creating a meaningful life

by Nicole on July 26, 2016


I feel like I can’t write lately, and it’s been super annoying. It’s the reason I’ve stayed away from this space for the past few months. I feel like I’m having all these insights, and like the pieces are falling into place, and then I try to put it into words and it just won’t come out. Or it sounds so simple that it seems like there’s just no point in sharing. But I really want to get this stuff out of me, and also wanted to let you guys know that yes, I’m alive and doing well! So here goes…

I still can’t fully explain it, but sobriety is one of the best things I have ever done for myself. When I talk about quitting drinking because it was keeping me stuck in a life I was lukewarm about, friends sometimes tell me, “You know, I never really saw that in you.” I get it, I do. I think I hid it well. But I also think most of us are pretty good at hiding our doubts about life and meaning and the value of it all. And I think a lot of us escape from those doubts by looking outside of ourselves and the present moment, and we turn to external things to alleviate our worries and discomfort for a while. The escape could be drinking or drugs or Netflix or binge-eating or social media or overspending or working too much or anything else. Maybe a lot of that escape is harmless, but I know that in my experience, when you get used to it being the primary tool you pull out of your toolbox, and when escape is starting to feel like the best feeling to you, it makes for a life that’s not very worth living. Which makes sense, because you’re escaping life, not living it.

So I made the choice to stop escaping, and to start living a life that actually made me feel fulfilled. Here’s what helped me. I really think this advice is applicable to anyone who is struggling to live a meaningful life.


1. Figure out what gives your life meaning.  I know, it seems paradoxical, or unfair at the very least, to tell you, “Figure out the meaning of your life by figuring out the meaning of your life.”  But I promise, it’s really more straight-forward than it seems. Make a list of your values, and then narrow your list down to the top five. Things like safety, creativity, adventure, independence, love, family, health, wealth, spirituality, nature, knowledge, etc. What makes you happiest? What keeps you sane? What makes you feel like life is good? What qualities do you want your life to embody?

Think about why those things are important to you. Make sure you’re not just choosing things you feel that you should value because they’re “good”; what you choose needs to feel fundamental to you as a unique being.

I’ll do a follow-up post at some point, laying out my process of choosing and evaluating my values.


2. Now that you know what you value, ask yourself if you are actually living your life in a way that fosters those values. If you’re looking at your life, and you find yourself prioritizing things that aren’t in sync with your values, then it’s no wonder you don’t feel fulfilled.

Darius shared this Annie Dillard quote with me the other day that says, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” I love the “of course” part, because it’s so obvious, but it’s also the part we tend to forget about. Your life is taking place today, in this very second, right here, right now! You are not guaranteed tomorrow. Whatever you want your life to be, you need to practice in the way you spend your days. If you want to be creative, don’t wait until the weekends, or until your kid goes back to school, or until work is less busy. To the best of our abilities, we have to prioritize the things that make us feel fulfilled.

Do not take the above to mean you need to be living out your dream in order to be fulfilled. You can still work at a boring job that is mostly about the paycheck, provided it’s still in line with your overall values. In my case, being an accountant doesn’t quite make my heart sing, but it is something I can be content doing, and it affords me the hours, stability, and money to pursue my other values. That can be good enough.

The above also shouldn’t be putting any pressure on you. It can feel crushing and overwhelming if you start believing you need to be maximizing every single day or living life at 100% every single second. The point of my advice is just to live a life that’s mostly in sync with your values. Your values should function as a compass, not necessarily a checklist. I might be going through a crazy stressful time at work and just literally don’t have the energy to be creative or try new things or exercise or cook my own food. That’s okay. But armed with the knowledge of what I value in life, I should expect that I’ll start to feel a bit “off”. And when that discomfort arises, I can look at it squarely and understand, more or less, just why I’m feeling that way. This helps tamper any desire to escape, and instead, just reminds me that I should follow my compass and try to get back on my path as soon as I can.


3. Continuing with the idea of living out your days in a way that aligns with your values, cultivate routines that support your values. I used to think of routines as being very boring and something to be avoided. But I’ve realized that I actually do best with routines, because they make it very, very easy for me to live in a way that I know is going to make me happy.

In the morning, I wake up early. I meditate. I drink hot lemon water while I read through a few daily devotional books, and maybe write out a gratitude list. Some days I read blogs or look at Instagram. I get dressed quietly. I feed my cat. I allot 30 minutes to cooking and eating breakfast. My days don’t always begin this way, but for the most part, they do. Mornings like this make me feel grounded and ready to go out into the world, and so I make it a priority.

In the evening, I change into exercise clothes as soon as I get home. I practice yoga in a space I set up specifically for that purpose. Darius and I then cook dinner and eat at the table. I read, or knit, or sew, or practice calligraphy, or color, or maybe watch a movie with Darius. I take a bath or a shower. I drink tea. I go to bed early, and read until I’m sleepy. Again, evenings don’t always look this way, but for the most part, they do. Evenings like this help me relieve the stress of they day, and make me feel connected to Darius and to myself.

It’s worth nothing that routines are only going to make your life easier and happier if you design them that way. If you’re making something a part of your routine that really isn’t that important to you, it’s going to feel like a chore, instead of a gift. Or if what you’re asking of yourself is just not easy to incorporate into your life at this time, then pare down a little and do the best you can, until you are able to make some bigger changes in your life.


4. Remember that the answer to all of life’s big questions is that there really are no final answers; there is only living and experiencing. Just because you know your values, and you’re living a life that’s in sync with those values, doesn’t mean you’re never going to feel discomfort or sadness or loneliness, or anything else we try to avoid. Just know those are an inevitable part of life, and choose to lean into them, and to learn from them.

I want to leave you guys with the three quotes that I turn to time and time again. These three quotes pretty much sum up my entire position on life now. I hope you find them as helpful as I do.

“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” ― Pema Chödrön

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” -Rainer Maria Rilke

“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.” -Rainer Maria Rilke

corduroy overalls-dress, plus an existential crisis

by Nicole on March 25, 2016


I quit my gym. (Ha, you probably thought I was about to say job.) It kind of felt like a big deal because I’d gotten really into lifting, but then something in me just kind of snapped. Physically, it was getting difficult because I was getting to much heavier weights and it was clear my body didn’t love it. But mentally, I just couldn’t do it anymore. It probably sounds ridiculous to someone who has never done any type of physical competition, but SO MUCH, like I’d say at least 80%, of your performance depends on where you’re at mentally that day. You have to really harness your brain and focus, even through pain and fatigue and failure and the “I’m just not feeling it today”s. And the truth is that I was having way too many “I’m just not feeling it today”s. I was started to dread working out, not so much because it was hard physically, but because I just felt like I couldn’t care enough anymore and it was killing me mentally. Having to repeat a mantra, try my best to believe in it, and then lift hundreds of pounds was making me want to burst into tears each rep. It sucked. I couldn’t remember why I cared about doing it, why I was putting all that pressure on myself.

And the truth is, I had much bigger things on my mind. Real big. Like “what’s the meaning of life?” big. A bit of background…I’m an atheist. The truest definition of atheism is LACK of belief in gods, not DISbelief in gods. So I’m not saying there is no god and it’s provable, but rather just that I have not seen anything that’s given me reason to believe in the existence of any gods (especially the kind that would intervene in my life and have a specific plan for me). I believe that any meaning our lives have while we’re here on earth is meaning that we create for ourselves. And in general, I have no idea what mine really is. I don’t want children, I don’t care about being famous or remembered when I die, I don’t have a desire to make massive changes that make the world a better place. My main goal in life is really just to be happy and experience what I can before I die.

But life was starting to feel like I was just always chasing the next pleasure, the next thing I thought would bring me happiness. I couldn’t tolerate discomfort, whether from stress or sadness or loneliness or boredom or frustration. When things felt uncomfortable, I’d look outside myself for a fix, and more often than not, what I ended up looking for was alcohol. Because you believe the cure for a hard day at work is a glass of wine, because you believe margaritas are what make it a fun night, because you need something to help you zone out while you watch shitty TV, because it’s everywhere in American culture, because it just works so well at making life feel beautiful.

Until it doesn’t. At some point, I started caring about the effects of the drink more than the drink itself. I wanted to get to that perfect happy buzz, and for life to just stay that way. And when I finally realized this, no–when I finally admitted this–it scared me. I had been saying I just wanted to be happy and experience what life had to offer, but in truth I was doing the opposite. I wasn’t truly experiencing life if I was looking for a way to change it the second things got a little bit boring or sad. And I didn’t really feel happiness until I’d had that first drink. I wasn’t unhappy either, it was just that life just felt kinda meh all the other times, but knowing I had a bottle of champagne to open on Friday night held the promise of adventure, silliness, intimacy.

And I’ve come to realize that I think that’s what addiction is. It’s when you’re looking outside of yourself to something else, needing it to fulfill a need or fill a hole, and when it’s having a negative impact on your life. Yes, I do think some people experience addiction in a much more physical way, where their bodies literally physically depend on these substances, and where there is an actual physical withdrawal when taken away. But I think that when we only look at addiction as “Do I get the shakes if I don’t have a drink?” or “Am I homeless or jobless or did I get a DUI?”, then we’re really missing the point. Because things don’t have to get to that level for there to be a negative impact on your life. You don’t tell a person who’s 395 pounds that they don’t have a problem because they’re not yet 400 pounds. I think addiction is essentially when you repeatedly turn to coping mechanisms that you don’t want to do, yet you want to do them anyway. You know that they hurt your life, but it also feels like they give you life.

For me, addiction started out as sneaking Little Debbie snack cakes late at night and hiding the wrappers in the couch cushions; of realizing I could eat an entire pint of ice cream in one sitting; of being overjoyed to order the larger portions off the adult menu when I turned 12 and couldn’t order off the kid’s menu anymore.  As I grew older, addiction looked like buying six sandwiches from a fast-food drive-thru and sneaking them into my room so that I could eat them in peace without my roommates knowing. When I started drinking at 19, I’d skip dinner in favor of pre-partying and then the real partying, and I’d usually end the night drunk-eating breakfast tacos or cheeseburgers. Sometimes it looked like buying two bottles of champagne after a stressful day, not caring if I got blackout drunk, and hoping I could chug enough water to where I wouldn’t feel hungover the next morning. Sometimes it was believing I’d have just one, but knowing that would probably lead to two, three, four, who knows. Sometimes it was feeling like I would die of awkwardness meeting someone new, having to have a real conversation, if I didn’t have at least two drinks beforehand. Sometimes it was not drinking for a week, feeling smug because “see, that wasn’t so hard!”, but then feeling an inexplicable need to go out for beer to celebrate. Whatever the reason, it always felt like just what you needed in that moment, until the high wore off and you started to hate yourself. In hindsight, I can now see that all that self-loathing comes from realizing, at least on a subconscious level, that not only was whatever need you needed met not fulfilled by drinking or bingeing, but everything was actually worse now because you went and covered up the first problem with a new problem. And once this realization becomes more and more clear to you, you’re just tacking on additional problems because now you’re wondering what’s wrong with you, why you can’t control this, why you can’t just be “normal”, on and on. It’s misery, is what it is. You trick yourself into believing this thing brings you pleasure, but what it really does is keep you stuck. And feeling stuck, feeling trapped in a life that you know you have control over, a life that you know is honestly so very short, just makes you feel so small and helpless.

And so that’s why I don’t drink anymore. Author Sarah Hepola has this quote I love, “Probably what got me to quit was fear of inertia. I didn’t think: If I don’t quit drinking, I’m going to die. I thought: If I don’t quit drinking, I’m never going to change. That was the terror.” And that was my terror too. If all I have is this one life, I don’t want to just cover it up with things that only make me feel good temporarily but make me hate myself later. If I want to truly experience life, I have to sit with discomfort and be okay with it as part of life, not just run from it because it’s hard. If I want to add more meaning to my life, I can’t just be chasing fleeting pleasure after fleeting pleasure.

Things are still hard right now. Because even though life feels much easier by removing the problem of drinking from my life, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Now I’m having to actually learn to deal with all the discomforts, problems, and unfulfilled needs that made me want to escape in the first place. I’m still continually running up against the question of what makes my life meaningful, of how to make a life that feels worth living. And I have to learn how to deal with triggers in healthier ways, to make sure I don’t just choose some new escape, like eating dessert every night, or watching too much TV, to fill the void again.

Some of those healthier ways include sewing and knitting. So even though you wouldn’t know it from this blog, I’ve been way more productive in both of those areas. Having multiple creative outlets has been so helpful, because creativity really can cure almost anything–sewing a new pattern eases boredom, knitting a few lines eases anxiety–or at the very least, they can be good distractions when I’m feeling like I need to escape.

So in the most awkward segue ever, let’s talk about Marilla Walker’s Roberts Collection, yeah?


This is View C, the “dungarees dress”. I really, really like this dress. I know it kind of looks like something a little girl’s baby doll should be dressed in, but I like to think it’s something a cool art teacher would wear. I don’t know, it feels very ME when I wear it, even though I’m an accountant, far from being a cool art teacher. I’ve already worn it twice since I finished it five days ago, so that’s a very good sign.



This was a straight size 5, except that I shortened the skirt by 4 inches. I omitted the button tabs because one, I didn’t really need them for functionality as I can easily get into the dress, and two, I was so confused by the instructions at that part. There was no illustration either, and I haven’t seen a pair of overalls in so long that I couldn’t even picture what it should look like.




Fun fact: I actually wore overalls until I was in ninth grade, which would have been in like 2001/2002. And no, overalls were definitely NOT cool then, but I’ve just always really, really liked overalls.


And clearly I’m still not very cool:


Yep, that’s how I’m gonna end this post because I’m out of words. You’re welcome.

tencel denim deer & doe arum dress

by Nicole on January 13, 2016


Say hello to my current favorite pattern–the Deer & Doe Arum Dress! It’s no secret I’m a huge D&D fangirl. All of their patterns are exactly what I envision for my perfect wardrobe–super wearable, and a little sweet without being overly vintage-y or twee, with cute modern details.


Arum is described as a “dress with kimono sleeves, subtly cinched thanks to princess seams in the back, adorned with a bust pocket.”  I’ve been wanting to make a simple dress like this for forever and have toyed with the idea of a Colette Laurel or maybe a Grainline Scout lengthened to a dress. But in the end, Arum won because D&D patterns fit my body well, I love the neckline, and the back princess seams are both pretty and super easy to adjust. Also I’m now into kimono sleeves because no sleeves to set in!


Ta-da!!! Kimono sleeves!

I sewed this up on Christmas Eve to wear on Christmas Day. No lie, these photos are actually from Christmas Day; it was like 75 degrees! It’s actually cold here now, but luckily the dress looks equally cute with tights and boots.

I confess to slightly over-fitting the dress. I started with the largest size (46) and graded up to a 48 everywhere but the shoulders. I made a muslin, and then ended up taking the back princess seams way, way in. The resulting dress gets a little snug when I sit down, and also requires a bit of maneuvering over my bust when I put it on and take it off. But still, I really like it. I already altered my pattern to reflect where I took in the princess seams, so I’ll probably just sew them with 3/8″ or 1/2″ seam allowances next go-around instead of 5/8″. I did a forward-shoulder adjustment and took a deep hem (1.5″ folded over twice). I also made the neckline slightly more scooped, and chose bias-binding for the neckline instead of the facing.


I think this dress has probably gotten me more compliments than anything else I’ve ever made. The fabric is great–it’s a tencel denim from Blackbird Fabrics (sadly sold out now) with cute little white polka dots.  The dress also feels very modern and RTW, so I think people are shocked when I tell them I made it. And the shape just works really well for me. I’ve always been more into fit & flare in the past, but now I’ll be looking at this silhouette a lot more.


Cute little bust pocket detail. I topstitched mine in white to make it stand out a little more.

This dress is so easy to wear and makes me feel happy, so there will definitely be more in my future!

Since sewing this up at the end of December, I haven’t even touched my sewing machine! I’ve been doing quite a bit of knitting–I finished a Dreicke beanie, am almost done with an Effortless Cardigan (just need to finish knitting the collar!), and am about to start on a Gable sweater for my sister-in-law. What are you currently working on?