Change of Plans

I had planned to participate in the A-to-Z Challenge again this year because I had such a great experience last year. However, other priorities have come up, so I’m going to be a spectator this year rather than a participant.

My plan had been to re-read:

I divided the book into 26 sections for each letter of the alphabet. For example, A was going to be “access” because Gilbert shows how creativity gives you access to a more fulfilling life experience, even if you never plan on becoming “An Artist.”

After drafting through “D,” I realized two things: I have limited time/energy, and my theme was starting to feel a bit dull, or like a re-do of last year.

Although I’m a bit sad not to take part, this is not all bad. One of the reasons I have limited time is because my creative efforts with Carrot Condo designs were re-ignited a few weeks ago and have been going strong ever since. The story of serendipity is here if you’d like to read it and see some illustrations by a cool Portland artist.

Thanks A-to-Z community! I will still follow along and daydream of next year. Good luck to everyone participating. It’s totally worth the effort!!

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The Twits

I was 8, or 9, or 10 when I read The Twits by Roald Dahl. I remember reading it aloud to my parents and laughing so hard we cried. My mom still remembers it, and we have an on-going reference to Mr. Twit tucking food into his beard to snack on later.

The Twits

My sense of humor has changed, apparently, so when I re-read it a couple of months ago, I didn’t find it as funny, rather mean, dark, and a little tedious.

But I still like the illustrations, and I can’t seem to stop pondering this message. In case it’s too blurry to read:

If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until it gets so ugly you can hardly bear to look at it.

A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.

True? Not true? I can think of people who radiate beauty because of their personality, kindness, joy, and humor. But I can also think of people I would describe as beautiful who are hounded by self-defeating, negative thoughts.

Still, I think it’s generally true that what people think/feel comes through in how they look. I still remember the face of a woman who simply passed by me on a sidewalk in a small town near Portland. All she did was smile as she passed, but her face! Her smile! Something about her wrinkles and eyes–piercing vivaciousness, even though all she was doing was walking by and smiling in plain, regular clothes, with plain, regular hair.

I thought: I want to be like her. She must live right. She must eat well and love her life. I want to live in a way that makes me look like that!

If I were a better (and more bold) photographer, I’d snap pictures of everyone I find beautiful and post them as an antidote to the same-old-same-old images.

Last example–a boy at the park the other day. I only caught a glimpse of him, and it was during a moment of glee. His caretaker (not sure if it was a mom or nanny or friend) held one hand as he jumped down a tall step and hurried off to something that interested him.

His feet turned inward, his head looked too large for his body, and he spoke in noises instead of words, but he bounced when he moved, his eyes sparkled through thick, round glasses, and his smile stretched wide. If I had to assign one word to him, it would be: bright.

It was as if he carried his own light around with him. That’s the kind of beauty I want to cultivate.



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Drawing And Writing Without Pants

Happy new year! I hope 2016 is humming along nicely for you so far. We had some fun family-and-friend time, but I also got really tired for about four weeks. I think I’m recovering, but man-oh-man I do not like feeling so fatigued.

Nevertheless, I’ve stuck with my commitment to draw daily for one full year. It’s been 46 days, and I’ve managed to draw for 40 of them. In the past, that would have felt like failure, and after the first or second missed day, I’d have called it quits. Now, however, as perfectionism slowly recedes from my life, I see this as a great success. I have 40 more sketches than I would have had, new ideas, and a few surprises like this forlorn fellow.

I’ve also started writing “morning pages” because Rebecca Rebouché, a painter  interviewed in Art, Inc. by Lisa Congdon, said the practice has become the “most important element” in her art and her life.  Oliver Burkeman sums up the process Julia Cameron describes in The Artist’s Way. I liked his slightly snarky approach to the practice that totally wins him over as it seems to do for everyone who tries it.

I don’t write daily but even three times a week has clarified details for Carrot Condo projects and set goals for 2016 in a much more concrete and achievable way than I’ve been able to do in the past.

I may also try meditating every weekday for 15 minutes for Lent, but I haven’t decided for sure yet. I think the current lesson here is: Hurrah for #365daysofpractice !! Daily practice is really effective for me, even on days when I begrudge it or spend barely 60 seconds drawing. Even that has yielded results and primed creative muscle.

Lastly, and surprisingly related, is the fact that I really need new pants. The few I have fit poorly, look bad, and are old. However, nothing fits. I mean, truly, nothing. I don’t know why, and I do not want to spend the time or the money shopping for pants. In dramatic, exasperated fashion, I sighed to my husband: “Well, I guess I’ll just wear skirts. Forget pants.”

Well, duh. Why not? I have skirts left over from my teaching days. It seems sort of overly fancy to wear a skirt while hanging out at home with my kiddo and going for walks around the neighborhood, but for the last two days, it’s worked, and it reminded me of what I learned in “Kk: Kitchen, Using What You’ve Got,” that limitation can inspire invention. If I can manage to stop resisting limitations and problems and see them as creative opportunities, my mind opens up.

I mean, it’s not genius to start wearing skirts, but it shifted my perspective–what else can I out-maneuver? What other path or method might I discover if I stop lamenting that I lack the one I wish to have? What else can I re-vision in my life?

So, here’s to a dynamic and fulfilling 2016 to all of you trying to make the world a kinder, more generous, more creative place, and to all your daily practices, whether you wear pants or not.


#365daysofpractice = use this to tag updates about your daily effort so we can find you in various social media platforms.


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How Much You Want This, Girlie? #365daysofpractice

I’ve spent the last two weeks pondering my last post, hemming and hawing about whether to do it or not. And then on Monday, December 7, it rained so hard here in Portland that it unsettled even life-long Oregonians like me.

The rain caused one problem after the other:

  • A large puddle flowed into our basement,
  • the downspout broke over my head and dowsed me with gallons of frigid water,
  • I fixed the downspout and the block that made the gutters overflow,
  • I poured our last bag of bark dust over the ponds gathering around the downspout,
  • I traded out towels every 15 minutes to soak up the swirling pool of water in the basement,
  • That evening, I washed the towels, but when I tried to dry them, the dryer broke,
  • tiny, ravenous ants invaded three rooms of our house by the hundreds (even crawling on our toothbrushes);
  • and of course all the other stuff that must happen in a typical day had to be done too: meals made, toddler tended, dishes washed, board books read, toys picked up (16 times), and so forth.

I forced a smile through all of it; I told myself I could handle; I started to shout “What the f—?!?” but instead changed it to, “Bring it! I can handle it!” And I did.

In the midst of all this is when I decided to commit to drawing every day for 365 days. I started my creative challenge on December 7 because life is never going to make way for art, at least not until the artist proves her desire and willingness to go to the mat for her ideas.

I mean, I can keep sitting around and daydreaming of new projects for Carrot Condo, or I can go draw.

And as Monday showed me, I never actually sit around. Life gives me all kinds of completely legitimate, important, useful, even challenging and satisfying tasks to fill more than seven days a week, none of which include drawing or writing.

Monday’s storm felt like a big, arrogant Greek god swooped down and wagged a finger at me all paternalistic, and said “How much you want this, girlie?” in a tone that sounded more like, “See? I told you. You’ve already got more on your plate than you can handle, so forget this whole creative thing.”

That made me mad.

So, it’s done. I’m committed. And, I’ve already missed a day. But so what? I’ve got 6 more sketches in my notebook than I would have had if I’d not sat down in the middle of the tempest to draw.

You want to join me? Here are my guidelines if you want to follow:

  • Draw (or whatever you choose to do) every, single day.
  • Doesn’t matter what I draw or how long or how well; I just have to do it.
  • If I miss a day, I get right back on track the very next day.
  • There is no working ahead; this isn’t for cute Instagram pictures but for forcing art into every day of daily life until it’s as much a part of my routine as the dishes and laundry.
  • I have to report on occasion to stay accountable. I’ll use this blog and my Carrot Condo Instagram account and the hashtag #365daysofpractice because it doesn’t look like anyone’s using this so we can find each other easily, and because practice in order to develop a healthy habit and further transform into the people we want to be is what this is all about.

You could do anything for 365 days that is realistic and adds fulfillment to your life:

  • meditate
  • draw
  • write
  • exercise
  • eat veggies
  • read a chapter/poem
  • do something helpful for someone else
  • memorize a word in a language you don’t know
  • listen to a new-to-you song, band, or album

You can start whenever you want. Will you let me know if you decide to do it? I’m deeply curious about what you’ll take on for 365 days, and we can encourage each other to keep going when it gets tough.

You can post a comment here, you can email me (trista AT carrot condo DOT com), or you can message me in Instagram (link is to your right if you’re on a laptop; at the very bottom if you’re on a iPad/iPhone).

The more of us engaging in something thoughtful every day, the less impact these “storms” will have. Right? Good luck!

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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:
Etsy shop:

(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:

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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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