Category Archives: Gouache

Happy Friday + Randomness

2015-summer-vacation

Happy Friday! So, yesterday marked the third year of this little virtual notebook/sketchbook of mine. Three years that whisked right on by, full of surreal and life-altering changes, the whole nine yards. My thoughts are still very much aligned with what I pondered for my second “blogiversary” here (why, oh why are there so many unpalatable words associated with blogs, including the word “blog”??)

I’ve decided to do something different and will take two weeks off from here. My mom is coming on Sunday, I’ve got a huge deadline on August 3rd, two birthday parties to plan (M’s and K’s), and I want to spend some time away from here to see what ideas bubble up as I ease into the fourth year of blogging. It’s my summer vacation from all things online to reconnect with people and tactile, physical stuff.

I will, of course, miss you and will be sorely tempted to post something because I’m an incorrigible creature of habit, but this feels like a good thing to do. I have visions of a recharged, refueled, much more relaxed me.

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Bon voyage, adieu
Wish you a lovely two weeks
Back on August third

P.S. I will post two months’ worth of income information the week I return…

P.P.S. Furoku #5 will go out as scheduled at the end of the month-ish, and if I get my act together, I’ll finally get the sign-up button on the sidebar!

Happy Friday + Randomness

lots-o-watermelons

Ah, summer vacation…it’s finally here. We’ve flitted from one end-of-the-school-year party to another these past few days, and we have consumed frightening amounts of ice cream and watermelon, sometimes together. I’m in full anticipation mode for the upcoming aimless, schedule-less moments until the camps kick in. I was pretty on the ball this year and have K signed up for a number of half-day camps, and I’m particularly excited about coding (yes, computer programming) camp that she specifically requested. How are your summers looking so far?

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I have much sewing and photo-taking to do, and am keeping it short for today. Have a wonderful weekend, all!

An outing with friends
Tea parties and starfish*:
a winning combo

*K and I went to one of the prettiest parks in Seattle called Carkeek with friends yesterday. It’s a vast recreational area with open fields, a play area (which includes a salmon-shaped slide) and a beach. The plan was to have a tea party for our girls and to then let them roam around and splash about on the beach; I was not expecting my friend to be so prepared — she brought a small table and an impressive array of afternoon tea paraphernalia. We plunked the table down in the middle of the field and had a proper tea party rivaling the one from Alice in Wonderland. The kids then zoomed off and found dozens of starfish in the tide pools. It feels like summer.

Joie de Vivre

joiedevivre

Just a quick “Joie de Vivre” image today. It felt like I was continually on the go this past weekend and haven’t had much time to process Mother’s Day or the launch party or the author signing event I did at K’s school on Friday. I am wiped out, but joyful.

I’ll be back with updates on Wednesday. I hope everyone had a lovely weekend!

I was gaining momentum…

custom-illo

…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.

fox-with-scarf

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

2015-easter

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

 

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.

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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!

To be Shiny

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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

 

Third Grade!

2014-firstdayofschool1

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.

2014-firstdayofschool2

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.

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