Thursday, October 23, 2014

Coffee and Productivity: 10 Reasons Why I Avoid Caffeine for Creativity and Health

Ah, caffeine, the lifeblood of the Creative. Can you survive without it? Mountain Dew Code Red with a sugary cereal bar was my high school breakfast, I used to bounce off the walls then crash midday. Code Red had the highest caffeine content of any soda with an addictive red dye to boot. When I started working full-time as a bill collector I drank three cups of cream-and-sugared coffee for the comfort and taste. When I transitioned to finding writing work I was drinking instant espresso and wondering why I couldn't sleep, it was all mindless consumption. Weaning caffeine out was easy, I switched to trying various green teas for the taste. When I switched to veganism then semi-raw veganism I transitioned to no caffeine at all. It's a rare treat now. Sometimes with dangerous affects.

Green tea latte I ordered in a cute seaside cafe in Okinawa, Japan

Recently I made a very strong cup of green tea. Shit got did: organized, listed, cleaned, decorated. I felt my old "Writer's voice" returning, my "real voice" trained out by copywriting. I crave that lost voice with the same mad passion Ahab has for killing his whale, and green tea was a vessel that bought it back. But the green had its price; I woke up destroyed. That's my usual cycle with caffeine: a ton gets done one day, but the next day I move like a zombie. It's a zero-sum game.

The little booth we enjoyed our treats in. I adore cafes and still want to open one. I have a conflicted relationship with caffeine...but still try to avoid it!

Many doctors say coffee and tea are healthy. Many of the healthiest countries in the world drink it. Some of the oldest people in the world credit a black cup of coffee a day for their longevity. Yes, it boosts creativity and metabolism.  But I have to call bullshit on it's purported Wonder Powers for Perfect Health. Here are my issues with caffeine:

1. It's addictive. Plain and simple.

Any substance that creates a chemical dependency can't be good. Caffeine produces withdrawal headaches and even scarier, dependance for functioning. When I stopped drinking coffee and replaced it with ample water my semi-frequent migraines vanished. I don't miss 'em!

2. It's an unnecessary addiction.

I've been stopped here and reminded that air, water, food, and love* are also "addictions." I shouldn't have to point out we need those things to live but we don't need caffeine to live? If we're healthy and getting the correct amount of sleep, healthy food, exercise and ample water we shouldn't need caffeine to function with ample energy. I'm not saying I do all of that "right", hell no I don't! But I'm striving to improve my general health all the time and don't want caffeine to impair the judgement of my results. More on that below...

*That love-high you feel is your brain producing oxytocin, the love/addiction chemical. Next time you see your S/O say "You're my wittle oxytocin-producer... yes you are, yes you are!"

3. I want to use energy levels to gauge progress with my health.

I'm always trying new vegan /whole food/exercise combinations and striving to be as frugally healthy as possible. I want to hyperactively productive with my creative passions. I don't like caffeine messing up my ability to judge if my lifestyle improvements are working. I want to be naturally energetic as a reflection of proper hydration/sleep/diet/exercise.

4. Even in small doses, you develop a tolerance and need more for the same high.

A 1995 study showed that you develop a tolerance for the amount of caffeine you're drinking and will need more to function as well as your initial dosage in as little as 8-12 days, even if you're only drinking a tiny bit of caffeine. Furthermore, you can crave more in a matter of hours! I can't stand being dependent on any particular thing to get by other than healthy food and water.

5. I don't want to need it to be creative.

Caffeine gets you creative for a while...until the inevitable crash. I don't want to be dependent on any substance to be creative, I'm going to try natural methods like the ones in the classic book The Artist's Way.

6. It's nice to keep on-hand for emergency use only.

The less you drink it, the more if will be effective for emergency deadlines. Sparingly.

7. It's like those "speed shoes" in Sonic The Hedgehog. You're faster but it screws you.

I used to avoid the box you crush to make you much faster in Sonic The Hedgehog. You're faster but you almost enviably lose all your rings and/or  fall pray to the dozens of enemies and booby traps. It's no different in real life for me. (Phase 1) I get coffee high, over-ambitious and start on several projects and once, (Phase 2) The caffeine wears off and I'm left my a giant project-pile and house mess that sets me back a day or more and (Phase 3) The next day I'm sloth-slow after working too hard the prior day or staying up too late from not being able to sleep due to caffeine and I'm set behind.

It tends to be a hinderance and not helpful at all if you're not careful. And about that coffee high...

8. The Coffee-High creeps me out.

Caffeine increases dopamine and adrenaline levels, creating the mood and creativity boosting coffee high. I loathe taking anything that changes my mood, I'm that rare creative person that's never tried illegal drugs. The creativity boost is delicious and being happy is good, in theory. But it weirds me out. It's "fake" happiness, I don't like the thought of having to drink the coffee to be happy. And it can cause cranky withdrawals or tiredness later. I prefer to improve my mood and creativity naturally.

9. Cost.

The coffee you pick up from Starbucks, the cans of healthy or not-so-healthy energy drinks or teas add up! Let's say you buy coffee five days a week at it's average retail cost of $3.65*, that's $73.00 a month and $876 a year! A lot of people I know buy little energy drink pick-me-ups throughout the day that add more to that cost.

A cup of coffee at home costs 65 cents on average, that's the better way to go if you're going to drink it and a preparing a cup of tea can be a relaxing


10. The Cult of Coffee.

The smell of coffee is heaven for me and many others. I grew up influenced by big-time coffee culture being Hispanic and raised in Naples, Italy.* My mom would make daily cappuccinos and let me taste the sweet, frothy goodness. Coffee is nostalgic and comforting. It has a cultured, old-world association. Cafes are soothing spaces to work. The process of making it is a relaxing ritual. It's also culty and occasionally snobby.

*Want to feel your eyes twitch involuntarily? Test the might of a real Italian Espresso. The "Americano" coffee was invented from American soldiers in Italy during WW II that needed the stronger Italian coffee watered down.

Coffee smells and tastes delicious, it's a decadent treat and I'm not saying you should stop drinking it. I did, after all, recently share a pumpkin spice latte recipe. I know it affects everyone differently. But I hope you consider how much you drink, where you buy it, and why you drink it. I'll share alternatives healthy/tasty caffeine-free drinks and energy boosting methods in future posts.

A great post to read is The Best Time to Drink Coffee According to Science, with information on timing your coffee according to your natural circadian rhythm.

Do you need your cup of joe or tea to survive? Let's discuss coffee and creativity. I'll confess it's tempting to drink it occasionally for that creative boost
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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Relaxing Birthday Celebration at the Hostel in the Forest, Inspiring Daily Peacefulness


For my birthday I wanted to get away to the peaceful hostel where the trees sway in the breeze like a seductive whisper. "Come back, whhsssswhssswhsss" they call it my dreams. Pulsing, throbbing, beckoning. The Hostel in the Forest is my new favorite place in the world and the only thing stopping me from living there is my lease, my wonderful roommate who wouldn't come with me, and my macbook pro being a necessity to make a living- a machine they probably wouldn't like plugged in to one of their staff huts.

This time I could only snap photos with my broken smart phone, I'm waiting to get a new DSLR battery charger in the mail. Living without my SLR is torture! I feel like I have a limb missing and I wanted to photograph some abandoned spaces, kitschy Halloween things and crafts sooner, grr! Yet, it was nice to take a break from pedantic photo capturing and relax without feeling the need to capture every single moment of the trip. We stayed in "The Turtle Room"- a cute clandestine cubbyhole that along with "The Mushroom Room" is unobtrusively tucked beside the laundry area. It was a tad chilly (for us, got to 53 or so those nights) so we were grateful to stay in a space a bit warmer than the tree houses which are less insulated.

I loved seeing ample pumpkins on the front porch upon arrival!

There was lots of reading in the heartbreakingly gorgeous and peaceful library, trail exploring, making, and resting. Engrossed in Stephen King's Carrie, a stack of books beside me, I realized I hadn't felt this relaxed and contented in months. After franticly running around (right up to when we left- I had to pack orders, write, clean and take care of "last-second business" that dragged on for 5 hours!) it was a much needed break. I felt like I was gently swaying side-to-side like being cradled...yes I know this sounds insane, I swear I wasn't drinking special hippie kool-aid, drinking, or taking drugs. I was just so relieved and at peace.

The library is our favorite space at the hostel and I'm inspired to carve out some type of "no work/no tv" studios nook full of books in my apartment and future homes. A quiet shoes-off space for relaxing, reading, and writing.

This stay was quiet and cool. We explored more trails than the last visit, but not all of them. I love how we'll have something "new" to explore with every stay at this rate. There's still more T-Trails, photos to take, the lake and pool to swim in (clothes optional), and nearby driftwood beaches and more to drive out to.

During this visit we explored "The Corral" which houses guests when all the tree houses and rooms are full in true hostel-style. I was surprised to discover what was on the top floor, though.

There was an art studio! Filled with ample supplies, yarns, inspiring books and completed works, surrounded by the peaceful trees. A dreamy space to create.

A couple of sheets concealed a couple more bunk beds in the back of the art studio.

The ceiling hosted a giant art piece.

The Corral downstairs was surprisingly appealing, I'd imagine it would be fun to stay here with different guests from around the world.

Of course I had to test the hammock for a while. For Science!

I loved the string light and all of the quotes on the bed, floors, and wall left by past staff  members and guests.

The Disney freak in me loves the quote from Mufasa to Simba from The Lion King. At my now
advanced age of 28 [hyperbole] I actually think of that one from time to time. "Look inside yourself.You are more than what you have become." - indeed, time to get cracking and make things! Sorry Mufasa, I'm working on it! I'll return the Pride Lands just don't haunt me from the grave anymore! Aaaah...!

I loved the little sink in the corner of the room. Ramshackle, but in perfect working order.

And the bookshelf in the front of the room replete with dinosaur toy and a huge stack of National Geographic magazines to enjoy. I love how this place encourages so much reading and nature exploring. Life should be more like this.

At one point during the trip my boyfriend AJ announced that he must mysteriously disappear for thirty minutes or so. I was confused and a little twitchy about the secrecy of it all but he surprised me with a birthday fruit platter! (He overheard me tell my mom on the phone that I didn't want to eat a conventional birthday cake. Trying to keep more consistent with my healthy eating. Don't get me wrong though, if someone had bought me a birthday cake instead I'd have eaten it. Guiltily, but still.) He put a couple candles from the room on it for me to blow out.

And all the beautiful fruit was devoured in one day. 'Twas a very sweet gesture and I actually didn't see it coming. I think I'm still on-edge and adjusting to having such a sweet boyfriend.

My camera died but a trail to the "mystic willow" was recommended, I was told it holds another secret to the hostel's beginning. The trail took us to a porch that once belonged to a couple that lived behind the hostel that the original owner became close friends with. When they died he moved the whole thing to face a beautiful willow tree. The sweet tribute story was left in a hammock on the porch for visitors to read. Rocking back and forth on the hammock AJ told me he sometimes "doesn't believe I'm real, it's too good, what's the catch." - oh the sappiness! This is stuff I couldn't repeat aloud, I'm 12 going on 28 when it comes to sappy stuff. Ew, gross! Too cliche! Look at pictures of trees, forget I said anything:

The trails inspired me to get out to nature more. I can't wait to do some wild herb, berry, and flower gathering.

The main building here (where you check in and where the kitchen lives) houses a big book of literature on how the hostel was created that I'll read in full with the next inevitable trip.

I ran out of time/light to take photos of the hot bath we took in the middle of the woods. (Not seen above, that's another shot of the pool.) There's an area with a deck, shower, and big retro tub called "The sexy shower". We took two hot baths underneath the bright stars and later walked to the lake at night. The indigo sky was velvety, illuminated with clusters of twinkling stars. The black trees shiloetted on the horizon were reflected in the lake. It was a stunning tableau that looked like a painting come to life. Here, while singing back and forth on a swinging bench we wished the whole world could be like this. We considered how others came into the bathing area with us after their lake swim to wash up and no one was ashamed of the nudity and how free and friendly it could be, but also agreed it's nice to have the juxtaposition and the mystery. It's nice to a have a choice between chaotic urban life and peaceful living and to go back and forth and reap the benefits of both.

And now I have a beautiful image to go back to when meditating. When times are tough I can close my eyes are remember the peace at the hostel. I'll bring its lessons with me to the home and remember to go out and explore more, keep the TV off more often than not, create, read, and really live. I also left with more ideas for cooking creative vegan dishes, everything served for dinner was delicious. The travelers we met were equally inspiring, one was living the dream and biking the whole country. (And commenting it on Crazy Guy on a Bike an awesome journal site for bike travelers around the world. I'd love to do the same!) It was a lovely way to spend a birthday. We'll be back for you, hostel!

For those who missed it, I have a post on my first visit to the hostel that shows more of the space and information on staying there" target="_blank">here
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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Sushi Pot Art Studio + Tips for Being Successful on Etsy as an Artist/Vintage Seller


When I fond the Sushi Pot (best name ever) collage, and assemblage Etsy shop I was struck by the dedication to quality, consistency and beauty of the perfectly patinaed shop. Suzanna has sold over 10,333 vintage originals and creations unique creations since 2006 (selling over 830 items her first year!) and considers Etsy and making art her full time job. The bulk of her shopping for decorating her home and making her creations happens at junk yards, flea markets, and thrift stores. Today we get peek glimpse around her studio and pick her brain on success, productivity and inspiration!

1. Tell us a bit about yourself, Suzanna

I'm Suzanna Scott, a thirty-something artist living and working from my home studio in Springfield, Missouri, USA. In addition to being an artist I'm a home-schooling mama to my 8-year-old daughter Lizzie and wife to Patrick, a professor of economics (seriously…opposites attract!). When my daughter Elizabeth was born I began creating small scale assemblage and collage, thus Sushipot was born. I currently reside in a small but cozy home full of art with my husband Patrick and my daughter.

2. Do you have any formal training as an artist? Your work shows it.
I attended Asbury College (located right outside of Lexington, Kentucky) and earned a BA in Art with an emphasis in sculpture. Until about 2 years ago I was primarily labeled as a stone sculptor. 
3. What is the first thing you can remember making by hand? How and why did you make it?
I remember two images that I would draw repetitively as a young child–houses and bridges. The houses were always tall and grid-like with dozens of rooms. I would draw elaborate details inside each room and each would be labeled for a specific use. The symbolism behind the house form still fascinates me today. As for the bridges–Idon’t know what was up with that!
4. What inspires you? Where do your ideas come from?
The majority of my childhood was spent living overseas in the Philippines. This experience built an invaluable repertoire of memories and images that I constantly glean from in my work.
My inspirations come from so many weird places/things/people at the oddest times. Some days I wish I could just switch off my brain as some ideas have almost made me drive off the road or want to jump out of bed at 3 in the morning and start working. I sketch and doodle constantly so as not to lose a precious idea! Here’s a list of things that switch me on….all things old, chipped, cracked, worn, dusty, used, found, buried, designed, loved, pieced, intricate, aged and transfigured. That about covers it!

5. What are your favorite materials?
Old books & paper, junk, anything that’s rusted and I must mention stone as I’ve been carving for about 10 years now. You can see examples of my stone work at
6. What have been the most valuable lessons learned from other artists on Etsy?
I have learned (and am learning) an invaluable life lesson from my good friend Suzanne at ( who has recently joined Etsy. Beauty can also come from the darkest points of life and the creation of beauty does not stop during tragedy–it becomes transfigured. 
7. Why should people buy handmade?
Handmade objects come with a story and background. They add interest to the everyday and the mundane. Life is too short to be ordinary. You must fill it with objects of beauty! [Van's Note: Agreed!]
A clown collection in Suzanna's studio.
8. How did you first hear about Etsy, and what made you decide to open a shop on the site?
I stumbled across Etsy one day while I was surfing the web and looking for possible sites on which to sell my artwork. I had never heard of it before but I’d like to believe that fate intervened. I joined Etsy the next day after comparing it to other possibilities and reading all the press I could find. It looked like my best option with little financial commitment as I had no “wiggle-room” in my budget at the time. I figured I didn’t have too much to lose.
9. What do you think your key to successful selling on Etsy has been?
My personal goal from the start was to create one new piece a day. I keep a journal/sketchbook of sorts that logs new ideas that I want to try. Some of these ideas end up in my shop as successful pieces; others never make it out my studio door. I list new items frequently and also renew items at peak traffic times during the day.
I do my best to offer excellent customer service. My husband has dubbed it ”the Sushipot experience!” I notify each customer as soon as possible that I’ve received their order and give them a ship date. Each order is packaged with great care and detail. I always include a handwritten thank-you along with a little something extra. With each package that I send out, I hope to add a bright spot in my customer’s day.
10. How do you promote your shop?
I currently do not promote Sushipot outside of Etsy. The customers here do more than keep me busy. As long as I stay visible by listing often, I entice new shoppers into my store. Outside of Etsy, I also exhibit and sell work in several galleries and boutiques.
11. How do you handle such a large volume of sales in your shop? What systems have you created to manage the orders?
Some days can be quite stressful with a sick kid, orders piling up, unanswered convos, etc. I’ve recently given up trying to mail everything out the next day. I designate 2 or 3 days a week as shipping days depending on the amount of orders. My week goes something like this: studio day, posting day, stuff sells, packing/shipping day and then back to the studio. I always enlist the help of my husband when I have piles of orders to package. It is much more fun when someone helps!
12. What do you do to gain repeat buyers?
The majority of my new buyers become repeat buyers. I realize that buyers have a wide array of choices on Etsy. If they are not pleased with their choice, they will not come back. There is constant incentive to provide a better experience, not just globally on the site, but also to out perform my own standards.

Out on the hunt with the family.
13. How do you stay motivated? Does it come naturally?
The Etsy community motivates me in so many ways. Knowing that my customers and other Etsians view my shop regularly motivates me to give them something new to look at. I even packed up our TV and put it in the garage so I wouldn’t have the distraction. That may seem extreme but it has put more time into my day!

14. Were you able to quit your day job due to your success selling on Etsy?
I was not employed at the time I joined Etsy but I was actively looking for a job. After the 2006 holiday season I quit applying for jobs. I was convinced I could turn my Etsy shop into a reliable income.
15. What features do you use most on Etsy?
Since its recent debut, I read The Storque religiously and check the forums at least once a day. I am one of those silent forum stalkers because I don’t post much. When browsing and shopping, I love to use the Time Machine 2.
16. In ten years I’d like to be…
Still creating. Still married to Patrick. Traveling a bit more. Discovering Etsy is one of the best things that has ever happened to me–I’d love to still be convo-ing and heart-ing in 2017!
17. Anything else you want to add? 
A few extra words of advice: Never stop perfecting your product and your shop. There is always something that can be improved. Be your own worst critic. When it’s slow — hit the “drawing board,” come up with new ideas or improve on old ones. Invest in a good digital camera with a macro function. It will become invaluable. You’ll never sell a thing with a dark or fuzzy photo. Be patient. It took 20 long days for my first item to sell. Lastly, there is no magic formula for becoming successful on Etsy. If there was, it would be sold in a little capsule marked “hard work,” and it would be the most coveted item on Etsy because, after all, hard work is handmade!
Thanks for sharing your beautiful studio and amazingly helpful tips for vintage sellers (Suzanna ran a successful vintage shop, now closed so she can focus on selling her assemblage pieces)! Your work is inspiring and I feel even more motivated to make pieces of my own again and improve the "Experience" of shopping with my Etsy shop! I have a couple of boxes of bits and pieces I've saved from thrifting I want to turn into assemblage pieces, too.

Check out Suzanna's shop and blog. If you have any more questions feel free to ask in the comments. Let's work to improve indie businesses together!
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