Category Archives: Watercolor

I was gaining momentum…

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…and then my custom illustration output had to be put on hold as I re-examined my to-do list. Which is a shame because I really, really enjoy working on them.

Like this foxy guy.

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They’re actually not entirely on hold, since I’m painting what I can here and there, but progress is slooooooooooooow. But mark my words, they will get done!

I’m loving all the various requests so much, I’ve scanned them all with a vague notion of showcasing them together at some point. So many plans, so many hopes. When will human cloning become a viable option?

 

Happy Easter + Randomness

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Happy Friday! Do you have big Easter plans? Every year, we get together with our neighbors and have an epic egg hunt followed by brunch in our yard (weather permitting). We’re all transplants and it’s become a much-anticipated tradition. There are usually at least 10 kids running around, and it’s a madhouse in the best possible way. I keep wondering when K will be too old for egg hunts…I’ve got my fingers crossed that we’re still good for a couple more years.

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Sometimes K stumps me with her questions:

Mama, would you rather be rich with one arm or poor with three arms?

It seems like it would be useful, but I’m trying to figure out how I would use three arms…

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Have a wonderful weekend everyone! I’m off to go prepare for the egg hunt/brunch!

Plastic eggs and sweets
Bacon, pancakes, food galore
Easter fun fun fun

 

Happy Friday + Randomness

horse-illo

Happy Friday! I meant to have a sneak peek of my upcoming children’s book today, but due to some unexpected snafus and technical problems on my part, I was foiled — I’m hoping for better luck next week!

I’m working on the custom illustrations from what is now an embarrassingly long time ago, and as my mother-in-law would say, the whole process is moving “slower than molasses in January.” I just hope I’m still not apologizing this time next year! The horse above is one of the few I’ve been able to finish. My scanner lost quite a bit of the details, but I actually like this version.

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Early in the morning yesterday:

K: Mama! You look so tired! You shouldn’t go outside — you have big fat lines under your eyes…

Me: I do? That’s okay, I don’t really care what I look like.

K: No, I don’t mean that. I’m saying you shouldn’t go outside because I’m worried you might fall asleep and collapse while you’re walking.

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Have a wonderful weekend, my friends! Postings might get a little spotty these next few weeks as I enter the last couple months of working on book #2. I’ll do my best to stay up to date here, though I must ‘fess up that I’ve officially caught the instagram bug and can be found there pretty regularly now (can’t.stop.following.people – so much inspiration! It’s like my first blush of Pinterest obsession all over again). It’s probably the cause of those big fat lines under my eyes…

I’m telling myself
I will not get overwhelmed
Not sure it’s working*

*It would probably help if I’d cut back on the social media. But oh, all the pretty images!

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

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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

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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:

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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…

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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

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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

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!

 

Third Grade!

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Today is the day. “I’m so nervous and excited, Mommy,” K has been telling me every few hours for the last week. Third grade! Somehow, this seems major in a way even kindergarten wasn’t. Time is stampeding away, and I am helpless and doddering in its wake. But the start of school brings with it the sensation of a fresh sojourn, renewed energy and extra time. I for one, could use all three.

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I made a dress. And last night I furiously worked on a cardigan she requested, because the weather’s been capricious lately. She’s equipped with a backpack from the GAP, a bento-style lunch box, aqua sneakers. We have a tradition to measure her height on the first day of school, and I can’t wait to see how much she’s grown.

I get so emotional on the first day of school…maybe even more than K.

P.S. I’ll show you the dress next week! K picked out the fabric and everything.

Happy Friday + Randomness

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Happy Friday! Lately, I’ve been making a concerted effort to make sure I do all of the things that I know put me in a good mood. Aimless painting is one of those things. I grab a piece of paper, and just paint whatever I see or am thinking about.

kaizen3I appear to think about clothes a lot. And flowers.

I have to confess that I’m not loving the Mon-Wed-Fri blog schedule. It’s throwing me off and I don’t know why. I used to get a tingly, energized feeling every day as I pondered, “what will I write/draw/sew/photograph for tomorrow?” The daily schedule (with a little breathing room on the weekends) kept me on my toes, forcing me to think of variety. I thought that by reducing the days, I would focus on quality versus quantity and free up much needed time, but I feel like I’m becoming too predictable and rote. I’m having difficulty describing it — I love routine, and clearly don’t mind doing the same thing over and over, but I don’t like things to feel stale and stuck. Sometimes when I’m writing my posts, I pause and wonder, “Wait, have I written this before?” Is this what a rut is?

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Recently I found out about this Japanese word, kaizen. I must have been listening to a podcast, or maybe I read an article online. It translates to “good change” but is more about incremental improvements. Baby steps. Slow and steady progress. It’s a bit like beginner’s mind but with a sense of purpose to continually improve. I stopped dead in my tracks when I heard the word, and realized that I’ve been standing still mentally — worse, I’ve been a hamster running on an ever-dizzying circular treadmill, going nowhere. Not that it should always be about striving and goal-setting and achievements, but what I thrive on is learning new skills, being okay with mistakes and just plodding along reveling in the process, chortling to myself at my ridiculousness the whole time.

This second book I’m working on is hard for me. Not in the way it’s hard to go to yoga or eat a salad instead of pizza — something you know that if you do it, you’ll be better off. Hard in a Oh-God-I’m-totally-sucking-at-this-and-feel-like-I’m-rehashing-blog-content-and-they’re-going-to-ask-for-my-advance-back-except-I’ve-already-spent-it-on-my-supplies-and-summer-camps-and-maybe-I-should-use-a-pseudonym sort of way. Every time I hint that this whole book business isn’t all kumbaya, I feel horrible and that I ought to be extolling how lucky I am and how great it is. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a dream actualized, but I’ve done and am doing a few things I don’t recommend for anyone else.

For one, I agreed to produce something in a timeframe that I knew was super tight, ignoring that I’m not twenty anymore when I could churn out 50-page papers without sleeping for days. Starting in the summer was also a terrible move – camps aren’t cheap. Then my perfectionist self started to weasel itself into everything I did, and the joy of creating steadily leaked out, leaving an engulfing sense of ennui. I began comparing myself to everyone who’s ever written a book, and let me tell you, that’s a buzz kill in every way. I was riddled with this need to prove myself and then my brain would shut down from feeling inadequate. Basically, I’m taking myself way too seriously. And that’s never a good idea.

Luckily, my editor seems to have telepathic powers and offered me an extension on my first major deadline and a little extra time in general. I was so grateful as I was panicking that I was going to turn in something I wasn’t at all proud of, and that would have sent me over the edge. I glommed onto this gift of time and decided I needed a major shift. I had to get back into my kaizen mode again, which is what made blogging and sewing and everything else so fun and gratifying. The thing is, when I’m disgruntled while making something, I can pretty much guarantee that it’ll be fit for no one.

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So I’ve been enjoying the last days of summer with my family and friends, hanging out in coffee shops writing, painting/drawing, reading, exercising, sewing and organizing. This little reference sheet is something I’ve been yearning to do for months. I cut out the little labels that the watercolor pans come wrapped in, stuck them on cold press paper and added little painted splotches so I can match up the colors with their names. It pleases me that it’s a little wonky and uneven, but it’s functional and (I think) beautiful. The set itself is gorgeous. The watercolor half pans come in a wooden case with a ceramic mixing dish. I feel extra fancy when painting with this set filled with a whopping 70 colors.

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After neglecting my tolerations list for several months, I finally tackled quite a few items this week: fully rearranged and streamlined the master bedroom closet; K and I finished painting the living room trim that I left half-undone 12 months (!!) ago. Ticking these items off of my list makes me breathe easier, inches life forward in small measured improvements.

I’m working on the book too, and not just cavorting in the sunlight or busying myself with freewheeling and unessential projects, but I can tell that pairing the book-making with tried-n-true activities that add a dose of kaizen is helping me slowly but surely regain the enthusiasm that was waning. I heard this quote by Brené  Brown the other day: “Don’t puff up, don’t shrink, just be yourself”. It’s her mantra, and I just might have to steal it. I was trying to puff up in trying to act as though I know what I’m doing with this behemoth book project (or at least it feels that way to me), then I shrunk into a puddle of excessive self-doubt, but all I can do is be myself and hold onto what I know to be worthwhile.

Why is that so hard to remember?

In lieu of a haiku, here’s a poem K wrote for me this week. It just about sums everything up:

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Our minds are as wide as the universe

Our thoughts will come and go. The sun may rise
The wind may whisper but love is deeper than the ocean below.
The song of heaven the angels sing.  good Things
The future will bring. I feel Love. My heart is touched
I have a person Loved.*

*I took the liberty of editing it just a touch.

P.S. I’ll continue with the M-W-F schedule just a little longer, but you just might see me back here daily again soon…

 

 

Happy Friday + Randomness

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Happy Friday! First, thank you so much for all the kind comments last week, I’ve read them all multiple times!! I was delighted by how many people liked things as they are, and I also appreciated the suggestions. I will work hard on incorporating them! The four randomly chosen Drygoods gift certificate winners are: Dottie, Jing, Beccy and Grace. Congrats!!!

Second, the photoshoot was a blast! Keli generously allowed us to use her Drygoods Design studio (did you hear that they’re moving to a new gorgeous space?), and we were productive and tried a variety of ideas and time just flew — like that random bird illustration I have up there. Can you tell that I’m scrounging to come up with a relevant reason for that image? I just liked it.

Michelle (the photog) and Tristan (the stylist) deserve accolades of the highest order. In fact, they’re both exceptional at both photography and styling and organizing, and I found myself taking a lot of mental notes to improve my own skills. I really really love working with them. It made the photoshoot feel even more legit and lively having the editor and art director and an intern there as well. I learned so much. Tristan did a fun post on part of the cover shoot prep process and you can get some sneak peeks, though we’re all very careful about not revealing what the cover will look like. Day two at the light and airy Studio 207 today!

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K: Mama, when can I get my own ipad?

Me: When we think you’re ready, sweetie.

K: Aw man, that means, “never, and don’t even think about it”*…

She’s awfully bright, our little one.

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Happy, happy weekend! I have something a bit unscheduled for you on Monday and will push out the usual K outfit to Wednesday, when K turns – holy cow – eight!!!!!

We’re taking the train
Portland, we’re headed your way
Fun plans in the works!

 

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