Blog Feature: Interview with Maria Vallejo

Blog Feature: Interview with Maria Vallejo

So, last month Lauren and I received some surprise goodies in the mail from the sweetest lady and we posted this cutie goober pic of us rockin’ the gear:

Lauren Beacham and Brittany Elbourn of Yugen Tribe

The wonder woman who hooked us up is Maria Vallejo, the creative mind behind the Etsy shop IMadeDisStuffs located in Algonquin, Illinois. Diggin’ the gifts we got and her funny, adorable shop name, I looked more into her “stuffs” and loved what I saw – whimsically cosmic scarves, scrunchies and headbands, oh my! This, in turn, made me want to get to know Maria better, so I reached out about doing a feature on her, and she was incredibly tickled about the offer. Her enthusiasm literally jumped off the computer screen, into my soul, and completely infected me. In the best possible way, of course.

I know I always say that I enjoy reading the responses of the people I interview, and I truly do, but Maria’s answers made me laugh, tear up, holler at Lauren “Oh my gawd, listen to this…!” and, honestly, feel all happy and shiny inside. I seriously think Maria and I could be great, great friends, and I’m incredibly delighted by what I have learned about her through this process. The candor of her disclosures touched me deeply, and I respect the hell out of her transparency. Thank you, Maria, for sending us some of your awesome pieces and setting this kismet connection into motion. You are one badass babe!

I’m sure once you read this post about Maria, you’ll want to immediately check out her creative vibes, so I’ll post all of her info at the end so you can go support her endeavors. Do it, do it, do it.

Naturally, I was curious as to how Maria got into sewing in the first place. She says that her interest in sewing was a two-part spark. One being her obsession with the sassy show Project Runway, and the other being inspiration from her step-kiddos and students who were teaching themselves skills through online tutorials. YouTube: the jack-of-all-teachers for millenials. Maria took an intro sewing course at JoAnn Fabrics to really get the ball rollin’, and received further hands-on instruction from her step-daughter who “knew how to thread a mean bobbin.” With practice, practice, and more practice, Maria got the knack of it and off she went!

Maria’s creativity doesn’t stop with the wearable goods she makes for her Etsy shop. She says she also loves to draw with pastels, charcoal, and colored pencils. She’s a woman of written word, as well, which I can clearly see as I eat up her eloquent responses. Admitting that she has always felt a compulsion for being creative in some way, shape or form, she shares, “Along the many detours of exploration my life has taken, I went to cosmetology school back in the day, so I enjoy getting my hands in the hairs from time to time.” Girl, get them on these shabby strands, puhleeease!

As if all of the above mentioned isn’t impressive enough, Maria is an elementary school teacher [👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏]. She brazenly discloses that this year, she unexpectedly lost her former teaching position of four years right before she was supposed to get tenure. This was a very sorrowful shock to her, and she adds, “To say I was (and still am) heart-broken is the understatement of the century. I LOVE TEACHING. Kids are the best humans, and I worked hard to get where I was, having put myself through graduate school while working full-time and always researching and connecting to other authors and educators to seek out the best for my kids.” [👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏]

What brought me to tears (and cheers!) is what she shares next. Apparently, this news was also an unpleasant, unexpected surprise for the community Maria teaches in, and they LITERALLY CAME OUT AND FOUGHT FOR HER. The parents got together and wrote up a petition against the decision, sending letters to district representatives. These parents, along with some of her former students, attended the school board meeting and advocated for Maria to be reinstated in her position. Although their heart-warming collective efforts did not yield the result everyone hoped for, Maria sweetly admits, “The meetings always get posted on YouTube, and I watch it whenever I’m feeling overcome with self-doubt. These families blew me away, and made me feel truly loved, seen and appreciated in such an incredibly deep way.” Oh Luna, pass the tissues!

Continuing with Maria’s beautifully bewildering honesty, she openly speaks about her personal struggle with mental health; and more specifically, her warfare with anxiety disorder, intrusive thoughts OCD, and sporadic bouts of depression. As someone who is constantly fighting her own head-space foes, I read this and felt an immediate kinship. Maria pretty much takes the words right out of my mouth when she says, “Most people, from the outside, have no idea that I’m battling my own self internally, pretty much every minute of every day. My overly active mind questions and analyzes and obsesses over everything. It’s exhausting.”

Yes, yes it is.

With a little help from her cat, yoga, and Xanax, Maria tackles the daily grind with fiery feminine finesse. She also attributes therapy, practicing mindfulness, and creating as lifelines for learning coping skills; and ultimately, sharing the benefits of these techniques with others in need. Maria tugs at my heartstrings when she expresses, “Struggling and dealing with these disorders has allowed me to be truly empathetic to and understanding of my students’ emotional and mental states, and connect with them on a deeply respectful level. If there’s any silver-lining to the battleground that is my brain, that would be it.” This sentiment genuinely resonates with me because I absolutely (and humbly) believe that my own hardships continue to shape me into someone who sees the world, and its inhabitants, much differently than others. You are my tribe, Maria, and you are incredibly powerful and purposeful.

Maria’s contagious compassion is even more evident when she answers questions relating to personal hopes and dreams, and global good vibes for humanity as a whole. I love that she begins her commentary with, “Oh god, hold my beer...where do I even start?” Little humorous bits like this are peppered all throughout her replies, and this definitely amplifies the soul sista factor. Her overall answer is so good that I’m just going to share the whole dang thing in its entirety: “For my personal dream, I hope to be teaching workshops for kids, working for myself, growing my I Made Dis business into a nice, steady, reliable income, and writing and publishing someday. As far as humanity goes...whoa. HELLO EQUAL RIGHTS FOR EVERYONE, no matter your ethnicity, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, race and everything else! I mean, how are we not there yet?!? I want money and politics NOT to be intertwined. I want honesty, truth and integrity to be present ALWAYS amongst humans and their choices. I want product testing on animals to stop. I want everyone to be fed, sheltered, clothed, and loved. I want everyone to respect nature. I want us to clean up and respect this amazing planet. I know -- these are lofty and incredibly idealistic (which is depressing in and of itself), but one can hope, right?”

All I can say to that is: MARIA VALLEJO FOR PRESIDENT 2020! Lauren and I could not have said it better ourselves, love. Keep shining brightly and fighting the good fight! We’re right there with you!

A popular question of mine to pose is about favorite celestial bodies – because space, duh. Maria is adorable when she chooses the Moon, but prefaces it by saying it’s probably a boring choice. No way, ladybug! We love, love, love the Moon. Maria, like many other Moonheads, finds the shining orb to be a comforting presence. She elaborates, “Since it’s the one thing I can consistently see with the naked eye, it’s my constant connection to the cosmos.” Other honorable mentions go to Jupiter, Saturn, and Pluto because “they’re so gorgeous and mysterious, and we’re still learning so much about them.” I have to acknowledge that Maria commented on Instagram about the post I wrote about Jupiter a few weeks ago, expressing that she found it to be humorous and educational, which I thought was really cool!

Nebulae rank high with Maria, as well, and this response made me chuckle, “Nebulas in general are just rad – the places where stars are born? Yes!” She provides a meaningful mention about our boy Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson by sharing her thoughts after watching his show Cosmos, “...I truly started feeling more connected to the Universe. He made difficult concepts easier to grasp, and taught me how we are literally made of star stuff. Like, that’s insanely cool and blows my mind every time I think about it.” We share your wide-eyed wonderment, Maria, and also think Neil is the bee’s knees.

Being starstruck by Dr. Tyson trickles over into a hypothetical dinner party that Maria will be throwing. Her first guest got it! “Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson please now, now please, now, and thank you,” Maria begs. She has a mental list of questions (maybe even a hard copy somewhere?) prepared for the man who has taught her so much about infinity and beyond. Oh wait, that’s Buzz Lightyear, but still! Next on the list is the internet sensation Jenna Marbles because Maria finds her to be utterly amusing, and she likes her doggos. Dogs for the win!

Third up is the renowned J.K. Rowling so that Maria can dive into and swim around her magical mind. Her fourth guest made me sheepishly reminisce about my nerdy 5th grader crush on...Yanni. Yes, Yanni. While other tweens were beboppin’ to New Kids on the Block, I was making up interpretative choreo to contemporary instrumental music. Looking back, it was clear pretty early on that I’m an old soul who dances to the beat of my own drum. Maria and I really must be kindred spirits because she gushes, “I’ve been obsessed with his music since the 7th grade and have seen him in concert seven times, I believe. His music helps calm my anxious mind, and I look up to him for his creative and peaceful insights.” Last but not least, Stephen Colbert makes the cut. Maria appreciates his hilarity, intelligence and know-all about The Lord of the Rings series and Tolkien’s universe, which she also loves.

Along similar lines, Maria gives grateful shout outs to some people who inspire her, all of which are fellow authors. Jess Keating’s IG and Twitter accounts are chock full of daily reminders in mindfulness and creativity, and Maria says, “She is SO GENEROUS with the tips and artistic insights she gives, and they are always soul food. I’ve told her she’s my Obi-Wan.” Lindsay Currie is another person who Maria feels has been very supportive and encouraging during the hardship of losing her job. Lindsay has been planting the seedling notions of options and opportunity in Maria’s consciousness, and “her writing and perseverance in pursuing her heart projects are also inspirational.”

Author Abby Cooper openly and graciously displays her creative process to the world, which helps jump-start Maria’s artistic juju when she wants to get in the groove because Abby is “so effervescent and enthusiastic.” Jarrett Lerner’s daily art, creating and support are also very important to Maria and worth mentioning. She says that she started communicating with these fine folks because she loves their work, emphasizing, “ the process, I found friends that probably have no idea how much they’ve inspired and impacted my life.”

I’m always curious which Yugen pieces speak to the people I’m interviewing, so Maria shared some of her favorites: “My Trifid nebula and Spiral Cluster earrings, along with my Jellyfish nebula ring, are pieces I wear the most often. I had the adjustable Moon Phase cuff and LOVED it, and wore it so much I lost it. DOH! I did just receive in the mail your adjustable Solar System cuff, and girl! It is BEAUTIFUL!” Both these Yugen ladies thank you for the kind words, Maria – we love to hear feedback about what we crank out in the studio! And, of course, I wanted to also know about Maria’s favorite handmade pieces that she has brought to life, including, “...single wrap infinity scarves in any of my galaxy/cosmos fabric and my ‘pretty sweary’ headbands”, which we adore!

What an immeasurably enjoyable experience it has been featuring the talented Maria Vallejo. If it isn’t already glaringly apparent that she is beautiful inside and out, then you’re blind and all hope is lost for you! I kid, I kid. But really, I tend to feel drained after writing such an in-depth piece about someone and putting so much of my own soul into it; but today I feel uplifted and blessed that our journeys have become intertwined. I can only imagine the impact you make on the people directly in your loving line of fire, Maria. Thank you, thank you, thank you for being such a spectacularly surprising and strong woman, and for sharing your story with all of us. I’m definitely a better person for it. Hugs!

(Ring can be found here!)

Want to help Maria’s hopes and dreams come true? Of course you do! Check out her stuffs and support her small business:

Facebook: @imadedisstuffs
Etsy: I Made Dis Stuffs
Instagram: @mariacmeow


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