I am so pleased to bring you a conversation that I recently shared with Amanda Soule, inspiring mama, crafter and writer of the very popular blog, SouleMama. Readers of her blog look forward to beautiful daily posts, which include gorgeous pictures, moments with her husband and four beautiful children, lovely projects and also kind reminders to her readers to take a moment to step back, breathe and enjoy the simple things. We are so fortunate that she has offered so many of her ideas and projects in two books: The Creative Family: How to Encourage Imagination and Nurture Family Connections, and Handmade Home. We hear there is a third book on the way, which I know will be a beautiful addition to her first two, giving us another opportunity to thrive off of her creativity and thoughtfulness.
Your books provide such wonderful projects, helpful resources and advice, like how to prepare your children for a thrifting trip. I love how many of the projects include "little hands" and that they are projects that they can't necessarily work on their own. That the help of a parent is needed in some cases, making the whole creating experience much more gratifying for both the parent and the child.
Nearly all of my daily moments are ‘full’ of little people. So it really was an organic evolution that I not only find ways to craft with kids at home myself, but that my book also include such projects for others. It’s a matter of both necessity and pleasure equally, really. The projects I work together with my little ones on are hands-down, always my favorites of the things I’ve made. Their creative ideas always take things in new directions I didn’t expect. And in the process, they’ve learned a new skill, and most importantly to me of all – we’ve spent time connecting with each other. There’s something really magical that happens, I think, when people create together. It’s as though, in a creative state, we’re at the ‘essence’ of who we are as people – young and old. Encouraging each other, playing, and making things at those times can often be a powerful and important connection between parent and child.
Some of my favorite projects from Handmade Home are the Cloth Diapers, Calvin's Papier-Mache Bowls, Treasure Bag and Adelaide's Pillowcase Dress. But my most favorite project is the Memory Tree Quilt Art. I know I feel very nostalgic for a number of garments that my daughter wore when she was a newborn and even some of the clothes that she is starting to grow out of now. It's a wonderful way to hold on to those sweet pieces of clothing, and to have your little one help with the project makes it that much more special.
We mamas do get so nostalgic about those clothes, don’t we? The fabrics, the textures – they can bring such a flood of memories! With the Memory Tree Quilt Art, and a few other similar projects, I’ve had such fun taking clothing of theirs and making it into something else to treasure. Doing it with the little ones makes it even more special, as stories are told and memories are shared together. I love documenting our family time together – this kind of crafting really appeals to the crafter and the documenter in me!
Brandy and I are particularly fond of your Magic Spray. It's a very clever concoction! I don't think any house with young children should be without it! Tell us how you came up with this idea.
Thank you! I think it was inspired by our use of the Bach Flower Remedies – particularly Rescue Remedy (and in fact, we often put a drop of Rescue Remedy in the Magic Spray). In moments of anxiety with little ones, I find that if we can somehow ‘pause’ for a moment, there’s enough room for taking a breath, slowing down, and finding our center once again. The Magic Spray – with the sweet soothing chamomile or lavender – can be a literal pause like that. Using it slows things down, encourages touch and connection, and soothes the spirit (of both babe and parent!).
Your children have been blessed with a mother that has so many wonderfully creative ideas. Who were your sources of inspiration when you were growing up? Who are they now? Where else do you draw your inspiration?
I write a lot about my grandmothers who both greatly inspired me. From an entirely different generation, they both were so capable at so many of the home skills I value – gardening, sewing, preserving food, knitting, quilting or living frugally. Their influence on me is enormous – to this day, I find myself continuing to learn from them in the many ways they valued ‘home’ and ‘family.’
Today, I’m inspired by the women around me - my girlfriends, bloggers, and the blog readers that I hear from. People who value home, family, nature, and creativity. I firmly believe that “peace begins at home”, and all real change that’s needed in the world, for that matter. Being surrounded by so many women living intentionally, and raising children thoughtfully – well, I think it’s really inspiring. It certainly encourages me to keep doing what I do.
And of course, my little ones are the most inspiring people I know. Watching them explore, and follow their interests and passions in new ways all the time…it’s amazing to watch, as any parent knows.
You school your children at home. Would you call it "homeschooling" or "unschooling" and what does that consist of?
Yes, our approach would fall under ‘unschooling,’ which, for us, means that our children’s learning is self-directed. We think of the world as our classroom, and our role as parents more as facilitators or guides in the process, rather than their ‘teachers’. Their learning happens in many different ways by following their interests and passions. Children are natural learners by nature and instinct. It’s amazing to watch that process happen so organically, and so dynamically every day. We are also blessed with a wonderful community of homeschoolers in our area – full of amazing class offerings for families, peers for children, and support for parents.
(If anyone is interested in learning more about unschooling, I highly recommend reading anything by John Holt.)
What is your favorite time of day to create and do you have any rituals that you do before you are able to create, like have a clean desk, a cup of your favorite tea, certain music to listen to?
Late at night is my favorite time of day to create. I get so much energy as the sun goes down! Such a night owl pattern isn’t entirely conducive to life with little ones though, so I try for moderation, which means forcing myself into bed before the stroke of midnight. Steve (my husband) is incredibly supportive about honoring that creative time - taking the early morning shift with the kids, so I can get just a few extra winks.
Most studio sessions for me begin with a bit of tidying. It’s a chance for transitioning into studio time, and also a time when I firm up in my mind whatever it is that I’ll be working on. There’s usually tea, maybe some chocolate, and definitely always music or a podcast. And most usually, a lot of wandering in-and-out helpers or visitors!
When I’m writing, I really prefer quiet. So if I’m home, that means headphones and finding a door to close. If I’m out, that means plopping myself in the middle of the woods with a notebook, or finding the most quiet and remote corner of a library with my laptop. Since I was little, that’s always been one of my favorite places in the world, really – the quietest corners of a library.
I know that most people with small children don't experience many "typical" days, but what would a "typical" Soule family day look like?
Oh, they really are all so very different, based on the season, the ages of the kids, the activities and interests we have going on, or the work that Steve and I are doing. Like most families, our days are full! Of living, learning, baking, cleaning, and eating (it does seem as though we do that more than anything else!).
The only difference may be that we’ve crafted our days so that, for the most part, our living and learning is happening together, and at home. The kids are home (with the exception of their classes and activities), and both Steve and I do almost all of our work from home now. While this set-up certainly has it’s natural challenges, it works really well for our family right now. Even when I’m approaching a deadline, or Steve is busy with paperwork, we’re able to enjoy most meals together, share in each others excitement and projects, or to take breaks to help each other out when it’s needed.
There are ‘projects’ going on from everyone in all corners of our home and days - making, writing, building, reading. But there’s a lot of room in our days for just ‘being,’ too – I think that’s so essential to staying centered, really – whether you’re two or forty. Having freedom to explore, create, daydream, or just sit and think – these things are so important.
It takes a lot of work, funky logistics-figuring, and frugal living to craft our days in this way. But we are so grateful for the way it’s working.
We have to ask, do you ever go to Big Box stores for supplies? If not, how do you get around it and where are your favorite places?
Oh, certainly. We don’t live in a bubble. But it is a rare occasion that we do so. I make a great effort to buy locally from small businesses when I can, to buy something used, to make it ourselves, or to do without. There’s an interesting thing that happens when purchases are made more slowly like that, and with more thought. More often than not, in the time I’m spending thinking about what I want and how I can get it in a way that fits for our family’s values, I end up deciding that it isn’t something we need anyway. There’s a lot in our everyday convenient lives that we truly can do without, and not even feel the loss of.
Is there something that you wish you could hand craft, but haven't been able to master yet?
I would LOVE to spin! I can’t see it working into our space/days/home in the next couple of years, but there’s time for that in the years that follow, I know. About 10 years ago, I spent some time taking pottery classes and absolutely fell in love with that. I would love to someday do that once again. So many great possibilities for the future…the untried craft list is endless!
We wanted to include you in our "green" issue because you are such an inspiration to so many people. We all admire your projects and your passion for repurposing, recycling and giving something a second chance. What advice can you give our readers about becoming more green in their everyday life?
My piece of advice would be to start small. Do something that fits into the life you are living now – something reasonable and practical for yourself and your family. Ask your kids what they might like to do, and help them make it happen. And then, take continuous and steady baby steps towards the life you want to live. Don’t be afraid of giving things a go – whether it be composting or cloth diapering, growing your own food, sewing your own clothes, or just recycling a bit more. You’ll be amazed at what you’re capable of!
Thank you Amanda for letting us peek inside your world. You are such an inspiration to many. We wish you the best and look forward to seeing what creativity you share with your readers in the future.