We went to a benefit auction and placed a bid of like $50, knowing there was no way we’d get it. We got a call the next day saying we’d won! We panicked, worried our bid was misread but, nope. One of our other professors – MaryAnn Bonjorni paid the difference as a gift.

“Should we (as artists) bring more stuff into the world?

Many objects are brought into this world with the “sole“ intent of making money.

Some objects are made with the “soul” intent of bringing beauty, comfort, joy and dare I say love into the world. Some objects are beautifully birthed into existence to help us think.

How do we spend our life blood? How do we “make it“ in this world?

We make and choose with intent. Watch for the aura…you know when its there.”

My cousin, my sister. Elise is one of the most creative people I know. She works with photography, clay, glass…she turns everything into art. And she teaches art in Bend, Oregon. We have many stories but here is one about the creative process: when we were 6 and 8 years old, we slept over at our grandparents home. We stayed up all night watching the Sound of Music and whispering under blankets with flashlights. Then we had a great idea to get up and make breakfast! We’d surprise everyone! So we got out the flour, eggs, milk, sugar, baking powder. We laughed quietly as we mixed many different concoctions in many different bowls, all to be pancakes. Our grandparents weren’t as thrilled as we’d hoped. I couldn’t get a photo from her of her making art so here is one of us as kids. She made this image into a magnet for me long ago. Another of her glass work.

“I guess for me, the need to create is something I have to do. It’s a need in me and I fulfill it. I honestly don’t feel right when I can’t make art and create something. It’s my therapy,So to speak. My lifeline. We all have things that we need to do to help us live in this world, and for me creating is one of them. It helps me to be a better person. A better me. I can only hope that others find joy in my creations as well. For me giving the gift of art; being a teacher that celebrates art is one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. Sometimes in this crazy world, art is the only thing that makes sense.”

Brad is the artist and genius behind Earlywood. My husband grew up skiing with Brad and I’ve known him since high school. He is dear friend and one of my very favorite people to talk business with; we have handmade/ecommerce pow wows whenever we can. We just had one this last weekend in Red Lodge!

“We (at least here in the US) live in a capitalist society. As a result, supply and demand are always hard at work filling gaps, setting prices, spurring innovation, and creating opportunities for those who pay attention. I know that if I don’t make what I make (wooden utensils in my case) then someone else will. So, the net result is that someone is going to be making what I make. It’s me, or them. With this in mind, my goal is to make the kind of product that is not disposable, but more like an heirloom. I strive to make utensils of quality and designs that will be kept in a person’s kitchen for 50 years, then passed to grandchildren. This is how I see it is possible to create while reducing waste at the same time.”

My beloved partner, lover and co-parenter. Among the many things he is good at, Andy paints contemporary landscapes. He portrays the current state of land — it’s use and evolution and how it interacts with interstates, construction, humans and animals. The top image is Andy at work in his itty studio using his itty paintbrush, the bottom of him in at the Orange Street Food Farm holding a recent article about his work that you ought to read (#proudwife).

“We all place value on certain objects. If a person has a real desire to create something, they should do it. In the very human need to make art – that is enough. If we have good intentions and big desire, we don’t need to think about it so much. We just need to make it. And hopefully share it with others.”


I feel strongly about using natural and recycled materials. Art and craft supplies can be obscenely wasteful. Or, not at all. The last real body of artwork I made and exhibited used dryer lint, eggs and thread clippings. In our home, we forage for seasonal bits or reuse materials from recycling. I get the allure of the craft store. And, you can do so much with what is laying about.

A valentine garland my daughters and I made many years ago. They painted scraps of white and cream fabric. I stuck the fabric to newspaper with fusible interfacing. We cut hearts and machine-stitched the hearts together. I was taking photos of it this morning when I noticed all the cut paper on the floor! See my thoughts on this below. I tell you: my kids are scissor-crazed fanatics with paper.

An equinox mandala art project I taught Margot’s second grade class:

A fall garland made from leaves and cray-pas:

Our holiday candle holder: stick, glue, glitter, drilled holes:

I have also discovered that quality art supplies make all the difference in both joy and endurance. Literally, 100% of the time – when I buy cheap: they expire quickly and fail to produce the consistent marks my kids want. Tips break, watercolors crumble, markers wilt. When I invest, we have these supplies for years instead of months. And the quality is consistent and excellent. Actually, “twice as expensive” ends up being a “less than half the price” in the long run — more enjoyable and lasting. Hmm, ’tis the case most of the time.

I’ve made the mistake of buying one of those “affordable” art kits, wowed by all those supplies neatly organized and at the ready only to discover the paint trays have a skiff of paint, the crayons are so waxy that color can’t get through and the pencil tips snap every other stroke.

I don’t want to call out specific brands that I find unimpressive; instead I will list a few of our favorites (nothing sponsored post here, just what we dig obv. I will of course always be open about that!).

Faber Castell Colour Pencils :: Tips rarely break, vibrant color.

Sakura Cray-Pas. The junior Sakura sticks are great for toddlers who might not take care of supplies — they are cheaper both in price and quality. Once kids develop a love of mark-making with oil pastels, the upgrade to this set is worth every penny.

Stockmar Beeswax Stick Crayons :: We’ve had one set of these crayons for years. Great color, no breaks.

Art Alternatives Pocket Watercolor Set :: Ruby especially loves to paint; this tin is durable and the bold paints last like 10x longer than the cheaper brands.

Prismacolor Scholar Graphite Drawing Pencils :: Have you ever drawn with a 4B pencil? And then a 2H? There’s no going back to the yellow #2.

Pentel Fine Point Color Markers :: These markers are bomb proof! They last and last. Even when the lid is left off for a few hours, they draw like a boss.

Paint Brush Set :: My kids actually use really nice brushes because they get their dad’s handmedowns. Do yourself a favor and skip the crummy, bristly packs sold in the kid art aisle. They are nothing but frustrating and for a bit more money, one can move the paint effortlessly.

I bought Kids Create! Art & Craft Experiences for 3- to 9-Year-Olds at a local book exchange a few years ago and it is a go-to in our home. We especially love all the clay recipes; We used the salt dough recipe to make this LOVE banner that hangs over our bed:

All Year Round: Calendar of Celebrations is another favorite creative book. It is full of stories, recipes and activities that honor the ceremony of season.

Let’s talk paper. I take paper consumption seriously. We don’t use paper towels or paper plates. I don’t buy wrapping paper unless it is exceptionally beautiful and will be reused many times. I only print double-sided and reduce the size. We only use 100% recycled toilet paper (I kinda can’t believe anything else is even legal)…you get it. A challenge in our home is that my kids FLY through paper like little artist maniacs when we make stuff that includes paper. If we simply leave a something that is paper – a bill, a magazine, a list – lying on the counter, Ruby will scoop it up and get all Edward Scissorhands on it.

So, our general approach: use garbage or found objects (paper from recycling bin, cardboard boxes, wood scraps, rocks, pinecones etc) except when my child has a vision and intention to make something on real, nice paper. Then we use real, nice paper and we treasure it. I’m trained as a printmaker and painter so the feel and weight of paper is something I deeply appreciate; lovely paper carries marks in a way that feels like flying. So, every so often, we splurge on great paper and have a holy experience in making something worthy of for-keeps, for us or a loved-one.

Additionally, I’ve found that my girls cherish blank books. The small, bound object is valued and cared for in a way loose paper just isn’t. If you’re a friend of mine, I’ve likely given your children blank books as gifts. And I won’t stop.

I made these adventure journals for our road trip last fall. And, they are now available, customizable, for sale in my shop!

One last thing: art-making doesn’t need to result in a thing, right? Right. It doesn’t need to be finished. It doesn’t need to hang on a wall. Kids get this: they stack sticks, construct fairy lands, build forts, arrange beads, doodle on scraps without any need for it to become something else forever.

So, back to Sarah’s question about the reconciliation of what we add to this world with what we want this world to be for our kids and their kids. I think we know how to do this. I think we know when we make a purchase that is wasteful, use a thing that is selfish in its ease. We understand we are creatures continually trying to make sense of our own contradictions. We know what to do, we just have to listen to and act within that knowledge. And, goodness, we must never ever stop making art.

I like what Bobby said:

“We make and choose with intent. Watch for the aura…you know when its there.”


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let’s get crazier

I looked through my photos to find an image for a friend a few mornings ago and saw all the folders of photos and words I have that I had intended to document or turn into something else in 2015. Abandoned ideas. It sent me into an obnoxious, heady space where I took not of all the things I didn’t finish last year. Yes, I know, not helpful or productive.

I felt a tightness in my shoulders and forehead thinking about all those drafts. On the one hand I am used to it — unfinished ideas, unresolved art, unraveled essays are part of creative life. On the other hand I will never be used to it — always daydreaming on how I might bend time or dust off an unused corner that allows for me to mother the way I want to mother and create the way I want to create.

solstice nightgowns (pattern here)

Ruby, on our October road trip: Hey mama? What if you had 99 arms and you could just always do everything?


I stepped back and reminded myself that if I listen to my intuition and follow my love, then I am where I ought to be. That the “unfinished” things are as they are, perfectly. I went skiing with my family. I bundled my kids, clipped their helmets in place, kissed their freckles, snapped their boots to skis and we flew through a snowghost forest hearing only the whoosh of skis over snow and our hide-and-seek conversation around trees.

Margot, angry, playing Crazy 8s with her sister in the hallway: Ugh. Come ON Ruby. I want to win at least once.
Ruby: I just can’t help it, Margot. I am really, REALLY good at Crazy 8s. It’s all that practice with dada. I’m sorry it upsets you but I just can’t help being so good at Crazy 8s.

Learning Curve.

Andy looked up and said, “Hey babe. Look at the mountains?!”  I do and the northern range is wildly warped. Crystal clear, cloudless blue sky and the peaks looked like pixelated buttes. “So it’s not just me?” he asked. We stared for several minutes, trying to sort out what we saw. We later learned it is some kind of atmospheric phenomenon – alpine fata morgana – involving thermals and bending light that creates a mirage. In this case, erasing the mountain tops and placing giant rocks floating in the sky. A glitch in the matrix.

Playing charades New Years Eve, Ruby crouches behind the tree while petting Mabel. After a good while of our unsuccessful guessing, she is frustrated and shouts the obvious answer. “You guys! Of course I am Santa trying to put presents under the tree and a new puppy is eating my cookies!”


Later the same day, we met up with friends and skied down together. For the third time this season, a glittery burst of light hovered over the mountain. It felt like a prophecy, like 2016’s aura. We all stopped to marvel.

Margot, as she races down the mountain, giggling: You guys! The light pillar is following me! It feels really cool!


Our December was a month of family, friends, celebration, food and snowy activity. And, business-wise, December was thrilling and so full. We had record-breaking sales last year. Thank you so much for your support of out family. My goal was to work so hard until December 17 – the day before Margot’s 8th birthday and then be done for the year. To clear my desk and my sewing table and my mind and just be with my kin. And (with the exception of tying up a few loose ends) that’s what I did! It was very satisfying.

That restorative time fueled ideas and connection and the deepest sleep I’ve had in many months. I realized I am bored with some things, that I want to shake some things up. I really look forward to sharing with you what is to come for dig this chick – personally and professionally – in 2016. My dreams involve you. I want to collaborate more. Do you have ideas for great things we can do together? Email me. I want to hear all about it.

Margot, with her sister as they roll around on the kitchen floor while embracing and cackling: Hey Ruby! Let’s put underwear on our heads, get naked and dance like cats! Let’s get even crazier!
Ruby: But I already feel so crazy!
Margot: Ruby. We can ALWAYS get crazier.


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A few snaps and words from the last several weeks.

:: Our holiday centerpiece: satsumas + beeswax candle

:: The kids had a blast making pomanders for the first time.

:: Lots of sledding.

:: Lots of skiing.

:: Our appreciation for our new, awesome car (c/o University Motors) has deepened with the snowy weather. And, our locally owned-dealership is happy to offer you all a great deal if you are in the market for a Honda and want to support a business full of nice, sincere people with admirable values. Due to some industry rules, I cannot just tell you the deal here but you can email Toby and mention ‘dig this chick’ in the subject line to learn more.

:: The making of a wreath: old whisky barrel ring I found in our shed, foraged greens (spruce, ponderosa and juniper), wire. Almost as cool as the cocksucker. (In a post yesterday I mentioned my stalling out on a few essays lately and an instagram pal suggested I revisit that post and use that word to ignite courage. Thanks @mnmadrecita. Great idea. ♥)

:: We ate the very last of our potatoes and cabbage. Note to self: grow more next summer!

:: Mabel and George high five.

:: A sweet moment I spied of the girls waiting for grandma to arrive.

:: So much pumpkin bread. I make the Downeast Maine recipe with a few tweaks: 1/2 the sugar, fresh grated ginger (instead of dry) and coconut oil (heated until liquid, instead of vegetable oil).

:: Every year, as the holiday cards arrive in our mailbox I feel so thankful for those jolly images. I always wish we’d sent a card; I want to give the same cheer to my loved ones. This year I did it, for the first time in many years. It felt good. And I am sending one to you all too! xo


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