A Free Online Workshop I’m Excited About

 

 

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At the beginning of this year, I signed up for some online watercolor sketching classes through Liz Steel’s site Sketching Now. These are super fun, easy to understand, visually pleasing online classes. I just received an email in which Liz mentioned a free several day workshop called Sketchbook Revival that starts tomorrow.

From what I read, it will cover sketching, watercolor, acrylic and mixed media. I can’t wait to get started! So here is the link if you’re interested!

 

 

These Days of Christmas

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Dusk is falling on this second day of Christmas. Yesterday and last night, an Arctic chill blew strong and settled in, seeping through the cracks of this old house. Christmas Day was a quiet delight of waking up late, savoring coffee, opening gifts and talking. At noon, my kids joined us, opening all their gifts and giving us theirs.

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My library never felt so full of cheer and purpose as the kids tore through the presents and littered the floor with wrapping paper, sipped egg nog, and laughed and joked as they tried on new sneakers or tried out drum sticks, in Judah’s case.

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Our homemade meal of pasta with fresh marinara sauce, sautéed ginger-garlic broccoli, flounder, garlic bread and pomegranate margaritas (and sparkling grape juice for the kids) provided a simple means of celebration of the day.

Though the wind continued to whip wildly through the trees and blow snow around, the sun shone and gave a sparkly sense of magic to our White Christmas.

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I sit at my desk and feel the frosty nip on nose and fingers. Evening will most likely be quiet, as none of our kids are here. Alan and I will work in separate rooms, he sketching for a massive order of cards, me writing and planning products to make for my business. Today, my certificate of authority to collect sales tax arrived from New York State; I feel even more officially a business owner than when I obtained my DBA.

I ask the questions every purveyor of goods and maker of anything wish they had the answer to: what do people really want? At the few craft shows where I was a vendor this past fall, people wanted flax and lavender pillows and liked lotions, balms and creams. An occasional sale was for a decorative item, but most were for body care items.

So that is what I’ll focus on this next quarter; however, I want a few beautiful and cute things to draw folks to my displays. I want to branch into paper art cards and aromatherapy bracelets as well as beeswax wraps, garlands and hopefully some watercolor cards or small paintings.

I need to brainstorm, make lists, make a schedule and get going. My bullet journal for 2018 should arrive on Friday, but in the meantime I will make use of the extra pages in my 2017 journal. I will be reading a few new-to-me books on creativity, marketing and entrepreneurialism:

The Strategic Storyteller: Content Marketing in the Age of the Educated Consumer by Alexander Jutkowitz

Entrepreneurial You: Monetize Your Expertise, Create Multiple Income Streams, and Thrive by Dorie Clark, and

Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon.


I’ll also be revisiting one of my favorite books on creativity: Todd Henry’s The Accidental Creative: How to Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice. Here are some excerpts from this perennial favorite of mine: In regards to the fear of failure, he says, “A lifetime of mediocrity is a high price to pay for safety. Paranoia undoes greatness. You need to push through those places where it’s easier to gravitate toward comfort instead of aggressively pursuing your best work.” (p. 56) His chapter on energy management opened my eyes to how it affects creativity. “Creative work requires that we stay ahead of our work,” says Henry.

Tomorrow’s ideas are the result of today’s intentions. When you rely on a ‘just-in-time’ workflow, you will quickly find it difficult to do quality work–and you’ll also find yourself lacking the drive to do anything about it…energy management will require the most discipline if we want to change our habits and restructure our life in a healthy way. Striking the right balance when instilling practices around energy management will feel a little uncomfortable, perhaps even painful, at first. But experiencing the results of effective energy management makes these practices worth all the temporary discomfort.” (p.117) Chapter 9 has a weekly, monthly and quarterly checkpoint, which has questions to ask oneself in order to help redirect, focus and challenge growth. Just riffling through this book reminds me how much I need to reread it!

As this year slowly winds to an end, I hope you’ll find the time to recast your vision for your life, to redirect and focus your energy and creativity, and to challenge yourself in new ways. Stay tuned this week as I will be announcing the first in a series of book giveaways!

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Just the Flax, Ma’am

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On Saturday, I was a vendor at a holiday craft bazaar at Ithaca First Assembly of God Church. Over forty vendors set up tables and displayed their handmade items in the sanctuary, the entryway, hallway, main fellowship hall and a smaller side room, which is where I was located.

This was my fifth craft fair since I began this tiny business in September and I’ve attended a couple of humdingers, let me tell you. I won’t mention names, but some were very far out in the country and all, except this one, were not advertised well.

Thankfully, First Assembly is on the ball. There was a Facebook event, an email went out to the participants to share the event with friends on their social media pages, and an email went out to local churches to advertise as well. The women in charge were super organized and knew what Square and Apple Pay were which meant we would definitely have WiFi. The place was clean, brightly lit, upbeat Christmas music played and the people came in droves to shop.

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My table had ornaments, small felt dolls, natural body care products, decorative pillows, and nine flax warming pillows. Honestly, I hoped to sell my ornaments and dolls and pillows along with the rest of my things. And I thought I would because they’re cute and seasonally appropriate. Alas, not an ornament or doll sold. My winter balm, made of coconut oil, shea butter, and lavender sold out. Lots of lip balm and several lotion bars sold as well. But my continual bestseller are these flax warming pillows. Some have lavender flowers added and some are flax alone, but they all come folded and tied with ribbon. I display them in a small treasure chest I found at Mimi’s Attic with a blackboard sign.

When I wracked my brain, I could not remember how I ever decided to make these pillows to begin with. Maybe someone mentioned them to me? Maybe I just bumped into the idea on Pinterest? Anyway, I made four pillows for the first craft sale back in September and I sold out. Every place since–even the very worst sales–I sold a few of these. Well, this Saturday, I sold out of all nine of them. It is interesting what people want. You really never know. Part of me thinks these flax pillows will continue to be a “bread-and-butter” item for my business. Part of me is worried I’ll make up a bunch of these and they’ll sit unwanted on the shelf and people will want something else. I’m going to go with the former leaning and purchase flax seed in bulk from the Amish tomorrow. If I’m wrong, all my friends and family will be getting these pillows as gifts for the next year.

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The greatest part of Saturday, though, even more encouraging than having very good sales, was all the friends and family who came. They hugged me, chatted about kids and work, asked me about myself, took photos, laughed and commented on my items for sale. Many of them purchased things as well. It felt wonderful to have made things for people I love to use or give as gifts. My mother came with my niece–she’s the one that bought my last two flax pillows. Alan was an angel and came twice: once to replenish my ones and fives and again to bring me lunch. When I packed up at 3, my heart was happy. If only every craft fair could be as full of success and a sense of community. Today, as I cut out fabrics for another dozen flax pillows, I felt carried along by the lightness and merry atmosphere of that event. If only I could package that feeling…it would be a bestseller too.

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Crafting a Business

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This week I am at the sewing machine stitching up little dreams that pop into my head: things I’ve seen on Pinterest or in magazines, with my own twist. Also, I’m filling special orders and replenishing stock. On Monday, I sewed up ten flax and lavender pillows for a friend’s order. On Tuesday, I sewed and filled four more so I’ll have enough to bring with me to the next craft fair. I also spent time ordering supplies and figuring out what boxes I needed to order for products I will sell on Etsy.

Today I finished two pillows with felt lettering on them and cut out lots of muslin triangles and letters in reds and greens to make Christmas buntings. Tomorrow, I hope to add a few more pillows to my stock, and make a few felt mitten garlands.

I’m waiting on one ingredient to arrive so I can make beeswax food wraps. They are a practical, beautiful and fun alternative to plastic wrap. I also have a recipe for a winter balm, a whipped body butter, and more lotion bars that I want to try.  Plus I should finish at least two more paper art canvases to take with me.

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This weekend is a craft bazaar in Ithaca at 1st Assembly of God church on Bostwick Road. I’m looking forward to a busy day, meeting people, answering questions, and hopefully, selling a lot of things I’ve made. At the same time, I’m chomping at the bit to open my Etsy store. This will require several hours devoted to photographing the items, writing up descriptions, measuring and weighing everything.

Tonight, after going to a local craft supply store and shelling out more money for thread, ribbon, and fabric, I started to panic. Suppose nothing comes of this? What if I can’t connect my products with the right people? What if…

As I sat in the car with tears dripping off the end of my nose, Alan spoke words of courage into me. “You’re creative and smart, have lots of good ideas, you have plenty of spunk. You’re figuring it out. I know it’s scary, but you don’t need to get all emotional–it takes time, but you’ll get there.”

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And then he looked me in the eyes and asked, “Do you want it to be successful?” I nodded, “Of course, I do.” “Then it will. Don’t give up and you’ll get there.” All this could sound like cliche, except I knew he meant what he said and it worked.

“Thanks for talking me down off the ledge,” I said. Then I dried my eyes and we went into Greenstar to get my coffee, kale and oats. Local musician Tenzin Chopak was at the register, which was a definite perk.

Right now, so many little pieces of this business have to be worked out, but I’m determined to do all I need to. Truly, I love a challenge and a year from now I’ll be glad I did everything that seems so difficult right now.

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Day 31: What I Learned In October

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Here is a practice that Emily Freeman started on her blog several years ago that has caught on with other bloggers. It’s a great way to reflect and share anything from the super silly and surface to the weighty and profound.

  1. Writing every day is completely doable; I’ve been simply procrastinating all this time. Thanks to the Write31Days challenge and community, I found my writing feet again and it feels so good. It’s so true that doing something daily becomes a habit. It’s also true that the more you do something, the more you want to and the more you do. I’m planning my blog posts a month at a time and writing several at once; I’m working on one book and am about to embark on another; I’m also writing poetry again, which hasn’t happened in many months.
  2. Menu planning never gets easier. I just need to keep myself inspired with food websites, blogs, cookbooks and magazines that contain plenty of delicious recipes to try.
  3. Eating fish a few times a week for dinner (for the sake of upping my protein intake) makes me feel better. I stay satisfied the rest of the evening and am regaining strength I lost after my back injury in August. Last Monday, I purchased four bags of frozen fish from BJs and have been trying them out: Sea bass, mahi-mahi, swordfish and flounder. They’re so easy to prepare. I’ll be sharing recipes soon!
  4. Adding more protein to my morning smoothie or having eggs a few time per week is helping me feel more alert, stronger and stay full longer. I plunked down the money for this pea protein powderand am glad I did. Two scoops does the trick.

5. I still love Stranger Things. Season 2 was no exception. We binged-watched it in two days, wishing there were more episodes and that Netlix would release more than one season per year. The actors can act and portray the characters believably, the plot is interesting, the monsters are scary and effects are well done. Can’t wait for season 3!

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4. Mothers will always miss their children. My mom still misses and wants to see me if it’s been a while; I miss my kids every day I don’t see them and try to stay connected through text and phone on the days I can’t have them with me.

5. Starting a business is an opportunity to learn. This month, I started a craft business selling home decor items, like pillows, ornaments, wreaths and natural body care products. I am getting into as many local craft fairs as I can, trying to keep my costs down, and improving the quality of my products all the time. At each craft fair, I meet people, hear about other fairs, learn what I can do differently, see what works and what doesn’t and go home a little wiser. I still have to set up my etsy store and Facebook business page and market myself. I have a lot of new things I want to make. It’s hard work, but I always love a challenge.

6. Being lactose-intolerant requires vigilance if I don’t want to get sick. On Friday, I purchased a bag of M&M-looking candies from Greenstar, thinking for some reason they were vegan. I got them in the car, ate three and felt a hint of queasiness. Glancing at the ingredients list, I was horrified to discover they contained milk in the candy shell. Ugh! Totally my fault for assuming, but all the same, I wish some more dairy-free options were out there. And while at Barnes and Noble getting a coffee yesterday, I asked the barista taking my order which of three drinks contained dairy. She didn’t know the answer to that. Her employers have clearly not bothered to educate her on the ingredients of the various syrups and mixes. She had to dig out a package and skim through the list so she could find out. It’s nearly 2018 and every establishment selling food and drink in this country should be able to clearly list common food allergens found in their products. Their employees should know what they are and be able to find the list instantly. Why isn’t this a thing?

7. I like working out with someone. After working out solo pretty much my whole life, Alan has joined me at the gym three or four days per week. I love going with another person. Not only do I feel more motivated when I know someone is there, the whole experience is actually enjoyable, even when I’m gasping for air. We usually start out on the treadmills and graduate to the weight machines and end with another round of cardio. But even if we’re doing completely different workouts, it just feels good to know he’s there.

8. I can read Stephen King even though I don’t like horror. I’m eight chapters into 11/22/63. This book is enormous–I guess all his books are. Time travel is definitely something I can get into.

9. Mixed drinks are so much fun! A Margarita once in a while makes the dinner hour like a party. I love mixing drinks and this one is so simple and always satisfying. When I decided learning mixology was on my list for 2017, a friend heard about it and bought me the Libbey Mixology 9-piece Cocktail Set. I enjoy an occasional Margarita or Espresso Martini and am plotting a couple of drinks to try out for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

10. I missed the library! Yesterday, Alan and I took a trip to Ithaca to see what Wizarding Weekend was like. Unfortunately for us, the rain drowned out the bulk of the fun and various activities and vendors were scattered to Hotel Ithaca, Coltivare, Center Ithaca and the public library. As soon as we stepped into the library, I knew I’d have to borrow a few books. So Alan sat on a bench and chatted to a friend and I looked up seven or eight books and checked them out. Oh, how I love it. The smell of books fills the air, it’s relatively quiet and the atmosphere lends itself to learning. I’ll be back.

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What did you learn this month?

Day 30: Find Your Gumption Button

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Did this Monday find you with its cold, windy, cloudy song? I got up later than I wanted to because it was darker than I expected. Then, the sound of the recycling truck whizzing by and honking made me bolt up from slumber, remembering that we forgot to take the recycling bins to the road last night. Sigh. I had such good intentions before I fell asleep last night, too. I planned to wake early, go to the gym, and be at my desk by 9. There’s a little thing called an alarm on my phone that I forgot to set though, so that’s the story.

What I do with the rest of my day will be where the real tale lies.

Last Friday, while eating lunch, Alan and I talked about motivation and how some of us have more than others. People like Seth Godin seem to never run low, but perhaps it’s because he practices daily; he is self-disciplined and drives himself to produce and ship. Whether he feels ready or not. That’s one of Seth’s messages.

There are high-profile people in the music, visual art and writing fields that we know or know of who continually produce and ship. They are on Instagram multiple times per day showing us their quality work. We admire them. We wonder what their secrets are.

As far as I can tell, though, it’s up to each person to find their gumption button, to pull up their boot straps and get to work. You can only talk and think about it for so long and then you need to just do the work.

We have all kinds of excuses–not good enough, lots of people do it better, I’m not creative enough, no one will read, see or hear it–and what you mean is, you’re afraid. That’s ok. We are all afraid. But we have to tell Fear where to sit, as Elizabeth Gilbert says. Fear can’t be in the front of the room or in the driver’s seat. Fear can take a back seat or sit in the corner. You can recognize it and acknowledge it, but you are in charge. You. And nothing is stopping you. Not really.

Here are three yellow books I am reading that are kicking me in the pants, feeding me knowledge, and showing me there is another way of seeing. If you need encouragement to get your priorities back where you want them,  to do work you’ll be proud of, read these books.

Poke the Box: When Was the Last Time You Did Something for the First Time? by Seth Godin. I read this one before, but am reading it again. Short blurbs or passages with on-point messages are presented in Seth’s one-of-a-kind style. You can’t help but wake up and realize your goals are within reach and the time is now. Here’s an excerpt from pages 24-25,

“The relentless brainwashing of our fading industrial economy has created an expensive misunderstanding. Creative people or those with something to say believe that they have to wait to be chosen…’pick me, pick me’ acknowledges the power of the system and passes responsibility to someone else to initiate. Even better, ‘pick me, pick me’ moves the blame from you to them. If you don’t get picked it’s their fault not yours. If you do get picked, well, they said you were good, right? Not your fault anymore. Reject the tyranny of picked. Pick yourself.”

168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam. I heard about this author and this book on Modern Mrs Darcy. Since I was actually at the library in Ithaca yesterday, I grabbed this and one of her other books. In the introduction and first two chapters, she destroys the common belief that the modern person tells themselves: we don’t have enough time. We do, she insists, and she has science and our own schedules to prove us wrong. What an uplifting and life-giving idea. We can do what we want to do, what we dream of doing. We have all the time we need.

The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander. I’m only in the third chapter of this one, but can tell it’s going to rock me. This was one of Todd Henry’s recommended reads at the beginning of 2017. They bring up the concept of scarcity-thinking and talk about how it’s shaped our culture to think in terms of limited resources, shrinking reserves and other people as competitors. And how the world of measurement has framed our thinking. Then they use the terms “generative” and “the universe of possibility” and ask us to step outside of those frameworks and consider that anything is possible.

 

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Day 28: Saturday Meanderings

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This hilltop home is being buffeted by the wind AGAIN. If we have one day per week when it’s still, that is something to remark upon. When my son was leaving Wednesday night, we stepped out into the evening and everything was still.

No crickets or frogs. No bird singing itself to sleep. Not even a jet or a truck. Just the lights twinkling across the lake, the stars winking at us overheard and quiet. “You’re in the middle of nowhere,” my son stated as he got into his car.

Yes, and the middle of nowhere has its advantages and disadvantages. On the pro side, we can play music as loud as we want, keep the property as neat or unkempt as we want and no one approves or complains. We can absorb the tranquility and beauty of nature from our windows and certainly from a walk around the yard or down the road. Lake, fields, hills, valley, farms, and big sky everywhere we look.

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On the con side, you have to drive a long while to get anywhere. Like to Ithaca for groceries or a concert or to a restaurant for dinner. And people don’t always want to come out to visit because it’s a bit of a hike. If they do venture this far, I hope they feel the rewards are many: the view, it goes without saying, and good food and conversation.

This is where I wanted to be when I was six years old living with my parents and siblings in a third-story apartment in Brooklyn. I hoped and prayed for this opportunity. So you could say, I’m living my dream.

Every summer which my mother, siblings and I would spend with my grandparents, flew by with a speed that was stunning and sad. I loved every minute of each day we were given here in Interlaken and every aspect of my grandparents’ home and lifestyle. Although, they were far from wealthy, there was a comfort and solace from the cold, tough and dangerous hustle of city life that I couldn’t wait to run to.

The walks with my grandmother down the lane, into and through the woods are some of my favorite memories of my childhood summers. The sound of my grandparents starting their day in the kitchen, making coffee and eggs, the smell of kerosene when the heaters were lit during cold spells, the feeling of gratitude at twilight as I sat on the tree swing and swayed as the wind pushed me–I hold these dear.

I’m thankful I can go back there and relive those good, wholesome moments and that I had them to begin with. And I’m thankful to be telling my story in the place where my happiest moments live.

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