Posts in joy
Celebrating The 5th Handmade Joy Exchange

Back in January I opened an invitation to the 5th Handmade Joy Exchange. I hosted the first one in 2012 and three more after that. Each one was such fun. It was great to get to know some new people, to facilitate new friendships and to help spread joy around the world.

Handmade Joy Exchange


This time I had 19 people join from 12 US states and 4 other countries (India, France, UK and Italy)! Some were people who had participated in the other exchanges and some were new. I matched people up randomly and there were serendipitous pairings. Laura who is from Italy but now lives in the UK (and recently became a British citizen!!) was matched with Christina in Italy. My mom (who’s participated in each of the five Joy Exchanges) was matched with Kelly who lives a few minutes walk from where my parents lived over 40 years ago. Joy at work!

It was wonderful to hear from the participants as they received their packages. So much thought went into the crafting and art making.

I was sad to hear that one package went astray, but I’m hopeful that it will eventually find its way to where it’s going.

Painting, sewing crochet, paper craft, book making… such creativity!

Want to see?

Bits of Handmade Joy Created by the Exchange Participants to Send to Their Partners

From top left to right (top to bottom): Prerna, Laurie, Sarah, Sonia, Tracey, Chris, Stephanie, Cristina, Kelly, Tara

Bits of Handmade Joy Created by the Joy Exchange Participants and Sent to their Partners

From top left to right (top to bottom): Sharon, Karen, Angela, Ida, Carol, Laura, Margaret, Caron, Cynthia (not pictured)

Thank you to each of you who participated! And for those of you who didn’t, maybe you’re feeling inspired you to send someone a surprise in the mail? Even just an unexpected postcard will spread a little joy. The world always needs more joy.

 
Battling the Winter Blahs

Spring might be on its way (according to meteorologists it’s already here), but it certainly doesn’t feel like it in Wisconsin. Does it feel like spring where you are?

Daffodils Bring Cheer to Winter Dreariness When They're Blooming Inside

We had our first snow of the season back in October. Since the beginning of the year we haven’t really been without a cover of snow on the ground. This week started out COLD, but this weekend it’s supposed to rain and sleet and snow. Around town there are icicles and mountains of snow. The roads and people’s driveways are getting narrower and narrower and the snow is getting ever dirtier. If bulbs have started pushing their way out of the ground I wouldn’t know it. (Do they even grow beneath the snow?).

Winter isn’t my favorite season. Yes, I love the magic of new-fallen snow; of glittering, ice-glazed trees and the cobalt blue of the sky set against all that white. And yes, I like spending a cozy day inside in my pajamas, baking and cooking and snuggling beneath blankets, reading books and watching movies. But I miss flowers. I miss running out the back door to pick herbs or pull carrots or search for ripe tomatoes. I miss eating fresh kale everyday and walking around barefoot and not having to don boots and coat and hat and gloves each time I go outside.

Some days it’s fine, but other days I feel so blah. I’ve found it helps to have some battle plans in place.

Orchids Blooming in My Studio Brighten the Winter Dreariness and Provide Inspiration for my Art

Grow something!

My little collection of orchids growing in my studio never fail me at this time of year. The first one opened up last month and they’ve slowly been taking turns adding their colors to my space (and inspiration for my art!).

I’ve been gathering seeds for my garden, but haven’t started any just yet. Soon. Until then I have sprouts growing in my kitchen.

Anyone Can Grow Sprouts Inside for Fresh Greens During the Winter

Sprouts are an easy way to garden any time of year. No matter how small your space, no matter which way your windows face you can grow sprouts. (Here’s a simple overview of growing sprouts on the Mountain Rose Herbs blog).

Make something!

I’ve been on a sewing kick lately. I finally got a new sewing machine and now sewing is much more fun (and so much less frustrating!). I’ve even been using some of my own fabric (Spoonflower is offering free worldwide shipping til 11:59 pm EDT March 8. I need to decide quick which other of my designs need to become clothing!).

Sewing a Top With Two Scales of Fabric Designed with My Nasturtium Watercolor Print

But I also have lots of fabric in my stash to use up. I’ve been especially inspired by Sonya Philip’s 100 Acts of Sewing and her classes on Creativebug.

I’m also planning out crochet projects (this sweater is next) and still (slowly) working on some embroidery. When I’m obsessively working on a project I don’t have time to feel blah.

This week in her newsletter Abby Glassenberg was talking about feeling a bit down about her business. Her husband told her to “go make something”, which ended up being just what she needed. And the result? A new sewing pattern, shared with the world.

A Basket of Colorful Yarn is a Joyful Inspiration

Get Moving!

I’m not really a fan of exercise. Yes I like going for walks (especially when the weather is nice), but otherwise I’d rather sit and read a book (or paint). For ages I’ve wanted to try to change that, but for me, it’s not easy. Recently I bribed myself into doing some yoga by designing a couple pretty yoga mats (you can find them here).

I’ve been trying to do some each day (on my moths mat), starting with beginning practices on YouTube (thanks, Dana, for recommending the Yoga with Adrienne channel!). It’s been changing my perspective. Exercise isn’t something you need to struggle through, but is rather a devotion to yourself.


Treat yourself!

It doesn’t have to be big. Treat yourself to a pot of daffodils (thanks, Mom, for the ones in my living room!). Treat yourself to a bar of exquisite chocolate or a bag of loose leaf tea. Matthias and I like to pick out an interesting cheese to try when we shop at the co-op in town. Trying a new art supply is another fun treat, whether it’s new paints, a new sketchbook or a fun marker or pen. Little treats like this make the day special, which is just what I need when I’m feeling blah.

A gold leafing pen is a a fun art supply treat to make your day (and your sketchbook) special

Nurture yourself!

In addition to taking time for things like yoga, I’ve been focusing on other self-care rituals. Epson salt baths with essential oils. Face masks. I used to make a lot of natural products and regularly devote time to self-care, but it fell aside because I’m “too busy”. I recently checked out Stephanie Tourles book Organic Body Care Recipes from the library as a reminder to get back to it.

last summer I infused apple cider vinegar with calendula flowers to use on my skin and in my hair

(Also a good reminder to get out the vinegar I infused with calendula flowers last summer and use it in hair rinses, baths and skin toners). Most natural body care “recipes” are so simple and don’t take a lot of time. One of my favorite face masks has only one ingredient: honey. I know I’m not “too busy” for that and I’m guessing you aren’t either.

Dress the part!

One thing that always improves my mood is wearing clothes that make me feel good. I love pairing fun colors and patterns and layering different textures. Much of what I wear is made by my own two hands, giving me even more of a boost.

I used two scales of my  watercolor nasturtiums fabric from Spoonflower  to sew this version of McCalls 5388. I added pockets and lengthened the top to make it more of a tunic.

I used two scales of my watercolor nasturtiums fabric from Spoonflower to sew this version of McCalls 5388. I added pockets and lengthened the top to make it more of a tunic.

Last month Rachel Awes and Kelly Rae Roberts teamed up on Instagram for a week-long challenge to wear spring in winter. What a fun way to bring a little more joy into your days.

I hope you haven’t fallen into the winter blahs, but if you have I hope some of my ideas will help you break free from them. I’d love to know what you like to do to cheer yourself up, too.

Wishing you a joyful weekend, no matter the weather.

More Thoughts on Blogs and Blogging

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts (in comments and email) after my questions about blogs in last week’s post. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking after reading what you wrote; your words brought about a few epiphanies for me.

A pitcher of roses brightens any day, but especially one in February

Why would I write something on my blog that I wouldn’t read myself? I love reading blogs that share glimpses into other people’s worlds. I love seeing other people’s creative spaces, learning about their creative practices and their creative processes.

As I mentioned last week I got out my “real” camera and in doing so was inspired to look around my world through its lens, something I hadn’t done for much too long.

I truly believe that our world is magical, even the most ordinary bits of it, but I know how easy it is to fall into the habit of rushing through our days without noticing that magic.

Instructions for living a life.

Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.

—Mary Oliver

So here I am, trying again to reclaim my purpose for my blog, my energy for it. Without worrying about what the “experts” say. Without getting hung up on doing it “right”. Without agonizing over numbers.

Anne Butera in Her Studio

I’ll be paying attention and being astonished and telling you about it. I’ll be painting and crafting and sharing my enthusiasm for the magic of creativity. I’ll be sharing my ups and my downs, my struggles and my successes. And through it all I’ll be encouraging you to embrace your own creativity and to discover daily joys. The most important goal for my blog is connection.

Yes, a lot of lovely blogs no longer exist, but as Simone said there are “loads more to be discovered”. What a beautiful thought. Are you with me?

Some of you mentioned a couple favorite blogs in the comments last week. I’d love to know what others are your favorites. Please let me know which blogs you like to read and I’ll add links to them to my list below. Let’s celebrate writing blogs and celebrate reading them, too. I dream of a blogging renaissance!

Being (and Loving) Yourself (or, On Blogging)

When I’m planning I write blog topics on my calendar for each week, often scheduling the whole month at once. Sometimes those topics will be crossed out or directed with arrows to other weeks. Because inspiration supersedes planning, sometimes a post will bounce from week to week to week before I finally get around to it and then sometimes by the time I sit down to write, I can’t entirely remember what I wanted to say.

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. It’s kind of a silly holiday, but as I’ve said before, I like it. February isn’t a very exciting month. It’s often dreary and cold and by this time winter’s charm is beginning to wear thin. A day set aside in the middle of the February to celebrate warm cozy feelings (and chocolate) is right up my street. I understand the flip side and all the reasons Valentine’s day is an ugh sort of day for many, but I like the idea of spreading love, of sharing joy, even if it’s just with yourself. Perhaps especially if it’s just with yourself.

Hearts cut from my Watercolor Blue Roses Pattern

We can be so hard on ourselves when what we really need is love.

I have to admit this post has bounced around on my calendar a bit and I can no longer remember my original intention for it (I don’t think it had anything to do with Valentine’s day). But considering what I wanted to say today and how I got here has me thinking about blogging in general.

Back in June on my old blog I wrote about being authentic and in July in this space I wrote about being rebellious, both posts, in part, about blogging. I still have some of those same feelings. I still wonder what my readers (you) want to hear and I’ve begun to wonder about the relevance of blogs today. I haven’t been reading blogs regularly at all lately, and some of my favorites have changed so much while others have disappeared.

My messy studio work table with lots of projects in progress

It’s interesting, when I look back at the links I shared in my post about blogging (on being rebellious), I see that:

I end up asking myself, what now?

I don’t want to quit writing this blog and I’m not certain I need a break, either. Maybe it’s just the winter blahs.

Flowers on the Meyer Lemon Tree in my Studio Window

And so, perhaps my blog and I just need a bit of self-love.

What does self-love look like for my blog? I don’t know. Maybe it’s being even more rebellious than I thought I was being. Maybe it’s writing about topics that bring me joy. Maybe it’s sharing something just because it’s fun (for me). Maybe it’s getting out my real camera (sadly neglected for months and months) and taking photos not to illustrate anything, but because something catches my eye (like those lemon flowers). Perhaps, most of all it’s letting go of any expectations (mine included) and simply being myself.

What does self-love look like for me? Well, confidently being myself is always at the heart of it (and not always easy). More fun is taking time to do things just for me. Brewing up my favorite oolong tea. Savoring a square of dark chocolate. Spending time soaking up sunshine on a cloudless day. Going somewhere I’ve never gone before. Spritzing my face with rosewater as an afternoon pick-me-up. Wearing a pair of thick, soft socks. Watching the birds at my feeder. Planning out my garden and buying seeds…. It’s probably an easier question for you, too.

Now for one that’s not as easy… I’d love to know what you’d like to see in this space. I’m not going to do a formal survey, but want to know your thoughts. What posts do you most like to read? What do you wish I would talk about? What do you want more of (less of)? Share your thoughts in the comments or send me an email.

Thanks for being here reading my words. I hope you have time this weekend to do something just for yourself.

The Lies We Tell Ourself and How to Break Free From Self-Imposed Limitations

Are there things you wish you could do, but “know” you can’t because you don’t have the talent?

Around ten or twelve years ago, before I got the rose tattoo on my ankle I studied images of roses and planned out a design. I even made a sketch and brought it and lots of photographs with me to my appointment. I clearly remember telling the tattoo artist “I want something like this sketch, but I can’t draw”.

A Sketch I Did for the Tattoo I Got On My Ankle Back Before I Believed I Could Be an Artist

For some reason I believed I couldn’t draw. Many other times I remember telling people, “I’m not an artist”. Worse, I said it to myself.

It would be a few more years before I started to question my belief. Maybe I began to realize drawing and art-making is something I could learn, not an innate ability. Or maybe it was just that my desire to make art outweighed my belief I couldn’t do it. My first paintings weren’t so great, but with determination and practice I got better.

“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint’, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.” —Vincent Van Gogh

I think we probably all place limitations on ourselves based on lies. Maybe someone said something to us in the past and we’ve since adopted their beliefs as our own. Maybe personal experiences “taught” us lessons that simply are not true. Or maybe “expert” advice tells us that what we’re dreaming isn’t possible.

For a very long time I’ve wanted to try embroidery, to create my own designs and bring them to life. Again and again I would tell people (and myself) I’m not good at embroidery. I’m not good at hand sewing. I’ll just stick my fingers with the needle and bleed all over the fabric if I try to sew by hand. I imagined I could create designs but would need to find someone else to embroider them.

But recently I began to imagine I could try again to learn. Over the years I’d broken free from some of the other limitations I’d put on myself, why not this one too?

I have lots of fabric and I have lots of thread stored away in the closet in my studio. Last week I pulled out some of both and sat down to begin learning. With the help of Rebecca Ringquist’s class on Creativebug I tried my hand at some stitches. It was fun.

A Sampler of Embroidery Stitches I Created Recently

Now I’m completely hooked and my brain is exploding with possibilities.

Those stories I told myself about not being able to embroider weren’t true just as the stories I’d told myself about drawing and painting weren’t true.

My word for this year is GROW. I’ve been keeping it at the forefront of my thoughts. I’m trying new things. I’m experimenting. I’m setting aside my self-imposed limitations and it feels good.

Maybe nothing will come of my experiments. Maybe nothing will come of my dabbling with embroidery, but the act of breaking free from limitations, of overcoming fears, of questioning my beliefs… that is true growth.

So tell me, what is it that you would like to try and what’s been holding you back from trying it?




An Invitation to the 5th Handmade Joy Exchange

The Exchange is now closed. Thank you to everyone who has joined in! Stay tuned to hear about what everyone creates!

In 2012 I organized the first Handmade Joy Exchange. People from 4 countries and 6 US states participated. Since then I’ve hosted 3 more exchanges, the most recent in 2017. That year I had 40 people from 16 US states and 7 countries participate. What a lot of JOY!

I began the exchanges because I thought it would be a fun way to connect with other bloggers and I wanted to bring more joy to the world.

Things never fell into place for an exchange last year, but this year it was one of the first things on my calendar.

The Fifth Handmade Joy Exchange Hosted by Anne Butera of My Giant Strawberry

I announced it first to my JoyLetter subscribers* and was amazed by the immediate response. I think I was right in my assessment that we need more JOY in the world right now!

Do you want to play along? Here’s how…

How to join the exchange:

First, let me know you want to participate by emailing me with your name, mailing address and any links you want to share (blog, instagram). Sharing these links is optional, but will give the person who’s matched to you an idea of what you're interested in. Also, if you have a blog or are on Instagram (neither are required) you can post about your experience once the exchange has finished.

Next Friday I’ll email you with the name and address of the person you’ll be creating for. Note, this is not the same person who will be sending something to you. This element of surprise makes it more fun!

What you need to do:

Once you know who you’re creating for, you can get to work. Draw, paint, sew, collage, embroider… the medium is entirely up to you and not limited to those options — just make sure it brings you joy and that it’s created with the intention of bringing its recipient joy, too. This time I’m suggesting that you create something flat so it’s more easily (inexpensively) mailed. (Stuck on ideas? See what people created in past years here, just scroll down to the section on the Handmade Joy Exchange).

Take a photo of your piece and email it to me before you send it out. Your package needs to be in the mail the first week of February.

Afterward:

Let me know when you receive your package. I’ll try to wait until everyone has received their Handmade Joy and then I’ll post about the exchange on my blog and on Instagram, sharing photos of what everyone created and linking to any blog or instagram posts that you create. I’m hoping this will be around the second week of March. I’ll be in touch with everyone to let you know my plan as time draws near.

Sound good?

I really hope you’ll join us. I already have participants from France, India, Vermont, California, Massachusetts and Wisconsin and love the thought of Joy being created and shared across the globe.

If you have questions that I haven’t answered, please email me.

Here’s to a joyful start to the year!

Happy Solstice

Happy Winter Solstice to you.

It’s the longest night of the year and the official beginning of winter (though around here it’s been feeling like winter for a few months now).

I hope you are able to take some time for rest, renewal and creativity today and in the days ahead. I know how chaotic the holidays can get (if we let them). Maybe you’ve been working on taking things slow like I’ve been trying to do?

And maybe you’ve been sneaking in some time for making. Gifts, yes, but also for yourself. My sketchbook has been the perfect place for a few minutes of creative escape.

If you think you’d like to escape into a sketchbook, too and are looking for a little inspiration I have a new Skillshare class* called Defeat the Blank Page designed to help you discover inspiration when you don’t know what to do with the empty page.

If you’re still making gifts and you’re looking for ideas, Bonnie Christine shared some easy DIYs on her blog the other day. And Mountain Rose Herbs recently posted a collection of their best recipes of 2018, many of which are perfect for gifting (roll-on perfumes with essential oils? Yes, please!). Want to craft your own wrapping paper? Alisa Burke rounded up some of her favorite wrapping paper tutorials the other day on her blog.

But don’t forget to take some time for yourself, too. Brewing up a cup of hot spiced chai and curling up with a good book feels like the essence of luxury to me. You?

And my journal has been calling to me lately a bit more than usual, too. Spilling my thoughts onto the page. It’s one easy bit of self-care that anyone can fit into their days.

As the year draws to an end I like to think about all I’ve accomplished and to plan for the new year. I’ve been thinking about my word for 2018 and what I want my word to be in 2019. The pages of my journal happily accept it all.

I’ll share more of my thoughts about 2018 next week.

A Pair of Jasmine Flowers Opened on My Plant This Week and Fragranced Almost the Whole House

Until then, I’m sending you light and love. No matter how or if you celebrate in this coming week, I hope you are able to discover each day’s little joys. Thank you for spending time here with me, reading my words.

 

*You can try Skillshare for 2 months free. You’ll get access to all of my classes and thousands more from teachers around the world. There’s no commitment and you can cancel any time.

On Dreaming Big

When I first started writing a blog and named it My Giant Strawberry one of the things that appealed to me about the name was how it spoke of my big dreams. Back then I had a lot of dreams, but I never imagined I would begin painting or that painting would become a main focus for me.

Since then a lot has happened and I’ve realized so many of my dreams.

I’m still dreaming.

I think it’s important to continue dreaming no matter where we are on our journeys and no matter how often we fail to reach those dreams.

Joy, Fortune Cookie Encouragement and Dream Jar Inspiring Me to Keep Dreaming Big

Dreaming big inspires us to keep going. It helps us to stretch and to grow. There IS always a higher mountain.

I have failed so many times.

That jar you see in the photo above? It’s my Dream Jar. I made it early last year (and wrote about it in the Joy Letter here and on my old blog here). On little slips of paper I wrote dreams, intentions and invitations for the year. The inspiration came bouncing around the internet to me. The idea is to write your dreams down and meditate on them daily. Keeping them in the forefront of your consciousness helps to focus your attention and bring about action (and success).

Dreams from My Dream Jar

Although I don’t meditate on my dreams daily, I do try to come back to them regularly. Quite a few of my dreams have come true this year. I did, to a degree, participate in Me Made May and my illustration was included in the Flow Calendar.

But plenty of the other dreams in my jar haven’t come true (yet).

A Failed Dream (so far) from My Dream Jar

As I shared on my old blog, I still haven’t won a Spoonflower contest (and in truth, my rankings in the contests I’ve entered have been less and less successful than the very first contest I participated in), but I’m not letting go of that dream. I hope someday the time will be right.

It’s ok to put our dreams aside for when we’re ready for them, or maybe for when they’re ready for us.

It’s also ok to let go of dreams if they aren’t the right fit. I’ve had a few of those this year and that’s ok. It’s a learning process. It’s part of finding our way and creating the path that’s right for us, not the path we think we should be taking.

Sometimes I feel down about my failures. It’s natural. Rejection is hard. Failure is hard. But I’ve found that when I’m feeling down about one failure another success comes along to reassure me that I’m headed in the right direction.

Yesterday when I was working at the library the new issue of Cottages and Bungalows arrived.

The February/March 2019 Issue of Cottages and Bungalows Magazine

I opened it up and saw that one of my BIG dreams had come true.

My 2019 Botanical Watercolor Calendar is Featured in the February/March 2019 Issue of Cottages and Bungalows Magazine

That’s my 2019 calendar in there pictured beside Vera Bradley, PaperSource and Rifle Paper Company! (One of the slips in my jar says: “Have my art featured in a major magazine”).

The 2019 Botanical Watercolor Calendar by Anne Butera of My Giant Strawberry

I’m still pinching myself.

As we head towards the end of the year I always like to look back and celebrate my successes. When I’m busy with the day to day it’s easy to forget just how much I’ve accomplished. Late in December I often share a year in review on my blog.

For me looking back is fun and it’s also helpful for planning the coming year, too.

I hope that you are dreaming big. I hope that you are celebrating your successes, both small and large. (I’d love to celebrate with you, so if you feel moved to share I hope you will).

Thank YOU for being here reading my words, encouraging me and cheering me on. You help me to keep dreaming.

Successes, Failures and Celebrating Where We Are

This morning there is a blanket of snow over everything. When I checked the thermometer it said 23. And yet I have more energy and feel more inspired today than I have for a long time because the SUN is shining.

I have been so tired lately. The change of season — the cold and wet and dark — is exhausting to me. And I’ve been wavering back and forth between discouragement and excitement in my work. I’ve had to remind myself to be patient. I’ve had to remind myself of how far I’ve come.

This November marks eight years since I first picked up a paintbrush. In 2010 I took part in Art Every Day Month and began learning how to paint with watercolor while also sewing and crocheting. At that point painting hadn’t yet become my main focus. And as you can see from this post on my old blog, I wasn’t very good at it.

When I’m stuck in the day to day, it’s easy to forget how far I’ve come since I began my creative journey. Fresh failures, disappointments and rejections loom large, temporarily overwhelming my successes. It’s easy to focus on all I still want to accomplish instead of celebrating all that I’ve accomplished so far.

My art is in the 2019 Flow Calendar!

My art is in the 2019 Flow Calendar!

I know we all feel like this sometimes. Even the most successful of us struggle with these feelings (see this recent post by Holly Becker, celebrating her new endeavors but also admitting how she feels like she’s not doing or accomplishing enough).

I’m not sure what the answer should be. Sometimes it’s easy to shake off these feelings. There are days when all it takes is a little sunshine. Sometimes it’s not so easy.

It helps me to take a step back and to make some art just for fun. Play in my sketchbook, enjoying the process without worrying about the outcome. Delighting in color. Savoring using different tools or media.

Last week you got a glimpse of a spread from the collaborative sketchbook I’m working on with Dana Barbieri. Here are the finished pages:

A Page From My Collaborative Sketchbook With Dana Barbieri

If you’ve been around a while, you may remember the first collaborative sketchbook Dana and I did.

That project was featured in UPPERCASE Magazine and working on it was a turning point in my relationship with sketchbooks.

Anne Butera and Dana Barbieri Featured in UPPERCASE Magazine

This time Dana and I don’t have a schedule and aren’t sharing our pages. Keeping it (mostly) private is very freeing. In these days of sharing everything online it’s easy to forget that sketchbooks are supposed to be a place of creative freedom. They can be messy and fun and the only person you need to please is yourself.

Chicken Sketches in My Sketchbook

I think the key to long-term success as an artist is pleasing yourself first. By success I’m not talking about money or likes or followers. I’m talking about satisfaction deep in your spirit. About joy. Creating can be hard. It takes courage to ignore negative thoughts from your inner critic. It takes courage to learn how to do something new. To make terrible art and to keep going anyway is an act of bravery.

Eight years ago I was scared to admit to anyone that I was an artist. Today it’s hard to remember the apprehension I used to feel.

Giving Myself a Pep Talk in My Sketchbook

I don’t know where you are in your creative journey. Perhaps you don’t consider yourself an artist (and maybe you don’t want to be, which is perfectly OK!). Or maybe you have a yearning to create — to embroider or sew, to grow a garden or cook, to dance or write poetry. Art is not only painting. Whatever it is, do what brings you joy. Try new things. Create your own definition of success. Ignore your inner critic and stop worrying about meaningless numbers. Celebrate where you are RIGHT NOW. Yes, you may have further to go, but instead of focusing on that, take a look at how far you’ve already come.

Learning to Slow Down

Lately I feel as if I’m always in a hurry. As if the days are hurtling by and I can barely keep up. I’ve been feeling like this for a while and I don’t like it. One of the reasons we moved out of the city was to live a slower life, but here I am rushing, again.

Watercolor Violet Painting by Anne Butera

If I think about it, I’ve been feeling this way for a while. My word of the year for 2018 is PRESENT, chosen to help me create a sense of calm and slowness in my life. When I wrote about it in January I said:

I want a word that will help me grow and find wisdom, whether I accomplish my goals or not. In Present I see mindfulness. I see slowness. With Present as my word I hope to be more aware and relaxed. I hope to listen more closely to my intuition.

I’m not sure I’ve been entirely successful at this, but I have been working on it. Just being aware helps.

I noticed a basil seedling sprouting from the cracks in the patio

I noticed a basil seedling sprouting from the cracks in the patio

And I do try to be aware. When I feel myself rushing, flying through a task to get it done as fast as possible, I stop for a moment and tell myself to slow down. It’s helping.

While I was thinking about all of this, I immediately blamed our society, the internet, smartphones and social media for shrinking attention spans. I did a bit of research so I could trot out some statistics for you. What I found was interesting. Those claims of our shortening attention spans (shorter even than that of goldfish) don’t have science to back them up. And goldfish’s tiny attention spans and no memory? Ends up that’s not true, either.*

Even if I can’t blame the the internet for a quickening pace, limiting my (unproductive) time spent on the computer and with my phone is something I’m working on. After all, there are other, more satisfying things I’d rather be doing.

squash and sage from the garden for a version of  this recipe

squash and sage from the garden for a version of this recipe

So what else can help?

Is it even possible to slow down? Maybe not. But it doesn’t hurt to try.

I’ve put together a list of some things that help me stay present. I hope they’ll help you, too.

  • Pay attention to where I am and what I’m doing. This might seem obvious, but so often I find myself rushing through my tasks on auto-pilot. I don’t know about you, but that’s not how I want to live.

  • Breathe. I stop when I realize I’m rushing and spend a few moments breathing deeply to help ground myself.

  • Pay attention to my senses. Being aware of what I taste, smell, feel, hear and see immediately brings me back to the present.

  • Go for a walk. As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, getting outside can be healing. I often return inspired. Yesterday I spotted a bald eagle swooping over town and discovered some violets blooming in the corner of my yard. These gifts are always there for us if we’re open to them.

  • Make sure I’m getting enough rest.

  • Give myself extra time for scheduled tasks and include transitions between one thing and another so I’m not rushing. I’ll be honest and tell you I’m not always good at this!

  • Pay attention to my natural ebbs and flows of energy.

  • Make time for healthy cooking. Matthias and I have gotten into the habit of leisurely cooking big meals on the weekends that will help get us through the week. We don’t usually get home till after 8 most evenings and it makes all the difference to have healthy food ready when we get home. Plus, spending the time together cooking is fun.

  • Be stingy with my time.

  • Make something! Crafting and making art forces me to slow down. Painting, sewing, crochet have all been wonderful teachers in patience.

a shawl I recently crocheted using the  Secret Paths Shawl pattern by Mijo Crochet

a shawl I recently crocheted using the Secret Paths Shawl pattern by Mijo Crochet

What about you? What helps you slow things down and remain present while still allowing you to accomplish everything that you want/need to?




*Read this article and this one for more.

Giving Ourselves Permission for Rest and Play

Do you (regularly) schedule time for doing nothing or for projects that don’t have a specific end result? Do you put “play” or “rest” on your to-do list?

If you’re anything like me, probably not.

Upper Peninsula Lake Michigan Shoreline in Early Autumn

I came back from vacation last Friday night and it’s spurred me to think about rest and play. Our society is so results oriented. The smartphones in our pockets discourage us from quiet moments of doing nothing. And although I agree it’s good to work hard and achieve goals, I’ve been thinking more and more about how it’s also important — no, necessary — to make time for rest and for play.

Dipping My Toes into Lake Michigan at the First Chance

We spent our vacation on Beaver Island in Lake Michigan. I brought a sketchbook, a crochet project, my journal and lots of books.

On the Ferry from Charlevoix Michigan Arriving at Beaver Island

I didn’t touch my sketchbook once while I was away and truth be told, I almost didn’t pack it because I didn’t think would. Even so, not working in my sketchbook brought out rumblings from my inner critic.

At first I went along with those negative thoughts, but then I stopped myself.

Heart Rocks Found by the Water on Vacation on Beaver Island

I realized I need to be gentler with myself. Hadn’t I just claimed that winding down and rejuvenating can bring more joy into your life? And didn’t I recently write about remembering to hold on to the fun?

How easy it is to fall under the pressure of what’s “expected”, or what we assume is expected.

I enjoyed my vacation. I read my books, I crocheted, I soaked up sunshine, I hunted for rocks and fossils and played on the beach with my boys (who needed no encouragement to enjoy the sand and water). Not working in my sketchbooks didn’t take away from my enjoyment.

My Two Retired Racing Greyhounds Love Running on the Beach and Lounging in the Water

Of course, for many people vacations are all about rest and play. They’re a time to recharge our batteries and soak up tranquility, beauty and inspiration.

Peaceful View from the Deck of the House Where We Were Staying on Beaver Island

But I don’t think such rejuvenation needs to be limited to vacations. In fact, I think making rest a regular part of our days is beneficial.

When we’re well-rested we’re happier, healthier and more creative. Society may pressure us to go-go-go, but we can’t keep going for long unless we also recharge.

It’s difficult to find the perfect balance, especially when we’re focused and busy juggling all the things we want to do each day.

This week I was having trouble sleeping, feeling a little exhausted and overwhelmed. I sat down with my journal one morning and brought out my two oracle decks to inspire some writing. I know, I know, oracle decks sound a bit woo-woo, but working with them has been very interesting for me. I have two, both beautifully illustrated by artists I admire. One is Lisa Estabrook’s Soulflower Plant Spirit Oracle Deck. The other is Jessica Swift’s Animal Allies Oracle Cards.

I’ve never used them together, but that day I decided to pull a card from each deck and see what happened. I pulled “Coyote” from Jessica’s deck and “Zinnia” from Lisa’s.

Journaling with Two Oracle Decks

Sometimes the message from the card doesn’t quite fit with what’s going on in my life. And that’s ok. I’m not trying to run my life based on a deck of cards (even cards as beautiful as these). I take insights when they come and when I don’t I move on.

That morning, though, I was struck by the similarity of these two cards. Both suggesting that I lighten up, be more playful and have more fun.

It was a powerful message and one I don’t want to ignore. And so, I’m working on it.

Finding Joy in a Funny Face Spied in a Stump on the Driveway of Where We Were Staying On Beaver Island

Working on giving myself permission to do things just for the fun of it. To play without expectations or pressure. To let go of what’s not fun or fulfilling or joyful (when I can).

If we give ourselves permission for rest, for play, it’s easier to invite those things into our lives. And maybe it’s a good idea to add play and rest to our to-do lists. Maybe it’s time to pencil an afternoon dance party into our schedules.

What do you think?

11 Ways to Invite More Joy Into Your Life

When is the last time that you were filled with joy? How happy are you right now?

I often talk about joy. The joy I find in the magic of nature. The joy I find in creating and sharing art. I talk about keeping Joy Lists and I call myself a "Joy Collector".

Of course, like everyone, I don't always feel joyful, but I do believe I have the power to invite more joy into my life.

Here are some ideas of how to do it:

  • Get outside! When the weather is beautiful, take advantage of it. When the weather is not good, do what you can (wear warm boots, take an umbrella...) to make it bearable. Taking daily walks is a great way to make this happen. Bonus if you're walking with a friend and/or a dog (or two).

Walking with Greyhounds
  • Pay attention. When I am fully present I am able to feel the most joy. Be aware of what sensations you're feeling. Keep your eyes open to the beauties and magic that surround you. There is so much magic in this world (like this and this).

  • Surround yourself with flowers. Plant a garden if you have the space for it (you'll have the added bonus of garden visitors like birds and butterflies, too). Pots on a balcony, a windowbox or a houseplant on the windowsill are great if you don't have a yard. If growing real flowers is a challenge for you, treat yourself to cut flowers (your local flower farmer will thank you) or cultivate a "garden" of floral art or fabric in your home

  • Limit screen time. This can be a hard one, but I think it's important. Especially if you find yourself feeling bad by comparing your life to what you see online. And with your eyes on a screen you're likely to miss some of the magic that’s going around you, too.

  • Write in a journal. Even if what you're writing in your journal is not joyful, connecting with yourself, how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking can help you to release negativity and invite joy. A journal gives you the freedom to be 100% yourself. It's a wonderful place to show some self-love and for pep-talks. Joy and Gratitude Lists fit perfectly between the covers or a journal, too.

  • Read or listen to a good book. Books and stories have always been my thing. Getting lost in the magic of words is one of life's greatest pleasures. It's why I ended up a librarian before I started painting. Thanks to public libraries everyone has access to books (and movies and magazines and newspapers and music...). Audiobooks are great for when your eyes and hands are busy (in Lilla Rogers' Creativebug class she recommends them as a way to block out our inner critics). Podcasts are another option. I recently discovered the podcast Levar Burton Reads and am looking forward to having him read to me.*

  • Reach out and make connections. Spend time with people you like, with people who laugh and make you feel good. If possible, limit your time around negative people and do your best not to let them bring you down. Cherish each day with those you love. Our days together are finite.

  • Share your life with a pet (or a few!). Matthias and I have two cats and two dogs. Each and every day they make us laugh. Each and every day they share snuggles and hugs and love. There are many, many homeless animals waiting to be adopted into loving homes. My days would be so much less joyful without my boys.

Rescue Cats Bring So Much Joy Into My Life
  • SLOW DOWN. This one is hard for me. It's a message the universe often has to shout. I'm often in a rush. Being in a hurry, putting pressure on myself to get on to the next task makes me anxious and it keeps me from fully enjoying what I'm doing. When I get to the end of a day and wonder just was it that I did all day, I know I've been going too fast. Even when life gets busy, I know I can slow myself down. It takes awareness. I’m working on it.

  • Learn something new. As I mentioned the other day, trying new (or different) things is good for your creativity. Learning something new is joyful, too. Bonus points if it includes making something with your hands.

  • Take a break. It's important to give yourself a rest. Take time off. Let go of obligations for a while. Wind down and regenerate.

Find Joy in the Little Things

What about you? What ways do you invite more joy into your life?