Let the Goats Eat Your Shirt

When my girls get older, I'll say to them, "I hope you dance let goats eat your shirt." When life presents opportunities, I hope they grab them.

When dreams are fresh and newly minted, I hope they reach down deep and go for it.

And when life is just so hard they can't imagine going on one minute more, I pray they'll cling to God.

Plus the goats, always the goats. Let them eat your shirt. It's better this way.

A picture of a goat nibbling a girl's shirt

Confidential to my dear, sweet P: You love wide and deep and your mama is crazy about you. 

Suburban Slaughter

Does this dog look like a menace to society ? A picture of Jonathan Fenske's Aussie

We don't think so either! This is Phoenix Orion, our sweet new Australian Shepherd pup who has been with us almost two months. But I present the evidence for your perusal, kind reader. Here is what he has done:

A picture of stuffed animals with their eyes removed by a puppy

Take a close look: Phoenix has systematically removed an eye from each stuffed animal. Diabolical! Our eldest girl carefully patched up her friends and then brought them to me for a group portrait. The shame, the shame.

Phoenix has no comment.

In Sketching Our Children I Find a Fleeting Freedom

It seems a fruitless task, the sketching of our children, for how can I in anyway capture adequately the beauty of the child that sits or sleeps in front of me? A sketch of a sleeping child by Jonathan Fenske

So interesting, and against my perfectionist nature, to know that my attempts will be subpar at best. But in this realization there is a release of sorts: the usual pressure to perform subsides, for these sketches will not be masterpieces, but moments thrown down to revisit at a later date, tangible proof of a special point in time after so many other points are lost to life’s too-quick passing.

A drawing of Jonathan Fenske's middle daughter

This need to capture these moments is my challenge and motivation. There are the technical aspects of course. Twenty minutes, tops, is not really much time before the daughter in front of you asks once too often “Daddy, how much longer do I have to sit still?” and you realize creation is crossing into torture for both sitter and artist.

A drawing of a child by Jonathan Fenske

The sleep sketches are even freer of predictability: five, perhaps ten minutes, the knowledge of a coming change pushing my pencil rapidly along. And then, the change made manifest with a snuffle and a roll, and deep sleep recovered in a different pose.

An infant sleeping by Jonathan Fenske

But for these small swatches of time I get to look unabashedly at my children’s faces, studying, remembering, tucking away the geometry of their features. Features I now recall when they are at school, or I am on the road. Features I hope to still recall when they leave their mother and me and stretch toward the horizon of adulthood.

Sleeping child drawing by Jonathan Fenske

As you who are parents well know, at the end of a hard day, full of sassiness and scuffles, whining and tantrums, there is a voice of despair that tells us we are underappreciated, that our failures outweigh the successes of our parenthood. Sketching my daughters is one of my releases from this voice, for as I study the peacefulness that attends their slack mouths and soft faces, I find in their letting go I am able to let go myself. Today’s slate is wiped clean. Tomorrow’s is as smooth and unlined as the calm brows of my lovely children.

Wet headed daughter sketch by Jonathan Fenske

 

A quick sketch of a sleeping baby by Jonathan Fenske

A sketch of a surprised baby by Jonathan Fenske

The Runner and the Stuffed Animals

This past weekend, we took a little trip up to Winter Park, CO to celebrate Jonathan's birthday. We scored an awesome deal on a beautiful, modern condo in the heart of WP's Village. It was the last weekend of summer activities in the resort, so there were things for the kids to do and the weather was gorgeous. I don't think I've ever blogged about Jonathan's running, but it's a serious hobby of his. And when we travel, he always finds a race to do. He calls this "fun."

This past Sunday in Winter Park found us at nearby Granby Ranch for the Run the Ranches Series. Jonathan and the other racers competed in pouring rain and sloshing mud. He did the long race, which was 7.6 miles. He finished second, and we were really proud of him. But the best part (for me as a mama) came after the race.

Jonathan Fenske runs the Run the Ranches trail race

Jonathan's prize was a gift card to the Granby Ranch resort. Since we knew we wouldn't pass that way again anytime soon, he decided to pick up a little something for himself to remember the race. We entered the gift shop with our three girls, ages 7, 4 and 1. And when we emerged, Jonathan had claimed his prize:

A picture of three Ty stuffed animals

Jonathan would groan if he knew I posted this, but he's not here (so lah!). This is exactly the type of thing Jonathan Fenske does. He's a gift giver. And there are three little girls who are clutching new stuffies, happy as clams.

And their daddy only had to run down mud-soaked trails at over 8,000 feet for 7.6 miles in the pouring rain, besting every runner, save one.

When the girls get older, I'll show them this post and just say one thing: When you are ready to marry, make sure it's a man as awesome as your father. That's what I did! (Sending love my own Daddy, who reads this blog.)

Summer Blog Bloopers: The Cutting Room Floor

For Monday's post, I thought it would be fun to throw a bunch of pictures on here from the summer. These are shots that just didn't quite make the cut for the blog or just didn't fit a particular topic I wrote about that week. Enjoy! This shot is from our trip to Twin Lakes this summer to camp with three other families. It was fun and not-so-fun. Like, the kind of trip where Daddy says, "I will pack this tent up if you don't stop fighting and we'll go home RIGHT NOW." It all evened out, however, with this jaunt to Twin Lakes on our last day. Too gorgeous for words. I love Colorado.

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For the first time ever, I grew my garden from seeds, using the wonderful stock from nearby Broomfield's Botanical Interests. I started the broccoli too late, so it struggled to make it in the summer heat. We did get one glorious head, hurray. Here's a bite:

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This little bit of graffiti was found by my eldest daughter at Wal-Mart in a cardboard display for s'mores fixin's. I was delighted. Kaisy, somewhere, is blushing. What a lucky fella.

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This summer, we had the pleasure of visiting friends in Breckenridge. I snapped an action shot of our middle girl. She's dancing, laughing and obviously enjoying something sweet.

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Another shot of Twin Lakes. The girls trashed their clothes within minutes...perfect! We had dry duds ready to go for the ride home.

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This shot didn't make it into the blog about redoing a Craigslist Queen Anne-style table for our family room makeover. I think I thought our garage was too messy. That seems silly to me now. Who cares?

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We also traveled to Wisconsin over the summer to celebrate my parents' 50th anniversary. The trip was delightful and chock-full of don't-forget-this moments, like watching your baby toddle on the shore of Lake Michigan for the first time.

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And I never could work a blog around this photo, but it's definitely one of the best of our summer. The backstory: our sweet baby got her very own booster seat after rejecting her highchair. (If you are a new parent, this might not make sense. But eventually, your little tot decides they have had enough of the highchair, thank you very much.) When we installed the seat, both of the baby's older sisters insisted on dragging their chairs around to join her at her new spot at the end of the table. They did this for days. I think they really love each other, and if they do, I am thankful. So very thankful.

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And a Dog Comes Home

I posted the update below on my personal Facebook page yesterday. This is what we're up to this week: "There comes a time in a family when the children beg for a dog. They plead for a dog. They make posters about dogs. And the parents say "No way." And then, the parents remember how dogs can be awesome. They recall beautiful dogs named Kuchen and Kemp who graced their lives. And then the parents, who really love their children but also recall that they, too, love dogs, say "Yes." 

Introducing Phoenix Orion McGruff Mars Fenske. "Phoenix" is for the mythic bird that rose from the ashes because this dog is the spitting image of sweet, departed Kempie. "Orion" was his given name by his loving first mama. "McGruff" was Jonathan's first name choice. And "Mars" was my first choice for a name after the painter Marsden Hartley. 

It's good to fall in love again."

Meet our new sweetie:

A picture of the Fenskes new Aussie

A picture of the Fenskes new Australian Shepherd

But maybe the best part is how Phoenix has just slipped into our family like he's always been there. After about five days of watching him like a hawk (and never leaving him alone with the baby), I've relaxed and have started trusting him more. This dog has made the backyard almost magical. He's watched the girls make "bird nests," collected herbs with them and listened to endless fairytale stories told in deep green grass.

A picture of the Fenskes Australian Shepherd

It's been fun to discover again how dogs see the world. He's devoted to me, rarely leaving my side. (Phoenix is under my chair as I type.) He lives to play, run and walk which is really good for me because, too often, I put off a walk to do something "more productive." I can't do that anymore. He makes me hop up, slip on my shoes and hit the pavement. Sure, Phoenix has some naughty habits to undo (he thinks the kids are sheep, as is an Aussie's nature) but it's nothing we can't handle. Even dear, departed Kemp was a rascal when we adopted him back in the day. Given enough attention and training, Phoenix will be just fine.

How to Be Creative When You Are Exhausted: 3 Things You Need to Know

When people find out you have written a book, they often will share that they, too, have a book idea. It's in their head, this book, and one day, they will write it down. I get it, I really do.

Colorado artist Jonathan Fenske

Most of us--all of us, really--have something creative inside that's yearning to get out. We have been blessed with a gem of creativity and before long...it starts to rattle and roll around our heads and hearts until we just know that it must come out. Maybe it's a new recipe, maybe it's starting a blog or a book, maybe it's taking a photography class to finally master that new DSLR.

Whatever it is, this creative nugget can wither in the face of life. In the face of reality. The just getting up and getting on can smother even the most elegant and eye-popping ideas.

I know tiredness. I know messy houses with clean laundry piled high waiting for the folding fairies to show up. I know the exhaustion that comes from starting the day early with small children, commuting to an office, doing good, hard work, and then returning to love those children with dinner, baths, books and prayers.

After that, what's left? A scrap of an hour? But what of bills, organizing, phone calls with sisters, or a quiet chat with your spouse? How does anything creative get done in a home like this? 

I'm only an expert in my own life (and Jonathan would say his, as well, ha!) but here are three things that have helped us. I hope they can be of use to you, too.

1. Communicate to the people who live in your house what you will be doing. 

I have a persistent child who loves to draw out bedtime so it's about two hours long. If I give in to her nightly demands, I would never write another word in my life. So, I say to the older girls: "Mommy is putting you to bed at 7:45. You can read for a while, but I am going downstairs and writing." They hardly ever argue when I set up the evening like this.

You have to draw the line in the sand for your time to be creative. Protect that space. Maybe your time is your lunch hour when you walk to a coffee shop and bang out some words on your tablet at a dented coffee table (I've done this). Or perhaps you trade babysitting with another mom so you can attend a Craftsy class while the house is quiet.

I know some of you are thinking: "But I am tired and you're telling me to work more!" Yep, I sure am. Trust me on this one: when you step into that magic hour, you will work hard. But you'll come out jazzed, energized, more alive. And the best part? You won't be resentful or snippy because you are doing what you are supposed to do: fulfilling your calling.

2. Accept that you cannot do everything. And then do just one thing. 

We are launching an online store to sell stretched canvas prints of some of Jonathan's designs. My to-do list is a mile long as we get ready to roll out the store to bloggers, designers and our art supporters. My head could spin, but I learned long ago that today only has a few things on the list. Maybe five, sometimes just one. You'll get better at figuring out what goes on the list, but here's a hint: When it's on the list, it gets done. That's because you've given it a sacred place on the list, and you have focused your heart and mind on it.

It does no good to make lists that you cannot do. If you cannot devote an hour to writing a blog post, then don't add it to the list. Instead, your list should include the things you can do. Maybe it's Return Liz's email and Send invoice to client.

3. Never, ever compare yourself with anyone else's success. 

You've finally stepped into that magic hour. The work is happening and you take a moment to read a favorite blogger. She's just announced her new book contract, her development deal with a cable network and she tops it off by sharing glamorous photos from a recent trip to New York (sponsored by Glade!)

This is what you must know: you will drain away your last resources if you waste a moment of jealousy on someone else's success. 

You don't want her troubles, and she doesn't want yours.

Let it go, wish the wonderful writer/artist/actor/mom well and go back to your journey. Your gift is something the world needs and even though you are exhausted, it's up to you to make it happen. Being resentful or spiteful or envious only hurts your creative offering because we might not get to see it. Discouragement is an ugly step-sister to jealousy.

Guard your time well. Be grateful for your opportunities, even when they happen quietly, out of the public eye. Give thanks for each spark of genius you have. And may you have many more.

What about you? How are you creative even when exhausted? Share your thoughts in the comments. 

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5 Tips for Writing the Best Love Letter Ever

Forget the perfume. Ditch the roses. For Valentine's Day this year, all you need is a pen and a pretty piece of paper. Your love letter doesn't have to be penned to a romantic partner. Write what's in your heart to your child, mother or father, best friend or simply someone special in your life.

If you need a little nudge, I've written 5 pointers below. Go ahead...write a letter this year! Your loved one will always cherish it. Four times per year, Jonathan and I pen letters to each other (birthdays, our anniversary, Mother's/Father's Day and Christmas.) I love that our girls will inherit boxes of letters from their parents. As our oldest says now when she sees us kiss (with gentle disgust): "Smoochie! Smoochie!"

Valentine's Love Letter Tip #1: Tell Them Why You Are Writing

This is a secret tip to writing a good love letter. Open your note telling your loved one why you wanted to write this letter.

Dear Honey, I wanted to sit down and tell you a few things that are in my heart. 

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Valentine's Love Letter Tip #2: Reference Your Current State of Affairs

Life is crazy right now. With the three girls, it seems like we're always making a peanut butter sandwich or scraping one off the ceiling. 

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Valentine's Love Letter Tip #3: Tell Your Loved One You're Crazy about Them

But even with our long days of chasing our art dreams while chasing down the girls, my heart still jumps when I see your face. 

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Valentine's Love Letter Tip #4: Praise Something Awesome 

Quite frankly, I'm in awe of your talent. I'm blown away by how you care for us. I am deeply, deeply thankful that you are the biggest part of my life. 

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Valentine's Love Letter Tip #5: End with a Sentiment from the Heart

My home will always be with you.

I love you, 

Jennifer 

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This week's contest winner is Jaymie from Snacks for Max! Thanks, Jaymie, for commenting! Please also check out Jaymie's blog for a really sweet review she wrote of Jonathan's easy reader Love Is in the Air. Last week, we also had a great post on Rochelle Melander's Write Now Coach blog (Jonathan guest blogged about his fave children's books). And Secrets and Sharing Soda did a beautiful review of Love Is in the Air.

Photographs Copyright 2013 Jennifer & Jonathan Fenske

While We Have Them

We are holding tight to our girls today here in Colorado. The three of them are getting extra hugs and lots of kisses. Messes don't seem to bother us; the continuous flood of creative projects falls where it will. The house is disorganized, a little out of place. But there is life, glorious and dirty; endless and finite in our home today. Our hearts grieve for what was lost. And we hold tight to what is here.

 

The Endless Summer

www.fatandappy.com School has not started for us yet. Due to a delay in construction for Girl #1's school and the Montessori schedule for Girl #2, we are still in endless summer days here. While our friends' children trod off to school each day or head up to bed while the sun still plays, our girls (and we) are stuck in an odd sort of twilight world: school seems close but really far off.

We are still wearing summer dresses and tee shirts that looked fresh three months ago but now are stained and faded. The older girls' hair is sun-bleached and ragged. I keep meaning to make their back-to-school hair appointments, but something in me puts it off. Maybe I like this never-ending summer?

When school ended in May, I felt a loss. The orderly days, the sense of scholarly purpose, it was gone in a flash of Kinder graduation parties and Montessori picnics. Summer seemed foreign and completely unknown. But here we are, on the other side of it, gardens falling over with ripe produce and yards gone dead from the heat.

Oh, we'll head back soon. I know it. First grade looms on Sept. 17. Cooling weather will chase us back to the drop-off line, Crocs exchanged for shoes that tie (if we can find them). Jonathan will welcome more time during the day to work on his next book. The baby will start to crawl. Healthy Creatures will be in the App Store. Life moves and swings and rolls on.

William Kaether, Dec. 1917

Who is William Kaether? It's a question I've asked myself more than a few times since I married Jonathan. That's when Mr. Kaether's painting joined the household we started together.

The painting is rendered in oil of a late fall-early winter scene. A broken down fence next to a slow-moving stream gives the painting (to my eye) a gloomy, melancholy air. The atmosphere seems still and attuned to winter, although it could just be dirty and in need of cleaning. The work is, after all, almost 100 years old. I know this because Mr. Kaether signed it "Dec. 1917." The painting is heavily crackled and the frame looks to be old, probably the original one. It came to us through Jonathan's grandparents who owned an antique shop in Florida.

I've casually Googled William Kaether, but haven't run across him yet. Perhaps someone with more time and more investigative skills can tell us more. But I tend to think of Mr. Kaether in the most friendly of terms---wondering who he was, what he did (other than paint) and what he might think of his long-ago winter scene and of us, this family of tumbling children and tired parents who live on the edge of the Denver plains.

Fenske Family Reading List

The day unfolded lazily after swim lessons---a long bike ride, frozen yogurt, more bike riding. But at some point I noticed we all picked up books today, reading a few pages here and there between bikes, playing impromptu faux Pictionary and eating pizza and oranges for dinner. The windows were open on this gorgeous Colorado day which gave the house an inside/outside feeling.

What we read today: Flannery by Brad Gooch (Jennifer is big on all things Flannery); Corn Maiden by Joyce Carol Oates (Jonathan); The Reptile Room by Lemony Snicket; and a Bob book.

Reading is great for intentionally ignoring picking up a messy house. I was very happy to follow Flannery to Italy instead of sorting doll shoes and returning stuffed animals to their toy bin homes.

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Art in the Suburbs

It's kind of daunting to kick off a new blog, so I'll just begin with some thoughts on nurturing and creating art in the 'burbs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We try to make our living creating beautiful things that might last for a while. We are writers and one of us is a visual artist, but we don't live in a hipster loft or even an old bungalow. Nope, we reside outside of Denver in a thoroughly anonymous neighborhood. Chain restaurants abound and we have to drive at least twenty minutes for decent Indian food.

I love where we live, though, because we're walking distance from the stellar Anythink flagship library. Mere minutes from a sprawling park complex. And steps from the bike/hike trail system that we could follow to downtown Denver or north toward Wyoming.Our spot of Colorado is safe and the schools are great.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even in a sea of beige, we find our beautiful things: the fade of the day's light bouncing off the mountains to the west. Vintage toys played with by countless hands. Dolls tossed into the air against a blue sky. Children playing with canvases and paint. We're blooming where we're planted and finding the gorgeous, the mundane, in the small places.