Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Garden

The weather this year felt like it changed overnight from spring (really, winter with some flowers) to summer. But since that means it's warm and (somewhat) dry enough to garden, I'm starting in.

Last spring I got the urge to spruce up our outdoor patio space. It was fairly drab for the whole first year we lived here.

In my dreams, I wanted large planter beds where I could grow my own produce, and I had big plans to write a formal request to plant some fruit trees and berry bushes in the ground next to our cement patio. But when I researched planter beds, I realized how unrealistic this dream was. Pre-built, planter beds are expensive in any material, but even buying wood and borrowing the tools to create them myself would have been more than I could budget. So for weeks I scoured Pinterest in search of the cheapest, least eye-sore planter beds, and I came up with mostly nothing. And right as I was about to give up, I found this, which led me to wattle and the decision to weave my own planters and trellises. 

Living in such a densely-treed area, I figured I could easily find branches to make larger planter beds, so I set out across campus and landed in a cedar grove with abundant bare and naturally fallen branches. While any number of branches could have worked, the cedar branches are perfect because they're pliable and they have a slight natural bend already, perfect for weaving into rounded planter beds. So I took numerous afternoon walks and returned with bags full of branches to weave into the planters we now have. While I did spend lots of time outside, I spent $0 on the planters themselves.

I filled the beds with organic produce last season, and while my tomatoes, snow peas, and kale were somewhat successful, we only harvested three small zucchini, two tiny spaghetti squash, and a few mustard greens; the cauliflower and carrots never made it to adulthood, birds ate the blueberries, and something wretched overtook both of the bell peppers. So this year I'm aiming for a different garden theme.


Sad, immature carrots

Baby bell pepper

I don't know why I was surprised, but the thing I found most delightful in gardening last summer was the flowers that I bought to attract the right bugs. Sitting by the flowers and enjoying the way the changing sunlight illuminated them was the most life-giving part of summer for me. So this year I decided to minimize the vegetables and maximize the flowers (this may be a new life motto...). I'm starting with cosmos, violas, ranunculus, clematis, dahlias, marigolds, and poppies. And I'm hoping for some nasturtium volunteers from last year's seeds.

I never ripped out the kale from last year, so it's about 8 feet tall and full of yellow hummingbird-attracting flowers, so I'm leaving that in place for now, too. I did also buy a thornless dwarf blackberry bush because blackberries are my favorite, and their little wrinkled flowers look so good in pictures (see here).

Also this year, more whimsy. Last year I made a butterfly bath (which I prefer to call a butterfly beach), but this year I want to add a few more items: maybe a bird bathsome bird houses, or (if I'm feeling so bold) a bug hotel.

And maybe, since I don't have any baskets to weave this year, I'll build one of these. I just can't get it out of my head...

- shelley

(All photos are from last year's garden except for the magnificent coral poppy in the final photo.)

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Story Handmade Designs: A New Website

I've been a little quiet around here lately because I've been working on a new business website, and I'm pleased to announce that it's finally ready! 

There's a sneak peek below, but if you'd like to see the portfolio galleries, read about my values and inspiration, and (eventually) check out upcoming events, head to Once there, you'll also find a link to this blog as well as to my Etsy shop and other social media. 


I hope you enjoy! 

- shelley

Monday, February 27, 2017

Breathing Room

The past few weeks I've shared my plans for this coming year (here and here), and this week I want to share my final goal: learning about running a small business. This is an area of great struggle for me because I would love to just create and not think about the rest, but if I want to keep doing this work with any regularity, this is a necessary component. I'm trying to break it all down into manageable parts, but this week, to be completely honest, my goals started to feel more overwhelming than energizing.

When I began dreaming for the new year, I decided to dedicate the first three months to learning more about running a creative business. The first step toward this goal was joining a nationwide creative group called the Academy of Handmade Artists and Supporters, and I am so excited to be part of the Seattle chapter community and to learn from and have accountability with other creative entrepreneurs. The resources they offer have already been immensely helpful; the local team here is warm and welcoming; and I left my first meeting last week feeling affirmed and inspired.

But later that night my thoughts started racing, and I found myself lying awake in bed, staring at the mini-blind-striped moonlight on the ceiling. All I could think of was my to-do list and how to prioritize all that needed to be done. And I felt already far behind.

As I lay in silence, words spoken to me earlier in the evening returned to my thoughts. One of other chapter members told me that it's okay to start out; I don't need to have it all together right now. It sounds so obvious and yet I badly needed the reminder to let myself be where I am.

Later this week I discovered one of my favorite Netflix shows, Chef's Table, released a new season, so I watched the first episode, which follows Korean monk Jeong Kwan, a chef who cooks for her monastery. This monk's selfless approach to her work is illuminating and humbling, and at one point she shares these poignant words: "Creativity and ego cannot go together. If you free yourself from the comparing and jealous mind, your creativity opens up endlessly."

I have a massively long way to go, but I work hard not to compare myself and my work to others. However, I realized through my wrestling this week that I also need to not compare my current self (and work) to my ideal or future self (and work). This is probably my most difficult challenge. When my thoughts are focused on where I am not, I begin to feel the need to prove myself. But this week has helped me see that I need to give myself breathing room, space to be right now, exactly as I am, so that as I move forward, I do so in fullness and peace.

It's been a year of moving slowly for me, mentally and physically, accepting tiny glimmers of progress as they come. As aggravating as it can be at times, this slow growth has helped me make real, whole-hearted progress, and I want my work growth to be the same - slow and right, not on an arbitrary self-imposed schedule.

I'm not halting progress; my goal remains the same, but my approach to it is changing for the better. While I started the year thinking I'd get a jump-start in these first three months, I'm now realizing I need to adjust. My goal is still to learn about effectively running a small business, but this will take time. I now have accountability and support, and I will make progress. But I won't do it all this week. Instead, I will focus on guarding my breathing room and continuing to let go of my own expectations, criticisms, and timeline in hopes that "creativity opens up endlessly."

- shelley