October 25, 2012

inspired: atlanta shops

The last time Ryan and I had been to Atlanta, our friend Rob took us to Ria's Bluebird Cafe where we tried the MOST delicious pancakes we have ever had: their specialty pumpkin-cinnamon pancakes. We got there a little bit early, so we walked around a bit and discovered nearby Little Tart Bakeshop and Octane Coffee, both of which charmed us just as much as Ria's. I knew then and there that we must find a way to spend more time in Atlanta the next time we had a chance. Last week, we were able to add just a half-day of exploring onto some time planned with friends in the Atlanta area, and I thought I would share a few of my favorite moments from our exploration! First stop was an awesome shopping center called Westside Urban Market, where we stopped in the Jonathan Adler store. I adore his fun, colorful designs, and these pillows were some of my favorite bits in the shop. I have been eyeing his ceramic pieces for awhile now and picked up the tiniest little bud vase to bring back home with me as a souvenir - isn't it adorable?!
Next we went into an incredibly lovely shop, Star Provisions, which offered all sorts of beautiful kitchenware and food goods - I was absolutely drooling. The merchandising was exquisite and their shelves overflowed with one perfect item after another.
We picked up a snack at their yummy food counter - I chose Boylan's grape soda (always my favorite!) and Ryan chose a root beer made by Gale Gand (he is becoming quite the connoisseur!). And because soda on its own is never enough, hehe, I chose a lime-frosted cornmeal cookie (DELICIOUS!!) and Ryan enjoyed their classic brownie.
Westside Urban Market has this very cool modern and industrial feel, with a touch of a vintage aesthetic pulling it together so that every which way we looked, we were charmed.
After a wonderful afternoon spent shopping and exploring, we headed back to our hotel where we enjoyed the best room service (a rare splurge for us!) we have ever had. My Southern Cheese Plate featured an assortment of delicious cheeses, chutneys, homemade saltines and biscuits, and even a piece of honeycomb just dripping with the sweetest honey I have ever tasted. It was absolute heaven, and the perfect way to end our day of Atlanta adventures.
I am sure there are a million and one more things to see in this very awesome city. Just makes me even more excited to visit Atlanta again sometime soon!!

October 19, 2012

inspired: boot & shoe

I recently had the pleasure of attending a book signing with author/illustrator Marla Frazee. Marla's latest release is a picture book called Boot & Shoe, and since I first read this lovely book, I have not been able to get Boot and Shoe out of my head! It is the story of two dogs from the same litter, who are in many ways alike but also in many ways different. One day, their world gets all mixed up, and therein lies the charm of this wonderful story!

I love Boot and Shoe and their story for many reasons. 

  1. I love dogs, and these two are a couple of the cutest. (Can you tell the difference between them? Marla suggested, and I concur, that children are better than adults at looking at pictures.)
  2. I love picture books of all types, but especially when the illustrations are as charming and timeless as these! I can not wait to share them with our own children someday!
  3. I am totally intrigued by the simultaneous similarity and opposition of the two characters, and the way these juxtaposed qualities ebb and flow in their world.
  4. The language, for its simple, lovely cadence which so supports the rhythm of the story.
One of my very favorite lines from the book is: "This is exactly perfect for both of them." When you read the book, you will understand why this line is so special! It reminds me of my beloved Myers-Briggs personality type indicator test and how each of our wiring can differ so much and yet be "exactly perfect" for who we are.
Marla Frazee is an amazing author and illustrator, and I have come to adore every last bit of her work. You can learn more about her books here, including Caldecott Honor Award winners All the World and A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever. I am so happy I had the chance to meet her and get my book signed! 

October 18, 2012

nanowrimo: two-week countdown!!

I cannot believe it is already almost time for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) to begin again! For those of you who might be unfamiliar, NaNoWriMo is a writing project in which you commit to write a 50,000-word novel in just 30 days. Thousands and thousands of people sign up on the NaNoWriMo site to commit themselves to this novel project each November.
(Image: NaNoWriMo.org)

My own experiences with NaNoWriMo have been great, and I am really excited to begin again this year. I have completed two NaNoWriMo projects in years past: once unofficially, in July (because I was working in retail at the time and November would have been absolutely masochistic), and last year I participated officially in November. Neither of my projects have resulted in anything ready-to-publish or even close, but each project has been an incredible experience. There is something SO motivating, exhilarating and confidence-building about proving to yourself that you are capable of so much content. Last year, 36, 843 participants accomplished their word count goal within the time limits

Here is the great thing about NaNoWriMo: it is a project that is only for you and for your own good. It is not a project that you ever have to show anyone else, or even re-read yourself. It can be absolutely terrible. It can make NO sense whatsoever. It can go straight into the garbage when you're done, although I recommend hanging onto it for perspective and in case you do end up with content that might inspire future work! You can sign up on the website to participate, but all that means is that you send your final document for a word count check and receive a printable award for "winning" at the end of the project! Where else can you "win" on the sole basis of quantity? This is my kind of competition. 

50,000 words in 30 days means 1667 words per day. My first year, I rounded up to 1700 for easy tracking, and last year I aimed for 2000 words per day in order to help build a cushion for the inevitable day or two when I might not get to the page. Both years, I inevitably fell behind and had to make up 5000 words per day for the last two or three days. But in the end, the win felt SO good!! Each time, I have been amazed to realize that I could actually get so many words down on paper. I believe that this project has greatly helped me to shape my voice as a writer. It has also helped me embrace the emotional roller coaster of my creativity, as I experience some great days and some really tough ones when I sit down to write. Some days my 1700 words took an hour or hour and a half, and some days three hours or more. I completed my first project while I was working full-time, and while it took a lot of discipline and determination, I think I was even more proud of my results. Each project was a layer of strength added to passion for writing. 

This year, my goal is to aim my project more specifically towards the form of a novel I would actually like to publish. I am still figuring this out- not sure if this will take the form of a proper outline or just some more specific parameters. I want to end the project feeling so much closer to submitting my work to publishers. I am sure I will end up sharing much more of this year's NaNoWriMo here on my blog, and I would love to know I have company if any of you are also participating! If you are a writer who has not yet participated, I strongly recommend that you try this year. Sign up today at www.nanowrimo.orgDo not overthink this, just do it! If you fail, you will have gained so much simply from the experience of trying. I do not think I would be able to attempt a more structured project this year if I had not allowed myself to practice twice before with very few parameters.

Have any of you participated in NaNoWriMo before? I would SO love to hear about your experience! Even though I have found my own projects to be a very independent process (i.e. time alone), it has helped a ton to have friends like Chris who have also participated and understand the simultaneous exhilaration and insanity of the experience. (Thanks, Chris!!) Two weeks left and counting!

October 17, 2012


I have always been fascinated with measurements. I love the exact practice of measuring, the way this exactness juxtaposes with the variety of units available: such a wide range of specific interpretations for the same actual amount of something or other. I remember learning about some of these units when I was small, working hard to grasp the differences between centimeters and inches, kilometers and miles, feet and yards, and so on. Certain units and conversions have stuck with me (5280 feet = one mile, three teaspoons = one tablespoon), but many have fallen into the space of lost learnings as my life unfolds. 
I am intrigued by the varietal qualities of measurement: how the units one might use to measure this or that will change not only with substance or subject, but will shift also with cultures, languages and geography as we experience new contexts. I am grateful for the tools that help me to measure and remind me how to convert from one language or unit of measurement to another. As I aspire to practice proficient exactitude in my measurements, I find comfort in the sense that there are clear answers out there, available and consistent when I need them. And these answers are no less clear because of the many forms they take; they simply offer clarity in new ways. 
With each passing week, month, and year, I become aware of even more forms that measurements can take. Pleasing your superiors, cultivating friendships, achieving goals, and knowing oneself: these are just a few of the measurements we might take on a daily basis. Calendars, birthdays and anniversaries become points for consistent and repetitive life measurements. (I have a birthday coming up, can you tell? I am already thinking of this year's measure...) My affinity for measurements can be a wonderful tool for motivation, and a driving force for my ambitions in life, especially in my creative practice. But these measurements can also become suffocating or defeating, when I fail to achieve something I had intended. 
Recently, I am trying to consider the concept of measurement in a new way. Just as physical measurements change when working with different elements or in different environments, perhaps my own sense of personal measurement might change based on the reality of my current life. It is so easy to commit to the same measurements used in past or to consider only the measurements of your future hopes and dreams. But what about right now? 
These last few weeks have been busy, and I am quick to grow discouraged because I have not been writing as much. But this business is a natural winding of my path, a change that has found me, rather than vice versa. And rather than holding fast to my previous units of measurement, which counted my progress based on days spent with time to write, I want to create new measurements which can embrace the present. I want to write as much as I can, and embrace the limited availability of "now." Perhaps this will help me to delight in sneaking in as much writing as possible and being proud of my efforts, however small. My hope is that finding a new measurement for now will result in new pride, as well. And from there, perhaps I can build up my joy and confidence even more as my days transition in the weeks to come, back to more time for writing and creating.
What kinds of measurements do you embrace in your life? Do you measure in the present, or do you struggle to hold yourself up against past and future? 

October 11, 2012


After so many months spent adjusting to new life rhythms this year, these past few weeks have brought me all-new paths to travel. Ryan is still away on tour (but coming home soon!), and being home without him always requires adjustments. And what is normally my very part-time job has needed me full-time. I am happy to say it is a job I love, and I count myself so lucky in this. But being so much busier has thrown so much else up into the air. So many of the patterns I have established over all these months have been set aside, let go in favor of the pressing work at hand. It feels like I am losing hold of all that I have been reaching toward all these months. It makes me anxious to let these things go, even for a time- I am afraid that I will lose ground or not be able to find my way again later.
All this upheaval in my daily life patterns leaves me feeling like I am neither here nor there, which is perhaps one of my most challenging obstacles. This interruption of my established "flow" sets everything on edge, and especially my creativity. I had just begun to feel more in control, more firmly on my way toward reaching my creative ambitions. Part of me longs for things to be back as they were. But I can recognize so much good in some of these changes, so much inspiration and sense of purpose as I spend my days in new ways. Just because these new paths are uncomfortable at times does not mean they are not good for me. And maybe the longing for things-as-they-were is exactly what will keep the fires of my creativity stoked and burning brightly. 
It occurred to me yesterday, as I sat down to write my morning pages, that perhaps I should visualize myself on a bridge right now. This place where I now find myself is clearly in-between where I have been and where I will go next. I felt like my feet were on solid ground before, and that was the side of the bridge where I entered. Now I am in between. I cannot settle in here, or establish lasting patterns from this current place. I know that where I am right now is not going to last much longer. And I do not yet know where the bridge will lead me next. I can not see the other side clearly, to know what ground it is that will support my feet next. But it is the nature of bridges to lead you somewhere - this much I know.
And while I fear the process of letting-go which stepping onto the bridge requires, I am grateful for the perspective I gain in looking back on the ground that supported me before. I am grateful for the sense of longing I feel, this deep-seated desire to get back to my creative practice. I appreciate that ground more than I did before, and I have high hopes for the ground I will discover on the other side of the bridge, hoping that I am being led somewhere even more wonderful than before. I look forward to planting myself again on that new ground, using all the gifts of learning I have gained through this perspective. And so instead of letting panic reign as I am suspended high above the water, I will try to soak in all that I am seeing and learning and experiencing in this crossing. I will try to let go and love the in-between.

October 8, 2012

what's your type?

Several years ago, my wonderful friend Therese introduced me to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment/personality test. I am not educated in psychology or officially qualified to explain this assessment at all - I will leave that to the experts! But ever since I took this test for the first time, I have been very fascinated by this Jungian system of understanding myself and others. 
My own type is ENFJ (Extraverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging), which is an Idealist type often referred to as the Teacher or Giver. I have taken the test several times over the past five or six years, and have always tested the same, although my percentages in each category shift a little bit every time. I find this consistency comforting and reassuring, another way to feel as if I know myself a little more. It is fascinating to see, too, where my specific percentages move up or down based on my daily life patterns and circumstances. 
The thing I love most about this assessment is how valuable each of the sixteen types are in society and in our lives specifically. Learning about the different personality types has helped me understand my loved ones better, and from there I can try to be a better friend in each of their lives. I have also learned to practice more awareness of the strengths of other types. It is so easy to give up on understanding when you do not connect automatically or easily with another person. But often it is just a matter of more learning about each unique individual's "wiring." There are many resources available to learn more about your particular type as well as those of others. One of my favorites is Personality Page, a site which not only offers in-depth analysis of each type, but several practical applications, such as how your type might relate in the workplace, as a parent, or in a relationship. It also offers a page for each type which illuminates opportunities for "Personal Growth" within each type. I have returned to these pages again and again for more keys to my own growth and learning. There is also a book that I really love which offers both a great understanding of the test's types and metrics, as well as in-depth type analysis. The name always makes me giggle, but since I love you all, I will admit this embarrassingly-titled and well-read book in my collection, Please Understand Me II, by David Keirsey (the "II" is what really gets me!!). 

Each year I find myself focused, either intentionally or subconsciously, on nurturing one of my "letters," focusing on both the strengths and opportunities within an aspect of my type. I love the way that this assessment offers me a structure for self-awareness and personal growth. As I learn more about my natural wiring, I find it helpful to consider the opposite of my own letters. For instance, I am a "J," which stands for "Judging," so in order to find more balance, I am embracing a chance to foster more "Perceiving" qualities this year. This applies especially in my writing and creative practices, where I have found myself often out of my comfort zone. I love that there are always new learnings and discoveries in seeking balance in my life, and that is what I love about this test - it provides a fascinating framework for this learning.
Have you taken the MBTI personality test?? I would SO love to hear which type you are!! And has it helped you to learn more about your own type? One of my favorite things is learning what types tend to surround my life. If you have not already taken the test or do not remember your type, you can take a free version of the test here on the HumanMetrics website. Please share YOUR type in the comments section!!
 As I have mentioned before, I am obsessed with ALL things "Rifle Paper Co.," and this gorgeous "Botanicals Garlands" set is no exception. It is one of my favorite recent finds!! I have already thought of nearly one million uses (well, almost) for it... happy to share it with you in today's post! I picked up the last one on the shelf at one of my favorite Chicago shops, Art Effect, but you can purchase the garland here.

October 3, 2012


When I looked back through the pictures taken on my Naperville Riverwalk artist date, I noticed a theme of reflection throughout. Reflection both in water and in the symmetry of  spaces where one side mirrors the other so closely: I found myself mesmerized by these examples of the beauty which can be found in reflection.
"Reflection" is a word I tend to overuse, one of those words that seems to lose a little bit of its meaning each time I speak or write it. But this very waning of its significance occurs precisely because "reflection" is a word I love, a state I love, a practice which I commit to often in my daily life. Reflection partners with intention, contemplation, and decision, just to name a few, as I set out to live my life with meaning and purpose, in truth and love. And it seems like there is always opportunity to reflect even more, room for so much more growth, self-knowledge, and self-awareness.
As an extroverted thinker, my path to reflection comes most often in writing. My writing reflects back to me more clearly the state of my heart, soul, and mind, and sometimes the states of those around me. In my writing, the reflective effects are often reversed, as my reflection can be wiser, clearer, than the original thoughts. My blurry, rippling thoughts come into clearer, sharper focus as the words begin to cover the page. Perhaps this commitment to internal reflection, this path of growth I am following, is what attracted me to these beautiful reflections in nature that lovely morning.
Today, I summon those moments through these pictures I took. I captured them in hopes of holding onto them longer than the fleeting hours of that early Fall morning. And I stare into these moments now, looking long and hard to see what will be reflected back to me.

I come to these reflections with a heavy heart, feeling numb and dull at the news of the loss of a young, lovely life. I am reminded of how fleeting this life is, how quickly all can change and begin to be something entirely different. My pursuit of reflection grows even stronger with this increased awareness of the gift of life. Time is not a guarantee- we have to make it count. 
I will ponder again the true meaning of reflection, and I will try to hear it new, to erase the monotony of daily use and dig down deep to its core. I will examine my practice of reflection under a new and urgent light. I will write and write some more until all of the blurry, scarred images begin to take clear and beautiful shape and point me along my way, for all of the way I have yet to go before me. 

In memory of Sarah Joann Alleman.

October 2, 2012

feeling fall

I hope very much that your October is off to a great start! I know it is October 2nd and that it has officially been "Fall" for almost two weeks. But for some reason, today is the first day when I have really felt like Fall is in full-swing. Our schedule has been busier than usual, and perhaps today is the first chance I have had to really absorb what is taking place in nature surrounding me. Today the leaves are dancing up and down streets in a rich spectrum of gold and red and green. They illustrate the movement of the wind as it whips forward and then back again, causing them to swirl in unison, dancing fancy pirouettes.
One of my favorite Fall traditions is our annual trip to Kuiper's Family Farm, a nearby apple orchard and pumpkin farm. I think we love the orchard shop as much as the rows of apple trees themselves- so many delicious treats await, including their famous apple cider doughnuts. (YUM. Definitely go try them, if you ever get the chance.)
As I grow older, I am less and less fond of the shorter days of sunlight and bitter cold which Winter brings. Accordingly, I have sort of held the Fall accountable, lumping it together with its colder sibling-season next in line. But this year I have tried to practice more appreciation and gratitude for each season in its own right. And there are many, many reasons I am grateful for Fall in the Midwest. Curling up in cozy sweaters as I tug my cuffs down over my knuckles and wrap myself more tightly; spending more hours with my fingers woven into soft, lovely yarn as my knitting projects occupy more and more of my time; wrapping my hands round a hot mug of tea. The warmth of sunlight contrasted with the crisp chill of the wind that seems to grow fiercer with each passing day, gearing up for Winter cold. Layering sweaters and jackets, scarves and socks and boots to stand tall and strong and steady against these winds. And the settling in that happens, as we tuck ourselves inside, turning our awareness to our little home and the lovely comforts which surround us there. These are just a few things I love about Fall.
More than ever, I have the strong sense that it is time for me to get down to business, and especially creatively. Ryan is away for a couple of weeks on tour, and that leaves me time to focus even more attention on my creative dreams and ambitions. I am going to soak up the sun and chill and swirling leaves and let them settle deep within, and see how they will wring out of me as I write in these next couple of weeks. I am happy to have you along for the journey. (Thank you!)

Are you feeling Fall in full swing yet? What does Fall signify for you?