Sugar-Free Smoothie of Gold

November 6
Sugar-Free Smoothie of Gold

I cut out all sugar for two weeks. Not only white sugar and high fructose corn syrup, but also natural sugars like honey, maple syrup, and even fruit. This was one of the more difficult steps on my journey to health (long, long ongoing journey).

I thought, It’s just two weeks. Two weeks and I can have fruit again. It can’t be that hard. But it was. It was really hard. This “smoothie” was one of the few food joys I clung to for sanity.

In fact I am grateful for the health problems I faced because they led me to this smoothie — it squeezed some culinary creativity out of me, and made me feel good.

Maybe that’s dramatic, but if I didn’t have gluten, dairy, and egg sensitivities, fruit and sugar free breakfasts would have been no problem. I could have easily had toast and eggs for breakfast for two weeks.

Instead I faced the challenge of designing a breakfast that was egg, grain, dairy and sugar free. What resulted was liquid gold.

This smoothie tastes uh-mazing. Like milkshake-for-breakfast amazing. As if that’s not enough, it has virtually no carbs and is full of good fats: a great way to start the day!

To create the smoothie, I combined inspiration from a smoothie I found online with my love of cinnamon-sugar and almonds. Of course sugar was out of the question, but wouldn’t almond butter be amazing with some cinnamon, vanilla, and ice-cold coconut milk? I had to try it.

Plain coconut milk worked as an ideal base: practically flavorless but the perfect milky consistency.

Next I added one teaspoon each of cinnamon and vanilla.

Then I sprinkled in a tablespoon of xylitol, a sugar-free sweetener (see below for more information on xylitol and why I don’t recommend you use it in your smoothie).

Then the magic ingredient: almond butter. Gooey, nutty, and a little sweet (yes, it is), I plopped two hearty tablespoons into the blender.

Those five ingredients created the amazing flavor, but this is just a deliciously simple recipe asking to be transformed on occasion. There are endless possibilities including chocolate and coffee variations. One of my favorites trades the sweetener for half of a banana and creates what might as well be banana bread batter.

Full of fat and so delicious I swear I taste heaven, I will be keeping this on my breakfast menu long after I return to a semi-normal diet.

The Recipe:

1 cup of unflavored coconut milk OR whole milk

1 T plain yogurt (optional)

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 T sweetener of choice (maple syrup, honey, coconut sugar) and/or half of a very ripe banana

1 T flax seed

1 T chia seeds

2 hearty tablespoons of almond butter

1 handful of spinach (optional — it doesn’t change the taste, but only add if you can stand the pea green color)

9 ice cubes (this is not a magic number, it’s just what seems to work)

1 T melted coconut oil

1. First pour your liquids into the blender.

2. Add cinnamon, vanilla, sweetener, flax and chia seeds, almond butter, and ice. Blend until it’s smooth and you don’t see chia seeds splattered across walls of your blender.

3. Put the blender on the slowest setting and slowly pour in the melted coconut oil.

4. Kick up the power a few notches for 10 seconds.

5. Serve with a straw and enjoy!

A note on xylitol. Xylitol isn’t sugar. It is a sugar alcohol. Many people (mostly gum companies) use it as a replacement for sugar. It is low calorie and low glycemic, and therefore considered acceptable for diabetics and those on the candida diet. The American Dietetic Association states that xylitol offers health benefits such as reduced glycemic response, increased absorption of B vitamins and calcium, and a reduction in dental caries risks.

However, based on this article and this article and the horrible stomach cramps I got after eating it several times, I decided that xylitol is not right for me. Probably, it’s not right for anyone. At least in large quantities. And so that is why I recommend you use maple syrup, honey, a banana, or even some stevia leaf if you’re feeling adventurous. I’d just limit the xylitol.


Confession: I Like Crappy Rom Coms

May 8

We all have insecurities, right? Things we hesitate to admit or let people see?

For me it’s the way the way my thumb wiggles when I write, it’s my ever-growing list of crushes around town: coffee guy, bike shop boy, band boy… and it’s the five minutes I spent this morning trying to wrap a hair tie around a quarter twisted in my skirt between my legs so I could wear a dress and ride a bike.

A lot of my insecurities take me back to moments that still make me cringe in embarrassment. For example, my college history class.

Some of you reading will remember one particular professor’s “question of the day.” (I hope he doesn’t read this…) At the beginning of every class, he would ask a pop-culture, not-class-related, opinion-based question often phrased like an objective answer existed.

I was always nervous about these questions because our history prof was cool, and, well, I’m not.

He would call names in different ways — alphabetical, reverse alphabetical, random, in swirls around the classroom… I would be panicking, trying to come up with a cool answer so he wouldn’t make fun of me.

Most of the time I gave a good-enough answer that earned me mild praise or at least spared me humiliation, but on two days I failed.

The topics: Best romantic comedy and Best summer band

My answers: Fever Pitch and Dave Matthews Band

He hated these answers so much that he threw his dry erase marker across the room.

I will admit that I don’t actually consider either of those the “best” of anything, but I do like them both.

I’d rather listen to George Ezra or St. Lucia or Small Black while cruising down the PCH, but I would also be happy to listen to some Dave Matthews. Sorry Dr. vV.

And given a few years to think about it… I still can’t pick the best romantic comedy of all time. I would list Crazy, Stupid Love, Pretty Woman, Sabrina and countless others before Fever Pitch though. Honestly, I think I said Fever Pitch because I had just watched it — I have a short term memory.

But you know what? I like Fever Pitch. I know it’s crappy, but I like it. It has a goofy male lead who gets the girl in an over-dramatic, unrealistic display of romance and they end up together. When it ends, I’m smiling.

And the fact that I gave those answers in those moments… it says a lot about me. I like crappy rom coms and feel-good music. I can’t think of movie, band or tv show titles under pressure. I don’t have strong pop-cultural preferences. I have short term memory.

None of those things are good or bad, they’re just me. And I like me.


Why I Haven’t Posted in So Long…

May 1
JakeGivens - Sunset in the Park

I remember thinking that I wouldn’t have any problems writing once a week when I started this blog. I read about all the people whose blogs had fallen to the side or bloggers who only posted sporadically. I foolishly thought that I wouldn’t be one of those people.

But now here I am, months out from my last blog post.

Yes, pride comes before the fall.

I don’t want to make excuses, but I think telling myself why I haven’t posted (or even written) in so long will help me focus on the direction of this space I was once so excited about.

I’ve been busy between work, family, job opportunities and socializing. When I started the blog, I was working part time, I had very few friends and I lived at home. Basically, I had endless mornings to write and think. I also had tons of energy to devote to dreaming and researching. Now I’m full time, I’ve made friends and I am living a grown-up life with rent, bills and meals to cook. Time and energy to dream and research? It’s not so much there anymore.

I don’t know what I think about art. When I started, I thought I wanted to write about art. I noticed a gap in the blog world — very few artists write about their art, their process or their struggles. No one is encouraging amateur artists to create or sharing insight into how to find time. But I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m not even doing. And, honestly, I don’t know that I want to do. My real passion and talent might be in other places.

So now I can’t decide what to write about. I hoped that I would just figure out a topic quickly, and my blog would be useful to readers right away. I wanted to serve my audience, small though it may have been, immediately. But I’m learning that I don’t know anything. Maybe I have to put in some time of aimless blogging. Maybe its my due. And maybe that aimless blogging will find a destination.

I am suddenly aware that people I kind of know are reading what I write… Scary. My family loves me no matter what, and they are wonderfully supportive. Even strangers are fine — I don’t know them, and I probably never will. But when friends and acquaintances started liking my Facebook posts about the blog, I realized that some of them might have actually clicked and read. I’m kind of baring my soul here. What will they think of me? My grammar? My voice? My photos????? [Confession: I think too much about what other people think of me, but that’s another post for another time.]

Things are changing though.

I have quiet mornings to write.

I feel the drive to dream again.

I let go of the need to write about art.

Instead, I decided I’ll write about life. I want to share my life: working, living in an old house and small town, cooking and shopping for one, learning to be independent. Maybe the blog doesn’t have to serve a purpose right now. It’s simply a reason to write and a way to connect. A new beginning for this space.


My Issue With Gratitude

November 29
My Issue With Gratitude

Happy Thanksgiving weekend!

How are you with gratitude? I can’t say I’m the best.

In the fall my Bible study group read Ann Voskamp’s 1000 Gifts. We were supposed to work on our own thankfulness journal, counting our way up to 1000 daily gifts, big or small. We were supposed to. I didn’t.

It wasn’t, and isn’t, so much because I’m not thankful for the life I have, it’s more than I have a hard time remembering the importance of literally counting my blessings, of consciously thinking about what I am thankful for, writing it down and meditating on it.

I think “Yeah, yeah, yeah that’s all good, but I don’t have time to dwell on these things, I have too much to do and when I have downtime I want to chill, not count.”

But the reality is that counting your blessings, counting your thanks, keeping a gratitude journal — whatever you want to call it — has actually been proven to change your attitude. In fact, Marie Forleo cites one study showing that a specific gratitude practice can make you “more elated, excited and alert… and less tired, sad and lethargic.” I’m generally a pretty positive person, but I’d love some elation, excitement and alertness.

I’ve already been working on implementing what Marie calls “NNT” — non-negotiable time. These are things that you do every day, no matter what. They’re non-negotiable. The first two things on my list were yoga and Bible study. So every day for the last two months I have done yoga. I’ll admit the Bible study slips every once in a while (Beth Moore Bible studies take a long time!).

Now I want to add another NNT — one entry into a thankfulness journal every day, again courtesy of Marie. I’ve learned that just thinking about gratitude isn’t enough — writing it down is important.

In honor of Thanksgiving I wanted to give you some thankfulness advice, but I think I’ve just talked myself out of that job.

So instead, I’m going to send you on your way with some posts from others about thankfulness, said better than I could.

“The Most Powerful Gratitude Practice You’re Not Doing” by Marie Forleo

“I Thank, Therefore I Am” by Michael Hyatt

[Update] “The Gratitude Advantage: Four Ways Giving Thanks Improves Your Life” by Michael Hyatt

1000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp

I hope you had a happy holiday weekend, or if you’re in another country, a happy weekend.

xx Margaret

P.S. Am I the only one that struggles with gratitude? Do you? I’d love to hear from you.


Why I Value My Liberal Arts Degrees

November 22
Why I Value My Liberal Arts Degrees -- this is your heart.

“…folks can make a lot more potentially with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree.”

And with that quote on January 30, 2014, Obama brushed art history to the side as frivolous and even foolish subject to study. While he apologized for his remarks, his comment represents a widespread attitude toward the liberal arts: useless in this country and economy.

Soon after Obama’s apology, Florida Senator Marco Rubio tweeted: “Pathetic Obama apology to art history prof. We do need more degrees that lead to #jobs.” Again.

I know I’m really late to the party on this topic, but I felt their comments were relevant to my goals in blogging and writing: to highlight the importance of art, to encourage you to pursue your craft and to help you use it for a meaningful purpose.

So for now I want to talk about the negativity surrounding the liberal arts, and tell you that they are relevant and important. Really impressing that will take a lot more than one blog post, but this is a start.


What I Was Told

When I was a postgrad studying history, I went to a career workshop for those of us who were unsure about pursuing a career in academia. Our advisor flipped through powerpoint slides listing the jobs history postgrads had succeeded in:

Law. Education. Non-profit. Marketing. Public Relations. Culture. Retail. Conservation.

The possibilities seemed overwhelmingly endless. I wondered why anyone would limit themselves by studying something specific like marketing or PR. I was basking in the freedom I was looking forward to (and trying to shove down the terror…).

Of course not everyone should pursue a liberal arts degree — business, engineering and medicine are obviously valuable. Not everyone needs a bachelor’s degree even. We need a balance in our world.

It is sad, however, that the arts are not considered valuable for those who do choose to study them.


I Swear, We’re Smart. Really.

I feel strongly about this because of my degrees: bachelors in studio art and masters in Early Modern History. My dream was and is to use those degrees in the art and history worlds.

But if I don’t ever make it as an artist, writer, professor or curator, I have developed a set of skills that qualify me for a long list of jobs. History and art history students learn to formulate an argument, think independently, practice self discipline, communicate clearly, research, problem solve, exercise initiative and collaborate with empathy and insight.⁠1

And yet, in my job search I had a hard time convincing employers that I was appropriately qualified — always under or over qualified. I have to admit, this was the time that I briefly regretted my degrees. Not the knowledge that I had gained or the processes of acquiring them, but the difficulty that came in finding a first job.

Apparently, some politicians and employers are afraid to invest in students who received a well-rounded education and can easily be trained in a number of fields.

I thought the fact that I completed a master’s degree at a top foreign university in a difficult subject would be enough to convince an employer that I am worth hiring. I thought it was proof that I could quickly learn to do almost anything.

Well it was enough to convince the one I found, but even that wasn’t a fast or easy journey.

So yes, I agree. It can be difficult for recent liberal arts graduates to get #jobs, but if they learned the skills they should have, they will succeed in a number of positions. A smart employer will recognize the valuable skills and characteristics of a liberal arts postgrad: dedicated, hard working and not afraid of risks or challenges.


Proof from an Employer

One of my favorite podcasts, Virtue in the Wasteland, provides a great example of what employers want in college graduates. Jeff Mallinson, a philosophy professor now working at my alma mater, shared a story. His university was starting a visual communications major and wanted advice from someone in the field about what to include in the degree.

When asked if they should purchase Final Cut Pro or new state-of-the-art computers, the expert said, “No.”

He told the professors and administrators that he needed graduates that could complete a project and understand the arch of a narrative. He needed people that had studied, for example, English: they have to know how to finish a story, how to write something thoughtful and accurate, how to illicit emotions.

For that employer, the ability to understand concepts, think deeply and research was more important than a practical skill.

(If you know which episode this is from, please remind me so I can link to it… I am digging through and can’t remember which podcast I had just listened to when I wrote this!)


A Greater Value in Education

Now forget the fact that liberal arts majors are often smart, strong writers, persuasive, analytical and hard workers. And forget that many employers either don’t know about, care about or value students with these degrees.

Why are the liberal arts worth studying even if they won’t directly lead to a job? Why do I not care that I spent five years studying art and history when I’m working a job in communications right now?

Education contains more value than as a means to the end goal of success and wealth. I spent those five years loving life. I got to spend my days reading books, writing, researching, discussing. I became smarter and more confident. I gained a better understanding of the world and my place in it.

And I don’t regret it — I was pursuing my passion. When I study art history, I feel excited and fulfilled and challenged. Is there no value in that?

All I’m saying is study and pursue what you love — in school and after. Don’t let the fact that there might not be an obvious money-making career path deter you.

“Throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

What about you? Did you study something you love or something just for practicality? Either way, have you ever regretted that decision? Share in the comments — I’d love to hear from you. 


xx Margaret

1 Taken from a Powerpoint presentation from the Careers Centre at the University of St Andrews: “marshall an argument, be self-disciplined and independent intellectually,” “express themselves orally and in writing with coherence, clarity, and fluency,” research and present evidence, analyze and solve problems, “exercise self discipline, self-direction, and initiative,” “work with others and have respect for others’ reasoned views,” work well in groups, and “show empathy and imaginative insight.”

Create, Live

3 Motivation Starters for THOSE Days

November 15
3 Motivation Options for THOSE Days -- this is your heart.

Honest. I am new to the world of full-time work. I’ve done school, and I’ve done school and work at the same time, but I’m new to the 9-to-5 world.

I love my job, but there are weeks where I feel a little bit like I’m drowning in all of the things that need to get done. (Doesn’t everyone feel like that every once in a while?) And when that happens I have a really hard time finding the motivation to write, to practice French or to exercise.

All I want to do is take a nap, eat chips and salsa and watch tv when I get home. I barely have the energy to keep my eyes open. Forget writing 500 plus words or speaking in a foreign language.

Honestly — I’m struggling right now. I know this is where my heart is. I know this is what gives me my energy and my motivation to wake up in the morning.

And I know I’m not alone in this. Everyone pursuing a dream on top of a full-time job must struggle with motivation some days. So what can we do to get the wheels in our brains turning when all we want to do is shut down the factory?

Ideas. Ideas. Ideas. Shhh… I’m thinking.

Review goals. This, of course, requires you to have written goals.

On my weekly to-do list (I use Things), I have “Review goals” pop up once a week on Sunday. Today is Thursday, and I still haven’t read them.

My goals include reasons why I want to do the things I do outside of work, what’s at stake and the positive habits I need to develop to achieve them (all courtesy of Michael Hyatt). It’s no wonder that I’m lacking motivation. I’ve forgotten why I make myself do this.

Sometimes the best thing to get going is to review goals. Remind yourself why.

Read something inspirational. For example, a favorite book on writing or art or a favorite piece that you’ve written.

I wrote in this post that reading and researching art is vital to my motivation. When I’m too tired to make myself write or draw, I pick up What are you looking at? by Will Gompertz or On Writing Well by William Zinsser, read a page or two and suddenly my pen is off!

Or I scroll through my previous blog posts. Believe it or not (isn’t it obvious yet?), creative blocks and lack of motivation plague me on a regular basis, and I’ve written about them before. In that way, my own blog posts help me. It also helps to just read what I’ve written, especially something I love. I read it and think “That was fun, let’s do it again.”

But ultimately I think the best idea to start again is to start.

Start. I have said it before, and I know I’ll say it again. The power of starting is amazing.

You can review all your goals, read every inspirational book and look at all your previous work, but at some point you have to start — just like I did fifteen minutes ago.

I opened “My Desk” on Scrivener and created a new document with today’s date as the title. And then I wrote:

“…But I didn’t have enough to eat for lunch today. And I didn’t even have a full cup of coffee. I have no caffeine in me and no food… All I want to do is go home and take a nap. Go to bed right now. Or get some chips and hummus and sit and eat them and watch tv until I fall asleep…”

The actual whiney words I wrote. You’re welcome internet.

The words were stupid and meaningless, but once I started writing, — after reminding myself of my goals and looking over some old posts — I found the motivation to start this post. See? The power of starting.


I Feel Like a Fake. Anyone Else?

November 8
I Feel Like a Fake. Anyone Else? - this is your heart.

Confession: I call myself an artist, but I feel like a fake every time I say it.

Look at my About page. Read my blog posts. I say “I am an artist” on this blog a lot. But am I?

I have been an artist. I’ve been drawing since I was a little girl. In fact, I was the go-to girl for large-scale cat and dog drawings in the second grade. And let’s be honest: I rock at Pictionary. My friends and family have always thought of me as artistic. I even majored in Studio Art, sent my work to an exhibition in England, created live art at fundraising events and won the art award in college.

Those are mostly past tense though. I have been an artist. Am I now?

I stopped calling myself an artist (or maybe I had never started) when I was a post grad studying Early Modern History. When someone asked, I told them, “I majored in Studio Art” and quickly added, “but I minored in History.” “Interesting background,” they would say.

But now I call myself an artist. I started around the same time that I started calling myself a writer. I think for two reasons:

  1. If I can call myself a writer maybe I can call myself an artist too. Steven Pressfield told Jeff Goins, “You are a writer when you tell yourself you are. No one else’s opinion matters. Screw them. You are when you say you are.” Same for an artist, right?
  2. The convenience. I work at an arts organization so when people talk to me about art, the “are you an artist” question almost always pops up. I got tired of saying, “Umm… uhh… sorta… uh… I majored in art…” So I started saying, “Yes, I am an artist.”

And if I’m really, truly honest with myself, I really am an artist right now. I work in our ceramics studio, throwing and glazing pots. I’m always sketching on scratch paper, especially when my mind is about to explode from stress or boredom or exhaustion. And my job has lots of creative aspects including some graphic design and exhibition curating. Even if I’m not painting massive canvases and selling them across the globe, my little artist voice gently shows itself a lot.

I just don’t believe I’m an artist.

Why, after a 25 years of artistic talent and achievement, do I not feel like an artist? Is it a forever battle? Will I always feel like a fake? When will I actually feel like an artist?

What will it take to make me feel like an artist?!

Jeff Goins asked the same thing about writing, and talked about his journey to calling himself a writer. Well. I feel like a writer. I write every day, for work and for fun. Not to mention the years I spent writing essays. History was my college minor and I got my masters in Early Modern History. Paper writing was my business.

Why is it different than art? Maybe it’s not.

I think two factors will play into my belief: one, calling myself an artist, and two, pursuing my art.

I found this artist’s wonderful blog post about the same subject. She says what I suspected: “You have to SAY ‘I’m an artist’ before you can believe it” and “You have to say ‘I’m an artist’ as many times as you’ve been told (and told yourself) you’re not.” That’s a lot.

For her it took a year. I don’t know how long it will take me, but I’ll keep saying it until I believe it.

Let’s be honest though: I can’t just say I’m an artist and have it be true. I have to do something about it too.

I could call myself an artist all day every day and not believe it if I wasn’t actually creating. So what level of creating do I need to believe that I’m an artist?

I need to be producing regularly. Just like writing every day makes me believe I’m a writer, creating something visual on a regular basis will help me believe I’m an artist. And I also think I’ll feel more like an artist if I’m active in the art world: entering artwork in juried exhibitions, displaying artwork in galleries, sharing my artwork, selling my artwork.

Overtime those experiences and creations will build up, just like they did for my writing, and I’ll be able to say “I’m an artist” without feeling like a fake.

Until then I’ll keep saying it and pursuing it.

xx Margaret

What will it take for you to believe you’re an artist? Answer in the comments — I’d love to hear from you! 


Three Reasons I Love Rachel from Friends

October 30

“So no one told you life was gonna be this way./ Your job’s a joke, you’re broke, your love life’s D.O.A./ It’s like you’re always stuck in second gear/ When it hasn’t been your day, your week, your month, or even your year…”

You’re singing it in your head, I know.

Friends: the perfect show for twenty-somethings. That theme song always makes me think I’m not alone! I’ve had crap jobs, no money and a roller coaster of relationships too! Of course, most people have, and that’s why the writers wrote the show that way. Still, I can watch it over and over again. I never get sick of it, and I always laugh.

One of the reasons I love it so much is that I can relate to the characters so well. Especially Rachel.

Of course I notice superficial reasons we’re similar. I love shopping and fashion, I watch guilty pleasure tv shows and obsess over their stars, I suck at football and I would probably be embarrassed if my running partner ran like Phoebe.

But those aren’t the reasons I really identify with her. Instead it’s the higher organization of her life. Mine is similar to her’s in some ways: our hopes for the future, the reality of jobs and the realization of how great life actually is. And we share some characteristics I’d like even more of: courage, independence and strength.

I find myself reaching for a Friends episode when I’m sad or too tired to think because Rachel’s story can lift me up when I’m feeling down about my own life.

So here they are — three of the many reasons she makes me smile:

Rachel is not always in a relationship. Sure, she has plenty of love interests, but she’s not afraid to be single either. Her break-ups are generally strong and clean, and she quickly recovers from her minor lapses in judgement.

Her occasional singleness is not because she doesn’t want to be in a relationship — she even tells Ross “it’s not about no guys, it’s about the right guy.” She is sometimes single because she is smart. She knows when she shouldn’t be with someone (see Barry, Paolo, Tag), and she’s not afraid to break it off when it’s wrong. No desperation there.

She also knows who is worth waiting for. See Ross 😉

Rachel works. Despite her privileged upbringing, when it’s time for Rachel to make her own money, she works. In the beginning she struggles with it. She takes a crappy job at the coffee shop, but she does it.

As the series continues, Rachel works her way in to fashion. Her work, her passion, is important to her, but it isn’t all blue skies and puppies. She has ups and downs: her coworkers cut her out, she gets fired, she gets hired, she falls in lust with her assistant and her boss offers her a job in Paris.

Not easy personally or professionally.

Rachel loves her life. I am confident that Rachel’s life is much better than what she planned pre-Pilot episode.

In the fourth episode, The One with George Stephanopoulus, Rachel gets her first (tiny) paycheck and runs in to her engaged, pregnant and successful friends. She finally freaks out when the credit card company calls to ask about the unusual lack of activity on her card:

“They wanna know if I’m okay. Okay. They wanna know if I’m okay. Okay. Let’s see. Well… Let’s see. The FICA guys took all my money, everyone I know is either getting married or getting pregnant or getting promoted. And I’m getting coffee! And it’s not even for me! So if that sounds like I’m okay, okay, then you can tell them I’m okay. Okay?!”

But, like Monica tells her, Rachel is doing “this amazing independent thing.” And after a night of spying on George Stephanopoulus and bonding with friends, the credit card company calls again. This time, however, she tells them about her “magic beans,” hangs up the phone and tells herself “I’m going to be fine.”

And of course, the last episode when Rachel and Ross finally get back together for good. She finishes the series with a beautiful daughter and the man she loves. Happily ever after, yes? It’s at least more happy than the life she had planned (“The One with What Could Have Been” anyone?).

The whole point of this post is that Friends is amazing.

Just kidding. The point is that reality, much like Friends, has peaks and valleys. It’s easy to be sad when life isn’t what you hoped, but you can rest assured that things can and will get better.

And if you’ve read my other posts, you know I am a firm believer that life often ends up better than you planned. And Rachel is just proof of that 😉

So what do you think? Am I crazy or do you sometimes like to pretend you’re one of the group too? Maybe don’t answer that.

Create, Go, Live

6 Creative Lessons Climbing a 450-Foot Sand Dune Taught Me 

October 16
6 Creative Lessons I Learned from Climbing a 450 Foot Dune

At the beginning of September my parents and I went up north — that’s Michigander speak for northern Michigan. The highlight of our trip was the Pierce Stocking Dune at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore — a 450 foot dune with views of Lake Michigan and the two bear islands.

At the top of the dune we saw signs that warned us about the dune. “Don’t risk erosion, injury and rescue fines.” “Don’t go down if you can’t get back up.” Stuff like that.

It’s a steep dune. You can’t see the bottom from the top.


Yeah, when you stand on the overlook off to the side, it doesn’t look that long or steep…

Pierce Stocking Dune

Until you realize how tiny the people are at the bottom.

Well I decided that I wanted to climb it someday, and, despite the prospect of a 1-2 hour climb back up, my dad said “Let’s do it.”

So we checked the time — 2:17 — and started down, half jogging half digging our heels into the sand to slow down. It took us almost ten minutes just to get to the bottom. There, we took in the views and evaluated the climb back up.


From the bottom, it looked impossible — nearly vertical.  DSC_0266

We started. Slowly, one step at a time, we worked our way up the dune stopping every once in a while to catch our breath, take a sip of water and enjoy the view.

We made it to the top in 17 minutes. Seventeen!

I got a lot from that experience — more than a feeling of accomplishment and a handful of nice photos. I learned some lessons in life and creating:

1. Don’t listen to the people that tell you you can’t do it. “You can’t make it to the top.” “It’s too risky.” Unless you’re hoping to climb Pierce Stocking Dune with a broken leg or health problems, ignore them.

So far I’ve been lucky. I haven’t encountered anyone who has been negative about this blog or my goals, but when those people come along — and I know they will — I’ll have to be a little bit stronger.

2. Just because it seems impossible doesn’t mean it is.

From very the top, the dune looked impossible to climb.

When I saw those tiny little people at the bottom, the dune looked impossible to climb.

When I got to the bottom and looked up, the dune looked impossible to climb.

But we did it. It wasn’t impossible.

Sometimes when I think about all the work I’ll have to put in to achieve my goals, I think it might be impossible. Sometimes I’m the negative voice in my head telling me I’m going to fail. Reality check: it’s only impossible if you quit.

3. Start. We could have spent all kinds of time at the bottom of that dune, stretching, worrying and planning. Instead we started and sort of figured things out as we climbed. How often we needed to stop, how often we needed to drink water and how to climb: step lightly to displace less sand.

It’s the same with writing, art and blogging. I can spend all the time in the world getting ready to start: reading books, organizing my work area, watching webinars, buying supplies, laying out my theme…

Sometimes, though, it’s best to just start and figure things out as you go.

4. Go slow. You’re still learning so take your time. Two guys started the climb up the dune before my dad and I even got to the bottom, and they were flying. Less than half way up my dad and I caught up with them. They were dragging. People that rush out of the gate too fast burn out.

I just started this blog. I’ve already learned a little bit through experience and a lot from other bloggers: with great success comes great responsibility. The more people read your work, want your artwork or recognize your talents, the more demand will be placed on you. You’ll have more commenters to reply to, more artwork to create and more people asking for your help.

Overnight success probably won’t happen, but if it did, you probably wouldn’t be ready for it. None of those things are bad, but they are bad when you’re not prepared for them. That’s why it’s so important to start slowly and be patient. Breathe, rest.

5. Learn from those that have gone before you. Before we started down the dune, we talked to some people that had climbed it in the past. One guy told us that the trick is to displace as little sand as possible — step lightly and slowly. And once we started climbing, we literally followed in the footsteps of the climbers that went before us. They had left footprints in the sand — pre made steps — for us to walk in. It would have been stupid and a waste of energy to step in different spots.

Sometimes in life you have to take a less travelled path, but when you’re just starting out, it’s best to learn from others. They share their mistakes, and their struggles will be similar to yours. Reading books and articles and blogs will help you find your way, and it will make the trip easier than trying to go it alone. When you gain enough experience, you’ll start to see where they misstepped and how you can step better… But that’s later.

6. Take time to enjoy the journey. The views were different at every point in the climb. At the bottom. 50 feet up. 320 feet up. Even when we were just beginning and we had what seemed like an impossible journey ahead, there was scenery to enjoy.

The same is true of creativity. When you’re just starting, savor all the moments, the little victories and the struggles. They all make good memories. Enjoy it. Half of the fun is the journey.


Freeing My Creativity: Why I Write

October 12
Freeing My Creativity: Why I Write

Sun soaked kitchen. Sitting high on stools at the island. Ian to my left, and my mom smiling at us over the stove. Notebook open. Gel pens lined up in front of me. Ready to write. — One of my favorite summer memories as a little girl.

Did you do summer homework? We did. We got those huge books with lessons in math and english to help us stay sharp, and my mom supplemented with 15 minutes of writing every day. I loved summer homework… I was always a little bit of nerd.

I never realized just how much those quick writing sessions affected me. They made me a better writer, and they made me love writing. But I don’t think I ever realized I loved writing. I knew I loved school and learning and researching, but writing? Never thought about it.

It wasn’t until a car ride with my mom — those moms know their stuff! — post grad school, mid quarter-life crisis and pre-blog that she said it: “Maybe you should be a writer.”

My mom is a writer. She earned her masters in English, she taught English at my high school and she writes beautiful, funny pieces for different publications. My mom is a writer. I didn’t ever think about being one myself. No, I was an academic, an artist, a health nut — not a writer.

But it was the first time anyone had suggested it to me so simply. And I thought, “Huh. Maybe I should be.”

I started writing right away. That was it. All it took was a suggestion to make me feel like I had to write, like I owed it to myself.

Yes, it’s easy to pin down the moment when I decided to be a writer, but it’s harder to say where the blog idea originated.

I started following blogs in grad school, before I was calling myself a writer: Mommypotamus, The Elliot Homestead and Homemade Mommy. I was determined to learn everything about real food. I was obsessed so I started thinking about starting my own blog about my real food journey as a single, working, broke girl.

The problem with that was that I am not scientific. I got As in school, but that’s just because I studied my butt off for those classes. Nothing actually clicked.

So naturally, like all of my other “passions,” the food fire died down, and I was left with the burning need to write… and another fire that I’ve always dumped water on: art.

I started writing. I started brainstorming blog ideas. I knew I couldn’t just write about life and inspiration. I had to have some sort of narrow focus. And I knew, somewhere deep down inside that it had to be art.

I started easing in that direction.

I started the blog. I kept researching, reading and following other bloggers. And art slowly moved to the front of my brain until finally it was so obvious I couldn’t ignore it anymore.

Everything in my life was pointing to art. An art center hired me — total fluke, never would have applied, but landed it somehow. They were displaying my art in their gallery. I found myself drawn to books about art — Monuments Men, What are you looking at, Art Forger. My boss was asking me to create artwork to sell in our gift shop. I was daydreaming of Paris, learning French and falling in love with the Impressionists.

It’s like God stopped trying to gently nudge me in that direction, and started yelling and throwing things at me: “Stop wasting the talent I gave you!”

Okay! Okay. I’m doing it. 🙂

I’m writing this blog for two reasons.

One, to help me do it. I love writing, it’s always been easy for me. I could sit down and dump 1000 plus words in an hour. Visual art is more intimidating because it’s more permanent. I put more pressure on myself to make it perfect and meaningful. So writing is like using a crowbar to pry open the locked gates to my creativity.

Two, I’m doing this because I know other people are in the same place in one or more ways.

  • I’m trying to pursue this while I work full-time at a nonprofit — lots of hours.
  • I am not confident in my ability to create art that matters.
  • I have never felt like my talent was important, or that it could ever help anyone.
  • I try to go after everything but the one thing that I am actually uniquely good at.

I feel blessed for the wake-up call, late though it may be, and I’m so pumped to help other people have the same wake-up call!

My personal focus is visual art, but this applies to all creative pursuits. It takes time and hard-work, but it’s worth it. It is important, even if you don’t know why yet. And it’s so important to use your gifts! I know it in my head, but I want to know it in my heart: my art is important, and I can make a difference with it. You can too.

What do you think? Are you an artist? Do you deal with some of those problems? I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below!