Get Your Hands Dirty!


This is a challenge involving working with your bare hands in soil. It is especially helpful for creatives of all types that find inspiration from nature or are curious to explore it more. It helps to increase contentment and appreciation of what you have and the world around you. It also helps you learn about the partnership between art forms that can help you face and conquer difficult situations.

Outdoor Gardening Challenge (Option 1)

Outdoor Garden Challenge Prompt

First, you want to make a plan you can accomplish in a day and gather materials. I knew I wanted to upgrade a 1×3 foot section of my yard with exotic plants from a recent trip. I gathered shovels, a wheel barrow, plants, gloves, bug spray, and music.

Music is an important part of this challenge that you don’t want to skip. Not only does it help create a mood to help you conquer the work, it empowers you to feel stronger and more capable of overcoming adversity. This is an opportunity to learn how different forms of creative expression can partner together to achieve a goal. Put together a playlist that makes you feel empowered, bold, and strong. This could be a static workout list you use in the gym or a list that changes daily. For me, it was a 90’s Christian Rock kind of day.

Next, you want to break ground and clear the soil for your planting. It is important that you take the time to do this right because not enough depth can leave roots exposed on the new plants and make them die. Also, weeds or grass left behind can choke out the new plant. If you are going to this effort, take the time to do it right and give the new plants their best chance at life.

Next, remove the plants from their pots, loosen the soil, and place them in the prepared ground. Potted plants are often root bound and need their root ball gently broken before they are put into the new soil. When you do that, a lot of soil will break loose. I broke my roots over my wheelbarrow with the soil I had already taken out of the hole in the earth. The spare soil will be mixed together and reused later. For now, just get your plants where you want them.

It was at this step that an unwelcomed visitor stepped in: fire ants. Fire ants swarmed my new Indian Hawthorne and my hands as I tried to remove the pot and break the root ball. Solution: spray the plant and ants with a mixture of orange essential oil and water. The orange oil doesn’t hurt the plant but it instantly kills the ants.

Next, with the plants in place, mix the native soil displaced from the whole and the potting soil displaced from the plants together. I used the wheelbarrow and shovel to do this as I was planting. Fill the remaining space in the hole with the soil mixture. Pack it tight and gently stomp it down around the plants because you don’t want water to come and erode away the earth from the roots.

Lastly, mix a high quality plant food in water and water the plants generously. You want to soak the earth on and around the new plants. Follow instructions on your plant food and plants to continue to water them for the next couple of weeks while they get established. Enjoy!

Indoor Garden Challenge (Option 2)

Indoor Garden Challenge Prompt

For the indoor garden challenge, you want to take a potted plant that is overgrowing its pot and replant it. I chose a collection of cacti and house plants I had mostly in one pot in my office. If you don’t have a pot like this already, you can find similar pots needing replanted in the clearance section of most garden shops.

For this challenge, I used bagged potting soil, spare pots, and my bare hands. I also chose to leave the music off for this challenge to allow myself the full sensory experience of touch and sound as I played with the dirt.

If a plant is overcrowded, it will struggle to stay alive. Lift the plant(s) gently out of the overcrowded pot, and let your fingers feel the through the soil to where their roots lie. Gently loose the plant from the soil around it with as much root and soil as you can keep that were near the stem of the plant. Continue this gentle unearthing process for all the plants. Then replant the plants into new pots with at least two inches of soil below and around them. Mix plant food in water and generously soak the plants in their new pots. Return the plants inside.

Final Comments

Working in the earth is almost primal in its connection to us as human beings. When you accomplish something with your bare hands, it makes you feel empowered to do more challenging things. Playing in the dirt is God’s natural way of reinforcing confidence. As we battle against forces beyond our control and win, we feel stronger about taking on new challenges in life. Take a moment to consider that. What did this challenge make you feel empowered to do?

Please take a moment to share images and thoughts in the comments below from when you tried this challenge. If you chose to do one or both of the challenges, we’d love to see it!

I look forward to seeing your work. Enjoy!

Writing on a Public Transit Bus


This is a challenge involving riding on a public transit bus and doing freewriting on your body. It is especially helpful for writers and artists to step outside their comfort zone. It helps to increase confidence about your work despite the criticism of the world around you.

Example (Modeling)

Tree branches and doodles drawn in public
Freewriting on foot and leg on a public transit bus

Challenge (Prompt)

First, grab some ballpoint pens or Sharpies (whatever instruments you feel comfortable using on your own skin).

Next, take a public transit bus for the full duration of it’s route. If you drive, park at a safe bus stop and ride the bus till it returns to your parking location.

Next, as soon as you sit down in your seat, take out your writing tools and start writing or doodling on your skin. The point here is to not over think it or pause for permission. Keep writing until you have covered all your exposed skin and/or you have reached your starting location.

Next, depart the bus and return home. Journal about your experience, how it made you feel, and what you learned from it. Capture images of the work on your skin.

Finally, share images and thoughts in the comments below from when you tried this challenge.

Alternative (Prompt)

If you do not have access to a public transit bus, you can still accomplish the work of this challenge by doing the work in a public place. Pick a public park, library, or facility and commit a couple hours to sit or walk and write or draw.

I look forward to seeing your work. Enjoy!

The Flow of Creativity and Why It Moves Through Different Artistic Expressions During Our Lifetime

There is a picture of a pier on a wall where I work. It stretches out over a placid blue sea where grey clouds hover just above the surface in odd shaped boats and hearts. It is dusk and the lights are on. In the distance, yellow lights illuminate life on distant islands. My little pier is empty. It is illuminated just to look out on other shores where richer people than I are living richer lives than mine. It reminds me of The Great Gatsby.

In The Great Gatsby, a poor man fell in love with a rich girl and spent all his efforts to build riches to win her. Though she is married to another man, he still builds a mansion across the bay and looks out across the end of his pier to the green light beaconing from her house to his. It doesn’t end well, but the beauty of his love for her and his willingness to work hard for an impossible dream is an inspiration. It is what I think of when I think of the American dream.

Creativity is like that.

I used to think that words were endless. I would have no shortage of ideas to share or people to listen. Then I discovered new art forms.

When I was exploring painting, I made things up as I went along. I played with paint and glue and ketchup bottles and made my own Jackson Pollack-like painting with embedded words and pictures in the paint. People still stand in awe of that painting and want to buy it.

When I started baking castle cakes, I had a base recipe and experimented from there. I made a castle shaped cake that was split diagonally in half as chocolate and vanilla. I took it to a party and it became all the rage to do again and again in different flavors. I made homemade sorbets to pair with the cakes too. My favorite was a mixed fruit pair that tasted like Juicy Fruit gum.

A friend taught me how to knit and purl, and I was smitten. I took two sticks and started playing with yarn. I figured out how to cable stitch and create different knit textures. I made several scarves freestyling this way before I ever figured out how to read a pattern. It was something my more accomplished friend said she wouldn’t dare to do.

I have been actively exploring a great many creative gifts. It is my passion and my guilty pleasure, but I have learned it may be the reason my writing has gone silent from time to time.

I will let you in on a little secret: I don’t think creativity really leaves us. I think it migrates to other forms of expression. When I was painting and baking and knitting, I wasn’t writing as much. I left the words alone on the pier so I could go party in the greener pastures of my other creative endeavors.

Sometimes creativity in one area takes away from creativity in another. We have a dominant creative voice, for me, it is writing, and when we pull too far from it we start to miss it so much we aren’t whole till it is back in our lives.

Something else about creativity is that it takes discipline and hard work. It is easy to play with different expressions of creativity as an outlet; it is a whole different thing to hone one’s skills into a well-crafted art. We have to make time for ourselves to work on our gifts even when time itself seems to be working against us.

Sometimes creativity migrates; other times it hides. Doubt, stress, and the sheer responsibilities of life keep us from being our best selves.

I have a goal to blog weekly on this blog, seasonally on bairnsbard, and as needed on whitmansacademics. Every week that I got behind on my own deadlines to write made me feel like a failure. The guilt compounded till my words ran dry and over a month of blog posts passed me by. I regret that.

Recently, a local newspaper featured me on a front page story about my blogging and teaching. It reminded me of my responsibility to my writing and to my readers. After some priming, the words returned to the well.

When you think you are in a creative block, have you noticed yourself expressing yourself creatively in other areas of your life? Share your experiences in the comments below.

Why Creativity is Important in a Classroom

The Lascaux Paleolithic cave paintings in southwestern of France are famous. They join neighboring painted caves on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list. These paintings are significant because they are over 20,000 years old and contain images of animals that used to be native to the region but are no longer there. They are evidence of an important part of our history, but they are also a testament to the power of creativity.

There was no real life-altering purpose for painting in the caves. One could suggest that the caveman would have been better served spending his time hunting and gathering, discovering fire, or creating a wheel. Nevertheless, history shows us that it was the man that created art that survived. Why is that?

Creativity is unalienable tied to our evolutionary history and success as a species.

Think of a baby that is just learning to walk. In the beginning, you can see the little worry lines of thought cross their foreheads as they weigh out the possible consequences of moving from squat to stand to first steps. In those first moments, creativity accesses a part of our brains that challenges us and enables us to problem-solve. We learn and grow as we take on new tasks. Not all creativity serves the same purpose. Some exist merely for the beauty of it or the challenge of accomplishing it.

Creativity and Innovation (5)

Nevertheless, each opportunity we take advantage of to create something new, we empower our brains to accomplish more work.


Creative thinking is essential to success.

Creativity and Innovation (7)

We often think about problem-solving and creativity in terms of invention, but that is not the only place where it is needed. More and more, we are seeing employers require creativity in everyday job tasks like maintenance and cleaning. Creative thinking enables workers to manage multiple demands on their schedules while also being sensitive to the needs around them like a family sleeping in the room you are supposed to clean.

Creativity empowers students with learning differences.

The brain is a powerful and interesting machine. It is more active than a thigh muscle during a marathon and it can help us creatively maneuver around problems. Such is the case with many people with learning differences who achieve success daily by developing coping skills around their differences. The ability to adapt so readily creates long-term success for them. According to a study reported in the New York Times, 35% of entrepreneurs are dyslexic in America. That number is higher than in other countries. You can read the New York Times article to find out more about it here.

Creativity and Innovation (6)

Images from Jeff Goodman, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Appalachian State University

How Can I Bring This Home In The Classroom?

Being creative is a process of trial and error in the classroom. Your goal should be to always keep the class interesting and exciting. Don’t be afraid to try new things, and don’t be afraid to ask your students for honest feedback.

If you care about getting something across to your class, put extra emphasis on it through personal stories, visuals, activities, etc. A lot of times we are so focused on covering the material we are supposed to cover in our lesson plan that we don’t even care about making sure that the students are actually getting it. Try asking them what they remember the next day after you taught it to them. Would you like to be a student in your class? If you don’t think you’d enjoy being a student in your own class, why should they?  

–Jeff Goodman, Instructor at Appalachian State University

Another approach could be to establish an atmosphere where students are able to question material and decide for themselves what they need to learn. I leave you with Danez Smith’s experiences on this subject.