Deus Caritas Est

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As always, I am trying to add new skills to my design abilities. So, when the opportunity came to participate in a class to learn about hand-lettering and the ins & outs of custom typography, I took the plunge and signed up. The piece I came up with is the phrase “Deus caritas est” which is Latin for “God is Love”. The class was mostly a collective of people with resources and links to where you could find inspiration or tutorials. So, I focused on bookmarking good sources and went to work. My first 2-3 versions were not too great. I started with pen and paper and although I used to love sketching, I knew that I would inevitably end up in Illustrator and Photoshop, so I sort of skipped ahead and did my final version with my Wacom tablet in Photoshop.

While it is definitely more constraining to create hand-drawn type in a program rather than on paper, it was a good learning experience. Plus, I am also always looking for short-cuts, not to mention we have a terrible, terrible, no-good, almost evil scanner and I didn’t want to face it’s wrath. So, as you can imagine, PS does not quite get the same effect as a real pen, but I was able to save some brush presets and get a feel for creating with brush tools in Photoshop, so I consider it mildly successful. My greatest challenge through this was getting the line thickness (and thinness) I wanted. I probably spent a couple hours just drawing, erasing, and re-drawing tiny sections. And then, came those darn swashes! I am still in the process of getting them to look the way I want them to. But, I found it difficult to get the right balance to the overall design with a good sized swash. I think it is something that takes a great deal of practice to get it all right. Needless to say, I have a lot of respect for illustrators who do beautiful hand-drawn type. They have some amazing skills!

 

 

Performance Reviews for Freelance Designers

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Every year, most of the office let’s out a collective groan when they get the e-mail asking them to start filling out employee reviews. When I started freelancing, it was one of those office rituals I was happy not to have to participate in anymore. But, now that some time has passed, I can now see it as a valuable tool that everyone needs to do at least once a year (even when you don’t have HR or a boss making you do it).

Before I started my evaluation process, I had to figure out how to actually evaluate my freelance in a meaningful and beneficial way. I mean, how do you evaluate your performance when you work for yourself? After all, you don’t answer to a manager or boss, you are the boss! So, how do you get an objective opinion to weed out some of your best traits and areas of improvement? I wanted to go ahead and do a self-evaluation this year, so I put together a quick list of tips to describe the process I used to put together a Performance Review Process for Freelance Designers. So, without further ado, here is the process I used:

Performance Review Process for Freelance Designers

1. Evaluate your Metrics (Part 1 – Income):

I used to work for an advertising agency that managed hundreds of websites. One of the easiest ways we could tell if a site was performing well was to check the site’s traffic. While it didn’t always give us a clear picture, seeing the traffic over a few months or a year, gave us an indication of what sort of trend we were dealing with. As a freelancer, the first trend we should evaluate is income. Just like websites, income for freelancers usually have seasons where they are higher for certain months and lower for others. So, the best way to evaluate performance is over a long period of time, like a monthly income this year vs. last year. If you aren’t sure when your “season” is, this will help identify one and also help in identifying any income trends that you have.

2. Evaluate your Metrics (Part 2 – Projects):

While a major metric will help you identify trends and seasons, it is always best to also evaluate with a secondary metric. In the case of websites, our secondary metric usually included user engagement. For a freelance designer, I think the most important secondary evaluation would be the number of projects (done monthly). If you already have completed your income evaluation, this will be very handy to evaluate your ROI (return on investment). For example, let’s say you did 15 projects in February for a total profit of $5600 and then did 6 projects in June for $5500. In this example you made about the same amount of income (so according to your income metric, these months were both similar) but the # of projects was significantly different. This secondary metric will help you identify what is most profitable for you as a freelancer in terms of both earnings and time.

3. Evaluate your Feedback:

If you don’t already archive your feedback from clients, start now (think feedback reviews). While you may not always get feedback that is useful for self-evaluation, I think the most important factor is how the feedback was handled. From initial feedback to completion, were you able to keep the communication clear and move easily to an end result everyone was happy with? If there was a bump in the road, how did you handle it?

We all have had “Clients from Hell” (pardon the reference), but the important part for evaluating ourselves as freelancers is how we handle the good, the bad, and the ugly. Some clients will always tell you they love your work, others won’t. Know who your good clients are and treat them with preference (because good clients really are hard to find). The so-so clients, try and make them into good clients. The bad clients, identify the “hang-ups” and see if there is potential to move them up into the good category with a little more communication or work. The ugly clients, know when to pull the plug!  Your time is valuable so don’t waste it on clients who don’t value your work enough to pay you what is fair or are insulting you, they are not worth it. Your ability to handle these situations is a great way to personally evaluate your client service skills as a freelancer and your ability to grow your business professionally.

4. Evaluate your Skills:

As a designer, the most important part of the job is how well you push pixels and execute your designs. First, if you don’t already know, identify your style strengths. Most of us know that we are good at one type of style and not so good at another. This is not a bad thing, know your style and be a rockstar at it!

Here are some questions you can ask yourself:  

⁃    Do you have a style identified and were you able to improve it over the last year?
⁃    Can you execute your style for a design project well on a short time frame?
⁃    Do you know all the short-cuts you need for design actions you use a majority of the time?
⁃    Do you know your essential design programs & style well enough to teach a class?
⁃    Also ask yourself, did you improve your skills by getting peer reviews, taking classes, learning short-cuts, and practicing new skills on personal projects?

Doing what you do, as well as you can, is essential. I think designers are always trying to do it all, especially freelance designers, and we get caught up in learning new and different styles and techniques rather than focusing on what makes our designs great. But, knowing your style well sets you apart (and at the end of the day, it is what brings home the bacon).

5. Evaluate your Business Practices:

As a freelancer, you are basically running your own business, so knowing and executing good business practices is another part of the job. Just like evaluating feedback and skills, evaluating how well you manage the timelines, marketing, and accounting/billing of your freelance work will help you understand how well you are performing.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

⁃    Do you manage your time effectively and keep deadlines?
⁃    Do you send accurate and timely invoices?
⁃    Do you have a marketing plan and do you actively pursue it?
⁃    Do you keep track of your billing and is the method you use working well?
⁃    Do you have signed contracts or agreements with clients?
⁃    Do you keep your portfolio updated and relevant?

I think a lot of freelance designers do not focus on or like this part of the job, but being really good at keeping organized and professional in your business practices speaks all the more to your abilities as a freelance designer. So, it is good to look back and make sure you are performing these aspects well.

6. Set your Goals:

Now that you have looked at a few metrics to evaluate your performance, hopefully you have identified a few of your strengths and areas for improvement. In business school, the first thing they always taught us about goal setting was to make sure the goals we set were SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely). For freelance designers, I would add that they need to be update-able, meaning that you can make an amendment to extend a deadline or change some criteria to a certain goal based on your changing client and design demands (because, let’s face it, freelance design can be pretty unpredictable sometimes!). So, try and set some SMART-U goals for the next year. Stick with 2-3 goals to start with and build on them as your needs change this year.

7. Identify your Achievements:

In the freelance design world, sometimes just getting a design done and getting paid for it is reward enough. But recognizing when you really knocked it out of the park or reached a stretch goal is also really important and you should take the time to reward yourself. As a freelancer, there is no one to give you a pat on the back or a congratulatory lunch when you do really well on the job, so often times, we just don’t do it. So, make evaluation time a time to recognize when you have done really great work and take that opportunity to tell yourself, “Job well done!” (and hey, go out for a treat! You deserve it!).

29 Things Before Turning 30

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[bra_dropcaps style=”dropcap1″]I[/bra_dropcaps]I turned 29 years old today. Which means, I have 365 days left to accomplish everything on my “do before age 30” bucket list. (coming soon). As I was making my list, I found a few blogs talking about things one should know/have done/be like by age 30. I got pretty discouraged by some, grossed out by others, and found one or 2 which sounded a lot like some things I have or would like to accomplish. So, before I list my bucket list, I wanted to make a list of all the things I have accomplished by age 30 (and 29, if you are counting)…with one extra slot at the end to add something from this year.

So, in no particular order, here are 29 things I have done before turning 30:

1. Become a Runner. Since I was a kid, I was terrible at running. I always placed last or close to last in gym class for the mile run, I hated playing soccer because it meant running laps around the field for practice, and I got shin splints every time I ran for track in High School. It was terrible. So, in my early 20s, I stuck to a running regimen until I could run at least 3 miles every single day (without sprains and pains). I loved it. But, I loved it even more because it was so hard for me to accomplish. (And now, I need to get back into shape so I can do it again…so that’s one goal for my 30s!)

2. Backpack around Europe. During my sophomore year in college, I had the opportunity to study abroad and attend the University of Leicester in England. While there, we had a long 6 week spring break halfway during the semester. During that time, my best friend and I traveled around to 14 different countries in Europe. We stayed in hostels, went to old churches and museums, discovered new restaurants, and learned new cultures. I learned a lot from those 6 weeks and have several stories that range from funny tales to moving moments that we experienced traveling around and discovering Europe.

3. Stick to a Budget and be Debt Free. I went to business school and have always been an avid budgeter, so when I graduated with a bunch of debt without enough money to even buy a car to get to my new job, I was terrified. I opened a credit card, bought a car on loan, and planned to live with my parents (thanks mom!) until I could get all of my loans paid off and everything sorted out. Several years later, I am debt free and have planned out a savings account that helped us with unexpected medical bills and enough to finally afford our first home!

4. Learn an Instrument Proficiently.  By middle school, I had played a few instruments but was never terribly good at any of them. I had a love for music, but hadn’t yet developed any music theory. For the first time, I was determined to become good at music. So, I picked up the french horn, got lessons, and practiced every night (I’m sure I annoyed my family to no end back then). I finally reached my goal after a couple years of hard work and ended up in the KC Youth Symphony, placed 1st in the State Orchestra, took lead in both HS band and orchestra, and was a part of several smaller groups who played together for events and competitions. Mostly, I am thankful for the way it cultivated my love for classical music and the sort of work ethic that one needs to reach tough goals.

5. Learn what I Believe and Why. I think everyone questions their faith, what they believe in, and what is important to them. I realized one day in school after a conversation with a skeptical friend, that I really knew nothing about Christianity besides a few few verses, songs, and a couple cliches. I would never give a book report on a book I never read, so how could I say I believed in something that I knew so nearly nothing about? I made a decision then to really learn about what I believe. So, I read the Bible (all of it), read theology, talked to experts, really listened to sermons, started memorizing prayers and attended bible studies. I didn’t always get the answers I was looking for but, I did learn a lot about learning to know God and the fact that as a Christian, I am always learning more. But, it was important to me that I now know what I believe and why. I have a passion for my faith that I have never had before and I love God in a way I never knew I could. I really want to put Him first in my life and I love doing so. I am thankful for my faith through all of the tough things life has had in store for me, I don’t think I could have gotten through it all otherwise.

6. Fall in Love. I think every little girl dreams about prince charming and her wedding day. I am lucky enough to have gotten my wish. I met Jason in my mid-20s and quickly fell in love. We had a great wedding day and every day I am reminded how lucky I am to get to spend my life with him. By Jason’s example, I have also learned how to fall in love with God (my true, first love). God’s love for us both has been amazing and humbling to behold in both of our lives. I can’t wait to keep falling in love every day with my Creator and learn how to love my husband, my family, my friends, and the whole world of amazing individuals more and more.

7. Learn how to do my Hair, Make-up, and Pick Out an Outfit. I am probably still not very good at this, but I think it is essential for any girl to know what flatters her body, how to accent her more flattering features, and look nice for a date or job interview. I was a tomboy as a kid, so I didn’t learn much about dresses and make-up until much later than most girls. I still prefer comfortable pants and ponytails. But, I know how to straighten and curl my hair, pick make-up that covers well and looks natural, and how to dress when it matters. (Another goal for my 30s is to start dressing/looking nice on a regular basis, I am terrible about it right now!)

8. Go to a Movie and Eat at a Restaurant ALONE. If you had asked me to do this 10 years ago, I would have never done it. I hated even sitting in class alone before it started. Now, I don’t mind sitting in a movie that I want to see but no one else has time, or sit at church by myself, or try a restaurant with a table for one. I’m confident that being alone is OK (and sometimes even preferable, ha!).

9. Acknowledge that I don’t know everything and can’t do it all. Ok, I am still learning this one, but I have learned quite a few times that I have made mistakes, am still learning, and need to be both patient and humble in daily circumstances (it is still a constant struggle). I also have learned that I can’t do it all. When Jason had his transplant I had taken on an enormous amount of responsibility and I just simply could not do it by myself. I had to swallow my pride and accept help from others. It helped me to realize that I am only one person and I don’t have the talent or resources to take on every responsibility. I had to not only learn how to say, “No.” but also, “I can’t”. The last year has taught me how to accept the goodness of other people, genuinely, and truly be thankful for the God-given gifts of others and not be jealous, envious, or angry at myself.

10. Do nerdy things like play Skyrim and watch Star Trek. I really like nerdy things. I used to be embarrassed and hide it. But, the truth is, I love being a nerd. I like to play chess and board games. I have watched every single episode of Star Trek NG, DS9, and Voyager at least twice. I have played through at least 3 characters on the first person RPG game Skyrim, I have watched several anime series and I love to watch and play Halo with Jason. My favorite movies include Harry Potter, Disney Classics, and Lord of the Rings. I can tell you our complete Family Zombie Invasion Plans and argue why taking a car out of town is better than walking (Jason and I still disagree). I also love how my family can go on for hours discussing Doctor Who and apocalypse survival. I’m OK with it. I’m a nerd.

11. Learn to Cook. I love to cook and make homemade, yummy meals but it used to not always be the case. I didn’t know the difference between a zester and a grater not very many years ago. When I started living on my own, I started learning new kitchen techniques and trying new recipes. I learned how to sauté, broil, bake, make frosting you can’t stop eating (I blame about 5 pounds of weight upon this discovery), make a roux, steam veggies, and try creating a recipe from scratch. I can now eye ingredients and test a recipe as I make it instead of just following directions, something I never would have thought possible a few years ago. Now I have to deal with an obsession over new pans and kitchen gadgets, there are just so many amazing kitchenwares out there!

12. Create, Promote, and Manage a Blog. I loved blogging. The Fresh Fridge, my food blog, was an awesome way to keep me accountable while learning to be a better cook (see above), learn photography, and learn how to promote, market and use social media. I think every dedicated blogger can agree, managing a blog is hard work. It takes many, many behind-the-scenes hours to make just one post. Despite the workload though, I loved blogging and the work and time was all worth it. One important lesson I learned while blogging was that having a successful blog of any kind, makes you incredibly vulnerable to criticism. It helped me to learn how to practice good customer service and how to take the tough comments along with the praises and continually learn how to create better content. (Another goal of mine is to revamp and keep up with my blog again!)

13. Learn Graphic Design and Freelance. Every kid gets asked what they want to do when they grow up, my answer was always “be an artist”. Well, plans changed and I went to KU and got my business degree in Marketing. After working several years in agencies and doing what every good business student does, plans changed again. Little by little, I had been learning to Illustrate and do graphic design from Jason (having a personal instructor really helps when you want to learn something!). Then, to get better I decided to start selling my design work online. A few months later, I had my first freelance gig and then a few weeks later I got my first long-term contract. I admit I still have a long way to go and much to learn about being a successful graphic designer and freelancer. But, I love it, love it, love it! How many people get to say they do what they always wanted to when they grow up?

14. Get my Ears Pierced. This may seem like a strange milestone, but because of sports and my tomboy youth, I didn’t get my ears pierced for a really long time. When I finally did, I was 24 years old and taken to the mall by my mom to get them done for my birthday. I got 2 fake diamond studs put in and never looked back. I now obsessively love earrings and wear them all the time. I think they are my version of a shoe obsession, I just love having more!

15. Learn to Clean and Organize like Martha Stewart. When I was a teenager, there was a time when you literally could not see an inch of my bedroom floor. Just to think of it makes me shudder. College helped a little in the responsibility department of cleaning my room, but it really wasn’t until I was on my own that I discovered my love for organization and clean rooms. Fast forward to learning that I needed to be diligent about keeping our apartment not just clean, but completely sanitized daily for Jason’s transplant and I learned a whole new crazy level of being a clean freak. I discovered I absolutely love being organized. Thanks to Pinterest and other blogs, I have found a way to keep to a cleaning schedule and organize everything from a linen closet to my earring collection and everything in between. A few of my favorites: Clorox wipes are lifesavers for quick messes and hydrogen peroxide & vinegar cleans grime from the tub in a snap!

16. Learn to drive a car in Manual. When I turned 17 (yes, one year after the legal driving age) I got my driver’s license. A few months later, my parents surprised me with a car. I ran outside, shocked and overjoyed, jumped in, and realized instantly I was going nowhere – there was a stick shift. A bit disappointed, but determined to earn my new wheels, I met with an instructor and learned the basics of driving in manual. The next week, still feeling a bit nervous, I took a deep breath and went out to practice alone. A few streets later, I sat stalled for 10 minutes at a stoplight while a man behind me waved cars on until I finally got the hang of getting into first gear. Although I felt a bit mortified after that, I finally got the hang of it and now can confidently say that I can drive a car equipped with either an automatic or manual transmission (and successfully drive through a stoplight on the first try).

17. Climb a Mountain. Ok, this one I saw from one of those famous bucket lists. I don’t really know if I qualify but, I used to go climbing all the time with friends and have climbed a few cliffs. I still remember the first time a conquered a difficult “10” route at a gym and a time when was able to do pull ups by the dozen. (Where did that strength go?) I still own my own climbing harness, chalk bag, and shoes, so maybe it will officially happen one day. That said, I have hiked up a mountain, if that counts. (Perhaps I need to add this to my goal list too!)

18.  Be a Mentor. For 3 years I had the awesome opportunity to mentor middle-school aged girls for our church’s confirmation classes. I didn’t know every answer, but I did have to opportunity to get to know and be supportive of the young ladies in our classes. I hope I was able to make a difference for all of them, but I know it did make a difference for me. Being a mentor forces you to look hard at the way you act, make decisions, and hold yourself accountable. It forced me to start wondering, “would I do this if my confirmation girls were watching me?”. It helped me to define what being a mentor was and live by it, as someone who first teaches by example.

19. Volunteer, at least once, for something uncomfortable. Stepping out of one’s comfort zone, especially when volunteering is hard to do. You freely are giving your talents and time when you could be doing something else and so naturally you want to volunteer for something you are passionate about and want to help with. So, doing something that is dirty, hard, and demanding for something you are unsure you even want to do is tough. But, you never know until you try. One night, I found myself volunteering at the last minute (because they had no one else), for a 3-day overnight for a youth group retreat. I was completely nervous and hopelessly ill-prepared, I had never done anything like this, didn’t know anyone there, and just gave up a perfectly good weekend to spend 3 sleepless nights, in the cold, with middle schoolers. I kept asking myself, “what was I thinking?”. Well, I got through it and when the weekend ended, I jumped in my car and cried the entire way home. It was partially exhaustion, but also the pent up emotion of having had a great weekend, in the cold, with some pretty cool fellow volunteers and middle schoolers. That weekend was the reason I decided to become a middle school mentor for the next 3 years, I could’t believe it, I loved it!

20. Have a “Pinterest” Party. Since Pinterest, things have never been the same. Now, I hop on and have an ideas list about 10 feet long and no way of ever accomplishing 99% of what I found. But, last summer, I had the opportunity to plan a bridal shower for my now sister-in-law, with Pinterest as my aid. The theme was “A Recipe for Love” (I know, pretty cheesy). Everyone brought their favorite recipes for the bride-to-be, we had a dessert table complete with a hutch for height and decorated it with all of the pretty food we made. We played a game (I video taped my brother answering questions and made the bride guess his answers) and made a Pinterest-y craft of making picture frame recipe holders. I was exhausted by the end of the night, but it was the most fun I ever had planning a party. Thanks, Pinterest!

21. Create something that goes Viral. I don’t know the exact definition of something that is “viral”, but I figure if it has been seen by and shared over 10,000+ times and downloaded over 2000+ times, it counts. I started creating posters for verses that meant a lot to me last year to help me memorize them. It was during Jason’s treatment and I really needed some visual encouragement and figured other people did too. So, right before mother’s day, I made a poster for proverbs 31:25. After I posted it up, the next morning it had already been shared over 500 times and continued to be shared all over the place. Boy, was I surprised! The biggest impact to me though, was when another woman going through chemo e-mailed me to tell me that she had posted it by her bed to help her keep motivated during treatments. I was so glad to hear it helped encourage someone else! Sometimes, the internet is pretty cool!

22. Negotiate a Contract. Ok, this one is easy for me, I used to negotiate contracts and deals all the time for my job. But, I am very glad I have gained a lot of experience in this area to know what works, what doesn’t, and how to use your best judgement to strike a good deal or back out of a bad one. I think the hardest thing to learn is how to clearly set out your objectives and learn to compromise on lesser important details to get the big details right. That, and, gaining as much knowledge you can about the other parties goals. In this case, knowledge is definitely power!

23. Take a Class “just for fun”. In college, my schedule was always filled to the brim with accounting, economics, and marketing classes, so taking a fun class was pretty much out of the question. However, I did get to pick 2 classes while in college that were purely interests of mine. The first one was a lit. class based on the works of C.S. Lewis and the second was a film class about silent films from the 1920s. I enjoyed both of them quite a bit and gained a great appreciation for both subject matters. I hope to take more classes in the future, just because they sound interesting.

24. Go Caroling. I am a terrible singer, but a few years back I volunteered with my small group to go caroling for a retirement community a few weeks before Christmas. We came in and sang several carols for everyone and got many to sing along, clap, and have a fun time. As the evening came to a close, some of us stayed behind and talked to a few people. We decided to walk out together, but just as we were about to go, a woman came by and told us her father wasn’t able to hear any of the carols since he couldn’t leave his bed and if we wouldn’t mind, if we would come sing a few in his room. We agreed and the 3 or 4 of us ( I can’t remember exactly) came and sang for this man. We learned that the woman was his daughter and that he was no longer responsive, but she was sure he could hear us sing. We sang “Oh, Holy Night”, his favorite, and she said she felt his hand squeeze hers during the song. We talked a little more with her and then had to leave (visiting hours were over). We called back the next week and found out that the man we sang for had passed away the next morning. It was an experience I will never forget, to have had the opportunity to sing to a man so close to heaven. Now, whenever I sing that song, I always think of that night and how beautiful life is, even when it is so close to its end.

25. Get Engaged in Ireland. I get a lot of comments about my wedding ring because instead of a traditional diamond, it is an emerald. While we were dating, Jason and I took a trip together to Ireland on a whim and the second day we were there decided to visit a little monastery up by the Irish coastline. When we arrived, the place was deserted and looked after by a man who never spoke to us, just stared as we walked in. We took our time and walked around, then Jason went and got his guitar out of our rental car and we sat down and he sang some songs. As he was singing, out of nowhere, came 2 Irish Shepherd dogs. They sniffed us and then they both decided to lay down at Jason’s feet for the free concert. Jason then informed me he had written a new song, he sang it to me and of course, I can’t remember a word of it, because when he was done he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him! Of course, I said “yes”. (The Irish dogs approved.) I have worn my emerald engagement ring (along with my wedding band once we got married) ever since.

26. Enjoy Kansas Basketball. One of the best parts of being a KU alum is being a Kansas men’s basketball nut. When I was in school, I had good friends who were always able to score us front row seats in the student section, we snuck in newspapers to throw superstitious confetti, we chanted and had our rituals, it was a blast. In 2008, when the KU men’s team played in the National Championship and Mario Chalmers put up the game-winning 3 pointer, I was able to witness the eery yet awesome sound of the entire city of Lawrence roar in screams at the same moment when the buzzer sounded and KU won the game. (We then made our way to Mass St. and celebrated all night as any good Jayhawk does.) Rock Chalk!

27. Go Bungee Jumping. On a Spring Break trip my freshman year in college, all of my friends decided it would be fun to try bungee jumping (the tallest one in North America, according to the guys running it). My friends all went one-by-one…and I chickened out. As we got halfway back to our hotel, I realized they would be talking about it all break and I would be the only one who had not gone…so, I had to do it. We raced back and I got taken up the giant lift to be pushed off a tiny metal ledge. My friends and a few others chanted my name in encouragement. As I was nudged off the lift, I belted out a shriek I never knew I had in me. It wasn’t too bad, the last part where I felt like I was no longer in free fall was sort of fun. The guys who helped me back down said I was shaking uncontrollably and I just laughed, because I could not yet speak. But, I did it. I won’t do it again, but I did it. So, checked that one off my list!

28. Buy Second-Hand. I love going to antique stores, shopping on Craiglist and hoping I contact someone soon enough to get a deal, going to garage/estate sales and occasionally getting to a thrift store. Almost all of the furniture that I own that isn’t a hand-me-down of some kind, is second-hand. I like to up cycle and make something my own. I still have yet to buy any big piece of furniture from a store…and it may never happen. There are just too many great deals on used items that are unique, stylish, and affordable!

29. Be a Vegetarian. For 2 years I decided I was a vegetarian. I did not eat meat at all (but I did eat cheese and eggs). The reason why…I did not like the taste. I am not an animal rights activist, although I do like animals. I am not a health nut, although I do think it is important to eat a healthy diet (which is why I like to cook!). One day, after years, I stopped and ate a turkey sandwich. But, I still struggle with liking the taste of meat very much, which is exasperated by a growing allergy to chicken. I will say from my experience, cutting out a major food source is hard to do without sacrificing nutrition, and I did eat protein daily in other forms. After discovering the importance of protein from Jason’s doctors, I now consciously try and have a good amount of protein in my diet rather than just carbs and dairy.

30. TBD! I still have one year to fill in this one. I hope I make it count!

I hope I remembered everything correctly, but those are my top 29! Now, for my 30 befre 30 in 365 days Bucket List. Any Suggestions?

 

True Love

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[bra_dropcaps style=”dropcap1″]T[/bra_dropcaps] The theme of February for almost every retail store is love, love, love. Although, I have never much liked the over-commercialization of any holiday, I think Valentine’s Day is my least favorite. Mostly, because I wonder if anyone really believes that the chalky hearts, the cardboard valentine’s cards, or the cheap factory-made stuffed animals are really expressive of love at all. I mean, any other holiday, I almost understand the little “silly” extras. Even Christmas and Easter, although commercialized beyond belief, the merchandise still hints at something beyond just a sugary treat. But, I am hard-pressed to figure out how to find a way to really express true love within the context of the cheap way it is sold nowadays. Perhaps, the plastic-tasting chocolates are hints at the way we treat and understand love in our lives most of the time – as a cheap commodity.

[bra_blockquote align=””]But, the truth is, love is not a commodity and true love is not cheap.[/bra_blockquote]

But, the truth is, love is not a commodity and true love is not cheap. Rather, love is the essence of the life we were created for – to love and be loved – First and foremost, by our loving, creator God and then by expressing our love to each other.  Lucky for us, one aspect of love is free – freely given by God, but it is also costly – we need to make sacrifices to serve God faithfully and to serve each other. It’s the kind of love that forgives, that perseveres, that stays true even when everything else is in shatters – a love that never fails. I think every day, not just Valentine’s Day, is an important one to remind yourself that you are loved – always. God will always love you, no matter what. And beyond that, we need to love each other, even when it is hard to do so. So, this month, celebrate Valentine’s Day a little differently – pray an extra prayer of thanks, help someone in need, pay a visit to an old friend, or do a random act of kindness. I think love can be expressed truly, it is our words and actions that make a difference.

 

Visual Venting

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[bra_dropcaps style=”dropcap1″]O[/bra_dropcaps] Over the last week, I have hit a bit of a stumbling block with design. I just can’t seem to come up with anything worth using. In a way, I have hit the proverbial “brick wall” and have since been repeatedly banging my head upon it’s stony surface.

I have tried many tactics to overcome the feeling. You know, the usual list of quick fixes to start feeling creative again.

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1. Look for inspiration – haunting my favorite designer’s blogs and creative websites, browsing magazines with great layout ideas, skimming through some typography books.

2. Motivation – good music, adequate room lighting, tea/diet coke in hand, a nice smelling candle

3. Start sketching ideas

4. Try new techniques – Then, try old techniques, try alternate techniques, look at old work, new work, unused but potential work, ask Jason for help (it sure is nice to live with a great designer!), try new techniques some more….start new project (x20).

5. Start praying

6. Clean – Everything. The kitchen, the living room, do laundry…you get the idea.

7. Repeat. (Steps 1 – 5)

8. Sigh – for a verrrrrrrry long time.

9. Go rampaging – across a digital countryside (Halo or Skyrim fans?)

And if none of the above works…

10. Have a visual venting session —- See below:

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Frustrating, isn’t it?

I had gotten to the point where everything I made hurt my eyes to look at. So, I decided to just go with it. Instead of coming up with one more idea I would probably scrap in about an hour, I intentionally made something that makes my eyes bleed if I look at it for more than, oh, 5 seconds.

I unleashed all of my pent up emotions, like an ALL CAPS shout via the interwebs, I made a poster that was as frustrating as I felt. With the fonts not lined up, the blinding cmyk color scheme, the words plastered in places that takes the viewer on an unpleasant quest of illegibility, and a little bit of comic sans thrown in – I feel this design was a visual venting success. I hate it already (just kidding).

Honestly, I feel a lot better. Like punching pillow or a squeezing a stress ball, this was a much needed release of all of my pent up frustrations.

What about you? Have you ever felt the need for a visual venting session?

Murder in the Vatican – Book Review

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[bra_dropcaps style=”dropcap1″]S[/bra_dropcaps] Sherlock Holmes, a character who can be as mysterious as the mysteries he unravels, has become a bit of a household favorite around here. Over the last few years, my husband and I took to reading through the Sherlock Holmes tales penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. We read them everywhere – on long car trips, doctor’s visits, vacations and occasionally “just because”. But, as time went on, we quickly ran out of new stories and resorted to simply watching through the array of T.V. shows offered on Netflix to get another glimpse into the lives of our favorite characters: Mr. Holmes and our most beloved Watson. Recently, I was delighted to find a new penning (and new author) of the stories of Sherlock Holmes: Murder in the Vatican: The Church Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes by Ann Margaret Lewis.

[bra_blockquote align=””]But, while reading I realized I was following along two different mysteries being solved by Holmes – one the murder of a bishop, the other, the mystery of God.[/bra_blockquote]

I loved the new mysteries, which took Holmes’ character to Rome to discover the truth behind thefts and murders.  Holmes uses his usual logic and cunning to seek out the criminals, at times with the Pope himself as a side-kick. Lewis did a good job of matching the writing style of Doyle and I was able to convincingly follow along the new authors tales as if they were part of the originals. Although, the mysteries were familiar “Holmes style”, I admit there seemed to be a lot more Catholic education and learning about Vatican protocol than there was actual murder mystery solving at times. But, while reading I realized I was following along two different mysteries being solved by Holmes – one the murder of a bishop, the other the mystery of God. Lewis did a great job revealing the mysteries of the church and the crimes with the wit and banter between the Pope and Sherlock Holmes (the banter always my favorite part of a good Sherlock Holmes tale). Overall, I was pleased to read a new take on Sherlock Holmes and add “Murder in the Vatican” to my list of Sherlock Holmes favorites.