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My Inaugural Women’s Walking Retreat in the Cotswolds

I was beyond giddy when I stepped into Stow-on-the-Wold’s town square. the trip was finally happening. It had been over 3 years since I first envisioned returning to the Cotswolds with a group of women, and over 5 years since I’d been on my first long-distance walking adventure through the English countryside.

view-of-cotswolds-from-stanton-guildhouse

Initially, my Women’s Walking Retreat had been planned for June 2020, but just months before my inaugural trip, Covid-19 turned the world upside-down, and like everyone else, I watched with frustration as my plans and prospects shifted overnight. However, as 2022 approached and travel opportunities began to reopen, my spirits brightened with the hope of another chance to bring a group of women on a weeklong walk through what is known as one of England’s ‘Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty’.

Of the women who had booked spots on my retreat for 2020, only 2 were able to re-book and join me in 2022. They were a mother-daughter duo I knew from British Columbia. The rest of the Canadian contingent was made up of another mother-daughter pair, which included one of my past brides (I was a wedding photographer for the first 7 years of my career), a fellow photographer whose wedding I had also shot, and my friend Yanez who helped me co-lead the trip. The Americans who came included 3 women I knew from my church and homeschool community in the Bay Area, as well as 2 more women I didn’t know, another woman from California and the other from North Carolina. I was excited by the diversity in age and backgrounds. I couldn’t wait to reconnect with old friends, make new ones, and watch fresh introductions result in meaningful bonds. I also felt like I was embarking on something truly extraordinary in my life – the realization of long-awaited dreams coming to fruition.

group-of-women-hiking-cotswolds

One evening, when I was 16 years old, I found myself standing on the banks of a tributary of the Volga River in southern Russia. I was at a Russian summer camp with a non-profit organization, and it was my first experience abroad. As I watched the sun sparkle on the watery horizon, I reflected on how alive I felt. I knew in my heart that I needed to do this for the rest of my life:  ‘this’ being traveling the world and building relationships with people along the way. I was uncertain how to achieve this, but as quickly as I could form the question in my mind, an answer I knew was from God struck a chord deep inside: ‘photography’. The solution resonated with me as one that would satisfy both my practical side and my passionate bent. Over the next 23 years I pursued an educational path and photographic career that allowed me to travel and build relationships just like I’d dreamed of doing. However, each of the endeavours I embarked upon always seemed like stepping stones, training that would lead to something I couldn’t yet imagine.

Sheep-on-cotswolds-hillside

“There were fields to traverse filled with spring lambs, pot pies and pints that warmed us from the inside out after a long day of walking, and soul-stirring renditions of classic hymns sung in tiny churches that had us all in tears at some point or another.

And then this past summer I found myself on the cusp of of an adventure that had me leading a group of women to England on a long-distance walk through what is undoubtedly the most tranquil slice of countryside I’ve ever encountered. Hardly a daring feat to be sure, but as close to being in my wheelhouse as possible. I had found my niche. It was all the things I loved (travel, relationships, beauty, slowing down) combined with the things I was good at (organization, attention to detail, photography).

view-from-inside-cotswolds-church-window

Cotswolds-way-wooden-signpost

As we set out on our first leg of the trip, I was as electrified as I had been that summer evening in Russia, but this time I had decades of hindsight to reflect upon. Everything had lead to this moment and the surge of emotions welling up within was at its peak. I was excited, reflective, and nervous. I was nervous that I would get the group lost (we got turned around a few times), disappoint group members (I’m human, it happened), and things I’d never do again (the manor house some of us visited was so bizarre it won’t be repeated), but I knew that in the end, a first big excursion like this is bound to have its hiccups. Thankfully, everyone was gracious and encouraging, and I was able to learn a LOT about how and what to tweak for future trips. I love learning and growth, and stumbling is, unfortunately, a requirement for progress.

mauve-rose-in-cotswolds-village-with-dew
Cotswold-walker-at-Hailes-Abbey

Wild-roses-cotswolds-field

But overall, the trip was, if I do say so myself, a smashing success. The scenery and weather were unbeatable, the food and drink nourishing and inspirational, and the conversations and connections just as meaningful as I’d prayed for. There were fields to traverse filled with spring lambs, pot pies and pints that warmed us from the inside out after a long day of walking, and soul-stirring renditions of classic hymns sung in tiny churches that had us all in tears at some point or another. I had envisioned a Women’s Walking Retreat that would provide us all with inspiration and restoration as we explored the English countryside together and from what I’ve been told by the women who joined me, our time in the Cotswolds delivered.

Broadway-Tower-Cotswolds

There is SO much more I could say about each and every day of the retreat, and at some point in time, I’m sure I will. However, perhaps the best way to fully understand what my Women’s Walking Retreat through the Cotswolds is all about is to join me in person. If you’d like to learn more about my next Women’s Walking Retreat, click HERE to find out more. I can’t wait to see you in the Cotswolds!

women-hikers-in-Snowshill

Want to read more of my past reflections on the Cotswolds as well as my thoughts on the benefits of walking? Click HERE for more blog posts.

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The Power of the Print

After my Grandpa passed away this past New Year’s Eve, the search began for photos to reminisce over and to use for the funeral. The process reminded me of how, several years ago I needed photos for my maternal grandmother’s funeral, and how frustrating it was to scroll endlessly through photos on files, phones, and social media platforms. I found it a draining process compared to the ease with which I flipped happily through family albums. When confronted with the contrast between searching for photos on a screen versus thumbing through tangible photos, I knew then that I wanted to ensure my most treasured memories would be in print form, not just stored on a device or platform.

But how to begin? Well, over the past few years I’ve developed strategies to help with photo organization and storage based on my years of experience as a wedding photographer. I even created a short course to help others tackle digital clutter. You can check out my Digital Declutter Mini Course HERE.

Today, however, I want to talk about the Power of Prints and why photographs in print have an inherent value. Let’s dive in.

  1. Prints are easy to pass on. If you’ve ever been given a shoebox of old photos passed down from a relative, or have gifted a photobook to a loved one, you know just how simple the process of hand-delivering or shipping photos can be. And the great thing is, no matter how mediums or devices change, a photo in your hands will always be an easy treasure to access. Just imagine 30 years from now, when our current social media platforms and devices are obsolete, and your children or grandchildren want to see photos from your youth or their childhood. Are we really going to expect that we can log in to old accounts or dust off clunky hard drives and find our photos? And even if we could, how mind-numbing  will it be to have to scroll endlessly through thousands of digital files? I realize I paint an abysmal picture, but as we live in an era of digital hoarding, our cherished memories are going to be harder to access than a shoebox or collection of albums stored on a closet shelf. This is why printing off a small collection of photos even a few times a year can be a relatively simple solution. And if you’re wondering about whether to print off books or traditional prints, well, I go into more detail on the pros and cons of each in my Digital Declutter Mini Course.

2. Prints encourage us to practice PRESENCE. When we scroll through our devices, we often impatiently swipe from one photo to the next without much thought or consideration. However, when we sit with a photographic print, we are invited to use more of our senses. We can feel the sharp or bent edges of a print or page, run our fingers over the glossy or matte finish, turn the photo over to see if details have been added in someone’s personal hand, look at the details present in the image, observe the quality or age of the paper, even catch a whiff of the musty box it came from or the chemicals that were used to create the print. When more of our senses are engaged while viewing a photo, the more chances that image has to imprint on our memories and stay etched in our minds’ eye. Photographic prints be they in book form, hung on a wall, organized in an album, or loosely collected in a box are powerful in their ability to help us stop, use our senses, and memorize the details. There is a reverence that comes with looking at prints in person that does not translate to viewing images on screen, and the effects can linger for a lifetime.

3. Prints are the final step in an historic process. For most of the photograph’s history, the print has been an essential part of the process. Only in the past two decades has the photograph been able to skip a step and find its final form on-screen. But prior to this, the print was always a part of the photographic process.

When I think back to my first days in a darkroom in the early 00’s, I recall first taking my wound spool of film into a blackened out room where I would extract the film from its canister and slip it into a protective container. From there, the film would be exposed to a round of chemicals that would help develop the images and then stop the processing. Next they would be extracted and hung to dry. Only then could I cut my negatives, line them up to create a contact sheet, grab my loup with which to peer down at my images in closeup detail, and then mark which ones were acceptable for printing. Tedious work indeed. But that was only the beginning!

At this point, I would then take my selected negatives and slip one into an enlarger in the darkroom. The image would be projected downwards onto whichever type of photo paper I deemed fit for that specific image. Filters would be experimented with and knobs twisted to acquire just the right contrast and focus. When all was ready, I would set the timer and expose a fresh sheet of paper to the light and within seconds, an image I couldn’t even see would be burned onto the photo paper. Another round of adjustments would be made to test different variations. Eventually, the exposed sheets of paper would be slipped into a series of baths where chemicals would slosh over the still blank-looking paper. And finally, voila, an image would appear out of the vapours as if by sheer magic (which it really was!). After extracting the completed images from the final bath, I would lay them flat to dry or hang them in the amber light. Once the drying stage was complete I could take my photo out into the light of day to see whether or not the image was acceptable. More often than not, it was subpar, or another image needed to be chosen, and another round of experiments run through. The combined tedium and magic of it all was intoxicating. I suppose the pungent aroma of chemicals may have had a heady effect as well! But the print, when complete, when as perfected as much as I had patience for, was the zenith. While the photo had been there all along, from the moment I clicked the shutter to the moment the exposed photo paper had been dipped into its first in a line of baths, the print was the photograph finally come into the world. The print came after a long gestation, and there was an awe it carried with its physical manifestation.

By and large, we’ve lost this beauty of anticipation and process in the immediacy of the shoot-and-share era. Of course the new way carries a magic of its own, but when we print our photos, we become a part of an historic process. Sure, the photographic process has evolved, and the steps from image creation to printing may only mildly harken back to an earlier time, but when we create something that we can hold in our hands, even a digital print, we help to complete a full (and fulfilling) process. Holding something in our hands that has been created is a grounding and powerful experience that should not be lost.

I realize that I could easily come across as a dinosaur in my descriptions of the ‘long-lost print’, but I believe that if we imagined a future generation missing out on photos in print, we would mourn the loss of something truly special. Prints are part of a powerful legacy and are easier than ever to print and pass down.

If you want to learn more about getting your photos sorted, stored, and shared easily, click the link HERE for my  Digital Declutter Mini Course.

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3 Easy Ways to Tap Into Your Creativity

One of the most common refrains I hear when I’m chatting with someone about creativity is, “I’m not very artistic”. Sometimes the same sentiment is phrased as, “I’m not really the creative type”. And my response is twofold: 1) You don’t have to be an artist to be creative, and 2) We are all inherently creative, it’s just a matter of discovering what those unique creative gifts are and finding ways to tap into your creativity.

No matter what your beliefs about human origins, we each started out as a created being. As created beings, I believe we are all endowed with the ability to re-create. Whether that’s a tower of blocks or the Sistine Chapel, a batch of cookies or the cure for cancer. Children are naturally uninhibited in their creative expressions which are spurred on by their curious observances about the world around them. But as children get older and become more self-conscious, they begin to compare their creations and often hold back if they feel theirs are inferior. Curiosity, play, and unstructured exploration fade as responsibilities and more formal education take their place.

By the time we are adults, creativity is often viewed as something that those with creative professions use regularly, or a luxury that the rest only enjoy occassionaly as a hobby. Creativity isn’t usually something we’re encouraged to tap into on a daily basis in order to thrive. 

That’s why after becoming a mom, and experiencing creative burnout after a decade of working as a professional in what’s considered a ‘creative’ industry (photography), I became passionate about helping others, women in particular, tap into their creativity. When I realized that I could harness my creative gifts in order to thrive during all seasons and situations that life threw my way, I knew I needed to share my discoveries. And so in 2018 I founded Bringing Inspiration Home as a space to share how we can bring inspiration from the world around us into our lives and utilize that inspiration as a springboard for our creative exploration and expression.

But why is tapping into our creativity so important and how can we do that without overhauling our entire lives or putting more pressure on ourselves? I’m going to share a few of the reasons why I believe tapping into creativity is so vital and how we can do that by using just a few very accessible resources.

Why Tapping Into Our Creativity Matters

  1. When we tap into our creativity on a regular basis, we begin to gain a deeper understanding of our true passions and unique giftings. When we become clear and confident in those areas, we are more likely to use our abilities and share our gifts in areas that bring both us, and others, life. And when we are using our gifts and abilities with passion and purpose, we also become more adept at saying ‘no’ to requests or opportunities that drain us. That’s not to say we never pitch in where needed because we’re asked, or roll up our sleeves to to do something that’s not in our wheelhouse. Of course there are times when stepping in to serve is required of us, and that’s both good for us and those we are coming alongside. But if we are routinely out of step with our giftings and creative abilities, then we will always be saying ‘yes’ to things that don’t enable us to thrive. When we tap into our creativity on a regular basis, we help ourselves discover what makes us tick and that helps us to live abundantly.

2. When we tap into creativity, and know our true passions and giftings, we create in such a way that we produce our very best with more ease and impact than we do when we work without that awareness. That doesn’t mean our efforts are easy or come without struggle, but when we connect with our deepest creative longings and hone the abilities that help us thrive, we stand a strong chance of inspiring, encouraging, and helping others with our creative expressions.

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”    Maya Angelou

3. When we tap into our creativity on a regular basis, we shift our mindset from focusing on what is beyond our control to what we can create, solve, innovate, and enhance. This mindset shift helps us to thrive when seasons and situations threaten to overwhelm us, because we become focused on a positive outcome instead of becoming mired in the ‘what-ifs’. I come from a strong line of worriers, and believe me, almost nothing I’ve ever worried about has been solved through worrying. Also, most of the things I’ve worried about have never transpired, which means I’ve wasted valuable time that could have been spent creating beauty, inspiration, and solutions!

4. Tapping into our creativity is just one way that helps us to intentionally process our experiences and emotions. Tapping into creativity is a vehicle that can help us pull up out of a season of survival and return to a season of thriving.

If all or any of these reasons for tapping into creativity resonate with you, then let’s talk about 3 ways to do that on a consistent basis. 

  1. Walking | Observing | Gathering

When we walk, we can’t do much else with our bodies. The action allows our minds to wander or focus, but we can’t really do much when our arms and legs are preoccupied with the present activity. And studies have shown that walking, whether indoors or outdoors, stimulates more creative, organic thought both while walking AND afterwards, than for those who have remained sedentary while trying to innovate. Walking and talking or walking and thinking have been a dynamite duo for millennia. From Jesus to Steve Jobs, walking has been a tremendous vehicle through which contemplation, restoration, exploration, and innovation have impacted society. And most of us can do it. In fact, most of us walk every day. But while we don’t usually walk with the kind of intention that can help us harness our creativity, it’s not difficult to start. Personally, I find that observation is a skill I can practice easily while on foot, whether I’m meandering through my garden or hiking the hills near home. I pay attention to the light, the sounds, the smells, the views overhead and the details underfoot. I look for differences that have occurred as the seasons shifts and make comparisons. And then I gather. I gather information and inspiration via iPhone photos. I gather physical items found on the path or clipped from a dead branch. I bring these things home to share with my family, use in decoration, or just to observe more closely. If you’d rather not bring anything into your home, just touch the things you see (the ones that won’t have a nasty side affect of course) and experience the feel of a fallen acorn or a fern as its leaves curl with the dryness of summer. Through walking, observing, and gathering, you awaken your senses and tap into your creativity.

2) Reading | Observing | Gathering

Almost all of us read every day. Granted we might do that more on a device than with something tangible on our hands, but reading at its most basic level is a form of tapping into creativity that is achievable for most of us. While I tend to listen to plenty of audiobooks and do my fair share of scrolling, there is truly nothing like the sensory experience of picking up a tangible book, magazine, or newspaper. Reading is also one of those experiences that you won’t regret, like a walk. I’ve never regretted any time I’ve spent walking or reading, whereas I have regretted time spent scrolling.

If reading feels daunting, I’d recommend starting with a magazine as they take little commitment and are filled with visual inspiration. Books that you can crack open and start almost anywhere, like a book of poetry, letters, essays (travel and food essays are my favourite) also offer easy entry. Coffee table books are also usually lighter fare that offer ideas on anything from gardening to home design to travel and beyond. Reading, like walking, is one of those things that builds momentum once you hit on an author or genre you enjoy. And as you read, you can enter more deeply into the experience by observing lines or sections that inspire, irritate, or challenge you. Consider which aspects of the book spark interest. Is is the content or are you also drawn to the feel of the book, the font, the art on the book jacket, or the bio on the inside flap. What about the weight of the book do you like or do you find cumbersome? These are all observations that will help awaken your creativity. And then take the time to gather. Highlight sections or dog-ear pages (of books you own) that really impact you. Underline words that you want to look up. Gather vocabulary you’d like to integrate into your own lexicon. Journal about or re-write passages that have made an impact on you. And then look for more books that draw you deeper into the subject, or are written by the same author, or that expand your knowledge of a certain genre.

3) Resting | Observing | Gathering

Resting is something we all do, but not always well. We sleep, but we don’t exactly tend to rest well in our society. We go on vacation, we nap here and there, we lounge around the house on a Saturday morning. But when we rest with more intention, we can also activate and tap into our creative zone.

Now for some, resting might look like meditation—a quiet room, recitation of Scripture, prayer, or affirmations. But for others it might look like pruning in a garden or beachcombing by the ocean, or exploring a city street. It might mean sitting on the couch reading books to your children, or relaxing on the porch after a long day with a glass of wine. Resting revolves around minimal activity so that your body and mind can relax and so that you can process your situation or relieve yourself of stress. If you were to rest on a regular basis in order to tap into your creativity, what might that look like? Consider where you would be and who might be with you. What time of day is most restful for you? Are food and drink involved? How long would this time last?

One thing I recommend inserting into your vision of rest is the limiting of devices. Silent, but even better, stowed away, will enable you to experience a more full and present rest. While you’re resting, take time to observe your surroundings and the people you’re with. Take note of your breathing and of how your senses are being stimulated. Let go of negative thoughts and mindsets and invite truth and positivity into your mental space. To go even deeper, gather your thoughts and observations by journaling. If that feels too difficult to tackle, jot down the things that you’re grateful for, even just the things and people that are surrounding you in this place of rest. If your moments of rest are short, make them sweet. Make sure to have your coziest spot and most relaxing drink easily accessible so you can enjoy them even when a sliver of time transpires. Can you keep a lap blanket and slippers in a drawer at work with a thermos of tea nearby for a short break? Do you have a notebook and pen next to your favourite chair in the backyard with a bottle of kombucha chilled for when the kids are down for a nap? Intentional rest that restores and invites creativity might require a little prep…just like a walk or a good read.

If you can practice some or all of these very simplistic yet intentional activities on a regular basis, I can guarantee you’ll clear your mental space and open up a floodgate of creativity. The wellspring is there within all of us, it just needs a little nudge in order to release the flow.

If you’d like to learn more about how to harness your creativity and integrate it into your daily life, my Creative Catalyst is a 12-week coaching experience that walks you through tapping into your creativity and harnessing it in order to find forms of expression that fit your lifestyle and fulfill your purpose. I use a combination of short weekly audio teaching and weekly coaching calls to help tap into your creativity and nurture creative rhythms that help you thrive, as well as help you take seedlings of ideas and bring them to fruition. Click the link HERE to find out more. Doors open only a few times per year.

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The Creative Benefits of Walking

In 2017, I took an 8-day walk through the English countryside, traveling from one village to another, walking from approximately 9am until 3pm each day, with short stops and a lunch break in between. I had a walking partner, but often we would be spaced out enough to experience a sense of solitude which allowed my mind to wander. I spent time observing my surroundings, from the intricacies of dry stone walls surrounding local farms, to delicate crimson poppies fluttering in the breeze, to an earthworm wending its way up from the wet, dark soil. I realized that in my daily life back home, I moved too quickly to appreciate the small details and nuances surrounding me.

While walking for hours each day, I found I had time to pray and meditate. Not just ‘help me’ pleas or ‘thank you’ prayers, but prayers in which I spent more time listening to God than talking at Him! I let myself dream for the future, reflect on the past, and be present in the moment. Walking kept me moving without the distractions of a screen or a to-do list, without the interruptions of tasks or toddlers. I brainstormed and problem-solved both projects I was working on back home and how to get from one village to the next that very day. By the end of each day I felt like my mind had reached new critical and creative heights. And when I returned back home to California, the flood of ideas didn’t just slow to a trickle, they continued to flow! For months my creative output surged, which I believe was due to my long-distance walk. Bringing Inspiration Home was one of the direct results of that walking trip, which compelled me to invite other women to join me on a similar experience — a Women’s Walking Retreat through the English countryside that had to be postponed in 2020 and is set for 2022.

Since my return from walking through the Cotswolds in 2017, I’ve delved into the art and science of walking, along with its benefits, specifically regarding creative output. It’s become a subject of deep fascination for me, and I’m passionate about exploring its nuances.

For many of us walking comes without much thought. We get up and go, using our bodies to propel us into the day ahead. Throughout our lives, we are reminded how beneficial walking is for our bodies and our health, but how often are we encouraged to walk because the very act will enhance our creative output? It’s a fascinating idea, with the direct benefits being scientifically legitimate and the historic examples undeniable.

From Jesus Christ to Jane Austen, history is filled with men and women who used walking as a catalyst for teaching, reflection, innovation, and creative expression. The ancient Greeks such as Aristotle and Socrates viewed walking and thinking as inextricably linked. Beethoven took long afternoon walks, pencil and paper in hand, ready for inspiration to strike. Virginia Woolf read her book drafts aloud during daily walks. Jane Austen developed a fantastic repertoire of female walkers and gave us a detailed glimpse into her surroundings as a result of her own long walks with her sister Cassandra. Steve Jobs was known for his Silicon Valley walking meetings that spurred on innovation and productivity. Jesus of Nazareth imparted wisdom upon his disciples in the wilderness and sought solace there as well. The art and act of walking, has a long and noble heritage that we can tap into and benefit from thanks to the inspiration of those who came before us.

“I realized that the decision-making process is something that has to be cultivated and protected when life gets busy or circumstances feel overwhelming.

But what about the science to support the historic evidence that walking impacts our creative thought? One of the more interesting studies done on the relationship between walking and creativity was a 2014 study done at Stanford University by Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz. They tested a group of 176 participants to see how walking (both indoors and outdoors) had an impact on creative, original thought, compared to the act of sitting still and attempting to generate new ideas. In the experiments, those who walked while brainstorming ideas created twice the amount of novel uses for a specific item than those who sat still and did the same thing. Interestingly enough, those who walked first and then sat down to work, still generated a higher number of fresh ideas than those who sat for both experiments. The act of walking had a residual effect on the creative mental process! And get this, the number of creative ideas was not limited by walking on a treadmill in a windowless room. It was the sheer act of walking (not necessarily the environment) that helped stimulate creative, original thought.

One important thing to note is that the 2014 Stanford study also included a group who were pushed in wheelchairs outdoors. This group experienced more creative thought and novel approaches than the group who sat indoors for the experiments, but less than the group who used a treadmill indoors. The study allowed that further experimentation should be done to test a group who is pushing themselves in wheelchairs, since the activity may have an even more  beneficial impact on their creative output.

In spring of 2020 when my gym shut down due to Covid-19, I began hiking two to three mornings a week with one friend at a time. Sometimes we started while it was still dark, and many times we had the pleasure of watching the sun rise over the hills of San Francisco’s East Bay. The hills turned from green to gold and back again over the course of the year. The hikes gave me a sense of stability in an uncertain season, and they gave me a chance to work out ideas or troubles with a friend. We brainstormed, vented, connected, and prayed. I captured the beauty on camera and felt my creative engines rev to life even when my daily routine felt more static than ever. Walking became my Covid sanity-saver and I’m forever grateful for this new rhythm that’s been integrated into my lifestyle here at home.

Walking to boost creative output can take many forms. My husband is a notorious pacer and often just paces around our backyard when working from home. He’s taken walking breaks at university and at work since long before we met, and I can tell they always have an impact on his work. Whether you make laps around your living room, pace up and down the sidewalk, weave through city streets, or take leisurely strolls through the countryside, the act of walking has a direct impact on your creative thought process. Even 15 minutes on a treadmill can make a difference!

Whether you’ve got an issue to work out, a problem to solve, or plans to make, taking a walk might just be the key to cracking the code and gaining progress. It certainly is one of the easiest, cheapest, and beneficial ways to stimulate our creative output!

If you’d like to walk with me on my Women’s Walking Retreat through the Cotswolds, click HERE for a full itinerary and details. You can also read more about how I found inspiration and restoration in the Cotswolds HERE.

I am passionate about coming alongside others to inspire them in their creative journey. With 15 years’ experience as a creative entrepreneur, I have been able to cultivate a strong repertoire of strategies to boost creative output and help others tap into their creativity. If you would like to have me speak either in person or online at your upcoming conference, workshop, or retreat, please email Jaime Fenwick at hello@bringinginspirationhome.com .

Can’t travel right now? Join my 12-week Creative Coaching Experience to help you tap into your creativity without going anywhere! Click HERE to learn more.

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5 Ways to Combat Decision Fatigue

If you find yourself struggling to figure out what to eat, how to structure your day, or what to wear, you are not alone. Our brains have a limited capacity for decision making, which is why each and every one of us feel like our brains have turned to mush when we are maxed out on making choices. This effect is called Decision Fatigue, and because our brains have a limited store of mental energy to use for making decisions, we are all susceptible to the overwhelm that comes when faced with too many decisions to make.

That’s how decision-making can feel when experiencing a normal amount of fatigue. Toss in a pandemic and the need to make more decisions than ever can leave one feeling like a hollowed out version of themselves. That’s what I felt like in 2020!

During the first few months of the pandemic, I often felt like making decisions about Covid-related issues seemed both critical and futile. As though each choice I faced could have serious consequences no matter which point of view I leaned towards, which meant I couldn’t win. My opinion could be swayed throughout the course of a day, hour, or even conversation. Sometimes I felt totally paralyzed about what to do and would default to not making a decision at all. Or I would change my mind after making decisions that I had been completely committed to. Finally last fall after another major decision we changed our minds about (as variables shifted for the umpteenth time), I resolved that I would stop telling people about my decisions until it was absolutely necessary. That way if I changed my mind, I wouldn’t feel like the flake I worried I was becoming.

Throughout my life, I’ve always been a strong decision maker. I tend to know exactly what I want and where I’m headed, which helps me make small decisions quickly and large decisions with confidence. I’m rarely indifferent. But over the past few years leading up to the pandemic, I realized that the decision-making process is something that has to be cultivated and protected when life gets busy or circumstances feel overwhelming. It took me a while to get my decision-making sea legs during the pandemic, but eventually, I regained my footing and was able to ride the waves with more confidence and clarity. More on how I achieved that in a minute.

My first real experience with decision fatigue came with motherhood. It seemed that there were infinite choices to make regarding pregnancy, birth plans, nursing, and recovery. Not to mention choosing a name for one’s child or the inundating amount of options one is faced with when picking out everything from a carseat to a brand of diapers. Throw in lack of sleep and a roller coaster of hormones and ta-DAH, you officially have been diagnosed with ‘mom brain’, a perpetual fog that doesn’t seem to lift unless you can retain a sliver of mental energy reserved for something other than keeping a tiny human alive.

As each baby grew and more were added to the mix, the list of things to make decisions about became exhaustive. Work, domestic responsibilities, health, education, child-care, travel, finances, spiritual growth, hobbies & interests, and relationships all came with their own set of ever-evolving decisions to make. Keeping up seemed impossible. That’s where strategy and structure made all the difference in helping me regain sanity and utilize my mental energy in a way that felt life-giving, not soul-sucking.

When the pandemic hit, it took me about six months to recover from the initial overwhelm we faced after a 2.5 month lockdown and then the realization that fall and winter were going to come with another set of uncertainties and struggles. I knew that in order to thrive and not just cope, I had to lean on structures and strategies that had helped me overcome overwhelm in the past. When implemented, these structures helped minimize the amount of decisions I was required to make and gave me mental space and energy that would enable me to thrive.

Here are 5 of the things I do on a regular basis to keep decision fatigue at bay so that I can thrive even during times of uncertainty or overwhelm.

“I realized that the decision-making process is something that has to be cultivated and protected when life gets busy or circumstances feel overwhelming.

1) Meal Plan

I plan dinners a week in advance based on my schedule. Busy days require easy-to-prep options or a big enough meal made the day before that can feed us the following day. I don’t like to cook and clean up the kitchen on Sundays, so I meal-plan to accommodate that preference. I don’t have time to come up with new lunch ideas every day, so my kids get an assortment of cheese, crackers, veggies, dip, fruit, pickles & olives. Breakfasts are planned out the night before based on the standard favourites and ingredients we always have on stock: oats, eggs, bread, fruit, yogurt. I keep things interesting by working with seasonal ingredients and dishes. I roast a chicken every week to use in several meals and make rice or potatoes in large quantities so that I can focus on integrating fresh vegetables on a daily basis. If meal-planning is daunting, start with planning for your busiest, most stressful day or time of day. Also choose a day and time to plan when you are rested and haven’t made a bajillion decisions already. Traditionally I use the drive to church on Sunday morning to plan. Will drives and I tune the kids out for ten minutes to order to plan our menu and make the grocery list.

2) Exercise

I don’t enjoy exercise for the sake of it. I like the results, I know it’s important, but I’m not naturally inclined to work out. The only way I’ll do it is if I plan it into my schedule. Hiking with a friend a couple mornings a week means I’m not thinking so much about the workout because we’re chatting along the way. It’s also harder to flake out on than a solo workout. Having my workout clothes and weighted backpack ready the night before makes it easier to get ready when it’s still dark outside. At-home video workouts are only interesting to me if I have something else captivating to listen to or watch, so I usually put my workout videos on mute. Whatever I gotta do to keep myself taking care of my body is a good thing! If you’re struggling to find a time to exercise my recommendation is to keep the barrier to entry LOW and the activity LIKEABLE. If it’s too tough or uninteresting or complicated, you won’t be able to maintain the habit.

3) What to Wear

This is similar to meal planning for me. I have specific outfits I like for busy days or specific activities (working out for instance) and they are my go-to outfits that I don’t even have to think about. I enjoy putting together outfits but don’t often have the time, so at the beginning of every season, I go through my wardrobe and pack up what I know I won’t be wearing for the next few months, then try on everything that’s left. If I love it, I keep it and I put together a bunch of outfit combos that I know I’ll wear over the next while. I do this when I’m rested and the house is quiet…a Saturday morning when Will has taken the kids for a walk for instance. That way I’m taking advantage of mental space and energy in order to create the outfits I like, that way when I’m busy or tired, I know what to pick out because the creative process of decision-making has already been done.

4) Scheduling

This can be hugely overwhelming, but whenever I look at my monthly, weekly, or daily schedule I start with blocking out my calendar based on when we need/want rest. I want our lives to revolve around knowing how much sleep and unplanned time we need in order to thrive. Everything else has to fit around the margin we protect and plan for. Then I block in work and school. I try to ensure there is a buffer before and after each activity in order to keep stress to a minimum if things don’t go as planned…because something ALWAYS comes up! A dirty diaper, a spill, a forgotten item, a detour, a longer visit. At that point in my scheduling, I can make decisions about which events and extracurriculars we realistically have time for. This is where I usually have to make uncomfortable and regrettable cuts, but there is never enough time in the day for all the things, and if we don’t prioritize, we’ll wind up looking back with bigger regrets than whether or not we did all the things and went to all the parties and park dates. Like all other strategizing, aim to do your planning when it’s quiet and when you’re fresh. Like on a Sunday or Monday as opposed to on a Friday at the end of a long week. Sit in the grocery store parking lot for an extra 20 minutes (before you go in) blocking out your month. Wake up an extra half hour early on the first day of the month so you can plan in peace before the rest of the household is clamouring for you!

5) Gifts

When we got married and I realized I was going to be responsible for two sets of gifts because gifting was NOT Will’s strength (totally fine, he does all the numbers, so I’m perfectly happy with the trade-off!), I was overwhelmed. I became even more overwhelmed when we had kids and I had to provide gift ideas for numerous family members. Gifting became a burden instead of a blessing which meant I needed to strategies and and a plan to implement them. Now I keep an ongoing list on my iPhone with ideas that come to mind, as well as a list of everyone we typically do gifts for at Christmas, along with the pre-determined budget we’ve set aside for each person. That means I have an easy resource to reference when I need it, which helps to eliminate the stress or need to come up with a creative gift idea on the fly. I also keep a small assortment of small gifts to give friends or neighbours when they host an event or need a lift. Bud vases, candles, and my favourite Trader Joe’s treats are usually on hand along with a stash of blank cards, ribbon, and small gift bags for quick packaging and delivery. I also keep a list of ideas for the kids on my iPhone as well as a few private Amazon wishlists that help me keep track of ideas. Creating a space to collect gift ideas, a list of people you typically gift to, a pre-determined budget (that can flex but helps you gift within your means) and a small cache of quick gifts to go can really help keep the stress of gift-giving at bay and ensure it remains a blessing for all.

If you want further detailed suggestions for combating decision fatigue, please email me (Jaime Fenwick) at hello@bringinginspirationhome.com to determine the best way to help you strategize and implement techniques that will lead to more thriving and less surviving.

I am passionate about coming alongside others to inspire them in their creative journey. With 15 years’ experience as a creative entrepreneur, I have been able to cultivate a strong repertoire of strategies to boost creative output and help others tap into their creativity. If you would like to have me speak either in person or online at your upcoming conference, workshop, or retreat, please email Jaime Fenwick at hello@bringinginspirationhome.com .

Want 5 simple suggestions for boosting creativity at home? Click HERE!

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On Wrestling with Creativity & Contentment

©KristenWoodPhotography
Maternity Photos with Lauren by Kristen Wood Photography

Back in 2013, some months into my life as a new mom, I realized that my magazine subscriptions to Vogue and National Geographic Traveler were fuelling a festering discontentment that was encroaching on my joy and creativity in the early days as a first-time mother.

Prior to my first pregnancy, I was obsessed with how much travel I could pack into a calendar year and thrived on back-to-back trips, travel logistics, and photography opportunities that took me from Sonoma to Siberia. I was weirdly preoccupied with tallying up my frequent flier miles and plotting their eventual uses.

But a of couple months before Lauren was born, Will encouraged me to find another hobby, one that I could do from home. I was stumped. In my 20’s my passion for photography lead me to art school, which resulted in my career as a professional photographer. From the age of 16 during my first overseas adventure, until the age of 31 shortly after Lauren was born, I immersed myself in all things photography & travel related. To be completely honest, I didn’t really have any hobbies I could do at home, besides research and plan for future trips.

I settled on dabbling in watercolours and calligraphy as I’d done a little of both in the past. I whipped up a simple sign that announced, ‘Homebirth in Progress’ and politely requested we not be disturbed. I think we taped that sign to our front door during all three of my deliveries and I treasure it now with sweet nostalgia.

Initially, I figured this little hobby would be short-lived, as travel was likely to pick back up following the birth of our child. After all, our families lived thousands of miles away and I had no intentions of letting my career vanish into an abyss of dirty diapers and sleepless nights. Essentially, I assumed that in no time at all, I would bounce back with a baby slung across one side of my body and a camera on the other.

But I had pushed myself too hard and too far during my pregnancy. During my first trimester I was relearning to walk after being thrown from a camel in the Jordanian desert and fracturing my pelvis a few months earlier. This was followed by two big trips, one in my second trimester as the photographer for a destination wedding in South America and another during my third trimester as a bridesmaid for my sister’s wedding in Canada. These lead to signs of premature labour and my midwives putting me on strict bedrest for a time.

And yet I still assumed I would have an optimal birthing experience (which I did),  nurse like a champ the way my mom had (not so much), and come out the other side a battle-tested mother of one, globe-trotting again with a baby to boot (lol). No other hobbies necessary. Creativity and career in tact.

Eight years later I write this and laugh at my naiveté.

“When life circumstances force us to adapt our creative outlets, they often become the first things to be sacrificed on the altar of our to-do lists.”

Jaime Fenwick in Jerusalem
Backpacking through the Middle East in 2012.

Turns out, breastfeeding was an all-consuming beast for me to tackle and made travel extremely difficult. I couldn’t nurse well in public because I struggled to let down any of the meagre milk supply I could muster. My midwives who’d seen it all told me that while most women struggle a bit at one stage or another with breastfeeding, very few struggled to the extent I did. And yet, we attempted travel during the newborn stage. 

Our pediatrician, who shared my enthusiasm for far-flung adventures grimaced when we shared our plans for schlepping our newborn to Mississippi for American Thanksgiving and two different provinces in Canada over the Christmas holidays. Lauren was the first great-grandchild on my side and the first grandchild in both our families and we were eager to introduce her to everyone.

While I do have fond memories and photographs of those trips, the struggles we faced vastly shifted my perspective on traveling with little ones. Specifically the one in which Will and I both wound up with bronchitis on the last leg of our journey, rescheduled our return flights incorrectly (my doing), found a flight to Las Vegas, rented a car at midnight, and drove through the dark to a little motel in the Mojave Desert where we slept for for a bit, before finally finishing the final eight hour drive home, sick and exhausted.  Through it all, Lauren was a total travel champ. We, however, swore off holiday flights from then until our last child was out of diapers, and have faithfully stuck to that vow ever since.

But wouldn’t you know, I continued to obsess over travel opportunities. To the point where it became unhealthy. Will and I fought over how to make travel work, I took on photography jobs that made breastfeeding a nightmare, and of course I poured over any and all books, magazines, and websites that spurred on my travel dreams. When my monthly issue of National Geographic Traveler would arrive, I would go down the rabbit-hole of wishing and hoping and land in a puddle of discontentment. The same thing happened whenever my issue of Vogue arrived…the content was so glamorous and pulled together that I found myself flipping the pages feeling jealous and resentful.

“I realized that stewing in a pot of discontentment, comparison, and resentment was not only going to make my life miserable, it was stifling one of the things that could help me thrive in this new stage of my life: my creativity.”  

This pattern continued for a while before I realized that stewing in a pot of discontentment, comparison, and resentment was not only going to make my life miserable, it was stifling one of the things that could help me thrive in this new stage of life: my creativity.

It was then that I realized that my creativity was something I had to defend and cultivate with more intention than I had ever done. Creativity is a gift we are all endowed with, but more often than not when life gets hard or circumstances change, our creative outlets get pushed to the back-burner. When life forces us to adapt our creative outlets, they often become the first things to be sacrificed on the altar of our to-do lists. 

But tapping into our creativity is essential to the art of thriving. Sure, it may not be what we have to prioritize in a survival situation, but if we neglect creative outlets or the exploration of our creativity on a regular basis, we make a way for discontentment to creep in, and with it, a host of other nasty neighbours like resentment, irritability, and comparison which are bound to take up residency in the space that creativity could have occupied. When we allow creativity to take its rightful place in our lives, it spills over and carves out room for healing, joy, and gratitude to settle in.

Kristen Wood Photography
Kristen Wood Photography
Del-Valle-Hike-with-Baby
Hiking at Del Valle with Lauren

When all of this dawned on me, I canceled my subscriptions to Vogue and National Geographic Traveler with some sadness and regret, because it felt like giving up my dreams in a small way. Not forever, but for a time. And so I searched for other magazines that might inspire the current lifestyle I was immersed in. Home, garden, and cooking magazines became my inspiration (this was before social media or Pinterest  had the kind of presence it has today). The two current subscriptions I receive are Martha Stewart Living and Magnolia. In addition to content, I’m pretty picky about the quality of photos, paper, font, etc., (this is an art school geek talking here) but those two magazines really stand out in those departments along with subject matter that resonates with me.

Or course there are other ways I tap into my creativity, but I have found that what I’m reading, watching, or listening to, is often the first and perhaps easiest thing to begin cultivating in order to inspire my creativity. The things we surround ourselves with can either inspire us or make us feel worse about lives or ourselves. The same goes with people.

Left to Right: Lauren’s Winnipeg Winter, Lauren’s Post-Bath Curls, Nursery Photo by Kristen Wood Photography

If you’re stuck in a rut of discouragement, comparison, or bitterness, I highly encourage switching out some of what you consume for something that elevates and uplifts. It doesn’t mean that what you’re partaking of is bad, it just might not be right for the season you’re in.

Here are a few questions to prompt your search for healthy sources of inspiration to fuel your creativity:

  • Does what I’m reading, viewing, or listening to make me feel light-hearted, inspired, or motivated?
  • While I’m reading, viewing, or listening to this do I get a nagging feeling that it’s not healthy for me?
  • Are there other interests that I haven’t spent time exploring that could be inspired by books, magazines, music, movies, shows, podcasts, or social media feeds?
  • Do I find myself swept up into a comparison game when reading, viewing, or listening to this?
  • Do I feel guilty for things I purchase after I read, view, or listen to this type of content?
  • Do I find myself creating new things or adapting old ideas after I read, view, or listen to this content?
Kristen Wood Photography
Kristen Wood Photography

“Tapping into our creativity is essential to the art of thriving…when we allow creativity to take its rightful place…it carves out room for healing, joy, and gratitude to settle in.”  

I am passionate about coming alongside others to inspire them in their creative journey. With 15 years’ experience as a creative entrepreneur, I have been able to cultivate a strong repertoire of strategies to boost creative output and help others tap into their creativity. If you would like to have me speak either in person or online at your upcoming conference, workshop, or retreat, please email Jaime Fenwick at hello@bringinginspirationhome.com . 

Jaime Lauren Photography
Lauren napping on me at about 6 weeks old while I photographed the olive harvest at Olivina, our local olive oil producer here in Livermore.

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Helpful Tips for Decreasing Digital Dependence

Having had a completely analog childhood (rotary telephones…with cords, film cameras, boom boxes, overhead projectors), I feel pretty protective of my kids’ childhood and ensuring they know how to do things without relying on a device or an app. 

Actually, it’s not just my kids. Personally, I started getting pretty annoyed at how often I was having to find my phone in order to tell the time because I’d stopped wearing a watch at some point. So when Will bought me a watch for our 10th anniversary in 2019, I was delighted and felt like I was some strange blend of old-fashioned, classic, and old-school all at once.

I feel something similar when I reference a paper wall calendar, write a thank you note in cursive, or slip a record onto my newly acquired turntable. A little nostalgia, a dash of reverence, and if I’m being honest, a hint of smugness….because I had the privilege of growing up analog. I’m totally dating myself here, but I had the privilege of growing up in a material world where this material girl was rocking fluorescent from head to toe, a naturally-curly side pony, and a walkman built so well my kids are still using it to this day. They really DON’T make them like that anymore. Believe me, I’ve tried ordering walkmans off Amazon and they break if you so much as look at them. I’d recommend finding a thrifted one if you’re after 90’s walkman.

All that to say, if you are tired of being so device dependent and want to outfit your home and life with some stone-age tech, here are the things we’ve integrated into our home so we can kick it old-school and gift our children with a simpler childhood.

“Technology can also be the biggest party pooper of our lives. It interrupts our own story…”    — Steven Spielberg

Jaime Lauren Photography

“Keep notepads and pens around the house so that when something comes to mind, you aren’t instantly looking for your phone to do a search, make a call, or open an app…Tackle your tasks when you have time to do them efficiently.”

Jaime Lauren Photography
Jaime Lauren Photography

Jaime Lauren Photography

MUSIC

  • Buy a walkman for your kids or dig out an old one and then hit up friends and family for old cassette tapes. You could use a discman too, but they’re probably better for older kids and not littles who tend to drop things! My kids have loved my old walkman because it’s about the size and colour of a digital device (but obviously a lot chunkier, because, um it’s from the 90’s!
  • Purchase a record player and go on the hunt for vintage records. I’ve been wanting one for years and finally bought one during the pandemic. I wanted music to be a more tangible experience again…not just a digital one with a never ending playlist (don’t get me wrong, I love it, just not all the time). My kids were fascinated by the spinning disc and the needle and the short play time!
  • Get a CD player and set it up for you or your kids outside/at quiet time and dig up your old cds. Hours of entertainment with nary a screen in sight.
  • Bring real instruments into your home. The piano and the banjo are used all the time in our house even though Will and I didn’t necessarily grow up as musicians. But we’re enjoying them now and it sets a great example for our kids. I’m seeing ukuleles and harmonicas in my kids’ near futures!

Jaime Lauren Photography

TIME

  • Purchase a real alarm clock and use that instead of your phone. Will and I each have an analog alarm clock that does nothing but tell time, wake us up, and let us hit snooze.
  • Buy a kitchen timer and use that instead of telling Siri how long to set the timer for.
  • Use an hourglass to time kids’ clean-up, music practice, or attempts to get out the door on time. This is great for kids who can’t tell time yet.
  • Hang real clocks in your house. I’m on the hunt for two…one with numbers all the way around so my kids can learn and one with Roman Numerals, also for my kids’ benefit.
  • Wear a (non-Apple) watch again! It’s so refreshing to not have to look at a phone for the time. Also as a photographer, this is my opportunity to stand on a soapbox and say that Apple phones look so tacky in professional portraits. If you’re getting them done, take it off and put it in your purse or bag (NOT your pocket) and either wear no timepiece at all, or swap it out for something timeless or trendy, just not a screen on your wrist.
Jaime Lauren Photography
Jaime Lauren Photography

SCHEDULES & TO-DO LISTS

  • Put calendars around your house…ones to write on, ones to reference, or both.
  • Use a dedicated address book for contact info and (if it has this option) a section at the back for important dates. Update every year when new Christmas cards come in the mail.
  • Keep notepads and pens around the house so that when something comes to mind, you aren’t instantly looking for your phone to do a search, make a call, or open an app. Compile your notes and tackle your tasks when you have time to do them efficiently…as in all in one swoop without being interrupted. Batching your to-dos is a major time saver as switching gears and multi-tasking these sorts of things is proven to be a highly inefficient way of getting things done.

“I feel something…when I reference a paper wall calendar, write a thank you note in cursive, or slip a record onto my newly acquired turntable. A little nostalgia, a dash of reverence, and if I’m being honest, a hint of smugness because I had the privilege of growing up analog.”

Jaime Lauren Photography
Jaime Lauren Photography

A Note on Defaulting to a Device When Bored…

Honestly, it’s good for all of us to be bored. It inspires creativity and allows us to think deeper. When I’m well-rested and out of the habit of defaulting to a device, I’m more likely to pick up a book, grab some paints, plunk away at the piano, or peruse some cookbooks. But when I’m bored and need something that takes minimal effort and minimal brain power while trying to avoid staring at a screen, magazines are a great choice. I always keep a couple new ones on hand and have them easily accessible so I can grab one when I’m feeling bored and tempted to let my eyes glaze over in front of a screen!

For more of my thoughts on Boredom & Creativity, you can jump over here

I am passionate about coming alongside others to inspire them in their creative journey. With 15 years’ experience as a creative entrepreneur, I have been able to cultivate a strong repertoire of strategies to boost creative output and help others tap into their creativity. If you would like to have me speak either in person or online at your upcoming conference, workshop, or retreat, please email Jaime Fenwick at hello@bringinginspirationhome.com

Our Family’s One Week Device Detox

It’s been YEARS since Will or I went anywhere for more than a day or so without our laptops. Not since before kids have we gone a week without shows. And with few exceptions, it’s been almost a decade since I’ve fallen asleep without listening to an audio book. Toss in a year’s worth of online church, meetings, reunions, and extracurricular activities, and the burden that digital dependence has placed on us (or that we’ve invited in, if I’m honest) has only worsened. Which is why I knew that in order for us to kick off the year properly and open up pathways for further creative pursuits, our whole family would benefit from a digital detox.

Recently we took the kids on our first vacation since 2019. At the beginning of 2020, Will began a new job and throughout the course of the year, only took 2 vacation days. We kept hoping we’d get a chance go see family, but with quarantine restrictions in Canada being prohibitive, and numerous friends and family in Mississippi contracting Covid, we put our travel plans on pause.

So when we had the opportunity to stay for a week as a family in a cozy cabin nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountains this winter, we chose to make the most of our time together by planning to be as tech-free as possible while on vacation.

The photos below are a departure from my normal offerings of film photography, but since I didn’t shoot much film on this trip, I decided to give you a glimpse of what our trip actually looked like via iPhone shots.

Jaime Lauren Photography

The idea of going tech-free seemed a bit daunting, but I weaned myself off my phone for weekends during the month beforehand and I told the kids the week prior that we wouldn’t be taking the iPad or the laptops. They would have my childhood walkman with Adventures in Odyssey tapes to listen to on the drive and during quiet time. I would have the luxury of staying up and reading late enough to fall asleep without the aid of a device. And who needs shows when the cabin’s living area comes with a beautiful stone fireplace next to the grand piano! I also packed supplies for watercolour painting, a couple puzzles and games, some craft stuff to do with the kids, a few toys for Travis, and plenty of books for all. Will brought his banjo, and of course we had plans to play in the snow. I dreamed of days that would leave the kids tired from playing outdoors and leisurely nights where Will and I could relax by the fire.

And you know what? Those things happened. Sure the snow melted around the cabin by the time we arrived, but most days we drove a little further up the mountain for enough snow time to satisfy the kids. And sure, Travis decided the last couple nights to escape his pack n’ play and refuse to go to sleep for hours, but Will and I did get the first few nights to hang out next to the fireplace in peace. I read an entire (really good) novel for the first time in years, and Will played banjo almost every chance he got. On the first day we were there, I overheard the girls in their room at quiet time talking about how they were glad for a break from TV. To be clear, we don’t have an actual TV, but they do get to watch about an hour of shows on the iPad while I make dinner on weeknights, as well as enjoy a movie on the weekends. And yet here they were, ages 5 & 7, delighting in the absence of technology.

Jaime Lauren Photography

There were other benefits to limiting technology while on vacation. I say ‘limiting’ because we did use our phones to chat with our families, send a few messages during our stay, and capture our memories on camera. I had the chance to sit down with my kids and play or paint or read when they asked. I try to do that at home, but it’s not always possible. The kids never had to compete with a device for our attention while on vacation. We try to be pretty conscious about not being on devices around them too much, but we’re not perfect and it does happen more often than I’d prefer. Will and I got to talk about things more in depth than we have for a while without being exhausted and resorting to a show. We also painted together and just sat quietly in each other’s presence while playing banjo (him) and reading (me). 

Jaime Lauren Photography

“When I’m working after a tiring weekday or a Saturday following a long week, I’m not really producing content that’s as inspirational as I could be producing if I were working from a place of rest and creativity.”

One of the things Will brought up was that in our normal life, my margin is so scheduled that it doesn’t enable me to fully relax and really rest. I’ve been on a quest for rest the past few years, so this felt like a profound statement that resonated with me. I schedule my rest so that I don’t fill up all my time with things that ‘need to get done’, but because all of my rest is SO scheduled, it’s not truly restful.

In spite of taking a couple of vacation days last year, Will is so much better and well-practiced at resting than I am. His southern self is perfectly fine with sitting on a front porch doing nothing but shooting the breeze for hours. That kind of leisure drives me nuts…unless I’m reading or painting or talking about something of consequence. But he has the ability to just BE. He can nap on a dime and will rarely sacrifice sleep for anything…except to ensure that I get mine.

What does more leisurely, unscheduled rest look like for me? I have zero idea…that’s going to take some intentional sacrificing of things that I think need to get done, and it probably won’t look like how he relaxes, but I need to explore this concept of unscheduled rest. I’m great with open-ended resting on vacation, but not so much during my normal life. If you have ideas, please feel free to share!

Jaime Lauren Photography

Jaime Lauren Photography

The other thing we discussed is that by the time I get work finished either during certain weeknights or on the weekend, I’m so exhausted that I can’t rest well. I just want to veg out and watch a show, or go be alone, unable to fully enjoy the company of my family. We hashed out ideas about how to ensure I get time to work but how also to live in a way that allows for truly restorative rest. We also talked about the fact that when I’m working after a tiring day or on a Saturday following a long week, I’m not really producing content that’s as inspirational as I could be producing if I were working from a place of rest and creativity. I wondered how much more impactful my work and my own creative process could be if I began working from a more restful place. You, dear reader, will probably be the best judge, as I’m hoping you’ll be able to see a difference in the quality that my content possesses.

What does working from a restful place look like? Well, I’m currently in the midst of what I hope will be a successful resting/working environment. A full weekend tucked ‘away’ in our detached guestroom/office sleeping in, working out, writing, creating, eating, coming and going when I please. The plan is to do this one weekend a month and see what happens. It’s an experiment I’m enjoying immensely and I’m only a portion of the way through the weekend. I’m hoping this will also enable me to be more present and restored during the rest of the month.

Jaime Lauren Photography
Jaime Lauren Photography

Jaime Lauren Photography

But back to our Digital Detox. 

Since returning, I’ve decided to attempt falling asleep without listening to an audio book. I originally tried falling asleep to an audio book over ten years ago because I’d spent my entire life lying awake at night trying to shut off my brain. Growing up, I would often lay in bed for up to two hours unable to sleep. This is in the pre-device era too, so it’s not like my sleep was being impacted by screen time.

When I first tried listening to an audio book in order to fall asleep, I realized that if I chose one with a soothing voice and a book that wasn’t an edge-of-your-seat kind of story, I could fall asleep within about 5-10 minutes. I would set the audio book to sleep mode so that it would turn off in about 15-30 minutes, and promptly pass out. My ear buds would fall out and the phone would remain on my nightstand in airplane mode until the next morning. That is unless something came to mind that I thought I needed to Google. Or a text came in that I wanted to respond to. Or unless I woke up early and started checking email and working from bed. All bad habits I needed to break.

So while I wasn’t so opposed to falling asleep to a good audio book, I was ready to kick the habit of keeping my phone in my room because I knew that scrolling before bed was detrimental to my sleep and scrolling first thing in the morning was an unhealthy way to start the day (more on that another time, because I could go on!).

To tell you the truth, I was nervous to come home and try sleeping without the help of an audio book. But if I could do it for one week on vacation, I figured I could carry on at home. We’ve been home for just over a week and I’ve successfully kept my phone in the kitchen at night for the entire time!

Want to know my secret to finally falling asleep on my own after all these years?

Jaime Lauren Photography

I try listing off as many countries in a particular continent as possible. I am currently trying to name all 54 (ish) African nations and some nights I make it all the way to Zambia and Zimbabwe and have to move on to another continent, but most nights I find myself falling asleep somewhere around the M’s. Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania…Mauritius…Morocco……

My goal is to get through all of the African countries in alphabetical order and be able to visualize them on a mental map and then move on to another continent once I’ve mastered those facts. And then the capitals, major bodies of water etc. So I’m learning as I’m sleeping and it’s a heck of a lot more interesting than counting sheep!

I’m also on the hunt for another great book that will entice me away from defaulting to a show most evenings. I read ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ by Amor Towles in 4 days while on vacation and as a lifelong devourer of books, I have to say it was one of the best I’ve ever read!

Will has been playing the banjo every evening, and the kids have been skipping many of their pre-dinner shows in favour of more time outside. We opted out of one of the Zoom book studies we were doing through church. Still doing the book, but not the Zoom discussion. I’m also trying to leave my phone in my room during the day until lunch or quiet time so I’m not as tempted to use it in front of the kids especially during our school hours. Whatever our device use looks like in our house now, the detox was a fantastic opportunity to get the overuse out of our system and replace it with healthier alternatives. I’m planning to do the same thing at home once every 4-6 weeks. I’m excited about what that will look like as the weather warms and as the days get lighter, longer.

Jaime Lauren Photography

Want to lighten the load of digital dependence in your life? Try your own digital detox whether on holiday or at home! You might want to start with a short ‘tech-Sabbath’ and can read about our experience here. 

I am passionate about coming alongside others to inspire them in their creative journey. With 15 years’ experience as a creative entrepreneur, I have been able to cultivate a strong repertoire of strategies to boost creative output and help others tap into their creativity. If you would like to have me speak either in person or online at your upcoming conference, workshop, or retreat, please email Jaime Fenwick at hello@bringinginspirationhome.com .

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5 Easy Ways to Create an Inspired Home

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I think I have always been equal parts nomad and homebody. I get this giddy high off of travel and have a sick love of getting up before dawn to catch a flight. But returning home to a clean house, carving out space for my travel finds, and printing photos from my trips is equally satisfying to me. And yet, long after the dust settles on my luggage and the novelty of homecoming fades, I have found that I truly love my life at home just as much as on the road. But it has less to do with easing into the comforting routines of domestic life and more to do with the desire to find inspiration all around me, whether trekking across the world or padding across my living room.

The thing about inspiration, is that even the smallest detail can awaken big changes, fresh thoughts, and enlightening experiences. A new spice inspired by a past trip can lead to a new meal, which can become a family favourite and eventually be passed down to the next generation. A collection of bud vases on a window sill can act as a rotating seasonal display, beckoning us to stop and observe the subtle changes in nature’s shifts. An old book, a printed photo, a fresh scent or a new album on repeat can alter a room’s ambience in a heartbeat, or modify our mood in a second. Done intentionally, the results can be far-reaching and inspiring on so many levels.

Here are 5 ways easy ways I use regularly to create a more inspired home. My hope is that these suggestions will serve those who pass through your home as well, inspiring everyone long after they’ve lingered in the space you’ve created.

The thing about inspiration, is that even the smallest detail can awaken big changes, fresh thoughts, and enlightening experiences. 

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1) Bringing Outside In

There are a variety of ways to bring the outdoors into our homes, and I enjoy many of these at different times throughout the year. Here are a few:

  • Clippings from your yard, garden, neighbourhood or regional parks (when legal). Use at a place setting, in a vase, hung with twine, or placed on a mantle or shelf. Observe what happens to the piece over time. Don’t hesitate to bring in something that is dead! My dried up hydrangeas have an old-fashioned sepia look that I love. Dry dillweed from my garden has a spindly, delicate appearance that never fails to fascinate me.
  • Live plants, big or small, edible or not, healing or just lovely to look at. At this very moment I’m eyeing a terra cotta pot filled with mint in my garden that I’m tempted to bring in and set by my kitchen sink where the light is good and the aroma will serve as a fragrant pick-me up. Also a reminder of the months I spent sipping sweet mint tea in Morocco! Living plants can require anything from minimal effort to a mountain of care, so pick something that works well (as in, won’t die easily) within your space, is suited to your lifestyle, and gets you excited to enjoy it.
  • Nature finds like shells, rocks, driftwood, even bugs! My kids love adding to a revolving collection of natural elements (revolving because eventually I throw pieces out that have become dusty or broken) and observing them at the table or on a shelf. Last winter while up in the Sierras, I came across monstrous pine cones that reminded me of the hefty sort found under the pine trees at my Grandparents’ prairie property. I hauled an arm-full down from the snowy hillside and used them in my winter decor at home. Every time they caught my eye, I recollected fond memories of my childhood on the Canadian prairies.

An old book, a printed photo, a fresh scent or a new album on repeat can alter a room’s ambience in a heartbeat, or modify our mood in a second. Done intentionally, the results can be far-reaching and inspiring on so many levels.

2) Coffee Table Books

Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved coffee table books. Whether they were filled with fine art prints, photographs of exotic locales, or detailed illustrations, these hefty tomes filled with rich visuals transported me to other worlds and eras. While I own a number of cherished coffee table books, I really enjoy the act of borrowing half a dozen or so at a time from my local library. Whatever topic might be of current interest to me, I often go in search of beautifully designed books that nurture my curiosity of that field. I tend to seek out books that focus on photography, culture and place, nature, gardens, architecture, fashion, home decor, and food. I find that having books like these in my home keeps me from becoming bored and reverting to my phone for visual distraction. There’s just something about turning the pages of a book that scrolling down a screen can’t beat. The inspiration is curated, the tangible quality of the books is enticing, and the fact that they can be borrowed for free is a temptation worth indulging in.

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3) Dress up Your Meals

If you are not an owner of easy to use, minimal fuss table linens, you are missing out! I bought my first linens and tableware (tablecloths and wooden napkin rings) while traveling in Russia when I was 16. I gifted the table cloths to friends and still use the hand-painted napkin rings every fall. Whenever I travel, table linens are an easily packable find that I can use every day and won’t collect dust on a shelf. They remind me of my past adventures and flood my home with inspiration. But I also have really inexpensive table linens from Target and World Market (napkins specifically) that get used more than almost anything else. Cloth napkins remind me of my Grandma who, when I was a child, always had a drawer of beautiful cloth napkins that elevated even the simplest of meals. We switched over to cloth napkins a couple of years ago when I realized how easily they altered my kids’ attitude at the table. Fabric feels special and offers an opportunity to take more care during a meal, linger over a dish, or engage in meaningful conversation. I make sure to have darker hued napkins to use with my kids, and throw them in with daily load of laundry. Nicer napkins are pulled out when we have guests or I want to use something other than the basic cotton versions we use as a family. Even if you are just sitting down to dinner on the couch with Netflix in front of you, a cloth napkin will instantly elevate the experience!

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4) The Sound of Music

Wherever I travel, I always purchase local music. It’s an easy way to recall my memories and the experiences I’ve had while on the road. But more often than not, I find myself using music to set a mood in my home. Classical at breakfast and while the kids do morning schoolwork, jazz in the evening especially if I’m cooking with a glass of wine in hand, old hymns on Sunday that not only turn my heart heavenwards, but remind me of late family members who have left a legacy of faith behind them. I also use music to compliment whatever we are studying with the kids for school. History, cultural, and geography studies are all enhanced with music. Music helps us focus, inspires us to create, stirs up memories, nurtures relationships, and makes even the most mundane tasks feel just a touch indulgent. Music heightens the senses, and when harnessed with purpose, can bring new inspiration our way no matter how uninspired we feel.

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5) Substitute a Staple

I’m a creature of habit, and once I like something, I’m hooked. For YEARS. It takes a lot for me to change, but I know that trying new things inevitably leads to a more fruitful creative process and inspired life. One of the easiest ways for me to infuse my life with fresh inspiration is to try substituting a staple ingredient with an alternate variety or one of a higher quality. Take salt for instance. I’d been using pink Himalayan sea salt for years. Nothing wrong with that, in fact I still use it from time to time. But when one of my friends introduced me to Maldon Sea Salt as one of the few ingredients used in the simplest of green salads, I was mindblown. I couldn’t believe how distinctive the flavour was and now use it in everything from homemade sourdough bread to stir fry to salad greens. It’s amazing how one small shift in a staple ingredient can make me want to eat simpler and allow the salt to enhance the flavour of very simple ingredients. Now I tend to use minimal spices because of how just a small pinch of Maldon salt can wake up a dish without hardly even trying. If you prefer not to swap out your staple blindly, ask friends or family what brands or versions of kitchen staples they use and ask to try a sample. You might be surprised and find yourself both inspired and converted!

“A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.” — Goethe

Want more inspiration to help you THRIVE no matter where you are? Click HERE to get my FREE guide featuring 12 Prompts to Nourish Your Creative Spirit.

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How I Stopped Technology from Taking Over My Natural Rhythms

Between the ages of 7 and 17, my parents owned and operated a fly-in fishing lodge in the remote reaches of northern Canada. This meant that I spent a large portion of every summer virtually cut off from the rest of the world. Until I was in my mid-teens and wanting to spend more time with friends, and also be more independent of my parents, I don’t remember feeling particularly phased by this annual period of isolation.

During the early years while my parents were building up the camp and the business, our family shared a one-room cabin that lacked indoor plumbing. Electricity was generator-powered, but at night we lived by the light of our trusty Coleman lanterns. My younger sister and I spent our days exploring woods and beaches. We fished and read and played games. I think we each had a walkman and I had a film point-and-shoot camera. We were living out the creative, curious childhoods I desire for my own children.

“the ebb and flow of each day was free from distraction, hurried schedules, and…technology.”

Even once the camp gained more luxuries (indoor plumbing, round-the-clock generator power, and our family’s personal 3-bedroom cabin), our days weren’t much different. The long, often sweltering, northern summer days were sometimes punctuated with trips to sit in the tiny laundry cabin where my sister and I would watch the ice machine produce massive sheets of cubes while we munched on bowls of ice to cool down. The occasional evening in late summer provided us with a spectacular display of northern lights. That was about as exciting as things got, and I don’t mean that in a negative kind of way. During those long and lingering summers, the ebb and flow of each day was free from distraction, hurried schedules, and what stands out most to me now, technology.

“I let technology override my natural rhythms.” 

Now that our family has been mostly at home for the past month during the Covid-19 pandemic, I’ve noticed that life has still felt stressful in terms of the amount of things I expect to accomplish on a daily basis. While most external obligations have fallen away, the internal pressure to ‘keep up’ with school, cleaning, meals, relationships, exercise, yard work, extracurricular activities, and my own business, have almost seemed to ramp up.

Since I haven’t been busy with things like errands or playdates, I haven’t been entirely sure why I’ve been so overwhelmed. We already homeschool, sit down together for three meals a day, and consciously keep our schedules free from too much ‘programmed’ activity. And yet, something felt distinctly ‘off’. Yes, we were without the support of our normal community and were thrown off our typical rhythms, but we were experiencing far less disruption than many of our friends and family members. So what was triggering my heightened state of overwhelm? After taking some time to reflect, here’s what I’ve concluded:

I have let technology override my natural rhythms.

Instead of listening to my body cue me as to when I’m tired, when to be quiet, when and what to eat, how to relax, who to connect with, what task to work on, etc., I’ve allowed technology to drown out my internal nudges. 

Since being in isolation, my online presence has increased tremendously. During the first couple of weeks, my inboxes exploded with texts and emails, and online shopping carts bulged. I had to limit time spent on Google or news sites because my brain felt like mush and my nerves were frayed. But then I moved on to courses and conferences, Zoom hangouts and sermon streaming. All good things to help my mind stay engaged and stimulated. And yet it felt like too much because I wasn’t maintaining a healthy dose. On top of this, I still had to work, which required me to be in front of a computer and on social media a fair amount.

In response to the technology consumption that has made me feel so distracted I couldn’t tune into my own needs as well as I would have liked, I suggested we return to something we tried two summers ago. Saturday technology sabbaths.

See, in spite of my Christian faith and practice, Sundays have never felt like a Sabbath, or day of rest for me. As an introvert, albeit a social one, I find myself happy yet exhausted at the end of a day often spent with a lot of people. I also typically use Sunday afternoons and evenings to plan and prepare for the week ahead, which while helpful, isn’t exactly restful. So we made Saturdays our Sabbath and included a break from technology into the mix. We kept our phones out of sight for the most part, went to bed when it got dark, and in general, used as little technology as possible. We weren’t legalistic about it, just trying to give ourselves and our kids a break from digital distraction and our bodies a chance to reset based on nature’s rhythms. I was in my third trimester of pregnancy with my youngest, yet felt the most well-rested of my entire pregnancy.

And so, we recently returned to Saturday sabbaths that include a break from technology. Our first one was incredibly restorative and not near as difficult as I anticipated. I’ll share more about what those Saturday technology sabbaths look like in the future, as we plan to keep them going even once the quarantine is over.

What I’m most excited about, is that I realized a one-day break from technology is enough to shift me back to a place of listening to my internal cues. And because right now we work and school from home with very little external expectations placed on us, I have a unique opportunity to try and live every day according to natural rhythms. My guess is that once I am more attuned to these cues, my kids will also feel so much more stable and settled.

I want to thrive during this time of isolation, and I want that for my family too. I know not every day or week will feel upbeat or pleasant, but I don’t want something I can control (my use of technology) to prevent me from living as abundant a life as possible, one full of beauty, purpose, and adventure. Just like the one I experienced during my rural, remote, childhood summers.

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