Sharing the Awesome!

My life is filled with love and laughter thanks to the amazing people I get to hang out with. As well as being awesome, they’re creative, talented, generous, and fun! I thought you might like to meet them so I’ve asked them to come and give us a behind-the-scenes look at what they’re passionate about. I have to warn you though – creativity is contagious!

Sharing the Awesome ~ Brad Kratky  Super-talented App Developer

Save QB icon

Save QB! game app

Today’s special guest is my super-talented son, Brad Kratky! Brad graduated with an Honours Computing Degree and is in the midst of completing a medical degree. Plus in his spare time (say what?) he developed a really fun game app called Save QB! You have to tap shapes on the screen to prevent them from reaching a cute little guy named QB.



Isn’t that cool? Brad, how did you get the idea to create a game app? B: Initially I just wanted to learn how to create an app. I started learning Android and the basic drawing tools Android uses. One of the easiest things to draw onto the screen is a circle. When I was experimenting with the circles, and figuring out how to make them appear, grow, and shrink over time, I came up with the idea for Save QB!

I love that! How did you come up with the design for QB? He’s so cute. B: As the idea for the game started to come together, I decided to create a level-based reflex game where you needed to tap circles quickly. Instead of racing against time or losing when the circles collided, I decided to have another object that the circles were forbidden to collide with. A square was the natural choice, since everyone knows they’re the nemesis to circles. Even with the basics of the game in place, I felt it needed a little extra to make it more fun. I recalled a presentation I had seen online, “Juice it or Lose it”, which describes general ways to make a game “juicy”. In the words of the presenters, “A juicy game feels alive and responds to everything you do
…tons of cascading action and response for minimal user input.” One of their ideas was to add faces to inanimate objects…for some reason it makes everything feel more fun!

It’s true – QB is so adorable I really want to save him! What do you have to consider when you’re designing a game app? B: Two major considerations in any software product are time and space. In a real-time game, it’s important to have an efficient game engine that can draw everything to the screen as many times as possible, to produce a final product that runs smoothly. This means it has to run fast – all the drawing and physics/collision calculations need to complete in a timely manner. The amount of computer memory the game uses is also an important consideration. Often, speed can be improved by utilizing more memory, but memory can be relatively limited on mobile devices, so it’s important to balance these two aspects.

(There’s a time in every mother’s life when the child gets smarter than the parent – it’s a bit scary). What did you learn along the way? B: Developing the app separately for Android and iPhone, I learned a lot about developing code for both. There are two things I would do differently next time. I wouldn’t custom design each level – level design is very time consuming, and I would plan which platforms to deploy before I start. Separately developing for both Android and iPhone, while educational, was also very time consuming.

I learned everything using free resources online. Google and Apple’s developer documentation is very useful, but by far the most valuable resource was (a site where developers can post and answer questions about code).

Wait! We paid good money for that computing degree. You mean to say, you could have learned it all for free? (Could you show Mark how that’s done :D) What’s involved in getting a game on iTunes and Google Play? B: Google Play is really easy – by using a Google Account and simply reading and accepting the terms of use, you can upload your app to Google Play on the same day.

iTunes is a little more involved. Due to Apple’s restrictions on app distribution (apps can only be distributed through the official store), Apple requires digital certificates to be signed and verified. In the process of creating an account, there are additional legal tax forms, which have to be mailed to Apple. This takes time. To upload the app to the store, Apple then reviews the app for integrity and security, which takes 4-7 days to complete. Fortunately I was approved on the first try, but this could quickly become very lengthy if any problems are found.

Are you thinking of creating more apps? B: Yes, I have ideas for more apps as well as improvements for Save QB! Unfortunately, school limits the amount of time I have to devote to programming.

Any advice for people who would like to create a game app? B: Keep it very simple, and make one. Even basic ideas tend to balloon out in terms of the estimated amount of work, and the most important thing is to completely finish the app. The best way to learn is to delve into the development world, so I would encourage aspiring game developers to start any simple game.

What song would be your theme song? B: My current theme song, silence, is pretty good since I think I would get tired of any song if I heard it every time I entered a room.

Haha. What would you pick as a superpower? B: The power to gain more superpowers!  (Is that cheating?)  The power to change and travel through time would be pretty cool.

What’s your favourite dessert? B: Dark chocolate!  70% cocoa is the scientifically proven optimal percentage.

😀 Proof that he has my genes! Thank you so much for coming and sharing this with us. We’re in awe of all that you do! Plus I love you (little heart emoticon here). Check out Brad’s website (click HERE). And if you’d like to check out Save QB! you can find it on iTunes and Google Play. It’s fun for all ages, starts out easy (for all of us non-gamers) and then becomes challengingly fast – tons of fun (and I’m not just saying that because I’m his mom) for a mere .99!

Sharing the Awesome ~ Marion O’Connor Gardening Guru

graden bella wmToday’s special guest is my mom, Marion O’Connor, a gardening guru. Her garden is the prettiest on the street and filled with a huge variety of beautiful colour, shape and scent. She’s here to share some tips on filling your garden.

Mom, when do you start planning for your summer garden? M: I’m always thinking about the garden. When all the flowers start to fade in the autumn, I’m already thinking about what I will do differently next year, and when it is winter, I imagine what the garden will look like in the spring.

bee on purple flowerAnd I know you like to change it up – with the colour or placement of flowers. All the thought you put into it shows! How do you start plants from seeds? M: I love to start seeds under the grow lights. It gives me an early start in the garden. You can plant most seeds about 6-8 weeks before they go in the garden. However, I usually start them about now as I really want to see something growing in the dead of winter. I usually take the seeds from the flowers in the autumn, keep them dry, and then plant them in special potting soil. I found that it is easier to just plant them in a flat bed rather than in individual pots. You can divide some plants like geraniums at this time of year by just taking cuttings from the mother plant.

purple and yellow daisyI love that idea of using the seeds from the plants in the garden. Sometimes I have annuals that I really like and it’d be great to see them grow again the next year. How do you divide plants when they get too big? M: Most of the perennials in the garden can be divided if they grow in clumps. The most common way to divide them is to dig them up, then take a sharp spade and cut through the roots, leaving a piece of root on each clump. Then just replant them.

Photo paul pink simple flower copySounds like a workout! Do you fertilize? How often do you water? M: In the winter plants should not be fertilized. As soon as the days start to get longer, then I start fertilizing, using only a very weak solution whenever I water. I have not started to fertilize my plants yet. Most plants are killed by overwatering. Especially in the winter I only water the plants when the soil is dry, and I try not to let the plant sit in water.

Ah, that could explain my lack of success with plants over the winter J. Do you mix vegetables with flowers in your garden? M: As my garden is pretty small, I do not grow a lot of vegetables. However, I like to grow herbs and I usually scatter them among the flowers. This way you get the mix of the green of the herbs with the colour from the flowers.

bleeding heart flowerI like the scent of lavender and thyme, too. Any advice for first time gardeners who want a colourful but low maintenance garden? M: First you need to realize what direction your garden is facing; how much shade it gets; how much sunlight; what are the soil conditions (sandy or clay) and then go to a reputable nursery armed with this information. Ask questions and pick out some perennials that will thrive in the conditions of your garden. After that, you can supplement the plants with annuals that are colourful.

Or ask your mom to come and pick out plants for you :D. If you had to pick a song to be your theme song, what would it be? M: Don’t Fence Me In (because I want my garden to go on and on).

Haha, love it! What is your favourite dessert? M: Yogurt and Fruit (especially if it is frozen)

Karen bella card spring happySuch a good role model (didn’t wear off though, I’m still eating chocolate and cookies). Thank you so much Mom, for coming and sharing your gardening tips! I’m very lucky that my Mom loves gardening because in the spring she comes and gardens so I can write!! I end up with a beautiful garden to sit and look at while I write. Keep active everyone – and let’s keep our fingers crossed that warm weather is just around the corner so you can get out into the garden (you, not me)!

Sharing the Awesome ~ Karen Marcotte Creative Card Maker

Adult colouring books? Who’d have thought they’d be so popular? Karen Marcotte – that’s who! Karen loves to colour and started long before the current trend started. She has an excellent eye for colour and shading and makes an everyday card a work of art!

Karen's 5 bella cardsKaren, how did you get interested in colouring? K: I’ve been making greeting cards for a few years. They started out as mini scrapbooking projects. Initially I used embellishments with things like 3-D appliques – and I seem to recall a glitter phase. Then it evolved to embossing, and then to colouring with different media – paint, markers, and pencil crayons.

Karen card birthdayHow do you make a card? K: I colour first and make the card second! I start with a stamp. I used to use wooden stamps, but now most of them are clear plastic mounted on blocks or digital images that can be sized and printed on special paper. Then comes the fun part – the colouring! I have a selection of over 280 special markers – I love Copic markers –they’re alcohol-based markers that blend beautifully. I use shading and layers to get exactly the colour I want.

Bella partyAnd I know you have such a keen eye, that you can see a colour and know exactly which one of the 280 markers creates it! If someone would like to start making cards, what advice would you give them? K: Stamping Up is an online community for card making. It’s sort of like going to a Tupperware party with a demo and instructions. They teach the basics and you can buy the supplies and they walk you through it. You could just buy what you need on your own, but it’s more fun to get together with a group of friends or other enthusiastic card creators! For more advanced techniques, Kit and Clowder has excellent online workshops. You get a booklet of written instructions, images, downloadable videos, and the best part – feedback from the instructor!

Karen card Ahoy SailorI love the Bella Stamps you use. What are your favourite stamps (or is that like picking a favourite child)? K: Haha – a little. I really like Kraftin’ Kimmie clear stamps and Mo Manning digital stamps. Most stamp companies have a design team. The design team gets early access to free stamps and commits to colour and post the images to promote them. And you can meet some interesting people, too!

I love that your art is also practical. Cards make great gifts – except they’re too pretty to give away! K: It’s great for fundraising too – I’ve made cards to support Autism and Crohn’s. It’s a great excuse to get together with friends and colour all day!

It’s the fun in fundraising! Haha. What would you pick as a superpower? K: The gift of healing. I would love everyone around me to be healthy.

Karen card fun in the sun


Hey, me too! What song would be your theme song? K: Is there one called ‘Take Me on Vacation with my Markers’?



If not, there should be! What’s your favourite dessert? K: Carrot cake with cream cheese icing.

Bella card by Karen 2 friends on a bench

Yum!!  Karen, thank you so much for dropping by and sharing your colouring expertise. You have a very special talent for creating stunning art. And what a better way to relax and be creative – go colour!


Sharing the Awesome ~ Lesley Rooke – Queen of the Cottage

My special guest today is Lesley Rooke, the hostess with the most-est, talking about cottage life. I know some people wonder if it’s worth the effort to pack it all up and make the trip to a cottage on the weekends or for a special week-long vacation. Lesley would say ‘Definitely yes!!’ So for all you sitting on the fence about renting or buying a cottage, here’s some sage advice.

blanket insideLesley, how long have you been heading out to your cottage? L: Our cottage has been in my family for 102 years!!!!! Wow eh!!! In 1913, my paternal grandfather took a trip from Toronto to Haliburton (part of the way was by horse and buggy) because one of his friends had just purchased property on the lake and he was so excited to share his excitement. My grandfather instantly fell in love and he himself purchased 1800 feet of shoreline for $75.00!! Isn’t that just unbelievable??? This cottage has been passed down two generations and is currently shared by my brother and myself. So, to answer your question, I have been going to the cottage since I was born, which is over 50 years!!!

lesley dockWow – what a legacy for your family! That’s such a cool story. What do you love about cottage life? L: I love everything about cottage life!!!! I have always felt so fortunate to have had this life experience and I never take it for granted. There is just no comparison to city life! The nice thing is that everything you do there is so different then the city. It’s kind of like the analogy…country mouse/city mouse. We do all the water sports, we hike really cool trails, we go for midnight boat cruises to see shooting stars, the northern lights and constellations. We canoe, paddle boat and fish. We have a lot of campfires with s’mores of course, and we play board games that we would never play in the city for some reason. There’s a whole group of people that we call our summer friends because we really only see them then. We have the odd party too!!!

A few things we don’t do are…shop, drive, race around. Once we are there, for the most part, we stay put.

cottage sepia

My favourite thing is how peaceful it is…coffee on the deck in the morning is heaven. Our property is quite private with no immediate neighbours.

Sounds like great family time – away from screens! What makes a good guest? L: When my children brought friends up, it was important that the friends were active, energetic and liked water sports and boating. And for us…most of our guests have always been great. People enjoy the getaway.

dog in boatdog on raftWhat is your favourite cottage memory? L: I have too many favourite memories to mention, but a recent one was just last summer. I spent three nights there on my own with Elvis (our new little pup) and in the evenings I sat in the sunroom listening to the evening cottage life sounds and sorting through letters from the 70’s and 80’s! That was a really fun trip down memory lane!!!!

Oh and one more…

Etched in my mind is a visual memory of my late father sitting on the deck and enjoying all his surroundings and saying “This is a little piece of heaven on earth.” He said that more than once!!!

Ryan on boardI always think being near water is relaxing and soothing. How do you keep the kids interested in going to the cottage? L: Fortunately, and I mean that sincerely, we never had to keep the kids interested. They share the love and it’s in their blood.

They love to be active too! Any tips for packing or preparing food for the weekend? L: There is no question…weekends back and forth are a lot of work. Pre planning and being organized is the key! And of course, taking Fridays off…

Nice. Do you use your cottage in the winter? L: Growing up we never used our cottage in the winter, as it was not winterized. We have rebuilt in the last five years and it’s now winterized, but I find for me, I enjoy all that summer has to offer and don’t feel the need to go up during the winter. It’s a three-hour drive so that being said, I’m ready to stay put for the winter. We have enjoyed a few fabulous Thanksgiving weekends there though.

It would be beautiful especially with the fall colours. If you had to pick a song to be your theme song what would it be? L: I have always had a connection with Its a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong – it reminds me of my mom and dad!

And Kelly Clarkson…What Doesn’t Kill you Makes You Stronger! Her words are to a lost love, but my application is to life in general. Any life event can change you and shape you and make you stronger – at least that’s what I believe.

I agree. What would you pick as a superpower? L: Teleporting would be very cool! I wouldn’t want it to be so easy that travel to exotic places would become mainstream. I would just want it to be an easier, safer and faster way to travel. With the way technology is advancing…it just might happen!!

That would be so cool – I hope it does! What’s your favourite dessert? L: I’m sorry to all you chocolate lovers but I have to say Treacle Pudding. It’s a British dessert that is basically sponge cake that has been steamed all day in Treacle Syrup which would be similar to Corn Syrup.

blanketSounds deliciously sweet!! Thank you very much Lesley for sharing your love of all things cottage. I think anytime you can find a relaxing place where you can be active, enjoy the activities you love, and spend time with family is wonderful. Be active everyone! 

Sharing the Awesome ~ Nicolette McGraw – Ace Photographer

My guest today is Nicolette McGraw, ace photographer. Nicolette quietly takes pictures of the outdoors and creates amazing prints from them. One of my favourite framed pictures is a collage of her kids. 

nicolette fallsNicolette, how did you become interested in photography? N: I first became interested in photography while living and working in the mountains at Manning Park Resort in 1978. I did a lot of hiking and wanted to capture the beauty of it all.

What do you love about it? N: I love that it forces me to really slow down, to take a deeper look at my surroundings. I once stalked what I thought was a crane for five minutes only to get close enough to realize it was a stump!

Nicolette flowerHaha. Sounds like something that happened to Vlad and me. We stopped and watched what we thought was a unique snake on the path – only to realize it was a plastic cobra. J What do you enjoy photographing? N: I mostly photograph landscapes and nature. I really love trees and am always on the look out for a new subject. If I can’t get outdoors, I give myself indoor photo assignments like shooting a store bought bouquet of flowers, or macro anything.

I love some of the winter scenes you’ve taken. What equipment do you use? N: For years I used an Olympus film camera that would still work if the battery ran out. I miss the camera but not film. I was lucky to get maybe one good shot out of a roll of 36 and I had to wait a whole week to find out if I got anything! Now I use a Nikon D700, a full frame digital camera that also works as an upper back and arms work out. My second lens was a wide angle to show wide mountain ranges, next was a macro lens to capture flowers and bugs up close. It’s important to note that I would never buy an assortment of lenses on a whim, better to see what you’re lacking first by taking many photographs of many different things.

black and white trees

A camera that works if the battery ran out – I need that! Is there a photo-editing program that you like to use? N: For years I used Picasa – a free online photo editing program, it met my needs for the most part. Recently I took a photoshop course at the college that enables me to have a wider range of editing options, giving me that little bit of pizzazz that I’ve been wanting. Since I started using digital, I noticed a much quicker learning curve.

Photo editing is an art in itself. What do you do with the photos you take? N: I hang prints around my home, sell photo cards, and offer enlargements for various charities that use them in auctions. I have also given several photo slide shows to garden clubs discussing how to best photograph your garden.

These days I also like to create abstract with my camera, it’s new and exciting. Recently, I joined the Kingston Camera Club and am learning a lot through them. The club has a show coming up at the Windows Gallery in April and I’m excited to be a part of that.

Nicolette sky with birdWow – congratulations! I know it’s not your first show, but it’s always cool to show off your work. Any advice for someone interested in becoming a photographer? N: If someone is interested in becoming a photographer, my biggest piece of advice would be to start taking photos! Don’t wait to save for a big expensive fancy camera. These days almost everyone has a cell phone that will take pictures. I just used one on my holiday last week. Joining clubs is a great way to make friends and learn new techniques. Most questions can also be answered on YouTube.

Nicolette mountainYour advice about not buying a wide selection of lenses is good, too. I would’ve thought you’d need to start with a whole array. If you had to pick a song to be your theme song what would it be? N: If I had to pick one song it would be All the Diamonds by Bruce Cockburn. It’s the one that especially pops into my head when I’m shooting near water on a sunny day.

What would you pick as a superpower? N: My super power would be a being that could change the natural lighting at will.

Chris Hadfield made a similar comment the other day – how he would want to control the light when taking pictures. What’s your favourite dessert? N: Favourite dessert would have to be ice cream or one of your specialties 🙂

I’m always happy to share! Thank you very much for sharing your love of photography with us Nicolette. I think everyone is interested in capturing precious moments at some point. If you would like to contact Nicolette, you can email her at

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