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Pondering, pondering, pondering . . . (and always with that Ketteler smirk)
I’ve always had ups and downs in my business (which consists of both magazine writing and copywriting). I’m used to this, and I’m okay with it. But 2010 was a doozey.

Let’s see, first, I had the opportunity to write an extremely personal essay for Whole Living. It’s the magazine piece I’m the most proud of (and it actually just won the American Society of Journalists & Authors award for best essay in the personal service category for 2010). Then, Sew Retro was published. The book represented something I had long wanted to do. It was a ton of work, but absolutely wonderful and I couldn’t have been more proud. Then, in September, I had another baby. What, you haven’t seen enough pictures of her? Well, of course you can see another one!
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So, 2010 should have been a great year.

But then, everything about my business fell apart. And I mean, fell effing apart.

I lost one client after another, for reasons completely out of my control. Editors got laid off. Freelance budgets dissipated. Projects promised themselves and then scampered away. Checks took forever to come. People I desperately needed to return emails didn’t return emails.

I found myself dipping into the first “only touch in case of emergency” fund in the fall. By the end of the year, I was looking at dipping into the second such fund, and one terrible day in January, I had to. I sobbed (quietly) on the phone with some investment banker I didn't know as I sold bonds from the back-up, back-up investment account. I could hear my husband with the kids downstairs, and in that moment, I felt like a complete and utter failure.

When I started freelancing nine years ago (almost to the day—I was laid off April 2, 2002, and decided to go into business for myself the next day), I always thought it seemed too good to be true. Why was I allowed to do something I loved so much—write—and make a really good living doing it? How were my husband and I allowed to live this charmed life, where he was able to stay home with our kids and I was able to support us by doing something I knew I was meant to do from the time I wrote my first article about Birchwood Drive (my childhood street) when I was eight years old? Surely, someone was going to come knocking on the door any day and tell me the jig was up.

In January of this year, I figured maybe the jig was, in fact, up.

But then, here is what happened. I interviewed a researcher for a story about exercise motivation. It was just one more story, nothing particularly special about it. But something in what she said struck a nerve. It goes like this: we create “possible selves”—the people we see ourselves being in 5, 10, 15 (or however many) years. Regarding weight loss and exercise motivation, researchers have found that the “feared-self”—envisioning yourself overweight, unhealthy, sick, diabetic, unhappy, and unable to do the things you love—is a motivating image for someone to shape up. But you know what else? The “hoped for-self”—where you imagine yourself vibrant, energetic, healthy, active, and doing everything you love—is motivating too. In fact, the hoped for-self is equally as motivating as the feared-self.

 So, the researcher went on to explain, if both the negative vision of yourself and the positive vision of yourself are both equally as motivating, why wouldn’t you just choose the positive version?

This was the exact right a-ha moment, exactly when I needed it. Why not just choose the positive? Forget about weight loss. It’s a prescription for anything in life that can have two (or more) possible outcomes. Of course, fear will motivate you. But it may motivate you to make desperate decisions (like working with a publication you know treats writers like crap), which will just keep you in a cycle of fear and desperation (like stewing over the fact that your story wound up being killed/you didn't get paid/the piece turned out to be a nightmare).


So why not just see the future you want, and make decisions based on that?

Something about that conversation actually changed a thought process in my head, and it made me realize that I was still in control. I could choose. It was a week or so after that when I met coach Darla LeDoux at a networking event, and a few weeks later, hired her to help me both grow my business and change my mindset. In the midst of all that, I got a huge new custom publishing client, who’s been a delight to work with. I’ve met a ton of new people (some are now clients, some are friends, and some are both) and I just closed one of my best months (March) ever. I don't think any of it is a coincidence. I think I finally stopped thinking the jig would someday be up, and as soon as I did that, it changed the way I thought about everything.

I still have moments when the feared-self pops up. Of course I do. Fear is primal. But I keep choosing the positive, the hoped-for thing. The thing, as Emily Dickinson so brilliantly says, with feathers.

Here’s to good choices and good tomorrows!
 
 
 I recently visited The Cincinnati Art Museum and the Taft Museum of Art  for a magazine assignment. Even though they are both in my backyard, I hadn’t been to either in quite some time.

What’s interesting about visiting art museums is that the pieces you’re drawn to always reflect what’s going on in your life. I’m pretty sure I’ve never really been drawn to all those gorgeous pictures of mothers with children, but this time, their energy practically reached out and grabbed me the minute I walked into the gallery.
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See what I mean? That's Mary Cassatt's "Mother & Child" (1889).

And then there are these from Potthurst (can't remember the first name) from 1915 ("Playmates" and "Brother and Sister.") The second one reminds me so much of Max & Georgia, I want to cry.

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I also love this  one, mostly for its name "Patty-cake." It's from the 1850s, and I think the artist is Spencer (again, no first name; I was jotting down furiously!)
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This one, a sculpture by Harriet Frishmuth,  just made me happy. That silhouette is amazing.  I think it speaks to the former gymnast in me.
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And this massive beauty (Alexander Calder, “Twenty Leaves on an Apple,” 1946) is what I imagine the inside of my brain looks like sometimes, little chirps of color swirling around. And I want to marry that aqua blue background.

 
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 It was the same story at the Taft Museum (if you are ever in Cincinnati, don’t miss this one—it’s wonderfully quaint, and they have a Rembrandt, one of only two in Ohio I believe!)

This first one is "Sewing School at Katwijk" (1881), by a Dutch artist I forgot to write down (I mean, of course I'm going to spot the sewing one, right?) Sorry about the glare.

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And then I saw these two. The first one is by Jean-Francois Millet (man, she looks tired--I have been there) and I just snapped the second one and didn't write anything down.
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So, now I'm feeling inspired (and very maternal!). I sometimes forget that looking at art is a great way to get the creative juices stirred up. I'll leave you with this, the stunning Chihuly chandelier that hangs inside the entrance to the Cincinnati Art Museum.
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 I knew for weeks that my Entourage email database was getting sick. It was so massive (90,000 items), and I kept meaning to rebuild it (you’re supposed to rebuild this database once every few weeks; I was lucky if I did it once every two years—yeah, I know.) But one Thursday night, it hit that point of no return. The messages all started acting wonky, and I knew that I’d have to rebuild it in order to be able to use it. So I started the hour-long process and turned on the TV while I waited.

Only, it couldn’t be rebuilt. Over, and over, I got this terrible, mean message that said there wasn’t enough room.
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Of course there was plenty of room. Room wasn’t the problem. Corruption was. I tried several more times that weekend, finally realizing (after doing some research) that it was corrupted, for good. As in, couldn’t be rebuilt. I tried all kinds of workarounds that I found online. But nothing worked. The database was safely backed up, just not accessible.

Let me tell you what, few things can strike panic in the heart like the fear of losing email. One of the kids screaming in the middle of the night, maybe. Or a car that suddenly stops short in front of you. But my email, ruined? No email? The last eight years of my life in well-organized email messages, just inaccessible?

It was a bad weekend.

But, after chatting with an Apple tech support person on Sunday (who very nicely helped me, even though my Apple Care warranty was long expired—thank you, random tech support guy!), I realized that all was not lost. I could export the folders, one at a time, into Mac Mail.

But—and this really is sort of poetic—because my database was so screwed up, I couldn’t actually open anything in Entourage. I couldn’t pick and chose individual messages, or delete anything. All I could do was to drag entire folders.

I’m going to be writing later about some of the changes I’m making in my business, but let’s just say, I’m in a period of purging a lot of crap and ridding myself of a lot of baggage to do with writing for magazines. There couldn’t have been a clearer message about letting go as I got ready to rebuild my email. What was I going to take with me? Did I need that folder of emails from XYZ magazine, chronicling the back and forth drama of the story that wouldn’t die, the check that I had to beg for, the arguments about kill fees that had nothing to do with my actual story and everything to do with the dysfunction at the magazine? Did I need those exchanges that only served to frustrate, humiliate, and infuriate me hanging around on my hard drive any longer?

No, I didn’t.

And what about the trash? Should I bring over the trash folder, all 5,000 items? Why in the world do we even keep trash? Isn’t it supposed to be, you know, trash? The trash folder is like one big wasteland of second-guessing, and I decided I didn’t need it.

And then there was the mother of them all: the folder so big that it probably single-handedly caused the crash to begin with: the sent items folder. All 11,391 sent messages, dating back to 2003. Everything I’d ever sent to anyone. What would it feel like to not have access to my written history? To the stupid things and brilliant things I emailed? What would it feel like to lose that thread? What would it feel like to just be out there in the world, without being able to go back over and over to what I’d written before? I decided that there was no better time to find out.

All in all, I imported about half of my folders—only the folders for the clients I truly wanted to work with. The first few weeks, it rattled me. But then I noticed that I started to feel lighter. I started to remember that I was allowed to make choices about who I wanted to work with. I started to believe that if I built the right thing, the right people would come.

 And I like that. I like that a lot.
 
 
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 We’re transitioning (albeit slowly) into a culture of re-purposing, which is really pretty awesome. Like everyone else, I’m trying to find my way and see the creativity and possibility in the things I used to just throw away or donate.

That’s what led me to grab a bunch of shirts my husband was getting ready to give away. Before, I would have just piled more stuff into the giveaway bag. But instead, I realized that these weren’t just old shirts. They were fabric! Sorta fabulous fabric, actually (I’m a sucker for prim-looking pin stripes). There was definitely possibility, I just wasn’t sure yet. The first thing I did was to cut them up for a make-and-take I did at this year’s CHA (embroidered hearts for Valentine’s Day cards--see the tutorial here!
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 That was fun, but I still had an awful lot left, including all of the button fronts and sleeve cuffs I’d cut open.

I was playing around with the leftover pieces, and I started to arrange them onto a solid lilac fat quarter (another little piece of happiness that was part of a fat quarter stack I ordered from Anna Maria).  And that’s how I wound up with this fun tote!

The specs:

Easy! I cut the fat quarter to be about 19” wide by 16-1/2” high, and I pressed the top edges down 1/2”. Next, I added my menswear trimmings. The two pockets are made from sleeve cuffs, cut open, and the strips on either side and on the bottom are made from the button-front of the shirt. I just took a basic straight stitch (by machine) all the way around each piece, as close to the edge as I could get. Raw edges only add to the charm of this, as far as I’m concerned. I also left all the buttons on, just because it looks cooler that way! I did take a row of stitching down the center of each cuff pocket, to make the pockets a little more functional (you could also add Velcro or a snap if you wanted the pockets to close).
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 For the back, I used seersucker leftover from the “magic” quilt I made for my bed, (which I’ve written about on AOL’s ParentDish, right here) I stitched bag front to bag back, and then made 1-1/2” gussets on either side (click here for a gusset tutorial).
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The seersucker back. Note the wild tuft of hair at the bottom right (Max insisted on standing right there as I took the picture).
 I lined it with a light blue cotton I had on hand, just cutting the lining pieces to the same dimensions as the bag and assembling in the same way, including pressing the top sides down 1/2”. That way, when you insert the lining into the bag (you turn the bag, but don’t turn the lining), the pressed edges on both the bag and lining line up. Sandwich your handles in between the layers, and then stitch all the way around to close up the top, right next to the folded edges, and then again about 1/4” away. (After the fact, I wish I had lined it with fusible fleece, which is what I often do, since it adds body. Ah well.)
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I made this bag for a friend of mine, to thank her for passing on a valuable writing lead. You know who you are, my dear friend, and thank you!
 
 
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When Bonnie from Fishsticks Designs asked me if I wanted to try her great Charlie Tee & Hoodie pattern , I jumped at the chance! I’m always looking for toddler boy sewing ideas. (On that note, don’t forget to check in at Dana Made It for Celebrate the Boy Month!)

Anyway, Bonnie sent me this pattern for free, but I’m under no obligation to give it a glowing review. I don’t need obligation: this handy little pattern sells itself! I truly, truly love it and I think it’s probably my favorite thing I’ve made for Max so far.
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 The Pattern
The pattern presentation isn’t fancy (a manila envelope with black and white sheets) [little update here: Bonnie just changed out the packaging! See it here!], but that’s unimportant to me. I’m after functionality and a good pattern, and this definitely delivers. First, it’s about five different patterns in one, because you can customize it for what you want: a plain tee (long or short sleeves), a color-blocked tee, or a hoodie (either outerwear or more like a tee-shirt). I chose the tee-shirt hoodie option, because I wanted Max to have something to wear around for spring that wasn’t too heavy.

She offers the patterns in different sizes (all the way up to adult), and my pattern is for infant/toddlers. There are six sizes: 12M, 18M, 24M/2T, 3T, 4T, 5T

It comes with one big sheet of paper, with all of the sizes clearly printed. The best method is to trace the size you’re making. This way, you don’t have to deal with cumbersome paper when cutting out, and also, you can re-use (I anticipate using this pattern for many years as Max grows!). I used Pellon True-Grid (I just buy this by the bolt at Jo-Ann’s).
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The Directions
The directions are very clear. I admit, I didn’t always read them word for word because once you know how to do something your way, you just go ahead and do it without really checking (though I don’t think my way differed from her way). But it would be very appropriate for a beginner. Also, she gives serge directions, if you’re using a serger (I wasn’t). There are accompanying pictures that illustrate the steps, and overall, it’s easy to follow.
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What I Customized
I decided to make a little baseball appliqué. So, this was my addition, there aren’t directions for this in the pattern. But there’s nothing to it: I just cut a piece of white felt into a circle and stitched it (by hand) to a square of denim. Then I took small stitches with a single strand of red yarn to mimic the stitches on a baseball (I actually had to Google images of baseballs to see what a baseball actually looked like!). I made a row of hand stitches with the red yarn just outside the baseball, and then I machine-appliquéd the piece of denim to the front.

I also added more top-stitching to the big yellow pocket, because I wanted to bring out the red. I top-stitched around the hood, too.

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The Overall Fit
I made a 3T for Max, who is 2-1/2 years old, and a little bit on the small side (he’s like 35% percentile in height/weight). It’s just slightly big, but I like that, because there’s room to grow (I think it will still fit him this fall). It's a nice slim fit (and the waist cuff helps streamline it even more), but it's certainly not too tight. The only little thing: the neck opening is a bit snug. I like this from a fit perspective, but it does make getting it on and off him a bit tight (keep in mind, I did the hoodie version; I don’t think this would be an issue with the regular tee). It’s easier to flip it around and put his head in backwards and then flip it around to the front. When I make it again, I think I’ll cut the neckline just slightly bigger. But this is really no big deal.

The Charlie Tee & Hoodie is priced at $11.25. I know there are a lot of free patterns and tutorials online (which is awesome!), but it’s worth paying for a really great, well-designed pattern that you can use over and over again. I’ll certainly return to this one again, and will probably girl it up and make it for Georgia this fall, too!


Oh, one last thing: If you're nervous about working with knits, check out Bonnie's blog post answering questions about  sewing knits

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 So here we are in March! March is a little bit wonderful and a little bit rotten—it teases you with sunshine and then dumps some cold weather on you just for sport. But I’m keeping a good thought for spring!

A few snapshots from my garden:

Tulips soon to make their entrance . . . .
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A basket soon to be filled with annuals . . .
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Chairs soon to be rocked . . .
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A birdbath soon to be splashed in . . .
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 Despite its fickle weather, March is a great month for celebrations. I mean, it’s National Craft Month and Women’s History Month! Women, history, sewing: Could there be a more perfect combo? Hmm, if only there was a book about this or something, right?

Anyway, I was honored to write a guest blog about the history of women and sewing for the lovely Natalie over at the Craftzine blog. Check it out here, and put in your two cents if you get a chance!

Also, I decided March was the month that my little baby girl should finally have, you know, a jacket (we just relied on blanket-bundling to get through the winter).
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 I found a fleece as a remnant at Jo-Ann’s and it had pink prettiness written all over it. I used Simplicity pattern 5316 , but modified it some. I used an Anna Maria Horner print (one of the prints that came in the fabric stack)  to make the pockets and to line the hood (the pattern doesn’t call for lining the hood, but I wanted the fun contrast).
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It’s an easy pattern to follow, and even if you’ve never done a separating zipper, the directions walk you through it very well (it had been a few years since I did one). It gets mighty bulky at the bottom, but just solider through it and even if it’s slightly crooked, it will still be okay.
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So, let's all channel spring and the amazing stories of women throughout history. And maybe go make a pretty spring jacket for yourself (or your kid) if you don't have one! It will make you happy, I promise.