365 Days In A Row … Is It Possible? Is It A Good Idea?


Miniature chair by Lauren Rapp from The Washington Post.

Last week on Instagram (@carrot.condo), I posted a picture of my “flower-a-day” project from a few years ago.IMG_1176Then, my friend sent me this article from The Washington Post about Lauren Rapp who made one miniature chair every day of the year … yes, that’s 365 chairs. And yes, that’s one made out of a dinosaur!

Now, I’m wondering, do I commit to a daily creative task for an entire year?

I’ve not been able to accomplish anything for 365 days straight except for drinking coffee, eating, and sleeping. (Okay, and using the restroom, but we don’t really need to talk about that here.)

Last year, I managed to write almost every day and gained a lot of knowledge about myself as a creative person that I blogged about for the April A-to-Z challenge. But even then, it was more like four-or-five days a week, which is more than 100 days short of 365.

What do you all think? Does it create just one more stress and drain of energy to commit to something like this? Or, does it fuel the creative life?

I’m thinking simple, like another flower-a-day, and posting it on Instagram. I mean, what do I have to lose? I learned all about failure last year (read “F” in the A-to-Z link), so the worst thing that could happen is I report here, in a few days or months, that I missed a day and therefore failed.

Like Lauren Rapp, maybe I will gain expertise, confidence, and/or clarify my creative goals. I have many plans for Carrot Condo creations, but get lethargic about actually starting new projects because they’re a bit daunting. Maybe the flowers are a simple warm-up each day. Maybe I also limit them to no more than 10 minutes.

Ideas? Advice? What do you all think? And … do any of you want to do it with me? You don’t have to post them online, but if you want to, we could create a shared hashtag to find each other.


Miniature chairs by Lauren Rapp made out of ice cream bars (and maybe the one on the left is from Kit-Kats?), from The Washington Post.

I think I’ll sit with this for a few days and see what you all have to say.

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Letting Go Of “Lack”

Ugh. Whenever I avoid writing about something, all my other topics go cold until I tackle the one demanding expression.

It starts with Umpqua.

See? I don’t want to type any further than that. Umpqua Community College and the shooting there on October 1.

All of the mass shootings, going all the way back to Springfield in 1998, have been horrendous and left my gut and heart aching, but Umpqua almost felt like it happened in my own living room. I taught English at a community college for 12 years, so my brain replaced any images from the Umpqua tragedy with my own beloved colleagues and students. Seeing them terrified or harmed left my physically shaking for days, and I stopped writing.

It was just too much.

But then, a month later, friends and family came out in droves for my Carrot Condo launch party, and I felt restored and buoyed by friendship and love and camaraderie.

Then Paris happened.

Then, something I’ve been pondering for a few years came more into focus, but I’m afraid I will sound entitled and foolish describing it. Nevertheless, it’s what’s demanding to be written:

When I think of Umpqua, of Paris, of all the refugees displaced and homeless, I think: I must fully enjoy my life! I must stop fretting about tomorrow or striving to improve this and that. I must be right here, fully engaging with the life in front of me, whether I’m sipping a cup of coffee, changing a diaper, or washing dishes after a long day.

These day-to-day moments are what make a life, and the attitude with which we embrace them determines our quality of life. It’s these moments that have been stolen from so many people terrorized at a cafe, driven from their homes, or killed in a classroom.

If I imagine my life as I know it today taken from me, how I would regret the hours I’ve spent worrying about the paint peeling on our ceiling instead of celebrating the fact that we live in a cozy little house. How I would lament the energy I’ve put into wondering if I ought to lose a few pounds instead of savoring the chocolate chips cookies and fresh apples dipped in peanut butter.

I used to let worries about the possibility of calamity erase the very real comfort of the moment, but not anymore.

Here’s what I mean — a 12-year-old Syrian refugee named Hana has spent three years in a camp doing hard labor as a result of her family seeking safety. “Why, Hana often wondered, had she not appreciated school back in Syria?” The November 8, 2015 New York Times Magazine published images and stories of three of the 30 million child refugees around the world. What they miss, what they long for, are the things I used to only half experience because I was so distracted worrying and striving and straining to be something else.

Sitting at your own kitchen table in your own kitchen with a friend or by yourself with a cup of coffee should not be a luxury, but it is for far too many people right now, so I will start treating it as a luxury.

I don’t mean I’ll be a glutton, only that I am going to savor the simple things as much as I can because they are the things I would miss if tragedy struck.

Fear makes me stingy and uptight. I turn down the heat and shiver all day because I’m afraid there won’t be enough … enough what and for how long? Enough heat to last my life time? Enough money to pay the heating bill?

More than twenty years ago, a friend shocked me by saying disdainfully, “You come from such a place of lack.”

I pondered that for years. She was right. I’ve often been so focused on what I lack, that I completely negate what I actually have.

But then–Umpqua, Paris, refugees homeless worldwide, homeless camps right here in Portland under bridges and highway overpasses.

I will continue doing the little things I can to help ease the problems — reading Street Roots, for example, has given me quite a lot of hope. It’s easy to hear news about all the horrific problems in the world, and Street Roots tackles these issues too, but it reports about the people and agencies and communities working to improve and solve issues. I did not expect a paper focused on homelessness to leave me so encouraged.

But I’m also going to enjoy my life. Appreciate what I have rather than trying to improve it. Notice abundance rather than deficiency. Turn up the heat. Eat the cookies. Read a good book. Watch a good movie. Stay up late because the conversation’s so great. Try to never, ever, feel sorry for myself because my little discomforts are mild and manageable compared to the loss of all the little things that make a life good.

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An Amazon Package and Bacon Bits

In some ways, I live an old-fashioned life. I borrow books and movies from the library (no TV or Netflix), I almost never shop online, and I don’t like bacon (okay, that last one will make sense in a minute).

It’s rare when a package lands on our doorstep, and when it does, it’s a big event for us. Tuesday, I found a package addressed to me and our son, just the two of us. Maybe because I squealed, he squealed too and wanted to squeeze it to make it crinkle.

I texted a picture of the mailing label to my husband to share the excitement and got the scissors, but he texted back: “We should open it tonight. Don’t you think?” After the briefest of hesitations, I decided to wait until he would be home too, but by then, the kiddo was in bed. With the package addressed to him too, we couldn’t really leave him out. Finally, Thursday morning, we were all awake and home at the same time. (See what I mean? Package = Big Event. We either find deep joy in the simplest of things, or we’re just weird.) I got the scissors, and here’s what we found:


Woohoo! I’d just returned this book to the library long before I was ready (one downfall of having a popular library; good titles are always on hold for someone else). I’d brought the book to show our friend HKC when we saw her a few weekends ago. We loved everything we made from the book: baked tofu and cashew cream sauce, but the bacon …

Okay, so I don’t like bacon at all. Pig bacon, I mean. Even before I became vegan I did not like bacon. Now that I am only 90% vegan and eat meat a few times a month, I still don’t want bacon, which is only hard because in Portland, bacon-passion is in full swing, like a reaction against kale-love. People wear t-shirts with bacon images on them, order ice cream and chocolate bars with bacon in them, and wear bacon cologne. (Okay, that might be only rumor, or only among the young and single who are not afraid of dogs.)

HOWEVER, the bacon in Dreena Burton’s book … HKC and I could not stop eating it. The recipe turns large coconut flakes into salty, savory, crispy flakes of amazement. Each time either of us walked past the bowl of “bacon,” we’d eat a piece or two. I don’t know how we had enough left for collard wraps at lunch and for breakfast the next day. (Maybe it was because I automatically doubled the recipe. I trust Dreena’s recipes that much, plus I was hungry.)

As we made these totally plant-based, satisfying dishes, I reveled in having a friend who is such a great cook and who is interested in vegan meals. Now I have the book to remind me of happy friendship, a rejuvenating weekend,  and the adventurous fun a vegan-ish life offers.

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…she wanted to stay and color.

Oh my gosh, dear Blog Readers–I did not mean to stop writing for a whole month, but the funny thing is: I’ve been writing to you in my head these last few weeks.

Yes, I write to you in my head, telling you about the things happening in my creative life. And so much has happened! I’m going to start with the best part. Look at this!!!!!

IMG_0997This is the VERY FIRST storybook I’ve seen colored!!!!! I can’t begin to describe just how deeply rewarding and inspiring it was to see this.

After a year of writing, illustrating, and finally printing these books, I’ve been imagining how others might color these scenes, how they might interpret the characters, what they might add to the story.

I didn’t realize that seeing the first page colored would feel so personal. It’s like the books did not feel complete until now.

But it’s even more than that. A story came along with the picture of the colored page:

B who is 6 came to spend the day with me and I got [the storybooks] out first thing and we colored for about 1 hr and then went to the park.  In the afternoon she couldn’t wait to get back home to do more coloring and when her mom came to pick her up she wanted to stay and color and almost started crying  (she’s not a crier at all).

At this point, I said aloud, “I’m not a crier either!” even though I choked back tears as I said it. B’s babysitter continued:

Anyway, they were a real hit with B  AND with me.  I love the pictures and I love the story.  B‘s favorite was “The Weirdest Things Happen At Our House!” and my favorite is “Follow Your Heart”  That is truly a message we need to hear even when we are 60!

Oh you guys … have I come close to describing just how thrilled I am? Even though I’ve never met B and I wasn’t there to see her color, I feel like the two of us are collaborating, like my books will finally feel finished and truly successful once read, interpreted, and colored by others.

There was another picture sent with the message of B coloring. It was like looking at my 6-year-old self. B’s sitting at a table, crayons spread in a half-circle around her, hunched over one of my books in such total absorption that her tongue is sticking out a little.

Sigh. This adventure has been so worth it. Thank you for being a part of it. I have a lot more to share with you. As of today, I’m back on track to posting on Fridays, but some of them might be on my storybook website instead. I’ll let you know.

Storybook website: http://carrotcondo.com
Etsy shop: http://www.etsy.com/shop/CarrotCondo

(The page pictured is from “Follow Your Heart, Trista Gay!

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Breathing Through A Creative Slump

My friend and I are teaching a half-day retreat for writers and artists in October called Opening The Creative Mind. We first taught it as a 90-minute workshop at a creative writing conference last spring. However, it truly began a few years ago when I was taking  yoga classes to bend and breathe my way through a rather confusing and challenging time in my life. I noticed something lovely happened to me in Robin’s classes that did not happen in any others.

This is blind contour drawing, something we’re adding to our meditation retreat. Photo and article from The New York Times Magazine linked here.

Whether I attended her sweat-inducing vinyasa class or her more soothing hatha class, I’d walk home filled with writing and art ideas. But even more remarkable: I felt great about those ideas. They all seemed viable and interesting and full of rewarding potential. Even better than all of that: I felt fully capable of pursuing those ideas, of crafting essays and composing illustrations.

I’d get home and wonder, “Why do I ever think I can’t do this? Hm. Weird,” and I’d settle into work as an Artist Who Believes in Her Craft.

But then, by the next day, the more practiced and habitual critical thoughts would return and I’d wonder how I’d been so sure of my ideas yesterday.

So, one day after class, I asked Robin, “Would you want to collaborate with me and teach a writing and meditation workshop?” She said “Sure!” and it’s been an easy and inspiring collaboration ever since.

As artists, Robin and I both know the subtle and layered resistance artists face. Robin is both an actor and a director, and I am both a writer and illustrator. We talked at length about our own struggles to believe in ourselves and our craft. We’ve also both been teachers for a long while; Robin teaches yoga and meditation and I taught English at the college level for 15 years. We’ve seen the struggles play out in our students and have ushered them through anxiety, doubt, creative blocks, resistance and fear.

We created a workshop we both wanted to take and felt eager to offer to others dealing with a creative slump. Our first students gave us great feedback about the workshop, and the most rewarding part for me was seeing them look as light, open, and happy as I always felt walking home from Robin’s yoga class.

So, we decided to continue the collaboration but make it a longer format so we can keep the gentle yoga, meditation, and writing, but add some drawing and discussion.

If you’re in the Portland area and want to attend the retreat, more information and a link to register are here: http://www.robinvada.com/opening-the-creative-mind.html

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Wah. Wah. All Better Now.

I found out yesterday that I did not get into the Crafty Wonderland show. At first, I was really sad, and I felt ashamed to have to share this news with you. But then, a couple of things happened, and as of yesterday afternoon, I was back to feeling pretty darn great. This is a big change for me.

First, as soon as I read the email, I let myself feel sad for a few minutes. This might seem ridiculous, but it’s a radical change from how I used to deal with rejection. In the past, I’d pretend it didn’t bother me at all. I’d convince myself I didn’t care. But in reality, I’d carry a little piece of disappointment around with me for weeks, maybe months, and that heavy bit of sadness made me doubt myself and avoid sticking my neck out again for a long time.

A few minutes of raw sadness turns out to be a lot easier. I’m not sure why I feared that emotion so much in the past, but after a good ten-minute sulk, I felt fine. (I should add that my guy gave me a lot of love, as did two friends via email/text. That helped, too.)

Second, I stopped myself from falling into an old, unhelpful habit. As soon as I processed the rejection email, I noticed that my thoughts slid right into the conclusion that my work must not be very good.

Rejection = the work sucks. Right? Don’t a lot of us think this, maybe without even realizing it? In the past, this equation seemed perfectly accurate, and I would abandon an idea right there and then.

This time, I stopped myself and made myself separate assessing the quality of my work from the result of applying to this one craft show. Happily, I quickly decided I still love my books and cards and am eager to keep working on them.

Wow. That’s new. I like it.

I’ll admit that it will be a little hard for me to see other coloring books at the show, but I’ll survive. In fact, it will be interesting to see what others are doing.

Hm. I hardly recognize myself!

All of you following this blog and sharing supportive and insightful comments have played no small part in this new, more resilient and positive me. As always: thank you! It’s really great to know you’re out there!

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A Photo Shoot, Good Neighbors, and A Wishing Tree

IMG_0750It’s done: I applied to Crafty Wonderland. Included in my whirlwind of effort is a new website! You can visit Carrot Condo (carrotcondo.com) to see pictures of my Storybooks You Can Color and Cards You Can Color. I will continue to add to it as more books, cards, and calendars get completed.

My husband helped me take photos of the storybooks and cards on our wedding anniversary. Maybe this is pitiful, but I found it quite romantic huddled in our dining room on a rainy day trying to get all the pictures taken while our kiddo napped. I thought our set-up looked quite professional:

The kiddo’s highchair served as my coloring area, and the halogen lights have been tucked in the crumbling garage for nearly a decade–but they still worked.

I’ll know on September 22nd if I got in or not. Crossing fingers until then.

In the meantime, I’ve continued buying and reading Street Roots like I said I would and have two quotations to share with you.

The first I read a few weeks ago before the current refugee crisis became wide-spread news. I’ve always felt horrified by any refugee experience–having to leave your home with nowhere else to go and facing even more dangers and challenges in an attempt to find a safe place. I’m finding hope and courage in the stories of people who have made the journey and re-settled and have gotten on with living their lives.

Apala Barclay, a cartoonist and illustrator, said his plight in Liberia actually gave him the skills and muscle he needed to make it in a new country: “One minute my family had things, the next minute we were at the bottom. It prepared me to come to this country and work from nothing to where I am today.” (August 7-13 Street Roots)

Then, I read about a woman who talks casually and cheerfully about what I think must be one of the hardest roles in the world: being a single mother. She raised three children and attended college at the same time. The dean even told her she should quit school because she’d never make it. She credits the community she lived in “…I had been living in a housing project, and the women in the housing project, we made friends and helped each other. … there was a subculture that helped people (like me) get by.” (August 7-13 Street Roots)

I’m starting to see just how vital community, friends, family, and neighbors are in the world and in my life.

I stepped outside the other day to take a walk with the kiddo, still kind of reeling from the news about refugees, of losing all basic security and comfort, when two things happened.

First, my next-door neighbor came out and asked if we’d like a train set for our kiddo. And then, voila, there she is giving us an entire set of wooden track and trains in perfect condition from her own childhood. It’s just begging to be played with, and we can’t wait to begin.

Second, after tucking the train set away in the house, we started our walk, but half-a-block later, I ran into another neighbor who grows a front yard full of lush, gorgeous plants, like dahlia flowers the size of dinner plates. I asked her for advice about growing tomatoes (because mine have struggled while everyone else’s thrive in this weirdly hot Portland summer). She said, “Just a minute” and left.

When she came back, she gave us a large bag full of perfectly shaped brightly colored tomatoes.

I told her I’d just been feeling scared about life but now realized having awesome neighbors provides a great sense of security. She smiled like she totally got what I was feeling and gave me a fist bump.

It’s not just that two nice people gave us nice things–it’s that they thought of us at all, that they wanted to share something, and that these moments strengthen invisible tethers between us–that “web of mutuality” Dr. Martin Luther King talked about–it’s there, not always easy to see, but incredibly resilient and lasting.

For more evidence of this, check out my friend Deb Johnson Nies’s wishing tree on Facebook. Lightning struck a tree in her front yard, so she made a sign inviting people to write and hang wishes on the part of the tree that remained. Everything that has happened since is quite magical.

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