Ducks in a pile by Susie Lubell


Do you ever decide you're going to get started on something - a project, an assignment, a new endeavor, a trip, a remodel, your life - but only when everything is aligned in your favor? When your ducks are in a row? This is my tendency. I wait until there's some kind of magic moment. Or, more accurately, I wait till I have enough time to myself to really focus and get down to business. It turns out I never have that kind of time. Even before the baby, when the big kids were in school and I had four hours every morning to work, it was really more like three hours after drop off and pick up. And more like two after I showered, did the laundry, went to the grocery store, picked up a birthday present or went to the post office. So by the time I got down to business I had maybe an hour and a half of unfettered time which I would decide was not enough and I would daydream instead. Or tinker. Or at my most productive I would print out and package some orders. But I would never paint. Painting required my undivided attention, partly because watercolor dries so fast that once you start, you sort of need to get to a good ending point, otherwise you have blotchy. (psst. Did you see how I just rationalized not painting, even as I write this short essay ostensibly about how to get over all that and move forward?)

So, true to character, I decided once things didn't work out with my babysitter and I was again a full-time companion to Sweet Cheeks McTiny Tush, I put my painting aspirations aside. Again. Babies are such a good excuse for so many things! Tardiness, flightiness, forgetfulness, looking tired and unkempt, being chubby, whipping out your boobs in public...and, yes, procrastination. And I figured I would wait until September when my baby will start going to a family daycare and I finally have the time I need to focus on my work.

But then a number of things happened. First I reached out to a friend asking how she managed to be such a prolific painter while her babies were little and she said she is all over the place. But she threw out the question, can you do your work in layers, like 15 minute increments? It's not really how I work. I need time. I need space. Because I hate taking out supplies and then putting them all back which is what you have to do when you work at the kitchen table.

Layers. 15 minute increments.

Then I went to this woman's website, having heard rave reviews about her workshops, and nearly fell over and died when I saw her work. It is so beautiful, it sings. It made me cry! And not because I wished I was her, which is where I usually go in these moments, but because I could see her joy spilled out in her work. That's when I got out the acrylics and some old canvases I had painted 10 years ago and, starting with the "grounds" technique I had learned at a workshop last year with Jesse Reno, I just put on paint and more paint while the baby napped. And for fifteen minute increments while he played. And at night if I wasn't too tired. And I let the layers dry, because that's what you kind of have to do with acrylic  before you can add another layer. I moved my box of supplies to the shelves next to the kitchen table and the oil cloth is now there semi-permanently. I'm just getting used to the acrylics and how they work and what I can do so there is much to learn, but I'm doing it.

So there it is. My ducks are in a pile, all squawky and flappy and cattywampus and I am happily painting almost every day.

I work full time by Susie Lubell


I used to work full time in an office. I liked work. But I didn't love it. And I was having a hard time rationalizing spending 8-10 hours a day away from my kids for something that I didn't love. There was the money, which we needed. We still need the money. But we realized eventually that while money comes and goes, time only goes. And time with these kids was precious and fleeting and I better start spending more of it with them. So I stopped working in an office and I started working at home a few hours a day painting and selling my work. And my kids spent less time at preschool and a lot more time with me.

And then I realized that what I had really wanted was a way to paint and sell my work and explore what other untapped creative potential lay buried inside me and spend some time with my kids but not a lot of time. And not time in the car or on the way to anywhere. Like gymnastics or Hebrew school. And what I mostly wanted was to spend time with my kids while they were happy and charming and then magically disappear when they started getting annoying or taking so much time to put on their shoes that they eventually needed the next shoe size or insisting to sit on the booster seat next to the window instead of the one in the middle next to the shrieking baby.

The promise of part time work and part time child-rearing was misguided at best. Foolish, more likely. There's nothing part time about what I do. I work around the clock these days. I'm up two to three times a night nursing. Then we're all up getting ready to get out of the house in the morning. I'm driving to school, I'm driving home, I'm driving to the supermarket, I'm making food, I'm picking up, I'm emailing proofs, I'm nursing, I'm straightening the house, I'm printing some orders, I'm playing with the baby, I'm helping with homework, I'm brushing out tangles, I'm weeding out the 4Ts to make room for the 5Ts, I'm reading stories, I'm nursing, I'm calling UPS to track a shipment that went awol, I'm brushing someone's teeth, I'm writing this blog, I'm going to bed and then I'm repeating the whole exercise again. Everyday. Forever. With a smile.

Underwater by Susie Lubell

It's a race now to finish up on these last orders and commissions before I can breathe a little easier and relax a little until junior arrives. I'm almost done with a commission from the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford. They had purchased twelve of my animal prints a while back which now hang in the Bass Center for Childhood Cancers and Blood Diseases. And about a month ago they called again to commission fifteen sea creatures for their pediatric surgery waiting room. FIFTEEN NEW ANIMALS. So you can image I've been feeling a little underwater, but nothing like the home stretch of pregnancy to light a fire under your tush (that might also be the hemorrhoids burning). So I cranked these little guys out over the weekend and now I'm in the process of preparing them for print.

Two commissions down and one to go. The third is an original ketubah design for an American bride and a Turkish groom. Lots of interesting symbolism. We even incorporated the Sultan's signature! That's a first.

A little peace by Susie Lubell

Uncle Martin wearing Berkeley tee. Photo credit: three year old daughter

I am on hour 8 of about 28 hours to myself in my own home. The last time this occurred was 49 years ago. It was only six years ago actually.  My husband went to Rome for "work" while I was six months pregnant with our son. We had just moved into our house and I was frantically unpacking and putting together furniture and lifting heavy objects against my better judgement. It was hugely enjoyable.

And here we are again six years later. Somehow it just never works out that I am alone in the house. I have certainly taken trips with friends and gotten away from the kids for short periods. But they've never left me behind. Until now. And I can't tell you how much I miss them. And how happy I am to be in my home by myself.

Especially now because I am way behind on a lot of things. I've been contracting the last two weeks at Shutterfly and while I certainly enjoy the change of pace and seeing old friends and getting free coffee and cereal in the morning, there is very little time leftover to manage the other parts of my life. And in two weeks I'm doing my first big festival which means I need inventory! And price tags! And displays! Plus we're on our third Jewish holiday out of five for September and our preschool is closed more often than it's open. All of this together is just not super conducive to me getting much done.

So this short period of peace and quiet is exactly what I need to get ready for the festival, purge some emails, make some food for the week, go to the farmer's market (alone), exercise and run a few errands. And figure out how to make this happen again before another six years has passed.

Full circle by Susie Lubell

Sabbath Circle

It's been a year since I left my day job to pursue my dream to be a working artist. A YEAR people. And to celebrate I had brunch with my friends Laura, the life coach that helped get this party started, and Chelsea, a hugely talented interior designer and friend from the coaching workshop we did with Laura. What fun to have come full circle and to be, all three, balancing our commitments to our families and doing what we love.

And apropos full circle, here's a little preview of what I've been working on lately. Lots of circles. And lots of tiny little icons. I came across an old friend via Facebook (of course) and it turns out that we have more in common than we ever knew. Last year she decided to follow her dream of working as an artist and she creates some of the most amazingly intricate paper cut designs and ketubot I have ever seen. Much of her work is circular and it just got me daydreaming of tiny little drawings spinning around themselves. Here's the first of three that I finished today. More to come.

Pause by Susie Lubell

So it turns out that taking on this little part time temporary contract at my old job is kind of kicking my ass. Not because it's taxing or difficult or unenjoyable. In fact, it's pleasant work in a nice office with lovely people. So far I haven't had to be at a single meeting. It's kind of the best possible scenario. Except that I run out of there at 12:30 to get my kids at 1:00 and then spend the next six hours trying to clean the house, get my daughter down for her nap, play cards with my son, worry about the mounting orders I've yet to fill (or the lack of orders depending on the day), make some prints (this is next to impossible), make dinner, do some half inspired craft with my son and fold some laundry. And then at night I'm filling the orders I can't fill during the day, returning emails, doing some framing, figuring out what the hell my kids will be for Halloween, paying some bills and recovering from the tantrum I had in response to my son's tantrum du jour.

Things that don't get done: No time for the gym. No time for the super market. No time to finish the drawing I started two weeks ago. And no time to blog. Sorry peeps. Nada tiempo.

And somehow I used to do this. Although working full time gives you a little flexibility. When someone else picks up the kids you can, get this, GO TO THE SUPERMARKET. You can also go to the bank. You can even get your eyebrows waxed, in case your daughter got her Frida looks from you. And you can do it all in half an hour. And don't think I haven't done all of these things with kids in tow. Even the eyebrows. They sit on the end of the bed and wonder why the little Vietnamese lady is torturing mommy. But it takes four times as long and by the end someone is crying and it's usually me.

So today, since my son had his five year well-child check up and by the time I got him to school it would have been silly for me to drive to work only to leave an hour later, I went to the post office instead to ship a consignment order I've been sitting on for three weeks. Then I went to two supermarkets. Then I deleted 200 emails. And put away some laundry. BANNER MORNING. And the afternoon went equally well. Baby was down in ten minutes. Son and I played several hands of Go Fish which I won. Then we made a collage. The house was clean and the laundry away so my son received my undivided attention. Then I taught him that if he could figure out how to hold his cards facing him instead of facing up on the carpet he might not lose every time which he did and then we tied. Baby woke up. Met a friend at the park. Came home and made dinner. And by the time darling husband arrived I was able to greet him looking like this minus the flowing hair (my hair is short):

Namaste. Incidentally, this beautiful card arrived a few days ago with two other cards from a wonderful artist named Lori Portka. She just exudes joy and hope, which shines through in her work, right? (and her blog - check that out too).

We'll see what tomorrow holds when I head back for my second week of work. The fridge is full so I have that in my favor. My daughter has a runny nose and we appear to have ants. Two strikes against. It's anybody's game.

Just when I thought I was out by Susie Lubell

I'm forcing myself to write tonight because otherwise I will eat the other half of the pita with Nutella (which I will likely do anyway) and plus, I have a gig at my old job every morning for the next three weeks which, when my former manager and friend first mentioned it, sounded awful and then like a nice, profitable diversion and now it sounds really chaotic. Not to mention that I will miss three weeks of my sewing class (which you never hear about anymore because I suck at it so much. I really peaked with those pillows.) I don't know how I used to do this? How did I used to work outside of my home all day and also buy food and then figure out what was for dinner and make it and clean the house and still have time to post a blog entry and watch an episode of Glee? And also fill my orders! And find time to paint! I'm sure I will be fine but I'm starting to have anxiety and that is why I'm about to finish the other half of the Nutella pita. Be back in a second.

I'm actually excited to see my old friends and have a fresh pot of coffee waiting for me everyday and maybe give my jeans some time off for good beahvior. But I just have a lot going on a ll of a sudden. There's still the issue of the Halloween costume. I ordered a shark from a great shop on ETSY that will require me to do some assemblage and light sewing. But now everyone in the family is really excited about the prospect of Broiler Man so I just don't know when it's all going to get done. And I had originally wanted to dress my daughter as Frida Kahlo since she already has the mono brow but I don't yet have a Mexican dress and since my son cut her hair the other day (did I mention that?) it will be somewhat challenging for me to get it pinned up without an ozone obliterating amount of Aqua Net. I'm thinking she still fits in the chicken costume.

And I'm out of ink! Mother of George, I ran out of ink. And not just printer ink friends. I even ran out of ink in my micron pen. Which means that I can't print or make anything. I sketched a little crazy rooftop village that I want to paint but I need me a new micron! Stat!

And the worst thing of all, is our new duvet. After eight winters with a duvet that has about three feathers left in each little square, I finally bought a giant, super warm, extra cozy duvet (that was, I swear to you, only about $40 from IKEA) and now it is proving to be NEXT TO IMPOSSIBLE to get out of bed in the morning. *

*Dianna, sorry in advance if I'm late for work tomorrow morning...I had a flat tire.

Mish Mash by Susie Lubell

I'm having a kind of identity crisis. When I started this blog more than two years ago with two daily visitors, I was not really in artist mode. I was on maternity leave actually and feeling like a bad mom for never having kept a baby book to record all of those precious details like the color of baby's poop on day 137. More specifically I was in my head a lot since my only interaction was with a sleeping baby for seven hours a day (don't feel bad - I got to watch seasons 1-3 of LOST on DVD. Just what I needed) but I needed somewhere to write down all of that head junk. I figured it would be a journal mostly and I figured other moms would feel happiness and solidarity to know that their kids weren't the only ones who took comfort from sleeping with their parents' shoes. Although I'm pretty sure I'm still the only one whose kid ever did that. The point is the blog was never about my journey as an artist.

But then came my friend's ketubah and my revelation that I love to paint and create and my realization that I didn't want to work full time while my kids were still little and the time I did spend working I wanted to enjoy. And I started to paint again. Every week. And build my website and shop and start my newsletter and outreach. And so here we are. I have this blog about being a stay/work at/from home/studio mom/artist called Inner Toddler and this creative venture called Mishmish Studio and an online store called Mishmish Market (that's the ETSY shop - Mishmish Studio was taken). Does it all fit? Are you confused? (sorry). Do I seem confused? (I am a little).

Some artists just go by their names which I considered but my name doesn't really just roll off the tongue you know? Am I thinking about this too much? Does it even matter? Frankly I can't imagine only writing about my process as an artist. I mean you would fall asleep at your monitor. I would too. I'm falling asleep right now just thinking about it. Maybe I should have TWO blogs. But that would be a lot of extra work. Blogs don't need siblings.

And then sometimes I type so fast that I end up typing Inert Toddler and that makes me laugh thinking about a blog about toddlers that are inactive but then I think that's probably not funny at all and there's probably something wrong with those poor inert, toddlers. Wait, I'm losing my train of thought...

Yes, my brand. It's a mishmash at this point. I should have gone with Mishmash Studio instead of Mishmish Studio in the first place and saved us all the confusion.

The art of being home by Susie Lubell

I am getting used to this new schedule. First it was getting used to working three days a week and having the kids two days a week during the summer. But that was all about going somewhere - a museum, the aquarium, the pool, a lake. And I didn't worry about naps because they happened in the car on the way home usually. And I was getting much of my work done in the three full days that I did have.

But now I only work mornings. And I'm realizing that it's only really enough time to send some emails, straighten the house, fill some orders, read some blogs, eat breakfast and maybe go to the post office if that's necessary. It's just not a lot of time. So I'm not painting. I'm not even sketching! I have some ideas rumbling around in my head but getting them out between 9am and 1pm on a weekday is not happening. So we're reinstating weeknight art mania - that is, I sequester myself in the studio to paint for the whole evening uninterrupted. Could be a challenge. Last time I did this it only worked because I told the kids I was leaving and then drove my car around the corner and sneaked back in the side door incognito.

Anyway the point is that I am feeling better about the schedule. The first week or so after school started I was not happy. I was fighting with my son constantly because I think I was probably resenting him for keeping me from my work. That is FUCKED UP. He's my work, really. He's my focus. And his sister. Although, shit, she's raising herself better than I ever could. And that's with being close to deaf. Imagine what she'll be like tomorrow when she can finally hear?! She'll be running for public office by age three. On a strawberry yogurt for all platform...

So at 12:45 I shut the door to the studio and I don't go in there again until my husband comes home. Except for when I cheat which with time will be less and less frequently I hope. And we're starting to develop a rhythm. I get the baby to nap and then my son and I get some dinner going. Or if I've saved a print or a framing job that we can do together I give him the ATG gun to have at it. I don't count that as cheating. And then we have a snack and then play a round of memory game with a deck of cards (boy do I suck at that game). Then a puzzle. Sometimes an art project if I am especially organized. Did I mention that my son won't watch videos or television? I'm not joking. Because I would so love if he did.

But before we know it the two hour nap has passed and we can all go to the park together. I've even started enlisting friends and neighbors to help engage my son for this stretch of time. In fact yesterday he went over to our neighbor's house, who we only just met, and played with her five year old for a half hour without me even being there. This was a first.

And when things go like this, we don't fight. We enjoy our time together. Which was the whole point of this new schedule in the first place. Enjoyable time together and more of it. We're getting there.

Wrath time by Susie Lubell

It had been such a good day until bath time. I had a great meeting with a shop owner in Los Gatos and she ordered a bunch of framed prints. Then I did some work at home and headed over to Stanford to drop off the animal prints for the new waiting room in the Pediatric Oncology center. The administrator showed me where they were planning to hang them and it's going to look fantastic. Then I bought a bag of cherries and ate half the bag. And then I went to catch up with some friends at Stanford before I was on a panel for a group of young women at the Stanford Institute for General Management. We talked about what it was like 10-15 years into our careers and balancing work/family etc. I think I was a last-minute addition but I passed along some nuggets of wisdom without quashing any of their dreams of corner offices, designer strollers and imported nannies.

Then I picked up my son and we went to swim lessons which went swimmingly. And there was a new swim teacher and he was HOT. Seventeen and LOOKING GOOD. We drove back home, had some dinner, watched Clifford the Big Red Dog in Korean and then started bath time. Just at that moment my daughter comes running in. She had been at our friend's pool (the one at her condo complex where we sneak in) with her aba. They're not in the tub more than two minutes before they start bugging each other. My son has his two red washcloths and she's got a green one and a blue one. And now he wants a blue one. Sorry pal. And as I'm soaping up her hair he starts putting the washcloth on her head. She doesn't like it and I ask him to stop. He continues. I ask him again to stop. He doesn't. I grab the washcloths from him.

And he pitched a fit the likes of which I have not seen since I accidentally flushed his poop down the toilet instead of letting him do it. He screamed in the bathtub for half an hour. And there's something about the way he screams. It sounds like someone is torturing him. It's a very loud and sustained BELLOW is what it is. I just can't bear to hear it so I got my daughter out and left him in there by himself because I feared that if I'd stayed to listen any longer I would start bellowing back at him, are you KIDDING me you little shit!? You're screaming bloody murder about a goddamn washcloth. WASH CLOTH. Get over it! Or, hey, I have an idea. Why don't you try LISTENING to your mother for the first time in your life! And I went about drying and dressing my daughter while he just kept right on yelling over and over I want my red washcloths! After a few minutes I went back in and told him that he could have them back for his next bath time if he used them correctly to wash himself instead of dripping them on his sister. Nope. He wanted them back now. This is your punishment. You can have them next time. NOW! He just could not let it go. After a half hour of this his eyes are the color of the damn washcloths and he's starting to wheeze. But he stops his crying long enough for me to wash his hair and when he resumes the bellowing I leave the bathroom again. Finally he's ready to get out so I dry him off and he's very still and quiet. He gets in his pajamas and we go read a few stories including his favorite one, Sloth's Birthday Party. A modern classic. Or rather a classic from the mid-seventies that my mother-in-law found in her attic. It might be the only children's book in the world with a sloth for a main character.

And by the time he got into bed we were both exhausted. And tomorrow I have them for the whole day. I hope we all three survive.

Bye Bye Shutterfly by Susie Lubell

Today is my last day of work at Shutterfly. It's bittersweet. Well maybe semi-sweet. I've really enjoyed being in the creative services group and as I told them all at the waffle breakfast they prepared in honor of my departure (!) working here was an important step toward venturing out on my own in the creative world. They even gave me a paper cutter as a going away present. Talk about knowing how to make a girl feel loved. And it's a big industrial one too. I'm getting tingly just thinking about it.

But the timing is amazing. Just yesterday my iron-transfers were feature on Design Mom and orders started coming in. And the Stanford Children's Hospital has accepted my donation of Inner Toddler prints (the little guys in my header) and then they ordered my entire collection of animals for the hospital. I just have to keep building on this momentum. Feels good.

The good news for you all is that I will be spending twice as much time with my kids going forward which means way more time for them to make me crazy and ultimately way more content for this blog. You see, win win.

Wish me luck.

work life challenge by Susie Lubell

I have a friend who's pregnant for the first time and she and her husband came over the other night for a sit down with me and my husband about the realities of having kids and working full time. My friend was concerned about continuing with her current senior level job where she works probably 60-70 hours a week but has done the job for nine years and knows it well, or taking a new job where there might be a steep learning curve at first but she'd reliably work 40 hour weeks. So I gave her my opinion - that ideally you do something you are completely passionate about for say 20 hours a week and you spend the rest of the time raising your kids and running your house. And her husband chimed in that he, in fact, does most of the housework. I'm sure. Delightful. But are you planning to nurse the baby too? No matter how you cut it and how wonderful your partner is and how egalitarian your lives are together, if both parents are working it just means the mom has two jobs. Of course there are a zillion other factors like money and support from other family members and desire to be home with babies and the list goes on. 

I've had these conversations with plenty of other friends too and generally I just nod and say supportive things like sure, maybe you'll figure out how to be an investment banker and still be your baby's primary care-giver. Right. And the truth is with one baby you probably can keep doing what you were doing before you had kids and make it work. I did, sort of. Although a lovely woman named Nena was his primary care-giver during the day. (I like to blame his neuroses on her).  And you convince yourself, after the initial shock subsides, that this is totally manageable and in fact my life hasn't changed that much and we can still go to our friends' houses at night and just schlep junior along in the pack and play and whip out the boob on command. Not a problem. And then suddenly it's two years later and you have a toddler and a newborn and you marvel at how profoundly different your life is. And why didn't anyone tell me it would be like this. They probably did. But it's hard to wrap your head around these things until you're in it neck deep. I'm sure my friends who have teenagers and listen to me bitch about the tortures of wrangling my kids to bed every night are having their own giggle. When your son is fourteen you will wish he was four again. 

The Duckie Towel by Susie Lubell

I haven't been blogging lately and I can only blame it on my having gone back to work, albeit part time but work nonetheless, and literally having no time. Zero time. Which is best illustrated by the fact that for the last three days everyone in my family, including my husband, has been using the duckie hooded towel meant for my daughter with the little googly eyes and the orange feet hanging down. Why don't we have other towels? Fair question. And the truth is that we have plenty of towels but they are either in the washer, the dryer or folded in the guest room and I have not found the thirty seconds it takes to bring them into the bathroom so that we can dry off with normal sized towels. I mean that is RIDICULOUS. I walked into the bathroom and saw my husband patting dry his privates with the duckie beak and I thought, this can't be good.

And speaking of privates and privacy, the topic came up when my son asked to be by himself in his room the other day.

Him: I want to be by myself mommy.
Me: You want me to give you some privacy?
Him: Yes, I want some privacy. Gimme some privacy.
Me: You say, Mommy I'd like some privacy please.
Him: Mommy, I want some privacy please.
Me: Okay, I'll leave and give you some privacy.
Him: No, I want your privacy!
Me: Okay, I'm going.
Him: No, give me the privacy!
Me: Sweetie, privacy is when you are by yourself.
Him: No, give it to me. I want it.
Me: I can give it to you only if I leave.
Me: Bubba (term of endearment), privacy isn't something you can hold or eat. It's not a toy. It's just what you get when you're alone. Why am I explaining this? I should just get him a toy and call it privacy and be done

This conversation continued along the same vein for about a half hour until I finally said, do you want some chocolate milk instead? And he said yes.

We'll have to revisit privacy. Maybe when there are enough towels to go around.