Celebrating Birthdays and the Element of Surprise


Nature’s Birthday Candles 18×36 Oil     http://www.michelleausten.ca

“Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you!”  ~Dr. Seuss

My Son Tyler is turning 22 tomorrow. Today I am going to bake a cake.

This morning, as I drink my tea and reflect on all the birthdays we have been lucky to celebrated. Soccer parties, laser tag, bowling, water slides, space center YYC, the list goes on.   We always have a family dinner with a birthday cake. The day he asked for a Costco birthday cake with a soccer ball,  I cried…  moms ego took a hit. Thankfully, that was the only year he requested a bought cake.


Tyler on his 19th Birthday

I love to bake. Warming up the oven on a cold day, the smell of delicious aroma filling my home, feeling the heat of the oven, hearing the whip of the beaters and seeing the smile on the face of my kids when I surprise them with a cake.

I love the feeling of pushing the icing around to cover the cake with a big butter knife. Making sure I get the peaks of the icing just perfect with lots of variation of shape, covered with colored sprinkles in Tyler’s favorite color.

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Watching the element of surprise when they realize their favorite angel-food cake with colored flecks and boiled icing has money carefully placed inside of it.

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I am a mom and an artist. Not a professional baker, but the feeling is the same in every area. Whether painting, baking or theming a birthday party, the familiar feeling of inspiration arises!  Exploring, experimenting and sharing creations.   Spreading the icing reminds me of pushing paint around the canvas, the way it smells and mixes together, the way it feels. Oil paint is buttery, like thick creamy buttercream icing.

The element of surprise is something I encourage you to do in your art. Play with the paint, let go of a desired outcome.  This approach is more fun and less stressful.  Tyler is the master of going with the flow of life. I learn a lot from him everyday.  He is methodical, patient and kind.

A quiet moment in nature.

A quiet moment in nature.

The painting “Natures Birthday Candles”  reminds me of Tyler.

“Wild” is a magical bear with a great imagination and a quest for adventure. I started painting the bear and watched with patience as the painting came to life. His friends magically show up, they are like the sprinkles on the cake. The elements of surprise that make your day more special, like finding money in a cake or having an old friend show up unexpectedly.  Wild and his friends play with the dandelions, imagining they are birthday candles, blowing and spreading seeds of intent and kindness.  I love the way they play together and support each other.  The dandelions mixed on my palette like they were lollipops or maybe gold coins. Magical. Wild feels it is a perfect day, sitting in a field surrounded by the wealth of friends, sunshine and golden lollipops.

All the details and feeling of softness comes from mixing the paint and getting out of the way of trying to make things perfect. I encourage you to have fun, explore and allow things to unfold naturally like they do in nature.

Not all paintings work out. I sometimes burn the cake, go way overboard, eat too much icing, yell at my children… But in the moment I make sure I am having fun and when I feel the work is complete, I invite my children to see, together we savor the moment and celebrate by eating a piece of homemade cake.

Happy 22nd Birthday Tyler– this painting is for you, honoring the “Wise one” that appreciates nature, family, friends and life. Thank you for being you and for everyday-Living life in the present moment!

Don’t forget to make a wish!


Make a Wish 20×20 Oil



 “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” ~ Dr. Seuss


Beneath a Coat of Snow


“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”   ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

I am officially calling a sick day. My head is full of cold and my feet feel like they are full of cement.

As I sit on my couch in my fuzzy red comfortable robe at 2pm, I am watching the snow fall gently onto the earth. I am not feeling at all guilty to be taking a sick day. There is a lightness in the air, objects are slightly blurry and the colors I see are mostly soft and covered in white snow. It is quiet and I am grateful to have a day of rest and reflection.

Almost a year ago, I planned a trip to Virginia to see my cousin and her family. The trip was perfectly planned around the famous Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC.   I packed my sketchbook and paints and was set out to have an art adventure, to be inspired by new sites, especially of the beautiful spring cherry blossoms that I have heard so much about.   I LOVE to travel-it is eye-candy for the senses. There is also the unexpected. Many times things do not go as planned yet when you learn to embrace the present moment, they can still go perfectly as intended…   Don’t fight the process.

On my first day in Virginia, I awoke to a similar scene as I am looking at today. Snow was gently falling and there was a chill in the air.

My cousin, Alexis and I are 7 years apart and really had only met each other less than a dozen times in our life. Yet, I felt like I was home, we shared the same grandmother, pictures in her home and stories we shared were familiar to me. We also both loved going for coffee and eating similar things. It was easy and fun to be with her.

She was a gracious host and showed me all the sites.

Despite the cold, cool temperatures we bundled up and headed out to see the memorials in Washington, DC. It was apparent that I needed a history lesson (or to watch more TV) when I pointed to a large pencil like structure and asked “What is that?” With huge eyes and a sly smile she replied “The Washington Monument.”

And so began my tour…

Washington MonumentIMG_0282

Disclaimer: Just to make me feel better – I did recognize the White House immediately. I am also happy to say I can name all the memorials now when I see them in the movies. The bonus of travel for a visual person is education.  Did I mention that I am Canadian?

National World War II Memorial

National World War II Memorial

Korean Monument

Korean Monument 

Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool

Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool

We made our way through the memorials one by one. Alexis was being an amazing tour guide. Explaining to me that the Korean memorial was her favorite. as it touched her and her family. They really are amazing to see in person. There was a shallow pool approximately 2 ft deep surrounded by granite with engraving that said how many soldiers were killed, captured, missing or wounded. I was looking all around taking pictures, feeling somber and reflective, when the energy changed.

I hear someone shouting- Lady in the pool!! I take a deep breath, turned around to see that my dear cousin had taken one wrong step backwards and over she went, catching her foot in granite that actually said “wounded.” Weird coincidence? Hmm, not sure. The world seemed to stop for a moment. As I pulled her out of the pool , others were most concerned about the fact that her brand new I-phone was laying peacefully face down on the bottom of the pool. “The phone!” strangers screamed. I looked at the pretty salmon colored case face down in the pool and thought, “I need a stick”. I look up and a woman is waving her cane. We make eye contact – A little miracle- an angel sent her- I am sure. I borrowed the cane and pulled the phone close enough for a kind boy with long arms to reach in and retrieve her phone, complete with instructions on what to do to recover the phone.   The concern for the phone was a little alarming actually…I was more concerned about my cousin.

I look over at her, she is dripping wet, shivering and totally in shock. We walk over to sit down and reassess the situation.   Breathe….

We broke out into laughter. I had learned in yoga, The vibration of laughing and crying is almost the same, the release of energy in the body is what is important. We chose laughter.

Did that just happen? Was that for real? Was that a bad dream? Gut rolling laughter was what emerged right before survival skills kicked in.  A cab ride, extra layers of clothes, a cold pack, motrin and a few bloody mary’s later. We had reflected, laughed and ended up with a free desert at the restaurant in honor of the Best story of the Day. She was my hero that day.

She's a Trooper- Arlington Cementary- We are Alive and Moving- crutches and all!

She’s a Trooper- Arlington Cementary- We are Alive and Moving- crutches and all!

The next day while icing her elevated ankle , we wondered, “What was the purpose of that? “

Maybe we needed some comic relief in our somber moment? Not sure. We both agreed the spirits got a good giggle. (about the present moment awareness, not about her injured ankle.)

Maybe we needed to feel the kindness of others?     Not sure.

Maybe we needed to be here right now!    

That is for sure!

With Lightness and Love and Gratitude for family and travel,


The tile under my feet at the Lincoln Memorial. I HAVE A DREAM!

The tile under my feet at the Lincoln Memorial.

Ps/ And for those concerned about the phone- it worked perfectly- Magic!

Endless Vistas

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”
~C.S. Lewis


Dear Friends,

I just spent a week unplugging and soaking up lots of sunshine and Vitamin D by the pacific ocean in Huatulco, Mexico. I love to visit the ocean. It’s a great time for reflection.
Where the land meets the sky or the ocean meets the sky… it is the place where the sun rises and sets everyday. This place in the middle of the earth and sky I believe we can all relate to. I always feel a real sense of connection and inspiration here. A daily reminder to find peace, joy and love.

I began the painting above before I left on holidays. I am always asked the question “What inspires you?” I believe the answer is connection. In this case, I was inspired by a photo a friend posted on Facebook. I am often inspired by travel, community, pictures I take or from my imagination. I see or feel something and immediately say, “I must paint that!”
I finished this painting today on the last day of 2014.
It is called “Endless Vistas”. To me it represents taking time for reflection, feeling what you feel and connecting Body, Mind and Spirit. Vistas are endless and change everyday. Some are small and fleeting, some are big and last longer, all are important.  They create your life.

Wishing you all Vast Vistas of Peace, Joy and Love in 2015!

With Much Gratitude and love,

Creating Community Gardens


When I reflect on Summer Camp 2014, the general theme that stands out for me is COMMUNITY.

Whether you are painting, doing yoga, working or going to the movies…the energy of group work raises the vibration and magic moments naturally occur.  My week spent with 8 young artists was full of Exploration, Inspiration and FUN!


The end result was alot of amazing ART, but that is not what I remember even hours after the final Art Show.

What I remember was the process, the JOURNEY.  

Just like any creative project…IMAGINATION sparks an idea that STIRS the SOUL…

We seek out tools, canvas, paper, brushes and teachers to fill our tool box….CONFIDENCE is gathered to explore something new.

Set quickly into ACTION- otherwise known as PLAY MODE.  Avoid thinking and start doing.


CONNECT, get involved, share with others, WONDER, get frustrated, cry, SMILE, Feel ELATED or deflated, scared or EXCITED. FEEL more.  Move through, move on and WONDER what the next journey will bring…

In the end after the canvas has been long forgotten we remember EACH OTHER.  The good times and the bad.  Maybe we remember sticky fingers from the fruit bouquet or how we felt when our final project turned out better than we imagined.  


Regardless, I will treasure this week for all the SMILES and HUGS I received and I will PAY them forward.


Bouquets of Gratitude,


“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”~Mother Teresa