Saturday, January 23, 2016

How to Stay Sane While "Kondo"-ing Your Life

It's snowing a bit today. And by "a bit" I mean there are huge drifts of snow blocking my doors and the wind has things blowing sideways out in the now white world. 

I like snow a lot. I think it's gorgeous. And I love that it makes it possible to breathe for a few days here in the Nation's Capital of over-programmed people. Everything, and I mean everything, stops. No school, no cars, no work, no obligations. It's kinda heaven. 

So what do you do, when you have a Type A personality and suddenly you find yourself with days of nothing going on and nowhere to go?

You pull out this little book and get to work, of course.

Ah.. Marie Kondo and The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. One of the most talked about books of 2015. Have you guys read it yet? If not, go pick it up at Costco for less than $10. Or get it used on Amazon... but if you go the Amazon route, read the reviews. There was some poor guy who was completely traumatized because he to move all his beloved "shtuff" into his truck to keep his wife from throwing it away after she read the book. (Obviously his wife didn't read the chapter about how you really should only do this with your own belongings.) Totally cracked me up. But it's way down there in the reviews, so good luck finding it.

Anyway, I read this book last summer. Kondo is totally insane. I mean completely out of her mind, in the way that only OCD single Japanese women can be. 

But she is also right. 

If you follow her method, there is very little chance of you going back to your comfortable wicked ways of overabundance and slavery to stuff. (Well, I think having to fold your underwear in a certain way and put it in a little carton is a form of slavery, but for the sake of this post, let's stick with the "spirit of the law," shall we?) Following this method actually changes the way you think about your stuff. It makes you aware in ways that I don't really understand. Plus it's hard. And takes a lot of effort, so you might find yourself giving your lame ways a stern talking to if you start to slide once it's all said and done. But most of all, it's amazing once it's all done. Really amazing, like Disney sparkles on the corners of things amazing. You feel like you are capable of Great Things.

So after Christmas, I was ready to tackle my stuff and repent of my Capitalistic ways. I started looking around for stuff to get rid of. 

I forgot to take a "before" shot of my dresser. But my side table looks pretty much like my dresser did, 
give or take a layer or two of stuff.

And then my head blew up. 

One of the tenants of this book is to sort things in categories, all at the same time. So if you choose to do "pans" you pull out all the pans you have in the entire house and make decisions on what stays and what goes. Now this makes an amazing amount of sense until you start looking around and realizing just how many freaking categories of stuff you have. I guarantee that you have an enormous amount of stuff to sort through. Unless you are a military wife. Then you can stop reading this post because your stuff is already pared down within an inch of it's life so you can make weight when you move. You are also my hero, because your house is always immaculate, in it's lack of stuff-ness. But aside from the military wife super heroes out there, the rest of us all have infinite groups of things to sort through.

This is where tip number one comes in. 

Tip 1. Pick some place small to start. A drawer, for example. Or the front hall closet. It's not as small as a drawer, but it is a manageable space that if you run out of time, you can just cram everything back into. I chose my jewelry stash. Which didn't end up being very small. I have way more than I thought. Which is the point of gathering all of it up at the same time.

Which brings us to tip number two:

Tip 2. You will need to clean up a place to sort things, before you ever start sorting. You could use the space on the playroom floor, the top of your bed, or your dining room table. Someplace where there is flat space you can spread stuff out out on. But it has to be cleared off before you start dumping more stuff on it. 

I decided to use my floor to stage and sort the stuff on top of my dresser because I knew I could leave it there for a while if I had to. I also knew it would annoy me enough that I would actually finish dealing with it.

In my case, the jewelry was on top of my dresser and taking up half of my top drawer. So I needed a place to work in my master bedroom. I could barely walk around my side of the room, let alone find a place to put all my jewelry out to look at. So I cleaned up all the random things that were hanging out in my side of the room. It took two days. Seriously. Two. Days. Now there was a lot of stuff that didn't belong, like the alphabet flashcards that I bought to spell out a different message on the wall every day at Girl's Camp from two years ago and the dinner plate holding the tools I had used to install track lighting in my hallway three weeks ago, but the two days is a significant thing to note. It totally shocked me. So much so that it's part of tip 3:

Tip 3. This process WILL take you more than one day, per category for most categories. Plan this way and you will be happier and feel less lame inclined to give up when it takes more than one day.  You will need at least one day to sort and at least one day to process what you've sorted. You might get it all done in the same day, if most of what you are paring down is stuff you actually plan on throwing away. 

Now that you have a clean space to stage in and a realistic time frame, you are ready to start tearing things apart sorting. This will generate a whole bunch of clumps of things. Which quickly makes you aware of the need for tip 4.

OK, let's stop for a minute. I can feel you all getting over whelmed and checking out. I know this is a long post. And so, far all I am telling you is what a pain this all is. Keep in mind, my purpose here really is to tell you how to succeed. It is completely worth your time, I swear. Even if you only get through one drawer of makeup or socks. But it does take a certain mind set to get all the way through. The great thing is, once you are thinking about it right, you will just keep succeeding.  

Alright. Pep talk over. Back to tip 4. 

Tip 4. Find a reasonable way to manage your sorting. Do what ever makes the most sense for you; piles, bags, empty boxes, small plastic cups, zip-lock bags, whatever suits your needs. You will need to keep track of a variety of things in a variety of sizes, headed for a variety of destinations. And these are strictly temporary homes, only to be used until you finish processing this category. 

When I sorted my jewelry, I put it all out on the dining room table. Then I sorted it into piles and finger bowls, based on what designation I had given it. For example, the bracelets were too much trouble initially, so they went in a big pile towards the middle. The earrings I knew I didn't want went in a pile on the far right. The necklaces were hung on a chair next to the one I was sitting on. The broken stuff that was worth repairing got put on the plant stand behind me. The bits I planned on using in collages went into a zip-lock bag with "collage" written on it in Sharpie. The empty boxes and bags went in an Ironstone chamber pot that happened  to be sitting on the table. The broken, worn out or de-silvered earrings and random paper debris went in a bag labeled "trash."

Tip 5. A few unexpected things to keep handy during the sorting period are a Sharpie, a regular pen or pencil, post-it notes, and a pad of paper. You need the Sharpie to write on plastic bags designating things "donation" or "trash" or whatever, so you don't forget and throw the wrong things away. The pencil is to write out what needs to happen to any given item. For example, you could write "earring wire broken off" to remind yourself that this pair of earrings needs to go to the jeweler and what needs to be done, so you don't have to sit there and figure it all out again when you are standing in line with your plastic baggie of broken baubles at the jewelers. The pad of paper is to write out things that are going to take several steps. When I cleared off my dresser, I had several works of art that my children had made. Some needed to be repaired or modified, and I want to frame all of them, but I don't have the time or money to do so right now. So I wrote out all my plans, both for now and in the future for the art. For now, I will store them in my original art drawer. When I can, I will frame them and do the other stuff. It's all about dealing with things to the fullest level right now  and making is super easy on yourself when you have to deal with stuff later.

Once you are all done sorting, then you tackle the "processing". Do not let yourself start any more sorting, or any other type of project until you have processed stuff.

Tip 6. Processing can be boring, frustrating, complicated, and time consuming, but you should finish it completely before you start anything else. Processing is the term I am using to describe anything that involves dealing with the stuff you have just unearthed in your sorting that is not going back into the place you have just torn apart sorted. Things that need to go to the cleaners. Or be put in another room. Or to be repaired. Or to be sent to a cousin. Or returned to a neighbor. Or to be donated to Goodwill. All of these kinds of actions are what I think of as "processing." They can be cumbersome. Driving to the cleaners is one more thing to remember. Sending outgrown clothing to your sister's kids requires many steps, before you even head over to wait in line at the post office. Taking that unused light fixture to the ReStore requires you know where the ReStore is and what their donation hours/policies are.

My bags of items to be donated, mended, and given to a friend 
after cleaning my bedroom floor while creating a place to sort.

Simply put, processing requires that you actually do all the annoying, inconvenient things that caused the stuff to be left on the floor or crammed in the drawer in the first place. 

This is where you will want to cave. You will be tempted to do something else. Anything else, rather than finish working through your processing pile. But don't let yourself abandon ship. 

Don't you LOVE this painting? It's my new prize from Salvation Army. I just get lost in it every time I look at it.

Keep chipping away a little at a time, even if it means taking a break to do laundry or walking the dog or going to lunch with your friends. But keep at it for as long as you can stand it every day. Bribe yourself if you have to. Because it will not go away until you deal with it.

So take a breath. 
Make a plan. 
And do it. 
All of it. 

You will be so happy once it is all done. 

You will be free. 

The finished dresser top. In this process, I ended up cleaning up my floor, sorting all my underwear, sorting and restaging all my jewelry where I can see all of it so I remember to use it, clearing off my dresser, clearing out my chaise /writing area, and making my room look more decadent than it already did. WIN!

So, you all ready to "Kondo" something? 
I'd love to hear about your plan or how it all went. 

Talk to you soon,

CM Shaw

Monday, January 11, 2016

How to Know What You Want Most.

You guys all know I read a lot, yes? Well I do. And a couple of years ago I read a gem of a book called Hothouse Flower and the 9 Plants of Desire by Margot Berwin. 

Sorry. Not my best shot there, but you get the idea. I also noticed they shortened the title of the book to just Hothouse Flower

So in this book, the main characters all live in a huge, dirty city. It is a struggle to find beauty there. But one of my favorite quotes ever is produced in this environment:

If you can hear the quiet while being woken up by the garbage trucks, you have power. If you can feel the stars when all you can see are the lights in the skyscrapers, that's power. If you can smell the forest in front of the dumpster, then you have power. Never let the events in front of you, or the people around you, tell you what to see, feel, taste, smell, or hear.

Now you gotta read the book if you want to know how this is relevant to the plot. But you only have to think about it for a minute, to figure out how it's relevant to your soul. So go ahead. Take a minute. read it again and think about it. I'll wait for you...

So what did you think? Do you have that kind of power to visualize a different reality? To see something or experience something radically different from what is right in front of you? Would you like to be able to?

That's kinda how I spent 2015.

I spent the year learning about what I want most. 

That's what it takes you know, to create a reality so vivid you can call it into existence anywhere. Under any circumstances. If you do what you want most, you are inhabiting your own life. You are being what you are most like. It makes you aware in ways that are not otherwise possible without great effort. And it's fun.

I stumbled on this quest for what I most wanted accidentally. I had been trying really hard in 2014 to be what everyone else needed me to be. Mom, wife, tutor, church member, chauffeur, accountant, cleaning lady, blogger, artist, interior decorator. You know the list. And I was miserable. I felt like I was putting all this effort in and I wasn't even allowed to put what I wanted to do in my own life. 

I knew I was deeply unhappy and that the way I was doing things had to change. So I started whining to my dad about it one day when he was visiting for Christmas. He and I have an almost identical world view, so I thought he would be the ideal person to ask. Well what he said certainly had an impact. 

After a lot of me giving the back story and him trying to tell me how to prioritize my life, he said, "If art was your dominant priority, you'd be doing it right now." 

I was furious! Didn't he understand that I was sacrificing for my family? That I had prayed about my choices? That I was the woman and so certain things just fell on me and I had no choice? That the only thing the Universe seemed to support creatively right now was projects on my house? I must be talking to a man. AHHHHHH!

Cue the tears and HUGE meltdown. 

The thing is (which I realized a day or two later) is, that with my personality type, my dad was right. I ALWAYS do what I want most. And what I'd been doing was working on the house, not making art. And then blaming the Universe for not helping me. I had made the mistake that most of us make so often. I was wrong about what I wanted.

It's crazy easy to be wrong about what you most want. We live in a world full of "should"s and advertising and things to compare ourselves to and a billion opinions about everything. I spent the entire year being completely stunned how wrong I usually was about what I most wanted. Some days, I just really wanted to get the bills paid or the dishes done because they were In.The.Way. Somedays I wanted to wander around outside with my dog. Some days I wanted to upholster a chair, or build a bench. But even though I was often wrong in guessing what I thought I would most want, if figured out a method to tell what I really most wanted. 

When I really want something the most, a stillness and peace comes into my mind as I imagine doing that thing. My nature is turbulence and energy, so stillness is a novelty for me. It has become a marker for me. I don't know if that will be your marker, but you will have one. Maybe if you are a quiet person by nature, what you want will give you energy? All I know is it comes with a sense of peace and rightness. 

But you have to pay attention. Listen to your mind as you go through options. Think, before you commit all your time for that day. Wait until you feel the peace. it will come. Say a little prayer for God to help you, if that helps. He will.

And you can't judge your desires. Sometimes what you want to do can seem really stupid and unimportant. One year I really wanted to make a book of hand turkeys (you know, like in elementary school where you trace your hand and then make it into a turkey) during the Thanksgiving break. Stupid, right? But it was so INSANELY fulfilling! When you feel that peace, go with it. Just say "yes."

So now you know what you want. That's Awesome! But you have this giant life you are trying to cram this Want into. How do you make it fit?

You figure out what it takes to make it happen in general. Then figure out how to fit your life around making it happenHave you always wanted to go to the Hershey Spa and have a massage and chocolate bath? Find out how much it costs, how far away it is, and when it has openings. Figure out when you could save that much money and figure out if you want to go alone or with friends. How will you all get there? When will you go? Is there a time of year that is less crowded or expensive? Figure out the logistics of the thing. Then follow all the steps you've planned until it goes from dream to reality.

When I turned 38, I was two years out from having my youngest and tired all the time. I started watching a show called Shimmy on FitTV (wishful exercise watching) and decided I wanted to learn how to belly dance. 

So I went down the list. I had to find a reputable place that taught belly dancing classes in my area. I had to take these classes on Saturdays, as DK was at work too late on weeknights. I had to figure out how to cover the tuition fees. I had to find a place in my house to practice. I had to find mirrors and the right clothing and music.

And I did it! I found a great studio about 30 min from my house. It was a bit of a drive, but I loved the alone time it gave me just to think about whatever. I found the money for the classes by eating out one less time a week. I used my entryway with $5 full length mirrors from Target leaned up against my front door to practice because it's the only room that has both hardwood and enough space to dance. And DK brought me back some belly dancing music when he went on a business trip to Dubai. So I was set. I bought a hip scarf from the studio and made another one because, they were from Egypt and really nice, but expensive. I took lessons for 3 years and practiced 4-5 days a week in my entry. It was amazing! I felt more alive than I had since high school. I felt like my life belonged to me again. 

Then I had to stop. I had taken so many classes, that only the advanced ones offered on weeknights were left. The kids had gotten into junior high and our nights were packed. And our budget shrank. No matter what I tried, I couldn't make it fit. So I cried a bit and quit.

I am so grateful I put in the effort and made the sacrifice of time and money and practice that required. It was one of my favorite things I have ever done with myself. Just thinking about finally mastering my shimmy or learning how to circle my hips and walk with my arms waving simultaneously makes me smile all the way to my liver. Even though I can't replicate the experience at the moment. And that my friend, is power. 

And I just started a new dream...

and yes, there is some belly dancing. But that's another story for another day.

Go! Find your dream. Listen to the whisperings of what you want most. Put your life back into your life, even if it seems stupid or strange or impossible. The Universe will help you. You will start to feel like you are home in your own life. I know you can do it. 

You guys have any dreams you are working towards or wishes of things you want to do? how is it going? What is your plan? Tell me all about it.

Talk to you soon,

CM Shaw

Monday, January 12, 2015

So Many Gifts...How about 29 More?

There are a few times in my life where the outcome of something has been completely unanticipated. Going to Japan as a missionary and meeting my future husband there.  Becoming an artist which lead to being a barn saler which led to being a blogger. Going to a thrift shop in Maryland for a filing cabinet and coming home with my forever dining room table in a style I never would have intentionally considered. (read that adventure here)

That's kinda how I felt about my experience reading 29 Gifts by Cami Walker. I checked it out from my local library because the title sounded festive and Christmas was coming.

Not exactly the Hallmark Channel misguided lovers figuring things out story I was expecting.

29 Gifts is a memoir of the Cami Walker's experience learning about how to give back to the world despite her daily struggle with Multiple Sclerosis. Note: For those of you with weak constitutions for suffering, hang in there with me. We are not talking about an Oprah book here.  I am a total pansy when it comes to reading about other people's sufferings. I wouldn't do that to you. (OK, I just googled it, and this actually IS an Oprah book. How ironic. Here's the link. But it's not one of her normal, wrenching, searingly painful with no redemptive value ones. I hate those freaking books.) This is a study of gratitude and showing intentional love for those around us, strangers and those we love most alike.

When we meet the author, her Multiple Sclerosis has progressed to the point where moving is difficult, and daily tasks like doing the laundry or washing the dishes seem like huge mountains of effort. She can't work, despite her love for her job and she is terrified her wonderful husband of two or three years is going to get tired of caring for her and leave her.

One day while talking to her dear friend Mbali, an African medicine woman, Walker pours her frustrations out about how miserable she is. Mbali simply replies with the "prescription" of giving away 29 gifts in 29 days. Walker is stunned. She can barely move. What could she possibly have to give? She writes "Give 29 gifts in 29 days" in a notebook, slams it shut and promptly forgets about it. One day, she rediscovers the notebook and figures that since even the pain medication she's taking isn't working, she might as well try following Mbali's advice. 

And that is when everything starts to change.

Photo by DK 

As much as I love that the book is about giving and receiving, that is not the message it held for me. I was raised by an insanely generous father, and learned a long time ago about the joy of giving to increase other's quality of life and mitigate my own misery. It is one of the pillars I build my life on.  

For me, this book held some new keys to living with an eye towards my own abundance. I struggle with scarcity. I am often afraid we don't have enough money or that this thing or that thing will run out. And I never feel like I have enough time to do all the things I want to. Some of this is well founded in experience. I have been very poor before and didn't relish the experience. But most of it is just my own preferences and paranoia taking over my better judgement. I have never been so destitute as to not have food or housing. I have always had resources of some sort or another. But just like most people, I tend to focus on what I lack, rather than embrace and rejoice in what I have.

In the book, everything Mbali says to Walker felt like it was for my heart as much as hers. I had never thought to connect giving and abundance before. The following thrilled me when I read it:

"Healing doesn't happen in a vacuum, Cami, but through our interactions with other people. By giving, you are focusing on what you have to offer others, inviting more abundance into your life. Giving of any kind is taking a positive action that begins the process of change. It will shift your energy for life."

I am good at giving. It is easy for me in most cases. But I never thought to use it intentionally as a vehicle for my own positive change. Huge, right?

And this one about knocked my socks off:

"No matter how much we have materially, we are often in a place of scarcity:we never think we have enough or that we're good enough. Instead of getting lost in a sense of lack, once we realize we are a part of something bigger, it becomes clear we have many gifts to offer the world."

I have spent the last three years feeling poor.  How ridiculous. 

I live in a beautiful home in a wealthy county with great schools and a husband with a stable job that he loves. My kids are all wonderful and well adjusted. I have lovely things to look at and do. I have many many friends who love me, as well as a supportive extended family. There is most certainly no lack in my life. 

I have also spent the last three years helping my kids do well in school and providing opportunities, granted often at large sacrifice to myself, for them to gain new skills and have important experiences that will shape their lives in powerful ways. I have used my skills as a group builder and energy maker to launch several small artist's careers to a professional level. I have used my time and wit to support my friends in the blogging and Instagram world. I have turned many strangers into dear friends. I have used restraint and generosity and sensitivity to help my husband through an insanely difficult period professionally. In fact, as I look back over the last three years, it has been the giving that has saved me. My ability to use what I had to enhance the lives of those around me. 

Tears are coming as I type this and look back over the years with eyes focused on my own abundance. I have never thought about it like that. It is humbling to see how much God was able to do with my heart and hands. How much I could have been rejoicing in all this time. 

I can see the truth of Walker's statement, 

"The best way to attract abundance into your life is to be in a 
perpetual state of giving and gratitude." 

You become aware of what you have, of what you can do. 

So as I step forward into this fresh new year, I have decided to focus on being aware of the gifts I am giving and receiving.  I have missed a lot of my own joy in my lack of mindfulness. I have felt empty, when a shift in perspective would have shown a cup running over. 

And my prayer for you,dear reader, would be that you be aware of your own worth, your own magnificence in this world. Simply because you have so much to give it, so many ways to bless those around you. And so much joy to find as you wander through this lovely life.

Talk to you soon,
 CM Shaw

PS: Have you read 29 Gifts? What did you think? Leave me a comment because I'd love to know what your take away was.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Pura Vida = Costa Rican Chocolate

This excellent photo by DK
For today's adventure, I thought I'd take you all away from the cold and back to Costa Rica. I promise this is actually relevant to the season and not just pure escapism. (But would your really mind even if it was pure escapism?)

Our trip is relevant for two reasons. First, it's Thanksgiving week, which means everyone is making goodies for the Feast. And this post is all about chocolate. You know you are thinking about chocolate. Aren't all the best goodies made of chocolate? Then again, there is pie..

But I digress...

The second reason Costa Rica is relevant is Black Friday. You know you need to buy something cool for your sister or mother or cousin. Why not buy them some really great chocolate? That makes pretty much everyone happy...unless they are lactose intolerant, and then, not so much. But I suppose you can't please everyone. Alas.

In any case, think of this post as my little gift guide for Black Friday. It's so nice of me really. You can sleep in, avoid the crowds, shop online in your PJ's and know you are buying a killer gift for your friends and family while supporting small business. Think of the endorphins!

Alright, that's enough commercial. Let's get back to our post, shall we?

Hmm, where were we? Costa Rica...chocolate...oh yes!  Today I wanted to bring you all with me to make chocolate. From Cacao. Seriously. I took a class while I was there.

Come on! It's about to start!

The first thing you have to do is find Playa Flamingo on the map. That's this beach: 

Next, you email or call Henrik Bodholdt, the charming Dutchman who runs the Beach Chocolate Factory who lives in this  area. Can you blame him? He lives about 6 minutes away from this view. 

He teaches a weekly chocolate making workshop on Friday mornings at 10am.
That's where we are headed.

Here we are in his back yard. Isn't that giant ceiba tree something? 

All chocolate starts with cacao and this is the start to Henrik's own grove!
He planted these seeds last January and look how big they already are.

Here's a cacao pod. See the gooey white stuff? That's the fruit. Believe it or not, it tastes
kind of like passion fruit, super fruity and sweet-tart. I loved it!

What we think of as chocolate is actually the seeds of the fruit, fermented, roasted, and ground. Here they are after being roasted. They kinda look like huge, dull coffee beans. At this point you have to shell them. Well, you are really just peeling off a papery coating. 

And when you are done, they look like this:

See how shiny they are? And they are starting to smell like chocolate at this point. 

But speaking of smelling like chocolate, you gotta be there when they grind those puppies. Heaven! I have been to the Hershey Spa numerous times, where they have chocolate baths and serve fresh hot chocolate in the waiting rooms...That is nothing to this smell. 

Imagine having your entire body enshrouded by a cloud of the rich smell of
dark chocolate brownies baking...

That kinda gets you there, but not really. This is that much better. The stuff of dreams.

See all that slimy chocolaty goodness? That is chocolate liquor. They must call it that because you get drunk on the smell. (Ask Henrik why. He is a walking chocolate encyclopedia. Seriously. The man knows all things chocolate. even DK was impressed and that's saying something.) Chocolate liquor is the base of all chocolate anything. At least it should be, if it's worth two shakes and bears the name "chocolate."

This is the stuff that makes you so happy. Here in a bowl, just waiting to be mixed and eaten.

Even though I LOVE dark chocolate, I chose to add a bit of powdered milk and some organic, unprocessed sugar, to make it taste less bitter. Chocolate alone is a bit too potent for even me.

In the way of all the best days of childhood, you mix your concoction up with your bare hands.

They look like this when you are done:

And you have a nice ball of chocolate to add the finishing ingredients to. I think we broke ours in half and added different things to each part. DK added chili powder to one part and almonds to the other. I added coconut to one of mine and macadamia nuts to the other.

And everything was delicious. "Want to drown in it" delicious.

And that's just my chocolate. You should taste Henrik's. He actually knows what he's doing and has the patience and equipment to grind his beans for days.

Yes folks. the best chocolate has been ground for days.

That smell, for days. I'd never go anywhere. I'd waste away, just smelling.
Because it doesn't taste good yet.

Keep in mind that Henrik is making chocolate that competes with the quality of the French, Belgian, and Swiss. His beans are all organic and he knows the farmers he buys from. I was impressed with all his stuff, but true to my dark chocolate preferences, my favorites were Tenorio (70% cacao with cacao nib chunks, which I don't see in the shop) and Celeste (70% cacao). But I would tell you to get the gift box, if you don't know what you want. It has 1 square each of white chocolate with cacao nibs, milk chocolate with almonds, and pure dark chocolate.

So if you plan on going to the North West coast of Costa Rica, shoot Henrik a message or give him a call. You can click here or on the photo to go right to his "Contact Me" page.

The workshop was totally worth the very reasonable $25 he charges.The roads near his place were clean and paved, which can be a novelty in Costa Rica, depending on where you stay. And Henrik is so much fun to talk to. He is super knowledgeable about all things chocolate and a bunch of other stuff.  Ask him about staying with the Native Indian tribe that grows some of the best chocolate in the world. That is a story worth hearing about. 

If you are stuck in the cold with me this Holiday season, take heart, as Henrik's online shop, Chocolate Craft, ships anywhere in the world. I should have bought a lot more of his chocolate than I did. My stash is already gone. So I will be ordering some more to make my holidays bright. You might go in with a fellow chocolate lover, as international shipping adds a bit.

Just click on the picture above to go to Henrik's shop.

If you are going to a different region in Costa Rica, there are other chocolate tours. I discovered Henrik by reading trip adviser after seeing this blog post on the "A Cruising Couple" blog via a Pinterest search for "chocolate tours Costa Rica.

Well that's it for today.

Unless you guys have some fantastic chocolate fantasy you want to tell me.
I'm all ears for that sort of thing. But keep in mind, this is a public venue.

Talk to you soon,

CM Shaw

Saturday, November 15, 2014

How to Make a Chair Slip Cover Out of ScotchBlue Painter's Tape

Have you ever done something for a really long time, like 20 years, and then suddenly woke up one day and you were just done? I have been feeling that way about decorating my house for about 6 months now. It is not what I want it to be, but I am tired of fighting with it. I want to make one huge push and just get the whole thing done so I can ignore it for the next ten years. 

My problem here has been a shortage of both time and money. I do almost everything myself because I have had much more time, than money for the last 20 years. And fortunately, I am crafty and have a knack for design. It has been fun to paint and reuse and sew and tinker. It was an awesome creative outlet for years. But now I want to put that energy in other directions. I have less time and many important things competing for that time. But still no extra money for decorating. 

So I have had to think out of the box. For a while I did the barn sale. I have given up a few luxuries and asked for house related things for Christmas and birthday presents. But my mother actually gave me the best "outside the box" idea ever.

She suggested I make a slip cover out of painter's tape and try to win the Scotch Blue Painter's tape Contest. The Grand Prize is $5000. That would make a major dent in finishing stuff around here. And by "finishing stuff" I mean paying other people to do the work so it actually gets done this decade. 

And I did it. 

I spent 30 hours over the last two weeks and figured out how to build a self supporting, structurally independent slip cover out of painter's tape. In theory, I could take it off and put it right back on, as it's not reliant on the chair for its form. I finished this morning.

I promise that's not chintz. Here's a closer look:

All those little bits of color are the brand markers for the two types of ScotchBlue painter's tape I used. The green one is the ScotchBlue Multi-Surface with Edge-Lock TM  Paint Line Protector Painter's Tape. The orange one is ScotchBlue Delicate Surface with Edge Lock TM Paint Line Protection Painter's Tape. The good people at ScotchBlue were generous enough to send me 3 rolls of orange and 2 rolls of the green (I already had another roll of the green that they sent me earlier.) when I asked for it, without even knowing what I was going to do with it. Super generous. Thanks so much guys!

So, are you curious how I did it? 

Here's what I started with:

I made the mistake or starting with the arms. I had this great plan to run a chevron down them, and it was awesome until I tried to reinforce the back. Crash and burn city. I had to throw away 3 hours worth of work. But I did learn the right way to do it from that mistake.

You build and underlying skeleton of the shape you want with tape facing you sticky side out. Then you tape to that. This gives the structure you need, but allows for re-positioning without too much headache.

I used straight pins to keep the tape in place while I was building the design for the back. I removed them as the top layer got closer to the edge. The piece running up the middle was just tomark center so I could make a shot at having the "V" in the right place, as it had to line up with it's mirror image on the seat top.

This picture gives you a better feel for how the chevron pattern builds itself layer after layer.

I used the same technique on the seat, and lined up the stripes. Then I trimmed the seat cover to fill in just the space between the outer piping. I added tape sticky side up to the underside to use as a bridge between the top and the sides.

The tape running horizontally is sticky side up. I lined it up with the piping and then ran the tape from the side over the top and attached it, cutting off the extra after each side was all adhered. Yay for invisible seams!

Here you can really see how nicely the chevron pattern came together. What? Did you think I was just going to do something easy when I had two different colors to work with? Come on. It's a CONTEST. You gotta take it over the top with money like that on the line. 

I started on the arms...again. This time I built the structure first.

In interest of time and my sanity, I decided to just go with stripes from the inside to the seam and then from the seam to the floor. Good choice. It took WAY less time and looked better than the original design had.

Here's the top half finished.

This is about when I stopped least about the design coming together.

The fronts of the arms are panels I built flat and reinforced flat. The orange piece of tape right on the edge is one of my cheats. That is directly stuck to the chair fabric. I couldn't figure out any other way to bend it the right way and keep the line. But everything else is structurally independent.

I used the same seaming technique on the outer arms as I did on the seat. Cut to length. Add tape sticky side up. Bring bottom over top and then cut back to correct size while leaving the rest adhered sticky side to sticky side.

Here's the outside arm structure:

Here you can really see how the pins hold things in place until the tape covers that spot. You can also see the sticky side up waiting to meet the other half of the seam. 

Here's the side all finished:

And just for good measure, I did the back as well:

The back also uses the sticky sides together seaming technique along the top and sides.

So there you have it. 
Tons of my life spent recovering a chair with tape the hard way. 

Here's a few more beauty shots. 

I was pretty psyched with how it turned out. Good thing my living room just happens to be orange.

And you can't forget the staging pieces, carefully chosen to coordinate, but not "match" the chair. They set such a happy mood, don't you think?

OK so here's the round up on this project:


I really like this tape. In both flavors. I will definitely be using it again, probably in a more normal fashion. I am starting to prefer it over Frog Tape. 

1. It releases from itself without too much trouble and without peeling adhesive off either side, a major plus when working with long strips.

2. You have about 1-3 chances to reposition it without losing tackiness (less with the Delicate, more so with the Multi-Surface). 

3. It holds its shape really well, even when being stretched and bent around corners. 


It does not adhere to the slick side of itself very well, so be careful to just have a tiny overlap if you are layering tape to add width. The more surface area you have connected to the actual surface, the better your chances of things going well and not having any drips or bleed through. 


As far as the project itself goes, I just wanted to see if I could do it, both for my own glory and to win the contest. I would not recommend anyone else trying this with the medium I used. It was insanely hard, time consuming, and frustrating.

If you wanted to use tape to build a slip cover, the most functional option would be to use duct tape over an old velvet chair that you hated the fabric of. You could do some really cool designs and the duct tape would probably wear and feel like vinyl. I think that combo could take a lot of abuse. Great for college students short on cash and long on tacky inherited furniture.

Have you guys done anything weird with tape? Built the Leaning Tower of Pisa or something? Tell me about it.

Talk to you soon,

CM Shaw