The (Thanks)Giving Tree

Oh, November, you have a hard row to hoe. The middle child of year’s end wedged between the delightful youth of October with its sugar induced, ghoulish campfire stories and elegant December with its twinkle light covered gifts. Poor November, no elaborate decorations, no holiday parties, no cinematic tributes or television specials. The eleventh month of the year has always seemed like three weeks of waiting in the livingroom for the turkey being prepared in the most slow and torturous way.

Dutifully, at the beginning of the week I packed up our vampires and devils, pumpkins and skeletons, ghosts and goblins into their box and returned them to the garage. And with that action I realized how utterly bare our house seems without them. Not the cleansing spareness that I welcome with January’s fresh start flavor of minimalism – but a boring, empty feeling.

I felt our November needed a makeover. And thus the Thanksgiving tree was brought in.

Every year we do a gratefulness challenge. Most of the time it is just a list that my kids scribble down on notebook paper, while I post mine in status updates on social media. This year I thought it would be snazzier if we made it a more visually appealing affair. I brought in a branch from our backyard, placed it in a large mason jar and anchored it with stones.  We then traced our hands on construction paper, cut out the silhouette and wrote something we are thankful for on them. A bit of yarn to hang them with and voila! November has a decorative, crafty tradition that underscores a core value of our family – appreciating what we have.

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I love our tree and I can’t wait to see it covered in colors and joy by the end of the month. However, I think that our November has room for more. So the second tradition we are doing for the month of Thanksgiving focuses on the second half of the word: Giving. We begin by donating outgrown clothing and toys to our local rescue mission and follow that up with putting together some cold weather bags for the homeless in our area (ziploc bags filled with gloves, a hat, a scarf and some socks) and choosing a couple of new toys to donate to Toys for Tots.

“November is usually such a disagreeable month…as if the year had suddenly found out that she was growing old and could do nothing but weep and fret over it. This year is growing old gracefully…just like a stately old lady who knows she can be charming even with gray hair and wrinkles. We’ve had lovely days and delicious twilights.” – L.M. Montgomery

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The Autumn People Present DIY Halloween Decorations

“For these beings, fall is ever the normal season, the only weather, there be no choice beyond. Where do they come from? The dust. Where do they go? The grave. Does blood stir their veins? No: the night wind. What ticks in their head? The worm. What speaks from their mouth? The toad. What sees from their eye? The snake. What hears with their ear? The abyss between the stars. They sift the human storm for souls, eat flesh of reason, fill tombs with sinners. They frenzy forth….Such are the autumn people.”  – R. Bradbury

Okay, so perhaps we aren’t quite that into fall, but my family definitely enjoys its Octobers. We count the month leading up to Halloween as family activity time with an enthusiasm only matched by the Advent season. October is the time when we take outside to hiking trails and bike paths, giddy with the lack of humidity. We spend the month cuddled up with Goosebumps and showings of Hocus Pocus. We make costumes and trick or treat. But it is safe to say we have the most fun decorating.

Every year we make a homemade decoration or two. That is how this necktie wearing Dracula ended up in our house. He has hung around for five years and has yet to sell a single used car. He’s very friendly though!

"I vant to sell you a volksvagon!"

“I vant to sell you a volksvagon!”

Dracula is made of craft wire and art foam, fabric and felt. He was a little bit of an endeavor. Last year we went with the quick but temporary balloon spiders. This year I wanted a craft that was both simple, quick and reuseable. Enter peel and stick wallpaper.
IMG_3282As you may have heard (from countless other blog posts) I work for a company called Spoonflower that specializes in custom, digitally printed textiles. One of our most versatile products is a woven wallpaper that goes up like a sticker but doesn’t damage walls and if stored on it’s backing can be reused. I thought that it would be the perfect wall decoration so I went through the ample halloween related designs and picked out my favorites (if you click on the images it will lead you to the design, in case you are interested) and ordered them in swatch size.
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IMG_3285 IMG_3286My personal favorite is this design – but due to the size of the figures, I needed to order a two foot long roll, which gave me exactly one of each.

Once I received them, we set to work cutting them out.

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Remember, they have adhesive so don’t sacrifice your good scissors!

A swatch size did not give me the full bunting, however it did give me enough flags for my purpose and the ones that were cut off could be cut so that they were independent stickers.
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Soon we had a massive pile of spooky stickers!

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And then it was time for the fun part: I set the kids loose with the stickers. They had the freedom to put them wherever they wanted without fear of messing anything up. They got pretty creative.

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The bunting was my personal project and I am thrilled with how it turned out. All the fun of a bunting without the hassle of sewing it, hanging it etc. It worked so well and looks so cute I am going to get some for birthdays, Christmas and everyday use!

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The best part of the project is that it took less than thirty minutes to complete and our house was covered with unique decorations. I saved the backing in hopes of using them next year, but my boys insist that the decorations are just going to move into their rooms come November 1st.

I would write a meditation on autumn and change, hibernation, self care and such, but I have costumes to sew! Happy Crafting!

Curating Your Life: How to Expand Time

I find myself in a unique position, I am married with two children, suddenly awash in alone time. Due to my work schedule and an out of state fellowship for my partner, I am with my husband for around 12 waking hours a week. My days off are school days and therefore I have a plethora of time I can spend in my oddly quiet house.

At first, I spent my time running around trying to cram as many things as possible into the day. Somethings were unavoidable – grocery shopping, dropping off children and picking them up, chores – but some were just there to numb my brain into not thinking – a season of RuPaul’s Drag Race should be savored, not gobbled up in a day afterall.

I thought that I was feeling loneliness. But upon reflection, discomfort was at the bottom of it. Discomfort at being alone with myself.

I was wasting time on Facebook, scrolling through Instagram and doing anything but  simply exist with myself. The result: me waking up from my screen stupor and then rushing around to get the things that were actually crucial, finished. I felt stressed and depressed. I kept forgetting things (like appointments and essential items for dinner).

This led to some deep thoughts, that have been around likely since Matthew Broderick slapped a phone on a modem – perhaps even decades before that when magazines were the newest craze. They can be summed up in this statement: How I spend my time is how I spend my life.

.I do not want to look back when I am in the retirement community and say, “I remember when I was young and full of energy and I spent hours upon hours a day looking at people complaining about the service in restaurants and pictures of cats.” That kind of reflection is NOT going to liven up the shuffle board competition in Boca Raton.

I am not remotely going to demonize social media, I think it can be a cause for great good in the world – it connects us to one another. However, it is kind of how I view dairy – it provides me with protein and calcium and vitamin D but if I eat too much of it I get sick, feel drained and bloated. Social media has a very similar outcome. It is most effective when taken in small portions.

So, what do I mean by curate? I mean simply to treat your life in the way you would treat an art gallery, a museum or a collection of vintage records. To paraphrase many, many people who get quoted often, life is just a collection of moments anyway, so why not refine your collection and gather it mindfully?

To do this, begin by noting the big stuff, the important stuff, the things that if  everything but these things were stripped away you would still be content. The stuff that beyond the basics of food, warmth and shelter are essential to life. For me they are: my family, my friends and my health. Secondary big stuff include: my pets and the ability to do rewarding, fulfilling work.

So I think of actions that are necessary to preserve and honor these aspects of my life and plan my days around them. Things like running errands for my family, spending time with my boys, cooking nutritious food, connecting with friends, working at a job I love and exercise therefore take up a good portion of every day in varying increments according to need.

The next step is thinking about what nourishes your soul. What are the things that give you enough peace, patience, energy and joy to take care of your big important stuff? For me everything falls under the umbrellas of creating, learning and connecting. My cup is filled by writing, drawing, sewing, painting, collage, knitting, crocheting, decorating. It is also fueled by spending time helping others, laughing with a friend and playing games with my kiddos, learning something new, reading a great book or spending time with someone who is ahead of me on the path.

Lastly, make time for stillness. Everyone needs time spent during which they can clear their head and be silent for awhile. It keeps one from being overwhelmed by our ever growing to-do lists. I find my stillness in yoga, running, a quiet bath at the end of the day, or driving with the windows down and the radio off through the country. But the easiest way I find it is by meditating for just a minute or two in the morning before I get out of bed and just a couple more minutes in the evening. It is only at most five minutes out of my day and it makes all the difference.

These second and third tiers are most often what gets lost when I allow my ego free reign to do whatever it wants. And when the secondary tiers go, the first tier suffers.

Cultivating your life is very difficult at first.

We have convinced ourselves that scrolling is relaxing. The action itself tricks your brain into thinking it has accomplished something and that feeling is addictive – but if you do it too much you will find that you can feel the difference between that false sense and a true one. There are things that can help in the transition, and if you are anything like me you can expect plenty of backsliding, the same habits can help you keep up the good work.

Get Some Meditation Backup. Meditating is not intuitive. We are socialized to always be moving and thinking and watching and analyzing and doing. Simply being, even for a few minutes can be challenging. So it’s a good idea to have some support in that area. Breathe is a program available free on IOS, Android and the web. It provides guided meditations to help you learn to meditate. I still use them when my brain is really chugging along and I have trouble switching it off. I just pop in some earbuds, close my eyes for a moment and breathe. This app has helped me through some rough times, I can’t recommend it enough.

Have Productive Distractions Readily Available. I am a writer and so I’ve gotten into the habit of always having the tools of the trade at hand. I always keep a pretty journal or notebook and my favorite pens. (Pen link added for family members looking for stocking stuffers, hint, nudge, wink). This is great because I always have a place to stick new ideas or work on a story. On my days off I just carry my laptop with me everywhere (it’s an itty bitty netbook so it’s not a hassle since I’m carrying a bag anyway). The post you are reading was written in a waiting room, a coffee shop and my car. Basically, I turn my downtime into me time. I can feed my soul just about anywhere. One of my friends always has yarn and some needles on her. You can carry art supplies, a day planner or books. Any of them will give you something to do other than scroll.

Speaking of books….Get a Book. Like a real, honest to goodness, paper and cardstock/cardboard, bound book. Put it near your bed and keep your phone and tablet on the other side of the room. With some work, eventually you will reach for the book instead of a screen. In addition to being unproductive the glow from a screen suppresses melatonin which makes it harder to fall asleep. A good book of short stories is always handy to have laying around for when you might otherwise be tempted to overindulge in the social media rabbit hole, may I suggest The Little Black Book of Stories by A.S. Byatt you can pick it up at your local library, for free. Because you can take home books from there without paying money. It’s pretty magical. Go get reaquainted. If you aren’t into literature a newspaper or magazine will do the trick.

Have Something Interesting Locked and Loaded. Even if you are unable to carry anything other than your phone you can still avoid becoming overwhelmed with social media. Currently I am using my phone to learn Italian with Duolingo. I am in a constant state of playlist making on Spotify, so that I can enjoy some tunes without having to DJ in the car. In my limited FB time, I save all of the articles I see that interest me in my bookmarks section and bust them out when I want to look at my phone. In this way I’ve discovered new recipes, learned new weight lifting techniques, read about the crisis in Syria, literary critiques and found sewing tutorials. All of which were more rewarding than reading about how my former classmate thinks President Obama is a Muslim Socialist Terrorist.

Keep a To-Do List and Check Things Off Regularly. I can be a complete space cadet sometimes and I would often find myself forgetting to do half of the chores. I could somehow have plenty of time to like everyone’s selfies but couldn’t get the garbage to the curb every week. Enter ChoreMonster, yes it is a cutesy app designed for kids and I use it to keep mine on task BUT you can make as many child profiles as you would like. So I made one for myself too. When I click ChoreMonster I am reminded that I should do the laundry, change the sheets and clean the bathtub. Any To-Do list will work, even one that is written down. It forces you to plan the things that need to be done. Having a list reminds me that I have a lot of tasks that are more important than scroll. Bonus: ChoreMonster allows you to set rewards for points awarded when tasks are performed. My rewards are a guilt free pass to myself to purchase fancy dark chocolate, pricey (well, more expensive than my normal) cup of coffee, take time out for a nap, or have lunch out with a friend. It provides a little motivation.

Streamline your Social Media. In order to spend less time on Facebook, I deleted the app, kept the Groups app and disabled notifications on my phone. So when I feel like engaging with people on Facebook when I am mobile I can do so in a very controlled manner. I try to stick with sites and apps that are very specific: MyFitnessPal only gives me health related updates while I make sure I am eating nutritious food. If you are looking for positivity, there is Happier – an online gratefulness journal. The Community over at Mama’s Hip is a positive, drama-free parenting message board.  By keeping it specific, I am able to get what I need from social experience without wasting time or getting distracted.

Parent Yourself. I don’t allow my children to just sit around in front of screens all day, if I can say no to those sweet, cherubic faces, I can certainly say no to my own. But I need a little help. I have added StayFocusd to Chrome, which allows me to limit the time I spend on websites that I select per day. Right now I have Facebook, Reddit, Imgur and Pinterest set to 10 minutes per day on my computer. On my phone I enable the restrictions and block Safari so I can’t get to the aforementioned websites . Yes, all I have to do is disable restrictions and I could be back on, but the annoyance of doing that is generally enough of a reminder to stop me in my tracks.

Doing these things has lessened my stress ten-fold. Suddenly, there seems to be plenty of time to get what I need and much of what I want accomplished. At the end of the day, I feel like I have done something. My life is not neglected, it is purposeful – even if sometimes that purpose is just watching Doctor Who with a couple of kids at the end of the day – and my time was not wasted. 

Flawless – Putting Down Comparison Culture

The idea that perfection is attainable is the cruelest lie that any of us can sell ourselves. It pops up everywhere – in our relationships, our work, our creativity, our social presence, our homes, our parenting, our appearance and our very bodies themselves. We internalize this theory that we are not good enough unless we achieve a level of perfection that simply does not exist.

A lot of people will tell you this is Facebook’s fault, that social media has caused us to compare our hum drum days along side of everyone else’s Instagram reel of highlights. This is, of course merely a vehicle rather than the cause. This comparison culture is as old as humanity itself. Paintings, film, magazines, fashion and even literature lends itself easily toward creating that which is idealized and it is human nature to dream of being “ideal”.

Though, it is understandable, it is also a cage that we lock the door on for ourselves.

Perfection is a falsehood, all smoke and mirrors. But more importantly, perfection is a roadblock. Seeking perfection is the best way to build a wall between you and your goals. Comparison is not conducive to creativity. How many amazing stories were reduced to crumpled waste paper because the writer thought it was not as skilled as something that Bradbury would produce? How many songs go unsung because they don’t stand up to Dylan’s standards? How many people never step on a stage because they can’t measure up to Streep? How many people hide themselves away from the camera because they aren’t supermodel gorgeous?

I am not perfect and I will not chase after perfection.

I am capable and I will chase after “finished”.

The most amazing idea ever conceptualized is meaningless if it is left undone.

Aspiring toward perfection has only one outcome, paralyzation. If you are not going to finish something until it has reached perfection, it will remain forever unfinished. There is always something to improve upon. The trick is to do the best that you are capable of right now. By right now, I mean in this precise moment.

You aren’t in perfect shape? Celebrate the shape you are in now. Buy the bathing suit, run the 5K, take the picture. This version of you is fleeting, and this version of you is ENOUGH.


You aren’t the best writer/actor/dancer/athlete/designer etc etc ad infinitum? Do the work you are capable of doing right now. If it is something you love, just enjoy the doing of it. You don’t even have to show anyone else, YOU will know what you are capable of.  Not to mention that actually doing something is the only way to get better at it.

Do you spend more time worrying about what kind of parent/spouse/partner/daughter/son/grandchild/friend/ally you are than you do actually participating in that role? Set aside your worry, lose yourself in the doing of it. Learn all you can. Be quiet and listen. Work on being kind. When you fall short, admit it and apologize and then do your best to do better. In every single one of these positions, what matters most is that you are trying.

I realize that none of this is particularly revolutionary. It is a pep talk and a reminder to myself and all of the people like me who will read these words. The inclination to compare ourselves to others is a strong one, and it is one that we all fall prey to at times. Working on transforming that energy in admiration for real people and critique for airbrushed falsehoods.

I would rather have a couple of “pretty good” books, paintings, photographs, sewing projects and finished races, than zero perfect ones. I would rather be actively engaged despite all of my flaws, than spend my time worrying over the quality of that engagement.

Back to work.

It’s Summer, Time to Love Yo’ Self

Dear fellow Ladies,
We were fortunate enough to fulfill my 12 year old son’s birthday wish to spend a night at the Great Wolf Lodge (It is an indoor water park hotel chain. Let’s pause to consider that “indoor water park” is a thing that exists – what an amazing time to live in.) We had a super awesome time.

While I was there, standing in line for water slides, swimming or hanging out in the wave pool I observed the people around me. I saw tons of happy families having fun, but I also saw many mamas who were under a cloud. More than one tugged constantly at swimsuits that didn’t fit and they were obviously uncomfortable in. It made me think of all the mothers who say they haven’t bought a new bathing suit in years. Other women stood fully clothed on the sidelines taking photos of children frolicking with smiling fathers in the water, these women often had such bittersweet looks on their faces. Their expressions were stark in contrast to the open mouthed mirthful looks on the women exiting giant floats with their families.

It made me think about all of the girls and women I have known in my life that have looked forward to the pool or beach, not with excitement but with self conscious terror. They feared the judgement that would be placed upon them for taking up more space than the small minds of others allowed them. They internalized this idea that they were too thin, too flat chested, too wide, too curvy, too short, too tall, too pale, too dark.

I know this because I was one of those women.

It took me too many years to embrace that the only thing that I embodied that was excessive was my fear. In actuality, I was too afraid and that was that. 

Seeing those women made me wonder how many of you are spending the summer uncomfortable or on the sidelines. It made me want to say this: YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL. You are worthy. You are IMPORTANT. Go purchase a swimsuit that fits you comfortably, be it a bikini or a one piece or a tankini with trunk bottoms.

Mamas: get wet with your lovely children. Laugh with them. Splash around. There is nothing more lovely than the joy of a parent and their child having a great time together.

Don’t be a spectator. Throw off the shackles of insecurity. . Go forth and BE LOVELY! It took me a long time to get here. Join me.

Much love to all.

When Black Cats Prowl and Pumpkins Gleam

It’s that time again. There are clues everywhere. The sound of cloth dragging through fallen leaves time, a scoot and a crunch. The scent of sugar and burning yard waste on the air. The sight of a cape whipping around a corner. The atmosphere is electric with the promise of chill and suspense.

Halloween!

It is fast approaching as I rush about collecting the last items for costumes and send my children searching out their plastic pumpkins which lie in some forlorn corner of the house, dusty and forgotten since last year.

Halloween holds a special place in our family. We have a LOT of traditions associated with the end of October. We make a new decoration each year, we also have a group costume, we carve pumpkins, we watch spooky movies (Hocus Pocus, anyone?) and we go trick or treating. One thing we do not do however, is encourage our children to go into a sugar coma give our kids a sack full of candy to consume.

We aren’t health nuts, but if you could sum up our parenting style (and lifestyle too, I suppose) it would be: all things in moderation.

The kids bring home at least a pound of candy every year easily. There ain’t nothing moderate about that.

So, rather than allowing them to binge on sugar we have yet another tradition. This tradition’s name is *The Sugar Sprite*.

Rather than being the “bad guys” and having to take away all the sweets we encourage an exchange with a mythical creature. The children are entitled to as many pieces of candy as they are years old, which they choose with the greatest of care. The rest goes into a big bowl placed near the door. In the dead of night the Sugar Sprite swoops in, takes the candy and leaves a small surprise gift for each child.

(Actually, what happens is after bedtime my husband and I invite our friends over to watch a scary movie and to eat all of the candy. Shhhhhhhhh.)

Although, the exchange is voluntary our kids have never opted for the candy and this has been going on for eight years.

The Sugar Sprite usually spends about $20 bucks on two gifts, which is a whole lot less than the copay for two dentists visits to have cavities filled.

Smooth Waters Do Not a Sailor Make

Hi Friend,
This month has been rough. There has been a lot of upheaval, intense shifts and what seems like terrible luck. I know I am not in that boat alone, in fact I feel like this ship is sinking a little due to the sheer number of people who seem to be getting cosmically screwed at the moment. But this is not a missive to place my hand delicately upon my forehead and cry out “Woe is me!” (I save that for my husband). Nope, I’m going to count one of my blessings whilst catching y’all up.

Remember how I was going to be working only 27 hours, leaping lightly into the unknown- forgoing monetary security and all of that? Well, it never happened because the very week I quit my job as a green apron wearing coffee jockey, I started training for a new position at my awesome job.

Let me tell you about my employer. I work for Spoonflower. Yes, the http://www.spoonflower.com. Yes, the one that has opened up the realms of possibility for makers, crafters and artists everywhere. It is based out of my town and I am magically employed there, now full time as a printer.

If you aren’t aware, Spoonflower is a company that custom prints textiles. Fabric, wallpaper, gift wrap can have literally any design on it. You can choose from countless patterns on the site or you can upload your own. It is pretty much the coolest thing ever. I work in the print room, running these machines. It is fun and frustrating, challenging and rhythmic. Like playing Tetris. I love it.

And I get free fabric every month. I go to work feeling like this is happening every single day.

That amazing benefit plus my creativity constantly being sparked from being surrounded with awesome materials and talented people has led me to finally reopen my Etsy shop. There is little in this world as satisfying as imagining something and then creating it.

And the best part is my schedule actually allows me to have more time. More time with my kids, more time to sew, more time to write, run, do yoga and enjoy drinking my coffee.

Eventually, the tides will turn and things will seem to come easily again. Until then, the things that matter are steadfast and wonderful. I have a wonderful, healthy family. I have loyal and helpful friends. I am happy in my work. At the end of the day, it seems ridiculous to ask for anything more.

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