I'm Nikki, a creative old soul who loves tea time, tip-toeing through gardens, mounds of books, swaying to records, watercolors, sunset walks with our three yorkies, and star-gazing with Paul. This blog carries snippets of my life with just us two (five with Rusty, Lucy, & Ethel) - I hope it brings you happiness as you snuggle in with something warm and delicious and begin reading. Enjoy, friends!

the blog!

If I had to choose:

The Road to Watercolors

Hello, friends. How are you? Are you enjoying the longer evenings? The richer sunsets? We took our afternoon walk yesterday and by the time we got home, just before 5pm, the sun was no longer the afternoon sun; the sky lit up like blazing flames and then turned to ashy periwinkle, a dramatic farewell until the next day.

I’ve always loved the time between October and the New Year. It’s a time to reflect, to check in on one’s self, to just be. Have you been able to check in on yourself? See how your thoughts are doing? How’s your strength, mind and body? Is it ready for a slow, relaxing, darker five more months? To me, it’s as if the summer months are the bright light on a cell phone or in Times Square. And then as fall rolls around and Halloween passes, the light dims and curtains begin to close on the bright lights. Time to rest, shut our eyes, and — you guessed it — just be. Easier said than done, perhaps? It’s the holidays! No time to rest! Must get the lists done, the prepping completed, the house cleaned, and the decor up! But hopefully, in between all the hectic zooming around you have to do, you’re able to check in with your thoughts. Breathe. Sip something warm. Have a bit of quiet nothingness just for you. I’ll send some good thoughts and warm hugs your way.

While I was attempting to take my own advice from above, I’m not sure if you saw it, but our local news channel reached out to me after seeing one of my posts on Facebook; they wanted to interview me about my art! It was a thrilling week, full of house projects finally getting completed, extra deep cleaning, and just pacing around the home like a giant bundle of nerves. But, I have to say, I’m so glad it’s done. I’m not sure I would ever do that again. I prefer to use my written words to get my story out there, hence this 12ish-year-old blog – I don’t think I do very well in interviews. However, it was a wonderful experience and I was so honored to have been part of their happy feature stories. (It was the first time I watched the news in a long time because, as you know, it’s 98% sad and tragic, and my brain can only handle so much.) When they (Derek) had reached out to me, I was so glad they wanted to interview me in my own home — having the comfort of home knocked the nerves down in half! So, last Tuesday, with bells on my toes, Paul and I welcomed Derek and his partner, Tony, into our home for an hour. We talked about my leaving teaching, how I got started with painting, and what my goals are for the future. I sent them both home with a calendar for their home, and a box of Trader Joe’s cookies. :)

Although it was surreal to see myself on the evening news, the best part was reflecting on the big question he said he was going to ask me: Why did you get into watercoloring?

In my head, I knew why. But I had never had to articulate it to anyone, except my loyal diary. I don’t even know if Paul knew why I had started painting besides the fact that I simply wanted to. The truth is is that I felt the pull to paint when our life went a bit off-course. As you’ve already read in prior posts, I had surgery in 2015 and then officially couldn’t have children. But, before that and up until about a year prior, I wanted to be a mom. That was going to be my job. I never really cared about a “career” growing up, except to be an author and illustrator. But realistically, that was just a dream. Being a mom was what I truly wanted to be. I wanted to replicate my childhood, bringing my own kids magic and wonder just like my parents did. We didn’t have fancy material things or vacations growing up, but my parents made do with what we had, and I think my brother and sister would agree, they made our childhood magical, us never really wanting or needing more. And that’s what I wanted to do for my kids. When we got married in 2011, we both wanted to be parents. I would tell people that I wanted my own baseball team with our family; I wanted eight kids.

That dream continued until early 2014. I started needing minor surgeries, always being told the latest surgery would help and I would have more time to have kids. After multiple surgeries, the timeline to have kids kept shrinking until “you might have a month or two to try” and then I would inevitably need another surgery. My quality of life dropped. And at the same time, Paul and I began to question our future. Do we really want kids? Are we happy now? Do we feel like there’s something missing? We had a big number of student loans out, we had a mortgage, and we wanted to travel. Were we happy already? Long story short, as we changed our minds, my body decided having children wasn’t going to happen and I had a hysterectomy in March of 2015. It was the best decision I ever made, and thankfully almost nine years later, I don’t regret it. Neither of us do.

But in 2014, when I still wasn’t sure what was going to happen, I reached for a long-lost dream: to be an author and illustrator. If I wasn’t going to be able to be a mom, what was my purpose? Yes, I was photographing weddings and I had a teaching license, but to be honest, those were just things I did in order to help fulfill my purpose of being a mom. If I had kids, I could photograph on the weekends. If I was a teacher, I would have summers and breaks off with my kids. Everything had revolved around my being a mother. And now that dream was crumbling, part by choice, part by nature. What was going to be my purpose? If I wasn’t going to be a mom, what was I going to be? So, on a rainy day in May of 2014, I went out to buy watercoloring supplies.

I believe in fate. Do you?

Just as I was starting to figure out how to paint and what to paint, my mom introduced me to an author who had written and illustrated her own books. I was thrilled! That was exactly what I pictured all those years ago when I was dreaming as a kid. (Did you ever read the Amelia Notebooks by Marissa Moss? As a child, that’s what I wanted to do.) And then as I was introduced to more authors who had illustrated their own books, all the ideas began to mould together and I began to have hope. I could do this. At the same time, I was also being introduced (or reintroduced) to now heroines of mine who also had not become mothers: Jane Austen, Julia Child, Beatrix Potter, Louisa May Alcott (although she did end up raising her niece after her sister’s death, about 12 years after Little Women was published), Susan Branch, and more. Call me naïve, but I had never really thought I could still live a fulfilling life without having children. But, these women and their stories gave me hope, and they continue to do so. Their passion, art, writing, etc. gave them purpose, and if that could happen to them, it could happen to me.

When I started, my art was solely for myself. (I didn’t even buy the right paints when I first started – see the bottles in the above photo? Most are acrylic. Only the slat of paints is watercolor.) I enjoyed practicing in between photographing weddings and teaching after-school classes. I did end up opening my Etsy shop a couple of years later, but for the most part, I was making art for my home and trying all types of versions for my someday book. After Paul and I started pulling back from photography in 2016 (officially quitting in 2018), I felt the pull to teach. I had never had my own classroom and I knew I would regret not trying. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear back from anyone, except a school in need of a librarian. So, I took that job for about a year and a half. And then, Paul and I went to Disney World.

After a week of hearing that my dreams could come true and nothing is impossible, I came home and quit. This was finally the time I would devote entirely to my art. After stumbling around for a few weeks, not really sure what I was doing or what I could create (the book still seemed like just a dream), Paul reminded me about my idea to make a calendar. And as you know, I fell in love with the process and continue to make them each year (or almost each year). The photo below is my very first paintings for the very first calendar.

But, the pull to teach was still within me. I just couldn’t give it up. So, in 2020, right as Covid shut down schools, I received a long-term 5th grade substitute job and loved it, despite being only online. I had found my calling. I was lucky enough to be offered a permanent teaching job after that, although it was in Kindergarten, a grade level I was not too excited about. My love was for the older elementary grades, 4th or 5th. But, I took on the challenge, learned so much, loved my students, and then excitedly took an opening in 5th grade for the following year. I fell head over heels for teaching, letting it consume my every thought. I was reliving my glorious days as a 5th grade student all over again with my exceptional group of 5th graders. I couldn’t have been more happy, even though my art fell by the wayside. And then, as you may have read in my previous post, I hit a brick wall last November and just couldn’t break it down. I struggled physically and mentally, and eventually turned in my notice. I still have random pangs of homesickness for my students and our magical room. I see photos pop up in my Google memories of us building the Secret Garden, lying in the woods listening to the birds and wind, our class parties, the last days together, our talks in our library area, and so much more. If you’re reading this, kiddies, I’m sending you all the hugs that can fit through a screen and will be back to visit soon!!

Who knows what will happen in a year? Six months? Maybe the pull to teach will override my love of art and writing, but for now, I’m where I need to be. I’m cocooned in my blue and white striped office, thinking of ways to bring you happiness and magic through my art and words. To quote Emily Dickinson, “If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain.” That’s my hope, dear friend, in my watercolor calendar, blog, and now work-in-progress book. Each day, I sit down and think, How can I make someone smile? What will make them feel cozy? What can I do to bring others hope? I’ve received numerous emails and snail mail from people I know and don’t know, who tell me how much joy my art and words give them. I reach for those on days where self-doubt lingers, or when I just need to know that what I’m doing is not so crazy.

And just like back in 2018 when I first began working on my calendar, alone in my office, here we are again. This time with a couple of more dogs by my side. Life has been nothing like I imagined all those years ago when I first married Paul, but it’s still good, still full of beauty, still scary and uncertain, and still always changing. What does Hagrid say? “What’s comin’ will come, and we’ll meet it when it does.” That’s what I’m trying to remember. :)

I hope you’re all doing well, friends. I hope you’re able to set aside some time for yourself in this hectic season, I hope you’re able to spend time with the people you love, and I hope you’re able to try the impossible at some point in your life. Hugs and love to you.

PS. If you’re wondering why we didn’t adopt, we believe both people need to be 100% in, otherwise it’s not fair to the child or to other people waiting who truly want to adopt.

  1. Patricia Conway says:

    You truly are an artist, Nikki. I look forward to seeing more ideas and items featuring your beautiful watercolors.
    We are all on a journey and you are truly following your path. God will always provide. He has our plan and knows best. And we never know what surprises He has in store!
    You are very gifted. Keep following your dream!