Author Archive | Debra Smouse

Sunday Sanctuary: Laundry Day


Every Thursday, I strip the sheets off our bed. If possible, I open the bedroom windows and invite the fresh spring air to waft across the now naked bed. The sheets are tossed into the washer with warm water and a cap-full of Downy Unstoppables.

I gather the towels.

The chocolate bath towels from the master bath, damp after Thursday morning’s preparation to face the world. One singleclothespinfrom John’s towel bar and two from mine. I grab the matching chocolate hand towels, a toothpaste dotted one from the ring next to his sink and make-up smeared one from the ring by my sink. In the upstairs bathroom, I seize the maroon towel, usually tossed next to the sink. And in the downstairs bath, I find two blue towels, one plaid and one cornflower.

This assembly of towels is added to the collection of washcloths waiting in the laundry room. One last survey reveals the orange and yellow striped dishtowels in the kitchen.

Yes, Thursday is my Linen Day. By the time John returns home from work, there will be clean towels in each bath and fresh sheets on the bed. Linen Day makes me feel skilled as a housekeeper. More significant, it makes me feel nurtured and loved. Is there anything more delicious (and nurturing) than that first night of sleep on clean sheets?

It wasn’t long before I discovered the wisdom of designating Thursday not just as Linen Day, but as Laundry Day.

Thursday means hot water, bleach, and load of thick white undershirts and cotton handkerchiefs. Thursday results include clean workday wear – his polo shirts and my warm weather “uniform” of golf clothes – washed in cold water and Tide Ultra Stain Release (due to my propensity to spill). I round out Laundry Day with one last load. Warm water, Tide Plus Febreze Sport Active Fresh, and those colorful cloth stink magnets: gym shorts, boxer briefs, black socks, and sweatpants.

This litany of laundry may seem too boring, incredibly rigid, and have nothing to do with my creative pursuits. But I share this with you because it helps fuel my creative life. Having a household schedule provides the structure I need to care for my home and doubles as a way to squash the excuse that the pile of laundry is the proof (excuse) that I am “just too busy” to devote time to writing.

Back before the ease of modern washing machines, the traditional day for laundry was Monday. I’m sure the clothesline-804811-byJill-Wellingtonbackbreaking task of tending the family’s clothes is why housewives called it “Blue Monday”. It also explains the traditional Monday meal in New Orleans: Red Beans & Rice. An easy dish to put on the stove in the morning for dinner when attention would otherwise diverted.

I know that it sounds easier to do a load of wash a day, thus spreading out the chore. It was the norm during the years I worked in an office, tossing a load in the washer as I left for work and finishing the drying / folding part before bedtime.

For the quality of my daily life, my work life, and yes, my creative life, only doing laundry once or twice a week has actually meant freedom.

Laundry Day has helped free my thoughts. No more trying to remember if there’s a load in the washer waiting or worse a Mount Washmore pile growing daily. And no more wondering if everyone has clean clothes for work. This means I focus my thoughts on what to write in a work blog or which direction I want to take a fictional character.

It’s freed up my time. I remember many sad discoveries of an almost dry wad of clothing in the washer complete with a slightly musty smell, which had to washed a second (or third) time. And rather than needing to make time to do a load each day, a rhythm emerges allowing me to focus on writing or coaching while a load spins and a load dries.

My Thursday Laundry Days have also been a part of freeing up my soul.

During those years of no household schedules, untidy rooms, and mountains of laundry, I felt ashamed of my inability to be a good housekeeper. And there was the guilt, too. Taking time to create rather than tend the mess and piles always was guilt ridden.

Talk about harming your creative soul, guilt and shame do numbers on them.

I’m no longer telling myself little white lies about schedules, either. That’s soul freeing because writing fictional tales is one thing but lying to yourself is another.

As a chronically messy person, I tell myself that clutter is a sign of my own creative genius. Research shows that while this is a common trait of creative genius, I’ve learned that a cluttered environment makes it harder to finish projects. To lie to myself and say that my mess is ok all the time actually harms my ability to focus and makes my thoughts feel cloudier.

We creatives often shy away from structure. We tell ourselves that it will inhibit our artistic expression. We tell ourselves that we want freedom and schedules will make us feel shackled. We tell ourselves that true creative people do not need systems as it will keep us from our ability to be original.

I’ve learned that structure, schedules, and systems are actually a way to protect my creative life.

Imagine (if you will) that I am a happy-go-lucky Golden Retriever with daily visits the local dog park. All those structures are like the fences, and within that safe space, I can let my imagination and creativity run free. My systems keep from running out into proverbial traffic. My routines allow me to play to my heart’s content within the boundaries of my work, and still tend the other important pieces of my life. My schedules open up space for work, play, and dedicated time to create.

I know that having a laundry day is a luxury thanks to my ability to work from home and control my schedule. What isn’t a luxury, though, is how laundry day (and the rest of my household schedule) has come to represent a sense WritingOnTheDeck_DebraSmouseof freedom for my creative life.

Because as wonderful as drifting off to sleep while nestled in fresh laundered sheets feels, it pales in comparison to the reward of guilt-free time for creation. So, yes, thanks to Laundry Day, I have the space to spend more time focused on creative living.

Like spending a random spring morning writing encouraging letters to a friend and love notes to myself in my journal. Freed from the shame of being a poor keeper of my home and released from the guilt of waiting chores. Bathing in pleasure, I dive into the luxurious opportunity to create.

What about YOU? How might a schedule for your household chores or other routine help give you more freedom to create?

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Create a Life You Love: Straightforward Wisdom for Creating the Life of Your Dreams. She resides in Dayton, Ohio where she practices the art of living with the Man of Her Dreams. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Studio Tour: Debra Smouse

Modern Creative Life Presents Studio Tours

First and foremost, I am a lover of words and the stories they create. I write because I must allow myself to unfold my own stories on the page. I do this as a way to teach and support my coaching practice. I create courses to help folks get from here to there.  I wrote about about Creating a Life You Love and published my collection as a book.

Most of all, though, I write because it’s how I unearth my own truths.

My writing studio is set up in the lower level of our home. We have a “basement walk-out” and so each morning, I commute downstairs. While I can easily walk outside and watch the golfers or the geese, I work better down here than I did when I worked upstairs in a room that faced the street.

A peek into the door reveals this vintage desk. It was John’s father’s desk and before that it was his grandfather’s desk. I love it’s shape but most of all I love the energy.

Debra Smouse Studio Tour - 1

I scatter favorite photos and sometimes candles here. That lamp is one I received for Christmas the year that I was 12 and it has illuminated many of my words over the last thirty-six years.

You’ll see my art, most of which consists of photographs I’ve taken. Photos that have special meanings. Like the Cherry Blossom photos I took the weekend I met John for the first time…subsequent peeks of DC  and Central Park in the Fall.

Debra Smouse Studio Tour - 2

And to the left  of the door you’ll find the only recycled item in my office: an old TV stand serves as a space to store cards, stationary, and cuttings from magazines for future vision boards.  I am in love with these document boxes and these soft bins.

And, of course, flowers. I love having fresh flowers in my office.

During holy seasons or pinnacle calendar days, this sometimes serves as an altar space (like for my “Spring Altar“)

Debra Smouse Studio Tour - 3

Yes, I chose this room due to its lack of windows because like Mark Twain, I’m curious about the world outside and therefore prone to distraction. And like Twain, my desk faces the corner.

I love this desk, by the way. It’s the Bedford Corner desk from Pottery Barn and it’s the first time I’ve ever invested in this kind of piece for myself rather than buy the cheapest thing I could find or making do with a recycled item from elsewhere in the house. It was an investment in myself and my work in a writer that went beyond the actual dollar figure spent.

Purchasing this desk was a sign of commitment to this life here in Ohio. A commitment to writing. A reminder of love, belonging, and sanctuary.

I have everything at hand: My planner, my journal,  and computer (with a new monitor on my wishlist). Favorite pens and of course space for the necessities of life (coffee) and favorite photos. Each item here has been purposely cultivated because everything has energy.

Debra Smouse Studio Tour - 4

To the left of my desk is a matching bookshelf with a stock of Leuchtturm1917 Notebooks in a rainbow of colors…I like having extra journals on hand because you never know when you’ll need a new one. The letters I’ve received are stored here …. and on top, one of my favorite photos of John (taken on our 2015 Vacation) and a stack of files for various trips and projects.

Debra Smouse Studio Tour - 5

Above my desk is my cork-board, where I have a variety of inspirational quotes and cards mixed in with calendars and  little note cards outlining various deadlines for projects.

I wasn’t able to find a board that I loved, so I had this one made at a local craft store, choosing a light-weight frame that matched all the framed art in my office and having them wet-mount cork instead of art.

Debra Smouse Studio Tour - 6

My Bookshelves are across my from desk. These bookshelves are the only furniture I brought with me from Texas to Ohio when I did that massive de-cluttering in 2010….Reference books and loved books abound. Old journals. More photos I’ve taken and framed. The final few copies of the 3rd printing of my book.

Scattered about are sacred talismans as well. Like on my desk, each item has been cultivated for my space. I quarterly look at each book and item to see what needs to go.

Debra Smouse Studio Tour - 10

Because sacred connection is important to me, I had this custom rosary made by Lunaea Weatherstone . It’s a “Goddess Rosary”. I told Lunae that I wanted an image of the Blessed Mother and she created this lovely collage for the medallion

(email her for your own custom piece – or friend her on Facebook to get a peek at rosaries in progress waiting for homes)

Debra Smouse Studio Tour - 7

Books for coaching and living stand alongside tokens and reminders. The lantern to remind me that my role is to serve as a light and guide for my coaching clients….and a Buddha candle holder and heart-shaped stone to remind me of my responsibility to tend my own soul.

Debra Smouse Studio Tour - 8

Books by dear friends, prayer cards and crystals and candles…and some of my beloved Trixie Belden books.

Debra Smouse Studio Tour - 9

A photo of John and I fooling around in a photo booth reminds me of the joy and laughter and love we share…and here, also, are tiny talismans: a rose quartz, a butterfly from the roses he sent me on our first Valentine’s…and these sit alongside my favorite books on love and intimate relationships.

Not pictured: the dozens of candles that make their way into my space. I light them as prayers for sick friends and when I begin a new project. I light ones for specific intentions, in honor of specific souls passed, and as a beacon of light.

Virginia Wolfe said that a woman needs a room of her own in order to write…and I am so grateful that I have this room to serve me as my writing studio.

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Create a Life You Love: Straightforward Wisdom for Creating the Life of Your Dreams. She resides in Dayton, Ohio where she practices the art of living with the Man of Her Dreams. When she’s not waiting for the mailman, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

For the Love of Letters

Late in the summer of 2015, I began a letter writing project with a friend. We chose to focus our exchange (mostly) Writing Letters in a Cafeon our creative lives and how everything else affected our ability to become more devoted to our creative needs and desires.

Eight months later, we are still exchanging handwritten letters around the subject of our creative lives and creative living on the whole.

It’s been an incredibly nourishing project and process. I’ve long preferred paper over email and cannot imagine why we didn’t begin writing sooner, yet it also forced me to take a good hard look at my need for instant gratification.

What happens in that in between times as I wait for the next chapter to arrive in my mailbox? What will she think of my letter? Was I too honestly naked?  How does waiting for an answer to a question make me feel? How does it nourish me creatively and spiritually?

I anxiously await the next letter. When it arrives, I savor it once and then again and maybe after a third (or fourth) reading, I pen a response. And then the process begins again.

Writing Letters early in the morning (with coffee)My biggest take aways from this process (so far) has  been:

  • The slower pace of letter writing is forcing me to slow down and is training my focus. In my inability to get an answer as quickly as my instant-gratification-trained brain would like, I am learning the virtues of patience in other areas of my creative life as well.
  • During the in-between times, I am anxious to not only receive the next letter, but more inspired to put my pen to paper and work on projects.
  • Writing letters has forced me to dig a little deeper, be more vulnerable, be more honest, and be a bit daring.
  • Since I began writing letters by hand (and writing in a paper journal), I more easily process my thoughts, emotions, and the world around me.

I’m not alone. Research shows that writing by hand helps us process information in a more conceptual way. While this study wasn’t about the process of letter writing, I can tell you that the process of laying open my dreams and fears on paper to a trusted soul via paper and ink has been a process that has helped me look at my creative life from a different lens.

The U.S. Postal Services has named April to be National Card and Letter-Writing Month.  The USPS’s goal is to boost written — and mailed — communications to build relationships through cards and letters:  “Touch them with a letter they can feel — and keep.”

Writing letters has been a loving way to tend my own creative life and my guess is that no matter who you are, taking a pen in hand and penning a missive to someone you trust would benefit your creative life as well.

If you aren’t sure who you would (or could) write to, might I suggest some options?

  • What if you were to write an open letter to a faceless, nameless stranger? Open letters can be good for the soul.
  • What if you took some advice from Chronicle Book and wrote one (or more) letters to the folks they suggest?
  • You know that apology you’ve wanted to make but can’t quite make yourself pick up the phone? How about you put it on paper and drop it in the mail?
  • How about writing little love notes to your significant other and tucking them into lunch boxes and underwear drawers?
  • What if you were to pen a missive to a younger version of yourself? Or a future version of yourself?
  • Write a letter to your muse or mentor (even if that mentor is long gone or fictional).
  • Write a series of love letters to yourself in your journal.
  • What if you were to write letters to various aspects of your life and yourself?

Susannah Conway is offering her “April Love” project with a month of love letters. She’s providing a prompt per day this month and in her words:  To practice love, kindness, honesty and probably a smidge of vulnerability, too. To find gratitude for what we have, where we’ve been and where we’re going.”

April Love

I’m not the only one here at Modern Creative Life that loves letters. In fact, we’ll be happy to take your letter for publication.

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Create a Life You Love: Straightforward Wisdom for Creating the Life of Your Dreams. She resides in Dayton, Ohio where she practices the art of living with the Man of Her Dreams. When she’s not waiting for the mailman, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Sunday Sanctuary


“The ordinary arts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest.”
–Thomas Moore

If you were to travel back to 1976 and tell a little Debra she would one day choose to write a series of esssays about her love of Keeping House, she would think you’d lost your marbles. And the 1996 version of Debra – a harried young mother with two children under five – would appreciate a new dishwasher, but she could never have fathomed the best purchase of the fall of 2015 would have been a new vacuum cleaner.

Yet, here I am in 2016 writing a monthly love note  around the concept that caring for my home nourishes my daily life, feeds my soul, and yes, fuels creative life.

During the process of planning and plotting here at Modern Creative Life, we envisioned a series of intimate letters and essays on Sundays. There is Sunday Brunch from Melissa and Becca will chime in with her  Sunday Salon. And at first, I thought the idea of writing about the love of my vacuum cleaner or lamenting my nemesis dust would be silly.

Yet, to pretend that the status of my home environment doesn’t greatly impact my ability to create would be dishonest. Some people do their best work when times are tough and stressful; I do my best work when I feel safe. And, a clean home makes me feel both safe and loved.

My contribution to our Sunday conversations – Sunday Sanctuary – was born.

The concept of Keeping House isn’t new to me, yet it’s something I’ve always struggled with.  I’ve never been a naturally organized person, yet I am at my happiest and most productive when my surroundings are neat and tidy.

That is the conundrum for not just me, but many creative people I talk with. Creative genius leads to a messy environment and the messiness distracts us from creating.

To be honest, though, when I first read the Trixie Belden books as a child, I envied Trixie her chores.  Trixie was paid trixiebelden_secretofthemansion_deluxeedition$5 a week to help her Moms around the house. Of course, I also envied Trixie her adventures and her friends, but I also envied her having Helen Belden (aka Moms) living an example of how caring for home and hearth equaled love.

Deep down, my intuition was on to something.  Moms understood that the efficient running of a home meant that everyone was in a better position to pursue their dreams.

My mother never got on board with an allowance for chores.  She suggested I just keep my room clean, and I never could. My solution to a messy bedroom in my childhood was shoving stuff under the bed.  Frustrated with my lack of tidiness, she Did It Herself. When I had a house of my own at the tender age of 19, every aspect of caring for a home felt foreign: I didn’t know how to clean, cook, or do laundry.

As I approach my 48th birthday, I can tell you that my skills have come a long way. I get laundry, though I still don’t iron. I love spending time in the kitchen. I strive for a tidy home because it leads to productive days.

Maybe I connected to Trixie and Moms because deep down my soul understood that in order to be my best creative self, I needed to live in a clean and organized home so that I felt free, safe, and loved. It doesn’t come easy to me, but keeping my home neat and tidy means I have a sanctuary where I can create.

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Create a Life You Love: Straightforward Wisdom for Creating the Life of Your Dreams. She resides in Dayton, Ohio where she practices the art of living with the Man of Her Dreams. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf.  She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

A Night with Hathor by Pat West


Sky goddess whose long curved body
touches the earth only with the tips of toes
and fingers. Queen of the sun, sky,
music and inspiration, it was her starry belly,

men saw shining in the night
above them over Alexandria or Cairo.
Here in Portland, I lie on the wet grass,
the bright beam of a waxing

full moon illuminates the inky night
like a silk lantern held high. I ask
for some mystical mojo.
These days I can’t get over being old.

It’s new to me, that my life like a book
has to end. Is tonight any different
from all the others? I know an answer
is as likely as hearing the famous gap

in Nixon’s tapes, still I ask.
Why do I hesitate to leave this place,
even though certain
this is not where I’m meant to die.

My tribe. My people: all dead,
gone decades ago to heaven or hell
or just plain done with me,
barely in my dreams any more.

Tell me Hathor, if I give a few falsetto yips,
switch into maniacal laughter, string together
a chattering howl, can I call the pack—
my family group—back together again?

Where is my final home?
What about Seattle, Atascadero
or Philly?

In the clearing, I lay stones
so they point at each of the four directions.
Jade to the west, smoky quartz north,
hematite south, and to the east tiger’s eye.

About the Author: Pat West

PatWestBioPat Phillips West lives in Portland, Oregon. Her poems have appeared in various journals, including Haunted Waters Press, Persimmon Tree, San Pedro River Review, and Slipstream, and some have earned nominations for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net.

Jump Dive Leap by A.R. Hadley

Clouds forming all around me
Afraid to be myself
Afraid to write
Want to take flight

JumpLeapDiveWriteInto the unknown
Where no one can find me
Can I find me
Can I see myself there
In obscurity
Is what I have worth sharing

Losing the ability to trust that mirror

Forming words out of fear
Is it good enough
Reminding myself
That it is for me
To live
To breathe
To tell
To testify
To be alive
It is for the positivity
It is for the energy
It can only be truly seen
By those with an open heart
By those free
By those unafraid
By those willing to leap

About the Author: A.R. Hadley

ARHadleyBioA.R. Hadley has been a creative writer since elementary school, however, she all but gave it up after her children were born, devoting herself to the lovely little creatures, forgetting the pleasure and happiness derived from being imaginative.

No more.

She rediscovered her passion in 2014, and has not stopped since — writing essays, poetry, and fiction. A.R is currently working on a set of novels as part of a romantic trilogy, and also dabbles in penning short stories.

Day or night, words float around inside her brain. She hears dialogue when awakening from sleep. She is the one who has been awakened. Writing is her oxygen.

Connect on Twitter and Facebook.

Seducing My Creative Life by Debra Smouse

I chose “Create” as my word for 2016 and so far this year, I’ve written less than I have the last four years. It’s a cosmic joke when we choose a guiding word and it challenges us. I try to laugh about it, but I’m the first to admit MyWord2016DebraSmousethat I’m feeling incredibly frustrated. I’m not writing as many blog posts or making much progress on my next book. I’m not doing morning pages or writing in my journal consistently.

I’m not even consistently making my to do lists.

There are external circumstances: some travel, household renovations, etc. My Inner Wisdom whispers that it’s not exactly true.  Beyond the external distractions and demands, the deeper truth is that I am evolving as a creative being and that means that I must create in different ways to grow into that next evolution.

That brings us to the real truth around my lack of writing in the year I chose Create as my guiding word: FEAR.

In order to write differently, I have to go into the unknown. I must leave the comfy routines that have sustained me over the last few years and shift them. My inner critic is digging in her little heels, crossing her arms, and protesting this need to change.

I know I’m not alone in this, but fear also convinces us that we are the only one who could possibly be feeling this.

I’d read a blog post about Bullet Journals and wondered if it would be a helpful. I Googled it like crazy, read tips, and went on Amazon to purchase a (serviceable) black journal Leuchtturm1917 notebook to experiment with the process. It was serviceable and delicious. Not only would the journal fit into my purse with ease, but it was all kinds of delicious in the details: index at the front, numbered pages, two bookmarks, a pocket, and sewn in pages so it lays flat. A solution!

The main purpose for a Bullet Journal for me was all those To Dos that were slipping past me. I’d finally have a place to keep up with all those little things John would toss out like… “the next time you’re at the Auto Parts store, would you pick up…”. Of course, I never go to the auto parts store, but I pass one frequently and having it down on paper would be that reminder I needed.

servedmewellNow I had all those needs, requests for unusual items, and practical lists of tasks with due dates in one place.

Which is when it clicked: I was willing to buy a $19 notebook to hold lists of all my tasks, but I was using $4 sketch books (less if I had a coupon!) for my “real” words.

Don’t get me wrong. Those sketch books and the three solid years of using them were part of my own healing process when it comes to putting my words on paper.

A big part of my coaching philosophy is to encourage clients to use the good stuff. Wear the expensive perfume daily. Use the china for Thanksgiving and a random Tuesday night dinner. Stop saving that favorite dress. Use the good towels and sheets. Don’t save that yummy shower gel.

Didn’t my own creative life deserve to use the good stuff? Didn’t my most sacred writings deserve to be penned into beautiful made notebooks with an index and numbered pages? Didn’t my creative life deserve to have a notebook that fit in my purse so I could take it with me?

Maybe part of learning to create differently this year was to seduce myself with a luscious place to create.

I went back to my good friend Google and began seeking a source for those Leuchtturm1919 notebooks in a different color. I discovered The Goulet Pen Company, where I ordered an Azure Blue notebook for myself and a Royal Blue notebook for a birthday present.

Our creative lives deserve to be seduced and nourished in every possible way. Because how we fuel our inner needs to create lays the foundation for how we cultivate a beautiful daily life.

On March 6th, I wrote my first words in the beautiful azure notebook. Two days later, I wrote a chapter of my next stockingupbook and notated the page number in that handy dandy index at the front so I can find it later.

(And because I know that I need a stock of empty journals waiting in the wings, I ordered notebooks in royal, berry, lemon, and orange.)

I believe one of the most important – and most challenging – parts of creative living is the evaluation process. What is nourishing me? What isn’t working? Where have I evolved? What needs to shift?

It’s important because it is how we continue to grow and evolve. And yes, it’s challenging. Because we thrive on the some level of sameness to the tools we use and the way we work.

There comes a time, though, that in order to be of service to our creativity, we must make some changes. And when it’s feeling frustrating and difficult and when our souls demand we evolve, we need nourishment. To survive the inevitable discomfort, we must remind ourselves that we deserve to use the good stuff.

That maybe in order to grow into our next evolutions, instead of playing the harsh taskmaster, we instead choose to romance our creativity with beautiful things and lots of love.

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Create a Life You Love: Straightforward Wisdom for Creating the Life of Your Dreams. She resides in Dayton, Ohio where she practices the art of living with the Man of Her Dreams. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Conversations Over Coffee: Jeni Britton Bauer

Conversations Over Coffee with MCL

I believe that ice cream is the solution for many of life’s problems. Even on our worst days, a scoop of creamy-delicious goodness can bring smiles to our faces, and on our best days, celebrating with ice cream only heightens the positive experience.

But there are so many brands out there? Which one deserves my love, my loyalty, and my willingness to spend money for an indulgent treat?

If you’re me, that brand is Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream (especially their Whiskey & Pecans flavor). Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream combines the best locally sourced ingredients, dairy, and produce with fair-trade enhancements, resulting in interesting, original flavors that tickle the palate and tease the imagination.

In Summer of 2013, All Things Girl was lucky to interview the founder of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream: Jeni Britton Bauer. Not only is Jeni the founder of my favorite ice cream, she is also the author of The New York Times best-selling Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, which earned Jeni a 2012 James Beard Award (the Oscars of the Cooking World).

This is a re-run of that 2013 interview (which is no longer available online). I can’t think of a better first interview to feature here at Modern Creative Life as we kick off our “Conversations Over Coffee” series.

When it comes to living a creative life, I think you’ll find that Jeni epitomizes everything about it. I hope you are as inspired as I am as you get to know the Woman behind the Scoop.


Some folks (fortunately not me!) may never have heard of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. First of all, tell the readers about Jeni, the woman behind Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.

I’ve been working with ice cream ever since a day at home in the mid ’90s and ice cream occupies my whole life. I pretty much devote every waking minute to thinking about ice cream and how to make the best-possible ice creams in the world. I like to think I haven’t met a wall I can’t get over or through.

Can you tell us the story of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams?

One day in the early ’90s in a figure drawing class at Ohio State University, a model walked in who I didn’t like to draw. I’d been messing around with ice cream and that day I decided I just wanted to go home and make ice cream. So, I stood up and walked out, leaving everything—my portfolio, my art supplies. And I quit everything else in my jeni_7_300life—school, other jobs—and started my first ice cream business within six months.
That business didn’t work.

So, then I took time off, learned about customer service (namely that it’s a great idea to be consistent in the flavors you offer repeat customers), traveled, lived, and learned more about ice cream. In 2002 in the historic North Market in Columbus I opened Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. It was there in that amazing place where I learned from farmers, producers, and mongers everything I know about ingredients. It is also where I learned about how a successful business is run, customer service, product display, and signage. Now, we have 12 shops, our pints are in more than 750 grocery stores coast to coast, and we ship ice cream to any address in America. It’s been a blast and it continues to be.

I think I remember hearing that you began creating ice cream in your home kitchen. Where did that spark of passion for ice cream begin?

It began one day when I mixed cayenne essential oil into regular store bought chocolate ice cream and let it melt slowly on my tongue. It was cold, tasted like chocolate, and about 5 seconds later it burst into flames in the back of my throat. No joke, it was like the sky tore in two, light enveloped me for a moment and I knew right then that ice cream would occupy my whole life. I didn’t know how I would do it, how long it would take, how many people, how much money (of which I had NONE), but I knew it was my path. At that moment, I realized that I had found what I was looking for—a place where art, perfume and culinary collide, and I set sail. I began to make ice cream constantly at home.

What advice would you give to other small business owners to create and maintain a top-notch company and retain quality employees?

We didn’t set out to make the best ice cream in Columbus, or the best ice cream in America, or the world even. We set out to make the best ice cream we could imagine.

This means that we make better ice cream today than we did yesterday, and we will make better ice cream tomorrow than we do today. My advice is: don’t build a better mousetrap, build the best you can imagine. That will keep you on your feet, moving forward. That will keep your team inspired. That will keep you proud of the team, because what you can imagine is always better than what already exists.

What is your first memory of creating something in the kitchen?

My first memory is eating raw scallions, parsley, and cucumber peels from my Grandmother Bette’s garden. We were making salad.

When did the passion grow to a point that you knew you wanted to be a chef?

I don’t think of myself as a chef. For me, ice cream is where art, pastry and perfume collide. That is the craft of our ice cream. You can tell stories and transport people through flavor, texture and scent.

In what ways did your childhood and family influence your choice to follow a career in food?

My grandmother is an artist and she and my grandfather owned a large forest where we would frolic every weekend. We had honey bees, tapped our maple trees for sap which became syrup, and tended gardens in every spot where the sun shone through the trees. We also foraged for wild berries, mushrooms and other edibles.

As an artist, my grandmother taught us to be aware of our senses in the woods. The smell of the forest floor in every season is a vivid memory to me, the air there, the bubbling stream where we would swim in the summer and the sounds in the vast and mysterious space beneath the canopy of trees in each season were unique. If I close my eyes I am transported back there as if I never left.

It isn’t about food for me. It’s about scent. It’s always been about scent. Layering and balancing ingredients to unfold slowly top, middle and base notes. As in music, or perfume.

There is no other food like ice cream. The fat in cream holds and carries scent to your nose. If you add vanilla Jeni Britton Bauerto a cookie, for instance, and then bake it, most of the vanilla will evaporate in the hot oven. In ice cream, you steep ingredients and fuze oil-soluble scents to the butterfat. It gets locked in when the mixture is frozen. The fat in cream is special because it melts perfectly at body temperature. Other fats don’t do this, so when you lick an ice cream the warmth of your tongue releases the scent from the fat in perfect timing. This is important because if it has to stay on your tongue too long to warm up, then you swallow it before you ever taste it. A good way to illustrate this is to freeze a high quality dark chocolate bar. You have to chew it and hold it on your tongue for a long while before you can taste it. It has to come to body temperature before it releases its scent. This is because cocoa butter melts at a higher temperature so it takes much longer to melt on your tongue.

All of this is to tell you that learning to be aware of my senses and to remember them and to connect emotionally with what I hear, see, smell or taste or the way the wind feels on my skin is what I learned as a child and it’s why I make ice cream today.

When I say that fresh watermelon sorbet tastes like a broken concrete sidewalk and sunburned cheeks, this is an emotional connection that I have. It’s bigger than the watermelon, the experience of eating it becomes transcendent. It’s because I was raised to be aware of life going on around me. It started at the woods, but it went everywhere with me.

Part of our goal here is to slow you down enough to enjoy that ice cream deeply to bring you into the present and maybe connect you with someone, a farmer who grew an ingredient or the friend you are with. To give you something to think about and talk about while you are eating the ice cream.

It’s more than a passion for food that my grandmother gave me. It’s a love of emotion and of people. I explore that through ice cream.

And beyond food, how did your upbringing influence you as a person?

I had a very casual upbringing. Full of exploring and alone time. I moved almost every year growing up – to another neighborhood, another school. I’ve always embraced change maybe because I got used to it. Though I was painfully shy, it never bothered me to start again. To make new friends. To start new clubs in the neighborhood. To roam around barefoot, climb on the tops of roofs, and cause a bit of trouble. I never felt that the rules were there to hold me back, but to support me. So, I felt that they were optional.

I believed, and still do, that if you are mostly a good person you can break the rules here and there (read: whenever you want to). I was encouraged to do this by my mother. She never did anything she didn’t want to and encouraged me not to do homework. She believed that when we were home, it was family time and time to learn from what we did at home. And we did.

I barely remember school. My after school life and weekend life was rich. I daydreamed and doodled the whole day in school and couldn’t wait to get home to do whatever I was working on there. There were always projects, like creating a new business, writing and producing a play, trying to raise money for a charity, or running one of my many clubs. This was how my sister and I played. It was very productive, high output.
Jeni Britton BauerThere were hard times, too. And those made my sister and me fight even harder to get over the fence. To build security in our lives. To find safety. We both did. And I don’t wish anybody hardships, but you have to find a reason to become a fighter. You’ve got to own it. And to learn to hustle. I mean work every single resource you have to move forward, even when it seems like you have nothing.

Speaking of . . . We’ve all heard of the person who “started with nothing” and built a great big business. I’ve always thought that was stupid.

Nobody starts from nothing. We all have something. Even if it’s only our hands, feet, eyes and brain. The person who wins is not the one who started with all the right tools, but the one who learned to live without them and made up for them in persistence and the endurance of a slow and steady pace. You start where you are, put one foot out, and take the step. You surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. If you feel comfortable, you’re not going anywhere. You’ve got to take risks, fail, get up. I mean you have to forgive yourself immediately for looking like an idiot, which is hard sometimes. Most of all, you’ve got to stick it out when it gets difficult, when it gets boring, when you loose, when you burnout.

The concept of “slow foods” and buying local and eating local is very popular right now. And I know you source quite a bit locally. Can you share why you are so passionate about sourcing your dairy and produce local?

The first answer is for flavor. But, it all stems from my experience at the North Market where I started my first ice cream business in 1996 (I started Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams in 2002). I would often trade ice cream for ingredients to make other ice creams. And the merchants began to seek out new and exciting things for me to use in ice cream.

My relationship with them was what made the ice creams taste so good.

It’s about people. When you know your suppliers, you often get better flavor. We think of our company as a community where we all support each other. From our growers and suppliers to our team and customers.

For dairy it’s important because there is absolutely no question that grass-pastured milk tastes better – particularly the butterfat. If we exist to make the best ice creams we can imagine, then we’ve got to start with the best dairy we can find – and not ruin it when we get it — ie: minimally pasteurized, and only once.

What can the average person do to eat more from local sources (and why?)

In Ohio, we are blessed with incredible soil and different growing regions. We grow lots of food, in lots of varieties and have an abundance of innovative growers/farmers. Local is something that we do here because we’ve always had farm markets and farm stands all over, and just outside, the city. It’s part of our culture, not simply a trendy thing to do. We are lucky for that.

Eating healthfully means nourishing your mind, body and spirit. We can incorporate more variety when we eat from jeni_9_300local and regional sources, but without question, the most important thing we can do is to eat more fresh vegetables—wherever they come from, local or not.

Tell us about “Local Matters” the non-profit you helped found.

Local Matters exists to make our food system more secure, just, prosperous and delicious. We do these amazing classes for Kindergartners that have a profound effect on how they eat. My daughter’s school does the program and she is so much more aware of what she eats now. I have seen first-hand how it can affect a child. We also work to get fresh foods into neighborhoods that don’t have them, and to create demand for our local growers.

Let’s talk more about ICE CREAM! You have some unique flavors. Where do you get your inspiration?

I always start with what’s in front of me. In a way, ice cream is how I encounter the world.

Sometimes I will taste something new and get an inspiration, or a grower or producer will bring me something lovely and I will make ice cream with it. I always start with classic combinations and then branch out from there. There is always a thread that begins to form and that leads to the flavor.

So, if I taste some really sweet beets, I’m thinking: beets are like carrots, carrot cake…spice, cream cheese icing. Beets are hot pink, what’s hot pink, what’s red? Red velvet cake roasted beets and chocolate. Beets….I had them in Brooklyn with lemon, mascarpone and poppy seeds – a classic Northern Italian combination — these ingredients work in ice cream.

Or . . . I may see a 1973 lemon yellow trans am and think what flavor is that car? Maybe it’s a crunchy, hard, lemon scented candy, crushed and and layered into lemon cream? Should there be licorice there? What about salty lemon crackle? Reminds me of preserved lemons or a really tasty margarita. Could work for ice cream, let’s try it. (and now I really must)

The world is full of flavor.

Fun seems to be an important element for all really successful chefs. Do you think fun is important?

I think being an optimist is a nice way to go. Being impatient. Curious. I don’t know about fun, like I don’t know Jeni_1_650about passion (which I also get accused of). Sure, things like fun and passion are a part of it, but you have to work really hard to get there. You have fun when you build a team that is challenged, secure and excited about the future.

Most importantly, you have to be a good team leader, it doesn’t have to be fun, but it does have to be inspiring on some level in order to build a team that can perform together.

I think you make the most of all the things you are committed to. I would have fun wherever I go. Whatever I was doing. . . Because I commit myself fully to whatever I do.

Do you think that a chef’s joy in what they’re making transfers to the end product, when a stranger is tasting it?

I think the chef’s commitment and pride transfers to the end product. Making something beautiful, seeing a person enjoy it. And that brings her joy.

I’m sure ice cream isn’t served 3 meals a day in your house. What are your go-to meals for your family?

We always eat together for breakfast and dinner. For time, and health reasons, we eat simply and meatless most of the time: a sliced tomato or avocado on hearty bread, sauteed mushrooms and kale stuffed into a baked potato for lunches or dinners.

On Sundays I might make roasted chicken with super-crisp and salty skin and a green salad, then make stock with the chicken bones. Or, I might make street tacos with pork or fish and accoutrements, hopefully with plenty of leftovers for lunches. We do not have ice cream very often at home—maybe twice a month.

Speaking of family, how to you manage to balance it all – parent , run a successful business, be a good partner in your marriage?

I don’t. I have a lot of help and the best partner/husband anyone could ask for. I do not believe you can “have it all” through management and control. You just have to steal it. Enjoy the chaos. Roll with it.

When I travel, I try to fly there and back in one day so I can put the kids to bed and wake up with them the next day.

If my afternoon opens up during the week and I find myself with some time, I will go pick up my daughter and son and go to the park – I know that everybody else is at the office or kitchens working, but I also know that I will more than make up for this stolen time later in the evening or on the weekend – I almost always work some part of the weekend.

My husband, Charly and I will stay up late talking at least once a week — it’s usually a weekday and then we are tired the next day, but it’s worth it. Being tired sucks, but being a robot sucks more. I need the time to connect with him.

So I steal it. Best I can describe it. I don’t want to sacrifice anything. I don’t want to miss anything.

What next?

To fit in as much as we can in the short time we have to do it. To grow, learn, create, build, and make even better ice creams than we did yesterday.

Visit Jeni’s Website  (Buy Her Books & Ice Cream!)

Jeni on: Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, author and life coach. She resides in Dayton, Ohio where she practices the art of living with the Man of Her Dreams. When she’s not eating ice cream, you’ll find her reading and plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life.

Welcome to Issue #1: What’s Next?

As we steadily make our way from Winter to Spring here in the Northern Hemisphere, I count the ways in which I IMG_20150202_074036am blessed – especially the opportunity to help birth a new Literary / Arts Magazine into the world.

I have loved words (and pictures) from the time I understood that, combined, words created my beloved stories. It brings me great pleasure to share my stories, yet I must admit that the ability to share the works of other makers fills me with an equally intense joy.

Modern Creative Life has been many months in the making.

When we chose to put All Things Girl on hiatus in 2015, it opened a huge space for each of us entrenched within that Classic ‘zine. Many of us made good use of that time and published books while on hiatus – including myself, Melissa Bartell and Becca Rowan.

It’s critical for an artist to share her work… yet, the loss of regular opportunity to celebrate the work of others left many of us feeling as though we had a hole in our hearts.

In many conversations and multiple emails (and letters) we talked about the kind of space we’d like in the future to celebrate other Makers. To pay homage to the choice to pursue our own creativity and forge a path forward for living a creative life.

Moreover, we asked the questions: How do we nurture our creative spark and stay afloat? How do we continue to make our art while still getting dinner on the table and keeping a roof over our heads? How do we go back to the page (or canvas) when we are feeling parched? We are all naturally curious about how people DO it. What is life is like behind closed doors those of us who must create?

We began to labor in earnest back in December and today, you’ll see the fruits of those labors ripen.

For the first issue of Modern Creative Life, we chose the theme: “What’s Next?”. It’s a question I asked myself (and cherished advisers) after my book was published. It was a question I asked both out of excitement and fear. That question lies at the heart of every creative person: what IS next for my creative life? What deserves my time and attention?

Rather than flood you with more content than you can consume, we’ll be sharing today:

  • New Moon Creative Prompts – a way for us to join together in creation. On the first seven days of a new moon cycle, we’ll release prompts to inspire you creativity and hope you’ll share with us in your Social Media spaces whether you write a poem, take a photo, craft a quick blog post, or find your way into a new story.  Note that when the full moon arrives, we’ll round up a collection of YOUR inspired works to share here.
  • The lovely Becca Rowan will share with you a letter. One that she could have written to me… or you.
  • The fabulous Melissa Bartell will tantalize you with a snippet of a story. Just a taste of her ability to turn a phrase in one of my favorite short stories.

Then, between now and when we launch our 2nd Issue on June 4th, you’ll be presented with tastes of what it is to Honoring the Creative in YOU and MElive a creative life, how we keep the flame burning, and how we determine “What’s Next?” in our lives.

We’ll see a variety of ways to express how we live creatively and how we explore “What’s Next?”.  From essays to poetry to stories…to letters and diary entries. We’ll also explore what’s behind closed doors through our series Typical Tuesday , Through the Lens, and Studio Tours. We’ll also dig into the how – through our Instrumental Series….and more.

Our mission:

Modern Creative Living honors the pursuit and practice of joyful creativity. We believe that the creative arts enrich our everyday living, enhance our environment, create lasting connections, and sustain our souls.

When it comes to fresh voices, we are always open to single contributions as well as regular contributors. (Email Me at if you’re interested).

We look forward to hearing your thoughts and anxiously await your submissions as you share with us: What’s NEXT?

Here’s to honoring the pursuit of joyful creation. Together.

With Love,






Debra Smouse, Editor in Chief

Powered by WordPress. Designed by Woo Themes