Crash Course – Wild About Watercolor

I haven’t really painted since I took a watercolor class in college sometime around 1995, but recently I decided to take a stab at it again. It’s fun to get off the computer and work with “real” art materials and at the same time frustrating because I can be a control freak and you can’t really control watercolor, you gotta just let it do it’s own thing and hope it does something you kinda like. At least that’s my relationship with it.
I’m working on some new watercolor patterns for Clairebella and some other watercolor graphics for some other projects.

The florals are working out ok, but for some reason I’m failing at my abstract attempts. Abstract can be deceptively difficult. But it’s been a fun crash course so far. What might be a fun pattern to try in watercolor? I’d love some more ideas!

Washington DC and More – The Food Tour

PA_Geno'sSteakThis is part 2 of our Washington DC Trip. All about our food adventures. Deserved a separate post.
Washington DC Favorites:

1. Good Stuff Eatery
Amazing handmade burgers, hand-cut fries and handspun ice cream shakes. The hamburgers were juicy and perfect. My husband was thrilled about the line up of fry sauces, reminding him of his days in Belgium. Seriously, he’s obsessed with it. The shakes were thick and creamy. We ordered several flavors and shared. Our favorites were the Salted Caramel Kiss and Red Velvet. If we come back to DC, this will be our first stop.

2. We the Pizza
Located next door to Good Stuff on Capitol Hill. Large variety of pizzas that you can order by the slice or by the pie. Go adventurous or stick with the classics. My favorite seasonal pizza was the Butternut Squash with Goat Cheese and Balsamic Glaze.

3. Farmer’s Market at Department of Agriculture
Fridays, 9am to 2pm (May to October) in the parking lot next to the USDA Headquarters. It was a perfect place to stop and get a snack between museum visits. Fresh fruits, vegetables, juices and fresh kettlecorn. I loved the different varieties of crisp apples.

PA_EatingCheesesteakWe couldn’t drive to Philadelphia without getting cheesesteak for dinner. We stopped at the famous, friendly rivalry of Pat’s vs. Geno’s, serving cheese steak since 1930. We did understand that these places are largely a tourist thing and probably not even the best steaks in Philly, but we had to order from both and make our family decision. Our family vote was Pat’s. The meat seemed a little juicier and the rolls a little less chewy.

New York:
First of all, New York eating with seven people was a lot different than New York when it was just Scott & I. We had to go a little more budget friendly!
We had to do Pizza in Little Italy. And Lombardi’s is fantastic. We love the margherita pizza! The crust is perfection, topped with fresh tomato sauce, mozzarella, and sweet basil.
We followed pizza with rice pudding from Rice to Riches. Lots of interesting flavors in a modern environment with sassy verbiage throughout. The pudding is very rich – definitely for sharing. Coast to Coast Cheesecake was my favorite.
While biking in Central Park we had to track down the Wafels and Dinges Food Truck. It’s hard to find authentic Belgian Wafels, but this place is legit. Traditional Belgian wafels with that crystallized sugar baked in and topped with your choice of toppings (dinges). I’ve tried one of savory selections (the pulled pork wafel) as well as their sweet offerings and both are SO good.

New York has so many amazing eating options. But alas we were only there a couple days.

Crash Course Travel – Washington DC and more

Planning: Normally I do a lot of research and planning before I travel. However, I try to build in some flexibility so that we aren’t over scheduled or lose the opportunity for unplanned discoveries along the way. It’s definitely a balance. Knowing the best place for parking ahead of time instead of driving in circles for 30 minutes can be invaluable when you want to get the most out of your day.

One of the things I discovered while researching our East Coast trip is that we could fly into Washington DC and fly out of New York City for about the same price as a round trip flight from the same location. So that influenced how our trip played out as you will discover as you read the rest of this post.

Washington DC: We were fortunate to have family members that live in Virginia and welcomed us into their home for this part of our trip. This helped our hotel budget a ton and we loved getting advice on our daily plan from “locals”. Almost everyone had given us the advice of not trying to see “everything”. You can’t. So we made a list of our family’s top picks and made sure those activities were fulfilled.

October is a fantastic time of year to go. It’s not crowded at all because school trips are usually scheduled in the Spring and family trips are usually in the Summer. The weather is nice, not too hot or cold.


Day 1: The American History Museum. We all loved it. Nothing like seeing tangible items that you’ve heard or read about all your life… Thomas Edison’s lightbulb, George Washington’s personal telescope used during the Revolutionary War, the orginal Star Spangled Banner, even the Ruby Slippers from Wizard of Oz. My favorite of the museums.

Our Self-Guided tour of the Monuments: Washington Monument, World War II, VietNam Memorial, Lincoln Memorial. Why is Ryan on the ground? He wanted to look at the Washington Monument from that perspective. I would have never thought to look at it that way – pretty cool.

The VietNam Memorial was particularly moving since my dad was a Marine in the VietNam War. We wanted to find my dad’s best friend, Patrick Hoppe. I even have the honor of being named after him. (My middle name is Patricia) After searching for awhile we finally did an internet search and discovered we were standing right in front of the block where his name is engraved.

We ended our walk playing on the lawn, enjoying the sunset view, and resting our feet after walking over 7 miles.

Day 2: Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Because of the time of year, we were able to walk in without getting tickets ahead of time. It’s a short tour where you get to see how money is made. Since I love paper and printing I found it particularly amazing and the rest of the family loved it because… it’s money!

The Natural History Museum. Great for younger children! Every animal you can think of – and some you never knew existed.

JillMeans_DC_Butterflies Natalie saved up some of her own money to do the Butterfly exhibit which you have to pay a small fee to experience. She loved it. Butterflies land on you!


Our favorite activity of Washington DC was the Monuments at Night Bike Tour. (If everyone in your party is over 16 you can do the Segway version of the tour.) We were able to see some of the memorials we didn’t see in the day – including the Jefferson Memorial, the Martin Luther King memorial, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Even the memorials we had already seen during the day, are completely different at night. The guide gave us interesting and entertaining information. And our evening became even more exciting when it began pouring rain (the only rain of our whole trip). Ponchos are included so we just continued on our tour and it was awesome.

Day 3. In the morning we split up and the girls went to the National Art Gallery and the boys went to the Air & Space Museum. For the Art Gallery – have a plan. Choose specific artists or type of work/time periods you want to see and go to those sections. You’ll feel more rewarded and less overwhelmed.

One of the great things about our experience is that our children have a more personal connection with what they are learning in school. Right after we got home, Natalie was learning about Van Gogh in school. I reminded her that she had seen several Van Gogh paintings in person! We even printed out some photos including the one on the right in front of a Van Gogh and she brought them to school to share her experience with the class.

The National Archives: You can’t take any photos here. It was pretty amazing to see the documents that changed America’s History face to face like The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Our last morning in DC we had a tour of the Capitol scheduled with our Congressman. The tour was filled with little tidbits of interesting facts and the drama of how everything all works. Plus because it’s a private tour, you can ask questions about anything that comes to mind, which can’t really happen in a large group with headphones.

After our Captiol tour we started our road trip to Philadelphia.

Philadelphia: We didn’t have a lot of time, but we were able to make the last tour of Independence Hall. There is a reverence in that building that you can just feel. After a few sites and a Philly cheese steak dinner we stayed at a hotel in New Jersey.

New York City: The next morning we finished our drive to NYC. We turned in our rental car in favor of walking and subway travel. Hotels are expensive and not conducive to a family of seven. Our best bet was finding a great deal on Priceline and getting two rooms with double beds. If we were staying more than 2 nights we’d probably go with another plan. With only 2 and a half days for NYC we had to pack it in.

We were able to go on a bike ride through Central Park, hang out in Times Square, see the Statue of Liberty (from afar), visit the 9-11 memorial, and we splurged on tickets to a play on Broadway. We saw Cinderella!

Traveling with a big family has it’s challenges, but we had so much fun learning and experiencing new places together. We made lifelong memories! If you have any travel ideas or tips for traveling with a big family – please share!

Classroom Valentines

I had the honor of doing a little DIY post for Minted’s blog, Julep! Featuring my “School of Fish” design and “King of the Jungle” design by Bob Daly. Click the link to read it!
My favorite part about Minted Classroom valentines are free die cut shapes! I also add photos to the back of the non-photo designs.

Crash Course Parties: Cooking School Party


I wasn’t completely sure how a Cooking School would turn out, or if the girls would even enjoy making all of their own food, but they loved it. I liked having a small group to manage, and they all were very enthusiastic about everything!

I ordered black aprons from They were made from high quality fabric and well constructed. I had a friend of mine silk-screen my design on the front in white ink. The aprons became their “favor”. It was a little more expensive than I would normally spend, but I feel like it is something that can be used and enjoyed a lot longer than a bag of candy or junky toys. If aprons are out of your budget, you could get some colorful silicone whisks or rubber scrapers and use that as the favor.


The Invitation: I wanted the invitation and the party to have a French look, fresh and clean with lots of white and black and a touch of red. The invitation can be ordered from Brightside Prints.

The Party: After a mass hand-washing, the little chefs started with homemade pizzas. I made the dough balls ahead of time, so the girls each rolled one out and added the sauce and toppings.


While the pizzas went in the oven, they made their own fruit kabobs with fresh strawberries, grapes, pineapple, and apples.


The girls ate their pizzas and fruit, then they all worked together to make cake batter. The batter was poured into individual dishes that can be placed straight in the oven to bake. While the cakes baked and cooled, the girls jumped on the trampoline and played Apples to Apples Jr.


BrightsidePrints_CookingPartyThe cakes were decorated with frosting and candy and eaten before I even got a photo! The girls were proud of their great work as chefs. Happy Birthday Natalie!


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Crash Course Travel: Ribs in Reno

CreativeCrashCourse_RenoRibCookOff_Scott&JillCrashCourseCreative_RenoRibCookOff_RibsCookingReno is less than 3 hours from Lodi, so it works for a getaway within driving distance. To be honest, I never really thought of Reno as a destination, we are usually driving right through it on our way to Utah. And especially if you don’t gamble, why would you be headed to Reno? Because every year Reno is host to “The Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-off”. Our friends John & Karen have been going on this annual Rib Fest getaway for a few years and finally this year we were able to join them. We owe our entire trip itinerary to their expertise. They recommend attending on a week day, since it can get crowded on the weekends. We drove up on a Wednesday and attended the Cook-off on Thursday.

The Rib Cook-off features 24 top rib cookers from all over the country as well as other booths and activities. Each Rib Vendor had huge displays of their menus and banners showcasing awards and bragging rights. Going in a group is great because each couple would go out and buy a half-rack of ribs from a different vendor, then we would set them out on a picnic table and taste them. You could compare the different rubs, sauces and flavors. It’s not cheap, a half-rack will set you back about $11-15. CreativeCrashCourse_RenoRibCookOff_Walking

We were at the Rib Festival for lunch in the afternoon then broke up the day (and got out of the heat) by going to Scheels, a huge sporting goods store nearby. You can literally spend hours in there. Some of the attractions include a Wildlife Mountain, an operating Ferris Wheel, and Sport Simulators where customers can test their skills including basketball, soccer, baseball and football. They also have a café. We balanced out our rib eating by ordering some gelato – the salted caramel is the best.

CreativeCrashCourse_RenoScheelsWe followed that with some shopping at the outlets in the same shopping center. Later in the evening, we returned to the Rib Festival for dinner. The weather was cooler and it was fun to enjoy the company of our friends around a table with some great food.

In our informal tasting, we loved Just North of Memphis, a husband and wife team specializing in dry rubbed ribs. Their sauce was a thin, vinegary style that didn’t overpower the meat. Bone Daddy’s was also a favorite and their beef brisket was the perfect balance of sweet, savory and spicy. We also gave high marks to Yazoo’s, BJ’s and Butch’s. We didn’t try the California vendors, since we have access to those eats at home.

One of my favorite offerings was the Kick A Fries from BJ’s. A basket of fries with a sprinking of cheddar cheese, topped with barbecued pulled pork and BBQ sauce. Yum. Definitely for sharing though, because it was huge. Before we left, we had to try the Homemade Peach Bread Pudding and Mike couldn’t resist buying some Alligator on a Stick for everyone to try. Yes. Alligator. I was not a fan. Everyone went home with a bag of Hillbilly Kettlecorn for their kids at home.


Accommodations: We chose to stay at the Peppermill Resort. We booked a room in the Tuscany Tower and were quite impressed. I loved that you could check-in and go to your room without wandering through a casino. The rooms are spacious and clean. The king bed had a comfortable mattress and nice linens. My favorite part of the room was the spa-style bathroom featuring a double head shower, soaking tub, double sink vanity and even a TV. The Tuscan decor and furniture is a little over the top, I prefer a more modern, understated look, but overall I was very happy with our room. We are not gamblers or night clubbers, but we did utilize the pool and fitness center which are state-of-the-art and have all the desired amenities. We loved the homemade gelato from Biscotti’s Cafe.


(photos courtesy of Peppermill)

Spa: My husband and I booked massages at Spa Toscana, the on-site spa of the Peppermill. The spa is truly the jewel of the entire resort. We arrived a couple hours before our appointment and enjoyed the beautiful indoor pool surrounded by luxurious lounging areas. Spa refreshments are provided or you can order room service if you desire. I selected the exfoliating massage and my therapist was Kelly, who was amazing. The massage was perfection. The entire staff at the spa are warm, friendly and determined to make your stay at the spa dreamy. My husband and I spent some time together, then enjoyed the private sections of the spa separated by gender, where I spent a few moments in the steam room before taking advantage of the vanity area to get ready for the rest of the day. With the rooms at the Peppermill at such reasonable rates, adding on a spa experience is completely justified and you won’t be disappointed.

The entire experience was a fun little escape and perhaps become part of our own traditions. If you are interested in next year’s event, visit I booked our hotel accommodations here:

I was not compensated in any way for this review.

Crash Course Photography: Perspective

One of the things I’ve learned is to not always go for the obvious shot. Observe your surroundings. What would it look like to shoot from a different angle? Don’t be afraid to MOVE around. I found these photos on Pinterest and they didn’t have credits, but I thought it was a great illustration of what photographers do to change their perspective. I’m pretty sure I’m guilty of a few of these positions. Using a horse as a tri-pod? genius.

Here are 5 ideas for changing your perspective.
1. Shoot from behind. Shouldn’t be your go-to position, but every so often it just works.

2. Shoot from an elevated position. I’m always climbing stuff to get photos from above. Trees, ladders, stairs, walls… Shooting from an elevated position is great for groups because you can get more faces in the photo. Shooting from slightly above your subjects is also ideal for portraits because it is a flattering angle. I always bring a step stool on my portrait photo shoots.

3. Shoot from ground level. Get low. I love the shot of my nephew playing cars in the dirt. He played for hours. The best way to capture that was to get down in the dirt with him. Photograph kids and babies at their eye level. CrashCourseCreative_Photography_Low
4. Get close. Zoom in on a face, hands, feet or details of a setting. CrashCourseCreative_Photography_Close
5. Shoot away from the action. What’s happening on the other side of the action? Capture the fans in the stands instead of just the action on the field. What is the audience doing? Anyone can photograph the characters in a parade, but your daughter’s expression as she sees the characters… that’s the shot you want.


Crash Course Photography: Tell a Story

First of all, I am not a professional photographer. I had a class or two in college, pre-digital, so yes, ancient times. As a graphic designer, I am often selecting photos, art directing photography shoots, or forced to take my own in a crunch. This has given me a desire to learn more and to be better. Also, like any mom, I’m constantly snapping photos of my kids and I’ve decided might as well take good ones!  I will be sharing the tidbits I’ve learned and am still learning so I anticipate this as an ongoing series.

I’ll be sharing some technical tricks in future posts, but lets start with the heart of photography. The purpose of photography is to tell a story, to capture that moment or experience. Here are 5 ideas that can help you tell a story with your photography.
1. Take a series of photos in a row. Keep shooting during the action. You may end up with a series of photos that perfectly capture the moment with a variety of expressions. Blowing out birthday candles, opening a gift, and sports action and reaction are great times to try this technique.

2. Don’t forget the details. Use your macro lens to get close. Add the little details to the story. Wedding photographers are great at getting those shots, taking close ups of the rings, the flowers, hand holding… but we often forget to use that technique in real life events.

3. Use variety of scale. This goes along with #2. When photographing an event, do your best to get different angles and variety of scale. This makes your photos more interesting and tells more of the story.

4. Add more visual information. Take photos of signs, tickets, architectural details, and maps to help add to the story and serve as visual reminders of where you were.

5. Capture the unposed moments. Use a photo journalistic approach to get those candid moments. You’ll be surprised at how many of those shots become your favorites.


Crash Course DIY: Furniture Refresh

Background: This cedar chest was made in 1950. I’m not sure why my grandparents bought it originally, but I remember it from the family cabin at Donner Lake, California where it held extra blankets or snow clothes. About 17 years ago, long after the cabin was sold, my grandmother gave me the cedar chest. It was an awesome gift because that cabin has so many sweet childhood memories and my Grandmother, Ireta was one of my favorite people in the whole world and it reminds me of both.

The bad part of the story: it has been in my garage for at least 7 years. The wood didn’t really match any of our other furniture and it was chipped in a few areas and had some damage to the finish. I always thought I would have someone refinish it, but it never happened. Finally I decided to try to do something with it myself.

I had heard about “chalk paint” and supposedly it’s really hard to mess anything up… so I gave it a try. I thought the chalk paint would make it look less like a damaged piece and more like an antique. I found a blog with a recipe and someone who seemed awesome at this sort of thing. You can look at her site for the recipe. It’s super easy and inexpensive!
And you can use any color you want.


The first images are the before. You don’t need to sand or prep the furniture. Just make sure it’s clean and dusted. The second image is after one quick coat with the chalk paint. It dries really fast. I added a second coat and lightly sanded the edges and details to create a natural, distressed look. You can really distress the piece to your liking depending on how worn or rustic you want it. I like it very subtle. Wipe down any paint dust. Then add a coat of furniture wax. The Elizabeth & Co. blog recommended Johnson’s Paste Wax, found at Home Depot. And…. here is the finished look! My cedar chest finally has a home at the foot of my bed where I filled it with extra sheets and blankets. I love it.


Crash Course Parties: Carnival Party

When I asked my daughter Natalie what kind of party she wanted for her seventh birthday, she said, “a carnival!” I knew what she was picturing in her mind… games, prizes, a ferris wheel. So I started with how to create that atmosphere and vision with my budget. We had to scrap the ferris wheel. I wanted the game booths to have some structure. I had seen some cute stands built out of wood, but I knew it would be expensive and time consuming. We came up with the idea of a “frame” that would give the look of actual booths, but for a fraction of the time and cost.

How we did it: We used pvc pipe to build an arch using elbow connectors. The structure was held up by driving a few pieces of rebar into the ground and sliding the pvc over the top. We spray painted the pvc a gloss red. All of the materials can be found at a home improvement store like Lowes. We added a simple striped valance and red side curtains and it became a perfect, kid-size booth.

Not all of the games had a booth, but we built enough that when placed around the yard, provided that carnival look. Activities included a bean bag toss, ping pong throw, balloon dart board, duck pond, bottle ring toss, shooting gallery and face painting. At each game you earned tickets that could be collected to buy prizes… more on that later.

How we did it: The bottle ring toss was simple empty glass coke bottles bought at the grocery store and mason jar lid rings from Walmart. The balloon dart board was created by taking a 2’x4′ section of peg board from Lowes, we spray painted it white, then we added balloons by simply tying the balloon and pulling the knot through the holes. The board was held up by two extra pieces of rebar. For the duck pond we took weighted ducks bought online at Oriental Trading Company and pushed metal tacks into their heads so we could use a magnet fishing pole. Different point/ticket values were written in permanent marker on the bottom of the ducks.  For the bean bag toss, we used a ladder with different point values attached each step. The ping pong game was created by using the plastic protector shell that apples come in at Costco. Just open the shell up and placed on a level surface, we added stars to a few of the sections for added skill level.

The shooting gallery was created by using duck targets printed on double thick cards from Brightside Prints, placing them in placecard holders and shooting with a Nerf-style gun. You could also attach the targets to plastic cups if you don’t have placecard holders or photo clips.

I knew I needed to delegate some of the party preparation so I left the sewing to my friend, Becky. She took the leftover striped fabric from the booths and made little aprons for my “carnies” (my older children and some friends who ran each game booth). Complete with pockets for holding tickets.


We also used muslin to make drawstring bags for each child. I used ink jet t-shirt transfers from Staples to add their names. They used the bags to collect their tickets and hold their prizes so they wouldn’t get misplaced. We used this tutorial from Martha Stewart. We would suggest using a heavier weight fabric or nylon, the muslin was inexpensive, it was thin and didn’t hold up well.



The children earned tickets at each game then they could spend their tickets at our prize booth. The prize booth was created with a pvc frame but used a longer panel of the striped fabric instead of a valance. We filled jars with candy and small toys with little tents that indicated the ticket value for that jar. All of the loose candy and small toys were neatly contained in the fun “treat tubs” from Bake It Pretty. I did buy the small, colored bears, but the rest of the stuffed animals came from… Natalie’s closet. She had so many stuffed animals that she never played with that were practically new, so they became the coveted “big” prizes. Sneaky mom!



The food was simple and kid-friendly, incorporating some Carnival classics. We had corn dogs, buttered popcorn, fresh strawberries, carrot sticks and lemonade. The amazing cupcakes were created by a local boutique bakery, The Frosted Flour. I just showed them my invitation and they created these! How cute is that little cotton candy?


Thank you to the super talented, Becky Thomas (pictured with me below), the Anderson Family, My Mom, and my family for all of your help with this fun party!



invitation, custom labels, and printed items Brightside Prints

paper goods, nut cups, treat tubs Bake It Pretty

cupcakes The Frosted Flour

Photography by Dale Goff and Jill Means