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. 

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!

Header for My Beautiful Girl Scrapbook Page

My beautiful girl (scrapbook page)

Wow, two scrapbook pages in a row! We’re in for some weird weather 😉
Scrapbook page of Linnae Apr2014

This page was inspired by Cathy Zielske after reading her book Clean And Simple Scrapbooking for the hundredth time. Cathy is a graphic designer and it shows; her clean and simple style is striking and inspiring. Add to that her verbose journalling full of heart and humour, and it’s no wonder that I’m a fan girl.. groupie… thing (but without the ridiculous screaming. Usually). This layout came to be after I decided to try and “channel my inner Cathy” so to speak, by using a grid layout and conversation-style journalling from the heart, and otherwise just keeping it simple.

Close-up of beautiful scrapbook page Apr2014Boy oh boy, did I surprise myself! I managed to do the page in a day while still keeping true to my own style, and I love how it turned out!

Cathy also reminded me why we do what we do: that it’s about leaving something of value behind. If it’s pretty, it’s a bonus, but it’s our stories, our memories, that should take precedence. I will be channelling my inner Cathy more regularly from now on — thanks to her, my little girl now knows a little bit more about herself at 8 months, and how much I adore her.

So, thank you Cathy Zielske, for being a rock star and writing a book* that has helped me see past the blank page and paralysing fear of failure, to the obvious heart of the matter: design isn’t hard, it’s actually easy, but it’s the message that matters, so we should make it count.

—–

* She actually wrote another book as well, and I own and love — and devour on a regular basis — both her books.

Supplies:

Cardstock (Bazzill) • Pattern Paper (K&Company) • Clear alphabet letters (Heidi Swapp) • Brads (Keiser Kraft) • Alcohol Inks (Ranger) • Glossy Accents (Ranger)

Header for Daddy's Girl scrapbook page

Hallo Beautiful! Scrapbook page

Digital scrapbook page titled Daddy's Girl

Say hello to my beautiful little girl Linnae! She’s 6 months old in these photos, and she’s the most precious, lovely, sweetest little baby on the planet, hands down. No, don’t argue, I know what I’m talking about: I’m the mother.

Speaking of beautiful, isn’t this digital kit pretty? I discovered a very nice online digital scrapbook shop, Pixels and Company, where I bought this kit called “Happy Days” and I love it! I’m a long time Shabby Princess fan and has a lot of her stuff, but the other day when I needed my digital scrapbook supplies, I couldn’t find the external hard drive I store it on so I had to look for alternatives. Well, I love this, although I’m still a Shabby Princess gal – her stuff is just top notch. Even her free stuff are better than a lot of the kits you have to pay good money for.

Recipe:

Cute and easy digital brag book

A few months ago we travelled to the other side of the country to visit my parents, because my sister came all the way from Australia with her little boy to visit and we just had to meet Connor for the first time. To commemorate that special occasion, I decided to make a Brag Book for my parents, since these are their only two grandchildren.

Click on any image to browse as a gallery. Supplies at end of post.

I wanted to put it together quickly, so I:

  1. reused the page templates for the boy and girl sections by simply swapping out the papers and elements,
  2. didn’t add any journalling or descriptions, and
  3. made the album jumbo size (4×6″ / 10×15 cm) which is a standard photo size and thus simple to print anywhere.

I used two Shabby Princess digital kits: HopScotch for the boy pages, and The Penelope Collection for the girlie side. I really love Shabby Princess kits! They are beautiful and their attention to detail always leaves me giddy — I love working with digital supplies that look “real”.

Inspirational pregnancy album by Kayla Renee

I found the most inspirational Project Life-style pregnancy album, created by Kayla Renee. She documented her pregnancy using Simple Stories and the result is awe inspiring!

Pregnancy album by Kayla Renee.

Pregnancy album by Kayla Renee. Click to view (on her blog).

Last time I posted, I mentioned Project Life and my goal to go about it digitally when I found out I was pregnant. Well, it’s been 6 months since my daughter, Linnae, was born (can you believe that?!?) and I rarely get a chance to open my computer, never mind doing some sensible memory keeping. (At least we take photos all the time, and I keep some notebooks around where I write down memorable things. When I remember…) But one has to make time for the important things in life, and this is right up there with breathing and brushing your teeth.

Pages from pregnancy album by Kayla Renee

Pages from pregnancy album by Kayla Renee. Click to view (on her blog).

This is what I want to leave Linnae, the perfect combination of heartfelt honesty and aesthetic pleasure, and this beautiful album gave me just the right amount of “kick in the butt” I needed. Now it’s time to get off said butt and do something about it. Thank you Kayla!

Header image for scrapbook page

Jumping back into the scrapbooking pool

It’s been aeons since I posted something crafty, and for that I apologize. I’ve made a card or two on occasion (mostly to keep teenagers busy), but it’s been too long since I’ve posted about it, or ventured beyond the “quick indulgence” of a card.

That’s about to change. My life recently took an unexpected turn, and suddenly memory keeping has moved to the top of my priorities. Note that I’m saying memory keeping, and not scrapbooking. See, for me scrapbooking has always been about the creative process: the nice papers and drool-worthy embellishments, those addictive gadgets and beautiful design. That’s why I eventually moved onto cards – less time-consuming, no pressure to perform, and I get to use the same lovely products while getting complete creative satisfaction without the ulcers.

Before I go into the how’s and why’s of this sudden change, here’s the first page I’ve made in… (*gasp!*) 5 years.

An all-digital page, celebrating one of our more random moments.

An all-digital page, celebrating one of our more random moments.

I wasn’t going for eloquent or designer-of-the-year with this one; the sole purpose was purely to see if I could make something in GIMP , the so-called “free Photoshop alternative”. I speak Photoshop quite fluently but I don’t own a copy (how do you justify the US$699 (± R6 500) price tag for something that won’t generate income for me?), so I’ve tried—and failed miserably—to switch to GIMP numerous times over the past few years.

But now I had incentive. And I think I managed quite nicely, thank you very much. Okay, so I used an already beautiful digital kit from Shabby Princess meaning I didn’t design a thing from scratch, and I based the layout on a template meaning I just had to mask and slap everything together, and I probably spent more time on YouTube searching for “how to” videos, but still. It looks impressive, and it wasn’t too hard. Mission accomplished.

Now on to why this was so important.

I’m embarking on an adventure (cue dramatic music). (Hehe, couldn’t resist.) But seriously, I realized that I’ve badly neglected the important task of recording life, and making something meaningful and lasting that would have value to my family and kids one day. Scrapbooking has failed me (although that is mostly my own fault), but at its core I still believe scrapbooking is the answer, so I’ve searched the globe far and wide for a solution.

That’s how I found Project Life. It’s basically scrapbooking without the baggage. The moment I saw it I thought, hey, I can do that! The system is sheer brilliance, but after looking at all the options, once again I just couldn’t justify the starting price of R1 099 for a basic kit, which comes down to an album with the basic elements, enough to finish one album. And since I like variation, I can’t settle for just the basics, so I’d need to buy additional Pocket Pages designs, and I want to make an additional “School of Life” album as well for our daughter (and each subsequent kid), which leaves me close to R3 000 just to get started and suddenly that’s a lot of money for a scrapbook system, even if it does work.

But I can do digital. Hell, I’m a designer. I SPEAK PHOTOSHOP, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! So, I looked into the digital options, and although they are definitely appealing, I couldn’t help but wonder if I could do better. Not to mention, it’s all in English. I love English, don’t get me wrong, but I believe language is an integral part of heritage, and I’m Afrikaans. If this is going to work, it would have to be in Afrikaans (or at least a large part of it). That right there was enough reason to go my own route, and I plan to do this thing right, so there you have it.

Hence, I’m embarking on an adventure. I want to do Project Life—the no baggage, low pressure, memory keeping part of it—while designing my own supplies as I go, replicating a system that has been in development for many years now, by designers who do it as a full time job.

Yeah.

It wouldn’t be my adventure if I didn’t try to make it at least a little bit more complicated, right?

I’d like to hear your thoughts on this.

Elmi

View supplies list