Do You Miss Coffee Shops?

Jamie Ridler sitting in a coffee shop looking out the window
photo credit: Suzie Ridler

As we stay close to home due to COVID-19 restrictions, one of the things I have truly been missing is spending time in coffee shops. What a joy to pack up my pencil case, a journal (or three) and a good book (or two) and take a few hours to fill my well.

This weekend I decided that if I couldn’t go to the coffee shop, then I would bring the coffee shop home. With about 10 minues of care and creativity, Justin and I were able to relish hours of café time, reading, writing and relaxing.

How to Create a Coffee Shop Experience at Home

First let me say this isn’t about ordering a bistro set or investing in a cappuccino maker. If you can and want to, by all means, go ahead! I just want you to know that nothing extravagant is required to create this experience.

Space: Choose a small and manageable location to serve as your “coffee shop”. You just need a spot to sit comfortably, somewhere to set your coffee and, of course, a book or a journal! Maybe your kitchen table would be perfect or a corner of your couch or your bed and nightstand. The important part is deciding, “Here is where I am setting up my coffee shop.” And remember, this isn’t meant to be a massive undertaking. It’s a simple and magical way to shift the energy, have some respite and enjoy a bit of a change!

Once you’ve decided on your ‘where’, it’s time to work some energetic magic and welcome in all that you love about coffee shops. You can do that by focusing on the senses.

Sight: How can you quickly and easily make adjustments to bring a café vibe into your space? A quick tidy-up is a good place to start. Maybe even a spot-clean. It does wonders for an energy shift! Tuck away some of the ‘stuff’ you associate with the space’s regular identity and make a bit of room. Add a touch of beauty. Bring over that plant from the windowsill. Add a pretty little tealight beside it. Do you have a mug or teacup you adore? How about a lovely plate for a cookie?

Taste: Speaking of cookies, I learned from my Dutch father-in-law that in Holland, whenever you order a coffee, you always get a little treat on the saucer, perhaps a small cookie or chocolate. This will definitely be a constant for our coffee-shop-at-home experiences! Justin and I have also ordered ground coffee from a coffee shop we love. Not only does that “Bards Blend” evoke sensory memories but our order supports a local business at a difficult time. What flavours will you bring into your café?

Scent: The smell of coffee is the obvious choice here. Maybe now is a good time to amp it up by grinding your own beans. And remember, coffee shops aren’t just for coffee!! You can also savour the scent of your peppermint tea or chai. If you’re someone who relishes café patios for the fresh air, open your windows. If it’s a little chilly, all the better! You’ll remember exactly what it feels like to be out and about at this time of year.

Touch/Feel: At a café, do you always pick a chair and a table so that you can write or do you gravitate to the cozy armchair in the corner? The kinesthetics of your body posture are a part of how an experience feels. What clothing would you wear to a café in autumn? Is it time for a chunky sweater? If you want to don your beret, go for it! For me, the best at-home addition to the coffee shop was a cozy throw! And of course, consider the feel of your mugy, your book, your journal, your pen.

Sound: One of the joys of coffee shops is the music.* Whether it is welcoming and familiar, full of new discoveries or even a bit corny, the music always creates a unique moment in time. Both Spotify and YouTube have playlists that will provide an appropriate soundtrack for hours. You can even listen to soundscapes that create the feeling of a coffee shop – even a coffee shop in the rainHere’s what Justin and I listened to for our coffee shop date.

With a bit of ingenuity and intention, we can call in a familiar experience in a brand new way. I know that I’ll be relaxing at Chez J&J today. I hope you have a wonderful time Chez Vous.

Finding Creative Freedom

Every year my sister Shannon and I sign up for Carla Sonheim‘s year-long art course. We’ve explored collage, worked through the alphabet, followed our creative spark. My art table has been covered with paints, papers and pastels as well as wires, books and stuffed animals. It’s always an adventure.

This year’s topic is Words & Pictures and the course features lessons from many different artists. This week I caught up on a class by Kara Kramer about keeping a messy notebook. The concept is to have a sketchbook in which anything goes and to dive into it for 15 minutes a day.

As I watched Kara work in her own messy journal, I was moved by her absolute lack of hesitation. With assuredness and immediacy she would grab an oil pastel and make confident marks. She would reach for a paintbrush and slap on striking colours. She’d grab a piece of paper, cut out a word or a shape and quickly glue it onto the page. Her moves were bold and instinctive. Her hand was strong.

That’s what comes form having a regular practice.

That’s what comes from being creatively free.

It’s taken me a long time to feel free with the visual arts. I had childhood art wounds that left me believing this was simply not a venue for me, Even though drawing and painting had always brought me great joy, I turned away from them for a very long time. It was only when my little niece came over and we went out for art supplies and then spent the whole day painting that a love for the visual arts rekindled inside of me*.

After that day, I slowly found my way back. It was a long, hard and frustrating road. I signed up for community art classes and would leave each night in tears, weeping out of the sheer frustration of having a desire that couldn’t find its way out of me and working with teachers that didn’t help. It was like having something I deeply want to say without having access to any words at all and it was painful.

Over the years I found better teachers, including Carla. I started to understand that it’s that unrelenting impulse to express myself that makes me an artist and the development of skills over time that makes that visible.

You don’t start out knowing how to speak.

You don’t start out knowing how to draw.

You learn.

Bit by bit, you learn.

And a part of learning is making crappy drawings and messy art. It’s not easy at first because each bit of wobbly artwork seems to affirm what your inner and outer critics have been saying for years, “You have no talent. I mean, look at that!”

This is where you must build the most powerful artistic muscle of them all: devotion. You must keep going, keep experimenting, keep learning and growing until you start to discover and recover the artist that you are meant to be. You must not give up on yourself or your art. You must find your way through.

When you do, you will remember that making a mess with paint is a blast, that playing with colour is a joy, that making marks is your birthright and you need never let any of it go.

And so it is that today, instead of crying in frustration at not having a language for my fingertips, I am here with you on a Sunday morning, eyes misty with the joy of knowing I am healed, that I can spend hours drawing and painting, making a mess or attempting something ‘finished’. The visual arts are mine and I am theirs and we will not be separated again.

Now I am delighted to have a sketchbook open on the table, to be surrounded by supplies. Now I can reach for a marker, a paintbrush, a pastel and, without hesitation, make marks on the page.

I hope that you’ll give yourself a chance to experience this too. Create a safe space for the journey, whether it’s a sketchbook, your kitchen or your backyard, to experiment, discover and grow. Find your teachers. I hope I am one of them. Weep if you need to. And heal.

Find your way back to your art. Find your way back to yourself. And once you do, never let go.

* Remember, you are the keeper of your creative fire.

Find Inspiration: Andrea Bocelli, Ellie Goulding – Return to Love

I came across this video for Return to Love by Andrea Bocelli and Elli Goulding this week and was moved in a way that seemed particular to this moment in time. In the video, they explain that they asked 100 people to sit down and listen to this song. They filmed their reactions.

No doubt if I had watched this last year, I would still be moved but during this time of COVID-19, this opportunity to look deep into the eyes of people as they respond to the music feels intimate in a way that is much needed soul-nourishment. I hope you find it so as well.

You are the Keeper of Your Creative Fire

A few years ago one of my university friends made an observation about the director of our theatre program. She said, “‘X’ never saw anyone that wasn’t obvious.”

That struck a chord deep in my heart.

I was never that girl. I was the quiet one in the second row with her head down, working. I was the earnest one practicing flute, writing poetry and listening to music, creating dances in my mind. I was the shy one waiting for someone to notice me and give me a chance.

Until I wasn’t.

Even though I was quiet and shy, I had a fire inside, a creative fire, and somewhere along the line I realized that if I waited until someone saw and nurtured that in me, I could be waiting a very long time.

Maybe you’ve been waiting a very long time, waiting for someone to see your gifts, to recognize your talents, to encourage you and invite you in.

Maybe you’ve been invited in sometimes, in some ways, but not in others – and those other times have left their mark.

Maybe no one has ever recognized your creative heart and you’ve been waiting in the wings for years.

Maybe you have been noticed but unkindly, making it much better to hide your fire than to ever risk again.

But we must be who we are.

So often our world treats the arts as an extra, something you do after all your chores are done, something that is frivolous play or, if it is taken seriously at all, something that is resigned to an elite chosen few.

But what if art is a part of your soul, the very makeup of your being? Being separated from any part of yourself is damaging. When an artist is cut off from their creativity they often numb out or lash out.

When we numb out, it’s because we’ve asked the creative part of ourselves to play dead. As that part of our soul complies, more and more of who we are dulls and eventually erodes. Our life turns to grey and we find ourselves going through the motions. We wonder what’s missing and finally we forget there was ever anything else at all. After a time, we find ourselves listless, anxious, unwell. We may find ourselves crying at unexpected times. Though we have forgotten our creative fire, our body remembers and mourns.

Alternatively, we lash out. All of that creative energy needs somewhere to go. With no artistic outlet, our inner fire twists its way out of our creative soul, turning into caustic comments, snap judgements and all-around prickliness. We may still find ourselves drawn towards the arts but our creative genius weaves harsh critiques and cleverly builds airtight arguments that both attack possibility and defend the status quo. We rail against a cage of our own making.

Without the creative part of our soul, we artists find ourselves in a dark, dark place.

But we can come back to the fire. No matter how much time has past, no matter how far you have come down the road, you can return to your creative self. You can rouse the artist hidden within. You must.

Your art is waiting.

It doesn’t care how old you are.

It doesn’t care how rusty your skills.

It misses you.

It wants to be a part of your life.

So forget what anyone has ever told you. This is not about your relationship with the world. This is about your relationship with your soul. This is about devotion.

You are the keeper of your creative fire, [FIRST NAME GOES HERE].

It doesn’t have to be obvious to anyone else that you are an artist but from this day forward, let it be clear and obvious to you. Let this knowledge guide your choices and lead the way. Let the arts be your medicine. Let them reunite you with this essential part of who you are and who you will always be.

Starting today. Starting now.