Funerals, Memories, and Facing My Fears

My last post was all happy and Christmassy and short. Very short. When I read it I remember the emotions so clearly, because at the time we were going through a dark period and I needed happy and cheerful and fake fake fake.

You see, my mother-in-law (MIL) passed away a week before that post, after we watched her deteriorate for 6 months. The last month or two before she died had already been hard on us, with my kids watching their granny become a stranger in a hospital bed, and my husband seeing his mom become a shadow of herself. Despite that, the 3 a.m. call still caught us off guard, and everything went dark for a while.

Front page of my mother-in-law's tribute.

Front page of my mother-in-law’s tribute. It was designed to be folded in half to become an A5 booklet that wrap around the funeral letter.

I threw myself into creating a tribute worthy of my MIL, fuelled by love and obligation, and probably some guilt and regrets. I was working against the clock to have it ready for her funeral, spending too many days immersed in memories while the pain was still too raw, all while trying to keep it together for my family. I remember making that cheery Christmas card, and having the distinct impression that maybe, if I fake it hard enough, maybe, eventually, things will get better.

Inside of the tribute.

Inside of the tribute. It shows highlights of her life.

Grief, like a giant black hole, swallowed Christmas and New Years and I can’t even remember coming up for air before April.

That’s when I got sick. I had excruciating pain for weeks and had to have an extensive operation that put me in bed for another month to fully recover. The worst part was being away from my kids, and my 2-year old took it especially hard. Then, just as things got better, something else went wrong. I had terrible pain in my arm, so much so I couldn’t use it at all, which directly affected my kids again. It got worse before it got better—more than a month, and I still haven’t regained full use of my arm, although it is getting better.

Amid all of this I was having an existential crisis. I looked back and thought, my MIL was in a good place before things went south. Things were great for her, in fact, and then she had a small accident. Nothing life threatening at all. Except it was. She never knew that the last time she read a book for Linnae or played peek-a-boo with Aiden was the last time she would read a book for Linnae or play peek-a-boo with Aiden.

What if that was me? I was healthy and fine, until I wasn’t.

Front page of the tribute I made for my father-in-law’s funeral 4 years ago.

Of course, once I went down that rabbit hole I couldn’t stop. I never shared my father-in-law’s (FIL) tribute 4 years ago when he died. It was a big shock when we heard the news—he was healthier than many people half his age. The worst of it was that he died less than a month before his very first grandchild, my daughter Linnae, was born. He also had no way of knowing that the last time he’d be fixing a gate for friends would be the last time he’d be doing anything. He was making plans, being excited about the future, and just marking time while he waited for Linnae to come. Isn’t that what we all do? Banking on all the lovely things we’ll do in the future while missing today? I know I did.

That’s what went through my head when I was lying in bed, unable to let my kids sit on my lap, or cuddle them, or just hold them. The last time I held my son could well have been the last time I held my son, ever.

As I was struggling to come to terms with my fragility, I kept thinking of all the scrapbook pages I haven’t done, the baby albums I never completed, all the photos I printed with the best of intentions that are gathering dust in a closet.

A strange truth dawned on me, one that took weeks to truly come into focus: Keeping memories overwhelm me. Sometimes, it bloody well scares me. As a designer and writer, I always assumed that scrapbooking would be easy for me. Well, hello 15 years of struggling. How does one even deal with something like this?

Luckily this was not the sum total of my realisation. But that is a story for a different day. 

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First holiday card of the season, yay! 

I made a quick Happy Holidays card from a pre-printed card base and some bits and bobs I had in my stash. It came out pretty sweet, don’t you think?

Cute Bookmarks

Aren’t these just the cutest bookmarks? I don’t know who made them (sorry—leave a comment if you do!), but I’m definitely going to CASE them one of these days!

Reblogged from Collection at looking4myradio.tumblr.com

Scrapbook page of hip hop workshop fun and using the Project Life App

I have been trying out the Project Life Android App by Becky Higgins, and I must say I’m impressed. For the first time in my life I can (potentially) finish a page right there on my phone which saves me a lot of time, and there’s enough free, beautiful kits to get even the pickiest scrapbooker started.

Scrapbook page of dance workshop

Dancing used to be a big part of my teenage and new adult years. When we moved to Hermanus in late 2010, I discovered a dance studio and convinced my husband to take ballroom & latin dance classes with me 🙂 But after I got pregnant with my first child I had to give it all up, and it’s been a long 3 ½ years. That’s why this dance workshop was such a major event for me. I love hip hop—that’s my roots, and favourite style of dancing—and my youngest is finally old enough that I can “disappear” for a few hours on a Saturday morning. Even if I can’t pop to save my life, LOL!

About the layout:

This scrapbook layout documents a single event, so I’ve “cheated” a little by using a Project Life template—since there are no rules in this wonderful hobby of ours it’s all good! This is what I love about pocket scrapbooking, it takes the guesswork out of a page’s design, and because it places hard limits on the number of photos and areas where one can journal, it actually makes it easier to tell the story. I simply picked my photos, chose two journaling cards and voilà!

Using the Project Life App:

The Project Life App is a wonderful tool, and because it lives on the same device that houses all my photos, it’s a godsend. Unfortunately the app still has some ways to go before it can be a one-stop-app for complete scrapbooking.

One major pain in the behind is the app’s limited font editing capabilities. Oh. Em. Gee. Don’t get me started on it. To work around this majorly lacking functionality, I finish my page without adding any text, then save the layout to pull it into Photoshop Elements where I add the final journaling. This way gives me more control (e.g. in this layout, I ended up changing the journaling card colours to match the photos), BUT it defeats the purpose of making the Project Life app a quick and easy way to churn out layouts. I suppose I could settle for a layout that uses very simple font options —I’ve done it before—but it makes my inner-designer cringe spasmodically, something I try to avoid if I can.

Another big usability issue is that you can’t move elements between pockets. For instance, if you want your journaling to appear in a different location, you have to retype and reformat your journaling from scratch; if you want to use the same photo but in a different location, you have to load it from the Gallery again instead of moving it around between pockets.

A big gripe of mine is that every change overrides whatever was in that pocket previously, and there’s no undo button. I’ve lost count of the number of times a painstakingly edited text block disappeared because I accidentally selected a filler card instead of a journaling card.

It also lacks even basic image editing functionality, like rotation, shadow/highlight, brightness, etc. which is a strange deficiency in a photo-type app. I usually edit all my photos first with Snapseed before importing them into Project Life App.

Besides its amazing array of editing functions, filters, and special effects, Snapseed doesn’t compress the final, saved image like most other apps I’ve used before. This is very important if you want to print out your pages at full size.

How do you use the Project Life app? Do you have any workarounds for some of its limitations?

  • Project Life Kit: Midnight Edition (digital)
  • Software: Project Life Android App by Becky Higgins; Photoshop Elements.
  • Fonts: Avenir (main journaling), Bebas Neue (date), serialSue_TRIAL (filler card body), Times New Yorker (filler card accent)

[Scrapbook page] Digital layout of my 2-year-old daughter at play

Scrapbook pages of my little girl playingIt’s been a while since I’ve scrapped because I simply don’t have time. My little boy is already 7 months old, and that just spurred me on to start documenting our life the way I intended to two years ago before my first one was born, so I began to gather photos (not an easy task between two phones, an SLR, and two point-and-shoot cameras). I fully intended to make a Project Life® layout, but when I saw all the beautiful photos of Linnae playing, it quickly turned into a “Linnae at play” double-page spread 🙂 .

SB Linnae Speel (page1 web)I guess I channelled my inner Cathy again, because this is typically her style for digital layouts, with the wide margins, sharp corners, and unapologetically symmetrical design. She prefers a more monochromatic approach, infused with lots of puns, white space, and #hashtags, while I opted to keep the photos in their fully coloured glory, and used words in a purely functional fashion. But even though the pages are quite busy, the wide margins and symmetry help to keep the layout balanced. And I wanted that happy, almost ecstatic look—it suits my daughter’s personality to a T.

SB Linnae Speel (page2 web)Because there were so many photos to choose from, I decided to rather use all the spaces for photos and skip any elaborate journalling and pocket page-type “filler cards”. Instead I created a post on my personal blog that goes into detail about every one of the photos, hence the QR code. Gotta love the digital age! 😀 For that reason I’m not going to go into any personal detail here, so if you’re curious go read it over there. (It’s in Afrikaans; if anyone who does not understand it asks, I’d consider doing a translation here).

I used a beautiful kit from Mommyish called “Daily” because it has nice PL elements—which I didn’t even use, go figure. I intend to print this in a 12 x 12″ photo book¹ once I have enough pages, as part of my Projek Leef memory keeping (my own Afrikaans version of Project Life®).

Project Details:

Digital elements: “Daily” kit by MommyishTemplate: Elmi (that’s me!) • Fonts: Bebas Neue (title), jr!hand (labels/journalling) • Software: Photoshop

Footnotes:

¹ photo book: Q-photo is running a 50% off sale on all photo books until the end of October. If I can do 18 more layouts (just 9 double pages *cough cough*), I will have a beautiful, full colour memory book for roughly R350 (incl. delivery). That’s a bargain!

The Art of Work by Jeff Goins

Are you living your calling?

Most people are frustrated with where they’re at in their lives, but very few ever know what to do about it. Personally I find it difficult to balance a “normal” life with all the things I want to do but feel too guilty/scared/inadequate to pursue; so I keep them separate, tucking the big, scary, “selfish” dreams away while the safe, mundane, everyday eats away at my soul. And I can’t shake this nagging feeling that I am missing something big, that I’m meant for bigger things.

The Art of Work by Jeff GoinsJeff Goins has managed to break away from the shackling mindset that prevents people from living their best life to the fullest. He has discovered how to live his calling, and has spent a year researching, interviewing, and gathering his own life experience into an inspiring, actionable book, The Art of Work, that has garnered the praise of industry giants such as Seth Godin, Michael Hyatt, and Steven Pressfield.

I’ve been a fan of Jeff for a while now—I follow his blog, listen to his podcast, and have read most of his books—because what he has to say is simple yet profound and I always take something away from it. The Art of Work, due to be released in March, promises to be as good (if not better) as his current groundbreaking body of work.

Right now he is on a mission to get his book into the hands of as many people for as little as possible, so he is giving it away for free if you pay shipping and handling. That means you pay $6,99 (roughly R85) for an awesome, life-changing book that will be delivered straight to your door in March! Once it gets released, it will retail at $16,99—and since we in sunny South Africa will most probably not get it at our local Exclusive Books, we have to add shipping as well. And then you won’t even get the bonuses*.

Once it gets released on March 24th, this amazing price goes away forever.

I strongly urge you to go check out his website to see what it’s about. If you have to, watch the video, read the amazing reviews by people who matter, and read the blurb, but make sure you buy the book before you close the tab.

* If you’re still not sure, let me tell you about the very enticing bonuses you’ll get with his pre-release offer that makes this deal a no-brainer:

  • A PDF version of the book that you can download right now (yay!)
  • A downloadable workbook with practical action-steps to take
  • A mini-video course to help you find your calling
  • An exclusive community of people pursuing their life’s purpose, as well as access to the author for community Q&A

Are you still here? You should be on Jeff’s website, buying The Art of Work!

Very important disclaimer: I am NOT an affiliate of Jeff Goins, I am NOT getting any compensation for this post, and I will NOT make any money if you do decide to buy his book. Why did I write this glowing endorsement then? Because I honestly believe his book has an important message that can change your life for the better. I have already ordered my copy, and am off to read the PDF the moment I’ve published this post off to bed. I’ll read it tomorrow.

Beautiful life banner

It’s time for a change around these parts

I work with WordPress themes all the time, and the themes and designs available these days are just mind-blowingly beautiful and modern. When I looked at my website this week (like, really looked at it) I thought, “This is so 2011! What’s up with that?” So, here’s a heads-up that things are going to change around here, because this place is long overdue for a redesign and upgrade

PS: I’m also having a baby next week (!!!), so this process may or may not be due to the strange and uncontrollable phenomenon called “Nesting Syndrome“, and may or may not take several weeks to complete thanks to the new bundle of joy/spit/poo that’s coming my way with the certainty of a freight train.

UPDATE 19 FEB: I did it! I updated the look & feel and started updating older posts with large header images to suite the theme, but I’ll probably only go back ±15 posts okay? Okay.

Welcome to my “new” home 😉

Header for Murder of Crows

What do you call a group of crows?

So, what do you call a group of crows? (Hint: it’s not a flock)

Answer: A murder.

Very handy Wikipedia list of animal group names for writers who want to get it right.