Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Doodles of a Little Monster

I have to thank my friend the Bantu Girl for recently pointed me towards Kerstin Hiestermann's work, a collection of minimalist doodles integrating found objects and the German illustrator's imagination. Her playful creations typically feature flowers, toys, and line drawings of curious little creatures being up to no good.

"Long ears, two small horns, large eyes, and a crooked grin. The little monster which appears in many of my pictures is the embodiment of the childish mischief maker in me," she says. "And that's the element that turns my minimalist pictures into a story. In the middle of a box filled with strawberries a single one is missing, and the monster sits next to it, its mouth covered in red. I didn't do it."

I also like the she fully admits to not knowing how to draw exceptionally well, but it doesn't stop her from recreating the silly visions that come to mind. To follow along on her monsters' misadventures, follow Hiestermann on Instagram, Facebook, and her blog. This will be a fun addition to my Instagram feed for sure.


Monday, September 23, 2013

Autumn Essentials + Free Watercolor Print

Autumn is here! Squeee! Ever since I started getting seasonal allergies in the spring, fall took over as my favorite season. The leaves turn such beautiful colors and it's not too hot nor too cold (though that perfect in-betweeny time is quite short in New York City). I only wish I could head back up to the Catskills during Columbus Day weekend for another fall getaway because even though I was DYING with the flu, it was an amazing time.

I celebrated the first day of fall yesterday with the Etsy NY Team at the Montague St. Summer Space festival in Brooklyn Heights and had a good time showing little kids how to make their own tiny books. It was a gorgeous and clear day, but the wind kept blowing our paper scraps all over the place. All I wanted was a thicker sweater and a cup of mocha to keep up with the stream of kids.

Now that the new season is here, I can't wait for pancakes flavored with pumpkin pie spice and cinnamon, coconut oil massages by candlelight, and finally busting out my cozy throws, tights and brown leather boots again. As much as I love summer as well, the hot flashes brought on by the tamoxifen made it so unbearable for me at times. Hopefully the cooler weather will even me out.

What are you looking forward to in the cooler months? To decorate for the season, download this pretty Autumn Essentials watercolor print from the Jones Design Company. Summer fans who still want to cling to summer days, can print this one instead.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Little Porcupine Hugs Update

I figured since Porcupine Hugs is slowly consuming more and more of my time, I'd give you guys a little update on how my stationery business is going. The collection is slowly growing (there are now nearly 70 items in the shop!) and I'm so happy that I got the ball rolling last year. I know I'd be kicking myself now thinking of how much progress I could have made if I'd only taken that first step. To be honest, sometimes I still do when I think of where I'd be now if I had started six years ago when I first toyed with the idea. Oh well, baby steps, right?

Right now I'm finishing up the first catalog for wholesale inquirers. I have a list of stores around the country that I'd love to approach and will be sending out mailers letting retailers know what we're all about. Hopefully some decide that they simply must stock Porcupine Hugs in their shop and I get some constructive feedback that will help me develop the line even further.

My pie-in-the-sky goal (aside from finally getting this catalog out the door) is to exhibit at the National Stationery Show in 2015. It's such a big deal and while I'm a bit bummed that I won't be able to make it work for 2014 due to having to pay off a major unforeseen inconvenience (coughcancercough), I'm setting my plan in motion now to prepare for the following year. It's good to have something to strive for and I feel like it's attainable if I start aiming for it now. Not only do I want to make a big splash for my debut with a kickass product line and booth to match, but giving myself time to grow and learn from my customers will also make my business stronger and leave me better able to handle that next step. At least that's what I'm telling myself so I can bury the idea of NSS 2014 into the ground.

For now, I'm having fun selling at various street fairs over the weekends. I've already sold at the Artists & Fleas market in Brooklyn and the Hester Street Fair in the Lower East Side and had a fun time at both. There's nothing like connecting with your customers face-to-face, hearing the stories behind their purchases, and getting feedback on what you're offering and what they'd like to see. I'll be returning to Hester Street Fair Sept. 28 and Oct. 12, both Saturdays. I'm also participating in the Crafts in Chelsea Fall Festival Oct. 5 so this fall is turning into a busy season, which is perfect by me.

But wait, there's more! This Sunday, Sept. 22 join me at Montague Street's Summer Space in Brooklyn Heights from 1pm - 4:30pm for a free crafting demonstration with the Etsy New York team. I'll be showing how to make cute mini books like this one I made as a gift for A. for our one year anniversary. Two years later, it became the inspiration for Porcupine Hug's Why I Love You card.

While you're there be sure to check out the Afro-Brazilian samba reggae performance by an all-women's drumming band, free yoga and Zumba workouts, food and games courtesy of local merchants, and the Brooklyn Heights dog show.

So yup! That's what's been going on with Porcupine Hugs these days. To keep up to date with behind-the-scenes peeks, events and fairs, special promotions and new product releases, please sign up for our newsletter and check the links below:

Twitter: @dorkysramos
Instagram: @dorkysramos

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Alt-J, "Breezeblocks"

On Sunday evening, A. and I walked over to Central Park for Alt-J's concert at Rumsey Playfield. Now we didn't have tickets for the show, but were happy to lay in the grass just outside the open air venue and listen to the songs. I've only just been introduced to them, but "Matilda" and "Breezeblocks" are our favorites and it was nice to hear the band play them live (and watch A. quietly sing along).

I don't know if it's the sudden dip in the temperature or just the busy weekend that's left me starting this week off feeling super slow. I've been shuffling about all day wanting to keep warm and hide under the covers. So instead of continuing to rack my brain over what to tackle next, I'm going to tuck into bed early, listen to some music, and get another fresh start in the morning.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Inventing Your Own Life's Meaning

A friend recently shared the behind-the-scenes stresses of her dreamy sports writing job. After detailing how she had to pull over on the side of a highway in the middle of the night to file a breaking story for the paper, I was reminded of the few meet-ups we've managed to squeeze in over the years and how she'd have to stay connected with work at all times in case something needed to be covered immediately. We'd be enjoying a meal and catching up when suddenly hell would break loose on Twitter and we'd have to cut things short so she could whip out her laptop and start making calls for her next article. The woman is stressed out her mind, but still, I wanted to believe that she loved her job to put up with the downsides, right?

"I think I just want to prove to others and myself that I can be a legitimate beat writer and that I can break news as well," she told me.

I wonder if that validation isn't coming at too high a cost, but also have to admit that my situation is no better. Last month I found myself struggling financially, plowing through rejections, and doubting if I'm doing any of this right. Yes, I have the time to spend with family and friends, to pursue my creative ambitions, to relax when I want to, work from a coffee shop, the park, L.A., wherever, and spend an afternoon reading in the sun, but I don't feel like I'm building towards any real future. Because as great as these things may be for my mind and being, I think we can agree that making money is just as important. And while a high paying job is demanding and stressful, being broke is no picnic either.

A few days ago I stumbled upon Gavin Aung Than's illustration of Bill Watterson's inspiring commencement speech to the 1990 graduates of Kenyon College. In it, the Calvin & Hobbes cartoonist pointed out how choosing a slower path that satisfies your soul and allows you time to chase the things that bring you joy isn't always so popular. You're expected to climb ladders, throw yourself into a career, and work like a horse lest you be deemed a slacker. If you step off the hamster wheel or give up a lucrative position, people might wonder if you've done lost your mind. You might wonder the same if you pass up a fat paycheck in order to go pursue a calmer existence. "As if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth," Watterson said.

I definitely don't want my life to be consumed with earnings and getting to the top of some pyramid somebody else built. I have a vision for what I'd like my life to be: meaningful, productive, filled with creative projects that I'm passionate about, the ones that keep me up at night because I'm so damn excited about them. I want the freedom to work during my optimum hours, to not have to eat lunch while shackled to my computer, to believe that what I'm working on will inspire others to pursue their own dreams, too. I want to always have time for a drink with friends, car rides with Dad, to lay out on the grass and enjoy a free concert with A. at the park, to write in the mornings, draw in the afternoons, and go to sleep at a respectable hour.

See, I love the life I have now because I already have all of the above...I just don't know if it's a sustainable one for much longer and am struggling so hard to make both sides of the coin meet.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Wicked for Broadway Week

Last night my sister and I went to see Wicked and had such an awesome time. Have you seen it? It's the story about the witches of Oz before Dorothy and Toto dropped into the party and really makes you feel for what the Wicked Witch of the West had to live through. I loved the music and didn't expect to find the acting as funny as I did (*toss, toss*). I might have also gotten a bit emotional for most of the first act because the singing was sensational (Lindsay Mendez's rendition of "The Wizard and I" and "Defying Gravity" were phenomenal) and I just couldn't believe that I was finally watching this show. Broadway plays are usually so expensive, but thanks to Broadway Week we were able to snatch 2-for-1 tickets and make my wish come true. I so didn't want the moment to end so I snuck into bed with my phone searching for snippets of the play on YouTube.

What Broadway plays have you seen? This is only my third (Rent and In The Heights were the first two) and have my eyes on The Book of Mormon next.

P.S. Was anyone a big Oz series fan growing up? I've never watched the movie, but remember checking out book after book from the library as a child. This made me want to visit that fantastical place again.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

My Breast Cancer Essay in Latina Magazine

When I was approached to pen an essay for Latina's October issue about my journey with breast cancer, I said yes, but also felt nervous about taking on the assignment. I'd covered breast cancer awareness and survivors' stories for the same magazine in the past so it was a bit surreal that I had now become the subject of a topic I'd written about so many times before. I wasn't sure how I felt about shining the spotlight on myself after knowing how many others had fought before and are still fighting now. What happened to my initial refusal to become a banner woman for this disease? I accepted anyway. More good will come from sharing and giving of oneself than from withholding every bit of you - even the not so pretty parts.

My life is a fairly open book, which is evident through this blog, and I function under the hope that my thoughts and stories somehow inspire someone else walking down a similar path. So maybe my personal essay will bring a little bit of kickass positivity and hope to another trudging through the dark days because as I write in those pages, "You will eventually smile again and focus on your goals, and life just keeps moving on."

Playa Names

Out on the playa it's common practice to adopt a new name for the week. The thought is to cast aside what ties you to the outside world, or "reality camp," and allow yourself the freedom to be your truest self while at Burning Man. It sounds a little hippie, but it's also nice to consider that you don't have to go by the name with which you were born. Lord knows I've spent most of my life wanting a do-over in that category. Some names are gifted while others choose to rename their own selves.

A few weeks before we left, A. and I gifted each other new names. I named him Kinsey, after the famous researcher of human sexuality, and he called me Quill because of my writerly abilities and the prickly mascot of my stationery company Porcupine Hugs. Granted I only gave out my playa name a few times - though I'm sure people thought Dorkys was my made-up moniker - but it was fun to toy with the idea of being a different persona out there.

If you could choose a new name what would it be? A., named after two princes, grew up wishing he was Tom and I figured if I became famous under a stage name, the tabloids would have a field day if my original name was ever exposed.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Logistics Behind Burning Man

Now that we've gotten the sentimental parts of Burning Man out of the way, I wanted to talk about about some of the logistics of living in the desert for a week. While it was definitely a lot less rough than I was expecting, we've already made notes of what did and didn't work this year so that we'll be much more comfortable the next time around.

There's no predicting the weather out there so you must come ready for anything: sweltering heat, frigid nights, rain, hail, dust storms, you name it. The desert does whatever she wants and you'd better be prepared out there. This year, I know I lucked out since the nights were still so warm, a coat was rarely necessary. The days though were a monster and a half. Even though we were still tired come morning, there was no choice but to get out of our tent early unless we wanted to continue baking in our sleep. A tent fan will be necessary for the future.

We also ate better than I expected, sometimes even better than what I eat in my own apartment. Pre-cooked Jack Daniels pulled beef made the best sandwiches. Pasta with ground beef, hearty breakfasts of eggs, bacon, and avocados. Fruit cups, grapes, squeezable applesauce pouches, and coconut water were refreshing out there. Things we didn't even touch: crackers with peanut butter, trail mix, and other dry foods that would make your mouth even more parched. It also didn't help that our camp stove and propane tanks failed us so we had to rely on the kindness of our neighbors and ended up not cooking things that might have taken more gas than necessary. (I'm sure they wouldn't have minded though.) Lesson learned: test all new survival equipment before driving into the middle of nowhere for a week.

Because the whole city and event is such a communal effort, the shared spaces were impressively clean. We tried to keep MOOP (matter out of place and my new favorite acronym) off the ground. I hardly ever entered a port-o-potty and was horrified by what was hiding inside. The floors and seats were clean, there was plenty of toilet paper to go around (though I'd always carry a bit of one-ply just in case), and I was usually amused by the ads and writings on the walls. Some even had pre-recorded messages to entertain you during your nature call. Going to the bathroom was actually as pleasant an experience as you could imagine. And for the ladies who would rather not venture out of their tent at night to do their business, the pee funnel I bought became my new best friend when we were stuck in the car for six hours trying to enter Black Rock City and for the days that followed.

You will bike everywhere on the playa so do yourself a huge favor and pimp your ride out. That includes soft handles, a good basket, hardy wheels, and the comfiest seat you can find. Trust me, your ass will thank you after the first day. The bike situation was what fretted me the most because I'm too petite for many standard adult sizes, but A.'s sister pulled through with a girl bike that I was able to get around in. Granted, it still could have been smaller (as is most things with me) and I probably wouldn't have been so opposed to biking around at night if I felt more confident in it, but when a middle-of-the-night prank had me thinking that someone had stolen my bike, I thought for sure my trip was ruined. Since then, I always locked my bike day and night (it's less for theft out there and more so someone doesn't mistakenly bike off with it) and might add on training wheels the next time around to help me bust through the soft dust. Ain't no shame!

Speaking of dust, you'll either learn to just become one with the thing or try hard to keep your belongings as clean as possible. The latter will be mostly futile (but it helps to package outfits into separate Ziploc bags). As soon as you step foot on your camp location and begin setting up, you will be covered in it. I'd return from a night out on the playa and my hair looked like I'd aged 50 years in one hour. It was fantastic. The alkaline dust will seriously dry out your skin so keep a giant bottle of lotion on hand and wipe off with vinegar to balance out the PH level and keep your hands and feet from cracking. Vinegar will also help get the dust off your clothes when you return home and dump half the desert into your washing machine.

You'd think that after a week of baking in the sun everyone and everything around you would reek - yourself included - but nope! We were meticulous about "bathing" with baby wipes a few times a day and apart from the time spent in the tent each blazing morning, we hardly sweated. It was so hot, the sweat would just evaporate right off of you. That's why it's so important to stay hydrated and follow the motto: piss clear. A Camelbak ensures that water is always within reach. I'm sad to note that my water consumption has absolutely tanked since returning to the city, but maybe if I start carrying my backpack around and turn the blinking el-wire on at night drinking water will be fun again.

As for other comforts, remember that not only is this a community built on self-reliance and self-expression, but also inclusion and participation. Some people go the "roughing it" route while others go all out for Burning Man, bringing in air conditioned RVs and mobile oases to the desert and it's up to each person to bring whatever will make their burn. Some will argue that these luxurious comforts are what's steadily killing the vibe each year, but who really cares? In the end, everyone's just out for a grand time and you're the one responsible for creating the experience you seek.

For more information on Burning Man and how to prepare for a fantastical trip to Black Rock City, I encourage you to read the Burning Man survival guide, learn the Ten Principles, and join this awesome Facebook group to have your questions answered by season burners.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Burning Woman

I'm back from Burning Man and have been wishing I were back on the playa all week long. It was one of the most special experiences I've ever been a part of and am at a loss for words to properly describe this magical event, this DIY Disney Land on Drugs. After A. returned from his first burn last year I gave him crap for barely taking any pictures for me to see. Now I understand.

While there, I felt this happy calm and quickly forgot about whatever could be going on beyond Black Rock City, Nevada. I didn't know what time it was, I couldn't be bothered to pull out my phone to check, and without any service or Internet connection, I was truly able to let go of all those obsessive habits. But it went deeper than just disconnecting from Gmail and social media because I also found myself letting go of the negative parts of my personality like worries, stubbornness, and judgments. I was in this amazing space that nurtured creativity, community, sharing, and joy. I wanted to experience it completely. It was liberating to roam around in whatever attire I wanted (or even none at all) and do whatever simply because it made me happy and seeing others do the same for themselves kept feeding into that pot.

The place is big. If you ever attend, this will be the understatement of the year as "big" cannot begin to describe this. I wasn't prepared to have my mind blown after biking out for more than a mile into the middle of the desert and still seeings lights from our city of 70,000 twinkling in the distance, pulsating 'til the dawn. I found myself amused by a constant stream of whimsy: hula hoops that radiated with streams of light, makeshift slides from construction tubing, howling at the setting sun, screaming in the deep playa, quiet pockets right in the middle of the mayhem, so much music, fire!, night skydivers who'd leave a streak of sparks across the inky sky.

"And to think we're in just one one one country…on Earth," I marveled one night. "I feel so small."

But it was powerful to know that somehow I helped create this. We all did. The people of Black Rock City are the ones who make it the Wonderland I found it to be. We're kind to each other, we care for our shared spaces. Artists share openly without receiving any compensation in return save for the delight felt by those who gather around their work. I felt like Alice stumbling upon one random curiosity after another. Instead of ever satiating my craving, it made me want more. For nights we'd walk though dust storms and a parade of LED-lit wanderers, searching and searching for everything. I wanted it all, I wanted to devour the place. All my life I'd kept my soul from playing without my own judgement, from being whatever the hell it wanted to be and now here I stood completely famished before this beautiful feast for the heart. I wanted to explode. I cried instead.

I had finally found a place so nurturing to how carefree I wish I were in the real world that I didn't want to leave. I needed to run around, inhabit all this space. My usually socially-anxious self had no qualms about saying hello to the strangers walking alongside me and asking them how their burn was going. After going in for a shower at a nearby camp, I immediately grabbed the soap and hose to help wash up the other dusty playamates lined up behind me. Feeling rejuvenated after such a refreshing break from the heat, we all danced in the nude.

"What do you want to leave in the temple," A. asked the night before this year's space was to be set on fire.

"I want to burn everything. I want to start over."

We'd been taking such good care of each other, being gentle, loving, and kind that I wanted so much to bring it back home with us and didn't want my hang-ups to screw it all up in the real world. I felt such joy and peace just by breathing that I wanted to stay huddled in this bubble of unconditional acceptance. It would be hard to return without my insides feeling so different.

We never did watch the temple burn. The threat of an impending storm had most of us packing up early to avoid the city's shutdown Monday afternoon. But as I stood on the roof of the car trying to catch a glimpse of the flames from the road miles away, I told myself that I didn't have to leave the principles learned out on the playa behind nor did I have to wash off the person I became along with the dust. I was her there and so I still am her everywhere.