Saturday, February 16, 2019

Ugly Pictures From My Garden: Transition is Messy

 Last Saturday when the high was 39 I spent 3 hours in the garden trying to catch up. The weather has been unusually rainy and I have had so few decent days to get anything done that if the sun is shining I must use the day even if I have to wear 3 layers of clothes. It was all so ugly I didn't even take any pictures because the whole thing literally looked like a trash pit from a construction site.

I probably need to write a post about garden clutter because, Y'all, it's a thing! Old fencing, rotten stakes, things that had served a purpose but are busted or no longer needed. Can I just say it's a hard clean up because as any gardener knows you always really do need a piece of wire or a stake.  The question becomes how much?

Here are some pictures from last August so you can see how ugly transition can be. August isn't a particularly pretty month for the garden anyway but dang, this was just sad!

Every project looks terrible in the middle and you might wonder why you even started it.

On this particular day last summer I was feeling overwhelmed and wondering if I shouldn't just rip it all out and put in sod.

When you are in the middle of a project and start to feel like maybe you've made a mistake, do not give up!

Keep going and doing the next logical thing. I feel like every project has that moment of despair. I have sat down on the floor many times in the middle of something and cried because I couldn't go back and I wasn't sure what to do next to move forward. In the end, I'm always so happy I didn't quit. I mean look at these photos. I had to keep going just to clean up the ginormous mess I'd made.

In the next post, I'll be sharing about how far I've come since this depressing day but I wanted to show you that things don't magically happen no matter how pretty the Instagram photo is. Don't be discouraged if you have a big vision.

Just keep taking baby steps to work toward your goal!

In the next post, I'll cover what I've gotten done since these photos were taken and what I've been working on in the cold weather. 

Monday, February 11, 2019

How to Change Your Garden Style: Beginnings and Inspiration

When I first started gardening I adored English cottage gardens. When my children were small I created a Peter Rabbit garden and planted all the plants mentioned in the story. Over time that grew into a rambling colorful and a somewhat chaotic and often weedy jumble of flowers, herbs, and vegetables.

It had a messy natural charm but I would panic any time we had visitors because it always felt so untidy. There were always just so many weeds. 

Wild even...

But man, did it have its moments.

Usually in the early morning and in the evening.

Or rainy afternoons...

Still, in the mid-south on a lot next to a creek where every few years I do see a snake, it wasn't the kind of garden I walked in easily. I was always quite wary. It was weedy. I was always tripping over something when I was in a hurry. I often jumped when I mistook a mislaid garden hose for something slithery.

The magnitude of the job of reworking it helped me continue enjoying it the way it was. Ten years ago we added chickens and a couple of years later, bees. In the morning light, it really was just the most beautiful and comforting thing. I loved the rustic tendencies and how it all worked together.

But a couple of years ago I was sitting on the back porch and noticed that the garden kept encroaching as did the amount of work and that I was suddenly feeling a bit claustrophobic. Out of the blue, I craved order but still took no action. Then over the course of the past year, all of our chickens died off one by one and the day the last one went to that great coop in the sky I pulled up the fencing around the coop and was instantly filled with a sense of what could be.

Sometimes inspiration smashes in like a wave.

I spent the next month in the heat of a steamy southern July digging, transplanting, and hauling 2 tons of crushed limestone.

By the time I was finished I had revamped a third of the garden. The two thirds closer to the hives had to wait for winter so I could easily work around the hives without being buzzed by guard bees. I do regular maintenance around the hives in summer but major digging, scraping and possibly bumping the hives is not appreciated by the girls.

It's super tempting to want to go straight to planting, but hardscapes must be done first.

In the first part of the garden makeover hardly anything was planted except at the edges or in containers. I tended the herbs that were in the undisturbed herb bed and longed for cold weather so I could finish the garden. But life competes with big projects and after a month of travel, the holidays, and bronchitis I'm far behind where I planned to be at this point.

In the next post, I'll be sharing what I'm up to now, and what the current state of the garden is. 

Thursday, February 7, 2019

The Value of Living a Creative Life: Part 2

Now that we've talked about how to reclaim our creativity let's talk about how we benefit from living this way. If you missed Part 1 read it here. 

Intrinsic Value: 

The first reason is that it makes your life richer. The creative process, whether it's painting, knitting, gardening or decorating, brings joy. You feel in the "flow" where you lose all sense of time. There's a tactile joy in the feel of the needle going in and out of the quilt and that heightened sense of accomplishment when you have created something. There's the physical exhaustion and giddiness as the garden begins to take shape. There's an indescribable feeling of not wanting to be anywhere else while putting brush to canvas.

Social Connection: 

It also brings new people into your circle of friends as you meet up with others who share your passion. Every activity imaginable has social media pages and meetups where you can get to know fellow artists, quilters, or photographers. Once you find your creative passion it's super easy to find "your people"

Making Money: 

Now there's something that often happens when you are happily creating along minding your own business and maybe giving things away as gifts here and there. People will start to say "You should really start a business." And maybe you should! Certainly, if you have an entrepreneurial bent you may well want to sell your items to make a profit. This is the age of the side hustle and handcrafted items, photography skills, and artwork are all perfect things to organically grow into a business. If you think that's the path you are on then I recommend the book The $100 Start-Up  to see if turning your side hustle into your real hustle is for you. If that's your dream don't let anyone stop you!

I actually wrestled with this decision for a year. No, Y'all. Literally every day for a year. I can't tell you how many entrepreneurial podcasts I listened to or how many books and articles I read about starting a business. But after thinking about it for 365 days I woke up on December 31st and said: "You know what, God, I want an answer about this TODAY."

That morning I had to go to an attorney's office and while I sat waiting I overheard a conversation between two gentlemen one of whom could have been mistaken for Morgan Freeman. He and his wife had started a few years back flying to New York a few times and year and coming back to Memphis and selling them on Friday and Saturday. It was such a hit and they were having so much fun doing it that before he knew it, he said it was a seven day a week business. The fun went out of it and he and his wife became stressed out and unhappy.

The other man told a tale of a similar experience in real estate, collecting and fixing up rental properties. Fun at first, but in the end causing nothing but stress and woe. Both men were recounting how they'd sold their businesses and learned a lesson. Then Morgan Freeman looked right at me and said: "Everything doesn't need to be a business."

So there, from a stranger after asking everyone one I knew all year long whether I should make Pen and Hive a legit business, was my answer from a stranger. On the last day of the year when I'd worn myself out thinking about it for months. I know a brick wall when I see one. You know, usually. 

In this age of the side hustle, Shark Tank, fake it til you make it social media rampage it's easy to think that anything you are doing from blogging to making great salsa needs to be monetized. It doesn't. Even if everyone thinks you are missing a great opportunity, you have to know whether or not you would really be happy getting up every day and making 50 or 100 of the same thing. For me the idea of doing that makes me feel sick. I'm self-aware enough to know that while I love creating things and I'm thrilled that anyone would ever want to buy anything I create I know that I'm just not in it for the day in day out commitment a real business would take. I make the things I want to make and when it's gone it's gone. Plus, as a beekeeper, I'm hardly in charge of production. I work for the queen.

Do a little self-inventory to know if you have the personality to be your own boss.


What's funny is that I turn right around and do this to people all the time! I mean, I don't know what I should be doing but I definitely know what everyone else should be doing. I have a friend who does magical things with quilts. Seriously, after she explains how some of her stuff is made I'm still just so confused. I'm constantly telling her "You should sell these! You could make so much money!" But she doesn't want to do that. She tells me that she's making them for her daughter and grandchildren or friends. Each stitch contains both her love for her craft and also any recipient.

Which brings me to the last part of why living a creative life is important: You are creating a legacy. If you paint a picture or write a book or make a quilt that thing will exist long after you are gone. You will be creating a piece of, what I call, tangible joy. A physical item that contains and represents all the joy that you, the creator experienced while making it. If you have an heirloom made by a family member that has passed away then you know what I mean. It's a treasure and the effort and care of the person who made it is treasured.

Foster your creativity and see where it takes you. It may grow into a business that allows you to quit your day job or you may only make things that you share with friends or family. Either way, you are breathing joy into your life and creating a bit of tangible joy that will live on in the future as a gift to the world.

Monday, February 4, 2019

The Value of Living a Creative Life: Resurrecting Your Childlike Creative Self

This post is from a talk I gave over the weekend at the Fancy Little Flea on The Value of Living a Creative Life.

Close your eyes and think back to when you were creating something as a child. Maybe it was the first day of kindergarten when you opened your new box of crayons and colored with them. Smell the new crayon smell. Perhaps it was using finger paints or squishing Play Dough in your little fingers. Or was it digging in the dirt to make roads for your toy cars? Whatever it was remember the joy that you felt in that moment. Now let me ask you...

When was the last time you felt that way? 

Something happens to our creativity on the way to adulthood. Usually, some well-meaning adult convinces us that doodling on our math paper or daydreaming about characters in a story we're making up are wastes of time and we should be doing something more important. This is how we end up as adults believing that some people are just creative and others are not.

I would like to dispell that notion and challenge you to breathe life into your creative heart of hearts even if it's been wounded or asleep for a very long time. The best way to do that is to give yourself permission to try something new. Now if you are a regular reader you know that every year I challenge myself to learn one new thing.

Read My One New Thing a Year Challenge

Now while I understand that might be daunting for some of you, you should give yourself a safe and easy task, because I think if your creative mojo has been neglected for a long time you should be gentle with yourself. Make yourself a cup of coffee or tea and sit in your favorite spot in your house and breathe. Don't think that you are wasting time because it is a thing of great value to breathe in and out and appreciate being alive. Feel grateful for this time alone, give thanks for all the wonderful things in your life.

Now think about something you've always wanted to do but were afraid. It can be anything. Braiding a rug, taking a trip alone, painting your dining room a color that you love but that isn't trendy. (Which as we all know right now is white. Or maybe gray if you feel all crazy.) Would the world end if you painted a room pink, or yellow, or plum?

Now, what feeling comes up when you imagine doing this thing you would like to do? You don't even have to tell me because I already know.

It's fear. 

Fear of what other people will think. Fear of failure. Fear that you won't like it. Maybe even fear that you are opening Pandora's Box of creativity if you succeed. Yes, fear of success is a real and very powerful thing. But what if you weren't afraid? Your childlike self wasn't afraid of trying and failing until an adult (most likely in the education system) made you terrified of being wrong. Before someone taught you that giving the right answer was the most important thing and if you didn't know it you should just keep quiet with your hand down. Too many of us have been keeping our hands down ever since.

Imagine taking your little kid self by the hand and telling her that it's okay now. That it's safe and she can try new things and experiment and create all she wants. Because now, you are the adult in charge. How does that feel? 

Now think of the first thing you'd like to do and take action. Sign up for that workshop or -if you're an introvert and creating in a group gives you the heebie-jeebies- find some Youtube videos or call a friend who is good at the thing you want to learn. Maybe you need to take a field trip to your local craft store to get a feel for creative supplies, or to a museum to spark your imagination. Whatever it is it's really important to take action in some way to show your inner creative that you are serious.

Reading some books about creativity or watching talks about it can be helpful as well.  I recommend these books in this order:

The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

And these TED Talks:

Sir Ken Robinson: Do Schools Kill Creativity? 

Elizabeth Gilbert: Your Elusive Creative Genius

Stop believing that the world is divided up into the creatives and non-creatives and begin to nurture and fan the flames of your own creative self.

Coming up in Part 2 I'll be talking about why any of this matters and why you should even care about your creative self.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

My One New Thing a Year Challenge

 It's the start of a new year which means that people are going to be asking me, "So, Michelle, what's the one new thing this year?" 

Many years ago I decided that I would learn to do one new thing every year. I don't even remember how or why this idea came into my head. I have always liked to learn things and try new things but felt somehow that I was a failure or a quitter because I kept flitting from thing to thing. The One New Thing concept made it possible for me to look like I was quitting on purpose.

Sometimes life is all about the story you are telling yourself.

I noticed that I did not have a bunch of unfinished projects lying around. So I wasn't just a quitter or failing when I looked at it in detail. In fact, I would work like mad to complete something I had started. If I was working on planting a garden or painting a room, I would skip workouts, neglect email, and forget to eat. So why couldn't I stick with one thing long enough to become a master of it? Why was it that I felt like I was always just dabbling around the edges of things?

When I got around to giving this some serious thought one day several years ago, I realized that I liked particular parts of projects and it kind of resembled being in love.

I would be smitten with something and not be able to stop thinking about it. 

I would want to know every single thing about my new love. 

I wouldn't be able to stop thinking or talking about this newly found passion. 

I would lose track of time.

Eventually, I would feel like I knew this awesome thing pretty well. 

The new thing became...less interesting. 

One day, after completing a project I would decide to break up. 

Oh, look at that handsome thing over there! 

I'd embark on a new creative relationship. 

What in the world is wrong with me? I know people who are experts and artisans in things that they are passionate about. My husband is like this about the Civil War in general and the Battle of Chickamauga in particular. I have always envied the person who had found that one true thing that they could do forever and never tire of. I was a little concerned about adult ADHD or just a short attention span. An adult should be able to stick with things, right?

Maybe. Some things. But here's what I like:


Research and learning new things. 

Finished projects. 

Adding things to my skill set.  

Sharing what I've learned. 

After years of being frustrated with myself, I realized that being an expert or gaining mastery in any one thing to the exclusion of everything else didn't interest me.  I wanted, most of all, to experience the world in a broad sense of the word and was afraid I'd miss something if I chose that one thing. That one terrifying thing.

Which brings us back to One New Thing. About 25 years ago I decided that every year I would learn how to do something new. It was a loose concept at first but became more concrete over time. Most years there was actually more than one thing but I did strive to have an official goal in mind. One year I baked bread every Saturday. One year I learned enough Italian to get me through my first trip to Italy. A couple of years ago it was singing in public--not karaoke. You can read about that experience here. I have quilted, gardened, kept bees, painted furniture, stripped furniture, cooked, decorated, composted, blogged, photographed, written, made motivational videos, and become a docent at the art museum and a master gardener.

That's not even a complete list but at some point, I just look like a crazy person.  

Along the way, I did find a few things that have come to stay forever like the passionate lover who remains a trusted friend.  Gardening is like that. So is beekeeping. And writing. Maybe because these are things that can never really be completed, but maintain a constant sense of mystery and a desire to improve. In my doing so many things I eventually ran across the things that I could stick with and love the most.

I'm sharing this with you because I have a feeling there are some of you out there who need to know that it's okay to be multi-passionate and there is nothing wrong with you. It's okay to keep learning, growing, and exploring.

Being a life long learner and discoverer might be, after all, a kind of expertise in itself. 

 What would you like to learn that you haven't yet?

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Beginning a New Year With a Studio Refresh

I love a fresh new year. This one has lost some of its shine due to a nasty virus I've been fighting since New Year's Eve. I'm getting back to my old self and that means I've found the energy for a few small projects. A book purge. Rearranging shelves. Refreshing the studio.

Everything doesn't need redecorating. Sometimes things just need refreshing. There is something about moving furniture and getting rid of unwanted items that wakes up the energy in a space. Especially important in a creative space!

Check out this post to see the terrible shape this room was in when the kids moved out.

Evolution of a Mom Cave. 

The first finished product was covered in this post, Writing and Craft Studio Reveal

So as you can see from those posts the real work had already been done. But the dark craft table and chair have always felt dowdy to me. A fresh coat of Jolie Paint in Gesso White with a top coat of General Finishes Flat Out Flat topcoat really perked it up!

Did you pick a word or motto for the year? My word is elevate. I'm thinking mainly in terms of the garden this year, but I intend to apply it to everything. Can I elevate a conversation? My value as an employee? A space? My health? My speaking, writing, and photography skills? Relationships? I'm going to try! 

I love to make a vision board for every year. Here's the one I just finished for 2019. If you don't know what you want your life to look like how will you know when you get there? 

While I've been recovering refreshing or elevating the studio space has been a simple task. Here's more of how it turned out.

Files for keeping things organized.

A simple sewing corner.

On the supply shelves. Creative doesn't have to mean messy. Though sometimes when I'm in the middle of a project this room can get absolutely destroyed. It's easy to put back together though because everything has a home.

This room is by far the most colorful room in my house. I just fill it with things I love and don't worry about style. I never met a map I didn't like. Remember when I bought the huge Russian one? Read, The Story of a Russian Map. 

If you are feeling like your house or a room or even a corner in your house is feeling cramped and tired, do a little purge and rearrange some things. It does wonders for the room and for you!

Monday, December 31, 2018

How I Do a Year End Retrospective

This is one of my favorite times of the year! I don't know what 2019 holds but in the days leading up to the new year everything is possible, right? 

Before we start choosing our resolutions, word for the year, or motto, we need to take some time to reflect on the past year. I recently heard someone call it a retrospective and I think that is a perfect word for making the most out of our 2018 life inventory. Get your calendars out, pull up your Instagram account, or sit down with your planner and let's get started. 

Start in January and go month by month listing the way you spent your time. Your planner/calendar is good for this. Your Instagram account or Facebook is a pretty good indicator of things you did you were proud enough of that you shared them. 

Here are some of the key things from my 2018 list of things I accomplished: 

Public speaking, soapmaking, hive inspections, wellness, Master Gardening hours, garden redesign, porch makeover, potting shed upgrade, travel, honey harvest, honey sales, custom orders, decorating, socializing, celebrating, upgrading style, new skincare routine, bee inspector certification, and candle making. 

You may recall that candle making was the one new skill I wanted to learn this year. 

While a year seems like it flies by it is actually a pretty good chunk of time. A lot of the things I did weren't on my list on January 1. You simply can't predict all the opportunities or obstacles that will be presented to you over the next 12 months so at the end of the year it's also fun to include some things on your TA-DA! list. I have always done this and called it my to done list, which makes no sense except to me but then I heard Gretchen Rubin talk about the same concept as a ta-da list. It sounds so much better. 

These are the things that you accomplished that weren't on your To Do list. Kind of like when you do a bunch of extra chores and write them down on your TO Do list just so you can cross them off. 

Come on, you know you do it. 

I did a stress test this year and redesigned my garden ( not in that order).  Read about it here. I also picked up knitting again with slightly more success. Actually, about half the things listed above in my 2018 list were ta-da things. 

After you review how you spent your time, ask yourself some questions: 

What did you do that you are most proud of? 

What would you want to do more of? 

What did you learn? 

Write those things down. That's the direction you want to go in for 2019. Now you are ready to think about how to prioritize and schedule your shiny new year! 

Several years ago I read about a wise person who said that most of us think life is like a train ride where you figure out where you want to go and you imagine if you make the right decisions along the way you'll arrive safely at your destination. In fact, it's much more like sailing in a boat. You have a destination but the seas are rough sometimes and the wind changes. You must correct your course and adjust the sail to keep moving in the right direction. Perhaps you even decide your original destination isn't where you want to go and you replot your course.  

Happy end of the year, Y'all! XOXO

Sunday, December 23, 2018

How Did Our Parents Do It?

For that matter how did WE do it?  I actually made Christmas when my kids were little and now have no idea how in the world I had the energy for that.

Y'all. There was actually GOING TO A STORE.

Do you hear me? As in getting out of the car and everything. It was during the dark ages when the only food you could get delivered outside New York City was pizza.

It was barbaric.

We used to have to go to a store. And then another one and then another one, until you found the thing your kid wanted. I remember standing in line at Macy's one year with a raging fever because there was one more thing I wanted to get for my son.

A FEVER, Y'all. I was clammy and sweaty and just kept telling myself I could do it like it was the last mile of a marathon. I mean I guess. I'll never know what that is like but being a mom and pulling Christmas together when you are sick has to be close.

We were living like animals.

You know who made Christmas this year? Amazon Prime and Kroger Clicklist. I think I went into a Target once because I was in withdrawal. I'd also like to give an honorable mention to The US Postal Service and UPS.

As a kid growing up in the 60s and 70s we were promised flying cars telephones where we could see the person on the other end of the line, and magic food that appeared from a magical place.

Two outta three ain't bad.

If you watch the news and feel depressed remember, you can create the magical holiday of your family's dreams without putting on pants.

God bless us, every one.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Creative Work: Doing VS Documenting

Last spring I wrote about quantity vs quality in creative work. It was the most read post of 2018! You can read it here. 

Recently I was talking with an artist friend and her reluctance to post on social media about her work came up. I encouraged her to post something every day even if it was just her studio or her collection of brushes on her work table. She was hesitant as I tried to explain how interesting I would find it to follow an artist's process and not just see the final product. 

But here's the thing I realized while thinking about this. Documenting IS creating. Capturing a photo of the process, or materials, or a selfie while working to post on Instagram is another form of creativity. The Millenials get a lot of grief from Boomers because they share so much. It gets labeled as self-absorbed when much of it is the same thing as keeping a scrapbook. Only less dusty and more cohesive. 

They are documenting and thus creating a record of their lives. I'm just a little jealous that there aren't more pics of me before I got this old. You know, back when Clint Eastwood and I didn't have matching necks. 

I usually post one pic a day to Instagram. I've been doing it for about 3 years now and it's helpful and interesting to look back and see all the projects I've done. I often run across something I've completely forgotten about. 

Generally, I like posting pretty finished pics but adding in process pics (like of the garden overhaul) is proof that I'm getting things done during the times when I feel stuck and wonder what I'm doing with my life. 

Anyone else ever feel like your whole life is just trying to remember to get gas and scooping the cat litter?

No? Oh good. Just me then. 

Documenting one thing you did each day can help overcome that disheartening feeling. A picture of your outfit, a post about something kind someone did for you, a blurry shot of your friend laughing so hard she wet her pants. Every day will have at least one documented memory to mark it in time.

Capturing a moment is a way to slow down the rush of life and keep all the days of work and traffic from running together. Sharing the struggle of the process is also encouraging to everyone who might be discouraged by all the insta-perfect staged photos.

The process is part of the work. If you are a creative it may even be the most important part.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Touristy in Seattle: Part 2

We ended up going back to the Biscuit Bitch again. Now I'll have to admit that on the first day, being from the South, I was a little skeptical about a Pacific Northwest biscuit. I mean isn't this the kind of place where they use barbecue as a verb? But, dang, Y'all. These biscuits were A-Ma-ZING! And the atmosphere is hilariously crude.

I did that thing I like to do sometimes which is to give a fake name when I know the person at the counter will be yelling it out. So when she yelled Delilah the first time I didn't catch it. Just when I was wondering what was taking so long I heard, "Delilah! Come get yo biscuit, Bitch!" 

Oh yes, pardon me, that's mine. 

Do these people know me? Did y'all tell them I was coming? They put GOLD DUST on my coffee! 

I had the Bitchwitch with bacon but you can get it with a variety of other things including SPAM.

Oh, are you fancy with your farm to table dining experience? Nope. Not here.

 We strolled the Market again. It's a feast for the all the senses. Did you miss Part 1? Read it here. 

We liked the Athenian so much from the day before that we ate there again as we passed the Market, upstairs this time by a window where we ordered the requisite Dungeness crab.

Later, we hopped on a ferry to go over to Bainbridge Island. But mostly just because we wanted to see Seattle from the water and add a boat to our trip. I love a trip that includes planes, trains, and boats.

The weather was superb for our entire trip...

Except for the time we spent on the island. Hey, we were getting the whole Seattle experience! We had a couple of drinks and caught the next ferry back. We meandered our way (this included a lot of "look at this cute shop! Let's go in" ) to our next planned item which was the Underground Tour.

 Bill Speidel's Underground Tour meets at Pioneer Square and is a good thing to do if your trip hits a rainy patch since it's mostly underground. There's some outside walking but very little. The tour starts with an introductory talk about the history of Seattle while you sit comfortably in a room before heading down some secret stairs that lead to a labyrinth of subterranean passageways.   

Wear sturdy shoes!

I'll admit that I spent the entire tour terrified I would see a rat.

I didn't. But I did see some very cool stuff.

The guides for this tour are entertaining.

Seattle has certainly had some colorful history. You might find yourself wondering how much you know about your own city's history.

I mentioned the sturdy shoes, right?

While you are crossing a street aboveground the guide points out this purple glass in the sidewalk.

Later on the tour, you see them from below. They were skylights for the underground passages before their usage was shut down and they were closed off. This was the highlight (see what I did there?) of the tour for me.

You can read about the history of the tour here. You have to love a tour where the themes are fire and sewage. It was a lot of fun (since I didn't see any rats scurrying about though there were plenty of rat references during the tour).

I'd definitely recommend this for anyone visiting Seattle!

Happy Travels, Y'all!