Results from March Challenge – photo collages!!!

by Laura M.

Well guys, you did not disappoint. I tossed out a creativity challenge and you rose to the occasion! Thank you to those who took the time to pick a theme, snap a pic everyday and make a collage out of them. Please enjoy the lovely results:

Patty has a neato Facebook page called Humans of Nashville, Music City, wherein she “wants to introduce you to Nashville through pictures and stories about the people, places & things in this great city.” It’s fun for both residents and tourists. Take a second and check it out. Even better – ‘like’ her page!

Patty lives out in the country. Here is what she had to say about her collage: “I love taking the photos, and living in the middle of nowhere got me on the “country” theme.”


Personally, I love how varied the images are, yet they all represent versions of the word country.

Charlotte, who you may remember is a loyal reader and novice artist struck on a wonderful theme and expressed her feelings about the subject beautifully: “I chose clocks because I have become very aware of ‘time’ this past year! Time is a gift from God and I want to use it wisely and honor Him by having a positive impact on those around me! My goal is to learn to live in the present, enjoying those I am with and what I am doing.”

I mean, isn’t that fantastic?


Rick (I think he was the first one to subscribe to our blog) traveled to San Diego last week for a conference. An avid photographer, he took these beautiful photos on the beach:


I wish I was there, too, Rick. 🙂

Now here might be the most fun twist of my original post: photographers from all over the world (New Zealand, India, South Korea) ‘liked’ my post. I guess it was because I had used the word ‘photography’ as a tag for the post. So I checked out the blogs of people who liked my post. They were all super interesting and fun to read.

One of them, Miseol, has a really cool blog about her life in South Korea. It just so happens that she had a post in response to a different creativity challenge, also involving photographs. It’s a collection of locks and knobs. Be sure to check it out. She has a lot of interesting posts about what it’s like to live in South Korea and learn their customs (she’s from the Philippines.)

I hope this challenge made you examine your surroundings a little more closely for those who did it. And I hope those of you who didn’t do it are inspired to try it on your own!


5 creative ways to cat

For crazy cat ladies and gents, aspiring or otherwise

Some of the fun kitties from Neko Atsume.

By Ellen Margulies

I have been accused of being the crazy cat lady so often in my life that even the cats have gotten wind of it. You know how it is. As soon as you take in a cat temporarily until he can be adopted out, people with cats that need fostering come out of the woodwork. And the strays and ferals themselves must put out some sort of newsletter — they are possibly using Twitter but this as yet unconfirmed — letting everyone know about the sucker on the corner who puts out a bowl of kitty kibble for every sad puss that comes along. I’ve got 3 permanent indoor residents, and a host of changing characters outdoors who come by for a nosh and the occasionally hastily-built shelter against the elements.

A few years ago, a feral kitty I called Gypsy (for her roaming ways) had a litter of kittens under my HVAC unit one cold April morning. She moved them, one by one, to a protected nook on my roof where the porch meets the main part of the house. She and her three babies lived up there all spring. Passers-by would constantly stop and say, “Did you know you have a family of cats living on your roof?”

Why, yes, thanks, I DID know that.

When it was time for them to be weaned, Gypsy insisted each kitty follow her lead and hop down from the back of the roof onto the deck railing and then make his or her way to solid ground below. Two of them did fine. The little grey kitty, however, hung back, pathetically crying from the gutter as is two siblings and Gypsy watched, unwilling to help. I ultimately had to call a critter catcher, who nailed a humane trap to my roof until we nabbed the kitten. I put him in a dog kennel with a little litter box and some food and a comfy towel. He was terrified at first, but every time I petted him through the bars he grew more and more receptive. I named him Otis, because he was perpetually in “jail” — that’s an Andy Griffith Show reference for you youngsters out there — and by Day 3 he was so socialized that he refused to eat until I picked him up and cuddled him first. A friend of mine adopted him, and he’s happily living in West Nashville with three humans and a couple of feline siblings. (I love that they kept the name “Otis.”)

Otis the Wonder Cat, post-roof and pre-adoption./Photo by Ellen Margulies

And then just this morning, a colleague stopped by and asked, “Did you know you have a cat on your roof?” Sure enough, right in the nook where Gypsy and her first litter lived for six weeks, there was one of the little black strays I’ve been feeding. Like I said, there’s some sort of newsletter or Twitter feed happening.

So, in the end, I embrace my crazy cat ladyness and the creativity that is a necessary accessory (along with the fur on my black jeans). And you should, too — embrace your inner cat lady, no matter your gender. To keep things interesting, just in case you don’t have a cozy roof nook that all the neighborhood strays can rent out at below-market prices, here are 5 creative ways to cat, curated from all the finest sites on the Interwebs.

  1. DIY cat toys. As you may know, cats often reject the toy and go straight for the packaging. But there are ways you can engineer your own cat toys. Or, if you’re feeling fancy, you can use the term cat enrichment activities. Crazy Cat Nerd blogs about some fun items here. I also tried a few of these hacks from Buzzfeed, but my cats, being utterly useless, weren’t having it. You’d probably have better luck with the under-5 set.
  2. Let him be a catstronaut. I love this backpack so hard, even though I can’t imagine fitting one of my kitties into it without having a pint of blood on standby.
  3. There’s an app for that. Neko Atsume is my favorite new digital obsession next to Hay Day. It’s Japanese, as all truly wonderful cat things are, and it is surprisingly addictive. Put out different kinds of food, snap photos of your visitors, see who comes by and leaves you a sock or old cat toy or other gift. The kitties have names, photo albums and personalities, and yes, I know it seems perfect for a 9-year-old girl, but trust me on this.
  4. Didn’t John Mellencamp sing about felted cat houses? Felines are notorious for rejecting everything that has ever been manufactured for them in favor of the cardboard box it came in, but these are so gorgeous I don’t think you’d even care. More examples are here and here.
  5. Glade isn’t quite there yet: cat-smelling. Ok, I was not aware this was a thing. Once again, we have our friends in Japan to thank for this bizarre new accessory.  

So, what’s the point of all this, you may be wondering? Let’s circle back again to your creative itch and how you scratch it (heh heh). The opportunities are literally everywhere. Plus, doesn’t it just make you happy seeing pictures of kitties? And happiness, as you know, is quite good for stimulating creativity.

Feel free to share any of your creative cat hacks/ideas/stories in the comments below. You’re also welcome to fill us in on creative ways you care for/entertain other pets (birds, rabbits, ferrets, koalas, etc.) And I’ll keep you posted on my new crop of roof cats.

March 2016 Creativity Challenge

by Laura M.

Well friends, here we are at the start of a brand new month. It will soon be Spring…a new season. A new beginning. How about a new beginning for you? What do you think about unleashing some hidden creativity? I have a challenge I truly believe all of you can accept and will have fun with.

Here’s the deal: everyday for a span of a few days [ahem, several days. The bf recently clarified that a ‘few’ is 2-3 and anything above that is ‘several.’ But I digress…] take a photo of something based on whatever theme you choose. Objects that start with the letter A, red things, a different bird everyday…whatever tickles your fancy.

After you’ve got a collection of photos, make a collage out of them. You can use the Walgreen’s app to put one together and print your masterpiece or assemble the photos on a site like

I’ve done this exercise (for lack of a better word) before and I find it stimulating. It makes me think, makes me more aware of my surroundings and, quite, frankly, is just plain fun.

For this post, I decided to take a photograph of the doors and windows of my world. And here they are:


It was stimulating because I started to think of what these objects evoke, metaphorically speaking. The doors that lead into and out of my world, the windows through which I see the world. Who else, besides me, goes through these doors and how am I connected to them? The fragment of the earth that I see through these windows – so infinitesimal in the grand scheme of things. But as small as the scope is, it’s my world. And it’s nice to have a recording of what my world looks like at this point in my life. The doors and windows of my life in 2018 will no doubt be different. There will likely be both additions and subtractions. I’m content with what I have right now but also excited to see the changes that will surely come with time.

I remember the first time I took this photo challenge I set about to take a photo of something beautiful everyday. And isn’t that a glorious thing? Because by setting that intention of photographing something beautiful, you must seek something beautiful. And seeking out the beauty in your surroundings is tantamount to practicing gratitude. I highly recommend it.

And talk about fun! Seriously: get on Picmonkey and explore all the options! They have borders, shading, you can add text, effects…all kinds of neat stuff. I mean, look at this!


And the best part: Picmonkey is totally free and doesn’t require a login.

So go have some fun with this and then send your collages to us at We’d love to see what you come up with and hear what you think of the challenge!


Our loyal reader Charlotte S. had a great point: How do I remember to do this?

Well, Charlotte, so glad you asked because I bet a lot of other readers had the same question. Here are some suggestions:

  • set a daily reminder on your phone
  • put a post-it note on your fridge
  • write it on your calendar (if you’re old-fashioned like me and still carry a paper one)

My favorite suggestion was prompted by reader Patty A. She said “Laura – please help me remember!” And I thought, “Why not use the buddy system? ” So I texted Patty an emoji of a camera.  When she receives it, that’s her reminder to take the photo. Another option, If you want to pair up with a pal, is you could text your pal the photo that you just took. Maybe the two of you can build a collage together. The possibilities are endless!

And I figured since I was making this update that I’d go ahead and add another pass at a collage. Enjoy!

PicMonkey Collage4

Sharing is Caring

by Laura M.

Even if you don’t think of yourself as creative, you are undoubtedly surrounded by creative people. Maybe it’s your grandma who’s a quilting guru, your best friend who can draw a cat in 5 seconds flat, or a brother who can play piano by ear. These creative people touch our lives (no six degrees of separation here).

What I’m curious about is how people who bill themselves as non-creative relate to those in their lives who are creative. And what happens when the non-creatives get pulled into the creatives’ world?

I was lucky enough to witness such a phenomenon on Valentine’s Eve. I live in Nashville, aka Music City. We take our moniker seriously. We have writer rounds in hardware stores, live concerts with thousands of people on the riverside and everything in between. And on Saturday, February 13, some fine folks hosted the 8th annual Love is Deaf concert.

Image by Anna Webb

The concert is a vehicle to showcase couples, one of whom is a musician or songwriter and one who is not-so-musically-inclined. Each couple performs one song. This year, there were 30 couples!


I was at the show to support my dear friends Joan and Brett Bryant. Brett is a professional musician and Joan is, well, not a musician. She would tell you that she can’t carry a tune in a bucket. But they had been to this concert before, and Joan was brave enough to participate this year.

Joan got a first-hand taste of what it’s like to pick out a song, dive into its meaning to relate to the song, arrange the song to suit their performance, rehearse it, practice with a microphone and, ultimately, stand in front of an audience of strangers and friends and sing. She had never in her life done this before!

Brett, in turn, was pulled back in time, remembering his first experience of getting comfortable with a mike, feeling out the key to suit the singer’s voice, flashing back to the anxiety of performing in front of a live audience. The experience also meant that his spouse now understands his world a little better and has a deeper appreciation for it.

Back to Saturday night – it was a packed house:


Joan and Brett were the second to last couple to perform that evening. I’ve known Joan for several years, and I marveled at how excited she was during the two hours before she was due on stage. I kept thinking, “I’m pretty sure I’d be in the bathroom throwing up if I were her right now.”

Apparently she had been coaching herself, reassuring herself that it was like talking in front of an audience, something she’s had to do for work. The difference, as she found out, is that when you’re on stage in a dark club with bright lights on you, you can’t see the audience. So you don’t know if you’re losing them or if they’re right there with you.

In Joan and Brett’s case, the audience WAS right there with them. Joan noticed that the room got quiet (which was not the case for the majority of other couples who performed) and could hear the audience laughing at the appropriate parts in their performance. They had chosen to perform “Beth” by KISS. The song is written from the perspective of a musician on the road to his lonely girlfriend Beth. Joan came up with the idea that she could be Beth and Brett could be singing the song to her. She created some cute rejoinders that had the audience in stitches.


Afterwards, many strangers came up to Joan and Brett with compliments like, “You guys rocked it!” and “You were awesome!” Joan beamed from ear to ear. “I feel like a rock star!” she said. Yet another sensation that Brett has had the joy of feeling that Joan can now relate to.


I was fully inspired by these lovebirds’ willingness to be vulnerable and creative together. My boyfriend, James, and I have already agreed that we’re going to participate next year. As for you, at the very least, could you sit in your loved one’s world? Share in that experience with them, even if you don’t participate? Ask how they came up with the concept for the painting, what drove their choice of colors, why they selected that word or picked that key for a song. I bet they’d love to share that with you.

This post is lovingly dedicated to Toni Masercola Lyng, a bright angel who knows quite a lot about sharing.


Do nothing

Be all the nothing you can be

As I was sitting on the plane from Nashville to L.A., surrounded by a fourth-place cheering squad (I don’t know how big Southern California high schools are but there are at least 30 giggling, skinny, be-ponytailed and flip-flopped teenage girls intermittently folding themselves into impossible shapes and flinging hoodies over their heads before sleeping for long stretches ), various tired-looking women drenched in jewelry or juggling kids, and the usual assortment of white business dudes slaving away on their laptops 7 miles up (Who do they work for? Why didn’t they just Skype? Why are they so old and white-haired and balding?), I came across this little gem in the Southwest Supersonic or whatever the hell they call their magazine :


The article itself was about how to squeeze more happiness from your life, not how to be more creative, but I thought it was interesting what went unsaid : of course you want to be more creative, because it means you’ll be happier. I found a great many of the tips could just as easily slip into an article on how to be more creative:

  • Revise your workout playlist
  • Get into nature more often
  • Hit the gym
  • Venture beyond the familiar

They all have something in common, I unexpertly think: They reroute our brains; they shake things up.

My favorite on the list is probably the one pictured that says, “Do nothing.” Doing nothing is something on which I could expound for hours. I like to think I would have a PhD. in doing nothing if such courses were offered (they’d be too ironic ). Where I got my do-nothing tendencies is quite the mystery.

My octogenarian mother told me just the other day, as I helped her clean up the remnants of a Sunday dinner she’d started the night before, the big-production dinner she cooks every Sunday as long as at least one person is willing to come over and eat, that she would absolutely NOT get some rest that afternoon despite battling bronchitis. “Ellen!” she said, horrified, “The only time you lay down in the bed is when you’re nauseated or throwing up!”

That may be the saddest statement anyone’s ever said. Can you imagine the tragedy of a lifetime without knowing the joys of a stolen nap? My father is of the same ilk. I remember, growing up, on the rare days when was sick, he showered, got dressed and sat upright on the couch all day, feverish and uncomplaining, reading or doing crossword puzzles.

How did I come from these people, again?

Now , to be fair, my father does indulge in the pleasures of catching some zees in front of the TV and he loves going to the movies, unlike my mother, who irons when watching anything on TV that isn’t news and has to be forcibly dragged to the cinema. Yet both of them are very creative people.

They may shun laziness as one of the seven deadlies, but the pure bliss of idleness is something that feeds my soul as well as my creativity. I don’t want to tell you all the many ways there are to do nothing because that smacks of the same face-palm genius you find in recipes for ham sandwiches. (They’re really out there. Go ahead and Google; I’ll wait… OMG, I know — can you believe how stupid that is?? )


But I am going to give you the best homework assignment ever: pick a day in the next week during which you must complete a minimum of 30 minutes doing nothing productive. (There’s no maximum time limit, only a minimum. I know how you Type A’s are.) Let your conscience and perhaps your laundry pile be your guide. Repeat weekly, if not daily. Your mind, and your creative juices, will thank you.

And please, whatever you do, nobody tell my mom.

The Creativity Spectrum

By Laura M.

If you’ve read any of our blog posts here at untapped, you know that Ellen and I are both firm believers in the value of creativity. Almost every post has some element of us lobbying for readers to take on a creative endeavor. And there are many folks who hear that call and resist it, maintaining that they aren’t creative.

I’m not so naïve as to say that every person has the same level of creativity. Some people are kept up at night, composing music in their head that leads to this:

I mean, James literally can’t go to sleep sometimes because “When I close my eyes, that’s all I see. I see music. I visualize it. I’m building something.”

Other artists are able to sleep but have dreams about the subject of their paintings. Meet Lancelot:

Painter Elizabeth Wingfield says “I spent uncountable hours at my easel painting this wolf portrait. .. I dreamed I heard the mournful howl of his uncertain destiny! I had to meditate to stay relaxed and to feel the spirit of the wolf guiding me … to find the energy to keep painting all that fur.”

For these people, their creativity is central to their being. To NOT create is detrimental to their health.

But if you’re not like that, that doesn’t mean you’re not creative. If you hold yourself in comparison with people with that high level of creativity, it’s no wonder you feel a part of the ‘have not’ group. Remember: comparison is the thief of joy. You can be creative in your own right, even if it doesn’t cause sleepless nights or involve wolf dreams.

My journey in creativity has been more external. Meaning I sign up for classes and put myself in situations so that I will create. It could be as simple as saying, “I’m going to dance in my living room for 30 minutes one day of the week” or “I’m going to ad lib a meal based solely on the ingredients in my pantry and fridge – no recipe.” All this to say, I don’t think of myself as being naturally inspired as the above-mentioned people are.

And then there are folks like my friend Charlotte. She will tell you that she’s not an artist. Yet look at this beautiful painting she made!

char painting.jpg

Char Char makes her argument about not being an artist by saying that her instructor told her what colors to use and how to hold the brush, etc. But just because it’s taught to you with someone giving you step-by-step instructions doesn’t mean that the process or result isn’t creative. The act of holding your hand above the canvas and going through the motions makes it all your own. Look at any group of paintings that are the result of a Sips N Strokes class – they all look different. Because everyone holds the brush just a little bit differently, and moves it a bit slower or faster or mixes the colors a tad differently.

So there is a wide-ranging spectrum for creativity. And it’s not static. It can change throughout your lifespan.

I used to be the kind of person who claimed to not be creative. I really thought that people were either born with the creativity gene or weren’t. And I decidedly was not. But I have gone from a mindset of “I’m not creative” to “I’m a creative being.” This evolution took place over a period of years. I sought out creating art as a distraction during a difficult time in my life. And what I found was there’s something about being able to point to something tangible and say “I made that” that is immensely gratifying. Even if no one else sees it. Even if it hangs on a wall in a room that no one but you goes in.

I liked that feeling so much so that I signed up for class after class, trying different art forms. Which ultimately led to this blog.

My friend Denise, a talented writer with her own blog, has had the opposite experience:

“I feel my years of legal writing have changed what I care to write, and they have slowed my ease in doing so. Legal writing is largely formulaic, and not just the contracts. Even substantial motions tend to follow the same pattern: state the facts, state the law, apply the latter to the former, lather, rinse, repeat. This routine way of working has done a number on me. Early on, I struggled to learn the craft of legal writing, as I was trained to be a journalist, and journalistic writing has its own rules, ones very different from those involving court documents. But once I learned to do legal writing, I had trouble not doing it. A few years ago, as I sat down to attempt to tackle a huge creative writing project – a memoir about a life-long friendship – I found myself almost unable not to write in that tight structure. I struggled to find adjectives and adverbs – we lawyers don’t use those too much in our briefs and motions (as much as we’d love to). Eventually, I found a new rhythm and can now jump back and forth between the two, but not without pause. I’ll admit it: it wasn’t easy to get from there to here. Forging ahead with the memoir was the first step. I refused to quit. And, sure enough, with practice, the creative side of my brain again stirred to life. So I kept going. I began working with one of my favorite memoir writers, Wade Rouse, and at my second writing workshop, I met a woman who invited me to join her blogging group. The creativity flowed that much more freely. And that connection led to yet another: an invitation to review books for Chick Lit Central, a website run by one of my co-bloggers.”

Similarly, bestie Darla Williamson always had a creative side to her and dabbled in creative projects (everything from handmade lotions to luggage tags). A few years ago she was able to go full-tilt creative when she quit her job in corporate banking to become an art instructor and potter.

spanish roses.jpg

So, creativity can wax and wane and meet different heights. If you are at the lower end of the creativity spectrum, know that it’s not permanent. It’s a dynamic state and it’s a skill, like any other. There’s room for all of us.