Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011 Recap

Wow, I feel like I have a lot to catch up on! I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving (that is, if you celebrate). I feel especially blessed because I got to see extended family three different times in one week! 

We traveled to my in-laws in Pennsylvania last Saturday for our annual pre-Thanksgiving dinner at Nana's house. We had a great time, as always, and got to catch up with the Ohl folks, minus a few who couldn't be there. We missed you Statler's and Maney's! We definitely missed Pop-pop too. It not the same without him.

Alex and David and of course the jackalope.

After dinner, it was time to make s'mores. Nana builds a mean fire! Yikes! 

Cousins, Bruce (with fierce marshmallow roasting face), Alex and Andrew.

Just before we headed back home, I got to see my in-law's new neighbors. Some colorful fluffy chickens! As you can see, they're running away from me. Maybe next time I'll catch one.

We spent Thanksgiving day at my Sister's house.

My niece Emma

and my nephew Elijah. I made them pose like this. Literally. Isn't it sweet? You'll never see this happen again.

The Burke sisters, who could very well pass for triplets! They are a lot of fun. When it was time for dessert, we had an entire table full of pies and cakes! Yum.

On Friday (black Friday), I didn't go near a mall or store. No crowds or stampedes for me! I headed to Niagara Falls to visit my Aunt, Uncles and cousins. It was great to see them. I just wish I took more photos of everybody. We were too busy enjoying good food, conversation and playing with the kids.

I did catch a couple of my adorable little cousin, Lucy, who just started walking! What a cutie pie!

Meanwhile, Andrew went back to Pennsylvania for the annual pre-hunting season kick-off man's weekend (plus Nana). Here's a clip of the kinds of things they were up to. In other words, riding 4-wheelers, target practice and blowing things up (barrels). Oh, and eating deep fried anything. That about sums it up. Sorry this video clip is sideways. It took us long enough just to figure out how to edit and upload it! Hope it gives you a laugh. As you can tell, they were having a great time!

A great week for both of us! I am truly thankful for my wonderful family and friends, both near and far.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving 2011

Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; 
Ephesians 5:20

Every year, I think of this table in the house I grew up in, and sitting around it with my family, giving thanks and sharing an amazing meal prepared by my Mom. More important than the food or the location, are the people in my life who mean so much to me. Wherever you are today, I hope you know how much you are loved and how thankful I am for you. I'm also thankful for the love of my Savior, Jesus Christ, and the life He has so richly blessed me with.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

This is a pretty lousy photo of some pretty amazing muffins (taken with my phone). Please don't judge them by the way the look. If you like pumpkin and you like chocolate chips, you will love these. I adapted it from this recipe for Downeast Maine Pumpkin Bread that Jon (baker extraordinaire) recommended. If you're looking for a delicious treat or a last minute Thanksgiving dessert, these will not disappoint. I've been eating them for breakfast :) 

1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup water
3 cups white sugar
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 bag of mini chocolate chips (or more to your liking)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line muffin pans with muffin papers.
2. In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water and sugar until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended. Fold in chocolate chips. Divide into lined muffin pan.
3. Bake about 20 minutes in preheated oven, or until muffins are golden and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. 

*I also made mini muffins with a mini muffin pan and papers. These only need about 15 minutes to bake. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Phoenix Art Museum

While I was in Arizona, I visited the Phoenix Art Museum. I was excited it was nearby the convention center where I was attending the design conference, so I decided to walk there when I had a couple hours to myself. It was near lunch time, the sun was bright overhead (as it is everyday in Arizona) and I set out on my journey.

However, it happened to be 98 degrees and rising (literally), as I walked down the sidewalk, lugging a tote bag filled with papers, my camera AND my purse. I started to question the 1.5 mile walk, seeking the shade of every building I could. But I had already committed. I wanted to go to the art gallery. I must press on.

At last, I reached the gallery and it was air conditioned!

It was worth the sweat I broke, because I got to see some real art. Framed masterpieces by famous artists throughout the centuries. Not computer generated imposters or calendar reproductions. 

They have quite a collection of western American art. 

European and American pieces, straight out of art history.

Georgia O'Keeffe

Modern sculptures

Contemporary art

They even had this piece, which I immediately recognized as "Panther Devouring a Hare" by Antoine Louis Barye. Gruesome, I know, but this was one of the first pieces I had to memorize in Art History 101, and for whatever reason, it just stuck with me. With a name and visual like that, it's hard to forget!

And best of all, this beautiful Monet. 

The gallery was quite large with an extensive collection. If you ever have the chance, I recommend going. As a designer, it was so inspiring to walk around a gallery, by myself, taking time to admire at each piece. Taking it all in. Enormous paintings. Intricate sculptures. Detailed drawings. The color. The texture. The light. The form. Artists with talent beyond my comprehension. It felt good to stand face to face with "real" art, instead of behind a computer monitor using a mouse to control line and color. These artists dipped brushes into paint and hand depicted every line and shadow. No live trace, Photoshop, or scanners. They did it the hard way. The real way. Today, we have so many shortcuts and quick fixes literally at our fingertips. Real art takes time and dedication to craft. Sometimes that's easy to forget. 

I think I need to visit galleries more often.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Today, I'm going to steal borrow my home-girl Kimi's blog confession topic, and talk about appearances. My confession: I don't have it all together. I know, some of you may find this surprising. KIDDING. This also ties into a conversation that Andrew and I had the other day about insecurities. I have insecurities. A list of them. Try as I may, or pretend as I may, I'm not perfect. Nobody is. And like Kimi said, it's easy to stalk read blogs, Facebook or look at your group of friends and think that they have it all together. The perfect house. The perfect job. The perfect family. The perfect clothes. Once you walk down the comparison lane, it's a dead end to discontentment. 

So, I'm here to confess a few things that make me human, flawed, and just plain a little crazy from time to time. See that sweet little kitten up there? Sometimes I look more like the lion staring you down in the mirror. Not so sweet or cuddly. 

I am a bit of a neat freak. I like my house to look a certain way (like a page from Better Homes and Gardens) and I go to great lengths to keep it looking that way (most of the time). Despite living with a messy roommate husband who is not as concerned with housekeeping as I am. It is a bit of a challenge. And I know it drives him nuts.

Which brings me to the fact that I am a very impatient person. I like things done. Now. Not 10 minutes from now. Not 2 days from now. Now. And on top of that, I shouldn't have even had to ask you to do it. You should just know to do it. How's that for crazy? 

I tend to be a "keeper" of things. Not by any means a hoarder, I just have a hard time letting go of things that may come in handy in the future. It's the curse of a creative mind. For example, I might keep an empty oatmeal container to use as a storage can for something, even though I already have 5 of them. Or the box that something came in, just in case I ever need to pack it back up again. Or the empty milk jug to use for a craft. And don't get me started about saving plastic bags. I guess it's the packaging designer in me. Can'

I am stubborn. I admit it. Very stubborn. The same 4 year old that told her parents they could spank her and she wouldn't cry, still lives inside of me. I have a very difficult time admitting when I am wrong. That poses some challenges when you're married. Thankfully, Andrew is more patient than I am. We have arguments and we disagree at times, but we always work it out and forgive each other. 

I am mildly obsessed with clothes and usually have to be "put together" before I leave the house. I rarely go anywhere without makeup on. And forget going shopping in sweats. I just feel "undone" if I throw something on to go out anywhere. And then, without fail, I will run into someone I know, and regret not being more put together. I like fashion and I like looking nice. All the time. Is that a crime? Perhaps it's a bit high maintenance. 

Which brings me to insecurities. I care too much about what people think. I want people to like me. I want to appear "cool" and "put together" even if I'm not. I worry that I might say the wrong thing. Or not be outgoing or funny enough. I worry that I'm too quiet. I tend to be more of an introvert. I worry that I'm not a good enough wife/sister/daughter/friend/artist. Insecurities can drive you crazy - if you let them. 

Now that I've shared a few confessions of my own, I hope you see a little more of the real me. I don't have it all figured out. I have freak outs and meltdowns and bad days. I also have so much to be thankful for and so much good in my life. Which I attribute to a loving God who accepts me as I am, and cares for me just the same. I also have a husband and family that loves me and friends that I cherish. What more could I ask for? 

Thanks for the great topic Kimi :) 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Pivot: AIGA Design Conference, Phoenix, Arizona

Last month, I attended the Pivot Design Conference, presented by the American Institute for Graphic Arts (AIGA).

The three day event took place in Phoenix, Arizona at the Phoenix Convention Center, which has a reputation for being one of the "greenest" convention facilities in North America. The building, which spanned both sides of the street, was beautiful. Glass panels brought in lots of natural light.

I especially liked the enormous looking glass mirror that reflected the West atrium and projected the words, "Art is a guaranty of sanity." An interesting thought.

The conference offered a robust schedule of main stage speakers, workshops and smaller sessions, throughout Thursday, Friday and Saturday. It was nice to be able to pick and choose topics that interested me. The smaller venues were first come, first serve though, so I had to make sure to get a seat! 

The main auditorium sessions filled with 1,500 designers from all over and 100+ speakers and guests. Most of the speakers were new to me.

Naturally, there were cool graphics, great visuals and printed materials.

Katie Salen, from the Institute of Play, spoke about gaming and design, particularly within school settings and learning environments. 

Dondeena Bradley, vice president of global design and development for nutrition ventures, at Pepsi, spoke about the importance of communicating nutritional messages better, which is something that design can impact.

Throughout the conference, the "Command X" competition was going on. Designers were selected to take on design challenges and compete for both prize money and the glory of winning. It was fun to watch and vote for your favorite. 

Jonathan Hoefler, typeface designer, famous for designing Hoefler Type, among other well-known fonts, spoke about the need to design type for new platforms. The web, smart phones, electronic readers and other devices interpret fonts differently, thus they need to be designed differently. 

Lesley Mottla, from Zipcar, presented the need to design the entire customer experience, from start to finish. She talked about the innovative ways that Zipcar has changed the how people can rent vehicles.

I really enjoyed the presentation by brothers, Bill and Jim Moran from the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum. 1.5 million pieces of wood type, in more than 1,000 styles and sizes, housed in the original printing building in Wisconsin. They offer tours and printing and members can rent studio time. It was inspiring to take a look back at wood type and "old fashioned" printing, and see how far type has come. 

These were just a few of the many speakers and topics presented at Pivot. An overarching theme woven throughout the conference, was AIGA's "Design for Good" campaign, encouraging designers to impact their communities through design, using our creative talents to address community needs. Also, changing the way we think about "pro bono" which really means "for good." 

Another theme was a shift from designing "things" and "tangible objects" to designing experiences and focusing on the customer journey. Moving from merely functionality, to desirability. Tuning into what people really want, and creating a connection between people and your brand. 

I am really glad I had the opportunity to attend my first big design conference. I met some fellow designers, Amy Kress from Booz Allen Hamilton, and Katie Annis McLaughlin from Hart Associates. It was great to learn what other designers are doing and what their jobs are like. It's inspiring to hear what's going on in the design world as a whole and gain a new perspective as well as a greater appreciation for what I do on a daily basis. It was also pretty cool to be in a room with 1,500 other designers who know what it's like, speak the design "lingo" and understand the challenges and victories we all face. Designers unite!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Broccoli-Cheese Soup

The Pioneer Woman strikes again! This time with her recipe for Broccoli Cheese Soup. Talk about delicious and easy to make! Andrew loved this stuff! I love soup of all kinds, but Andrew usually says they're too "thin and broth-y." He likes soups that are thick and chunky. Clam chowder. Broccoli cheese. You know, the ones with the most calories. This one was a hit! I served it in little bread bowls, like Ree suggested. Even better!


1 whole Onion, Diced 
1 stick 1/2 Cup Butter 
1/3 cup Flour 
4 cups Whole Milk 
2 cups Half-and-half 
4 heads Broccoli Cut Into Florets 
1 pinch Nutmeg 
3 cups Grated Cheese (mild Cheddar, Sharp Cheddar, Jack, Etc.) 
Small Dash Of Salt (more If Needed) 
Freshly Ground Black Pepper 
Splash Of Chicken Broth If Needed For Thinning


Melt butter in a pot over medium heat, then add the onions. Cook the onions for 3 to 4 minutes, then sprinkle the flour over the top. Stir to combine and cook for 1 minute or so, then pour in milk and half-and-half. Add nutmeg, then add broccoli, a small dash of salt, and plenty of black pepper.

Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the broccoli is tender. Stir in cheese and allow to melt.

Taste seasonings and adjust if needed. Then either serve as is, or mash it with a potato masher to break up the broccoli a bit, or transfer to a blender in two batches and puree completely. (If you puree it in a blender, return it to the heat and allow to heat up. Splash in chicken broth if needed for thinning.)


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Laminate Landing Patch Job

The last part left to share from our stairway to heaven makeover, is how we finished the unfinished landing at the top of the stairs.

When we ripped up the carpet, our suspicions were confirmed that it was only plywood. No hardwood here. It was a bit scary looking.

There was also a significant height gap were the hardwood ledge met the plywood. 

We put our thinking caps on and looked in the garage to see what was left of the remaining laminate flooring the previous owners stashed away. There were JUST ENOUGH unused tongue and groove planks in tact. I mean just enough. That's what I call a God thing. 

The only thing we didn't have was underlayment (padding to go underneath), which comes in big rolls for $25. We only needed a 45x45 inch square. That's when we spotted a yoga mat for $8 and figured it would do the same thing, right? Add a layer of cushion and even out the transition between the gap. It worked out perfectly!

I cut the yoga mat in to pieces to fit like a puzzle, then secured it with double sided foam tape. We were pretty proud of ourselves for thinking of such a smart way to use a yoga mat :) Because, let's face it, I will probably never use a yoga mat for it's intended purpose. Ha! 

Then it was time to try our hand at installing laminate flooring for the first time. We measured, cut and clicked the planks together until they fit snugly how we wanted them. 

It looks seamless! It was quite rewarding to see this last section of our staircase come together. 

The most challenging part was installing the transition strips between the laminate and the carpet in the doorways. Those were also left over pieces found in the garage.

No more scary unfinished plywood! The laminate is a bit lighter in color than the hardwood stain, but it matches what's in the rest of the house. This was the best solution we could come up with, without having to install actual hardwood. And it only cost $8! Whoo hoo! Staircase complete. I'm so happy with it!