• Breathe in Beauty

    If you have ever tried to meditate, you have probably experienced the difficulty of controlling, or even slowing down, your thoughts. Your mind races like a wild monkey, gathering ideas here and memories there, all the while leaving a nagging sense that you should be able to direct your thoughts, but can’t.

    While it may be difficult to control your actual thoughts, you can have complete control over the tone and tenor of your thoughts.

    Consider this:  Do you generally think kind, affirming, uplifting and expansive thoughts? Or do your thoughts tend to be of a more negative, critical and contractive nature? I would like to suggest that we are happier when we think positive thoughts, and less happy when we think negative thoughts.

    And what is the easiest way to flip the switch from negative to positive thinking?

    This can be answered in three words: Breathe in beauty.

    Let me explain.

    When our thoughts are spiraling down a path of negativity, they will continue in this direction because it is the path of least resistance. Months or years of pessimistic thinking create grooves in the neural pathways of the brain. The result: the more frequently a thought pattern is repeated, the more likely it is to be repeated in the future.

    Breaking this unwanted pattern requires an active shift of focus. And one of the easiest ways to do this is to think of something beautiful.

    For example, think of a dramatic golden sunset. Or imagine the sound of your child’s merry giggle. Or remember the feeling of delight when you lost yourself in creating art or solving an equation or playing a song on a musical instrument.

    Do you feel better?

    The point here is that you can’t think negative thoughts and beautiful thoughts at the same time. Nope, it can’t be done.

    So, begin to retrain your brain. Breathe in beauty. The next time you catch yourself with a negative or worrisome thought, try one of the following:

    • Look at something beautiful
    • Smell something wonderful
    • Listen to something inspiring
    • Recall something delightful

    Close your eyes. Take a slow, deep inhalation, and breathe in that beauty.

    Repeat. As needed. Allow this way of thinking to become your new  normal — your new neural path of least resistance. And see if you don’t feel happier, and perhaps even calmer, than you did before.

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  • Book Review: Low Cost High Impact Photography

    The words “minimalism” and “photography” are perfectly encapsulated in the work of photographer/blogger Steve Johnson (husband of The Minimalist Woman Meg Johnson). He brings a clear eye and a minimalist sensibility to his photos that give them a serene, timeless quality.

    Steve has just released a wonderful new e-book, Low Cost High Impact Photography. His premise is that serious photography does not need to be prohibitively expensive. He demonstrates how to take fabulous photos with a mid-range point-and-shoot camera. And while the information is primarily written for compact cameras, most of the information is applicable to dSLRs as well.

    The book is divided into 4 main sections:

    • Equipment
    • Technique
    • Aesthetics
    • Photo Essays

    Each section is carefully thought out, useful, and beautifully illustrated with Steve’s photos, as seen below:

    Steve writes like an old friend, gently pointing out things about lighting and camera settings in a way that makes the reader feel at ease. Despite his relaxed tone, the information is spot-on accurate. He shares tips and tricks for saving money on camera equipment, for optimizing lighting, for taking steady pictures, and for composing compelling shots.

    He includes countless practical tips, like this one for taking photos of people:
    “Never count down for the shot – great for rigid death grin, and little else.”

    He gives specific, detailed instructions for eBay and product photography, low-light photography, food photography, flowers, sunsets, and much more.

    In his photo essays, he breaks down the shots and explains his process and technique.

    His philosophical musings sprinkled throughout the book are an added bonus:

    “Photography is more about recognition than creation — the good stuff is hidden in plain site.”

    “Good photography is about removing non essential clutter.”

    “The biggest joy of being a photographer is that the smallest, most trivial thing can take over your entire world just like that. While I’m looking and photographing stuff like this nothing else matters, politics, personal stuff, everything just goes away for a few minutes or even a couple of hours.”

    Is the book technical? Yes, but in a way that is practical and helpful, not intimidating. Steve’s mastery of the subject enables him to write with easy confidence in a way that engages the reader and makes you want to reach for your camera to try out his techniques.

    Some writers can discuss the technical aspects of photography, while others are better at discussing the aesthetics of photography. It is a rare individual who can do both, and do it well. Steve is just such a person.

    I highly recommend this book. If you are just starting out in photography or are a seasoned pro, you will find plenty to enjoy in Low Cost High Impact Photography.

    (Please note: I am an affiliate of this product, meaning that if you purchase it through my site, I will get a percentage of the sale.)

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  • One shell, three ways

    I have been dreaming of warm weather and tropical beaches. A friend gave me this shell from Mexico and it inspired me to experiment with different processing techniques. If I can’t be in a sunny place, at least I can focus on something that was! (And just in case it’s difficult to distinguish: it is a cross-section of a spiral-shaped shell, containing little rocks lodged within the curves).

    In the top image, I used a Lightroom 3 (LR3) preset called Warm Glow. Next, I added some contrast with a filter from Nik ColorEfex Pro called Pro Contrast. Finally, I added a frame action from the CoffeeShop blog. I like how the processing brought out the bright colors that were hiding in the image.

    In the following image, below, I used a LR3 preset called Color Creative – Cold Tone. I was pleased with the soft, dreamy quality it gave the photo.

    And, finally, I went for a sleeker, more minimalist look. In the photo, below, I applied a BW Creative – Look 1 preset in LR3 and then added a black/white filter from Nik Silver Efex Pro.

    I am not sure which I enjoy more: taking the picture or processing it. I lose all sense of time in both activities. There is something wonderful to be said for both.

    How about you? Which do you enjoy more? Taking photos or tweaking/processing them afterward?

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  • Floral Photo Update

    Hi, and Happy Wednesday!

    I thought you might like to see what I’ve been up to lately. I seem to have been re-bitten by the ‘ol shutterbug. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying reconnecting with my camera, learning new techniques, and taking awesome online classes here and here.

    Sometimes, I use textures:

    And, sometimes, I use fancy framing:

    But, always, I find great joy in taking pictures!

    Your turn: what creative endeavors have been stirring your mojo lately?



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  • New Year Mind Map and Freebie

    mind map daisy

    I have nearly completed my writing project that has kept me away from you these past several weeks.  I will be launching it in January, just in time to help you eat better and take charge of your health in the New Year. More about that in a future post…

    But today, I want to share a simple mind map with you (please see image, below).  I originally created this map to help me focus on my themes for the upcoming year.  Being a very visual person, I find choosing a symbol I love (in this case, a flower) makes it easier for me to concentrate.

    In the next 12 months, I will focus on living and writing about an elegant simple life based on a foundation of joyful minimalism.  The main elements of this focus will include:

    • Creativity
    • Beauty
    • Mindfulness
    • Health
    • Relationships
    • Prosperity

    These themes are shorthand for a variety of my current interests and serve as reminders of what I would like to attend to in 2011.

    But enough about me! I want you to have an opportunity to create a simple mind map, too.  Below, I have added a free, blank copy of the mind map flower for you to use.  To download, simply right-click the image and save it to your computer.

    I suggest printing a hard copy of the flower mind map and getting out your favorite pen or a variety of markers to mark up the page. Let your mind come up with all sorts of themes you would like to focus on in the coming year.  Use the page to doodle, scribble and scrawl. Have fun!  The sky’s the limit!

    Sometimes the simple process of coloring in the petals is enough to let your mind reach a meditative flow and allow deep thoughts to bubble forth.  Free associate, don’t censor, and do allow your ideas to spill out onto the paper. At other times, a more linear approach is preferable.  In that case, itemize your goals and themes along the edges of the page or in the petals or wherever you feel led.

    The time for this process will vary; for some, it can happen in a matter of minutes.  For others, several hours on an off throughout the day are required.

    When you have your central idea, your overarching theme, put it in the center of the flower.  If you have a base, or foundation, for the year, place that at the bottom of the flower.  And, finally, choose your top 6 or so priorities for the year, and add them to the petals. And feel free to add more petals or use fewer petals for your priorities.  This is your mind map.  Adjust it to meet your needs.

    If you’d like, print out another copy of the flower and rewrite your thoughts in a clear, easy-to-read format.  Conversely, use the original flower map you created as your focus for the year.  Regardless, once you have your map finished to your liking, place it someplace special to you.  Perhaps hang it on the wall by your computer.  Or post it on your refrigerator.  Or fold it up and place it in your journal.  Or scan it and use it as your desktop wallpaper. Do whatever seems right to you.

    Here’s the secret: the act of going through the process, contemplating and writing things down, is where the magic happens.  You have set the wheels in motion at an unseen level and that is what is most important. Having a hard copy for future reference is just the icing on the cake.

    So, there you have it: a simple mind map to help you begin the New Year.  And, if this all seems too much to take on right now, feel free to simply print out the flower and give it to a child to color!

    Happy 2011!

    flower mindmap

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  • Short Hiatus

    pink tulips

    Hi, I just wanted to let you know that I am in the midst of a creative new writing project. I want to give it my full attention for the next few weeks, so I will be taking a brief hiatus from my blogs.

    Meanwhile, I’d like to leave you with this bouquet of pink tulips. Cheers!



    image source: Christianna Pierce

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  • Elegant Simple Rose

    White Rose

    Portland is officially known as the City of Roses. (It is also affectionately known as Stumptown, Bridgetown, Rip City, P-Town, and PDX).

    Last week, my husband and I took a leisurely walk around our neighborhood and I was amazed to see roses still in full bloom. In November! I snapped a few pics and wanted to share one with you. So, here it is, with happy wishes to you for a terrific weekend!

    What’s currently blooming in your neck of the woods?

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  • Minimalism and the Paradox of Choice

    Too many choices?We often think that the freedom to choose is the ultimate luxury and that the more choices we have, the better.

    The reality is that, beyond a certain level of freedom to choose, we actually are happier when we have some limits to our choices.

    I find this to be true with minimalism in general and both veganism and the black dress challenge in particular.

    By setting rules for myself, my life is greatly simplified. For instance, when I go grocery shopping, I don’t have to agonize over whether the free-range organic lean chicken or the organic low-fat cottage cheese is a better choice. Because the answer is: neither.

    By eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet, I automatically limit the majority of unhealthy food choices. This allows me to choose healthy fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts without having an internal dialogue about the pros and cons of each item I put into my shopping basket.

    Similarly, when I wore the same dress every day for a month, my mornings were streamlined and I could get on to other, more interesting, aspects of my day.

    These ideas are examined in a book I recently read, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, by Barry Schwartz. Schwartz contends that we make a mistake when we equate liberty directly with choice. We do not increase freedom by increasing the number of options available. Rather,

    we make the most of our freedoms by learning to make good choices about the things that matter, while at the same time unburdening ourselves from too much concern about the things that don’t.

    In other words, we free our minds from the tyranny of small decisions and have time to consider the big things in greater depth.

    I think the mistake many people make is to assume that by giving things up, they will feel deprived. I believe the opposite to be true. For example, when I counsel people on making plant-based dietary choices, I emphasize that there may be some initial discomfort in giving up meat, poultry, fish, and dairy. But after a few days or weeks, the initial discomfort is replaced by a heightened feeling of health and well-being.

    In other words, limits are not the same as deprivations.

    How about you? Does setting limits in your life leave you more time to attend to things you really care about?

    image source: iStockphoto

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  • The Black Dress Challenge Wrap-up

    Black Dress ChallengeRecap: I recently completed The Black Dress Challenge, in which I wore the same black dress every day for 31 days. While the dress remained constant, I rotated shoes and accessories throughout the month.

    Assessment: As I look back on the Challenge, I am struck by 3 things:

    • How easy it was.
    • How much I enjoyed it.
    • How sorry I was to see it end.

    I came to love my little uniform and the ease with which I could get dressed and get on with my day. The funny thing is, unless I mentioned it, not one single person commented on the fact that I was wearing the same dress every day. I’m not sure if this was because they did not notice, or because they did not want to hurt my feelings by pointing out an obvious sartorial faux pas. I really think it was the former.

    I also came to appreciate that limiting my clothing to one outfit is a luxury and a choice, while for for many people it is the only option. I developed a great sense of gratitude for being able to choose to participate in this self-created challenge and for being able to select from a variety of tops and accessories each day.

    And, finally, my shopping expenditures dropped significantly during this month. The old saying, “shop in your own closet first” really came home to roost, and I can say that my desire for new clothing has greatly diminished. Score another one for minimalism and sustainability!

    Goals: My main reason for attempting this challenge was to simplify my life. I also hoped to increase my creativity, become more comfortable on the other side of the camera, embrace vegan fashion, and donate to a worthy cause.

    Did I reach my goals? For the most part, yes. Below, I’ve rated my success on a scale of 1 (total dud) to 5 (total success).

    1. This black dress greatly simplified my life. It was comfortable, versatile, and adaptable enough to wear in sunny Los Angeles, temperate Oregon, and chilly Washington, D.C. It made packing for trips an absolute breeze. In fact, I was able to travel for a 4-day, cross-country trip with only a small carry-on bag and personal item. And, as I posted here, air travel while wearing leggings is a very comfortable, practical choice. Score: 5
    2. I was able to express some creativity in accessorizing. At times while staring in my closet, I drew a total blank. But knowing I would be taking a photo forced me to put together an ensemble that was both appealing and appropriate for the activities of the day. Wearing a different top every day of the month was slightly unrealistic, however, in that I typically wear the same selection of tops several times in any given month. In retrospect, it would have been more challenging to limit my shoes and tops as well. Next time… Score: 3
    3. I became slightly more comfortable on the other side of the camera. While I have done limited runway modeling, my photographic modeling experience is next to nothing. So, this was by far the most difficult part of the challenge for me. I would say I got used to the camera, but comfortable, well, only slightly more. Score: 3
    4. I am happy to say that I did not wear any animal products (wool, silk, leather) during the challenge.  I have found vegan fashion very easy to embrace. There are so many natural fiber and synthetic fiber options available today that it makes vegan dressing both simple and sustainable.  Score: 5
    5. I donated money to one of my favorite charitable causes: Global Vision 2020. This terrific organization brings self-adjustable eyeglasses to people in the developing world. I love the elegant simplicity of these eyeglasses and I am a huge fan. Score: 4

    Future: Where do I go from here? Well, much as my black dress was suitable in so many ways, it was a little long for my taste. Therefore, I am meeting with a fashion-whiz friend later this week to design a shorter version of the same dress. I will try it in black fabric first, and, if it works well, perhaps make it in a few other colors, too. Who knows, we may have a small fashion line in our future! But I’m getting way ahead of myself 🙂

    In closing, I want to thank Courtney at Be More with Less for creating the Project 333 and Meg at Minimalist Woman for bringing it to my attention. I look forward to hearing other people’s experiences with their minimalist fashion challenges. If you have any questions or comments about The Black Dress Challenge, I’d love to hear from you in the  comments below.

    Also, if you’d like to see photos of all 31 outfits for the month, you can visit The Black Dress Challenge.

    image: Day 31 of the Black Dress Challenge. © 2010. Christianna Pierce.

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  • Rally to Restore Sanity – My Experience


    I am not particularly fond of large crowds. I get impatient and start to feel claustrophobic and generally avoid them unless there is a really compelling reason. Such as a James Blunt concert or a talk by the Dalai Lama. Or, a political rally in Washington, D.C. that promises to be just a little extraordinary.


    Which is why I found myself, along with my husband and two sons, at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. last weekend. While estimates vary, there were probably 215,00-250,000 people in attendance. That’s about a quarter of a million people in one relatively small area.

    And, you know what?  It was really fun!

    The weather was picture postcard perfect and the atmosphere of the rally was very upbeat and positive.  People were extremely polite, even when we were jammed in a human gridlock that prevented absolutely any movement for minutes at a time.

    Some of the best seats were in trees our on top of port-a-potties.  Although this one looks like a high-risk endeavor (note what the red arrow is pointing to):

    port-a-potty about to collapse

    We had plenty of time to read placards.


    Some of my favorites were:

    • I’m not you. I’m a witch.
    • Labels are for Pickle Jars.
    • Colbert for Congress.
    • And, of course, our sign:

    Oregonians 4 Sanity(Keen observers will note I am wearing the dress from Day 30 of the Black Dress Challenge).

    From our vantage point on the steps of the National Gallery of Art (which has free admission and houses one of the best art collections you could ever wish to see), we could barely make out the figures of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert in the far distance.  Colbert was particularly animated as he jumped around in his Evel Knievel-inspired white jumpsuit and cape.

    Was it easy to get to the rally? Only if by easy you mean taking one son out of his midterm at college, taking the other son away from his senior Homecoming weekend, and joining your husband at a midway point (the Albuquerque Airport) on your transcontinental route at as you winged your way to the East coast.

    And was the rally perfect? No, they could have used a much better sound system. And there could have been many more large screen monitors. And cellphone coverage would have been a huge plus. Who knew that the vast number of people tweeting and emailing pics would essentially shut down the wireless service, making it virtually impossible to make a call or send a text?

    But I am not complaining. Far from it. Sometimes you have to get beyond your comfort zone and try new experiences. Along with 250,000 of your new best friends.

    images: © 2010. Christianna Pierce.

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