Beauty in the Blooming

Image from Melissa at Print Therapy

Image from Melissa at Print Therapy

In the summer of 2011, I lost the office job I had for over five years. Knowing that I did not want to get back into the world of workers’ compensation claims, I headed back to school to concentrate on my first and true love: writing. But as a writer, it’s hard to find decent pay, especially while you are still in school. So I started crafting more, hoping to make something that would sell. I was so focused on selling stuff in order to make a living, that I wasn’t fully involved in what I was making. Needless to say, it didn’t work out. The passion just wasn’t there.

So I got a little job at a local boutique and put crafting/selling on the back burner. After I found out I was pregnant in the spring of 2012, I left my boutique job and moved to Stockton, where I was introduced to the life of a stay-at-home-mom. I continued to going to school online, but I was also determined to make my own money. So I started selling anything I could, took on several freelance writing jobs and it was around this time that I started this blog.

I was falling behind in school because I was so busy trying to do a million things at once, and I ended up having to drop a lot of my gigs because I didn’t want to have to drop out of school. It’s funny, in every job I’ve had and in every resume I’ve filled out, your ability to multitask is not only a bonus, it’s almost necessary. But I found that in my real life, outside of the office, trying to multitask a bunch of things at once was not working for me.

A little while after my daughter was born, I enrolled in the Graphic Design program at Academy of Arts. I had watched the print industry decline further and further, and I saw the quality in writing decrease. I went to school for Journalism because of my love for writing, but I was finding myself falling out of love. So, before I quit it altogether, I changed my path to Graphic Design.

Still trying to make my own money, I picked up some more freelance writing jobs, somewhat started an art collective and started business with my friend. Apparently I did not learn my lesson about multitasking. With school and raising a baby taking up all of my time, I decided to let things go and focus on what I needed to in the moment. I decided to stop worrying so much on the future and just worry about the present. It’s hard, but it had to happen. My baby was growing before my eyes, and I wanted to be there. Not just around, but there.

So, I stuck with my school and my blog to still keep my hand in the writing game. And I could feel the difference in my attitude, and even saw an improvement in my relationship with my daughter. I was a lot more patient. I wasn’t constantly rushing around the house, and I was enjoying life a lot more. Except for when I was doing homework. Nobody enjoys that.

SONY DSCI found out I was pregnant again during the last week of school, so I while I was exhausted, my morning (aka all day) sickness did not come on till later, so I was able to finish school an even brought my grades up! I thought I would have all this time to beef up my blog, work on our house projects and get started on my business again, but my all day sickness hit me hard, and my baby was getting sick more often. This is when I ultimately decided to just focus on my health and the health of my family. To get as much rest as I could, and to use the couple of months I have on break to spend with my daughter.

Because a month after my next semester is done, our second baby will be born, and I will be back in school a couple weeks after that. So while I’m not writing as much, or doing everything I wanted to during vacation, I’m completely fine with just being a mom right now. With visiting family and watching my daughter learn how to say words and explore our backyard. With hanging out with my boyfriend on his days off, and not just asking him to watch her.

When I was pregnant with Cecilia, everything was so rushed and I was so worried about getting everything done on time. And now, I just want everything to go in slow motion. I’m taking my time on working on little projects for Cecilia’s room and waiting for the last minute to move my office/craft room to the space in the back. I’m decorating and working on our house when I can, and I’m crafting and making stuff when I get a chance. And I feel so much better than when I was trying to get everything done at once, and to be honest, I’m probably getting more stuff done. Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?

SONY DSCThis post was part of the Beauty in the Blooming blog tour that was created by the beautiful Melissa at Print Therapy. You can check out her post here and you can find the blog tour on the Print Therapy site tomorrow. Are you taking some time out to focus on the present? Finding beauty in the blooming? Share in the comments and connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google + and Pinterest!

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.

Thrifty Thursdays: Holiday Edition

thrifty thursdays

As I was writing out my list of gifts I still need to finish (or hell, even start), I came to the realization that Christmas Eve is five days away! FIVE! To add to that, I opted to buy plain brown craft paper this year to wrap all my gifts, you know – to give it that extra homemade feel. This was back in November, when I was sure I would have time to finish my projects for school and get all my Christmas presents done.

So, you can imagine what the next five days are going to be like. Luckily, school is done and now I can focus on the Holidays…finally! If you are like me, and still haven’t found time to do all of your wrapping yet, here are some fun (and easy) homemade gift wrap ideas that will add a sweet personal touch. Right before they rip it all to shreds!

Photo from The DIY Dreamer

Photo from The DIY Dreamer

This custom wrapping paper from The DIY Dreamer is kind of amazing. She just took a couple branches and placed them on the copy bed of her printer and printed the design out on bright white copy paper! While I was reading the tutorial, I was thinking you may need heavier paper. But then again, you want it light enough you can fold it to wrap the gifts. This would be perfect for smaller gifts. You don’t even need the branches – you can really print out any design you want!

Photo from Artifact Uprising

Photo from Artifact Uprising

I usually stick to sharing DIY tutorials from bloggers. If I see something shared by a big-name store or magazine, chances are there’s a blogger doing it, too. But when I happen upon a business whose beliefs I agree with, and they have a beautiful tutorial like this, I feel inclined to share. Artifact Uprising – a photo goods store – teamed up with photographer Fawn DeViney for this DIY Gift Wrapping tutorial. They used the plain brown paper, and added a print on top! Now, they used their Square Prints Set that comes with 25 prints and sells for $21.95. That’s a pretty good deal, but if you are in a time and budget pinch – find some photos/prints that are lying around and trim them down to size!

Photo from Mini Eco

Photo from Mini Eco

I found this beautifully hand-drawn wrapping paper from Mini Eco on through the MAKE zine. Kate Lilley (who runs Mini Eco) worked as a web designer before becoming a full-time mom and now freelances and writes books while her sons are at school. I think I found the perfect someone for a Yo Momma Monday feature! She has loads of tutorials on her site, including a cross stitch gift wrap printable.

Now, for something to top your beautiful handmade gift wrap…

Photo from Lisa Griffith

Photo from Lia Griffith

I’m not a huge fan of the Christmas bows. I think they look beautiful (most of the time), but they usually get smashed when you’re packing all your Christmas gifts into a car, and one time, a family member politely informed me that I had a bow stuck on my butt. How it got there, I have no idea. Sure, it was cause for a good laugh, but I would rather the bows stick on the gifts. That’s why I like these printable paper bows from Lia Griffith – they actually go around the gift, less of a chance of sticking to everything else but the gift! And Lia offers printables for each style and even blank ones in case you want to design your own!

Photo from Oh Happy Day

Photo from Oh Happy Day

When there comes a time when I am able to make/purchase gifts for my friends again (note to friends: sorry), I’m definitely using this printable gift wrap and tags from Oh Happy Day! Heck, I might even use them for the family this year. I was planning on just painting/writing the names on each gift, but if I need to make some tags, this could definitely be the way to go! This blog is so beautiful in general, and she shares so many good tutorials – like a Christmas forest cake topper.

Do you have any handmade gift wrap ideas you would like to share? Post the link in the comments and share on Facebook, Instagram, Google+ and Twitter with the hashtag #homamdefortheholidays! Find more handmade gift inspiration on my Pinterest!

Yo Momma Monday: Gretchen Fleener

Image belongs to Gretchen Fleener

Image belongs to Gretchen Fleener

Meet Gretchen Fleener, 34, from Mound, Minnesota. She is an Industrial Designer, Web Designer and face painter. She runs her own business, Junk Mail Gems, where she sells fun items that she makes out of junk mail. She is also an awesome momma to her two sons, who are three and five. Gretchen took time out of her busy schedule to talk to me about how she manages everything, and what she wants her sons to learn from her business.

Gretchen got into junk mail art when she was making magnets from junk mail to preserve patterns that she liked in a functional way. She heard over and over again that she could sell her magnets, but it wasn’t until her sister urged her to start selling online. And that is where Junk Mail Gems was born, six years ago.

“She and I came up with the Junk Mail Gems name because the magnets looked like little gems.  I had a lot of fun designing the logo, then website, and coming up with more things to make out of junk mail to fill my store!”

Although  it may not be for everyone, Gretchen says that being the boss is the best part of running her own business. She loves that she can work when it fits in her life, rather than having to wait for work to be over to enjoy life. A life-long multitasker, she can be found packing items during a commercial break.

As for most small business owners, finances are a worry of hers. Fortunately, she has an incredibly supportive husband whose stable job covers the important bills, allowing her to work from home. He fits her business schedule into his and will come home early to watch the boys if she needs to go to a face painting job or a client meeting.

“He never talks down about my businesses or makes me feel less important because I don’t work 9-5 in an office anymore.”

Before she had her sons, doing anything creative or artistic gave her the most fulfillment. Now, she gets the most fulfillment from using her artistic skills (and revenue earned through them) on her boys.

Image belongs to Gretchen Fleener

Image belongs to Gretchen Fleener

“My kids blow my mind with the things they create already at age 3 and 5 and it’s so cool to see that part of me in them.”

As you might imagine, her boys love crafting with her, and her five-year-old has even caught the bug for turning junk into something he can use and play with! To help cultivate her boys’ creativity, Gretchen labeled a Rubbermaid bin “the project box” and throws odds and ends that the boys can use for their crafts. She also keeps all the kid-friendly crafting supplies at their level so they can create on their own.

“I love coming up with projects to do with them, but my favorite thing is to let them loose and see what they come up with on their own. One of my 5 year old’s most used Christmas gifts is his collection of brightly colored masking tape rolls that my sister gave him.  He is constantly rescuing things form our recycle bin and turning them into things…rocket ships, monster trucks, and houses for his stuffed dogs!”

Not only do her boys love crafting with her, they also love going to yard sales and thrift stores, too! Gretchen says that she talks to them about not wasting things or money, which has also taught them to be patient when they find brand new toys in a store, as they will probably end up at a yard sale or thrift store in a matter of time.

Much like her children, Gretchen loved going to yard sales as a kid and quickly became a big collector. Her collection is now limited to what she can use to decorate her house, and what her family can actually use. I feel your pain, girl. Her vintage finds came in handy last year when she redesigned her kitchen and decorated it with her scores from the 50’s. After facing the normal collector problem of acquiring more than she could use, she set up an Etsy shop.

“This gives me the thrill of the hunt, without the worry of collecting too much.  I love to imagine people looking through my site and getting as excited about finding the perfect thing for their kitchen as I do for mine!”

Gretchen says that she finds inspiration from everywhere – like an oil slick on the street or an old brick building. She also finds inspiration from surrounding herself by other creative people.

Image belongs to Gretchen Fleener

Image belongs to Gretchen Fleener

“I take TONS of photos and am always collecting inspiration for art, graphic, design or craft projects!”

As an Industrial Designer, Gretchen likes to stay current and is always looking into current and future trends. However, when it comes to her personal style, her love for the ’50s does not stop at kitchen utensils. She also leads a life that is deemed old-fashioned by many people today.

“..Staying home with my kids, canning stuff from my garden, baking cookies, making things by hand and cooking a family dinner each night!”

While Gretchen has always considered herself a motivated person, she says that she is now motivated by different things – like getting her work done early so she can spend more time with her family.

“I know that if I get overtired or overworked, I won’t be as good of a parent or spouse, and my family come first.  So in a way, getting in a little “me” time or letting the laundry sit there one more day  can be better for the family and everyone’s mood!  “

Gretchen credits her ability to get everything done to multitasking and creating lists, just like she used to make fun of her mom for doing years ago. Along with that, she stays super organized, and will rework how shes does something if she feels she’s not doing it efficiently enough – often finding a tool or an app that will help.

“But the one thing I don’t compromise on is sleep.  I just can’t function well on any less than 8 hours a night, and when I get enough sleep, being super productive comes much easier during the day!”

Image belongs to Gretchen Fleener

Image belongs to Gretchen Fleener

Although Gretchen says that she doesn’t really feel like her work is “work,” she does like to get outside and go fishing, biking and gardening. Living on a lake doesn’t hurt, either. She also likes to paint and work on something creative that is related to her businesses. One craft that she would like to practice more is knitting.

“I’ve done a little, but I love to crochet and really like how much faster it goes!  I’d love to learn how to make my own soaps or candles.  And I’d really love to learn Henna.  It seems right up my alley and would be a great addition to my face painting offerings!”

Gretchen also runs as a series of “Momtreprenuer” Interviews on her blog, as she says that she is always encouraged by hearing how other moms run their businesses and homes.

“So, I thought others might enjoy them too!  It’s also one small way that I can help support fellow moms by spreading the word about their businesses.”

She hopes that her Junk Mail Gems business gives people a new way to look at “junk.” She shares tutorials on her site for various recycling projects, so that people can get new ideas for their own projects.

“I hope to inspire them to find a way to do what they love and maybe even make a little money doing it!  I am always so happy to hear from people who were inspired to try a project I’ve shared too.”

Since Gretchen’s sons will be in school full-time pretty soon, she plans on adding more jobs to her line of work (as if she doesn’t have enough already) like freelance retail fixture design and body painting. She also wants to expand the merchandise section of her online face painting store and seek out more retailers for Junk Mail Gems.

“Right now I have no desire to go back to the corporate gig, but have a huge list of things I’d like to do to grow all of my businesses”

Image belongs to Gretchen Fleener

Image belongs to Gretchen Fleener

If you are feeling inspired by Gretchen like I am, you can connect with her through Junk Mail Gems and ID Mommy and can also find her on Facebook and Pinterest. If you know someone who would be a good fit for Yo Momma Monday (your beautiful self included), post in the comments and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Find more Yo Momma Monday inspiration on my Pinterest!