Weekly-ish notes on navigating big change


A flip through my Holiday planning


I can't tell you how tempted I am by December Daily. I love the idea of having holiday-specific books that can come out with each year's Christmas decorations. But with the weekly Project Life, I don't need a whole other scrapbook, ya know?

So instead, I updated my traditional holiday planning guide (I can't believe we've been using it  for 3 years!) with a scrapbook of recipes and decorations.

At the end of the season I'll have a compendium of what I wanted to do and what I actually do. This way, next year I stand a chance of remembering the decorations I wanted to make or the recipes I wanted to try (and which ones worked…or didn't).

To get started, I added in pictures from last year. When we put up this year's tree I'll add an extra page.

I also made notes of what I want to change or redo this year.


And I couldn't leave out our favorite ornament! (The Yay sticker comes with the kit.)

Of course, there's also business-y pages in the book:

 And the beloved Giant List of Doom:
Don't let that list scare you! The Guide is all about breaking it down into do-able to-dos and getting it done.
You can see that I altered the standard weekly list a bit, by adding a little right hand column that includes the ongoing stuff I want to do each week (blog, read, run)..and I also got smarter about adding stuff to the week, splitting it into work and play.

As the Holiday Sanity kits are filtering out into the rest of the world, I've just loved seeing how everyone uses it to plan the season.

Here's Amy's,

and Rebecca's List of Doom:

Everything you see in the above pictures (except for my own photos!) comes with the kit:



How do you organize this busy time of year?

Do you have your own system or are you using Holiday Sanity?


PS. $5 from every kit goes to Red Cross Disaster Relief. Thanks to your planning genius I was just able to make another donation, right before hitting publish! Woo!


Want more survival tips? Check out the (free) Definitive Guide.

Sign up here to get more on surviving your business adventures, no matter the season.

How to enjoy the holidays as a maker

I really do love the holidays. From watching the Thanksgiving Day parade to wrapping gifts to tree-lighting to gift-making, I adore so much of it. But it's easy to get sucked under it, into the swirl of buying, and needing, and obligating. 

To keep it joy-filled, I'm creating a series on How to Enjoy the Holidays As…. The first in the series was focused on cooking, and today's is focused on making.*

Being a maker during the holidays can be a double-edged sword. On one side, there are all these fabulous things to make! Decorations! Ornaments! Gifts! Wrapping. But on the other side: expectations. Others have expectations of you (they expect handmade gifts), and you have expectations of them (you want everyone to appreciate what you make!) It's easy to feel discouraged when expectations aren't met.

But let's opt out of those expectations and craft the kind of holiday you really want. Here are three questions to make sure you enjoy being a maker this season:

1. Who is handmade-worthy?

Remember: Gift giving isn't about you. It's about the gift-receiver. And not everyone on your list will appreciate a handmade gift…no matter how awesome it is. It isn't about you, it's about them. Instead of trying to win them over, release those expectations and accept them for who they are.

While the internet forums are full of makers + their horror stories of rude gift recipients, let's skip the drama. Don't make a gift for someone unless you're 99% sure they'll love it. It's a waste of your time and holiday cheer.

That may sound harsh, but it's very kind in practice- you can focus your attention on what they will love, and give yourself a break. You're giving them a gift to bring joy to their life – so give them what will bring them joy. Maybe that's a handquilted quilt, or maybe it's a candle in their favorite scent, or a book by their favorite Food Network star. Your gift can be thoughtful even if it's not handmade.

2. What do you love making?

I don't know about you, but I find the holiday season incredibly seductive. There are all these tutorials and ideas and crafts I've never tried! Maybe I'll take up lace tatting for a traditional snowflake ornament! Or woodworking for a book shelf!
But remind yourself: your probably crafting more in this coming month than usual. Focus on what you know you're good at and that you just love doing for hours and hours. As much as I love knitting, I just can't do it for hours and hours (my sad little wrists!), but sewing is comfortable and interesting, so I'm making quilts for Christmas.

3. What are the experiences you want to create?

Just like the foods we make, the crafts we spend time on will shape our holiday experience. Do you want to be snuggled with family around the tree? Or stuck in your studio sewing that last bunting for the tree? It's not an either/or scenario of course, but make sure you leave time for the experiences you want to have (Holiday Sanity can help you schedule that in).

Another way of thinking about the experiences is to think about what you can craft to create traditions- do you want a handmade ornament to pull out of storage every season when you decorate the tree? Or a handmade menorah to light (and pass down to your grandchildren)? Or stockings for everyone? Set aside a little of your making time (perhaps in the new year) to create these traditions.

What do you do, as a maker, crafter or artist to enjoy the holiday season?

*Got a thing that makes the holiday season hard-to-enjoy? Or got a tip for how you bring the joy? Leave me a comment and I'll include it an upcoming post in the series.

Want more survival tips? Check out the (free) Definitive Guide.

Sign up here to get more on surviving your business adventures, no matter the season.

Holiday Sanity, from Tara Swiger


The Holiday Sanity Kit gives you the space, questions, and system for learning from your busy holiday season. Make plans, get to work…and then reassess what actually worked and what didn't.
Grab yours here.

A confession: Project Life

Confession: I have a new secret crafting love.
It's a secret because, well, it felt a little 90s to admit that I have been…memory-keeping.

project life cover

the title page

A decade after giving up on any kind of scrapbooking (the more I developed my own voice, the fewer things I found that reflected it), I found myself unable to click away from Becky Higgins' Project Life system.

Because it's so simple. And I didn't have to use teddy bear stickers. And there was sooo much great inspiration. Like this one. And this one.

But the real reason: I take over 300 photos every month, and I was doing nothing with them.

When Instagram came along, I was thrilled to have a way of sharing them. But let's face it: my family is not on Instagram. My parents, my in-laws, those aunts, uncles, grandparents – they're not even on Facebook. And those are the people I wanna share photos of my dog being cute with, or that great restaurant we just found. Not the entire internet.

And those are the moments I want to remember…but I never open my old photo folders on the computer.

Boston Project Life

Project Life hooked me because it was so specific: print enough photos for these slots each week. And then move on.
That's it.

It's not open-ended or vague or someday.
It's right now. This week.

But I debated (with myself) for a while because I don't have kids, and so many people use it to document their kids. Which is great…but it made me wonder – is our life interesting enough to have photos every week? I mean, I find our life fascinating…but will I have enough photos each week?

And then I found Elise and Kelly and Amy. They aren't using PL to document kids and I love looking at their pages.

So I tried it, and it was magic.

It reminded me all over again that I love our life. Exactly as it is. Yes it's stressful and messy and it feels unfinished most of the time (the business is growing, we want to buy a house, have a garden, maybe move, the list goes on and on.) But this our life now. This is our family now. This is my work now. This is our home now.

Not to mention: travel. In the 6 months since I started Project Life, I've been to Charleston, Boston, San Diego, Seattle, the Oregon coast, the redwoods, and local towns (Asheville + Knoxville + Cookeville + Cleveland, TN) multiple times. We've gone to two Red Sox games (at Fenway + SafeCo field), Dollywood twice (yes!), my book launch, a funeral, a dad's 50th birthday party, and a grandpa's hospital bed. I wouldn't be able to remember all that, or what it looked and felt like, if it weren't for Project life.

And then there's this other, less-tangible reason.

I live in my head and on the page. I'm either thinking, reading, talking or writing. And when I do it all digitally, there's no proof. There's nothing tangible. I love making because it creates something physical, something outside my own head, a thing that I can hold on to, show you, give you. Project Life lets me do this with my memories. It gives me and Jay a way to remember that car ride, or the first time I met my newest friend, or the way the animals kiss each other.

How I do Project Life

When I started thinking about Project Life, my very favorite posts were those where someone completely outlined their process. This made the whole thing more do-able and less scary, so I'm going to share my process here.

First of all, I have my phone photos set to import automatically into Dropbox, so my pictures are always on my computer. Each week (somewhere around Monday or Tuesday), while I'm working at the computer, I take a break from work and open up my photo folder. I pull out my journal and make a little outline of what the photo pages look like. I open up Walgreens.com + log in.

I check the calendar and then flip through the photos the first time, to see what the major 'events' were. Some weeks it's travel, but most weeks it's just normal life stuff. Maybe I worked on a quilt, or baked a lot of cookies. When I see a photo I love, I upload it to Walgreens and scribble it on the template of the layout. I may actually put the photos in the sleeve in a different way, but the template lets me know that I do have a picture for each slot.

If all my photos are the right orientation for the layout, I can do it in as little as 10 minutes. If I have a lot of Instagram photos I want to print (which are square), it takes a little longer because I have to put them in a 4×6 template so they print correctly at Walgreens.* I just open up Photoshop, open a new document that's 4×6 and 300 dpi and drop the photo into it and resize. If I want to put the photo in one of the smaller 3×4 spots, I resize it to take up half of the 4×6 template, and I put another one in there with it (so I can print two at a time).

*Sometimes I print square photos, but I don't like to wait to get them in the mail. I've used + liked MoPho.

I upload it all to Walgreens and complete my order. Most times, if I'm only printing a week's worth, the cost is under $2. I often add in photos that I know my mom or mother-in-law will love and print a few for them too. (Neither of them print photos, so they love this.)

If the very mention of Photoshop sends you running for cover, be encouraged. You totally don't have to use it! Just take pictures to fit in your sleeves, and leave a bunch of “white space” in a photo you want in the smaller spots. That's it. When I'm travelling for a long while, I don't even worry about where they'll go, I just print 4-7 horizonatal photos, right from the Walgreens app on my phone, to the closest Walgreens.

Cookie Project LifeA week I didn't take many photos…but now I have my favorite cookie recipe!

Once my photos are printed, I'm usually so excited by looking at them, that I open up my book that night and start sliding them in. For most photos, I round the corners and pop 'em in the slots. I look at what other slots are left, and then I look through the “other” stuff we have from the week. Jay's learned to put all ticket stubs, funny bits of paper and pretty packaging in one spot on my desk (right next to the Project Life book), so it's pretty much all together. I find a paper from my stash that matches the photos or the mood, and cut it into size to fit the empty spaces. I think about what I want to say about one or two of the photos and write it on a label. If Jay did something special that week, I give him a label and ask him to write about it. By “write about it” I mean 2 or 3 sentences, so there's no pressure to be profound or even interesting.

And that's it! I don't do it every week (sometimes I'm so busy creating a new thing that I forget all about it until I've already closed the computer for the day), but catching up a few weeks later gives me a chance to reminisce over “old” photos.

Used a french fry bag from the local chain as “paper”.

The stuff I love

  • Amy Tangerine 6×6 pad – She's the only person designing stuff bright enough for me, that isn't all girly all the time. The 6×6 pad is the perfect scale.
  • Use-anywhere stamps. I love Elise's, Kelly's and some of the Studio Calico stamps (especially arrows, stars and other stamps that let me say “I'm talking about that picture there.”)
  • Colorful tape. Target had a 6 pack of neon tape in their kid stuff (next to the markers) and I LOVE it. I use it for everything (and I'm including it in every real-mail Holiday Sanity kit.)
  • Thicker alphabet stickers. Especially this font. I wish they made this in every color. (I hate the cardboard or sparkle thickers, they don't stick and they end up on our socks, on the cat's belly, and three weeks later they stick in my hair as I pull on the shirt that was washed with the socks that picked it up, and I go around all day with an “L” on the back of my head. My reputation as the weird girl at the coffeeshop is safe.)
  • A black and a neon pink double-tip Sharpie.
  • Project Live photo sleeves
  • Project Life White Signature binder

How I keep it fun

I'm notorious for dropping long-term crafting projects (like, say, knitting a sweater), so I knew I had to keep this simple and a part of a normal week in order to keep going. Here are some of the things I do to keep it fun:

I don't worry about the number of the week.
A lot of Project Lifers started at the beginning of the year, so they number their weeks (like this.) Since I started in the last week of April, I don't worry about what week of the year it is (also, my brain just doesn't work that way.)

I don't care about the length of a week.

Some two-page spreads cover 10 days, some cover 2 (like my birthday weekend of fun). If I forget to take pictures during a hang-around-the-house week, I just combine it with the next. If a 10 day trip is epic, it may take up 3 spreads. It doesn't matter. All that matters to me is that I date the pages somewhere, and that I remember the stuff I want to remember.

I do what I feel like doing.
If I want to stamp, I stamp. If I want to make it bright, I make it bright. If I just want to put the pictures in there, I do that. I worried for a while that Jay might not like it..but I realized that as long as I didn't stick a pink flower on his head, he don't care. He loves looking at the pictures, but I don't think he even sees the other stuff. And he LOVES that I love it.

I don't have a kit, but…
When I started, all of the kits I liked were sold out. So I've just cut up paper I already had to fit in the slots, and put labels on them for a blank slate to write on. I've used old scrapbook paper (remind me to tell you about the scrapbook store I worked in, in college), water color paper, copy paper, my old paintings, junk mail, wrapping paper. Whatever. I've experimented with a few things, but there's very little I actually like the look of for the long-term. However! It'd be a lot faster if I had a kit, and I am so looking forward to the Seafoam kit.


And I leave you with a quote that sums it up perfectly:

We’re not aiming for perfection, people. We are aiming to document life.” – Becky

How about you?

Do you print your photos? What do you do with them?



Danielle is crafting a (whitehot) business

This is the fourth in a series of  interviews with smart people who are crafting a business. Part friendly chat, part case-study, all helpfulness!
If you know someone I should interview (even you!)
let me know.

Today I’m talking to Danielle of WhiteHotTruth. While her business isn't crafty in the make-a-craft-sense, it is entirely handmade, built from scratch and filled to the brim her brightly shining Daneille-ness.
I was delighted to ask Danielle a few questions after devouring her Fire Starter Sessions book. That book (and the thinking and scribbling it provoked) directly led to this site and my favoritist, love-filled  part of my own business.

You combine the visual + the verbal beautifully in your notecards and in your truisms: how did you develop your sense of design?

It gets down to this: strip it down. I haven't always been a champion of simplicity, but I got there, because I got clear that it's all about the message, baby. And judging from your next question (I peeked ahead) you get that too!

Your eye, your style, the layout of everything from notecards to FireStarter Sessions to your website all reflect and highlight the meaning, the message.
And at the same time, it reinforces your brand. Do you think of it as branding? Or something else?

Whenever someone asks me about ‘how I built my brand' I giggle inside. So, nope, I don't think of it as branding…but it is. Confusing? My quick definition of a brand is a persona. Some personas are manufactured for appeal, some personas are a reflection of someone's authentic self. The latter is more sustainable, and fun.

I've got a message, and I focus on being straightforward about it…usually in Helvetica and black & white.

The exercise I found most powerful in the FireStarter Sessions was figuring out what I wanted to feel and then work on bringing those feelings into my work in whatever way I can. It sparks all sorts of crazy ideas and new directions.
How did you discover this method of decision-making?

So glad that worked for you because it's the focus of my next book. It's been a long journey to finally getting to the heart of it: that everything we do is in order the generate a desired feeling. The short answer about how I got there: take years of faking it to make it, too many new age self help books, a heaping does of passion, meditation, and consistent courage, et voila! Conclusion: the best life strategy is to get clear on exactly how you want to feel and set about creating those feelings in every area of your life. Feels…good.

What do you want to feel more of right now?

I always want to feel more innovative, affluent, connected, and…divinely feminine.

You recently wrote that doing what you say your going to do is the secret to success.
How do you make sure you aren't promising things you can't do? How do you set boundaries to respect your capacity?

I say ‘no, thank you' about 80% of the time. I work with some A+ people, so I can focus on what I do best. I pay attention to when I feel inspired, or heavy – and I try not to let heavy get on my to do list. Inspiration is a very simple, but powerful formula.

Thanks Danielle!

If you enjoyed this interview, let Danielle know! She’s @daniellelaporte on Twitter.
My favorite bits of Danielle-wisdom:
  • “Strip it down.”
  • “Inspiration is a very simple, but powerful formula.”
What could you strip down today?

Handmade Marketplace – book giveaway!

I have one copy of Handmade Marketplace to give away,
read to the bottom to learn how to win.

(photo from karichapin.com)

Oh, I can not tell you HOW excited I am about this book!

I was honored to be interviewed for it, to serve as part of the “Creative Collective” – the group of makers who contributed bits of our own experiences.

That was crazy exciting, but then I got the book in my hands.

And oh, I'm far beyond excited to be included in it, I'm thrilled that this book exists.
I'm thrilled I have something to recommend, as a complete resource, when someone asks “How do I start a crafty biz?”

It has everything a crafter needs to know/think about/plan for in selling their crafts. Craft shows, marketing, making their thing, wholesale, everything!

I have read a loooot of business books.
Most of them are geared to big businesses.
A few are aimed at truly tiny businesses (my favorite: The Boss of You)
Even fewer are about craft businesses (and the best, by Barbara Brabec are over 20 years old)

But this is the first book  for us.
Crafters who blog. And podcast. And sell online.

Obviously my review is wildly biased because the book is filled with people I adore (Kari! Kim! Diane!)…but my mom (who is totally out of the online-craft-world loop) called me last night to say “I can NOT put this book down! It's teaching me SO much!”

Thanks to the kind people at Storey, I have one book to give away to a commenter!

To enter: leave a comment with your business question and I'll choose one commenter randomly and announce the winner next Friday!

PS. I met the author (and everyone else mentioned in this post) on Twitter. Being a part of this book is just one of the fabulous side-effects of loving Twitter.

The Path to Yarn – It starts at home

This week I'm celebrating the launching into my new life by sharing the path that led me here. Follow along all week!

My earliest memories involve crafty-ness. When I think back, I can only picture vignettes of a crafty life, although certainly the signs were around me everyday. Here are my favorite crafty memories.

5 yrs old – My mom & I are hunched over a coloring book. She is beautifully coloring in her page, while I'm scribbling on mine, stopping often to admire her page. She teaches me to outline the sections before coloring them in, while all the while gushing over my “art”.

7 yrs old – My Grams sewed bridesmaids dresses for anyone in our church who got married. She kept all the shiny scraps and I fashioned  clothes for the tiny dolls in my dollhouse. I made a “footstool” for the dolls out of a spool, cotton batting and fabric. Grams gushed over my creativity.

10 yrs old – Mom is graduating from Nursing School. There'll be a big ceremony in December, right before Christmas. This warrants a Very Special Dress. Grams takes me to the little Jo-ann's and tells me to pick ANY fabric and pattern I want. We get a princess-cut dress with a BIG bow in the back and a full skirt. The top is dark green velvet and the bottom is red/green gingham taffeta. I really hate velvet (still do) but Grams insists I can't have a cotton top with the taffeta skirt. She's right, of course, and the dress makes me feel like a princess. I tell EVERYone that Grams made it. They don't seem impressed.

This experience cements my belief that having something made just for you is luxury and decadence and fabulousness. I forgot this for a few years (high school & college), but now I believe it with all my heart. True fabulousness is a taffeta skirt.

13 yrs old – On one of our (many many) trips to the craft store, my mom goes down the bead aisle. She shows me jewelry-making supplies, like thoset she used as a kid. We get a few kinds of hemp and some beads, but she promises me we have lots at home. When we get home, she pulls out a tin that she had at my age, filled with beads and other jewelry stuff. Jackpot!

I become obsessed with braiding jewelry and attempt to sell friendship bracelets at church camp. A few people buy them but my bracelets are soon confiscated. Undeterred, I make more & try to sell them on the school bus. I'm not so great at the “sales” part, but I love the making.

14 yrs old – I drown myself in books. I barely lift my nose out of one for the next 6 years. When I do, there is a huge barrel of legos (for building!), crayons and colored pencils (for drawing!) and piles of construction paper (for collages!) on hand. But anything other than reading is simply an interruption.

While I spend Saturday afternoons reading, my mom ( while working full-time) & Grams slipcover every pillow in their homes, alter old clothes, bake gorgeous cakes, grow amazing gardens and spend a lot of time on crafts I don't understand (covering cardboard boxes with floral fabric?).  It's just part of life, this making.

With a start like this, how could I have done anything BUT became a full-time crafter?

Tomorrow, I learn to knit (or rather, I share the story of learning to knit!)


PS. Don't forget: I'm answering any and all questions on Twitter, today at 2pm EST. Just put #AskTheChicken in your tweet (at any time) and I'll answer at 2! You can follow along and see all the questions and answers here.

PPS. The sale! Don't forget there's a yarn sale with discounts for both new and returning customers! Grab your yarn right here: http://blondechicken.etsy.com