Baleia Blu Ceramics

Handmade by Adette Contreras in Brooklyn, NY. Inspired by a big blue whale and our little blue planet.

2015: A Year in Review

Wow, a lot can happen within a year, and I’ve been trying my best to capture it all, and–still, with all the journal entries, unprocessed photos, Instagrams, everything–I feel like I could be doing more. 2015 was a year of growth, learning, and lots of strategy–putting pieces in place to prepare for what a monster year 2016 is going to be (and already is!). It was incredibly sad, though. Unbearably violent and unjust, and regardless of which direction you look, there was just so much pain. 2015 was the year I became event more afraid of police, became enraged by some man with really bad hair and nonsense neo-Nazi sensibilities, incredibly saddened by the struggle of refugees, immigrants, black teenage boys, women, transgender teens, ... pretty much anyone that isn't a rich, old, straight, white man. 

But. It was also an incredible year of such beauty. I'm so lucky to have so much–so many inspiring people around me, so many sales on JetBlue, so many opportunities to help people, and so much work yet to be done. So, I thought I should pause for a second (OK, a few of hours) to look back on 2015 and look through old photos, to pull out and acknowledge the moments that made the past year beautiful to me.


January is always an interesting month. It’s so full of possibility, and for me introspection and celebration, as it means another birthday. When I was 17, I spent my birthday unconscious in ICU, receiving my last rites, as my family worried whether or not I was going to live. I pulled through, and since then, birthdays just haven’t been the same. They’re brighter, they’re more important, and they’re way more epic than I ever gave them credit for.


For me, this translates to an annual trip somewhere–a treat, almost an obligation–and last year was Puerto Rico. Swanberg and I stole away to San Juan, he and surprised me with a catamaran trip, and I swam with a stingray with a wingspan larger than mine. (Yes, I thought of following it. Yes, I saw the stinger. Yes, I quickly reconsidered.) We hung out in local bars. We climbed trees. We ate a lot. We swam in the sea. We pet strange street cats and survived to tell the tale. We stayed at a great inn called "Dreamcatcher." We drank out of coconuts. Can’t really beat that. 

Meanwhile, back in Brooklyn, it was more birthday shenanigans all around. We had a little party at the TINSEL studio, and the evening ended in us rolling around on the floor in fits of sheer joy. So much love. So much laughter. 


January also means I get restless with the art work. After a few late nights of falling into my design trance, a new logo emerged… and not long after, a new Ohcontrer Portfolio was up.


February was a combination of productivity and meditation. Finally got me my very own pool cue, aptly named Sweetness, thanks to Nina. I don’t really know how to explain it, but I just love the game so much. It’s so much fun to clear your head, hang out with some friends, and play this giant moving puzzle. It’s so meditative. Step up to the table, map out the next 4 shots, and forget about everything else in the world. And I joined the straight pool league–no more Team 8-ball. Time to get serious.


And I got serious about the portfolio too. It’s a lot of work, but it feels strangely rewarding to see most of your work in one place. I decided not to keep things so separate this year. In the past, I’ve separated TINSEL from my advertising and web design work, and kept my photography entirely tucked away. Last year, I decided to gather everything and put it all in one place. Also helped give me more of a reason to process shots after a trip instead of just letting them sit on the hard drive. Remember when we used to get photos developed? There was order in that. With all the digital stuff, it’s easy to fall into chaos, so last year was when I decided that was enough.


Oh God, and February was when I finally pulled the trigger and got BANGS. And we're moving on...


March was a bit rocky, as it tends to be. The weather is still cold, and owning a business is emotional stuff. Lots of obstacles. Lots of reasons to quit. Lots of reasons to pursue something else entirely. 


Nicanor came back from India (1) looking younger (how?!) and (2) all enlightened. He brought me back a little figure of Ganesha, the “remover of obstacles.” The fun part of Ganesha though, is that he’s also the one that puts the obstacles there in the first place. So that we can grow. 

Mmmm hmmm.

So that’s what I kept telling myself. This is all for growth. We are learning from all of this. We are getting stronger. Tougher. Or maybe… not tougher, but more flexible, more adaptable. Maybe it’s not always about muscling our way through something.

Now, my Ganesha is over my desk in the front room at home with a few other mementos as a reminder to keep learning, and keep on keeping on.

March is also Jo & Jared birthday month, so we stole away with The Team “upstate” to Montauk. First time up there, and I got to say: it was gorgeous. Didn’t really expect much, but it just felt like you were at the edge of the world. And the light was unreal.


And The Goose had a blast running around on the beach–rugby sweater and all.


April brought in the flowers, and we welcomed them gladly. Lots of loafing about in the warm weather, any chance we got. One afternoon in Fort Greene park with all the yellow flowers in the land. Stole away for a quick trip to Coney Island with The Goose too, and got to check off a big life goal: To hear Stevie Wonder play live. 


And las mujeres took off for sunny Mexico for Erica's bachelorette to Isla Mujeres, claro. My first time in Mexico, and it definitely won't be my last.


May was full of activity–very intense activity. TINSEL was in full swing, and we were booked with events. The biggest event was Erica and Keithy's wedding. Didn't take any photos that evening, so that's testament to what an incredible evening it really was... and what a blur! Glad we got the pros to take some shots, so you can see some photos on Brides

Intense activity also came in the form of yoga and meditation. I took a month-long yoga immersion, where I practiced at least one hour of yoga/meditation and wrote each day for the entire month of May. I learned a lot. What I need to live, what I can live without, and what makes me tick. Ever stop to wonder: how do you define yourself? Where does that come from? Chances are, you were 4 years old when you made up your mind to be who you are–whoever that is and whatever that means. Something happened, and you started to define who you are as a tiny human being, and you've grown, but you've carried that little bit since then. Were you bossy? Were you shy? Were you curious? Were you contemplative? Were you going to get your way no matter what?

I learned that a month of doing something every single day makes you look at it differently, no matter how much you think you already knew it. Learned that running at 180 mph every single day of my life isn't sustainable, and that I need that time to quiet all the thoughts in my head. Neglecting sleep is not a badge of honor. Working 16-hours a day every day is not something to be proud of.  I learned that being strong doesn't mean being hard, and I learned that it takes a lot more to be soft. Also reinforced how much I like to think about my feelings instead of actually just feeling them. Baby steps.


All the writing–with actual pen and paper–got me inspired by some calligraphy. Above right, you'll see some Nicholas Ouchenir, and what's haunted me ever since I saw some invitations he penned for Dior and Saint Laurent. A journal entry I did with a dip pen above center. A poem handwritten by Ouchenir below.


June brought me to Sweden, to Swanberg's home. Was incredible to see where he came from–the land that bred such a creative, kind-hearted, giant of a man. We ate our way through Stockholm, of course, and a quick little plane ride took us to Gotland. I've just never seen anything quite like it. It was magical... felt like time just stood still there. Everything was so foreign to me. I've never seen fields like that. I've never seen light like that. I mean, the sun never set. It was as if I had landed on a different planet. My camera was attached to my face.


Stockholm had it's charms as well. Namely, seeing a lot of Måns's history. Below, some of his clay work, at Mama Swanberg's flat.


Quick layover in Copenhagen got me wanting to return for a longer stay. Danish design is something else, and I'll have to plan and bring an extra suitcase next time. 


Back in NYC, June was a time of creativity, lots of contemplative evenings with the one and only Judah. He's pictured below left geekin' out over the calligraphy pens as well. Lots of time spent in airports with newly-acquired travel gear (including a hand-stamped leather luggage tag by Liz), and nights out with the FYLPRO crew that never cease to inspire me.


June also brought Swanberg home to Butler Street... along with a little kitten named after deep-fried Mexican food. Chimichanga came barreling into our lives, complete with non-stop meowing and all the cuddles in the world. I've never met such a soft, yet pointy, creature. And how many ways can she make sleeping look gut-wrenchingly cute? She and The Goose became fast friends, so of course spooning Chimichanga and The Goose were in our immediate future. It's hard to imagine she was ever this tiny. Chez Swantreras in full effect, complete with The Zoo.


July brought more celebrations, and there's nothing like old friends to make you feel like new again. Becca got married, and that means another Homefry Reunion. These women never cease to inspire me. Becca summed it up best: we've been friends longer than we haven't. Homefry Love est. 1999. It all started with that Women's World Cup when Team USA won, with Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain and the whole gang. (Sidenote: They were 27 & 30, respectively, when the Homefries met at IMSA's orientation, ahem, "Navigation." They were so young! But then again, we were so young...) Ever since then, we've gone through so much together and so much apart. And yet, I know that whenever I pick up that phone, they'll always be there for me, no matter what. 


So it was great being reunited. We're scattered throughout the country, but this year (and beyond), there will be more in-person reunions, and we'll forget all those years that we spent so far away from each other. It's like coming back home each time.

The rest of July was a blur, like it always tends to be. Summer backyard BBQs, street festivals, Bastille Day in the neighborhood, and fun in sunglasses and hats. The BBQs this year were really escalated, thanks to a few friends that really know their way around some grilled pulp and smoked duck (cough Josh cough Judah cough). Really taking advantage of having all this space in Brooklyn.


Speaking of athletes, turns out Chimichanga is a world-class napper. Here are some shots of her freestyling. Look at that form. My favorites are when she and The Goose partner up for doubles napping. These two work so hard, and I think it's paying off.


With the Goldman Sachs program in full effect, on top of all the day-to-day work, I haven't been doing much design. It's all been work, and the work itself hasn't been design-related: lots of strategy, lots of sales, lots of pitching. Time to tuck away in a corner and just play with color. Playing with the new iPad, Paper, and Pencil. It's a strange and wonderful feeling, now that all my notes and drawings and such is digital. To-do lists, calendar, meeting notes, class notes, and now, drawings and sketches. I guess we live in the future after all.


And this summer has just been one epic meal after the next. Yes, those are pork buns from scratch, people. I can't make this up.


And The Zoo has been in fine form. Not enough time with my Jojieface as I would like, but c'est la. Happy for the Seesterdates we do get.

Chimichanga doing her best to look like a Dutch master's painting. She's strangely thrilled by that ladder.
Chimichanga doing her best to look like a Dutch master's painting. She's strangely thrilled by that ladder.
The Zoo taking their family portrait. They're never far apart from each other and always chasing the sun.
The Zoo taking their family portrait. They're never far apart from each other and always chasing the sun.

Well, the time has come. We're packing up ye olde Chicago house as my parents decide to downsize. That means going through boxes and boxes of your childhood and letting it all go.


And every once in a while you find some gems. Here are some VHS tapes from Chez Contreras c. 1990s. Though they're definitely older, it's funny to see how the story evolved as they got taped over and recorded over through the years. My favorite: "Turkish Architecture, Arch at the Crossroads" was taped over with "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids." Gold. That top one there, I'm pretty sure that's Baby Jo handwriting under "Bulls v. Portland." Was she trying to write "duck," short for "Ugly Duckling"? 


And of course, the troops. The beloved little creatures we brought with us from the Philippines. Two of them actually circumnavigated the globe, I'm pretty sure: Fluffy and Chubby. They came from the US, then Mama shipped them to us in the Philippines because we were stuck apart for a couple of years. Then, we brought them back to the US when we were all reuinted; they've seen it all. The raccoon was from Brunei and could walk with the help of a battery. The parrot could talk and had a light up heart if the 9V was hooked up correctly. Popples turned inside-out into a soccer ball. And the two puppets, toucan and Tiger, were from England–I think. Old friends. So much comfort from them during so much darkness. Time to send you back into orbit. Thank you for being the best, weirdest, most well-traveled group of stuffed animals ever.


Speaking of weird animals, here's more Chimichanga. She's too much.


Through the whole ordeal of packing up the Chicago house, I am so fortunate to have the best Seesterfriend. It was such a help to have Måns there as well, and I am so lucky to be surrounded by such support even during the most emotional times. I mean, it was just so surreal. Almost too much like what you see in the movies. Whatever. Jojie and I got matching Seester shoes to celebrate. From TJ Maxx, of course.

And just like that, we're back in Brooklyn with The Goose again. My Little Love.



October brought a chill in the air and that mellow vibe that comes with Fall weather. Nicanor and John get engaged in the cutest way possible, so there's even more love in the air than usual. Speaking of love, Måns and I celebrate one year of being ridiculous humans together. Life is good.


October also brought a visit from Mama Swanberg. We saw the new Whitney, complete with some very compelling sweater-game by a couple of Japanese women, and Måns featured his trucks at a kids' fair. We had a BBQ for Mama Swanberg, where she held court and where we ate lobsters the size of small dragons. And I met a dinosaur, a giant camera that's the last of it's kind.


October was also the month I got invited to the White House and to continue planning for FYLPRO's future at The Ambassador's house. Such a treat to see Ryyn. There's so much work to be done though, and I'm feeling really frustrated with everything that I've tried to do with FYLPRO. Hard to name one instance that's felt like there was support, and it's also a unique situation since there's bound to be some drama. It's fine. I'm not going to let it dissuade me. Even the walls I've hit with the Dept. of Tourism aren't going to stop me. Just time to rethink the situation and figure out a new plan... maybe private sector is a better way to go in terms of the Legacy Project... More on that in 2016, of course.


And as the Goldman Sachs program goes on, I'm learning that a lot of the things we hear about owning a business actually have to be reconsidered, or rephrased at least. I started a little series (I've still got more to do...) and dubbed it Au Contraire, Ohcontrer. Little lessons in business, entrepreneurship, and life/work balance that aren't always what they seem at first glance.


And October ended with even more shenanigans. A whole gaggle of us made our way down to New Orleans to celebrate Keithy's birthday–complete with Beyonce from her 7/11 video, the tallest skeleton, and Alice in Chains. Liz bottom right savoring a moment amidst bubbles.


And after all the adventuring, it always feels so good to come home to The Zoo.


November brought more gratitude. Where would I be without my little partner in crime? The Goose and I celebrated our 5-Year Anniversary as she turned 6 years old! Despite how long we've been together, she's always doing something new to delight me. And she's always just a few inches away from me. So one morning, when I looked down and she wasn't at my feet, I thought she got herself stuck in a closet or something. Turns out, she was hiding under the bed and got herself a little stuck. She freed herself in the cutest way possible, and of course, I had to film it (instead of helping her; she was fine, really.).


Came home from a looooong day at work, popped a bottle of champagne, and had me a little cuddle with The Goose and her Chimichanga. Living my best life right there.


Meanwhile, feeling the urge to travel again, to move again. Kind of like Juliette Binoche's character in Chocolat. I feel like I'm constantly just fighting the urge to up and go. Is it because we move so much when I was a kid? 

Speaking of kids, here's a ridiculously cute photo of a ridiculous man when he was a ridiculous child. Swanberg eyes!


December brought so much, in such a short amount of time. TINSEL milestones were hit, and Q4 closed out with 48% of our annual revenue. We designed a few holiday parties and ended the year on a high note, grateful for the incredibly talented team that have helped bring TINSEL to new levels of awesome through the years. #tinselislove indeed. 


And we flew to San Francisco to spend the holidays with my parents. What a lovely little trip that ended up being.


And no recap is complete without a slideshow of The Zoo and their shenanigans. Looking back on an amazing year of cuddles, and looking forward to another year of that... and all the possibilities ahead. 2015, cheers to you.

2016, allons-y.

Something New, Yet Old

Something New, Yet Old