It’s been over a year since this trip to Mexico, but I really wanted to make sure I write about this tour as it was such an amazing experience.
Fundación En Vía isn’t your average day tour around Oaxaca. Run as a non-profit, the tour is one part of a program helping provide interest-free microloans to women living in the many small towns in the region, enabling them to start or improve their own businesses. The women attend business education and English workshops, with the final step before increasing the loan amount being a presentation to a tour group. The cost of the tour goes towards these loans and the running of the organisation and education programs.
I love that the focus is on empowering women and giving them the opportunity to be entrepreneurs – not the flashy, #firstworldproblems kind of startup, but things that can improve their lives, preserve their culture and help their community. Our guides said that one of the reasons the decision was made to focus on women was because it seems to have a larger positive impact on the community, with women supporting each other with their ventures and saving money to give their children a better education. Women also apparently have a better track record with paying back their loans!
Our first stop was San Miguel de Valle, a town known for the beautifully embroidered aprons the local women wear over bright dresses. Here we met Teresa and her daughter, who make traditional hot chocolate by grinding the cacao beans by hand on a stone slab, mixing with spices and sugar into solid discs, then brewing on a stove in a traditional pot with a special wooden whisk.
Teresa used the money from her loan to catch a bus into a larger town and buy ingredients in bulk giving her a better profit margin when she sells her drinks at local markets and in her town. Like many of the villages in the region, her first language is Zapotec, although everyone also learns Español. After a demonstration, we were all treated to a cup of hot chocolate and a sweet pastry.
We visited three more women – an owner of a general store, a family of weavers, the maker of tortillas, a pair of leather workers, and a restaurant owner. Their loans were used for things which might sound simple but are difficult to save up for – better materials, a stove with proper ventilation, a toilet that flushes, an extra loom. The women were all proud of what they had made, even if they were shy in their presentations.
It was a really inspiring and heartwarming experience, which I really recommend if you travel to Oaxaca!
Since Oaxaca is known for its food, cooking classes are popular for travellers wanting to learn more about the local cuisine. The Boy and I were keen to learn more about Mexican cuisine beyond the “Tex Mex” we’re used to in Australia, so on New Year’s Eve in 2015 we did the Taste of Oaxaca cooking class with Karla Maria.
(Yes, it has taken me a very long time to get around to writing this!)
With another couple in our class, we began by visiting the Benito Juárez Market to buy ingredients – many of which I’d never seen before! Heirloom tomatoes, many kinds of smoked chillies, freshly made tortillas, cactus leaves, squash in all shapes and sizes… even fried grasshoppers. You can also buy about a kilo of avocado for the same price as a single one here in Perth.
Going back to Karla’s home, we prepared the food in her amazing outdoor kitchen. Although everything was explained to us, there wasn’t a whole lot of time for us to prepare everything, so Karla and her assistant did a lot of the work preparing the chicken and soup. We did manage to make guanabana juice, prepare a cactus salad, blend together a red mole sauce, and stew tiny apples in spiced syrup for dessert.
Everything was served in beautiful Oaxacan ceramics, with mezcal to begin and to finish.
It was a really lovely way to end the year, and a completely different style of Mexican food than we’re used to. I keep meaning to look up how to make mole at home, but I haven’t been able to find the chillies in Perth!
What a year! I’m now in that wonderful zone between Christmas and the new year, where I can spend my days at home working on my own projects and napping whenever I feel like it. Having travelled in January for the past few years, it’s nice to have a quiet, relaxing and reflective time to round out 2016.
I haven’t been the best blogger in this space this year, but here’s what I’ve been up to.
WHAT I’VE BEEN DOING
I started the year with The Boy in Oaxaca, Mexico, on possibly one of my favourite trips ever. Mexico is such a colourful, cultural, energising place with lovely people and amazing food. I’m still getting around to posting all my photos, but you can see our adventures in Mexico City and Oaxaca.
Side Project magazine was a massive part of my life in 2015, and for 2016 the team wanted to ensure we could continue producing it by running a crowdfunding campaign. In the end it wasn’t quite successful, but it was a crazy ride and learning curve shooting our promo video, doing a voiceover and really pushing it on social media. We did see a massive amount of support from our readers, especially fourteen special long term readers who have been with us right from Issue 1.
At the end of the day it wasn’t viable and we decided to end production of the magazine with Issue 5. Maybe we’ll pick it up again someday, in a different form. Either way, it was such a worthwhile experience, and the team still regularly catches up to encourage each other in our post- Side Project pursuits. If there’s anything I’ve learned and want to emphasise, it’s that side projects can be wonderful and impactful, and everyone has the potential to be creative.
Getting a dog was something I’d been considering for a while, and this year we decided to make the jump. As much as I wanted to adopt, unfortunately my complete inexperience with dogs, allergies, and the size of our home made for some limitations.
We ended up buying Jasper, our little poodle x Cavalier King Charles spaniel (cavoodle / cavapoo) from a breeder in NSW, and he arrived a bit before Easter. Raising a puppy for the first time was challenging in parts, and he’s claimed a huge amount of my time, but it has been completely worth it and now I can’t imagine our lives without him. He’s mischievous, always curious, always hungry, loves people and will climb into your lap for cuddles. I think relationships add depth and dimension to life, and a nurturing relationship was one I didn’t realise I was missing.
You can see Jasper’s adventures over on his Instagram.
Buying a house wasn’t really on the radar, but once the idea took hold late this year we kind of ran with it. Our little white-floored, Spanish-inspired villa was a great home to us, but with a puppy and the various issues with living in a strata complex, it was no longer quite ideal. Our new home is a free-standing house (albeit in a very tightly packed group of three), with an actual laundry (!), patio and a kitchen that can fit more than two people at once. It’s still fairly compact, but that suits me just fine. Having konmari’d most of our posessions earlier, the move was pretty easy and near seamless. We’re now further from cute cafes and bars, but closer to a massive park which is now relevant to our (Jasper’s) interests. I love it here.
Running brush lettering workshops is something I wanted to do more of this year, and I ended up doing three, the last of which was completely organised by me under my own brand. I sometimes have doubts about whether I’m good enough to teach even beginners, but the numbers and feedback show that there is demand for this kind of thing and people do get a lot out of it. Of course there’s a lot of online materials available, but learning in person with a group of other beginners is a really different experience. Teaching has helped me maintain and improve my skills, and question how I do things and how people learn best. I’m hoping to do a lot more in 2017.
Without Side Project for most of this year, I poured my focus into my own lettering, calligraphy and art. Looking back I’m not sure that my progress would be completely obvious to most, but personally I feel much better about my work.
I’ve attended workshops, made inky patterns, created some (printable) products, redid my lettering website, improved on composition, made worksheets and a zine for learning lettering, completed Inktober, started a newsletter and did live lettering of cards at an event. I’ve played with digital lettering on the iPad, with gold foil, sketchnoting, calligraphy with my non-dominant hand, screen printing, lettering with chocolate, and calligraphy in an ancient Arabic language. I’ve begun to embrace illustration and branding and logo design at work even though it scares me. I’ve invested what I’ve earned from running workshops in books, materials and more workshops for me, to keep learning.
I still have a long way to go of course, and in many ways this feels like a year of preparing for next year, but I’m happy with how much I managed to squeeze in. My work currently gets posted mainly to my lettering Instagram account, but also over on my business website blog.
This year I’ve had the opportunity to attend and even speak at some awesome web industry events, both in Perth and in Sydney. I’d never been to a web industry conference before Mixin and Web Directions, and both were awe-inspiring and intense. I’m still sorting out my feelings on it all to be honest (more on that further below), but they were really great experiences and I’m lucky to have a workplace willing to invest in my professional development.
Speaking is scary and I have learned that I am simply not a person who can ‘just wing it’, but with a ton of extreme preparation I think I can do a halfway decent job. Having now experienced other people’s talks, I can see a lot of areas to improve.
I’ve attempted Inktober – an ink drawing every day in October – a few times before, but never made it to the finish line. This time I did! Adding some constraints was certainly the key. I had been in a bit of a lull just before this, and I think it helped prove to myself that I can make something every day if I make the time for it. I really want to do another series like it. Here’s the full 31 days of numbers and botanical illustrations.
I first read about Bullet Journals at the end of 2015, and was intrigued enough to try it out for this year. Although I’ve played with various digital tools for to do lists, none have stuck as well as this. I don’t use a lot of the complex bits and certainly don’t get as crazy with it as some, but it’s nice to flick back through my year and see everything I’ve jotted down. I’ll be continuing this habit in 2017, and trying to write down more so that year in review posts like this are easier to do! Here’s my writeup of the system if you’re keen to try.
WHAT I’VE BEEN GRATEFUL FOR
I’ve been lucky to spend time travelling this year – starting in Mexico and Texas, Broome for a girls’ trip, Margaret River for The Boy and I’s birthday, and Sydney for a conference with some colleagues. I can find travelling with people challenging at times, so I’m also grateful for travel partners understanding of my need to escape sometimes!
I’m also grateful for having the time and space to make things; to have the privilege of owning a beautiful home (let’s just not talk about the debt), a good job that I enjoy, awesome friends, a supportive family, and a husband that makes really good food. And puppy cuddles.
WHAT I’VE BEEN READING
Of the 26 or so books I read this year, 21 were by Tamora Pierce, a YA fantasy writer whose work I really enjoyed as a teenager. I started rereading my favourites, then discovered some new books, and then just couldn’t stop. Tammy (this is what her fans call her) has a running theme of strong female characters, in charge of their own destiny and sexuality whilst trying to figure out how the world works. Looking back I think it shaped a lot of my ideas on feminism and I can confirm that the books are just as good to read as an adult. I don’t at all regret my YA novel bender, although I’d probably suggest not marathoning it all like I did.
The other books were:
The One Thing by Gary Keller – repetitive but a good message that I’ve tried to take on board this year.
The Cursed Child screenplay by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne – reading a screenplay is always a bit weird, but enjoyable. Harry becomes a bit (more?) of a douche but Scorpius is delightful.
In Progress by Jessica Hische – a beautiful and surprisingly content-heavy book from an inspiring lettering artist.
I have also read a lot of articles this year, mainly for all the work stuff. I’ll do a better job of keeping track of the best ones next year! I’ve moved over to Pocket for saved articles, and seem to have a never-ending reading list. I still use this method via IFTTT to save interesting articles to read later, if you want to have a go at reading more next year. I bought a massive collection of web industry books which I’m hoping to wade through in 2017, possibly bolstered by some more Tamora Pierce.
WHAT I’VE BEEN THINKING ABOUT
I’ve been feeling a bit less in love with the web industry lately – the continuous number of new things to keep up with, the fancy new job titles, the way everything is starting to look the same, and the shrinking difference between a good quality template and custom-designed work. I’m feeling the expanse of things I need to learn to stay current, let alone be a frontrunner, and instead of making me feel excited and energised, I just feel… tired. I don’t know that being a unicorn (one who can do pretty much everything) is a realistic expectation to have of yourself or your employees anymore. Luckily I’m not the only one who feels this way – hearing Joel Califa explain the idea of full stack anxiety helped me to feel less alone, break things down and take steps to getting back in the groove, in a more mindful way.
One thing that always helps me is coming at it from a different angle, and for that reason I’ve been thinking about really embracing illustration, lettering and branding in my work (in both my day job and my ‘night job’). It’s always scared me, but there’s a lot from these disciplines than can be brought across to web to make it more interesting and unique. Branding work is challenging but I feel like it could be an intersection of all the things I like doing and have been learning more about.
Given the world events this year, I’ve been thinking about how I can use my skills to help make the world a better place. I still haven’t come up with anything concrete, besides continuing doing small things in my personal habits, work and consumption. Obviously I haven’t thought about this seriously enough, or I would have figured something out! Maybe I could incorporate my vague branding work plans somehow.
This year I’ve had stressful points, but I’m feeling better able to deal with it. Saying no sometimes, establishing boundaries, making space to make art, and not over-committing are the key for me to stay happy, healthy and productive. I’ve stopped adding more than a couple of items to my after-work to do list, because there’s really only a little bit of time to work with. I’ve stopped idolising perfection and the non-stop hustle and started seeking success as I define it. I’m kind to myself first, always. And I think I have achieved far more than a burnt out me would have!
WHAT I’M EXCITED FOR
I’m so excited for more brush lettering workshops, making more art, taking up ceramics again, going on another trip, and learning wherever I can. I’ve cleared a path in 2016, so 2017 will be a big one. Still making specific plans and goals, but I still have a few days left. I’m also nerdily excited to close out this year’s journal and open my shiny new one!
If you are one of what I’m sure will be a very small number of people who made it this far, thank you for reading! I hope you have a wonderful holiday season, and a really awesome new year!