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Say Hello to Karla | A Hybrid Computational Biologist, Cookie Maker, and Competitive Cyclist

March 08, 2022

From the moment her pudgy two-year-old hands could swipe her older brother’s Sesame Street books and she discovered Cookie Monster’s Famous Cookie Dough recipe, Karla was “helping” in the kitchen. Afterall, as Cookie Monster told us, “Home is where heart is. Heart where cookie is. Math clear: Home is cookie.” And her family embraced that logic with delicious Sunday tradition of cake and ice cream dinners. Today Karla’s stunning confections skew to cookies (Cookie Monster dough included – check out her Artifct below!) less because she’s a cookie monster and more for the joy of the process and because “Home is cookie.” Karla loves sharing her creations with friends, including contactless cookie deliveries during COVID to unsuspecting friends’ homes. 


Despite her wow’ing cookie skills, Karla is not some TikTok how-to baking guru or Instagram influencer. Instead, you could ask her, “Why is this petunia white instead of purple?” Karla started her professional career as a computational biologist, using computer modeling to understand things like gene mutations that change a flower’s color and yield new delightful varieties in flower shops. But that same discovery in that plant can reach well-beyond the plant world to aid, for example, our understanding of RNA-interface and cancer.  

Karla never dreamed at age 10 or even 20 of becoming a lab scientist. She was always going to be a doctor. But then one night during her junior year of undergrad a math theorem nearly stumped her. Karla knew what the theorem was telling her - math was her truest passion. She took her biology and math smarts and steered them into a master’s degree in applied biosciences where she was a bit of a unicorn. She was a human bridge between hardcore biologists in the wet labs who spoke in As, Gs, Cs, and Ts and the computer scientists locked in the languages of 1s and 0s. 


Karla is a bridge in another world as well – cycling. During her years-long metamorphosis from hobbyist tandem-bike rider to national-level competitive road cyclist she identified twin truths she’s intent on harmonizing: Cycling is about community, but certain stigmas keep people from cycling. Community on a bike means, “Riders show up, conversations are had or not. You are free to work out your stress and frustration on your bike, with company.” You challenge and push each other in races but meet up irrespective of team affiliation for a sociable drink or dinner later. And maybe the allure of cycling cuts another way to create a barrier. Cycling is after all one of few sports in the world in which you find world-class riders, at the pinnacle of the sport, coming out to race with the average Joe, as they say. Your hard work and dedication put you on the same starting line in cycling.  

Framed Texas state champion cycling jerseys    Karla Gendler's Trophy from the Cochise County Classic cycling race

Click on each image to view the related Artifcts!

Today, Karla works with existing community cycling organizations, like Austin’s beloved Driveway and its Thursday night races and mentoring program. In 2021, she also spearheaded The LeadOut Foundation, which is committed to breaking down barriers to help expand the community of cyclists and supporting new and emerging racers. The Foundation Team knows that it starts small, with a friendly, knowledgeable face in the group, and grows from there, with resources, human and financial, at the community level. With efforts of The LeadOut Foundation and similar organizations worldwide, maybe we will all have the chance to learn that, sure, road cyclists may be a bit type A when it comes to their sport—specialized kits, fancy water bottles, components crafted to spec—but they sure do also have a lot of fun! Why not give it a try? 


To learn more about The LeadOut Foundation and its work in the Austin community and beyond, visit:  

© 2022 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Four Branches Bourbon: Sip to Remember

Reading time: 4 minutes 

For those of you who don’t know, our co-founders, Heather & Ellen, started their careers at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). They both served as briefers and frequently worked hand in hand with members of four branches of the US military – Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.

Today, to celebrate National Bourbon Day, we’re honored to highlight the hard work of fellow friend, CIA colleague, and Air Force veteran, Mike Trott, co-founder of Four Branches Bourbon.

Heather sat down with Mike for an in-depth conversation on all things bourbon, stories, and the importance of taking a moment and remembering those that have come before us and those who have served alongside us.

Below is an excerpt from their conversation.

Heather: Part of the lore of Four Branches Bourbon is that you built the company in honor of one of our fallen heroes. Could you tell us a bit more about that? How did Four Branches Bourbon come to be?

Mike: You’re absolutely right. Four Branches Bourbon started with a phone call. One of my good friends, Rick Franco, a Marine Corps veteran, called me one day and said he had been thinking that he wanted to create a special barrel of bourbon in honor of his fallen close friend and colleague Greg Wright.

Rick and Greg went way back. They went to Virginia Military Institute (VMI) together, served in the Marine Corps together, and several years later Rick recruited Greg to serve in the CIA alongside him. On Greg’s first deployment overseas, he was the hero. He sacrificed his own life to save those of his team. Rick had the honor of repatriating his remains, and from that day forward, had wanted to do something to honor him and his family. Greg (along with our other CIA colleagues) is recognized with a star on the white Alabama marble Memorial Wall at CIA Headquarters, and is listed in the Book of Honor sitting beneath the stars.  

At the time we had no way of knowing how big Rick’s idea of a special barrel of bourbon would become.

We each carried with us stories of heroes. And my call with Rick got me thinking back to one of my assignments at the CIA: repatriating the remains of Mike Spann to his family and CIA colleagues. Mike was one of the first paramilitary officers sent into Afghanistan post-9/11. He was a true American hero and is known as the first American to die in combat after 9/11.

At that moment, I got what Rick wanted to do one-hundred percent and why he wanted to do it. We suddenly had a new mission -- let’s tell those stories and say those names so that no one ever forgets.


Co-Founders Mike Trott and Rick Franco bottling Four Branches Bourbon. 

Heather: That’s an incredible founding story, Mike, one with heart and mission. So you and Rick now had two of the four branches. How did you find your other two co-founders?

Mike: Well, once we had this idea in our minds, we couldn’t let it go. We quickly reached out to a couple friends, Harold, a Navy veteran and RJ, an Army veteran, and found we all had similar stories. We found ourselves sitting around a fire and telling the stories, saying the names, and it just clicked. This is it. We all wanted to do something to tell the stories and help others remember.

Bourbon is itself a reflective spirit. You sip. You reminisce, it slows you down, makes you reflect on the past. And it doesn’t always have to be bad memories – it could be the birth of a child, a wedding, promotion, those special moments.

Heather: Not to interrupt the reflecting (and seeing that we aren’t sipping a glass of bourbon, yet…), but I hear you’ve got a great story about traditions, weddings, and bourbon?

Mike: Yeah, that’s a good one. There’s a southern old wives’ tale that says if you want good weather on your wedding day, you’re supposed to bury a bottle of bourbon in your backyard, and then dig it up on the wedding day. Well, our good friend Dr. Rob Darling (a Navy veteran) did just that with a bottle of Four Branches Bourbon earlier this year. He dug it up a month ago or so on the morning of his daughter’s wedding and they had a perfect day. Just perfect.

Tradition, heritage, all woven into the American fabric of who we are, what we are. Bourbon is an American product. Fun fact: all whiskeys are bourbons, but not all bourbons are whiskeys. Bourbon can only be manufactured in America.

Heather: Who knew! Bourbon, memories, and good weather! I want to talk some more about those special bottles of Four Branches Bourbon you make for charity. I’ve seen firsthand how the intelligence and military communities have come together around the brand, and how you all have done some really neat things with those bottles to raise money for good.

Mike: It started with us donating a bottle or two of Four Branches Bourbon to a handful of fundraisers for veterans and their families. We signed the bottles, and were thinking, sure, hopefully they can get at auction what the bottle is worth, maybe a hundred dollars or so.

We were blown away by what happened next. At one event I was on stage, telling our story, and the next thing I know our bottles are being auctioned off for $20,000, $30,000... It was incredible. To date we’ve been able to raise nearly $300,000 for charities focused on serving veterans and Gold Star children and their families. Just incredible.

You realize right then and there, it’s not about the bourbon. It’s about the story. The mission. The fact that we’re on to something bigger than any of us. The need to reflect, to remember those we’ve lost, but also those who’ve lived and are living because of their sacrifices.

It’s not about the bourbon. It’s about the story. The mission. The fact that we’re on to something bigger than any of us. - Mike, founder, Four Branches Bourbon

We’ve gotten really creative over the past year with the bottles we offer for charity. We’ve included pieces of uniforms from our fallen heroes, challenge coins from missions, Harold even gave up his Trident badge for one of the bottles.

Heather: It hasn’t always been easy though. Alcohol, drinking, it can be really tough on returning service members and their families. Tell us a bit about your founder’s journey and the conversations you’ve had around the tough ‘stuff’ in the spirits industry.

Mike: As founders, we took a step back when we lost a mutual friend due to alcohol in the veteran community. We took a couple of months off; realized we couldn’t take alcohol out of the world, but could we change the narrative. That’s a BIG part of our tagline: Drink honorably. Sip to remember.

We want people to stop drinking to forget, and instead sip to remember.

We’ve done probably 4,000 tastings across the country and I’d say 60% start to cry when we say stop drinking to forget. Start sipping to remember. It’s really powerful when you think about it.

And I know that may seem like a strange thing for a founder of a bourbon company to say, but if we sell less so be it. We’re not changing the message. It’s a part of our story, part of our mission.


Four Branches Bourbon is on a mission to "Sip to Remember."

Heather: One last question Mike. Because we are Artifcts, we have to ask, do you have a favorite artifact from Four Branches Bourbon?

Mike: I have to say, our Master Class with Bourbon Hall of Fame Master Distiller, Steve Nally, who guided us as we created our unique four gain Founders Blend. You can click here to view the Artifct and read a bit about the story.


You can learn more about Four Branches Bourbon, Mike Trott, and his fellow founders on their website. And if you’re lucky enough to be in one of the 32 states they currently ship direct to, or live in KY, TN, FL, AZ, WDC, MD and VA, you can also pick up a bottle of this incredible bourbon with a story and join Mike, Rick, Harold, and RJ as they #SiptoRemember.


Want to hear more of the story? You can watch an interview of Mike and Rick on Fox & Friends

© 2024 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Every Room Has a Story: Living Room Edition

Reading time: 4 minutes 

Among our ARTIcles by Artifcts with enduring appeal, at least according to Google, is Show Me the Favorite Moment in Your Home. The premise was simple: Interior designers know that to be able to help their clients design and decorate their spaces, they need to understand what makes them tick. And invariably what we keep says a lot about what matters most to us. Now, if only 'stuff' could talk! 

We’re picking back up on the ‘favorite moment’ theme through a multi-series installment that will take us room-by-room—yes, including the closets and bathrooms—and challenge us to consider why we have the items we do, what they mean to us, why we keep them, and ultimately for some things, what we want others to know about them as well.  

Through this process, we hope you’ll take a fresh look at the items you are toting around with you in life that be elevated displayed anew (reclutter not declutter) if you love them and they’ve been hidden away or perhaps retired or rehomed (yes, that's the declutter part), and consider what’s next for your space so you enjoy being in it.

Stories & Your Living Room 

We’re starting this series in the living room. Arguably this is the most social space of your home, everyone transits through it. How do we make it us and make it welcoming?  

We are not going to talk feng sui specifically, but there is certainly something to be said for at least a cursory understanding of the concept and trying out any number of the amazing online guides available to help you. Feng sui is a concept of Chinese origin that literally means wind-water. In the context of our homes, it’s about how we arrange and fill our spaces to promote health, harmony, and balance.  

Let’s get right into the nitty-gritty of the stuff of your space, because, of course, we’re Artifcts.  


Bear with us, because just like our ARTIcles story about decluttering for dementia, here, too, we must start with a nod to lighting. Surely you’re not surprised to learn that we should not live like cave trolls. Studies show that “uplighting,” meaning lights pointing upward at the walls, can literally uplift moods. We’re no experts on “chi,” but if this appeals to you, look into it! 

From the perspective of letting you and your stories shine, lighting can also be an opportunity to introduce a splash of personality, creativity, and color via the fixture itself or shade. Artifcts co-founder Ellen Goodwin brought a custom splash of nature and color into her space with a shade she found on Etsy. Great conversation piece that’s also Artifcted! 

Photo credit: Original image provided by seller on Etsy. Shop is now closed.


Think about decorative rocks, plants, and other natural objects in your space. Don’t have any? Consider adding them in.

Rocks, minerals, and gemstones you’ve picked up on hikes and other travel adventures are a win-win: Memories meet decoration. But Artifct them! You’ll be surprised how fast you forget which came from where. 

Thinking back to lessons of feng sui, plants offer an element of air purification and research shows that pausing to care for them can give you a breath when you need one to de-stress from your day. Plants also “warm up” a cool space to welcome people in. 

Not up for keeping plants alive? Preserved green walls have become very popular for this reason and are another great Etsy find by Ellen, who is equally great at killing plants but loves the effect they have in a room. 

And don't forget wood in your space works, too, like shelves made locally from sustainably harvested trees!

wood shelves loaded with books in rainbow order 


Excuse me?! Not clutter, but decor. Okay, if it is all decor in your mind, prove it. Sweep through your living room this weekend, yank everything off its perch, and then purposefully re-clutter. Is that a word? We’re still not sure, but we’re going with it. 

We love this approach, because it’s like you are moving. You have to rearrange in your mind what you have, why you have it, and where you want it to live in your home. What amount is “too much” is entirely up to you. You must dust it and make room for it after all. 

If you want your decor to spark conversation, remind you of great stories, or maybe keep your loved ones closer to mind, then your objects on display should reflect those priorities! 

      • Photographs you or a friend took, enlarged and framed. 
      • A memento or two from a trip. 
      • Books from favorite authors, maybe you even met them or know them. 
      • Boxes, vases, and other vessels that are heirlooms or perhaps simply great finds or investments that are functional and make you happy.

This tea tin we featured in curator's choice last year is pretty and sentimental, and paired with modern vase from MOMA. View the Artifct >
      • Toys. No, not those that belong to a child. Think instead of a jar of colorful confetti, dominos in a bowl, a spinning top perched on the coasters. Introduce fun in your space and signal to those who may be feeling blue, uncomfortable, or stressed that you hope they can relax here. This tip is picked up from the book, “Joyful,” by Ingrid Fetell Lee.

What stories and moments make up your living room? Send them in to us at or join the conversation on Instagram (@TheArtiLife) or Facebook (@Artifcts). We'd be delighted to hear from you!


© 2024 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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The Baby Book That Wasn't

Most of us parents set out with the best intentions of creating a beautifully detailed, all-inclusive baby book. Whether it is our first or fifth child, chances are we all planned on doing it, “one day,” especially for those lucky first borns. 

In my case, I bought the book and the pens I wanted to use, and I even made a few half-hearted attempts at all the pre-baby details, first sonogram, baby shower, etc. I kept thinking, “I’ll have more time for this once baby arrives, and I can fill in all the details then,” as I was trying to manage a 50+ hour work week while pregnant.  

Funny thing is, baby arrived, and wow, I had NO time to myself let alone time to make that book. My pre-baby logic was seriously flawed. I found myself at home, sleep-deprived and catering to a non-verbal tyrant (thankfully she was so cute) and a rather needy golden retriever (thankfully he was cute, too). All while trying to figure out how to cook, clean, and keep things running smoothly with no extended family in sight to help.  

Yep, my notion of “I’ll get to it one day,” ended up being, “I still haven’t gotten around to it,” 13 years later. 

The Baby Book Industry 

Before I continue this story, I want to pause for a moment and share a few fun facts about the baby book industry. Yes, it is indeed an industry. 

Amazon has over 4,000 entries for baby memory books. Their most popular edition sold over 7,000 copies last month alone.  

What is more, entire companies—such as Chatbooks and Qeepsake—have been built based on our overwhelming desire as parents to document all those precious firsts coupled with our inability to complete those physical baby books.  

I even discovered articles from the Church of Latter Day Saints proclaiming that baby books have stressed our parents for a century. As co-founders, we believe you! Although we all have the best intentions of documenting those milestones as our little ones grow, life happens. My co-founder Ellen opted to go the digital route from the very beginning and created a private blog for her daughter. She made it 5 years. I stuck with the physical baby book but didn’t get very far, as you can see from the photo below.   


Even with the best intentions, I never got around to that baby book. 

Alternatives to a Baby Book 

So, what’s a new parent to do?  

Following our favorite good, better, best approach, we’re offering these tips to help you document all things baby, child, and teen! 

    • Good: Snap a photo of the key moment or milestone. Send an email to yourself or your child (if you created an email account for your child) with a short sentence or two of why this photo, why this moment. It doesn’t have to be fancy. 
    • Better: Make a book! Yes, we just said that, but before you laugh at us, hang on a minute. Don’t try to make ‘THE’ book. Make ‘A’ book.  

It could be a traditional baby book, scrapbook, or any of the digital options readily available. Maybe it’s documenting a birthday, or a fun family vacation. It doesn’t matter what the theme or reason is but take those photos off your phone and put them somewhere, anywhere, that is easy to view and can tell a story. Don’t worry if it’s not an all-inclusive book from the first five years, it’s okay. Something is better than nothing. 

    • Best: We’re biased, but it should come as no surprise: Artifcts lets you create truly one-of-a-kind, interactive baby books. We're like your superpowered digital baby book app helping you day-to-day and years down the road. Artifcts offer a digital advantage with an analog touch. How?  

Artifct those moments on the fly with our app and include the audio, video, photos, and details all in one safe, secure, and easily shareable space. Use custom tags to quickly search and sort your Artifcts by child, by year, etc. And the best part? If you still want that tangible book, that goes well beyond a collection of favorite photos, you can export your Artifcts to create a custom book with our partner Akin. Artifcts is a win-win approach to baby books for sure! 

Curious how my story ends? I am too!  

I still haven’t gotten around to creating that baby book, but I am now Artifcting my way through my daughter’s childhood, starting with her first sonogram, all the way up through learning how to ride a bike and now adventures of middle school.  

Being able to add audio and video makes the stories come to life, and my daughter, who is now a tech-savvy teen, loves searching through the Artifcts to re-live the firsts she does not remember. Searching is made even easier by the tags I use, such as #thatsmygirl. 

One of her favorites? An Artifct I appropriately titled, “That Time She Painted the Fence.” She laughs non-stop at the story, including the complacency of our golden retriever in the process.  


That time she painted the fence...

Although that Artifct is private, I’ll leave you with one of the photos from the Artifct. 

Remember, it’s never too late to remember for them and with them through Artifcts. You don’t have to take it from me. One of our Arti Community members reached out to us earlier this year to let us know that although her children are all grown and in their 30s and 40s, she’s finally getting around to that baby book, one Artifct at a time.  


Looking to get a jumpstart on your baby book?

Our checklists can help!

Checklists for baby boos

© 2024 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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