Five For Friday: Virginia Patterson–Pienography

Five For Friday: Virginia Patterson–Pienography

The latest in a series of interviews with cool, kickass people making the time to do what they love!

Virginia Patterson

5 Questions with Virginia Patterson
Virginia and I go way back. While we attended the same high school, it wasn’t until I dated a mutual acquaintance that we really started to get to know one another. I’m thrilled I didn’t lose her in that breakup as through the years, in addition to having a lot of laughs together, we’ve also worked on some cool projects–a book about Painted Furniture among them.

One of the really amazing things about Virginia is that her creative life is something she accomplishes on the side: She has an MBA and a pretty big job in Internet marketing for a huge publication. And she is the only person I know who can design in Excel. (Don’t believe me? Keep reading!) Talk about combing talents! She inspires me because she’s all about the “Stolen Moments”, finding the time to do what she really loves despite a hectic schedule.

An incredibly creative and talented woman, Virginia helped me promote Rita Hayworth’s Shoes recently by creating a slew (more than 200–amazing, right?) of pretty, delicious red shoe cookies to distribute at this year’s Book Expo!

Check out some of her amazing creations at: http://pienography.blogspot.com/
And follow her on Twitter: @pienography

1. You’ve loved doing inventive, creative things as long as I’ve known you (I still have that gorgeous Chagall-inspired bowling pin you painted!). Tell me how you got into baking.

My family has always been big on baking, so I grew up making every kind of baked good from scratch. However, my least favorite thing to make from scratch was pie crust. So after a few years of defaulting to a Jiffy pie crust mix to make Thanksgiving desserts (I insisted on making all the pies for the holiday), my sister pulled me aside one year to tell me just how bad the crust was. Of course I was horrified, especially because she is an exceptional baker, and I don’t take criticism well. But rather than get upset, or give up on pie crusts entirely, I challenged myself to find a pie crust recipe that I could perfect. The recipe that I’ve been using ever since is the basic pie dough from Williams-Sonoma’s Pie and Tart Cookbook. Once I felt comfortable with the quality of my pies, I started challenging myself to other baking projects, as well as entering pie baking contests, starting a blog about baking, etc.

Cupcakes made for a Mad Men party. The inspiration and steps are all on Virginia’s blog. Go check it out!

2. Everyone whose had the pleasure of tasting your creations know they aren’t all show–that your stuff is as amazing to eat as it is to look at. Where do you get your inspiration to design your treats so beautifully?

I’m big on presentation and a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to decorating. I’m also very much inspired by the amazing talent of Martha Stewart. I really admire her creativity and do my best to emulate her style. Also, I have made some treats as favors for bridal showers and weddings, so the presentation really has to be perfect for those types of occasions.

3. What made you decide to create the Pienography blog? And has it motivated you to bake more than you normally would otherwise? And how do you find the time!

In 2009, I had entered and won first place in an apple pie baking contest. I started entering more contests and I felt like it would be fun to write about and document the baking process and the challenges I set for myself. There was one pie contest I had participated in at a hipster bar in Brooklyn, which resulted in an invitation to partake in a pie-focused episode of the Martha Stewart Show. Every member of the audience was asked to bake a pie, which Martha and her team of experts judged. In the weeks leading up to this event, I thought it would be really amazing to document everything. So that’s where the blog was born. It definitely has motivated me to bake more since I started the blog, and has evolved to encompass a lot more than just pies. A group at work formed a baking club about six months ago, which has led me to bake and blog a lot more than before. It is very challenging to post entries, and I’ve never claimed to be a good writer, so I try to focus on the imagery and come up with a few interesting quips here and there.

A whole sweet Mario Bros.-inspired world created for the Baking Club!

4. Can you tell me about some of your other creative endeavors?

Well, I was born and raised in cold Minnesota until the age of 12, so my family spent many long winters trapped indoors. To cope with the situation, we’d work on various creative projects–sewing, knitting, drawing, and painting–though it wasn’t until my family moved to New York that I discovered quilting, and made and sold a few quilts before I graduated high school. I recently picked up quilting again, doing mostly baby quilts. I also enjoy sewing simple home decor textiles, such as curtains, bedskirts, and throw pillows. Painting and drawing are other hobbies I have kept up with, although I feel they are not my strongest creative activities. I enjoy re-purposing items (such as painting images on old bowling pins, or refinishing a piece of furniture to give it new life) and I would really like to get into upholstery.

A quilt Virginia made as a gift for a friend expecting a baby. Beautiful!

5. Do you ever think about throwing in the proverbial towel on the marketing game and pursuing baking or a career in the arts full time?

Believe me, I would love to do that. But for now that is only a fantasy of mine for when I win the lottery. For now, I’m satisfied with keeping this as a hobby and I especially enjoy the happiness I bring to others through my baking. One area that I feel might have career potential down the road is in party/events planning. I really enjoy making favors on a large scale (I once made 180 jars of homemade jam for one friend’s wedding favors, and 200 bags of heart-shaped frosted cookies for another’s). I also create and print my own labels. I don’t own any design software, so I make due with what I have…I found that Excel works pretty well. If there was an opportunity to make a career change, I might invest in the proper software!

BONUS QUESTION: Any chance you’ll share your Lemon Squares recipe?
Of course! It’s an old family recipe:

Lemon Squares
Pastry (covers bottom of 9×13″ pan):
2 cups flour
1 cup butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together and pat into 9×13″ pan. Bake for 20 minutes or until light brown.

Custard:
2 cups granulated sugar
4 beaten eggs
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Juice and grated rind of two lemons

While first layer is baking, beat eggs and add remaining ingredients. Pour over baked crust and continue baking for 15-20 minutes until set and custard like.

Yields: 24 2×2 squares

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A huge thanks to Virginia for visiting the Shed! If you’re new to here, stay a while and have a look around. We’ve had a few interesting people visiting here, and more are lined up for the summer. If you’re a fan of Lemon Squares, be sure to try out Virginia’s killer recipe. And please leave her a comment. She will see it! Don’t forget to head to her blog at http://pienography.blogspot.com/ to see the latest from this super-creative, talented gal!

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Five For Friday: Revist With Novelist Meredith Schorr!

Five For Friday: Revist With Novelist Meredith Schorr!

I first interviewed Meredith back in June when she’d finished writing her latest novel and had handed it off to her publisher. Something pretty big changed since then… Planet of the Flakes was renamed A State of Jane, and was released THIS WEEK! So now not only do you have a chance to get reacquainted with Meredith, you also get a LIVE LINK to discover her new treasure. I loved Just Friends With Benefits and I know I’m going to adore A State of Jane. So now…

5 Questions with Meredith Schorr!

Meredith Schorr is author of the fun and fabulous Just Friends With Benefits and A State of Jane!

Meredith Schorr

I was inspired to interview Meredith because years ago, a mutual friend had connected us–Meredith was looking for advice about how to publish her book; at the time I was in stalemate mode with Rita Hayworth’s Shoes and proved to be completely useless. She pressed ahead and published her first novel before me. I was really thrilled and excited for her–and inspired to finally get my act together!

Having a busy work schedule and small kids means limited spare time, and I hadn’t read a book for fun for years when I ordered Just Friends With Benefits. Because of the chaos, I was worried it would take me forever to read, but it sucked me right in and kept me reading. In fact, I devoured it over a weekend! Meredith has no formal training in writing, but she really holds her own on the page and then some. I’m looking forward to more from Meredith–and I hope you’ll check her out too because she’s great, and really into what she does! (I’ll even give this part of the interview away because it blows my mind: She wrote her second book on her freaking BlackBerry, during her own “Stolen Moments“. How’s that for finding time to do what you’re passionate about!?)

Here’s a good way to follow what she’s up to: www.meredithschorr.com.

Go on and LIKE Just Friends With Benefits on Facebook and FOLLOW Meredith on Twitter!

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1. When you were growing up, did you dream of becoming a writer, or is this something that snuck up on you later in life? And either way, how did Writing let you know you this is what you were going to be doing?

I never dreamed of being a writer when I was growing up. I had no idea I was skilled in that way until after I graduated from college and others commented that I was a natural writer.  The compliments were the initial driving force but then it became an addiction.  Writing, specifically fiction, is when I feel the most at peace. I live a pretty hectic life in the big city and I find the escape I get from writing to be essential to my sanity. And it’s so darn fun to create imaginary worlds!

Just Friends With Benefits–great beach read!

2. I loved Just Friends With Benefits. The characters were so real and the story unfolded so naturally. It was like I was living it! And, admittedly, I probably have lived it–or at least a version of it. How about you?

Thank you so much for saying that. I am glad you feel that way. Although I tried to deny it at first, my friends wouldn’t let me off the hook that easily.  Yes, I did live a “version” of it.  A very skewed version of it but much of the inspiration, at least for the characters, was taken from real life.

3. Your new book, Planet of the Flakes (now A State of Jane), is about a no-nonsense kind of gal, ready to settle down, who manages only to find a bunch of flakes out there–and then decides then to turn the tables. And that’s when the fun begins! Where did you come up with this idea, and how was the process of writing it different than JFWB?

I came up with the idea for Planet of the Flakes (now A State of Jane) when I was single, dating, and one after another, guys who seemed to be completely taken with me would just *poof* disappear without a word leaving me wondering what the heck I did / said wrong. Some of my friends were experiencing the same thing. It was beyond frustrating and disappointing and I often wished I could make these guys understand how they made me feel when they disappeared without an explanation. It wasn’t until after I was finished writing the book that I realized I hadn’t done anything wrong; that sometimes it has nothing to do with me and it just wasn’t meant to be. Now I thank these men for letting me dodge a bullet and giving me an idea for a book!

The writing process was different with the second book as I wrote almost all of Planet of the Flakes (now A State of Jane) on my BlackBerry. I would write little snippets while waiting on line at a doctor’s appointment, at the grocery store, et cetera, and then email them to myself and paste into my word document. I think the experience of having written and published Just Friend With Benefits also enabled me to trust my instincts more with my second book.

Great cover!

4. Aside from the books, you also maintain a pretty active blog, do guest blogs, work full time, and even manage to read and review other people’s books–on top of everything else (like staying on top of the Yankees and having a LIFE). How do you find the time?

I ask myself that all the time. I’m exhausted!! I carve out time to write whenever I can, including a few lunch hours a week, a standing writer’s group every Wednesday night, whenever I am home and there is nothing good on the television, when I’m commuting on the train. Though I’m not a big fan of writing in my own apartment because there are too many distractions. I usually write on my small, super lightweight netbook, which makes it easy to write on the road. I’m so inspired by my latest work-in-progress now, and I know I will soon need to set it aside to finalize Planet of the Flakes (now A State of Jane). I’m already worried about finding the time, I know I will make it happen.

5. What advice can you give others with a story to tell?

This might seem like strange advice but I urge writers to maintain objectivity. I tend to use my writing sometimes to get closure on events in my own life and so even though my novels are fiction, they touch on something personal to me.  Sometimes, the closer I get to it, the less objective I can be about how it comes across to readers who don’t know me and are unaware of my experiences.  It is those scenes where I find my beta readers are the most critical. It’s happened a few times over the course of three novels and I’ve needed to re-do things without putting so much of myself in them. Just because you are in on the joke doesn’t mean your readers will “get it” and so I urge writers to be honest with themselves about what they are writing and why.

BONUS QUESTION! Do you have a special ritual or thing you need to get you writing–and keep you writing. For me, it’s music (usually show tunes). What brings the words out of you?

Sometimes I am extremely prolific, creating 5+ pages in a single one hour sitting and other times, I’m lucky if I finish a paragraph in that same amount of time. I have yet to solve the mystery of why my creative juices flow better on some days than on others.

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A huge THANK YOU to Meredith for visiting the Shed, and a big THANKS to you for joining us. Please still around and browse through some of the other offerings here. And PLEASE leave a comment for Meredith. She will see it! Thanks again! Don’t forget where to find her:
www.meredithschorr.com
Facebook
Twitter

And here’s some more information about her books!

Jane Frank is ready to fall in love. It’s been a year since her long term relationship ended and far too long since the last time she was kissed. With the LSAT coming up she needs to find a long term boyfriend (or husband) before acing law school and becoming a partner at her father’s law firm. There’s just one problem: All the guys in New York are flakes. They seemingly drop off the face of the earth with no warning and no explanation. Should she join her best friend Marissa in singlehood, making cupcakes and watching True Blood? Or should she follow her co-worker Andrew’s advice and turn the game back on those who’ve scorned her? As Jane attempts to juggle her own responsibilities and put up with the problems of everyone around her, she starts to realize that the dating life isn’t as easy as she originally thought.

When a friend urges Stephanie Cohen not to put all her eggs in one bastard, the advice falls on deaf ears. Stephanie’s college crush on Craig Hille has been awakened 13 years later as if soaked in a can of Red Bull and she is determined not to let the guy who got away once, get away twice. Stephanie, a 32-year-old paralegal from Washington, D.C., is a 70’s and 80’s television trivia buff who can recite the starting lineup of the New York Yankees and go beer for beer with the guys. And despite her failure to get married and pro-create prior to entering her thirties, she has so far managed to keep her overbearing mother from sticking her head in the oven. Just Friends with Benefits is the humorous story of Stephanie’s pursuit of love, her adventures in friendship, and her journey to discover what really matters.

Five For Friday (Finally!): Yasmeen Anderson

Five For Friday (Finally!): Yasmeen Anderson

At last I’ve been able to come up for air after conquering two fairly excruciating deadlines. So now begins the first of many fun interviews with cool, kickass people making the time to do what they love.

5 Questions with Yasmeen Anderson: Marketing Maven to Fabulous Photographer

Isn't she awesome?!
Yasmeen Anderson

Yasmeen Anderson is an award-winning portrait and headshot photographer.

I was inspired to interview her because in the midst of a hectic-lifestyle working as a marketing consultant and raising two young kids with her husband in New Jersey, she managed to step back, find her passion and change her career.

Take a look at her stuff and there’s no question she’s doing what she was born to do: www.yasmeenphoto.com.

Go on and LIKE Yasmeen on Facebook and FOLLOW Yasmeen on Twitter!

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1. When I knew you back in school, you were kind of a brain and a rebel. Looks like not a lot has changed… When you were younger, did you see yourself doing photography, and in the way you’re doing it today?

I never even considered photography in high school. I never considered myself an “artist” and I hated art museums. I had a full-on marketing and business mentality–very driven and career focused. These photography shenanigans only happened seven years ago when my daughter was born and I started taking lots of photos of her. We had a “point and shoot” camera and I was frustrated because I kept missing moments. So we got a Digital SLR–a Canon Digital Rebel (great first camera)–and I set out to take photos of every waking moment for fear of missing something and forgetting any expression or movement that she made. The SLR was great because I could quickly take one photo after another.

When my son came two years later, I added more photos to my daily routine. It was then I started to realize that the photos, while capturing beautiful moments, actually kind of sucked. I just couldn’t get the camera to do what was in my head.

I started taking class after class, and that started me on my journey of becoming a photographer. I then started taking photos at my kids’ friends birthday parties for practice and giving the parents the photos. One of the parties was for my college roommate’s son. She loved the photos so much she asked me to take photos of her family. And I thought, “Hmm, that’s weird. I don’t really do that.” But when I did I realized “Hey, I can actually do this!” I started to put out the word that I was taking family photos. I’m a member of this great mom’s group called Mothers and More, an amazing source for finding plumbers, childcare, and you guessed it, photographers. A few people posted recommendations and it grew from there.

A headshot by Yasmeen.

2. So photography was a hobby that you enjoyed more and more. What made you decide to ditch your long career in marketing to devote yourself full-time to photography? Was there an “ah-ha!” moment? And where do you think you’re ultimately heading with it?

I had worked as a marketing consultant for many years. I loved my main client, but once I started doing the photography, I got a spark of energy and excitement I wasn’t getting anymore from marketing. I’m one of those people who have to keep on learning.  When I do, I thrive. There wasn’t one “ah-ha” moment but a progression of them. Shooting and editing evening and weekends was eating up all my family time. I didn’t want to give up photography, but at the same time, I wasn’t thinking I’d be able to walk away from my career and the income. I had a talk with my very supportive husband and he said go for it. So, after doing photography AND marketing for a year, I took the leap. Yeeeeeeeeehhaaaaaaaawwwwwww! (<–That’s me leaping!)

About where I’m headed? Well, photography is a very physically demanding job.  I’m already beat up from being an athlete in college so I needed to find a way to have a long term sustainable career. Now I’m in the process of developing a company called AldenRain, which is going to be THE source for photographers. People don’t necessarily realize that the appropriate photographer to do family photos, a headshot, photos of your new line of purses, or architectural photos is not necessarily the same person. Working with people and things is very different in photography.  There are definitely some that can excel across specializations but for the most part, it’s great to find someone who specializes in what you need. Enter AldenRain. The company will guide clients to determine who is right for their needs and budget.

The website is under development, but you can see a sneak peek here:  www.aldenrain.com  Check it in the upcoming months to see what’s going on.  It’s going to be an exciting move to get this business going.  You can also follow the company here:  http://www.facebook.com/AldenRain and http://www.twitter.com/aldenrain.  I hope you come along for the ride and reach out when you or your readers have photography needs of any kind.

Talk about evoking emotion!

3. You bring up some beautiful concepts when you talk about your work on your website. I especially connect to the idea of you “being an emotional photographer” / of “stopping time”. How did you come to understand this about your photography?

The ideas of being an emotional photographer and stopping time works best with family photography, but in headshots, the emotional photography translates to me connecting with my subjects–relaxing them, making it fun, and being able to bring out who they really are in the photographs.

Before we begin, we discuss what they want their headshot to portray. What’s the end goal? It’s probably the marketing background that makes me feel like I need to understand the mood and the message I’m creating in the photos.

As far as understanding the emotional aspect about myself and my photography–this probably came from the beginning, as I was learning technique and improving mine. There are times when a photograph isn’t technically perfect, but if the emotion is translated, it’s absolutely perfect. Clients don’t care about “technically perfect.” They care that you’ve captured something special.

4. You also talk about “putting people at ease.” Can you share a little about how you do this–maybe even give us some tips on getting kids to cooperate for photos!

Almost every person who comes to me for a headshot says some version of:
“I wish I’d lost ten pounds”
“I hate having my photos taken”
“I’m sooo not photogenic”
“I’m really nervous”

So one thing that helps is to let my subjects know that every other person on my website said the same thing before we started. I tell them that if they like those photos, they will likely feel like they look good in theirs.

When I’m photographing someone I ask what it is they want others to see in the photographs. Do you want to be approachable and friendly? Are we going for more authoritative?  And so on. Then we get the music going. I can’t shoot without music and it’s also amazing what a little music does for people, putting them in the right frame of mind for the shoot.

For photographing kids? Be goofy. Don’t be afraid to get dirty. Roll down the hill with them. Put down the camera for a moment and play games. The more relaxed and silly the parents are, the more engaged and lively the kids will be.

Great natural photo of Yasmeen’s kids!

5. What advice can you give someone looking to switch careers?

I wish I could say just jump ship! But that’s irresponsible.  The frank response is that I had a backup. I have a husband with a job. That allows me more flexibility to go off on this wild career chase than many others. However, there are TONS of people who keep their day jobs and follow their passion evenings and weekends. I started gradually on that route, and eventually my hobby became my career. Though evenings never really worked for me. I have a thing about going to bed early. I need my sleep too much!

BONUS QUESTION!

Hey you played an awesome “Molly” in the Port Summer Show Production of Annie in the ‘80s. Any song-and-dance going on in your life lately?

I do in fact break into a jig every once in a while during a shoot and I’ll always be humming along to the music during shoots and while editing. Music is what keeps me moving and shaking.

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A huge thanks to Yasmeen for being the first visitor to the Shed! Head to her website at www.yasmeenphoto.com to see her amazing work.