Compost. That’s the first word that sprang to mind when I read this challenge. Reclaiming the past to feed the future. I’ve done versions of this challenge before, but each time there is something new to learn–not the least of which is just how full of experience, knowledge, and important skills my life really is.

#DareToExcel Challenge – 6:

Cross-training is defined as how working on one project or in one field can complement your endeavors in another field. Cross-training can happen sequentially (e.g., your work in your 20s can help your work in your 40s) or simultaneously (e.g. the thinking required in your work as a lawyer can help you in your book project).

Versatile heritage is defined as the repurposing of previous experience in a current endeavor. For example, you may have previous experience in art or design. This experience can then inform your work in marketing or coaching.

What unique skills and experiences do you already possess that you can bring to your project?

List 1-5 existing skills you have developed from previous experiences and work that you are bringing forward to this project. 

First, the meditative sewing portion of the program:

  • Sewing & Quilting: I made my first quilt when I was 10, and have completed more than 40 since then, with several more in progress. What that means for this project is that deep attention is no longer required, allowing my mind to rest as I stitch.
  • Meditation practice: Although I wouldn’t say I have deep experience with meditation, I have studied both sitting meditation and writing practice with Natalie Goldberg and others, which means I have some experience and the basic skills to build on.

Then onto the book:

  • Research: Undergraduate and graduate school, writing for a museum publication and novels, and many years working in the content realm for a variety of tech companies and departments, have helped me develop some seriously kick-ass research skills–both online and in the real world. But beyond that, research is one of my great loves, so even when I’m not doing it for a project, I’m hunting down data, trends, and histories out of personal interest. Research is best when it’s full-immersion–books, movies, music, photos on the walls… I want to be able to slip completely into that other world.
  • Writing: Again, academia and my work experience have molded me into a professional writer with a wide variety of skills: I’ve written magazine articles for the Exploratorium Quarterly, crafted editorial experiences for, worked as a tech writer, marketing writer, advertising writer, newsletter (and e-newsletter) writer, social media writer, website copywriter, blogger, content and story editor, and proofreader. I’ve written and published poems and micro-fiction, completed drafts of 5 novels, many short stories, and two screenplays. I’ve also attended multiple writing retreats with author Natalie Goldberg. That’s more than 17 years focused on all aspects of the craft.
  • Content Architecture & Strategy: My professional writing career started with newsletter and catalog work–creating categories, writing copy, crafting flow between pages. From there I moved on to website content architecture and navigation–what appears on each page and how you move between them. These skills are essential in any written work, especially those with complex or interlaced story structures, which happen to be my favorite to write. My current project contains three distinct but connected story lines which will require unwavering attention to chronology, points of intersection, flow, and detail. Suffice it to say, there will be color and time-coded story architecture diagrams. Lots of them.

And of course, my whole #onesmallproject is a form of cross-training–sewing as a way to clear physical and mental space for the larger project I need to bring into the world.

But of course I’m going to add one more, in the form of a riddle:

What do gardening, belly dancing, learning to fly an airplane, and writing a book have in common?


They all require mastery of a million tiny nuanced parts, profound courage, and deep faith that one small step can lead to the journey of a lifetime and with it, the opportunity to transport others into a completely different world.


Sometimes answering is hard because you don’t know where to start. Other times, it’s hard because you don’t know where to stop.

#LiveTheQuest – 4:
What skill set do you need and want to develop or to hone? #skill
Between a naive hobbyist amateur and a signature artist is a curious apprentice. If you ever lose the apprentice’s edge, you risk either keeping your head in the sands of fear or in the clouds of arrogance.

To live your question and respond to your challenges differently, what new skill set do you need and want to develop this quarter in order to execute your one project or something else exceptionally well? What existing skill set do you need and want to hone and sharpen? How can you do so more intentionally?


Just because I’ve managed to keep myself alive all these years, doesn’t mean I have a clue about how to treat myself well. Eight times out of ten, I consider food a chore. The ninth time it fills me with dread. And that last one, it fills me with joy (but usually only when it involves things that are bad for me). And sleep? I love the idea, but somehow that love doesn’t translate into action.

I need to learn the difference between taking care of myself and treating myself with care. And once I do, I need to develop the skills that those unfamiliar actions require, like cooking, and turning off the computer before midnight, and learning when to say no. Which brings us to skill set number 2…

Letting Go

Today at work, my boss and I were talking about my work schedule. She told me she has hesitated to ask me about taking on more hours because she knows how busy I am. But when pressed, neither one of us could say what, exactly, I am so busy doing. Working, cleaning, errand-ing, Facebooking, planning, recovering, writing, blogging, sewing, dreaming, seeing… living?

But the fact is, much of what I spend my time on (and sometimes who I spend my time with) has nothing to do with my priorities, or even my interests. A lot of it has to do with digging through piles trying to find things. A lot of it has to do with things that other people want from me. A lot of it has to do with should-ing. A lot of it has to do with distracting myself from all of those things. And a lot of it has to do with trouble prioritizing amid a sea of too many daily decisions.

So how do I fix it?

  • Let it go
  • Just say no
  • And…

Habit Building

One good way to cut down the overwhelm of excess decision making, aside from culling clutter and other distractions, is to automate as much of our routines as we can by turning them into habits. According to, a habit is:

An acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.

Almost involuntary–that’s what I’m talking about. And so is SJ Scott, author of Habit Stacking. Not only does he talk about the best ways to create repeatable, habit-forming routines, he also gives us tons of great suggestions for the kinds of things that work best (spoiler: discreet, simple actions that take less than five minutes to complete). String together a set that can be linked to each other and last no more than 20 minutes, and you have a recipe for success. Identifying these actions and honing their order is a skill that I’m already working on, and once I get my morning and evening routines set, I’ll see what others I can come up with (like writing perhaps).

Writing & Editing

The truth is, I already write every day–in my journal, the contents of which vary widely from story building, to bitch sessions, to To Do lists, to dreams, to whatever else flits through my early morning (and often late night) mind. But working on actual projects–a novel, poetry, blog posts–is something that happens sporadically at best (or in an intense, focused burst usually inspired by a challenge like NaNoWriMo). To be able to work on a project consistently, perhaps even slowly (dare I say mindfully?) over time? That is a skill I would love to build. Because let’s face it, as a crafter, November is insane enough without trying to squeeze in 50,000 words.

And while we’re on the subject of words, I need to add editing to my skills list–not just editing in general. I’ve already been told by many people that I have both talent and skill for that… just not when it comes to my own work. I have full drafts of 5 novels, three of which may even be worth polishing, an assortment of short stories, and enough poems to fill a book (maybe more) which are all currently languishing in some form of filing black hole, because when it comes down to it, the razor-sharp perception and eagle eye for character, story, and prose that I can wield with precision for other people’s work, goes all cloudy when I look at mine. And if I am ever going to make a real go at this writing thing (aside from a few published poems here and there) I need to figure this out.

Sewing Techniques, & Technology

As with writing, I have a ton of ideas for quilts I want to make–many of which I just plain don’t have the skill for. Hand piecing, quilting, appliqué (regular and reverse), and embellishment for example. Structural 3D for another. Also, piecing curves, making my own patterns, dyeing my own fabric, making, mending, and altering clothes and accessories. And I’m still a beginner with free-motion quilting, paper piecing, machine appliqué, working with non-fabric materials, and can always use more work on my rotary cutting (I just never really got the hang of it).

And then there is the world beyond fabric and thread–the world of sewing technology. I have a computerized sewing machine with over 250 decorative stitches, including two alphabets, none of which I have ever used. It also includes a memory feature where you can save stitch settings and combinations for repeated use which I have also never used. Sure I can stitch, and ditch quilt, and even do some limited free-motion, but I want more. Why shell out the money for a hot rod if you’re never going to take it out of first gear? And there are other machines out in the world that I want to learn. I’m pretty good with the sit-down long arm which is basically a mechanical with a speed control and needle up/down, but what about the 26″ long arm on the 10 foot frame that I played with at AQS QuiltWeek? The one with the stitch regulator that it’s almost impossible to outrun and the advanced computer where you can select pre-programmed designs (or upload or create your own) and have the robot stitch them out for you? It’s the kind of machine that could launch 1000 ships (or a serious quilting business) and since we will be hosting one in the store, I plan to learn that thing inside out.

And I can’t forget the EQ7 software (finally out for Mac) that lets you design quilts digitally, even create and print patters (that can even be sold), and the Artistic Edge digital cutter that can whip through appliqué cutting in a flash… and the list goes on.

Sure, I can’t do it all now, but with a little discernment, I should be able to prioritize, starting with two techniques that I want to learn for one more reason than just improving my craft.

Mindfulness Practice

I have known for a long time that I need to find a mindfulness practice that works for me. Sitting never has. Fortunately, I believe I finally have a couple of leads: hand stitching and free-motion quilting. Aside from learning the hows of the techniques themselves, I will also need to build skill in the mindfulness components: remaining present, observing without judgement, letting go of the chatter in my mind. I’m planning to try doodling and coloring in mandalas as well.


And lastly, discernment, because the truth is, I want to learn or improve my skills at all the things. Prepping, homesteading, house building, sustainable power, blogging, French, Japanese, Spanish, Scots Gaelic, Celtic history and lore, photography, spec-fic, tarot, experimental poetry, how to build a business, how to decide which business to build, to read all the books, to see all the movies… you get the picture.

Luckily, this year, I have my priorities to help guide me: Health, Creative Work, Relationships, and Learning, in that order. Reading all the books can wait. First comes eating, sleeping, and being kind to myself. Eye on the prize.

Gardening as Practice

Gardening is my passion. It brings me joy and peace, a meditative practice, challenges and heartaches, and a tangible way to help make a difference in the world.

Gardening is a sensory experience. It pulls you out of yourself and into the bigger picture. It teaches you about interdependence, about the cycles of life, and about the transitory nature of all things.

Here is how the garden speaks to me, but it doesn’t matter whether you have a 300 square foot vegetable plot or a single African violet on a windowsill. Any one or all of these steps can work for you:

1.  Start with your eyes.
Eat your breakfast or enjoy your afternoon tea looking out into your garden. Eat slowly, giving your mind time to settle into that green space. The longer you sit, the more you will notice – a newly forming flower bud, a suspect spot or curl of leaf, a lizard hiding under a branch, a bumble bee, the beginnings of a patch of weeds. Do nothing. Make no mental lists. Just notice the space and the details, small and large, within it.

2.  Walk outside.
Chances are, after completing step one, you won’t be able to resist. The garden will call you to join it. But don’t succumb to the urge to get to work right away. Spend a moment just being with it. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Take in the lush green scent or sharp dryness. Notice the top notes – a blooming rose, the scent of warm herbs. Run your fingers across them if you like, taking their scent onto your skin. Notice then, the bottom notes – the smell of earth, warm flagstone, your compost pile. Embrace the rot. It is what keeps the cycle alive.

3.  Move in close and touch the leaves.
Turn them over to see if anyone is hiding there. Feel the texture of flower petals, of rough bark, of fuzzy leaves. Reach down into the dirt without your gloves. Notice if it’s warm or cool. Dry or moist. Your fingers will tell you what it needs. Listen and give to each plant what it asks for, one at a time.

4.  When the work is done, sit and listen – to the breeze in the leaves, the buzz of the bees, the birds in the trees. 
Witness all the aliveness that surrounds you, both visible and hidden. Feel it pulsing through you, becoming part of you, to help ground you through your day.

5.  If you have herbs or other edibles in your garden, take a tiny taste of one small leaf. 
Sorrell or romaine, rosemary or mint… Let it fill your mouth with its wild green, making that garden a part of what creates you every day.


It doesn’t matter if you have 5 minutes or three hours. If your garden is large and your time short, pick one corner, one plant, one flower. It doesn’t even matter if you have no garden at all. 

Pick a houseplant to look at, really look at. Sink your fingers into its pot. Feel its roots grow and grow with them. Or visit a friend’s garden, a park, the woods. Look more closely at the weed-riddled median in the center of your road.

And speaking of weeds, please do not consider them a foe to be vanquished, but rather a teacher to be respected. 

When I lived in San Francisco, I had a huge garden with a view of the ocean. It was beautiful, but completely overrun with Cape oxalis, one of San Francisco’s most invasive and persistent weeds. Everyone told me to put down weed barrier or spray herbicides, whatever it took to get rid of it all.

But for me, that carpet of green was beautiful and getting down on my knees with my hands in the dirt to clear a vegetable patch one small oxalis bulb at a time really helped me feel connected to my garden – the plants and the soil, the water and sky. It got me out there every morning to check on the progress of each squash seedling making sure they hadn’t been overrun. And those weeds kept me there, noticing things I would never have seen had I blanketed the dirt with plastic and set automatic sprinklers.

What’s most important in the garden is whatever gets you outside. Beyond that, it’s just being there that matters, whether pulling weeds, tilling soil, planting seeds, or simply enjoying the flowers. All help to ground you in the earth and the world and connect you to something bigger, putting all that bad news on the television, your child’s ear infection, or the politics at work into clearer perspective.

Outside things grow. They live and die. The sun shines, or it rains. It doesn’t matter. The garden is there, and so are we.
This post first appeared on The Liberated Life Project–an enlightening and empowering blog written by friend Maia Duerr–as part of a series of “how to” posts on spiritual/contemplative practices. You can learn more about the series and how to develop a practice of your own here.