Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Changes, part I

Do you ever reach a season in life where you realize you're too comfortable? You have a daily routine, you wear the same pair of shoes every day, eat the same old rotation of standby meals. Alarm set for 6:15, standard black flats, Taco Tuesdays. Day in, day out. 

I remember hearing about a study on NPR that suggested taking the same route to work every day actually dulled the neurons in your brain. By sticking to something repetitive, even as simple as your morning commute, certain parts of your brain become weaker.

Change is a good thing. It sparks creativity, leads to personal discovery, expands your boundaries, and apparently strengthens your brain.

Since I haven't been blogging regularly in the past, oh, year or so, I thought I'd slowly ease back into the swing of things with a series of posts about changes. I've had quite a few of them happening in my life lately.  


Recent cover design (in progress) for a book about the Hail Mary

So. I have a new job! A new-old job, I supposed, as a book designer for the publisher I interned at right out of college. Things have come full circle. It's everything my old job was and more -- benefits, hours, workspace, creativity. I'm surrounded by books all day! Living the dream. If I could take my old coworkers (who I miss greatly) and plant them here, I would be all set.

Sometimes I miss the comforts of my old job at Bethel. I had been there long enough that my work was second nature to me -- I had the Pantone swatches memorized, pulled from a folder of all my favorite images, worked within the brand's font family. My department was overworked but in a way it was easy. I instinctively knew what to do, how to make something look "Bethel." I could generate a branded piece in a day, tops, without it looking last-minute.

But that's the problem -- I wasn't thinking critically or creatively with a lot of my work. I wasn't being challenged. I was essentially a design robot, inputting images and text and spitting out a design. It was time for a change.

This new position is so exciting but it is hard, harder than I imagined. It's a Catholic publisher, so all the material I'm working on has a distinctively Catholic twist. I'm familiar with some aspects of Catholicism, but as I'm learning... not nearly as much as I thought. So every new assignment for me takes a ton of verbal and visual research. And now that I'm not working within a set selection of brand fonts and colors, I'm a little overwhelmed with the options I now have. Good problems though, I'm definitely stretching some design muscles that have been dormant since college.

And that's the thing with change, it's different and uncomfortable and scary. But that's exactly what I want. Research and problem solving, stretching and growth. There are times when I feel like the new kid on the first day of school (especially at office potlucks) but I know this change is a step in the right direction.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Overdue

 A recent Instagram that really has nothing to do with this post

Another six months of blog silence and I find myself wondering... should I write a new post? Publish one of the countless half-finished posts sitting in my drafts folder? Should I write my final post? Delete the blog entirely? Launch the redesign?

These questions lead to more thinking. What’s the point of Gathered Heart? It’s something I’ve asked myself on more than one occasion. Why keep up with this little slice of the web where I record and share pieces of my life with dear friends, total strangers, and perhaps some who are a mix of both. Do I to it to stay connected? Is it self-expression? Self-promotion? Why make it public? Why not journal more?

When blogs started years ago, internet culture was so different. I myself had a xanga (ha!) where I would pour my naive teenage heart out – paragraphs and paragraphs about movie nights with friends, recaps of mission trips, lists of albums that I was listening to, dreams of college life and the future. All my friends had xangas too, and we would comment on each other’s posts: I can’t believe Mr. Whetstone assigned us a seven-page paper, either! I love Hellogoodbye, too! Your new profile pic is so artsy!

Search optimization didn’t exist. Professional blogging wasn’t a full-time job. Social media (if you can call MySpace social media...) was just a blip on the radar. People weren’t constantly connected to the cloud or notified instantly when something was updated.

Things are so different now. Our culture is obsessed with internet fame and going viral. Blog posts need beautiful photos that are pin-worthy. Information must be presented in bulleted lists, 140 characters or less. Everything must be mobile-friendly. A successful blog could mean a freelance contract, a book deal, paid sponsorship, your own line of party supplies at Target. You need to find a niche (food! techie stuff! babies! design!) and cater to that market. Create fresh, unique content that readers won’t find anywhere else, and be sure to update daily to keep ‘em coming back for more.

Well, that definitely isn’t me. I tried to fit that bill for a while and quite frankly I wasted a lot of time. I am proud of a lot of my writing, but I also have to laugh at some of the things I shared (like the sad food styling in my one and only recipe post) and some of the things I spent time on but never posted. Someday I think I’ll share a post of all the silly things I took pictures of because I might blog about them. Those photos need to be cleaned off my hard drive anyway.

I don’t exactly know what I’m going to do with Gathered Heart. I still love blogging and the blogging community, but my priorities have changed as a person. I’m no longer a fresh college graduate working part time at Game Stop. Pretty soon I won’t even be able to call myself “twenty something.” I’m constantly picking up tiny hair bows and stuffed animals and crumpled socks from my living room floor. I get really excited when I find a new one-pot dinner recipe that actually tastes good. I can’t justify spending a few hours drafting a post when I have a family, a full time job, a life to keep up with (totally not judging those who do, by the way! It’s just not me.)

All that to say: there’s still something so rewarding about publishing a post that I’m proud of. An illustration I worked on to stretch my creative muscles, a new set of goals I’m inspired to reach (even if I fall flat of those goals almost every time...), musings on motherhood, a recap of an adventure, a list of things I love... because, maybe, just maybe, someone else out there loves them too. Someone else out there is looking for a new adventure, inspiration for a project. I blog for many reasons: to collect and catalog my thoughts, to be inspired and in turn inspire, to polish my writing skills, to connect with likeminded individuals. So I’ll keep gathering all the pieces of my heart here and do my best to make this little slice internet a brighter place.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Primetime Streaming

I have all these grand visions of life as a multitasking supermom... garden-to-table three course dinners, handmade toys and sweet little hand-stitched sundresses for Amelia, consistently shampooed hair. You know.

But after the day is done and the baby is in bed, who wants to sit at a sewing machine when you can snuggle on the couch and stream TV shows instead?* Now that Chris and I have the littlest Ross, our days of binge-watching a series during the weekend are over, but we still find time to catch an episode or two in the evenings. Here are our recent favorites on Netflix and Amazon...



ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK  This show might be a little old news but I don't even care. Never in my life did I think I would love a prison drama so much. But I do, we both do. It took us forever but we finally finished season two a few weeks ago and now there's a void in our lives.

KEY AND PEELE  This is our go-to show when we're in the mood for something lighthearted. The jokes are hilarious, the characters are ridiculous, the production value is surprisingly high-quality. One of my favorite sketches: substitute teacher #2.

DOWNTON ABBEY  I realize the blogworld is probably over Downton (until next season, perhaps) but since we didn't have TV for the past four seasons, I've been catching up on Amazon. The storyline, the history, the costumes, the dry humor... it's all so good (although I feel like I should share that Chris decidedly does not feel the same.) I just finished season three yesterday and OHMYGOSH I don't even want to talk about it, my heart is broken. I just can't.

ADVENTURE TIME  We usually turn on Finn and Jake's shenanigans when we don't know what else to watch. Then we get sucked in to watching four episodes because everything is just so dang mathematical. I don't even know how to summarize this show in a few sentences, so you should probably read this article from the New Yorker.


Have you been obsessing over any shows lately? Next up for us will probably be Six Feet Under, and I've never seen The Office in full (I stopped watching when Michael left) so that's on my list as well, but I'd love to hear some other favorites!

* I feel the need to note that this sentence has some nice alliteration going on and even rhymes. I also feel the need to note that it was not planned. I promise I'm not that cheesy, I just read a lot of nursery stories these days.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Resolutions Revisited: 2014

2014 is halfway over (are you kidding me!?) so obviously I need to revisit my resolutions and somehow convince myself that I'm not a complete failure just yet.

What is it about the turn of every year that seems so promising? My full list of 14 resolutions for 2014 has been taped to the side of the fridge for the past six months; I see it every day waiting for my morning coffee to brew. I can do this! Lesson learned? Seeing does not mean doing. But I'm not going to focus on that... instead, I'll just pat myself on the back for everything I've stuck to so far for 2014. 


READ 14 BOOKS. Halfway through the year, halfway through my reading list. Feels good. Honestly, I haven't touched any books in about a month, but I flew through the first half of my list (the Harry Potter series, if you're curious) so somehow I'm magically on track for this goal. Yussss.


MAKE THE MOST OUT OF SUMMERTIME. Summer is kind of a big deal in the Ross household... we take the warm weather very seriously. For having a young toddler, I think we've been doing pretty good. Trips to the zoo, walks around the neighborhood every night. We're working on a beach trip soon, too. Plus, I've made it a personal goal to make a batch of popsicles every week this summer, and of course I'm 3/3 with that one.


MAKE OUR HOUSE A HOME. This is a slow but steady process. We just hit our one year homeaversary and still haven't hung any artwork on the walls but I'm okay with that. Most of our recent efforts have been in the garden - even though we've only completed a small section of our front yard, it was a huge overhaul. I'm proud of what we've been able to accomplish so far, especially since we can only really work when Amelia is asleep. I'm excited to continue to work on our home little by little.


WASH MY FACE EVERY NIGHT. In high school and college I was obsessed with skincare and kind of fell off the bandwagon after having Amelia. Although I've had my share of weekend skips lately, this is happening on a consistent basis and my skin much happier because of it.


FOCUS ON BEING A BETTER WIFE AND MAMA. These two. They are my heart. Admittedly, there are days when I am tired, grumpy and selfish and probably not the best wife and/or mama. But mostly I try to be attentive and patient. It's an ongoing goal that I know will never truly reach perfection, but that's okay. I'm just going to keep on loving them. And also feeding them corn on the cob because it's delicious and they're cute.
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As far as my other goals, I have a lot to get cracking on. I haven't written a single letter, my sewing machine has sat in the same spot since we moved in, and all our photos are gathering dust on my hard drive. Six months has flown by quickly, but there's still a decent chunk of time left in the year. There's still hope for those remaining resolutions.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The End of Winter

In the Ross household, I think we have finally seen the end of the longest winter yet... metaphorically speaking, of course, since it's the third day of July. JULY.


Amelia has been sick for a very long time, nearly half a year when I count the days. The long and short of it? Chronic respiratory and digestive issues as well as poor weight gain, causes not entirely known. In the past few months, she has been medicated, x-rayed, tested for parasites and foreign diseases... pretty much everything short of more invasive measures. We have been told her issues were potentially caused by everything from teething to cystic fibrosis (that was a scary 48 hours, but her test processed quickly and came back very negative.)

There was a while, it seemed, that we lived at the doctor's office, making several trips a week. When her pediatrician couldn't help us, we were sent to a pediatric gastroenterologist in Kalamazoo. The specialist has had us avoid soy and dairy (common sensitivities for babies) for the past couple of months to see if it would help. It has been really difficult, especially since Amelia loved cheese, and soy is in every product imaginable these days. We've made it work for us with almond milk, coconut yogurt, whole foods, and all sorts of vegan recipes and treats.

Little by little, things have gotten better. Her digestive system slowed down enough for her blistering diaper rash to heal, and her respiratory problems aren't as severe either. I wouldn't say she is 100% back to normal, but then what is normal when it comes to babies, anyway? Babies shoot poop up their backs and think rocks are edible.

Last week, after yet another doctor's visit, we finally got the okay from the specialist to begin incorporating small amounts of dairy and soy back into her diet. We started this past weekend, mixing about an ounce of cow's milk into her usual almond-coconut blend. We've noticed a slight shift, but overall she's doing really well! Hopefully we are on the right track. Since I'm still nursing her and dairy can stay in a mama's system for a full two weeks, I will be avoiding it for a bit longer to make sure Amelia's system can fully handle dairy (but oh do I dream of the day when I can have cheese pizza for dinner and ice cream for dessert!)


Originally, I wasn't going to share this part of our life on GH. I'm still not sure this story is mine to tell - something I struggle with as a mom on social media. But the more I've been thinking about it, the more I realize that I turn to the internet a lot when Amelia is sick. Although one quick Google search of an illness can send you down a dark spiraling path of rare diseases, complicated medical sites and scary images, it can also uncover stories of families who are going through the same issues, and hearing about those experiences can be invaluable. So perhaps our story will help you or someone you know. Sometimes I really do hate the internet, but mostly I am reminded of the good that it can bring, too.