Holiday Cheese Board

cheese_board_janereactionMy go to party platter this year has been the cheese board. If you have any holiday parties coming up this week or next I strongly suggest throwing together a cheese board. It is so easy and fast – and your friends will love it and go crazy over it – especially when it is the only savory thing in a sea of cookies and candy.

I make my cheese board differently every single time. It’s just a fun little thing I like to throw together but there are a few things that I do the same every time. When shopping for my cheese board creation I always buy three different types of cheese. I grab my two favorites – white stilton with blueberries, and brie. So far they both have been a big hit and are completely gone by the end of the night. Then I rifle through the cheese at the store looking for an interesting or pretty looking cheese and I try something new. It’s fun for everyone to talk about their cheese preferences and try something new.

I always grab plain crackers or bread. I don’t get anything that will over power the flavors of cheese. I also just like to keep things simple- so plain crackers are the best.

I always try to incorporate something salty and something sweet. For the salty I run through the olive bar and collect a few different olives, cornichons, and maybe some garlic – the big green olives stuffed with blue cheese are always a show stopper! I usually grab some cured meats or different type of nuts. For the sweet I always (and this is an ALWAYS) include fig jam. It’s a must. I also highly recommend just slicing up a sweet red apple.

I arrange all of my goodies on one of my cutting boards. I put some of the small items in little bowls to create some visual interest and then I grab a few different knives for spreading and cutting. I stick them in the cheese or sink them into the fig jam and I’m done. I’ve taken a cheese board to three different parties this year so far and it’s been a hit every time. What’s your go to party platter?

 

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Best December Ever

henry_donaldHEEEYY!! Are you having the BEST DECEMBER EVER? We are!

So sad story first – We were planning on going to San Diego for Christmas – we were so excited! Conor hasn’t spent a Christmas at home in over 6 years! But, right before we were about to buy our plane tickets Conor’s boss told him he would be needed here. (His wife is due with their first child Dec, 26th and their team is very busy right now, so Conor really is needed here.) We were soooo sad at first, but then we remembered we are adults and adults have to do things they don’t want to do sometimes – and we decided to just be thankful that we both have jobs in the first place! We also decided that all of this responsible “thankful” adult stuff shouldn’t stop us from making Christmas as magical as possible for the people we love! Especially our little ones! That really is the best part of Christmas anyway – seeing your little kid’s eyes light up when you tell them that Santa is going to come and bring something special just for them.

So in order to really get in to the holidays we put together a fun little challenge for our family to have the BEST DECEMBER EVER! You can follow along and participate on Instagram. To participate just commit to having the BEST DECEMBER EVER and plan some outragiously fun or unusual activities for your family. The activities can be big or small… they can be totally indulgent or completely selfless and heartfelt. The point is to make some magic! And just in case you need some help we assigned each day in December a little activity that we thought everyone could enjoy and/or participate in (below). It’s ok if you can’t do them all but every time you are able to make some magic happen this December take a picture and post it to Instagram. Use the hashtag #bestdecemberever2014 – We seriously cannot wait to see what everyone does to make the magic happen this year!

Henry’s birthday is December 1st so we decided to have a little birthday party for him with cousins while we were home for Thanksgiving. After deciding we were going to have the BEST DECEMBER EVER we talked about maybe going to Sea World or Lego Land for his birthday on the 1st… but then we thought, why not just go all the way to Aneheim and go the happiest place on earth?! It is the BEST DECEMBER EVER after all! Henry is really obsessed with Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck so we knew he would have a great time! A friend that works at the park was able to get us in to both Disneyland and California Adventures for free so we really just had to do it! My favorite part of the whole day was lining Henry and Wayne up along the parade path in their strollers. They had their Mickey Ears on, huge corn dogs in their hands, lollipops as big as their heads, flashing Mickey light Sabers and prizes that Conor won for each of them at a fishing game. They clapped and cheered as each character went by and bopped to the music. Sitting in between the two of them my eyes welled up with tears. This would be a moment that I would remember forever. Giving them a magical experience with fun and laughter is what Christmas is all about for me. So if you are ready to have a magical December with us follow along below and start making magic for the ones you love!

*Note – this post is going up a few days late because… well… we were too busy having the BEST DECEMBER EVER! So just start today and commit to having the most magical time with your family possible no matter what!

1 – Kick Off! Go somewhere special, tell everyone with you that you love them and want to have the BEST DECEMBER EVER with them!

2 – Hot Chocolate – Make some special hot chocolate or go somewhere new and get a hot cup of the good stuff. And if you’re me, it will probably be frozen hot chocolate because I LOVE that stuff!

3 – Favorite Christmas Movie – One of my favorite way’s to get into the holiday season is to watch one of my favorite Christmas Movies, watching an old favorite brings back memories from years past. We love watching The Holiday, Love Actually, The Family Man, Home Alone and so many others!

4 – Serve Others – find a random act of kindness that you can do for someone else. There is no greater way to create holiday cheer!

5 – Decorate – even if you already have all of the decorations up there is always something more you can add! Or maybe you don’t really get into decorations? Maybe this is a good year to simply hang some Mistel Toe! ;)

6 – Secret Santa – go to the mall and participate in a Secret Santa gift exchange, or find someone close to you that might need a little extra help this year with Christmas shopping. If you are that family that has a really tight budget this year think of something simple and inexpensive you can help your kids make for their friends so they have something to give.

7 – Classic Christmas Movie – It’s always fun to watch one of the classics – A Christmas Story is always our go to Christmas classic!

8 – Ginger Bread Houses – My mom used to get a bunch of candy from the bins and we would put together little candy houses using graham crackers and icing – somehow it got turned into a competition and we would vote on the best house. Everyone always won! haha. With our little family the last couple of years it has just been a lot easier to buy a kit and assemble it with the kids.

9 – Send Mail – Get those gifts in the mail! Address your christmas cards! Sit down and get it done!

10 – Drop Off a Meal – take a meal to your neighbor, or to that friend that needs some extra help this year. Take something that is easy to freeze and eat later in case they aren’t expecting you tonight.

11 – Shop! – Maybe you need to get some last minute gifts or maybe you need to get started on your Christmas shopping. OR MAYBE you need to find something for that one person that is really hard to shop for! Whatever the case, find the perfect gift today.

12 – Date – Set up a date! Maybe it’s a date with your girlfriends, or maybe it’s a hot night out with your special someone. Get dressed up, make some reservations and go out on a date!

13 – Decorate Cookies – make some Christmas cookies and decorate them. If you have little ones let them do as much of it as they possibly can. Encourage them to be creative and make a mess!

14 – Build a Fort – every year we love to build a fort in our living room, string some lights through it and watch a movie or eat a treat in it. It’s even better if you can sleep in it all night!

15 – Play List – make a christmas play list. Turn up the volume. Put it on repeat. You’re doing great!

16 – Visit Santa – take your kids to sit on Santa’s lap. Or just write Santa a letter.

17 – Go See Lights! – I love looking at lights. It’s always been a favorite holiday tradition for me. When I lived in Hawaii I used to ride my bike around my neighborhood in the evening with salty hair and sandy feet and look at all of the lights and marvel at the fact that it was December and I was in a swim suit. Recently Conor and I have been putting the kid(s) in the backseat of the car and driving to the nicest neighborhoods in Dallas to see the their over the top light displays. Take a horse and carriage ride, ride your bike, drive your car, go for a walk, just go enjoy the festive decorations.

18 – Share a Meal – Who doesn’t love a good meal with close friends or family? Plan a small gathering at your home or a special restaurant and share an intamate meal with your loved ones.

19 – Build a Snowman – build a snowman, or a snow fort… or if you live somewhere where there is no snow improvise! Get creative!

20 – Go Caroling – Personally, I hate caroling! I always feel awkward singing at someone else while they stare at me and try to wrap their mind around how they suddenly got themselves in to this terrible predicament. We prefer to just leave treats, ring the doorbell and run. But whatever your caroling style is – own it. There’s nothing scarier than seeing crazy fear in the eyes a stranger singing at you.

21 – Wrap Gifts – Some of us like to hand stamp our own paper and felt our own yarn.. and some of us just like to throw it in a bag with some tissue paper over it… either way is fine. Just wrap your gifts and make them look special!

22 – Go Ice Skating – if you live somewhere warm you might have to improvise, I know here in Dallas they have a faux ice rink in Klyde Warren park where you can rent special skates and go for a twirl.

23 – Give an Ornament – give a small ornament to someone you love. Every year my mom would buy me and my sister an ornament. Something that reflected what we were interested in that year. One year I got a blender, one year I got a basketball, one year I got a sparkly pickle (don’t ask)… It’s always fun to go back through all 29 ornaments and remember what it meant to me that year.

24 – Cookies for Santa – Leave some cookies for the big guy. Leave some carrots for his raindeer.

25 – Celebrate Love – Whether you are Christian or not try to do something with your family to help you remember why you are celebrating this holiday. For us it is all about love, family and gratitude.

26 – PLAY – the day after Christmas is usually a family play day for us. We play with our new toys, we go to the park, we eat left overs and we just enjoy spending more time as a family.

27 – Experience Winter – Get COLD! Go find some snow somewhere, visit an ice castle or organize a polar bear swim (AKA jump in a freezing body of water for no good reason!)

28 – Service – don’t let the good deeds end just because Christmas has come and gone. Lend a hand, help someone in need. Do something anonomously for someone else.

29 – Cross it off! – You know that thing you’ve been meaning to do all year? You have 3 more days to do it, including today… so go do it! Right now!

30 – Make a Goal – write down one goal for the new year!

31 – Kiss at Midnight – Conor and I try to go out every year on New Years Eve. With small kids and no family around it is incredibly hard to find a baby sitter that is willing to watch our kids that night. Not sure how we are going to do it this year but I wouldn’t be suprised if we got all dressed up just to eat dinner in our bed while trying to be extremely quiet so as to not wake the babies. We will probably kiss at midnight just before we drift off to sleep – but that all sounds pretty perfect to me.

Creative Friends – Forming A Tribe

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This weekend I drove down to Austin to spend the night with some graphic design girlfriends. I met Chelsea and Becky at Designer Vaca a few years ago and have been friends with them ever since we connected in Palm Springs. Lately, I have been feeling really restless… I want to move and shake and go crazy. I want to start new projects and add elements to my business and just build something with my hands. But it is hard to do all of that when you work from home and don’t see a lot of other people on the daily. It’s also nice to get away from the kids every once in a while and have adult time.

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I asked Chelsea and Becky a few weeks ago if they would want to get together and talk about all of their ideas, bounce hard situations with clients off of each other and get advice about how to move forward, come up with ideas to collaborate… etc. They were totally excited so I drove down just as soon as I could manage some time away from my kids. The weekend was exactly what I was hoping for!

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We kept our agenda really really simple. Chelsea has a beautiful house (see her full house tour over on TheEveryGirl) and is an excellent host. We ate a small lunch at her house, went shopping at Spartan, and just hung out. That afternoon we went into her office with our computers and sketch books and talked over some of our ideas and current projects. We gave each other book recommendations and online resources to check out and shared advice about managing clients.

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That night we drove around Austin being silly, twerking in parking lots and climbing abandon warehouse walls. It felt good to just get out and be a little immature for a change. We continued the conversation about work but also got more personal and talked about our real life challenges and celebrations. We went to a few different restaurants but Easy Tiger was my favorite! If you are in Austin, or going there soon, you have to try it. They make pretzels and sausages and lots of other interesting yummy things. The atmosphere is casual and there is a large outside dining area by the water that has a big ping pong table for people to play and have a good time. I really liked it!

IMG_7674 As I drove back to Dallas I felt so good about the time I spent with these amazing girls. I look up to both of them for their creative bold personalities. I can’t wait to spend more time with them! I am toying with the idea of putting together some kind of casual creative get together for women in Texas. Just throwing that idea out there in case there are a lot of people out there that might be interested? Let me know! I think it would be really fun to just get together for a day and share ideas and resources and network with other creative professionals – designers, photographers, stylists… Nothing too formal – not a workshop and not a conference – just women getting together to make friends and share insight into their creative process and running a business. Who’s in?

Freelance Mama: Creating a Media Kit

Last month I spent a few days with 100 creative graphic designers in the desert at Designer Vaca. I’ve blogged about it several times and will probably put up another post with my favorite images from the trip soon…I love going every year! It fires me up to be around other creatives, hear their stories, listen to how they deal with tricky situations, celebrate their successes and just get inspired. Afterwards, I always kinda go through this low period. I miss my friends. I miss the excitement and it sort of feels like Christmas has just come and gone way too fast.

I decided one way to remedy this would be to share more of my journey as a freelance designer on my blog so I can continue to connect with creative individuals and share my story even though we might not all be together in person. Hopefully, some of my stories and advice will help someone out there who is in the same place I was in a few years ago – searching for answers, trying to become a better freelancer and just feeling a little lost. So look forward to more posts like this one – where I share some of my tips and tricks for being a freelance designer (and for me that also means being a mom at the same time). If you are a designer, work from home or just want to chat about how to stay inspired while wiping bottoms all day, please ask! I want to keep this conversation alive!

DESIGNER VACA 2014 from Ellay Films on Vimeo.

At Designer Vaca I mentioned to several people that I send a Media Kit and Process Sheet in response to every inquiry I get in my inbox. Since then I have had several requests to share my media kit and tell how I use it. Now, I have to give a lot of credit to my friend Shauna of the blog Nubby Twiglet who put up a post about having a media kit for her design studio We Are Branch around this time last year. It was soooo helpful and really changed the way I do business on so many levels. Like she says in her post a lot of small businesses and creative professionals could benefit from having a media kit – it just depends on what you want to accomplish with it. Here I will share my process for putting together my media kit, how I use it and how it saves me literally HOURS and hours of time writing emails everyday –

Last year the inquiries in my inbox went from about 1 every 2 weeks to 1 or 2 a day! (How I managed to do that is another blog post). When I got 1 inquiry every 2 weeks it was possible to respond with a really personal message, comment on their project and provide a custom quote for the services they were interested in. Notice I said, possible. It was possible but it wasn’t easy by any means. It always took quite a bit of time and the perspective client either had a million more questions that I didn’t answer or they simply didn’t respond at all. I knew it wasn’t the most efficient way of doing things and it was often very frustrating when I didn’t even get a response after putting so much time and effort into getting them a custom quote. When inquiries started flooding in it became completely impossible to respond in that way. I decided it was time to make a media kit to send to everyone who inquires about my work.

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Before creating my media kit I made a list of the things I wanted to accomplish with my kit.  I wanted to first, save time, secondly, up sale some of my services that people might not even be aware of and last of all to introduce myself and let them get to know me better.  Your list might look like mine or it might look a little different but getting clear on what you want your media kit to accomplish will help you determine what pages you need to include. Here are my goals and the pages I created to meet each goal.

1. I wanted to SAVE TIME! Potential clients can be super vague and really detailed all in one email. I usually have a lot of questions for clients and they usually have even more for me. I wanted to send something that explained a lot of the little details and got a lot of information out of the way up front to cut down on all of the time I spent emailing back and forth. So my media kit has a Frequently Asked Questions page. All of those questions that I had spent hours responding to individually were now all in one easy to read place. The questions vary in importance from things like , “What should I call you, Erin or Jane?” to “Why is my 50% deposit non-refundable?” and “What happens if we get to the end of the process and I don’t like what you designed for me?” I also created a short and sweet process page. I broke my process down into 6 chunks and included information in each chunk about when money would be due, how files would be delivered and how many revisions they would get.

2. I wanted to up sale some of my services in order to increase my earnings. Often clients inquired about a specific service – like logo design for example. I wanted to let clients know that I was capable of doing more for them and their business than they had originally intended. They might not know how valuable an entire style guide could be to their business until they see the service offered and see some examples. So I created a specialties page where I list all of the areas of design that I truly shine at – Branding, Print, Art Direction and Web Design and explain how each can help their business.  I also up sale my services on my packages page by offering different price ranges. I am able to work with clients who might have a tight budget by offering smaller packages – while clients with a higher budget might see the value in investing more into their brand.

3. I wanted to let my clients see behind the scenes a little bit and get to know me better. I want them to understand that Jane Reaction is a really small design studio consisting of me, my developer and maybe 1 or 2 other professionals that we might get involved in the project like a printer or a photographer – but mostly it is just me, and I am human. I created an about page that introduces me, explains how intimate our engagement will be and gave some  examples of my experience to reinforce that although I am one person I am indeed professionally trained to take on their branding project and will give it the time and attention it deserves. If clients understand that you are a small boutique design studio they are less likely to take advantage of your time and they are more likely to give the project the amount of time and attention that you do.

When I get an inquiry in my inbox I simply write back thanking them for getting in touch with me, make a few quick comments about their project and let them know when my next open slot is. Then I simply say – In order to help you get to know me better and see what types of services I offer and how much I charge I am attaching my media kit. Clients love it. They are able to get most of their questions answered in an easy fast way. They are also able to see more examples of my work and understand the process they are about to embark on. I have even had clients tell me that they wanted to work with me even more after looking over my media kit.

Wayne’s Birth Day / GIVEAWAY CLOSED

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*I know I said I would post the winner on Friday but Halloween festivities got the best of me! So drum roll please… The winner of the Wild Dill giveaway is Taryn! Please email me with your contact information and you will receive a $50 shopping credit to Wild Dill! Congratulations! 

My little Wayne turns 1 tomorrow. I could laugh and cry at how fast the year has gone by. With Henry I was constantly growing and learning and stretching as a new mom. It was messy and hard and I have to admit I struggled. A lot. Sometimes I wish I could go back and do that whole year over again. Knowing what I do now I would have been more patient with him, more kind to myself – a better, more experienced mother. But such is the nature of being a second child. You get all of the benefits of having someone else pave the way before you. I was prepared to stay up late with Wayne when he had a cold. I held him a little longer every night before he went to bed. I didn’t stress over him eating a little dirt at the playground… because I knew in the blink of an eye it would pass me by. The hard stuff – the sleepless nights, the dirty laundry, the insane amounts of poop…. they just don’t last forever. And it’s really a shame – because neither does their smallness. Their little squeaky yawns and their ever twirling arms. The tiny little sneezes and the way their breath feels on your neck as they drift off to sleep. If I could stop time and keep it in a shoe box in my closet forever this… THIS moment would be one that I would constantly re-live. Nursing my newborn babe in the sunlit window of our first home… poor, happy, tired and so complete.

To help us celebrate Wayne’s birthday we have teemed up with Wild Dill. Wild Dill is an Organic, eco-friendly, fair trade, baby product store. We are giving away a $50 gift card to one lucky reader. To enter the giveaway visit their store, take a look around and leave a comment letting me know what you would spend your $50 on. We love their cute toddler hedgehog pillow! What would you buy? Winner will be announced HERE (on this exact blog post) on Friday October 31, 2014.

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