Pencil, paper… bright ideas!

Welcome to the November 2014 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Indoor Play

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared ideas and inspiration to keep families happy and healthy while cooped up indoors.


Like many other mothers I love to create. I enjoy baking, painting, drawing, sewing, knitting, writing and gardening. The list is endless! However, since I gave birth to my first child seven years ago I’ve realized that many of those creative pursuits seem to be (or are) incompatible with the actual business of mothering.

Yet over the years I’ve also learnt how important it is for my own wellbeing to have a creative hobby. So, like many other mothers I’ve learnt how to find pockets of time for my own creativity. Some mothers find that they need quiet, solitary time to create. Naptimes and evening times work best for them. I certainly appreciate quiet for drawing and writing, but I can no longer always rely on sleep times now for my own creative pursuits. Which is why I like to get creative alongside my children during the day. By doing this, I can guarantee that I get a little time for creativity each day.

As painting and drawing is something that we all enjoy this is something that we all tend to do if we have one of those days when it’s so cold or windy outside that no one feels like braving the weather.

Two things I’ve learnt from my ‘art sessions’ (as I like to call them) is this:

1) ‘Messy’ art that has the potential to stain clothes, carpets and surfaces are probably best avoided if I don’t feel I have the patience (or energy) on that particular day to be philosophical about the mess. (And by the way, I’ve tried various covers, table cloths, floor covers etc. but my son is too much of a genius of the random splash to fall for any of my cunning protective paint traps!)

Likewise, an art activity that uses very expensive materials is most likely to cause me to worry about how much of that material each child is using, and so again, perhaps making the experience less fun for everyone!

2) Having too high expectations of how much I can get done alongside my children is almost always a recipe for an unhappy mother. I’ve found that starting the art session with a ‘let’s see what happens’ attitude is much better than an ‘I’m going to get at least this done, and then this, and this…’ attitude.

So what do we like to do? LOTS!

At the moment, we’re very much into simple pencil (or pen) and paper fun.

  • One of the easiest things to do is the (what we call) ‘one line’ game. Each person has an A4 (or A3) piece of paper which they draw just the one line on. The line can be curvy, or squiggly, or spiky, though it’s best if it goes right across the paper, from one end to the other. When each person has drawn their line they pass it to their partner who draws something incorporating that very first line. It can be a landscape, or a portrait, or a funny doodle, or a something else — just use your imagination! Once you’re both finished, show each other your works of art. You’ll be amazed at what’s been created from just one line!
RB 'One line art' mountain range

RB ‘One line art’ mountain range


MS 'One line art' face

MS ‘One line art’ face


  • Another family favourite is the ‘crazy dudes’ game. Again, each person has a piece of paper (portrait orientation works best for this) and you each draw a head in the top quarter of the piece of paper. You then fold the piece of paper over the head (so that your partner can’t see the head, but only the base of the neck) and then swap pieces of paper. Each person then adds a torso below the neck in what is, roughly, the second quarter of the piece of paper. Once you’ve drawn the torso, fold the piece of paper over the torso (so that no one can see what has been drawn before) and then swap again and then draw the legs from the base of the torso. Fold the piece of paper over the legs once you’re done with the leg drawing, swap pieces of paper and then finally, draw the feet. Once you’ve both done the feet, swap and open up each folded piece of paper so that you can admire the ‘crazy dude’ you’ve drawn!

[WARNING: this game can get addictive.]


Three 'crazy' dudes (drawn by all the family)

Three ‘crazy’ dudes (drawn by all the family)


  • Which brings me on to more collaborative fun. As I particularly like to draw faces I can quickly sketch a something which I then pass on to one of my children. They add the body and the surroundings and voila! a new being has been created.
'Swimming teacher in the garden' collaborative art by MS and 6 year old daughter RB

‘Swimming teacher in the garden’ collaborative art by MS and 6 year old daughter RB


MS + JB collaborative art

Collaborative art by MS and 4 year old son JB

For more inspiration on this theme, do check out this incredible post:


  • Origami fortune tellers are also a lot of fun.
Origami fortune teller

Origami fortune teller

Here’s a good link for how to make one:

But again, a warning — they can get rather addictive!

  • Then there’s the time-honoured ‘guess what I’m drawing’ game. Both kids like to snuggle up on either side of me and try to guess what I’m drawing. The first person to guess correctly what I’m drawing gets a point. And the first person to get to 5 points gets to be the next one who does the drawing. As we’re all quite attune to what we each like to draw from our imaginations (or surroundings) both guessers often guess the correct answer at the same time!
The drawing guessing game

The drawing guessing game. The object on the bottom right is a very old and deformed candle!

Willy Wonka's chocolate factory board game, by TCB

Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory board game, by TCB


So that’s just a small sample of the fun we have with pencil and paper (or magnetic sketching pad). However, once you bring in just one or two other items e.g. scissors and glue then you can start on all kinds of other fun arty paper crafts such as paper cutting or making collages from random bits of paper. (Cutting heads and bodies out of magazines and then adding your own drawings to them is really good fun too!).

  • I really like the idea of using up all the old paint swatches I have hanging around. I think this would make for a really fun project:

(By the way — as you’d expect — my seven year old is more into paper crafts than my four year old who’s most happy with paper and pen, or paint. Actually, he loves glue, but the main game then becomes ‘what can I smear this on’!).

Of course we have days when we don’t just want to draw. Then we have lots of fun with paints or printing or marbling — all sorts! I’ve also gleaned a lot of ideas from the wonderful Amy over at Amy Hood Arts. Her e-zine ‘Art Together’ is inspirational!

The main thing is to have fun. I’ve been so inspired by just watching my children, and doodling alongside them. Their creations and their limitless imaginations feed mine; I always take away a whole bundle of ideas for future drawings/paintings after we’ve been having arty fun together. I’m sure that this stems from the fact that we have no great expectations, no fixed ideas on ‘how things should look’. The main emphasis is on play. And that’s how it should be.

Do let me know if you have any of your own favourite paper and pencil games — I’m always on the lookout for more!

“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect, but by the play instinct arising from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the object it loves.” — Carl Jung


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated by afternoon November 11 with all the carnival links.)

Begone all spooks!

There are always times of increase and times of decrease. I guess they roughly follow the shape of a sine wave: up and down, up and down, up and down. It’s particularly in those ‘down times’ that we look to the future, that we hope that, “This time next year we’ll be millionaires.” (I’m a big fan of Only Fools and Horses, can you tell?!)

I’ve really loved being at home with both children this half-term. We’ve done lots of fun things, enjoyed being outside amidst glorious autumn colour and spent time with loving grandmothers.

Yet in the background my email inbox has been pinging away with writing rejections. I don’t often write about my writing – any free time, just for me, is crammed full of creativity, and I find that writing about that creativity seems to be a hindrance to me doing more creative things. So I admit, I’m not great at letting people know what I’m up to.

But on the writing front it has been busy! I have pretty much finished editing my first novel, I’ve written a few short stories, several pieces of flash fiction and many poems. And I’ve actually been sending them out (which, I find, to be the greatest faff of all!). I’ve been pretty organized about my submissions recently and kept a note of what I’ve been sending out. I can see that since July I’ve made 21 submissions. I do feel a great sense of achievement for just getting those things out there.

After years of sending work out, I’m pretty philosophical about rejections. I try to see it as a pleasant bonus to be published; the real treasure is in the craft of writing, when my Muse takes flight and I find myself transported to another world.

But… being a highly sensitive person, I still find that a part of me takes rejections personally, and so I cannot help but find that they lower my mood. I really do understand the odds. It’s tough finding just the right magazine/publisher/online site for that piece of writing; and then of course I know that there must be several hundred (or perhaps several thousand) other writers submitting their work alongside mine too. And each one of us hopes for the ‘yes’ that gives us a sense that what we are doing is worthwhile, and even, perhaps, wins us a little bit of much-needed money.

Rejections are absolutely manageable, but when they’re accompanied by a chest full of cough and cold, huge amounts of work to do for my other job as founder of a small press, and continued financial uncertainty in our family finances it somehow all feels like too much. It feels as though the ‘down time’ is here to stick around for a while.

Tonight as I go trick-or-treating with the kids I hope that our own Jack-o’-lantern will serve to ward off some of the spookiness of rejections; I especially want it to banish those tricksy thoughts which come unbidden alongside a rejection: What’s the point of all this effort? Maybe you’re just not cut out to be a writer. 

And if the Jack-o’-lantern can actually do anything about the actual rejections too, that’ll be a real bonus! [I’ll keep you posted about that… :-)]


Grinning Jack-o'-lantern, photo by Marija Smits

Grinning Jack-o’-lantern, photo by Marija Smits




When I was about fifteen or sixteen, I had to write a kind of list poem for my English studies. I think I called it something like ‘Nervousness’ and it was a whole list of things that made me feel ‘nervousness’. My teacher corrected me, writing that ‘anxiety’ was a better word to use. She may have been right, but I still think ‘nervousness’ has the right kind of twang to it. It seems to better describe the anticipation/anxiety that lingers in my stomach before any event of importance to me.

Anyway. My point is this: it was a long list. Now that I’m aware that I’m a highly sensitive person (HSP) the ‘nervousness’ makes sense. It is mostly about anticipation; it is normal for a highly sensitive person to seemingly ‘overreact’ to certain situations yet to come. For me, there is BAD anticipation and GOOD anticipation. Normally, I don’t like to use words like ‘good’ and ‘bad’, but you know what, for anxiety these words fit!

GOOD anticipation can make my stomach flutter and twist at the mere thought of something that I’m looking forward to, such as meeting with loved ones or friends; a good TV programme, a yummy meal, a chance to do some art… the list goes on.

BAD anticipation was at its peak when I did my piano exams when I was a teenager. The coming piano exam would loom large and fill me with dread, twisting my stomach into knots, days before the actual event. Then hours and minutes beforehand it was all I could think of… my stomach would threaten to empty its contents, my legs turned to jelly and my hands became sweaty. (The aforementioned sweaty hands are not good for a pianist!) I didn’t tell anyone about my anxiety – externally I must have looked okay, and I managed to sit the exams and pass. But, but, but… those nerves were dreadful. Joanne Limburg is spot on when she termed her anxiety ‘my Unbearable Feeling’ in her excellent book The Woman Who Thought Too Much. For me it is (almost) unbearable too.

I recently had to dialogue with somebody about something that I felt passionately about. It had the potential to be stressful. Days beforehand I worried about it, thinking through various hypothetical conversations, what phrases I should use… On the actual day of the dialogue I got myself into a right old pickle, crying on the loo… my stomach threatening to empty its contents, my legs turning to jelly and my hands becoming sweaty. Not good for a grown-up with a Ph.D., a mother of two, a professional…

Like most of the other situations that I’ve been anxious about though, it ended up being fine. I looked okay from the outside; I spoke calmly and it went okay. But afterwards I had a good cry. It was all so overwhelming. It’s at times like these that I hate being an HSP. Hate it.

Focussing on breathing, being mindful of the actual present moment can all help in the run-up to the stressful event, but I’ve not yet found myself to be able to fully control my nerves. Perhaps it’ll take a lifetime of trying. I don’t know.

Is there anything useful about these nerves? Well, they tell me that I care deeply about certain things. And despite putting myself into a situation that is high-stress (in my view), I can do it. I can do the stressful ‘thing’ (and cope with ‘the unbearable feeling’) and come through the other side.

I recently started Zentangling (learning from this wonderful book) and one of my favourite Zentangles is called ‘Knight’s Bridge’ (basically a checkerboard pattern of black and white squares). Getting through the stressful situation is like crossing a ‘Knight’s Bridge’. If I can see that I’m doing the stressful thing because it is of benefit to me or my family (or simply the right thing to do) then that helps. It is also good to know that there is an end in sight. Perhaps afterwards I can even feel a little ‘knightly’ for having done the thing and endured ‘the unbearable feeling’. This zentangle will be a small reminder that there will always be bridges to cross, hurdles to overcome. The ‘unbearable feeling’ may always want to tag along while I’m crossing the bridge, but who knows, maybe one day it’ll get bored and go away; and whether or not it’s there, I’m still going to cross the bridge.


Zentangle, featuring Knight's Bridge, by Marija Smits

Zentangle, featuring Knight’s Bridge, by Marija Smits


Many thanks to Amanda at WriteAlm for the writing prompts :-)




Of course I love to look upwards and gaze at the beauty of the stars. Looking at the constellations is a potent reminder of just how small I am; of how insignificant human life is. My troubles are as nothing to the vastness of the sky and the magnitude of the universe… How wonderful that the Creator filled the sky with all those points of light; all those colours produced by the setting sun, the rising sun, the many fantastic effects of the planets and other heavenly bodies. I cannot help but try to imagine how it felt to create all that beauty…

Yet of course us humans do not lead our lives gazing up at the stars. We turn our minds to more mundane matters; work, chores and of course, our own troubles.

How wonderful it is then to get a marvellous reminder of the wonder of human creativity and of the enormity of the infinitesimally small?

Just the other day my children and I began to do some marbleizing (marbling). According to my husband we were engrossed in this for almost 2 hours. It was engrossing! It was simply fascinating watching the acrylic inks drop onto the surface of the marbling solution, and then float and grow. We swirled the colours with wooden toothpicks, producing all kinds of constellation-like effects with the pigments, and we revelled in their beauty.

So perhaps we experienced a little of the Creator’s joy when creating the constellations. We manipulated matter and were delighted as we watched the larger effects of molecules interacting, dancing, creating new and unique constellations… We created our own universe. And it was good.


Marbling 'blue and white and red galaxy' by Marija Smits and family

Marbling ‘blue and white and red galaxy’ by Marija Smits and family



Multicoloured universe by Marija Smits and family

Multicoloured universe by Marija Smits and family


And if you’d like to have a go at marbling this is helpful:

Many thanks to Amanda at Writealm for the writing prompts :-)

Overwhelm and holidays

Before we went on holiday last month I was exhausted. There were a lot of loose ends to tie up work-wise, writing-wise, art-wise and the inevitable huge list of chores to do before we were suitably ready to finally leave the house…

I was very ready for a holiday. I took my laptop with me so that I could write but in the end I never even opened it. Getting away from home was good for me, and good for us as a family. I had a few very early nights, falling asleep when the kids went to sleep, and a few nights I stayed awake long enough to have a cup of decaf tea and to chat with my husband. We took our time to get ready in the mornings, spent most of the days at the beach (one day at a dinosaur-themed park) and also visited a castle. The only ‘officially’ creative thing I did was to sketch. Spare moments (mostly on the loo!) were spent reading.


Sketch of shell, by Marija Smits, August 2014

Sketch of shell, by Marija Smits (August 2014)


Sketch of view from Coppett Hall beach, by Marija Smits (August 2014)

Sketch of view from Coppett Hall beach, by Marija Smits (August 2014)




A lot of the time I find myself just about ‘holding things together’ and I (mostly) fool myself into thinking that it’s manageable. This is probably because it is difficult to admit to being overwhelmed by looking after two children, running a household, trying to keep a small press afloat and maintaining enriching relationships with members of my family (and myself!). It is the age-old issue of pressure: pressure on oneself to be more than human and (perceived) pressure from society to be super-human.

From the book The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron, I remembered reading about ‘chronic overarousal’ (or chronic overwhelm). This is when stress/anxiety levels have remained high for a long enough period to turn the highly sensitive person into a gibbering wreck. It also makes the person even more sensitive to stimulation, so that a small issue immediately becomes huge, so the whole thing feeds itself, becoming a cycle of overwhelming anxiety that is hard to break.

I think that before our holiday I had got to this state of chronic overwhelm. So reducing the amount I had to do, getting more sleep and more time out in nature all helped to put me on a more even keel.

Now that my eldest has been at school for more than a week I am getting back into the swing of things, and I am trying to remember the importance of keeping chronic overwhelm at bay, to keep going at a pace that isn’t too frantic…

There is a nip in the air; the soil is dry and tree leaves are beginning to turn red, gold, brown… I lament the loss of the summer, the passing of another season and a season so full of light, energy, things to do… Yet, autumn is a reminder that nature, itself, slows down. I would do well to heed that message.


A week ago yesterday school broke up. On that last day of term I took my eldest (youngest in tow, as usual) to school, and the mood in the playground was celebratory. Children, and parents alike, were glad that the holidays were almost here. Yet there were tears too.

On the way to school I had noticed a mother sitting in her car, having already dropped off her child, crying secret tears. I guessed that she had a child in the last year of primary school and that this could well be her last school run.

Sigh… the last school run.

The move from primary to secondary school is a big one. There are many such moves, or transitions, in life and for those of us blessed with a sensitive soul they can be particularly fraught.

For mothers these periods of transitions — milestones if you will — are another reminder of things past… a phase in our child’s life that will never be repeated. And as much as we rejoice in their achievements and look forward to the good times in the future it is bitter, this cup.

There are many times that I’ve thought that I’d like to preserve my children, just as they are, right now. I would like this moment in time frozen, preserved forever, like the swirl of glass in a marble. For a happy childhood is a jewel indeed.

Yet it is not to be. And it brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it. This is what it is to be human.

But still… I long for control; to be more-than-human, to have the ability to speed up, or slow, or freeze time.

Yet it is not to be.

I can no more preserve this moment in time than a glass-blower can produce a marble without heat.


Marble, by Marija Smits

Marble, by Marija Smits



With many thanks to Amanda at Writealm for continuing to provide this writer with inspiration :-)

And p.s. if you want to draw a marble like mine above, go check out: It is an absolute treasure-trove of useful art-related stuff!


A prizewinning week [or] subjectivity vs objectivity

Despite my husband being away last week, and so it being an incredibly hectic week, it was a good week. There was Sports Day and the local horticultural, arts & crafts show and the funfair and the local open arts festival… and I wanted all of us to somehow take part in all of these events. Thankfully, my mum came to stay with us for a few days so I got some much-needed (and greatly appreciated) help. While she played with my youngest I mounted and framed some of my pictures which were then ‘on show’ in the local open arts festival. I also entered a different set of pictures for the horticultural, arts & crafts show and I also encouraged my children to get involved by entering some of their own pictures.

Three pictures, by Marija Smits (entered in local open arts festival)

Three pictures, by Marija Smits (entered in local open arts festival)

It was all rather busy, but we had fun. My daughter came third in the beanbag-on-the-head race and fourth in the skipping race. My son came first in the toddler race. They both loved taking part – and I even ran in the mums’ race (while carrying my son!).

On the Saturday, before we went to the horticultural, arts & crafts show (via the funfair of course) to see if our pictures had received any prizes my daughter and I had a conversation about subjectivity and objectivity. We discussed how the judges of ‘creative’ competitions have a difficult task – they need to be able to take into account so many things in their choices, for example: the composition of the picture, the skill in the brushwork (or pencil marks), the choice of colour palette, subject matter etc. but ultimately it’s very much a subjective decision – one that is based on feeling and intuition, rather than facts. Judging a sports competition is easier since it is just about the facts. Who covered the set distance in the shortest time? Who threw the ball (or javelin) the furthest? At the end of a day, there is no right way to paint a picture, though there are of course various tried-and-tested routes to producing a picture which is realistic and pleasing to the eye.

My daughter was philosophical when her picture didn’t get awarded a prize, and she was generous in her ‘well dones’ when her brother and I each received third prize.

Then the very next day, at the local arts festival, my daughter received first prize for a photo she’d taken of her brother. She won a bar of chocolate and a Hobbycraft voucher (this is very, very welcome) and so we got to be generous with our ‘well dones’. It was a lovely way to round off the week, and the chocolate has been a big hit!

So although I’m not a big fan of ‘judging’ others’ creations (descriptive recognition is my big thing) I felt that overall it was worth taking part. It was good to feel part of a community sharing and enjoying each other’s creativity and I think that we all got enthused and inspired to produce more art for next year. I think that this has to be the ultimate creative goal, to simply make more because it is enjoyableand as a byproduct to ‘making more’ the artistic skills also happen to improve. Double bonus!

As for the chocolate, I swear I haven’t even had the tiniest nibble, although I have asked for a bit just the once or twice… ;-)