Amanda Blake Soule is the blogger behind soulemama.com. She is the author of three books - The Creative Family, Handmade Home, and The Rhythm of Family and Editor of Taproot Magazine, a quarterly print publication about food, farm, family and craft. She and her husband Steve live in the foothills of western Maine with their five children where they are working together to bring back to life a 200 year-old homestead. In their days, they strive to live simply, close to the earth, and each other.

October 27, 2014-2
I first came across Amanda's blog back in 2009 in my early years as a parent when she was highlighted as a "crafty mama" in Mothering Magazine. Over the years I have been truly inspired and validated by what she has shared through her writing and photographs. I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to collaborate with her creatively as a contributor to the lovely Taproot Magazine and to meet her at an unforgettable gathering at Squam Art Workshops. It is with great pleasure that I get to share my recent conversation with Amanda Blake Soule with mothering.com readers:

M.D. In 2005 you started blogging and sharing the snapshots of your family life and creative endeavors with the world and have since built up a wide audience of readers. What inspired you to start blogging? How has has your blog grown and changed over the years? How has your commitment and openness to sharing your images and voice on soulemama.com impacted you as an individual? (your family?)

A.S. The blog started simply and grew so organically that I can hardly believe it grew up to be what it has become! My intention in starting was simply to document my days at home with two very young children. I was deep in the world of early parenting - days full of so much joy and fun as my little ones were growing and discovering the world around them, but sometimes I felt a little bit lonely and lost in all of that too. Lost to the physical demands of being the attached Mama I wanted to be, and lonely for adult conversation and connection during the days when my husband was working. The blog became a way I could connect to other women all over the world living lives similarly to my own. And it was a way, in days that were sometimes monotonous in the rhythm of early childhood and childcare, to feel as though there was something tangible that I had done at the end of a day. I didn't just change diapers and breastfeed and do laundry, we went to the beach! Or, we sewed matching pants for our dolls! It was a time of enormous creative exploration for me - inspired greatly by my children and their budding creativity - and sharing those thoughts and the resulting creations online, in that early online crafting community full of so much energy and companionship as it was, was a true blessings for me.

Right from the start, I was mindful about what and how much I shared. More specifically, I've been quite mindful of how I tell the story of the people around me, who aren't necessarily of an age or maturity to give their permission to how I tell their story. I've tried to keep some of who they are close to heart, and to remember with each post that I write, that someday future peers, girlfriends and boyfriends (not to mention future employers) would be Googling the kids names and seeing what I wrote about their adorable four year-old antics (with photos to accompany the tales). With two teenagers in the house now, we're now in that place. And I've held my breath as they've each relayed stories of what this person or that found about them on the internet. So far, I have to say, so good. They have yet to be embarrassed or horrified by anything I shared. In fact, they've been sweetly supportive and pleased.

Which really is how I feel about all of the sharing that we've done online. No matter my boundaries, we are very much 'out' there in a very public way as a family. There's a lot of fear that can be associated with that, and definitely this kind of sharing can open one up for criticism and unkindness. I've seen and read plenty of that directed at us and others, and it can be so hurtful. But more overwhelming - a million times over - is all the positive that has come as a result of putting ourselves out there, so to speak. Both in the meaningful conversations that happen online and those that transfer to the real world. It has been nothing but joyful and positive, those interactions. For years now, it has given me the sense that everyone in the world is as kind and lovely as those lovely people who read the blog and say hello each day. It may be a false sense of reality, but I'm okay with that. I'll take it, happily, as a contrast to the other messages of fear and hate that we see so much of in our culture. Despite those messages, I really do believe that we all share so much more in common than we are led to believe, and are connected to one another as a result. The blog has given me that perspective, and I couldn't be more grateful for that.April 20, 2015-31M.D. You have described your blogging style as 'a meditation of sorts.' Can you articulate how sharing your writing and photography has helped you stay grounded in the fullness of your family life?

A.S. It's true. The blog - and more specifically the act of writing each and every day with the particular focus of family, joy and gratitude that I've chosen to share there - has been a twelve-year long guide for me now. A guide in keeping my focus where I want it to be. Of course there are moments of more struggle in my heart and in my home, and quite often, that's when I need the meditation of the blog most of all. I need that reminder to turn around and see the beauty that's right in front of me. I need to write about how I want to slow down and treasure the moments in our present life, so that I may focus on slowing down and treasuring! Though I know it surprises some people when I say this, the truth is that I can tend towards anxiety, worry, and pessimism. Meditation has saved me from letting that spiral into a darker place at times, and the daily act of writing is one of those meditations. A daily meditation practice shared with a few thousand people, in the hopes that maybe, it's a helpful ritual for them as well.May 08, 2016-43M.D. It seems that you too are leaving behind your baby years in your family and embracing the new stages of your life with your growing children with an open mind and heart. Based on your experiences so far, what do you have to say to others who are parenting older children and teenagers?

A.S Well, that answer changes drastically based on the day, or the moment in the day, that you might be asking me! Did I argue with my teenager this morning about chores not being done, about pushing boundaries too far, about respect and dating and family expectations? Or did I spend a long morning chatting about politics with a thoughtful, engaged and insightful young man, only to drop him off with his friends and overhear him speak kindly and compassionately to his peers and sweetly to his girlfriend and confidently to his teacher….all leading to me to believe he's going to be just fine? Likely BOTH of those things at once. The teen years - like all other years, though perhaps amplified more than other years - is full of SO MUCH. There are incredibly challenging moments, and incredibly beautiful ones too. But without a doubt, I have to tell you that I LOVE having teenagers. For certain, I have feared these years, thinking it was far easier when I could just tuck them into the sling, or breastfeed a crying child, or chase away the worries of the world with just the right bedtime lullaby. And to a degree, that's true.

But, oh, how amazing it is to parent these growing people! How much I learn from them, am stretched by them constantly to grow, and reevaluate my own thinking about the world. They do not overnight turn into the scary monsters that the culture and media would have us believe. They're the same souls they were before they hit puberty, and our connection to one another as a family remains as strong as it ever was, only deepening with time. They still need us as parents - it's just that it's late night conversations in the kitchen instead of the lullabies. It is a true joy to watch them becoming more and more of who they are each day and each year. And a total gift to realize that not only do we love them (of course), but we really actually like them a whole lot too!December 22, 2014-25M.D As a busy mother, teacher and writer, I sometimes find it hard to balance my online time (blogging, social media, etc;) with that of my offline time. I find it necessary and valuable to make virtual connections, but I also yearn for and benefit from screen-free time to myself and with others who I love and care for. What strategies do you use to manage your online and offline presence in your daily life?

A.S. Oh that's so tricky, isn't it? Particularly because so much of the work that I do fits into the pockets of time that are here, there and everywhere in the day. Fifteen minutes to wait at that dance class? I can edit some pages! Five minutes in traffic? I can answer a few quick emails! And before you know it, "the screen" has crept into every moment of the day that we let it.

Again though, I turn to my kids. What have we modeled for them? When they were younger, our children didn't have as much access to screens - there was no TV and there was very little request for the computer. It was all so much easier. But as my two teenagers have each reached an age where we gave them smartphones, suddenly there is a mirror in front of us reflecting back on what we've modeled. How can I tell my fifteen-year-old to turn in his phone at night because I think it's bad for his brain and will mess with his sleep cycle if his phone is next to his bed…..when my phone is a foot away from my own sleeping head? Yeah, that doesn't work. So we find ourselves working really hard to put the same or similar restrictions that we ask of our teens, onto ourselves. Sometimes it feels forced and arduous, but for the most part, I'm so grateful when a phone-free weekend rolls around, or the 5-7pm phone-free time zone hits, or any of the other things like that we try. What do we want for our kids? I want them to engage with the people and the world around them, I want them to be present right now, I want for them to embrace quiet and 'boredom' and all the good that comes from that. And the best way can give them that, is by modeling it ourselves. And so we keep trying.July 26, 2015-67M.D. I have been inspired by your creativity and ambition. You write a wonderful blog, you have written three beautiful books and you are the editor of Taproot Magazine. What's next for you in terms of your writing?

A.S. I loved writing my books (particularly working with the awesome creative crew at Roost, who I can't say enough good things about!), but the other demands on my days right now make writing another one not possible in the immediate future. My oldest is starting his sophomore year of high school in the fall, with a semester abroad no less! And the other four are right behind him with all of their growing and stretching and flying from the nest. I know it is so cliché, but it really was just yesterday that he was tucked in my sling or learning to read! I feel the passing of time more strongly than ever before, and I don't want to miss a minute of these years. They're just so good.

My work with Taproot continues - we're finishing up our fifth year of publication and I continue to be as excited about each new issue as I was with the first. We've got lots of plans and dreams as a team and I'm excited to keep exploring that as we grow. I love the peace and solitude of working alone, but I never knew how much I could love working with a creative team as well. It's inspiring and so much fun.

And then there's SouleMama! Twelve years into that relationship, and I can safely say we're committed to one another! It's been such a gift to me in so many ways - emotional, practical, professional - and I still love writing in that space, in that format, in the medium of blogging. Sure, blogs are changing, but I don't have any intention of going anywhere. I'm a creature of habit, I suppose, and this habit has been such a rewarding one, I don't want to change it too much.October 18M.D. You are truly an individual who loves to learn and try new things. Your hobbies span the interests of fiber art, cooking, baking, gardening, sewing, music, raising animals and more! What interests are your current favorites? Is there something new you are yearning to try?

A.S. For the past few years, I've been particularly excited about my own fiber - from getting our flock of Shetland sheep, to learning how to spin and naturally dye the yarn. There is still so much more I want to learn about all of that, and I'm eager to do so and perhaps eventually to share some of that yarn with others once I know a little more about what I'm doing!

Recently, I've been getting the hankering to play with clay, something I haven't done in decades. But I'm dreaming of a small kiln for my 40th birthday this year and thinking of all the fun the kids and I could have making things with that.

And I might be driving my husband crazy right now with the plans and pictures I keep sending him of outdoor kitchens that I want us to build together this summer. It would be a covered place out of doors set up for all the making that we do in the summertime - canning, dyeing, crafting and on and on. Getting messy and creative in the elements? Or dyeing our yarn in the open air, with a gentle summer rain tapping on the metal roof of my imagined outdoor kitchen? Yes, please!

I might never have the patience or perseverance to become an expert at anything because I want to try EVERYTHING. I'm okay with that.October 15, 2015-73M.D. Where do you go for inspiration?

A.S. Well, the internet is certainly full of it, isn't it? Of course, I visit Pinterest plenty, and Instagram is full of goodness. My kids have always been and will continue to be my biggest source of inspiration and creative drive. Their enthusiasm for what they are up to is highly contagious. But a lot of inspiration comes from my ladies. I am over-the-top blessed by some amazing women in my life. I don't know I got so lucky but each of my girlfriends are dynamic, creative, gentle and strong individuals who do some really amazing things in their homes, in their work and in the world. I treasure those relationships dearly and nurture them as well. I think it's easy, especially for moms, to get caught up in the busy demands of family and to let those important relationships go by the wayside. I'm adamant about making sure that I have time to connect to the people in my life that I love outside of my family. It feeds me in ways so deep and meaningful, I always come back refreshed and recharged.January 05

Thank you Amanda for sharing your inspiration, perspective and beautiful photography for this interview.