Nourishing Creativity

BabyDear Young Mother,


I am thrilled that you have embarked upon this rigorous, holy career – to raise a child, or to raise more than one child.  I’m going to focus on one aspect of Green mothering – the importance of nourishing creativity in ourselves and our children, just as Mother Earth does. Nature is our first teacher.


As mothers, we are Nature!  We are privileged to feel our close connection to Nature as a child grows in our body and we learn what it is to share on a whole new level.  If you have adopted a child, you are witnessing the miracle of the growth of a small body growing into an adult body, supporting the blossoming of his or her gifts.  I’ve had the privilege of raising two healthy, productive sons who are now 30 and 27, one traditionally gifted and one untraditionally gifted.

And, yes, your child is gifted. No question about it. Each of us comes into the world blessed with affinities, talents and uniqueness that are needed by the world.  As each plant and animal has a role in its eco-system, so does each person have an important role in the human eco-system, as well as the earth’s ecosystem.


Green motherhood is about looking to Nature to instruct us about how to be the healthiest, happiest mother possible, raising the happiest, healthiest children possible.  As I’m sure you’ve observed, nature is endlessly abundant in its creativity. Life adapts to the environment it is offered with ever-changing forms. The gorgeous designs and patterns on fish, birds, mammals, leaves, and flowers endlessly move me. National Geographic reports that 500 new species of orchids are evolving each year! As a mother, you have participated in the creation of a new human life.  What a miracle!  Rest assured that you are a creative being and can bring that force to your child-rearing on a daily basis.


As our babies grow, so do their imaginations. We mothers hold the sacred space to protect the endless stream of possibility our children enter the world with.  As they develop and become critical of themselves and are saturated by media, they often shut off the natural valve of new ideas.  In order to hang in there for the long haul, we need to give ourselves a safe space to make use of our own imaginations. So we have to practice quieting our inner critic and getting out of our own way so that new ideas will come to nourish the child in our charge.  I encourage you to sing, paint, act with other mothers as well as your children. Our behavior will forever be the model to our children.


I once had a mother say to me, “I’m just not creative,” as if it were an in-born trait that couldn’t be learned. You make new decisions every day as you come up against hard situations with your children. You find new ways to explain the world or demonstrate skills when your child is frustrated. You are creative all day long! When you care about child as you do, you are always searching for what works. That care drives your creativity.

Old Car

Practical Ideas: Nature is constantly experimenting. Many seeds are blown on soil, concrete, grass, water.  Who knows where a seed will sprout and take hold? Children mimic Nature and love to experiment.  They love to play. If it’s not experimenting, it’s not play.  In other words, if you know the outcome of a game, it’s no fun.  So here are some ways we can turn the work of life into games that transform drudgery into drama.


*Dress Up Box – Having a dress up box with hats, capes, crowns, boots was a great boon to the fun of raising my children.  Putting a hat on to fold laundry, wearing crowns while washing dishes, donning the cape while vacuuming changes the doing of daily tasks into a playful paradigm.


*The Race Against Time – On your mark, get set, go! – How fast can we put away the toys.  Can we beat our record?  How fast can you make your bed without any wrinkles?  Got the stop watch ready. How slow can we put away the toys?  Uh-oh, you’re moving too quickly.


*The Art Corner – Paper, crayons, scissors, glue, tempera paint, brushes, a table allows endless hours of expression and experimentation.  Just like an iris seed grows up to be an iris and will thrive best with the right kind of soil, sun and water, your child is a particular being who will grow up to be herself with the right space for self-expression and experimentation.


*Delight in Differences – Nature sets clear goals and doesn’t micro-manage how they are achieved.  For instance, all water has the goal of getting to the ocean, but the Mississippi River doesn’t tell the Colorado River how to get there.  So when you set a clear goal for your child – like washing the dishes, putting away the laundry, doing homework – help them find their way to achieve it, giving ideas, delighting in theirs.


*Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose – The essence of human nature is that we want to learn (think of your child learning to walk), we want to be independent (think of your child wanting to have choices) and we want to have a bigger purpose (think of how your child wants to help).  Daniel Pink articulates this so well in his book Drive. Holding a picture of your child’s love of learning, love of independence and desire helps in the midst of your daily overwhelming challenges.  Your attitude will shift instantly if you focus on your picture of their success instead of what isn’t working.  My younger son was told by a high school counselor that his learning challenges were so great he couldn’t go to college. When he asked me through his tears in 10th grade why God had given him disabilities, I told him he had what he needed to reach his dreams. He graduated from University of Texas (it was not easy) and is one of Dell’s top sales people. I always held the picture of his capability and shared that with him.

Send your stories….


Laurie Marshall, Artist and Educator

Author of Beating the Odds Now


Dancing the Odds, Ending War

I just had an interesting conversation with my 25 year old son, Daniel, about a video I just made entitled “A Call for the End of War”.  He asked me who I was making it for, because it seemed to him that only people who already agreed with me would hear its message.

Beating the Odds in Puntland, Somalia

Ilkoasse dedicated his life to building peace in northern Somalia. He gave his all to building a world without revenge killings, injustice, corruption, poverty and ignorance.  I learned of this former cameraman, financial whiz, and dedicated coalition builder through Somalian Marian Hassan, who is a participating with me in James O’Dea’s Peace Ambassador training program.

Marian and Ilkoasse worked together with the Puntland Development Research Center, a peace building organization in a north eastern region of Somalia called Puntland.  On April 6th, he was assassinated – a revenge clan killing.  In response to such a loss, I offered to help make a banner that would continue the brave spirit of  Ilkoasse – a visual reminder that there is another way than an eye for an eye. Marian asked for the Puntland flag to be included (a blue strip with a white star, a white strip and a green stripe) which I translated into sky, air and ocean.  She also wanted to include the symbol of their wisdom path – elders meeting under a tree.  I painted Ilkoasse and the elders. When I sent the paintings to Marian, she pointed out that painted images of people are considered to be iconoclastic in her Muslim country, so fellow Peace Ambassador Delia Paraisa of N. Carolina combined the symbols digitally.  She added doves and the earth.  The Somalian words mean, “Without peace, there is no life.”  Now we are looking for a way to get the 10 banners we printed to Nairobi so that the Puntland Development Research Center will have them transported to Somalia, as no mail is delivered to Somalia.

What are the internal and external steps you are taking to beat the odds you’re up against?

Please add your stories.

Beating the Odds Starts with the Inner Work

Kassidy Jordan, a 4th grader at Novato Charter School, made this self-portrait in my private art class. The colored pencil and chalk drawing shows her night self and day self, her contented self and her sorrowful self, her complexity and her dragons.  At her young age, she grasps something that I didn’t get until I was in my late twenties: That we have simultaneous, conflicting feelings living in one body. One of her dragons holds a yin/yang, the other a feather and a stone. Her image is rooted in the earth, moon and sun, held by an interwoven design.  When I have seen and honored my range of emotions as Kassidy has in her drawing, I become authentic and trustworthy. When I haven’t done my inner work,  destructive, unconscious behaviors have ripped my family, my friends, my colleagues and my mates apart.  This is the inner work that is the key to Beating the Odds.

Below is a self-portrait I made of my inner landscape when I was heart-broken. I called upon the inner light to combat despair and pain.  The act of creating transformed the pain into a tangible mirror of my complexity and my connection to earth, sun and moon.   

Aqeela Shirrells, who brokered a deal between the Crips and Bloods in L.A. and who also lost his 18 year-old son to violence, said that the most important thing we can do now is to share the stories of our woundedness with each other.  That reminds me of the practice of Cheyenne warriors of painting their hopes, fears and dreams on their shields.  They greeted others with their vulnerability. As Thomas Moore points outs, our soul dwells in our complexity, the interplay of fragility and strength.   The inner work that will help us beat the odds focuses on listening to the quiet voice inside as well as the roaring dragons. This inner work puts us closer to our soul.

Creativity & Community Do It Again

Travis and I adding final touches to “We Must Care for the Earth”

When asked what they were most proud of in making this mural, many of the students at the Grant Grover School of the College of Marin said that they were able to make something together with the whole school.  It was their sense of community, intertwined with their creativity, that gave them the greatest satisfaction. I know that these elements – total inclusion, no matter what the limitations,  and  imagination, plus hard work – is how the devastating odds that we’re up against can be solved.
Maurice painting while Devrie films.

Elias and Travis take a break

Carlos painting with help from his loving teacher.

Julieann paints the rainbow.

Reducing Stress Beats the Odds

Making art increases the perception of control. This painting of a bear with the eco-system that supports him depicted inside of the figure was made by my students at Novato Charter School in 4th grade.  Many of the students, now in 7th grade, are included in the movie link below, playing music in a market.

The fabulously practical, caring and cutting edge brain-science expert Eric Jensen shares five ways to decrease stress:  the perception of control, breathing, movement, music and belonging.  Too many schools don’t incorporate all of these elements in their daily practices.  Many Waldorf schools, both private and public, do.  The Novato Charter School (NCS) goes one step further, empowering students by having them take their music to real audiences in the world.  Below you’ll see a two minute movie of the NCS  fiddle club, organized by the visionary music teacher Kenny Blacklock, playing in Whole Foods and bringing stress relief to the customers as well as the students.  Click on this link to see the movie: Ashokan Farewell

I Don’t Know What Odds Are

Kathryn painting.

I’m making a 8′ x 12′ mural at the Grant Grover School, a branch of the College of Marin, for young people with special needs, through the Youth in Arts program of Marin County. When I say I don’t know what odds are, what I mean is that many odds pale when I spend time with someone who cannot walk or talk, but who can look me in the eye and cause me to question all I take for granted.  As Lili Lopez, my 18 year-old Unity Through Creativity assistant, says “They know something we don’t know.” The students at Grant Grover have a great range of skill and consciousness, which makes any skill and consciousness seem like a precious thing.  Every time I ask a student to use a chalk line, or take a video, or use a caulk gun, I never know what will happen.  Most of my requests have been met with “yes” and follow through.

After surveying 30 students about their sparks, I made a sketch incorporating many of their passions.  I chose the golden retriever as a symbol of unconditional love.  One of the students has a dream of making a shelter for abused and neglected golden retrievers.  He sees the odds that the dogs are up against and wants to do something about it. I xeroxed the drawing and asked the students to color it in, getting ideas for the color scheme.

I’m comfortable around these young people because I can relate to the level of affection they thrive on.  It reminds me of Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert’s description of herself as a cross between a golden retriever and a barnacle.  I told that to Kyle, the prince of warmth at the school – the golden retriever guy.  We had a belly laugh about how that’s how much we need love, too.

Below you’ll see pictures of the mural in progress.  The will and fortitude of these young people, their teachers and their families is inspiring.

Study for “We Must Care for the Earth”

Sealing moisture out.

Preparing the support structure.

Coloring the studies to get ideas for our color scheme.

Walter helped to make the master grid for the three panels so we could transfer the drawing.

Tyler, Lili and Shayla painting Mt. Tamalpais

Giving Attention to the Behavior We Want

How do we beat the odds of negativity that we are up against?  Like any sane parent and educator knows, focusing on positive behavior gets you more of it.  So I want to praise a family that I consider to be much more deserving of attention than Charlie Sheen. The Medlock family in Colorado Springs should be headline news.  This family has chosen to adopt five sisters in the foster care system while having raised six children of their own.  They are doing the daily discipline of love, plaiting hair, providing favorite color butterfly clips and glasses, making breakfasts and helping with homework.     The sparks of Shakira, Bryanne, Bryonna, Bryann, and Bryla are being nourished in their new home, where they’ve lived for a year.  The Medlock’s son, Steve, who attends Afterschool University, said “I want to be the one who saves the day.”  The model of this family’s generosity will save the day.

Soul as Fundamental to Beating the Odds

Rappahannock County, Virginia

This is the story that I told a mother and her three daughters at the Afterschool University in Colorado Springs, causing me to burst into tears.  The first person who was killed by Seung-Hui Cho at Virginia Tech in 2007 was my former art student, 19 year-old Emily Hilscher.  I had taught her numerous summers beginning when she was eight.  Everything she touched was rooted in nature, whimsey and affection. She was studying to be a vet. After the massacre at Virginia Tech, I flew to Emily’s funeral in Rappahannock County, VA, a close-knit community of 7000, where I had lived for 27 years.  The high school’s highway sign read “We love you, Emily”.  That’s where the funeral was held – behind the school, outside in the track field.  At the end of the ceremony, white doves were released against the fresh blue April sky.  In the height of painful sorrow at this senseless loss, not one word was said against Cho.  Those who attended the funeral focused on the fact that he was a severely damaged person.

When I returned to California I had a dream about Cho.  He was eight – the same age as Emily was when I first met her.  He was furious.  He kicked me in the stomach, twisted both of my nipples and sent a sickly yellow green light from his eyes to my eyes.  As the light entered my eyes, I felt my body change.  I looked into a mirror and saw that I had become Asian.  I was aware that even though I had a different body, my soul had remained the same.  It was the clearest experience I ever had of my soul as a distinct entity. Cho, looked at me with tears running down his enraged face and said, “I had a soul and no one saw it.”

The philospher, Rudolph Steiner, said that terrible blood letting of the 20th century was a result of the fact that people couldn’t express their souls. Now in the 21st century, facing the challenges of our over-populated, over-stimulating and dangerous times, I pray that we see the fundamental importance of each human being’s inner sacredness.