Trees in the fall remind us that in order to make room to grow, we first have to slow down and let go. They shed their leaves and brace themselves for calmer days and nights come winter, until they bloom again in the spring, ready to show off their gorgeous canopies. After a roller coaster of a year, this month has been a pleasant surprise, full of wonder and opportunity. Challenges, yes, and some of my friends are going through some difficult times, too, but as I glance up in the sky and pause, I also take a moment to reflect on the good around us. I'm grateful for my friends who've been amazing and supportive, and who continue to share their good fortunes with me. I'm happy to live in a city that is robust and rich, despite its frustrations. I love my family, quirky as they are. Today is a good day. I'm really ready for fall.
Even though fall officially begins next week, I am feeling the boots and sweater weather today and I’m getting excited! I love what this homeowner did with a pair of 🥾 . Clever. It’s amazing what I’m starting to “see” everyday during my walks with this challenge. Day 17 of #30daynaturechallenge #Chicago
“Realist shit I ever read: ‘People pray for the cake. Then God gives them the batter, eggs, oil, icing, a pan, an oven, they get frustrated and leave the kitchen.’ Let that sink. Sometimes you have everything in front of you, but how bad do you want it?” – courtesy of The Female Hustlers (via @TheFemaleHustlers on Instagram).
Excuses are so easy to make, aren’t they? Even when opportunities present themselves, we’ll find a way to give up lest we fail. It’s easier not to try something because failing is hard.
Since January of this year, I’ve tried hard to push myself to overcome my fear of trying something new or reaching out to a big-name prospective client or editor because I may not be a good fit. Some months are better than others. And one media outlet (you likely know which one) makes me nervous to pitch because I feel like I have to read every single issue over the past 12 months to *really* have a good handle on what and whom to pitch. Again, dumb. I know I can do it but I’ve already pitched twice and gotten two rejections from two different editors. But here’s the kicker: both responded. One liked my story idea (the other thought it was fun and funny but wasn’t sure it’d be a good fit for his larger readership). I know I can do it. Still, I’ve not pitched anyone at this outlet since January. I need to overcome this fear and get another pitch out there. Sooner than later.
Until then, I’ve explored other things I’ve been wanting to try. Today, I made my very first journal – from scratch! The process couldn’t have been lovelier, from the moment Bari Zaki responded to my email asking about upcoming courses, to her scheduling one around my calendar because I was so excited, to the actual class. Touching the Japanese paper that would become my journal shell, using my bone folder to create the creases, threading my journal using wax thread.
The whole experience was both meditative and stressful because I so wanted to do it right. In the end, under Bari’s careful and patient guidance, I created what I think is one of the most beautiful things I’ve made using my hands. I love it and while I don’t want to use it because I want to keep it and look at, I also want to use it because I want to journal in it. I’m hooked and I can’t wait to take a Coptic Stitch class with her next. If you’re in Chicago and have any interest in papers or journals, do yourself a favor and check out Bari Zaki Studio in Lincoln Square.
Balancing Noise, Silence, and the Novelty of The Light Phone
Finally, if you’ve been reading my blog posts every month, you know I’ve been intentionally trying to be more mindful of my space – physical, mental and emotional. I’ve been taking myself out to Artist Dates, meditating (167 days straight and still going strong!) and journaling daily, and reducing my screen time, especially around social media. I can’t shut off social media entirely since it’s part of the work I do, but I can control how much time I spend on it and I have been.
Cal Newport recommended a phone called The Light Phone in his latest book, Digital Minimalism. There is a wait list for the phone, so I added my name. It’s a $150 phone that makes calls. That’s it. For those of us who feel uncomfortable leaving our homes without the safety of our phones, this is one solution to leaving your smartphone behind yet still having access to your close family members or to whomever you need to stay connected.
The Need To Spend More Time With Friends And Being Silent
There are two things I’m experimenting with right now: trying to find a balance between spending more time with friends in real life and spending more time in silence. I’ve been pretty successful with the former, the latter…not so much. I’m trying. It’s shockingly hard (to me, anyway) to appreciate silence.
What new things have you tried since the beginning of this year? And any advice on how to enjoy the silence? I’m all ears (I’m sorry, I couldn’t help it!).
This weekend, I was invited to participate in a panel discussion at one of my alma maters about becoming a communications consultant and entrepreneur and leaving a stable corporate job. When someone in the audience asked how to go about securing new business and focus your energy, I advised to focus on doing what you love because you’ll attract work you want to do. Following my answer, someone else in the audience said something to the effect that while the mantra of “doing what you love” is nice, she wanted to caution people that sometimes reality dictates the kind of work that comes your way.
What I heard is that doing what you love is bad career advice. I think she’s wrong.
To use another too-often used mantra: Life Is Short. So damn short. Why would we want to work on stuff we hate? Of course, we all have bills to pay and work we have to do that we don’t always love. I get that. And when I first began my business 12 years ago this month, I took on work for clients that I wondered whether we’d be a good fit. Some were, some weren’t. But every single one of those clients and editors taught me something – even if it was that I don’t love working on those types of projects and to steer away from them.
In the course of these twelve years, though, I also learned the kinds of clients and work I love doing and want to attract more – work that focuses on: art, architect and design (including landscape architecture and gardens and trees), environment and sustainability, food and food justice, health (especially mental health), travel and culture, and women’s and children’s rights. It’s a lot, right? I also really enjoy writing profiles and biographies, as well as features. I love interviewing people and learning their stories. I love telling their stories. I find research fun. This is why I love my work. I’ve written and/or worked on all of these topics in one way or another during the last 12 years.
Rather than take on work you don’t love, why not focus on attracting work you do love? And what better way to do that by doing what you love in the first place? Volunteer for organizations you feel strongly about and network within that space, attend conferences or read trade magazines in the topics you’re interested in, connect with people already working in companies that you might like to work with in the future and let them know you’re available if they need someone like you. The work may not come immediately and it could very well take years, but by constantly putting yourself out there and doing work you love, you’ll start to earn a reputation and that becomes your business card.
Recently, I was recently interviewed for Deliberate Freelancer, a new podcast by Melanie Padgett Powers on how to build a successful freelance business. During the podcast, Melanie asked me how I organize my day and stay on task. I’m a planner and I like to plan out my month in advance, then by week, then by day, then by hour and then by 15-minute increments.
Right now, I’m using an excel spreadsheet (you can view a template of it here) because I can drill down that deeply into my day. Similar to a Bullet Journal, what doesn’t get done on one day “migrates” to the next day (or gets saved for next month, depending on the project). The idea is that every project or work on this week-at-a-glance or specific day of the week has to work for its spot. Further, each day has a financial goal attached to it so that by week’s end, I’ll hit my financial goal. If I have a meeting out of the office that isn’t going to generate income (let’s say a networking event), that gets captured on one day but that means another day has to make up for this non-revenue-generating day.
I’m fascinated with how people plan their days and hit their revenue goals. This format works for me but I realize this can put some people over the edge because it’s so specific. They prefer to have more fluid schedules. That’s totally fine with me – but that approach doesn’t work for me. I’m deadline-driven and goal-oriented. If I don’t have a deadline, it won’t get done. If I don’t have a goal, it’s much harder to get motivated to complete something.
Embracing Creative Pursuits
Appreciating the need to give myself more space to be creative, I’ve been intentionally seeking and embracing more opportunities to welcome creativity and the arts into my life.
As the weather improves in Chicago (thank goodness, the rain this week notwithstanding), I’m so excited to get outdoors more. I’ve signed up for a bookbinding workshop at Bari Zaki (come join me!), booked ceramics classes through the Chicago Park District, and bought tickets to see a friend’s improv show with my girlfriends. My friend Katie inspired me to take up drawing (thanks, Katie!). I’ve visited a Chicago arts shop and bought some art supplies to try some new mixed media projects. I scheduled a baby goat yoga session (don’t judge - I’ve been wanting to do this for years!).
All this to say, I’m ready to play. I’m continuing my weekly Artist Dates, which have been truly a delight to plan and do every week. I’m seeing my friends in real life more regularly, which has been a joy. I’m experimenting with new work and clients, with some surprising results. I’m working out more regularly. It’s all good.
Many of us live in a world of constant chaos. Noise surrounds us: both audible and visible. It’s no wonder by the end of the day we’re fried, hoping we can find solace in the comfort of a hot bath or warm cup of tea.
In his poem, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, which I share below thanks to The Poetry Foundation which has it on its website, Wordsworth welcomes the silence, calling it the bliss of solitude. He ends his poem with:
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
Silence and mindfulness are not something many of us, I’ve quickly realized, are comfortable with even though research has shown that silence helps to reduces stress. I’ll raise my hand and admit I was among those people. While I need complete silence to write and work, silence when I’m not working felt off to me. Like I needed to fill in the time and space with something, anything. But I pressed on, hoping I could get to a place where it wouldn’t feel odd.
This week I ran the first time without my ear buds playing music to help me. I forced myself to take in my surroundings, hear the birds chirping, the kids laughing at the playground during their recess, the hum and honks of the cars driving past me. What I didn’t realize is that it wasn’t just the new sounds I was hearing, but the new smells I was inhaling, too. Without the music to distract me, all of my senses were on alert - including my sense of smell. I took deeper breaths to take in the intoxicating scents of spring - little wisps of sweet hyacinths and the odor of manure mulch a landscaping service was unpacking from their trucks near a home.
I missed listening to my music and using the music to help me get through my run but then as I paused to think about it, why was I using the music to help me “get through” something? Is it possible I might enjoy running more if I was more attuned to how my body was reacting during the run? I don’t know but I plan to found out next time I run outdoors. Right now, I still plan to put those earbuds in when I run at the gym.
In the meantime, if you made it this far, thanks for reading and I hope you’ll enjoy a moment of silence today, as I did, and seek out some daffodils that are finally making an appearance in my part of the world.
By William Wordsworth
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
March, thankfully, brought in the first day of spring on March 20. Man, was I ready. I embraced the day with wide open arms as I was looking forward to finally shedding my winter slump.
With the first quarter of the year in the books, I took some time to reflect. I read and am now re-reading and putting into daily practice The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Early in the book, she writes:
“It is often said that what you give attention to grows in importance.”
Ain’t that the truth.
This can be said of the things and activities we plan but also the company we keep, right? In late 2017, I wrote about the importance of showing up. Having felt like I was neglecting some of my friendships, I had vowed to make more time to nurture those friends I hold dear. I cannot tell you how much it means to me that many of my friends have taken the time to meet with me this quarter. Friends I haven’t seen in both months and years.
All I had to do was reach out and ask and they made time for me. It felt so good to hear how they were doing, share in their struggles and celebrate their successes. I’m so grateful and I am committed to continuing to make time to see my friends. An unexpected benefit is I’ve also met several new friends simply by pushing myself out of my comfort zone and allowing those new relationships to slowly take root.
Why I’m Dating Again
New relationships and rekindling old ones are important to me but I’ve also begun something new in March: I’ve started dating again. Those dates are with myself.
One of the things Cameron recommends in her book is to schedule weekly artist dates. I used to do these regularly before I had kids and smartphones took over our lives and it reminded me how important they were to my psyche. I also read the piece by David Brooks in the New York Times last week: Longing for an Internet Cleanse. If you’ve been following my monthly updates, you know I’ve been trying to minimize the time I spend online needlessly. These weekly artist dates have been nothing short of amazing and necessary. If you’re interested in what I’ve been doing this month, here is where I went on Week 1, Week 2, Week 3 and Week 4. I highly recommend scheduling your own artist date.
A Couple Of Recent Projects & A Tease
This month there are two projects I wanted to highlight because I’m so proud of how they turned out.
The Designers’ Designer: Shumaker Design + Build Associates. I had the pleasure of working with Suzanne and Garry Shumaker to write the bio for their architecture design + build firm based in Evanston, Illinois. It was such a fun writing project and it doesn’t hurt that Suzanne is a gifted photographer, too, and her images accompany my words on their site.
EatingWell magazine. Seeing your byline in print never gets old, at least for me. It was such a treat to write the Food With Purpose column for the April issue of EatingWell magazine (out on newsstands now!). My editor was great to work with and I loved interviewing Dave Miller, the CEO of Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT, the subject of the profile.
Coming up…speaking of interviewing CEOs, I had the pleasure of interviewing a new CEO who recently took the helm of a 150-year-old company. That interview was so fun to do and I can’t wait to see the story publish (which should be sometime this week!).
Books I’m Reading Or Am Excited About
I have a talented group of friends and several have books that either recently come out or they have their pub date soon.
Vanessa McGrady’s memoir, Rock Needs River: A Memoir About a Very Open Adoption, came out on New Year’s Day this year. It was so beautiful to read Vanessa’s memoir because it’s rich with detail and so much love for her daughter.
Kristine Hansen’s Wisconsin Cheese Cookbook: Creamy, Cheesy, Sweet, and Savory Recipes from the State’s Best Creameries came out on March 1. I’ve been lovingly flipping through the pages and making notes on which ones I need to visit this summer because I’m feeling like a cheese tour is in order.
Coming Soon - but you can pre-order now!
Jodi Helmer’s latest book, Protecting Pollinators: How to Save the Creatures that Feed Our World, has an April pub date: April 18. It’s available for pre-order right now.
Cindy Kuzma’s latest book, Rebound: Training Your Mind to Bounce Back Stronger from Sports Injuries, comes out October 15 (right after the Chicago Marathon for those running Chicago!). It’s also available for pre-order right now.
That’s it for now from me. I’d love to hear from you. What’s going on in your life? In the spirit of keeping my calendar open, if you’re up for a coffee date or lunch or visit to a museum, let me know!
Here’s to an even more beautiful and rich April, friends.
Photo above is a screenshot from my phone of the Headspace app tip. The photo in the background is a shot I took of a sculpture of natural stones Chloe and Alex created when we were on Washington Island in Wisconsin last summer.
What a month it’s been. It’s been a rollercoaster on so many levels. February has always been my hardest month. It’s when Chicago’s winter really grips you and you feel like your heavy winter coat has become a part of your body. February truly depresses me and I’m always happy when I turn the calendar to March because we get to celebrate the first day of spring. Shout out to my awesome friends and family who made this past month bearable. Here’s to longer days and warmer nights and dress weather!
For those who’ve been following my meditation progress, I’m happy to report I’m still practicing daily. Not breaking the chain has been motivating me and it’s crazy how being forced to sit still and just *be* changes my outlook and carries through my entire day. Friends and I have been sharing things or books that have been particularly helpful and one that keeps popping up is Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I’ve talked about Cameron’s work before since she’s how I learned of the Morning Pages but many people were reminded of her body of work since she was featured in the New York Times earlier this month. I highly recommend reading it if you’ve not yet.
Professionally I gave my very first webinar this month, which was a blast. I continue to write mostly about food as well as architecture, interior and landscape design this month. I have a piece coming out next month in a major national consumer print magazine that I’m excited about so I hope I can share it once it’s published. My clients continue to keep me excited about the work they’re doing around social justice, clean energy and sustainability. I’m so honored to be part of their teams.
Personally, I’m excited to be plotting out my backyard garden and deciding with my family what we’re going to grow this summer. Tomatoes will always be a part of our plan but any recommendations for Zone 5 vegetables and fruits are welcome! I can’t wait to make our annual pilgrimage to Lurvey’s Garden Center and load up the back of our car with plants to add to our garden. Then we’ll hit up our local farmers market to fill in the rest of the gaps. Last year we had amazing results with zucchini but we learned we need to give them space. They crowded our raised bed and didn’t leave any space for our eggplants. We’ve been planting our tomatoes in containers and I think that didn’t give them enough space for their roots so this year we’ll plant them directly in the dirt.
Three more weeks until spring. We got this, right? I’m so ready to put my boots away and get my hands dirty!
What are your plans this spring? How are you holding up this season?
43 days straight, just over 7 hours and 48 sessions. That’s how much I’ve been able to commit to daily meditation since I started in late December. This may not seem impressive to many people, especially those who practice meditation regularly. To me, though, this is HUGE. It’s the longest stretch I’ve been able to keep meditating and while there are days I just don’t want to set aside the 10 or 15 minutes, like any physical exercise, there is never a time I’ve not felt it’s been worth it. Never. In fact, most days I’m looking forward to the forced stillness.
Yesterday afternoon I spoke with an editor of mine who has become a dear friend (and if she’s reading this right now, she knows who she is!). I hadn’t meditated yet and I mentioned that sometimes I wonder if this meditation thing is working because I’m not sure how it should feel if it is (or isn’t).
Then, yesterday evening, when I finally did meditate, the dreamy accent of the person behind the Headspace app starts off by reminding us we need to be “focusing on where we are at this moment, rather than how well we’ll progressing.” It’s like he knew how I felt and overheard my conversation! Like when you read your horoscope on your birthday and think it’s been written just for you! He reminded us to stop judging our progress because that’s where we get into the zone of frustration and stress.
Trust The Process
Even if it doesn’t always feel like I can get this meditation thing right, even if it doesn’t always feel like I’m able to focus for one minute, let alone 10, I continue to meditate. Why? I knew I needed to make changes in my life after last year.
Perhaps you know the feeling? Have you ever felt like sometimes we’re on a hamster wheel? Going through the motions and checking off the boxes but not feeling like we’re actually going anywhere? I lost a client I had been working with for years. One I loved and long respected and admired. Until something happened within their organization and it all came crashing down. Out of my control, but still, it was a painful reminder that no matter how much of our heart and soul we put into something, it can be lost in snap. We were doing great work together, checking the boxes, going through the motions and then, poof. It all came to a screeching halt and it felt like I got whiplash. That’s how much if 2018 felt for me and why I wanted to put things in place early this year to make changes.
Meditating is helping, even if I can’t really see exactly how. I can feel the changes. I can feel that I’m calmer (yes, my word of the year!). I’m reaching out to organizations who align with my interests and values in the sustainability and social justice space because those are the places where I want to focus my energy and work. Have I secured new work with any of those organizations yet? Not yet. Do I think I will this year? Absolutely. Why? Because I trust the process. I know what I’m capable of doing and I know the decision to bring on a communication consultant is rarely done in a vacuum or without thought about how to budget for it. But I know for sure that if I don’t continue to reach out to those organizations and let them know I’m available, the odds of me having the opportunity to work with them will be considerably lower. So I continue to put the time and energy because I know if I stay with it, something will happen.
That’s why I continue to meditate.
Much has been said about quality over quantity. If you want to produce good work, put the effort in and produce good work. While I don’t disagree with the sentiment, I also know this is a numbers game. You want to run a marathon? You have to log in the miles. You want to become a better writer? You have to write. You want to secure better clients? You have to let them know you’re available. Not just in December or January. But every month. Because you never know when that call will come that tells you thanks for the five or 10 years of working together, but this will be our last month.
Last night I was at the rock climbing gym where my kids practice as part of a team and I overheard their coach pushing one of their teammates to try to finish a challenging route. She was so close, just one step away from making it to the top, but she didn’t feel like she could finish it and was going to let herself fall off the wall. Her coach wouldn’t let her. “Try, just try,” he said. Buoyed by his encouragement, she tried. She didn’t make it and ended up falling off the wall.
“You’ll fall the same distance if you try and don’t make it,” he reminded her. “But you might make it, so why not try?”
Even if we don’t always hit those high notes or finish those routes or secure the clients we want or the stories we pitch, we have to keep getting out there. We have to keep trying. Consistency matters. And so does focusing.
What are you hoping to try this year? Have you taken any steps in January to inch closer to making it happen? Anything I can do to help? Let me know! Until then…stay warm, friends!