Monday, July 27, 2015

For Poorer

I'm stealing the title of this post from a great piece of the same name. You should read it, especially if you're poor-ish, with young kids, and a freelancer (or would-be freelancer). It's a rough combo. There's no earth shattering resolution, just a feeling that you're not alone in this situation.

"Lord you know that I am ready, ready for my Sugar Daddy"... this song! 

I've been thinking about what it means to be poor in America for a long time. In high school, which I attended online, we used to have these things called "resumes", which was a misleading term for what was essentially a blank canvas that popped up when you clicked on a student's name and where the owner of that name could create any impression of themselves that they wanted in that space. For the longest time, I had this quote up there by John Locke from his Second Treatise of Government (I know, I was pretty edgy), "money has but fantastical, imaginary value."

At the time, I took this to mean, "who needs money, all you need is love, joy, peace, [insert whatever]". As I've gotten older and had to start paying for things, I've come to realize that he was probably commenting on the fact that money is only valuable because we all agree that it is and we all subscribe to a system in which we accept money in return for goods or favors. The money itself is meaningless, merely paper or metal that we believe to be worth something.

[my new motto is going to have to be some version of Moss's quote: "At least I have a lot of love in my life. Love is all I've got. That, and my sweet style."]

This realization has been somewhat of a letdown. As an adult, and especially as a parent, I am now keenly aware of the value of money in my life. I used to scoff at the American definition of poverty. There are so many people around the globe who have so much less than I have, and even so much less than the truly destitute and homeless people in the United States. I'm not saying that in an "eat your vegetables, there are children starving in Africa" sort of way, I saw a lot of genuinely life-threatening poverty growing up in China.

Here in California, where the good weather brings a lot of permanently homeless people, there is usually free food and shelter provided for those who seek it out, and if they really want it, there are often opportunities to learn a skill at a community center, or something of that nature. In other parts of the world, people sometimes sell a child to feed their other children, or watch their children die of starvation. That is an understanding of poverty that most Americans are shielded from, and that is a blessing.

However, I've also learned as I've grown in to an adult that suffering is not so easily defined as we sometimes think it is. It is difficult, dangerous, and feels hopeless to be poor, no matter the circumstances. Suffering, stress, and strife are universal, and even if some have experienced more disasters in life than others, the emotions are familiar.

I have been one to scowl (inwardly) at panhandlers in the U.S. and think to myself, "get yourself off drugs and get a life." "Stop milking the system and abusing my tax payments". "Only they are responsible for the position they're in, why should I help bail them out when they'll likely go get drunk off my hard earned money?"

And then I found myself with very little money, relying on other people to get by. I've always prided myself on being thrifty and good with my money. I've never been in debt, I don't spend excessively, I almost never pay full price for things, etc. But either I'm not as good with money as I thought, or there just isn't enough of it for what I considered a modest lifestyle. You've got to make it work with what you're given, right? Yet, what I'm given is paltry (and yet so good, compared to some!), and the cost of living only increases. I don't say this out of anger at employers or the job market or something, just that we don't make a lot of money (for a variety of reasons) and we have plenty of expenses.

In the United States, the official poverty line as defined for a family of 4 in 2015 is $24,250 a year. If Jonas worked full time (40 hours/week) for every week in the year at $13/hour, he would make $24,960 before taxes. For now, I'm contributing $200 a month, at most. We also end up getting more money back from the government than we pay in taxes, which is great for us, and probably why our government is in extreme debt, but that's a whole other topic. As you can see, we're just about at the poverty line as defined by the U.S. government. We rarely have more than $8000 in the bank between the two of us, and we often have a lot less than that. More often than not, $10 feels like a lot of money to me.

For the sake of this post, I took a preliminary screening test to see if our family is eligible for food stamps. We aren't, primarily (I would guess) because my parents let us live with them for free, minus the cost of utilities. Obviously, this is a HUGE blessing and opportunity and life saver for us. It keeps us from eating solely rice and beans, but I totally resell things that people give to me as hand-me-downs. #brokeasajoke. Our goal is to save enough money that we are able to go back out on our own again, and use the time that we're here to make headway in school so that we can get better paying jobs. 

I am not prone to being ashamed of myself, but it's difficult to look at these numbers and not feel embarrassed. I'm not sure that we did anything wrong that put us so far "behind" the middle-class dream-life, but sometimes it feels like we did.  Of course I wonder where we'd be if we had finished school before having [unexpected] children, but since we did, I try and find strength in the fact that we've always had everything we need from day to day, and that we are rich in family, if not in money. 

Regardless, being poor is stressful. I tell people that "we're in a time of limbo" and I might even say, "we just have to trust that God will take care of us" (which is true), but that makes it sound like I'm a lot more zen with the whole thing than I am. True, I don't constantly dwell on it, but that's mainly because I can't control it for now (God knows I try, and try, and try) and when I do dwell on (like I have been while writing this post), I get so down in the dumps that I need to go shopping. KIDDING. A little bit. At least my retail therapy happens at the thrift store. 

Really though, we're planning to move to LA, which I am excited about on many levels, but it's unhappy to think that I won't be able to afford taking advantage of much of what it great about LA. Then again, I pay $80 a month for my phone. I know that's a level of "poverty" that is pretty bearable in the grand scheme of things. I make this "quality of life" argument to myself about how it's okay to spend money on fun stuff sometimes because poverty is soul-crushing otherwise. Yet, spending money at all is pretty soul-crushing when I look at the numbers (which I often avoid because it's so painful - I know, I deserve many lectures for that), and spending money now means that we may just stay poor forever, and that would probably be even less fun.

Things like vacation or family photos that are GOOD things usually don't win out in our budget, and it's difficult to see people around me having those things. Not merely out of jealousy (though there is that at times), but because we don't act as poor as we are, and that creates some social tension. Our friends want to go out to eat or go to a show and I often have to tell them we can't afford it. It's hard to feel as brave as I make myself look when divulging that fact. I don't want to take their money (they often offer to pay for us), and God forbid I start a gofundme campaign to support my middle-class lifestyle habits (I know that's scathing, but HATH MY GENERATION NO SHAME?! I'm not going to pay for your plane tickets!).

It is difficult for me to accept monetary help from people. I don't even like taking advantage of government programs that we're eligible for, because I'm paranoid of being a whiner. I'm not sure if I grew up poor or not - my parents were supported missionaries who were very careful with their money. We had everything we needed, but both of my parents are very thrifty. They felt strongly that they shouldn't abuse the funds given to them, and so I spent a year sleeping on the floor of an office in our family apartment while my friends lived in 3 story mansions. I remember not being able to go out to eat with my friends, or even as a family, because my parents didn't have enough money. I heard my parents talk about money shortages (if only due to the lengthy transfer times between international banks) and it made me a little jumpy. I'm not trying to sound bitter, but I guess I assumed I would never let myself be in that same uncomfortable position.

So why am I poor? I'm not afraid of work. In fact, I really enjoy working. But I also value being present when my boys are very young, not to mention that we couldn't afford daycare. Being poor feels like a trap in a lot of ways. To put it bluntly, I'm not a stay at home mom because I like doing it. I'm not very good at it. I do it because I think that I should and because I can't afford not to. Seriously, I wouldn't make enough money working outside the home to pay for the cost of caring for my kids when I'm at work. As described in this article:
 "These women described their shift to stay-at-home motherhood as a choice, but a choice implies options. Work flexible hours while your child is in the care of loving, trusted caretakers—ideally in onsite daycare—or stay home with your baby and don’t work. That is a choice. No, the women I wrote about had been given what was clearly a false choice, even though the culture at large and even the women themselves often insist on believing otherwise. What kind of choice is it when your career as an attorney or investment banker demands that you stay at the office 60 hours a week or opt out of the workforce altogether? When a husband’s significant income gives a woman the “luxury” to stay home with her children, she’ll often feel compelled to choose that option."
My goal isn't to turn this in to a rant about inequality in the workforce or society forcing me into a kind of motherhood with unfair standards (even if there is some truth to that). I would be more troubled to never see my kids than I am at seeing them 24/7. But this "luxury" of staying home feels less luxurious when there's no viable alternative.

There's been some buzz about LA city and county hiking their minimum wage to $15/h over the next several years. You all know by now that I lean liberal, but maybe that's because I'm poor, not because I'm idealistic. Generally, I oppose citing sources from websites like "Republicans" or "you're an idiot if you want to take guns away from" because you're not going to get level headed information from those sources. When was the last time you were convinced of something because your Facebook friend posted about how stupid your political leanings are? That said, I read this little poster recently and well, reality bites...

First of all, I KNEW I belonged in the 70s!
Like I said, this information did come from the Occupy movement, and they really have it in for rich people. I don't have a problem with rich people, although it sounds like a nice thing to be. Forget the part about CEOs making supposedly 937% more than they used to, and just think about the cost of school, food, and housing right now. I know these numbers aren't too far off because the older people in my life tell me how much of their paycheck went toward those things when they were my age, and it was a lot less than what it is now.

Not that I hear a lot of people howling about this anymore, but machines aren't smarter than us. They're just more durable. They can do the same tasks over and over, so the jobs that are left are the ones for the creative thinkers and doers and innovators - the jobs that aren't skilled are steadily disappearing, and that leaves some of us unemployed. I can say with confidence that I am a skilled person, but I don't have any paperwork to prove it, and the cost of that paperwork is incredible. Not only in dollar amount, but in time and energy that is taken away from putting food on the table and keeping my children from scratching each others eyeballs out. We have more access to knowledge than ever before, but it feels harder than ever to use it to our advantage.

Additionally, the benefits of the those good jobs increasingly help the most well off - poor people can't afford the best toys and tools, or enter politics or the other channels we consider to be able to affect change. I saw a headline that posited that successful entrepreneurs come from families with money. Starting something new (aka "hard work") is costly, and often a failure. Sure, there are people who pull themselves up by their bootstraps and build something lasting and incredible, but there are also people like me. I have dreams, I have drive, but I also have responsibilities that prevent me from focusing solely on becoming not-poor. 

For now, that leaves me and my family sharing a home with other people, going to school at night at a very slow pace, and sometimes wanting to give up because it doesn't seem like anything will ever come of this struggle. We'll never save enough money that we won't have to worry about money ever again. It's hard to think about, hard to say. Truthfully, most people I know will probably never have so much money that they never have to worry about money again - that's not my aim in life. However, I would really like to step back from the brink of total destitution at some future point.

In the midst of what so often looks like such a grim state, I have no choice but to focus on the fact that we have everything that we NEED this very day, and even some things that we don't need. I would love to have my own home. I would love to have a car that I wasn't worried about shutting down in the middle of an intersection with two kids in the back. I would love to have a car at all. I would love to not worry about money, but even if I managed all those things eventually, I know that that's not what "making it" means.

I'm taking one step at a time, reminding myself that many adults in my life who are "making it" had less than I do now at some point in their life. I know a good amount of people who have lived in a car at some point in their life. Frankly, they're the best kind of people, because they know they can make it on next to nothing and as long as you have hope, that's very powerful knowledge to have under your belt.

I probably don't need to tell you, if you've ever been even close to being poor, that it can be hard on a marriage. When you say your wedding vows, you assume that your life will mostly be for better, for richer, and in health, but it doesn't always turn out that way. I guess I should have seen that coming, marrying a 22 year old art student (insert laughing-crying emoji). But you know what? Poor in America could be worse. I am rich in immediate family, rich in church family, rich in good friends, richer than a lot of people in the world, and maybe Love really is all you need [while you wait for a few more pennies, and the opportunity to make a few more pennies]. That, and a sweet style.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Virtual Vacation: Las Vegas

When I tell people I want to hang out in Las Vegas, they often cringe. And I get that - the general Las Vegas vibe and the pictures and stories that come back from Vegas most of the time are not the kinds of experiences I'm after. But, Las Vegas is a pretty doable vacation in terms of price and proximity for those of us on the Central Coast, so here's my [proposed] way of doing Vegas... 

(Can you believe I've never been? I was at the Greyhound bus stop in LV once as a kid, and we walked down a sidewalk where there was a man swaying around with a chair on his head, so I think it's time I go back and re-experience this city.) 


In short, skip the strip, and head downtown. I will not lose a penny to regular gambling, though a street artist occasionally gets the best of me. My money will not be spent getting sloshed, but rather on some of America's finest Thai food. 

A round trip flight for two from the Santa Maria airport (3 minutes from our house) is $274 - not bad. But, I calculated the cost to drive if we assume gas is $3.40/gallon (it's currently cheaper) and it would only be $90 in gas, round trip! It's 12 hours of driving, but... podcasts. 

I'd imagine the public transport is pretty good since this city's livelihood is built around tourism, but if you drove, at least you'd have your own car to shuttle out to the best eats in Chinatown, or track down the best shopping. 

I'm packing all the sequins I never have a reason to wear in Santa Maria! I steer clear of "slinky", but I definitely own flashy. Also, all the high heels I can't wear with children hanging on me. And sparkly jewelry. But when it comes to what to wear during the day, I'm thinking heat-resistant, and a nod to retro, like high waisted shorts and my Elvis tee. Mmm? Don't forget a water bottle and cash (for vintage shops, not gambling, duh!). Oh, and maybe I'll even have a moment to read by the pool, so a book! 

Typically, I'm all about Air BNB to save money, but you can get REALLY CHEAP accommodations at hotels in LV. The Rumor Boutique Hotel looks fun and fancy enough to be special, but has very cool rooms for $45-65! Apparently there might be a resort fee (?), but there are also deals for buying in advance, and discounts on their website. It's Vegas-y without being TOO Vegas-y or seedy. You can find stuff a lot cheaper, but I haven't found anything else that looks this cool for a price I can afford. 

Las Vegas has some of the coolest musuems! I'd want to stop at The Mob Museum (tickets are $20, but it's worth flashing a student ID if you have one) - home of Bonnie and Clyde's shot-up car! -, the Burlesque Hall of Fame (free), and most of all, the Neon Boneyard {image}, because what kind of hipster-blogger-vintage-shop-owner would I be if I passed that up?! There's a pinball hall of fame, if that's up your alley (ehhh, see what I did there? ;)), too. Tickets to the neon boneyard are $18 and BE SURE to reserve your tour spot in advance, because they sell out. The website mentions that you can buy a combo ticket for the Neon and Mob museums, so hopefully that would be a good deal. I'm thinking the night tour over the day tour? I'm really going to have trouble deciding. 

I've also never been to a Cirque du Soleil show, and Vegas seems like the place to do it! This would be a splurge, but I've heard it's pretty spectacular. Tickets are around $70. I can't decide between the shows, Ka, O {image}, and Mystere. 

Of COURSE, I'll be thrifting my heart out for costumes and memorabilia of bygone eras and generally trying to uncover "old Vegas". A quick[ish] search of vintage LV shops has me wanting to visit: The Attic, Amberjoy's Vintage Closet, Vintage Vegas Antiques, and Glam Factory Vintage. Other recommended shops are Patina, Electric Lemonade Shop, and Retro Vegas. However, as any thrifter knows, the best deals and steals are probably still at thrift stores, where people don't realize what they're selling for pennies. 

Mostly for my own reference, here is a list of places to check out if you want to feel like you're in retro LV. None of them look amazing, basically the advice is "go Downtown" or go to Palm Springs if you want to see mid century life preserved, which I do want to do sometime for sure. 

It's no secret that I like to eat. A lot. As in, I like it very much, and I like to eat great quantities. Vegas seems like my kind of place in that regard. I mean, I'm not above a buffet, people. Especially something like Wicked Spoon. $22 for elegant all-you-can-eat brunch tapas? I'm there, no shame. Trust me, I get my money's worth from buffets (you should see me in the cafeteria at Biola when I visit my sister! :')) 

Raku Grill is on all the must-go-to lists, and was endorsed by Bon Appetite for their home made tofu (though I'll be skipping that, thankyouverymuch). The Splendid Table said to stop at Manta Ramen next store as well. I can squeeze both places in to one meal, right? {image}

Now, about that Thai food I mentioned. If you know anything about the foodie scene in LV, you've heard of Lotus of Siam. It's been on cooking contest shows, Anthony Bourdain raves about it, you get the picture... Other than being Thai, the thing I'm excited about is that I can totally afford it. But I'll hunt you down if you order Pad Thai. Northern Thai food is their specialty, and apparently their beef jerky is incredible. 

Then there's this guy, Jose Andres. His eight-seat restaurant é by josé andrés is a "gastromolecular adventure" (sounds fun and so mysterious!) but probably too pricey for us. Perhaps more affordable (?) is his place Jaleo, which supposedly has "massive pans of wood fired paella". Um, yum. Best of all, given my tastes, would be his restaurant China Poblan where one critic recommended the tacos - "the Viva China - soft beef tendon, Kumamoto oysters and scallions in Sichuan peppercorn sauce is the single best item I ate in 2012". Not bad. 

Other recommended bites (probably only worth it if I happened to be right there on my way to somewhere else, because these aren't full meals) from my internet searching...

I'm not really a breakfast-loving gal, but I think I could make an exception for Cannoli from Buddy V's, as endorsed by Bon Appetit, and I pretty much believe everything they say. Don't even worry that it's actually on the dessert menu.

Highlights from this list:
Ceviche and gazpacho at Julian Serrano.
Whatever punch they're ladling out at The Velveteen Rabbit.

In the mean time... 
There's not a lot to put in this category, since this trip is close to our home and pretty likely to actually happen. I'll just keep saving coins and stashing sequins. 

These posts take a lot of time to put together, but they're some of my very favorite to make! Check out my virtual guides to Japan and Curacao

Monday, July 6, 2015

June 2015

What a crazy and exciting month! Both my sister Annelise and my childhood bff Danielle got married, and I was honored to be in both weddings. Annelise's bachelorette party was covered in May's month-end post, but for Danielle, we spent a special weekend at the Silverstrand beach house and I added another worth-visiting-again bar to my list (who am I?!), the Tavern in Ventura. I finished my 5th class at APUS toward the end of the month, my sister Julia graduated from 8th grade, and my car officially died for good. That's been an adjustment, but I hope that managing with 1 will help us save more money.

In noteworthy media: I finally watched Fruitvale Station, and even though it's an older incident, it felt even more powerful and poignant in light of the police brutality and massacres hanging heavy over our nation right now. I also started watching the Astronaut's Wives Club, which is good, but not amazing, and might appeal to fans of Mad Men. Musically, Melody Gardot caught my attention (sorry I'm getting so boring in my musical tastes). At this point, I listen to a lot of Sesame Street, and other music just ends up being background noise. I like the collage artwork of Xochi Solis, above.

I renamed my Facebook business page since I'm no longer selling the Pampered Chef. It is now "The Black Ram Snack Emporium", and while I'm still working on turning it in to something more than a name, the page is currently a place for me to share recipes I'm trying, general cooking tips, etc. I was especially pleased with a batch of Mango-Lemongrass ice cream I made, and my family loved this eggplant parmesan. I'm also officially a coffee drinker, because children. I have yet to be snobby about what kind of coffee I drink or how it's made, just put lots of cream in it, please.

Some favorite links from June included...

63 things taken from my son's mouth.

The "two kinds of people" tumblr. I didn't even know some people ate their pizza crust down?!

Kids failing painfully adorably. Uncontrollable laughter at some of these.

How sweet are the effects of love?! I sucked the eyes off a stuffed turtle out of love as a child.

A potentially safer way for children to report abuse.

{summer sandals}

Ishmael's favorite phrases in June were, "are you kiddin' me??" and "don't kill me!" (don't ask me why, we never threaten him like that). He was pretty difficult this month, getting in to trouble every time I turn my back. I think it's especially difficult for him when there are people living here for the summer who have stashes of exciting things that aren't toddler-proofed. As it would with any toddler I suppose, our crazy and unusual schedule this month has thrown him for a loop, I think. He has suddenly become a very picky eater (which I hope is just a phase), though he really likes tomatoes and cucumbers.

Ira can say "bow", "dada", and "mama". It's so strange and wonderful how their babbling becomes intelligible all of a sudden, though it can be hard to tell when he's simply imitating and when he understands the meaning of what he's saying. When we say "no" (don't hug the oven, don't put your fingers in the electrical sockets) he thinks it's freakin' hilarious, gives you a giant grin, and does whatever thing 10 times more enthusiastically. He is quite a force to keep up with. Some of his recent nicknames are "thugbert" and "Putin" (he looks remarkably like Putin with his shirt off), which sometimes morphs into "Putey". He now has 8 BIG  (Welch) teeth, which are impossibly cute, especially given all his dimples. He seems sturdier than Ishmael in his build. He makes a ton of funny scrunchy faces and enjoys neighing like a horse (Ishmael's first animal noise was a wolf). He was born in the year of the Horse, so it seems fitting. He can stand up with no support, but isn't walking yet. He loves to dance, and I think he is my true book lover! He will sit all by himself for a long time, flipping pages, where as Ishmael wasn't interested in sitting through a story until he was about 2 and a half, and he never seemed interested in looking at them on his own.

All my friends are traveling without me this summer in Hong Kong, Italy, Greece, France, and all across the US. Lame. At least they bring me back stuff. ;) It has me pondering though, do I go on a mini vacation because I'd really like to go on vacation before the next several years go by, or save up for a big one? For now, I'm staying home with my very colorful walls, even if they aren't as soaring as these ones. ;) What are your strategies to pay for vacation?

I'm SO HAPPY it's summer time. :D

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Religious Apocalypse

I promise that "religious apocalypse" isn't as right-wing as it sounds. In fact, I'm making a major case for separation of Church and State in this post, and I'm pretty sure you have not heard my particular spin on this issue, so don't freak out and go away... Here's an awesome picture to convince you to stay.

I haven't said anything publicly in the midst of the marriage-equality decision because I don't really have a solid stance. And I'm find with that. Not every issue needs to be something that we pour our entire beings in to, and for me, who gets married or doesn't get married isn't an issue I'm passionate about in either direction. 

Even when I got married, I wondered, what IS this, really? I've said a few words, signed my name, and now things are different than they were before? Those things aren't really what marriage is about, no matter your circumstances or sexual orientation. 

There has been a lot of freaking out and passive aggressive scripture references on Facebook recently on both sides of this issue. My basic stance is that I have the freedom to vote however I want to in private, and in public, I choose to be kind, whether that means encouraging relationships, or keeping my mouth shut about ANY relationship that I'm not a part of, PARTICULARLY if I don't have a close friendship with whomever I'm giving my opinion to. This doesn't mean I don't stand up for my beliefs or that I'm two-faced, I'm just choosing my battles, here. In fact, through the writing of this post, I came to realize that my religious beliefs do not support same-sex marriage, but my political beliefs do. I used to think that those two camps had to be on the same page, but the more I've thought about it, the more I am content with there being a difference between the two. 

My family was discussing the whole supreme court decision over dinner and what we felt about it and what implications we thought it had. More than the morality of the decision (and there was some variance in where different members of the family came down on that), the thing we thought was important, and ultimately troubling, is the legality of the law. Let me preface this by saying that my personal spiritual beliefs aside, I'm not against same-sex marriage being legal. What I am against is having the federal government - in this case, the choice of 5 people - overturn something that many states have VOTED against. It makes our rights and opinions as voters a joke, even if I do agree with the outcome. 

I have little doubt that given a few more years, many states would have legalized same-sex marriage on their own, by popular voting majorities. As my dad pointed out, none of the people in my family know the details of the case that came before the Supreme Court and resulted in this ruling, and those details are probably pretty important in deciphering whether the Supreme Court's decision was sound in terms of the law. 

Again, I have not personally read the chief justice's dissenting opinion, but I've heard that his main criticism is that there is no basis in the law/constitution that leads to the choice to make same-sex marriages equal to traditional marriages. Again, this is not a reflection of the morality of any kind of marriage, just that it's not addressed at all in the constitution. Neither is traditional marriage. Therefore, it is my opinion that the Supreme Court should say, "we can't make this call given what the law says/doesn't say". Based on the constitution alone, they don't have the authority to dictate the definition of "traditional" marriage either. The Supreme Court's ONLY JOB is to interpret the law as it is, not create new laws. Right? (Seriously, is that right, or am I out of the loop?) If the American people think these issues of marriage are so important, they should work on getting them in to the constitution. I have no problem with the constitution evolving with the times. 

If you want to have sex with animals or a bunch of people at once, or yourself, or whatever, I may not think it's a good idea, but it's not my job to tell you what to do or not to do in private. Neither do I think the State should have a say (by the way, in most of this post, my use of the term "state" refers to the entire country). I do think society and the state have a responsibility to protect those who can't protect themselves, so minors (even consenting ones - underdeveloped frontal lobes, people!) and probably animals too, but otherwise, we are not a theocracy, so the state shouldn't mix religious values with home life. We should stop bawling about how we're losing our Christian values, since the United States was not beholden to them in the first place. {image}

However, there are true Christians who live in this nation. Another thing some people have been saying is that this decision on the definition of marriage opens the floodgates for a bunch of other "paganism". That sounds extreme, and maybe it is a little bit, but it is undeniable that our country is secularizing itself in the sense of "Christian values". As I've pointed out in previous posts, "Christian values" in America are basically just a political platform. One that I occasionally agree with, but none the less, a political platform. The idea that America has ever lived by Biblical law is pure and simple BS on several accounts. I think what people mean when they talk about "Christian values" is a certain idea of decency, but what is considered decency is changing. Many, including myself, think it is decent that same-sex couples be able to get married if they want to. Think about the specifics of what you mean if you are someone who considers the United States founded on Christian principles. Allegiance to the name of God? Not murdering? Not having premarital sex? Being kind to your neighbor? 

Let's break this down. 
Allegiance to the name of God - Even if some people in our government, whether past or present, profess faith in Christ, a) only God knows each person's heart and b) having a handful of believers in government doesn't mean that every citizen shares their beliefs OR that they have the power to make every law in line with what the Bible says. Democracy prevents that. 

Not murdering and being kind to your neighbor are not exclusively Christian values. Jesus having said to do or not do something doesn't make that thing a purely Christian value. He encouraged the Jews to pay their taxes to Rome, and I'm pretty sure we don't think of paying taxes as a "Christian value". 

Premarital sex is something that the Church itself has a dismal track record with, as pointed out in this fantastic article, which you should read in its entirety for many other points other than the one it makes about premarital sex in the Church (thank you Sarah for posting it!). 

On a bit more tangential note, consider for a second what life would look like under a law that truly aligned with the Bible. There's a lot of stoning and [poo emoji] in the Bible tied to people's bad behavior. Jesus was not very political (much to the chagrin of the Jews), which is a possible argument for us as believers not freaking out over politics, but I digress. The tangential point I wanted to make here is that we all agree that ISIS is the worst, but they are actually a pretty accurate embodiment of literal Quranic law. Although not a direct correlation, they're not a bad comparison for what life under literal Biblical law might look like, in that they seek to rid the world of leaders who don't conform to their strict religious law. 

So, can we agree that America isn't a Christian nation? Why is it surprising that secularism is blossoming? It's the same cycle that every other nation in history has gone through, and it would be foolish to think we're an exception. America HAS been friendly toward Christianity, and indeed, relatively friendly toward all religions. You know, that whole thing about freedom of religion. What a privileged we've had these past 250 years to go relatively free of persecution in light of our beliefs. Christians, or those who were generally in line with "Christian principles" have been in power and perhaps even a majority in the United States, but that is changing, and since a "Christian nation" was an illusion all along, I don't think it should be as painful or surprising as it seems to be for the Christian community that we, as a country, are shifting away from that (or showing true colors?) now. Is it really our job to fight the state, or are our energies better spent building relationships through which we can make a much bigger impact for Christ?

Ok, now I'm going to get to my notes on the religious apocalypse. It's like the zombie apocalypse, but more serious, and harder to make movies out of. 

You may have heard murmurs about Christian schools being defunded by the government, the teaching of Creationism being banned in schools, and other hints of the purging of Christianity from the mainstream. First, let me say that I do not think that the state/mainstream public has any obligation to fund religious institutions of any kind. I think it would be more fair to teach Creationism and Darwinism both as theories, along with any other major theories out there. I believe in Creationism and microevolution, but Creationism can't be scientifically proven, so it is indeed a theory. One that I choose to believe is the truth. Even secular scholars have largely discarded Darwinism, so there's that, too. Similarly, I think public schools should teach that "family" is defined in many ways, including same-sex parents because that is the reality of the world our children live in. It is our right as parents to teach our personal beliefs to our children at home, not to tell our children's classmates that they aren't part of real families because they have two moms or dads. {image}

Anyway, even though I'm cool with the separation of Christian schools and the state, I see a shift from simply separating and a shift into ridiculing, which is verging on lack-of-freedom-of-religion. Our society is no longer generally friendly toward Christian belief systems. Instead, Christians are considered backward, sheltered, bigoted, and unloving. Let me be the first to say that the Church has done a lot to deserve these labels. So much so that our mainstream society and our state often fail to see past those labels to the integrity of those who truly live for Christ. Rather than being embraced or tolerated as an acceptable vein of society, Christianity is more and more often scoffed at and occasionally silenced in ways that may be or may become unconstitutional. 

I should make a distinction here between media and your average passer-by. I rarely get flack for my beliefs face-to-face, but it's definitely not "cool" to be a Christian these days (I'd say it seems pretty un-cool, really), and I think that marks something of a change from previous generations. Not that it was "cool" before, but it wasn't laughed at en-masse, that I know of. Christian ideas (whether or not they reflect Christ) are no longer welcome alongside other beliefs (secularism and atheism are beliefs systems, even if no deity is involved), even if they are still allowed in most cases. It's not uncommon to be mocked or kicked out or penalized for vocalizing Christ-centered beliefs anymore. This is the faintest taste of persecution, and it's uncomfortable, but it's a badge of honor for a Christian, ultimately. There is NO honor in being hateful in the name of Christ - indeed, that is a great shame - but there is honor in being faithful to him in the face of persecution of any caliber. 

Persecution of the American Church sounds apocalyptic, but I don't think it's an unreasonable future outcome. I'm not trying to be a sensationalist, but I think we should prepare ourselves for life in a climate that is losing grey area and bringing black and white sharply in to focus. I'm not saying "gay people are the black/sin of the world", I'm saying that it's hard to hide out as a fake believer when professing faith in Jesus gets you ridiculed. True believers don't barricade themselves from a fallen world, they are in the darkest places, presenting hope to those who need it. Gay people are loved by Jesus, and... wait for it!... gay people can love Jesus too. 

One final breast stroke into the waters of the apocalypse, and I'll ask, would you lie about your faith to save a life? This question fascinates me. From time to time, I recall the story of Corrie ten Boom and her sister during the Holocaust. They were hiding some Jews under their kitchen table, and when Nazis came in searching for Jews, one of them asked if there was anyone hiding under the kitchen table. Corrie's sister told them, "yes!" because she was so strongly against telling a lie. In her retelling of the story, Corrie ten Boom says she couldn't believe her sister would do such a thing, but that ultimately, she felt that God honored her sister's honesty because the soldier thought she was being sarcastic and didn't look under the table. 

If I had been put in the same situation, I think I would not have skipped a beat in denying that anyone was under that table. Many times, I have wondered how I would handle a similar situation in my own life if I was presented with it. I wonder about medieval martyrs who burned at the stake before renouncing the name of Christ. Honestly, I don't think I'd have any problem saying whatever someone wanted me to say, knowing in my heart that my allegiance was to Christ. What do you think about that? Would you lie to save your own life, or the life of your child, or anyone's life, particularly if it meant lying about your faith in God? I'm not sure it would be the most honorable choice, but I think there's a case to be made that it was the right choice in some cases. 

Friends, think hard about your role in these shifting times, and be courageous. And wise. The Kindom of God is real and it is coming, but it is not to be found in placing our hope in any government or society in this world. The end of the world as we know it can be a beautiful thing. 

{image above of a total solar eclipse, and a Morman temple, but hey, they build incredible structures} 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A Woman's Hair...


I could stop there, but you might worry that someone had killed me and hijacked my blog if I didn't add 3000 words to the above, amiright?

I recently cut my hair short again, after growing it out for 2+ years. Here's a before and after picture. The hair I cut off was 12in long when braided (here's another picture)! I'm a little (but not too much) embarrassed to say that I grew it out because I saw pictures of myself with short hair when I was pregnant with Ishmael, and thought the extra 50lbs, some of it in my face, was not flattered by my hair. Long hair does make me look a bit more feminine, in the traditional sense of the word, and so I grew it out during my pregnancy with Ira.

I just looked up the photos (see below) of me in the hospital with each of them to compare, and it doesn't look as different as I thought (my hair is up, even when it was long), but then again, 42+ weeks pregnant doesn't look amazing on anyone that I know of. In the end, I didn't gain nearly as much weight with Ira, but I found myself not disliking my long hair, and so I kept it around until I got the urge to cut it. Once I got that familiar, unshakable NEED to chop it off, it was only a matter of deciding on a style.

I have a special relationship with my hair. In fact, when I had to do a project in college that illustrated an homage to something, I chose to focus on my chameleon-like relationship with hair (not my best work, but you get the idea). I started cutting it when I was 13, and I got my first dye-job at the same time. I don't understand how intensely people are attached to their hair - I see it as something that is regenerative by nature.

I don't hate my natural hair, but it's just kind of... average. Avearage brown color. Neither curly nor straight. It just doesn't send any messages, in my opinions, and like tattoos, I think hair sends a message about you. To me, my hair is a blank canvas. Tattoos are mostly permanent, and people often take tattoos much more lightly than their hair, in my opinion.

One of the more heated discussions I've had with my best friend is over women's hair, of all things. She was not excited about the prospect of me dreading my hair, and we had a long discussion about why I make the cosmetic choices that I do, and why I don't make my husband's opinion of my hair a main factor in how I style it.

I respect the notion of wanting to please your significant other through your appearance, but I'm so offended and sad when I hear women say, "my husband/father would kill me if I cut my hair". You wouldn't believe (or maybe you would) how often I hear that phrase, and it sits wrong with me every time. I don't understand why hair holds this power over our relationships that other parts of our appearance don't. I've never heard a woman say, "my husband would kill me if I got a boob job" or "my husband would kill me if I pierced my nose".

To be sure, there is such a thing as preference, for both men and women. Some women prefer beards on their men, others prefer a clean shave. Some couples might have specific-to-them preferences that they've agreed on, but the long-hair-for-ladies seems across the board and so emphatic, in many cases. I wouldn't be as troubled by it if it was just that most women want long hair (as many do), but I've heard my fair share of ladies express an interest in trying a different (shorter?!) style, but don't because of a man in their life. Although their language when expressing their reasons for not cutting their hair is surely exaggerated in most cases, many do use adjectives associated with violence when they talk about men's reactions to them cutting their hair.{image}

One of many reasons that I change my hair often and sometimes drastically is that it makes me feel beautiful, and gives me a boost of confidence every time I change it. I don't "do" anything to my hair on a regular basis - I don't straighten it, I don't curl it, I don't blow dry it, I rarely use product, and I don't even brush it very often. I don't like to spend my time on my appearance, and so I want my hair to look decent when I roll out of bed, plus 30 seconds of attention, if need be. Therefore, I cut it often to keep it in good shape. I don't necessarily have poor self esteem if I don't cut my hair, but cutting it is my version of taking care of it, and that makes me feel like I'm taking care of my appearance, which my husband appreciates.

I believe a confident and happy woman is the most beautiful woman, and that's why I do what I want with my hair rather than what my husband prefers (my natural color). I do other things with my appearance that are for him, but I let him know from the very beginning of our relationship that my hairstyle was my choice. This was my inspiration for my latest cut (though it's obnoxious to wear it styled as shown, you can't see anything). It's very "now", for sure, but Jonas said it is his favorite of all the hairstyles I've ever had!

Another reason that I like to cut my hair is that I like it when people notice, in large part because many people have preconceived ideas about what people with crazy hair (or facial piercings, or fill-in-the-blank-appearance-modification) are like, and I heartily enjoy challenging that. One of my favorite things about having had the bridge of my nose pierced was when people would be surprised at how friendly I was, instead of being a punk-ass, or whatever they thought I was going to be. Even better, I had so many people comment on it and strike up a conversation who I don't think would have talked to me at all, otherwise. I spend a lot of time and energy challenging people about what they think is true, not out of spite, but because that's how change occurs - we change our minds much more readily when we meet someone or experience something that doesn't fit what we previously held to be true, rather than arguing with people we disagree with.

At least half of my favorite women in life have short hair. When I see a grown young or middle aged women with short hair, I think of her as bold, confident, strong, and creative. Those are all things I want to be. When I cut my hair recently after having it long for a relatively long time, my friend Kenna said, "good! Long hair is too boring for you." And that is how I feel - when I have long hair, I feel like I'm hiding my personality. {image}

Most older women have short hair, if you hadn't noticed. This is because they've come to the realization that it's the best. But in all seriousness, when I see another girl with short hair, I do feel a little bit like we're in a club together, and when I see an elderly lady with short hair, I often think she looks refined, and that she takes care of herself (hair often thins with age, making long hair more difficult to keep looking good).

Many women I know with long hair have very beautiful hair. I don't have anything against long hair on its own. I'm mainly concerned with the culture of beauty ideals that would make a women feel unloved or unattractive with short hair. Of course, if long hair makes a women feel beautiful, she should be free to wear her hair long, just PLEASE don't discourage a women from cutting her hair if long hair is somehow holding her back. Ultimately, I am not defined by my hair, and I don't want women with long hair to be reduced to the length of their hair either.

A woman I know recently buzzed her head. A few days later, she posted a status to Facebook about how a women she looked up to came up to her and commented, "what does your husband have to be proud of in you with your haircut?" I was AGHAST! First of all, who in their right mind says something like that to a women, and secondly, how dare someone place the worth of a women in her hair? I was infuriated by that story.

Nothing that mean has ever been said to me about my short hair, but sometimes, if I haven't seen someone in a while and my hair has grown a little, I will hear people say, "Wow, your hair has grown, you look so beautiful!" I spend a second about to be flattered, but then I'm just irritated. This is not a one time occurrence for me. I do try and appreciate that people are trying to pay me a compliment, but I think it's messed up that you're praised with long hair, and shamed with short hair. If you want to pay a compliment to a woman, be more specific. Try something like, "that cut really flatters your face" or "that color really makes your eyes stand out", rather than sending a message that beauty has one specific definition.

And while I'm at it, how do you think women going through chemo feel when our culture idolizes long hair? I don't know the story of the woman in this image, though I assume she shaved her head for the sake of fashion, but I've always thought she looked so stylish. Sometimes when I see a women with a haircut I don't prefer, I try and imagine her with more conventional hair and see if I think it would make her more attractive. But then I stop myself, because that is not my call, or anyone else's but hers. I'll say it again for good measure: a confident women is a beautiful women. Confidence takes many, many shapes.

For good measure, here is a list of reasons I don't care for having long hair, myself. I'm sure I missed a few...
  1. That bump a hair tie leaves when you release a pony tail
  2. Finding long hair everywhere around the house
  3. It's too hot in the summer
  4. It's heavy and causes me neck pain if I tie it up
  5. Children pull on it
  6. I have a lot more bad hair days with long hair
  7. It's always in my face
  8. It feels dirty more quickly
  9. It gets caught or dipped in stuff
  10. It becomes damaged much more quickly if you don't trim it often or dye or otherwise treat it in any way (short hair is fresh and healthy every time you change it, because all the previous dye or damage has been cut off)
Wanna be part of the Short Haired Girls Club? I know you do. I even made us a hipster logo. I know it looks a little...militant...but, given my strong feelings on this, and the language about killing over hair, I find it appropriate (the only other cutting device available for the design was an ax, sorry). Now go forth and proselytizing all to boldness!

Phew! It's been a while since I've climbed up on my soapbox. I know you missed me!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Wedding Boards Summer 2015

Being the responsible adult that I am, I was just backing up my computer and rediscovered these wedding-theme inspiration boards I made a while ago. Being that it's wedding season, I thought I'd share them and encourage everyone not to have boring weddings. 

Most of the photo credits are things I have somewhere on Pinterest, so I'll try and find them for you if you really need to know. This is just a disclaimer saying that I'm not trying to steal anyone's property here, since it's been too long since I put these together to remember all the links. 

Here's one I made for Annelise when I was trying to help her find some images that matched what she wanted for her wedding. Not bad, in hindsight! We looked for pale grey-blue dresses for bridesmaids, but it was a very hard color to find. 

Bees and hexagons were having a moment a while ago, so I put this slightly more avante-garde theme together. Imagine if guests were in a huge garden (maybe all yellow flowers?) or under some structure made from bee boxes, and were challenged to glamorize hats with bee nets?! I would be so into that. {I do remember that the honey-face and dress images are from an Alexander McQueen collection}

I've always had a thing for blue and white China, though I personally collect Asian motifs rather than European. This image of Kirsten Dunst is from the Marie Antoinette issue of Vogue (2006?) which was STUNNING. 

I call this theme "fog lake". I'm quite taken with just about every aspect of this, although overall, it's much too muted and dreary for my personal taste. I can see this theme being very popular for current brides, though. 

Now THIS is the kind of party I want to be at. Madame Butterfly meets Mexican beaches. I believe the lower left photo is from a Dolce & Gabana show (?). 

Which is your favorite? Which wedding would you most want to be a guest at? 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

April & May 2015

April and May were filled with pre-wedding planning and doing and stressing for my sister Annelise's wedding. It was a lovely wedding, and I so much enjoyed getting to see old friends who flew in, and how happy Annelise and Andrew looked on that day. On the gloomier side, the whole planning process (even though I had way fewer responsibilities than my parents!) reinforced to me how ridiculous the wedding industry and expectations have become, especially if you're trying to DIY things and you're not a professional crafter. I'm going to encourage my kids to go on destination elopements (with their closest friends and family, of course).

Annelise's dress was perfection. Hearts for eyes! I'm STILL not sure what my dream dress is, but of course the retro looks often beckon to me. {image} I need to figure out how to do massive lashes like that. By the way, Annelise's official wedding hashtag is #thewondersears, in case you want to go stalking, but we neglected to tell that to guests, so there aren't many photos up. There are a few of the photographer's photos up though, and they are so magical, I'm on tip toes to see more.

One of my favorite things about weddings, as I mentioned above, is getting to see old friends again, and making new friends. I was dead-tired by the time the bachelorette party came around, but we still had such a fun time in Santa Barbara, laughing our heads off at dinner over conversations that eventually devolved into poop-flinging stories, I kid you not. One of my favorite parts of the evening was discovering this AMAZING local bar/lounge called the Imperial. I say "discovered", but my friend Janae who works there sometimes, has been trying to get me there forever! I want to go there all the time, now. I also like that weddings give you several parties in a row for which you can dress up.

On spring break, before the wedding, Annelise and Andrew came up and spent the week to knock out as much wedding stuff as possible. I was happy to be able to get to know Andrew a little bit more during that time, and am so thrilled that he's the guy that my sister married.

My main jam recently has been this song, but I must caution you that there are some lines that have some "questionable content"....No one can resist this level of catchyness, though.

Easter, Mother's Day, my mom's birthday, and a visit from Genna were all lovely, but are kind of a blur amidst everything else going on. I must say that Jonas outdid himself with gifts this year, getting me an amazing book that I asked for (it's been a long time since I've loved a book cover to cover this much! Or maybe just a long time since I've been able to look at a whole book, haha...) AND really fun socks that he picked out by himself!

As for what the boys have been up to these last two months....

Ishmael is talking in full sentences, which is pretty awesome, and sometimes hilarious. He also likes to ask what everyone's age is. He seems to have a really difficult time controlling his temper in matters concerning Ira, and I have a difficult time trying to figure out how to handle that. Ira is quite resilient, thank goodness.

Ira is crawling like a champ, pulling himself up and climbing on things, and cruising up the stairs. He has 6 teeth, and likes to eat his food with his hands as opposed to you feeding it to him. He likes to blow raspberries with his mouth, he bounces to music, and perhaps my favorite, he gets so snuggly when you read to him! He giggles every time you turn a page.

I can't remember when this plan solidified or if I've written about it before, but it looks like we will try and move to Whittier within the next year (I'm already dreaming of decorating a space {image}, but trying not to get too excited because we're broke as a joke). Jonas will commute to Otis (near LAX) to finish school, and hopefully work at the In-N-Out office in Baldwin Park. There are a lot of big logistical things yet to be done or figured out (money???, housing, school for Ishmael, work for me?, applying to school, applying to transfer to the office job, etc. etc.), but it feels realistic enough to be something we can really work toward achieving.

Meanwhile, here in Santa Maria, I've enjoyed planting a veggie garden, and I've begun to go to estate sales regularly, which I love doing, especially as I fall ever-deeper in love with the 70s. I watched Before Midnight with Michelle, which I loved, and watched Chef with Genna, which was good too. I liked how realistic the dialogue was. I'm working through Mad Men as well, which can be so depressing, but is worth it for the outfits.

Some of my favorite finds on the internet that didn't get shared on Facebook were:

The discovery of Frida Kahlo's wardrobe.

How can you NOT smile at this hamster tiki bar?!

Fancy junkfood prepared by chefs made me laugh, and was beautiful at the same time.

My "keeper" recipes from April and May were this complex and feisty salad, and this show-stopping rhubarb freezer cake.

Looking forward to a slightly more relaxed summer. :) Ciao! 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

18 Tips for a Solid Creative Career

I think I've finally found my groove as a stay at home mom. There are still some rough days, and rough times of day, but that's true no matter what you do, right? Part of what helps me stay positive and enjoy my day-to-day routine is having a creative outlet AND a source of income, even if it's small. I've managed to merge my love of shopping, getting the boys out of the house, my desire to work for money, and personal hobbies, all in one venture - my Instagram vintage shop, Retro Riot. I'm still building it, and it's not my first priority in life (consistently devoting time to it is hard with kids and a home and school), but I think I can say that it's a success, and I love it!

I love the community of vintage lovers, I love the specialized knowledge I've gained, and I love how well it fits into my life right now. It makes me feel like I'm staying active in the work force in some capacity, and learning new skills so that I'll be in demand when the time comes for me to work outside the home again. This is especially comforting to me as I've noticed recently that I'm no longer on the cusp of what "kids these days" are doing (the slang, the music, the styles). I like getting older, but I don't want to become out of touch with what is current.

I'm by no means some business mogul that has all the answers, but I do read (ahem, skim) a lot of articles about entrepreneurship and profiles of businesswomen. I don't have a lot of free time in my life right now, so I want to make every minute do double time for me if I can swing it. For instance, I view my leisure time (browsing blogs and Pinterest, posting to my Instagram accounts, even "curating" my wardrobe and home) as brand building time.

I'm not sure what my brand is just yet, but having a firm point of view is good for creatives in business, and so I make an effort to build on that right now, because I can! I read a tip from some blogger one time about keeping your online presence in "notice-worthy" condition. I don't hang my hopes on being discovered by some agent who wants to help me get paid a lot for my artistic eye or opinion (not that I'd mind...), but you never know who's looking, and I do want to put my best face forward in case there are those connections waiting to happen around the corner. {image}

Of course, authenticity is important too, and if you've been reading this blog for any amount of time, you know I don't shy away from telling the truth. I even occasionally post an unflattering picture of myself to social media. ;)

So anyway, today I thought I'd round up some pointers that I've either read about or try and put in practice myself for being a good businesswoman - whether you're a stay at home mom wanting to sell some crafts on the side, or whether you're... anyone else! :)

1. You've never "made it" enough to let yourself off the hook from learning.

2. Always try new things, but stick to what you're good at. In other words, have broad interests, but focus on becoming an expert in something. {image}

This is a great exercise on several levels, but Joanna from A Cup of Jo asked her readers, "What have been your toughest interview questions? Douglas Edwards remembers being interviewed by Google co-founder Sergey Brin, [who said]: 'I'm going to give you five minutes...When I come back, I want you to explain to me something complicated that I don't already know.' He then rolled out of the room toward the snack area. I looked at Cindy. 'He's very curious about everything,' she told me. 'You can talk about a hobby, something technical, whatever you want. Just make sure it's something you really understand well.'"

Isn't that brilliant? What would you explain?

My dad (who is the HR manager of the company where he works) said one of the department managers in their office recently asked a prospective employ, on a whim, to tell him a joke. My dad said it was very telling to watch how the interviewee reacted. Were they able to roll with it, or did they become flustered and shut down?

3. Outsource components of your job that you're not an expert in - I will never be a seamstress or play an instrument. Not because I don't love those things, but because I will never have the time to be great at everything, and I've made my peace with that. I can pay someone else to sew stuff for me and use the time I would have spent frustrated at my own attempts (and not enjoying it) to do something I am great at!

4. Surround yourself with people who are different than you. Nothing gives you a more false sense of confidence than having a bunch of people who are just like you affirm your work. Challenge yourself and keep your worldview open.

5. Utilize peer review. Ask other people for input, and always get a second opinion if you're about to present a touchy topic and you're not sure about your word choices. Sometimes an editing eye can save you from saying something heartless, or just plain wrong.

6. Give feedback. When you take the time to help others with their work, they'll often return the favor.

7. Unfollow sources that you don't completely love. There is so much information and inspiration available to us these days, more than we can ever keep up with. Be very picky about how you invest your time, especially when it's time spent following rather than creating your own work. There are a bunch of people in my life who I know and love personally, but who I don't follow on social media because the information isn't noteworthy. I don't say that to be mean, but you know the kind of thing I'm talking about. Ten million pictures of your baby in the same outfit, links to your extreme political beliefs (see point 4), or invitations to play the latest phone game aren't things that are worth my time. If your baby has a different outfit on in every photo, well... that's another story. ;) I want to be strategic about my screen time, and strategic about my friendships (in that I want to invest in a more meaningful way), neither of which the bulk of social media friend-accounts helps me with. I don't feel guilty about this practice of mine, even when people ask me if I saw something they posted on social media, and I didn't. When that happens, it's a great opportunity to say, "no, I didn't! Tell me about it!" and have a more meaningful conversation than you would have had on social media anyway.

8. Be interesting, especially in interviews.You know when you meet someone fascinating who you want to be around all the time, and hear every story of theirs? Figure out what you like about those people and aspire to be that way!

9. Cultivate a sense of humor. Is there anything sexier than a funny woman? I don't know why we have two funny women (Tina Fey and Amy Pohler) and every other funny person on the planet seems to be a man. Seriously? Ladies, we can do better than that. I am so endeared when someone makes me really laugh (especially a woman!), and so I consciously develop my sense of humor (I hope it's not overworked). I feel more respected when people think I'm truly funny - maybe that's weird?

While we have Tina Fey on the brain, she happens to give great work-place advice, in addition to being funny.
My unsolicited advice to women in the workplace is this. When faced with sexism, or ageism, or lookism, or even really aggressive Buddhism, ask yourself the following question: “Is this person in between me and what I want to do?” If the answer is no, ignore it and move on. Your energy is better used doing your work and outpacing people that way. Then, when you’re in charge, don’t hire the people who were jerky to you.
10. Copy, copy, copy. No stealing, but the smart creative isn't ashamed of being inspired by great work. I try not to worry about creating something that no one else has ever dreamed of, but instead focus on improving and reinventing things.

14. Volunteer for projects, even if you don't know exactly what you're doing (yet). Take (or make) opportunities to work, even for small publications (or whatever term fits the industry you'd like to be in), and pick the brain of your boss/project-leader. The worst thing anyone can say is no, so there's no harm in asking for their time. I have received incredible (free!) advice when I've shown interest in other people's work, reached out to them, and then listened to what they had to say. I also say "yes" to some things I don't know exactly how to do, and that forces me to figure things out that I didn't know how to do before. However, I am honest with people when I'm not an expert at something.

11. Learn to say no. Especially when you do creative work, a lot of people (especially personal friends and family) will ask you to draw a tattoo for them or illustrate their idea for a children's book, or take family portraits for them. Although I'm often flattered by these requests, I do not enjoy being roped into a project where someone is dictating what I do (especially when they don't understand the creative process), often times without even being offered some sort of compensation. Of course, I do stuff for my mom or my grandma, but don't let the list of people you work for free for get too long! I've learned to be clear when I'm not interested in doing something. If I hem and haw about it too much (trying to be polite), they keep asking until I have to actually say what I mean, so I try and be clear right away. The three main ways that I get around accepting working I have no intention of doing is a) be honest about how busy I am with my kids, school, work, etc. This is totally valid and everyone understands it. B) Explain that what they'd like me to do is not the kind of art that I'm good at. A lot of people think that because you are a creative person, you are good at all kinds of art. I assure people that they definitely do not want me to draw a tattoo for them, because I do not draw well, I prefer to do abstract painting or cut holes in things, and I tell people that (see point 9 - somehow, honesty often manages to be funny in my experience). C) If I'm not willing or able to accept a project, I suggest a friend or acquaintance of mine who might be willing to take on the kind of project they are looking for. This is helpful for the potential client, and hopefully helpful for my friends who are looking for work. (Apparently, I've absorbed everything on this topic here).

12. Know thyself. I'm an introvert. I prefer to work alone. I am most focused in the morning. I make most sense when I write, as opposed to speaking on the phone or in person. I'm easily suckered by the promise of free stuff. I'm too attached to my own work to be good at editing it. I tend to edit other people's work too harshly. I depend on lists to organize my thoughts and remember important things. When I'm aware of my own strengths and weaknesses, I can play to the former, and compensate for the latter.

I got a little crush on Lena Dunham when I read this confession of hers:
"I still go to a party and say something embarrassing to someone, and then write them a weird e-mail about it the next day, and then write them a text because I think they didn't get the e-mail. No matter what happens with your level of success, you still have to deal with all the baggage that is yourself."
I'm prone to doing that too! Since becoming aware of my tendency to apologize for everything, I try and remind myself that more likely than not, someone else is not obsessing over some little thing I said or did the way I am. I don't make a bigger deal out of my failures than I need to. {image}

13. Be honest. I think I've lost some interview opportunities due to honesty, but I'm cool with that. I once told Toys R Us that I didn't like children, which is probably not something you might bring up to a company dedicated to making children happy, but it was the truth. The way I see it, a shrewd boss would appreciate honesty and think to herself, "this person wasn't afraid to tell the truth, and because of that, they could be a perfect fit for such-and-such an position in our company." After all, ADULTS are the ones shopping at Toys R Us. I try not to offer up any information that I think will put me at a disadvantage (though I'm pretty bad at it), but I feel strongly that honesty is always the best policy. As an aside, I've come to learn that I don't like ill-behaved children, which does happen to be most of them, but I digress...

14. Believe in yourself, and your customers will believe in you. I know that sounds cliche, but seriously, which do you prefer when you're the customer: a firm handshake and direct eye contact, or a limp one, and mumbling? People are more likely to respect you and take you seriously if you act like you deserve it.

15. Break up with Jealousy. Again, I'm going to borrow from Lena Dunham, who says, "channel the energy you would have spent being jealous into your own to-do list. " There are a lot of women in my life who do certain things better than I do, or have a house that I wish I had, or who get complimented on something that I want to be noticed for too. However, I have to remember that the time I could spend sulking about all of that could be spent so much better by minding my own business - literally. The more I pour into being good at what I'm good at, the less I worry about whether other people are doing better than I am, and the more I feel like I'm becoming someone that other people want to emulate.

16. Set attainable goals for yourself. When I set myself a realistic goal, I often reach it, and that empowers me to set myself new goals, and progress further than I ever have before. Write yourself a business plan.

17. Get dressed, even if you're home all day. I'm really bad about this, but I notice the difference it makes when I force myself to do it. Similarly, dress the part, even if you're interviewing over the phone.

18. Allow yourself breaks from work, especially if you work from home. If you use your personal phone for business, like I do, try and designate time that is for business, and don't constantly check it when you're not working. I'm also pretty bad at this one. When it comes to my school work, I allow myself distractions at various intervals, and that helps me stay energized, even for the tasks I'd rather not be doing.

I keep a Pinterest board of articles with advice I want to remember when I rule the world. Some of my favorites are:

1. How motherhood prepares you for entrepreneurship.

2. How to email a busy person.

3. How to be in business with your significant other.

4. How to build your business as an introvert.

5. How to be a good boss.

There are lots more ideas on how to be a mindful boss, employee, and women, including reminders of certain words or phrases that are meaningless or weak ("I feel like..." instead of just stating something), the distinction between talent and skills, and a list of power words for your resume!

What are your best work-place tips or standards that you try and hold yourself too? How do you keep yourself sharp if you run a business from your couch? Please share your ideas with me! 
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