Off to Camp Merrie-Woode

Mountain climbing at Camp Merrie-Woode

Last summer, like Scarlett O’Hara, I raised my fist to the heavens and shouted, “I’ll never spend a summer in Florida again!” Most people love the Florida heat, but I can’t stand it, and last year, I promised myself I would find a way out of this inferno from May to August. Through a cool clash of opportunities, my dreams are coming true, and I will be heading to the mountains North Carolina as a staff member at Camp Merrie-Woode!

campers at Camp Merrie-Woode
Does it get cuter than this?

For those who haven’t heard of this amazing place, Camp Merrie-Woode is girl’s summer camp, founded in 1919 in Sapphire, North Carolina. According to everyone I know who has attended camp there, Merrie-Woode is a lovely, nurturing community set against a backdrop of undisturbed nature. What a perfect place for me to spend my non-Florida summer! Not only will I escape the heat, I’ll also have the opportunity to spend the time with bright young ladies with a myriad of interests and passions in a very beautiful setting. (All images here are directly from the camp’s website and are authentic.)

(Also, the narrative of the camp is based on Arthurian legend– am I dreaming here, or what?!)

My role at Camp Merrie-Woode

Campers practicing archery at Camp Merrie-Woode, vintage photo, vintage campers, girls at summer camp
A vintage photo of Camp Merrie-Woode campers practicing archery.

In addition to all of the traditional outdoor camp activities, such as canoeing, climbing, and swimming, Merrie-Woode also puts on multiple theatrical productions over the summer. How cool is that?

Campers perform Little shop of Horrors at Camp Merrie Woode in 2014
Merrie-Woode campers in a 2014 production of Little Shop of Horrors

I’ve been chosen as the camp’s lead costumer, which means I will be responsible for outfitting the cast of each show and delegating appropriate costume tasks to campers in my costume class. I’ve really enjoyed working with students in the past few productions for which I’ve built costumes, and it’s pretty much a dream come true to be teaching a class devoted to costuming! I have a ton of ideas and concepts I wish someone had passed on to me when I was younger and still competing in costume construction, and now I can do that for other girls.

Our first session show will be Androcles and the Lion, a classic commedia dell’arte piece, and our main session show will be Peter and the Star Catcher, a prequel to Peter Pan.

I’ll also be teaching sewing classes, unrelated to the plays, which will also be fun! I’ve learned a lot about teaching since I first began designing and holding my own sewing workshops at work, and I’m excited to implement some my improved techniques with my campers.

Campers holding baby chicks at Camp Merrie-Woode
Campers holding baby chicks at Camp Merrie-Woode

I’m a little nervous, because I’ve never been to any sort of summer camp before, but I have a feeling based on the experiences of other that this will be an extremely memorable and cherished trip out of Sanford.

UPDATE: You’ll never believe this, but the theme for one of our orientation dinners is “Throwdown for Your Hometown”, so I’m being asked to represent Sanford in a very literal way (instead of just doing it of my own accord!). I can’t wait to deck myself in Sanford goodies!

I will be gone from May 24th to August 11th, but my secretary (aka my mom) will be watching over the blog, so don’t hesitate to contact us with costume questions. Wish me luck!

honest-millennial-signature Sumalee Eaton

What is your favorite memory of summer camp? Do you have any advice for me?

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February Goal Encouragement!

Flying into February on my bike!
Goal Encouragement for the month of February
Add “dressing in more matching clothing” to the list!

How are we feeling about those 2017 resolutions, y’all? Not going to lie, I have definitely not achieved the greatness I was hoping for, but I feel satisfied with my progress! I think it’s important to remember that most people have completely given up on their resolutions by February, so we can’t be too hard on ourselves. However, I’m sure we could all do with a little goal encouragement!

When I first announced my New Years goals, I talked about the power of accountability and building habits. I loved hearing on social media that people thought I chose very appropriate resolutions for getting my life together at age 24. Seriously, validation rocks!

So as we journey into this month, I’m declaring a theme of encouragement, whatever that means to you. I know a lot of people in my life who could use the lift, and I’m sure we all do. And don’t forget about yourself…if you need encouragement, give yourself some!

Here is my list of goals, with a little check-in on each.

Yoga for 15 minutes a day

Yoga with Adriene and Goal Encouragement

Yoga with Adriene and Goal Encouragement

Success? 
Yes! I’ve been hitting the mat at least once a day, minus some days when I gave myself permission not to. Sometimes I just don’t plan ahead quite right, and miss the opportunity. But! My body feels great, and who wouldn’t want to hang out with Adriene every day??*

Things I’m Learning
Doing yoga in the morning makes me feel awesome, definitely going to step that up. I’ve also gotten to the point now where I can lead myself instead of using a video, and that feels pretty empowering. I feel stronger already (the first few days were a doozy), and I think I’d like to focus on back strength and hip flexibility.

Need to improve…
I’m satisfied with my frequency, but I would like to make this a truly daily routine. Maybe I’ll eventually even do morning and evening practice! (Whoa, there, partner.)

*Please note, these are photos of Adriene of Yoga with Adriene, not me!

Meditate for 5 minutes or more

Screenshot of Insight Meditation App 2 consecutive daysSuccess? 
Meh. I’ve been meditating for 7 minutes about twice a week on my own, and for 20 minutes at our weekly meditation meetup.

Things I’m Learning
Same as yoga–mornings are better! I’ve noticed that I really won’t typically go through with it if there are people coming and going in the house during the afternoon/evening, so seems like I need to rethink my strategy a little. It’s true that people meditate in prison, but it really is easier to remove yourself from the distractions if you can, or else you have a million noticings per minute!

Need to improve…
Gotta get on the stick as far as frequency goes, but any meditation is better than no meditation, if ya feel me.

Become a better cook

Sumalee holding a loaf of homemade bread like a baby, goal encouragement!Success? 
I think so!

Things I’m Learning
I did some new things this month, including creating my own recipes with the intent to document them and transmit them for others! One was my Spicy Crab Quiche and the other was a Valentine’s date recipe I will share soon. Knowing that I was going to format the recipe from the start really helped me become more conscious about what I was doing, from ingredient choice to measurements.

Need to improve…
While I did construct two weeks of beautiful meal plans and stuck to them, these last two weeks have been a total mess because our fridge has been on the fritz and we’ve been improvising a lot, eating things that have defrosted after being out of the freezer. But not to worry, I will start anew this month! I would like to branch out into more baking, I think, but that’s another discussion for another time.

Improve photography

DSC_0259JPG
Roasted pork loin I made for a work blog post, which I photographed on my lawn!

Success? 
More or less. I took most of the photos in this post, so that counts!

Things I’m Learning
I’ve done a few photo projects over the past few days, but virtually none before that. Remembering to charge the camera battery is key! Fortunately, I’ve pretty much mastered wrangling the settings on my Nikon-on-loan to take a decent photo in natural light, but I still have a lot of things to learn to really manipulate the light source the way I’d like to.

Need to improve…
I really need to just get the camera out more often! I’d like to also learn some better photo editing techniques.

Learn French

Goal Encouragement: Learning French, photo of a cat cafe in France
Blurry picture from our trip to France last summer.

Success? 
Bien sûr! I’m currently on a 32 day streak and have really been enjoying my daily Duolingo practice.

Things I’m Learning
I’m really not as scared to speak French now when the opportunity comes up. However, I do think I could benefit from reviewing more “polite” phrases. I also need to start a serious search for a tutor now, and I might even have a friend who wants to join us!

Need to improve…
I noticed almost all of the books in our bedroom are French, so I’d like to set aside some time for French reading a few times a week.

Get up earlier

Stardust, our roommate's cat. Goal encouragement, not so much!
So much judgment.

Success? 
Not at all. This is by far my worst performance when it comes to resolutions. (Photo above of our roommate’s cat perfectly represents how much I’m judging myself about this.)

Things I’m Learning
I have a really weird, broken relationship with committing to waking up. I’ve tried going to bed as early as 10:30, having a really beautiful night’s sleep and then drifting in and out of sleep in the morning after my alarm goes off. It’s got to be in my head, because my body got plenty of rest! It’s wonderful that I am not required to be anywhere in the mornings, but I’m also worried that years of having such a schedule has led to me being completely terrible and lazy when it comes to waking up. I’m hoping that scheduling yoga and meditation for the morning will help with this in February.

Need to improve…
Um, I need to improve my propensity to get out of the bed? Does anyone have any tips or secrets for this? Asking for a friend.

Get ready to buy a house in 2018

Goal Encouragement: Our future house, soon to rehabbed by the Sanford Heritage Revolving Fund
Our future house, soon to rehabbed by the Sanford Heritage Revolving Fund.
Goal Encouragement: Our current little rental bungalow, which we love.
Our current little rental bungalow, which we love, in all of its salmon glory.

Success? 
Yes. I think. We just got back out pre-qualification, and it seems like we might just be able to purchase the house at the maximum asking price…pending renovation discussions!

Things I’m Learning
Sada and I have A LOT of tax and income documents, and it just never seems to end!

Need to improve…
In 2017, I will definitely be keeping closer track of all my paperwork, just in case it’s needed. Continually save, but that’s always, right?

Get ready to work from home in 2018

Success? 
Woo! There’s a lot going on right now, but I’m still feeling pretty optimistic about freelance work.

Things I’m Learning
Pricing custom work is hard. Figuring out taxes is hard. But, in the end, it will all be worth it. I have several logs in the fire at the moment, and hopefully I can tell you more very soon!

Need to improve…
Again, records and paperwork. I need to meet with an accountant soon to figure out my life!

Goal Encouragement

Flying into February on my bike!

Overall, on a personal score, January was great, and I’m still full of energy to keep these resolutions and continue improving my life through tiny habits each day. Watch out, February!

honest-millennial-signature Sumalee Eaton

How has your 2017 been? What encouragement do you need to kick some New Year’s resolution ass? 

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My Key to Keeping New Years Resolutions 2017

My New Year's Resolution to buy a house: the front door of my possible future home!

Not going to lie, I was dead set on starting my New Years resolutions on the first of the year. In fact, I spent most of the second half of the 2016 making a million lists of goals I wanted to achieve in 2017, touching on everything from fitness to blogging to sewing. But New Years Day came, and I hadn’t begun instituting a SINGLE goal. It was almost like the year ended and started over before I was ready, which seems a bit silly, since I spent a lot of time and energy getting excited to get my life together on January 1st!

So where did I go wrong? Accountability. Experts say announcing your intentions to others is the key to keeping resolutions (like picking a gym mate or a diet partner), and that’s the one ingredient I left out of my make-2017-the-most-awesome-year-yet recipe. So, I’ve resolved to start “my new year” the second week of January, as well as to share some of my goals for this year!Keeping my New Years Resolutions

(I totally recommend this waiting-a-week strategy, because frankly it’s really unrealistic to become a fitness maven, do a detox, and live in the present moment like your life depends on it the moment the clock strikes 12, especially if you have already had a few cocktails and, like me, have to wait for your guy to close the bar.)

How I plan to keep my New Years Resolutions

Like most people, I am addicted to my little pet habits and routines, such as taking an Instagram picture of every home cooked meal and, as of last year, flossing every night before bed. (So adult!) I figured if I am going to create these habits and routines anyway, then I may as well create ones that propel me closer to my goals and resolutions.

In addition to sharing some of my goals for the new year, I’m also noting how I am breaking those goals down into chunks, and what new habits and routines I will establish to help me achieve all of these very responsible goals with ease!

Anyway, from small to big, here are some of my big goals for 2017 (though I have about a million more!):

Do 15 minutes or more of yoga everyday

Yoga as a New Year's Resolution:

Yoga has actually helped me untangle and reset a lot of mindless ideas and habits I had about fitness because of my dance background. I love how you can subtlety strengthen and tone basically all parts of your body with a calming, low impact practice, so instituting a daily practice is top of my list this year.

I did a pretty good job integrating yoga into my every day routine for about two months at the end of last summer. Here are some of the things I learned: 1) The best time of day for me is as soon as I get home from work, 2) if I “do less than 15 minutes”, then I usually don’t do anything at all, 3) I like doing it every day if every day is different.

The Plan: Jumpstart the year with 30 Days of Yoga with Adrienne (check, started Sunday!). On Mondays, make a weekly schedule of each day’s routine and stick to iiiiiiittt. Stage my yoga area for success with a mat, water, and a device to play the video (essential oil diffuser optional!).

If you’re thinking of joining me, I highly recommend Yoga with Adrienne for at-home yoga. She is simply a wonderful instructor and sweet soul, and her videos are well produced, and free of any pretentious bullshit. She does great videos for beginners, though if you are already into yoga, she has some pretty challenging practices in her line up!

Meditate every day for 5 minutes or more

Meditation as a New Year's Resolution: Delany's Mindfulness MeditationMindfulness meditation made a huge impact on my life in 2016, and I’m excited to continue cultivating kindness and compassion in my every day life…but I really gotta get on the stick with my daily meditation! Fortunately, I already know a few things that will help me be consistent: 1) I can’t meditate too late in the day or I will totally fall asleep, 2) I get a real kick out of seeing my session log on my Insight Timer app (highly recommend), and 3) I am statistically more likely to meditate right after yoga practice.

The Plan: Piggyback my meditation on my daily yoga habit!

If you’re thinking of joining me, awesome! I think mindful meditation is something every single person can benefit from. First, I recommend reading my Mindfulness Meditation Accompanied by Mad Men Gifs post in order to get acquainted. Then, download the Insight Timer app so you can track your sessions and also start and end each meditation with a pleasant, resounding bell, instead of a phone alarm. Word of warning: meditation is a word fraught with different meanings to different people, and while none of these definitions are harmful to practice, I believe the most beneficial and down-to-earth school of thought is vipassana or mindfulness based practice, and that is what I’m recommending.

Become a better cook

new years resolution to become a better cook: BA Basics Meal Plan fruit chutney in the pan, made to accompany the Pimento Grilled Cheese SandwichIt’s amazing how much confidence I’ve gained in the kitchen in the last year, feel like I’m on a roll! To keep this groove up, I know I need to reach out and try more recipes, so I’m going to start meal planning by recipe, rather than riffing on the same few staple recipes I always make. I feel that planning ahead and giving myself plenty of opportunities to cook each week will increase my proficiency, but also accomplish a few other goals, like wasting less food and eating out less (which we were REALLY bad about in December with all of our travel and irregular scheduling).

The Plan: Make a meal plan every Sunday, containing one recipe from a foodie blog and one recipe from a physical cookbook each week, because we have some amazing cookbooks just lying around. Check up on the day’s plan each morning to ensure familarity with the recipe and that all ingredients are procured in advance of cooking time.

^So far this goal is really panning out! I made a very delicious meal plan for the week, which I will be cooking myself. Sunday night, we had Baked Rigatoni, based on this awesome Bon Appetit recipe, and Monday, we had Braised Short Ribs and Grits, which were completely delightful. I’ve already packed the pasta bake into freezer portions and made just enough of the short ribs so that each of us had a perfect portion.

Improve my photography

Photography New Year's Resolution: Photos of Linda Hollerbach's Jewelry

I feel kind of douchey typing that goal, but the truth is that I really want to learn how to take better pictures! I take pictures of everything from the board of directors for non-profit groups, to Linda’s jewelry, to, of course, every meal I am about to consume. I’ve gotten to the point where shooting on auto is just plain dissatisfying, and after a short tutorial on shooting jewelry for work from my friend Jessica, and the loan of a Nikon from my friend Mike, I have all the tools I need to learn how to take better photos using natural light. (My blog photos will benefit immensely!)

The Plan: Spend a few minutes every Sunday taking a few photos in natural light. Set up a few key places in my house with the right lighting to take photos of things I always take photos of, such as our dinner and full length shots of costumes and sewing projects. Remember to bring the camera to daytime events!

Learn conversational French

Using Duolingo to help reachmy new years resolution of learning FrenchThis. Is. The. Year. I live with a native French speaker and took formal classes from middle school to college…it’s time to get my act together! I really think I’ve gotten over a huge hump as far as confidence goes, but I still need tons of help with tenses and learning new vocabulary. Fortunately I’ve already learned some things that work for me, such as writing/recording new phrases that I learn conversationally from Jeremy, and doing Duolingo once a day. The bad news is that I haven’t been able to find a formal course for my level in my area, so I think the answer might be to hire a tutor, someone who can both help me practice speaking (like Jeremy), but also explain to me grammar and assign homework so that I can form better sentences on my own.

It’s hard to quantify language fluency, but I think this is more of an emotional goal: feeling confident enough to speak French in French company without having to revert to English to be understood.

The Plan: Do 20 XP in Duolingo every day. Hire a tutor that can meet at least once a week by 3/1. Ease into speaking French at home, and record all new phrases after each significant conversation.

Get up earlier

New years resolutions: Get up earlierThis is honestly one of the major sore spots in my life and always has been. I am such a nightowl, and am plenty embarrassed to announce that I rarely get up more than 30 minutes before I have to be somewhere. However, no one can deny the benefit of adding a few more hours to the day, and I’m making this my priority in 2017. That means changing a whoooole bunch of habits, including getting to bed earlier, switching up my morning routine to something I look forward to, and perhaps even (gasp!) scheduling things earlier in the morning to ensure that I get out of bed to be somewhere. To help, I’ll be in bed by midnight (which is a habit I’m already in…except when Jeremy wants to lay on the couch and watch Netflix until 3am and I just can’t say no), I’ll go screen-free once I retire for the night, and I will start showering in the mornings. (Just to give you a little perspective on how hard this is for me: ever since I was a little girl, I always chose to take “full” showers at night so that my hair could dry while I was sleeping and I would never have to worry about rushing out the door with my hair still wet.  What did I tell you? Habits and routines are key!!)

The Plan: I’m not going to over do it on this one, and am setting a goal to rise at 8am every day, including weekends. (I know a lot of you early birds are probably laughing at me right now 🙂 ) I’m going to work up to this by getting up at 9am for the rest of the month, and will shoot for 8:30am on February 1st.New Years resolutions: Less netflix and chill, more getting up early!

…..halp.

And now for some super exciting, extra adult goals!

Be ready to buy a house in 2018

My New Year's Resolution to buy a house: the front door of my possible future home!

Whaaaa? That’s right, I have my sights set on home ownership next year. My brother and I have decided to go in on a house together, and we’re hoping it’s a specific historic one across the street from us. I’m not at liberty to say too much right now, but basically, we have an opportunity to buy a home originally built in the 1880s, which is being restored by a local non-profit to fit our budget and needs. Home prices in Sanford are rising (which is great for our town!), but Sada and I want to secure a “family home” before this neighborhood blows up. (Because while that would be great, it would blow if we were priced out of our own hometown after all of the hard work and heart we’ve put into it to make it popular, haha….but seriously.)

We are both first time homebuyers, and we would try to purchase the house for under $200k, so we need about $7000 for our down payment, plus closing and other expenses. We’ve got a good head start on that, so I’m setting a goal to have that in hand by the end of 2017, though we probably won’t buy until some time in the middle of 2018. More about our potential house as the details firm up!

The Plan: Put 20% of any income right into savings, and of course, constructing a proper budget and sticking to it throughout the year. I’m a little behind on the budget part of the goal, but I have done the ground work to put one together and have managed to spend very little money this year 😉 Anyone have any favorite budgeting tools they would recommend for a young couple?

And of course, I need to keep good track of all of my relevant employment and financial info throughout the year, which brings me to…

Be ready to work from home full time by 2018

Cinderella Transformation Dress by Sumalee Eaton

WHOA, it’s an adulting two-fer! I have always wanted to work from home, and after an incredible year of making freelance costumes for multiple clients, I’ve gained the confidence I need to make this happen. I have a few coals in the fire as far as costuming, and I am hoping to add in a few more freelance opportunities this year that can grow into full-time income next year. Ah!!

I’ve been telling people that when young adulthood puts you through the wringer between ages 18-25 (which is different for everyone), thinking about your “dream job” or “ideal work life” can seem like the most childish, unrealistic dream of all time. It certainly did for me, but 2016 really made a different in my mentality, and that’s key to making a real life change. I work for a wonderful company right now that is very supportive of my creative goals, and other than the fear of the leap, there’s really no reason that if I plan carefully and make wise choices that I shouldn’t be able to do this. More time at home = more time sewing, more time writing, and I really hope more time blogging!

The Plan: Keep saving and spending wisely. Exceed the expectations of current clients with carefully crafted quotes, quality work, and spotless timelines. Continue learning: spend time drawing and sketching every Tuesday night (when Jeremy is at the bar), take a Burda pattern drafting course by 3/1, and try out some projects with skills outside my wheelhouse. I also would like to get my studio set up for success, get cards made so that people can actually contact me for things, attend at least one convention this year (shooting for Megacon), and of course, form a cohesive business plan for the future.

WHEW. So that’s what I’ve got on my plate for 2017 (plus the aforementioned million other goals, from going up the stairs at least 5 times every work day, to using less water, to keeping my herbs alive this year…you get the picture: habits!). Really looking forward to the seeing the year develop, and I feel very confident about my goals so far.

honest-millennial-signature Sumalee Eaton

How about you kids? What are your 2017 New Years resolutions and what is your plan to keep them? Tell me all about your life in the comments!

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Sumalee and Cinderella in California!

Cinderella in California

Cinderella in CaliforniaAh! I returned from my whirlwind trip to see Cinderella in California last week, and I still can’t get over how amazing it was. I mean, honestly, I am not exaggerating when I say it was a life changing experience. Everyone I know has graciously been asking me how the trip went, so I thought I’d do a little summary!

If you would like to read about why I was going to California in the first place and see my transformation dress in action, read this first!

I had a couple of fears going to California:

1) My hosts are actually axe murderers/serial killers/sexual deviants plotting to lock me in a dungeon.
Even my mom said this seemed unlikely, but think about it…we never talked on the phone, all business was communicated via email, and the big tip off that these people could be crazy…I got zero pushback or questions about getting paid. What kind of weird was I about to walk into?

2) This show could actually be terrible…
But for real, we’ve all seen some high school productions that are just…really high school. Was I going to have to sit through 3 complete disasters of a show and come up with fake compliments all weekend? Shit.

3) My costumes would fail.
This was really my #1 fear, but lest anyone think my priorities are backwards, I’ll put this third. I was honestly terrified that my very presence would cause malfunctions and everyone would start to resent me and my poor quality work. I know, I know, I had video evidence that the costume works great, but it really only takes once…

So how did it turn out?

Cinderella in California

My fears were completely and utterly unfounded. Not only was there no cause to worry about a single one of them, but I could actually rejoice in the exact opposite of each coming true.

1) My hosts were awesome.
Cinderella in California

Cinderella in CaliforniaBut seriously? These people housed me in their fabulously theatrical home, fed me pizza and burritos, and refilled my wine constantly. FRIENDS FOR LIFE. On a serious note, David and Lisa were extremely generous and kind to me, almost like I was their long lost child. They instantly integrated me into their community, introducing me to everyone they knew and making sure I felt welcome and involved. Among the more unexpected and memorable moments: being asked to wear Cinderella’s gold dress and sit on the back of the carriage during the Christmas parade (all the little kids shouted, “Look, they brought Belle!”…….I’ll totally take it.), playing beer pong on the kitchen table after the last show, and being introduced before every show as a special guest.Cinderella in California Cinderella in California Cinderella in California Cinderella in California Cinderella in California, the Gardiner Springs Auditorium at Chaffery High

2) The show was awesome.
Cinderella in California, Sumalee at the box office  This was the most un-high school show I have ever seen. First, the facility is just fabulous, lending a wonderful gravity to production and the ability to do things that many schools can’t, such as flying the Fairy Godmother across the stage and seating over 1000 people per show (and that doesn’t include the balcony). And second, the kids were just amazing. It was absolutely worth every mile I had to travel to meet these sweet, humble kids, whose devotion to their program simply shines through their eyes. Dave’s dedication to his students was touching to witness over the four days I was there, and the resulting production was simply breathtaking, even after seeing the show three times in a row. The fact that both alumni and teachers ran rampant in the cast and crew basically tells you everything you need to know. Everyone really is family here.

Also, I just have to say, the other costumes were fabulous. Aaron Anderson, another teacher of drama, really has an eye for details and did a fantastic job of assembling just the right look for the show, including a transforming Godmother dress and 11 custom coats for the men’s ensemble (which MADE the ball scene, in my opinion). All of the production values were great, but as a costumer, I simply loved what he did with the costumes. He also choreographed the whole show, using many steps and formations from the original Broadway staging, which, if you’ve ever seen that dancing, is very impressive!Cinderella in Californiaimg_20161210_214848463.jpgCinderella in California  Cinderella in CaliforniaCinderella in California, Upland Christmas ParadeCinderella in CaliforniaCinderella in CaliforniaCinderella in CaliforniaCinderella in CaliforniaCinderella in CaliforniaCinderella in CaliforniaCinderella in California

3) My dress was (I’ll say it) awesome.

Sumalee's Cinderella Transformation dress backstage, Cinderella in CaliforniaPerfect? No, of course not. I will always find something to improve on this costume. But it functioned beautifully every show, and hearing the audience reaction while sitting in the audience almost brought me to tears every time.

I did actually get to sew a little bit while I was there, and actually completely changed out the original hoop from the gold gown to a new one from the costume room. That was the one time I did regret that I couldn’t be local for all of tech, because I wished I could have saved them the headache and changed that far sooner. Oh well, ya live and learn!

Sumalee Eaton backstage at Cinderella in California

I walked away from the trip feeling so refreshed and revived, and so much more confident in my abilities. I’m beyond excited to work with the Chaffey crew again on Beauty and the Beast this spring (because hell yes, I got invited back)! Aside from that, I don’t know precisely what the future holds as far as costuming goes, but I know that my California Cinderella family will always be a huge part of why I became ready to take a leap into the career I’ve always dreamed of.

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We’re going to France!

Besancon France
Besancon France
Besançon, one of the many beautiful places we’ll be visiting in France. Click the image for a beautiful timelapse video of the region by Mayeul Akpovi.

I did a pretty great job overloading myself this first half of the year. Between Christina’s wedding, my mom visiting from Mexico, and the Cinderella transformation dress, I’ve been keeping myself SUPER busy, hanging on for dear life (but also loving every minute). And now, for the grand finale, the final firm personal commitment I have so far for the rest of the year: we’re going to France!

Y’all know me, I love Europe. I’ve wanted to visit since I was little, and now that I have a bona fide French boyfriend (like THAT was a coincidence), I finally have a proper occasion to do so!

We’ll be skipping all over the place to visit family, seeing different parts of the country over a two week period. (Btw, if you like the image of Besançon above, click here to see a completely gorgeous timelapse of the area where Jeremy’s grandparents live.) I’m told there will be wine and pâté everywhere, and of course, I’m currently preparing myself for quite a few bouts of stuffing myself silly with fantastic food. We’ll be coming into Paris via Oslo, which also means we’ll get to stay a night in Norway, which is an unexpected pleasure. Later on, we’ll be staying with Jeremy’s mom and sister in a Paris AirBnB (in the République neighborhood) for a few nights, and we’re going to try hitting up less-overdone activities while we’re there.The Cathedral in Bourges, France

SO, on to the big conundrum: why didn’t I do a better job learning French in school?

But seriously, I had all native speakers as teachers and took seven different French classes over the years. Yet, I remember hardly any speaking exercises, but lots and lots of reading and writing exercises. As a result, I can read French fairly easily (I also took Latin, so I can generally figure out mystery vocabulary on my own), and write reasonably well if given time. But I have some serious anxiety about speaking, to the point where I get paralyzed in conversation, and I’m pretty sure it’s because my French teachers hated the way we butchered their language every time we opened our mouths. (Blaming your poor language skills on you teachers is the equivalent of realizing all your life issues are your parents’ fault, right?)

However, mindfulness meditation has taught me to stop trying to examine the “why” and start examining the “what”. Figuring out a reason for why I don’t speak French as well as I could doesn’t help me speak any better. So what is it that I’m feeling? Anxiety? Worry? Embarrassment? The more I examine it, the less it seems to matter, right?

Duolingo for French….I’m getting there. In the meantime, I have to practice! I’ve been on Duolingo everyday, pinning French travel phrases on Pinterest, and talking with French people whenever I get the nerve up. I have a feeling I’ll get by alright once I’m in France (everyone speaks English, after all), but true to form, I just want to be really good at it, damn it.

Anyway, look out for some pictures and videos while we’re in France, and a full report on all the yummy things we eat while we’re there!

Do you speak a second language? Do you get anxiety talking with native speakers?

 

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Mindfulness Meditation, Accompanied by Mad Men GIFs

Mad Men Mindfulness Meditation

Sally Draper loves Mindfulness Meditation!Everyone knows that I am yuuuuuuuugely emotional, and that I react very strongly to, well, nearly everything. I’m no stranger to intense excitement over some small piece of good news or extreme sadness and embarrassment as I spend hours of stewing over something I did or said wrong. I always believed that the ability to self reflect, aka, to criticize and over analyze every thought and emotion that floated through my brain, was a gift– a sign of my intelligence and superior critical thinking skills (har har). However, I also knew that I was subject to sudden spirals of outrage and frustration over things as insignificant as the wording of a Facebook comment, which sometimes led to days of “venting” (i.e., complaining to make myself feel better) and self righteous anger.

Don Draper needed some Mindfulness MeditationAlmost directly after I decided that 2016 was the year to start my healthier approach to managing my emotions, almost like kismet (yep, I said it), my friend Dr. Delany Dean announced that she was offering an 8-week Mindfulness Meditation course at Downtown Sanford’s new Antidote Apothecary spa. Puuuurrrrrfect.

Initial Thoughts on Mindfulness Meditation

I honestly was not sure what to expect from this course. I have always thought of my brain as a chaotic, unmanageable place, and that from that chaos arose the parts I like most about myself: my ability to problem solve, my creativity, my spontaneity. I thought I might take away from this some techniques to calm myself in moments of extreme emotion, and that I would learn how to meditate, though I wasn’t really sure what that would entail either.

Mad Men Mindfulness Meditation
Something like this maybe?

There were three things I was sure about after our first class:
1) Our setting was gorgeous. Antidote Apothecary is a beautiful shop/spa and we all agreed that it smells great!
2) We had an awesome group of people…and that matters more than I thought it would. Sitting on cushions with six other women that I know from town created an instant atmosphere of intimacy and inclusion.
3) I knew absolutely nothing about meditation.

What I actually learned from mindfulness meditation

Over the next few weeks, I learned through Delany’s instruction and guidance an entirely fresh life mentality– and that ain’t no exaggeration. I used to chuckle quietly at people who went on retreats and had “life changing experiences”, or who “connected to their spirituality” and all that other New Age mumbo jumbo. I thought they must be soft or somehow desperate to fill a hole in their minds if they could so easily mold themselves to a new way of thinking or put on a new ideology as if they were changing their shoes.
Hare Krishna, not to be confused with Mindfulness Mediation

But oh, dear Sumalee of the past, you critical little newt, how horribly misguided you were! I kind of shudder to know I used to be so judgmental about something I have come to appreciate so much.Megan also needs Mindfulness Meditation

Having Delany as an instructor should have been my first clue that I was about to get schooled. You know when your teacher has a background as a trial lawyer and a forensic psychologist that the course is probably pretty legit, not some weirdo trying to sell snake oil to the naive. At first I had a hard time wrapping my head around the idea of someone so distinctly logical and discerning acting as a meditation teacher (and occasionally doing so in conjunction with her other profession). That was, until I actually learned what mindfulness meditation was all about.

So to all my skeptics, I say this: just listen. I’ve told you how unhappy I was and how I used to feel, and much of that came from the constant need to be right and have the intellectual upper hand. My life is so different now because of the way I’ve learned to approach my brain, and I sincerely believe that mindfulness meditation can be extremely beneficial to people who feel this way…if you are willing to let it.

So, without further ado, here are some things I learned from mindfulness meditation.

Meditation does not mean “thinking about nothing”.
Joann could also use some mindfulness meditiationThis is literally impossible. Believe it or not, you can’t just “turn off” your brain– and meditation should certainly never require you to do so! One of the first things we learned was that mindfulness is the act of noticing and attending one’s thoughts, and that meditation is simply an exercise to strengthen your mindfulness. (In other words, I learned to pay some damn attention to what I was doing…even if that something is sitting still and breathing!)

But be warned: mindfulness is no excuse for over-analyzing or being overly critical. Thinking too hard about something is not the same thing as being mindful.

Labels aren’t always so bad. 
The process of “noticing” your thoughts becomes infinitely easier if you give them names as they arise. As Delany likes to say, if you’re sitting there and the thought, “Are we done yet?” crosses your mind, then you are “thinking about time“. Labeling allows you to notice what thoughts are naturally arising in your brain without actually engaging with them.

Best thing about these labels? They are totally drama and judgement free, existing purely to help you identify your thoughts. Labeling has helped me become more conscientious about the things I think most often, because those are the labels that pop up the most. (And in case you are curious, I would say “thinking about plans“, “thinking about the future“, and “thinking about Winona Ryder” are all in my top 20 most frequent labels.)Winona Ryder Mindfulness Meditation

See, it’s cool for that Coke ad to cross Don’s mind in the final scene, as long as he labels it “thinking about advertising breakthrough that could save my career and/or symbolizes my summarized character arc”.

Kindness makes the world go round.
I recently took a quiz and was asked to react on a spectrum from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree” to the statement: “I would rather my child grow up to be kind than smart.” I was like, “Pffft. Who would strongly agree with that?” I’ve always considered intelligence to be a person’s most important quality– that was until I started practicing mindfulness and I realized that so many of my interpersonal conflicts and personal angst came from evaluating whether someone was smart. I was constantly judging that people I met were stupid, fearing that I wasn’t smart enough for a challenge, or comparing my intelligence with someone else’s.Betty Draper is not stupid, and also not practicing mindfulness meditation

Then I learned that it just doesn’t matter. In fact, once I started applying compassion to these circumstances, to myself and to others, my feelings of tension, jealousy, and anxiety simply diffused. Even to people who say or do things that I find completely idiotic, I’m learning to think to myself something like, “Eh, we all have different talents. Takes all kinds.” or “That person probably thought they were saying something positive, and I highly doubt it was their intention to piss me off.” or at the very least, “You know what? I bet that person has known suffering in their life too. I should probably be less of a dick and more of a human.”Poor Sally Draper will probably need mindfulness meditation too.

I think part of the reason I struggled with kindness for a large portion of my life is that I viewed it as weakness. I do believe there is a sort of surrender in being kind, a sort of letting go: not getting the last word, not caring whether people think you are smart/clever/the best. However, how is that really a bad thing? Don’t know about you, but I can’t fault a person for being kind. We all do silly things or say embarrassing stuff from time to time, and isn’t the best case scenario that the person who notices is kind about it? Shouldn’t we all extend the same compassion we hope to receive to every person we meet? (Did I just invent the Golden Rule?)

In other words, yes, I would love to have an unintelligent hypothetical kid who was loved by everyone for his kindness and compassion than a genius kid who will live a life full of self doubt and being critical of others.

Emotions don’t actually exist.
Poor Peggy crying because she doesn't understand mindfulness meditation.Heeeeyy-o. What? Are you saying my feelings aren’t important? Are you saying I don’t feel the way I feel?

Actually, no. I’m saying that emotions are simply a thought coupled with a physical sensation. (Think that one over.) So aside from all the blood boiling, the stomach flipping, and the heaviness in your chest… emotions? That shit’s all in your head, bro.

Don Draper needed some Mindfulness Meditation

More importantly, your emotions DO NOT define who you are. It’s okay to be curious about the things you feel, and explore your emotions as they arise and go away, but to wallow in them or build them up as a shield or identity is really not productive for anyone.

In our reading packets, Delany gave us a wonderful poem by Rumi entitled “the Guest House“, which provides an excellent metaphor for how to treat emotions in the practice of mindfulness.

And near and dear to my heart is the response poem our group member MK wrote, entitled “Arrivals and Departures”. You can read her original poem here. 

(Also, it should be noted that even though I’m using Mad Men GIFs here, this is not an endorsement of the way those characters handle emotions. Because…no.)

Why you should consider Mindfulness Meditation

Poor, spoiled Betty Draper. Get that girl some mindfulness meditation, stat!

I strongly believe that anyone and everyone can lead a mentally healthier life using mindfulness meditation. It’s been such an amazing and rewarding mental challenge for me to wrap my head around these ideas I grew up without, but they make more sense and hit home harder than any other precepts I was previously exposed to in traditional Western thought. While I would definitely say I’m still a neophyte, I feel my inclination to happiness grow stronger each time I sit, or catch myself extending compassion to others.

After mindfulness meditation, this Peggy Olson gif is my power animal. Bottom line: I feel waaaaaaaaay better in the head than I ever have, and I’m saying that having felt hopelessly negative about myself just a few months ago. If you feel like you could do with a little mentality adjustment, mindfulness meditation might be a piece of the puzzle.

This is no quick fix, it’s a set of cognitive concepts you choose to implement in your own mind at your own pace. It’s a way to create positive change in your life that doesn’t require popping a pill, spending money, or joining a church (or even going to the gym, for christssakes). If we’re so willing to do those things, then what’s the harm in trying a little mental exercise?

Give it a try. Maybe listening to a TED Talk about mindfulness would be beneficial for you. Reading something by teachers Ezra Bayda or Sharon Salzberg might be just the thing to pique your interest. While I highly recommend doing some reading about proper meditation posture and technique prior to practicing on your own (for the sake of your back and positive experience), the Insight Timer app is a wonderful resource for meditation and (select) guided meditations once you have a little groundwork.
UPDATED to add:
And of course, if you’re local to Sanford, you should consider joining the Celery City Mindfulness weekly meditation sitting group.  We meet once a week at the Center for Wellness on Park Avenue beginning at 10:30am. The group is open to anyone and does include some instruction/guidance from the wonderful Delany Dean in addition to sitting practice. Please email me at honestmillennial@gmail.com or send Honest Millennial a message on FB for more information.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you are dying to try mindfulness meditation now!

What is your experience with meditation? Have you ever tried mindfulness meditation yourself? What Mad Men character needs mindfulness the MOST?

Delany's Mindfulness Meditation
Our instructor’s beautiful Instagram art!

 

 

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Poetry about Mindfulness Meditation

Meditation as a New Year's Resolution: Delany's Mindfulness Meditation

During the 8-week Mindfulness Meditation course I took at Antidote Apothecary (dig that sentence, y’all), we read a wonderful poem by Rumi, titled “The Guest House”. You can read the original poem here.

One of the members of our group wrote a response to the poem, which she calls “Arrivals and Departures”. I loved her thoughtful and insightful response to Rumi’s poem and the process we had all shared, and she graciously gave me permission to share the poem here for others to enjoy. Thank you so much, MK!

Arrivals and Departures – in response to “The Guest House” by Rumi

This life is a guest house

you say.

Arrivals every morning

you say.

Try this on for size:

my life is an airport terminal.

Arrivals and departures every second.

And baggage.

Baggage everywhere.

Round and round the carousel

in the concourse of my brain.

Here comes that worn out bag –

again.

The one that no want wants.

It keeps arriving at my feet – as if

I hold the matching claim ticket.

And I do.

Duct taped corners, damaged and battered.

Too many travel miles.

I haul the bag home.

Rumi greets me at the door, laughing.

Where is all the furniture?

I say.

Where is my new delight?

I say.

We open the bag.

And all the broken things inside

are wrapped in gratitude.

MK Shaw

March 2016

Mindfulness Meditation Friends

In case you missed my original collection of thoughts on the Mindfulness Meditation course I took, you can revisit them here. This was a great experience for me, and I think MK’s poem really captures the shift in mentality this sort of experience can create. And of course, it’s always cool to find out your friends have talents you didn’t know about 🙂

Catch up with some of MK’s fabulous visual artwork on her FB Page: A Muse of Her Own. 

Additionally, our instructor Delany is a great photographer and edits her photos in cool, creative ways, adding fun textures and juxtaposing disparate elements in a single photo. Here is one she created of her meditation mat overlooking Lake Monroe in Mayfair! Delany's Mindfulness Meditation

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