creating happiness

Sometimes (actually most times) I really dislike self-help style blog posts that try to give life coaching tips in short, profound statements, like “follow your dreams” or “be yourself.” Without specifics, it may feel inspiring to read things like that, but does it really help anyone in any measurable way?

…that being said, I am thinking a lot about these top five regrets of the dying today. This statement in particular struck me: “I wish that I had let myself be happier.”

Is life something that just happens to you? Or, is it something you shape and create? I don’t know if there is an ultimate answer — it is probably a combination — but I am working hard to believe the latter.


For 2012, I am asking myself these questions:

What do I truly enjoy?
What do I truly want?
What do I have to offer?

It sounds philosophical, but really, I want to answer the questions as honestly and basically as possible. I don’t want to leave happiness to chance. Want to join me?

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gift guide: Rachel’s Favorite Things!

Rachel’s Favorite Things is sort of like Oprah’s Favorite Things, except that I won’t be giving away any free stuff. Sorry. What I WILL be giving out (hopefully) are some gift ideas for anyone on your list who you might think would like some of the same things I do.

These are all things I LOVE and would totally recommend for gift giving:

What are you giving and/or hoping to be getting for the holidays this year? (FYI: I already have the items I listed here — they are my favorites — so this truly is just a gift guide, not a wish list. But hey, thanks for thinking of me!)

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BurdaStyle book launch party in Soho

This post was originally published on the FaveCrafts Blog. A version also appeared on the Ace Department Gazette.

BurdaStyle Sewing Handbook is an online community for people who like to sew. The website, which has more than 600,000 members, offers free and inexpensive sewing patterns, step-by step sewing tutorials, skill sharing, and inspirational project ideas. On November 10th, they launched their very first book, The BurdaStyle Sewing Handbook.

BurdaStyle projects

BurdaStyle co-founder and author of the new book, Nora Abousteit, and her staff hosted a large and exciting book launch party last month at the Housing Works Bookstore in New York City. Examples of finished items created using sewing patterns from the new book were on display throughout the loft-like space. There were snacks and drinks, craft tables with make-and-take projects, and a photo booth from There was even a cake printed with the Sewing Handbook cover image!

BurdaStyle cake

My first stop at the event was at the Singer make-and-take table. I used a Singer sewing machine and Spoonflower fabric printed with the BurdaStyle Sewing Handbook cover to make a quick, little, drawstring bag. I was nervous to put my sewing machine skills on display since I was surrounding by so many talented and creative seamstresses, but the project was easy and basically error-proof.

BurdaStyle glitter tattoos

Next, I headed over to the glitter tattoo table. Megan Nicolay of Generation T and was applying sparkly designs to any willing party guest using stencils and Tulip Body Art Glitter. I played it safe and got an abstract flower on my hand.

Copies of the The BurdaStyle Sewing Handbook were available to purchase at the event. The 200-page, spiral-bound book contains over seventy step-by-step variations of five basic patterns: a blouse, skirt, dress, bag, and jacket. It has a large intro section that can help those new to sewing get started using patterns. There are also plenty of full-color photos of the finished projects, plus profiles of members from all over the world. The full-size patterns are also included in an envelope inside the back cover of the book.

BurdaStyle Sewing Handbook

It was exciting to meet the people behind the huge BurdaStyle community and to see much of the creativity from the website translated into book form. The BurdaStyle Sewing Handbook is a fun project book for both beginners and experienced seamstresses that will help you endlessly customize your wardrobe.

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violence and guilt

This is a sad story.

The tragic, gruesome news of the awful murder in a Lululemon store in Bethesda in March and this piece about the bystander effect, have had me thinking about a past murder…

During college I worked for an art magazine run by a couple who I thought at the time were quite demanding, but who were actually very kind, helpful, and supportive. Their office (seen above) was located next door to a bank in a tiny strip mall in the wealthy suburb of Leawood, Kansas. I worked for them every summer. They were in the long process of moving their office and home from Kansas to New Hampshire, and I often manned the office while they were traveling back and forth. There were other part-time workers off and on, but I was often alone.

Generally, I opened mail, answered phones, scanned images for articles, designed ads, and shipped out back issue orders… on June 18th, 2002, I think I was working on organizing the subscription database. I remember I was doing something dull that day, and I remember that day specifically because about 100 yards away, in broad daylight, a 19-year-old girl was raped and murdered in the maintenance shed of the neighborhood pool.

Of course, I didn’t find out about the murder until I left work in the evening and went home to my parents’ house in the next suburb over. Benjamin Appleby, a convicted felon with a pool cleaning business, had strangled Ali Kemp while I was busy checking addresses on a computer screen in our office across the street from the pool.

I was a 21-year-old college senior. Ali would have been sophomore at KState. We were both diligently working our summer jobs. We didn’t know each other.

For a split second after learning of the murder, I thought, “it could have been me,” but I’m actually strangely defiant when it comes to NOT allowing criminals to scare me or dictate my behavior, so I didn’t actually ever feel scared. Not even when I had to return to the office alone the next day.

I did, and still do, feel guilty. I had never been in that pool in my life and had no reason whatsoever to go into it that day, but what if I had? Could I have prevented the crime? Why couldn’t I have psychically felt a disruption in the force and told the bank security guard to go check things out?

I actually had thoughts like that for a long time… I guess I still do.

It was such a random crime. I don’t have the exact numbers but I would guess that the city of Leawood has less than one murder per decade. It took the police three years to catch Appleby. He was arrested in Connecticut in 2004, and in addition to DNA evidence, I think he eventually confessed. He is in prison.

Perhaps each of us will either knowingly or unknowingly be in close proximity to violent crime at some point in our lives. I was not a true “bystander” during Ali Kemp’s murder. There was no way that I could have known that a crime was being committed. However, if I ever am a witness to violence, you can be sure that I will not stand by. I will take action.

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family trip

I woke up thinking about The Bahamas this morning.

My family took a trip there for Christmas in 1998. With four kids, I am actually amazed at the amount of traveling we did — The Ozarks, Saint Louis, Rhode Island, Chicago — but our trip to The Bahamas was our first (and only?) exotic family trip outside of the “main land.” It was my senior year of high school and I was a year into my romance with Travis… so my attitude wasn’t the best.

I can’t imagine traveling with four teenagers (turns out, my parents were saints) but I think we actually had a good time. My favorite part was when we took a chartered boat out to a tiny island for a day. We hung out on basically our own private beach and were fed lots of coconut and pineapple. That is where this photo (the only one from the trip that I have in digital format) of me and my brother, Adam, was taken. The water was very clear and blue.

My dad also arranged for us to swim with dolphins, which was a thrill. They feel like wet rubber, but are very cute and friendly.

The rest of the trip details are a bit fuzzy… I know that we snorkeled a bit, went to a botanical garden that had seen better days, rode in a crazy taxi, and went out at midnight one night to see the Junkanoo celebration… where I almost passed out. (In retrospect, I think I was dehydrated, but also overwhelmed.)

Our trip was definitely a unique holiday celebration. It was also a valuable opportunity for four midwest high school kids to see something outside of our daily suburban lives. I know that was important to my dad. Now that I am an adult (and have trouble planning a quick trip to KC for the holidays for me, Travis, and a little dog) I am amazed by how well he planned, organized, and paid for a tropical vacation for six people!

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I am astounded that it is December. I have barely gotten used to writing 2011 on things! But I am definitely in a holiday mood. I am preoccupied with peppermint and santa hats. For the first time in years, I am actually pulling out a few holiday decorations. And, we are running the annual Brooklyn Jingle Jog next weekend. And, I plan to make cookies. With sprinkles.

It is the holiday season!

Above is a photo from 1980 of little Travis with Santa. I love it.

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eating… Bareburger. Travis’ favorite place in Park Slope. We go every Wednesday.

reading… The Big Enough Company, a book about building a business that is successful in the ways that are most meaningful to you. Not all businesses have to grow, grow, grow, with the only goal being money, money, money. Success can also mean satisfaction and social good.

watching… The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and other Nazi shows on the History Chanel… and getting myself way too upset thinking about hate, prejudice, dishonesty, and the abuse of power.

hosting… the FIFTH Annual Holiday Fun Matchbox Swap on Swap-bot!! Come join us and receive some sweet snail mail just in time for the holidays!

loving… all of the amazing Swap-bot-themed crafts that were made for our 100,000th Swap – Check them out here.

recovering from… too much marathoning! Running the Marine Corps Marathon was the best day of my life. Cheering for the NYC marathon was a full day of fun. (See my friend, Kenny Komala’s, photo of the cheer squad at mile 23 below.) Getting sick after all of the excitement was a bummer. I am still trying to lay low and get 100% better…

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cheer section

I know, too much marathon talk… but this is Marathon Week in NYC and everyone has running fever! This is a photo of me crossing the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge at the start of the ING NYC Marathon exactly one year ago. It was such an exciting, fun, painful day and an experience I will never forget.

This year, I will be cheering (at miles 7 and 23) and I am nearly as excited to be a spectator as I was to be a runner. There is an awesome atmosphere of joy and community on marathon day in NYC and I look forward to being a part of it all!

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ok, one more marathon post…

It is hard to tell from this Nike+ graph of my run, but I basically achieved negative splits during the marathon, meaning that I ran a little bit faster as the race went on, with my fastest miles being at the end. I have never really been able to accomplish negative splits as successfully before, even on shorter races.

I really think that the only reason I was able to stay strong during the Marine Corps Marathon was because I ate so much fuel before and during the race. Usually, I hate the thought of putting so much sugar and carbs in my body, but a race is not the time to think about losing weight or cutting calories. I am an eat-tons-of-race-day-carbs evangelist now! Eat those carbs, start slow, and think positive = my new race plan.

Something else I forgot to add to my epic marathon recap postevery single one of the eleven Brooklyn Team in Training runners achieved a Personal Record on Sunday! Some were running their first ever marathon and got a PR by default, but over half of us were returning marathoners and we all had our best race ever! That is huge. I am sure that some of it is due to the great weather we had that day, but I think most of our success on raceday can be attributed to the training and coaching we got through TNT.

Seriously, if you have always wanted to complete an endurance event, check out Team In Training. Seriously.

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I can’t stop talking about it…

I meant to add this to my marathon recap yesterday, but that post got waaaaay too long and didn’t need any additions…. I kissed a Marine!! Not the Marine pictured here. This sweet lady gave us our medals and politely posed for our photos. I kissed the marine who gave me my foil blanket. On the cheek. He was sweet about it. I probably smelled awful.

I am feeling pretty bummed today that my Team in Training season is over and my marathon experience is finished. I just had such a fun weekend, it is hard to get back in the groove of real life. BUT, the NYC Marathon is this Sunday. Travis and I are planning to be out cheering all day. We have a lot of teammates running and it is just an awesome day in the city. I am excited!

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