Bernadette Noll: The Five Question Interview

Polaroid by Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon

Bernadette Noll is a writer, maker, and lover of thrift stores and crafting. She is an enthusiastic advocate for making a home and creating beautiful things with repurposed items. She’s written three books and her writing has been featured in Mothering, Parents, and other publications. She is currently living in both Austin and Smithville.

1. Why did you buy a home in Smithville? 

I visited Smithville about 6 years ago when a friend moved from Austin. She was sitting in her little backyard studio next to a firepit and I was instantly in love with the setting. Everytime I visited it felt like summer camp as there were so many people there, old and new, making art and creating simple beauty. Another friend had a couple old houses there that he had moved onto properties in Smithville. He offered one to me in early 2019 and even offered to be my financier. It was an old house that was built in Zilker neighborhood in Austin in the 1930s and he had moved onto a property on the south side of Smithville. The stars aligned and I was lucky enough to get the house. I’m only there part time because I have a high schooler in McCallum HS in Austin and because my mom moved in with us during the pandemic. If it were just me I’d be there full time but alas, it is not just me and so I bide my time until I can get there fully. The hardest part has been learning to be present with my current situation and not pining for Smithville! I am there a couple days a week. I’ve since rented a little booth space in one of the antique shops there and a couple more friends have moved in near my house so the summer camp feel continues! Art. Craft. Music. Reuse. Friends. All the things I love! My mantra is “I am here now.” It helps me be content and satisfied with what is. 

2. What compels you to spend time creating?

Mostly the materials inform the projects. I use only reuse materials in all my projects (well, except for thread of course but even that I get second hand at Austin Creative Reuse. My statement for 2022 is #usewhatyouhave so I am making things that use all my little bits I’ve saved over the years. I’m remaking old tote bags into pretty amazing and functional bags using all the little scraps I’ve saved and I am making postcards every day using all my random ephemera. I have two amazing work spaces in my home in Austin. One is my desk which is where I do my paper crafts #postcardprojectatx and the other is my sewing table which nicely is in my mom’s space so it’s a way I can spend time with her without feeling like I am “just sitting”. Sometimes I work late into the night and she loves falling asleep to the sound of the sewing machine.

3. Tell me three things you’ve learned in the past five years.

Wow. That’s a giant question. I have learned so much. One thing I’ve learned is to follow the inspiration. If an idea sparks excitement and my mind spins with ideas around that idea, I follow it. So I guess follow the inspiration is a big one. At the same time I’ve learned to be content with what is. I didn’t know my mom was going to be living with us and it has been a HUGE adjustment. I can either resent it and do it. Or I can find contentment and do it. Either way I have to do it so I might as well find the satisfaction. Another thing I’ve learned, or maybe I’m continuously learning is that everything is a bubble of time. If we look at our life in 5 year increments, in each 5 year cycle there is always something we are doing now that 5 years ago we didn’t even know existed! For example, my mom, Smithville, etc. Embrace what is and trust that if we are following the inspiration things can only get better. And since everything is  pretty good for me, that feels lucky. And yes, I acknowledge my luck in life. I’ve had a lot of it.

4. What are you currently making, reading, watching, or listening to?

I’m making postcards everyday. It started years ago and has ebbed and flowed but recently was kicked into high gear when a good friend was diagnosed with cancer. I decided I would send her a postcard everyday until she was cancer free. It sparked a HUGE creative drive and I started seeking new ideas for what I could send her way. Now I make probably 3-4 a day and some I am keeping to introduce a “collection” and some I send. And, I’m also making the tote bags. Which I am also loving. I’m reading a James Baldwin book called Another Country which I am reading at the insistence of a niece of mine. It is a heavy read but a good one and when I finish I look forward to a discussion with her. I’m a slow reader though! I’m watching Somebody Somewhere on HBO which I started watching because a friend’s brother plays one of the leads and it is FANTASTIC! I don’t have a lot of time for listening to stuff because I can’t do it when others are around so often there is only car time for that and for that I usually prefer silence. 

5. Cake or Pie?

I do have a penchant for those little fried pies that you see in the quickie marts. Often they are locally sourced and wrapped so simply in beautiful waxed paper. So yummy! And so soothing in a strange way. That said, I do make a pretty good (and so easy to make) espresso tres leches cake and that is one of my favorites. 

facebook.com/reducereuseremake

Books by Bernadette Noll:
Slow Family Living: 75 Simple Ways to Slow Down, Connect, and Create More Joy 
Make Stuff Together: 24 Simple Projects to Create as a Family 
Look at Us Now: A Creative Family Journal


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Watching & Knitting: Mrs. America

Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly in Mrs. America

Mrs. America on Hulu tells the story of how the unexpected battle about the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment in the ’70s gave rise to the Moral Majority and forever shifted the political landscape.

The series is told through the eyes of the women of the era—second-wave feminists like Gloria Steinem, Betty Freidan, and Bella Abzug, and an army of anti-feminists led by Phyllis Schlafly.

We all tend to characterize those with ideas we deem less evolved or progressive than our own as stupid or ignorant. Conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly was neither, she was an intelligent, persuasive woman who spearheaded a successful campaign against ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Cate Blanchett is just perfection as the cunning and enigmatic Phyllis Schlafly. Blanchett’s elegance and cool as a cucumber exterior lend a level of gravitas to a historical figure who it seems many did not take seriously until it was too late.

The cast is amazing but Sarah Paulson as an anti-feminist housewife, and Uzo Aduba’s Shirley Chisholm stand out. I appreciate that the feminists and the anti-feminists all seem to be given equally good dialogue and care. This seems fair considering the storyline.

The Music!

You may be too young to remember, but the opening disco music A Fifth of Beethoven was an unlikely #1 hit made popular in 1977 after this entrance by John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. You’re welcome.

The Midnight Special was one of the best things about babysitting in the 70’s. This episode features Walter Murphy & the Big Apple Band jamming to some Beethoven.

Watch Mrs. America Wednesdays on Hulu. Catch up before the series finale next week.

Home is Where the Art Is

Proving you can find inspiration at home, the always creative Dot Speyer Rocha has begun a series of Instagram posts where she is transforming her adorable daughter Birdie into the subjects of famous paintings.

It seems using whatever we have on hand these days is as applicable in art as it is in the kitchen. Dot adorns Birdie with a petticoat, a bunch of beets, and an extension cord to recreate Frida Kahlo’s 1939 painting The Two Fridas.

I know you won’t want to miss any of these remarkable recreations so be sure to follow @dotasinpolka on Instagram.

P.S. If Dot’s name seems familiar I bet Dot’s Blue Plate Specials will ring a bell.