Valentine Oatmeal Chip Cookies

By Bree Hester / 02.04.15


I love a personalized Valentine. So many things come home from the school Valentine’s Day party, but the personal ones really stand out. How could you not want to be his Valentine with his adorable little face on a bag full of homemade cookies?


My 6 year old absolutely loved seeing his picture on these labels and even more than that, putting them on his goodie bags by himself. As a mom, I want to give my kids a special holiday but I don’t want it to be a ton of work. These labels are simple, adorable, and most importantly – all of my kids loved them.


Clay and I made a double batch of our family’s favorite Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies and added some valentine colored M&Ms to make them colorful and festive. He packed the bags all by himself and added the labels. And they were perfectly imperfect.



These oatmeal cookies are one of our favorites. They are very easy to customize. You could add nuts, different kinds of chocolate chips, cranberries, whatever you like, just make it a total 3 cups of add-ins. These also freeze very well so you could bake them when you have some time and pack them the night before your Valentine’s party.



Valentine Oatmeal Chip Cookies

½ cup butter, room temperature 2 cups brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups old fashioned oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups milk chocolate chips 1 ½ cups Valentine M&Ms

Preheat oven to 350°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Cream butter and brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer for 3 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla and mix well.

Slowly add flour, oats, baking soda, and salt. Mix until combined. Stir in chocolate chips and M&Ms.

Drop cookies by the tablespoonful onto a baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Let stand for 2 minutes on baking sheet and transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.




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A Year (or Two) in Review: 2015 Day Planner

By Kim Vargo / 12.30.14

Every December, I enjoy perusing the next year’s day planners – whether it be at my local bookstore or favorite online shopping haunts. My goal is to always add something to my desk that’s not only nice to look at, but that makes sense for my planning purposes! This year, I opted for the Hardcover 2015 Day Planner from Pinhole Press, knowing it would allow me to inject personality and happiness into my monthly reminders.

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My original thought was to look back at this past year and choose a favorite photo from each month; this proved to be much harder than I imagined! By the time I was done selecting photos, I had close to 50 images to narrow down, some of which went back to 2013 and beyond. Because this is my first personalized planner, I decided to run with it and go back in time as far as I liked – with the intention of making a new planner every year from here on out.

Scott and I don’t necessarily pepper photos of us and our small family of four pets around the home, so including my favorite memories of us in my personal planner felt right. Once I had my best-of-the-best snaps down to a manageable amount, I titled the files by month, and I uploaded everything to Pinhole Press to create that perfectly personal year-in-review calendar.


In the end, I had a fun and nostalgic mix of tidbits, covering everything from our pup’s bath time (April showers!), yearly travels (corresponding with the months they happened), everyday snippets from Instagram, pumpkin patch frolicking and kissing under the iconic Art Institute of Chicago lions.

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Some of our favorite photos of us have been taken on our mini instant camera. This little guy goes everywhere with us, and it has covered moments in time from New York City, Paris and the amazing day we adopted our second Pit Bull. I scanned a handful of favorites so they could be included as well!


You might have noticed that the cover looks as though it’s covered in cloth, but it’s not! I had recently received a batch of wallpaper samples, and I chose a textured grasscloth, scanned it, and saved it as a digital file on my computer. It’s such an unexpected alternative to a photo – not to mention, it cuts down on the stress of which photo is The One to make the cut!

I’ve already begun filling the planner with important upcoming dates for 2015 – weddings, family vacations and work meetings – and it will be so nice to see those reminders next to a wonderful memory.

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Here’s to a thrilling 2015 ahead; may it be filled with love, excitement and accomplishment!

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Trying New Photography Techniques in the Downtime

By Jennifer Tonetti-Spellman / 12.27.14


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014


Whether you are a full-time/part-time photographer running a business or a photo enthusiast/hobbyist, there comes a time during the year where we all experience downtime.

Personally, I take off the month of December each year to recover from Fall shooting madness, regroup on my business and plan for the year ahead.

It’s also this time I do one of my most treasured things: embrace the downtime for new photography techniques.

I prepare all year to do this so I can spread my creative wings and recharge before the strike of the New Year. Here’s my 4 suggestions to cycle through during your next downtime:


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014

Prepare for it.

I have a folder in my browser bar called to read/do. All year when I see interesting articles about a certain technique, or something that makes me want to look into it more, I drag and drop. Even new artists I discover that can be inspiring to look at- anything and everything that interest me.

In an effort to stay focused during the year, it gives me solace to know that folder is waiting for me when I have time to delve in with a good cup of tea and focus on it, versus getting distracted and off track trying to read all about it that instant.

From there I try out new techniques or put into play the tidbits of advice I don’t have time to reflect on during the year.


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014

Rent new lenses.

There is nothing more ’fun’ than new gear for a photographer. Nothing. Like ‘I’m getting a delivery and I’m not leaving this house for anything’ kind of fun.

I’m a true believer in trying gear before spending your hard earned money on it, so it gives you a chance to try out that funky fish eye or macro lens and decide if you love it or it’s a one shot deal.

Do you shoot with zoom lenses all year? Try your hand at a super wide prime.

Have a fun trip coming up? A fisheye can lend itself to some really cool abstract moments.

Want to explore life close-up? A macro should certainly be on the rental list.

Without any ‘pressures’ of producing, these lenses/camera bodies/lights are a true way to speed your creative wings and perhaps add some more gear to the arsenal.

Personally I rent from They rock.


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014

Focus on a personal project.

At the start of the New Year I pick a personal project to do throughout the year, but there’s no reason why a short term personal project wouldn’t work fab too!

Personal projects are limitless and can and should be born out of something that interests you or is a passion of yours: maybe you love dance? A day in the life of a ballet dancer could be an amazing personal project to take on. Like the rawness of street photography? Hit the streets and film your neighborhood or venture out to the nearest urban city.

When you work on a personal project you not only feed your own creative soul, but you expand and push yourself technically and mentally. It’s as rewarding as you are going to get!


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014

Shoot film.

This past year I dusted off an old film camera, took an intensive workshop and learned to appreciate the art of film once again. Dependent upon your age, you may have grown up with a film camera. Film cameras are an excellent way to go back to photography’s roots. I always felt like I was cheating with digital (still do sometimes).

We tend to shoot rapid fire knowing we can go and delete and pick the best ones. With film you have to really think before you fire that shot because every click of the shutter is money. It forces you to slow down. Forces you to really see what’s in frame. And when you slow down and wait for it instead of spraying and praying as they say?

No better skill can be acquired for a photographer in my book.

Hope these tips help you make your next downtime a worthwhile one.

Have an amazing 2015!


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014


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How To: Create A Day in the Life on Instagram

By Jennifer Tonetti-Spellman / 12.04.14

For any photographer, be it a hobbyist or pro running a business, a Day in the Life project can help you grow tremendously.

To document your day, or a child’s day is an important slice of history as well.

When its the last time you charted a day from start to finish? If you never have, hopefully you will find some inspiration to do so now.

Recently, I charted my own day via Instagram. It was a lot easier than suing my dslr but still challenging enough that when it was done,and that final shot was taken, I went to bed completely exhausted and fulfilled knowing I had created my own time capsule to reflect on in the years to come.

Here are some tips on how to make your Day in the Life come to life!


Tip 1:

Start at the beginning.

Take a shot of your clock when you wake up. Its a great way to kick it off and wrap it up. A nice ‘bookend’ of pictures if you will indicating the start and the end of your day (literally!)




Tip 2:

Create a hashtag. It will be easy for you to find (and anyone else to find) all the images in the series rather then thumbing through your feed when looking to actually do something with them (see Tip 8).



Tip 3:

Forget about how you look and just start shooting.

For me, every day when I wake up, I get on my workout gear and head to my office. After a quick check of emails, and a written to-do list, I set out on my day with a clear head. I know I won’t always do this as life evolves and changes, but it’s my real for now.



 Tip 4:

Throw out the need for perfection.

What you are CAPTURING is perfect as is. Like this shot of my daughter when I got home from my walk with Skip. It was dark, I don’t use flash on any camera, dslr or phone, so light was a challenge but I went with it. And it’s pretty perfect to me.



Tip 5:

Use an app with a self timer. I love Pro Camera (find the most recent edition that is compatible with your level of phone). It lets you adjust focal point/exposure and gives a great count down timer sound which is super helpful so you don’t have to look over to see when it’s about to shoot and mess up the ‘candid feel’ of your shot.



Tip 6:

Use apps that reflect your editing style. I love clean editing, nothing that looks too ‘filtered’ and the film look. VSCO presets are awesome for all of the above.

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Tip 7:

Record it all. Even the mundane. Because there is great beauty in the mundane.

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Tip 8:

DO something with these images. Don’t just let them live in the virtual world.


I’m honestly frightened for our historical documentation with so many people using only phones to take pictures of important moments and milestones in their lives. If you don’t get the images off the phone, quite honestly, they are useless.

There are many companies making albums these days right off your phone. You can also check out Pinhole Press for options like magnets for your refrigerator.

In the end though, it doesn’t matter how you print them/display just make sure they come to life so you can touch and hold pieces of your own history, and even more important, pass them down the line for generations to come.



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A Holiday Housewarming Throwback

By Kim Vargo / 11.24.14

It’s been almost a year and a half since Scott and I moved into our big, bad fixer upper of a house. As every month goes by, we say, this will be the month we throw a housewarming party! We get excited over the details, and then we remember that this is the same month we’re renovating the guest room – or home studio! Maybe we still need to paint the walls, or maybe we’re about to embark on a big kitchen overhaul, but when we stopped to think about it, we quickly realized that we’ll working on this house for years to come.

So, no more excuses! There will always be something to do, but we agreed that those tasks wouldn’t hold us back from celebrating this home with our friends any longer. Better yet, we decided to roll our housewarming fiesta into a holiday theme, and our Holiday Housewarming Party was born.

Next up? The invites! In such a digital world, we wanted to embrace a throwback to a time when invites were mailed. It’s personal, more meaningful, and it would allow us to have fun with the imagery and feel we’d be looking to achieve for the party itself. It took us all of 5 seconds to decide that our two pups, Jack and CC, would be the stars of the show:


We had foolishly thought we could snag one great shot of both dogs together under the mistletoe, but how silly we were! The excitement of a mini photo shoot combined with their curious personalities was pure chaos, and so with Scott’s help, I worked with Jack and CC individually against the green wall of our reading room. Through computer magic, I was then able to merge 3 images into 1:


Once we had our winning snapshot, we browsed through the catalog of Pinhole Press cards, ultimately landing on this one. We loved the simplicity of the font, and the berry color was the perfect complement to our gray-green backdrop – a subtle holiday nod. Uploading our photo was a breeze, and then it was simply a matter of coming up with the verbiage. For RSVPs, we created a Gmail address and kept everything else straight up and to the point. (Our address was removed from the below, but they were on the invites as well.)

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However, we didn’t stop there! Jack and CC are camera hams, and we had a handful of cute and funny outtakes from the photo shoot. We chose a favorite for each, and we added a couple packs of coasters to our order. Once our guests arrive to the Holiday Housewarming, these B-reel photos will tie everything together:

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Having ordered Thank You cards from Pinhole in the past, we continue to be really impressed with the quality of these invites! They have an excellent weight and smooth feel, although sadly, I can’t say that CC noticed:

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We even went so far as to create custom address labels using Jack’s outtake, which we hope will give our friends and family a chuckle at the mailbox. The majority of our invites have since been dropped off at the post office, but a small pile was set aside for hand delivery. I sealed those with a YAY! stamp in bold black ink to keep things light-hearted.

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As the RSVPs roll in, we find ourselves counting down the days, going over an appetizer menu and brainstorming fizzy party drinks. Our housewarming has been long overdue, and what better way to celebrate than during the most wonderful time of the year!

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