I'm passionate about finding and sharing ideas that feed creativity and inspiration in this weary world. Because we're so surrounded with illusion and lies, I hope this blog will help others in their quest to get a bit closer to the truth. I'd also like to say that opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily mine or those featured here. Oh, and if you choose to use any images/words from this site, kindly obtain permission from all relevant parties and add the necessary links and references.

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Monday, March 31, 2008

Interview: Hostess With The Mostess

Today's interview is with Jennifer Sbranti of Hostess with the Mostess, an amazingly comprehensive website and blog that informs you of everything you wanted to know about entertaining, but were afraid to ask. In addition to being an entertainer and entrepreneur, Jennifer also runs Sbranti Design. I'm overjoyed that she took the time to answer a few questions for me. (graphic courtesy of HTWM.com)
You were unusual in that you knew what you wanted to do at an early age. What advice would you give someone who has no idea what they want to do when they grow up?
The best thing I could tell them is to pay attention to their natural interests and things they enjoy and seek out career paths that line up with those interests. For example, if you love the idea of the fashion industry, but aren’t necessarily artistic to the point where you’d want to design the clothing and patterns yourself, you can always go after a career in the business side of fashion – such as buying, merchandising, sales, opening your own boutique or online shop, etc. The key is to find a position that continually inspires and challenges you in an industry with which you’re genuinely interested. This will keep you energized in general and will help make those early mornings when the alarm clock goes off at 6am, or late nights when the times when you have to burn the midnight oil, from being less painful!

What challenges/fears do you face and how do you overcome them?
Well, over the past couple years while we’ve (my husband and I) been trying to build HWTM “on the side” of our regular jobs, I’ve put a ton of extra work hours in – 70-80+ hour work weeks are pretty common – and I’ve also had to make sacrifices as far as extra curricular activities go when choosing between spending time with friends and family or staying home and working. There are tons of additions we want to make to the website, but we need more manpower to get them done. Sometimes I worry that if we can’t get HWTM to where we want it to be (and to a point where it supports us financially), then all of this extra time and effort will have been in vain – or I worry that it will eventually happen, but I’ll be 85 by the time it does
:). (Slightly exaggerated, but you know what I mean!) I just don’t want to look back in 10 years and feel like I missed out on too much of the TRULY important things in life – time spent with friends and family – but I also know that you have to take risks and put the extra time in to make big things happen, so I feel like I struggle daily with finding a balance. When I feel myself feeling a little beaten down, I usually get re-energized by reading encouraging emails that readers have sent in (which makes all the work feel worth it again) or forcing myself to step away from work for a bit to do something fun – whether it’s spending time with friends, going out to dinner with my husband, or going for a run in the middle of the day.

It almost seems as if HWTM just exploded in popularity. How did you become known so quickly?
Honestly, I’m not 100% sure how we got to this point – while it sometimes feels like I’ve been working on HWTM forever, it also feels like I just started blogging a few months ago, but it will already be 2 years in June! I definitely have people to thank though – Holly from decor8
did an interview on me when I first started blogging that gave me an amazing amount of exposure from the get-to, and word of mouth from friends and other bloggers has helped so much as well. My good friend Jen Berson is in PR and has opened up a lot of opportunities for us – from local news appearances to mentions in magazines, all of which have been invaluable. And I’d like to think that some of the work I’m doing is helping as well :). I try to update the blog at least once daily, which helps with search engine strength, and we actually get a lot of traffic from organic searches now, which is great. And I also try to keep things very visually appealing for readers so that they have something very pretty – and hopefully inspiring - to look at whenever they visit.

How do you find the time to run both Sbranti Design and HWTM? Do you ever get overwhelmed?
Good question :).
The answer to whether or not I get overwhelmed would be a resounding YES! For example, I was up until midnight last night and back up again at 5:45am this morning because I have a lot of pressing deadlines today, but the thing that makes me lucky and makes this doable is that I enjoy both jobs. That’s not to say I want to be working so many late nights – I definitely look forward to the day when my schedule is more “regular” and I’m not glued to the computer for quite so many hours each day, but, for now, at least I’m able to be working for myself and doing something that I love.

What brings you comfort and joy?

The BIG Things:
My husband – who is super supportive and gives me pep talks whenever I need them. Sometimes the pep talks are sweet and sometimes they’re more in the “you need to toughen up” sense, but they’re always comforting one way or the other, and it’s nice to know that you have someone there, no matter what.

Friends and family. When it comes down to it, relationships really are the most important thing in life, and definitely what brings the most “real” joy. I’m definitely at my happiest when I’m out with my girlfriends. No matter what we’re doing, we’re usually laughing – and that’s pretty much the best thing you can ask for!
Our dogs. If you’re not a dog person, it might be hard to understand exactly how much joy these little (or big) creatures can bring, but trust me it’s HUGE! We have 2 yellow labs – Jazz and Max, and they are 100% members of the family. They love to cuddle, are patient enough to put up with the loads of hugs we smother them with every day, and thing they’re “lap” dogs even though they weigh in at 80 and 100 lbs. I’m incredibly thankful for them :)
The Little Things:Chick flicks, sweets (chocolate, ice cream – love it all!), lunch at the beach, outdoor runs, kickboxing, design blogs, DVR, great mystery novels, vacations to Maui!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Interview: Vive la French General!

Today's interview is with Kaari Meng the owner of French General who was gracious enough to take some time out for an interview. If you've never been France, visiting this website is an armchair traveler's dream. (Graphic courtesy of French General)
What were your dreams as a child and how did they influence your life today?
I was always interested in the arts and crafts. As a student, I didn't fully understand how I could turn my creativity into something that would pay the bills and satisfy me. I prayed a lot - asking for some sort of creative guidance. As I got older - I learned that everything I had been interested in as a child could translate into my life's work if I created for myself instead of creating for others. Once I learned this, my creativity flowed easier and I was able to build a business that was built on my own passion for old materials, colors and textures.

What inspired you to create French General and what were the challenges you faced when you were first starting out?
I created French General because I was inspired by my travels in France. I had a jewelry business in New York that was doing well - but I was looking for a creative outlet - something that would allow me to travel and bring back the lifestyle that I was experiencing. French General began as a small collection of textiles, notions and antiques that took me back to the 1800's and allowed me to feel like I was living a simpler life. I don't remember the challenges when we began French General. I remember a wonderful feeling of starting something new and feeling totally inspired by the excitement - going to bed every night and thinking of all the new ideas swirling around in my head. To me the journey is usually as exciting as the final destination.

How did you come to be published?
My friend, Marcia Ceppos of Tinsel Trading, had written a book and thought I should try writing one - she introduced me to the people connected with Sterling who eventually published our first two books, French-Inspired Home and French-Inspired Jewelry. Our third book, Home Sewn, published by Chronicle was a lucky break - we wanted to work with a creative team and I think they felt the same way. Book writing is a great project - it takes a couple of people to get the idea rolling and then it takes a group of people to actually get the book designed and into production - I love the process - and working with people who are so talented is a huge benefit!

I was sad to read that you were receiving chemotherapy a few years back. Is this accurate information, how are you today and is there anything positive that you took away from this experience?
My cancer diagnosis and treatment happened almost ten years ago and it seems almost a lifetime away. While I was going through chemotherapy, we were opening French General on Crosby Street in New York. My whole family pulled together and helped my sister, Molly, and I open our retail shop. When you are in the middle of such an intense experience, you set your mind on a goal and stay incredibly focused - this was the silver lining of my cancer experience. Had it not been for this experience I don't think I would appreciate what we accomplished. We created a unique atmosphere in downtown New York that was a mix between a curated collection and a small general shop. I am thankful for having family and friends that have always
encouraged me to be myself.

What values or ideas have you come to rely on when facing difficulty (at work or your personal life) that you would like to share?
I think I draw great inner strength from my creative self. Knowing that deep inside we are each unique and can produce something beautiful makes me feel like I can survive the elements outside each day. My parents raised five kids who are each fiercely independent and creative, we rely on each other on a daily basis and inspire one another through our art. I am lucky to come from a strong family.

What brings you comfort and joy?
My daughter Sofia's humor, the south of France on a warm July day, Johnny Cash, the color of old cranberry glass, a loft on Greene Street, walking in Silver Lake, my mom's cooking, and an old hemp sheet.

Monday, March 17, 2008

"Finding One's Way Through The Dark"

There's little about politics that brings me comfort and joy, but I just saw the swearing in ceremony of New York's new governor David A. Paterson. I have to say how refreshing it is to hear someone in political office speak like an everyman. He also seems to be genuinely liked by his colleagues - I mean people were hugging and kissing him as opposed to the rote handshakes. He seems to understand the true definition of public service. For those who are interested, you should be able to see the ceremony here. (Graphic courtesy of New York State. Title courtesy of David A Peterson)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Every Day Is Day

The lovely Donna at Donna B. Miller has a wonderful blog for the digital artist in all of us. I found her via this talisman she made for Patti at 37days. It's basically a reminder to us that we should see each day as the gift it is and do our best to not complain. I love this idea and am trying to take it up. Thanks so much Donna for your contribution to making this life more positive and joyful!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Freeganism Movement

"Freegans are people who employ alternative strategies for living based on limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources." I just found out about this movement last week and I think it's great. The amount of food they were able to forage for was astounding. The stores that dispose of the food can't give it away because of health concerns, but the freegans manage to survive off it for the most part. I love the idea of not creating more waste. Their website has plenty of information on various groups around the world.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Interview: The Dream Life

I'm in love with Lorilyn's blog The Dream Life. It's so comforting and really feeds the spirit with her thoughts on letting go of fear, living on purpose and kindness to mention a few. A great place to go when you're feeling lost and out of sorts.
When/how did you become aware that you came from a family of writers and artists and when/how did you come to consider yourself to be a writer as well?
My grandmother's family had a lot of gatherings when I was growing up and those always involved my cousins and aunts and uncles playing music and singing and dancing. My dad always had a guitar in our house; my mom is an organist and pianist. The arts in general were emphasized in our house. My brother and I were raised to appreciate creative expression and place on it as much importance as you would place on science or any other subject.

Right before I entered middle school, my dad took a leave of absence from his job as a college professor to see if he could "make it" as a full time speaker/humorist. He never went back to teaching. I think I learned a lot from that about valuing what you know to be your calling and taking risks to get there. Even though it took me a long time to call myself a writer, I always have been a writer, even before I knew how to make letters, I carried around a pad and pencil and scribbled away. My whole life I've been able to express myself through writing much easier than I can in any other way, and I've been compelled to write. It's how I navigate the world. It just is what I do, whether anyone else is reading the words or not.

How do you find inspiration?
I find that inspiration comes when I'm not looking for it, or not worrying about it. There are moments in life that resonate with feeling and meaning - sometimes just small, passing moments like the way the wind is blowing through a tree or the lamplight in a window of a house or the sound of someone's voice. These moments grab me and spark my imagination. I also find that the deeper I go inside myself, the more inspired I am. As we live, we accumulate experience but we also accumulate questions. I find inspiration when I examine the memories that pop up
for me, when I ask myself, "Why did I do that?" or "What was that about?"

Almost always, if I go to those places, there's someone else who will say, "I know just what you mean," because we're all one, we're living a shared experience. In that way, I think the more I can be honest about myself, the more I'll be reaching out to others.

Do you ever have problems with self acceptance and how do you deal work with that issue?
I've struggled with self-esteem issues my whole life. When I was a child and into my young adulthood, I had this sense of not belonging, of not being pretty enough or smart enough, of not doing or saying the right things.

I still struggle with those issues sometimes, but the further I go on my spiritual path, the more I accept myself. The more you are shown that you are loved and guided and embraced by spirit, the harder it is to send yourself negative talk.

Another side of the self-acceptance coin is letting go of thoughts are worries about what other people think. I know there are people in my life who don't share my beliefs, who may even think that what I believe is crazy. I'm getting to a place now where that doesn't bother me. We're all walking our paths.

The more I embrace myself and my experiences, the less it matters to me what other people think, or the less I worry that my friends are going to "stop liking me" when they find out who I really am. I'm comfortable in my own skin now in a way that I wasn't when I was younger.

I think that we all have spirits around us that help and guide us. Do you think that people who commit acts that hurt others (in a consistent manner) have guides and what role do you think they play in the life of not only the individual, but others?
Yes, I think that every living creature comes from God and of God (or source or universal life force--those words are interchangeable to me). I believe that we all have guides, but we also all have free will. Some people are more consciously connected to spirit than others, and some people are listening to and following guidance without calling it that. Someone once said to me that every choice we make moves us in one of two directions - either closer to God or further away, and I believe that.

So a person who consistently hurts others, even someone who other humans may label as "evil" (I don't think spirit applies labels) does, I believe, have guides. Maybe theses people ignore or block the guidance, maybe they're so far removed from spirit, the guidance is completely lost. I do think there are people who vibrate closer to the light and people who vibrate farther away and I think our guides can help us steer clear of the lower energies.

In addition to spirits, you've also mentioned animal guides on your site. Do they work with the spirits or do some people only have animal guides and others spirits?
I believe that we all have spirit guides and animal guides. I also believe that we are given a power animal at birth - an animal spirit that stays with us throughout our lives just like our guardian angel (unlike the angels and guides that I believe come and go throughout our lives depending on what/who we ask for, what we need, etc.)

Shamanism is something I've only recently begun to study and I'm by no means an authority. Perhaps there are people who only have animal guides, but somehow I don't think so. I do think we have inclinations -- that some of us work more with angels, for instance, and so have more angels around while some people work more with animal spirits.

I was actually surprised when animals started showing up for me in meditations and during Reiki. I hadn't really "reached out" to them - but there they were.

This is an unusual question, but I had a conversation with a friend last week and we were wondering if animals experience (on a basic level) the law of attraction. What do you think?
I think that animals must live within the law of attraction, the same way that they are subject to the law of gravity. I think, though, that animals don't have to think about the law of attraction the way humans do. This is especially true, I think, of wild animals. I don't think a bird, for instance, is sitting around thinking, "Oh man, I hope there's food tomorrow, oh wait, I better get myself into a state of allowing." I think they just know that they are provided for. Domesticated animals seem to pick up more of our human neurosis, but even they seem to me to have a much purer connection to spirit than humans do. I think they just live the law of attraction naturally.

What brings you comfort and joy?
My absolute favorite part of the day is when Tracy and Woody and I pile into bed at the end of the day and everything is warm and cozy. That's when Tracy and I have some of our best conversations.

I'm also very comforted by candlelight and firelight, earthy aromas, and soft amber lighting. I love to light my candles, put on music or a guided meditation and slip into a hot bath with bath salts. I find genuine joy and delight in being with my friends. I'm very lucky to know some incredible people.

Friday at 5 o'clock is a very joyful time for me and running around the house with Woody is like something Willy Wonka invented, it's so blissfully fun. I find true comfort and joy in communing with nature and spirit and making new discoveries. And in being interviewed for blogs! Thank you-- this was so much fun.

Oh! And I guess I should have specified in my last answer that Tracy is my boyfriend and Woody is our pug! (graphic courtesy of The Dream Life)

Monday, March 3, 2008

How NOT to Take Things Personally

I came across several wonderful blogs this weekend. Most had something to do with the law of attraction. While reading Christine Kane's blog, I saw this quote that I'm taking out of context for the sake of brevity: "much of what we call friendship in our culture is little more than disliking the same people and staying stuck in our own versions of the truth and requiring that our friends agree with us. Collusion is rounding up people who believe your own illusions. Stop it."

The entire quote is located in the article How NOT To Take Things Personally: A Practical Guide. Her site is chock full of advice on living consciously.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

How sweet it is!

I'm not a gamer, but this is just too cute to resist! Imagine a game about chocolate... The object is to travel the world, find the best ingredients and become the best chocolatier. Of course there are competitors to beware of, but is there anything in life that ever comes effortlessly? Oh yes, getting this game! For those short of funds or freegans, you can play the trial version. (graphic courtesy of Playfirst.com)

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