Float On: Depriving My Senses

Halcyon Floats in Philadelphia
Back in undergrad at Penn State, our friend Jeff told us about this crazy thing he’d learned about — sensory deprivation tanks. Basically, he explained, you climb into a small, pitch black pool filled with really salty water the same temperature as your skin, and float there, in the silence and the dark for an indeterminate amount of time, feeling nothing. He was super intrigued. So was Chad. I was super terrified.

At that point in my life, I had negative interest in being that incredibly alone with myself for any length of time. I pictured the need for a panic button. I was sure it would break me somehow. It didn’t sound relaxing — it sounded like a recipe for a mental breakdown.

But then I found myself, six or seven years later, standing outside of Halcyon Floats in Philly. When they first opened, Chad couldn’t stop talking about it. I secretly bought him a float for his birthday. A few days after I bought it, I asked him what he wanted for his birthday. He said he wanted us both to float. Whoops. No thanks.

When I told him what his gift actually was, he was grateful and excited to go, but when it was over he insisted that I try it out. I again refused, and he let it drop for a few months.

But when I came up with the idea of making our Philly Bucket List, he added floating together (not in the same tank, just at the same time) to the list. So I finally gave in. And that is how I found myself standing in front of this a couple months ago.

Sensory deprivation float tank

Please excuse this less-than-stellar photograph. I wanted to show what the float tanks actually look like, though, since I had been so curious prior to my float.

I opened the door of the tank and stared at it for too long, apparently, because when I finally positioned myself and closed the door, I was kind of chilly for awhile. I think I let too much heat escape while staring into the darkness preparing to enter. The water level is pretty low, but the high salinity does make it kind of slippery when you first step in.

Halcyon Floats provided a nice little floaty, glowy, gentle light and recommended it for first timers, so I put it near my head and tried to position myself squarely in the middle of the tank, but it’s hard not to physically drift around the tank as your consciousness drifts off. Once I was able to let go of the need to be squarely in the middle of the tank, my thoughts finally turned off.

My daze was thicker than the dream state that sometimes happens during savasana after a particularly great yoga class. I don’t know how long I was there, not awake but not asleep. I’m not sure what jolted me out of it, but suddenly I was aware of myself again. Very aware. I had no idea how much time passed, so I couldn’t tell if I was close to the end of my session or if I still had a ton of time left to settle down and try to drift off again. I started getting antsy to get on with my day, but the panic I feared years ago never happened, and it was way more relaxing than I expected it to be.

There are little speakers in the tank behind where my head was. When your session is over, the staff starts piping in music, very quietly at first, but it gets gradually louder. I was pleasantly surprised that the “wake up” music wasn’t Enya-inspired or the sounds of seagulls and waves, but Devotchka and Tycho.

After my post-float shower (you must shower to get the salt off of you and out of your hair), I met Chad in a little side room where the staff had put out cookies, water, and tea. We sat in some massage chairs for a few minutes, and then headed out.

I’ve heard that a lot of people aren’t able to get into any kind of meditative state during their first float, so I feel like mine was a success. I’m glad I made it without any kind of claustrophobia or panic attack. I’d probably even do it again, if the opportunity presented itself!

If you’re still curious, Halcyon Floats has a great FAQ for first-time floaters.

2015 in Bullet Points

best-nine-instagram-photos-2015Not every year has to be awesome. It’s inevitable that some years won’t be. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that, especially when everyone on Twitter is all “2015 was flawless!” and “Saying goodbye to a stellar year!” Frankly, I couldn’t be happier that 2015 has seen its way out, may the door hit it.

But now a blank slate lays before us, even if it is an arbitrary one. Maybe the hope and potential of a blank notebook, an unmarred landscape, is why people get so excited about NYE. I guess I can get behind that.

Even after years like this one, where the things I wanted most were both totally out of my reach and totally out of my control, it helps me to go over the highlights so I know that it wasn’t a total wash. I did some cool things, even though they are sometimes overshadowed by the stuff that didn’t happen the way I’d anticipated. And I accomplished some things I hadn’t planned to at the beginning, which always feels great. So here it is, my year in bullet points. But only the good ones.


speaking at alt summit

Events Where I Spoke, Taught, or Organized:

Conferences I Attended (not including those in which I spoke):

  • Alt Summit Winter
  • Philly ETE
  • WordCamp US

It seems that most of the events I attended this year were because I was speaking, teaching, or organizing them. I want to come up with a couple topics that I can focus on developing talks for this year to do more speaking, and I also want to attend more educational events where I can focus on being a sponge and learning a ton. I was so excited to get accepted to speak at Alt Summit this summer. It was definitely a highlight of the year and I really hope I can speak there again soon.

seattle space needle

Places I Went:

  • Seattle
  • Salt Lake City for Alt Summit x2
  • Austin for Texas Style Council — I really want to go back and get a sense for the actual city of Austin and catch up with the rad ladies I met there.
  • Carrboro x2 — Once for a visit, once for a wedding celebration
  • Camped near Ricketts Glen
  • Asbury Park Day Trip
  • Alabama for my sister-in-law’s wedding tea
  • New York for SPARK Union
  • Spent our sixth wedding anniversary weekend at the Lancaster Arts Hotel and started scoping out what it’d look like to live in Lancaster City
  • Camped in the Catskills with some of my favorite Philly people
  • Staunton, VA to see The Winter’s Tale at the Black Friar’s Playhouse

This was definitely not my most exciting travel year (there were good reasons for that), but we did a lot of little trips. We have some plans in the works already for 2016 to be a more interesting year of travel.


All About Love by bell hooks

Books I read:

I’m pretty sure there were more, but this is what I can remember off the top of my head. I want to keep better track of what I’m reading in 2016.


Iron and WineShows I Saw:

  • Kishi Bashi
  • Jose Gonzalez
  • Sufjan Stevens
  • Sam Beam and Ben Bridwell
  • Joanna Newsom
  • Over the Rhine

hammock in carrboro

Miscellaneous fun stuff:

  • Started watching The West Wing. Man, do I love Aaron Sorkin. I can’t even help it. When I caught episodes as they aired when I was in middle school, I always felt so smart and informed when I understood the banter. I was so sad about the end of The Newsroom that The West Wing became my new go-to.
  • Started feeling comfortable and awesome in red lipstick. This was kind of an unofficial aspiration of mine for a number of years. I had this rad AF instructor when I studied in Spain a million years ago who 1) I had a big girl crush on and 2) always excelled in the lip color department. I feel like I’d do her proud these days.
  • Attended a rad Galentine’s Day Party hosted by my friend, Corinne. I’m really hoping she does it again this year (Nudge, nudge, Corinne. Let me know if you want help.)
  • Wrote a mini city guide to Philadelphia for The Collaboreat
  • Landed my biggest freelance contract ever
  • Chad and I both got accepted to, and then chose to decline, the first and second Remote Year trips. I had planned to write a blog post on why we declined, but that never happened.
  • Took a sewing class from Rachel Ford at MADE Studio.

Like I mentioned earlier, the things I wanted most this year didn’t happen, and I failed at a lot of my goals. There were a lot of unfortunate and upsetting surprises that threw me way off, but I’m glad I took the time to list the good stuff that happened anyway.

This weekend, I’m planning to sit down with some fancy takeout and Susannah Conway’s Unravelling the Year Ahead 2016. Even though most of the shitty things that happened this year were way beyond my control, I want to analyze how I could have been more prepared to respond to them better. I’ll be sharing a new list of goals here soon — this year, holding them more loosely and being open to new surprises (hopefully better ones than 2015 had in store) and trying to be both flexible and hopeful for what lies ahead.

We DIY-ed our Holiday Card Photos & Lived to Tell the Tale

Take Your Own Holiday PhotosDecember always starts out so slow, you know? Thanksgiving ends, and you think (or at least I think), “Oh, I have several glorious weeks until Christmas! This year I surely won’t be rushed. That’s weeks to leisurely bake cookies, decorate the apartment, sing all my favorite Christmas hymns, watch ‘A Very Murray Christmas,’ go cut down a tree, and hand address a bajillion custom holiday cards while sipping the most delicious eggnog that I’ll buy from a local supplier.”

And then you find yourself, on December 12, realizing that not only do you have one more weekend until Christmas, but you have no decent photos to use for said custom holiday cards. If you’re like me, you then panic and put out a desperate call on Facebook to learn if there will be any holiday card-appropriate photobooths or if any of your photog friends are still doing mini holiday portrait sessions… and then in an act of further desperation, you decide to take matters into your own hands. After all, how bad can it be? You can always forgo the photo card for a nonphoto card if it doesn’t work out.

Lucky for me, our DIY holiday photo adventure worked out. So now I’m here with a few tips on how to take your own photos, whether it be for holiday cards (Y’all, if you can’t get it together in time for Christmas, NEW YEAR’S CARDS ARE NOW A THING FOR WE PROCRASTINATORS! Also, Christmas technically lasts ’til January 6, so we’ve still got some time.) or just your own personal enjoyment.

Check the weather. We technically had all afternoon to make this happen, but I knew that it was going to get kind of cloudy and hazy later on, so we opted to do it earlier in the day to catch the golden light before the sun ducked totally behind a dark, cloudy haze.

take your own holiday photos

I want to wear this skirt and this lipstick every day.

Wear something fun. Don’t be afraid to be over the top. If you decide you look awesome, it’ll show. And then all your friends will also want to wear a giant tulle skirt & really bright lipstick. They’ll ask to borrow the exact clothes you were wearing to take their holiday photo. No kidding, this really happened to us.

Take a whole bunch of pictures in different spots. You never know how the light or surroundings will look until you snap a few frames! Better to try more than you need than to get home and realize you’re unhappy with all of the photos.

Eat beforehand or bring a snack. Even though we experimented with a few different backdrops in different places, I think the photo we ended up selecting was one of the first five we took. I started to get hangry, and even though I can smile through it, I felt like I wasn’t projecting the same energy later on after I started feeling really hungry and grumpy. It was a bummer, cause I liked one of the other locations a little better.

Take your own holiday photos

See? Chad looks cute, but I look hungry. Angry. Hangry. I should have packed a snack.

Plan ahead. I wish we had done this sooner. I held out hope that we’d find a photographer for way too long, so by the time we took our photos it was getting to be crunch time for designing, ordering, and printing our postcards. Now that I have one DIY photoshoot under my belt, I’ll be so much less scared to do another one next year, maybe!

Order from Minted. Minted is a design marketplace of independent artists from around the globe. This is the second year in a row we’ve ordered holiday cards from them, and I love the variety. There are new designs being added all the time. They’ve got everything from new letterpressed, gold foil, and different shaped designs to simple postcards. I always have fun testing out my photo with the different designs. They’ve also got a ton of New Year themed cards (wink, wink, procrastinators!), and you can customize the text, backing, and colors of the designs. And, if you really, really love your shiny new photos that you took of yourself, you can get them made into wall art to enjoy throughout the year.

Think about what orientation of card you like. It might help to take a look at the variety of designs available so that you have a good idea of whether you prefer portrait or landscape orientations and how to leave some space for any text or design elements that will be layered on top of the photo.

Things I Wished I Had But Managed to Do Without:

A freaking remote. While I do think that sprinting from the tripod into the shot added a certain level of, ahem, energy to the photoshoot, I think it would have gone a lot quicker if we could have just taken a ton of photos with a remote surreptiously hidden behind my giant tulle skirt.

A fully functional tripod. Our tripod was a hand me down from a former coworker of Chad’s. I’m so glad we had it. We couldn’t have managed without it. But it is a little bit broken; it doesn’t extend quite the whole way. I would have liked to try moving the camera a little higher, but I think we got away with it.

This was our winner. I think we did a pretty decent job!

happy everything — love, Chad & Lisa 2015

Disclosure: Postcards were graciously provided by Minted. But like I said, I would have used them again this year, regardless. I genuinely support what they’re about, and I’m honored to collaborate with them on this post. Thanks, Minted!

Let’s Go To The Market with Jane Mosbacher Morris

Interviews with Interesting People is a not-even-close-to-regular feature that I started so that I’d have the excuse to meet, chat with, or email people I admire and want to get to know. 

I saw Jane Mosbacher Morris speak at the last Alt Summit (where I also hosted a roundtable!), and was blown away. She’s had such a fascinating career that led her to start To The Market, a social enterprise that sells goods that are made by survivors of abuse, conflict, and disease around the world. She kindly took time to answer a few questions for me so I could tell y’all about To The Market.

1) How did To The Market come into being?
I spent the first part of my career working at the U.S. State Department focused on the intersection of women and security. It was there that I was exposed to how few opportunities vulnerable populations had to earn an income and regain their independence. Fast forward to 2013, when I was on a trip to Kolkata, India and visited two co-ops in Kolkata’s red light districts that were both employing survivors of human trafficking to produce products. I was struck by the model of setting up a business to employ survivors as artisans, serving their emotional and financial needs! I also knew that there was growing demand in the US market for social impact products, so I felt like there was a perfect intersection of opportunity!

2) What are your hopes for the company?
Our vision is to scale and grown the co-ops in our network, accordingly. Our measure of impact is creating financial opportunity for survivor artisans in our network! We have a very ambitious plan to partner with retailers and other businesses and help them source raw materials and finished products that are made through our network.

3) What has been your biggest challenge? Your biggest highlight?
I would say the biggest challenge has been the fact that we can’t work with all of the survivor co-operatives that apply to work with us! I wish I could say yes to everyone! The biggest highlight has been watching some of our co-op partners significantly scale while working with us! Knowing that we are creating more opportunity for vulnerable populations and helping to change lives (especially for women and girls that have so little economic opportunity) gets me REALLY excited!

4) What are some ways we can all help support survivors?
Buy their products! I know that sounds so simple, and it is. We as American women usually buy 90+ products a year. If all of us just bought ONE product made by a survivor a year, there would literally be millions (if not billions) of dollars directed towards the most vulnerable among us.

5) What’s your ideal day look like?
Well an IDEAL day would certainly not be a typical day (or likely even be possible!)! : ) If it was truly a magical day, I would start my day at a co-op visit speaking with the women in our network and them somehow beam myself to Disney World (my happy place), where I would get to spend the afternoon with my family and friends riding rides and eating yummy food. I would then wrap up the day at a beach watching the sunset (I love the ocean!). I know that that sounds like a wacky combination, but hey! It would be ideal!

6) What are you most excited about this holiday season?
I love Christmas music! And also all of the festive desserts and classic movies. I am a real sap when it comes to the holidays. It’s also our busiest time of year for TO THE MARKET, so I am always thrilled to get to spread our mission with others during this season.

To The Market offers tons of beautiful jewelry, housewares, accessories, and other goods. If you’re still in the market (see what I did there?) for holiday gifts for anyone, definitely take a peak. Like Jane said, one of the easiest ways we can support survivors is to buy their products. You don’t have to tell me twice.

Some of my favorites include:


Blake Bracelet

Edith Earrings

Edith Earrings

Pyramid Necklace

Pyramid Necklace

Vintage Cotton Kantha Cushion

Vintage Cotton Kantha Cushion

Soledad Peru Tote

Soledad Peru Tote

Gaby Flat in Mustard Diamond

Gaby Flat in Mustard Diamond












…and I could keep going. There’s so much good stuff over there. I also really enjoy how easy it is to shop by category; you can sort by category, cause, country, or local partner organization, so it’s not hard at all to find the perfect gift, whether you’re gifting someone else or yourself.

crystal bracelet

Speaking of gifting yourself, To The Market is kind enough to be offering a bracelet to one lucky reader who signs up for their newsletter! Pop over to To The Market, scroll to the footer and enter your email address, then stop back over here to comment & let me know what your favorite TTM item is. I’ll draw a random winner on Tuesday, December 22. Good luck!

Reflecting on ELA Conf

Overcoming Impostor Syndrom Panel Sketchnotes

Sketchnotes credit: Alyssa Dill

Ela Conf was hands down my favorite unexpected thing to happen this year.

Friday evening started out with snacks and a few planned lightning talks. Joni and LeeAnn then asked the crowd how many of us had never spoken into a mic before, and a bunch of people raised their hands… and then gave their first lightning talk! It laid a great foundation for the vibe for the rest of the conference.

Saturday morning started off with a keynote by Saron Yitbarek, of Code Newbies. She’s gone from new developer to podcast host, big awesome conference speaker, and Ruby Rogue. I identified really strongly with a lot of what she had to say. Like her, I’ve had a smattering of jobs before landing one as a web developer. Like her, I struggle to be as assertive as I should be. She shared her long and uncomfortable journey of consciously training herself to be more assertive and to not be afraid of negotiation. She focused on three key areas during the talk: money, power, and voice.

Highlight: “Don’t think of the pay gap in terms of money. Think of it as the difference in freedom.”

Money shaped up to be a pretty consistent theme throughout the morning talks. Tracy Osborn of Hello Web App & Wedding Lovely shared her most uncomfortable career moment, and how she and then listed resources for gathering info to prepare for your own negotiating or asking for a raise.

Highlight: “Don’t wait until you’re unhappy to become informed. Always know your position.” | “Reduce your excuses about asking for more money. Your excuses are keeping you in a comfortable but underpaid position.” | Slides 

Eleanor Whitney shared a bit about her path and how to leverage your side or passion project in your work life. I’m forever looking for ways to do that better, or at all. There are so many aspirational talks and articles written about this, but Eleanor really got down to the nitty gritty on how to make this happen. She finished by listing some questions we should be asking ourselves:

What is your passion project?
What is your vision?
What is your goal?
What is your next step?
Who is in your support network?

Highlight: “Work does not speak for itself. You have to share it.” | “Your experience is yours. No one will take that away from you. Own it. Make sure you talk about it.” | Slides

Impostor Syndrome Panel

Elise, Arti, Briana, & me | Ashley Bernard via Twitter

I moderated a panel during the first of the two breakout sessions: Overcoming Impostor Syndrome with Briana Morgan, Arti Walker-Peddakotla, and Elise Wei. It was a real pleasure to chat with these women. As the moderator, it felt more like a nice, honest conversation among friends… with an audience. I loved it. Attendees were also really comfortable spekaing up to ask their own questions of the panelists and to weigh in with their own experiences and suggestions. A+ for everyone, all around.

My FOMO got the best of me during the second breakout session, so I didn’t end up staying put in one session. I mean, how do you choose between Choosing Your Own (Career) Adventure, a Getting Started Speaking workshop, and a panel called Redefining Women in Tech?

Katherine McClintic shared a really interesting interdiscplinary look at how building software and thinking about user experience is a lot like instructional design. I was having some painful flashbacks to my student teaching days when she mapped out how to think about planning a new project can be aided by thinking of it as a unit plan made up of lesson plans. But it makes sense. We want to think about what the users are going to know, learn, and be able to do in any experience we provide, much like teachers plan what their students are going to know, learn, and be able to do at the end of a teaching unit. Slides

Yash Prabhu gave us all an in-depth look at how she prepares for talks she gives. She kept mentioning how meta it felt to be preparing to give a talk on how to prepare to give a talk.

Highlight: “Think of public speaking as nothing more than a large conversation. It doesn’t need to be scary.” | Slides

I’m pretty sure we all wanted to be BFFs with Adrienne Lowe after her talk, Bake the Cookies, Wear the Dress: Bringing Confident Authenticity to Your Tech Talk. I know I did. She’s got an amazing story, from being a personal chef to leading Django Girls workshops in Atlanta. I tried to take notes during her talk, but she was mesmerizing. I think I tweeted some lines, but honestly I was just rapt the whole time. Adrienne is the kind of person who makes you feel like you have something to say that needs to be shared with the world in the way that only you can.

Highlight: “Maybe she’s born with it. Maybe it’s… hard work and a lot of tears?” | “You’re already good enough. You’re so much more than ‘good enough.'” | “Sharing your life outside of tech makes you so much more approachable to beginners.”

I was really excited to see a talk on self-care and handling burnout on the agenda. These are things that I struggle with constantly, and though I do think I’ve been getting better at this, I apparently need to be reminded over and over again. Alicia Raciti also wrote a great post that includes some additional resources.  Slides

Chanelle Henry, who had MCed the whole event throughout the day, also gave the closing remarks. She gave a talk based on a Medium post she’d written awhile ago, called Is it Too Late to be Awesome? Spoiler alert: no.

Highlight: “Just because I didn’t complete something doesn’t mean I’m not finished with it.”

At the end of the day, I was struck by how the most powerful talks for me were all the most vulnerable. They shared embarrassing, difficult experiences, as well as triumphant ones, with such grace and candor. It’s really got me thinking about what sorts of ways I can contribute in an equally vulnerable and significant fashion in the future. I’m not sure what it will look like, but I have these speakers and the organizers to thank for it when it happens.

And, if you want to read more about it, here are recap posts by Joni TrythallErin Good, Eleanor Whitney and the Storify.

ELA Conf

ELA Conf via Twitter