This is one of my seemingly endless posts. I’m in the writing mood today. There is an ending, I assure you, but from start to finish there are a lot of words in between! I hope that you’ll take a moment to read through it all as this may inspire you quite a lot. That’s my intention anyway. We need to hear positive, uplifting stories and I want to share a piece of my journey with you.
It’s important to pause and step back in order to move forward again. Do you understand what I mean by this? Often the way we once felt about something can reignite a creative spark to help unclog the brain so new ideas can flow in more easily. That is exactly what I did this morning — I took some time out for creative meditation. I didn’t chant or light candles (ha ha), I just sat back and gave myself about 30 minutes to really reflect on a specific time period in my life. As I did this, I poured out some of my thoughts into words and emailed them to a dear friend. I told her this story, more or less, and now I will tell all of you. Try pausing and meditating a bit as well today, even just for 5 minutes, if you can. It’s amazing to look back and find the golden thread that runs through all of your experiences and to connect the dots.
When I was newly married in 2001, we rented a huge barn in the countryside in Massachusetts in a truly quintessential New England town. Imagine a rustic and beautiful 100-year-old barn with two floors, wooden walls, a wood burning stove, wide pine floors and massive windows. So pretty. So much light. The second floor had more windows and skylights and you could lay on the bed and see the sky – we loved to star gaze in bed at night while listening to the crackle of the wood burning stove. We even had a waterfall in the backyard and fruit trees. This place couldn’t be more New England, especially with a covered bridge a block away. We were broke, my husband had just relocated to America from Germany a few months prior and though he was working, he was selling books at Barnes & Noble by night and teaching by day. I was working full-time, but even with a combined income the numbers were not that impressive. Having less money made me much more creative than ever before. In fact, I loved to decorate my barn and have friends over (because we couldn’t afford to go out), mostly to flip through design books and snack and talk about big dreams and crazy ideas. Those were the days when the only way to tap into design was through a book or magazine and maybe, if you were lucky, your favorite designer would be on television now and then or they’d get their own show so you could obsess about it. Books were my connection to the world of design. It was through them that I discovered the magic of decorating and the influence that the printed page has over the ideas of a young woman.
I remember my favorite design books at that time included Inspired Gatherings by Tracy Porter and Tracy Porter’s Dreams From Home. I thought her design philosophy was inspiring – to decorate with joy and to celebrate life. She loved color. She piled it on when she decorated and was fearless. In fact, I still have her books in my library as they inspired my own dreams back in the late 90s well into 2000 and beyond so I hung onto them. I was endlessly inspired by Rachel Ashwell’s books also, along with her television show. We didn’t have cable (couldn’t afford it!) so my friend would tape them and we’d huddle around my tiny television to watch Rachel with her fancy English accent talk about her love for cabbage roses and precious things, and how she delighted in putting little notes in her kid’s lunch bags. I was so young, in my early twenties, and remember soaking in every word from Rachel that I could. Her attention to detail blew my mind. I wanted to put notes in Thorsten’s lunch bag but I didn’t think it would fly but still… Rachel made me feel like it was okay that I was so obsessed with the little things and that my casual approach to decorating was okay. She also confirmed that flea marketing and hitting junk sales was also fine. I started flea marketing as a child with my mother and grandparents but it wasn’t nearly as cool to decorate with “junk” until Rachel and others in that time period put their stamp of approval on it. And good for them. Good for me too because at that time, a $5 table for my eating nook was all I could afford.
Amidst the design book addiction that I had, I also ran an eBay shop for a few years during that time. I would scour flea markets for vintage finds and sell them. I arranged things in my home (not beautifully but I did okay) and shot photos for each product and once sold, I would wrap up orders with great care using tissue paper and rubber stamps with Eiffel Towers on them, little poodles, and “Merci beaucoup” stamped on little white tags because I was addicted to all things French. I hand wrote letters of thanks to each customer. I even sold some handmade items like switch covers — I collaged wooden switch covers from the craft store (so tacky in retrospect LOL) and sold them. I put great care into my customers, it was my “night” job, during the day I worked in the corporate world as a relocation and immigration manager, but my many loyal customers and their emails and eBay feedback fueled me to keep selling in my little eBay shop. Every dollar was a big deal.
Thinking back, I remember my husband laughing at how long I’d spend packaging eBay wins. He thought it was funny how I conducted business — I’d earn maybe $5 on something but spend 30 minutes packaging it and sometimes $2 on materials to package it and then have to spend another few bucks for eBay fees so in the end I earned about one dollar! Ha! But I kept going, not because it was going to make me famous or rich, but because I was happy being a little shop owner in that barn reaching out to my circle of devoted customers on the internet. I wrote up my eBay product descriptions showing what I was selling “in-situ” with decorating ideas for the product I was selling. I guess I was blogging even back in 2001 long before blogs came to be. It’s a riot to think about but even funnier is how life comes full circle.
In 2005, during a trip to Los Angeles, I met Rachel Ashwell, a month after I started my little design practice and registered decor8 on blogspot.com. Meeting Rachel was so inspiring. She signed a book and I shopped her outlet sale in this big warehouse she had. I looked at her world as if it were this magical fairy-filled land where only certain few could ever reside, yet I was determined to meet her and so I did. I started reading her books when she first put them on shelves, back in the 90s, so it was a big deal to meet Rachel.
Fast forward to 2010. I became a blogger with fans! Oh my! That is a pretty big accomplishment that opened up a chance for me to become an author. Maybe my book will be part of someone else’s time line someday, where they can say my book was part of their journey to connect the dots. I hope so anyway. Because books can influence us so deeply. But yes, last year I spent 10 months working on my first book (dream come true) and decided to ask Rachel to contribute along with over 50 others who have inspired me throughout the years. I interviewed her and some of her quotes are in my upcoming book. I traveled to Los Angeles and shot the home of one of her dear friends and during the morning of the shoot, Rachel loaned us some props for me to use in the house. Squeal!
Then in 2010 while I was teaching in Morocco, I met publisher and all around amazing lady Jo Packham – the women who wrote another book that I once referred to daily called Where Women Create. I felt so inspired by it because this whole world of seeing inside the studios of others was still so new to me back then. Of course, with blogging and technology in general, seeing a creative space is quite common these days — but I still love peeking in on where women (and men!) do their thing and find people’s arrangements and work nooks so inspiring. Spending time with Jo Packham for 10 days was a lovely moment in time for me. I still don’t think she realizes how much her book inspired me when she first published it.
So what about today? Let’s get back to those Tracy Porter books that I loved a million years ago. Well here we are in 2011, over 12 years since I first found Tracy Porter’s world through her books, and I get this message on my blog today from her – out of the blue – from Tracy Porter. I’ll admit, I haven’t followed her work as much as I once did because I don’t think she has published a book since this one but I did a double take when I saw that she’d posted a comment on my blog today. I could have died. She said some really nice things to me and the timing was perfect — they came at a moment in my life when I needed to hear them as I’ve been going through a hard few weeks of feeling cluttered in my head and a bit demotivated as I sometimes do during February since it’s freezing and gray and I can’t seem to find enough energy inside to motivate myself and my work. As a result, I get the winter blues and they last for 2-3 weeks. It’s a hard time! In February, I rely so much on exterior things to rev me up and it’s almost like Tracy knew because seeing her comment made me very happy today and gave me a ton of energy. I am throwing my arms open to the month of March now with vigor and joy because my blue period feels nearly lifted. Tracy’s brief comment inspired me to meditate on my beginnings and connect the dots and I feel better for it.
To wrap up, I find it so encouraging to see how our past inspirations and influences can form who we are today in ways so unexpected and although I’ve found my own style, these wonderful women all helped me to tap in to who I was at where I needed to go in my life — they helped me to identify what I really liked. Having a little eBay business in 2001 influenced me as a blogger in ways I’d not thought about until today.
There is still so much magic in the world and you don’t always have to actively do things or seek people out — they’ll often find YOU. The only thing that you must do is to go out there with an intention and circulate in the same circle as your leaders and role models, find your own voice, and they just may listen to that voice and call you an inspiration in return. Kismet. And if they never find you, then you’ll find others who will connect with your ideas and values and through all of these connections a great thing will happen. You’ll find yourself.
Sorry to ramble but this chapter of my life just shows you how things happen and not always overnight, but in time, things come full circle. I thought it was pretty amazing when Tracy contacted me today — all of these memories unfurled and I was able to tap in to who I was and where I am today and I’m feeling good about it.
Now it’s your turn to create some sort of time line and think about where you were and try to connect the dots to where you are today. You can even try it in the comments section below as a writing exercise. I will read them and would love to “see” your time line as well.
(images: tracy porter)
When I’m in London this spring I will do everything in my power to finally visit the Lisa Stickley shop. I’ve been to London a million times in my life but never stepped foot inside of her darling store and feel positively horrible about it. Why? What is my problem!? Don’t answer that. I clearly need to prioritize next time I’m in jolly old England and skip on over for a visit. It was just in The Independent a few days ago, did you catch the article and shop photos? If not, click here to read more.
I love the new bedding Lisa is working on, and that she’s in conversation with Anthropologie to collaborate with them on a line, and she’s working on a line for Hankyu in Japan, a collection of homewares at Debenhams and a new bedding collection at Heal’s (shown). Wow! Lisa is so talented and clearly very successful and though I’ve never met her my heart swells seeing a young woman who seems to have it all but is known for remaining down-to-earth and as real as they come amongst those in her field. I’ve noticed, even in my own blogging world, that even bloggers who grow in popularity can change and became a bit snobby or make it very obvious that they are top tier and everyone else is, well, everyone else. Let’s make it our personal vow to keep it real on the web.
This is prevalent in every industry I guess, the whole swollen head syndrome that occurs when fame sets in, and sometimes it saddens me when those I love get sucked in and I have to watch, powerless… That is when I turn to examples of those who are super successful like Lisa Stickley who don’t let their inner fame monster take over. I also think of others in the design world who stay true to their roots. Shannon Fricke, Emily Chalmers, Debi Treloar, Selina Lake, Sania Pell, Geninne Zlatkis, Belinda Graham, Irene Hoofs, Leslie Shewring, Jo Packham (publisher of Where Women Create and Where Women Cook magazine), Leigh Standley, Amy Atlas… these ladies (and tons more, plus many guys) really INSPIRE me because they’re all hugely talented and successful and yet, you never once feel like they think they are better than you or more important in some way. I love these women, they are all stars in my eyes and I’ll always support them through thick and thin! I could list SO MANY more wonderful people but I usually just blog about them instead because promoting them on decor8 is my small way of thanking them for remaining true and special.
Whether in the corporate world or the indie lifestyle, or that space in between — some let the fame monster warp their perception of self and as a result, lose a clear sense of reality. My advice is to keep it real and remember how you got to wherever it is that you think you are today. Your readers, your friends, people who wrote up your work when some flat out rejected you, others who believed in you when you didn’t believe in yourself, friends who were there through it all, family members who held you through your growing pains… all of us who have found success in whatever it is owe so much to our fans and support teams – whoever those people may be. I guess that’s why the Lisa Stickley’s of the world impress me so much. They just do their thing and don’t allow themselves to become elevated as a result. It makes me want to support them all the more.
Do you have thoughts on what I’ve said above? I often wonder how you cope with your own success, or the success of others if you perhaps have noticed it affecting them for the worse? Do you say something? Avoid them? How do you handle all of this?
(images: lisa stickley)
I was thinking recently about gratitude. My friend Laurie, who is also an expat from the states (originally from San Francisco) and lives around the corner from me in Hannover, Germany, gave me the idea for this post so I owe the whole gratitude idea to her. You see recently, she held an event for ladies who live in Hannover (but are from another country) to get together for dinner and networking – I even met a few decor8 readers which was a lovely surprise! It was such a special evening to be with ladies from all parts of the globe — Brazil, America, Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands… but in addition to having friendly chats and exchanging information about our new culture, language, lifestyle — Laurie gave us each a piece of paper and spoke for a moment about gratitude. What was the paper for? Well I’ll get to that.
Laurie (who is a change management consultant who works for high profile companies) told us that when people normally relocate it is easy for them, especially when grouped together with others who have relocated as well, to start complaining and conversations can quickly become quite negative as a result. This is one reason why I’ve not yet joined a local expat group — I’ve heard that people in these groups can be big whiners and that’s just not my style. I believe that the more you complain, the more negativity you invite into your life and the more your complaints turn into reality. I also believe that complainers receive less help – people usually want to help those whom they like and complainers tend to have fewer friends. What do you think?
Now back to this inspiring dinner party with Laurie…
She tactfully explained to our group that it’s best to concentrate on what we have in our new culture, versus the things we may miss, and then she asked us to write down what we are thankful for… what do we have currently in our life that we love? Specifically, she asked us what we love about living in our new city. My list covered both sides of my index card and I quickly filled it, which told me something instantly — that I found a great spot to live and work!
The other ladies didn’t realize it (I was discreet), but I took notice of who had to really sit there and think about things to list vs. those who quickly listed their favorite things. I wondered if the ones who quickly wrote their list vs. those who had to really think about what they were thankful have a happier expat experience because they are naturally seeing the good things? Or? It also made think that perhaps by making regular mental notes (and from time to time making them on paper, too) that we all should remind ourselves what we are currently thankful for, what we love about our life, our personality, our home, our city, our job, those close to us… I think being thankful makes us less prone to negative thinking and gives life more meaning. We shouldn’t have to suffer an extreme hardship before we start to appreciate what we have, right?
And so, since yesterday was Turkey Day in America and many of you still have bellies full of pumpkin pie, perhaps it is a nice time to reflect on what you have currently that makes you feel grateful. What Are You Thankful For? I’d love to see some of your lists, would you mind sharing with me in the comments section below? I think writing a list publicly reinforces our feelings and also encourages others to look on the bright side and be more thankful too. Care to participate? I will join you with my list in the comments section below… You may also answer this question publicly on your blog and then leave a link to your blog post in the comments below – it’s up to you.
I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts! :)
(image: Sunday Suppers, a supper club I’m dying to attend someday in Brooklyn that also has a new blog!)