Reality

"Besides being complicated, reality, in my experience, is usually odd. It is not neat, not obvious, not what you expect. "

 – C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity 

resting in monotony

One of the Makers Summit talks that really stuck with me this year came from Scott Hofert. Two weeks later, I’m still processing the ideas he shared. Scott encouraged us to rest in the seasons of boredom and monotony because they will come, and many times this is where we are most creative.

What he said resonated with me, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I can’t remember the last time I was ‘bored’. I love a new project and in general, I like to stay busy. I’m a more productive person when I’m forced to manage my time well. I am constantly making and adding things to lists. My philosophy is to get things done, and I can rest once I’ve checked everything off the list.

At the moment, I can relate a little more to the monotony side of the equation. It’s easy for washing dishes, folding laundry, and cleaning up, to be dreaded tasks. They’re never ending and always on the list. Embracing the monotony of these tasks might change my perspective and let me see these as quiet times to look forward to.

As I’ve tried to process Scott's words, I’m finally understanding that my lists will always be there. There will probably never be a day when I wake up and I find myself with nothing to do. So my challenge seems to be creating more whitespace, in spite of my to-do lists. 

There will probably never be a day when I wake up and I find myself with nothing to do.

Several years ago, my pastor spoke about the idea of Sabbath as "the ability to put work down". Over the past two weeks, I’ve started to notice how much I go out of my way to avoid boredom and fill up every inch of time. There are obvious ways: social media, picking up my phone for no reason, obsessively multi-tasking instead of being focused.  And there are not-so-obvious ways: feeling guilty playing with Ella because I really need to finish some household task. Never painting my nails — not because I don’t like having my nails painted, but because I literally can’t stand the 15 minutes afterward where I can’t do anything with my hands. 

This weekend, I took some intentional steps toward whitespace. I got my nails done. And I tried to be calm when they were taking too long to dry. I went outside while Ella napped and read a book that I really wanted to finish, ignoring my messy kitchen. I picked flowers from our yard. I watched a movie and didn’t spend the majority of that time folding laundry, checking email or flipping through catalogs while I did it.

I’ve been surprised to realize how hard it is for me to “put work down”. Part of me wonders if I need to just add that to my list. :) 

filling in the gaps

It seems impossible that Makers Summit was an entire week ago. After months of work, it always sneaks up on us and then it's over before we can blink!

This year, I felt like I had the chance to actually meet and chat with a few people, when I'm usually just running around with a "can't talk right now" vibe. I've had over a week to process all the great advice I heard, and this year I'm going to do a better job documenting the concepts that have really stuck with me.

The conference kicked off with a great keynote by Justina Blakeney. Among the many pieces of good advice she shared, was this gem:

"I think we fill in each other's gaps." – Justina Blakeney

This is so true of our Makers Collective team, and I think it's true of friends and family as well. We are meant for community and we can't do it alone. It's also a great reminder that everyone doesn't have to work or think like I do and I shouldn't try to be like everyone else.

We were created to fill in each other's gaps. When I try to do everything all by myself, there will be holes — whether I can see them or not. If I isolate myself from others, I'm not filling in the gaps where others may need me to stand.

I think (especially in the maker community) it's really easy for the do-it-yourself mentality to become standard practice not just in our work, but in our personal lives too. Justina's simple statement reminded me that it's okay that none of us are perfect. That's why we have each other.

30 Day Challenges

The month of February is off to a much better start. For the most part, our house is healthy once again, and we emerged with a much greater appreciation for our normal state of health!

A few years ago, I shared the idea of doing 30-day challenges as an alternate to New Years resolutions. The basic idea is to do something consistently — usually something you want to be doing anyway — for 30 days at a time.

I still really like this idea because it seems way more sustainable than beginning the year with a big list of ways you're going to be a better person all at once, only to become disillusioned by mid-February.

A screenshot of my February, via Productive.

A screenshot of my February, via Productive.

I've read that it takes 21 days for something to become a habit, so trying something new for 30 days can actually result in some long-term changes. While I don't expect to add 12 new habits this year, the plan is to try something new each month and see what sticks. My challenges are extremely small, but with the emphasis on consistency, I've been surprised to already notice a really huge difference in my daily routine.

 

January

My challenge was to read a little bit every night. Sometimes it was a chapter, sometimes less, and I missed a few days here and there. But since the beginning of the year, I've read three books(!). I've always loved to read, and I feel like I rediscovered that in January. The challenge is over, but I still look forward to getting in bed and reading for a few minutes every night.

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February

My February challenge has been to make the bed every morning. This was a (required) habit growing up, but in the light of adulthood, it never feels like a good way to use my time. I've been surprised how nice it is to walk into the room at the end of a long day and see an inviting and tidy bed.

 

If you feel like tackling a few 30-day challenges of your own, here are a few tips:

· I love checking things off a list, so I downloaded an app to help me keep track of my progress and keep me accountable.

· Make it easy on yourself. During January, I let audio books count as 'reading'. This was great for the nights I wasn't feeling well and my eyes needed a rest. Keep in mind, you're making the rules for these challenges, so give yourself a break and don't make your goals impossible to achieve.

· Choose realistic challenges you actually want to do. There are plenty of resolutions that could be accomplished (the gym every day!), but I've tried to focus on things that I genuinely want to make part of my life and feel that I'm actually capable of doing.

 

Note: I've long had an obsession with fun pillowcases. The ones pictured on our bed are from the Xenotes Etsy shop.

Welcome to 2016.

i started the new year with some kind of bug and still haven’t been able to shake it. A visit to the doctor yesterday revealed that I’m not just fighting a bad cold, but I have strep. And bronchitis. 

I was optimistic about 2016. Determined to make friends a priority this year and invite people to our home more often, instead of just saying that we should. I’m realizing quickly that these thoughts were very much influenced by the clean state of our house at the time. It’s so much easier to feel hospitable when you feel presentable.*

After being mostly cooped up for a few days with snow and now sickness, the optimism has definitely faded. Not only am I unable to make plans or invite friends over, but my formerly clean house seems to be imploding: with laundry, dishes, and germs. I’ve made my way through three (or four?) boxes of Kleenex in the last few days and now I’ve moved on to our toilet paper supply. 

My to-do list is in even worse shape.

This is real life right now, and it’s not fun.
But I want to remember it.

I tend to forget things so quickly. But if I can remember feeling a little isolated, maybe I’ll be more inclined to make plans with friends when I'm in good health. If I can remember how it felt when friends came and took Ella to hang out at the zoo because they knew we needed a break, maybe I’ll be a better friend to someone myself. If I can remember the relief that came after getting medicine, maybe I won’t wait so long to go to the doctor next time.

And when all this medicine makes me feel better in a couple days, there’s still hope for February.

 

*Years later, I’m still challenged by this post from a friend of mine about hospitality. I re-read it every once in a while to remember.

a blogging confession.

I have a blog, but I am not a blogger.

I've broken pretty much all the blog rules — if there are such things. I don't write profound or poetic blog posts like others do. Even worse, I don't post consistently. 

Having a blog makes me really appreciate those who do blog and who do it well. People who have something to say, regularly, and use beautiful words to communicate it. Who aren't afraid to be real.

Most of the time, I hesitate to write out my thoughts on important subjects, because what if I change my mind about that topic in six months? I don't really want my outdated viewpoints permanently documented for the world. I've started many, many posts and never finished them for this very reason.

Christmas photo outtake, captured by Brittany.

Christmas photo outtake, captured by Brittany.

On the other hand, having a blog has been a really great tool to help me process my thoughts. Usually, it feels like my mind is running in 30 directions at once, and I leap from thing to thing without ever forming a complete thought. When I take time to write about something, it's because I've paused long enough to think through the topic. It may not happen very often, but it's good for me. 

I don't use my blog to document life or even talk about my work. For me, this is a space where I can assemble fragments of thought into coherent ideas. 

Last year, I published a grand total of 7 posts over the course of 12 months. This is not something I feel guilty about. And, I didn't resolve to blog more this year.

I keep blogging because it forces me to pay attention to those little thoughts that just won't go away. To find answers to questions that I've wanted to ask myself. It's more for me than anyone else, and I'm okay with that.

Stressed?

Been mulling over this quote a lot lately. The more I think about it, the more I believe it's absolutely true. 

“Stress is a direct result of devoting a lot of effort to a task that's not in line with one's abilities.”

From The Millionaire Mind, p220

Do what you do best...

All photos in this post by Brittany and Evan Hildreth

All photos in this post by Brittany and Evan Hildreth

It's been ten years since I took a college business class and learned the mantra "Do what you do best, and hire out the rest." I haven't forgotten it since.

This makes perfect sense in a business context, but the basic principle (you don't have to do everything) also applies to personal life. In some cases, it's simple: I don't know how to fix a toilet, so (maybe I will google a solution, but) ultimately I will call someone to fix it for me.

The trickier situations come about when there are things that I could do, but maybe shouldn't. Either I don't have the skill, the patience, or simply the bandwidth to tackle something. Often, it's just an area where I need to learn how to delegate — a skill I'm still working hard to develop.

Ella's birthday last week — during one of the busiest weeks of the year for me — was a good test of this principle. I wanted her birthday to be special, but knew I couldn't do it all.

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We decided to throw a very small party — a collective undertaking if there ever was one. I made a tiny garland and the cakes — using sprinkles from my brother and sister-in-law, a frosting recipe and a candle from Erin, napkins and balloons from my mother-in-law, and plates borrowed from my mom. We added leftover flowers from Indie Craft, and enlisted the whole family's help getting the house ready.

Also, I turned over one of the most important tasks — capturing photos of Ella's first birthday party — to good friends and very capable photographers, Brittany and Evan. This was maybe the best decision of all. If you want my best party-throwing tip, this is it: hand the camera to someone else. The party was short and I didn't have to spend it worried about capturing the perfect shot or missing a moment.

And everything turned out just right. Special, and not stressful.

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It was exactly the kind of birthday party I wanted for Ella and a very fitting cap on what this first year of parenthood has been like — friends and family coming alongside, lending, sharing, giving — to make sure everything comes together.

Once again, I'm glad I don't need to do everything myself and thankful for the community of people who are there to remind me of that.

It's about time.

After five!? years of blogging on Tumblr (at least three of which I spent planning to move away from Tumblr) I have finally updated my blog! 

I actually started the process a few months back, but it's taken me a little bit to figure out those last little pieces I needed to wrap it up. A wise person once told me that it's the last ten percent of a project that takes ninety percent of the effort. I have absolutely found this to be true in my quest to finish more things than I start this year.

On that note, I'm very happy to introduce the brand new version of elizabethramos.com!

where I’m supposed to be.

I spend too much time feeling restless, looking for what’s next, being uncertain about where I’m going and why I am where I am. I think it may be a creative thing — these phases of doubt and the desire to always do/be/make something better.

But I don’t feel that restlessness right now.

Last week, we relaunched our Indie Craft Parade organization as The Makers Collective. I don’t think I’ve ever had this much clarity about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. It’s a great feeling.

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At this moment, I am sitting alone in the middle of my city. It’s the perfect weather in my book — a breezy 86°. The sun is shining, my to-do list is waiting patiently on the sidelines, not pushing or pulling.

The city is literally growing around me. Construction behind, a shiny new plaza in front, green growth everywhere I look. It’s a good time to live in Greenville, SC.

I sit in a space that many people probably had a part in planning. I’m grateful to them for their thoughtfulness and for each decision that turned this into a place I want to be. This space was not the work or the vision of one person.

It makes me think about the small army of people who surround me, fulfilling their own roles and in the process, reassuring me that I’m where I am supposed to be: Alissa, who cares for Ella two days a week (and sends me pictures while she does it). Andrew, who is the best partner and co-parent I could ask for. Friends who also happen to be coworkers, who share the list of to-dos. More friends who are willing to pitch in and share their talents to make up for my lack of skill and/or energy. Parents and in-laws who watch Ella, wash dishes, and generally make themselves available. A community who supports good things.

I know the feeling may not last, but for now it feels good to take a deep breath, knowing that — without a doubt — I’m where I’m supposed to be.

it’s a simple question.

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The eve of my 32nd birthday seems like a great time for some reflection. Apparently this season of life is all about finding my limits, which includes the difficult lesson of learning how to say “No”.

Being a people pleaser at heart means I’m pretty bad at saying no. And you know what’s even harder, is saying no to good things that just aren’t right for me at this moment.

We’re in the middle of re-focusing and clarifying the mission of Indie Craft Parade. As a result, I’m having to come to terms with my own personal goals and motivations. To say it’s been healthy is an understatement.


Here’s what I’m currently saying yes and no to:

YES to creating more margins in our lives. Intentional negative space.
YES to a more flexible definition of productivity with a (now crawling!) baby.
NO to more stuff. Feeling the need to purge and clean house of all the excess.
NO to more commitments and projects. This should just officially become my life motto: “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”.
NO to wanting everyone else’s lives, houses, clothes, etc.
NO to perfection at the cost of real relationships.

The Makers Summit – 2015

For the past three years, our organization has hosted The Makers Summit, a business conference for artists and entrepreneurs. The 2015 event was this past weekend and so many good things were said!

The week was a blur for me. Nonstop work followed by crazy amounts of information and inspiration, all of which I’m still processing. Mostly, I’m writing this down so I don’t forget.

From Jeff Shinabarger:
“We will be known by the problems we solve.”
“The number one challenge in decision making is fear.”

From Nathan Bond:
“A great product is the best marketing.”
“You’re never and always ready.”
“If you’re selling a product and it doesn’t make you money, the product is broken.”

From Jeni Britton Bauer:
“Your quality is what you decide to make it.”
“Entrepreneurs will change the world.”
“Creativity is work.”
“An entrepreneurial mind is different than a business mind.”
“Creativity is impatient. Do the work when you’re inspired.”
“I only found success when I involved others.”
“I prefer the word "company” instead of “business” because it means you’re not alone.“

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Eric Dodds on Productivity:
Create more than you consume.
Use social media with discipline.
Group similar tasks together.
Research shows it takes an average of 23 minutes to get back on track once you’re distracted/interrupted.

Will Shurtz:
Trends are today’s form of peer pressure.

Matt Moreau on hiring help:
Hiring an employee in investing in yourself.
Stop trying to find your clone. Chances are your clone is out there looking for someone to hire too.

So much to think about.

read more.

Typically I stick with tangible, measurable goals if I’m going to make a resolution. But in 2014 (and probably every year before that if I’m being honest) on my unwritten list of wishes was a vague ‘Read More’.

Not long after (last) New Years, I had a conversation with some literary friends who told me about Goodreads.com. I liked the idea and joined (it’s free!) in January.

A smattering of books I read in 2014

A smattering of books I read in 2014

Without stressing about it or feeling pressure when I didn’t have time to read, Goodreads was helping me accomplish my goal and I didn’t even realize it. I was surprised to log in last month and find out that I actually read 12 books in 2014. Of course, I didn’t finish as many books as I started, but averaging a book every month in a year that also brought a baby into our lives feels like a huge feat!

Along the way, I rediscovered the amazing resource we have in the public library. Of the books I read, I own only five of them. Five were borrowed from the library (I later purchased one of them for myself and as a gift). And two books were borrowed from a friend.

The complete list of 2014 books.

For me, the biggest advantage of the Goodreads service is that book recommendations now have a place to live. Previously my system for keeping track of books I wanted to read included notes or emails to myself, to-do items, and post-it notes. Having a place to keep these suggestions ended up being a game changer.

If your list of 2015 resolutions includes ‘Read More’, I definitely recommend this as a tool you can use to make it happen. They even have an app, so you can add books you want to read on the go.

peppermint patties

These peppermint patties have become a tradition in our house at Christmas. Every time I make them I think that if I could, I would send these to everyone I know. This year, the best way I know to spread Christmas cheer is to share the deliciousness with you in recipe form.

This recipe is as simple as it can be, given the chocolate dipping process. If you’re like me and only have time for one or two homemade treats, trust me, this one should make the cut. Also, they’re technically gluten free if you use GF chocolate chips.

Enjoy, with love from me to you.

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Homemade Peppermint Patties

1 (14 oz.) can of sweetened condensed milk
1 Tbsp. peppermint extract
5 ½ c. powdered sugar + additional powdered sugar
2 (8 oz.) bags of chocolate chips

Step 1: The Inside
In large mixer bowl, combine sweetened condensed milk and peppermint extract. Add 5 ½ cups powdered sugar slowly. Beat on low speed until smooth and well blended. Dough will be extremely thick, so this works best if you have a powerful mixer. Turn mixture onto surface sprinkled with a little extra powdered sugar. Knead lightly to form a smooth ball. The texture should be very similar to play-dough. If your dough is too sticky, add additional powdered sugar.

Use a teaspoon to measure out 1-inch or smaller balls of dough. Place 2 inches apart on waxed paper. Flatten each ball into a ½ inch patty with the bottom of a glass. Let dry in the fridge 1 hour or longer, then flip and let the other side dry for at least an hour.

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Step 2: The Outside
Melt chocolate chips (some, not all) in a microwave or double-boiler over low heat (I’ve had better luck with the stovetop method). With fork, dip each patty into the chocolate. Draw fork lighty across rim of pan to remove excess chocolate. Place dipped patties onto wax paper and refrigerate to harden chocolate. These are enjoyed best right out of the fridge but can sit out for a short amount of time.

Makes 60-65 delicious patties.

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Merry Christmas!

finishing > starting

“Kenneth Tuchman, founder of TeleTech, defined his own form of discipline in a recent interview. "I’m a finisher in a society of starters…I have this vision that is constantly evolving in my head.” (Adrienne Sanders, “Success Secrets of the Successful,” Forbes)

— from The Millionaire Mind, by Thomas J. Stanley

This phrase “a finisher in a society of starters” has stuck with me since reading it a few months ago. New ideas and projects are exciting, but I’m realizing that finishing them is much harder (and maybe even more important) than starting them.

My resolution for 2015 is to follow through.

I mean this in the most practical sense. To finish: books I’ve started, craft ideas I bought supplies for, home improvement projects that are 95% there. I will make a conscious effort to finish what can be finished, or decide to abandon the project altogether instead of letting it hang around half-done.

I guess I can start by finishing the book that inspired this post.

always learning.

My husband, Andrew, is a lifelong learner. Using his graphic design degree as a foundation, over the past few years he has taught himself web and app design, he voluntarily hired a math tutor (for fun), and just this year, he’s learned to code for the web, is studying app development, and taking German lessons. This constant desire for learning has been both admirable and frustrating at times.

I am not wired this way. In fact, I once took a personality test that said something to the effect of ‘you avoid tasks you’re not good at’. This is absolutely true: I like being good at things. Which makes it hard for me to learn new things because I know I’m going to be really bad at them for a while. It’s a risk I haven’t been willing to take very often.

I’ve come across several articles lately about this very topic, both citing research by Carol Dweck of Stanford. One references a ‘growth mindset’ and a ‘fixed mindset’. Another terms it ‘learning orientation’ and ‘performance orientation’. The basic idea is that some people operate under the assumption that improvement and growth is always an option. Others approach life believing that talents and skill are fairly fixed, and it’s better to stick with what you know. For whatever reason, I’ve always fallen into the latter category.

A few months ago when Andrew started learning German, I decided that I would give it a try too. I’ve always wanted to speak another language (and I might be just a little bit competitive). Andrew is taking lessons through his work, and I’m using the Duolingo app. We practice our limited vocabulary on each other. Already, I’ve been pretty excited about the basic terms I’ve picked up and genuinely excited to keep learning more.

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At the same time, I’ve finally started reading some of those books on my ‘to read’ list. Maybe it’s Ella’s arrival and my determination to not be simply defined as ‘a mom’. Or maybe it’s motherhood itself: the knowledge that just a few short months ago I knew nothing about raising a child, and now I’m literally learning something new every day. Either way, I’m starting to climb out of this rut of being content with what I know. It feels really good to stretch those muscles again and realize I am capable of learning more.

People say our education system is broken and I absolutely agree. I spent my formative years earning good grades and being a good student instead of developing a true love for learning. Thanks to people like Andrew with a ‘growth mindset’, I’m starting to see it’s not too late to change that.

shifting seasons.

A new season of life is beginning at our house, and it seems only appropriate that outside the weather is making a corresponding shift. Cooler days and nights have ushered us into a season of apple picking, boot wearing, and cider drinking.

About the time the weather began to change, our little Eleanor Angelene Ramos was born. She came just two days after we wrapped up this year’s Indie Craft Parade.

Somehow, that was four and a half weeks ago.

If I had to describe the past few weeks, I would use the words surreal and unhurried. It’s a very strange season of quiet and yet unrest. We’ve had to slow down drastically to accommodate the needs of this new little one. But that means enjoying our house more: sitting on the front porch and getting to know our neighbors, enjoying more walks and a new definition of family time. We are not typically routine people, but I’m already beginning to crave consistency in this new normal (especially when it comes to sleep!).

Thankfully, we’ve been supported by amazing friends and family sharing food and advice. Everything is new and I don’t know of another month in our lives where we’ve learned so much so fast!

For now, I’m ready to pull out my sweaters, eat some pumpkin muffins and enjoy this amazing season.

taking note

Yesterday was a lovely day. 

- yoga (for the second time in my life) with friends
- a little kitchen reorganization with my mom (nesting?) 
- a wonderful dinner out with Andrew and a night full of great conversation

I have no photos to prove these things. No selfie to show off the eye makeup that I never wear. 

But I am very sore, very rested, and I woke up to a clean kitchen. Days like yesterday are good for the soul. Things accomplished, but also time spent ‘just being’ (in the words of the yoga instructor).