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Celebrating Imagination and the Wonderful, Wild Ride that is Life

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day!!! Make one today!

Hi there! I just thought I'd show you the quick project I put together for my family for Valentine's Day. This is so quick and easy, you could literally make one today, right now!!! I know because I made the one for my hubby in less than two hours yesterday. My daughter walked in and saw it and said " have time to make one for Dad...". I gave into the guilt (besides, it was fun! And made one for her and her brother as well.)

I have to give credit to my friend Julie who found a "52 things I love about you" deck on the website . Because it's what I do, I made mine a little more involved and "vintage-y". Still, It was so easy, I used mostly stuff I had on hand including the decks of cards, paint, paper, and ribbon. I made a quick run to purchase the binder rings (the 7 Gypsies ones are so much better than any other binder ring I've used, plus they're cool is that?) While I was at the store, I bought the clear embellishments, but I wasn't even convinced these needed them. Once I got an assembly line going, these came together really fast.

This was such a fun, easy project, I even had time to photograph the process just in case you want to make one (or two!)

Step 1: find a deck of cards. Easy! If you're making this for Valentine's Day, the red ones look great. I had an old set of purple ones I found laying around and a deck of pink ones (they were breast cancer cards so of course I had to buy them.) But this would be cool with an old vintage set of cards, or even a mixture of different cards.

Step 2: Make your list of "52 things I love about you". This was super easy. I made a table in Microsoft Word (or Pages if you have a Mac). The table was four columns with four rows. Each cell measured 2.25" tall and 1.75" across. This was the perfect size to fit into the center of each card without covering up the numbers. I made the lines on the table dotted so I could use them as a cutting guide later. Then, I chose my font and started typing. Once I made the table for one person's deck, I just used the same table for the others, but changed the "I love you because..." sentiments. Here's a pic of the table printed onto computer paper. Once I checked for spelling mistakes, etc. I printed it onto cream colored cardstock.

I will point out that between printing the paper copy and printing onto cardstock, I changed my font. I liked the cursive with the typewriter font much better. After I printed the table on cardstock, I cut them apart. I chose to paint the edges. I just used regular acrylic paint in a variety of shades of pink and a foam brush. Here's a pic of that:

While I was painting the edges of the sentiments and letting them dry, I was also preparing the card bases. I decided to spray them with glimmer mist. I used the color sweet pea. Here's an example of that:

It doesn't really take long for the glimmer mist to dry, but you can speed up the process by using your heat gun. Just be careful and don't get too close to the cards or the heat will cause the coating on the cards to bubble. Once I had misted one side, I turned the cards over and did the other side until I had a deck that looked like this:

After the misting was done, I painted the edges of each card as well, usually with a different shade of pink to add interest. I felt like that really made each card look more like a finished page and added some "pop" to the colors.

I decided to matt each of my sentiments on some valentine papers just to add a little more color. So, I cut 12 x 12" paper strips that were 2.5" wide. Then I cut each of the strips into 2" pieces, getting 6 rectangles out of each strip. I used double sided paper so I cut another strip into 6 more pieces so I could have the other pattern as well. I found that nine strips of patterned paper made the exact number of rectangles since I included a dedication on the inside of the cover and an extra card that had a "52+" sentiment on it. If you want to make more than one deck at a time, just double or triple the number of strips as needed. Once I had all my rectangles cut, I adhered all of the sentiments onto the rectangles. (Things really start moving quickly at this point!)

I was a little anal and tried to keep my papers in some sort of sequence. Yes, even though I love to get messy, out of chaos comes order!

The obvious next step: adhere your sentiments onto the cards. Again, my anal side broke in and I tried to shuffle up the cards so the black faces were mixed in with the red ones, the numbers were random, and the last card was the King of Hearts. Forgive me!

After that was done, I used my Cropodile Big Bite to punch the holes. I like the Big Bite for this because it has a guide you can set so you punch the hole in the same place every time. And you can punch a bunch of pages at once. The Cropodile has this, too, but I find it easier to punch through a whole bunch of layers without having them slip around on the Big Bite since it's flat on the table. If you're wondering, I found it best to punch the holes after I'd done my layering so the sentiments could be smack in the middle of the cards. Alternatively, you could punch the holes in one card, line up a stack of other cards, trace the holes and punch them.

Next came the fun part! I made sure the pages were in order and put them on the rings. The reason I like the 7 Gypsies rings so much is that they lock tightly and don't let the pages get caught when turning them like other binder rings do. After I put them on the rings, I went back and sprinkled a few adhesive embellishments on various pages, and tied lengths of ribbon, yarn, fibers, etc. in colors that matched onto the top ring.

Here's just a few more photos of the finished products:

I really like the way each one turned out a little differently even though I used the same basic supplies for all of them.

It was a lot of fun to give them to everyone this morning and watch them read each card, as well as everybody else's. I am staggered that even my husband wondered aloud, "Hmmm...where am I going to keep this?" I almost fell over. He actually wants to display it somewhere!

Now that I've finished these, I have even more ideas. I think it would be great to use a bunch of vintage cards (which I have been collecting) and do a "52 things I always want to remember about..." or "52 things I learned" or "52 things I wish I wrote". The possibilities are really neverending. There are definitely more of these in my future. I can feel it!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Letters, memories, and the power of both for Valentine's Day

I am not even sure where this post will lead, but I felt absolutely compelled to write something right now. As a cancer survivor and as someone who works with and meets a lot of other cancer survivors, I have become very involved in other people's stories. Many of the people I meet I know extremely well, and feel lucky enough to call them friends. Some of them I have never met, yet I still feel like I know them well and hold them in a special place in my heart. We meet through phone calls, emails, message board postings, and on a place called Caring Bridge. For those of you who aren't familiar, Caring Bridge is a free website for people to set up their own webpage when they are facing some sort of illness. It is a wonderful way to keep family, friends and others informed about your welfare, updated on your health care plan, and to keep in touch without having to make a million phone calls. For people who decry the death of the written word because of technology, I am telling you it lives on Caring Bridge. (And on blogs too, for that matter.) I treasure the Caring Bridge postings of a friend who is no longer alive. They were intimate letters that allowed us into her heart, mind and soul. Her posts were sad, frightened, uplifting, funny, hopeful, and more. They were a gift to everyone who read them, and there was more to learn from them besides the details of her day to day life.

I guess I survive on the belief that life really is all about stories and what we learn from them. Maybe that makes me a true romantic. But I believe I've seen enough to know it's true. We all live similar lives, many of the things we do are mundane, but if we look deeper, there is magic there. And moments of insight that need to be examined reverently to make sure we are truly living. Perhaps this comes easier to people who face something life-threatening. There's nothing like cancer when it comes to receiving a giant wake-up call. Everyone's heard people say things like, "it makes me treasure every moment I'm alive." But is that really possible? Sometimes life needs to stew a bit for the truth, the meaning, the message to bubble to the surface.

My point of writing was really to share the following Caring Bridge journal update I read today. This is from someone I have never met. But I am touched so deeply by it. I hope that you will be touched in some way too. This is my Valentine's gift to all of you. FYI: I am changing the names in this post to protect this person's privacy. But the moment, the learning, the life lesson included is just too valuable not to share. Here it is:

A few years back my sister had a convertible. Elizabeth, Mary and I had lunch at Pizza Luce in Duluth on some sunny spring day while Joe stayed at my parents house. After a pizza, salad and a few bloody marys Elizabeth and Mary went to some boutique store to look at scarfs and I wandered across the street to The Electric Fetus to look for a disc. A few minutes into the store after thumbing through a few stacks of CD's, I found it, Duluth Does Dylan Revisited. I needed this CD. I bought the CD. Also a dress for Elizabeth. Slightly buzzed from the vodka, eyes squinting from the sun, and elated about my find, I met up with Elizabeth and Mary at the car. Now lets remember this is Duluth in the spring so it is not all that warm but we put the top down on Mary's car and with Mary driving we took off. Elizabeth put in the disc and I told her put on song two. Soon a hauntingly beautiful sound rose from the speakers. It was Cloud Cult singing Mr. Tambourine Man. The song was so perfect for that day. Driving the long way back to my parents house, up the steep hills, down the winding roads through the trees past a place that made Elizabeth and I laugh (only we know why), and eventually after about 6 times of listening to the song, back to my parents house. We all were smiling. Elizabeth looked beautiful in the front seat with her sunglasses on, goosebumps on her arms and cheeks red form the wind. She looked at me so many times on that ride with such passion in her eyes. After the first time we listened the song she turned around, gave me a kiss and said I love you. It was a great Sunday afternoon.

Two days ago while driving Katie home from school, I put in a unmarked cd and a few songs into it, the song came on. Just me and Katie in the car listening to this song. We as a family have listened to it a hundred times together dancing in our dinning room. But this time, like the first time was different. Katie stopped talking and listened to the song. It ended and she said "Daddy? Isn't that a pretty song? I love you." It was a great Wednesday evening ride home.

I love both of you too!

I became acquainted with this family who lives in the Twin Cities a few years ago. Obviously they have ties to Duluth. But the wife, Elizabeth, was diagnosed with a particularly nasty kind of breast cancer. Since then, she has had to go through far more than one person should. Her cancer is Stage IV which means it has spread, and she fights now to stay alive as long as possible.

I thought this letter was one of the most beautiful love letters I've ever read. I posted a message to the author letting him know how deeply touched I am by the story. I also wanted to let him know about the following: coincidentally, the Young Survival Coalition Duluth office is now located above the Electric Fetus in downtown Duluth. When I sit at my desk, I look at Pizza Luce across the street. Cory absolutely loves to come to the office with me since it means he can lose himself in the CD stacks of the Electric Fetus. I will never be able to look at that building again without thinking of them. And a gift I am giving myself for Valentine's Day is to go in and purchse that CD, put on that song, and dance with my family.

Have a wonderful day. Tell your family you love them. And stop every now and then and pay attention to life. Happy Valentine's Day!!!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

I'm late, late, late!!!!

I'd like to say it's for a very important date, but , no...I'm just plain old late!

First of all, it was my son's 17th birthday on Friday and we had his big party this weekend. I didn't have much time for creating (although I had hopes) but with a slew of very large, hungry boys in the house, what can you do? But I have to show you this...the ULTIMATE CHOCOLATE CAKE!!!!!

I am not exaggerating. This cake has been the cake eaten at every birthday in my family for years. It is my Mother's recipe (I am not sure where she got it) and literally I have eaten it just about every birthday of my life. It is always the requested cake by my kids and my husband every year. It is the richest, moistest, most delicious chocolate cake you can imagine. BUT I have had a serious problem with it for years. The recipe is a jumble of ingredients and no directions. Over the years I have devised my own system and it comes out great, except for the part where it comes out of the pan. No matter what I do, it breaks. It sticks to the pan. I pray over it every time like someone at a funeral, wishing their loved one back to life. Seriously. And every year it breaks. So does my heart. I usually make triple the amount of chocolate butter frosting, piece the "road disaster cake bits" back together, and put forth a cake shaped object. Delicious, yes. Attractive, no. Nobody but me has ever cared.

But this is the absolute first time I have gotten the cake to pop right out of the pans!!!! See how it glistens! Nary a crumb was left in the pan!!! It was a birthday miracle!!!! "Behold, I give you...chocolate cake perfection!!!" I was just so happy to finally have created the perfect, stress free, delicious cake, nothing could have made me happier. Except of course wowing a group of boys out of their usual teenage stupor with the comment (in appropriately reverent, hushed tones): "is that your homemade chocolate cake?" Infamy!!!!!!!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Serendipity and Celebrating the Return of Dreams

serendipity:(noun) the gift of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.

I have had so many exciting, wonderful thoughts swirling through my mind today. Knowing that I wanted to write about them, I had thought that by now, after putting the day's work to rest, after making my family's dinner, after taking multiple deep breaths, I would have coalesced that cloud into a clear understandable expression of thought.

This has always been my downfall. Anyone who is fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to try to carry on a conversation with me realizes that my mind takes more side trips than a bus tour to Disneyworld. I am constantly so distracted by newer, better thoughts, memories, and anecdotes that I'm like a crazy chef with an armload of spices thrashing over a vat of soup.

Anyway, I'll do my best!

Yesterday I spent a wonderful day doing some creative self-exploration. We spent a good deal of the time talking about how you make things manifest in your life; what is in your control, what is out of your control, and more. It was a day full of great conversation and it has brought me some wonderful unexpected blessings.

At the end of yesterday's post, I wrote about Paula Cheney, creative force and inspiring human. I wrote about her generosity and kindness. I wrote about how touching her support of the YSC's Scrap for Survival over the last two years has been. I shared a few photos of Paula's beautiful creation that she donated to our event this year. As I often do, I made my way over to her blog to see what she had been up to. As usual, I was blown away. I commented on Paula's newest creation and mentioned that I had blogged about her wonderful album.

This morning I woke up to an email from Paula thanking me for the comments and asking permission to feature my "Dreams" mini book on her blog!!! I was so excited I was jumping up and down all over the house! My husband and son smiled and said something like, "that's nice" (even though they didn't really get it.) But my daughter understood how excited I was to have someone I admire appreciate something I had made.

Of course I fired off an email to Paula saying, in effect, who in their right mind would say "no" to such a request? I also included a story about my "Dreams" album that I hadn't shared with anyone until then. Paula insisted that I had to share it here.

So here it is:

I am a breast cancer survivor. I was diagnosed when I was 31 years old, after being told for a year that I was "too young for breast cancer". It was a horrible, frightening, sad, lonely, terrifying experience that changed my life forever. My breast cancer experience has truly made me a different person. For one, I started (along with two friends) the Duluth Affiliate of the Young Survival Coalition, which is a non-profit community made up of young survivors and supporters of breast cancer. I now work as the Program Manager of our Affiliate and am very proud to provide a network of support, education, and comfort to other young women diagnosed with breast cancer.

One of the hardest things about being diagnosed with cancer at such a young age is that it comes at a time when your life is just starting: careers, marriage, children, just plain learning who you are, etc. It's awfully hard to be facing a possible death sentence and swaddle a baby, send your firstborn to Kindergarten, go on a date, finish a college degree, and the list goes on. When I was diagnosed, my kids were six and seven years old. My cancer was quite advanced and it had spread to my lymph nodes. Things did not look good. I constantly ached to have my carefree life back, to be able to make plans for the future, to imagine a future for my children with me in it, to enjoy a present with my kids where I wasn't the scary Mommy, the Mommy who was always crying. I was never fully able to process these thoughts. The fear and the anguish were literally so bad that I felt if I faced them my heart would stop beating just from the pain. So for years I didn't face them. It was years before I admitted my anxiety and recognized my inability to move to a better place in my life. I was seeing a therapist who, after talking to me for a short while, pulled a book off her shelf that was titled "Grieving the Loss of Dreams". I still feel tears in the back of my throat when I think about that moment. It was the first time another human had been able to understand what I was feeling. it was also the first time I had been able to put words to the pain.

This year I reached the ten year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. To celebrate, my husband and I rode in the Young Survival Coalition's signature fundraiser, the Tour de Pink. It is a 230+ mile bike ride over four days that goes from Hershey, PA to Times Square in New York City. I was excited to be chosen as one of five survivors to be used in the Hershey's ad campaign. (The Hershey Co. is a big sponsor of YSC.) Part of my "special" survivor duties was to write a blog about my story and to document my training. I did and if you're interested, you can read it here. We also had to raise money to participate in the ride. I named my effort, the ride, and the journey "Celebrating the Return of Dreams". That theme was in the forefront of my mind for months as we got ready for the ride. In the end, the ride was fantastic. We rode every mile and enjoyed every minute of it. We loved the people we met and even before we were finished we had decided to sign up to ride again in 2010. I had no idea what was waiting for me at the end of the ride. The ride organizers, my husband, and the TV show Fox & Friends had arranged a surprise. They surprised me by bringing my kids out to help celebrate our finish of a long, hard journey. It was completely magical and one of the best days of my life. It was even better than a dream.

I am telling you this because in yesterday's post I also mentioned an earlier mini-book I created that Paula liked. It was my breast cancer story and was called "Evidence of a Life". I have a large white ironstone bowl where I keep my mini-albums. After photographing my "Dreams" album, I went and laid it on the top of the heap, directly on my cancer album. The shock of what I had done was so strong that I almost fell over. The theme of returning dreams had been so prevalent in my life all year, and it had physically manifested itself right here in my family room under the power of my own hands. I am still reeling from the moment.

I no longer doubt that things happen for a reason. I don't necessarily believe that it was pre-ordained that I have cancer. But I believe that if I try to remain open, if I allow my mind it's wild, waves of activity like straw being tossed in the air, eventually the seed will land and the chaff will blow away in the breeze.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Today I went on a Joy Junket!

Honestly, what could be more fun than that? It just sounds awesome, doesn't it?

My good friends Sarah and Suzi have created this fabulous business involving interior design, life coaching, teaching people to get in touch with their inner artists, and living the life they love. I was lucky enough to be asked to be a "guinea pig" for their new class, "Unlocking Your Creative Genius". It was, to say the least, a wonderful and personally inspiring day.

First of all, Sarah and Suzi know how to make anyone feel at home and special. They pampered me and the other "guinea pigs" throughout the day in their crazy-gorgeous studio/office which is located above the restaurant Hell's Burger's in Canal Park. Honestly, I was creatively inspired the second I entered their amazing space.

I don't want to give away any of their secrets, but it was really fabulous. I consider myself to be a very creative person, but the work we did today and the topics we covered can touch all aspects of my life from work, family life, and the way I decorate, to the more serious choices that many women (and men) have to make in their life everyday. Suzi and Sarah are so positive and optimistic, the whole day was focused on feeling empowered. Through a variety of thought provoking activities I had the chance to connect with my passions and intentions in life. It was a truly spectacular, special time and I am incredibly grateful to have been a part of it. I thoroughly enjoyed my fellow "guinea pigs" and hope I will be able to use what I learned to focus on what is important and meaningful to me.

I highly recommend signing up for their next workshop, consulting them for design help, or signing up for some life coaching. At the very least, you have got to catch up on their awesome website where they share tips, videos, inspiring quotes, pictures and much, much more!

Here's a little taste of what I worked on today (some journaling, vision boards, and oh, yes, thanks, Sarah for the tea stained tags! These will be going into a project real soon!)

If you really want to get a great deal, Suzi and Sarah very generously donated a seat in their workshop along with some private coaching time to our Scrap for Survival silent auction to benefit the Young Survival Coalition. (For more on that visit our webpage or our Crop blog!)

Today was an exceptionally great day, as you can see. I came home to a package! Who doesn't love those? But this one was even more special because it looked like this:

"Brown paper packages tied up with string...these are a few of my favorite things!"

Okay, no string here. But I LOVE brown paper wrapped is so inviting and exciting, even when I know what's inside. (This time it was some Moleskine journals I had ordered!)

And as far as packaging goes, check this out:

This is what I call "happy mail"! It is from an incredibly gifted and artistic designer, Paula Cheney. She works for 7 gypsies, an uber-awesome scrapbooking and crafting supply company. I met Paula at the Craft and Hobby Trade show two years ago. She fell in love with my little breast cancer mini book and paraded it around like it was Michelangelo's David! (God bless her!)She has not only been instrumental in getting 7 gypsies to be a sponsor of our Scrap for Survival, but this is the second year she has donated one of her own homemade items for our silent auction. Her work is amazing! You have got to check out her blog to see the fantastic things she does. Here's a look at what lay under the wrapping:

The details in this book are amazing, and it's just waiting to be personalized.

Today has been an immensely satisfying day. I am so amazed by the creative people around me, the inspiration that is there wherever I look; I just have to remember to slow down and let it wash over me. What a truly joyful junket!

Evidence of a Life