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13 posts categorized "creative people"

December 03, 2013

Tips for Ruining Christmas by Mark Spearman

Today I'm thrilled to introduce you to my guest writer Mark Spearman. Some of you may know Mark from his fine work on The Pioneer Woman. I know Mark because he's married to one of my friends who also happens to be my former boss from the early 1990s. Kira (Mark's wife and said former boss) is the person I most often credit with launching my career as a designer when she said to me, then a lowly assistant editor for a corporate trade magazine: "You wanna take over the design stuff?" Where was I? Oh yeah, MARK. Although I have spent very little time with him in person (cumulatively, I'd guess about 3 hours), the time I have spent getting to know him online has been pretty awesome. In short, he is the funniest person I know. And one of the smartest. He knows every line of dialogue to Silence of the Lambs, and honestly? That alone makes him completely awesome. He also recently met William Shatner and was photographed pointing at Shatner's head. He has a storied tradition of writing about Those Who Ruin Christmas. I asked him to share his best tips with my blog readers, in the spirit of the holiday season. Take it away, Mark.


I've been asked to speak with you about The Holidays.

Now I realize you normally come here for tips on successfully pairing patterned paper stock or to document your gratitude and whatnot or maybe to get the skinny on those Fitbit wristbands. We're not here to talk about those things.

But perhaps you knew that. YES. I'm talking to YOU. The person who Ruins Christmas For Everyone.

You know who you are.

You're the one who pouts until Lincoln's Birthday because the lululemon yoga pants your sister gave you in the family gift exchange are “Flair” instead of “Skinny.” So to get even you put way, WAY too much Worcestershire in the crappy cheese ball you take to her house. Then out of sheer animus you steal chocolate. From your own child's Advent calendar.

You think no one's watching? To paraphrase Fox Mulder, Someone's Always Watching.

I see. You've never been accused of Ruining Christmas for Anyone. They all say that. That fact alone establishes an 87% likelihood that you are, in fact, the person who Ruins Christmas For Everyone.

Wake up and smell the coffee. Not the pricey Jamaican Blue Mountain you buy for yourself. The cheap supermarket house brand you gift your in-laws.

At this point you're thinking I'm Marley to your Scrooge and we're going to meet three ghosts who'll make you sit through a boatload of tedious flashbacks and premonitions. Relax. I'm here to help you.

If you're going to Ruin Christmas for Everyone, at least do it well. Show a little pride in your work. This is America, and like it or not, we are a Beacon of Christmas Ruiners for the World. Represent!

So I've taken it upon myself to bring some much-needed discipline to this process. Hence, the following five tips may serve as an aid in your tireless efforts to Ruin Christmas for Everyone.

1. When dropping hints about gifts you'd like, provide very specific but completely bogus inventory SKU numbers. (e.g. “Honey, I'd like the Target Women's Footie Pajama in Monkey Stripe Tartan Plaid, SKU # 147599313.”) Not only will this confound the gift-giver, but on Christmas morning, you can exclaim “For God's Sake I even gave you the inventory SKU numbers!”

2. At holiday dinners, make loud accusations regarding known allergens intentionally added to your food (e.g. "You KNOW that I am severely allergic to ALL domestically manufactured marshmallow-based products!”)

3. Let it be known that you are furious that you are forced to host the big family holiday gathering/were not asked to host the big family holiday gathering.

4. Fill your family's entire DVR hard-drive with hackneyed and painful holiday-themed TV movies. I recommend The Christmas Consultant starring David Hasselhoff. (Fun Fact: This excruciating Hallmark movie was a runaway hit in Hasselhoff-obsessed Germany as Christmas Planner: Was für eine Bescherung!) Fans of stop-action animation should watch for Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey. Or, you can just play the odds and tell Tivo to alert you <all programs> + “Christmas” + “Denise Richards” + “Yasmine Bleeth” + “Alan Thicke” +  “Talking Donkey” + “David Hasselhoff” + “Germany.”

5. Enlist accomplices. Christmas Ruiners can easily detect others of their ilk. Deploy yourselves at the big neighborhood holiday do and stalk the hostess like velociraptors in a coordinated assault. You make a cutting remark about her cowl-neck caribou-pattern sweater. She stares right back at you. And that's when the attack comes. Not from the front, but from the side, from the other two Christmas Ruiners she didn't even know were there.

So chop chop, people. Only a few precious days remain.

What, you think Christmas is going to Ruin Itself?


Follow Mark on Twitter and look for his entertainment columns on The Pioneer Woman.


October 30, 2013

Tell someone how much you appreciate them today

A lot of people who love music are really saddened by the passing of Lou Reed. I have to admit, I'd never listened to Lou before meeting Dan Zielske back in 1989 in Grapevine, Texas.

Lou's music seemed weird. And that was saying something, considering at that time, Bauhaus and Peter Gabriel were my two favorite bands.

But Dan and weird music went hand in hand and I found his quirky taste utterly charming. He expanded my musical views to be sure, even if I never really did come around on Orchestral Manuevers in the Dark.

It's been really cool to read all of the tributes to Lou's music and his infuence but I couldn't help but think, "Did he know he was that influential and that revered?" I'm guessing he did. Duh. He's Lou Reed. But it got me thinking about a book I recently read, Tuesdays with Morrie, wherein Morrie held a living funeral for himself so he could hear all the loving and tender and funny things people had to say about him.

Maybe that was a little self-serving, but heck he was dying, so why not?

Today, tell someone how much you appreciate them. Keep it simple. Spread it around.

As we are getting ready to enter a month where gratitude is the focus, why not?

I'll leave you with my favorite Lou Reed song. RIP Lou.



September 17, 2013

Clever girl


I've made no secret of my recently developed crush on Artifact Uprising. Their credo of preserving the 'disappearing beauty of the tangible' really does hit a soft and tender spot in this print-loving designer's heart.

I recently made the most adorable 5.5-inch square book about my trip to Slovenia (read about it here). I guess it wasn't just me who thought it was adorable. My 17-year-old girl thought so, too.

Aidan designed two 5.5-inch books. One, a book of selifes; the other, a book of photos of the children she nannys for during the summer.

While that book has already been given as a gift to said children, Aidan let me share her selfie book here.


Selfie. It's just such a right now kind of word. 

Back in my day, we didn't call them selfies, you know? I think we just called them self-portraits. I know, boring!

I like to think I was a bit ahead of my time with this little number from 1986.


Still, selfies are such a part of youth culture. 

I was joking the other day and told Aidan I was going to launch a tumblr called "Middle Aged Selfies". I think there's an audience out there, don't you?


Do you have a teen with a ton of photos in need of a home? If so, consider making one of these little books

Aidan has informed me she is going to make books all year long to document her senior year.

I say, "Go for it, girl." You won't regret making these books. Not one little bit.


February 12, 2013

Inspired and a tad profane. (Emphasis on inspired.)

I wanted to share a website today that my friend Lee Currie shared with me over the weekend. The name of the site includes the f-word. I generally have a current blog policy to not use this word. While it may be a word I use in my personal life (and believe me, I've uttered a few in my day), I've never used it on this blog in an effort to not offend my readers.

This post may not be for you, if you're easily offended by language. But I hope you won't be, because there is a larger message at work here. Disclaimer over.

Good F#%@ing Design Advice (you can click on a link in the lower left of their main page to create a family-friendly—more or less—version) is the coolest web site I've come across in a long time. At first, when Lee sent me the link, I just looked at their store and thought, "Oh, that's cute. Cheeky, swears… racy humor for designers. Kinda cute."

Then I realized, "The product design is pretty tight."

Then I realized, "This site design is pretty tight, too."

Then I realized I loved it not just for the cheeky message, but for the perfect and copious use of Helvetica. And the color orange. And the white space.

Then I watched their video. 

And I realized: I love this for the message.


I love the idea of a passion project—what would you do if you could focus on what you were passionate about, first and foremost. And how would that spill over into everything else you did?

Think about that. How many of you got into crafting or scrapbooking because of a true passion for the creative process? How does the act of creating spill over into how you live your life every day?

It reminded me of the day last summer when I realized that my tagline of "Taking the 'Crap Out of Scrapbooking" was truly a message that I not only connected to but that I had consciously been cultivating for years. I remember feeling so, so inspired that day, as if my passion and my work melded together in that moment and I was suddenly aware of how fortunate I was to be able to do what I did for a living.

These guys are really thoughtful young designers. Their message is inspired. Hearing their process on this project, realizing this isn't just about using an f-bomb for shock value. Then watching them screen print by hand, the whole tactile expression of beautifully executed design… this entire video—as a designer myself, I just feel inspired.

I connected to it on so many levels. On one hand, in my professional life as a graphic designer, I try to bring real passion and expertise to my work, even though my work is not going to show up in any design annuals or awards shows. I care about quality work. I care about how well that headline is kerned. Or if things are lining up on the baseline. Or if that sentence ends in an orphan. I wish I knew web design so I could truly have a blog that reflected my design aesthetic.

I care about simplicity and elegance and delivering the message in a clear and concise manner.

Now take that into the scrapbooking world—a world in which let's face it, many designers would scoff and say, "Design has no place in scrapbooking,"—this too is also something I really care about. About showing people what principles of design look like when applied in a thoughtful and caring way. And showing people what elegance and simplicity can do on a craft-based level.

So I decided to print out and take their pledge. If you think about it, how universal is the potential application? How many of us, as we strive to earn our daily livings, find ourselves faced with doubt or fear? How many of us will give into not offering up the best of ourselves to the tasks at hand? I know that for me personally, that's never going to be okay.


I hope you get a chance to watch the video. Or poke around their site a bit.

I just wanted to share something this week that reminded me of how much I love what I do. And to remind me to trust in myself, engage and connect to the passion at hand.

F-bombs or not.

Oh yeah, and to look forward to the coffee I'll soon be drinking from my new mug.


October 01, 2012

The Internet is Amazing

Last Friday, a Facebook friend posted a link to a Ted talk by Sarah Kay. I've never heard of her, but I always give any Ted Talk link the benefit of the doubt, because let's be honest here, Ted Talks make quantum physics fascinating to the average person.

I was moved to tears by this Ted Talk. The poem she starts out with, called simply "B", blew my mind. Talk about the beauty and the power of words.

God, I love it when people share their gifts with the world. For all the people who spew their hatred and ignorance, there are so many more people who choose to share their love and hope. The Internet can be an amazing curator of such wonder.


You can buy her poem in a hardcover book on Amazon.

November 22, 2011

Everyone was wearing fingerless gloves

Note: the links in this post are not kid friendly, and possibly not every adult friendly. If you're squeamish about language in songs, don't click on the links. However, this post does include a story about a kid, who watches some non-kid friendly content in the name of humor. You have been warned.

If you're familiar with the guys of The Lonely Island, then the title of this blog post may just mean something to you.

We're fans of The Lonely Island in this house. True, some of their stuff is pretty raunchy. (Does anyone remember The Bing Bong Brothers?) But sometimes, a little raunch that is actually funny is good for you. I mean, come on, who didn't go around singing Captain Jack Sparrow after it aired on SNL?

Their latest video, Boombox, inspired Cole over the weekend to dress up for a birthday party he was attending, complete with fingerless gloves.



I think letting him listen to all that Green Day and Queen wasn't that bad for him afterall.

November 16, 2011

A is for Awesome


Girl rocks a camera and a scarf like nobody's business.

Just wanted to point that out today.

That is all.

October 07, 2011

I have just a little more to say


There's something about Apple from Clean & Simple Scrapbooking, 2005. Click on the image to see it larger in a new window.

Tuesday night the Zielske family went out to dinner at Famous Dave's barbecue. I was tired and a little cranky from my decision to start drinking decaf that very morning and I had zero ideas up my sleeve for dinner. I'd been working furiously all day, trying to get back into the groove of class development for Big Picture Classes. I was spent and wanted food followed immediately by rest.

We returned home just in time for the beginning of the Boot Camp episodes on the X Factor. It was my one night of the week without sports games, practices or play rehearsals. I happily hunkered down for some serious couch time.

Then Aidan came downstairs with a confused look on her face, and she asked, "Did something happen to Steve Jobs?"

The next thing I know, I'm staring at the Apple home page, and the tears just came, surprising me with their intensity. I was overwhelmed with sadness.


You see, I'm a Mac.

It started in the computer lab at the University of Texas–Arlington in 1987 when these adorable little beige boxes starting popping up as we started learning how to make resumes and cover letters.

It continued in 1988 when working at my first corporate job, the company announced, to much grumbling from the old school, the advertising department was "Going Mac."

And still it continued in 1990 when I landed my first job in Minnesota, which evolved into my first design job. We published a monthly corporate magazine on a Mac Classic with a 9-inch screen featuring New Baskerville type. I'd never felt so much love for any inanimate object in my entire life.

The years passed. I oversaw upgrade after upgrade in my corporate realm. I bought my first Mac for home in 1992—a used Mac IIsi with no internal hard drive. I remember distinctly freaking out beyond measure when I turned in on only to see the dreaded Sad Mac.

A Quadra 700 followed that. Then an iBook. Next, a G3. Then a MacBook Pro. A G4. Another MacBook. And finally, my big silver dual core, 8 gig MacPro.

Then there were the iPods, Nanos and Shuffles. Of course there was the iPad, and finally, an iPhone.

Every single cent I've spent adding this technology to my life has paid me back and then some. From giving me the tools to be an effective, creative graphic designer to making my runs less tedious via my hot pink Nano, simply stated, Apple has contributed to both my professional success and personal happiness.

But it's not just the life improvements. It's more than that. It's the personalization. It's the beautiful design. It's the elegance and beauty and simplicity. It's the chungggg when you turn it on. And it's the unshakable feeling of belonging to something really, really special.

What Steve Job helped to create has been a critical part of my life—the part where I got to try and grow up and be somebody. What he created helped to change and shape what I was able to do with my life.

Apple is part of what made me who I am today.

That would explain the tears and the sadness.

That reminds me of how grateful I am.

So thank you Steve Jobs, wherever you are.





May 25, 2011

What she has meant to me.


Today is finally here. The last official broadcast of the Oprah show. When it was announced late last summer, it seemed like a day that was eons away in the distant future in some alternate universe. In short: this day was a hard one to really believe was a-comin'.

Some people love Oprah. Some people couldn't give a rat's tushka about her.

I belong squarely in the Love Her category and I'm going to try my best to tell you why.

I turned 20 in 1986, the same year that Oprah's show went on the air nationally. At 20, I was officially an adult (or so I liked to believe.) As such, I did a very non-adult thing and I moved back into my parent's new home in Texas following a family relocation from Seattle in order to finish my college education. For the first time in my life I had a television in my room—with cable! My favorite show was thirtysomething and I watched the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson every single night before going to bed.

In 1986 and for many years to come, talk shows were sensational, sometimes a wee bit trashy and usually good for an hour of entertainment when I needed a break from studying for an upper level communications final. I also didn't know a lot of people in Texas, and I'm not ashamed to say Oprah kept me company during times I wished I had someone to hang out with.

I'd like to say that I remember each and every Oprah show I ever saw, but I don't. I remember thinking she was a breath of fresh air in the milk toast television landscape. I loved that she was different. At the time, I felt like a different person myself, one that was trying so hard to figure out who I was and who I wasn't and where I fit into this world at large.

I do recall, however, one Oprah show, and for the life of me, I can't find a link to it, but it was a show on racism, where they had a group of African American men and caucasian men in a room for a really frank and sometimes shocking discussion on race in America. I remember very clearly it being one of the first times (and Lord, how it wouldn't be the last) that I was absolutely glued to the discussion, with tears streaming down my cheeks as I felt the raw emotion and the pain in that room behind my television screen.

Oprah made me think about things I hadn't thought about before. She made me empathize on a regular basis. She made me cry during non-prime time television.

In 1998, after two years of post-baby weight gain that had gotten completely out of hand, I bought her book "Make the Connection" and did exactly what she and Bob Greene told me to do. There is a list of 10 things to live by in that book, and live by them to the letter I did. In a year, I lost 40 pounds and returned to my fighting weight. Of course, I also decided to pick up smoking again, and kissed the exercise component goodbye.  But during that glorious year, I worshipped at the fitness altar of Oprah daily, believing, truly believing that if I did what she did, everything was going to be okay.

When Oprah failed at her own fitness goals, I shared in that too. As I started to smoke again, I remember feeling like a failure as well. And when I quit a second time, and the weight came back on, I had her right there with me, realizing that some things in life are hard for just about everybody.

When Oprah made the decision to use her show as a platform for good, I cheered. She rose above the sea of "schlalk" shows and elevated the medium to a whole different level. Sure, she had her fair share of makeover shows and related fluff, but by and large, when I watched her show I learned something new, or I at least thought about it in a different way.

Oprah even got me into trouble at work from time to time. I remember once in 1998, Madonna was slated to be on as a guest. It was right around the time of her Ray of Light album, which I adored, and I really wanted to get home early to watch the show.

I was working as a designer for the Science Museum of Minnesota at the time, and my day ended at 4 p.m., right when Oprah's show comes on the air. Because I had no concept of how to use a VCR, I said to my boss at about 3:40, "Can I head out a little early? Madonna's going to be on Oprah and I really want to see it," to which he replied, in a very gruff and pissed off voice, "So now we have to compete with Oprah?"

Needless to stay I didn't get home in time to see the whole thing, and everyone knows the first 15 minutes are critical and set the tone for every show.

In the last year, I've watched more Oprah than I probably have in all the past year's combined. Mostly because I don't work as many hours as I used to, and also because I've been keenly aware that this afternoon television respite that has on occasion elevated me to the highest levels of human compassion is soon to be filed under the No More category.

People can say what they want about Oprah. That she's arrogant, that she's out of touch, that she's just a bit too big for her britches, but I will tell you this: anyone who tries to put something positive out into the world is to be admired in my book.

Anyone who has made a person think differently about even the smallest of things has made a tremendous impact in the world.

She has made me think differently and for that I am grateful and I will miss her daily show.

I still think she should have focused a bit more on scrapbooking, but what the heck. At least Lisa Bearnson got on there once.

God speed, Oprah Winfrey.

With much gratitude and love,


March 21, 2011

Theater People


Aidan and Cole just finished up working in a fantastic local production of "The Wiz." This was Aidan's 3rd production with the Young Artists Initiative and Cole's first. Having never had the guts to perform, let alone even audition for plays when I was growing up, I'm amazed at their ability to get up and do this sort of thing.



A little side story for you: in 1993 Dan and I moved into the house we presently occupy. We had no kids, very little money, and both worked many hours a week. At the time, we had a friend working on a small independent film who was scouting locations to shoot specific scenes. They wanted an old house that looked a bit outdated and old fashioned. Ours fit the bill perfectly.

I was completely unprepared for what happens when a film crew, however small, moves in and takes over for a few days. Our property was crawlng with people, lights, cameras and endless power cords. They moved all of our furniture into one part of the house to make way for the scenes they were going to shoot. In short, it was a small slice of domestic chaos.

Because we were relatively newcomers to the neighborhood, it caused quite a stir. What are they doing over there? The filming came and went and we settled into a St. Paul neighborhood to continue building our lives there.

It was only a few years later when talking with one of our neighbors about something (and to this day I can't for the life of me remember what it was), when he said, "Well, you guys know what I'm talking about, you're theater people."

Since that day, it's been a little joke between me and Dan. We're theater people. It's our standard response to everything.


At least we can say that our kids are.