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.

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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. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

How I Started my Minimalism Journey

Have you ever done something thinking, "well, it would be nice if that happened," but having no idea that it might actually become reality?

When I saw the call for writers for a Chicken Soup for the Soul book focused on de-cluttering, paring down and minimalism, I was intrigued. My inspiration for the story, which ended up being published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less came from an experiment I did two years ago ~ to my closet.

But let me back up a little bit.

The Cause of My Minimalism Journey

In 2011, we moved from an 1,800 foot house in a semi-rural area to a 1,400 foot house in the
"suburbs" (if Vermont had suburbs that is). It wasn't a drastic loss of square-footage and there are only three of us in our little family. But MAN did it feel like it! The layout of the new house is a lot different. Whereas before we enjoyed a very open floor plan with tons of windows, this house is much boxier (a Colonial style). There are an average amount of windows but the entire front half of the house faces north and gets no sun.

Anyway, we sold/donated about 1/3 of our stuff (at least) before moving. Still, our new place felt cramped and cluttered. Here's something you may relate to: do you find that you aren't a stickler for cleaning incessantly but are driven mad by clutter? I cannot rest if I'm in a cluttered space. When my son was a baby, I spent his nap times running around the house like a crazy woman putting stuff away. Of course, then I was tired out when he woke up, but it was worth it to have a space that was free of visible chaos ... at least for a while.

The Start of my Minimalism Journey

My parents and sisters likely find it hilarious that I was published in this book. Growing up, I was not the kid with a neat and tidy bedroom. I was a collector, a gatherer, a creative and I really, really struggled with letting go of things. I was afraid if I gave away a certain stuffed animal that it would be heartbroken. I was worried that if I gave away a fancy hat or bottle of perfume (I loved to play dress up and was inspired by the 1800s), I'd never find one just like it again.

In 2014, however, I came across a blog called Be More with Less. The author, Courtney Carver, shared so much inspiration and influenced me so strongly that I simply had to give her Project 333 a try. Project 333 is basically this: you pare down your wardrobe to 33 items (including shoes, accessories and jewelry but not workout clothes, pajamas or underthings) and live with only those items for three months.

I was half-excited and half-terrified. I love new-ness in any form: moving the furniture around for a different look in the house, new art supplies, new books, new magazines, new ideas, new foods, new places to explore ... new things inspire me. Even though I buy nearly 95 percent of my clothes secondhand, what would it be like to give up 90 percent of my wardrobe? Wouldn't I hate having to wear the same boring pieces again and again? Actually, the result was radically different. I felt free. I loved putting together outfits in mere seconds whereas it had always taken me several minutes of standing in front over my overstuffed rack whispering, "hurry, hurry, pick something!"

Continuing to Minimize

After the Great Closet Pare Down, I went a little nutty. I boxed and bagged up stuff in the kitchen, the basement, the living room, our bedroom. I sold or gave away pieces of furniture that we weren't using. I tried to figure out what I needed and what was extraneous and brought me more stress by its very presence. 

Along the way, I read voraciously, books about minimalism and a more free way of living. Joshua Becker's books, Simplify and Clutter Free with Kids were helpful and offered hands-on help for how to start and what to do with those "tender areas" like items from relatives who have passed on, mementos from your past, books, artwork made by family members and more. I also enjoyed Francine Jay's blog and book immensely. 
While I love clear counter tops, they aren't *always* this tidy!
So now, you might be thinking, "Joy's house is bare. She has white walls, minimal artwork, clean surfaces and barely anything in her cupboards or closets." Well, erm, not quite. While I try to keep a handle on clutter, particularly on the kitchen counter, it doesn't always happen. It's a daily ritual, now, to keep things clear and empty. And there are very, very few closets or cupboards in our house that have barely anything in them. They do, however, have a lot less in them than they used to. 

If you're interested in letting go of some things in your life to make room for newness or simply more room to breathe, I'd love for you to share in the comments. One of the reasons for this blog is simply to create a community of people who are interested in the same things. Please let us know how you have minimized in some way and what the end results were. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Can You Simplify Your Life By Working Harder?

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Do you ever feel like your life is just rushing like a river, sweeping you and everything in it along in its current? I do. Sometimes "life" feels more like a verb than a noun. Like it's something happening to me, rather than something I'm fully participating in.

A Treadmill Life

You know the weeks: the ones where you rush from one evening meeting or activity to another, fielding phone calls from people who "need your help," and feeling guilty if you even consider saying no to making brownies for the fundraiser, helping clean the church, babysitting for your friend whose husband is dealing with a pretty serious health issue and on and on.

Sometimes though, it's not even the out of the ordinary things, but regular old life. Bill paying and grocery shopping, errand running and trying to keep up with dishes and laundry and vacuuming and your kid's school paperwork (I'm convinced that public schools in the U.S. are responsible for deforestation in half of the world at least). There are dentist appointments to schedule and dinners to cook and ... and at the end of the day you feel like you've lost a game of Whac-a-Mole rather than enjoy any part of your day. In fact, you can't really remember what you did today.

That's how life has been feeling for me for a while now. I could blame it on my newish full-time job which I started last fall, but honestly, it's been an issue for much longer.

A Potential Solution

This may sound counter intuitive, but after I was inspired by the Slow Your Home Podcast with Rhonda Hetzel, things have started to change ... for the better. 

What did I do that's helped change things? I've been paring down, to start. I made a list of things that I love doing (upcycling/art, being in nature, writing on this blog, spending time with my family and "home caring") and things that I don't or which I enjoy but feel overwhelmed trying to fit in right now (starting a new side gig, selling more of my mystery novels at different venues, selling vintage items at a local shop, volunteering). 

Just putting those things down on paper was really eye-opening. It helped me to see concretely which were "yeses" and which were "nos." 

Next, I started to consciously slow myself down. How? This is going to sound doubly counter intuitive, but I started making more things from scratch around the house, (bread, dishwasher detergent, more homemade foods), and created a little frugality/savings challenge for myself.  (I can't wait to share the results with you soon!) 

Something Amazing Happened

With all these new/different activities taking up my time, wouldn't I end up more stressed? Strangely, no. The more I did things that mattered to me, that are authentic to my life, the happier I feel. 

Let me give you an example. This past Sunday morning, I had about an hour to myself (a rare occurrence in my household!). What should I do? Lately, I've been using this time for planning my week and looking over my schedule. But the sky was brilliant blue and I was really excited about trying out this homemade dishwasher detergent recipe (yes, I'm dorky like that) in the Little House Living book. 

I've also been on a biking kick (inspired by Mr. Money Moustache) so I decided to ride my bike to the grocery store, about two miles away. Though it was colder out than I thought, the experience was exhilerating. It felt so good to get to the store under my own power. It was amazing to tuck my purchase into my backpack and breeze back out the door. 

While there, I also scored a bunch of recycled plastic grocery bags (I'd looked when I got groceries the week before but the bin was empty) which we use for trash bag liners and kitty litter deposits. Double score! I left the store feeling content. The sun was warm, the breeze was chilly, I was doing something healthy for my body and the planet at the same time. I paused as I walked to my bike and realized that I felt so content and happy and peaceful inside because I was doing something that was authentic and meaningful to me. 

Now, I'm not saying the riding your bike to the store for a certain product or ingredient will be fulfilling (though it might be). For you, the activity might be very different. But whatever you love and feel passionate about, see if  by adding it to your life--even when you feel overwhelmed and even when you can't imagine adding a single other thing in--you also feel better/calmer and more present. 

The trick though, is first taking a look at what your priorities are and deciding what doesn't fall into the list, and letting that thing go. It doesn't mean it's forever, just for now. 

What do you think? Are you willing to try this out for a week or more and see what happens? If so, please share in the comments section. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Why Do You Upcycle?

Is there a difference between green living, frugality, living simply and a DIY lifestyle?
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I am a big time blog and podcast-lover. It's interesting to see what motivates some of my favorite writers and podcasters. For some, like the Frugalwoods and Mr. Money Moustache, the inspiration comes from saving money by living uber-frugally. 

For others like Rhonda at Down to Earth and Brooke at Slow Your Home, the motivation is living more simple, quieter and more mindful lives. 

Minimalists like Courtney at Be More with Less and Joshua at Becoming Minimalist, are driven by reducing clutter in whatever form it takes.

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Thinking about motivation made me wonder why others upcycle. Is it to be more green, to save money, to be creative, or to simply reduce waste?

For me it's all of those plus something else entirely. When I look at things I see what could be rather than what is. While this got me into trouble in my younger years with boys, it's an ability that brings me joy now. 

What about you? What do you love most about upcycling? Please share in the comments. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Thorn Bushes, Raised Beds & Spring Cleaning

Ah, spring is in the air (finally!) and we couldn't wait to get outside today and tackle some projects in the yard (aka "the homestead").

Though I didn't get a picture of it, my first mission was tearing up a terrible thorny bush that started growing under the back deck and in the pine trees at the edge of the property. It winds itself into the pine tree branches and starts to pull them down. The clump under the deck was shooting up through the boards and the lattice that surrounds the outside.What a pain ~ literally ~ of a job it was!

After wrestling with these for quite a long time, I raked some leaves and turned over dirt in the garden beds. Meanwhile the Mister worked on this:

Any guesses as to what he's building?

If you guessed, "raised bed," you're right. :) This is one that we will plant strawberries in. He also built a longer, narrower bed for the raspberry bushes we'll be getting. Before that though, I have to get soil for both beds. Yesterday I picked up all the lumber at a recycle building supply store. I got five longish boards as seen above for under $25!

Why Raised Beds?

I've gardened as long as I've been a homeowner ... so about 15 years now. If you haven't switched to raised beds yet, I highly recommend them. They are so much easier than fighting weeds in a traditional garden. Because you aren't disturbing the soil by walking on it, the weeds get much less oxygen and because of that, don't grow (much). The soil in raised beds also warms more quickly, allowing you to plant your seeds earlier than in a traditional garden.

We have three already and with these shiny, new beauties are up to five. I'd like one or two more next year--one for cut flowers and another for more veggies. Maybe one could be turned into a cold frame?

We have other exciting news about an increase in our family's numbers (by six!) but I'll save that for when I have some good pictures to show you.

What spring cleaning/outdoor projects/frugal things are you doing this weekend? 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

"Holy Savings, Batman!"

Remember recently when I talked about Rhonda Hetzel and the hard job of simplifying your life? Well, her message continues to inspire me. Actually, it feels like when you return to something you once loved very much--like long walks or reading thick historical novels or eating chocolate cookies--and wonder to yourself again and again, "Why did I ever stop this?" (To be honest, I never stopped eating chocolate cookies.) 

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I've been feeling lately that I need a challenge of some sort. I debated a zero-waste challenge. I thought about giving up buying any clothes for a year. Then I thought of something more fun and in line with my goals right now: saving money.

My husband and I have a list of short and long-term financial goals: mostly things we want/need to save for (housing repairs/kid's college fund). Because we don't have any consumer debt anymore (a post for another time), we plan out what might need replacing/updating around the house, vacations we want to take, etc., and then sock away money for them in advance.

We've been in a bit of a saving slump since our Big Trip of 2016 (southern California for a week was our celebration for finally saving up our Emergency Fund).

For me, saving without a goal is completely un-motivating. I mean, I do it, out of habit and because there really isn't a lot I feel I need right now, but it's not much fun.

So, I've embarked on a secret challenge: saving as much money as I can to surprise the Mister with at our next budget meeting.

High-tech money-saving system
It's been eye-opening how much money one can just fritter away on dumb stuff (like cake--who knew that a frosted birthday cake was so freaking expensive?!).

While I haven't made any huge goals for this month, other than to save a little everywhere I can, I'm thinking of making a big goal for next month: save XX somewhere in our budget for short-term savings and to put extra toward our mortgage.

So far this month though, I've saved $88.52. Not enough to shout about but not pocket change either. The best part is how fun it is! It's a game to see how I can save more to add to the envelope. Curious how I've been saving? Here are a few ways:  

  • $5 per day in gas when I either work at home or ride the bus to work (I have a wonderful employer who allows me to work at home sometimes, and also pays for a free bus pass for me!)
  • I saved $8 when I made two loaves of homemade, organic bread earlier this month, and $15 when I baked my son's birthday cake instead of buying one already made
  • I saved $2 and change when I returned a tube of frosting to the store (I didn't realize it needed a tip that I hadn't bought, plus I felt guilty throwing all that plastic out after using it so we just did without) 
There are still a couple of weeks left in the month ~ I wonder how much I'll be able to add to my little yellow envelope before it's over? 

I use a free app on my phone that has sticky notes. It's easy to track in there how much I save. Going to the bank to get cash out is more of a pain but I want to do it this month because it's encouraging to see the money grow. Plus, I can't wait to see my husband's face when I empty out the envelope! 

Want to play along? Feel free to get in touch if you want more details, or simply create your own rules for the challenge. I'm planning to do this again next month (with a goal, maybe!) so you can join me on May 1st, too. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Altered, Upcycled, Bead Emboidered Wrist Cuff

Hope you're having a great day ~ I got up early this morning (Sunday) for my quiet time and a walk outside before my son woke up. It was beautiful and nice to see the sun, but very chilly. 

Just a few quick minutes before I leave for church, but I wanted to share this wrist cuff I've been working on. I'm done with the top but still have to add the attachment (hook and eye) and back it because it's very messy on the other side. 

I like how the beading turned out: 

All the materials used were leftover scraps, vintage items and/or headed for the trash. 

I think that's my favorite thing about upcycling: making something beautiful and/or useful from something that would otherwise be considered trash. 

What creative projects are you upcycling this week? 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Simplifying: the Easiest, Hardest Thing to Do

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Hello dear readers ~ I hope that this post finds you well and enjoying your day. The sun is shining brightly here in northwestern Vermont and the bare branches of the trees are just beginning to bud. Though the temps are very cold (in the 30s) I'm grateful for the sun shining through the windows. One can only take so many gray skies ...

A podcast wake up call

Last Friday on my way to work, I listened to a great podcast by Brooke over at Slow Your Home. In it, she interviewed author and simple living guru, Rhonda Hetzel. Throughout the interview Rhonda shared tips and thoughts that really resonated with me. I found myself nodding along murmuring, "yes," and "oh, I know!" and wishing that the podcast would go on even longer.

Though Rhonda is a simple living advocate, I sometimes balk at the term as it pertains to simplifying one's life. Simplifying, to me, is making easier, clearing away the unnecessary and in some ways, taking out what you can in order to achieve some semblance of balance. To Rhonda and many others, simple living means making from scratch, doing things yourself, slowing down and living more frugally.

When I went back to full-time work in a city that's 45-minutes away, I had to let some things go: baking bread, cleaning/tidying as much as I usually did, making homemade gifts and other similar tasks. For me, living like Rhonda--making my own bread daily, hand washing clothing, sewing/knitting gifts, etc., wouldn't work right now.

Logistics aside, one of the things that she said that really struck me was this (I'm paraphrasing): when you do things for yourself--like making your own food from scratch--it's a way of putting your own stamp on your life. You're not simply doing what's easiest and buying convenience food (generic) but contributing to your own life.

Baking and playing on a Saturday = bliss

I was so inspired by Rhonda's messsage that early Saturday morning you would have found me standing at the kitchen counter, bread dough in my hands, kneading away. It was wonderful. It was relaxing and offered me time to reflect and be silent and really present. I was standing facing a window over the sink, so part of the time I watched all the activity in the yard: birds flying here and there, a squirrel stuffing itself with black sunflower seeds, the clouds moving across the sun.

Later that day, I practiced presence again when my son took out his sidewalk chalk. We started drawing designs and were soon joined by my husband who got in on the fun. The sun was warm and a breeze that smelled like spring blew through the yard. It was luscious.

It was also a good reminder: am I missing these moments every day? Have I become so immune to simple pleasures that they haven't even showed up on my radar?

Finding time

I'm looking hard at my schedule recently, even doing a sort of informal time log to see where I'm spending--and wasting--time. I want more of these simple moments in my life. I crave them and am so grateful for the reminder last week to seek them out.

What about you? Are there simple pleasures or moments that you look forward to each week or day? if so, what are they? 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Exciting News ~ Altered Couture Magazine

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Well, maybe you've already guessed from the title, but I'm so excited to let you know that Altered Couture, one of my very favorite magazines, accepted my vintage upcycled slip for an upcoming issue! (You might remember me talking about submitting something?)

I don't have any more details right now, other than that I need to complete a 600 word synopsis of my process by mid-month. I actually have already sketched it out but still need to type it up and fine tune it a bit. When I got the email from the editor, I literally bounced in my seat, a wide smile on my face. I will remember this moment when I'm next feeling that sense of creative frustration.

I'm telling you this because I'm excited, yes, but also to encourage you to smack that inner critic in the head when he/she next pipes up and tells you, "oh, well, that's for other people, not you," or "you want to do what?!" It's for anyone, thanks so much, and doing things is absolutely the only way that we learn.

There are still so many creative things I want to try, some of which are very scary for me to admit. Most often when I'm enthralled with something new, I prefer to research it extensively. I read books/magazine articles/blog posts, etc., on the topic, listen to podcasts, try to find someone else to talk to about it.

The problem is that all that excitement and education about a topic, while wonderful and sometimes necessary, doesn't help you as much as trying to do the thing.

Creativity = Trial + Error (maybe lots of errors)

When it comes right down to it, you rarely learn how to do something if you never pick up the material/piece of furniture/beads/thread/lace and just give it a go.

What are some of the creative things you've tried that have flopped? What's turned out fabulously? Please share one of your experiences in the comments. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

What Getting Sick Reminded Me

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I hope you had a wonderful Easter, if you celebrate it. It's one of my favorite holidays ~ unfortunately, this year I completely missed it.

No, I didn't forget to put it on my calendar or oversleep and miss the entire day. I got sick. Just the flu with one of the worst sore throats I've ever had (!). It was such a bummer, imagining my family all sitting happily around the big table at my parents' house, enjoying conversation, yummy food and the beautiful weather. I'll admit, I shed a few tears of self-pity.

However, as I was alternating lying prone on the couch or in bed, I started thinking about how out of control life has been feeling lately. I won't go into my "busy list" here--I'm sure you have your very own to worry about.

Lately it feels though, that I'm spending more time blasting through life than experiencing it. Vacation helped me to slow down and notice things, but it was still a busy time. When you're keeping up with a quick-paced six year-old, there's not a lot of time for quiet and reflection!

Anyway, I certainly don't have things figured out yet. I know that some things need to change, that I need to start practicing my "no" more, even with some things that I wish I could do very much. It's so hard to make those kinds of decisions, but it's imperative especially when you don't have all the free time in the world, right?

I have a short list (there are a ton more I could share, but I'll start here) of simple living/minimalist websites that I'd like to share with you.

Just reading about how others are paring down activities, saying no to some things so that they can say yes to their priorities, and going a little counter cultural by refusing to buy their way to "happiness" inspires me.

It also reminds me that one doesn't simply arrive at a simpler, more authentic life. Instead, it's a gradual process that is worked on ... maybe your whole life.

What do you think about simple living, minimalism or going against the grain of the society you're a part of? Do you have a favorite website, book or blog to share? Please do so! 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Inspiration: Bead Creative with Nancy Eha

Picture this: it's a dark and snowy night. You're on your way home from work and stop "just for a minute" to browse at the local library. You wander the stacks, looking for creative inspiration, when a book catches your eye. It's all about beaded embroidery. You flip through the pages ... and realize 15 minutes later that you're still rooted to the spot.

This is what happened to me several weeks ago when I found a copy of Nancy Eha's first book, Off the Beadin' Path. A couple of things struck me about this book:

  1. It was self-published by the author. 
  2. The patterns included in the book were simple and easy to follow (this really struck me because I'm not very good at following patterns. I tend to get confused, so mostly look at the diagrams and figure stuff out as I go). 
  3. The tone of the book was friendly and down-to-earth. In fact, I learned later that Nancy was previously a classroom teacher. It definitely comes across in her writing and instructions, which I found clear and without a lot of extraneous detail. 
After skimming the book at home over the next several days, I contacted Nancy to tell her how much I was enjoying it (side note: I've contacted several authors in this way and Nancy is one of the few who wrote back. And wait until you hear what she wrote!). 

I tried one of the most simple beading stitches when I created this upcycled slip dress. It was so much fun! I had to keep going so started working on a vintage bib/collar thing. In the meantime something exciting happened: Nancy visited my blog. Then she sent me a nice email reply to my 'thank you' email. 
It turns out that Nancy has been very busy! She's written two more, full-color books since the first. One is titled, Bead Creative Like Crazy, and the second, Bead Creative Art Quilts. Both appeared packed with great information and instruction. 

Nancy offered to send me a free copy of Bead Creative Like Crazy. It was slightly worn, she said, and one that she wouldn't feel comfortable selling. It was mine if I wanted it. Yes, please! In return, I agreed to mention it here on Joy Creates, if I found it helpful. 

Well, I'm sure you can guess that I did find it helpful. Though I haven't yet made it to the end, I've already learned a few techniques which will save me lots of time on future projects. I love the brightly colored photos and again, the simple and easy-to-understand directions. Plus, Nancy's tone is very friendly and not at all "preachy." 

Even if I do get stuck, Nancy has a bunch of free video tutorials. I found this one particularly helpful: 

Downsides: With any book there are bound to be a few downsides, right? 
  1. The spine of the book: if it were to lie flat when opened, that would be super helpful. It's hard to follow the directions and hold the book open with your other hand. 
  2. An index would be helpful. There are times when I'm looking for a bit of specific information, and an index would come in handy. 
Overall, I'd highly recommend this book, particularly for beginning bead embroidery learners like myself. I'm not new to hand sewing or embroidery per say but it's been a long time since I've worked with needles in this way. And never with beads before. 

I'm looking forward to finishing the book and applying more of the techniques and different stitches to future projects. 

In addition to the books, Nancy offers free online tutorials, classes (paid), beading supplies and will even teach at events. She's been beading on fabric for more than 25 years (!) so obviously has a lot of knowledge to share. Be sure to check out her website, for more information. If you like her work, drop her a line, I'm sure she'd love to hear from you. 

Have you tried beaded embroidery? If so, what are some of your favorite pieces? If not, are you interested in it? 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Falling Out of Creative Sync

Do you have those times when it feels like everywhere you look, the world is blooming? Ideas come to you easily, inspiration is found around every turn, and your creative future looks bright.

Then, it happens.

Maybe it's because of a few bad nights of sleep, sickness (your own or a family member's), stress at work ... or maybe none of these things. But something changes and you start to lose that artistic glow.

Recently, I've been on cloud nine creatively. After months of burnout, I embraced the inspiration that poured out of the universe and covered me. Dreaming up ideas for new upcycled clothes designs, playing with beading, and generally receiving inspiration everywhere I turned refreshed my soul and renewed my hope that my creativity wasn't dead, after all.

Then we went on vacation. This was a big deal because: a) we'd been saving for months for this one, special trip to Long Beach, California and b) it was the first time we've traveled together as a family on a plane and c) it was the first paid, week-long vacation I've had in many years.

To say that my hopes were high would be an understatement. The trip was wonderful. I drank in the scenery, the colors, the sounds, the smells, the tastes that were all so different from home. I thrive with new-ness and there was plenty of that everyday!

It was also depleting because, as an introvert, I had extremely limited amounts of time to myself and I wasn't able to bring any creative projects with me. (I did do a little sketching, as it's easily portable.)

This week, I've been struggling. Not only because of the jet lag and recovering from the red-eye flight we took home Sunday night, but because I seem to have lost my creative mojo.

I finished one beading project--a vintage collar I've been working on for weeks--and feel at loose ends. I tried a new beading technique (on tulle) with very bad results. I have about a zillion and one ideas/projects for upcycled clothes but can't seem to get myself motivated to start even one.

Sometimes it feels like my dream of joining the ranks of creative women who have successful little side businesses is impossibly far away. Sometimes that voice saying, "who do you think you are?" is very loud. And sometimes it feels easier to tackle projects at home--sweeping the floor, tidying, washing dishes--than delve into a new project. At least housework shows immediate results.

But it doesn't feed my soul ...

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Monday, March 14, 2016

Is it Possible to be Creative AND Clutter-Free?

This is a question that haunts me: is it possible for one to be both creative and clutter-free? So many of the hobbies that creatives love--painting, mixed media, sculpture, and sewing to name just a few--come with supplies.

In some cases, many, many supplies.

I'm a clutter-phobic in many ways. One of my favorite parts of the Christmas season is the post-season clean out, where I give away gifts I've gotten that I know someone else will love a thousand times more than me, or other, older items that I've received in order to make room for newer gifts.

It's a sort of sickness, I know. Along with taking down the Christmas tree sometimes hours after the holiday has ended.

Two years ago when I read Joshua Becker's book, Simplify, and decided to make my kitchen counters clutter-free, it was literally life changing.
There is something so beautifully freeing about it all. The process of letting go, of opening space, emotionally and physically, and allowing oneself the freedom that comes through clearing out and clearing away.

I'm by no means a true minimalist (if there even is one specific definition of the word), but I know that I feel better mentally and physically when there are places of bareness in my life.

What then, is a creative to do with necessary supplies?

In the past I did a lot of mixed media. As a treasure-hunter and upcycler, it was the perfect outlet for all the bits and pieces that others were tossing but that I found beautiful.

How much is too much, though? How do you know when you've reached your comfortable limit? I came across this lovely post by Renae at A New Journey talking about what being a minimalist crafter would look like.

What are your thoughts on the subject? If you consciously choose to minimalize your craft/hobby/art, how do you do it? 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Creative Inspiration and the Importance of Fun

Not long ago, I was severely burned out creatively. You can read more about it in Part I of  'Who Am I and How Did I Get Here?'

Honestly, it came as a bit of a shock. I'd heard people talk about creative burnout, but had never experienced it, at least not at the level that I did last year. I talk in the post about how gray life had become: like I was living in a black and white movie.
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Anyway, I'm still trying to figure out what I could have done differently to avoid burning out like I did. Or maybe more importantly, to help myself once I got to that place. Instead I trudged on, week after week, month after month. I thought if I just kept my nose to the grindstone at work and resting when I wasn't at work (i.e. zoning out in books/magazines/TV shows) then all would eventually be well.

Maybe there was something else going on. I've gone through a big decluttering phase in recent years and during the time before and even during the burnout, I was decluttering like a mad woman. I knew on some subconscious level, that I had to get rid of the old in order to make room for the new. I'll blog more about my simpler living change at some point.

The importance of fun in one's life can't be overstated, though. That's the biggest takeaway that I learned through this whole process--that and being kind to yourself when you're struggling--that's key, too.

When I first started feeling myself get interested in things again--for me it was historical dress, fabric, sewing, and upcycling--I noticed one thing. It was FUN. So much fun just to learn without any pressure. There was no, "I must know this so that I can be more successful in my business," or any, "Is this going to help me make money?"

Sure, I now have an Etsy shop ... with zero sales so far. Go me! Of course I want to make a little money from my side gig because of my dream to own one of these. It's not at the forefront of my mind though.

The priority is once again having a creative outlet, learning new things, opening up my (rusty) curiosity and letting my imagination soar. For me, that makes all the difference.

How do you incorporate fun into your life? Do you find that it influences your creativity? Leave a comment and tell us, please. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

A Failed Sewing Attempt: Dress from Hell

OK. I'll admit that I might have exaggerated slightly in the title of this post. This dress isn't exactly from hell, but it certainly has some issue. (But hey, who of us doesn't?)

I've wanted to use this certain vintage sewing pattern for more than a year. What was holding me back? The dreaded zipper. (You might remember me talking about zipper-installation fears before.)

Well, I finally found what I thought was the perfect fabric. Plus, it was deeply on sale so I wouldn't feel as horrible if I ruined the dress.

Since I mostly re-make/upcycle clothes and accessories, buying fabric of any kind new and fresh from the bolt is sort of frightening. I mean, I feel badly enough if I mess up a thrift store or free item, but virginal, perfect, new fabric?


Anyway, I was lucky enough to have President's Day off of work so after kissing my husband and son goodbye for the day, I settled in with some soft music, the material and the pattern.

All was going well. Cutting was as slow as ever, but the fabric, a sort of denim-like material, was a dream to work with. All the pieces were cut and laid out. And I got the zipper in!

When I went to try it on, however, I noticed something. Even though it was a Size 10, it seemed really large and ill-fitting. Well, I'd fix that.

I took the side seams in by about an inch on either side. This helped. Still, I felt a little like I was wearing a potato sack. The length wasn't helping. Was it made for a giraffe? On the pattern front (which I'm now learning to be very suspicious of) the dress came up above the models knees. Mine was closer to mid-shin.

It still looked large on me but I wasn't sure how to successfully take it in anymore without altering the basic shape. Once the hem was shortened it would surely be better, right?

Well, ahem, no. Not necessarily.

Now it looks something like a short potato sack.

Look at those shoulders puffing! Can you say Igor in Frankenstein?

I made this for a warm-weather trip that's coming up. I thought maybe if I styled it, I could still wear it. I'm not sure if a sweater will be possible to keep on where we are headed though.

Better, but still reminiscent of a potato sack ... 
What to do? Do I try to take it in myself? Drop it off for alterations? Shrug and call it a learning experience? Give or sell it to someone who would look better in it?

Sunday, February 28, 2016

My Submission for 'Altered Couture' Magazine

Do you enjoy Altered Couture magazine? It's one of my favorites. The pages are filled with inspiring projects of upcycled clothes and accessories by talented individuals. The beautiful images, and thick, beefy size of the magazine make it a pleasure to flip through while sipping tea in a cozy nook.

Another fun aspect of the publication is it's open call for submissions and challenges. This month there is one titled, "Playin' With Paint." It requires submissions to be painted or dyed--hopefully there are extra credit points for embellishing further.
With the deadline of March 15th in mind, I worked to get the vintage slip-turned-dress ready to mail in. Yesterday, I finally had a chance to get some decent daylight to photograph a couple of pieces~my hubby is such a good sport, always willing to do an impromptu photoshoot.

Many magazines and online publications have strict rules about photographing pieces that they publish. Because I'm unsure about Altered Couture's rules, I'm not going to post pics of the dress here (yet) sigh. It's so hard to resist! I don't want to do all the hard work of submitting the thing though, only to find out that I'm ineligible because of photos published here.

I can, however, leave you with photos of another dress:

True, you've already seen this one, but I got some great shots of the back which is where the true beauty lies in my opinion. All those beautiful little bows add the perfect detail to the v-neckline, don't they?
a bit of wonkiness on that waist bow, I think I forgot to attach the little hook