Wednesday, June 29, 2016

When Bad Things Are Happening All Around You

I have to admit that I'm annoyed by glass half-full types. Those who put on their rose-colored glasses so tightly that not a drop of reality has a chance to slip in. Everything is lovely and beautiful, nothing bad ever seems to happen allowed to penetrate their world.

But then, I'm also annoyed by the doom and gloom types. These folks relish the times of day when they can spread their negativity, poisoning all those they come in contact with. Whether it's sharing (in detail) the horrors and tragedies that are being reported in the news or the negative things they've gathered up in their own lives, being around these people is draining at best, depressing at worst.

As a self-identifying worrywart, it's easy for me to slip into either of these mindsets. Though I veer more toward the second (it's incredibly easy to get swept away in all of the "bad-ness" of the world, isn't it?) I do have times when I squish those rose-colored glasses on as tightly as I can.

{image credit}
The world is a scary place sometimes. What we are doing to the Earth is frightening.

Instead of focusing on this, though, what if we look for the good being done? The positive changes taking place and the people working so hard, day in and day out, to make the world a better place don't get as much news attention. They should. Actually, they should get more.

There is nothing so debilitating as loss of hope.  

While I don't write often here about the environment, it plays a huge role in my beliefs. It's the reason that I'm so passionate about upcycling--that and the fact that I have a mother who drilled into me that waste is next to godlessness.   :)

If you're in need (as I am) of a few reminders of the great work being done to help the planet and its occupants, here is a helpful list:

  1. a Global Climate Movement
  2. Faithful Stewardship of All Creation
  3. Peace Corps--Make the Most of Your World
  4. Kiva--Loans that Change Lives
  5. National Audubon Society--Conservation organization
  6. Nature Conservancy--Conserving the Lands and Waters on Which All Life Depends
  7. Positive News--Encouraging stories from around the world
These are just a few ... which would you add?

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Creativity Isn't for Wimps

If you're a creative, chances are you've spent time daydreaming about doing your art full time.

Maybe you imagine what it would be like to be a novelist: words flowing out of you and onto the screen for hours at a time as you sit, tucked in your perfectly designed office. Or perhaps you've dreamed of being a painter full time, stacking completed canvases against a wall in your studio, waiting for the next gallery to call you and offer yet another a solo show.

Quilters, mixed media and fiber artists, illustrators, screen printers, potters ... we all dream of "someday" when our work will make it out of our studio and into the world, changing it for the better, don't we?
Altered jean skirt--circa 2007 in a college art course

Here's something that came as a revelation to me recently: making art is scary.

I've always been a creative who works in starts and stops. For a long time I blamed this on my propensity for switching gears. I get bored easily so I need to make room to change my mind, try new things, experiment frequently. While this makes sense when you're first trying a new creative field--say metalworking (which I didn't enjoy), pottery (enjoyed but too much room/expense required), or mixed media (loved and still love) at some point you have to really delve in to get into something.

Recently I was listening to a podcast, "Live Creative Now," by Melissa Dinwiddie. In it, she talked about creatives like me, who like to switch gears a lot, try new things. So much of what she said in that episode resonated with me. But one thing that I realized as I went back to my creative space the next day is this: fear is a great liar.

I mentioned before that I'm applying to be part of STRUT! and fashion show held as part of Art Hop in Burlington, Vermont. When I accepted the creative challenge I was so excited to get started! I practically ran to my studio to start cranking out beautiful, unique upcycled clothes.

Something funny happened, though. I kept getting stuck. I couldn't get the sleeves of one garment to fit another and didn't know how to fix it. I started making a skirt from a pair of jeans and it ended up looking lumpy and strange around the rear end. The skirt I painted on and appliqued had a funny, twisted up hem, making it appear crooked when I tried it on. After several days of problematic sewing and designing a little voice started to remind me how much I enjoy 2-D mixed media, using paper and found objects.

"This isn't your medium. You don't know what you're doing, really. Why not go back to what you love?"


"Who do you think you are? You're no designer. Leave that to the professionals and go back to what you know."

The "who do you think you are," question was a sure sign that I was scared. That annoying little phrase always pops up when I'm trying something new and am freaking out because it's imperfect. So part of me was dying to toss in the towel and forget about upcycling clothes and making textile art. The other part of me dug in my heels and said, "no way. I'm not giving up on this again."

I've tried upcycling clothes and accessories in the past with mixed results. The "failures" always bothered me so much that I eventually packed up the clothes I'd collected and either set them aside or gave them back to the thrift store.

This time was different though because I recognized that voice of fear. It wasn't that I was bored, or disinterested (though another voice tried to convince me I was!). It was that I was afraid to be creative in a medium I'm not as comfortable with (fabric) and tempted to run back to one that I know much better (paper).

Creativity isn't for wimps. While "they" (whoever "they" are in your life--family members, co-workers, the corporate world at large) may think that being an artist is all airy-fairy and an easy cop out to "real work," it's not. It's challenging to learn new things, to let yourself make mistakes, to make flops. It's hard to put work that you love and have poured yourself into out in public for others to find fault with, critique and maybe even make fun of.

If you can let yourself experience the joy of creating--even the hard parts where the process doesn't feel joyful in the least--you'll be blessed with so much freedom, though. Freedom from fear, from normality, from trying to fit your square self into that round hole. Being what you're meant to be is so much more rewarding than any attempt to make yourself into someone you are not.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

How Spending Time in Nature Changes You for the Better

You might wonder why, if this is a blog dedicated to upcycling and living with less, I don't talk a lot about all that's going wrong in the environmental world. 

The truth is that the statistics make me feel anxious, the articles about how we're ruining the earth leave me feeling apathetic (what can I do in the face of all that?) and our lives of consumerism make me break out in hives. Don't get me wrong: I try not to shop big box stores, but I certainly don't always buy organic/local/eco-friendly either. 

Studies show that we're staying indoors more than ever before. An eye-opening article by NPR Americans Spending Less Time in Nature, is educating, albeit depressing. 

Maybe if we all got out in nature more often, we'd take better care of the planet.

I remember spending hours outside when I was a kid. My mother had four children, so sometimes she would kick us out of the house to get the cleaning done. I created imaginary houses within the thick tree trunks, boats out of fallen logs, and magical kingdoms on the little stream that would freeze over in winter. 

I learned a lot about the woods just by being in them. 

I learned that old, wet wood peels apart exactly like turkey in flakes and chunks, the smell and taste of clover, the way the leaves turned "inside out" before it rains.

As a parent, I feel particularly concerned that my son isn't getting enough time outside. Sometimes it feels like an uphill battle, but I believe that all kids (and many adults, if they'll let themselves) are naturally curious about nature. Why does that plant make seeds there? What's inside this shell? How old is that tree? Why is the butterfly that color? 

It's not easy to get access to outdoor places, especially if you live in an urban environment. Still, nearly every place on earth has a park, a small patch of grass or some other natural setting to explore. 

If you're fortunate enough to live in a rural setting or have easy access to one, try one of these fun outdoor activities and see how you and your family feels after spending time in nature.  

1) Go geocaching. This is a sort of nature treasure hunt--geocachers "plant" caches in different locations. Seekers must find the cache using only a GPS.
2) Go for a hike. It doesn't have to be long and arduous. Listings of quickie hikes and easy trails should be listed on your state's forest parks and recreation website.
3) Have a picnic. So what if it's cold? Bundle up and build a campfire in your backyard. Spread some blankets around the fire and enjoy a yummy meal together.
4) Garden.
5) Explore your local state or local wildlife refuges. These have some great walking/snowshoeing trails and normally lake or river access for canoeing.
6) Buy a used telescope and explore the stars and galaxies together.
7) Walk the dog.
8) Go on a family walk and clean litter off the roadside as you do it (don't forget gloves!).
9) Go Letterboxing. Similar to geocaching, only you stamp a small log book instead of finding a cache. Requires no GPS.

These are just a few ideas, I'm sure you can come up with a lot more of your own. The important thing is just to try to get out there--even if it's once a week. My bet is that the fresh air, movement, and connection to nature will have you wanting more in no time.

What do you think? What's your favorite way to spend time outdoors? 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

A 4-Month Upcycled Project (FINALLY!) Complete

Whew, this one was a long time in the making. To be fair, it's not the clothing involved, but my own procrastination.

Do you ever start a creative project and then drift away from it? Sometimes it's because you're bored with it, sometimes because you're stuck or sometimes ... well, I'm not sure what happened with this shirt. I think it was seeing the stains after I'd done the work of adding the ruffled bottom:

I noticed a pink stain near the neckline and a little more on the sleeve.I think it was due to the fact that I washed it at the same time as the brightly colored shirt that makes up the ruffle.

Anyway, I pulled it back out today to play with it a bit. First, I trimmed the sleeves and removed the stained area there. After hemming these I looked at the front again. I liked the ruffled bottom but the shirt itself was rather boring. What to add to cute-en it up a bit?

I'm on a bird kick lately so he was a definite "yes." After going through my stash, I found this pretty fuchsia pink lace number. I used a bit of this to make some hearts.

I've dubbed it the "Love Bird," shirt and am pretty pleased with the result.

What creative project are you working on now? What's your best way to get un-stuck when you're struggling? 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Revelations, Inspirations and an Altered Art Bag

It was a beautiful, sunny Saturday morning. The only sounds were those of bicycle tires over gravel and songbirds chatting away in the trees above. Green buds, just forming, were the most beautiful shade of spring green.

My good friend J and I were riding our bikes on the local bike path, catching up and talking about life. J has known me for many, many years, so I felt comfortable sharing a revelation I'd had recently about my life's passion.

"You know how some people are just really focused on one thing?" I asked. "It's where their passion lies, it's what they're most interested in and they make it a priority in their life," I said. For my friend, it's fitness and health. As long as I've known her she's been a workout diva, a runner, a fitness instructor and always prioritizes exercise and healthy eating in her life.

I on the other hand, enjoy exercise because of how it makes me feel. If I could take it in pill form, I likely would. "I finally realized, after all these years what my "thing" is." I waited, part of me worried that she would be surprised when I told her what my revelation was.

"It's creativity," I said.

"Yeah, of course it is," J responded. "You've always been creative. Who else paints their car purple and draws flowers on it?" she asked, referring to my groovy Ford Festiva that had undergone a major overhaul when I inherited it from my parents. I laughed. Inside I was glowing. She knew! She accepted it like it was a cold, hard fact!

If you're anything like me, you sometimes struggle with calling yourself "an artist." Saying you're "creative," or "crafty," or "enjoy painting/sewing/making, etc." is easier than labeling yourself as the "A-word."

Of course, nothing pleases us more than someone else referring to us as artists. Especially if that person is an artist or judge or curator. What could be more validating?

J and I went on to talk about other things. I told her how I've been struggling lately with making without a purpose or goal in mind. I dislike clutter so it's hard for me to make things without them having homes. What will I do with all of the pieces after their finished? Store them for years (shiver, shiver).

I told her that I needed race dates. As a marathon runner and avid racer, J schedules races for herself to stay motivated and to have a goal to work toward.

"Maybe I need to enter competitions or try to take part in art shows or other things to stay motivated and have deadlines," I said as we pedaled along. I told her about STRUT! a fashion show held annually in Burlington, VT. I had contemplated applying to be a designer (upcycled fashion of course) earlier this year. But then life got in the way, as it often does. The deadline is quickly approaching in mid-June and I told J that I didn't have enough time to get pieces done to photograph and send in with the application.

"Yes, you do," she said. "You can do it. That's your race date."

Oh no. What had I done?! I tried to get out of it, tried a few other excuses, but J held firm. "You're going to do a great job. And I'll be here to cheer you on."

My stomach felt tight with dread. I would have broken out in a cold sweat but the air rushing past me was too cool for that. But underneath that layer of fear was something else: a glow of excitement. Maybe I could do it. Maybe I just need to break the big goal (three pieces ready to photograph in four weeks/five complete outfits done by September) down into smaller sections.

That afternoon, I looked over some sketches I'd done. I went through the reclaimed fabric and clothes that I've set aside for upcycling. And I started to feel that glow of excitement growing bigger and bigger.

What about you? Do you feel uncomfortable referring to yourself as an artist, or have you in the past? What tips would you give to others to help make this mental leap?

Maybe this bag will end up in the show ...

Altered art/upcycled canvas bag

Bag before:

Saturday, May 7, 2016

April Savings: How Many Pennies Did I Pinch (You May Be Surprised!)

Ohmygosh, you guys. I'm beyond excited to share with you what the total was for my April Savings Challenge. If you remember, I was putting away any extra money that I could find, just to see how much I'd come up with at the end of the month. I didn't tell my husband what I was doing so that I could surprise him at our monthly budget meeting.

Well, this Saturday we sat down to go over our finances for the month. (I should note that we try to do this monthly but it doesn't always happen.) This month was a little depressing because we had to send in tax money to the IRS and our state tax department. We also had some leftover vacation costs to pay for. So I was even happier when, at the end of our chat, I got to dump out an envelope full of cash. 

Because we use hybrid-cash system, there are certain categories (childcare, entertainment, household expenses and pocket money) that we take out in cash. So each time I was able to pick my son up after school instead of his daycare provider doing it, I got to keep a little of that money. Baking bread, borrowing supplies I needed for a project from my mom instead of buying them new, riding my bike to run errands instead of taking the car--all of these things added up.

At the end of the month I had collected everything from $20 bills to pennies to fill up the envelope. Mid-month I thought we might end up with about $100 or so. As we sat and counted it soon became obvious that it was more than that. How much more?

Extremely high-tech saving method
The grand total saved in the month of April was (insert drum roll here): $260.77!

I know this isn't big money, but for me it was eye-opening. This was basically free cash that was available because of some very minor adjustments and a little elbow grease on my part.

I'm putting all of it toward early-mortgage payoff. I can't wait to add it to my little chart and to start saving again in May. Will I beat that figure or was it a fluke?

Want to join me? It's simple: just track your extra savings and weigh in at the end of May. Keep a little written list of where you're saving money (you can do this with paper or an app). Then, get ready to add a little--or a lot--to your next financial goal. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The More of Less by Joshua Becker: a Book Review

It's the perfect time of the year to re-start, isn't it? The sun is shining again, the sky is blue and everywhere you look, new greenness is popping from tree limbs and bushes. Flowers are bright and cheerful after the dark days of winter.

Yes, you think, surveying your home--which, if it's anything like mine, has sprouted smears, grime, fingerprints, and dust bunnies half the size of Colorado--it's the perfect time of the year to de-clutter and finally start that minimalism thing.

I've been talking about minimalism a bit here on the blog lately, but for those of you who aren't familiar with the term it means basically this: paring down on things that don't matter so much to you, in order to focus on those that do.

For a lot of people this means letting go: of possessions, mostly, but also other things that aren't serving you well--be it toxic relationships, time-eating meetings, work commitments that are so far outside of your pay scale it's laughable, and more.

I recently had the pleasure of receiving an advanced copy of Joshua Becker's book, The More of Less. Joshua is the founder and editor of Becoming Minimalist, an awesome simple living/minimalism site that I've been reading for years.

While I personally feel that book reviews are somewhat silly because they are so subjective--what I love, you may hate and what you adore, I might find annoying--I promised to give an honest review in exchange for being an early reader of the book.

The More of Less

This book has a lot going for it: it's inspiring yet down-to-earth, motivating without being condemning and filled with personal anecdotes and stories that make the pages really come to life. If you've read Joshua's other books, Simplify and Clutter-Free with Kids, some of the stories in The More of Less will be refreshers. 

Somehow, though, the author makes the information--which he's been talking about for I believe it's eight years now--seem new and interesting. There was also a different level of depth to this book that I didn't find in the others. To me, it was similar to someone giving you a recipe (earlier books) versus making you a delicious French pastry, then walking you through the steps one by one while standing at your shoulder. Which do you think would make a long-lasting impression? 

One of my favorite parts of The More of Less, was the section on how minimalism plays a role, not just in helping us let go of things that we now longer need, but how this impacts our view of ourselves. Could we, by letting go of the guitar we never play, the woodworking tools we rarely use, or the art supplies we haven't pulled out in a decade, finally admit to ourselves that those things represent people we are not, and may never be? 

This hit me big time as I'm a bit of a grandiose thinker. I think of my future in glittering lights and breathlessly happy moments. "Then," I imagine, "when I reach that place or meet that goal or become that person, then I'll truly be happy." 

What this section of the book made me really evaluate is how I'm allowing certain possessions I hold on to to keep me stuck in this false sense of self. Does this make sense? It's like an artist trying constantly to force herself to be an accountant although she's a little scared of numbers, or a top salesman trying to make poetry his thing, even though he really has no talent for writing. 

In fact, my favorite parts of the book--which does focus a lot on the hands-on work of minimizing one's physical space--were the parts that went deeper. The author talks about focusing on your priorities and choosing to say no to some things so that you can say yes to those things which you love and are made for. It's all well and good to let go of things, but what will end up in their place? He also talks a lot about giving: of your money, your time, your love. 

This is an important piece of the minimalism puzzle that it feels is sometimes overlooked by others in the "field" for lack of a better word. It's wonderful to minimize. It's great to de-clutter. It's fabulous to be thrifty and frugal and save for early retirement or the trip of your dreams. But I think that Joshua hits the nail directly on the head when he talks about the fact that without giving back, none of these things will satisfy us. 

I really enjoyed reading The More of Less and would highly encourage you to get your hands on a copy. It's for sale on Amazon and Barnes and Noble or if you want to be frugal, request that your local library buy a copy to circulate. 

Be sure also to check out Becoming Minimalist for ongoing inspiration. 

*Note, I do not receive any affiliate income for this book review.