Tuesday, December 31, 2013

best of 2013 | best books

2013 done. 32 books read, from the ambitious to the frivolous. I enjoyed photographing and tracking my reading this year using the hashtag #booksandbeverages on Instagram. And I FINALLY read To Kill a Mockingbird!

Here's what I read in 2013:

Vaclav and Lena by Haley Tanner
Let's Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell
Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard
Caribou Island by David Vann
About Alice by Calvin Trillin
Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney
I'm Scared and Doing It Anyway by Lauree Ostrofsky
Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter
Zlata's Diary by Zlata Filipovic
Rock On: An Office Power Ballad by Dan Kennedy
One for the Road by Tony Horwitz
Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala
Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman
The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe
The Bite of the Mango by Mariatu Kamara
Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Don't Let's Go To The Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller
Made from Scratch by Jenna Woginrich
Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
Who By Fire by Diana Spechler
Looking for Alaska by John Green
The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett
What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
Alice, Let's Eat by Calvin Trillin
When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
Until I Say Goodbye by Susan Spencer-Wendel
The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer (*not quite finished reading)

Total number of books: 32
Fiction: 16
Non-Fiction: 16
By Male Authors: 13
By Female Authors: 19

Favorite Books | The End of Your Life Book Club
                            Girl in Translation
                            Orange is the New Black
                            To Kill a Mockingbird
                            Don't Let's Go To The Dogs Tonight
                            What Alice Forgot
                            The Executioner's Song
                            Let's Take the Long Way Home

The End of Your Life Book Club has definitely earned a spot on my (unofficial) Favorite Books of All Time list. Loved it, was inspired by it, and added 30 more titles to my To Read list by the time I reached the end. Two thumbs up.

On the flip side, Caribou Island was seriously f*ed! My thoughts upon finishing it: What the hell?!


Monday, December 30, 2013

#ridefive 2013 complete!

Without a doubt, the best thing I did during the frustrating holiday season was complete a fitness challenge. I was inspired by Elise's #mileaday challenge to run a mile a day every day from Thanksgiving to New Year's Eve. When Elise first blogged about this challenge two years ago, I admit I thought it was crazy. Commit to daily exercise during the busiest and most stressful time of the year? I ain't got time for that! Exercise on Christmas Day? No way! Why not just wait until January 1st to get into shape like everyone else does?

But I quickly realized this challenge was not crazy, it was genius! Exercise is the perfect solution to the stress, winter blues, and indulgence of the holiday season and it's a great time to get a jumpstart on being healthy and active in the new year. So this year, I was on board. Except that I don't run. And while "I hate running" and "I suck at it" are not really valid excuses since the purpose of this challenge is to challenge myself, the fact that I have crappy post-surgical hips and constant joint pain is a valid excuse. So running was definitely out for me. The second difficulty was that I don't live in Southern California and I do live in a place with winter weather, so outdoor exercise is also out for me during this time of year. (Freezing my butt off and/or exercising while wearing a parka are two things that definitely suck, in my opinion.)

My low-impact indoor solution was #ridefive: I would ride five miles on my recumbent stationary bike every day from the day after Thanksgiving through the end of the year. Five miles turned out to be the perfect distance - it took about 20+ minutes for me to complete, so there was no excuse for not being able to fit in a 20 minute work out each day. And five miles was long enough that it was challenging and got my heart pumping, but short enough that I could ride every day without burning myself out or risking injury.

And I did it! This is huge for me because I suck at exercising and I suck at completing goals and staying motivated. I am usually very easily discouraged and I am often a quitter. But this challenge was perfect for me. The key to my success was the daily commitment - I actually found this easier than an "I will exercise three times a week" kind of goal because you can't make excuses like "Oh, I'll just exercise tomorrow instead" and put it off and completely fall off the wagon. You have to do this every single day. And while I didn't have a perfect record and I did end up missing a few days (and I had to end the challenge on December 29th instead of the 31st because we were going out of town to a place without a bike), I didn't let that stop me. It wasn't easy. There were days where it suddenly ended up being 11:30 pm and I had to drag myself upstairs to ride before bed. There were days that I spent all day on my feet vending at art markets that were 100 miles away, and I had to come home and get on the bike. There were a couple times when I went out in the evening for drinks and made myself ride (while slightly intoxicated) afterwards - those days definitely felt like two steps forward, one step back. (Lesson learned: It is definitely preferable to exercise in the morning.) But I did it, and I'm pretty darn proud of myself for sticking with it! And many of my friends and followers commented or e-mailed me that I was inspiring them, which blows my mind. I'm pretty sure this is the first time that I've ever inspired anyone to exercise!

I learned a lot from this challenge and I'll definitely use this method to set myself up for success with future goals. Here are a few things that kept me motivated throughout #ridefive:

+ Daily commitment - The daily requirement prevented me from being able to put off exercising to another day, plus it helped create a new habit that will hopefully continue to be part of my daily routine. Also, not wanting to break my streak was a great motivator!
+ Defined start/end dates - I can do anything for 30ish days, especially when the end is in sight!
+ Setting a reasonable goal - Five miles was not too hard or time consuming, so there was no reason I couldn't complete the goal daily. This challenge wasn't about pushing myself to the max - it was about being active every day.
+ Not riding more than five miles - I think my past failures have been the result of trying to do too much. Even if I was feeling really good during my ride, I made myself stop at five miles to make sure I'd be able to complete the goal the next day, too.
+ Not letting small setbacks discourage me - In the past, missing one day might have caused me to give up on the whole thing. While it was disappointing to miss a few days, I reminded myself that exercising 25 days out of 30 is still a lot better than not exercising at all.
+ Combining the fitness challenge with a photo challenge - I took a daily photo of my ride and posted it to Instagram with hashtag #ridefive. This made the challenge feel more creative, plus I got a lot of encouragement by sharing on social media - thank you!
+ Tegan and Sara - T&S have definitely been the soundtrack to my entire year, and Heartthrob is the perfect workout album.

So that's my recap of a challenge that will hopefully become a yearly holiday tradition. I feel great and am totally inspired right now. And while I'll never become a fitness blogger, I do hope to be more active in 2014 and maybe get into outdoor cycling! (Just as soon as the weather gets nicer...)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

some christmassy photos, mostly of my dogs

See how the word "Christmassy" also contains the word "ass"? Not to sound like a whiny complainer, but that was pretty much the theme for Smoellke Christmas 2013. More on that later, for now just some pics from December that look exactly the same as the pics from all our other Decembers:

Monday, December 9, 2013

iced by scrooge

Alternate title: I Quit Christmas.
collage - ice
Every year I write about how much the holiday season stresses me out. No one likes a complainer or a scrooge, so this year I decided to make a change to assure that I enjoy the month of December to the fullest.

As a small business owner, this is a busy time of year. My shop vends at a lot of holiday markets and online sales pick up - I am SO thankful for this. Prepping for markets and shipping orders I can handle, and it's exciting when my shop is successful. It's all the other things that stress me out - the shopping for gifts, sending out cards, baking and cooking and decorating and blogging and entertaining, and trying to finish all the house projects we procrastinated on before the end of the year. I love doing all these things, but when I have to do it all at once...well, it's a lot. And I realize it's no different for me than for the millions of other humans who celebrate Christmas - this is a busy time of year for everyone.

But that's too much multitasking for me, so I decided to take a step back. I do love Christmas and I think it should be fun, so this year, I was going to do things differently. I wasn't going to stress myself out making hundreds of Christmas ornaments and photographing them. I was going to steer clear of shopping malls and hunker down at home. I was going to take a break from the blog and social media to enjoy my real-life family. I was going to get my shopping and gift wrapping done early and my cards sent out and then during the month of December (in between art markets and packaging shop orders), I was going to relax and do things I enjoy. Holiday dates with my husband. Baking cookies for the fun of it. Sitting by the Christmas tree and reading a book. Watching a movie with flickering candles and a bowl of popcorn. Having friends over for cocktails. Snuggling the puppies in front of the fire. You know, the good stuff: family, friends, food, coziness. But you know what they say about the best laid plans...

Yesterday was a well-deserved day off. The day before was a long day on my feet vending at GRUMP, and I was looking forward to sleeping in and enjoying the day with Larry. We awoke to snow falling on our bedroom skylight - what a perfect Sunday for decorating the tree, listening to Christmas music, and cooking together. By afternoon, the whole house smelled delicious: there was a fresh Christmas tree in the house, apple pie cheesecake bars in the oven, ale-marinated pork loin simmering on the stove, and a rosemary-citrus candle flickering in the living room. We were cozy inside the house as fat snowflakes fell from the sky and the dogs lazed in front of the fireplace - something I was especially grateful for as we remembered that our fireplace was broken last Christmas. We got out some wine and cheese, pulled all the Christmas boxes out of the attic and were ready to deck the halls. It was already December 8th, so although I was a bit behind with my holiday prep, maybe for once, December wasn't going to get the best of me!

My idealized vision for our perfect holiday weekend didn't turn out exactly as I pictured it in my mind: The wedge of brie I had just bought tasted like ass - no biggie, we'll just drink the wine. The recipes we cooked weren't that great - no problem, they can't all be winners. The snow turned to wet nasty sleet, so I couldn't get my family outside to take a Christmas card photo - eh, shit happens, so we'll have to figure out a Plan B. Larry wasn't interested in decorating the tree with me - that's ok, he can watch the game and we'll chat as I string the lights...

Progress! This may have been the first year I managed to string the lights without tears and/or a hissy fit! And the tree was up! With lights! And ornaments! Behold:

Ooh, so beautiful!


And then the tree was down...or almost down. Luckily, being the night owl that I am, I was still sitting by the fire at 1:30 am when it started to topple. I screamed. I caught it. I called to Larry.

The next hour and a half involved head scratching, four letter words, digging through numerous boxes in the utility room for string, shims, and various tools, the removal of a window screen, the de-ornamenting of the tree, crying, and perhaps one of us in the backyard wearing nothing but underwear, crocs, a winter coat, and a headlamp.

And this, my friends, is a DIY Christmas Tree Stand as installed by one former architect and one civil engineer at 3:00 am:

The other end of the cord is wrapped around our Christmas tree inside the house. On the plus side, it managed to hold the tree up all night (or rather, what was left of the night), the barbells didn't come crashing through the window (ending up with a broken window would have been an epic fail!), and Larry and I are still married.

Tree crisis averted! (At least until tomorrow when we try to figure out what the problem is and come up with a permanent solution.)

BUT THEN! Before we went to bed we smelled...GAS. As in natural gas. (I feel the need to specify since I do live with three boys...) Natural gas which was LEAKING FROM OUR FIREPLACE. And to think we were worried about a toppled Christmas tree! Why not add OUR HOUSE JUST GOT BLOWED UP to my list of holiday grievances?

So we turned off the gas. No more fireplace, again. Which is especially troubling since there was an ice storm overnight and while we still have power, many people in the area are without electricity...and heat. Which is generally a good time to have a gas fireplace and a bad time to have a broken gas fireplace.

The ice-coated trees do look beautiful, so I went outside this morning and snapped some photos while trying to appreciate nature and find the silver lining. But then chunks of ice started falling off the trees, so I took that as a cue to get my ass inside so as not to end up with a broken face. A busted fireplace, an ice storm, and a toppled tree...I'm beginning to think we were iced by Scrooge himself!

The moral of this story is wop wop. And also, bah humbug. Scrooge, you win!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

funnelcoud studio | holiday happenings + SALE!

The holidays are just around the corner and I'll be doing my best to avoid shopping malls, big box stores, and mass-produced items in favor of handmade gifts.

If you're a like-minded shopper who likes to support artists and give unique gifts, here are a few places you can find my shop during the holidays (as well as scads of other talented artists and crafters):


Funnelcloud Studio will be at three markets in December in Virginia and Maryland:

December 1 -   Merry Mart (Baltimore, MD)
December 7 -   GRUMP at Artisphere (Arlington, VA)
December 14 -  Richmond Craft Mafia Handmade Holiday (Richmond, VA)


Check out the feature on my shop in Old Town Home's Holiday Gift Guide. Wendy and Alex have impeccable decorating taste, so it's an honor to be included in their round-up and among such other talented local artists.

ETSY + Black Friday and Beyond SALE
I hate having to fight for parking spots and deal with inconsiderate shoppers, so online shopping is my favorite thing. (Plus it can be done while wearing pajamas with my pups at my feet!) December is always a busy time for Funnelcloud Studio, too and now that I have my life-changing thermal postage printer I can get those orders out faster than ever!

I have three new prints plus a couple of holiday card designs in the shop:

And while I pretty much never have sales in my shop, everyone likes to save money at this time of year, so to celebrate shopping without leaving the comfort of your own house on Black Friday/Small Business Saturday/Cyber Monday I'm offering 10% off a $50 minimum order in my Etsy shop using coupon code SMALLBIZ. The sale is valid through Monday, December 2nd at 11:59 pm EST. Awesome, right? (And now is a good time to pick up Things That Are Awesome...a Christmas gift for your favorite awesome person...or perhaps for your awesome self?)

Happy Thanksgiving, friends! Spend it with your families and not at the mall!

Friday, November 22, 2013

DIY travel map

DIY travel map
I love travel, I love maps, and I love keeping track of things, so it's no surprise that I've wanted a travel map for years. (Plus, Larry and I have a goal to visit all 50 states, and we're a tiny bit competitive about it.) It's lame that it took me so long to actually follow through with this project, though, especially since I searched and searched for years for an acceptable map and finally bought one in 2011. Yes, I've had this map rolled up in a tube for TWO YEARS. It's finally on the wall, though!

I wanted a map that was simple and modern and found this one on Amazon. It was $1.68 when I bought it two years ago. It's 24x36 and printed on a metallic silver paper. The map does have a few geographic inaccuracies, though. (Where are the Great Lakes? What happened to Michigan???) I'm not sure if this is because it was a $2 map or because it was printed in the U.K. (Evidently, Americans aren't the only ones who suck at geography!)
DIY travel map
I had initially wanted to hang the map in a public area in our house, because I think it's a good conversation piece, however, there just weren't any good spots in our living or dining room, so I decided to hang it in our bedroom. This worked out for the better because the metallic paper shows every fingerprint (I wore cotton framer's gloves while framing), and I think our visitors would think it was pretty snotty if we had a "Please don't touch" sign next to it in our living room.
DIY travel map
I really wanted the map to look like a frame-worthy piece of art, so I mounted it to adhesive-backed foam core and framed it in a walnut frame (without glass, obviously). I've seen maps mounted to corkboard using pushpins, but this looks wrinkly and sloppy to me, so mounting the map to foam core was important in achieving a smooth and professional appearance. Plus, the foam core works as a backer board for the map pins.

Orange pins | Places I've traveled
Blue pins | Places Larry's traveled
White pins | Places we've traveled together

(For the sake of clarity, I'm only putting one pin per state/country regardless of how many cities we've been to. I would like to get a larger U.S. map someday to pin all the cities we've visited.)
DIY travel map
DIY travel map
The map was a good reminder of how big the world is and how little of it I've seen. I haven't done anywhere near as much traveling as I'd like - I didn't grow up in a military family (or in a family that traveled anywhere besides New Jersey, really) and I've never had a job that sent me to any interesting places for business, so all of my traveling was for pleasure or school (I studied abroad twice). Larry, on the other hand, has done a lot of business travel and has been to some very interesting places in Asia and Europe, as well as a good amount of domestic travel. Of course, the best trips have been the ones we've taken together. We've done some amazing traveling together in the good ol' USA as well as a couple trips to the Caribbean, but we definitely need to add some white pins to international locations!
DIY travel map
DIY travel map
And while I wish we could stick pins all over South America, Asia, Australia, and Africa (some day?), I do feel very lucky that I've gotten to experience a (tiny) bit of the world outside of the United States. To put it in perspective, I recently heard that over 50% of Americans have never been outside the U.S.
DIY travel map
It's a big big world! Let's go!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

funnelcloud around the world

Sometimes really amazing things happen to Funnelcloud Studio. I never would have guessed that my art would end up in these locations around the world:

ONE | The other day, the president of Massachusetts-based Sundin, Inc. tweeted me a link to a blog post about their new conference room. They chose pieces for the room made by independent artists and furniture-makers, including a handmade reclaimed wood table and my Things That Are Awesome illustration. I LOVE when corporations support small businesses and I also love the non-corporate approach to the design of their meeting space. Wouldn't meetings be so much more fun if you were surrounded by interesting things to look at like artwork and suspended paper cranes?

Sundin, Inc. looks like a great place to work - well done and thank you! (Photo via Sundin, Inc.)

TWO | When the Surfcomber Miami-South Beach Hotel in Florida was being designed several years ago, the designer ordered 150 of my Embrace Messy Hair prints to display in the hotel. I never shared the photos of the prints on the wall in the hotel because I had to discontinue Embrace Messy Hair several years ago when the printing block finally wore out from over-use. (I still get e-mails and requests to print it, but sadly it just isn't possible.) But anyway, it's SO amazing to have my work on display in a hotel:

I hope to stay in this hotel in person one day...would it be weird if I requested to stay in the "Embrace Messy Hair" Room? (Photo via Surfcomber Miami-South Beach.)

THREE | This last one is a bit of surprise - I certainly never fancied myself a tattoo designer, but when U.K.-based tattoo artist Will Powell contacted me for permission to use my whale print as a tattoo, I said yes! Well, first I thought - HUH?! I was definitely blown away that someone wanted my design on THEIR SKIN, but the result is pretty freaking awesome:

I have to admit I was relieved that my whale ended up on this dude's calf and not as a tramp stamp - that would be awkward. (Photo via Will Powell/Indelible Tattoo Studio.)

So a big thanks to all the businesses, big and small, who have supported my small business. It's amazing to me that the work created in my tiny spare bedroom is now in corporate offices, hotels, and even walking around the streets of England!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

music for your wednesday

I don't seem to have the energy to edit and post photos right now, so I thought I'd share what I've been listening to over and over and over again these past few weeks...

We've been huge fans of Ha Ha Tonka since Larry discovered them in 2011. Their album that year, Death of a Decade, was #9 on Larry's list of best music of the year. A couple weeks ago while Larry was on business in Wyoming, he texted me that Ha Ha Tonka had a new album, Lessons, and that it was really good. I started listening and it was one of those albums that I just loved immediately. I put it on repeat for several days straight and declared it one of my favorite albums of 2013.

And then a serendipitous moment - when I checked the band's website, I was delighted to discover that Ha Ha Tonka would be playing live here in DC the following week. What luck! Words can't even describe how awesome their show was at the Rock & Roll Hotel last weekend (and really, I'm no good at writing about music, so I won't even try), but it was definitely a Top Five musical experience for me. Such a high energy show - I kinda went into that zone where it was just me and the music (and my beer)! I'll be adding Ha Ha Tonka to our list of Must-See-Whenever-They're-In-Town bands. (And also Will-Travel-for-Concert bands! Perhaps Nashville? Or Asheville?)

Also, the opener was Samantha Crain, and boy what a voice! Not only does this girl have talent, but she was adorable on stage - the kind of person who would be fun to hang out with. I've had her song "For the Miner" on repeat ever since.

No doubt, Larry will mention Ha Ha Tonka in his end of the year review this year, and while I didn't mean to scoop him, I just couldn't keep this stuff to myself any longer. I'm obsessed and this won't be the last time you'll hear me mention these guys.

Happy listening!

Friday, November 15, 2013

hiking pipiwai trail

hiking pipiwai trail
So, I still haven't shared all the photos from our second trip to Hawaii...in May. And now that it's November and the weather is getting cold here in Virginia, I thought it would be nice to relive some of our springtime adventures in Maui...

We stayed on the northern part of island at Tom Sewell's art estate in Haiku for the beginning of our trip. After three nights there, we took the road to Hana to wild and isolated eastern Maui. After surviving the narrow winding road (620 curves in 68 miles!), spending the evening resting and enjoying the view of Hana Bay from our balcony at the Bamboo Inn, and getting a great night's sleep listening to the ocean from our bed, we woke up relaxed and ready to hike and explore the rainforest.
bamboo inn, maui
(What wasn't relaxing was the terrifying drive to our hiking spot - wet curvy one-lane roads cut into the side of a cliff. There were several times when we had to back up to let another car pass and felt the wheels slipping off the road! Fortunately, Larry's expert driving skills and my pep talks got us there and back in one piece.)
hiking pipiwai trail
Our hiking destination was the Pipiwai Trail in Haleakala National Park. The park has two entrances on opposite sides of the island that allow access to two very different ecosystems. A few days earlier, we had explored the volcanic landscape from Haleakala's western side. Now we were on the eastern side which consisted of waterfalls and tropical rainforest, accessed from the Kipahulu entrance.

The day of our hike it was pouring rain, but since we were hiking in a rainforest, we didn't let that stop us. Photography was a challenge, and by the end of the hike we were soaked (from the rain, sweat, and walking through a stream) and caked with mud. My camera came very close to a life-threatening tumble. But it was all worth it because along the 4 mile trek, we came across the coolest banyan tree in the world, hiked through a magical bamboo forest, and ended up at a 400 foot waterfall - Waimoku Falls.
hiking pipiwai trail
hiking pipiwai trail
hiking pipiwai trail
hiking pipiwai trail
hiking pipiwai trail
hiking pipiwai trail
hiking pipiwai trail
hiking pipiwai trail
hiking pipiwai trail
hiking pipiwai trail
hiking pipiwai trail
hiking pipiwai trail
hiking pipiwai trail
hiking pipiwai trail
hiking pipiwai trail
hiking pipiwai trail
After our hike through the rainforest, we took a quick jaunt through some Dr. Seussian trees, to a series of natural pools, known as the Seven Sacred Pools at Oheo Gulch. During gentle weather, swimming is allowed in the pools. After a full day of rain however, it's hard to imagine this area being swimmable! Obviously, the treacherous conditions on the day we were there meant there was definitely no swimming, but the pools (which had turned into one big waterfall flowing into the Pacific) were pretty to look at.
hiking pipiwai trail
hiking pipiwai trail
hiking pipiwai trail
hiking pipiwai trail
hiking pipiwai trail
hiking pipiwai trail
hiking pipiwai trail
hiking pipiwai trail
After a long, exhausting, and dirty day, it was back to the inn for happy hour (AKA dinner - there are very few options for eating out in Hana) with a view on the balcony and a dip in the jacuzzi to soothe our aching muscles.
bamboo inn, maui
bamboo inn, maui

Friday, November 1, 2013

collections | november leaves

collage - leaves
So, I've been sick all week. I went outside my house today for the first time since Tuesday...it was a brief trip to photograph fall leaves in my yard and a good reminder that there are tiny little works of art everywhere.

Happy weekend!