2015 Year-in-Review

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If I had to sum up 2015 for me with one word, it would be freedom.

I made a lot of goals for 2015 at the beginning of the year. I wanted to:

  1. travel as much as possible
  2. illustrate a children’s book
  3. read more
  4. write songs
  5. do yoga every day
  6. have better posture
  7. successfully grow some mushrooms
  8. become a knitwear designer

I did three of those things. Almost did most of them.

My intentions for 2015 year were vague: be more compassionate and bring happiness into the world.

I’m pretty sure I was successful in doing those things.

Having quit my full-time job in December 2014, I had a lot of free time last year and I spent a lot of time reflecting on my goals and intentions. Definitely a ‘first-world-problem’, but quitting my job was also the shedding of an identity. I could no longer introduce myself as, “Mandy, a web designer.” I was free from a job title but this left me feeling that I needed to define myself.

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How do I want to feel? (These came from reading The Desire Map)

I have no clue how many self-help books I read last year trying to find my new purpose but my favorites were:

  • The Renaissance Soul (basically how to split up your time between multiple hobbies/callings so you don’t have to drop everything to work towards one goal)
  • The Desire Map (figure out how you want to feel rather than what you want to do)
  • The Crossroads of Should and Must (for makers/creatives, how to stop following what you think you should do and do what calls you)

My walls are covered in goals and intentions to remind me of what I’m hoping to move towards. My time was so open and free, I wanted to make sure it counted and that I didn’t forget what I really wanted to accomplish and feel.

Travel

My main goal for the year was to travel and travel we did! We fell in love with Oregon and are making plans to move there in the next few years. We worked on a farm in West Virginia, visited my mom in Pittsburgh and took a road trip down the Blue Ridge Parkway. Right before John started school, we took a trip to Colorado to visit my sister and headed to Alaska from there. Here’s a smattering of photos from our trips last year but if you want to see and read more about them, head over to our blog, Off to Earth.

I thought working on the farm would dissuade me and my husband from this crazy dream I developed a couple of years ago to start my own alpaca farm. I thought it would be way too hard and I would be over it in a day or two. And it was really hard but I loved it. I wanted to stay forever, waking up with the sun, working in the fields and with the animals until I was so hungry I couldn’t stand it, eating lunch and working again until I was so tired I could fall asleep in my dinner.

I tried here and there to illustrate the children’s book John had written, but again, never got anywhere substantial. I don’t know why my heart isn’t in it.

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Alpaca after a shave

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I took an online course to learn how to write a song, but never got anywhere.

I read about 15 more books last year than I had in the previous year. Goal met!

I did yoga a lot, but definitely not every day. Sometimes not even weekly. I’m still working on it. This goal goes hand-in-hand with better posture.

The mushrooms are going to have to be a 2016 goal. We’ve got the log plugged with shiitakes, ready to go!

Become a Knitwear Designer

The last goal somehow managed to happen. I struggled with it all year, not sure where to start, not sure how to come up with ideas and then actually knit them. Winging it when it came to knitting just wasn’t happening in my brain.

Then I saw a call for submissions for a collection that Kate from A Playful Day was curating for Knit Now magazine. At first I thought there was no way I could ever get into a magazine — I hadn’t even written one pattern yet! And I’d probably have to knit faster than I am able to meet a deadline. But then I learned that a submission is only a sketch, a swatch, and some written ideas. I could do that. And there’s no way they’d pick me anyway, right?

I submitted an idea. And I was actually commissioned!

I knit my sample like a mad man and shipped it off to the UK. It should be published in April, but must be kept a secret until then! It’s a small step, but one that really helped to boost my confidence.

Compassion

In between traveling, I started volunteering on a weekly basis at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey and volunteering irregularly at other places when the opportunity arose. It’s been a great way to meet like-minded people and generate compassion.

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Photo taken on Monday of Owen, the barred owl

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I also decided to stop eating meat unless I knew it was humanely raised or wild-caught. I started paying more for eggs from pasture-raised chickens instead of saving a few bucks on eggs from chickens kept in tiny cages. The switch to eating meat (usually fish) only once per week or less was not difficult, though I thought it would be.

What’s in store for 2016

My main goal for this year is to work on designing knitting patterns. I created a map for the first 6 months of 2016 and would like to create and self-publish 6 knitting patterns.

In the gaps, I’ll still be teaching at Valencia, doing a bit of freelance web design (still my most lucrative source of income), volunteering, and coming up with a plan for moving to Oregon, including purchasing land for a farm.

As far as intentions: compassion, compassion, compassion. More meditation, more yoga, more gardening, more reading, always creating.

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Slow Fashion

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I’m a bit late in the game to start talking about slow fashion, but Karen Templar has been inspiring me with everything that she’s been posting this month.

Slow Fashion is a movement towards knowing where your clothes come from, how they are made, mending them when they rip or get old, and only having what you need. And maybe a little bit (or a lot) about actually loving everything in your wardrobe. ❤

This video showing a glimpse into the life of workers who turn discarded Western clothing back into thread/yarn caught my attention. While I do love that a group of people figured out how to recycle these clothes, the amount of waste is astounding.

If that video disturbed you in one way or another, maybe a little slow fashion is in your future. Zady has some ideas for reducing your clothing consumption to get you started:

The next time you’re about to buy something, ask yourself this: Where will this piece of clothing go after I no longer want it? At first, it may seem strange to think about the end point of your relationship with an item before you’ve even committed to buying it. But we have discovered that asking this simple question has totally changed the way we shop. Why? Because it turns out that what you can do with a piece of clothing when you no longer want it is a very good measure of whether it’s worth buying in the first place. – From Good Ridding

I am a definitely a serial donator and I’d love to say it’s solely because I am giving items consciously, hoping others will benefit from them. But if I’m honest with myself, I buy too many things and get bored with them just as quickly. And could I be bothered to fix a button? …Probably not.

My mouth also drops down to the floor when I see shoes that cost more than $60, or a shirt, pants, dress… whatever. But seriously, if an article of clothing is made well and with love, it probably didn’t cost only $60 for someone to make a living. The materials should come from somewhere that is conscious about their effect on the environment and they should pay their workers fair wages — and the same should go all the way up the chain to the final thread.

If you pay more for your clothes, you’ll think a lot harder about what you’re bringing home and how it fits into your wardrobe.

Researchers have found that the insula—the part of the brain that registers pain—plays a role in purchase decisions. Our brain weighs the pleasure of acquiring against the pain of paying. As clothing prices decline, that pain does too, making shopping easy entertainment, disconnecting it from our actual clothing needs.  – From The Case for Expensive Clothes

For Slow Fashion October (and beyond), I pledge to be more conscious of what I bring into my home and mend the clothes that need mending. I hope you’ll join me and all of the others taking part in Slow Fashion October.

Oh yeah, and even if you have an aversion to mending your clothes like I do, look how cute mended clothes can be!

Making your own change

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Nothing is going to change unless each individual person chooses to change and I’m an individual person so I have to choose to change.

After realizing that she, as an individual, could do something about global warming and the overuse of resources on earth, Jen of Make Do and Mend challenged herself and her family to a year of acquiring nothing new with lots of re-using, mending, and ‘making do’.

This quote resonated with me because I recently had a similar epiphany to Jen’s. Until earlier this year, I felt helpless about issues like factory farming and animal rights. Each time that I guiltily ate a hamburger, I would tell myself that not spending $5-20 per week on meat would go unnoticed by a factory farm business, and plus, I donate to the ASPCA, Audubon Society, Humane Society, and the World Wildlife Federation (isn’t that enough??). But for some reason, this year, I realized that I didn’t need to feel guilty, I could just do something about it. I stopped eating meat and started educating myself and my family on what meat and animal products are humanely farmed, how to tell and where to buy them. I feel better about my decisions and although I realize that changing my own habits isn’t going to change the world, I know it’s a start. As Ghandi supposedly said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

I would highly recommend a listen to Kate’s interview with Jen on A Playful Day podcast. It’s inspiring to hear the journey of a self-professed not-so-crafty person making do with what they’ve got to make a change in their lives.

Listen to the interview on A Playful Day podcast.

Finding my passion, what a struggle!

What the world needs is people who have come alive.
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I’ve been thinking a lot about my next move. I mean, not literally, but figuratively – what is the next path I’m going to take?

My thoughts on where to go next have been all over the place in the last six months, from starting my own freelance web design business, to illustrating a children’s book, to becoming a knitwear designer, to starting a farm, to just getting a retail job to be a functioning member of society…

I’ve been searching for advice on finding and living your passion.

I’ve been reading blogs like Tara Swiger’s, where she gives advice on making your personal business as YOU as it can be by following your North Star (basically your most important value). I haven’t taken her courses, but from what I gather, you decide on a value (or a few), write it down, and make all of your decisions based on how they align with that value. I don’t have a business, but I think that concept works perfectly applied to life.

Then I found The Desire Map, a book about making goals based on how you want to feel rather than picking the goals and hoping they get you to the state of mind you want to be in. Similar to Tara Swiger’s North Star, you decide what feelings you value most, write them down so you think about them often, and make all of your decisions based on whether or not they get you closer to those feelings.

And yesterday, I found this book, The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion*, bought it and read the entire thing by the end of the day.

(*These are affiliate links, so I get a tiny portion of the sale if you buy the book from Amazon. Which you should, ’cause it’s awesome, but I’m just letting you know.)

This book is written by Elle Luna, an artist who decided to follow her calling to paint rather than what she (and/or others) thought she ‘Should’ do.

The gist: every day we can choose to do what we Should do (pressures from society and other people) and what we Must do (the thing that we really love to do, that we were born to do).

Out of all of the books and blogs I’ve found on the topic of finding your passion, this one has spoken to me the loudest and I think because it has no “how to make money from your passion” angle. Elle’s stance on it seems to be you either follow your passion or you don’t – it can be on the weekends, 10 minutes a day, or you can quit your day job and spend all day doing it. If it’s truly your passion, you not only won’t mind carving out 10 minutes a day for it, you won’t be able NOT to.

She covers how to get around road blocks you might think you have: money, time, space.

As well as how to become aware of what your Shoulds are, where they came from and why you think you need to do them (so you can stop being a slave to them). This is something I’ve slowly started to do on my own in the past 6 months as I’ve become aware of these things — like realizing that a functioning member of society isn’t necessarily someone who makes money, having a job in itself does not add to your own value, or that things you do outside of making money can add to the world immensely.

She also gives some tips to inspire you to figure out what your Must is, if you don’t know what it is yet.

I started setting up a little corner in my office for figuring this out. I did a few little watercolor paintings, then wrote four feelings I want to strive for (based on the Desire Map).

Watercolors on a desk

My messy desk

Wall with watercolors

Where I’ve set up my space dedicated to figuring out my Must – the tiny wall space between my closet doors

Watercolor painting

Kind & Adventurous

Watercolor paintings on a wall

Earthy & Mindful

And set up little spaces for the following things:

  • Things you loved as a kid
  • Activities that give you the chills
  • Crazy, wild fantasies & dreams
  • One day exploration activities (If you had one day to pursue an idea, project or activity, what are the first three that come to mind?)
  • Things you do when you’re procrastinating
  • Things you do just for fun
  • Sights, smells, sounds or sensations that give you butterflies in your stomach
  • New skills to acquire (she recommends one/month)

And I’ve actually heard about this one before, but she also suggests you write your own obituaries – one written based on where you’re headed now and one written based on how you want your life to go.

Then you post all of this up somewhere and start looking for the patterns. You’ll find that you gravitate toward certain activities and things, towards group activities or solitary… Maybe you tend to stay inside when you’re doing things you love or you just have to be outside to feel ‘right’. Keep opening yourself up to new things and see where they connect with what you already love. Eventually, you’ll find your Must.

If I actually figure this out, I’m sure you’ll hear about it! I have a feeling it’ll have something to do with animals and making things. You know, like a farm and yarn. 🙂 But I’m keeping an open mind because maybe it’s painting, like I spent the morning doing:

Abstract watercolor painting

Watercolor painting of sheep

Bah-ram-ewe, sheep be cute!

If you’re still trying to figure yourself out, I suggest you give the book a read — buy it*, check it out from the library or watch the video below. I’m always hopeful that everyone will find their calling and follow it. A world full of self-realized people who do what they love seems like a world lacking in judgement and full of positivity. Strive high!


Webstock ’15: Elle Luna – The Crossroads of Should and Must from Webstock on Vimeo.

Saving some money with Ting

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Ting!Okay, this is kind of off topic and I’m sorry but I’m not. I will start by saying that I’m not affiliated with Ting in any way other than that I’m a happy customer and I’m hoping to save you some money.

6 months ago my husband and I switched from AT&T to Ting, trading in our AT&T iPhones (a 4S and 5) at Best Buy (for store credit), then buying used Sprint network iPhones (a 5 and 5S) on Glyde and Amazon (yes, buying a used phone was scary but both of them turned out to be fine).

Our AT&T bill was ~$147/mo for two iPhones, one with unlimited data and another with 2gb, including a discount I got from my employer. We had the lowest minutes plan (500), and did unlimited texts because we’re crazy texters.

If you’ve never heard of Ting, it’s a mobile service provider that allows you to pay for your voice, data and texts in brackets. You don’t choose what you’re going to use ahead of time, you just use it and pay at the end of the month. They offer coverage on CDMA (Sprint) and GSM (they can’t disclose) networks, and although their maps don’t seem as hefty as AT&T’s coverage maps, we seem to have the same coverage we had with AT&T in our city.

I was a bit worried about switching and losing my unlimited data, but using Ting’s savings calculator showed that even if we used the same amount of minutes, data and texts that we were currently using, we would save about $60 a month. They also send you updates about your usage when you pass a certain amount of usage (you decide what that threshold is).

Six months at Ting has only cost us 2.3 month’s worth of AT&T bills.

We have saved $544 in 6 months with Ting for our two iPhones. That’s almost enough to cover the two phones we bought when we switched to Ting. We have no contract with Ting, nor do we owe them anything for our phones.

That’s pretty great when you think about how getting a ‘free’ phone at AT&T locks you in for 2 years. We could buy two iPhone 6s at $649 for our Ting accounts and have them paid off in 15 months using our savings from leaving AT&T. That leaves about $810 in savings for the extra 9 months we would have been stuck with AT&T to get the free iPhone 6s.

I can’t say we haven’t changed our mobile habits, but I wouldn’t trade back for unlimited usage either. I block a lot of apps from using data, I don’t stream music on the road, and I don’t sit around idly flipping through Pinterest/Instagram/Reddit as much as I used to. We try to keep our usage below 1gb on each device and use wifi as much as possible.

It sounds a bit ridiculous, but I feel like being mindful of my data usage has also made me more mindful in general.

Even when we travel, our bill hasn’t gone past $65 for two devices. It’s nice to have control over how much we spend on our phones each month.

Here’s a snapshot of our last two bills:

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Woops, we passed their 2gb data bracket and had to pay $.015 for each mb over.

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Looks like taxes went up and we went to the next text message & minute brackets, bumping our bill up a bit.

I encourage you to check out Ting’s coverage maps, their savings calculator (plug in your monthly usage and find out how much it would cost at Ting), their rates (these are the ‘brackets’ I mentioned), and check to see if you can bring your current device with you to Ting.

Do your own calculations and see if you’ll save money like we did (you may not). Think seriously, too, about changing your mobile habits. Download your music over wifi before leaving the house, same with your podcasts, videos, etc… Sure, it’s less convenient, but I can’t think of many situations where saving money is more convenient than spending it.

Ting may not be for everyone: if you need data coverage in certain areas and they don’t have it; if you use more than 3gb of data each month it might end up costing more than your current plan; if you don’t have the money up-front for another phone, don’t want to downgrade, and your current phone can’t make the switch.

If you think Ting would be a good switch for you, use the following link to get $25 in Ting credit. You can use this towards devices on their Shop page or towards your bills. I get a bit of money too!

Sign up for Ting, get $25 in credit: https://zl9g9331o58.ting.com/

Anyone else switched to Ting recently? Still on the fence? Have an alternative? Let me know!

Volunteering: Giving a bit of myself

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Confession #1: Unfortunately, I used to view volunteering as the giving up of free time. Not wanting to give up my free time, I did not volunteer in the last 10 years while I had a full-time job. Yep. It’s out there; my shame is known.

We’re in a bit of a lull as far as traveling goes and though I’m filling my time with blogging, illustrating and knitting, I wanted to make sure I was contributing to the happiness and compassion of the world. I know I sound like a head-in-the-clouds hippy but that’s what I want to do with my life. I knew I needed to start volunteering.

Confession #2: I am an introvert. One of my worries about volunteering was that there would be a lot of talking and social interaction with a lot of strangers which generally just wears me out. I was thinking of situations like serving dinner at a soup kitchen or what John does: talking to hospice patients and family all day.

After spending five minutes on the VolunteerMatch website, I realized that not all volunteer opportunities are front-line, social situations. So I started scouring Hands On Orlando and VolunteerMatch for volunteer opportunities having to do with the environment and animals and have started filling up my calendar.

I spent this weekend volunteering and now I really wish that I would have seen volunteering as an activity worthy of my free time rather than as something that was taking it away. I realize now that if I had found volunteering opportunities that aligned with my values, it would not have felt like I was losing my free time.

Air Potato Raid

John and I volunteered at an air potato raid this past Saturday at Lake Lotus Park in Altamonte, Florida. Not only was it fun but we helped remove one of the many invasive plant species in the area.

According to the park ranger, 1/3 of the plants we see in Florida are not actually native to Florida. Some of the non-native plants don’t do much harm but others, like the air potato, choke out other plants and grow out of control.

Man with a bag of air potatoes hiding behind a saw palmetto

John tromping through Lake Lotus Park in Altamonte Springs, removing air potatoes!

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125 lbs of air potatoes

There were about 15 volunteers and we collected what seemed like a lot of air potatoes. The ranger told us that when they first started doing the air potato raids years ago, they would have about a 100 volunteers and would collect 2000 lbs of air potatoes. Because of the regularity of the raids and the introduction of the lily beetle that eats air potatoes, the amount of potatoes found has been reduced dramatically.

We learned something new and got to run around in the forest searching for and picking air potatoes. I’m not sure why, but I felt like volunteering was going to feel like a chore. I guess you just have to find the right thing.

CJ Acres Animal Rescue Farm

On Sunday, John, Jessy (my sister), Mike (her boyfriend) and I went to CJ Acres Animal Rescue Farm to volunteer our time.

I didn’t find CJ Acres through VolunteerMatch or Hands On Orlando, but through Facebook… while searching for random farms to follow on Facebook. (I know, I’m a dork, but I’m seriously interested in the goings-on of fiber farms — sheep, alpacas, etc….) I liked them on Facebook because I liked what they were doing for animals and this past week they posted a volunteer opportunity.

Jessy with George the horse

Jessy and George the horse

I didn’t realize that CJ Acres was 2.5 hours away from us before I signed us all up to volunteer there but I’m glad I didn’t know beforehand because it probably would have stopped us from a very fun and rewarding day.

Weirdo taking a selfie with a sheep

Me, ridiculously trying to take a selfie with Moses, the sheep

CJ Acres is a non-profit, volunteer-run farm that takes in abused and abandoned farm animals and rehabilitates them to be adopted to a new home. We spent our day with a bunch of new volunteers and permanent volunteers, as well as a co-founder of the farm, Lee. Lee has been rescuing farm animals for the past 30 years while working his day job in advertising.

Sheep!

Moses pretended to like me but he really just wanted more crackers.

The farm is just a happy, fun place full of animals being animals.

For three hours, we put hay in pig’s shelters for beds, shoveled horse poop (not as awful as I expected), cleaned out water troughs, and socialized with the animals to help them become more desirable for adoption.

Petting a turkey

Mike and Summer petting Thomas the turkey – he made the cutest little noises and flirted with everyone

It was really rewarding helping out the animals who had, for one reason or another, been abandoned or mistreated. And it didn’t feel like work.

We’ll definitely be putting in more volunteer hours here.

On CJ Acres Animal Rescue Farm!

On CJ Acres Animal Rescue Farm!

Audubon Center for Birds of Prey

I am a bird lover and watcher. We put out food for the birds in our backyard and I let ugly bird-feeding bushes grow up around my backyard to give the birds extra food and shelter. I’ve been an Audubon Society donor for the past 10 years to help them succeed in their mission to make the world a better place for birds. I posted about the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey two years ago during my design challenge because I love what they do and it’s really cool to get up close and personal with the birds.

To continue on my quest of becoming the ultimate bird lover, I’ll be starting regular volunteer hours at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey. The center rehabilitates raptors (owls, hawks, eagles, falcons, and vultures) for release back into the wild or keeps them safe if they can’t be released. I’ll be feeding raptors on Tuesdays and cleaning out aviaries on Fridays!

I hope this post inspires you to look for volunteer opportunities that you can do in your free time that you’ll love doing. Use VolunteerMatch to find nearby opportunities or just start with organizations that you already donate to.

There is nothing like a good book

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Yesterday I spent the entire day doing something I haven’t done in a few years that I used to do almost every single weekend as a kid. I read. From 7am until about 11pm, almost 16 hours, I escaped in a way that only a book allows.

I love that when you really let yourself get into a book, you can almost become someone else for a while. I know that one of the reasons I am so empathetic towards others is that I read a lot in my formative years. When you allow yourself to fall into someone else’s shoes for as long as it takes to complete a novel, you’re working out the empathetic parts of your brain. Reading is a wonderful pastime that increases empathy towards others.

I’m going to get a little John Lennon “Imagine” on you right here, but imagine if everyone worked on their empathy a bit more.

This thought led me on a search for a way to help encourage reading in children, which led to a great charity called First Book. For every $5 donated, First Book provides two new books to children in need.

If you have a few dollars to spare, consider giving to this amazing charity with a great cause. $5 has the potential to change the lives of two children. They’ve got 4/4 stars on Charity Navigator which means they spend their money wisely and are accountable and transparent in how they spend that money.

reading-empathy

Donate to First Book
Encourage reading for empathy!

I’ve set up a Virtual Book Drive to collect donations that will allow First Book to distribute 80 books to children in need.

Join me in idealistic awesomeness and encourage reading in children!

Give up one latte to give the gift of reading.


And on a more personal level, since I only read 2 books last year and one line of my 2014 New Year’s Resolution had been to read more, I feel that I have a lot to make up for in 2015.

I’ve set up a modest challenge for myself for 2015 to read at least 5 books. If you’re on GoodReads, be my friend and we’ll force each other to read! (Okay, maybe not force…)

2015 Reading Challenge

2015 Reading Challenge
Mandy has
read 0 books toward her goal of 5 books.
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