Friday, 31 December 2010

New years reflection: Where are you going, where have you been?

Yes, I'm one of those people who love, love, loves goal-setting. That's why the week between Christmas and New Years gives me such a rush. The tree and lights and nutcrackers are still out from the holiday build-up, but there's this calm that abounds before the new year starts. Perfect for reflection and dreaming.

This year I've been inspired by Chris Guillebeau (author of the Art of Nonconformity which I'm reading now) to do my looking back and forward in a more structured way. I followed his format (with a few deviations) because I think it's a good way to ask yourself lots of key questions. I thought I'd share some of the highlights, and I'd love to hear what some of your goals are.

Looking back on 2010

Two priorities
For the past few years I've chosen just words to focus on for the year. Any more and it gets a bit overwhelming. This year the words were writing and simplicity. I definitely gained momentum with writing, wrote a rough draft of my manuscript and found some supportive writer friends to encourage and keep me accountable. Not bad for a years' work!

In the simplicity department I think I'd also give myself an A (self-evaluations are always the best), because I do feel like I succeeded in enjoying some of life's simple pleasures (food, drink, time with loved ones) and in not stressing (too much) even though living out of a suitcase for 8 months, moving internationally twice, having no solid plans for what we'd do when we moved to the TBC location that turned into Seattle, and then settling down into said city. Oh the lessons in patience and faith you learn when you move every few years!

Focusing on simplicity has helped me to just take one step at a time, to not feel overwhelmed in all that I don't know and to focus instead on what I do know: that I have enough and things are going to be OK. Starting from scratch (over and over since we've been married) has given me a lot of practice in guarding my priorities as I build a life from the ground up. In this culture of busyness and more and more, simplicity isn't something you can just fall into, but it's worth the effort for me.

What went well?

In a nutshell, quite a bit! I am so grateful to have spent the first six months of 2010 living in New Zealand, reading, writing, drinking coffee and swimming in the sea. Staying with Dan's parents in Auckland all that time was such a surprise that was so good for the soul, the
perfect transition from England to life in the US.

I'm also thankful for these past six months, moving across the world once again and settling into a city I'm proud to call home: Seattle. We had no idea what to expect (that's how we roll), but think things have turned out nicely. We love our little one-bedroom apartment, our flexible income streams (ie jobs) and the community around us. It's also just nice to be home.

I know that years don't always play out like this one did, but rest assured I haven't taken one moment for granted.

What could have been improved?

There are always little things to learn from -- challenges and imperfections that are part of the journey. But overall, I wouldn't change anything. I am thankful for for seasons of stretching and challenge and disappointment, but even more that winter always breaks into spring, and seasons like this year come along to restore and recharge. 

Looking forward to 2011

Two priorities

For the third year in a row, writing's in the spotlight. But this year I'm upping the ante and have some specific goals, like finishing my manuscript and finding an agent. I'm planning to write at least one day a week and pushing forward with all the progress I've made. The other word is going to be balance. Balance isn't something that comes naturally in American culture (try over-the-top!/ busy!/ ambitious!), but it's something I know a lot of people want. For me, work-life balance is so important. I love working hard on things I love, but also having flexibility in my schedule to just hang out with my husband on a Thursday afternoon if I so choose is really important.

What am I looking forward to?

So much! It's nice to feel like we can unpack our bags for a while finally, and build on the past six months rather than prepare to up sticks again. Some of the words that I feel about 2011 are growth and roots. I've always thought that for the last 8 years living the life of a nomad I been growing roots in potted plants. I love the freedom that comes with being mobile and unattached. But I'm also glad to put those plants into some local soil and let them flourish.

I've got a lot of things I'm looking forward to, but here's a sampling:

  • Writing:
    • Having a writing day once a week
    • Doing a writing retreat
    • Going to a writers conference to practice pitching to agents
    • snagging an agent 
  • Design:
    • I've always wanted to learn graphic design, so I'm going to sign up for an InDesign class at the local community college 
  • Travel:
    • Dan and I are kind of obsessed with travel hacking and traveling for cheap. So we're trying to wrack up our frequent flyer miles and score some free trips. Here's the list of places we'd love to visit this year:
      • Dallas to see some great friends
      • San Francisco and NYC (I'm going for work anyway, so why not?)
      • Shanghai and Korea (dream big and all that)
      • New Zealand
So, those are some of my reflections at the end of the year. Right now the sun is streaming into our wood-paneled apartment, Dan's reading and I'm drinking coffee. In a few hours we'll be celebrating the new year with fondue and friends and hope for a wonderful year ahead.

Happy New Year to you! What are some of your goals for 2011 or reflections on 2010?

{Photos: one under the sun , banana strudel, and me}

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Great Expectations and Hard Times

In Birmingham several years ago I got on this short-lived kick to read the classics. That is, if you call reading The Brothers Karamazov short-lived. After the beautiful punishment of two months with Dostoevsky I decided to find something  a bit lighter and slightly closer to my adopted home and chose Dickens for my next book choice. Surely Dickens would help me savor life in England.

With Mr.Dickens' whole literary portfolio to choose from I'm not sure why I picked up the rarely acclaimed Hard Times.  Maybe I thought a novel about Victorian poverty would cheer me up, or at least help put my life into perspective.  Maybe it was the cheapest of the Penguin classics at Borders. Either way, what is true is that though my hopes for England were more Great Expectations, Hard Times is what I got. Nothing turn-of-the century or anything, just harder than I'd have liked.

I've been thinking a lot about expectations and reality these past weeks. Christmas will do that to you. I love Christmas and every year endeavor to recreate the magic of Christmas as a child. But magic creation (especially the homemade variety) is hard work and takes time. Time I don't have right now.

Living with great expectations can sometimes be a burden, especially when reality doesn't match.

I'm dreaming of a blue-skied Christmas with handmade stockings, a robust Douglas fir lined with perfect gifts and cookies and reading books wrapped in a blanket with a steady stream of eggnog latte. What I have is dead tree branches against grey skies, perpetually wet feet, hour-long drives to Kent (which is the total opposite to Kent, England) and a steady stream of tasks. And an eggnog latte (some things I can control).

But the other day I had the epiphany that this is enough. Like the vibrant berries sprouting out on trees across town, even in the imperfection of reality, there are little bursts of magic.

This December I've been so thankful that, even though aesthetically my Christmas won't be appearing on design*sponge anytime soon, I'm happy. I'm thankful for my husband, our little tree in our little apartment in a city I love, redcurrant candles, working in the Int'l District and the view of Seattle from the parking lot, the drive through Pioneer Square, the Christmas party with World Relief catered with Ukrainian food. Even grey skies and barren trees are somehow beautiful in their own stark way.

This year I'm appreciating that even though in our culture Christmas is laced with great expectations of what the spirit of the season should look like, there's so much beauty rooted in unmet expectation. Two-thousand years ago, to many waiting for a revolutionary savior to tangibly free them from an oppressive regime, a baby born in a manger would have been a disappointment. Or at least certainly not what was hoped for. Salvation so often looks different than what we hope for -- less outwardly glorious, much harder, still wonderfully what we need.

I will always be a Great Expectations girl and I will never seek Hard Times (nor re-read it). But so rare is it for life to meet expectations, that embracing reality and the glory of the mundane is a useful skill.

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas, appreciating all that you have, imperfections and all. 

{Photo by Irene Bush}

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Working with refugeees this Christmas - you can help

Recently I've had the privilege of working with World Relief Seattle on their Christmas mailing. World Relief does a fantastic job resettling refugees in the Puget Sound area, many of whom have incredible stories and have endured so much hardship on their journeys to safety in the USA.

For the Christmas card (featured here, that went out last week - phew!), we decided to feature a precious Burmese baby called Bawi Kung. This little one arrived to Seattle in late September as 5-month-old. The mother is a 23-year-old woman who must have some strength: not only does she have three little boys, but she's lived in a refugee camp for the past four years and has just uprooted once again to find safety in Seattle with her husband.

The Burmese government is one of the most brutal regimes on the planet right now, and it makes me so happy to see families who've lived in fear and insecurity arrive in Seattle to find freedom, opportunity and a community of passionate volunteers and staff rallying around them in support.

Most people in Washington (and everywhere) are making sacrifices due to tough financial times. Right now the Washington state government is figuring out where to make needed budget cuts. Scarily, Governor Gregoire has proposed a complete elimination of all state funding for refugee programs.  For World Relief, the implications would be awful. This would cut off vital services to hundreds of refugees who are fighting to get their lives together after moving across the world to find freedom, suffering post-traumatic shock and culture shock and figuring out how to live in a modern urban world. I can tell you from personal experience that moving across the world by choice as a relatively privileged, educated, English-speaking couple with no children is hard enough; my heart goes out to refugees everyone.

If you live in (the great state of) Washington, please join consider asking your state representatives and senators to keep funding for these programs. You can find your representative here. I can give you more information about the specific programs affected if you ask.

If you would like to support vulnerable refugees through the work World Relief Seattle does, please consider donating before the end of the year.

I don't normally (or ever!) make financial appeals, but I really wanted to share what I've been working on non-stop for the past month, especially since it's an issue so close to my own heart. And really, how can you resist precious little Bawi Kung?

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

From the US to Holland for Love

You know I love a good international love story, so today I'm happy to have American Tiffany Jansen send a guest post from the Netherlands about how she met her Dutch husband. Enjoy...!


So, I’m cleaning out the drawers of the nightstand next to my bed when I come across an old diary of
mine. I had started it back in the winter of 2006 as a means of helping me through a recent break-up. I
decide to sit down for a read.

Eventually I got over this guy. According to the diary, I did this by convincing myself that I would end
up growing old and dying alone. But then, this is nothing new – I’ve always had a penchant for the

Skipping through the embarrassingly low-confident, heart-broken dribble (“Come on,” I’m yelling at the diary. “That guy was a rat!”), I come to my account of a trip to Europe in July of 2007. What really strikes me about this entry is the part where I predict “Wherever my soulmate is, I have a feeling he’s not going to be American.” Apparently I had forgotten my earlier entry where I doomed myself to spinsterhood
for life.

The fact that I fantasized about meeting an exotic foreign hunk is nothing spectacular. Tons of American women dream of being swept off their feet by a suave European. It’s when I read the following entry that I get goosebumps: “I’ve met the man I’m going to marry.” That was in the fall of 2007. That’s when I met the man who stole my heart.

Now what does this have to do my prediction in the entry before, you ask. Well, let me rephrase that
last sentence in the above paragraph… That’s when I met the Dutchman who stole my heart. Though
that entry is followed by nothing but blank pages, much has happened since then. Four months later, we were engaged. Eight months after that, we were married and I was Mrs. Jansen. Mrs. Jansen with a one-way ticket to the Netherlands.

Hard to believe it’s been almost two years since I left the US to make the Netherlands my home. The
saga continues of course: residence permits, driver’s licenses, language classes, international clubs,
naturalization requirements, etc. But finding that diary somehow made it all finally hit home. I saw what I lost, what I gained, what changed, what’s the same, and how so much can happen in such a short period of time.

It’s amazing where life takes us and how, somehow, we instinctively know where that will be. I guess
that’s why they always tell you to follow your heart.

Tiffany and her dog moved to the Netherlands in 2008. Like so many expats in the Netherlands, Tiffany’s move was a result of being swept off her feet by a Dutchie. Tiffany writes about her dutchification adventures at Clogs and Tulips: An American in Holland and teaches theater and musical theater workshops at Little Broadway.

and the winner is...

katie leigh!

Can you send me your address and I'll get a copy of Bittersweet to you straight away. Just in time for cozy holiday reading... Congrats!

Monday, 29 November 2010

Bittersweet review and win a free copy!

I discovered Shauna Niequist last spring while we were living in NZ. The bright orange cover of her first book, Cold Tangerines, was hard to miss on the Auckland library shelves so I picked it up and gave it a whirl. What can I say, it was a good grab; I appreciated what she had to say and it was all so timely.

Shauna's second book, Bittersweet, came out this year and I was fortunate to receive a copy for review. I've spent the last few evenings curled up on the futon devouring it and taking furious notes (I can't help myself!).

Like any reader, I assume, I always read memoir mentally drawing out similarities between my life and the author's. I guess that's what reading about other people's lives is about -- finding connections and shared experiences and revelations with people we've never met.

With Shauna Niequist, the list looks like this:
  • We both went to colleges in Southern California, lived away from home for many years and have recently moved back to our home towns. Shauna's love for Chicago rivals my own for Seattle.
  • We're both non-athletes who've run marathons (or in my case, a half-marathon. Whatever.)
  • We feel the same way about cats. Sorry. 
  • We're both writers married to musical husbands, proving two creatives living under one roof can remain solvent and happy. 
  • We're both blonde.
  • We've both been through seasons that were stretching for whatever reasons, and use writing to make sense and find purpose. The big difference here being that she's already written and published this writing in the form of Bittersweet.
In Bittersweet, Shauna writes about a season marked by difficulty. Things like job loss, a miscarriage, friends leaving and a steady stream of upheaval kept her and her husband in a hard season for longer than they'd choose. Bittersweet is a reflection about the bitter and the sweet of life, how both are important, but it's the bitter seasons that can make us who we are and ground us in strength.

I love this paragraph and the idea of composting for the soul:

"I don't believe that God's up in heaven making things go terribly wrong in our lives so that we learn better manners and better coping skills. But I do believe in something like composting for the soul: that if you can find life out of death, if you can use the smashed up garbage to bring about something new and good, however tiny, that's one of the most beautiful things there is."

So many times while reading the book I felt that she put into words the thoughts/ feelings/ lessons I'd learned during my own bittersweet season of life in England. If her Chicago is my Seattle, her Grand Rapids is my UK.

"I fought against that house for almost six years. It was too big, too unfamiliar. I wanted desperately to move, particularly back to Chicago, but out of that house, in any case. But staying put in that house all those years taught me something incredibly valuable: when you stay with something instead of walking away it builds something new inside of you, something solid and weighty, something durable. But you do have to wait for it. You have to earn it the hard way...There is, in grown-up life, very little black and white. I tried to cast that house and Grand Rapids as a whole as villains in our fairy tale, but they weren't. That house both drove me crazy and grew me up...Grand Rapids never did really feel like home, but it taught me some things I want to take with me wherever home is the rest of my life."

I hear you Shauna.

She also addresses a fear I've known all too well, fear that difficult is the "new normal", that things will always be like this. Neither seasons of sweetness or sadness last forever, and we have to remember that.

One thing I got out of Bittersweet as well as Cold Tangerines was encouragement to keep writing, that my story, everybody's story, is worth telling. It can seem selfish and indulgent to write about yourself (indeed, sometimes it is), but also life-giving, because our stories are not really about us. When we tell our stories we're telling the story of who God is, and that story is one that can be told a million times over with an infinite number of settings and characters and story arcs and desire lines and obstacles.

Nobody has a perfect life all the time, no matter how it appears on blogs and facebook. Life is bitter and sweet, and I love how Shauna embraces and dives into that reality.

Shauna has graciously agreed to do a book giveaway to one lucky reader. Just post a comment below (and facebook/ tweet about the giveaway for more chances to win). I'll draw the winner next Monday (December 5), and you'll have until December 9 to claim your prize. 

Check out more of Shauna's at her blog,

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

NYC update and a happy Thanksgiving!

Seattleite Imagery has had a nice little rest for the last two weeks. Straight after a jam-packed trip to NYC (!) I went right into a project that's taken all of my attention. But I'm still here...

I wish I could have captured how beautiful yesterday was in a photo. Snowed-in with blue skies and cinnamon rolls and french press coffee --  hard to beat. The snow is supposed to continue here for the next few days. I hope it finds the perfect balance of tranquil winter wonderland atmosphere sans havoc on the roads.

I'll have a proper post about my trip to Ellis Island in a few weeks. It was quite an emotional morning after visiting. I started walking up Manhattan toward the West Village and realized I was close to the World Trade Center site. So I asked a man on the street where it was -- it turns out I was looking at it. Well, looking at one of the cranes. He told me the best way to get to a viewing area and said something about how it's important to go see it, and that September 11 took his brother-in-law. I started crying when we parted ways, naturally.

I love New York and New Yorkers and their resiliency. After I left that man I carried on toward the site, past a bustling basketball court of young guys and a community garden with old ladies, all side-by-side a six lane highway in the heart of the financial district.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I'm so thankful to be living in America this year, celebrating the holiday for the first time since 2004. I'm thankful for all the ways life has fallen into place since we left the UK last December. I'm thankful for being warm in the winter and good central heating and well-insulated walls. I'm thankful to have work and good friends and family -- you know, the basics.

I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving and I'll be back next week.

What are you thankful for right now?

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

10 on 10:: November - Gettin' Leafy

This autumn in Seattle has been out-of-control beautiful. The trees are in their prime and some sweet orange and red colors abound. I hope you enjoy the foliage and I'll be back with an update from NYC next week!

Browse other 10 on 10 entries here.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Buoyant Wednesday + Update

Another beautiful day in the Pacific Northwest. Seattle, how do you do what you do to me?!  Blue skies, Herkimer coffee, golden foilage -- you're so good.

I feel like it's high time for an update. Today marks 5 months since Dan and I left New Zealand for an American homecoming. In that time we've industriously found gainful employment and a charming and affordable dwelling, connected with old friends and new and generally settled in incredibly well to this Emerald city. After a decade of cold-moving every two years or so, I'm grateful for this relatively easy transition.

I've also been given the gift of time to simultaneously develop some fun projects.

The book is plodding along. Two weeks ago I was overjoyed to turn out a narrative arc! If you've never heard of a narrative arc, consider yourself lucky. Such a labor of love but incredibly gratifying to fit four years of life in England onto four sheets of paper and try and make sense of the story I'm attempting to write.

The blog...Well, supposedly I was planning on going back to two posts a week come October, and now it's November. Yikes. To be honest, I know it's better to post more often, but for me right now, once a week is the perfect pace. It allows me to write the kind of posts I want to write and keeps the blog a joy rather than an obligation. So, until further notice, once a week it will continue to be.

One thing I have really enjoyed with this blog recently is having a central theme of Life to the Full. I have so many great ideas for developing this further, including columns and features, but for now, again, my slow and steady approach supersedes my enthusiasm -- there's just so much to do and I refuse to be "busy" when I could be savoring this great season of life.

Another exciting thing on my horizon is that I'm going to NYC next week for my work! I've been to New York twice and loved it and can't wait to raid it again. Does anyone have any must-see places/ restaurants/ cafes for me?

I'll leave you with some blogs and assorted beauty I've been loving lately to keep you buoyant on this hump day:

What's inspiring you today? NYC tips pretty please?

union jack by Kris Atomic via 1010 Project
forest by Pia Jane Bijkerk via 1010 Project
new york illustration by fritz buzze via missmoss
new york by Kate Miss via 1010 Project}

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Affirmation - the frosting on the cake

I've been incredibly taken by the above Sesame Street video the last few days. Though I'm a pale girl with stick-straight hair who heard about this on NPR (how white can I get?), I applaud this African-American puppet's message. And it's even sweeter since the song was written by a daddy for his daughter who was struggling to appreciate her awesome afro locks.

One thing I love about being back in America (the land of self-esteem) is how many encouraging messages I'm constantly privy to. Even though I've heard countless Brits deride my culture of cheesy encouragement and mock how AWESOME!!! everything is to Americans, I strangely enjoy the abundance of compliments flying around here.

When I moved to England in 2005 I was in for a bit of a shock. There are plenty of encouraging people in the UK, but in general, the main method of connecting with one another is through cynicism and self-deprecation rather than positivity and praise. As my high school counselor for at-risk students friend once told me, in America self-deprication is a signal of a mental illness: not liking yourself is suspect. But in England (and New Zealand actually), it's a mark of social prowess: liking yourself too much is suspect.

So when I got to the shores of the mother ship, I wasn't prepared to not be told how great I was every five minutes. I couldn't read people and thought surely they hated me because they didn't tell me straight up, "I like you Alisha!" I didn't realize yet that being made fun of was a signal of endearment or that most compliments remain unspoken but understood in the UK.

When Dan and I were living in New Zealand, our friends Mel and Mark (which sounds suspiciously close to "Mack" in a kiwi-accent) had us over for a night of Chinese take-out, Hong Kong cinema and as a grand finale, a self-saucing chocolate cake! Definitely evidence of kiwi-ingenuity, this cake is not only delicious and practical, but also a premium metaphorical vehicle.

After enough times feeling shot down by failed friendship attempts and wondering if the people I was working with thought I was the worst employee in the world when I first arrived in England, I slowly learned the lesson of the self-saucing cake (though the lesson was unnamed at that point). Instead of waiting for other people to frost me up real good with positive feedback, I learned to do it myself, with inner resources of proverbial chocolate goodness.

Instead of waiting for a new contact to gush about how wonderful they thought I was (rare), I'd just assume they liked me and get on with it. (And even if they didn't like me, I learned not to care). Instead of waiting for a boss to tell me things were OK ever 5 minutes, I assumed they were unless told otherwise. Instead of waiting for a coating of sweet frosting, I'd just muster up some good British resourcefulness and create my own.

On Monday at Shari's over a yummy pie, a new friend of mine was talking about a phenomenon called "nurture shock", which basically means that kids who are overencouraged and affirmed too much (read: American kids) can actually be adversely affected. They can come to depend on constant approval or set their expectations of themselves way too high and be paralyzed by the reality that they're not perfect.

I will always be a "words of affirmation" girl and I enjoy encouraging people, so that's never going to change. But I do recognize value in learning not to be dependent on affirmation and positive feedback. Going through an affirmation drought was difficult as first, but in the long run was a great way to confront hidden insecurities and my need to please people; I had to dig deep, be my own self-saucing cake and then get over it.

It's nice to be back in the land of positivity. But looking back I am also thankful to England for teaching me a thing or too about not being so dependent on external affirmation. I'm also thankful to New Zealand (and the Gregans specifically) for introducing me to this saucy little delight.

This is kind of a big question, but do you think you depend on other people's affirmations to keep you going? Do you think you're a people-pleaser? Or do you just want the recipe for the now infamous self-saucing cake?

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Alisha's food rules

To say that this week has been busy would be an understatement. How did it get to Thursday night and I still haven't posted anything?!

I'm reinstating the buoy because of late I've been unable to stop collecting great foodie resources & I've got to share them (don't want to be selfish). I'm not much of a typical foodie (no red wine or goats cheese for me, arigato), but I still can appreciate high-quality food when it goes in the mouth. Also lately I've been nibbling on some sweet culinary memoirs -- sometimes reading about food is as satisfying as actually consuming it. Who knew?

I'll share my links in a second, but I was wondering if people wanted to share their personal "food rules". Michael Pollan's only got about 64 (my favorite being #13, eat only foods that will eventually rot), but I think I can be more streamlined & stick to three. These aren't taped on my fridge or anything, but they are my main sub-conscious filters when I fire up the stove.

Alisha's food rules:

1. simple (food should add value, not stress)
2. unprocessed (could all the ingredients in this product be found in a well-stocked cupboard vs. science lab?)
3. local and organic where possible (enough said)

The amount of food rules I've constrained myself to in the past would vie with Mr.Pollan, but most of my own have been pretty stupid (ie daily Diet Dr. Pepper senior year of college) until the past few years, when I think I've got it down to the essentials and feel healthy and happy overall.

Without further ado, here are some amazing, as-close-to-edible-as-you'll-get links:



Food activism (the tastiest kind)

Taco trucks
  • el camion on 15th and Market (this one's for you Ballard)! Is it bad to eat fish burritos 3x/ week? Of course not.

What are your go-to food blogs? And what would you say are your unwritten food rules?

{Photo by cafemama}

Sunday, 10 October 2010

10 on 10:: October - Pumpkin Motif

This weekend was eventful...a friend's beautiful 30th birthday celebration, an explosive butternut squash risotto (literally, we had an explosion in our kitchen - slightly traumatic) and an accidental cult visitation. We thought we were going to a neighborhood "Japanese Bazaar" today but who knew that the Family Church of Peace is linked to the Moonies? We live and learn.

Enjoy this month's 10 on 10, check out others here and put it in the calendar for next month if you want to get in on the action!

I hope you're not disappointed we didn't get any photos of the Japanese Bazaar!

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Slouching Towards Seattle, Inching Towards Life

I'd always been taken by the title of Joan Didion's essay collection - Slouching Towards Bethlehem - until just this minute when I did a quick look into the origins. Apparently, in the poem that coined the phrase, the poet Yeats was actually waxing lyrical about a Sphinx-like anti-christ "slouching towards Bethlehem" to be born. Yikes. Not the image I had in mind at all.

To me, the phrase has less to do with Armageddon, or even Didion's 1960s San Francisco, and more to do with slowly making my way to a holy, life-giving place.

For the last two years, and very much so since moving to Seattle, my motto has been
slow and steady.

I don't even care about winning the race - I'd rather take deliberate steps towards something true, beautiful and worthwhile than busy myself with non-essentials.

In the last few days there's been a flurry of little steps towards a proverbial Bethlehem, so I thought I'd share some fun ways I'm inching forward to a better me and a better world.

going to my first writing group
Inspired by Natalie Goldberg's talk at the Edmonds Writers Conference on Saturday (!), I decided to pop by the Greenwood Writers Group last night. I had no idea what to expect, but part of creating is just showing up, so I did. We wrote for two, fifteen-minute sessions and shared our work after each. This sort of thing is risky, but a definite step in the right direction towards the writing life.

using a faux paper travel coffee cup

Every time I buy a paper to-go cup for a latte I feel convicted - such a waste, so easy to fix. But why are the paper cups so much more gratifying than a mug? The solution - a takeaway mug that looks like a paper cup. Good-bye needless waste, hello amazing talking point.

zipping up the core
If Monday morning's pilates class has anything to do with it, slouching towards any city will be purely metaphorical. That's right, I'm back on the core strength wagon thanks to a sweet groupon the other week for cheap seven-week course. Anyone who knew me in London knows how much I love this expensive practice because it's just so good for the body and general well-being.

weekly vegan
Just as I'm slowly reintroducing meat into my diet, my carnivorous husband Dan goes and suggests we go vegetarian once a week. (Oh I love him!) Now, I can't claim to have gone vegetarian for ethical reasons in the first place (that's another story), and I don't believe in guilt trips at all, but here's a crazy stat for you:

If everyone in the UK gave up meat once a week, the emissions savings would equal taking 5million cars off the road.

Just imagine if everyone in the US gave up meat once a week. Eek!

Going veggie once a week would be too easy for me (and I like a challenge), so we decided
on the vegan option. Go big or go home, in moderation, I say. This week we've got a tasty butternut squash with coconut milk soup lined up. Any suggestions from vegans out there are welcome.

juicing it up
Thanks to the juicer my dad gave me and a certain Top Banana produce store down the street, I've been juicing  up a storm. While it's not bringing global injustice to a blinding halt, I am supporting local fruiterers and defying the processed crap that gets passed off as food in our society, so I'm feeling good.

Small steps are underrated, but they're all part of the same slow journey towards a thriving world for all.

Have you been taking any steps towards something worthwhile lately? Any sweet vegan recipes or juicing secrets to share?

****Blog giveaway update: I still haven't heard from Kendall, the winner of the giveaway. Please get in touch with me by Friday or I'll have to draw another winner! :)

{typewriter photo flickr jennystone}
{beet juice photo flickr di.wineanddinedi.wineanddine}

Thursday, 30 September 2010

How to ignite waning inspiration

You may have noticed a quiet little tab at the top of this blog titled FAQ. Currently it contains only one question, granted, one I do answer quite frequently. It also contains a call for more questions and, I'm happy to report, I finally received one. So happy, that I decided to devote a whole blog post to the answer. Thanks Mary for the Q!

Here it is:

How do you ignite waning inspiration for your writing and musings?

I love this question because one thing I'm passionate about, in case you haven't noticed, is creativity. For me, creativity and spirituality and vibrant living are all so interconnected and, inspiration is something that makes us feel alive. But, while inspiration can be found in everything, it also can be cheekily elusive when you really need it.

So much has been written about this topic, but a lot is personal too. Here are my two cents gleaned from 30 years' on the creative prowl.

1. Know your season
- I say this about almost everything, but it holds true in the creative realm too. Wanting inspiration for life in general or for a specific project is important - it's amazing to be bursting at the seams - but we also need the dry/ fallow times to let our minds clear and allow little buds to take root. Sometimes, when I've been creatively stimulated for a prolonged period I get addicted, and the first boring day I have is unnerving. Where'd the stimulus go?! Then I remember, being uninspired is important too. It's the time for ideas to marinate in your sub-conscious so they can actually develop from a flirtatious sparkle into a more tangible manifestation.

So, my first piece of advice for igniting inspiration is to allow yourself to be uninspired and, if necessary, wait it out. It's a boomerang - it'll be back.

2. Nurture creativity
- That all said, it is possible, when the time is right (ie I've got a project due (!) or the dry season has stretched into a desert), to kick-start inspiration. When I was getting over one epic creativity drought, a book that worked a treat was The Artist's Way. It's a 12 week course about recovering your creativity and I can't recommend it highly enough. For a shorter and punchier read to similar effect, you can't go wrong with The War of Art.

Some good things to take away from The Artist's Way are the author's techniques of nurturing creativity through morning pages and artists dates.

Morning pages
are simply the discipline of writing every day (whatever time really) to skim the surface of your mind and capture on paper whatever is going on in your mind. The most important thing isn't that you produce amazing stuff, but that you just get it out. Editing comes later.

Artist Dates are set aside times once a week to do something that makes you feel alive. It doesn't have to be expensive, just something that makes you happy and stimulates you creatively. These things sound simple but are really helpful when you're feeling uninspired. I've taken my inner artist to obscure markets in London and hotel lobbies to write in Auckland. Find your simple pleasure and do it.

3. Read! - Again, very simple, but reading inspiring books always does it for me. Often, before I sit down to write I'll read an author I like and that usually gets me excited to write, often in response to what I've just read. Even if I read a book that's pretty crap, it inspires me nonetheless because the whole time I'm thinking, "I could do this".

Other bits and bobs...
  • On a very practical level, when I start a writing assignment I first do a brainstorm and let that fester for a few days. Then, I take all that info (and whatever else is required on the project) and draw out a big mind map. I'm a very visual person, so getting it all out there with circles and arrows and exclamations marks and numbers is key. Then, once I've made the connections in my head I'll write an outline and go from there. The mind map is the stepping from the abstract to a structured outcome.
  • I'm a big fan of Elizabeth Gilbert, and she has some good thoughts on writing here. Also, her TED talk lecture on creativity is amazing.
  • Writing Down the Bones is also a great resource for writers. And I'm going to see the author Natalie Goldberg speak on Saturday! Can't wait.

Well, that's my best stab at this question for now. Do you have any tips for igniting inspiration on the wane?

{Photo from Octavi's etsy shop}

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

And the winner is...


Thanks so much to everyone who visited Wild Poppy Shoppe and entered the giveaway! As a special offer to Seattleite Imagery readers, Jessi is offering free shipping if you buy any jewelry or silk flowers from her shop through the end of October. Just tell her Alisha sent you. ;)

Kendall, I don't have you email address, so please contact me at alisha [.] sanvicens [at] and I'll put you in touch with Jessi so you can claim your prize!

I'll be back with another blog post tomorrow...

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

It's a girl blog giveaway

Thanks for all the positive feedback about my new theme of pursuing life to the full. I've been excited about it all week! One idea I'm growing is to have revolving themes for my entries, and today's post straddles two themes quite nicely. It's all about doing our bit to make the world a happier, more just place and also about creating beauty. I love when those two guys merge.

This post also features my second blog giveaway. It's been awhile, and I think this giveaway is awesome on many levels. Here's the backstory...

A few weeks ago I attended my friend Rebekah's baby shower for her soon-to-arrive daughter Josie. Rebekah married into a family with an apparently recessive female gene (four boys with five sons collectively) and, when she got pregnant for the third time, held her breath at the hope of maybe, possibly having a little girl. You can read the story about Josie here, but all this to say that so much love and effort was poured into this shower for an eagerly anticipated baby girl.

When I went to Josie's shower I was reading an emotional roller coaster of a book called Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother. This book is written by a Chinese woman now living in London and addresses the phenomenon of international adoption of baby girls from China to the Western world. This book delicately addresses the question many people have at least wondered, "How could any mother give up her child?" The answer: very painfully.

It's easy to condemn a culture that seems to belittle women and devalue baby girls, but what I love about this book is how it gets under the skin of women forced to give up their babies for adoption (or forced abortion or infanticide), out of cultural, familial, political and financial pressure,  and carry that scar of motherhood denied the rest of their lives. After reading this book I got the sense that it's not just baby girls who are born at a disadvantage in China, but women of all ages have had to put up with unbearable burdens for generations. This book, understandably, broke my heart.

International adoption is a very complex issue, and I won't pretend to know all or even much about it. I don't think anybody should go into adoption with a savior complex or without the willingness to acknowledge the difficulties that arise when a child is plucked from her culture.

But, I also feel strongly that being willing to adopt, domestically and internationally, can be a beautiful, life-giving journey.

My friends Jessi and Andrew are taking the first steps of that long, expensive journey at the moment. They are two of the most good-hearted, loving people I know. Currently they are in the process of looking to adopt a special needs child from China. They don't want their adoption process to stop there though, bringing a child over and then forgetting about the surrounding issues. Jessi says in a recent blog post:

We also long to do more to help change the reason so many kids need adopting in the first place. Acknowledging with solemn and grateful hearts that our child coming home from China creates a deeper response in us to our child's birth country, to our child's first family if not literally then by helping others like them who could not, for various reasons, keep their own child. The heartbreaking truth is that adoption begins with loss. But all is not lost. Hope springs from rocky places, love can grow from unexpected sources.

Financially, this is going to take a small miracle, but Jess is doing her bit to raise money by selling her vintage-inspired jewelry on-line.

Jessi's jewelry is gorgeous, and in order to raise awareness for international adoption, she's giving away a product from her Wild Poppy Shoppe to one of my blog readers. Here's a sneak peek...

For a chance to win, please visit Wild Poppy Shoppe and leave a comment below telling me your favorite item from the shop. For an extra chance at winning, you can tweet, facebook or blog about the giveaway, and come back and comment with the link. If you twitter, please tag it with @alishasanvicens

The lucky winner will be chosen at random next Wednesday, Sept 29 at 10am PST so check back then! Good luck.

Again, this post merely scratches the surface on the topic of adoption, but I think it's something worth thinking about, and definitely worth supporting. Please think of Wild Poppy Shoppe next time you're in the market for jewelry for yourself or a friend.

{baby shower photos from jenny, thanks!}
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