One Year Later

one year later


Well, here we are. One year later.

At first I said, “I’ll just take a few weeks off blogging to get through the move to the new house.” Everything I owned was in chaos and I was spending all my spare time cleaning, packing, painting and all that random work you do before a big life change.

Then unexpectedly, I learned the contract for my day job was ending early. It was bittersweet because I’d made friends and didn’t want to leave the company, but I also knew I wasn’t feeling challenged and it was time to move on. With support from my husband, I decided it was finally time to realize my dream of taking my freelance business full time.

I blinked and six hectic weeks passed. I emailed all my freelancer friends to get the word out about my work. We closed on the house, painted it, and moved in. My last day at my job was a week after that, and by fourth of July, I was living a whole new reality.

There I was on a quiet Monday morning sitting alone in my beautiful new home while the outside world rushed to an office, mountains of moving boxes and a to-do list as long as my arm, trying to make sense of  finding myself mid-career with no boss to answer to and the first true chance I’ve ever had at creating the exact life I’ve always wanted. Not scary. Not scary at all…

The ten months that have passed since that Monday morning have been nothing short of incredible. I am a homeowner and a business owner. I am earning less money, but well fed, well rested, life-balanced and happier than I can ever remember being before. I work hard every day with wonderfully inspiring collaborators and clients, and am slowly making this house a home.

Here we are. A year later, and I have lots to say about it all. Let’s get started.

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A Fresh Start

Close up of cardboard moving box

I have a confession to make.

Ever since deciding to purchase our first house, I’ve been fixated on clearing clutter and only taking things I love when we move. The new house is almost 50% larger than our current one, yet I find myself thinking things like, “I wonder if I can part with 20% of this… stuff before I go?” I’m taking spring cleaning to an epic new level, and I’ve filled the entire car for Goodwill. Twice.

My mantra is a Willam Morris quote: “Have nothing in your home you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” To a recovering pack rat like me, this means letting go of a LOT of stuff, and a lot of baggage that goes along with it. It’s emotional and difficult letting go of memories, but it also feels amazing. I feel like I’m shedding an old skin and preparing for a new beginning.

Interior designer Nate Berkus advises that if you touch an item every day, it should feel special and beautiful to you. With all my talk about intention this year, this seems like one small, simple opportunity to consciously bring a little joy into each day. And I’m getting creative imagining how to get functional use out of beautiful things I want to keep. An apothecary jar is becoming a terrarium, and my ceramic egg tray got a new life organizing earrings.

The packing is only beginning, but since this might be the last time for many years I’m forced to touch every single thing I own, I’m going to make a point to weigh the value of each one very  carefully.

And as for what’s left over…. got any organizing advice?

Happiness in a Box and the Power of Pinterest

Bali Elf shoes and Pinterest screenshot

I joined Pinterest in 2010. At the time, it was a young site used primarily by designers so nobody knew what the heck I was talking about. I loved the service immediately – the constant stream of beautiful pictures was instantly satisfying to the designer in me, providing the same quality images I used to pay to pore over for design inspiration in magazines in an endless trickle through my monitor, for free and without any ads.

Pinterest changed the way I work. I use it to organize my project inspiration and to market my design business. I use it to keep my mind full of new ideas to inform my work, and develop and refine my aesthetic. But it’s easy to get lost and spend hours and hours creating a pile of pictures on a server that are worth nothing. While the curating part is relaxing and fun, I need to use the result to enrich my life and fuel my own designs!

I committed to making my Pinterest account more than a collection of pretty pictures. I started by cooking one recipe from my Pinterest account every Sunday (incidentally discovering an insatiable taste for these, among other things.) I began making the crafts I pinned, and realized how much I’d missed making things by hand. When the holidays arrived, I went straight to my Pinterest wish list whenever someone asked for a gift suggestion. I am truly enjoying the invested time so much more now that I am actively and intentionally using the site.

Last month, I found myself in a shoe store, pondering an impulse purchase. I needed brown shoes, and there was a cute pair on sale, but a voice in the back of my head reminded me there was a pair I’d spotted on Pinterest months ago and considered buying at least a dozen times. They were a decadent choice for me: hand made in Bali and eco-friendly, but shipped as a fair-trade product halfway around the world. But I knew they were far better to fill my need than the pair in the local shoe store. I left the shoe store and ordered the Bali shoes, silently praying to the universe they wouldn’t arrive a totally wasteful disaster.

But my Bali box arrived, and the shoes are amazing! They are well made of beautiful, high-quality leather, and every time I put them on, I grin and think how glad I am that I chose them over the shoe store impulse buy. I am already eyeing the sandals and handbags on the Bali Elf website to order again.

It’s a trivial example, but I wouldn’t have found shoes in Bali without the investment in Pinterest, and I am continually surprised as I push into intentional living I truly listen to myself and make the effort instead of taking what’s easy, I am happier with the outcome. Yet somehow, in this world of flashy displays and friends with opinions and 40% off sales – it’s harder than you might think to stay true to your own needs, plans and desires.

I’m starting small – a stream of curated pictures and shoe happiness in a box from halfway around the world – and maybe if I keep it up, I can build muscle memory for the bigger stuff down the road. At least in theory, right?

Spring Has Sprung (And a Freebie!)

Spring Candy picture

Around this time every year, I start thinking about plants. Outdoors, I fight the pollen to prep my veggie patch.  Indoors, the first true sign Spring has arrived in my house is when I spot the first sprout from my hibernating calla lily bulb, which we call A Bulb Named Sue. Yesterday, I spotted that sprout!

There’s something so refreshing about bright spring green appearing above the dirt after a long dreary winter. Then a friend brought me the loveliest flower candies from a trip to Japan – they are the epitome of bright, Spring sunshine. With just a few pops of color, I’m re-energized for all the work of the months ahead.

Click below to download a free desktop image of the candies – I hope it will bring a little Spring sunshine to wherever you are.

>> Download the wallpaper   (on the image page, right click, or ctrl click on a Mac)

5Q: Carra Rose, Experience Producer

5Q: Maria Carra Rose, Experience Producer

I’ve been working to develop a new regular feature called 5Q – Five questions highlighting the work of some awesome and inspiring creative folks I’ve been meeting in the last year. Today, we’re hanging out with one of my favorite creative collaborators, Maria Carra Rose.

Carra is the first and only Experience Producer I’ve met, and is always madly, deeply involved in making amazing things. As an advocate for and creator of “superior professional experiences for clients,” She’s part designer, part content producer, part event planner, part task master. She’s knows just about everyone and has her finger on the pulse of everything current in the city, and she thrives when faced with a new creative challenge.


What is an Experience Producer, and how did you develop this job?
In essence it’s the broadest, most fuzzy job description that I could have created for myself that would consistently keep me engaged and relevant. I think it’s a compilation of 15 years spent wandering from job to job, not knowing what it was that I wanted to be doing or how exactly I should be doing it. After going through various service/hospitality/people pleasing/creative-problem-solving jobs, I realized that what it is that I do, really, is produce experiences for people.

Whatever it is that I do, I am producing an experience for someone. I make sure that whomever I am engaging with at the time is fully involved and hopefully feels like the center of my universe. I want to be there fully for people, available and open to whatever it is that they need. I am greeting you with a smile as you come to my office for coffee, I am making sure that the lights and temperature are just right for your meeting, I am making all those little things that most people take for granted as having been “taken care of” stay right there, back of mind where they need not be worried about, ‘cause I’ve thought about that, taken care of it, and stressed the details to the point of exhaustion; so that you don’t have to worry about it. That’s what I’m good at. Making sure you’re taken care of. I don’t like to be front and center. I am enough of a sore thumb, I don’t need my position in life to be sticking out as well.

What is your favorite thing about being creative for a living?
I get to think for myself every day. There is no prescribed way to how I do my job. I get to create my own solutions and mistakes. I am my own person and responsible for all that I do/don’t do. How amazing is that? How terrifying? It’s all an adventure, every day I know I am beholden to me and everyone else. I wouldn’t change it for the world.
And your least favorite?
Please see above.

How do you stay inspired?
My friends. I have a ton of friends, all different walks, backgrounds, perspectives, shapes, colors. Some days I feel like it’s an episode of Sesame Street. Not being boastful, or disrespectful, I need my friends. They are my air, water, gravity, center, heart, soul and compass. I literally would not exist without them. I wouldn’t have any ideas, nor people to bounce them off of in the off chance that I did come up with one on my own. They are my life’s blood, the moon and the stars. They are how I stay inspired every day. Each and every one.

If you could give other creatives one piece of advice, what would it be?
How ‘bout 2?

Be yourself. It’s cliché, I know, but, you are creative because you are a wicked weird beautiful little tattooed gum-chewing freak and you shouldn’t ever change that. There are enough beige people walking around as carbon copies of bland. Don’t add to the pile.

And listen to your gut. It can tell you more than you are hungry.

What do you want to be known for? (Professionally, personally or both?)
Hopefully for my love and understanding. I know that there are a lot of people out there that are left behind in the wake of life that would say very much the opposite is true but, that’s life. I try my hardest to be there fully in life, loving and understanding that we are human and life happens. But sometimes life makes you choose the experiences that are best for you and not best for those around you. It is after all that survival instinct that pushes us to be stronger, better and create in the first place.

BONUS ROUND: (Ok, so I lied about the five questions thing. Sue me.)

What is your dream project, and why?
The Inauguration Ball of the first female commander-in-chief. ‘cause that’s what we all need and my god, what a party to be in charge of!

How is your career different than you expected?
I thought at 18 heading into college on an art degree track, that in 15 years I would be in a corner office with a doctorate degree wearing a beige linen suit with matching heels. As I look back at that – my god, how wrong I was – and happy I am for that. It’s been an adventure, that’s for sure!

Home Sweet Home

home sweet home

Last Saturday, Mr. Elleby and I found our first real home.

We only began house hunting in earnest at the beginning of the year, but we’ve been together eight years and we’ve wanted this so long, it feels like we’ve waited for this day since the beginning of time.

Nobody prepared me for how emotional this experience would be. The searching was a daily roller coaster – looking at all the new homes online, hoping against hope the ones we liked were as nice in person as in the photos. Our city is quickly becoming a seller’s market – good houses are on the market a handful of days and getting multiple offers. You have to be ready, be quick, and be competitive.

It happened faster than I thought. We walked in expecting nothing special, but as went room to room, it began to dawn on us that despite being our third-choice neighborhood and a more traditional home that we ever thought we’d pick, it had literally every single feature on our checklist. When does that ever happen? Within minutes, we were discussing contract terms.

It has plenty of space and beautiful, bright South-facing light. The kitchen isn’t my taste, but it’s spacious, up to date and well laid out. There’s a porch and patio I can already picture entertaining on. So many homes we’d seen didn’t feel they’d work for our big, energetic dog – and this home had two energetic dogs living happily inside. It’s two blocks from a great park to hike and exercise. It’s very close to our family and friends. There’s a man cave with a built-in bar. It’s an older home, but built with quality far surpassing the newer homes we’ve seen, and well maintained. It has so much POTENTIAL.

It was listed at the end of the week. We were the second group to tour the house, at 1pm on Saturday, and by 5 pm when our paperwork was turned in, there were 3 offers, and an open house scheduled for Sunday likely to bring more competition. We requested an answer before the open house, and sat for five long hours before we got the call. Our offer was accepted!

And then, the panic. Sunday night, I was standing in the kitchen cleaning up from dinner, and felt this horrible depressed feeling wash over me. I sat down – Mr. Elleby walked in and could tell immediately something was wrong. I said I knew we’d made a great, logical, intentional and wise commitment – but something didn’t feel right. And he hugged me and reminded me that of course it wouldn’t feel right yet. We’d only seen the “before” state, a shell full with another family’s life. We haven’t yet begun to make it our own home.

Lightbulb click. It’s so obvious, but sometimes with major life changes, I lose the forest for the trees. For the past few years, I’ve been so focused on my goals to become a business owner, a homeowner, and a mom. I’ve spent a positively OBSCENE amount of time reflecting, strategizing and daydreaming about each goal, how I’d reach it, and what it would be like to achieve. But it never really works out the way you think, or feels the way you expected, does it?

5Q: Marc O’Brien, Social Designer

Marc OBrien headshot

This month I’ve been working to develop a new regular feature called 5Q. Each post consists of five interview questions highlighting the work of some awesome and inspiring creative folks I’ve gotten to know in the last year. Today I’m excited to bring you the first 5Q post, featuring Social Designer Marc O’Brien, who I’ve known a while and hosted a SHOP CLASS session last fall. With a background in design, Marc travels the world facilitating workshops to help solve big-picture problems using creativity and design. I’m absolutely certain he’s going to change the world.


What is a social designer and how did you acquire the title?
A social designer works on projects that have a positive impact in the world, using design as a medium to achieve this.

But I’ll be honest, I love and hate the title, “Social Designer.” I use that title for describing the work that I do so others can grasp what type of design focus on. I cannot wait until we get to a point where “social design” simply becomes rolled into “design.” Should we treat social design separate from design in general?

How will your work change the world?
One person at a time.

Has the economy changed your view on creativity?
Personally, the economy has made things very interesting/challenging for me. I graduated in May 2008, right at the start of the chaos. This set the stage for me to adapt and be more resourceful in my professional career. When opportunities dried up, I had to make my own. As a designer, you work with what you have in front of you—tools, content, constraints. All of this made me a more resourceful person, both with my work and also in my personal life.

The upside about this economy? It made me aware that one does not have to rely on things to be invented by a few and pursued by many. Simply put, we have the ability to invent our own jobs, our own paths. We have the resources in front of us—social media, web 2.0, technology—to pursue our own dreams and goals. We have no excuse not to try and create our own path.

I think often on this quote by Randy Pausch, “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”

How do you choose your projects? 
I focus my work on whether or not it produces a meaningful, positive impact towards others, towards the planet, towards culture. I also want to inspire/activate others to use their talents in shaping a better future within their own community.

What’s next?
Turning one of my personal projects into something bigger. I started Unplug & Ride last summer and now I want to take it to the masses with UnplugYou. It’s a practice in unplugging from the distractions of updates, phone calls, full inboxes, and to experience the outdoors to gain a new/refresh sense of things—establishing a more balance-focused life.

BONUS ROUND: (Ok, so I lied about the five questions thing. Sue me.)

If you could turn one thing upside down, what would it be and why?
The world. I would turn the whole world upside down. I think a lot of us are far overdue for gaining a new perspective on lots of things.

What’s your motto, philosophy or theme song?
“Proceed and be bold.” – S. Mockbee

What’s your favorite business buzzword, and why?
“Bleeding edge.” Ha! It just sounds so hardcore.

What are you grateful for?
Having understanding/supporting friends and family. They are my backbone. They are the encouragement I need when navigating life and all its fucking twists and turns.

How do you stay motivated?
By surrounding myself with smarter people doing amazing work. Oh, and being in nature… not on my laptop.


Want to know more? Follow Marc on Twitter to keep up with all the latest in social design.


Falling For A Trend: The Copper Age

One tempting trend I’m seeing lately is copper in sleek decorative finishes for the home. I suppose it’s forgivable to fall for copper – the first known manmade copper jewelry dates to 8700 BC, so it’s been catching girls’ eyes for ages.

Metallics are a favorite approach to neutral tones, and I love the warmth of copper. It’s at once nostalgic, familiar, and glamorous without taking itself too seriously. Today it nods to the popular industrial aesthetic and also pairs well with the geometric angle patterns popping up in retail design. Check out a few of my favorite copper picks below. I think I may splurge on the storage boxes!

How about you? What trends are catching your eye lately?

5 best copper home accessories

Where to buy:

1 – Chandelier // 2 – Measuring Cups // 3 – Candle // 4 – Boxes // 5 – Pencil Holder

Some Love for Your Love: 2013 Edition (And a freebie!)

Every year I wrestle a little with “The Valentine Question.” My husband and I aren’t big on the holiday, but it is certainly a nice opportunity to do something thoughtful to show I care, and I love devising little creative surprises. One year when we were dating long-distance, I made dozens of paper valentines and hid them in his car and bag so he’d find them throughout the whole week we were apart. Last year, we cooked the same recipes for dinner that we cooked together the night we got engaged.

Option 1: Made With Love 
Give a unique handmade gift from Etsy. (Check out my picks on my Valentine showcase!)

Etsy Valentine showcase screenshot

Of course, you could always write your sweetheart a poem, or pay these people to do it.

Option 2: Free and Easy
Download and print the Elleby exclusive Valentine cards below.

Valentine: La La Love You
Anti-Valentine: Bah Lovebug

LA LA LOVE YOU valentine design

 Bah Lovebug Anti Valentine card How are you celebrating (or not celebrating) on the 14th?

Planning Ahead with Mi Goals

Mi Goals journal

Keeping track of daily tasks for a day job, a start up business, a family and a blog is not always easy. For me, the way to stay on track moving towards my goals is through organization. After lots of experimentation, I found some really powerful tools to help stay motivated and accountable.

For home life, I use a color-coded Google calendar with pop-up reminders for everything from friends’ birthdays and dental appointments to due dates for bills and a regular cleaning schedule for my house.

For freelance, I track projects online. I make lists in Evernote so I can access them on the go, and manage work tasks using The Action Method by Behance or collaboratively in Basecamp, depending on client preferences.

close up  of Mi Goals journal

But I’m into some heavy big-picture planning these days, and was longing for a more personal, tactile experience to help me dream and plan my course. I wanted something I could pop in my bag and quietly jot in with the feel of a diary, and because I work in design and love paper goods, I wanted it to be well thought out and easy on the eyes.

My search led me to a great journal from an Australian stationery company called Mi Goals.

The book first explains how to structure goals. Most of the 128 pages are comprised of 15 sets of identical worksheets to brainstorm and track 15 goals. There’s space to brainstorm what you want and why, the steps to get there, and deadlines for each task along the way. There are inspiring quotes set in lovely typography peppered in among the goal pages.

I’m only at the beginning of my book, but really excited to have found JUST the right tool to help me organize my thoughts. Time will tell if I move the tasks over to my digital systems, but for now I’m happy to sit with my book and a cup of tea, thinking about the path ahead.

How about you? What tools do you use to stay accountable to your goals?

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