I’m super excited to reveal my new blog design!
Over the almost 5 years that I’ve been blogging, I’ve made some tweaks here and there to my blog design, but for the most part, the design has stayed much the same. It was finally time to get rid of that linen background and have a clean and simple brand that fit me a little better where I am now. I’ve been working on this design for several months and I’m so happy that it is finally live!
Along with a new look, there are a few cool new features that I added to make things a little easier to navigate (I’ve wanted to add several of these features for years!). On my sidebar, you can now see images of popular categories and posts. You can also now find an image labeled “post archives” that will take you to this page, which is a nice and easy way to find a past post!
One of the features that I am most excited about is my recipes page! If you click on the tab labeled “recipes” on my menu, it will take you to a page where you can easily find recipes I’ve posted, and even sort them by “gluten-free,” “sweet,” and “savory.”
You can do the same thing now too with my projects page as well. Easily find projects that I’ve blogged about. Eventually I hope to also sort those by category, but I haven’t made it that far yet!
Hope you enjoy the new design and easier navigation!
P.S. If things aren’t showing up correctly for you, you might need to refresh a few times or clear your cache.
This is a blog post that I started writing in January of 2014. I never posted it because it never felt finished or “wrapped up” and sometimes I really struggle with pushing “publish” on topics that are so personal and heartfelt. But these same sentiments have been on my mind a lot over the course of the last year. Chalk it up to my goal this year to make my blog content more in-depth.
Warning: this is a long post. Grab a cup of tea and stay a while.
Have you heard about the word-of-the-year trend? Instead of making a list of New Year’s goals or resolutions, you simply choose one word to focus on for the year. I’ve never chosen one before, because I always have bigger/longer/list-ier ideas for things I want to accomplish within the year. You can see my list for 2015, here (along with links to past year’s goals). I would look at that list and never be able to narrow things down to just one word, just one idea.
However, over the past year or so, there has been one word that has consistently been on my mind.
Everyone has heard the word, everyone has something to be thankful for. I’m thankful for my husband, family, job, home, skills, etc. But what has really been on my mind is practicing a heart of gratitude. Not just being thankful for the big, lovely things in your life, but spending each day truly focusing on every little thing you have to be grateful for. Allowing yourself to mentally give those things higher priority over the small, negative little details that can seep into our souls. And being grateful for even the not-so-great life moments. Because we aren’t just made up of lovely, beautiful, happy moments. The not-so-great make us who we are too.
When something bad happens in your day isn’t it so easy to get caught up in it? Let it dictate the rest of your day and control your actions? Let it make you upset/mad/angry. That anger can even seep over into the next day or the next if we let it (or unfortunately for some, can seep into their entire lives making them constantly bitter and angry). It makes us question our overall happiness, our overall blessings. It is so easy to get caught up in a culture of complaint. We let those negative moments take over our lives, rule our lunch discussions with a friend, control our thoughts and actions, maybe even let them take over our relationships and our marriages. Make us become critical, harsh, and condescending people.
“Gratitude as a discipline involves a conscious choice. I can choose to be grateful even when my emotions and feelings are still seeped in hurt and resentment. It is amazing how many occasions present themselves in which I can choose gratitude instead of a complaint.” -Henri Nouwen
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be controlled by every negative thing that happens in my life. Those negative moments can easily overshadow all the wonderful aspects of our lives, if we let them. I want to choose joy. Rejoicing. Gratitude.
Here is an excerpt from Henri Nouwen’s “Bread for the Journey” that has really stuck with me since I first read it a year or so ago. On the Spiritual Work of Gratitude:
“To be grateful for the good things that happen in our lives is easy, but to be grateful for all of our lives—the good as well as the bad, the moments of joy as well as the moments of sorrow, the successes as well as the failures, the rewards as well as the rejections—that requires hard spiritual work. Still, we are only truly grateful people when we can say thank you to all that has brought us to the present moment. As long as we keep dividing our lives between events and people we would like to remember and those we would rather forget, we cannot claim the fullness of our beings as a gift of God to be grateful for. Let’s not be afraid to look at everything that has brought us to where we are now and trust that we will soon see in it the guiding hand of a loving God.” -Henri Nouwen
Around this time last year, I was invited through work (I work at a church) to go on their annual women’s retreat. The theme of the retreat was “Rejoice!” and its primary focus was on cultivating a heart of gratitude. One of the lectures from the speaker was about “desert blooms” — otherwise known as happy or positive moments/events/outcomes in life during a period that otherwise looks pretty grim or desert-like. We had to complete an exercise where we wrote down all the “deserts” of our lives — all the big, bad moments, the terrible events and losses, the periods of life that seemed so grim that no good could possibly come from them. Then, on the other side of the page, directly across from our deserts, we had to list our “blooms” — the positive outcomes that had come, even in the midst of hurt and sorrow.
I have to say, this exercise was pretty eye-opening for me. I’m young, so I understandably haven’t been through a plethora of deserts, but everyone has their tough moments. A few examples from my life:
1. My college years. As you might know from reading this blog for a while, college was a rough time for me. I was stressed, exhausted, depressed, overworked, lonely, missed my family and missed getting to always be around for various events, struggled with figuring out what I wanted to do and worried about not being able to study what I wanted, and I also had a slew of health problems, just to name a few. After I graduated (and figured out my health issues!) things got much better, but I had still gotten into the habit of reflecting back on my college years as a “rough time” in life. Through my constant labeling of college as “bad” I had begun to overlook the good things that happened during those years. And a lot of good things happened! Drew and I moved to a new place, got to explore and learn the culture and fall in love with New Orleans, we grew immensely in our relationship because we were so isolated from the rest of our families, we got engaged, got married, and moved into our first apartment together. We also started a business, met a lot of new people, learned a lot of really neat things, and we paved the path that is leading us down our lives/careers today. That is just a few of the good things that happened, and already “my college years” aren’t sounding so bad, huh?
2. The death of my Mamaw. This one has always been particularly hard. I was incredibly close to my Mamaw (read more about her, here) and her death came suddenly and unexpectedly. Since I was only 15 when she died, I really struggled with her death. Not only because I missed her, but because I was too young to have thought to ask her about so much of her life and I had lost my chance. Mamaw didn’t drive, so we had so many activities planned for when I turned 16. Me taking her to her beauty-shop appointments, us going on shopping trips together, none of which were ever realized. Her death lingered with me for years (and still does). I miss her and wish that I’d had those moments with her, to drive her around, to talk with her about her life, to ask her for guidance, about marriage, about tough times. But, this exercise in gratitude made me realize something I had never considered before. Her passing before my Papaw gave me the ability to get to know him, where I otherwise might not have. My whole childhood, I would run into Mamaw and Papaw’s house and dart right past Papaw, who would always be sitting in his recliner in the living room, and run straight to the back of the house, where Mamaw would be in her recliner reading or watching TV. I do have memories with Papaw from my childhood, him telling me stories or letting me help him in the garden, but I really never took the time to chat with him and get to know him until Mamaw passed away and I couldn’t just dart past him to get on with my business. My Papaw’s death last Spring really drove that point home. I’m so grateful for those last 8 years I had with Papaw. To chat with him about his life, to listen to his stories.
I can’t say that I’ve become anything close to an expert in appreciating life’s toughest moments. It is certainly a continual process and it takes time. The last year has been (and continues to be) a really rough time for my family. Important family relationships have been severed and a lot of really deep and irrevocable hurt has been caused. I wish I could see the blooms in this desert. They may not come for years. But, I haven’t let this desert cloud my judgement on my whole life like it did in college. I’m able to see that a lot of other really great things are happening for me to rejoice about.
This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. -Psalm 118:24
What gratitude is not: complaint, greed, desire for more, sorrow, depression, negativity. What it is: trust, thankfulness, rejoicing, choosing happiness despite your situation, appreciation, being happy with what you have rather than what you want.
“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.” -John Milton
Another practice that has helped me to do this, also started at the women’s retreat, is keeping a gratitude journal. I don’t write in it every day, but when I think of it, at least a few times a month, I end my day by writing down the best moments of the day, or the things I am most grateful for in life right then. Sometimes I’ll make Drew do it with me and we’ll talk for a few minutes about our gratitudes. On bad days, it isn’t always easy to come up with a whole list of things you are grateful for. I often don’t feel like listing anything or taking any more time to reflect on the bad day I’ve had. But those good moments are there if you take the time to look for them (it helps immensely to change your attitude on your day!). I find prayer and simplicity are also helpful practices for gratitude. Choosing happiness (and not letting our emotions or situations define us) is a constant battle.
I love this quote by Sarah Ban Breathnach from her book, Simple Abundance, that I’ve been reading lately. I feel like it perfectly sums up why we need gratitude in our lives to really lead happy, joyful lives.
“There are six threads of abundant living which, when woven together, produce a tapestry of contentment that wraps us in inner peace, well-being, happiness, and a sense of security. First there is gratitude. When we do a mental and spiritual inventory of all that we have, we realize that we are very rich indeed. Gratitude gives way to simplicity–the desire to clear out, pare down, and realize the essentials of what we need to live truly well. Simplicity brings with it order, both internally and externally. A sense of order in our life brings us harmony. Harmony provides us with the inner peace we need to appreciate the beauty that surrounds us each day, and beauty opens us to joy.” -Sarah Ban Breathnach
Here’s to finding the joy in even the worst days.
I’m so excited about the things I have planned to accomplish in 2015. However, my main goal (Surface Pattern Design) is a pretty big goal that will take a lot of hard work, and between that, my other personal goals, life in general, and also working a full time day job, this year is going to be really busy.
Last month, I started looking at a better way to organize my days. In college, I used Moleskine’s Weekly Planner, which was great because I could see the week on one side, and use the other side (blank lined page) for writing out that week’s to-do list, extra notes, etc. In college, when I needed to consider the whole week of assignments to work on, this system worked great. However, once I started working, I realized it was lacking. There wasn’t enough space on each day to write out all the daily work tasks that I needed to do. So instead of coming up with a better system, I pretty much just ended up with a desk full of post-it notes every day for the last year and a half.
This year, I decided I needed a better system. One that organized my day better, listed my work priorities and regular weekly to-dos, kept track of the few meetings I have, and also had space to keep track of my personal to-dos. I started researching the biggest and best planners on the market: Erin Condren’s Life Planner, Emily Ley’s Simplified Planner, and Whitney English’s Day Designer.
The Life Planner is too colorful and busy for me and it plans by the week, not the day. The Simplified Planner and Day Designer are both simple and beautiful (The Day Designer Spotty Dots is GORGEOUS!), and plan by the day, but unfortunately in December they had already sold out for 2015. I sulked around a little that I had missed my opportunity to buy one, and started to plan out when more might go on sale or to see if I could find a retailer somewhere with one left, but I really wanted to start getting organized right then, so I took matters into my own hands and decided to make my own planning system (that would work specifically for my needs – BONUS!).
There are two things that I don’t love about both The Simplified Planner and the Day Designer. Number one is that the majority of each page focuses on each day’s appointment list, rather than the to-dos that need to be accomplished that day. In my job, I mostly sit at my desk and design on my computer all day. I occasionally have a few meetings spread throughout the week, but not enough to need an appointment planner. Number two is that they also don’t have space to separate work and personal tasks. I think the set-up would be perfect if I was solely an entrepreneur, but to work outside the home and also do design work for our business and have other personal career goals, the set-up just isn’t perfect for me right now. (I think I might try one of them out next year though! I’ll have to plan this far ahead to make sure I get one before they sell out next year!)
So I ended up with a mini 3-ring binder (in color “Peacock” from The Container Store, here.) filled with pages to help me plan not only my days, but my weeks, keep track of short and long term goals, meal plan, keep meeting notes, etc!
On each day page, there is room for me to write in my top priorities for the day, list my to-d0 list, keep track of any special meetings or appointments that day, I have a space where my reoccurring tasks are listed and I can circle the ones I need to work on, I have space to list my personal to-dos, list blog posts I need to work on, write down what I’m planning for dinner that night, jot down notes, and even a little space at the bottom to check off if I’ve done one thing that day in the direction of my dreams.
I printed my sheets on 8.5×11 color copy paper (it is a little thicker and glossier than regular copy paper and holds up a little better for this, without pens bleeding through), cut the pages in half, and hole punched them for a mini three-ring binder. I love using the monthly and weekly planner pages as well as the daily ones to help me stay focused on my long-term goals. I’m super excited about this system!
I’ve only been using this planner for a couple weeks now, but already it is working beautifully! I feel so much more organized!
Even better, I am sharing it with you!
Download Planning Sheets Here or click on the image above to download. Print as many times as you need!
For personal use only – not for distribution or resale. Copyright 2015 – Caitlin Wallace Rowland.
P.S. I just used some champagne metallic cardstock to cut dividers to put between my extra blank sheets for each category, but The Container Store sells lots of other accessories for these mini 3-ring binders, here, including dividers, a notebook that size, pockets, rubber bands, etc. Target also has some cute mini 3-ring binders.
UPDATE 1-22-15: After using these for several weeks, I realized that having sheets for both weekend planning and yearly planning would be helpful too, so I added those to the download above. I’m loving the yearly planning sheets! I’m using three different ones, one for work projects due during the year, one for planning blog posts throughout the year, and one for personal goals/vacations/etc that are happening throughout the year. A great way to see the big picture if you are a yearly goals kind-of person!
I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty excited for 2015! I have some pretty exciting goals and dreams that I plan to work on accomplishing in the new year!
But first, let’s reflect on the past year:
2014 was a very productive year! I had some very exciting opportunities and I made major progress on a few big goals of mine!
My goals from last year and how I did at accomplishing them:
1. Better Life Balance. I feel like this is one of those things that you can always be perfecting and I’m happy to say that I think I did a pretty good job on it this year. 2014 was my first full year out of school and the first time that I had to balance my day-job work life with my personal career goals and hobbies/interests. I’ve been able to spend my evenings/weekends exploring graphic and surface pattern design, reading, blogging more than I have in years, doing DIY home/decorating projects (see our office makeover, how we built our 12 ft long double desk, the rooms we painted, our living room gallery wall, and Drew’s dresser makeover), cooking and trying out new recipes, doing more GF baking, painting, crocheting, watching my favorite TV shows, keeping up with my favorite blogs, getting involved in our church group, taking walks, going on date nights, traveling, etc! I feel like I have really worked this year on being healthy in a well-rounded way and making time to nurture my creativity in many different ways.
2. Expand Learning & Education in Different Ways. My main goal with this was that even though I was out of school, I didn’t want my learning process to stop, I wanted to expand my education in different ways. I believe I did a great job of this in 2014! I read more books for fun than I have (ever?). I crocheted two baby blankets, three scarves, several crochet snowflakes, worked on part of another baby blanket and started an afghan throw for our living room using stitches I’d never tried before. I continued to paint, building my body of work, and even exhibiting my art in a exhibition last June, as well as updating my logo and art branding. I joined the New Orleans Lettering Arts Association to build up my calligraphy and hand-lettering skills and I worked on digitizing my hand lettering for various projects (my hand-lettering is on the image above). I worked on getting better at using my Wacom tablet, and I learned a ton of new Adobe Illustrator tricks and so much about Surface Pattern and Fabric Design in Bonnie Christine’s Design Surface Patterns from Scratch online course.
3. Incorporating Exercise into the Everyday. If there was one thing I failed at in 2014, it would be this one. I wish I could say that I have incorporated exercise into the everyday, but in fact, I’m sure I exercised less in 2014 than I did in 2013. I did my Pilates class like normal in the Spring (I’ve been going once or twice a week for the last several years), but this Fall, they wouldn’t let me sign up for it without also purchasing a membership to the University gym that it is a part of. That would have cost me several hundred dollars that we just didn’t have in our budget. I looked into other places, but they are all so darn expensive! Debt pay-off is a priority in our lives right now and I can’t afford to pay hundreds of dollars to exercise. I wish I could get into a good routine of exercising at home by myself, but it is just so hard to have the diligence to do so with so many other things happening! Before it started getting dark so early this Fall/Winter, we did go on occasional outside walks around the neighborhood, which were nice. I need to get better at this!
4. Focus on Our Marriage. This year we’ve started going on date nights almost every Friday night and have made a much better effort at spending quality time together other than just being in the same room on our computers. Having a kitty and spending time together playing with Violet has really helped us “unplug” and spend time together. We also have gotten into a routine of both coming home from work and talking about our days while we make dinner together. Working on our debt-pay off plan as a team and making significant progress on that as a couple has also really helped strengthen our relationship.
5. Gluten-free Baking. I’m happy to say that I’ve experimented quite a bit with gluten-free baking this year! I’ve nailed down a recipe I really like for Artisan Gluten-free Bread, I’ve made my own All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour Mix, made GF crackers, GF shortcrust, GF Blackberry and Sawdust pies, along with several different types of GF biscuits, rolls, and cornbread. I need to make GF doughnuts next!
6. Debt Pay-Off. In 2013, we paid off Drew’s credit card debt and most of his car. In 2014, we made the final payments on Drew’s car and paid off all the student loans in Drew’s name (over $26,000 worth!). In 2015, we only have the student loans in Drew’s parents’ names left to pay off!
7. Consistent Branding and New Opportunities. When I first wrote this down as a goal, I had in mind opening an Etsy shop to sell my artwork, but along the way, my plans changed a bit and I started down a road to another creative goal I’m really excited to achieve! In 2014, I worked on painting more artwork (some of my best work yet), experimenting with techniques I’ve wanted to take time to explore (mixed media paintings on fabric as well as canvas), and was able to show my work in an exhibition. Along the way I updated my art and design branding and website and I started working on updating my blog design and branding (look for the reveal in 2015!). I also worked on improving my hand-lettering, digitizing it and using it on artwork and in design projects, and started to learn calligraphy, joining the New Orleans Lettering Arts Association. One of the most exciting opportunities of 2014 however, was taking Bonnie Christine’s Design Surface Patterns from Scratch course, learning so much more about how to achieve my dream of being a Surface Pattern Designer, and on top of that, getting to meet Bonnie Christine and attend Quilt Market! I also designed my first repeatable patterns!
I’m so excited for the things in store in 2015!
My goals for this year:
1. Surface Pattern Design. I’m so ready to turn my dream of being a surface pattern designer into a reality! I’m confident that there are great things in store for this in 2015! My goal is to work as hard as I can in my free time designing repeatable patterns! Inspiration for collections, illustrations, and making patterns. I want to design at least two collections (10 patterns each in two colorways for a total of 20 patterns in a collection), but doing three collections would be even better! I want to put together a portfolio of my work to start working towards turning it into a career!
2. Learn to Quilt. I’ve wanted to make a quilt for years! I’ve done some minor quilting-type projects before, but this is the year to actually make a quilt! I got several quilting books for Christmas and I’ve collected the fabrics that I want to use. I need to read my quilting books, study up on the techniques, gather any other supplies I need, and start quilting! I would like to start with a throw blanket size.
3. Blog. I’ve really enjoyed getting back into blogging more regularly over the last half a year or so. I’d love to continue that into 2015 with a more consistent blogging schedule, but more importantly I want to work on better, more in-depth content. Not that recipes and monthly recaps aren’t great, but I want to talk more about creative ideas, share tips/techniques, and really dive into more of the things that I’m passionate about. I also want to reveal my updated blog design this year, with a better about me page, and better and easier to navigate projects and recipes pages.
4. Other Creative Outlets. Just because I’m choosing to focus this year on surface pattern design, quilting, and blogging, doesn’t mean that I want to leave my other creative outlets behind. I would love to continue painting and work on incorporating painting work into my pattern design work. I would also love to continue to get better at hand-lettering and calligraphy. For Christmas, Drew bought me a gift certificate to Melissa Esplin’s calligraphy course, so I definitely plan on improving my lettering this year! I would also love to read more regularly (I got a ton of books for Christmas I need to read!) and continue working on crochet and DIY/home decorating projects when I can.
5. Pay off Debt. Drew and I have done so well at sticking to a tight budget and putting everything we can towards paying off our debt over the past two years. The only debt we have left are the student loans in Drew’s parents names and I would love to be able to pay those off completely in 2015! It is an enormous goal, but I have faith we can make some great progress on it!
Other Areas to Continue Positive Work: Continue date nights and focusing on a more intentional marriage. Continue my gratitude journal. Continue church involvement in our 20/30s group. Work on taking Pilates classes again and continuing to eat healthy, gluten-free meals. Work on relaxation, not over-stressing, and not over-working myself.
Cheers to making great things happen in 2015!