Thanksgiving Top 5 (2015 edition)

One of the blessings of freelance work is the variety of jobs I get to do and the variety of people I get to work with. Each Thanksgiving it’s become a tradition for me to choose five projects from the past year that I’m particularly grateful for. This tradition gives me an opportunity to review my year, remember my work, and reflect on the good people in my life.

So, these are the…

Thanksgiving 2015 Top Five Projects I was Thankful to Work On

Deer Creek Christian School branding

Thanksgiving 2015Deer Creek is a small private school that had to re-think its identity in order to thrive rather than simply survive. By the time they contacted me, they had already done much of the groundwork—the key constituents had already been discussing values, vision, mission, distinctives, buy-in, and “living the brand.” They just needed help communicating it all. We started with business cards and then discussed the benefits and costs of direct mail, a quarterly newsletter, and social media. Their budget is small, but their dreams are big. Brainstorming with them was a reminder that a brand can succeed independent of budget, that investing in people doesn’t have to cost money, and that the process is as important as the goal.

Thank you Deer Creek!

Dying Like Jesus

It’s a real treat for me to work with someone who has his own ideas but also respects mine, because then a project becomes a true collaboration. Chris Spoor is an old friend, my former pastor, and a retired hospice chaplain. He began working on a book for people facing death, and he came to me for help editing the manuscript so he could submit it to publishers. We had many email conversations, but we also scheduled a number of phone calls—because Chris often wanted to discuss what I was doing to his book. Sometimes he disagreed with my editing choices. Sometimes he just wanted to understand my reasoning. And sometimes I had to re-think my editing when I heard what he was really trying to communicate. Through it all, because of our mutual respect, we were each able to contribute our best work, and no one’s ego got in the way.

By the way, the title is one example of how this kind of collaboration plays out. Chris did not have a title on his manuscript, and he was open to suggestions. I put Dying Like Jesus forth as a possibility. Chris wasn’t thrilled with it, but we used it on a couple of the submission proposals we sent in. Later, Chris suggested Seven Words for the End of Life as a title. I don’t think it has the same intrigue as Dying Like Jesus, but I’m willing to live with it for a while and see if it grows on me. Neither of us knows yet what the final title will be. Chris and I work well together because we both want what’s best for the book, and we both respect each other’s strengths. That kind of collaboration is rare, and I really appreciate it.

Thank you, Chris!

Living Springs sermon series slides

I maintain the website for Living Springs Community Church, and that gives me the opportunity to create banner ads for each new series of messages. Now, I don’t consider myself a “real” designer. That is, I don’t draw or paint or create my own designs. But I do like taking pieces of existing images and combining them to create something new, and I like choosing fonts that contribute to the message. The banners below are a few of my favorite creations from the past year:

Thanksgiving 2015

Thanksgiving 2015

Thanksgiving 2015

Thanksgiving 2015

I don’t often get a lot of lead time to create a banner, and sometimes the descriptions are kind of sparse. But Living Springs trusts me to work with whatever they give me and come up with something. (In fact, one of the pastors told me he’s always eager to see what I come up with!) There’s no routing process or approval committee, and I appreciate the freedom to just do my best to create a visual representation of an intangible concept.

Thank you, Living Springs!

Medi-Mex brochure

Thanksgiving 2015When a friend and former co-worker asked me about updating a brochure for a nonprofit that provides medical supplies to impoverished areas of Mexico, she sent me as much resource as possible—their existing brochure, their Facebook page, a recent newsletter, and an explanation about the process their board would go through to accept and approve a new brochure. All of that, plus my own experiences in Mexico and with nonprofits, helped me write a brochure that uses story to connect donors and volunteers with the people who receive the supplies they bring.

I was given plenty of lead time, which is really helpful. In fact, the brochure pictured at right is only the first draft that I sent back in time for a December board meeting. I enjoyed the work I’ve done so far—playing with different type treatments, choosing compelling photos, and telling the Medi-Mex story in a new way that I think will be effective. Plus, it’s always fun to work with old friends.

Thank you, Michelle!

Oak Tree Leadership website

Thanksgiving 2015Sometimes, it’s just fun to clean up code! When Jason Perry gave me access to his website, I could see that the code behind it was a mess. I spent a few hours sorting it out and cleaning it up, which I found strangely gratifying. Along the way, with Jason’s permission, I simplified and clarified his message by pruning duplicate information and organizing his many projects into logical categories. And I designed a less literal banner image (again by combining existing images and fonts) that conveys growth and leadership, with a new tagline that has dual layers of meaning.

Thanksgiving 2015
(previous header image)

Working on websites is fun because the results are immediate and visual. Page by page I could see the difference I was making, and the end result was a clearer message via a more efficient website.

Thank you, Jason!

Other thanks

My Top 5 list never contains all the projects I work on in a given year. I hope you know that though my list is short, my gratitude is not. My thanks extends to all the interesting people who have requested my help with their interesting projects this year. I am grateful for the work, but mostly I appreciate your trust. Thank you.

I’m grateful, too, to all of you readers, subscribers, commenters, and friends who make up my online community. That community is very real to me, and I thank you for it.

My Thanksgiving prayer for all of you is that your tables will be filled with more than you need, your homes will ring with laughter and love, and your hearts will respond by blessing someone else even more generously.

Happy Thanksgiving, all!


Just sitting there

just sitting there

“People aren’t taking time for mental reflection anymore…they aren’t slowing down and stopping…they’re not just sitting there. When you have no external input—that is a time when there is a creation of self, when you can try and figure out who you really are. And then once you do that, you can figure out how to present [yourself] in a legitimate way, instead of just dealing with everything as it comes in.”

Amber Case, Cyborg Anthropologist
2010 TED Talk: We are all cyborgs now

I get annoyed by [usually older] people who make broad generalizations about younger generations who are too wrapped up in their phones and social media and the interweb. Yes, there is some truth to the stereotype, but much of the criticism is based on assumptions, such as:

  • All “young people” use technology.
  • Only young people use technology.
  • Young people use technology for frivolous reasons
  • Digital experiences and “real-life” experiences are mutually exclusive.
  • Real-life experiences are better than digital interactions.

I’m not going to address those fallacies in this blog, but I wanted to share them as a backdrop against Amber Case’s quote, above. The difference between Case’s criticism and most of the criticism I overhear is that Case is pointing out a real consequence—and it’s not a consequence of simply being young or of using your iPhone a lot.

It’s a consequence of too much input, from any source.

No matter how old you are, if you don’t have some time for “just sitting there,” you reduce your opportunities for defining yourself. Too much external input—whether from Facebook, or reality TV, or senior group outings, or sports clubs—prevents us from knowing ourselves and developing ourselves.

Too busy

busyI confess that I’m too busy right now. I don’t have time for “just sitting there” with my thoughts, and I think my writing is suffering.

I have about 42 blog posts in “draft” stage because I haven’t had time to just sit there and fully develop the thinking that prompted them. They remain half-formed, incomplete ideas. I don’t want to give up on them because I think they are important and potentially interesting. But I can’t release them into the world in their current state.

So for now, they are just sitting there.


Book review: The Right Word

book review

Review The Right WordThe Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus is a children’s book, but I think it’s uniquely crafted so that younger kids can “grow into” it and older kids can keep discovering new layers of meaning.

The story told in the text is a sensitive and colorful biography of Peter Mark Roget—his childhood, his love of lists, his interest in science, his work as a medical doctor, and, of course, the thesaurus his name became synonymous with.

And that story is enhanced by the stories told in the illustrations, which present a collage of paintings, drawings, realistic objects, and handwriting fragments as additional clues about Roget’s life and personality. These clues are what give the book its layers of meaning. I think this is why Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet are listed not as “author” and “illustrator,” but almost as co-authors.

Particularly for introverts, shy kids, reflective types

Not only is The Right Word the kind of book that an introverted child could study quietly for hours, but Peter Roget is a protagonist that introverts can relate to. Young Peter is a shy child; his widowed mother has to move the family often, and Peter finds it hard to make friends. He spends time with books instead. Peter’s habit of making lists becomes a way to organize a confusing world, and his obsession with words is a reflection of his desire to express himself well.

Reading together, in a group, with each other

I enjoyed reading the book myself, and I learned a lot about Mr. Roget. (Did you know he invented the pocket chess set?) Then I had my 9-year-old niece read it—she had broken her arm at the beginning of the summer, and I thought she might be looking for things to occupy her mind and her time. As it turns out, she wasn’t. I don’t think her cast slowed her down at all!

So I never got the opportunity to read the book with my niece and study the illustrations and discuss all the layers of meaning. And that might be the best way to read this book. If I were using it in a school setting, I might make it part of an art class rather than a reading class, since much of the story is conveyed through images.

My niece did write up a little book report for me. In general, she liked Peter Roget because, she says, “We both love to read. And write.” All of her observations were about the literal story told in the text of the book (which she thought was too young for her); without some guided discussion about the story told within the illustrations, she didn’t naturally look for those layers of meaning.

My summary, synopsis, recap

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus is a good book for children about 7 years old, particularly if they need a shy hero who successfully and creatively navigates a world that often feels overwhelming. Parents, art teachers, and aunts might find the book provides opportunities to develop observation, deduction, and discussion skills with kids of all ages. The book is available from (the publisher), or clicking on the image will take you to its page on


Related review: Quiet