currently // june 2014

curently_june14

using… Dior Nail Glow. This is the best nail polish in the world. It is basically clear, but it has some magical property that makes the pinks of your nails become pinker and the whites become whiter. It also has a super-hard finish and lasts forever. Plus, you can just layer on another coat if it does start to chip. I seriously think this polish makes my nails look way better than any manicure and it is a lot easier and cheaper!

eating…. Tons of organic, local fruits & veggies. Travis and I joined the Local Roots CSA through his office, which means we get a random assortment of fruits and veggies each week, and meat and bread every other week. We’ve tried a lot of new things, like sorrel, quelites, tat soi, bok choy, and garlic scapes, plus the usual stuff like strawberries, apples, carrots, and beets. We’ve really enjoyed cooking a lot of healthy, tasty meals at home.

wishing for… this metal shelving unit from Room & Board. I need to drastically purge and organize my office, and this set of shelves will fit into a small space.

watching… Star Trek: Voyager. I’ve been working my way through the series whenever I have down time. (Usually, when Travis isn’t around. He doesn’t seem to love it as much as I do.) I watched it when it originally aired, but not religiously and not the final few seasons. At first it was too cheesy and I thought I wouldn’t finish it, but the series gets better and better. I am in Season 6 right now and will be sad when it is over! I love Tuvok. He reminds me of Travis.

working on… Swap-bot! Travis and I have been doing a LOT of work on the ‘bot to catch up from when we were away in Europe. Travis has been upgrading the backend infrastructure of the site and I just announced our new Ambassador program. I am excited about it and thrilled that we have so many excellent and enthusiastic members!

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What are you up to this summer?

currently // march 2014

currently4.14

The calendar says it is spring, but the weather doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo. I’ve been spending a lot of time indoors these days. Here is some of what’s been keeping me busy…

reading… The Serpent and the Rainbow. I actually just finished this nonfiction book by ethnobotanist, Wade Davis, and I loved it. My parents took me to see an Egypt exhibit at the Field Museum in Chicago in the 80s. That, combined with Indiana Jones, ignited an interest in all things related to history and culture. The Indian Jones style of archeology and anthropology (white man “discovering” “primitive” cultures) has rightfully fallen out of favor, but I think the idea of discovering new things will always be exciting and romantic. Davis’ book describes his experience in Haiti searching for the secret recipe for zombie powders — ooo spooky! — but it is much more than an adventure story. It is the story of the incredible history of the Haitian people, the vodoun religion, and the amazingly diverse ways different cultures view and interpret the world and their societies. (I plan to read Passage of Darkness next. Thanks, Dad!)

watching… True Detective. We bought HBO just so I could watch this creepy, suspenseful show. We blew through all eight episodes in about four days. It is sad and scary, but very smart. It will stay with you. (Matthew McConaughey forever!)

playing… World of Warcraft… again. I know, I know. I really don’t have the time. But I love the battle pets! And I am determined to get to level 90… someday…

hosting… Rachel’s Easy Travel Postcard Swap on Swap-bot. Travis and I are taking a crazy-big trip in April, and Swap-bot will be coming with us. I’m hosting this easy snail mail swap so that other travelers like me can keep swapping during their trips.

planning… that crazy-big trip mentioned above. Travis and I are going to Europe! Wow. We have been talking about this trip for years. Recently all of the pieces sort of fell into place in such a way that we felt we HAD to do it now. We will be traveling through six countries – The Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, and France — I am really excited, but also nervous. My plan is to keep a little travel journal here on the blog… maybe a short post each day about our experiences. Stay tuned!

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What have you been doing lately?

i heart blogshop

Do you want to start using Photoshop? Do you use Photoshop, but wish you knew more about it? Do you totally know Photoshop and use it every day, but need some motivation to actually put effort into making your websites look great?

I would answer yes to the third question. I was trained as a graphic designer and I have been using Photoshop nearly everyday of my life for the past 15 years. I’ve been blogging since 2003 and working on Swap-bot since 2005. But my websites are still lacking design-wise. I never set aside the time to really work on the style and photos and graphics… because it is hard work! So, I signed up for Blogshop to hopefully give myself a design and style kick in the pants.

Blogshop is a traveling Photoshop class for bloggers taught by Bri Emery and Angela Kohler. I love Bri’s design blog and had seen so many great things (beautiful Instagram photos!) about Blogshop online that I was curious about the class. When I saw it was being hosted in NY this summer, I thought I should try it out. Supposedly, I bought the second-to-last slot!

The class is not cheap. At all. It is $772 for two-days of instruction and lunch. Plus, you MUST own a Mac laptop, a Wacom drawing tablet and the newest version of Photoshop. That is a steep monetary barrier for the class, but it is obviously not a major deterrent because nearly every session is sold out.

I own Photoshop CS5, so I signed up for the free trail of the new Photoshop Creative Cloud for the class. I want to stay up-to-date with Photoshop, so I am glad that I forced myself to try it. It felt very comfortable, but I am still suspicious of the new Creative Cloud subscription model. The only major differences in PS CC that we explored in class were the new Tilt-Shift and Iris Blur filters. Otherwise, I felt like I could use CS5 for everything we learned.

So what did we learn? A good amount! Mood boards, animated Gifs, photo retouching, keyboard shortcuts, and more. (The photos in this blog post are some of the things we worked on in class.) I will admit that Blogshop probably wasn’t geared toward me. I use Photoshop a lot and can accomplish a lot of what they taught already… but Photoshop is such a complicated and intricate program, that there is always something new to learn! I learned a few new shortcuts (why have I not been using COMMAND + J to duplicate layers this whole time??) and really enjoyed the photo retouching segment taught by Angela. I feel way more comfortable using the Liquify filter to adjust my photos now.

Other major positives:

  • Goodie bags! One of the major perks of Blogshop are the cute goodie bags. We received beautiful bkr glass water bottles and Baggu bags filled with fun and lovely items, like earrings from Upper Metal Class, Tattly tattoos, dish towels from Artsy Modern, little Wind & Willow bowls, and more!
  • The other attendees were completely gorgeous and totally stylish. I felt out of their league. No joke, I was sitting next to a professional model (in Isabel Marant sneakers, no less) the first day of class. She was totally awesome, btw. There were women (and one man) of all ages, but many/most were younger than me. It was sort of surprising? exciting? cool? to hear women ten years younger than me talk about lifestyle blogging as a legit career option without any irony or embarrassment. They have grown up reading popular, big-name blogs and have clear examples of success to follow. It will be interesting to see how the industry changes and grows.
  • Bri is an awesome designer with impeccable taste and Angela is an amazingly talented and professional photographer. She took portraits of all of us to use on our websites (see mine below). That is hugely generous!

blogshop portrait of rachel johnson by Angela Kohler

My main criticism: We were not allowed internet access! Gah! I run an online business that I must monitor every single day. Since I am fairly familiar with Photoshop, I was hoping I could still put in a bit of work on Swap-bot while attending the all-day class. Nope. Plus, it would have been helpful to be able to access my Flickr photos to use for some of our in-class exercises. I understand that they want us focused, but if I had known in advance that there would not be internet access it would have been a deal-breaker for me. Dramatic, but true. Especially since the instructors DID have internet access and were updating their Pinterest accounts while teaching. Grrr.

Conclusions? Blogshop is a good class. Especially for beginner Photoshop users who want to improve their lifestyle or design blogs. I’m glad I attended because it has motivated me to really try to re-design this blog and work harder on the Swap-bot blog. BUT I am not sure if I will ever totally be a part of the whole “lifestyle blog” world. It is a ton of work and it is all about creating that perfectly polished outward expression of design and style. I am just too messy and lazy to be a pro design maven. BUT BUT! I DO have major, marketable, valuable skills that I have been honing for over a decade. I shouldn’t forget that. Design knowledge and Photoshop, social media, and blogging skills are not something to dismiss. I plan (hope!) to continue to improve my skills and improve my websites… we’ll see where it takes me!

You can follow Blogshop on Twitter and Instagram to learn more about upcoming classes.

march malaise

The first day of spring is tomorrow… but you’d never know that in Brooklyn. It snowed yesterday! It is rainy, cold, and overcast today. The cloudy coldness is bringing me down, but I really can’t place all of the blame on the weather. I need to make some changes, to my life and to my attitude.

My spring cleaning goals:

  • running – Running is discouraging. It is not fun, not energizing, not empowering. It is only discouraging. I know that it is my fault for over-doing it — three marathons in two months, plus the NYC Half on Sunday, was NOT smart — but my bad attitude is deeper than merely being burnt out. I have this unrelenting feeling that running is completely unfair and no one understands how difficult it is for me. Boohoo. I shouldn’t have such angry feelings about a freakin hobby. I am scaling back. I plan to only run two days a week (with Team in Training) and cross train a few days a week. I usually enjoy exercising, but I need to find a new activity that makes me feel fit and powerful, not sluggish and discouraged.
  • food – I have already been on a bit of a health kick. (Flax seed oatmeal with raisins and bananas for breakfast this morning!) But I want to stay committed. I have not quite decided how I feel about Mayor Bloomberg’s “soda ban”, but I know that for myself, I will always limit my refined sugar intake. I’ll never say that I am cutting out any type of food completely because I want to be a flexible and adventurous eater, but I certainly don’t need sugary beverages or processed junk food. I plan to cook at home more. Healthy dinners and lots of fruits and veggies!
  • swap-bot – Swap-bot is my constant companion and an unrelenting source of never-ending work. I don’t mind. I’ll keep working on it forever if users keep swapping… but I need to reframe my focus. I want to work harder on improving the site for ALL users, not just tread water trying to put out all the many tiny daily fires. I have said this before and I still believe it: art + community = a better world. I want to work more purposefully toward the goal of fostering creativity and friendship around the world via Swap-bot. And I want to make the site look and function better. There is a lot of work to do.
  • self – I plan to focus more on my own feelings and desires. I want to stay home more. Work on projects that improve my quality of life. Watch some tv. Make a quilt. Take it easy. I love socializing (probably too much) and I know it sounds crazy for someone who works alone everyday at home to want more time to myself, but I do. I love going out with friends, but I love hanging out with my husband more. I need to rest and recharge and remind myself that my priorities and ambitions may be different than others, and that is totally ok.

Once the sun comes out, I am sure I will be feeling more upbeat. Until then, I am going to take it easy on myself and do my best to foster my own happiness. What changes do you have planned for spring?

currently // february 2013

I love my birthday month, but this February seems to be dragging on. So cold and rainy and grey. I have lost my enthusiasm for a lot of things… except this stuff:

watching… X-Files! Oh, how I love Mulder & Scully! I am working my way through the series. I just finished season three (Queequeg just got eaten by an alligator) and started season four (my favorite). Such a thoughtful, mysterious show! Definitely one of my all-time favorites.

enjoying… spring pastels. Like this handbag, this rug, and this scarf.

eating… grapefruit and pistachios. My two current healthy favorites. I believe that I eat pretty healthy in general — fruits & veggies, whole grain, low-fat dairy, etc — but I am on a renewed health kick since I read this article about junk food engineering.

wishing that… my new iMac would arrive. It is back-ordered until March. My current desktop is broken — it crashes every 10 minutes — and it is difficult to do serious work on my tiny travel laptop.

hosting… the Sweet Spring Time Matchbox Swap on Swap-bot. I am really looking forward to spring and thought I’d host one of my signature craft swaps to hurry it along. Join us!

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what are you up to?

currently // november 2012

Shut the door on November and get in line for the frantic holiday season! I am not ready. What have I been spending my time on?? Oh ya, this stuff…

hosting… the 6th annual Holiday Fun Matchbox Swap! Yes, I have been hosting this same swap for six years. Wow! Come join me in some paper crafting fun.

reading… Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt’s Doomed Quest to Clean Up Sin-Loving New York. I love reading about NYC history, but the arrogance and self-righteousness of the reformers in turn of the century NY is starting to get on my nerves.

listening to… Miguel.

obsessing over… this coat and this ring.

looking forward to… playing the Hero-U adventure game. I was happy to support the game’s Kickstarter campaign. It won’t come out for at least a year, but it looks like a lot of old-school, Sierra-style fun.

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What is currently grabbing your attention?

This is what I was doing last November.

currently – April 2012

playing… Draw Something – it is like Pictionary, but over your phone. Very cute and fun. Draw with me!

eating… out at too many great restaurants! My new favorite place in the Slope is Fort Reno, a tiny barbecue joint located just around the corner from our house. I finally tried the ribs last week and they were amazing! I have been craving them ever since. Then, over the weekend, Travis took me to Littleneck where I had scallops and pea shoot salad. (Very good, but I still want ribs!) And yesterday, Dizzy’s opened their new 5th Ave location. Travis and I HAD to stop in for opening night dinner.

prepping for… the IndieBizChicks Virtual Conference on April 25th. I’ll be speaking on the topic of “Building An Online Community” and sharing my experience creating and managing Swap-bot. The conference is $25 for a full day of business presentations (which will also be recorded so that you can listen to them anytime).

reminiscing about… running the San Diego Rock N Roll Marathon in 2000. Only a month and a half until I revisit the event on June 3rd! I have no idea what to expect this time around… except fun. Lots of fun.

What have you been up to?

past & present

I can’t help sharing the old photos I scanned over the holidays. They make me happy. This photo was taken 30 years ago. Isn’t my mom pretty?!

I’ve been a bit scatterbrained lately. I’ve still been trying to catch up on holiday work while simultaneously getting prepped to attend the Alt Design Summit in Utah next week. I am looking forward to the trip. I think it will be a fun conference.

What else have I been up to?

Well… I’ve been doing a lot of writing over at Ace Dept:

I am also hosting two Valentine swaps over on the ‘bot:

Come join us and receive some fun February mail!

Oooo!! I saw The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on Saturday (the new American one) and I actually liked it better than the book. They omitted many of the aspects of the book that I thought were silly/unbelievable/inconsistent. Plus, Daniel Craig’s attractive confidence made it more believable that every woman in the story wanted to sleep with him. I want to watch the Swedish version of the movie asap.

Ok, now I’m off to do our weekly run by the East River, under the Brooklyn Bridge, and over to the Brooklyn Shake Shack… yum… shakes….

currently…

eating… Bareburger. Travis’ favorite place in Park Slope. We go every Wednesday.

reading… The Big Enough Company, a book about building a business that is successful in the ways that are most meaningful to you. Not all businesses have to grow, grow, grow, with the only goal being money, money, money. Success can also mean satisfaction and social good.

watching… The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and other Nazi shows on the History Chanel… and getting myself way too upset thinking about hate, prejudice, dishonesty, and the abuse of power.

hosting… the FIFTH Annual Holiday Fun Matchbox Swap on Swap-bot!! Come join us and receive some sweet snail mail just in time for the holidays!

loving… all of the amazing Swap-bot-themed crafts that were made for our 100,000th Swap – Check them out here.

recovering from… too much marathoning! Running the Marine Corps Marathon was the best day of my life. Cheering for the NYC marathon was a full day of fun. (See my friend, Kenny Komala’s, photo of the cheer squad at mile 23 below.) Getting sick after all of the excitement was a bummer. I am still trying to lay low and get 100% better…

clutter love

I always thought I could create one of those beautifully styled homes you see in decor magazines. I know that they are not reality, but I still thought I’d be the one person who could make it a reality. Ha! In my actual reality, I have a love/hate relationship with clutter. I want a tidy home, but I love to surround myself with little tidbits that remind me of the people and experiences that I love.

This is my office desk area. It is craziness. Really. So many little things — hung on the wall, arranged on the shelves, stacked on books, and pinned to bulletin boards. I really worry people who visit will think I am a hoarder, but I actually do have a semi-successful organization system.

All of the things near my desk are reminders. Reminders of things I need to get done or reminders of people who make me happy. In this photo you can find representations of nearly every one of my family members, plus Swap-bot goodies, Team in Training memorabilia, and just plain, pretty stuff that I like to look at. I don’t think I’ll ever change my cluttered ways.