28 September 2012

The Benefits of Acquiring a New Skill

This post is written by contributing author Anabel Bouza. 

As someone who has spent some time on this earth, you can probably attest to having gained specialization in the things you do often and repeatedly. You have become proficient at these things, and even mastered some. Yet, with repetition comes routine, and its desensitizing effect. 

We all have our own ways of seeking renewal: a vacation, a home remodeling project, a health regime, or — my personal favorite — learning a new skill. Learning something new changes who you are, how you see yourself.

There is something rare and wonderful about the process of conquering a new motion and mindset. It allows you to be vulnerable; it creates a situation where it is okay to expose your ignorance, to be candid about it and ask questions freely, with the unblushing curiosity of being new to everything.

As adults, we can overlook the importance of exposing our skill set to new challenges. It puts us at risk of forgetting the humbling jolt of experiencing this disconnect between our hand and our head (just try to recall how awkward the pencil felt when you first tried to loop letter shapes, or your fingers' numbness when you were learning to tie your shoes!)

On the other hand, carving time from our schedule to willingly expose ourselves to frustration doesn't sound very appetizing. Much easier said than done! I find that to keep this kind of frustration under control, it is helpful to visualize the skills you already have, as if collected in a tool belt, one you don't even have to look at because you know exactly where every tool is. 

Isn't it encouraging to think that these "tools" were arcane puzzles once, and it was you who conquered them?

Acquiring a new skill is rewarding in itself, it can fortify and complement your other skills. It is known to sharpen the mind by establishing new connections within the brain. In addition, having your outlook whisked by a new experience provides fertile new grounds for the creative mind. 

Are you considering taking up any new skills, or going back to perfect something you half-learned in the past?

All illustrations by Anabel Bouza.

Anabel Bouza insists there's powerful magic in the action of creating something out of a vague vision, a chill of inspiration. She is an illustrator with a passion for nature, paper manipulation, and pointing her camera at things.

Her appreciation for simplicity dates back to a former life in Cuba - her strange homeland - where she refined the ability to see the alternative uses of common objects, and the enchanting side of things. She's often found blogging as
Weird Amiga, hard at work in her sunny studio, or staring at things as if looking at them for the first time. Her tiny family is comprised of her husband & a turtle; they're new to the city of Chicago, and they love it. Connect to Anabel via facebook and twitter.

27 September 2012

Seasons in Scandinavia - September in Norway

September is a rainy month in Norway and yet you can find a sunny day or two. The first mists reign over towns and valleys, and the sun paints leaves in all colors you can think of. The birds sing their last joyous songs and I say goodbye to the carelessness of summer. It gets replaced by thicker clothes, heavier shoes and the occasional hat. 

Well, let's not cry salty tears over such a colorful month, and just enjoy it! Here is how I saw it through my camera. Click here to see September 2011.

It's still warm enough for fishing barefoot.

You can meet deers in any season.

I don't recognize mushrooms but at least I can photograph them.

Look at the contrast!

And the sea can be rough but in a playful way.

This is where you climb to check on the salmon passing from the river to the sea.

The mist comes...

... and changes everything.

25 September 2012

Birch and Lavender Nourishing Hair Lotion

Recently a high-school friend reminded me how eco-friendly and natural I was as a teenager. She clearly remembered my beliefs and specifically the phrase:
"I wouldn't dye my hair for the world. If God made my hair with this color, then it is the one that suits me best!" 
That phrase, she said, helped her resist the temptation, or rather loose it in several moments of her life. She was thankful. I didn't remember.

So often our words get stuck in someone's mind to later even change lives and yet we forget them. That doesn't make them less powerful. Sometimes we even forget the person we were and loose ourselves. That doesn't make us bad or wrong. It is just a proof that we are here as a plain medium of inspiration and higher knowledge -- something like megaphones and magnifying glasses for all good things that might be forgotten or never learned.

After 10 years of flirting with the corporate world of high heels, uncomfortable suits, too much makeup and perfect looking hair that changed its color like the rainbow I am back again. Back to that tiny teenage wisdom.

Of course, you know it already because most of you have read my Banana Beauty book or have used at least one of the natural beauty recipes I've shared on Kanelstrand.
Photo: Elizabeth Weller

Today I would like to share with you another perfectly natural recipe that I've been using lately to nourish my hair: 

The Birch and Lavender Hair Lotion

The birch tree is not only beautiful but it can be used as an effective remedy against:
  • rheumatism and inflammations of the urinary bladder,
  • excess of uric acid, toxins and water from the tissues,
  • cellulite and obesity,
  • blood cholesterol,
  • infections,
  • flu, fevers, colds and chronic sinusitis,
  • headache produced by hyperzotomy, dizziness, allergies,
  • liver diseases, ascitis, diarrhea, constipation or intestinal parasites,
  • dermatitis, eczemas, and furunculous.
Last but not least and the reason we are including birch tree in this nourishing hair lotion is that the birch tree leaves help strengthen hair roots, prevent the forming of dandruff and contribute to the healing of skin irritations. 

Lavender can be used medicinally as an effective remedy to combat:
  • restlessness,
  • insomnia and other sleep disorders,
  • headaches and migraines
  • abdominal pain,
  • rheumatism,
  • loss of appetite,
  • bug bites, burns, skin disorders, to relieve itching, rashes, and reduce swelling.

Due to its antibacterial and anti-fungal qualities, lavender treats scalp infections and is effective in promoting hair growth.That is why it is the second ingredient in the lotion.

Combining birch and lavender is bound to strengthen and nourish your hair, as well as cure dandruff. For this recipe use dry lavender buds and dry birch leaves.

You will need:
  • 2 teaspoons dried lavender blossoms,
  • 2 teaspoons dried birch leaves,
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar,
  • a couple drops of lavender oil.

1. Put the dry herbs in a clean glass bottle and pour the vinegar. Close the bottle and leave it away from direct sunlight. After 1 week sift the mixture and add lavender oil.

2. Before use add 2 parts of water to 1 part of herbal mixture and massage well into the scalp.

3. Do not rinse.

Please note:
When adding water to an herbal mixture it is important not to store it for long periods of time. That is why the recipe is calling for water right before use.

Adding water to beauty mixtures that are to be stored in the bathroom (for weeks to months) could lead to bacterial infections or fungal infections in the people who use them.

It is ok to make herbal mixtures with water in small batches that you will use quickly, and it is okay to make things with water that you will refrigerate. But otherwise, you have to be careful.

24 September 2012

How To Use Twitter Lists

This post is written by contributing author Genevieve Brazelton. 

Last month I wrote about finding your people on Twitter. In that piece I mentioned Twitter lists, an often-overlooked feature of Twitter. I honestly feel that spending a little time setting up lists and then using them is the single best thing you can do to make your time spent on Twitter more rewarding.
Image: Jacqui Oakley
Why Would You Use Lists?
The simplest answer is to filter your stream so as to get the information you really want when you want it. I have separate lists for folks who share a lot about social media, or publicity, or entrepreneurship, or handmade. I keep local artisans separate from those in other places. I keep my real life friends separate from my online friends.

Some days I check into multiple lists, other days I’m looking to see what the local crafty folk are talking about. I keep tabs on what my past and current clients are up to and I see what my competitors are talking about.

Using lists helps me log into Twitter and get the information I need in much less time. Some days I only spend 15 or 20 minutes on Twitter and I’m still able to connect with a few people, send out a few tweets, see what’s going on, and respond to a few interesting threads.

You can also follow other people’s lists so you don’t have to spend the time curating your own. Check out the profiles of some the most influential people you follow on Twitter, you’ll see a link to their lists in the left-hand column. Not only will it show the public lists they’ve curated, but also the public lists that they’ve been included in.
Photo: Molds

What Types of Lists Should You Create?
Start with industry leaders. Who do you need to and want to be paying attention to regularly? Who is the best source of news that relates to your business? Who are your role models and influencers? Put them all together in a list and it will be one amazingly informative and inspirational read.

A list of customers is also a must. These could be people you work with already, people you hope to work with, or matches for your ideal client. This list will be great for market research. You can tune in to find out current struggles, trending topics, hobbies, and even favorite media sources. And don’t forget to jump into the conversation, be the expert that you are and offer answers to questions or simply engage the community. 
Peers and competitors is also key list to have. These are the people that are your direct competitors and potential collaborators. You should be aware of what they’re doing and saying, and who they’re talking to. But don’t just spy, look for ways to build relationships, you never know what sort of opportunities might pop up.

Think about your goal for using Twitter. What types of lists can you set up to help you gather the right information and connect with the right people?
Image: Just One Scarf

How Do You Set Them Up?
Right next to the follow button in relation to anyone’s name is a button with a silhouette and a down arrow. Click on that and you’ll get the option to add or remove from lists in the drop down menu. From there you’ll be able to create a new list if you need to or add them one you’ve already set up. Simple.

Lists can be public or private. If your list is public other people can follow the list and users will be notified when they are added to the list. If the list is private, no one but you will know it exists, let alone who’s in it.

You can also add people to lists without actually following them. I do this sometimes if I’m not sure I really want to see their posts in my main stream.

Now go forth, create lists, keep your Twitter stream manageable and get the information you want with less distraction.

Genevieve Brazelton endlessly researches the newest ideas in creative and social media marketing so you don’t have to. Genevieve’s strength is her keen outside perspective and sometimes infuriating logic that puts structure to dreams and lays out paths to goals. She is also the business side of Lightbox SF. Read more about her here.
Connect to Genevieve via twitter or facebook.

20 September 2012

Creating a Thoughtful Home

This post is written by contributing author Shelly Kerry.
Do you agree that creating a home that is warm and inviting, inspirational and relaxing, productive and efficient can change your whole perspective and promote happiness? Designing your space to be a relaxing refuge from other external daily challenges can be life changing. If you have a home office or a creative home studio constructing these spaces to be as efficient as possible can make your life so much easier.

I run a program called Creating Space where I consult small business owners with home based offices and studios how to create a happy and productive environment. Even if you don’t make money from a space in your home everyone can benefit from a more thoughtful space.

Home to me is very important. It is where I come up with new ideas and escape from the challenges of city living. I make conscious decisions about everything that I bring into my home (living alone in a small studio space makes this a little easier) and everyone that I invite to share it with me. Home is not just a place for me to throw my coat but a place to rejuvenate my spirit and foster new creations. Have you asked yourself lately what home means to you?

As I always say, awareness is essential to making important changes. Honor your home by taking time this week to really sit in your space and ask yourself what you love about it and what is not working. Are there small immediate adjustments you can make that will increase your happiness level? Perhaps it is buying a new piece of local art to hang on the wall or finally putting all of those photos in frames to fill that empty wall. Are there bigger projects like a new coat of paint that will rejuvenate your space? Or perhaps it is time to reorganize your cupboards and drawers so it doesn’t take you ten minutes every day to find simple things.

We waste so much time trying to find little things like our keys, necessary tools, missing shoes that just making simple changes can make a world of difference. Trying to create a habit of putting things back in the same place every time will help greatly. Finally conquering the junk drawer can make you feel more accomplished then you could imagine. This may sound trivial but changing these little things can save a lot of time in your day.

Create a beautiful relationship with your home by doing special things when you are in it. Invite people over on a regular basis and share your beautiful space. Spend Sundays cooking new dishes and fill the space with awesome seasonal smells. Connect to your past by bringing something special from it into your space – an old photo of your family, a trinket or again bake something that reminds you of childhood.

There are little, inexpensive things you can do to nurture and create an efficient and thoughtful home that not only comfort those that live there but anyone who walks through the door. 
All photos by Shelly Kerry.

Shelly is the motivation and creativity side of Lightbox SF. As a jewelry designer she has spent many years testing and honing the skills and discipline needed to run your own creative business while still having time for friends, family and fun. She puts her wealth of experience to use in the Creating Space service - healthy living advice to help keep you motivated and make the most out of your already busy schedule. She will help you find both the physical and emotional space so you can pursue your dreams and she’ll always insist there’s time for yourself. Shelly will be pursuing a Core Strengths coaching certificate through San Francisco State University in 2013. Connect to Shelly via twitter or facebook.

17 September 2012

Rewiring Your Brain (and Your Lifestyle) to Live More Simply

This post is written by contributing author Vanessa Williams.

When I look back at the past few years so much has changed. Perhaps not always in dramatic or obvious ways, but in a million different, small ways. And nowhere has change been so dramatic than in my thinking.

Not all that long ago, if I wanted the latest fashion, I simply went to the mall and bought it. I took advantage of sales when I could, but I didn’t not shop if something I wanted wasn’t on sale.

It’s funny how easily we become creatures of habit. We go about our business, shopping, chores, errands etc. because it’s the way we’ve always done it, not because it’s the most efficient, cost effective or best way. Many of us learn these patterns from our friends and family. I was no different.

These everyday mundane activities take up a lot of your time and money, so why don’t we scrutinize them just as much as buying a house or taking a new job? Certainly they affect our lives just as much.

What I’ve discovered is if you step even a toe out of the main stream, there is a world of alternative possibilities just there for the taking. Taking advantage of these opportunities requires change, and change is never easy. However, in most cases I have found that change has paid off in dividends for our family.

I’ve talked about the time vs. money conundrum before. What you value is ultimately up to you, but what I’ve found and seen in others is that many of us are slaves to money rather than having the time to do what we wish. In theory, money is supposed to buy us time right? Money lets us hire someone else to do house maintenance for example. Money allows us to get that shiny new thing. However, money comes at a cost. Usually time away from our families, and can sometimes stress us out, robbing us of the peace of mind that it’s supposed to provide. I would argue that many of us can live with a lot less money, and find greater happiness in the freed up time.
Photo: kanelstrand

But you need money to survive right? Sure. Unless you are a single person living a nomadic lifestyle, you need to have some sort of income to cover housing, health care and food. However, I challenge the premise that you need money to provide 100% of all of these things. Remember how I used to default going to mall to get the things I need? That’s gone out the window. I now turn to alternatives where I can get things free, and then go from there.

Some of my time is spent DIYing these days. I have satisfaction in creating things myself, and save so much money this way especially on food and cleaning. This has become a new hobby, and certainly can eat up some of my days. Where do you find the time to do these things?

One way is by orienting my life locally. My eye doctor, dentist, pharmacy, veterinarian, pediatrician, bank, part-time job, grocery store, farmers market, post office, daycare, school, and church are all within a 5 minute drive from my house. What this means is I’m not driving all over the place to get things done. I can easily make 3 or 4 stops in an hour. If these things were located elsewhere it could take me twice, if not four times, as long for the same task. People wonder why I am so adamant about staying local - this is why.

Another is by automating things. There are certain tasks in our lives that we must do over and over again. If they can occur with very little intervention on our part that’s great, one less thing to worry about. In our household that means utilizing the power of technology and the Internet. We subscribe to automatic deliveries of staple pantry items (and enjoy a discount). We acquired a Roomba to vacuum our house; with two cats, dust bunnies are a constant. You can set up an automatic prescription refill for ongoing prescriptions. Get your thinking cap on and do some research. That extra 15-30 minutes a week (or more) can really add up to make a big difference.

So for your homework, I challenge you to take a critical eye to your mundane activities. Why are you doing them that way? Could you do them differently? Would that improve things through quality, cost savings, time or something else? Take on one small task at a time. I guarantee you, you can change things for the better.

Vanessa Williams is the author of A simply good life where she explores how lower standard of living doesn’t mean lower quality of life. After her decision to  get off the beaten track and forge new paths she has found that living with less actually means living with more. Vanessa explores the luring and dangerous grounds of the consumerism trap and offers a solemn and wise account of her real life experiences on the quest to finding what truly matters in life. Connect to Vanessa via twitter and facebook.

15 September 2012

Weekend DIY: Upcycled Sweater Pillowcase

This post is written by contributing author Paige Ronchetti.

I was on Pinterest a few days ago when I came across something I hadn't seen before. Now, given how many hours a week I devote to my addiction, this was significant. Not much gets past these eyeballs.

And yet, I found myself suddenly inspired to make...

Upcycled sweater pillows! Brilliant! I pranced on over to the thrift store to get a cheap, neutral sweater I could use as my guinea pig. As usual, this project was extremely easy.

You'll need:
  •  an old sweater
  • straight pins
  • scissors
  • pillow insert
  • sewing machine and needle/thread
First, turn your sweater inside out and stuff it with the pillow insert. You may or may not have to pin the sides (I did), but the top and bottom will always need pins. Start at the top or you won't be able to remove your insert for sewing:

Once the pins are in place, cut off the excess fabric. I left about an inch to make sewing easier, but I went back after that was done and trimmed even more.

Sew around three sides of your pillow case, leaving one open for re-inserting the pillow. Turn the cover right side out and place the pillow inside. For sewing the final side shut by hand, I recommend the slip stitch so there's a seamless look all the way around. This tutorial explains it with excellent pictures.

Once you've closed that last seam, step back and admire your work. You're done!

This is so soft and cozy I think I'll make a few more for fall and winter. 

Have you ever made anything out of an old sweater? Or used some other non-traditional material to make a pillowcase?

Paige Ronchetti lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband. They have no kids and no pets, which gives them a lot of time for eating spicy food and looking for bargains. Paige's blog is Little Nostalgia is a collection of projects and pretty things. There you can find DIY tutorials, home decor inspiration, and affordable fashion ideas. When she is not blogging, Paige is working on her vintage-inspired jewelry lines, Little White Chapel and Oh Nostalgia. Connect to Paige via twitter or pinterest.

13 September 2012

The Effect of the Tight Shoe

In the comfort of late summer, sitting under the shade there is only one sore problem that bothers me - the blister on the fifth toe of my left foot. It makes me reconsider every other step I take. The pain makes me take the plunge to the cold waters of a past life I have left behind.

It was a life of considering everything else more important than my needs, long years of uncomfortable for the sake of socially acceptable; the time of shoes that didn't fit.

Photo: Creative Sugar

The pair that I am now wearing, along with many others, has been kept by my dear mother for the past 7 years. She has carefully conserved them for the short moments I come back. Her tender gesture and my bad memory led me to the bad decision of putting them on once again and activating past and long forgotten thoughts of overworking, stress and total lack of honest communication with myself.

It is both funny and disturbing how unsuspected memories spring to life when you are least prepared for them. I was supposed to have fun going back there, I was to enjoy the summer, the sun and the people of the South, not to count my steps and the years I have come to forget.

The effect of the tight shoe provokes the questions: How often do you consciously choose to wear a shoe that doesn't fit? Do you regret it or get used to it? And what does it bring along - physical or mental pain?

Exploring my thoughts I want to see where this all will take me, both physically and mentally. I could make the turn and go back to my secure old self that had it all except myself or I could simply buy new shoes and continue my new adventurous life.

What do you think I'd do?

10 September 2012

A Portrait of the Artist: Friendly Toys

Once upon a time children only had wooden toys to play with. Their imagination soared while their fingers run through the wooden texture and they could be kings and queens, soldiers, doctors or even aviators. 

Today, a wooden toy is a luxury but one that we owe our children. The interaction that goes on between a young innocent hand and the wood educates more than we know.

A lovely duo from Lithuania has taken the step from dreaming to doing and today you can learn more about what makes people start creating wooden toys. Welcome to the world of Friendly Toys.

How did you come up with the idea of making eco-friendly wooden toys?
When we started planning our first child we realized that we wanted her to grow up in a different environment, and we totally changed our lives.

First of all we moved from the capital to a lovely forest and began a new life without any employers and guarantees. This step helped us get to know ourselves better and ask what we really wanted to do and what we were able to do. I know it sounds very dramatic and crazy, but indeed everything happened very naturally.

The idea of making toys was not planned. After our daughter was born we started looking for safe, natural and beautiful toys. Unfortunately, these qualities could not be found in commercial toys. Frankly speaking, our toy-making story began with the idea “but we could make it better…” and step by step we started creating our own wooden toys story.

Wooden fish rattle

How long after you first started making them did you set your etsy shop?
The first time we showed our wooden creations to the world was at a traditional craft fair. Happily we had a great success there and we decided to continue. We opened the Friendly Toys shop approximately six months after our debut.

How do you make sure all materials are eco-friendly?
The creative process starts with a long time researching information and suitable materials. There are plenty of materials which are certificated and considered to be safe and suitable for toys, but all in all they contain chemicals, which are only less harmful but not safe.

That is why we use only natural and biodegradable materials. For example the milk paint we use is based on milk protein and all color pigments are natural. We love that it is natural and that the colors are warm, cozy and very beautiful - exactly what we need. Furthermore, raw linseed oil provides not only water resistance, but also very good smell for our wooden creations.

The materials we use are birch wood, milk paint, raw linseed oil.

Green dog pull toy

As a family working together how do you inspire each other?
Working together is a great challenge for our family. It is our first project together, so we have to learn how to communicate not only as a family, but as colleagues also.

In our previous lives we didn't discuss work at home and now that we work at home we have to learn how to stop talking about work. The best part of working together is that all challenges, achievements and failures are common. Working hard together we can reach success together and that is very pleasant. We have common goals now and have to encourage each other regularly to reach them.

Rocking horse
How do you come up with the designs for your toys?
The final design of a toy is the result of a long process. We work on the design until both of us are happy about it, so it often becomes a matter of opinion and hard discuss. But the most important is that
after all discussions and arguments we come to a final image, which always looks better then the previous one. Probably we won’t be able to achieve this separately.

Wooden elephant

Can you take us through your creative process?
First of all we have to decide the nature of the toy we want to create (for example a dog, a fish, a goose) or its function (for example pull toy, push toy, teether…) After that if we have an exact object (a dog) we try to find the kind of toy that will be the most appropriate as a dog (and we got a pull dog). On the other hand, if we have the kind of toy (a teether) we try to find the object that is the most suitable and would look most natural (and we got an apple teether).

Then we create an exact shape, design and color combination. We make a sample to get the final look of the toy. Very often however, we have to make a number of samples to get the best result. This is the part of our job we like the most: when we have a brand new creation in our hands and we really love it! :)

If you could make one project, regardless of price, what would it be?
Hmmm… this is a hard question… let’s see... it could be a whole kid's room project. I see the wall covered in a mixed media forest - imagine paintings combined with wooden decorations, decorated book shelves as tree branches. some of the wooden parts could be mobile (detachable leaves, mushrooms and so on) so that the child could change her environment while playing. And this could be a home for a few wooden toys. For example a squirrel with its own tree hollow, a bird in a nest and so on.

What is your current favorite item from another etsy seller?
I love and personally own some creations of Baubukas. This title translates in English as “Bugaboo-home spirit”. These are wonderful and cute jewelry for women too big for playing with our toys, but still willing to have some cute, cozy and mysterious creatures with them.

Keep in touch with Friendly Toys:
Etsy: http://www.etsy.com/shop/friendlytoys
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/draugiskizaislai