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One of my intentions for 2018 is to read one book per month. I enthusiastically began January with a crisp, new book: Chasing Slow by Erin Loechner. The cover is aesthetically pleasing, coffee table material. The stories inside make it, "Oh man, please read it but no, you can't have my copy" material. I found Erin's words so relatable that I devoured it early on in the month, feeling simultaneously heartbroken and refreshed when I turned the last page. To be honest, I've struggled to stick to a new book for February due to the large shoes Chasing Slow left to be filled.

If you don't know who Erin Loechner is, that's okay. But you should change that. I actually learned about her fairly recently myself. (I'm sorry, Erin, I wish I had known about you sooner; we are kindred spirits, I think.) According to the bio on the back of her book, Erin is a former art director/stylist whose work has been featured in many acclaimed publications. She also had her own HGTV.com web series that left her with millions of fans. This is what her book blurb says about her, but I know her best through the honest peeks into the life of a real, lovely, flawed human shared in Chasing Slow and on her blog, Design for Mankind

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I want to share with you some pieces of Erin's book that resonated with me. You couldn't really call it a book review. I'm not going to summarize or give a synopsis or discuss the book as a whole. I'm going to share what personally stays with me after closing the back cover, which is probably very different than what would stay with you. Here is some reflection on what stuck with me and why:

Keep an eye on it

The brain tumor - a glioma - is inoperable, and we are meant to keep an eye on it. It occurs to me that this is the silliest medical advice I have yet heard: to keep an eye on it...as if we didn't already have both eyes on it, as if it weren't a song on repeat, as if it weren't a catch in our throats, as if it weren't raining in our hearts.

Erin's husband has this brain tumor. This constant presence that demands attention despite its current somewhat neutral state of being. I read this, and I felt a connection. I don't have a brain tumor, and for this I am grateful. But I know what it is like to have an unseen part of me that I cannot understand. I know what it feels like to be told to "Just live your life, and keep an eye on it" in similar words, more or less. I have an undiagnosed, no-name condition affecting my immune system internally which in turn affects my skin externally. Even when I'm at my best, when my skin isn't itching to the point that I want to crawl right out of it, I feel its presence somewhere deep inside. As Erin said, it's that song on repeat, raining in my heart. The story of this "condition", I'll call it, is a longer one for another day, or not at all. I don't bring it up to receive pity. It's actually much better at the moment. I share this to explain why this piece of Erin's and her husband's story fits within my own: they don't forget this quiet presence, but they live no different than if it weren't there. They may keep an eye on it, but they keep their mind on the beautiful life in front of them. 

Throughout my journey with this "condition", I have found it hard to keep my mind on anything other than this invisible thing that pits my body against me. But Erin and her husband's story in Chasing Slow reminded me how much more goes into our lives than one single circumstance. We are all of the bits and pieces, the good and the bad. One frustrating, maybe even devastating circumstance does not undo all of these other lovely and true things about our lives. Erin gently reminds me of this throughout this book, as she repeats the constant reminder to "keep an eye on it" while still living her life and traveling her path the whole time. 

Imposter

I could surrender the fight with others. I could cast aside the comparison and resentment in friendships, the expectations and scorecards in marriage. But could I cast these aside in myself?

Erin mentions several times throughout her book, the concept of being one person on-screen and this imperfect human in real life. "The Nicest Girl Online" and the hypocritical girl in the mirror. She addresses our perfectly curated Instagram squares and the clean, white corner of our life we choose to show. And then she turns around and bares herself fully as she admits to yelling at her daughter about bananas, as she describes the pink ring of mold around her bathroom sink. I, too, have a pink ring of mold around my bathroom sink. I don't have a daughter to yell at, but I have a husband that takes a lot more than he deserves. If you skim through my Instagram, you will see pictures of my art and my home, maybe a book I'm enjoying or even my husband and I smiling at the camera. You won't see a picture of our brows furrowed after a fight or the corner of my house with all of the dirty clothes (or are they clean?) or the drawing I just crumpled up because it wasn't good enough. I feel like a fake, the woman behind the curtain pretending to be a wizard of living simply and drawing clean, perfect lines every time. But are these little digital squares not a piece of me, too? Why do I compare my online self to the tired girl with layers of dry shampoo? They are one in the same. Sharing the good does not make me an imposter, and having a bad day does not make me one either. Erin's vulnerability and transparency throughout her book reminded me that every human has more detailed facets that make up their "self" than what we are immediately shown. I am one of these complex people simply hoping to be the truest version of myself daily, and so are you. It's a beautiful thing, really.

Simple Math

Here is the secret to subtraction. It doesn't matter what you remove. What matters is that you stop adding it back.

This is one of my favorite quotes from the book. I feel like I am constantly simplifying. I clean out my closet to lighten my heart and my laundry load, and then I must have a new dress for that one wedding next month, and I probably need some shoes to match. I cut out activities to allow more time for my art and myself and my husband, and suddenly I'm saying "yes" to something else for this week. Add that to the to-do list. I'm constantly working to remove the worries from my mind, to manage my anxiety, but then I add a new worry to it because this one is justified. Nothing is actually subtracted when you're going to add it again; don't trick yourself by adding it back in a different form. You aren't lowering your blood sugar by replacing Oreos with the Whole Foods brand of chocolate sandwich cookie, I know they taste good and the packaging is fancier. This is why slow living is a chase. As you are pursuing a simplified life, you are constantly surrounded by shiny new things to add to your journey. As soon as you start adding things, you've got to speed up. There's a lot more urgency to get where you are going when your hands are full. 

Writing this, I am reminded of a quote by Corrie Ten Boom: Hold everything in your hands lightly, otherwise it hurts when God pries your fingers open. 

Erin's stories of encouragement, advice, and experience ultimately left me with this: The more you try to carry, the tighter you have to hold on and the harder it is to enjoy a leisurely pace. What of worth can you add when your arms are so full? 

Slow down, set down all of that "stuff" you're holding onto, and pick up this book.

A final, honest quote from Chasing Slow

The thing about love is that time shifts it into new shapes, like water on a rock. The thing about love is that everything else is sand...When I think of love I think of compatibility and sacrifice, of commitment and service. Of give-and-take. But only part of this is true.

Love is not a game of take. Love is only a game of give. 

I get this wrong daily, I think.

 

 

Enter with Intention

Typically, I avoid resolutions. Scrolling through YouTube each January, you will find endless videos of excited people proclaiming their goals for the coming year. In the past, I would simply click away from these to the videos of goats yelling like people or a clip of that 5-year-old dancer on Ellen. This year, however, I found myself watching video after video, allowing fellow humans to profess their intentions for the new year to me. I'll admit to being hesitant each time I hit the play button; "motivational" videos such as this can send me into a spiral of self doubt and negativity if I'm not in the right mindset (seems backwards, but I'd be willing to bet some of you know what I mean). This January, the first surprise was the fact that I was immediately attracted to these videos, interested in the goals people hope to reach in the coming year. The second surprise was the stirring that welled up in me to brainstorm some intentions for myself. 

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Now, I don't mean to say that I'm typically an unmotivated person. That's not it. I am highly inclined towards planning, and I thrive off of the thought of new action to take (like starting a blog, you see?). I always have multiple lists of things to accomplish strewn about my life: my house, my car, my desk at work. I make weekly lists of everything I need to accomplish, and as if that's not enough, I make daily lists to supplement. Sometimes I even set reminders on my phone for the same tasks written on these lists. Still, I often reach the end of the week having yet to accomplish every task. I begin to notice that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as I knuckle down and copy several of the same tasks over to next week's list. To many of you, this probably sounds pretty relatable, maybe uncomfortably so. It's that "I-didn't-do-enough-and-maybe-I-never-will" feeling. It's shame for the past, the forgotten or dismissed tasks; It's fear for the future, the unplanned goals.

It boils down to this.

I fear making long-term goals because I see how little grace I extend myself when I fail to complete short-term tasks. 

They're not lying when they say you are your own worst critic. And so a vicious cycle begins of the making of tasks, the moving of tasks to the next day, the next week. Whether it's "go to the gym every weekday" or "order laundry detergent", the sticky note is soon buried under a pile of new notes, color coded bits of anxiety. I watch the neon papers cover my life and let go of any hope that I am capable of something larger than "clean off coffee table". The fear settles in, I forget what grace feels like. Repeat my weekly, monthly, yearly routine. I've had enough, and for real this time.

Left foot, right

I don't exactly know how to explain my sudden interest in everyone and their mother's future plans, and I certainly did not expect these resolution themed Youtube videos and podcasts to encourage me to set my own intentions for 2018. However, something flipped in my head as I watched and listened to enthusiastic men and women describing their goals: to spend more time alone, to journal every day, read ___# of books, keep a consistent whole foods diet, quality over quantity. These goals sounded enticing, they sounded worthwhile. These goals sounded attainable.

I began to realize that I had always associated New Year's resolutions with goals that were either huge or vague. For instance, "start a business". This is both huge and vague. What kind of business? Doing what? Selling something? By what date? This goal is destined to fail, at least for most people I know. It's not that starting a business is unfathomable; it's that you have steps to take before a big leap, or you aren't going to make it very far. If your goal only considers the big leap, you're missing out on all of the steps to make it count, the process. As my mind began churning through the information I gathered from these videos and podcasts, I realized that my desires and plans that bubbled to the surface were not the "huge leap" goals; they were the small steps to make it count. I surprised myself with the thought, "I can do this".

Habits for healing

Yes. I can do this. 

Give me habits and intentions over goals and resolutions. Habits are developed to be long-lasting, gently life-altering as you apply them. Intentions are like goals to me, but with a little more grace. Goals ignite that fear in me, remind me of my pile of wrinkled sticky notes. The word "intention" feels like it leaves room to grow, to fail, and to try again. Intention focuses on process while a goal focuses on product. Little did I know before researching "intention" further, there is a medical definition: "the healing process of a wound". My wound is past failures and fear of future ones; my healing is grace for trying anyway.

So in 2018, I have good intentions. This is not a cop out or avoidance of "real goals", but rather a slow path allowing a little more grace for my messy, day-by-day life. I have good intentions to make habits that last. Habits that heal the sore wound of fear and failure, and provide me with the tough skin to handle future struggles. I'm taking small steps that might turn into big leaps. For once, I'm settling into the now, creating my habits for each day, instead of shaking my head and backing away from a pile of worry labeled "To-Do".

Here are just a few of my small steps:

  • 5 AM exercise every week day. No snooze. No argument. My husband groggily completing this step with me.
  • Write a new blog post every two weeks, at least. Let grace abound with this one.
  • Read a book every month. Short, long, fiction, nonfiction. Keep a list.
  • Get three more plants for the house. Keep them alive.
  • Create a series of themed illustrations. (This will be developed a tad more, but my plans may not be fully revealed, sorry!)
  • Give the guest room an extreme makeover from giant junk drawer to welcoming space. Finally.
  • Take an anniversary trip. Whether it's to Nashville or California, take an anniversary trip. 

You see, I don't want to grow my business or further my creative endeavors through mounds of post-its and negative self-talk and fighting the Instagram algorithm. I want to make more art, sell some, and give some away. I want to better myself by starting the day with movement. I want to cultivate a space for rest in my home. I want to sit down, breathe in the air freshly purified by my three new plants, and read the next chapter.

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Don't worry about where you'll go this year. Don't worry about what the new you might look like. Take a step back, and give yourself the space to move through  2018 with slow intention. You can stop making "To-Do" lists for things that will get done anyway. Let your habits form imperfectly, gradually. There's grace for the process. 

 

A Creative's Christmas

Physical touch is NOT my love language. This may seem like a weird introductory sentence to a post about Christmas, but bear with me. There's this quiz called the 5 Love Languages (based off of a book by Gary Chapman), and the point of the quiz is to tell you what your "love languages" are ranked from highest to lowest. The possible love languages are as follows:

  • Words of Affirmation
  • Acts of Service
  • Physical Touch
  • Quality Time
  • Gifts

My husband and I took this quiz, and Clay's top love language is Words of Affirmation, closely followed by Physical Touch. My Physical Touch ranked a big, fat goose egg. Yep, zero! Go figure. My main love languages (I had a tie because I'm complicated) are Quality Time and Gifts. Conveniently enough, the love language of Gifts ranked very low for Clay. While this produces challenges in some aspects of our relationship, it also makes us aware of the way we each receive love and offers clear opportunities to demonstrate our affection. That being said, when Christmas rolls around it's no big surprise that I'm absolutely PUMPED to shop for gifts. Ask any of my close friends or family: I'm all about buying or making a special present. If I see something that makes me think of someone, I usually can't keep from buying it, even if I'm not super close with the person! I also enjoy receiving gifts because, like I said, it's my love language; it makes me feel thought of and cared for.

For Clay, on the other hand, Christmas shopping is a much more stressful experience for more reasons than the crazy crowds and credit card debt (just kidding). He strives to operate in the love language of gift-giving to demonstrate his affections, and I attempt to make it a little bit easier by contributing creative gift ideas as the holidays draw near.

So for all my struggling gift-givers, fellow creatives, and art-lovers, here is a list of some of the awesome products purchased this year. From accessories to books to art-making materials, let this serve as a reference for future purchases for yourself (you deserve it), your BFF, or your sweetheart.

None of these posts are sponsored; I just thoroughly enjoy all of these products and businesses. 

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MVMT watch, Vela model

Okay, so I have never been a watch-wearer. Whether it was a watch purchased as an accessory or to keep track of heart rate or calories burned during exercise, I could not keep it on my wrist. I submitted to wristwatch defeat for years, but recently, when beginning a new job as an art teacher, I decided that a watch was near necessity. Yes, I have a clock in the classroom, but there have already been several instances in my teaching career when a wristwatch would have served its purpose. Enter MVMT.

I've had my eye on this brand for about a year, but I could never justify purchasing the rose gold beauties I drooled over. Christmas seemed like just the occasion to request a MVMT watch. Y'all, besides showering and sleeping, I have not removed this watch since I opened it on Christmas Day. Clay hit the jackpot with this one. The Vela model displays standard 12-hour time, as most watches do, but also includes an indicator of the day of the week and a dual time 24-hour miniature face. I will have to admit, I haven't messed with the 24-hour time faces, but they're there if you want them! Not to mention, MVMT delivers their watches beautifully in clean, minimal packaging. Check out their watches AND sunglasses here, and follow them on Instagram to hear about sales!

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Crescent necklace by Dear Mushka

I can't even begin to explain how much I love the simple yet profound jewelry created by Dear Mushka. This family-owned brand is making huge strides in small business with their minimal jewelry and heartfelt message. Similar to my story as a watch-wearer, I have never been one to keep up with my jewelry. However, when I found Dear Mushka, I discovered jewelry with unique details but everyday wearability. This is my second Dear Mushka necklace I've received as a gift, and I'm constantly adding their pieces to my wishlist for future special occasions. The jewelry is well-made and high quality, and it does not irritate my super sensitive skin! Each necklace, set of earrings, or bracelet is handmade with a verse in mind. The verse for the Crescent piece is Colossians 3:2, a faithful reminder to keep your heart in the right place. Dear Mushka jewelry is handmade in Nashville, TN, and you can follow along on Instagram @dearmushka.

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House Plants and Hot Sauce: A Seek-And-Find Book For Grown-Ups by Sally Nixon

This beautifully illustrated book by Sally Nixon hits me hard with the nostalgia of looking through I Spy books with my dad before bed. I love that this book serves not only as a fun way to play a game and get your brain working by yourself or challenging someone else, but also as a portfolio of Nixon's colorful, hand-drawn women. I love the way each girl Nixon colors has a clear personality and style. She creates detailed compositions of scenes from everyday life. I honestly just want to live inside this book. Take some time to check out Sally Nixon's work. You can find her on Instagram @sallustration and purchase her book here.

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Called to Create by Jordan Raynor

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown

I know, I know. I asked for a lot of books. I used to be a total bookworm, devouring a book in a day. Blame it on me for growing up and getting busy, or on social media, but I stopped reading nearly as much. Recently, I've been determined to change that and dive back into physical pages rather than just digital ones. I try to read a book that is either spiritual or research-based while I'm also reading a lighter, fictional book. These books would fall under the former category. Obviously, I can only review these books so much since I only recently received them. I've heard nothing but wonderful things about social scientist and author Brené Brown, and I've had Jordan Raynor's book in my Amazon cart for several weeks, the subtitle of A Biblical Invitation to Create, Innovate, and Risk piquing my interest. I've only just started reading Braving the Wilderness by Brown, but I enjoy the way she weaves research and storytelling together into one concise thought. Her books seem to center around becoming your best self and embracing everything that makes you your own human, imperfections and all. All of these books appealed to me as someone embarking on creative endeavors and figuring out where I'm going along the way. Maybe I will review one or more of these books in the future! 

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Micron Pens

If you use micron pens, you know how exciting it is to get a new pack of these suckers! They create such a smooth, nice line that I'm always tempted to use them for my everyday writing, but I restrain myself and save them for art-making only (most of the time). These bad boys are my favorite for pen-and-ink drawings as well as the outlines and some textural details in my watercolor pet portraits.

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If you or someone you know has a thing for nice pens, this is an awesome pack to start out with. I always purchase them in black, but they come in assorted colors that are super rad for bullet journaling, if you want to get fancy! I'm pretty sure I ask for a pack every year. You can purchase them on Amazon and use Prime for two-day shipping if you are in a hurry, but I typically run to my local Michael's. (I'll give you a hint: Michael's always has coupons.) They also sell them on Blick in a variety of sizes, packs, and colors. Decisions, decisions.

If you're going to buy some super nice pens, you might want to go ahead and grab a super nice pen case, as well! 

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LIHIT LAB Pen Case, Black

I participated in Inktober this year, creating a drawing a day through the month of October, following a list of prompts created by artist Jake Parker. Parker is an incredible illustrator, and he kindly provides a list of his favorite tools on his website. I discovered this pen case there, and boy, does this thing hold a lot of pens, pencils, and little odds and ends!

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As Parker states in his tool guide, this case holds way more pens than it appears like it should. It comes in fun colors like neon green, orange, and red, but as usual, I opted for the classic black. If you don't already know, I'm a neutral girl. Gray and black are my friends. The price point on this case is also top notch, and you can find it here

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ÖRFJÄLL / SPORREN Swivel Chair by IKEA, Gray

No, this is not a photo showing off my pristine, totally organized, guest room-turned-studio. This IS, however, showing off my new desk chair from IKEA: a chair that I completely assembled all by myself. This is no small feat, I assure you, although I'm clearly improving with each IKEA purchase I make. I thought I was perfectly happy with the chair I was using until I received this one from my parents for Christmas. Thanks, guys! My mom noticed my extremely stationary (no wheels, no swiveling-power) chair last time she dropped by our house and figured a nice desk (also IKEA) deserved an equally nice desk chair. It wasn't until I finished assembling this new chair that I truly reveled in its roll-y, swivel-y glory.

TLDR; IKEA wins again. 

Note: Extremely cute cat pillow not included.

 

Well, that's a wrap of some of the thoughtful gifts I unwrapped this Christmas! I'm constantly making the move toward maximizing my creativity and my life through thoughtful purchases of items that will last and bring me joy. I am far from a true "minimalist", but I am constantly considering quality over quantity and looking for products from reputable businesses to support my lifestyle. I hope this list allows you to breathe a sigh of relief over gift ideas, encourages you to support a small business, or introduces you to a creative you've yet to discover.

Thanks for reading. 

Here we go.

I've been creating for as long as I can remember. I say "creating" because it's not just drawing or painting or writing. It's everything. As soon as I could hold a crayon in my chubby hand I started using it, mostly to draw horses and dogs and various other animals, and I haven't stopped. I used to watch my mom quickly tapping word after word on the computer then would bang around on the keyboard, pretending to write all of the stories that filled my head. I became proficient in typing by eventually thumping out these stories (chapters and chapters) on that old desktop in the house where I grew up. I made up songs, I wrote poems, I illustrated them. For career day in elementary school, I was a cartoonist. I can't remember much about career day now, but I can tell you that my outfit choice for a cartoonist was about the same as it would be if I were going as a "nerd". The pencils and drawings I carried around all day may have slightly saved the outfit, but I have my doubts. The staple piece for the costume was the glasses. At least I know I meet that requirement!

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One definition of the word create is "to cause something to happen because of one's actions". I really like this definition. Ever since I started creating art in one form or another, I have not only enjoyed "causing something to happen", but also the reaction from the people who experience it. I feel that I have always largely made art for other people. While I thoroughly enjoy the process of creating a work of art, there is this deeper sense of self-fulfillment when I show it to my husband for the first time or when I check Instagram to find that a new post has made a connection. I want my art to resonate with people in some way, even if it just makes them smile. 

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I was recently asked the question, "What's something you would want people to remember you by when you are gone?" to which I answered, "I guess that I made people laugh." Humor has always been a way for me to get through things. Don't get me wrong, I can (too often) be the glass-half-empty person as well, but you can't stay negative for too long when you're trying not to giggle. (Find me watching cat fails on YouTube on a tough day.) I'm not sure when I really became a fan of the sarcastic, pun-laden humor that I often use today, but it tends to find its way into much of my art. I can remember several instances where I gifted a piece of witty art to a friend, made specifically for them, and the recognition and delighted reaction was enough to get me through at least a few hard days.

That is why I'm making art. 

Humorous or not, I want to make art that stirs reaction. I want to make art that causes someone's eyes to light up in acknowledgement of something they can relate to, something they remember, something they wish for. I find nostalgia and sentiment in the small things, and I hope to offer my art as one of those small things for someone else. Heart over hand, I aim to create with intention.

With a painting of a dog, or a leaf, or the phrase "Cheese fries save lives" (I know, right?), I hope to offer something good and true.

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Welcome to my creative space. I hope you'll stay awhile. My heart is here, laid out on a piece of paper in paint and ink, and I'm learning to take deep breaths and bare more of myself each day.

Thank you.