Friday, August 22, 2014

Video Interview on Juggling Cancer, Life, and Growing a Creative Business

Earlier this summer, Vanessa Laven of and Survival Organs launched a video series in honor of her birthday and I helped her kicked things off! As a young cancer survivor herself, Laven wanted to interview other creatives about their personal journeys through "worst case scenarios" and how they juggled a small business with all the craziness of diagnosis, treatment, and recuperation. Watch my interview below to learn how I handled the rollercoaster of being diagnosed with breast cancer soon after creating Porcupine Hugs, how I struggled to reconcile my ambitions with my new limitations, and why I was too stubborn to let cancer change me.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Commitments Are Not My Strong Suit

It's a wonder that I've been able to maintain a relationship for 4+ years because it seems that I don't take too well to commitments. Among the new habits I've tried to take on this year alone and failed to permanently incorporate into my life are:

Yoga. It was beautiful while it lasted. For all of four weeks, A. and I would wake up at 6:30/7pm, bang out a workout and I'd make us breakfast while he got ready for work. It was a good way to start the day.

#dorkysdraws. In an attempt to get the old gears moving again, I took on the mission of drawing a doodle every day and sharing it on Instagram. Nothing too involved, just a little something to force me to stop and be creative for a few minutes each day. Real work seems to keep yanking on my attention, but after a month-long break I've picked up my Micron pens once again.

Dry As Toast. Oh poor little blog. Once I gave myself a chance to relax so I could focus on my health last year, I let the whole thing go. Now it seems to take such an effort to share my thoughts with you. Sometimes I feel like I've got nothing left to say…and sometimes what I want to say feels way too personal now. Is it growing older that's left me reluctant to bare my feelings for all to read? Would anyone still care? Or maybe I just feel tapped with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram all vying for a piece of me.

Creativity. In this I'm lumping in Porcupine Hugs, calligraphy, photography, DIY projects, pen palling, and all the arts I enjoyed. They all fall under Things I Need Another 24 Hours To Do, But Spend The First 24 Hours Thinking About.

Every now and then I'll raise the following question to A.: What does success mean to you? Is it more important to be happy or to be ambitious? In that last question I'm not insinuating that the two qualities are mutually exclusive as I know you can be both happy and ambitious, but in my case ambition feeds this restlessness. If I'm not being productive or chasing some goal, I can't relax. I feel like I'm wasting time. It could be 6 in the freaking morning and as soon as I regain consciousness my mind is turning. "What should I do today? Should I get up? I'm still tired, but maybe I should be making better use of my time..." Oh what I wouldn't give to have a lazy Sunday without the guilt. I'm sure A. would be thankful, too, since my "Let's do something!" mentality tends to spill over onto his plate when he wants none of it. So I wonder, if I let go of all these goals on the list, things I keep thinking I need to accomplish in order to be Successful, and stop holding myself to a high standard, would I be happier? Or would the thought of settling into a calm mediocrity always leave me feeling unfulfilled?

In June, I attended a Creative Mornings session in which Squarespace founder and CEO Anthony Casalena gave a talk minimalism. In it, Casalena explained how to do lists can lock us into a path of short-term priorities making it hard to step back and focus on the true essence of the project. A point of his that really resonated with me is the idea of letting go of good ideas and his coming to the painful realization that he only has so much creative energy to devote to goals. How often don't we guilt-trip ourselves into chasing all these different leads, thinking we have to grab them all in order to feel good about ourselves? Well Casalena advised the audience to keep their key goal in mind and then use that to discard the things around it - good or bad. Letting go will feel liberating, he said.

"It feels very good in a way to close the chapter on something and it just frees your mind to do so many other things. I think too often people try to leave too many doors open at once in their life and they're just afraid of losing optionality," Casalena said.

So that's what I've been somewhat doing this summer. Instead of chasing down every creative whim, I'm accepting that right now my focus is on work and finances. I'm still writing for and helping a large law firm prepare its new website for launch next month, but on top of that I've taken on a new freelance writing gig with Mamá I've gone from struggling financially with a part-time job in 2013 to tackling three different jobs a day. It's a blessing; I'm finally getting a taste of financial security and love the flexibility in my schedule. It's also a curse because sometimes all I want to do is run off to an island for a breather. I don't think I've taken more than two or three consecutive days off all year (and even then WiFi availability = Dorkys working), but starting this weekend I'm taking a whole week to unplug in the Nevada desert and dive into that "feeling of liberation" in other ways.

Because I'm returning to Burning Man.

I admit that in the flurry of all the changes that's entered my life at the end of 2013 (new job, new apartment, moving in with the boyfriend, work, work, work, another new job), I'd forgotten just how amazing I felt out there on the playa. This year has been about putting my head down and crawling out of the hole that was 2013. Even if it's meant putting some things aside and even if I'm not on here sharing every detail of my life, I feel good knowing that I'm alive and doing just fine.

So tell me: what have you been up to this summer? Is there anything you'd love to let go of or are you hacking away at your key goal?

Image: David Stewart for the Lost and Found Show

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Writers' Retreat by Grant Snider

I'd totally sign up for a little getaway to Grant Snider's The Writers' Retreat, which appears in this weekend's NY Times Book Review, and nab a corner right on Inspiration Overlook. Then I'd hole myself up in the Authors' Cloisters before chucking it all over Desperation Drop and hanging out in Procrastination Patio instead. The illustrator behind Incidental Comics has a few other illustrations that made me laugh like The Treehouse of Adulthood and The Story Coaster. Snider's work reminds me of those search and find books that would entertain me for hours while discovering lost items and silly scenarios in a sea of chaos.

To order a poster of The Writers' Retreat and other illustrated commentary on literary and artsy pursuits, visit

Monday, June 23, 2014

National Stationery Show 2014 Recap

I attended the National Stationery Show last month and while I usually walk the trade show on a single day, I ended up going to the Javits Center three times this year. After the first day I was so thrilled to see familiar faces and make connections with new exhibitors that I just needed to keep going back. Not only was my friend Cindy of Cynla exhibiting for the second time (and needed help (wo)manning her booth on Tuesday), but I was also set to finally meet OMHG peeps like Colleen Attara, April Heather, Darice Pauselius, and Melissa of Print Therapy for the first time. There was also a serendipitous run-in with a former Greeting Card Design classmate that I hadn't spoken to since 2010. She had just reached out days earlier to reconnect and then we bumped into each other unexpectedly on the showroom floor!

I've also been seriously considering exhibiting at NSS next year so this time I wanted to ask some of my people peeps about their process. How did they build their booths? What costs did they incur? How could I save money? Which resources proved to be valuable? Did they see any improvements with the management's new set-up? I'm always so humbled when people are happy to see me popping into their booths (or that they remember me at all), but it was even more touching to see how encouraging they've been with my stationery pursuits. "Oh my God, do it!!" they'd squeal when I told them my goals and let me know to reach out if I had any questions about exhibiting. Funny thing is I was all into probably going for it a month ago and now that the applications for 2015 have gone up, I'm all, "Aaaack!! I can't! I can't!" We'll see what my neurotic, self-doubting ass decides to do. Did I mention it's a huge investment that'll cost thousands to make happen?

Anywho, below is a selection of stationery porn and goodies that had my head spinning at this year's National Stationery Show.

1. Emily Ley won a Best New Product Award for her Simplified Planners. | 2. Snarky line drawings from one of rep group Crow and Canary's newest lines, Melissa Rachel Black. | 3. Cards + confetti packets = instant celebration from Knot & Bow. | 4. Dog lovers will adore gift wrap (and cards and calendars and note pads and prints) from the sweet Lydia & Pugs. | 5. Seattle-based Constellation Co. shows off a rustic/outdoorsy-inspired collection. | 6. Cards for all the cool cats and hip(sters) from Hartford Prints. | 7. A sweet Dr. Seuss quote on Ilee Paper Good's letterpress card. | 8. State pride! Screen printed postcards from The Paper Cub. | 9. Parrott Design Studio's The Good Word letterpress series features bold color and beautiful white hand-lettering.

10. Cute die cut flat notes from Paper Lovely are perfect for summer. | 11. Hand-illustrated calendar from the Glendale Girls. | 12. These new wooden recipe boxes from Belle & Union Co. were repurposed from dying Colorado blue pine trees. | 13. Inspirational new print from 9th Letterpress. | 14. Oh how much did I love Yellow Owl Workshop's painted booth? (A lot.) | 15. The Color Block Confession line from Ten Four Paper continues designer Julie's talent for pairing bold colors and messages from that neurotic little voice in your head. | 16. Tiny motivational prints from Puddleduck Paper Co. | 17. Prints inspired by regional flora by Little Low Studio. | 18. I was super happy that new fave and all-around awesome lady Emily McDowell won FIVE Louie Awards at the show (they're like the Academy Awards of the stationery industry).

19. Super cute hand illustrated love card from Etsy Wholesaler Fierce Mally. | 20. Bad-ass penguin card from Beep Boop Bop. | 21. Fellow OMHG member Colleen Attara was making her National Stationery Show debut with mixed media cards, prints, and flowers made from repurposed plastic signs. | 22. And fellow Etsy NY teamie Kerry of KBatty was also debuting and making apologies look good with this happy striped envelope liner. | 23. Queenies Cards are as adorable as their owner and I'm happy to have stumbled upon her booth and connected with her since the show. Such a sweetheart! | 24. My kind of birthday cake from local company Hartland Brooklyn. | 25. More Brooklyn love and fun neon signage from Idlewild Co. | 26. Since the show I've been craving that all my packages be wrapped up with pretty Italian ribbon from Studio Carta. | 27. It was so nice to finally meet Dani of Oh Hello Friend and wish her success on her lovely line (and maybe also commiserate on being so petite).

28. New "Get Together" flat notes from Cynla to get your buddies excited about gatherings for doggy/kitty play dates, brunch, drinks, tea parties, and my fave, chowing on cheeseburgers. | 29. Botanical-inspired calendar from my long-time favorite Linda & Harriett. | 30. And can I just add that Linda & Harriett's Liz kicks ass for going freehand on her white walls for her booth? | 31. Pretty new letterpress tags from Penelope's Press with cute hand illustrations created by the owner's sister. | 32. Debbie of Penelope's Press also had goodie bags and fill-in cards for bridal showers, baby showers, and graduations. | 33. Scout Books showcased a few of their designers and custom notebooks. | 34. These flat notes from Moglea were dip dyed in Kool-Aid. | 35. Bright gift wrap and new notebooks from Fig. 2 Design. | 36. New gift enclosures from Fugu Fugu Press.

37. Snarky cards and hand-lettering from Life Is Funny. | 38. Gaah! Baby narwhals from Isabell's Umbrella. | 39. And cute pins, also from Isabell's Umbrella. | 40. These sweet little notes from E. Frances Paper come 85 in a pack so you can use them for lunch notes, quick hellos, gift enclosures, and so many other ways to spread the love. | 41. Colorful stationery and laser cut jewelry from Paper Trail Shop and Plastique, both owned by Jen Murse. | 42. What a sweet idea: screwed notepads that can be refilled with more sheets from Paper Trail Shop. | 43. Offensive + Delightful's awesome famous figures cards that should totally branch out into paper dolls. Not pictured: Biggie gift wrap. | 44.  The annual Paper Party (held again at the Hudson Terrace) was a fun time to mingle with exhibitors, retailers and other paper geeks. | 45. This year's NSS left me swirling and excited and with an overflowing stationery drawer. So many goodies were collected from walking the show and the bulky Paper Party swag bag.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Julia Rothman's Hello, NY

Monday night I popped on over to DUMBO to attend the book launch party for illustrators Julia Rothman and Wendy MacNaughton's books Hello NY: An Illustrated Love Letter to the Five Boroughs and Meanwhile in San Francisco: The City in its Own Words, respectively. The two sat down for a Q&A session with Brain Pickings' Maria Popova about the process of creating illustrated books of their hometowns, where the trend of hand-illustrations is heading, the "godmother" of long-form narrative + illustrated storytelling Maira Kalman, and how they each took similar projects in two different directions. While MacNaughton let the characters she met tell the story of life in San Francisco in their own words, Rothman, being the native New Yorker that she is, completely injected herself into her book and showed us the city through her eyes. From the small island off the Bronx in which she grew up, to her odd finds paired with more popular attractions to pieces of her family history, and tidbits about NYC life that'll make out-of-towners go "Whaaa?" and natives go "Yup!" Rothman tried to give everyone a little something to chew on.

"Well that's nice to remove yourself," Rothman laughed after MacNaughton explained why she wanted the people she met to create the book in their own words rather than hers. "I put myself as the main character. I was born on City Island in the Bronx, a small island that nobody had ever heard of and I really wanted everybody to know about it. So I wrote a book about where I was from and what I liked about my city and everything else about it. I put some voices in there, but it's mostly all me...and my family, the people I've met, and my landlord. I don't know, maybe New Yorkers are self-obsessed and San Francisco people are really nice."

As the daughter of a bodega owner, I was especially delighted to see her write an ode to the bodega.

"I wrote something about bodegas that was like bodegas are really great and you can get anything you want and then I was like this is really boring and crappy. And it was kind of a last-minute thing that I sent to [editor] Bridget [Watson Payne]. It was just random, it wasn't really that thought-out. If I write a paragraph about how good bodegas are, it wasn't that interesting. I didn't feel like it was getting across the feeling and if I could write the light and the tiles on the floor then it would get across the feeling more than just bodegas are great," Rothman said before Popova added why it's such an appropriate piece for a book about New York City.

"It's actually such a beautiful poem that's really a metaphor for the city because the last line is how many pieces of chewing gum does it take stay alive, stay in business and that's kind of how the city is. How many little daily moments and little people does it take..." she said.

"How do these places stay in business?!" Rothman interjected. "There's so many people going in and out, every dollar...When I was in San Fracisco, there's no bodegas, in other cities there's no bodegas and you're like where do you buy your food?"

As for how she chose what to include out of love for her city versus an obligation to include more popular sites, Rothman said she tried to put in a little of both to please New Yorkers and visitors alike.

"There was always a balance like if I put the Statue of Liberty in is that cliché? But then maybe I can put in Minerva, the statue in Greenwood Cemetery and balance it. There was always something that was very New York and then well, if I'm putting this very New York thing in, what's a more obscure thing I can put in that will help make it not so obvious," Rothman said. "It was always who's the audience? New Yorkers or everyone? So if it's both you have to put in some stuff for New Yorkers and you put in some stuff for the rest of the world. You have to put in Grand Central, but you can also put in the Troll Museum."

What I liked about the book, which I pretty much blazed through in a couple of hours, is seeing my hometown through somebody else's eyes. The other day I was strolling through Union Square Park after having lunch with A. and said, "We live here...and everyone else thinks it's awesome." Do I think it's awesome? Most of the time, yes, but other times I'm just tired of the same sights, sounds, and pace of New York City. I want to live somewhere else and even if I end up returning years later, I want to have experienced life elsewhere. Until that happens, I'll continue to enjoy hearing about NYC through someone else's lens. It's probably why I love talking to those who visit for the first time ("Yes, please remind me why my hometown is incredible...") and I'm mildly obsessed with Humans of New York. A curiosity for other people's stories and the lives that I brush up against every day are what keep me intrigued about this place. As Popova said at the book launch party Monday night, "I think the beauty of both books is actually the deeper messages. They both answer the question 'What is it like to live like this other person that's sort of so close to me in the city, but is not me?' And what it's like to understand what that life is like."


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

DIY Art for Our Home

I'm happy to say that our apartment no longer has bare walls. After a few months of living in our new place and stalling on decorating it, I caught the creative bug and started churning out project after project in just two weeks' time. I just couldn't stop.

First, I wanted to create a photo collage wall in our foyer to showcase photos from our travels and of our families. That IKEA saleslady might have looked at me crazy as I laid out all those frames across their displays to envision what the wall could look like, but it was worth it to have a good sense of what I was working with. I took photos before throwing the frames in my cart and then recreated the layout on top of a large roll of paper. I traced around the frames and marked the exact spot where the hook was before cutting out each shape. Then I taped the paper to the wall, took a step back to see how it looked overall and made necessary tweaks to the layout. Once I was satisfied with how it all looked, I nailed hooks right through the paper, tore the sheet off, and replaced it with the frame.

Next, I approached A. with the idea of painting a wall in our kitchen with chalkboard paint, which he loved. We put it to good use when my sister and her boyfriend came over for dinner a couple weeks ago.

Benjamin Moore (and other brands, I'm sure) now make it easy to have chalkboard paint made in any of their colors. In fact, here's how you can DIY your own batch with some non-sanded grout if you have any leftover paint at home. Prepping the paint after it was applied was a pain in the ass though as we had to cover the entire wall with chalk and then erase it all. An easy feat, you'd think, but there we were busting out rags, mixing vinegar and water concoctions, even scrubbing the wall with a toothbrush to get the wall as clean as when it was freshly painted. I was hesitant to ever draw on it again, but thankfully we've since been able to wipe the chalk off with just a damp paper towel. Maybe we just went too hard with that first round.

The office, where I spend the majority of my day, still needed a couple touches of my personality - mainly on the big blank walls right in front of my desk. I started with a few picture ledges from IKEA. At $10 and $15 each they were fairly inexpensive and allows me to display the things that make me happy (like my washi tape collection, books, and prints) and change things out without leaving too many marks on the wall. For prints, I ended up purchasing The Every Girl's Success Is Not Easy print in navy and gold and Emily McDowell's colorful print on comparison. Both are great reminders for me.

What else makes me smile? Color. Lots of it. So about a million punch cuts of paper butterflies later, I created this colorful wall installation. Beside the aching palm after punching all that paper, it was incredibly easy to do. Just lightly draw a path on the wall in pencil and then affix each butterfly along that path with either glue dots or double-sided tape.

That was immediately followed by a raincloud piñata because why not? The project took about an afternoon to make and once you learn the basic steps behind a DIY cardboard piñata (mine is empty by the way), you could dream up all kinds of shapes and ideas to deck in crêpe paper fringe. See?

For the living room wall behind the couch I knew I wanted to go big and in multiples so I bought three 24" x 36" canvases from and after drawing out a pattern on paper, laying on the masking tape, and deciding on a colorway, I went to town with the acrylic paint.

This project couldn't have taken more than four/five hours total and the only stressful part was making sure I mixed enough paint of any custom color to cover the necessary areas without being left with too much unused. I knew if I had to mix another batch, it would be incredibly difficult to land the exact shade again. I guess I was also worried that the colors would look crazy once the canvases dried, but I was so happy to wake up the following day, pull off the tape, and see how my latest masterpiece turned out. What do you think?

Monday, April 28, 2014

Crawling Back

So I know I went and pulled a disappearing act for a couple months here, but things got a little crazed on my end. And by crazed I also mean lazy because sitting to write a blog post after working two jobs and designing greeting cards sounded like total torture. Sometimes I wonder if I couldn't just put out snippets of voice recordings created in my shower because it seems to be the only time I have to contemplate blog post topics in my head (but then you'd have to listen to me practice my renditions of Whitney Houston songs and Frozen's "Let It Go").

There's my wonderful trip to Chicago and the photos that I've yet to even look through, the DIY art blitz that occurred on the home front, the joys of hosting friends so much more frequently now that I'm back in Manhattan, the new book I'm reading about the benefits of meditation, feeling like I'm chasing too many things. So much to tell you and yet the idea of recounting it all leaves me feeling overwhelmed. It's like wanting to catch up with a friend you haven't seen in years and just postponing reaching out because of the time commitment you feel the encounter deserves.

But sometimes a little hello is all it takes to a least get the conversation flowing again. So, hello again.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

20 Strangers Kiss for the First Time in First Kiss

This beautiful video is so awkwardly cute. Directed by filmmaker Tatia Pilieva, First Kiss chronicles the brief encounter between pairs of strangers just as they're about to kiss for the first time. It totally helps that the 20 strangers chosen are really good looking, but I was smiling during the entire thing - from the first shy hello, to the nervous giggles and jokes to break the tension ("What's your name again?"), to that hot moment when they just go for it. And even though they were two strangers when they embarked on this experiment, it's clear that the connection lingered for the minutes that followed the encounter. After the first kiss was over, some remained close to their partners either in mutual embarrassment or shared triumph or they hugged in order to cling to that moment for just a bit longer.

What were your first kisses like?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Back Home

So we've just returned from our trip to Chicago and man, what a fun time we had out there. We managed to fill our four days with hours of walking through the city's impressive architecture, trying to stay warm, hanging out with friends and stuffing ourselves with some aaah-mazing food (including repeat trips to a couple spots because even though our time was limited, we just couldn't get enough of them). While I don't think we packed in a boatload of to do's into this trip, it still feels like we covered a lot of ground. A. and I are fairly laid-back travelers and while I do like to have some idea of things to see and do in a new city, we're also happy just roaming around and seeing what interesting things we stumble upon. A. said that other people would probably find us boring since we're not going to shows or out drinking and dancing, but I just think that we have the ability to be deeply entertained no matter where we go together.

I'll be sharing some photos from our latest adventure this week!

P.S. In honor of International Women's Day, which was March 8, Oh My! Handmade Goodness has created a list of 50 Women Who Inspire & Inform and they've included me! It's crazy considering how many wonderful women who've inspired me these last few years are right there alongside me. I'm very honored and have been browsing through the list and finding other survivors and creative entrepreneurs that I need to add to my collection of badass women I need to know.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Dead Flower Arrangements

For my birthday/housewarming a couple months ago, my sister gifted me a beautiful amaryllis flower that has been blooming and blooming and stems are still shooting out from this little pot. I don't know how many more are hiding beneath the soil, but I've been enjoying all the color it's brought into our kitchen. Unfortunately, it's also brought in a bunch of gnats and A. wants me to get rid of the source of the problem, but I'm hoping that now that the buggies have died down a bit, we can keep our leafy pet.

As the flowers bloom and dry, I've been collecting them into a little arrangement of sorts. It might not look so fresh, but after seeing the pile of dried petals on the table, I just couldn't bear to throw them away.