My Year By Design

The journey to living by design.

Archive for the month “October, 2015”

The Cloud Challenge

The video below will teach you all about clouds. There is a great challenge at the end of this video where you take a photo of some interesting clouds by laying on your back and looking up and behind you. By doing this you end up with an upside-down landscape, (and some weird looks from your neighbors). This puts more focus on the clouds in your photo. Try it out. It’s pretty neat.

I took a photo of the recent super moon. I also wanted to get pictures of the eclipse but unfortunately soon after I took the first shot, the sky clouded up in my city and I missed the whole eclipse. I watched the NASA live stream, but it wasn’t quite the same.

However, my first photo did seem to fit this assignment pretty well. I took an upside-down photo of this cumulus cloud holding up the moon. It looks to me like the cloud is presenting the moon to my neighborhood. If you turn it around the other way, it sort of looks like the moon is an eye and the cloud is a bushy eyebrow.

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To see more amazing cloud photos, check out



Making my own Art Assignment

I’ve been watching The Art Assignment on YouTube and completing the assignments. I use being creative as a way to relax and get out of my head. So, I decided that I would make my own art assignment for a change.

It all started when I found this jar in the basement:

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I can’t remember what was in it before, but I wanted to do something creative with it. The smooth glass just looked so inviting. It was crying out for a purpose.

So then I found a bunch of stuff in junk drawers and corners around my house.

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Here is the final result:

My idea here was to use the technique of found objects to create something beautiful.I’m quire pleased with how it turned out. However, I also want my art to be a bit more interactive so I’m going to display my Jar of Wonders on my desk at work. For those of you who work with children or teenagers, you know that some of them are going to ask what the jar is for and I’m going to tell them it’s art. It’s up to them to interpret it after that. I will also have a number of precocious students who ask if they can have something they like out of the jar. I’m ready for that response too. If they want to take an object from the jar, they have to replace it with an item of equal value, not monetary value but artistic value, (which I will explain to them as the coolness value.) So, for example, how cool is my neon snap bracelet from the 1980s? What are they willing to give up that is as amazing as a tiny glass Hello Kitty bead I picked up in Taiwan? They will have to bring something in and argue its artistic value to me and if I am convinced, we will swap the items. That way the piece stays fluid and students have permission to interact with the art in a way that is forbidden in most galleries.

The idea for the Jar of Wonders comes from the French objet trouvé and involves taking objects that already have purpose and turning them into works of art. Artists such as Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp have created art using found objects, (see illustrations below.)

Still Life with Chair Caning, Picasso

Still Life with Chair Caning, Picasso

In this piece, Picasso used the seat of a cane chair as the basis for his still life. This forced a discussion of the blending of the mundane experience of everyday life with the high experience of art; the mass-produced elements blending with the skillfully crafted artistic ones. This was considered unusual as the art world of the time strictly separated the low, common experiences from the elevated experiences presented in artistic works.

Fountaine, Duchamp

Fountaine, Duchamp

In this well-known piece, Duchamp presented a signed urinal at the Society of Independent Artists, in 1917. The Society rejected it as not being art, despite the fact that the rules of the exhibition stated that any work would be accepted from artists who paid the fee. Again, this raises the question of if and how common objects and experiences can be part of art and of how commonality can still elicit strong emotions from an audience.

If you want to try this Art Assignment, see the instructions below:

  1. Find an interesting container.
  2. Fill it with your own found objects. You can use any materials that you like and arranged or affix them to your container using any method you prefer.
  3. Find a great place to display your found object art. You can make yours interactive (like I did) or not.
  4. Document your work and/or your process. Tweet it to me @JenMcAwesome
  5. Kudos from me (I’ll post your work on my Twitter and Blog to share with everyone).


World Mental Health Day

So I was scrolling through my YouTube subscriptions recently and I thought to myself, “There are a lot of videos about mental health suddenly. What’s the deal?” The deal is that I had missed World Mental Health Day. It was October 10th. Arrrrr, I can’t believe I forgot! Well, I’m going to cut myself some slack as World Mental Health Day fell on the Canadian Thanksgiving Weekend. For those of you non-Canadians, in Canada we celebrate Thanksgiving before Halloween, unlike our American neighbours.

Nevertheless, as someone with a mental illness, I wanted to take this opportunity to urge you to take care of your mental health. The most valuable thing you can do for yourself or someone you love is to get help. Talk to your doctor, your family, a social worker, anyone who can provide support. Check if your workplace has an EAP (Employee Assistance Program.) That’s how I found my counsellor and I only pay $10 a visit. Practice yoga, meditation or anything else that works for you.

It is not easy. I saw two family doctors, tried seven different medications, and four different counsellors before I found what was right for me. I often felt hopeless and lost. I kept going because I didn’t know what else to do. With my support network, I am now healthy, happy (most of the time) and living a more balanced life.

I want you to be persistent. Nothing is scarier (to me, anyway,) than having to say “I think I’m not OK,” but it is the only way to get better. People don’t often overcome mental illness alone. You, me and everybody else needs support to get better. You have to be willing to build yourself a support system. It takes a lot of bravery. I believe in you.

Below I have included a few of the videos I came across. Use them as inspiration.




Time to Vote!

Today is a Federal Election Day in Canada. I voted in the advanced poles. Now it’s your turn. So many people treat voting like flossing, as in, I know it’s good for me and I should probably do it more often. Don’t treat voting like flossing. Don’t treat flossing like flossing either. Just like flossing is good for your teeth and gums, voting is good for you as a citizen. You deserve the right to decide who governs our beautiful country.

Get out there and vote! Take a non-voter with you. There is no correct person to vote for so take a look at the news and vote for whichever candidate would best represent you. If you’re not sure if you are registered to vote, check Election Canada. Be an active citizen. It’s worth it.

Easy Roasted Red Pepper Pasta

So as promised in yesterday’s post, I am going to help you take those delicious roasted red peppers and make a quick, easy pasta dinner.

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  • 12 ounces, weight pasta of your choice (I used penne)
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 whole large onion, finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 red chili, chopped and seeds and ribs removed
  • 1 cup roasted red peppers, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan Shavings (more for serving)
  • Finely minced parsley
  • Chopped fresh basil (dried works too but isn’t as tasty)

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Onion, garlic and chili.

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Parsley and basil from my garden.

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I also added mushrooms and left-over sliced sausages to my recipe, but these are optional elements.


Cook pasta in salted water according to package directions.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions, chili and garlic and saute for 2 to 3 minutes or until starting to soften.

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Add the chopped red peppers and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until hot.

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Remove the skillet from the heat. Carefully transfer the contents of the skillet to a food processor or blender. Place on the lid and puree the pepper mixture until totally blended (there will still be some texture to the peppers.)

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Heat the other 2 tablespoon butter back to the skillet over medium heat. This is when I sautéed the mushrooms and sausages.

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Pour the pepper puree back into the skillet. Add the broth, salt, and pepper, and stir until heated.

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Splash in the cream and stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings if you need to.

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Add Parmesan and parsley/basil, then stir it together.

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Drain the pasta and add it to the skillet. Stir to coat the pasta.

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Serve in bowls with extra Parmesan and a sprinkling of parsley on top.

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This dish took me about 15 minutes and it was delicious! I think my husband liked his. Enjoy!

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On being thankful

I know that when most people think of Thanksgiving, they picture turkey and stuffing, football and family drama. These things may be present, but they’re not really the point of Thanksgiving. I want to spend my Thanksgiving being thankful for the big things and the small.

Thank you to strangers who hold doors for other people.

Thank you to the doctors who aid me in treating my mental illness.

Thank you to the students who turn in their homework on time.

Thank you to the coworker who told our boss I was doing a good job.

Thank you to my parents, who have invested their lifetimes in raising me.

Thank you to drivers who let other merge with ease.

Thank you to my husband who has promised to spend his days making a life with me.

Thank you to the country that provides me with freedom and equal rights, most of all the right to vote and the right to be heard.

What are you thankful for?

Roasting your own red peppers

I love peppers but I’m always a little disappointed by those jars of roasted red peppers. They taste oily and flat. I had never bothered to roast my own peppers, despite the fact that it’s ridiculously easy. Then I ran into a situation where my crisper was full of red peppers.

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Did everyone buy peppers this week? Are my cats sneaking peppers into the house?

I hate waste so I decided to roast these peppers and use them up that way. All you need to roast your own peppers are some sweet peppers, a roasting pan lined with tinfoil and a few tablespoons of olive oil if you plan to store your peppers after they’re roasted.

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I began by cutting my peppers in half and removing the stems, seeds and ribs.

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Then I placed them on a foil lined baking tray and baked them at 450 F for 25 minutes.

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Here they are fresh out of the oven.

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I placed them in a heat proof bowl and covered them with foil.

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I let them sit for 30 minutes to cool.

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Once they had cooled, I peeled off the skins with my fingers and was left with lovely roasted red peppers. The flavour of them was so much richer than jarred peppers.

You can use these right away or store them in an airtight container with 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil for up to a week. You can put these peppers in sandwiches or salads, blend them into soup, or as I’ll show you in an upcoming recipe, make them into pasta sauce. Enjoy!

Art Assignment 35 Lost Childhood Object

I have always loved the story my mother in law tells about my husband’s Nintendo64. So as kids my hubby Nick and his brother Rory wanted an N64. Their parents said no, citing concerns about unfinished homework and violent games. So Rory and Nick saved their money and secretly bought the system themselves. They hid it in their bedroom closet and only played it when their parents were out.

I wanted to make something for Nick for this assignment but you have to understand that I married an introvert. He loves video games and other geeky stuff but he doesn’t like trumpeting his nerd affiliations. He is the quietest gamer I know. I finally settled on making him an N64 controller cookie.

I used chocolate chip cookie dough, M&Ms, sprinkles, and some rectangles of milk chocolate to make his geek treat.

I began by tracing the outline of the controller on my parchment paper in pencil.


Then I shaped the dough within it.


I wasn’t going to include this photo but it looked so funny when it came out I had to share it with you. I forgot how much this cookie dough spreads. It kind of looks like a sad dog butt with candies stuck to it.


That’s the way the cookie crumbles!


I tried again, this time giving room for cookie spread. I also froze the cookie dough for five minutes after I shaped it.




I pressed the candies into the warm cookie after it finished baking because I wasn’t happy with how the colours seeped into the cookie in attempt one.


I cooled it and presented it to Nick. His response was, “Is that an N64 controller?” Then he devoured it in four bites and told me it was delicious. Well, with that level of success I may make these again sometime. At least if Nick’s mom catches him with these controllers, he can eat the evidence. #theartassignment

Trigger Warnings

Recently, I became aware of a discussion happening online about trigger warnings. Basically, this is a disclaimer given (especially online) that something you are watching or reading may contain upsetting or offensive materials. You can see an online definition here.

The most familiar examples are movie and video game warnings.

However, more and more videos, books and articles now contain trigger warnings. Some professors are even using them in class. See Idea Channel’s video below for a discussion of trigger warnings in schools:

As someone who suffers from anxiety, I wanted to add my opinion here. Please keep in mind that I am only basing this post on my own experiences. I am no expert on media consumption or trigger warnings.

Some people have suggested that trigger warnings are a form of censorship; that they limit freedom of speech and open discussion. I don’t view it this way. My anxiety waxes and wains at different times. Trigger warnings allow me to protect myself. For example, if I am having a high anxiety day, I may head over to YouTube to watch some videos from my feed. My purpose is to watch some engaging content and maybe have a laugh, (note: most of my YouTube subscriptions fall under the comedy or education headings.)

So if I pop over to Laci Green’s Sex+ channel I can view this video:

However, at the beginning there is an annotation that reads, “This episode contains discussion of abuse and suicide.” I appreciate that warning because on days where I am feeling more anxious, I may not want to expose myself to these topics. After all, my viewing purpose that day is to feel less anxious and a full on discussion of these sensitive topics is not going to help. Instead, I may head over to Good Mythical Morning for some lighter fare:

Now, this is not to say that I won’t return to the Sex+ video later. I subscribe to Sex+ because I think Laci’s content is educational and I appreciate her message. I’ll just view her video on a day when I am feeling less anxious and more grounded. Incidentally, those are also the days when I am more open to learning new things and exposing myself to a variety of opinions.

So, do trigger warnings censor discussion? In my opinion, no. I like trigger warnings because they allow creators to show compassion for an audience that may be upset or unbalanced by some topics. Personally, I don’t use these warnings to avoid topics. I use them to gauge my viewing habits according to my anxiety level on a given day.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments.

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