Category Archives: Gouache

Happy Thanksgiving


Just a little note to wish you and all your loved ones a spectacular Thanksgiving! We’ll have our usual unconventional movie + Chinese food Thanksgiving of ultra low stress. Since I won’t need to slave over the stove, I’ll be using the extra time to sew a recital dress for K, work on the annual Advent calendar (see previous ones here and here and here) and finish up the next Furoku (it might be a day or two late…).

I have so many thanks to give. Too many, really, and I think I’ll leave it at that. I am sending you all a flurry of good thoughts, and I’ll be back next week with some fun updates. Happy Turkey (or in my case, Dim Sum) Day!!


P.S. I will be participating in Indies First Day at Queen Anne Books on Saturday, November 28th at 10am. Stop on by if you’re around!


Happy Friday + Randomness


Happy Friday! I’m scuttling toward un-sickness, and I’m optimistic that I’ll be all better before the end of the weekend. I had a good day yesterday, a day full of lovely moments and quirkiness. As we walked to school in the drizzly morn, K and her friend spotted two ginormous mushrooms flanking a tree trunk (they were red, but I painted only one in blue — I’m going through a Picasso phase).


And then amid the remnants of Halloween decorations, I saw a carved pumpkin carriage.




I splurged on and thoroughly savored a slice of olive oil apple bundt cake at the ridiculously charming Coyle’s Bakeshop and chit chatted with a new friend.


On a long walk back to pick up K, I passed a nail salon and caught a glimpse of a much, much older gentleman getting a manicure from a tiny woman with a bun.


And speaking of buns, when the walk became too much and I boarded a bus, I sat behind a woman with an expertly coiffed updo. I couldn’t help but notice the haphazardly inserted pen in her hair.


I was able to cut out most of the fabric pieces for my ongoing Ginger Skinny Jeans project.

Yes. A good day.

Have a refreshing weekend, all!


Gonna make porridge
in my crock pot this weekend
mmmm mmmm mmmm can’t wait





Madame Frump No More


When I was a young lass toiling over catalog page layouts amid the design-y and stylish citizens of Williams-Sonoma / Pottery Barn HQ, I used to spend a lot of time and effort on my appearance because everyone around me sashayed about in beautiful attire. One of my good friends and co-workers — he of the vintage couture connoisseurship and wearer of thrifted Ferragamo loafers — would appraise my daily outfits and give me a thumbs up or down. We had the sort of honest and hilarious relationship that was blatantly modeled after Sex and the City, except I wasn’t as cool as Carrie and he was way cooler than Stanford (though technically, we both wanted to be Carrie). One day, when I was developing what seemed suspiciously like pink eye and generally felt unsexy and un-urban, I showed up to work in a pilled, shapeless sweater and baggy pants.

My friend’s hands flew to his cheeks and he uttered in horror, “Ay Mamacita*, what happened? You look like… Madame Frump!!”

*He was from the Dominican Republic

Fast forward many, many, many years, and I am Madame Frumpin’ it hardcore. I look like that illustration above on a good day. At least that has a sporty vibe and is acceptably like the ubiquitous “momiform”. I did rustle up deeply hidden energy to wear normal clothes on the few occasions I was meeting people for the first time or for special events — it’s always a good idea not to be mistaken for a homeless person. For most of the last six months in particular, though, I’ve been reaching for pretty much the same three t-shirts and stretch pants. The other issue is that in my enthusiastic embracing of the KonMari method before I got caught up in deadlines, I’d vigorously emptied out my closet. You’d think that if I kept only what sparked joy, I would look presentable, but no, apparently dumpy clothes light me up. Perhaps in the chaos of this last year, I yearned for comfortable and forgiving garments with elastic waists.

BUT. No more, I say, no more!

Now that I’ve cleared away most of the bookishness haze and I actually have a manageable to-do list, I’m eager to revamp my handmade wardrobe. Would this be considered completely non-essential? Yes. But I am a staunch believer in the power of clothes and have had a perennial love affair with them. I’ve experienced how differently people treat me depending on how I’m dressed (let me tell you, the dirty tee and leggings combo doesn’t garner a lot of respect), but more to the point, I’m acutely aware of how I feel in clothes. Beautifully-made, well-fitting clothes are inherently uplifting and confidence boosting. And who doesn’t want a more positive and self-assured person around?

Of course, it’s going to take me a bit or maybe a lot to get to the revamped, lovely me-made wardrobe of my dreams, but I’m prepping my fabrics, sorting through my patterns, firing up my sewing machine and iron.

Goodbye Madame Frump, hellooooooo….well, something better, I hope.

Stay tuned.


Happy Friday + Randomness


It’s been quiet around here, which means things are bustling in the background. I have much to share, but one of the highlights of last week was a Little Kunoichi event. It was my last scheduled event and was held at a beautiful Japanese gift shop/gallery called KOBO. There may be some more events in the future, but that particular book reading capped what I considered the launch season. My book has been out for almost five months, can you believe it? I just found out that someone’s seen it in Madagascar!!! What??

At any rate, I’ve learned some notable tidbits from doing these events:

1. I am the worst promoter ever – I actually ran into some friends right before the event and didn’t even invite them because I was so timid about it. I’ve been tsk-tsking myself for days.

2. And when you don’t promote your own events, not many people show up (average number of attendees: 5, not including my own family members). Cozy and intimate events, these are. I was all gung ho and invited everyone and their distant second cousins to the launch party back in May, and about 100 people showed up for that event — just goes to show you that I can do it if I set my mind to it.

3. And when not many people show up, you don’t sell very many books.

I’m going to have to work on this. I’m much more comfortable in front of people now, which has been a lovely side bonus from the series of book readings I’ve done, and I’ve really beefed up my illustrating-on-the-fly skills (I offered custom illos for some of the events). I can whip up a watercolor dolphin in five minutes flat. I really love creating little paintings, especially for kids.

I’ve also been including a fun presentation about how the book came to fruition, and the part that seems to make people perk up is the cover options we went through. I’ve collaged together the versions that I presented up there, and the one of the lower left corner was the winner, but with a caveat: the colors needed to be brighter. The background and ninja uniform then went through various hue iterations, and it was fascinating to see the business side of developing a cover. It is, despite the general pleas to never judge a book by its cover, the most important element. Everyone took it very seriously. Which is pretty funny when talking about ninja girls and pet bunnies.

Alright, must go focus on the elusive sorcery that is book-making. Will be back some time next week!!

How do these weeks zoom?
Could’ve sworn it was Monday
but no, weekend time…

Happy Friday, and happy weekend to all!


Happy Friday + Randomness


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.


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


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?


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


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…


…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.


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


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.


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…


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.


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.



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.



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!

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