Life Update - August 2019


 

It’s been a few months since I last shared a life update, and it was a pretty crazy one full of lots of big changes. 2019 has been one wild ride so far! I wanted to check back in a few months later with a less dramatic post as we slowly settle into a new season!

Back in my last update in June, Aaron was early on in his recovery from an emergency appendectomy and we had just decided to close Botany. Closing down our company was a huge decision and has led to a completely different lifestyle for us. We were used to going, going, going and never having a chance to relax or really take care of ourselves. Aaron was working 80 - 100 hours a week at the café and I was splitting my time between roughly 70 hours on my business, 15 - 20 hours working at Botany, and trying to keep on top of chores and taking care of our pets, too. We were in survival mode and were just barely scraping by. The appendicitis honestly came as a relief in some ways because it effectively closed down Botany and released us from our hectic and unhealthy lifestyle.

So now, let’s move forward to life these days! Aaron started a Full Stack Development program at Lambda School three weeks ago and has been loving it! As a quick summary, Lambda takes a typical four-year computer programming degree and condenses it down into a nine-month program. Aaron is in class from 10am - 7pm Monday through Friday and spends a few hours each day reviewing and studying, as well. The program is notoriously intense and difficult, but is also renowned for the large amount of knowledge it crams into such a short period of time. The hire rate of students is very high, as well. The program has been an excellent fit for Aaron’s interests and learning style, and it’s been wonderful to see him working hard towards the future and even more wonderful seeing how much he has enjoyed his studies so far.

 
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It was definitely a bit of an adjustment to transition from spending most of our time apart - Aaron at Botany and me at home alone with our rabbit - to spending 24/7 together again, just like it was an adjustment when Botany opened! We both especially struggled before Aaron’s program started because there was so little structure in our day. I am usually very self-motivated, but having my best friend around all the time definitely made it harder for me to focus on getting work done. Now that we have the routine of school to build our schedule around, we’ve both been much more productive again and we’re feeling pretty content with where we’re at. It’s been so amazing to have weekends to do things like get brunch, have coffee together, attend church regularly, and go on fun outings like the Minnesota State Fair and the Art Institute. We’ve been attending a new Anglican church and have already felt so welcomed and loved!

 
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While Aaron is in school, I’m still plugging away at designing! After working so many hours over the past two years, I have experienced true burnout for the first time and have been trying to take things more slowly in order to recover and heal from that. I was burnt out on everything - work, chores, and life in general. I haven’t been able to muster the energy to cook or meal plan like I used to, and Aaron has taken on over 50% of the chores. But instead of allowing guilt to settle in I’m working on just accepting where I’m at and giving myself grace and time to recover. I was also really burnt out on client work, having taken on far more clients over the last few years than is healthy for my own personal threshold. I’ve been working on my 2020 Botanical Calendar over the summer and have been feeling so revitalized by having creative autonomy on these paintings. It’s been such a relief and a joy to start finding pleasure in my work again! I’m hopeful that I’ll continue to bounce back and also that my ability to take care of our little home and family will mend and return over the next few months, as well!

 
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I believe that I thought that I was immune to feelings of burnout because I loved everything I was doing so much. Art is my passion and has been ever since I could hold a pencil; how could I possibly tire of creating daily for my job? I adore Aaron above all things, so how could taking care of him and our home ever possibly become a burden? I spent four years as a barista before working at Botany, so being behind bar again was really exciting, especially since we were running the shop ourselves. But despite the love I held for all of these things, I have learned my lesson that burnout is inevitable for anyone who does anything too much for too long.

One major thing that has helped me begin healing over these summer months is reading! As a child, I would take regular trips to the library and check out with more books than my mother or the librarians thought was wise. Every time, I finished them all and brought them back on time! Reading has always been a form of respite and escape for me. But I wasn’t able to pick up one single book for the entire time Botany was open, and I had completely forgotten the joy of getting lost deep in a set of pages, of staying up way too late because it’s impossible to put a book down, of being content to do nothing but devour a story all weekend long. I was inspired to read again by my dear friend who started a book Instagram account, and I am so glad that I did! I’ve dashed through six books in six weeks so far and am still feeling so, so eager to pick up each new tome when I finish the one I’m on! I also can’t quite believe that I’ve actually had time to read. I sometimes almost have to pinch myself because it feels too good to be true!

Blogging + outfit planning has been another avenue that’s really helped with my mental health. I’ve loved having something to spend time on and pursue that isn’t work! It’s just for fun and there is no pressure, no strings attached, no expectation. Mostly, I really enjoy putting together outfits from what I have and doing lots of research and thoughtful planning before making my purchases. Having an Instagram account where I regularly post my outfits has forced me into being much more creative with the pieces that I own. I used to wear the same few pieces on repeat week in and week out because the only person who saw me regularly was Aaron! Posting my outfits has helped me come up with lots of different ways to combine and wear my pieces so that I don’t feel redundant. I’ve also really loved blogging because it’s helped me flex my writing muscles again. I can’t stress enough how nice it’s been to have a focus that is completely unrelated from my work, which has helped me diversify, place less stock on the success of my business, and has reminded me that there is more to who I am than my work and the being artist behind Esther Clark Co.

 
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Finally, I’ve been taking daily two-mile walks in order to truly soak up this short summer season and get my body moving after a day of designing. We live about a five-minute drive away from one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in St. Paul, so I usually head over there and walk for as long as I can. The gorgeous old homes, beautifully landscaped yards, plentiful flowers, peace and quiet, and sunshine all combine to make my evening walks the highlight of my day! I’ve so appreciated the time to unwind and just spend some time with my thoughts.

 
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This summer has been really rough in some ways as we’ve been reeling from everything that happened over the past few months, but it’s been glorious in other ways, as well. I’m so sad to see the warm weather leaving us and to watch the long days slowly wane and fade into winter darkness, but I’m also really looking forward to crisp, misty fall mornings, golden sunshine filtering through ochre leaves, and picking apples and the last of the late summer fruits. The change of the seasons is a truly beautiful thing, both in nature and in life. Until next time!

 

Life Update - May 2019


 
 

I’ve been pretty sporadic about blogging lately, and I wanted to check in with a few life updates that explain my absence! May 2019 ended up being an unexpectedly crazy month for us, and I’m really hoping that things settle down from here on out for a more relaxing summer.

 
 

First of all, it’s wedding season! Wedding season is always my busiest time of year. I spend a lot of time designing invitations for autumn weddings as well as day-of items for summer brides, usually with some logo and branding design thrown in to switch things up a bit! I’m probably going to sound like a horrible stationer when I say this, but wedding season is hands down my least favorite time of the year as far as work goes. I really look forward to shipping out orders and calendars during the holiday season and I also love working with brands throughout the year! But I get stressed and anxious easily and I also have a chronic disease that requires me to get plenty of rest, so wedding season - with all its due dates and many projects - isn’t really my cup of tea.

 
 

In a very unexpected turn of events, Aaron also got appendicitis early in May. It was such a weird experience and I still feel like it didn’t really happen to us, ha! It all started with some light abdominal pain on Aaron’s left side while he was doing yard work early in the evening. He came in shortly afterwards and tried to soothe the pain for awhile before noticing that it had migrated over to his right side. I wasn’t too worried initially, but when he sat down to dinner and only ate two tiny slices of pizza, I started to get concerned. A short while later he started getting chills, and when we checked he had a low-grade fever. We still didn’t really think it was appendicitis because his pain wasn’t the excruciating kind that you always hear horror stories about, but since he had several of the classic symptoms he decided to go to the ER at around 11pm. Poor Aaron wasn’t seen until nearly 4 in the morning, but at that point he was tested and told he had signs of appendicitis. After that, we stayed in a shared room with lots of very ill elderly men and nurses until about 9am, when we were wheeled upstairs for his surgery preparation. He finally went in for his procedure around 10:30am, and I sat watching his operation number on an electronic board for the next hour. It was such a strange experience, watching his progress through the surgery the same way I’ve watched for flight arrivals and departures on the electronic board at the airport. After speaking with the surgeon and hearing that everything had gone well, I made a quick trip home to freshen up and grab a few things, and I made it back to the hospital just in time to see Aaron starting to come out of his anesthetic. 

 
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We arrived back home around 4pm and settled in for the recovery period. The first night was pretty rough - lots of pain, poor sleep quality for both of us, and trying to manage symptoms with various heat pads, ice packs, and meds - but things really started looking up after that. Aaron had to stay on the couch most of the time for about a week, and then we started to slowly venture out for short walks and trips.

 
 

Nine days later, Aaron was able to open Botany up again. The coffee shop was staffed by just him and me from March onwards, so his surgery meant that the shop had to close down completely. Aaron worked half days for his first weekend back and opened up for full hours shortly afterwards. However, being closed for eight days was a huge blow to a business as young and small as Botany was, and we knew we needed to seriously consider the future of the company.

 
 

Aaron and I have both put so much into Botany, and we really clung to the idea of keeping it open through most of his recovery period. You can read more about the plans for and origins of the company here! Honestly, though, both of us knew the minute he got his diagnosis that the surgery + full recovery time of 4 - 6 weeks was almost certainly going to mean the end of the company. We debated back and forth and decided to give staying open a shot for just a few days before reality set in and we had to accept the truth. Botany is now closed, and May 27, 2019 was our last day of business.

 
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While we were both devastated at the thought of closing initially, it’s definitely had its benefits. The whole time Botany was open, Aaron was working roughly 80 - 100 hours a week. He would wake at 5 - 5:30am, leave for work at 6, and usually didn’t arrive home until around 8pm. After getting home, there were always emails, orders, and other back-end business matters for him to attend to. We got to spend roughly 30 minutes to one hour together a few days a week. For several months, that was his schedule all seven days of the week. We eventually decided to be closed on Tuesdays in order to give him a day off and also to give us some time together, which was a huge relief. 

 
 

While Aaron was working his intense Botany schedule, I was working 70 - 80 hours a week myself, and also tackled taking care of two pets and keeping our house clean, errands run, meals planned, and groceries bought. I worked at Botany over lunch every day so that Aaron could sit down and eat, and I also worked a few hours a day on weekends during our busiest times. We would close down the shop together a couple of times a week (those were what we considered our dates for awhile) and we would sometimes stay for a longer night of deep cleaning and/or miscellaneous cafe duties. I also felt the pressure (induced by our bills, not at all put on me by Aaron) to take on much more client work than I would normally do in order to provide financially for us through the Botany years. In the past two years, I’ve completed fifty-one invitation suites and forty-six branding projects - as well as creating paintings for two calendars and releasing new webshop products - and I would ideally like to be doing about half of that.

 
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Needless to say, we knew that we couldn’t keep up that pace forever. I started feeling it before Aaron did. I’ve historically been a pretty happy and positive person, but I’ve always appreciated a slow pace and thrived off of plenty of time to rest and relax. I like to keep semi-busy, but a schedule that allowed for nothing but work wasn’t sustainable for me and I knew it. I knew that something needed to change when I started noticing signs of hopelessness and depression in my normally chipper and positive personality. I found myself unable to complete basic chores or cook for us because I was just too mentally exhausted, and it was very difficult to get out of bed in the morning to face the day. Anxiety is something that’s always hovering close to the surface for my personality type (INFJ, 6w5 if you’re into personality tests), but it went out of control in the past few months and I was quickly becoming a slave to my fears and worries. 

 
 

So when we got the news about the appendicitis, we knew it was time. Even in the one week that Aaron was home and recovering, I noticed a huge improvement in my mood and mental health. Aaron is extremely resilient both mentally and physically, but our hectic life was starting to take its toll on him, too. When he went back to work, we both expected him to be thrilled and love being back in the shop. The reality was that he didn’t enjoy being there at all, was overwhelmed by negativity, and just wanted to be back at home. When it’s all said and done, we’re so grateful for the appendicitis because it really took the decision out of our hands and forced us off in a new direction.

 
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So what’s next for us? Aaron is going to school for full stack development, and we’re really excited to see what’s in store. His program starts in just over a month, so he has some time to rest and recuperate prior to the start of school. It’s an intensive nine-month program, but we’re used to being under pressure! :) We haven’t been able to go on vacation since before Botany opened, so we might try to take a short trip somewhere before our next MN-bound phase of life during the school term. I’m going to continue designing and probably won’t be able to drop back on my workload while Aaron is in school, but having him around the house makes a huge difference and he’ll be more free to help me with business-related issues and chores. We are also going to have weekends free for the first time in our relationship! We met as baristas, and the other jobs we’ve had over the years (for me: being a florist and decorating cakes, for Aaron: working in an Amazon fulfillment center) have required weekends, as well. This past Saturday - Sunday was our first weekend off in well over two years, excepting the week while Aaron was recovering from surgery - which doesn’t really count in my book. I’m so excited for the chance to make weekends special through simple things like regular church attendance, trips to new cafes and restaurants, and long walks! We are also looking forward to being able invest in friendships again!

 
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We have both been so, so grateful for the experience of Botany, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. We both love coffee so much and I’m inexpressibly proud of my husband for putting everything on the line and pursuing his dream whole-heartedly. I genuinely believe that we both gave the shop 110% for the entire two years, and I’m so glad we didn’t hold back. I know that I will look back on this time of our life as a very special and unique season, and I’m eternally grateful for that. I’m also so thankful for the ways our marriage was strengthened! We knew going into the endeavor that the stress and time commitment required were inevitably going to put a strain on our relationship, and while there were definite low points and hard times, our experiences ultimately brought us closer together. We’ve both had times in our marriage so far that have required periods of self-sacrifice for the other person, and it’s usually one spouse sacrificing for the other for awhile before circumstances change and it flips, so the other person has the chance to sacrifice. My most tangible period of sacrificial love for Aaron has definitely been getting through Botany, and I have felt so fulfilled by and grateful for the opportunity to love him and support him in this time. I know this sounds so cheesy, but being his wife has been the most amazing opportunity of my life so far and I was so, so thrilled to have the chance to be his support system through Botany. In our 4.5 years of marriage, we have dealt with financial strain, living in three states, chronic illness, eight different jobs, surgery, the loss of an important friendship, three new pets and one pet death, buying and slowly renovating our first house, the start of two businesses, and the end of Botany. It’s been a crazy ride, but I am so thankful for what we’ve experienced and I believe that it will help us make it through whatever tough times are to come in our future.

 
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I wrote an Instagram post on the day Botany closed for good, and I feel that the words I said then were the most accurate since I was in the midst of feeling all of those emotions very keenly. I’ll end my post by repeating those words:

“Today was the end of an era for Aaron and I. Since we met in 2012, I’ve known of his dream to open a coffee shop. Since we started dating in 2013, I’ve entered whole-heartedly into that dream with him. It’s been a part of our relationship and our future goals since even before our first official date. We dreamed and planned and worked towards it for years, finally opening up in July of 2017. Now, due to the long recovery time from his appendectomy, we knew it was time to close. It feels like losing an old friend, like saying goodbye to a piece of Aaron’s and my relationship. It’s going to take a long time to adjust. It is truly a grieving process. Yet amidst all of the sadness and emotional exhaustion I’ve experienced this week, I am also relieved and hopeful. Opening Botany was the hardest and most demanding thing either of us has ever done, and we are looking forward to a more balanced and healthy lifestyle. I’m excited to see what is next for us, and most of all, I am excited that I get to experience whatever is coming with Aaron. I’m more proud than I can express of Aaron, how he literally gave everything he had to his dream, and of all that he accomplished.”

 
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Photos of Aaron and I by Emilie Anne Szabo.