Amazing Artwork Available

FeaturedAmazing Artwork Available

If you haven’t noticed it yet, my daughter Ry is an amazing artist.  She has been painting for number of years and each new piece she creates just amazes me.

She is starting to realize other people like her art and would be willing to pay for it. So we have been working with an art reproduction company to have giclee prints made of some of her art for sale.

For details on the pieces available, please visit the page I built – Art by Ry

Or go ahead and flip through the gallery below.

By the way… she is also a talented singer and will be performing in the American Choral Director’s Association National Honor Choir in Minneapolis in March, 2017. Proceeds from the sale of her art will be going to cover the cost of her appearing in this performance.

To order any pieces or ask any questions, feel free to email me – ray@vanhilst.net.

Long Days: A Bit of Perspective

I don’t know about you, but yesterday was a long day for me.

  • 5:30 AM – Alarm
  • 5:45 AM – Let dog out, feed pets.
  • 6:20 AM – Make wife’s latte, get her out the door.  Work until I wake up the kids.
  • 7:30 AM – Wake up kids, get them started on breakfast. Jump in shower.
  • 8:00 AM – Check on kids breakfast and get backpacks ready for school. Iron shirt.
  • 8:30 AM – Drop kids at neighbors house before bus comes.  Car service picks me up to go to airport.
  • 9:15 AM – Get to airport. Flight delayed. Grab coffee and start working.
  • 11:45 AM – Flight to Boston. Work on flight.
  • 1:00 PM – Land, take cab to meeting.
  • 2:30 PM – New business pitch (Nailed it. If I do say so myself.)
  • 5:30 PM – Cab back to airport
  • 6:00 PM – Check in, go through security and sit down for first meal of the day. (Ok. I had a beer too.)
  • 7:30 PM – Flight home and work on flight.
  • 9:00 PM – Land, car service picks me up to go home.
  • 10:00 PM – Get home. Collapse.

If you’re a business traveler, you’ve had days like this. And in the middle of a long day, when you’re going from place to place and living the “jet set” life, it’s easy to think you’re “hot shit.”

But guess what… you’re not.

Here’s some perspective on what some of the people I met throughout the day went through:

  • The driver who took me at the airport in the morning… picked me up in the evening.
  • The crew on my flight home said hello to their 5:00 shadow several hours and 4 cities ago.
  • The server who brought me that great (first) meal, was at the end of her shift and was running to get her kids from day care.  (All while still being pleasant and recommending what was good on the menu and what sucked).
  • My wife (a teacher) was grading papers when I got home.

Everyone had a long day.

And yet. How many times have you seen some jackass lay into someone because he didn’t get his drink fast enough or get the perk he thought he was entitled to.

We ALL work hard. Period.

Let’s remember the next time you’ve had a long day, feel frustrated and tired – chances are the person you are about to yell at feels the same way.

Take a deep breathe. And take a step back to calm down. Smile. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and ask what kind of day did they have.

We’re not that much different at the end of the day. You’ll be glad you added some perspective.

 

Note: Before you say “He used a car service instead of a plain cab!!?. He must think he’s special.” I discovered Uber for on demand car service. It costs about the same as a cab but is much more convenient (for me and the drivers) and is a way better experience (think “car service for normal people”). If you haven’t discovered Uber yet, try it out. You’ll never take a regular cab again.

Less is More: Refocusing on Clarity

Thank you Georgia O’Keeffe, Roy Lichtenstein, Edward Hopper. You reminded me of an important tenet I need to embrace more often.

I regularly tell clients that if you remove clutter, you make it easier for web users to make a decision and know where to go on their sites. It’s a principle that is even in the DNA at Google with their three design principles of focus, elasticity and effortlessness.

Yet every day we feel compelled to add more. This presentation needs one more slide.  If I throw one more fact into this email my boss will approve my idea. Can we make room in the layout and add just one more product? If I only had more money/clothes/shoes/things my life would be happy.

Fortunately, a quick post-work visit to the Chicago Art Institute brought me back to reality.  3 artists. 3 different styles.  Yet, each removed clutter to focus on the most important parts of the scene. Their art was just as much knowing what not to paint.

I’ll keep this in mind as I move forward. With an emphasis on focus, clarity – and less clutter.


If you want some inspiration and to know the specific paintings that inspired this post here you go:

Roy Lichtenstein – Whaam

While this seems like a detailed painting. Think again. It is part of the artist’s comic book style and each halftone dot (or “pixel” in modern terms) was painted by hand. But notice that he only used 4 colors and “details” such as clouds are not in the painting.

Georgia O’Keeffe – Spring 1924

Right next to this painting in the museum is a photo of the same building taken during the winter. In comparing the two you notice that she removed details such as the chimney and siding so the image could focus on the flowers in the background (which is what makes it spring).

Edward Hopper – Nighthawks

Have you ever been in a diner this clean? And yet we wonder why these three people are sitting at a counter in the middle of the night. What is their story? We don’t know. But we can imagine. By eliminating the clutter and knick-knacks that would inevitably be in the diner, we focus on the unwritten saga unfolding in the middle of the night.

(Note: This is also my wife’s favorite painting so I had to make sure I made a side trip to visit it.)

The Tastiest Takeaway from #ASAE12

The Bent Buckle Barbecue Rub from the Visit Dallas team at the ASAE 2012 Annual meeting

ASAE’s 2012 Annual Meeting had many amazing things. Thought provoking sessions, controversial speakers, an expo that included a carousel, an amazing opening session… and food.

So while more thoughtful posts are marinating, this is a good opportunity to share perhaps the tastiest takeaway I got from this year’s annual meeting.

You see, I love to grill and barbecue. So as I walked past the Visit Dallas booth (aka @visit_dallas), my taste buds did a double take as I saw they were handing out a Texas Barbecue rub.  I couldn’t resist.

I’d been dying to make another attempt at a smoked beef brisket and this was just the opportunity. So after a few days of recovery and with a bit of preparation, I embarked on my journey this past weekend to make my first official “ASAE Annual-Texas Beef Brisket.”

The recipe is below, and I hope you your brisket turns out as great as mine. More important, be sure to share. And when you dig in… think of Dallas and the 2012 ASAE Annual meeting.  I did for sure.

Supplies:

  • One bag of hickory smoking chips (also a good idea to have a smoking box but you can use aluminum foil if you have to).
  • Aluminum foil pan about the size of the brisket (to put under your brisket when cooking).
  • A roll of cling wrap and a roll of aluminum foil
  • Oven thermometer
  • Meat thermomenter
  • Barbecue Sauce Mop

Ingredients:

One 7 – 8 pound beef brisket. Be sure to get at least USDA choice graded meat. If you can find it vacuum packed that’s even better.

Seasoning Paste

  • ½ cup Dijon mustard
  • ½ cup dark brown sugar
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons apple juice
  • 2 tablespoons beer

Mop Sauce

  • 1 quart apple juice
  • 1 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 1 table spoon salt
  • 1 cup barbecue sauce
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red chili flakes

Rub and Seasonings

  • Authentic Bent Buckle Texas Barbecue Rub from the Visit Dallas booth at ASAE12
  • 2 cups barbecue sauce

Instructions

The night before, make sure to prepare the brisket and get it ready for a day of slow cooking.

  • Trim the fat cap on top the brisket so it is about ¼ inch thick. Place the brisket in a deep dish or on a cookie sheet with a raised edge.
  • Prepare the seasoning paste mixing together the ingredients. It should have the consistency of slightly runny pancake batter. Add a smidge more liquid if you need to.
  • Slather one side of the brisket with seasoning paste and let sit for 15-20 minutes
  • Flip the brisket over and slather the other side. Let sit for 15-20 minutes
  • Prepare several sheets of cling-wrap to completely wrap up your brisket. I cut 4 sheet long sheets of wrap and put them on the counter setting them up so I can fold them over the brisket both lengthwise and across.
  • Transfer the brisket to the cling wrap.
  • Generously cover your brisket on both sides with the Bent Buckle Texas Barbecue Rub rub.  I ended up using about 1/3bottle of rub.
  • Wrap the brisket tightly in the cling wrap and place in the refrigerator over night.

The next morning, you are ready to start cooking. Yes, you read right. MORNING.  Start early – around 8 AM – by setting your grill for indirect cooking and getting things ready.

Here are the steps I follow on my gas grill:

  • Soak about a handful of smoking chips for 15 minutes.
  • Get your grill going on high.
  • Place the smoking chips in a smoking box or make a foil pouch for your chips. If making a foil pouch, put a hole in them. If you are lazy (like me), just put the chips on a piece of aluminum foil and crunch it up so it looks like a garlic bulb, leaving about an inch opening at the top.
  • Let the chips start to warm up until they are smoking.

Now it is time to get the meat going.

  • Start by turning the gas off on the grill. Remove one of the grates and place your aluminum pan under the area where your brisket will be (hint: with indirect cooking, it will be the area without the heat.)
  • Turn the heat back on and keep the flame low.
  • Unwrap the brisket and place it fatty side up on the cooking grate.
  • Now, close the grill and keep the temperature low.  This is where the oven thermometer comes in. You want to keep the temperature between 225 and 250 degrees for the next 4 to 4 ½ hours.  While it is cooking, take the following steps:
  • Check the temperature two or three times an hour to make sure it doesn’t get too high.
  • When you do so, go ahead and baste it with your mop sauce.
  • Every now and then, add more smoking chips (I generally do not soak these chips as I did the first batch). To get the chips smoking you might want to turn the heat up higher (to around 350 to 400 degrees). But keep the grill open so the temperature of the meat doesn’t get too high.  Once the chips start smoking, turn the heat back down and close the grill.

After about 4 hours – or when the temperature has hit around 150 degrees, it’s time to switch gears and finish your brisket in the oven with a process called The Texas Crutch.

  • Baste the brisket in your favorite barbecue sauce and place on several sheets of aluminum foil with the fat side up.
  • Baste one more time with your mop sauce, and wrap the brisket tightly in the aluminum foil.
  • Place it either in a baking dish or on a cookie sheet with a raised edge and put it into the oven at 225 degrees.
  • Let it finish in the oven for the next 4 ½ hours or until the meat gets to 190 degrees.
  • When you check the temperature, feel free to drain off some of the juices (save it) and either baste the meat in the juices or a bit more mop sauce.

Once the meat hits the right temperature, unwrap the brisket, place it on a serving platter, cover with aluminum foil and let rest for at least 30 minutes.

Now you are ready to serve. Thinly slice the meat across the grain and serve. Put out the juices you drained off and/or a bit of barbecue sauce.

For some other serving suggestions, it goes great with my favorite Baked Potato Salad from Wegmans and corn on the cob (cooked on the grill is even better). Some people like to serve it on a bun and make a sandwich, but it’s also wonderful just by itself.

So there you go. My tastiest takeaway from ASAE’s 2012 Annual Meeting.

Yes, everything in Texas was bigger. And the Authentic Bent Buckle Texas Barbecue Rub courtesy of the Visit Dallas team made sure a bit of the meeting made it home to my family and friends.

Father’s Day Thoughts

My Dad and my Son. Two of the best things about being a dad.

One of my favorite hit a splash of reality a few days ago with a post about the fact that You Can’t Parentshift.  He’s right.

Work-shifting and telecommuting is common-place with today’s technology. Heck, I work for a company in Chicago and live in Washington DC!

And when you do have to hit the road for work, we use text messages, Facebook updates, Skype,  and more to keep in touch with the family. For one of my daughter’s softball games this season I even got play-by-play texts.  But none of that replaces actually being there to lead, laugh and learn with your kids.

With Father’s Day here, there are some amazing dad’s I admire who have shaped the dad I am.  The most fitting tribute I can think of is to recognize them for what they have taught me and inspired.  Starting, with my top 3:

Frank van Hilst, My Dad (Duh! Of course!!) – You learn a lot about how to be a parent and adult from your own parents. And I am blessed to say I seemed to have spent a lifetime in master classes.

My Dad first instilled the value of hard work and still holding yourself accountable to your family. My dad worked long hours and had a long commute. But during soccer season, he pulled into the driveway every day to get me to practice. When there was something to be done, he was there for us and made sure we were ready.

My dad also constantly reminded me that the knowledge in your head and how you use it is a great measure of intelligence than a piece of paper or initials after your name.

My father is also the smartest man I have ever known. And yet, he doesn’t have a college degree. However along the way that hasn’t stopped him as he mastered multiple languages, the tax code, geography, subjects such as science history, gourmet cooking and much more. His ability to understand a wide variety of subjects, think strategically and have a passion to never stop learning have been inspiring throughout my whole life.

Lastly, he taught me to never pass up an opportunity to spoil your kids or enjoy a smile. I fondly remember trips to Dairy Queen and little things he would do on the side to say, “here’s a little something to brighten your day.” It wasn’t extravagant, but it was heartfelt sharing that made a lasting memory.

Scott Smith – Long before I had kids, an old boss (and now friend) told me about a conversation he had had with his son who was mad at him.  He looked his boy in the eye and said, “My job is to raise you to be a kind, smart, responsible adult. At the end of the day – if we are friends, that is a bonus. Not a requirement.”

That bit of advice has guided my parenting philosophy to hold my children accountable, be responsible and respectful. I’m not afraid to discipline and worry what they think.

CC Chapman and Chris Bonney – In a world where too many dads focus on career above all else, this group of dads has taught me that you CAN put your kids first and build a career that fits you.  (Yes, I will admit that it does help that we all work in web and communications.) As CC says, you can’t work-shift being a parent. And Chris Bonney points out it’s not about work-life balance but just balance. You can make time for being with your kids, enjoying adventures and bonding.

(Oddly enough, it was 6 years ago I met CC Chapman at a conference that inspired me and put me on the career path that now enables the balance I try to achieve.)

Now, as I celebrate Father’s Day AS a father, I realize it’s not just a day to reminisce about your kids and enjoy the spoils of being a father. It’s even more important to recognize the dads along the way who taught you how to be a dad.

So, here’s to all of you…

Frank van Hilst, G.T. Schramm, Papa Wood, CR Davis, Saul Schiffman, Lige Miller, Peter Gottschalk, Dave Wilson, Richard Reeves, Bill Bland, Rich Edgar, Dunnie Bache, Lynn Carpenter, Jim Staley, Scott Smith, Eric Stevens, Chris Bonney, Rodney Huey, David Billingsly, Peter Uncles, Gary Ryan and many more dads that I have known throughout my life. 

Thank you for helping me become the Dad I am. The Dad I wanted to be when I set out on this journey.

The Road Ready Family

I travel enough for work that I have the walking-strip-show down pat as I prepare for security. I’m pretty much unfazed by travel delays and can deal with schedules being off as I go across time zones.

But ask me to travel with my family and I become a different person.  (Just put me in that “Casual Traveller Line” at security.)

Everything has to be in it’s perfect spot in our luggage, boarding passes prepped as soon as possible, itineraries mapped out and – most important – getting to the airport super early so I can get the kids through security.

So I was shocked at 5 AM this morning as both kids calmly kicked their shoes off, put their stuff in a bin and walked through security like a seasoned road-warrior.  Heck, I was still putting my laptop in the bin and emptying my pockets as they got waved through the metal detector.

And this was after they calmly woke at 4 AM, grabbed the rolling bags to check out of the hotel and walked through the airport like a foreign correspondent heading off on another assignment.

Hmm. guess the apples didn’t fall far from the tree and they have a thing or two to show their dad.

Jazz, Life Lessons and A Great Teacher

Jazz, Life Lessons and A Great Teacher

The world lost a great man today. I’m saddened by the loss, but grateful for a man that graced my life and shaped a good bit of the man I am today.

I was actually thinking of him this morning listening to NPR and the story about Story Corps, the National Day of Listening and their encouragement to capture the story of teachers. I ran through the list of those teachers that had the biggest effect on my life and one name stood out.

Dave Wilson.

“Big Dave,” as those of us in the Jefferson County High School band programs called him, was a man who seemed larger than life to an impressionable young kid.

I don’t have a photo of Dave, so here’s the music he loved (and taught us to love).

My first memory of him was in elementary school and the Jefferson Jazz Band performed in our cafeteria. He stood in front of the band, counted down the next song… did a wave of his hand up and down to the band to kick them off… and as the horns blared Basie, turned to face the audience and acknowledged the band with his signature gesture of a pointed finger out to the side that said “These kids are the best musicians you are ever going to hear, and I love teaching them.”

I was hooked. I knew right away my goal in life was to be on that stage performing in that band. Piano lessons took on a new life, scales had a fresh perspective, and when it came time to join the junior high band I chose any instrument I could so I could still play piano in Jazz Band and keep working toward my dream.

By the time I made it to high school I was on the verge living my dream.

Those next 3 years were some of the most musically important years in my life. This wasn’t just some high school band… This was Jefferson Jazz! A band with an undefeated winning streak at competitions. A band with notable composers arranging songs and star musicians giving us master classes. A band that was filled with the brightest and hardest working kids in the school.

Big Dave taught us to love what you do, work hard and show the world your greatness. And when people laugh, you lift your shoulders up, look back on your skills and rehearsal… AND KICK THEIR ASS!!

I’ll never forget the competition we attended in Northern Virginia. We roamed the halls before we performed and heard the snickers and comments from other kids and band directors about this band from West Virginia that was in the competition.  “Who do they think they are.” “This will be easy.” “They are gonna suck.” “Bunch of dumb hicks.”

We were warming up and Dave came in and told us, “Kids, there’s a band on stage playing an easy version of ‘Shenandoah Junction.’ Are we going to stand for that?”

We hadn’t played that tune in weeks, but the challenge had been thrown down.

We quietly walked on stage and took our places. The lights came up, Dave sauntered to the microphone, and said “We would now like to play a song commissioned for this jazz band that is named after the mailing address of our school.”

As we kicked in to the signature 5/4 time of “Shenandoah Junction” we saw those petulant kids who just mocked us hang their heads in shame. They knew they had just been shown up by a bunch of “hicks from WV.”

Mr. Wilson used to say “You can’t kid a kid,” and so he always told it us straight. No spin. No slant. You knew where you stood with him. If you were good enough and worked hard he recognized you. And if you needed to practice more and do more he told you.

We did more than play Count Basie, Stan Kenton, Maynard Ferguson, and Glenn Miller. We learned life lessons centered around great music. Few of us went on to be professional musicians but we all went on to be great adults – and I think that is what Mr. Wilson wanted most.

I last saw Big Dave in my hometown last summer at a concert by one of those kids that did go on to be a professional musician – Scott Paddock.  I proudly introduced him to my kids and thanked him for all he had taught me. We reminisced about the concerts and rehearsals, and he quietly told me I was one of the best piano players he ever had (but I think he told every kid that as I know I played with many other great musicians).

As I sit here writing, reflecting and listening to those old tunes we played 20+ years ago, I come back to my thoughts of him this morning.

I’m blessed to have had Dave Wilson as a hero, mentor and teacher. We all were. He was loved by many and lived to serve and teach kids to be hard working musicians and all around great human beings.

He made a big impression on so many of us. The only way to fill the hole that is left behind is to put on some jazz and let the tunes wail.


Enjoy some of the tunes that we played in Jefferson Jazz through Spotify playlist.