Yo Momma Monday: Ashley Weeks Cart

yo momma monday

Meet Ashley Weeks Cart, 30, from Southwestern Vermont. She runs Cartwheel Farm with her husband James, and she is mama to two beautiful girls (Addison (Sunny) who will be turning five next month, and Courtland (Kaki) who is two and a half), a super mutt they call Hanna Banana, a puppy named Gladden, a potbelly pig named Penelope (“Penny” for short), a flock of five hens – Bunty, Edwina, Dora, Nemo and Ginger and an angel dog – their beloved three legged dog, Ursa Bear, who lost her life to cancer.

Before Ashley and James were introduced to the world of parenting and farming, they lived in Los Angeles and Ashley attended USC, where she received her MA in Curatorial Practices in the Public Sphere. She also ran a reusable bag business with her sister at the time.

Photo taken by Ashley Weeks Cart

Photo taken by Ashley Weeks Cart. Click the photo for the link.

After Sunny was born, Ashley and James returned to the East Coast to be closer to their families. Both attended College in the Berkshires, so they moved back to Williamstown, MA for the first two years, and that is when they decided that they wanted the rural life. So they bought a farm across the border in the Green Mountain State.

“James’ family had a farm growing up, and we really loved the idea of our daughters learning about where their food comes from and the responsibility and care that comes from owning farm animals and tending a vegetable garden. That was all possible with this little property.”

Photo by Theron Humphrey. Click on the picture for the link.

Taken by Theron Humphrey. Click the photo for the link.

Both Ashley and James are photographers and Ashley does freelance work on the side. Her introduction to photography began when she was just a kid, and would spend hours tooling away with her dad’s Nikon SLR. All of that playing and shooting paid off, because now she connects with her readers through her photography on her blog.

” I have albums of black and white photos of our pets and house growing up that I shot with that camera from back in 70s. It was totally a hobby, but it brought a lot of joy. It wasn’t until after college that I got back in to photography. I was working at another small liberal arts college that allowed me to take one course a semester.

Taken by Ashley Weeks Cart. Click the picture for the link.

Taken by Ashley Weeks Cart. Click the photo for the link.

I took a film photography class, and loved hiding out in the dark room and relearning how to really use a camera. When we moved to California we invested in our first digital SLR, and after our oldest daughter was born, James and I really began to want to better master our camera as we were amassing a slew of baby photos.

When we moved back east, I developed a great relationship with a local professional photographer and she really helped me take my work to the next level. I try to pick up my camera and shoot every single day. I learn something every time I do. Practice practice practice is the best advice I can give. That, and shoot in manual mode. Just do it. Your photos will be world’s better once you get a hang of it.”

Taken by Ashley Weeks Cart. Click the picture for the link

Taken by Ashley Weeks Cart. Click the photo for the link

Ashley started her blog Blog a la Cart when she was still living in LA and was the first of her group to have any children. With James working all day, she felt alone and overwhelmed, and she needed a creative outlet that would get her thinking about more than changing diapers and feedings.

“Honestly, I write about whatever inspires me at the moment – there is no real rhyme or reason to my blog content – that space is ultimately an outlet for me, so I write about and share what is most impacting me at the time. Sometimes is as simple as a room makeover, other times it’s more serious feminist issues that I’m struggling with as a parent/mom.

Taken by James Cart. Click the photo for the link.

Taken by James Cart. Click the photo for the link.

I try not to be influenced or alter my point of view to please anyone but myself since that space was born very much out of a need to better support myself. I love that people share in that space, but it’s ultimately about being true to my voice and story.”

Since Ashley has a full-time job, her photography and blog are both done on the side. They are  creative outlets for her, and while she admits it can be tough balancing family, work, the farm and her creative business, she loves what she creates and is grateful to have both there to supplement their lives.

Taken by Ashley Weeks Cart. Click the photo for the link.

Taken by Ashley Weeks Cart. Click the photo for the link.

“I have a truly amazing partner. I would not be able to do all I do without him in the mix, providing the balance and support that I need. He is the girls’ primary caregiver, and does the lion’s share of the cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping etc. This enables me to work a day job full time, and then come home and spend time with my girls and have meaningful family time, before spending my evenings editing photos for clients or writing content for the blog.

There is no way I would be able to keep everything in balance without James helping carry the weight. I think people don’t consider enough how their choice of life partner will be one of the biggest, most impactful decisions of their entire lives. People want the pretty wedding and storybook romance, but don’t often consider the long term weight of that decision. I feel very lucky to have been able to grow into adulthood with James by my side (we met at his 20th birthday party in college) – we’ve been able to make some huge decisions and changes together and we really compliment and balance each others strengths and weaknesses.”

Penelope. Taken by Ashley Weeks Cart. Click the image for the link

Penelope. Taken by Ashley Weeks Cart. Click the photo for the link

Of all the things her girls have already learned on the farm, she hopes that they will always have a respect for their food and the cycle of life. Both have already experienced the loss of a family pet they cherished and loved and they know where the food on their table comes from.

“We don’t shelter them from this, and they have a very thoughtful and honest perspective on death and life (for their age). I love that they understand that our Thanksgiving turkey comes from a turkey farm and must be killed before we can eat it for dinner. It’s not just some plastic wrapped lump from the grocery aisle.

Taken by Theron Humphrey. Click the image for the link.

Taken by Theron Humphrey. Click the photo for the link.

They know the sweetness and joy of picking blueberries right off the bush. They understand that maple syrup comes from the veins of a maple tree as they themselves have collected the sap and watched it boil down into that sugary delicacy. They’ve hand turned apples to cider. They’ve weeded and sweat and and pulled fresh carrots from the ground. There is something so simple and yet so very important from these lessons that we get to make a part of their everyday.”

Ashley’s best advice for working parents (whether it’s in or outside of the home) is to carve out time for yourself. She likes going to the gym or for a run or a walk once a day. It’s not only good for her physical health, but it’s good for her mental and emotional health as well. She also loves crafting, and shares many tutorials on her blog.

Turning apples into cider. Taken by Ashley Weeks Cart. Click the image for the link.

Turning apples into cider. Taken by Ashley Weeks Cart. Click the photo for the link.

“I have trouble sitting still, so I build in crafts and projects to any free time I may have on a weekend or evening. I love working with my hands, and it’s fun to be able to involve my children in the projects when possible.

Mostly, I would be happy to spend my days knitting and listening to audiobooks – but it’s good to mix it up. I learned to quilt last year, and that is a dangerously wonderful, time-consuming hobby. I hope to be able to do more of it when my children are older – as it also demands a lot of stuff and space (iron, cutting table, sewing machine, etc.) whereas knitting I can keep in my handbag for a down moment waiting at the doctor’s office or pharmacy, etc.”

Photo by Ashley Weeks Cart. Click the photo for the link.

Photo by Ashley Weeks Cart. Click the photo for the link.

In the future, Ashley hopes to expand her photography portfolio and hopes to capture more maternity and childbirth moments. She wants to master tomato growing, to include alpacas or other fiber animals in their farm family so she can spin her own wool and she wants to bake a truly authentic loaf of French bread. Her favorite thing about everything she does is the impact it makes on other people.

“My favorite moments happen when a reader emails me to say that something I’ve written or shared has touched them in some way, either by making them feel not so alone, or validating their feelings, or even getting them to think about something in an entirely new way. Those emails send me over the moon.They bring me so much happiness.

Sugar. Taken by Ashley Weeks Cart. Click the image for the link

Sugar. Taken by Ashley Weeks Cart. Click the photo for the link

And with the photography, I love getting feedback that I’ve captured a client or their family in a way that really represents them. Getting positive feedback on my work keeps me motivated and makes me feel like I am making a difference (however small) in my community.”

And as for the impact she has felt from her children, and life on the farm:

Picking strawberries. Taken by Ashley Weeks Cart. Click the image for the link.

Picking strawberries. Taken by Ashley Weeks Cart. Click the photo for the link.

“There are SO many ways that motherhood has changed me, mostly it has given me deep respect for my own mother and the  mothers around me as I am so acutely, personally aware of the challenges, joys, heartbreak, and perspective that motherhood brings. It’s humbling and inspiring and I am so very grateful everyday that I get to call myself a mother to my little girls. It’s the hardest thing I’ll ever do, yet I am eternally grateful that I get to have this kind of experience and perspective and love in my life.

And the farm has connected me to life beyond my family in really meaningful ways. From the flowers to our vegetable gardens to our chickens, I am tuned in to the life cycles and seasons of life on the farm. I recently read “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver (everyone should read it!) and it has really inspired me and further enforced in me why James and I made the choice to buy this home and raise our girls this way, connected to their food and this place.”

Painting by Rebekka Seale. Click the image for the link.

Painting by Rebekka Seale. Click the image for the link.

You can read Ashley’s blog Blog A La Cart to find out more about raising a family on a farm, and you can also view her portfolio there. And check out her video about life on the farm! If you want to hire Ashley to take your photos, you can e-mail her and you can connect with her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

If you are an awesome mama or you know one and would like to be featured in this series, don’t be shy! Leave me a comment, e-mail me and connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google + and Pinterest.

Meet the Maker: Print Therapy

meet the maker

Meet Melissa, 30, and Nicholas Wert, 32 from Longmeadow, Massachusetts. They are the adorable and creative couple behind Print Therapy, a handcrafted paper expression company, and I am honored to have them as my guests today. And how perfect (and not planned at all) is it that Valentines Day is officially less than a month away.

Melissa and Nick decided to start Print Therapy while Melissa was in a hotel room during a business trip. She still works full time as a project manager and has one foot in the creative world, one foot in corporate America, as she would put it.

“After several weeks of travel (for work, not for pleasure!) and too many moments of not feeling like my best was good enough and not being able to truly stand behind my work, I called Nick and said “Dang it! We’re starting Print Therapy. For real!” A few hours later, we registered the name and had filled out all of the legal paperwork.”

Melissa has both a Bachelors in Business Management and a Masters in Communication and Information Management. She and Nick started Print Therapy a year after she got her Masters. She admits that at first it felt like a waste – paying off a whole bunch of student loans after realizing that she wasn’t all about corporate America.

Photo from Print Therapy

Photo from Print Therapy

“But when I stepped back, I realized how much they would help me run my own business and handle the non-creative portion of my work, which I love almost as much as the creating!”

Melissa says that she wouldn’t rather work with anyone else, and that the secret to their success is working in separate offices. She adds that having her husband as her business partner gives them both an understanding of all the work they put into it.

” If one of us needs to take a break or step away from it for a while, then it’s totally okay. We both know that we each love this business and want it to grow, and that we’re 100% committed to that. Nick doesn’t get on my case if I devote an entire Saturday to Print Therapy or if I fall asleep on the couch at 8pm after a long day of work. We appreciate each other for the work we’re putting in – and make sacrifices together to keep it all going!”

Since Melissa is an early riser, she is able to get a huge chunk of her work done before anyone else gets up and the neighborhood is still quiet. She makes a cup of coffee, checks her email and visits the blogs and social media sites of her favorite creative people. Then, it’s time to handle business. Some days, she works on all the of business aspects and other days, she’s creating a new design.

Photo from Print Therapy

Photo from Print Therapy

“I am a methodical planner (hence my project management background), and have had to learn that you cannot plan creativity. It’s not something you can schedule on the calendar (yes, I’ve tried), or slot in a certain time of the day. When it happens, it happens.”

The upstairs spare bedroom of their 52 Cape doubles as her office, where she says all of the white space inspires her; yet the beautiful charm and character are her favorite. She has a desk, some storage racks, a Print Therapy design board and a Yoga Dogs calendar. Her only office mate is her dog, Sawyer, who is always hard at work on his comfy bed under the window.

“The bones of the room give me  a warm and fuzzy feeling…being surrounded by color would limit my design sense.”

While Melissa does get a lot of her home inspiration from Pinterest and creative inspiration from Instagram, she is most inspired by things that are not related to stationary at all, a nod to a subject she studied in College.

Photo from Print Therapy

Photo from Print Therapy

“I studied architecture in college before switching to business, and I tend to find a lot of inspiration in different architectural pieces and in interior design.”

Before Adobe introduced the Creative Cloud, Melissa and Nick were creating all of their cards on Microsoft Word (yowza!). After watching all the Adobe TV tutorials they could handle, they now use Adobe Illustrator and InDesign for all of their designs.

“It’s opened up a new level of creativity and confidence for me. We print most of our items at home, but are slowly beginning to work with a great printing company that prints out of California. They will greatly expand what we can offer, and can help keep our prices reasonable for bigger orders.  It’s hard to let a big piece of the business go like that, but we’ve found someone we trust and really enjoy working with, so … baby steps!”

Since both Melissa and Nick work full-time aside from running Print Therapy, they don’t get a whole lot of downtime. So when they do get a chance to unwind, they will get burgers or Chinese take-out and snuggle with Sawyer on the couch and watch a movie or catch-up on their favorite shows.

Photo from Print Therapy

Photo from Print Therapy

“As much as we love working together, getting to unwind together is even better! Both of our families are about 10 minutes away, so we love getting to spend time with them, too. We also treasure dinner dates with our closest friends – whether they be out to a restaurant or home cooked at someone’s home. Quality time together is where it’s at!”

For Melissa, being responsible for it all is both the best and scariest thing about running her own business. She loves having control over every aspect of her company, but also admits that it can get a little hairy when there’s not an IT Department or a paycheck, for that matter.

“You get to know yourself pretty well when you’re the one behind it all, and you have to learn to work within your strengths and weaknesses, and to push yourself farther than you thought you could go.”

When they need to buckle down and get to work, Melissa and Nick have different ways to get in the creative mood. Melissa will turn her workspace into what she calls a “safe space” and shuts the door, turns up the heat, lights a candle and turns up the emotional music. Nick, on the other hand, revisits the 90s with his musical choices. “Method Man, Wu Tang, all of it”

Photo from Print Therapy

Photo from Print Therapy

“Nick often jokes how much I love sad music – it’s true! I feel most creative when I deeply, deeply feel something. To me, that’s the point of stationery – to put feelings into text and images that can be shared with someone else.”

And when there are simply no creative juices flowing? Melissa doesn’t force it, and just stops trying. She will start cleaning and organizing and comes back to it later. If there is still nothing, she will just start designing something and eventually the creativity will reemerge.

“Sometimes walking away is the best option though – becoming frustrated with the process certainly isn’t going to help that creativity to start flowing.”

And when there are design flops, Melissa has learned to not rush the process and to work on a design until it feels right. And if she doesn’t love it, she will not have that innate urge to sell it. And when she’s not jumping up and down to promote it…then maybe it shouldn’t be up for sale.

Photo from Print Therapy

Photo from Print Therapy

“Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the trends and to try to make something because you think it will sell. But, if it doesn’t fit you and your brand, good luck”

Melissa loves the familiarity of the handmade movement and community, and loves how it feels like “we’re all in this together.” She has a lot of friends who run their own small businesses, and she feels inspired being able able to purchase items that help people support families, fund an adoption and give back to their communities.

“You just don’t get that feeling from a Wal-Mart. There’s nothing better than purchasing a product you love and knowing that that maker is excited by and appreciative of every purchase coming his or her way, and is using that money to live their life. Double whammy goodness.”

She discovered Oh My Handmade! while on Twitter when she was starting Print Therapy. She checked out the website, and ultimately decided that the small monthly fee was worth all of the support she would get from the online community.

Photo from Print Therapy

Photo from Print Therapy

“Through my OMHG membership, I’ve learned that I’m not alone and that everyone struggles. Everyone has off days. No one feels like a creative successful genius 365 days a year. It’s been eye opening for me, in the best way, and has helped me better accept myself as a maker.”

While Melissa agrees that starting your own business is incredibly tiring, she also knows how exhausting it can be to work at a job that you don’t love. So, she knows this is the right path for her, and if she does have children, she hopes it will be an inspiration to them.

“Every day that I look at Nick, and the family we’re building, I am inspired to go down this path, because it makes me the happiest person I can be. That’s good for me.”

Now that they finally have their website launched (yay!), Melissa hopes to work on a Wedding collection and add more “just because” cards to their shop. “Those are my favorite to send, and to receive, so I want to offer more of those as well.” Next year, they hope to move into wholesale.

Photo from Print Therapy

Photo from Print Therapy

“I hope to inspire people to do what they love, and to not feel constrained by what they think they should be doing or by what someone else thinks they should be doing. I hope to inspire people to find a partner to share their life with that fully supports their dreams and visions.

I hope to inspire people to rescue their next pet versus buying from a breeder, because man, rescue pets are the best. But mostly, I hope to just inspire people to tell someone else how they feel about them in a way that will always be treasured. Leave a love note, send a card. However they choose, I want to inspire people to tell those they love, that they love them. I want to inspire people to send happiness; from their mailbox forward.”

You can find Melissa and Nick on their website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and you can order Valentines cards (like I did) and any other cards you like from their Etsy shop. If you would like to participate in this series – or know somebody who should – leave a note in the comments and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If you want to be all private, you can e-mail me too!