Category Archives: Living

How to be creative — Tip #1

Luke runs toward the shallow waves of the Gulf of Mexico

Don’t grow up too quickly, lest you forget how much you love the beach. — Michelle Held

I don’t know about you, but I find it all too easy to fall into what I call the “routine rut.”  Routines are great, especially when you have kids, because it keeps you on track and there are (hopefully) fewer meltdowns.  But routines can also lead to boredom.  For me, a creative, that can lead to all sorts of problems — everything from anxiety to lack of inspiration.

It’s just tough to feel creative when you’re slogging through each day, just putting one foot down in front of the next.

How do you get back that creative spark?

Cindy’s Tip #1: Get outta town

For the first time in years, the family and I took a road trip.  Since Luke was born, the farthest we’ve ventured from Austin has been San Antonio.  It was time to get away.  So we packed up the kids and headed out.  Along the way, we stopped at the beach for a few hours.  It was the first time either of my kids had been to the beach, and that’s why we initially decided to stop, but it turned out to be just as important for me as for them.

Hanging at the beach relaxed me.  It reminded me how much fun it is to be splashed by a wave, feel sand between my toes, have tiny fish brush and nibble at my legs.  Time sped up and slowed down all at the same time.

By the time we drove away, I was already refreshed.  And I was excited about returning to work, because I had had time to reflect on my projects in my downtime and I had new ideas I wanted to try.

A change of scenery can do the opposite of what you might expect.  It can inspire you and spark creative ideas.  In essence — it can help you be more productive.  And it’s not just good for you — it’s good for everyone around you.  I had time to reconnect with my kids and husband during our trip.  That’s something that’s tough to do when you’re putting in long hours during the week and rushing around on the weekends trying to run errands.

Yep, a road trip (and specifically the beach) was definitely good for my creativity.  How about you?  What do you do to find inspiration?  Have you traveled anywhere that has changed your mood?

 

The curse of South Mopac

I wonder how many kids still hear the old superstitions.  You know — “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.” or “Step on a line, you have to pay a fine.” I was never one for paying too close attention to superstitions (I love black cats), but I remember walking home from the bus stop many days and carefully avoiding any lines or cracks in the sidewalk.

I’ve read about lawyers who hold tight to superstitions during a trial, out of worry that any change in the routine could jinx the case.

In my house, we hold reason and science above all else.  But there is one thing that gives us pause.

Mopac and the curse of the crying baby.

Nearly every time we drive Mopac — north or south — between LaCrosse (Wildflower Center) and 2222, my daughter cries.  Hard.

We have often ventured south to visit friends off Slaughter Lane, and many times on the way home, Mads has wailed — loudly.  Luke and I do our best to soothe her by singing our favorite tunes.  Sometimes it works.  Sometimes it doesn’t.

It’s become something of a joke now.  “Uh-oh.  We have to go south.  Will Mads cry?”

Until she actually starts crying.  Because it’s not fun being in an enclosed space with an unhappy baby.

Kermit the Fros plays his banjog and sings The Rainbow ConnectionWhat do we sing?  I’m pretty proud of my repertoire, which has grown by leaps and bounds since Luke was a wee babe.  My go-to hits are “The Rainbow Connection” and “Moving Right Along” from the Muppet Movie.  I also know quite a few Laurie Berkner tunes and “Bushel and  a Peck.”

Why not just put on soothing music for babies?  Well, it’s doesn’t really work for Mads.  She quiets down much more quickly when a real person sings to her.  And since I don’t mind singing in public or being goofy, it works for me.

I wonder what people think when they hear me singing  a Kermit the Frog song? It can’t be any worse than the curse of South Mopac.

Identity crisis: Me and my blog

“Blogging is hard.”

I went to a presentation at the Statesman for work this past week.  It was all about multimedia and mobile and online — geared for businesses in health care.  Since I now work for a health clinic, I was invited and decided to check it out.

A sales guy for the Statesman threw a lot of numbers at us about how people use the internet and what they’re searching for.  It was interesting.

There was also a discussion about social media.  The social media editor for the Statesman got up to talk about how the newspaper takes advantage of Twitter and Facebook to cultivate readers and develop a community.  Someone asked about blogging and whether businesses should have blogs.  The response: Blogging is hard.

It’s true.  Blogging IS hard.  Especially when you don’t have a clear focus.  Just look at this blog.  It’s been 2 months since I’ve written in it.  I just don’t know what to say, what to share.

Do people really want to know about the nitty gritty details of my life?  Do they really care about my business?  Will I come off as a naive idiot?  Will they laugh at my ignorance?

I really do worry about these things.  I worry about my online persona.  How real do I want to be?

Tirades used to be a lot more personal.  Then it kind of became a pseudo work blog.  And I spent more time on my other blogs.  Tirades has been withering.

We’re in the middle of an identity crisis, me and my blog.

I guess it was inevitable, since I’m going through such a crazy transition right now.  Motherhood.  Career changes.

And I worry about how much I can talk about my life without turning off potential clients or current employers.

Here’s what I need to remember, though.  This blog can be whatever I need it to be.  You know what?.. I could give a flying crap whether anyone reads my blog.  I started it 7 or 8 years ago as my first online voice.  We’re still marching along.  I’m changing.  No… evolving.

And so dear reader, if you even exist, I’m going to stop worrying about trying to present myself in the most positive light.  This blog is no fun as a strictly business blog.  My career is a huge part of my life, no doubt, but Tirades is not going to give you advice on how to design web pages.  Tirades is not going to try to sell you on my skills.

No, Tirades is going to be about stories.  I’m going back to my roots.  I used to write stories.  I spent hours writing stories when I was a kid.  I love to write.  Sometimes my stories will be about my work.  But I bet most of the time they’ll be about those funny instances that stand out.  Like the time I was driving when Andy told a joke and I nearly ran off the road.  Or when I wandered around the Statesman parking lot searching for my car while talking loudly on my phone about the fact that I couldn’t find my car.

I will blog every other day.  I will share my stories, whether through words or pictures.

Yeah.  Life.  I just want to be real.

What I’m listening to: The Head and the Heart

Cindy and Andy on the balcony at the Moody TheaterI’ll admit it right now — I don’t get out much.

Kinda hard when you’ve got little kids and piles of projects in your lap.

But when I do, I try to make the most of it — by eating at the restaurants I read about on all of those foodie blogs I love and seeing live music.  Austin is such an awesome place to see live music, especially by bands you’ve never heard of before but are fantastic.  It goes without saying that South by Southwest is a prime time to check out some new bands, and Andy and I had a chance to do just that.

Moody Theater stage all lit up for IE9 launch partyWe lucked out in scoring fast-passes to the IE9 Launch Party, which was held at the Moody Theater — the new home of Austin City Limits Live at the new W in Downtown Austin.  (Fabulous venue, by the way).

Microsoft pulled out all of the stops for this party.  I wasn’t much interested in the free alcohol, but the theater itself was amazing.  The stage was all lit up with amazing graphics, and the screens were showing projected 3D.  It’s so hard to describe.

One of the opening bands was Fences, who are pretty good.  I really enjoyed them.

They must have hired a really good DJ, because even the house music in between sets was good.

At 11pm, the theater darkened and the background lit up with all of these colors as an announcer said IE9 was being launched at that moment all over the world.  It was such an event, even I (a devoted Firefox fan) wanted to download it.

But what really got my attention was the next band: The Head and the Heart.

Head and the Heart perform in the ACL Moody TheaterTalk about energy!  The harmony of rock and folk sounds caught me, and I never lost interest.

Very few bands have instantly appealed to me.  Usually it takes a few listens to get into them — but this band was different.  They’re from Seattle.  NPR did a story on them here.  And they reviewed their SXSW set here.

I was exhausted, but we stayed longer than we originally planned just to hear as much of them as possible.  The next day, I downloaded their album, and I’m loving it.  To be honest, it doesn’t have the same level of energy as what we say live, but it doesn’t detract a bit.

If you get the chance to see them, I highly recommend going.  They won’t disappoint.

A therapeutic way to deal with negative feelings

For two weeks, I was bothered by an innocent conversation I had with a person.

Seriously… it was very innocent.  There was just chatting.  But something was said on their part — it’s not important what — that kind of bugged me.

And hours later it still bugged me.

And hours after that it grew from a nagging annoyance to downright anger.  I found myself grousing about it to my husband and close friends.  That’s how much it annoyed me.

That is not healthy.

One of my personal goals for this year is to learn to relax and let go of negative feelings.  I completely believe that it’s OK to have negative feelings — what kind of monster doesn’t have the full range of emotions?! — but letting them simmer and grow inside can start to intrude on other parts of your life.

I don’t have time for that.

There are right ways and wrong ways to deal with these feelings, and I’ll admit that I’m no expert, but I have learned a few things that I would like to pass on.

Wrong Way

Online

I’ll admit, I considered making a Facebook or Twitter status that was just vague enough not to call the person out, yet addressing how angry I felt.  But that’s a slippery slope.  And while it might have felt good at the time, I probably would have felt bad later, and you can’t take that stuff back.  It also looks really unprofessional and silly.

Better Way

Two weeks later, when I realized the comment still bothered me and it was starting to affect my overall perception of the person, I remembered something a counselor once told me:

Go back and address the issue with the person.  It’s never too late.

So, I decided to talk to the person.  But I hate confrontations, so I also decided to practice.

Speaking to the invisible person, here’s how my conversation went…

Me: Excuse me, could we talk in private?  Listen, I value our relationship, which is why I felt like I should say this.  Something you said really bothered me, and I don’t believe that you meant to say it maliciously, but I wanted to let you know that I was offended.  I’m not seeking an apology.  I just wanted to get that off my chest.  Thanks for listening.

And you know, what?  I felt better.  I didn’t even need to speak to the person directly to feel better.  Just having that practice conversation helped.  It was like a huge weight was lifted off my chest.

So if you find yourself bothered by something, I highly suggest having a real or imaginary conversation with the person.  Chances are, you’ll feel better, and the issue will have been dealt with in a mature way.

Now, if the issue is something that requires action on the part of the other person, I recommend the practice conversation, then actually having the conversation with the person.  I’m sure they will appreciate your professionalism and maturity.  And you’ll feel better in the long run.

Reflections on 2010

2010.  Oh my… what a year!

Every year — in the week between Christmas and New Year’s — I find myself in that thoughtful place of transition between the current year and the one to come.   I find myself eagerly anticipating the new year, as if a slate is to be wiped clean and the possibilities of dreams I have not yet realized are closer.  All too often, I forget what amazing things I’ve already succeeding in accomplishing.

It’s easy to brush aside the past year as we set new goals, but I think it’s also important — if not necessary — to look back.  Sometimes I can be a bit hard on myself when I think of what I haven’t done, and assessing the past year is a good way to appreciate all that I HAVE accomplished.

Here’s what I did in 2010:

  1. Left KVUE to pursue web design business full time
    This was a major goal in 2010, and I’m proud that I finally had the courage to take this step.
  2. Secured 3 clients — 1 of them new
    It’s not as much as I aimed for, but it’s a start.
  3. Had a baby
    The birth of my daughter was so momentous.  It’s tremendously difficult maintaining that balance between work and family, but I’m so glad I’m able to work from home and be there for my kids.
  4. Learned to use Quickbooks
    OK — I’m still struggling with this, but I know enough to get by for the time being and aim for hiring a bookkeeper in 2011.
  5. Went to SXSWi
    South by Southwest Interactive was an amazing experience for me.  I learned so much about technology, trends, the industry and the business of the industry that I was able to venture out on my own with a bit more confidence than I otherwise might have had.
  6. Continued my education
    It’s imperative for people in my chosen profession to stay in the know, and I did my best to advance my knowledge.  I started learning as much as I could about PHP and how to design and develop with Joomla, Drupal and WordPress
  7. Connected with other small business owners
    Through the City of Austin Small Business Development Program, I started meeting other people who could potentially help me or hire me in the future.

Now that I’ve looked at my 2010 accomplishments, I can get down to business making goals for 2011, and those goals can be specific and build upon the foundation I’ve already laid.

Happy goal-making!

Holiday gifts

I love this time of year.  So many houses are covered in sparkling lights; light posts and columns are covered in greenery and bows; everyone seems to be telling inspirational stories; and the excitement is builing among kids who know that Santa is on his way.

Speaking of Santa, my kids got to see him last night as part of KVUE’s Santa special.  I feel very grateful that I was invited to attend this year, even though I no longer work there.

Luke’s like to call him “his” Santa, because he’s seen him every year since he was a baby.

I’m not sure he asked Santa for anything this year.  He was too happy with the candy cane he received with a small ornament to mark the occasion.

I’ve read various posts lately by people decrying the commercialism of Christmas.  I no longer watch TV (except some clips online here and there), so this is the first year I’m not bombarded by the constant pelting of Christmas advertisements.  I have to say — it’s really nice.  But I understand the frustration that Christmas buying has gotten a bit out-of-hand — overshadowing Christmas GIVING.

Heck — getting presents is Luke’s favorite part of Christmas.

But I’ve been trying to be sneaky and emphasizing all of the other parts of Christmas that I enjoy — the music, the decorating, the feasting and the giving.  And this year, we’re making a lot of things ourselves in order to slow down and spend extra time together.

For example — I just bought a plaster of Paris kit to make handprint ornaments with the kids.  It should be a lot of fun!  And we’ve invited over another family to make gingerbread houses.  And I won’t be using a kit!  I’m going to make gingerbread and royal icing myself and everything.

And we’re also making some of the gifts we’re giving.  Earlier this year I made blackberry and strawberry jam.  We also just had a huge bounty from the persimmon tree, and yesterday, I made spiced persimmon butter with the kids. (Check out the gallery below!)

While making gifts does take more of en effort that picking up something from the grocery store or mall, it is not only cheaper, but also more special many times.  I love the handmade touch.  And I hope the people who receive my handmade gifts understand how much care and attention went into creating them.  But even if they don’t — just thinking that they’ll enjoy them is enough for me.  After all — we remember life’s experiences, right?  That’s what it’s all about.

On a hiatus

So, there hasn’t been much activity here in the past few months, but I’ve had a very good reason — the birth of my daughter.

Starting around the 9th month of pregnancy and up until now, I haven’t had much interest in even sitting down at the computer, much less updating a blog.

It’s not like I have an amazing amount of free time now, but it’s time to settle back into a regular schedule again — as much as is possible with a newborn.

Working from home will continue to be a challenge — even more so now with two children — but I’m learning when I can have a few hours during the day to work uninterrupted.  Fortunately, my 4-year-old is in school most of the day, so it’s easier to find those moments — as fleeting as they may be.

What helps is my body’s need to sit and relax.  If I didn’t need to heal, I would be running around trying to take care of endless chores, housework and errands.  As much as I hate having to rest and the associated pain that is causing that need, I’m choosing to view it as a good thing.  Not only am I figuring out when I can work, but drastically slowing down has allowed me to catch up on reading, both professionally and for fun.  It’s been a long time since I actually read a book in its entirety that wasn’t for my son.  In the past couple of weeks I’ve read 5 books.

I have a feeling I’ll be headed to a bookstore soon… or maybe I should get one of those Kindle’s — Andy, my mom and many friends say they love them.

Out of Office: Finding a place to work away from home

I love my home office.

My chair is the bomb.  You’ve gotta have a good chair.  It’s essential to feel comfortable when you’re working.

I love that I can listen to music, see sunlight through the windows, and I’m just a short walk away from the kitchen, where I often trek to refill my water glass.  I also love that it’s mine.  I share only with my husband, and he’s not a bad office-mate.

But sometimes, it’s not possible to work at home.  For the past week, I’ve been driving Luke to a camp near Zilker Park every morning.  Instead of taking 45 minutes- 1 hour out of my work day to drive back and forth, I decided to set up shop nearby.  All I needed was an Internet connection and a chair.

It was not as easy as I thought it would be.

Here’s what I hate — “free” wireless networks that require a password.  That is incredibly annoying.  Two different coffee shops I tried  had that kind of network — one didn’t even post the password (I guess you had to go ask the barista), and the other (The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf — which is essentially Starbucks) said it would log you out for 10 minutes every 2 hours so you could join the real world.  Or get up to buy another coffee, perhaps?  Sneaky.

No thanks.

But I did finally settle on a decent place to work: Austin Java.

OK, so there were downsides.

  1. The chairs aren’t all that comfortable.  They’re wooden.
  2. The music was loud.

But there were plenty of upsides to make up for the negatives.

  1. Wireless was easy to access
  2. Coffee (I only tried the decaf) was good and bottomless
  3. Food wasn’t bad
  4. Good place to meet business contacts and clients
  5. Clean bathrooms
  6. Decent music selection (Yeah, it was loud, but at least it was good!)

I ended up getting a ton of work done, and never once did I feel like I was missing something from my office (other than my awesome chair).  It was also nice to work around other people for a change.  I was by no means the only person working there.  Many other people sat down and pulled out their laptops during my time there.

So to the good folks at Austin Java on Barton Springs Road who handed me my coffee mug with a smile and brought out my bowl of fruit — you folks rock!  Thanks for the hospitality!