Category Archives: Illustration

Happy Friday + Randomness

moon-phase

Happy Friday! Sometimes don’t you wish you could pluck the moon and sun from the sky, put them into a container and take them out only when you need them? As I typed that it dawned on me that we use celestial movements as markers of the passage of time, but they aren’t time itself. I need a refresher course in the fourth dimension. The power to stop time…maybe in the future someone will figure out how to make it into an app.

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K: Look Mama! The froggies are breeding — that means they’re making babies. Just like you and Daddy did!*

*We finally had a successful discussion about the birds and the bees. As predicted, I was at my awkwardest, and she was completely grossed out.

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Abby-Sophia
You’re the giveaway winner!
Cute sock softies time

Have a wonderful weekend all!

Arrows

many-arrows

 

sometimes. life shoots arrows

that pierce blindly

the released air

sounds

like sighs of sadness

or

hiccups of laughter

or maybe

gasps of wonder*

*I am having a week in which the highs and lows are engaged in a major tug-of-war. So for today, this is all.

A Debt-Free Life Finale + Custom Illustration Giveaway! [CLOSED]

moneystory-elephantEvicting the roommates was a swift affair once I called in the big guns. You’ll remember from last time that they had stopped paying rent and the situation was dire. M flew in from Seattle to “negotiate” (a punched hole in the wall was involved as I recall – the Czech girl’s boyfriend was the temperamental sort). I was cowering somewhere out of sight and didn’t witness the event. The couple left with a string of muttered Czech words trailing behind, cursing my name, I’m sure. Freed from thongs and mountainous cigarette ashes, I advertised for a new roommate, and a lovely woman who loved to clean moved in. Though we became friends and our apartment looked less destitute, by now, my whole experience in my beloved city seemed…wrong.

Yes, I loved my job working on the Pottery Barn catalog, and happily arranged photos of sofas and sconces into layouts. I sighed with contentment every morning as I entered the beautifully designed office space, and I delighted in pow-wowing about various shades of the hue du jour with the Color Manager (it’s true, there was actually someone with that job title and her main responsibility was to make sure the colors looked right in the catalog). But the pay left a lot to be desired, and the truth was that I really wasn’t the type to climb the corporate ladder.

As for my second job, I convinced myself that my moonlighting gig as a dispatcher for a community safety program was a good use of my time — it entailed recording activities in the downtown area while rovers/safety officers roamed the streets or “beats” to make sure that all was kosher. “Beat 1, report condition, over,” I would say authoritatively into a walkie talkie while sitting in a small office in downtown, and the walkie talkie would crackle, “All clear, over” or “Code 235, over” (translation: drunken homeless activity resulting in injury, call an ambulance asap). Etcetera. Food stamp dissemination days were raucous and dangerous. The pay, as you can imagine, was laughable.

All I seemed to do was work. And still, I was broke.

**

When faced with debt, there are only three rational steps to take:

1. Reduce spending

2. Increase incoming funds

3. Both of the above

But if humans were rational creatures, none of us would be in debt or overweight or anorexic or in unhealthy relationships. We would all live in clutter-free homes and crime wouldn’t exist. Procrastination would be a myth and therapists would be obsolete. We are irrational beings, filled with emotional compulsions, habitual impulses, family values absorbed or scorned, social influences, primal needs and wants, the propensity to find justification — all these factors are viewed through the various filters that are like fun house mirrors. They warp and twist and distort the simple equation of rationality. It’s what makes us wholly fallible and profoundly creative.

I was doing my best at being rational and taking all the correct steps: I’d cut all the non-essential spending I could, worked two jobs, nixed my social life. Yet, I could constantly feel the familiar and tantalizing tug of “maybe if I buy that [insert some shiny object], I’ll feel better. I deserve a little something for working so hard.” The more I resisted, the stronger the irrational pull. It was only because of M and the astronomical guilt I felt about his generosity that I didn’t succumb. Okay, I did succumb once in a while. But rarely. Despite my efforts, though, I wasn’t making fast enough progress on my debt-reduction plan.

I hadn’t fooled anyone and I knew that the San Francisco life I originally tried to create was like visiting the Hollywood studios. The artfully constructed sets look great from the front and on the surface, but a quick peek would show you that there was nothing behind them — just the backside of the cheap plywood structure hastily erected and a tangle of messy wires. I’d dismantled my little land of make believe and it didn’t feel liberating at all. Just empty and sad. I needed to learn how to build real things. Solid, immutable, deeply valuable things.

It was time to leave San Francisco. M and I had been discussing the possibility of my joining him in Seattle and I figured that if I was avoiding all social contact in SF, I might as well move to a more affordable place where I knew no one save M, and earnestly work on getting rid of my debt. So in March of 2002, I said a solemn and defeated good-bye to the city of lights and headed to Seattle.

**

I am going to fast forward here because I feel like I need to get to the point. The next phase was a lot of slogging through. So much happened, mostly bad, and M and I teetered on the edge of dissolution for many years. We lived together in one frightening apartment after another (I’ve since discovered that it’s his specialty to find scary living quarters, but they were cheap). With the dot com debacle, jobs were scarce and M had trouble finding work. I was lucky enough to interview at several good companies and worked an insane night shift position that paid the best out of my options. We had no car so I rode a bus across town at 11:30pm to basically babysit petulant workers unaccustomed to supervision, then I took two more buses after I slept a couple of hours to tutor rich high school kids in English literature. While working the night shift, I became friends with the grocery clerks at the Safeway down the street because I had nowhere else to go at 3am on my breaks. I was intrigued and inspired that my friends had saved up enough money to send their kids to college with their cashiering job, and seriously considered applying myself and punt the tutoring job. However, I was promoted to a daytime position after a year so I put the cashier idea to rest.

At this point, my income was over $60,000 and I was getting regular bonuses and raises each year. I covered all expenses as my repayment to M and that included rent, utilities, our phone bills, his gym membership and whatever he charged on his credit card. For two years, all I did was work and pay bills. By the middle of 2004, my student loans were paid off 5 years ahead of schedule. And in December of 2004, I opened my tracking notebook as I did every month, and I’d finally hit the magic number: $13,000. In one year and nine months, I paid M back in full — my $30,000 debt was gone. Two months later, M proposed.

moneystory-finale

 

I often wished for a magic bullet while I was in debt and in the back of my mind I thought that if I looked hard enough, I’d find it. I wanted to pay it all off without anyone knowing, while maintaining a stylish appearance. No magic bullet exists, of course. Yes, I was blessed by M’s magnanimous nature, and if it weren’t for him, I probably would have continued accruing more debt at the rate I was going. He’s the hero of this whole story. In accepting his money though, I’ve wondered if I ended up paying a greater price: M may never fully trust me with money. We’ve talked about this. And maybe he shouldn’t. Maybe it’s an important awareness for both of us to have — that I am prone to trying to keep up with the Joneses, that I tend to fill emptiness and insecurity with material acquisitions, that it’s easy for me to revel in the brief high of feeling like I belong because I have the right bag, the right pair of jeans, the right smart phone.

It’s now been 10 years since I paid that last bill, and we’ve remained debt-free. To get here, I’ve had to find ways to make more money, spend less, lather, rinse and repeat. But the two most important ingredients for me, I found, were accountability and removing myself from surroundings that triggered my spending. As long as I kept my debt shrouded in secret and continued to interact with people that I wanted to impress, I kept digging deeper holes for myself.

It’s been hard, this unmasking. I’ve spent many years thinking about how I let my spending get out of hand, and beyond the usual explanations of wanting to fit in or the lesson of learning how to accept myself, I needed to understand how to stay debt-free. To create practical new habits. We make conscious and sometimes embarrassing choices to this end. We rent a run-down townhouse that fits squarely in our budget and drive a jalopy that is a far cry from the Lexus I declared I’d cruise around in when I was fresh out of college. But we bought it with cash and it runs just fine. We don’t use credit cards. Ever. We have savings and never touch it. I choose my friends carefully. Most of all, I listen intently for that tantalizing call to pretend to be someone I’m not — it’s how I know I shouldn’t be in a particular situation or with a certain person.

I’ve realized over and over that whenever I act out of a need for external validation, my life starts to veer off in the wrong direction. It hasn’t been just the debt. My health suffered by staying in jobs that sounded impressive. There were many bad relationships based on dating guys who fit the “right” mold, the kind of boys other people would approve of that I didn’t actually connect with. I ardently believed I needed to be thin to be accepted, so I dieted like a maniac. And on and on and on. The debt, however, was one of my biggest lessons to date. It was easy to buy an image on credit, to borrow the illusion of happiness with the best of intentions to pay it back later when I hoped my projected image and happiness would have solidified into reality. Except it didn’t happen that way.

I have more to say, but my story is at its end. I think there are many, many ways to go about eliminating debt if that is something affecting your life. My way was unglamorous and filled with shame for many years, but only because I made it that way. I believe it can be done with dignity. I’m clearly not a personal finance expert so I don’t have answers, but I do know this: most of my possessions now are humble or secondhand or wonkily handmade, but I’ve never felt richer. I have my health. And my family. And good friends. And time to create. These, I believe, are the true currencies of a rich and happy life. One more thought: after ten debt-free years, I am finally learning how to build real things. Solid, immutable, deeply valuable things.

perspective

****

And now for the Giveaway!! With 2015 rapidly approaching, perhaps some of you have New Year’s goals or resolutions in mind? I have a piece of paper stuck above my sewing machine with the word “gratitude” — I’ve long stopped consciously noticing it, but I find it to be a helpful reminder when my eyes occasionally focus on it. I also like the word “perspective”. I wonder if you would like a customized illustrated word of your own? Or maybe a cute animal or a portrait of your child(ren) wearing an outfit? Amber brought up the custom illustration idea and I thought it sounded like loads of fun.

I would love to offer 10 custom 5 x 7″-ish illustrations. They will be original watercolors on coldpressed paper. To enter, it’s a bit interview-esque, but I liked this question that my editor asked me recently: “What would you like to be doing in five years?” For me, I’d like to be working on another book or two and have my own studio where I’m cranking out beautiful clothes and fun illustrations and much-improved photography!

I will keep the giveaway open until Christmas and will announce the winner shortly after. I don’t need to mention that international folks are more than welcome by now, right? Good luck!

Thank you for reading
My tale of money matters
Parts 1, 2, 3, 4

P.S. My mama is in town and ’tis the holiday season, so I will take next Monday and Wednesday off. Merry, merry!

Happy Thanksgiving: Free Printable

dala-illo

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and despite my best efforts to ignore it, it seems that the holiday season is in full swing. I’m thankful for so many things, and you, my friends, are on the short list. As a small token of my appreciation, I have a holiday printable for you: Dala horses! I’ve always loved this Swedish holiday motif, and I doodled some up and thought they would make sweet tags/cards. Here’s what the whole sheet looks like, printable on 8.5 x 11″ paper:

dala-horses-example

I still haven’t mastered the whole downloadable/printable thing, so if you run into any issues, please let me know, yes? I believe the file seems to work best when downloaded onto your computer rather than trying to print directly from the window…

dala-download-button

If you are celebrating turkey day, I hope it’s filled with loved ones and enduring, good memories. And if you’re not celebrating this All-American holiday, well, I still hope it’s filled with loved ones and enduring good memories.

I’m taking Friday off to party like rockstars with my little nuclear family, and I’ll see you back here on Monday, with a giveaway. xo!

Happy Friday + Randomness

stickers-for-you

Happy Friday! A truly random bit of info: almost every Sunday, M has what we call “DDT” or Daddy Daughter Time. He started this tradition when K was about a year old, and takes her out on a date each week. Their time together ranges in activity: bike riding or a scoop of ice cream or just lounging around. It’s a win-win all around because while they bond, I get to sneak in some extra work (or fun) time. And almost every Sunday, I go to the same coffee shop and every once in a while, there is a little girl enjoying her own DDT. She’s about three-years-old with big sparkly eyes and a little bob, and she goes around handing out stickers to all the cafe patrons. I’ve gotten about six stickers to date and I stick them in my journal. So charming.

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K is super into making jokes and we thought this was a keeper:

Q: Why are singers always in charge of fights?

A: Because they have the opera hand.

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Have a wonderful weekend, friends!

There’s no school next week
Thanksgiving is upon us
We might eat Chinese*

*A few years ago, we went to a Chinese restaurant for turkey day because I didn’t have any time to cook anything (and we have no family in Seattle), and it turned out to be surprisingly festive and fun. We just may have a repeat performance since I’m in deadline mode…

 

 

To be Shiny

1-2-3

Last week, when I shared the Hudson pants, I was surprised by the number of people who commented on how harsh I was being about my (let’s face it), um, strong calves and other body parts. Of course, I appreciated how kind and encouraging the commenters were being, so I’ve done some thinking about that since then, prompted also by a conversation I had with K a few days ago. Here’s how the conversation went:

K: Mama, when you were a kid, did you have certain characteristics that you thought you would have when you grew up?

Me: What do you mean?

K: You know, did you think you would become beautiful or talented or something? Can you name three characteristics?

Me: Hmmmm…I don’t know…what do you think are yours?

K: Funny, musical and smart!

Isn’t that amazing? No hesitation whatsoever. And did you notice that I paused and deflected answering the questions? When pressed, I finally said, “smart, nice and creative”, though honestly, I wasn’t half as introspective as K is at her age so I was probably thinking about looking like Barbie. I noticed that something inside of me balked when I listed those descriptors. I’m sure it’s my Asian upbringing and general societal mores that frown upon tooting one’s horn, but I had a really hard time declaring positive qualities about myself.

funny-musical-smart

At the same time, I find it second nature to point out my less than perfect attributes. Though I am much more comfortable with myself now than I’ve ever been and therefore can openly talk about any “deficiencies” with what I consider gentle mockery, I’m also aware that it’s a sort of preemptive shield. If I say it myself, I keep my fingers crossed that no one else will.

All this reminds me of a moment from a few months ago, when K saw a book I’d checked out from the library titled “Shiny, Beautiful” or some such (it was about hair — my tresses could use some boost in the shiny, gorgeous department). She read the title aloud and said, “I feel beautiful all the time, Mama.” I hugged her and laughed with delight at her confidence but a teeny tiny part of me thought that she shouldn’t go around saying that in public.

But why?

She is beautiful. She should feel beautiful all the time. We’re all beautiful in our own, unique ways. We know this deep down, but we’re not allowed to say it, really. I’ve been thinking about how scared I am of standing out, of being shiny. I sometimes wonder if I’m reinforcing in K the same withholding I’ve absorbed for decades. I’m an old hat at ameliorating and I try to quickly utter something negative about myself, believing that it will put others at ease. It probably does though sometimes it has the opposite effect, but it feels like it chips away at an important part of me. Does that make sense? That tenuous line between self-deprecation (not good) and self-acceptance (good). The ubiquitous Marianne Williamson quote holds steady because it rings so true:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?

And this is endemic among women. We’ve become masters at downplaying. We get fearful of envy and jealousy. Of outgrowing or losing friends and loved ones. Of not being able to handle “success”, however we deem it. Or, most terrifying of all is that we will embrace the belief of the brilliance, the gorgeous, the talent, the fabulous, and discover that it was all a self-help, mumbo-jumbo sham and that we’re less than we’d ever assumed. Somehow, I don’t think that’s the case though.

beautiful

All the people — women especially — that I admire are the ones who are shiny and unafraid to be shiny. Not in a gold-plated-veneer way, but in a truly luminous and complicated sense, like the multi-layered sunrise I caught in the nick of time after climbing Mount Fuji all night (a pretty entertaining tale that I’ll share at some point). Brassy, bravado-infused glitter that doesn’t seem genuine tends to make me feel uncomfortable, and I do end up feeling inferior or somehow competitive. But the ones that really shine? They don’t go around announcing that they feel beautiful all the time, but you sense it in their word choices, their energy, the way they reach out to people unafraid to be exactly who they are. When someone is unapologetically themselves and I’m around them, I feel a little bit shinier too. Thoughts to ponder. I don’t have any solid answers on the how of achieving this luminosity, obviously, but I like to ruminate. And in the future, I will be much nicer to my calves.

so-shiny

Happy Friday + Randomness

2014-halloween-pumpkin

Happy Friday! I’m dragging my feet on the girl-transforming-into-werewolf costume for K and my pleas for her to wear the ninja costume tonight are falling on deaf ears. I obviously need to re-evaluate who’s the boss here.

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A random comment on the age-old game of tag by K:

I’m not that into being “it” these days. I’m totally over it.

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Alright, I better see if I can muster the energy to focus on assembling faux fur…Have a great weekend, friends!

Happy Halloween!
Will you trick or treat tonite?
Chocolate’s my fave

Happy Friday + Randomness

kimono-girls

Happy Friday! This little illustration is totally random, but these little kimono girls make me happy. I hope you’ve had a wonderful week, and are gearing up for a fun weekend. I’m keeping it sweet and short today since a certain 8-year-old wants me to sew up a rather involved Halloween costume.

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K on adolescence:

Mama, I hope I’m the kind of teenager that likes her parents…I hear teenagers are really mean.

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Have a lovely time
and wherever you may be
I hope you stay dry*

*It’s raining non-stop in Seattle. Ah, autumn….it’s funny, the rain has grown on me over the years.

rainandclouds

 

Happy Friday + Randomness

birdsandbees

Happy Friday! “Mama?” K asked the other day, “How is it that I have both your DNA and Daddy’s DNA? I don’t get it.” I gulped. At her eight-year wellness check during the summer, our pediatrician warned me that the questions will start. Not MY little girl, I thought smugly, I still have all the time in the world. But here we are, just two months after the warning, and K has been peppering me with some variation of this question almost every day.

So I ordered a book recommended by the pediatrician. Because let’s face it, I know myself and I will end up using weird, untechnical cute-sounding terminology (e.g. “weenis”) and completely botch up the explanation. I am utterly unprepared and unqualified for sex education for kids. My parents never even tried to broach the topic with me. I remember when I was about 11 and had some vague notion of reproduction, I genuinely wondered whether people took off their underwear. A German friend tells me that it’s such a non-issue in her native country, kids know all about the birds and the bees practically from birth. Ditto with a Dutch friend. It makes me want to move to Europe to soak in that blase attitude toward a subject that causes me to squirm when discussed publicly (being of Asian-descent raised by immigrant parents in the US exacerbates this, I think — I have never seen my parents hug, much less kiss. In their homeland, people bow to each other and celibacy is a hip and happening trend, for crying out loud).

The book arrived yesterday so I’m working up the courage to go through it with K this weekend. So awkward. Then again, if you think I’m bad, you should see M. He won’t touch the topic with a 1000-foot pole and has insisted I would be better at enlightening K. He’s got German roots so I don’t know what his excuse is.

Anyway. I’m subsisting on cough drops to avoid the usual bronchial infection I tend to get with every cold and I’m going to go binge-watch Game of Thrones season 3 (thanks for reminding me of the show, Greta!) as I build up my nerve to dive into the it’s-not-the-stork story with K.

Oh, the winner of the giveaway is Lacey, who studied linguistics. Congrats! I absolutely loved reading everyone’s favorite classes, areas of study, etc. So fun!

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Have an un-awkward, relaxing weekend, all!

No Monday Outfit
We’re switching thing up next week
Stay tuned for Friday*

*I’m featuring a cool indie pattern on Friday – I think you’ll like it!

 

2014 Fall Sewing Plans

2014-fall-sewing-plans

It’s like clockwork. The frenetic start of the school year eases into a predictable routine, the air tingles with promises of cozy sweater weather, and then, M or K comes home with a cold and BAM, I’m laid flat on my back, sniffling and coughing up a lung. Due to my wimpy immune system, even the mildest cold tends to hit me hard.

I’m determined to not get sucked into the illness vortex this time (last year I was fighting one ailment after another from November to February), so I’ve been slowing things down dramatically. Yesterday, I did nothing. Okay, I dragged myself to Trader Joe’s and ran a couple of errands as I always do on Tuesdays, but otherwise, zilch. And yes, I drew that illustration, but that took less time than you would imagine. Alright, alright, I may have cut out a pattern that I thought I might be able to sew up for today, but I stopped myself from proceeding beyond tracing out the pieces when the world started spinning.

My mom told me during her last visit in August that when I was a baby, I would work so hard on everything that she used to worry that I had some kind of compulsive disorder. Take walking, for example. At 9 months, I was so intent on walking, I would go at it full force, fall flat on my face, turn a lurid and frightening shade of crimson, get up with renewed vigor and do it over. Sometimes I would fall backwards and hit my head and knock myself out. And yet, I would continue relentlessly and without breaks. It seems to explain a lot about my current spotty brain functionality. It also makes me wonder why my mom didn’t babyproof a little better if I was concussing myself on a regular basis.

You’d think that I would have mastered walking quicker than most due to my persistence, but my mom said she couldn’t believe how long it took me to get the hang of it (months). When my younger brother came along and casually sauntered a few days after his ninth month without much of a stumble, my fanatical determination seemed doubly worrisome to my mom. The funny thing is, my brother and I have approached everything in much the same way our whole lives — effortlessly for him, unglamorously full of prolonged effort for me.

I’m not sure what made me think of that; wandering thoughts may be a symptom of this head cold. Anyway, I did have enough energy to start planning my fall sewing in a more structured way. Unlike last year’s out-of-control plan that I didn’t even come close to executing, this year, I have only three sewing projects and one super easy knitting venture on the docket: A wool zip-up vest, a plaid shirt (a must for Fall, no?), a pair of skinny jeans and a (gasp) cashmere knitted scarf. I’m going for quality vs. quantity, folks. I know I poo-poo’d knitting before, but I think I can manage a big rectangle…at least I hope I can. I’ll be using this book for the vest, but I’m researching patterns for the others. I’ve gotten some good skinny jeans recs from the Monday post, and I’m digging deeper. I’ll update this post with pattern candidates later!

For now, I’m off to brew up some Indian spice herbal tea with a touch of manuka honey and almond milk and will call it a day.

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