March 4, 2010

Crafty parenting

RAY ROUTHIER

— By

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Staff Writer

efore she had children, Amanda Blake Soule worked in advertising. She tried to use her creativity to help clients get noticed.

But when she had the first of her four children, she began using her creativity on them. By the time her third child was on the way, Soule had begun blogging about her creative parenting activities, including arts and crafts projects, ways to connect with nature, and how to spend more time together as a family. Her blog can be found at www.soulemama.com.

The blog led to Soule writing two books. The first was ''The Creative Family.'' Her second book, ''Handmade Home'' (Trumpeter Books, $21.95) came out in August, and focuses on sewing projects that can help turn used materials into ''new family treasures.''

Soule, 33, lives in Portland and spends her days with her children, ranging in age from 10 months to 8 years. She and her husband, Steve Soule, home-school their children. Steve is a civil engineer who has a flexible schedule that allows him to be home the majority of the work week.

Income from the blog and books is a big help in allowing Soule and her family to continue spending their days together.

''The blog and the books really help keep this going, making us able to be together as a family,'' Soule said.

Q: How did you start blogging about creative parenting ideas?

A: I started blogging in 2005. I had two children and was pregnant with my third. It was pretty early, there wasn't a ton out there, and I just really wanted a way to connect with family and friends that were away. Also, to sort of record our days. As a stay-at-home mom, the days were sort of blending into one another, and at the end of the day, it can feel like you did absolutely nothing, even though you did everything.

So it was a good way to mark my creative journey, so to speak, and very quickly it kind of grew and took on a life of its own in terms of readership. I just started writing a little bit about our everyday life and the creative work and play that we were doing as a family, and then about a year into blogging I was contacted by a publishing company and asked if I had interest in writing a book. Which I did.

Q: What did you blog about, or write about, early on?

A: It was about making things with the kids. I wrote about our crafts projects. What makes it different from a straight-up crafts how-to is that I try to write about enjoying the small, simple moments in our lives with our children. And ways to encourage their creativity and imagination without the use of television and video games.

Q: Where do you get your ideas for the projects in your books?

A: My kids. Our days are spent together at home, which allows the time for these things to happen. I think having access to art and craft materials is really, really important for them. And just nurturing their creativity I think is one of my biggest jobs as their mom. I work really hard on all different sorts of ways to do that, through reading and playing and imaginative play and just the tools and toys we have around us. Just from our days living together and nurturing who they are.

Q: Is the new book just sewing projects?

A: It's mostly sewing. There are a few paper projects in there too. It's mostly projects for the family home. Some you do with children, some that are inspired by children, and some that are for children.

The whole book is based on re-purposed material. So it's all about the old-fashioned Yankee DIY, use what you have philosophy. To make what you need and use what you have. And to do with a little bit less, and just to think creatively about the materials you use. That totally comes from my grandparents, all four of them, growing up in the Depression.

But it fits with my environmental values and my social values too. It's also about trying to live a life that's quieter. There's so much noise in our lives right now, with so much technology and busy schedules. This book, and my purpose, is to try to kind of slow us down a little bit and focus again on handmade (things) and time together, things like that.

Q: What are some general tips you might offer to people who want to slow down and do more creative projects with their kids, but don't think they have the time?

A: I think the important thing is to start small and be realistic with what you do have for a lifestyle and schedule. That may mean turning off the television and the phone and the computer for an hour every Sunday night and just being together without any of that distraction. Just spending time together and starting that way.

There are a lot of projects (the family does) and family drawing time is a big one. After dinner, we'll roll out a piece of paper and draw together. It's something so simple, but just so important.

Q: Do you have another book in mind? Or in the works?

A: I do. I'm just wrapping up my third book, that my husband and I are writing together. It's a book about families connecting to the seasons. So it's a yearlong cycle of craft projects and activities, focusing on families and nature.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

rrouthier@pressherald.com

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