Lessons from A Year of Living Offline

Taxi boats on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala

As I looked up some beading instructions on the blog this week, I realized an entire year has passed without a post. Wow! An entire year! With my move to central Mexico in the rear-view mirror, I decided to pop in with a quick update. Here are a few things I learned in my Year of Living Offline.


Life is not a Blog Post

With friends in a village in Costa Rica

After 10+ years of blogging about fiber art, creativity and life in general, I needed a break. I needed to get back to experiencing life full on instead of looking at everything as blog fodder. No step outs, no carefully curated sequences. Just life as it happened.


Sharing a laugh with Becca and Nico

It wasn’t easy. I took some amazing trips. A textiles tour to Guatemala and a teaching trip to Costa Rica were just some of the very “blog worthy” events in my year. Learning to put the phone/camera down and just “be there” was – and is – a big challenge. Learning to capture the moment without having my brain in blogging mode? Priceless!


Taming the “Should Monster” is Tough

Twenty years of running my own business left me with a lot of habits (mostly good) and an annoying pile of “shoulds” that have been hard to release. I should be working. I should be connecting with my readers – at least once a week. I should be creating the next online course. I should

The one thing that was missing from the list? That I really should quit “shoulding on myself!” 

I know I’m not alone in having an overactive “should monster” sitting on my shoulder whispering not-so-sweet guilt-inducing nothings in my ear. But there are times when you have to say Stop! As in Enough Already!

What I really needed was a complete break from my entrenched routine. Time to rest. Time to nest. Time to consider what next.


Nesting Takes Time

After years of living in a typical American home, our move to a (small) castle in central Mexico has been an adventure. Different country, different culture and a totally different style of house called for some serious nesting.


Shopping in Antigua, Guatemala

Some folks can decorate a home in short order. I’m not one of them. That and the fact that I’m getting fussy about bringing more stuff into my life. I prefer to find a few treasures that really speak to me and carry good memories from my adventures.


The master bedroom gets a new look

The bedspread from Guatemala looks great in the master bedroom. It’s beautiful with the embroidery/bark art lamps and the tapestry from Aztec Studio in the neighboring community of Ajijic.


A beautiful rug and the maker, Panajachel, Guatemala

One of the highlights of the Guatemala textiles tour was meeting the rug hookers from MultiColores in Panajachel. This beautiful rug graces my living room and is a daily reminder of a delightful trip. (If you want to know more, pick up a copy of Rug Money by Cheryl Conway-Daly and Mary Anne Wise. It’s a fabulous story!)


Look ma, no more beige!

When we moved, I shipped my well-loved dining room table and chairs to our home in Chapala. But those beige chairs… ahem… did not exactly fit in their new environment. 

The style of the chairs is still not exactly what one would choose for a castle, but they look a lot more at home dressed up in Guatemalan ikat!

Taking a year away from my work for nesting has been good for me. The house is becoming a home, and I’ve had plenty to time ponder the future.


What’s Next?

During my year-long break, I spent a lot of time thinking about my art, my blog, my teaching and how they fit into my new life. Do I continue? Do I pack it all up and move on? Does it matter to anyone other than me?

I don’t have all the answers, but some things are becoming clear.


Finishing up with StarFlower 3

First, my art is not optional. I’m happy to report that I am back in the studio painting, stitching and beading to my heart’s content. I just finished up the third piece in my StarFlower series with a goal of having at least 8 pieces finished by this time next year.

Second, this blog is a tremendous resource for me, even if no one else ever looks at it. It has been the record of my learning from 20 years of playing with paintstiks. It captured the history of Cedar Canyon Textiles and the adventure of taking the Paintstiks into the quilting market. It has served as my studio notebook as I made strides in my personal art work. And I like to believe that it has inspired a few of my friends and readers in their own creative pursuits.

Finally, teaching is not something I can just quit. It’s part of my makeup. I’m blessed with a God-given skill for breaking things down into step-by-step doable bits and making them easy for others to understand and do.

That said…

There is a lot to be said for living offline. Fewer deadlines, less pressure, and the luxury of being without constantly observing and documenting.

As I settle into this new chapter in my life, I’m still pondering. Is there a way to bring teaching and blogging back into my life in a manner that works for me now? 

Are You Living Offline?

Lest I bore you to tears with my musings, I’d love to hear your thoughts. How do you balance your “real life” and your “online life?” Do our ever-present online connections add value to your real life?



  1. Judith Johnston on August 20, 2019 at 4:32 pm

    There you are! I have emailed you twice asking if you are ok! Something told me to pull up your site just now to find that all is well with you! So glad you took a sabbatical to relax and settle into your new home.
    Nothing more to say now but welcome back and…ask permission before you head out next time. 😁

    • ShellyStokes on August 21, 2019 at 4:34 pm

      Thanks, Judith! I enjoyed reading your notes even if I was not feeling chatty. 😉

  2. Chris Beussink on August 21, 2019 at 4:51 pm


    Pop into us at times and let us know how you and Jack are doing. Enjoy!!
    Chris Beussink, St Louis.

    • ShellyStokes on August 21, 2019 at 6:34 pm

      Thanks, Chris. I’ll do that. 😁

  3. Ann Thompson on August 21, 2019 at 5:09 pm

    What a delightful year you’ve had! Thanks for the update. I had become concerned about you. I’m grateful that all is well…very well.

    • ShellyStokes on August 21, 2019 at 6:47 pm

      Very well indeed, Ann. Everything, including Jack’s health, has turned out far better than I could have hoped for. We are truly blessed.

  4. Linda on August 21, 2019 at 5:24 pm

    Love love your work! I can’t wait to meet you (again) when I visit in Nov. meantime, happy creating!

    • ShellyStokes on August 21, 2019 at 6:47 pm

      Fantastic! I love having visitors in Chapala.

  5. Nikki Goldman on August 21, 2019 at 5:38 pm

    Hi Shelly,

    I was just thinking about you last week when I came across a pile of Cedar Canyon rubbing plates in my craft stacks. Glad to hear you are enjoying life and settling in well. I’m looking forward to future updates about life in Chapala and how all your beading, painting, and stitching projects are coming along. Love all the colorful pictures.

    Good to hear from you — don’t wait a year for the next newsletter!!

    Santa Fe, NM

    • ShellyStokes on August 21, 2019 at 6:36 pm

      Thanks, Nikki. It feels good to be back in a more relaxed frame of mind — and back in the studio. I’m having a wonderful time with my Paint, Stitch, Bead adventures. My 20-year apprenticeship with the Paintstiks is finally paying off!

  6. Aviva Nizani on August 21, 2019 at 5:55 pm

    Hi Shelly,
    I was so happy to get your email.
    I have google searched you a few times, hoping everything is good with you and Jack.
    Keep your readers and admirers posted from time to time. Please😊
    I wish i could join the Guatemala’s textile trip. Will it be offered again?
    Have a wonderful vacation,

    • ShellyStokes on August 21, 2019 at 6:42 pm

      I don’t know if Multicolores is doing a general Textiles tour again any time soon, but they run a Rug Hooking tour each February. I’m going back down on the tour in Feb 2020.

      There may be one or two spaces left on the tour. You can find out more at Cheryl Conway would be the person to contact at Multicolores. Their contact form is at

  7. Sandy on August 21, 2019 at 6:36 pm

    Glad you are doing so well and relaxing! I like emails that give me great ideas. Keep on keeping on !

    • ShellyStokes on August 21, 2019 at 6:45 pm

      Thanks Sandy. It’s good to be here because I want to be here — not because I feel like I should be here…

  8. Renee Darkis on August 21, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    Will there ever be a chance for classes at your new neighborhood

    • ShellyStokes on August 22, 2019 at 8:43 pm

      Thanks for your note, Renee. There is, indeed, a chance that I will offer classes in Chapala. At the moment, in-person classes sound much more appealing than teaching online.

  9. Mags Bonham on August 21, 2019 at 9:12 pm

    SO good to see you back blogging. I just started a project using paint sticks and were thinking about you when the email popped up.
    You have had an incredible year. I love how you are decorating the Castle with such wonderful pieces. It’s hard to believe it has been a year since you moved. Can’t wait to hear about the adventures that are before you. You get to start from scratch and reinvent yourself if you wish.
    I hope our paths pass again soon.

    • ShellyStokes on August 22, 2019 at 8:50 pm

      Hola amiga — a big huge hug for you! It has indeed been a magical year. Not without it’s challenges, but overall we landed in a good spot. Reinventing is a good way to describe what I’ve been going through. It is sooooo much easier to just keep on doing the same thing. When you step away… Let’s just say that it’s more than a little bit uncomfortable. The key is to be able to put up with the discomfort long enough to get to the other side. 😉

  10. Ellen Finan on August 22, 2019 at 12:12 am

    Thank you for your update. I am glad to hear you are happy and settled in in your new castle. I once visited Ajijic in the late 70s– a special place. You sound as enthusiastic about your art as ever. Best if luck in your new world.

    • ShellyStokes on August 22, 2019 at 8:51 pm

      Thanks, Ellen. Chapala/Ajijic really is a special place. You probably wouldn’t recognize it now, but I’m glad you had the chance to visit.

  11. Annick Cottom on August 22, 2019 at 5:26 am

    So glad you enjoyed your time offline and are feeling refreshed. I think it’s very adventurous to move to another country and begin a new life; I loved reading all about your move to your new home. There are rumours here in the UK that Markal oil paintsticks will be going out of production; No…..! I love these art materials. I look forward to reading your news in the future.

    • ShellyStokes on August 22, 2019 at 8:53 pm

      Oh my, Annick. I will have to check in on the Paintstiks with my former supplier. It would be awful to have them go away! It may be a case of them no longer producing them under the Markal name. Shiva/Markal are just two different names for the same thing. As long as one is out there, we’re good!

  12. Marlene Clausen on August 22, 2019 at 9:55 am

    So good to see your name in my inbox! Over the (really! a year?) the past year, I have wondered and hoped all was well with you. Although tempted to send an email, I resisted as I have lived the vacation and being “off the grid” is marvelous. I have no great insights on what you should do. I have one thought and that is if blogging is your record of your journey, then write the blog. You don’t have to hit the “send” button. Or, compile them as a diary and hit send once a year. You don’t feel compelled to write because no one “out there” is “waiting on” the next post. You only need to feel compelled to record the steps of your journey for you. As for the rest? You will find the answer as you reflect and work and create. Living the life of manana takes away so much needless urgency in life and leaves time for deeper and more meaning ful reflection and FUN!

    • ShellyStokes on August 22, 2019 at 8:56 pm

      Thank you for your kind words of wisdom, Marlene. Getting over the “shoulds” and feeling obligated to others has been a tough go for me. I’m delighted to be back in a place of doing this because it makes me happy — and not worrying about the rest.

  13. vivian helena on August 22, 2019 at 9:56 am

    Good to see you back. I had a friend that went to Mexico also, an artist. Was there several years and not sure why she returned to the U.S. Think it was grand kids etc. Many eons ago a girl friend and I traveled the Colonial area, with back packs and a camera. Great fun and had always hoped to live in San Mig. at sometime. But I am sure it has lost the feeling of an artists heaven that it had then. Especially I hear there is a Starbucks. Not my thing. Living in Mexico time, and the “music ” and constant holidays will be so different. And lots of interesting adventures. Enjoy and glad to see you are back!

    • ShellyStokes on August 22, 2019 at 9:00 pm

      Thanks, Vivian. It’s pretty common for folks to move from the US, Canada (or elsewhere) and then move back a while later. Settling into a new country for the long term is not for everyone, especially if you have strong family ties. I have no idea where I’ll be 5 or 10 years from now, but that’s okay. We’re happy for now, and enjoying the adventure.

  14. Felicia Morales on August 22, 2019 at 10:53 am

    Hello , happy to hear from you again . Iam in a similar situation in muy life, so thank you for sharing you experience with us. I from Costa Rica , can’t believe you were here, teaching where? Me encanta tu trabajo , lo conocí en un lugar llamado El Costurero, que lastimosamente cerró. Ahí recibí un curso de Quilt Creativo y nos enseñaron algunas de tus tecnicas, es uno de mis quilts preferidos. Si volves a Costa Rica me encantaría participar en las clases y recibirte en mi casa . Muchas gracias por compartir con todas nosotras tus enseñanzas y tu vida, un abrazo , Felicia Morales. .Pura vida !!!

    • ShellyStokes on August 22, 2019 at 9:06 pm

      Hola Felicia. Gracias por sus amables palabras sobre mi arte. Mi viaje de enseñanza no estaba relacionado con colchas o arte. Estaba ayudando a un amigo con un proyecto diferente. ¡Si vuelvo a Costa Rica, te lo haré saber!

  15. Connie M Gratias on August 23, 2019 at 11:57 pm

    I’m so happy for you and your new “less pressured” life. The new Starflower series looks wonderful. Keep avoiding the shoulds!! Miss you!

    • ShellyStokes on August 28, 2019 at 6:43 pm

      I miss you too, Connie. If I get back up to Alex before we head back home, I’ll let you know. 🙂

  16. Jane Lillestol on August 24, 2019 at 11:39 am

    Shelly –

    Loved the latest chapter in your “Book of Life!” And the chairs are fantastic!

    This has been a year of dramatic change and reflection for me as well. In the five years since Harvey died, I’ve moved three times, lived out of my car (sort of) for the summer of 2016, met Bob the Boyfriend, and merged three households into one. (How many salad spinners do two people really need?)

    I also gave up teaching online, which I miss, but love the lack of structure it brought me. And as I come to the end of tweaking/redecorating my newest home, I’ve shifted into more time for reflection. What the heck should I being doing that is not only meaningful to myself, but also to others?

    Carl Sandburg said, “Nothing happens unless first a dream.”

    And so I’m back to flinging fabric around (after organizing my drastically reduced studio space), discovering new friends and expressing my appreciation to individuals who have touched my life in a meaningful way.

    You are certainly one of them – thank you!

    • ShellyStokes on August 28, 2019 at 6:45 pm

      Nothing like company in the topsy-turvy lane, Jane! I’m glad that you’re settling into a smaller footprint. That has to be a relief. I’m honored that you and our amigas in the D.I.V.A.S. have been a part of my life. You certainly made my life in Alex much fuller.

  17. Joan Kayser on August 26, 2019 at 4:04 pm

    I’m glad to hear from you again, I missed your wonderful textiles and how-to’s. I think taking the year off was a good thing. I sometimes need to step away from hectic schedules to recharge my creative juices. I love your blog and would hate for you to give it up, from my selfish perspective, but perhaps choosing to blog once a quarter, with lots of photos!!? You are a natural teacher and your art is truly extraordinary, but I agree finding a balance in your new life will be a challenge, best of luck with whateer you choose and many blessings!

    • ShellyStokes on August 28, 2019 at 6:47 pm

      Thanks for your note, Joan. It has been a good year for recharging, and we are enjoying our visit to Minnesota immensely. I’m looking forward to whatever is next, even if I’m not sure what it is just yet!

  18. Deb on September 1, 2019 at 10:03 am

    Hi Shelly
    I’ve always loved your updates and not to make you guilty, I’ve missed them. Your adventures sound amazing and I’m glad you’re happy!
    My husband and I will soon be making a move and staying for a while with our daughter and our grandson! I can’t wait! All that to say I needed to choose a project that would be easy to put away when our little guy is up and running around. I’ve decided to do a paint+stitch+bead and I have a question. Do you stitch just outside the painted area or through the paint? Thanks for your help and I look forward to seeing where you go from here literally and artistically.

    • ShellyStokes on September 1, 2019 at 11:04 am

      Thanks for your note, Deb. I’m delighted that you are enjoying the paint+stitch+bead technique.

      Regarding your question, I’ll fall back on “it depends.” Much of my stitching is done on the edge of the paint, but not all of it. When I make Chainstitch bands, the first line of chain stitches is right at the edge of the paint, but the 2nd and 3rd lines are stitched in the painted shapes. Any time I use the o-beads, the stitching is inside the painted shapes. If you go to the blog and look at the posts related to hand stitching you can get a good idea of when I stitch inside the paint.

      I generally have a limited amount of space between the painted elements, so that limits how much stitching can be done along the edges of each shape. I’m still learning as I work on each piece, so I generally do whatever works.

      • Deb on September 2, 2019 at 9:45 am

        Thank you Shelly. That makes perfect sense. I’m anxious to get started.
        Enjoy your travels!