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Saying No

Saying No

By | design, quotes, thought provoking | One Comment

I’m really bad at saying no. Like really bad. And now that I’m hard at work creating a new identity as a not-designer, I very much need to learn how to be better at it.

The thing is, I like helping people, I like being busy, and I really like for people to like me, so I tend to say yes whenever someone asks me to do something for them. But here’s what happens way too often: I say yes to something I don’t actually want to do, and then something I do want to do comes along and I’m too busy to do it. Now all the good feelings are gone. I’m pissed that I said yes to the first thing, and I’m frustrated by not having the space to do the thing I want to do. Repeat cycle.

So when I was listening to the amazing You Are a Badass audiobook a couple weeks ago, I heard this particular line loud and clear:

It’s easier to say no when there’s a bigger yes.

So I decided to design a little card to help me remember.

Could you use this reminder, too? Then download a PDF here and print it out for your own wall.

Time and time again

By | color, design, make something, step away from the screen | 3 Comments

So, once upon a time I had babies. Little baby babies. Who had teddy bears, and rocking horses, and all the baby trappings of babydom. Before these babies were born, someone gave me a clock. The clock below. A very baby nursery clock, which we put in the babies’ nursery. Since that’s where the baby things went.

Over the years, weirdly, the babies have been growing up. And now there’s pretty much nothing left in our house that resembles anything that this clock represents. Not even in their room (they actually asked me to take this clock out of their room. So I hung it in the kitchen). Which means it’s probably time for it to go. Except I had gotten used to having a large, not-digital clock in the kitchen. So I decided, rather than get rid of it, I’d fix it and make it match our house better.

Step one: Design design design design.

This was no small task. I’m nothing if not compulsive. And having the whole world of possibilities to choose from is about as overwhelming as it can possibly get for me. So I designed clocks for about 3 months. Maybe longer. Because apparently that’s how long it takes to design ALL THE CLOCKS.

Eventually, I found myself veering toward certain looks and started refining the design and colors. I originally thought I’d be working mostly with red, as you can see above. Our kitchen has dark brown walls and I typically choose red stuff whenever I have to buy or make something for that room. So, red kettle, red dish drain, red Soda Stream, red silicone whisk, etc. But when I cut these designs out and put them on the wall, the red was too much. So I shifted to other colors that I like with brown.

Lo and behold, I actually chose a design!

But then I had to figure out how to make it happen. I was worried about the circles since it’s hard to make a perfect circle, let alone 13. And if they weren’t perfect, the clock would drive me crazy. Which meant trying to paint circles would probably put me on the fast track to crazy. While mired in puzzling this out, I decided to start prepping the clock itself. I figured if nothing else, that would motivate me to work through the puzzle as quickly as possible.

Step two: Primer

I wanted to be sure to cover all the old art completely so priming was important to enable a fresh start. I blew through this step, so I only have the tiniest portion photographed. Whoops. Needless to say, I completely covered the clock face with primer. I think I did two coats.

Step three: Paint

This was the fun part. I like mixing my own colors, so I started with a basic set of acrylic paints in blue, yellow, red, white, and black. The first blue I created was a little too dark, so I ended up painting about 4 coats. The hands of the clock are a little ornate — and brass — but I decided to stick with them and just painted them white. Also! The clock also had a pendulum. With an insert that continued the design of the clock. I ended up keeping the pendulum — painted it white — but got rid of the insert. So now it’s just an open circle, white, with the dark brown wall behind it.

Step four: Circles

I ended up buying a Fiskars Circle Cutter which worked like a charm for creating the circles. For the large, white center circle, I just took a piece of heavyweight bright white paper (I love Epson Matte Presentation paper) and cut the circle out of the center. It was a little challenging to get the green number circles perfectly centered, but I eventually figured out a method that worked. I used the typeface ITC Blair which has great, clean, retro feeling numbers.

Step five: Mod Podge

I applied all the circles with Mod Podge (on the backs and the fronts) and then, when it was all dry, I Mod Podged the whole clock face. Twice.

And voila! Our new kitchen clock! With a pendulum!

In keeping with my original challenge to myself — stepping away from the screen and making something: one thing per month — I stopped here and counted. And at the end of September, I’m pleased to report that I have actually made TEN THINGS! I’ve got some more to share with you soon, so stay tuned. Until then, YOU step away from the screen and go make something. And share it with us over here on Facebook.

House Rules

By | design, happy, make something, step away from the screen, typography | 13 Comments

Hey kids! Not sure if you noticed or not, but I haven’t been here in a while. My 365 project got derailed a little bit. First it was because I was busy. Then it was because I was actually spending a lot more time away from my screen.  Then I got busy again, and somewhere along the way, I decided to let myself off the hook and pick it back up when I had the wherewithal. Or not. We’ll see.

Meanwhile… I thought it might be time for another story about something I stepped away from the screen and made. Yeah? Okay! This story has a few “parts” to it, so I thought I’d break it down into bite size pieces.

Act 1 —

Scene 1:
About a year and a half ago, I started writing our family’s “house rules.” I had seen a few of these lists floating around the Internet and really liked what they were all about. Especially in a house with kids. So I started working. Not diligently, but whenever something occurred to me, I would add it to the list. I kept the list on Evernote so it would be with me wherever I was.

Scene 2:
One night I was sitting on my couch looking around the living room. The staircase is a dominant feature of that room because it is right smack in the middle of it. All our walls are painted different colors, but the stairs are white wood. It occurred to me that I needed to do something creative with the stairs. I mean, here it was, a giant canvas right in the middle of the living room and it was just plain white. So I added that to my ever-present, ever-growing list of “things to think about and do someday.”

Act 2 —

Scene 1:
The house rules were coming along nicely, but there was a problem: Where was I going to put it once it was finished? We don’t have a ton of walls in our house (years ago previous owners knocked down most of the walls turning a boxy, compartmentalized, 1930’s era bungalow into an open, airy, modern feeling home. We love it, but we don’t have as many places to hang things as we might like.), and most of those walls were already exhibiting art, as we’d lived in the house for 6 years.

Scene 2:
One daydreamy afternoon, I’m thinking about our stairs, and what fun thing I could create for them, when suddenly it all comes together for me. The house rules! On the stairs! One rule per step. I counted the steps (13) and opened the house rules document. I had 9 rules. Surely I could come up with 4 more.

Act 3 —

Scene 1:
The stairs were, upon close inspection, pretty banged up. 6 years of a family of 4 on white stairs? Yeah. Might need a little paint. So that was the first part of the project. meanwhile, I was trying to figure out the best way to get the words on the stairs. I considered freehand painting, sharpie, and stencil painting, but I’m a fairly compulsive person (understatement), and I know that any imperfections would drive me crazy. Finally I decided on vinyl. Choosing the typeface and, more importantly, the color took a while — the stairs are surrounded by yellow, sage green, red, and brown walls. What color would work with all of those? We ultimately decided on a steely blue grey. And practical, clean DIN for the font. I designed the words and had them printed at my favorite sign company for about $40.

Scene 2:
Got the vinyl back as one big sheet. While I cut the lines apart, I also stressed about how to apply them so they’d be straight and also spaced the same distance from the wall (remember — compulsive). I decided left-aligned would work better than centered, and would also look more modern.

Act 4 —

They came out about a million times better than I even hoped they would. And the kids love them. And I love them. And we have even invented a game around them. We frequently find our cat, Mark, hanging out in the middle of the stairs. So we decided he would choose our rule of the day. Any time someone walks by the steps and sees Mark there, they yell out the rule he’s sitting on: “Mark says WORK HARD!!” Or “Mark says, SHARE!”

Here’s the complete list of our house rules. I strongly encourage you to think about what yours would be, even if you don’t turn them into something on display. It’s pretty interesting to consider which behaviors are important enough to you and your family that you would classify them as “rules.”

Be Kind.
Laugh. A lot.
Work Hard.
Play Fair.
Tell the Truth.
Offer to Help.
Ask Nicely.
Hug and Kiss.
Say Thank You.
Respect Others.

Act on that

By | design, save the world | One Comment

click for bigger

My friend Ilina tagged me on Facebook today and asked me to design something to go with these words. So I did. Because as usual, this was much more fun than what I was actually supposed to be working on.

If you’d like a printable version, click here to download a PDF.

Now go use your powers for good.

Yard Art Day

By | design, step away from the screen | 2 Comments

Okay friends. I’ve been bombarding you with STEP AWAY FROM THE SCREEN for almost 2 months now — over fifty different designs — and I have yet to show you any of the things that I’ve done when I actually stepped away from the screen. Soooo, wanna see some? Oh good — I hoped you were going to say yes!

I’ll start with my favorite so far.

But first, some background:

A few months ago my friend, and amazing photographer, Deborah Triplett had a dream.

“It is my dream that for one day people remember that child within them that likes to play creatively without any judgment or restraint. And to show the world that Charlotte is so much more than a banking town. And for us all to get insight into the city in which we live — to cross neighborhood boundaries. To be inclusive. Art can do this.”

She decided to call it Yard Art Day. And it got people excited. Very excited. So excited that over 200 homes in and around Charlotte participated by creating some art for their front yard. And on Labor Day, we all yard crawled around town to see everyone’s creations.

As soon as I heard about Yard Art Day, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. And since it was going to be in our front yard, I felt like it should be a whole-family project. So Bob and I started talking. And sketching. And talking. And sketching. We have a history of making things out of reclaimed palette wood, so we knew that was the medium we wanted to work in, but beyond that, our ideas were as diverse and all-over-the-place as they could possibly be. Eventually we settled on a basic concept: reinterpret a picket fence.

(click all images to enlarge)

So Lucy and I went out to find reclaimable palettes, and Bob and Zoe started working on breaking them apart and cutting them into different lengths.

Then we “sketched” a layout with the garden hose — making curvy waves along the length of our yard — and placed the boards on the ground, following the curves.

Then we started pounding the boards in the ground.

And then it started raining. But we kept pounding.

Then. After all the boards were in the ground, we got out the spray paint.

Last but not least, we put in some signage. So the neighbors would know what the heck was going on in our yard.

And voila: Our finished Yard Art Day project — What’s (Y)ours Is…

The basic concept is this: a picket fence is intended to separate “ours” from “yours.” This side of the fence is ours; that side of the fence is yours. Our picket fence, instead, was intended to draw you into our space, not to separate you from it. We were inviting you to walk along it, wander with its curves, explore the space around it. As such, the fence was both ours and yours. A term we coined (Y)ours.

Here’s a quick video I made which also explains the basic concept of the piece. It’s just shot with my phone, so it’s nothing professional. But it enables you to see the whole fence, which is fun. And I explain a little more about our thought process, if you’re interested.

Our goal for Yard Art Day was to create something that we were proud of. Something beyond just decorating our front yard. Instead we wanted to create something interactive and interesting to look at that was also thought provoking. We were all four very happy with how our piece turned out. So happy that, in many ways, this project launched my whole Step Away from the Screen initiative. That’s why I wanted to show it to you first.

Do you have any yard art? Would you put art in your front yard? I’d love to hear.


PS. We kept the art up for a few months. But eventually the grass grew too tall around the boards and we had to pull them up. This pile of wood impelled us to build a fire pit in our backyard and we invited friends over to make s’mores over our yard art with us. All in all a perfect project!

Lucky Number 13

By | design, food, happy | 2 Comments


Ladies and Gentlemen. The future. It’s coming!

Once again, we’re in the lucky position of being able to make a fresh start with a brand spankin’ new year. 365 whole days to do it all right this time. Clean slate. Tabula Rasa. Square One. Woo!

And how do we celebrate? That’s right, friends — say it with me — with Collard Greens!

And what kind of friend would I be if I left you hangin without a great recipe for Collards? No kind of friend. So here it is: The best collards recipe ever. Seriously — people who swear they don’t like collards (like my Dad!) love these collards. So don’t be nervous — go for it! Make yourself a mess o’ greens (and black eyed peas, and pork!) and bring on the fortune, luck, and prosperity. Let’s kick number 13’s butt.

Oh, and don’t forget the milk punch!


Ohmygod Yum Collards

– 4 bunches of collards, long stems and tough ribs removed
– Salt
– 1/4 cup brown butter (recipe included)
– 1 onion, diced
– 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
– 1/2 chipotle chile en adobo, all chopped up (to taste — it’s intended to add smoky, not spicy)
– 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
– Pepper vinegar (recipe follows)

Wash the greens thoroughly in a whole lotta water (I fill my sink and wash them in there). Place the dripping wet leaves in a pot of water, add salt (to taste). Cook the greens for about 10 minutes (until they”re all wilted and reduced down quite a bit). Remove to a bowl. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water.

Heat 1/4 cup unsalted butter on medium-low until it turns brown and nutty. Strain off the milk-fat solids. (This is something I make a big batch of ahead-of-time and keep in the fridge.) Increase the heat to medium. Add the onion, garlic, pepper flakes and chipotle, stirring occasionally until the garlic is lightly colored and onion is soft. Add the greens, their reserved cooking water, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Cook for 30 minutes and taste again for salt (they can use a lot). You can continue cooking until the greens are “within an inch of their life” or you can stop here. The longer they cook, the better they”ll taste.

Serve with pepper vinegar on the side.

Recipe for Pepper Vinegar: 1 cup white vinegar + 4 oz serrano chiles. Drop the washed and dried chiles into a bottle that has been freshly washed in hot, soapy water. (A narrow neck bottle is preferable so the vinegar can be drizzled rather than poured, but it doesn”t really matter.) Bring the vinegar to a boil in a small pan, then transfer to the bottle (via a measuring cup or some other easy-pouring device). Let it sit uncapped until cool. The peppers will absorb some of the vinegar. Add more vinegar to fill the bottle, then cap and set aside in the cupboard. The vinegar will be best if you make this ahead. But you can speed the process by including one pepper sliced into “coins.” Plus, the discs look cool floating around all the whole peppers.

pepper vinegar

(Thanks to Deborah Madison for the original base recipe, and especially for the brown butter secret. You have been helping me for many years to make people’s New Years just that much luckier and fortunier.)

Where else is Laurie?

Snapchat: @stepawayFTS