Sunday, April 5, 2009

Seven Questions--Living the Beautiful Life

We all know beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But sometimes day-to-day mom-life leaves the beholder feeling bewildered. Peering over a dirty bathroom sink, gazing into bloodshot eyes and looking forward to a day full of carpooling or potty-training, the land of beauty can feel light years away.

Today, the lovely Martha, is going to lead us back to gracious living. If you've ever met Martha or read her delightful blog, you know shehas an eclectic elegance and eye for finding beauty all around her. Here are her thoughts on living beautifully...

#1--Martha, every glimpse into your life is lovely. Tell us a little about your background. Are you an artist? A decorator? A photographer? How have you educated your eye to find beauty and to create it all around you?

Martha's Disclaimer: First, I need to let it be known that the answers to these questions are my ideal; I wish that I practiced them 100% of the time, but I often fall short. But I do believe and try to apply these beliefs to my life.

I only play a decorator and photographer on the internet. I, really, have absolutely no training in these fields. I am only beginning to photograph my little life, and am learning by trial and error (digital photography quickens the learning process thankfully). As far as decorating goes, I’ve always loved to create and surround myself with beauty, but my desire has always extended beyond my budget, so the need to “create” forces me to dig a little deeper than my pocket book.
I do consider myself somewhat of an artist. As a child, my brother and I spent hours drawing on endless roles of paper my father purchased from the local paper plant. I loved escaping to the world of enchantment which sprang from my pencil. I am grateful that my father nurtured this desire.
In grade school I did win the local fire hall’s art contest (two years in a row) which promoted fire safety and in high school I won first prize for painting the best birch trees, so, as you can see I do have an illustrious background as an acclaimed artist (circa 1989, and the accolades spanned at least 6 people).
Really though, I did study graphic design but I do very little with it at the moment. I do however have a list a mile long of all of the things I plan to create once my arms are not filled with a breast feeder and when I once again acquire Illustrator for my new computer.

One of the things I love about your interviews, Gabi is that you ask the right questions. Although I have always been drawn to beauty and have been a passionate idealist, I believe you hit upon something in the word “find”. I don’t pretend to be an expert in these matters but I have found that as I have worked hard to exude more beauty (become a happier more service-oriented woman) my life encompasses greater beauty. I am able to internalize the beauty that already exists abundantly around me.

It’s a cycle. I am able to see greater beauty when I feel beautiful and I feel beautiful when I include beauty in my life. Part of it is sentimentality and gratitude. When I am grateful, things I hadn’t noticed before take on a new life of beauty, and because I am sentimental about the tarantula crossing the road after a cold night or the prisms of light that dance in the late afternoon on our dining room wall, enthusiasm and romance fill quickly passing moments that I have with my children.

#2--What are your top five favorite ways to make a space more lovely? Where do you turn for inspiration?
Hmmm, top five, well, #1 would be that I surround myself with what I love, which means, I need to know what I love. The things I am aware of loving are: whimsy, romance, color, light, family, and history. I incorporate some of these things into my home by not having window coverings on my main floor. The warmth from the sun invites happiness and seems to allow for a more welcoming atmosphere. I will give a few more examples in the remaining points.
#2. This may be a bit redundant but I believe a beautiful space reflects who you are, where you’ve been and what you’ve done. I love a space that tells me a story. Intimacy is welcoming. Also, passion can be breathtaking and endearing. Having bits of my loves and my life surround me reminds me of what is important and allows for opportunities to teach my children what I think is important.
#3. I like to bring the outside in. Dissolving the line between nature and manmade is not only healthy but very aesthetically pleasing. I actually feel more beautiful when I am surrounded by Mother Nature’s beauty. I often refer to it as “beauty by association”. I’m not really sure how to articulate it, but there is a whisper I find in the presence of flora and fauna that reminds me that we are created by the same hand. What I am trying to say is, I have a number of plants. My daughters and I also like to purchase flowers in the winter, or pick them in the spring and summer and place them in bud vases all around the house. They need not be expensive, just happy colors in jars brighten and cheer.

#4. I like to mix it up. I am very eclectic and am drawn to spaces that don’t follow any rules. I really enjoy vintage and antiques and I like to place them with/next to something modern or contemporary. I will be working on this theme for the next 20 years. I am currently seeking investors. Would your readers be willing to donate?
#5. I like the romance of adding a little bit of family history to my surroundings. Being aware of where I came from and the shoulders I stand upon grounds me and helps me to internalize the scope of my calling as a mother. I don’t know if there is any art more priceless than photos of my children and ancestors. My #1 project is to liberally place photographs which depict our family history about my home.

I gather inspiration from all over the place. Nature, books, other’s homes, catalogues, magazines, and mostly, the internet. I download images regularly and save them for future reference. Be careful, it can be a time suck.

#3--How do you balance the desire for beauty and order with the everyday reality of four young children? What compromises do you make? What are your indulgences?
I am still working on the balance, but I find greater beauty now with four young children, then I did when I had one.
I say this because I have learned (am learning) to embrace my choices and what it is that I do as beautiful. It is beautiful to teach my child to sift flour, put their shoes on, identify shapes, clean(sheer beauty), use the toilet(crazy beauty), and share. Of course, there are moments when it doesn’t feel beautiful, but the fact that I am learning to identify the beauty in these moments in and of itself is beautiful.
I’ve also learned to appreciate and embrace the beauty my children create. My daughter is a budding artist and I love her work. It is hung with pride. I love to notice the little moments of genius children have in their creativity. There is a certain freeness in their expression and I have been trying to capture some of it in photos so that I can frame and place these moments around my home as a reminders of their beauty.

Compromises, well, I have to allow for some dirt of course. Sometimes I have to let the OCD go. The OCD keeps me sane sometimes, but I have to understand that I cannot control it all and it’s OK. Also, there are things I just can’t do now. I need to be grateful for the season I am in, and not focus on what I am unable to do. The time that I have with my children is fleeting. There is a choice to be made moment by moment, and sincerely there is so much joy in just enjoying a simple quite life with my husband and children.

My biggest indulgence is food. I don’t know who said you can’t find love in food, but they were totally lying. I feel love when I am fed well and I like to show love by feeding well. I spend way too much on my grocery budget (sorry Brad), and I do spend a bit of time cooking, I very rarely look for a quick meal. Food is the perfect vehicle for conversation, eye contact, laughter, affection, and learning. What can I say; food makes me happy and fills my life with beauty. It is totally debatable whether or not food actually makes me beautiful.

#4--Along those lines, how do you teach your children to appreciate beauty in the world around them? What are your some of your family's favorite beautiful images, music and words?
Seriously Gabi, great questions! One of the things I appreciate about my upbringing which I believe has taught me to appreciate beauty, is placing value upon all living things. I know this is not a popular point of view, but I really believe in it. My parents were very compassionate and earthy. I try, and teach my children to have respect for and to be gentle with all creatures. I like to use crickets, spiders, bugs, bats, mice, cats, and dogs- whatever, to teach my children about life and compassion. They are curious and I would hate to teach them to dislike or be frightened by something because it is different and unknown.

This, of course, carries over into our relations with humanity. It’s not OK to speak poorly about someone else or to criticize. When you are gentle and merciful with all that is around you, you are able to be more gentle with yourself and you invite beauty in instead of repelling it. I believe it’s easy to find beauty when you are looking for it. I also believe it’s important to be vocal when I notice beauty. I hear my daughter repeating many of the things I say, so my husband and I point out the rainbow, the sunset, the blooms, and the shadows. I really want them to be open to the truth that beauty absolutely surrounds them. I think the more open I am, the more willing they will be to embrace.

My children are still very young, but there are a few images that we enjoy together. The back of our home faces north-west. We see some pretty spectacular sunsets from our family room. My children are quick to point out the variations of pink and magenta. We also watch for deer, fox, and all sorts of wildlife in the gully that sits in front of our home. I have to say that my children’s favorite images (at the moment) are their parents wedding photos and the temple that we were married in. They love to hear the story and talk about the temple. They also love to hear the stories of their births.

As far as music goes, they love just about anything their father plays on the guitar. They love to dance while he plays a Johnny Cash or Elvis tune. I grew up with a father who played the guitar while singing folk music and a little rock and roll, so I’m grateful to have a husband who can do the same for my children. I’m guilty with indoctrinating them with the soundtrack of my youth. Currently, their favorites are Willie Nelson’s Angel Flying too Close to the Ground, Joni Mitchell, a whole lot of Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and some Xanadu soundtrack thrown in for good measure. I hope to turn them onto Bach and Mozart and the blues.

I was raised on the classics and currently am loving many nonfiction works. I love Dickens. I hope to share A Christmas Carol with them every year as my family did. I tried this last year, but they are still a little young. I’ve tried to read them some of the stories and poetry I loved, such as Robert Service’s The Cremation of Sam McGee but it may be a few more years until they appreciate it. I suppose the words that I most try to represent to my children as being beautiful are those of Jesus Christ. If they follow His words, I know they too will find beauty. I also believe it’s important to listen; not to who can yell the loudest, but to the gentle, thoughtful and graceful. I think we live in a world that is so bombarded by loudness and those who try to promote fear, intolerance, and indifference. I value and appreciate those who are able to listen without prejudice. I have really learned to be grateful for the blessing of public radio and television. They are true treasures. The education I glean from them is priceless. There is a depth of humanity that is vividly displayed in public programming that network media disregards and lacks. I hope that doesn’t sound too pretentious, because I like Project Runway too.

#5--How about beauty for Mom? What are some things you do to feel pretty yourself? Do you have any beauty secrets to share?
Sleep. Mom and sleep is probably an oxymoron right? But, I need sleep. I not only look “pretty” but I act “pretty” as well when I am rested. So I give up late night shows, sleep is precious. I also am a big believer in getting my kids to bed early. That way, I have time to myself and for my husband. We don’t go out on dates much; it’s hard with all of these little babies, but I can say, “Meet me in the basement at eight”.

Exercise. I love to run and workout. Energy augments my ability to feel beautiful and appreciate beauty. These are elementary answers, but eating healthy also is a beauty boost. My skin looks great and I feel great when I eat several servings of vegetables.

Sunscreen. I’ve always been pretty diligent about wearing sunscreen on my face. I’m sorry to say I haven’t been very diligent about wearing it on my arms, but the contrast is a testimony of its importance.

Smiling! Seriously, remembering to smile always is something I remind myself to do. Red lipstick and mascara don’t hurt either.

#6--Everyone is budget conscious these days. Any cheap tricks for home or self? Where do you find beauty on a shoestring?
Yes. Two things I do to remain creative, but thrifty, are paint and recycle. I paint everything. If it’s boring, I paint it. Picture frames, furniture, and walls can all be painted when things get dull or I need something new. If I find something at a second hand store that is just OK, I imagine how it would look in one of my favorite colors. Projects are fun and they help me feel good.
One of my favorite areas in my home is my children’s play area. I painted this table after I became bored with its original color. The chairs were natural wood until I painted them red. I have at least 10 things in my home I would like to paint if my husband would let me. One of the things he will let me paint is this crib. My baby needs a crib. It is insane for us to buy a new crib when we have 2 already. But they are both elderly and abused. With some turquoise spray paint, this crib will be hip and happening (that is as soon as I can convince my 4 year old that she can live without it).

I recycle what I already own, what my mother owns (could be referred to as theft and not thrift) and what is available on eBay or in second hand stores. Sometimes things just need a new perspective. I often have an idea and I will go through what I have or my mother’s basement to see if there is something that fits the bill. While doing this, I found a needle point that my great grandmother, my grandmother and my mother had each contributed to. I plan to finish it off, frame it and admire the work of four generations.

Whether you have a large or small budget, patience is a sincere virtue when trying to create beauty. Layers of richness evolve when I have to consider and reconsider. Imagination goes further than the dollar when trying to create an atmosphere that not only looks beautiful but feels beautiful.

#7--Even more than lovely clothes or furniture, I think we most want to create beautiful moments. What are your suggestions for creating beautiful memories with the people we love?
You are completely right. What does a lovely outfit or a beautiful home matter if the possessor isn’t happy? All roads seem to lead me back to gratitude. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by temper tantrums and diapers or long for what is out of reach. If I spend very much time in these places, I only find dissatisfaction and unhappiness. I know I’ve partially already touched upon this, but I try to be aware of always keeping my thoughts in check. When I think humble, selfless, loving thoughts, my actions follow, and so follow my children (most of the time). They learn how to be happy or how to be critical by watching me.

One way I keep my thoughts in check is by focusing on how I’ve been blessed. I’m not going to lie; it is hard work in the thick of whining, complaining, and fighting, to patiently count my blessings with my children. But I find that if I try to be present in the moment and understand that I have a choice to either complain (react) or be cheerful (act), then there is momentum to turn the moment around.

The soft strokes of gratitude silken a difficult path. In the hurried moments of the morning, I peer over my upstairs railing at my baby who is watching me from below and realize she will not always seek me so diligently. Love it, cherish it, hold it as tightly as you can while you have moments to make sacred because they are quickly evading your grasp.
Beautifully written! Thank you, Martha.
Get everyday glimpses into Martha's beautiful life at The G-Train. Part poetry, part artistry. You'll love it!


Hazen5 said...

I have always admired Martha sense of style! Thanks for getting the low down from her. Great interview!

Annemarie said...

Another great interview!

diane said...

Great questions Gabi. Enquiring minds want to know.

martha corinna said...

Thanks Gabi!

Your interviews are always so great, and now I have a new respect for them because I realize they must take quite a bit of preparation and thought.

You are wonderful!

Rochelleht said...

Ah, Amen and amen!! Martha rocks. LOVE her. Can't wait to see her house this summer. Gabi, let's have our pow wow lunch this summer at Martha's! I'm sure she wouldn't mind...

Robin said...

This has motivated me to clean today!

Lauren in GA said...

Gabi, you seriously know all of the questions to ask. I often find myself curious about certian things as I read your interviews and then, ask exactly what I am dying to know...or, you ask things that I hadn't even pondered and am so glad to have learned, also.

What an amazing sense of style Martha has! Whoa!

I love what she said about finding beauty in the little things...even the crazy beauty teaching a child to use the toilet.

Christie said...

I love Martha! I have bookmarked a blog post she did where she showed the high wainscoting and shelf in one of her kids' rooms. My husband WILL be doing that in Hannah's room, as soon as he finds some time.

Another excellent interview. Love it.

Travelin'Oma said...

I love Martha's reminder to see the beauty in what you do. That is a beautiful way to live!

Ilene said...

Always such great questions.

Love the theme of finding beauty in life and the tips. Thanks Martha!

the wrath of khandrea said...

i once asked martha to marry me, but she said no. i forgave her though, because she's that worth keeping around.

martha is one of the few people i would willingly trade my brain or my spirit with. while that may sound a little creepy, what i'm really trying to say is i love how she thinks, how she sees things, and her ability to express it all. not that i'm really into lobotomies.

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