Why I Wake Up At 4am Everyday (Or Try To)

Raco Life Morning Sunrise Lake Atitlan

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”7270″ alignment=”center”][vc_empty_space][vc_column_text]If the early bird catches the proverbial worm, I want to be the first one up.

4 am is the only way for me to start the day.

As a teenager, I definitely slept until 12 on Sundays, but during the week at boarding school, the only time I had alone was before class.

In Unversity, let’s face it, I was mostly into all-nighters and not going bed until after class, so who knows?

But as a worker, I have always risen early. From the time I start work until the end of the day, I am on conference calls, so if I want me time, 4 am – 6 am is my only shot at a meditative, pensive, quiet. For these 2-hours I can do nothing, or I can do something, but I get to choose.

It became my standard way before kids were even a consideration and it has stuck.

One of my fondest early-morning memories was living in Camden Town in London. I remember sitting in the corner of my apartment overlooking Camden Town where the nightlife was still pumping. By 6 am I was out running and passing drunks until I got to the park where I saw bums. It was enlighting, mindful, and crucial to the success of where I am today because it endlessly reminded me of what not to do with my life. So I ran harder, farther, and got up earlier.

I like waking up early because it gives me a jump on the day and offers me a chance to enjoy my green tea in peace, read the news, or just generally ‘unthink.’ With all the extra time, I am wildly accomplished and by the end of the 2-hours alone, I have graduated beyond my list to do ready to take on whatever the world throws at me.

What do you do in your morning ritual?[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space][vc_column_text]

10 Benefits to Waking Up Early:

1. You Have Extra Head-Space ALL day

If you are like me you are a taskmaster. I have lists to do by the hundreds and I cross them out with a satisfying STRIKE THROUGH. I get a list down before I go to bed, and in the morning, I pick one or two of the major things to get knocked out. While on conference calls I can then work on small, meaningless tasks throughout the day.

Having these extra 2-hours seems to free up every part of my brain to expand and have the freedom to explore. If I want to research something extra, I will. If I want to read an industry article and I didn’t have time for it yesterday, I will. I just get a chance to do my ‘thang.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space][vc_video link=”https://youtu.be/NRplh-P_Zc8″ align=”center”][vc_empty_space][vc_column_text]

2. The Moon and Stars Are Out and in a single Hour it Transitions to the Sunrise and the Birds Chirping

Sometimes when I first wake up, while I wait for my tea water to boil, I stand outside on my terrace and look out into the night. It is a perfect time when it is still pitch black and there are endless stars, but there is a little rustle of the birds starting.

Here in Guatemala, no matter what time of year, the sun comes up at 6 am on the dot, and by 5:30 am the birds are fully engaged in song. So if I intend to do nothing 1-morning a week except sit and watch, it is well worth it. Reminding me we are all so insignificant on the spectrum of life. The freakin’ birds are going to wake up and sing eventually, so today is just another day.

3. No One is Responding to Emails

I have a love/hate relationship with emails.

I love that I get to hide behind them and not have to actually pick up a phone and engage. I love that I can send them anytime and not expect a response so it is done for the moment and I can move onto something else and it is out of my head.

But I hate when I send an email and I get an immediate response back – it’s not Messenger… read, comprehend, and then write me back. I handle when email is used for a set of ‘to dos’ I am supposed to add to my already running list to do (see #1). But what I hate more than anything is a full inbox.

From 4 am-6 am it is the only time in the whole day that I have an empty inbox. CLEAR.

“Clear inbox, clear mind.”

Someone who has the ability to have bazillions of emails in their inbox and not be bothered by them – to ‘think them away’, is impressive. I am just not that person.

4. You Can be in Your PJ’s or in Bed and it is Totally Acceptable

Ahhh… back to the days when I didn’t do video chats. Since 2015 I have been on video chats – that’s 4 years without PJ’s at work. And because I like to actually fit the part, I don’t normally wear sweatpants. I mean, there is always the occasional pair of comfy slacks, but I like to be ready for the day – such a bummer, right? I guess it makes me feel more connected to the concept of work.

So, in the morning I give myself permission to be basically naked or wearing whatever I wore to bed. I don’t brush my teeth and I just relish in being comfy and simple. There is no pressure to do anything but be me.

5. The Air is Cool and Crisp – Which Makes for Better Learning

Do you know when it is 2 pm in the afternoon and it is a bit warm in your conference room and your eyes are starting to droop? This is a common moment for me, sadly. I just feel so cozy and the speaker is lulling me to sleep no matter what the subject matter. I want to just prop my feet up on the chair in front of me and… EYES SHUT.

Here, in my indoor/outdoor house in Antigua, I am able to FEEL the brisk morning on my fingers and nose. I am illuminated by the glow of my computer and it is just me, alone in a room with the crisp air falling around me. It makes me alert, open and energized to do something.

6. Quiet. It is so so so Quiet You Can Hear Yourself Think (or I Guess You Can Just Meditate)

Years ago I used to be sitting at the lake and looking out across the still water and relishing in the early morning calmness. I could hear everything in my head. It was like a tidal wave of ideas driving me to keep doing something. I wrote 200 essays in a year. I had two full-time jobs and I still managed to make a baby. I was driven by the quiet.

In today’s world, we are often not without noise. Our phone beep beeps, there is an endless stream of chatter, the tv is in the background, the tea kettle is going off, the fan is going in the laundry room, someone in the kitchen is cooking, cars are driving by, the door is opening and closing… it is so much and by the end of the day I am exhausted.

7. It’s like You Grow Armor – Any Bad Client Moments Just Cast Aside

I used to have a really hard time with criticism. In University I went to a Design School and in the first year (foundation Freshman year) was like ‘How to be Tortured and Cut Down 101.’ I didn’t create a piece of work in my first year  I was proud of or that survived the teachers ripping it off the wall. The goal was to make you tougher, but what I took away from it was to NEVER EVER feel rejected again. So sadly, the concept backfired and now I truly loathe negativity in all sense of the word. Now, I do hit criticism head on and with pride, but I still don’t enjoy it. Who really does?

When I wake up early, I feel like I OWN my own destiny and my day is mine. You can’t fuck with me and what I need to do for me goes first. Energy to rule.

8. You Can Tackle One Project WELL

Do you ever get to the end of the day and realize the #1 thing on your list still didn’t get done? That used to happen to me. Now, I just know if it is at the top of my list, it is it the only project I focus on in the morning. I have to get it done, or at least a jump start so it gets done. Then I am free from the emotion of it holding over me.

I am a procrastinator just like the best of them, so this tactic has worked for me fairly well. I dive in and FORCE myself to just get it down and miraculously my mind releases from the obligation.

9. You are Fresh and Full of Ideas

Did you ever have a dream and you wake up and remember every single detail? Well, when you start waking 4 am, it is like you are waking up ready to recount your last 8 hours of brain stimulation. I am filled with ideas and somehow the way that things just start to connect opens me up for a beautiful world of creation.

It is the only time in the day that I feel creative, alive and open to possibilities. I can write, design or just search around aimlessly. It is like my free-time, fun-time for me.

10. You have a Routine Which Releases You From Obligation

Did you know lots of successful people wake up early? It’s not really about the time so much as the routine ready-ing them for their day. Each of us is different and requires a different code and guideline to function. But what I like most about how we are different, is when we fall into a pattern that becomes our routine, it releases ourselves fully from the ability to make decisions.

Because I wake up at 4 am:

  • It means I go to bed early during the week
  • Which means I rarely make evening plans
  • Which means I am home in bed with my children every night
  • It means I can wake up refreshed
  • And I get creative with breakfast time
  • I get to spend an extra hour with my hubby
  • It means I am not stressed on conference calls wondering when I am going to find an extra hour to get that project done
  • And I feel released from the pressure of my own mind
  • It means, I try to never stay at work late, because I don’t need to – I already got that project done
  • But mostly it means I am in control of my life and destiny and I found something that works for me.

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Now for the How To Guide: 5 Ways to Prepare Yourself for a Successful 4 am Start

Now, let’s face it, I am not always an early riser. I will do 2 or 3 weeks in a row and then something stops me in my tracks for a week.

I will have a trip to a different time zone and I am crashing at 12 am and waking up at 8 am. I totally allow myself freedom and play it by ear. I give myself PERMISSION, to be honest with myself and what I need to be successful with my life.

Or I will get back home for a trip and the kids for the first 3 days will come in at 1 am to snuggle and I will give into the moment. Why not? We only get these little babe snuggles for a moment and then they are gone!

Sometimes I just sleep in because it feels good.

I embrace it.

But I do choose to use some of these special tactics for waking up early:

1. Go to Bed at 8:30 pm

Well, you don’t have to go to sleep exactly at 8:30, but sit in your bed, relax and watch a movie. Believe me, you will want to be in bed by that time anyway. It’s not so bad the day after if you stay out late, but by Thursday you will be CRUSHED. Pace yourself, it is going to be a long week.

2. Turn Your Phone to Sleep Mode

This is essential – DO NOT keep your phone on. You need your beauty sleep and having the blinking light from an Instagram like or a WhatsApp from a friend is freakin’ distracting.

3. Prepare Your Set Up for the Morning

I don’t want to make extra noise and start to disrupt the household, but also it is nice to be able to be a bit mindful. I like to think of it like Shabbat – I overprepare so I can just be free in the ritual. I always get the water ready with my teacup and bag next to it. I make sure I have my slippers next to the bed. Since it has been a bit chilly as of late, I keep a scarf next to my computer just in case I need it. There’s not a lot that I need except my notebook, my mouse and my computer.

4. Do Not Look at Your Phone 1st Thing

Don’t make this mistake – it has ruined my entire morning, so now I don’t look at my phone unless I absolutely have to. Everyone has different working behaviors, and some are late at night, so for me, I opt to not overwhelm my thoughts or my list to do with fresh information until at least 5:30 am. I like to get through whatever I need to do first and then I dive into all the new stuff.

5. Embrace a New Location – A Sacred Spot

In the past, I used to work at my desk at 4 am, but then I realized that I never left my workspace. It meant my creative juices were forced to be surrounded by my analytical workspace which didn’t feel right. Now I sit at the dining room table or the couch in the morning and just ‘jam’ in a different space. It feels good to mix it up and I realize just how space has given me a new perspective.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

And there you go – All my secrets to a successful start to my day are down on paper.

So curious to see what you are going to try, please share!

I also found this great article from a woman in Sri Lanka with 7 great reasons to wake up early.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Meditation in Art, From the Studio, Ensos

In a way my paintings are ensos. What is an enso?

An enso is a Japanese Buddhist painting, a circle, drawn in one fluid motion with brush and ink. Most people have seen this symbol before, but are not familiar with the name. The drawing of an enso is a discipline derived from calligraphy and expresses a precise moment and the state of mind that the creator was in while drawing it. The paintings signify emptiness and vast space and their creation is a spiritual practice. Sometimes the circle is closed, but often the circle is left open.

enso by Zen master Hakuin
enso by Zen master Hakuin who lived from 1685-1768



My art is a spiritual practice in the same vein as an enso painting. While creating one of my paintings from the Emptiness series, I strive (actually strive is not a good word, in meditation there can be no striving) to be in the same state of mind as I would be while in meditation. Letting thoughts come and go and focusing on the breathing and not letting the mind be swayed by this or that. This is a daily life practice as well.

Emptiness 6, in its early stages
Emptiness 6, in its early stages


But beyond the mental practice there is the issue of technique to be dealt with while creating these paintings, and that is what I am struggling with right now. Actually over the last week I have resolved some issues that have been keeping me from completing a painting that I would keep. It has been a very slow process. Lately it has taken 3-4 attempts per painting to finally get a good image. And the canvas cannot be painted over. The canvas must be removed and re-stretched, starting completely from scratch. The paintings that I have completed and kept have an intangible quality to them, some less than others, that when viewed have a sense of mystery and depth that is inexplainable.

RaCo-Life-From-The-Studio-Paintings copy

There are some important factors to be dealing with when creating a painting from this series:

– the quality of the mind when the paint is applied
– the quality of the brushstrokes
– the thickness of the paint
– how “clean” the paint is – no floaters or little solid bits
– the atmosphere of the studio
– the quality of the canvas, imperfections are ok (to some extent)

Actually, with regards to the latter, imperfections are embraced. They signify that nothing is perfect and that all life is transient. One of the problems I have been struggling with is that I was trying to make my paintings too perfect. Not absolute perfection, but I was not using the imperfections properly. I noticed that the paintings that were the most “perfect” lacked the depth and intangible quality I was looking for. So I backed off and loosened up a bit and things started happening.

a large variation on the theme of emptiness, this one starts to show elements of wabi sabi.


Like ensos, my paintings embrace the Japanese concept of wabi sabi, which basically means “imperfect beauty”. This philosophy is central to the Japanese aesthetic and can be seen in all good Japanese art and design from pottery to painting to architecture and flower arrangement (ikebana). The aesthetic of wabi sabi cannot truly be expressed in words.

another variation on the theme of Emptiness
another variation on the theme of Emptiness in its infancy


So I will continue to create these paintings and refine them, work on my meditation while painting them, complete the series and move on. These paintings are the first step in the creation of most of my future work and the formulation of my philosophy on art and life. I plan on presenting the ideas in other mediums such as sculpture, prints, drawings, performance, video and sound. All of my experiences in life have lead me to this point and, even after years of practice, I am just beginning this journey and it is a very exiting journey indeed.




The Importance of Reward to Yourself by Knowing You Did Your Best

There is something to be said for the Importance of Reward, especially when you are feeling down.

I woke up this morning and felt terrible. Perhaps a case of the Monday’s but I was in the can’t-get-out-of-bed mode. In addition, I opened my email and got a rejection letter from a pattern organization I really wanted to belong to.

How did you feel this morning? Give me some positive vibes, folks!

Here I am already calling it a day at 8am and watching the Oscars (since it wouldn’t air realtime outside of the States). This incredible show in its 87th year is by far the most intriguing 3 hours of television. It is so well orchestrated and offers a natural close to the end of a movie season. In the past 3 years, I have had the motivation to watch with one of my Step-Sisters attending as a guest of their Aunt Rebecca, and the other two acting as ‘seat warmers’… trying to catch a glimpse of their debut on the red carpet. But this year I actually was excited about the movies and really was curious about the show itself. Neil Patrick Harris is such a great presenter and actor.

It brought up an internal dialogue about why it matters to be rewarded. Does it need to come as an accolade or is the act of the work itself and your own opinion of the outcome enough?

With all that we do – Kurt’s art, my day to day work and this blog with Ra’Co – what actually will be enough for us to feel we accomplished something. Is it followers? Is it the number of likes? This strange world we live in is obsessed with outside accolades, but what if we really like something we did?

Using the Oscars® as the Guideline

The red carpet review started with Michael Keaton up for Birdman as the Best Leading Actor. He called this the “Super Bowl or the 7th inning for the final stretch of the movie.” I had to think about that comment, especially when Julianne Moore said exactly the opposite with her 5th Oscar Nomination within reach. She said, “It doesn’t always happen and I have been in the business for a long time and so I just appreciate when it happens.” She also went onto describe her role in Still Alice and her heartfelt journey through understanding Alzheimer’s disease and the importance of putting emphasis on finding a cure.

What a difference between the two. In someways, I love the raw honesty of Michael Keaton and his need to win, but it is hard to deny the heartfelt heroism of Julianne Moore’s appreciation for her role in doing good. So I started thinking about my loss with the pattern site and what is really important to me.

How we Define Success

It seems to me that there are several schools of thought: 

  1. Do your best because you have pride and want to feel good about what you do. You are a winner for you.
  2. Do your best so you can shine brightly for everyone else’s hopes and dreams. You are a winner for everyone.
  3. Do your best so you can win an award and tick a box. You are the winner.

But it is also the same for a loss.

There are several types of loss which help to support each of those items:

  1. Loss you potentially did not do your best
  2. Loss for everyone’s hopes and dreams
  3. Loss of the award for your own self-esteem and self-purpose

Where I Go From Here

Somehow, in my loss of acceptance, I read the design through the lens of imperfection and I realized I wasn’t doing my best and I wasn’t thinking about the particular company and what they might have been looking for. I am simply rushing my efforts and not acting as a true pattern-maker – I am looking at just ‘getting something done’ for a potential win to tick the box instead of doing the best I could for me.

Tomorrow I will start again and rebuild with the importance of reward at the forefront of my mind. I will position myself with a goal for the creation of a new pattern I WILL FEEL PROUD OF, and that will be enough with or without the acceptance.

From the Studio, Better Late Than Never

[vc_row css=”.vc_custom_1547573152562{margin-right: 150px !important;margin-left: 150px !important;}”][vc_column][vc_column_text]Better late than never. Nothing is getting done. We have a lot of projects in the works, and sometimes everything seems to move so slow. But we keep chipping away. Definitely needed some downtime this weekend so we went hiking and spent some QT at our favorite getaway spot, Lomas de Tzununa, here on Lake Atitlan. It’s a beautiful a 15-minute hike from here and the hotel/restaurant sits majestically looking out over the entire lake. And binge watched Empire. Super cheesy but totally entertaining. Actually, I don’t know how we watch this stuff, maybe we are just glad to chill and relax for a minute and almost anything will do.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

When you can’t right the ship…

I am at the end of a very long, very visible 2-year project and there is an uncontrollable issue in my way of completing it. In a nutshell it is the kind of project where we pushed the envelope at every corner only to have it come back around to one of the most obvious and formulaic solutions. An idea that we presented at the first pass and then did everything but that before reverting back to the original idea. But what’s funny now is that the decisions we made for this off-the-shelf very basic solution, is now sitting in the middle of the ocean waiting for dock space during the West Coast Port Shutdown and my products will not make it here in time for the deployment date we had scheduled.

For the last 5 days I have been in a state of panic (with little I could control), and tried every possible other avenue. I started with the obvious working with my supplier to connect with the manufacturer in China to have them reproduce and then air freight. Another road block: Chinese New Year started on Friday and all of China’s factories are closed until the second week of March. We sought and counted inventory from as many suppliers as we could – nada. And now, our final solution has been to go with an entirely different product and redesign at the last minute to support that decision. Awesome.

I have been in the business long enough to think through many of these potential road blocks and make accommodations for them, so a quick dodge to the left or right, or even a zig zag maneuver are always in the back of my mind. When you can’t right the ship (or in this case dock the ship), you should take a deep breathe in and not focus on the ship so much. Instead come up with 3 solutions that could accomplish the same effect.

Mindfulness at work. From the Studio 2-15-15.

Mindfulness in the studio.

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]I’ve been working on the Emptiness series all week and getting nowhere. A large canvas has been tormenting me for several months and I have allowed it to do so, and that is why it is failing. The important thing is not that it is not coming out the way I want it to, but that my mind is not clear when it doesn’t look right and I have to start all over again. I get pissed, stressed and bring those feelings home and into others’ lives. My family shouldn’t have to deal with this. And with this one large canvas I am striving for perfection; a big mistake. Nothing is ever perfect. The 3rd Patriarch says:

One thing, all things
move among and intermingle,
without distinction.
To live in this realization
is to be without anxiety about non-perfection.

I am on the fourth attempt now and that is all I will try with this one. If it fails again I will have to live with it. Often, jazz musicians in the past only recorded three takes on a composition. After that the performance went stale because the spontaneity and freshness were gone. Maybe I should listen to them.

Mindfulness at work

A big part of this series is the practice of mindfulness while I am painting. While doing the work I try to focus on my breath, the sound of the brush hitting the canvas, the waves from the lake below crashing against the rocks, the wind blowing against my back. The moment. This is where it is really at. My practice. It IS meditation and the nature of this series allows me to stay in the moment while I am working. I have to stay present because any little slip up will ruin the painting.

One piece I was working on in tandem with the large canvas was successful after the second attempt and I am happy with the results of that piece. I can see where my mind was while making that piece. But I don’t get all excited. I look at it as part of the bigger picture. Practicing mindfulness is an important thing so I can better understand the nature of reality and my true being. Doing a great painting or a bad painting are secondary. Clarity and realization are what I hope to achieve with my art. And this is what Ra’Co life is all about. The middle way.


I should have been better practicing mindfulness when painting this piece. I ended up killing it.
This one I actually messed up. The next one I kept.

As the larger canvas dries,  I am now looking at things from the proper perspective. The big picture, the practice of mindfulness.  Stay clear while working, learn from and accept the mistakes, and let the pieces live, warts and all. They are there as a reminder.

The failed third attempt in progress. More mindfulness next time.
The failed third attempt in progress.

These words remind of a time when I was playing in a band called the Meta-G’s in Cleveland, Ohio. We were ill, real ill. The funkiest and the heaviest band with massive potential. 3 rappers, guitar, bass and the funkiest drummer around. 3 black dudes, 2 Jewish cats and me, the weird white guy. We were the future. But nothing ever really came of the band because everybody wanted to be rock stars without making the necessary sacrifices. Too much ego, too many distractions too much of everything. Anyway, we had a big gig lined up at The Hard Rock Cafe in Boston which was about a 12-14 hour drive from Cleveland. We practiced and prepared for that gig for a long time. When it came time to leave for Boston we were all crazy with excitement about what exposure we might get from a goof performance. We were going to blow up.

We got to Boston, partied the night before, and slept long into the next day resting up for the gig. Everybody met at the club that night and we went backstage to warm up. After the first band finished we were all tuned up and ready to go. Or so we thought. The place was packed and people were amped and we took our place behind the curtain to await our introduction. Smoke was filing the stage, lights flashing, people screaming. Just then, right before the guy called out name, I noticed that my guitar was drastically out of tune. Turns out I had tuned up in silence with a chromatic tuner that was set wrong and I was tuned totally wrong. I did my best to get back in tune in about 3 seconds before the curtain went up but it was too late, the gig was shot. We finished the set but most of the people had started to filter out. We all walked out of the club, heads hung low…I had blown it for everyone.

Later that night we watched the video from the gig and it was torture. I tried to get up and walk away but somebody yelled at me, “Sit down, these are game tapes and you have to watch them”. They were right. I had to let it sink in so nothing like this would ever happen again.

The Meta-G’s broke up a few months later, but the truth is it had nothing to do with that gig. We needed a lot more work before we were ready and we needed to play a lot more of those gigs before the big one hit.

The only time we practiced mindfulness was when we were playing music.
The Meta-G’s around ’94 or so.


And I have nightmares about that gig to this day. Well, maybe not anymore. I learned a lot from it and now I am applying it to what I am doing with my paintings. I need to do a lot more of them before I am really happy with the results. A few bad paintings are not going to ruin the whole series, they will make it stronger. I plan on creating 50 paintings for the Emptiness series and then moving on. I’m only on my fifth one. Time to get back to work.

So how do we practice mindfulness? Check out this post from mindful.org to get you started. The practice should be carried out in every aspect of your life. Working, cooking, brushing your teeth, walking the dog…all are opportunities for realization. Just try. With time and practice a mysterious feeling will creep in. You may start to feel lighter, more ebullient, your problems will seem less important, and you will feel a sense of gratitude for your life. The calmness and clarity that comes from serious mindfulness practice is worth the effort. Give it a try.









Extending My Career for Another 3 Years

Yikes. My planning was so far off it’s truly humorous.

This past year and going into this year were projected to be very slow due to the election, a lot of business development and some slowed projects. I imagined flying off to Guatemala, landing on the lake and becoming freed from obligation; surely here living in a foreign emerging country that I would have no access to being able to really do much but relax.

I was pretty busy with several projects when I left, but the end was in sight and our plan was to just coast through the moments of our daily life and work on our own projects, inexpensively. We were planning on just being together and enjoying a year living without the overhead of projects and management of money – we were just going to be on a fixed income.

Well now we know how well this went, we never stopped the bleeding. Just like NYC we continued to live in the moment, instead of the future. We were busier than expected and accommodated for the busyness by nanny’s, assistants and travel, we had to move around because of one bad decision after another with housing selections, so the work pile had to (and did) miraculously grow. I remember sitting at my desk at Joyce’s, and that I would have to remind myself to look up so I could see the view. In someways I even felt resentful of the view and wished we were still in our East Harlem walk up with no view to speak of.

But we got through and here we are. In hindsight the whole situation drove us to our current position; finding a sustainable way for us to live beyond my career. It has given me a continued purpose and practice as I wean myself from my current standing in life and move towards freedom, the conscious, thoughtful and planned way. I am giving myself a 3-year notice.

So here we are in February 2015 (can’t believe how fast it is going already this year) and our transition is beginning. We have stopped the bleeding and are extremely focused on living within our means, paying off debt and planning.

It is exciting and empowering. We are going to do this!

Balancing Life with Work

Well, let’s start with I absolutely suck at balancing WORK and LIFE. My business is up and down, all around. Some weeks I am so busy I can’t breathe working from 3am to 9pm ignoring my daughter completely, and other days I can lounge around and answer an email here and there and play all day. The sad part is, they are almost completely equal in time to each other. So I have a balance, but maybe more of an annual balance, not a daily balance. This has made it hard to be a mother and to be consistently available, and to work towards additional career goals. I never know when I am going to have time. Planning seems impossible.

Those who are consultants will understand this statement, but feast or famine is a real thing, and it goes without saying this equates to both workload and money in our pocket. Depending on the project time period, we have to save as though we are living on a fixed income in the event that the next check is late or the project stalls, etc. It is as thought each project wraps without any intention of the next one leaving a lot open for interpretation.  In that case we are often ‘hurrying up’ to stress out about where our next meal is coming from instead of being able to plan and just know that we are in a slow period. Often I just take on any project to stay busy, feeling like the quiet moments are more scary than just not having the work. At the end of the day I know that January – April are slow, as are September and the first part of October. So, why bother getting all worked up?

I am sick of having a minor heart attack every time our bank account gets low or a project doesn’t come through. It nearly always works itself out eventually. So I have made a new vow to myself and my family to take a different path forward. I am calling it my transitional state towards freedom.

To date I have:

  • Saved and become more thrifty. No more $5 lattes or $100 Monday night dinners.
  • Stopped fighting for projects I know are going to lose or have uphill battles.
  • Created a more balanced schedule.
  • Tried to lessen my project load, focusing on making money vs. exciting projects.
  • Only taken on projects that I can complete successfully and are going to be profitable. I’m done with risk taking.

The balance is self imposed and I am the one setting the schedule and my own standards. Wow. That is pretty awesome to write on paper. Part of my journey has been watching Kurt go through it and working with him to be a balanced family. He has never been much of a ‘dive deep and make it happen’ kind of guy. He has always been balanced (as far I can tell) and maybe even teeters on giving more time to life than to his work, which maybe hasn’t been the best idea for his career. Over the last 2 years, however, now that he is in the thick of things with his projects and our passion projects, and a family to support, I have seen a fire under his ass and a desire to work ALL THE TIME. But the sad part is my happy, sweet and loving husband/father now looks miserable. So, I have seen what the stress and frustration of a job without balance will bring to a person and I see what a toll it took on myself.

I have conceded to the idea of working for another 3 years, or until we are profitable with our passion projects, so why not enjoy every moment I am still working? I want to go out with a positive note and a fabulous clink of the champagne glasses, not feel angry and frustrated about 20 years in an industry that I grew up in. And the stress does nothing for anyone.

This morning I am up and working; doing stuff that I love for both my ‘real’ job and my ‘future’ job. I am excited and motivated, but especially thrilled that at 6:00am when my funny little girl opens her door and comes teetering out into my office and says, “Mama…” I can scoop her up in my arms and have as much time as I want to play. I make my own life and schedules now, and it will all work out with the financial stuff  (or I can hope).

From the Studio, 2-6-15

Lots of things happening in the studio this week. New ideas to paint over huipil, the ornate and beautifully crafted garments that Mayan women wear.


Originally I had the idea to paint over the huipil in one color drawn from the embroidery to create a minimalist piece. I may still do that. But then I decided to intricately paint over the embroidery in the color of the thread to create a textural impasto surface that would simplify the patterns.

A lot of what I am doing right now is designed to get me a little closer to understanding the local Mayan people and getting to know their culture through the materials, clothing , food etc that they use every day. This relates to my endeavor as a conceptual realist to recreate things that occur daily in my life, my families life and my friends lives. This is what I hope to create in future projects through various mediums such as film, sculpture, music, 3d printing and more.

My designs using pita, the local name for the colorful nylon twine used for all kinds of things, is a little bit on the back burner and I hope to move forward on some of these pieces in the coming weeks.

Pita pieces in progress.
Pita pieces in progress.

Making the pita paintings is hard on my assistant, Efrian, as the pita, when worked with the hands for several hours, starts to cause cuts and burns on the fingers. So I try to balance Ef’s work load by alternating the building of stretchers, doing the pita pieces, doing jobs around the house and doing wood construction projects among other things. He works quickly, has an intuitive understanding of what I want done and his craftsmanship gets better daily. He can build 2-3 large stretchers in a day, or a whole bunch of small ones.

Efrain with Iza at the easel he built for her. One of her favorite things.
A puzzle for Iza.

Raco-Life-From-the-Studio-Ef-Puzzle Raco-Life-From-the-Studio-puzzle


Working a lot on the “Emptiness” series which I have written about. Here is a past blog that better describes the series.


Finding the right way to prep the surface of the canvas is the biggest challenge. I am trying to create these beautiful floating grey rectangles and the it is important at this stage to represent these without brushstrokes and flaws. I see this series growing in the future into different painting methods, sculpture, video and other medium.

Below is the original inspiration for the series.


Here are some new wood constructions that will either become pita pieces or small paintings for the Emptiness series.

Raco-Life-From-the-Studio-wood-construction-pita-2 Raco-Life-From-the-Studio-wood-construction-pita-3 Raco-Life-From-the-Studio-wood-construction-pita-4 Raco-Life-From-the-Studio-wood-construction-pita

A large triptych canvas i have been staring at for about a week.  This will be a different series of gestural abstract paintings I think. I still love to do these types of paintings and hope to make them affordable to people that can’t drop 5-10k on a painting.


While I was working in the studio, Ventura, our guardian, gave me some these flowers while I was working. He said to fry the petals with eggs and eat them.

Edible flowers.
Edible flowers.

Also, the flowers near a desk Ef built for my computer work. I got it goin’ on.


Finally, the pathway lined with flowers on the way back to the house.

Raco-Life-From-the-Studio-flowers-2 Raco-Life-From-the-Studio-flowers

Throwback: Uh Oh…Drenched Macbook Air

Man, I got myself in some deep doo doo back in February of 2013, so much so that it has taken me 2 years to write about it.

Rache and I were watching a movie in our minuscule kitchen while making some gluten free linguine and clams (yea, a temporary sojourn from our usual vegan diet). I opened the fridge up and pulled out a bottle of water and tried to get the top opened unsuccessfully, as I pulled on it harder I got more and more PO’d and suddenly the whole top flew off and sent water flying , and everything went into slow motion as I watched the stream of water move straight toward Rache’s Macbook Air….and splash, all over the computer it went…I ran towards it and grabbed it to turn it upside down and dry it off.

Rache finally realized what happened, and I was like, oh damn, I really did it now. This was the third time (and third MacBook) she has had drenched with water. Man, after an initial burst of anger, she was way cool about it and I totally appreciate that, more than you can know….she’s the best. So the computer is still working, but sometimes it takes a while to know the outcome. We’ll see tomorrow if it still works…if it doesn’t, it’s death row for me…no no, not really. We both realize that it is truly just a ‘thing.’ Things can be discarded and can be replaced.

I did a lot of research and found that sometimes, over a period of time, the water can cause corrosion to the electronics over weeks or months even. I hope this isn’t the case with ours, maybe we will get lucky.

Here is what MacForums recommends if this happens to you:

“Here at Mac-Forums, we see quite a few questions about what to do after spilling liquid inside of Mac Notebooks. Obviously, liquids and electronics don’t mix, so while the answer may seem obvious, there are a few tricks you can try to bring your equipment back to life.

  • First and foremost, immediately remove ALL power, this includes the battery (if possible). The chances of a short occurring as the liquid continues to travel within your machine are greatly reduced by removing power quickly.
  • Allow the machine to dry out for a significant period of time, preferably in an area of low humidity and with good air circulation. Generally this means a minimum of 72 hours. Longer time periods may be necessary depending on the ambient humidity level. Drying time may be decreased by sealing the notebook in a box with uncooked, dry rice or silica gel packets, which reduce humidity.
  • DO NOT test the machine until after you’ve allowed a significant drying period. Obviously, you’re probably anxious to see if you’re facing a hefty repair bill, but your patience will be rewarded. Generally, the longer you wait to plug it back in, the better.
  • Disassembling the machine to clean it will void your warranty – but then, if you spilled liquid in the machine, your warranty is void anyway. So, if you’re comfortable with it, it might not be a bad idea to get in there and clean as best you can. Disassembly instructions are available at iFixIt.com Use lightly moistened cotton swabs to gently blot the liquid effected areas. Do not use any kind of solvents on the internals.
  • Spill damage is always very evident. Most electronics manufacturers, Apple included, affix liquid-sensitive stickers on the insides of machines to detect spills. Don’t take the machine to an Apple Store, expecting a warranty repair.
  • If you power the machine on and find that it’s not fully functional, or that functionality is limited, the damage is likely already done. You should not expect it to improve without replacing the systemboard and/or cabling and other components. In most cases, these repairs can easily exceed the value of the machine.

And finally, it makes no difference what the liquid was. The steps to take are the same for each type of liquid. Water, beer, wine, orange juice, apple juice, coffee with lots of sugar and cream, milk, soda… anything… if it’s wet, then it’s bad.”

Wish us luck!

Up with the Stars

As parents we rarely have the quiet moments available to expand. I have found in the last 6-months the need for earlier and earlier wake up calls to get what I want to get done and often because of our early bed times I just wake up anyway. Writing is my meditation, and in the wee hours of the morning I get a chance for as many moments as I can muster.

I have always gotten up early but what started at 5:30am in America, has quickly turned into 4am here and then 3am. I am literally awake for 3 hours with the stars… their shiny, brilliant-selves offering guidance, purpose and limitless heights of creativity. I get to BOUNCE. I  have 3 or more things in motion and I try to complete all by sunrise. In some ways it has taught me time management, in other ways intense chaos. Each morning is a new experience and with the stars in front of me my expanse for creativity shoots for the ‘stars.’



Patterns by Rache

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Since I was a little girl, I was obsessed with pattern-making. It’s actually something my dad and I loved to do together – his analytical / builder-style mind and my creative, inventive child-like imagination. When I draw, I create elaborate graphic scribbles as scenes with dialogues, and I can visualize a transcription to a physical object.

I have had a vision for my future filled with clothing and products like Murakami, Marimekko, Rebecca Atwood, and in recent years OhJoy. Seeing something 3-dimensional made out of a 2-dimensional print is like magic.

Growing up with an uber-artist, creative-extraordinaire my mother Jan Ruby, I learned to never take something for face value. She went to Japan to learn how to make handmade paper from the Japanese masters and then figured out how to print digitally on the paper. For her opening, she took one of her paintings and had it printed onto handmade paper and then sewed it into a dress. That’s what I want to do.

There is a movement towards on-demand printed goods and I have fallen in love with this company called Society 6. Perhaps not 100% perfect in quality, but the overall ability they have to creatI started playing around with my products positioned on each item and  Here are some of my patterns on the products I have available for sale at Society 6. There is lots to browse and to purchase. And more to come where I got started. Stay tuned.

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From the Studio: Emptiness

When we talk about emptiness, what exactly are we talking about? Is it the result of sadness, loss, desperation and loneliness? Or is emptiness the truth, something extraordinary to work towards, to be realized, transcendence, maybe the most amazing thing one could ever experience?

It is strange that two definitions of this word could be so vastly different. One definition existing in the east, and the polar opposite existing in the west. Why does the West view emptiness as a negative condition while religions such as Buddhism and Taoism see it much differently?

From the Heart Sutra, the most important text in Buddhist philosophy:

“Form is Emptiness, Emptiness is Form”. The idea implies that there is neither existence in form or lack of form. All things are empty. Once this is realized, true freedom appears.


An excellent translation is by Red Pine and is available here.

On the other side, from Woody Allen, a modern existentialist:

“The artist’s job is not to succumb to despair but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence.”

In actuality there is no antidote to the emptiness of existence. Emptiness in existence is inherent. To search for an antidote to this condition is to create despair, delusion, because it can never be found.

My recent art endeavors to form my feelings and thoughts on the complicated subject of emptiness. How did I come upon this absurd and hopeless idea? As you know, my family, aka “TheBrandFam” are currently living in Guatemala, the land of shitty internet. As I write, Rache is screaming in the background that her pages won’t load, and I am on the edge of my seat desperately hoping that I can get this blog post up before the internet cuts out on me again. Good Luck! Because of the extremely slow and unreliable connection, often when I do an internet image search for source material for my art, I am left with nothing but a grid of empty grey boxes that are place fillers for the actual images I am searching for.


One day, after maddening frustration that these grey boxes kept popping up in place of the beautiful colorful photos I was searching for, I realized that the blank grey boxes that always appear are equally as beautiful and compelling as the images that I so longed for to appear. The frustration forced me to “let go” and dissolve into the beauty of the simple grey boxes cleanly laid out before me. This is why monks and serious meditators sit for endless hours in retreats. So the mind can actually let go of delusive thinking to allow a deeper experience to be realized.


The frustration I was speaking of, by the way, has been happening a lot lately. Living in a developing nation has some serious drawbacks, and lots (and lots and lots) of patience must be practiced. Being on time here is actually showing up an hour late. Getting something fixed that is supposed to be finished “mañana” and does not get done for a week is normal here. And it has taken us months to realize that the more we do NOT get what we think we want, the closer we will get to what we actually want but do not know it, that being an inner state of calm, the calm that is so often clouded by our desires, opinions and judgements.


So I started painting these boxes to express all of the thoughts and feelings I have on the subject of emptiness. And they are, to me, absolutely beautiful and I hope to paint at least 50 different compostions before I move on to something else. Or maybe they will continue indefinitely and expand into new mediums and modes of expression. What I have learned here tells me not to expect or force what they are to become. The daily work, like meditation, will allow them to be exactly what they are supposed to be.


Having Staff

I feel like I do more work just to get ready for staff, then it actually helps me. I wish I could say that it is more beneficial and ultimately I get more done, but I think I am such a control freak that all my time is dedicated to planning, thinking and redoing. What a waste!

After having my wonderful team at TILT, who after 3-years of intense work, really ‘got me,’ I vowed to now try to do it again. Really, it was just too much work to keep up with and I really hate having to be on a schedule for someone else’s purposes, and in fact I really like doing the work. Amber Wilburn, a dedicated employee for over 5 years (I think?) started work everyday at 7am, which meant that I had to have notes to her by 7am. I am just not that dedicated to be able to think clearly on a schedule – and at the time I was single and having too much fun the night before to really function at that hour. (BTW – Amber has a blossoming photography business and design studio. She is highly recommended!)

Here we are in Guatemala, and are just learning the language. Coupled with the fact that many of the tasks we are asking to be carried out are new to our staff using equipment they have not had access to before, and it feels like we are spending our time solely on staff education. I would rather just do it myself. I will say, however, it is a pleasure to come home and have groceries in our pantry, a freshly made bed, etc., but it is in the details that matter… and again I am a total control freak. Things out of order or in a different place make me crazy, and Kurt is going nuts from seeing splash marks from painting and weird placement of screw holes in his frames.

But, isn’t our motto – Balance? It should also be patience and I seem to have lost sight of all of it. Time to get it back. There has to be a compromise here that I am missing and I know I will find it.

Today I have nothing for my team to do because I haven’t done my work to get ready for them. I think what would be best is to have a running list of ‘other projects’ that don’t require my time and support to carryout. I need to focus on getting prepared… and making my lists ahead of time (days ahead of time preferably).


Wasn’t expecting that this morning. I got up, checked my email, had a beautiful morning writing, went for a swim and took a few moments to take a warm shower. It was a good day, and all before 6:30 (Iza’s wake up time). When Iza woke we had a great time playing in her bedroom and then I got her ready for the day, and gave her breakfast. The staff arrived and I went to go sit at my computer to work and the power just went out. No internet. AGAIN.

We really can’t win – we either have power without internet or internet without power. Every second that we have internet needs to be useable time… and having a moment, a precious moment to myself, without working was clearly just stupid.

So, I melted down. Completely. It was one of those moments that maybe happen 2x decade, where I even threw something for effect (unfortunately I chose to throw my Ray Ban’s across the room for effect – breaking them apart). I literally damaged my spirit by losing control, and really ruined such a beautiful morning. All because I don’t have internet and can’t work.

45 minutes later, on the morning commuter boat, I arrived in Pana in a quiet and peaceful cafe. Not a bad compromise, and while it is not perfect, I feel like it is a good compromise. But… I am still shattered and angry at myself for the disruption, which was so thoughtless on my part.

DSC_0406I have to do better. I have to let go of such silliness, adjust my way of doing things, and instead of flowing with my creative spirit, flow with my internet and power opportunities. I am in an emerging country afterall… and I just need to learn to roll with it. And come on already, check out that view. Really, who cares about anything else?!


But in good news – Kurt just found me an office space in Pana. Stay tuned. I am going to have a back up PLAN!

The Original Butcher

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]I have been missing NYC, a lot. As a foodie, there is just nothing like walking into any old place off the beaten path and seeing some new invention or trend hitting the streets. The best part about NYC is that it is the pinnacle. The concepts that are created are perfect for what they are designed for: THE NEW YORKER. Few have tried, and many have failed when trying to go International or even National. When they do leave, they become watered down or transformed into a concept that ‘all of America’ will like. The beauty in the purity vanishes.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px”][vcex_image_carousel style=”default” item_width=”230px” min_slides=”1″ max_slides=”3″ items_scroll=”page” auto_play=”true” infinite_loop=”true” timeout_duration=”5000″ arrows=”true” thumbnail_link=”custom_link” custom_links_target=”_blank” img_width=”350″ img_height=”200″ image_ids=”2310,2308,2309,2307,2397,2399,2400,2402,2403″ custom_links=”http://www.the-meathook.com/,http://marlowanddaughters.com/,http://www.dicksonsfarmstand.com/,http://www.harlemshambles.com/,http://thecannibalnyc.com/”][vc_empty_space height=”32px”][vc_column_text]New York is a unique environment unto itself because a high check average is an expectation. Good quality ingredients is just par for the course because of access to variety. Concepts are designed by emerging and seasoned designers who know their market and how to provide the best possible guest experience. Brooklyn gets the wrap of the “land of millennial food concepts” because the rents are cheap and talent is high. Restauranteurs are willing to take bigger risks in Williamsburg, Red Hook and Dumbo before taking on the bridge to Manhattan. There are rarely crossovers of success sadly, because just like NYC, these Brooklyn concepts are created for Brooklynites (quirky, theatrical, artisanal and a little folky).

When a concept leaves, the essence of is retained in typically 1 menu item and 1 design trait. It might be a conceptual idea like, “haute vintage” or a physical element like a meat hook on the wall. Whatever it is, imagine the essence of all a dining concepts being wrapped up into two easy-to-get traits. Seems easy… but to find a differentiator that will appeal to the whole of America, or the whole of the world, is nearly impossible. [/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_single_image image=”2395″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” alignment=”none” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]What made me really think about NYC was visiting Antigua. Here we were in a massive indoor/outdoor market, and it is filled with stands which have those quintessential, unequivocal or transformable traits which make up the basis for the trendy restaurants/markets in NYC. It seems as though everything in NYC has been modeled after the concepts in the Market (except with food safety standards in place). This got me thinking, so if NYC is my hub of all ideas, and from there it gets watered down to two easy-to-get traits, I am going to imagine that the ‘street market’ is the original and NYC is the watered down version of it. Incredible to think that NYC is not the hub of all ideas… and in actuality, I can get to the root of the idea from being here.

This comes at a time when I am feeling like my relationship to quality ideas is beginning to blend into average. By being here, my opportunity for good quality restaurants / food is next to none, which has made me start to question whether this move is going to work in the long term. I need to be in Dubai, Mumbai, Rio, and Hong Kong… emerging markets where the west is only beginning to influence, and ideas for newness run rampid. So it was very exciting to be in a place that showed me something new –

Welcome to the East Harlem / Brooklyn meat market. Seriously, everything from the style of the lighting to the guy behind the counter made this space feel like we were back in the streets of NYC (less food safety concerns).[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_text_separator title=”The Original Butcher at the Antigua Market” title_align=”separator_align_center” style=”six” element_type=”div”][vc_single_image image=”2406″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” alignment=”none”][vcex_image_grid grid_style=”no-margins” columns=”2″ title_type=”title” thumbnail_link=”lightbox” lightbox_caption=”false” custom_links_target=”_self” img_width=”400″ img_height=”250″ image_ids=”2312,2311″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_video link=”http://youtu.be/WJ9wa8Mj8vA”][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Internet in Guatemala, What!?

Let’s just say that the lack of internet in my life has provided me with one of the largest life lessons; “stress doesn’t make it any easier.” Exercising patience is my new motto.

For the last 2.5 months I have not been able to really work. As the primary bread winner for my family, and living in a foreign country with limited opportunity to network, relying solely on my existing contracts and relationships, I require internet for my survival. We require internet for our survival.

1 month of that time was at Casa de Joyce in San Marcos and it was a frustrating mess of dropped and inconsistent service. We had upgraded the service to the highest package available,  but it was rendered useless over the last month (other than a few sporadic uploads and downloads here and there) during the rainy season. This was expected, but also wildly frustrating. (I should note that we are lucky TIGO 3G works regularly and were doing a lot of work from our phones by using it as a wifi hotspot).

Then we moved to Patziac. For a monster set up fee and a monster monthly fee, we were under the impression that we would actually be able to get some level of service. How wrong we were.

So, about a month ago – about 15 days after being patient – I started reaching out to Mayanet, who is our service provider and documenting every time the internet went out. We had about 3 days one week without internet, 1 of those days due to power outages at our house. The last 2-weeks have been an in and out series of “power outages” in San Pedro (I quote it because we look out the window and there are lights, but apparently our internet has its own power?), and a series of other excuses why we don’t have internet:

  • Reason 1: The weather (i.e. clouds) are interrupting the signal
  • Reason 2: A pinch in a wire bringing internet to San Pedro*
  • Reason 3: Power going out in San Pedro, “The infrastructure in San Pedro is messed up and old”
  • Reason 5: The backup system he installed and we paid for (meant to kick in when the normal internet goes out) runs out of money
  • Reason 4: He doesn’t know

Below is an overview of where we are to date. We have spent everything on the left and are committed to the Monthly Payments. Do we move forward with the new Pana Plan? Do I follow through with the My Plan? For a reference, here is what we are paying in monthly rental costs, improvements, etc. so it seems absolutely insane to virtually 3x that cost by adding in a permanent internet structure. But, it is one idea, and may end up being our only one to get consistent service.

The below portrait is a visual of  what our gorgeous house is going to end up having added to it, in order to support our internet need that Carlos has outlined through the Pana Plan. It is terrifying and locks us into this property. But it is a very intriguing and interesting visual. 
Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 1.59.50 PM

While I am not an expert, for shits and giggles, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I called TIGO and had a fantastic conversation in English with a sales rep there. We discussed some opportunities and it might be a potential to work out a situation with the TIGO company.

Funny story though: We don’t have an address here, so when the rep asked me what it was, I had to explain that we are our own little space, no street address, no street, etc, we have a walking path and water! So, he asked me for my coordinates. If you are planning on coming for a visit, you can now search by coordinate:

Area de Uso Multiple Cuenca de Lago Atitlán
14.731739, -91.226821

Casa de Patziac
Jabalito y Tzununa
Panajachel, Solola

Hell yeah. Surviving in Guatemala!


*I complained so much and Mayanet called the internet provider so much that the company Claro (yuck) actually ended up looking into the problem. It was effecting tons of people. What?! No one seemed to have a complaint except me? Crazy! I guess people just expect intermittent internet service in emerging countries.

Procrastination: 101

I am a PROCRASTINATOR. I try to get around it by playing little tricks on myself, but it is hardly possible to overcome it. I live and die behind deadlines as a means to a way to overcome procrastination. I mean, I am not alone in this, but it is still annoying (check out this cool Zen book of practical tactics).

Here I am, 4am on a Tuesday… 6 weeks late on a project and look at me, I am still procrastinating. That’s weird. I have excuses out the ass for the delays and of course many of them are real and actual. But it is kind of crazy that I am still procrastinating. And the worst part is – I actually like what I am doing.


Okay, so now I am going to provide for myself (and those reading) some recommendations on what I should do to get into it.

  1. Get into a routine. If getting up early is your thing, or working late – do it consistently until your project is finished.
  2. Dangle “the carrot.” What’s that one thing that you really want, but haven’t given yourself? Make sure you don’t give it to yourself until you finish.
  3. Take breaks and be realistic. It is important to reward each stage of your project with a small break: 10-15 minutes to jump around or blow off steam with email, etc. Build in time to do the things you need to do, like playing with your 18-month old, or taking a shower.
  4. Turn off Facebook. Most of us love to hate Facebook and secretly, especially when we are procrastinating, we have a tendency to revert back to the safety zone of other people’s lives. Live in your present and turn off fucking Facebook.
  5. Lose the distractions. I have my daughter running around, staff at my house and tons of emails that alert every time they come in on my phone. I have to turn off my phone, shut all the doors, lock myself in a cave to get anything complete. Just try to be nicer than me about it, okay? I am a real bitch.

So that’s where I am for the moment. It is now 5:51am and I have still yet to do anything. Maybe I should start?

Building Rache’s Desk

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]As you know, our way is the middle way. 50% work 50% fun in this case. When we work, we always try to engage in projects that are productive and fruitful, but also a lot of fun and challenging. If it’s too hard and too much work for something we don’t really want, we don’t do it. Likewise, if it’s too easy and doesn’t bring us a challenge or a new interesting result, we don’t do it either. The construction of this desk is a great example of the RACO 50/50 philosophy.

For some reason we have been at this house for a month plus and Rache still doesn’t have a desk. That should have been priority number one. But sometimes we do things backwards. So finally she was like “All I want is a desk and internet and I’ll be happy, make it happen!” Loud and clear Rache.

And I love to build things so it was no issue for me to get rolling with that. And even better we had a ton of old wood laying around from the old casita roof and other things.  The best pieces were 2″ thick and 12″ wide and heavily weathered, perfect.

Scrap wood from other projects, perfect for the desk.


Here are some the of pieces we cut, laid out on the bench and ready to assemble:

Cut pieces, ready to assemble.
Cut pieces, ready to assemble…beautiful wood!


We designed it to have a surface of 62″ wide x 36″ deep. Because Rache wanted the 2″ thick chunky pieces of wood, we decided the depth of the desk should be 36″ to really give it the mass it needed. It worked nicely as you will see in the finished photos. It was cut 62″ so it would fit in the nook in our bedroom that overlooks the lake.

Here are some drawings of the design:

Plan and elevation drawings of the desk.
Plan and elevation drawings of the desk.


Making some initial measurements:

Measuring for the cuts.
Measuring for the cuts.


Here are most of the pieces cut and ready to assemble:



Now we assembled the pieces. Just used lots of screws, no bolts. Maybe down the line if we want to move it I will replace screws with bolts for easy disassembly.

Assembled desk frame.
Assembled desk frame.
Assembled desk frame. Lake in the background. Not a bad workshop!
Assembled desk frame. Lake in the background. Not a bad workshop!


I love the fact that the wood is so old and weathered because it gave me freedom to leave the cuts loose and rough and added to the overall rustic feel of the desk.

After adding the shelves, Rache wanted the bottom part of the desk painted, so Efrain set to work on that.






After it was painted we decided to weather it by sanding a little. Then we added some of the oil that they use on the wood details of the house. This really added a nice patina to the finished piece.



Moving the desk into the space. This thing is a tank! If there is a big earthquake, likely the only left standing will be this desk.




Desk in place, Rache is ecstatic. This is what it’s all about!



*Added bonus, Claudia is describing the construction in Spanish.

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Waterskiing Guatemalan Teletubby

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]I don’t know what this guy is but he looks a bit like a Teletubby, and he can really waterski. Enjoy!

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A beautiful desk!

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]My husband gave me the best gift today – a desk! A desk that was made with his bare hands, from reclaimed wood on our property. Over the last two days he worked his ass off to make it so I could start next week fresh; new internet, and a new place to sit.

The desk is beautiful – well built (like a tank) and blending my design style and the style of the house. It has a very authentic Pottery Barn meets Anthropologie, but really is from Restoration Hardware look.

I love that he made it for me. Best give ever. Now, time to work and make the big bucks![/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vcex_feature_box style=”left-content-right-image” content_width=”50%” media_width=”50%” heading=”The Masterpiece in its Final Resting Place” heading_type=”h2″ image=”2263″ img_width=”9999″ img_height=”9999″]There is maybe not much better than a desk. It holds a value beyond monetary, it is my lifeline to the universe of creativity. A painter needs a brush and a canvas, a chef needs a knife and ingredients… but all I need is a desk and a laptop (arguably, not even a chair is necessary).

My creativity is released from within the boards of the desktop. I know it may sound silly, but my pens in a cup look better and my mouse rests better on my desk.[/vcex_feature_box][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

From the (New) Studio….Part 1

Excitement has been brewing as my new studio (Casita de Carlos!) at the top of the hill has been getting a face lift. One of the many desirable attributes our new house has (Patziac) is that it came with a concrete casita about 150 steps up on a winding rocky path above the main house. When we first started looking at the house we noticed the casita looming high above and I immediately saw a light bulb go off in Rache’s head…”studio!…now I can get rid of him the whole day!”

taking the water taxi home, boat full of avacados, the studio hanging high above in the hills of Patziac.
taking the water taxi home, boat full of avocados, the studio floating high above in the hills of Patziac.

But really, it was the ideal situation as I have been using makeshift bedrooms, patios, living rooms etc. for studios as we moved around from place to place. This casita looked ideal as it had two large rooms with giant empty walls and an amazing view of the lake. I can get some serious work done here.

incredible view from the studio, work in progress....
incredible view from the studio, work in progress….

The casita was in horrible shape and the caretaker of the property, Ventura, said the rook leaked. It was full of junk, dirty as hell and really dark. But with Rache’s help, ideas and vision we knew we could make an incredible place for me to work.

The first job was to get it cleaned out and find a good contractor to replace the roof and do some other work like add lighting and vent slots for air flow. Ventura and his ayudante Pasqual immediately set to work and had it cleaned out in about a day. Great start. We found a great contractor named Charlie Rendell who works out of San Marcos where we used to live. He gave us some great ideas for the roof and some suggestions for the lighting. We needed to replace the old rusted metal with new metal and add in opaque white corrugated plastic for nice diffuse lighting. Also, there were no lights inside so Rache had the idea to add track lighting with LEDs. Yea, sounds expensive. In New York it would have cost us 10k and would never have been feasible. Here the budget was about $1500.

We also wanted to add an internet router, replace the locks, and replace the windows with some secure lockable iron frames, still for under $1500. Charlie said he could do it and we set to work.

the metal arrives! Rodolfo, who was doing the work, carried everything up with Efrain.
the metal arrives! Rodolfo, who was doing the work, carried everything up with Efrain.

The first day, the metal and plastic arrived on a private boat and we carried it up. Once the metal was at the top they started to rip off the old roof.

day 1, ripping off the roof.
day 1, ripping off the roof.


Part 2, adding the new roof, in the next post!

From the Studio…9/22/14

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]Every Friday I post an update about whats been happening in my studio. New ideas, new work, places I’m showing, people I am working with, writings, materials….anything I can think of that lets you know whats new with my art practice.

So whats been going on?

  • Moving forward with the Pita Series. After a month or so of experimentation I still have nothing that I would call “finished”. Are they geometric abstraction pieces, clean and finished solid panels? How do they combine with each other? I want to loosen up on the reigns a bit and start to exploit the aspects of the fabrication that have been lost in translation, giving the panels and pieces a looser quality. I love the how the pita extends away from the picture plane, falling to the floor, expanding outwards etc. Having my assistant create small stretchers so we can move quickly through the experimentations and arrive at some pieces that can be enlarged and finished.
  • Working on the large canvas, still, for the Search piece. Up in the treehouse studio.
  • Found that I can create video collages quickly with After Effects. So doing the video sketches quickly with amazing the iphone app PicCollage then downloading the Youtube videos and arranging them full scale in After Effects. So easy.
  • Contemplating how I can raise funds for the vast amount of ideas I have that require investment.

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From the Studio…week of 9-15-14

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]Every Friday I post an update about whats been happening in my studio. New ideas, new work, places I’m showing, people I am working with, writings, materials….anything I can think of that lets you know whats new with my art practice.

So whats been going on?

  • Went shopping at the local dollar store in the neighboring town of San Juan La Laguna. Love this place! Bought a ton of pita, the nylon chord I am working with right now.
  • Started a new studio space in the treehouse for my series of paintings dealing with emptiness. This is now a silent space away from the day to day operations at our house and other studio. These paintings are minimal pieces in which meditation is essential to the process.
  • Built some new frames for larger “pita” pieces. Pita pieces are becoming more sculptural.
  • New ideas for paintings and constructions designed with iphone apps.

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Skype? Whatever – Hello Goto!

Life has really graduated to a new virtual level. Skype and Viber are in some ways, brilliant tools of the past and companies like Gotomeeting.com and WaZapp are making more of a presence. Free applications just simply don’t have the same “bandwidth” or appeal when it comes to seeing your loved ones. Additionally, for work, I have requirements to be available and clear. Just dropping out in the middle of a call is not acceptable practice.

The level of frustration I feel for AT&T and the 1000’s of dropped calls I had over the years, is right up there with Skype. For 7 years I have been using Skype as my primary means, all around the world, and I have finally realized it is just not getting any better. If anything, it is actually beginning to get worse. But I have found a solution abroad. While I can’t make out going calls, for meetings Gotomeeting is outrageously good and reliable. It is about $180 a year for basic service, but the image is crystal clear, jam-packed with quality.
Skype vs. Gotomeeting

For voice I think using WaZapp is the best. It is easy and effective and I can use my local data plan or whatever to make the calls.

Sunday we had a great chat with my Dad and Cindy and our nephews. It was so much fun to see everyone… and so clearly! Skype would have dropped out in seconds, so this gave us a great shot at communication.

From the Studio….

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]This week:

  • Working with pita, a nylon chord that comes in multiple colors. This series deals with an exploration of materials sourced around the lake, exploiting those materials to find new uses for them, using them to express various themes or to make a statement. Geometric abstraction is a current theme.
  • Building stretchers from wood sourced in Xela, the closest big city to the lake.
  • Efrain is kicking much ass.
  • Getting ready to stretch a large canvas to continue a series dealing with emptiness.
  • Paying homage to Jackson Pollack, Blinky Palermo, Richard Tuttle, Buddha, etc…..

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Holding on for Dear Life

At the computer 2

I have been so busy with work for the last 3 months that I have hardly had a chance to look up and see the surroundings. Sad considering we are located on the titled and celebrated “most beautiful lake in the world.” For all I knew, I could have been in a black box located in Siberia. Now, when I look in front of me I don’t see something I have invested myself into, I see a postcard of a potential future experience. But it feels unattainable to relish in the moment.

I believe many people are like me, they are just literally trying to hold on as the sea of work piles up. No matter what is going on – my daughters birthday, my mom’s wedding, my friend’s crises, I am preoccupied with something else and just going through the expected motions. I give a 1000 percent at work and the bare minimum at home. I am always tired, and always behind. I just feel like I am running on the wheel of life and my stop hasn’t come up yet.

At 33, I am in the middle of my career – a vital point which cannot be ignored; if I stop now, will I drop off the radar? Will I lose all opportunities? I hold onto fear which is a tremendous driver in this unhealthy cycle. But beyond opportunities, another primary fear is money. When will the money dry up and another recession hit? When will we need money for a rainy day? As the current bread-winner, I feel a pressure to succeed on a lot of levels.

But at what cost? Such a crappy way of non-living.

I hit a breaking point two Friday’s ago and I have just had enough of my own excuses.I want to come out from this cloud I have placed above my head and I am determined to be present in my own life again; to finally be able to enjoy time with family, friends and experience this first leg of our Brand Fam journey together. I am ready to stop, reposition and gear up to go in a new, healthier direction. (This, however, sounds good on paper, but I don’t know how to transition and to push beyond my current state.)

All comments and advice are welcome.

At the computer 3

Work Trip Away in Nuevo York

I’m freaking out. I suppose it is a normal reaction since I am leaving my baby who I am still nursing in a foreign country to head back to the City for the week.

Not super prepared considering we got here a week and a day ago, we are still getting to know the area, Iza has now had 3 nanny’s come in and out of the house in rotation so far (they seem to be alternating and it is very hard for any of us to adjust to it) and I didn’t bring my pump with me and to date the 15 stores I have gone into to ask for one look at me like I have 5 heads (What the “F” was I thinking?). Oh and to make matters more interesting, I haven’t heard back from my driver who I am meant to get picked up by at the dock at 6:30am and I just realized  the boats don’t start running until 6am and on Lake Time (like Island Time) that could mean I won’t get to the dock in Pana until 7am. If I don’t meet him, I may just have to take the Chicken Bus again. YIKES!

And I am going to miss my family on such an enormous level.

So, it is going to be an interesting week. Back to the old “Rache” or the “E. Rachael” who travels for her work. How weird. It has been 2 years since I gave up TILT and started on this journey towards my current no work travel policy. I am going back for a good reason and one that I am happy and proud of. My family is in full support and I go back to the states with a full heart and a mission to accomplish.

Let’s just all pray my driver shows up and I don’t have to take the Chicken Bus 3 hours. Iza and I are rockin’ out to Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind.” She’s helping me get back in the game.

Why the heck are we in Guatemala?

My adventurer friend Meg just sent me a beautiful email and in it she said, “I am reading through your blog to figure out what the heck you are doing down there!” I figured it required some sort of response so here you go Meg!

Kurt and I both want to buy time. In a way we realized how precious life’s little moments truly are and how running around with our tails between our legs doesn’t actually get us any more time. In fact, we have lost years on our life over the last two years due to work and trying to advance to the next leg of our career only to find there is A. no next level and B. tons more energy required to compete with the fresh blood heading into the work force (they are willing to work much more for much less than we are and let’s face it, they are way faster). We never got to see our daughter and when we did we were totally distracted and disengaged. There were too many things keeping us away from our life as The Brand Fam – work and social engagements, trips to visit extended family, meetings and friend obligations.  It just became too much. We never stopped to smell the flowers or hear the rain.

After looking at our 5 year plan this past spring we quickly realized there is NO way we could afford some of the amenities we still want, be able to pay off debt, save and retire at any point before 80. We started asking ourselves what we wanted to do and how we could actually get more out of life without having to work harder for it. Essentially finding a way buy ourselves time towards figuring out a way to be sustainable without having to always compete on such a high level. Holly, our financial planner and close friend said to me onetime after I asked her how to grow my investments, “Don’t spend.” That has stuck with me. So we are heading towards a cheaper life.

We did try to get jobs and the best I could do in my field after 117 job applications around the world was 1 call back from Graze, a budding company in the US which has its roots in the UK. Love the company, but the compensation package was going to cut my salary in a 1/4 and we would have to move to NJ. Kurt had 3 bartending interviews (just for a part-time gig while he kept making his art) and each one did the floor to face scan and after seeing his age said, “We actually decided to hire in house.” Super degrading.

We did not get discouraged though, we just redirected. We did a scrape of the world on Airbnb.com and searched the cheapest places to go where you can still have the best life. We ended up in 3 locations: Sri Lanka, Lake Atitlan and Thailand. Of course there are many better ways to find cheaper options for housing, but we wanted to make sure we could rent from a viable source. After researching flights and thinking through the logistics Lake Atitlan won out and we are so glad it did.

Life moved quickly for us after making this decision. I had a big project complete and then rolled into 2 enormous deadlines, we had trips already planned and family visits all over, we had to sell our cars and leave our beloved apartment in NYC, putting everything we had back in our bins and back in storage. It definitely got complicated and after we packed up our 2 eBags with our life’s belongings for the next 4-months, we realized how much better everything felt. We had the wind at our fingertips. The Brand Fam unite.

How are we making money? Kurt is doing custom wall art and murals through Brand-Commercial.com and still working on his conceptual art and I am still working on food and restaurant projects. Together we are developing Ra’Co as a voice for living a balanced, blended life. And we have our hobby’s which still could eventually make money like my small run tight line and patterns and Kurt’s limited edition multiple sculptures and art. When it all breaks down each opportunity makes a certain % of our revenue making it possible to survive. I suppose as long as we have internet we are okay?

Even Iza has created her own little thing called, “Z-love.” On the subway and now on the boat she stares people down until they connect with her… always has since she was about 2 months old. Really intense. She seems to pick out the people who are not than interested in her or distracted. She stares at them until they connect with her and then she gives them a huge winning smile. So we made little business cards to support the cause. In Spanish and in English she can now leave a true lasting impression wherever she goes with a little “Z-love.”

What’s next? Who knows where we will go, but for the time being we are happy with a traveling lifestyle. Maybe we will go other places, or maybe we will stay here forever. All we know is that we want to live in a way that buys us the ability to be a family and have breakfast, lunch and dinner together each day (or most days) and make get in a hike or swim after work. We can be there with our daughter through all her important steps in life and make our way as a family. We have a lovely life here and have already met a lot of wonderful people who are doing exactly what we are doing: living.


Sound of the Rain from raco life on Vimeo.

How do you Cope in a Business World Where Respect is Optional?

I can’t take it anymore. I know that many of my work clients and colleagues has wonderful upbringings and were taught how to be polite. Somehow in the sea of business and the recent global downfall of the economy over the last 6 years, respect has literally gone out the window.

Some of the ways in which I feel respect has been lost: 

  1. Time isn’t important. Conference calls are often left going too long without direction, cancelled at the start of the call or attendees come 5-10 minutes late with only a 30 minute window to chat.
  2. Communication sucks. Clear and consistent communication is often not reciprocated and there are times where clients literally don’t even respond about a project proposal or invoice submitted.
  3. Downtime is still work time. Evening and weekend hours have become catch up time periods from the week and there is never a moment you can just shut down.
  4. Wage wars. In order to stay in the good graces of clients, I need to constantly compete with the lower costs they are being offered by junior branders. Clients no longer higher talent for the total package, they piece meal it together ruining the industry hierarchy and making junior opportunists and senior executives compete against each other.
  5. Loss of community. Instead of the industry rallying together in a time of crisis and working to find a solution for all, everyone is happy to divide and conquer independently. This may not be a loss of respect as just an unfortunate circumstance.


Why is this happening?

There is a sense of fear that has plagued the working class for a long time. People are tired and hungry. They are sick of the up and down of the economy and feeling helpless with the solutions offered. But they are also feeling very alone in their feelings and due to the nature of the US mindset, we have shut down the opportunity to freely discuss and instead locked the door creating an isolationist society; all for one instead of one for all.

There are also so many unknowns that just keep popping up, it is hard to keep up with, especially in the food industry. Global warming effecting food costs, health insurance becoming a requirement and certainly the wage demands have all played so negatively into my industry it has started to really beat up everyone. We are becoming cynical, myself included.

Also everyone is overly taxed. They are pushed and stretched with their projects, forced to do the work of more than 1 person (sometimes even more like the work of five). Conference calls and meetings fill up everyone’s day and when there is a break it is usually because you are on a plane to somewhere to be at a meeting the following day. Emails are responded to in short instead of in a thoughtful articulated dialogue because the only time you can respond is from your bed at 11pm at night, the bathroom, the plane or the short break between meetings. It is out of control. Technology should be giving us more time, not less.


We know this isn’t going to change anytime soon, so the big question becomes: how do you cope with the lack of respect?

I definitely am not an expert and most who know me actually would say it is not even a possibility for me to mitigate frustrating circumstances. I am a hot head; I can’t handle rudeness or someone who knows better, but chooses to walk all over someone else. But here are 5 tips for how to manage:

  1. Don’t play their game, play yours. I believe strongly that you will be in a better mental health position if you treat others as you would hope to be treated, you will sleep better at night.
  2. Stick to your own schedule. Buffer time for yourself and don’t worry about what anyone else does. If they can’t make your call and you have another opening later in the day and it won’t screw up your schedule to change things around, do it. If it does, then reschedule for a time that works for you. Own your schedule.
  3. Assume the worse. If you expect things to be handled poorly, you will be so happy if they turn out better than expected. Being disappointed is such a terrible feeling.
  4. Breathe into the frustration. Breathe out calm and targeted positive emotions and take the ownership around centering yourself, forgetting about all the rest.
  5. Build a team you love. At the end of the day it is all about enjoying what you do and being around the people that you can do it with. Don’t compromise and work for or with people that don’t respect you. Stand tall and eventually it will come back around as it should.

It is a Friday afternoon and I was meant to be done for the week at 4pm, but #1 in this list of scenarios played out 7 minutes into our 3pm scheduled conference call and I now have to wait until 4:30 to start the same call, likely finishing at 5:30pm. So, I have taken a deep breathe, recentered myself and just spent the last hour enjoying my own time while I wrote this article. And then when the call is done I am going to scoop up my little girl and take her out to play. Exactly what I should be doing.