Thursday, May 15, 2014

My Favorite Under-$25 Gift for Paper Lovers



I bought my first set of envelope templates from Paper Source about six years ago, and I love them so much that I have given them to almost everyone I know.

They are a really affordable and useful gift for anyone that enjoys letter writing or paper crafting.  If you want to make someone an "everything you need to make your own handmade envelopes" kit, just package up these four things:

1.  Templates.  I love the Paper Source templates--they are great for many reasons (which you can read about right here), and they are only $15.00.  If you take care of them, you will probably never need another set.

2.  A Scoring Tool (also called a bone folder or paper creaser).  Here is a link to Amazon just to give you a better idea of what this tool looks like if you aren't familiar with it.  But you can find these at any craft store, and you'll get a better price locally, especially during sales or by using a coupon.  Hobby Lobby has the best price I have seen at $3.99 (it's the Paper Studio brand "paper creaser").

3.  Double-Sided Adhesive.  My favorite is the adhesive that comes in a little handheld gliding dispenser (again, a link to Amazon so you can see the different options.) The Scrapbook Adhesives brand E-Z Runners work well.  This one, which dispenses thin lines of adhesive, is my favorite for envelopes.  But any of the E-Z Runners are great, and Duck Brand, Scotch, and Elmers are all good brands as well.  These adhesives are not cheap, so I get several when they're on sale, or I use the frequent 40% off coupons from Michaels or Hobby Lobby for this particular item.

TIP:  Don't shop for the lowest-priced option when it comes to adhesive because it is usually lower quality as well, and you really don't want your envelopes coming unglued in the mail.  Also, make sure you get permanent adhesive, not repositionable, for this same reason (just double check the packaging--it will say).

4.  A few catalogues or magazines--because handmade envelopes made from magazine pages are some of the most fun to make!  And also because the paper is free (in the case of catalogues) or fairly inexpensive (in the case of magazines, especially thrifted ones!).

Free People, Anthropolgie, Fossil, and J. Crew are my favorite catalogues to repurpose.  And Real SimpleMartha Stewart Living, and Martha Stewart Weddings are a few of my favorite magazines.  Any catalogue/magazine that is printed on quality paper (not the super thin, glossy type) and contains full-page photography spreads has great envelope potential.  If you don't have any of your own catalogues or magazines to give away, try a thrift store, used bookstore, or library sale, where you can usually get magazines for less than 50-cents each.

So there you have it--4 things under $25 (or even $20, if you use sales and coupons) and everything you need to start making awesome envelopes (assuming your recipient already owns a pair of scissors).

Bonus additions:  $30 price-range--add an inexpensive pair of scissors and a roll of washi tape.  $40 price-range--give a sheet of postage stamps as well!

If you have never made your own envelopes, you should probably put together a kit for yourself too, because envelope making is one of the quickest/easiest/most instantly gratifying/addictive pastimes EVER.  Ever, ever, ever.  It is my favorite paper thing to do.

And making envelopes leads to mailing envelopes--even better!

If you have any additional suggestions or questions, just let me know in the comments. And to my non-U. S. friends--I would love to list out your favorite sources as well, so please share!  :)

Happy giving--and making!

xo,
amber


P. S. You can read more about some of my favorite paper crafting tools here.

P. P. S. A quick video on how to use the Paper Source templates.

P. P. P. S. None of this is sponsored content, and none of these links are affiliate links, though I do often wish I worked for Paper Source!

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

A Beautiful Mess "Blog Life" e-Course: inspiration for life, not just blogging



I've been up late the past few nights with a storm in my brain, thanks to the new Blog Life e-course by A Beautiful Mess.  The course was launched a week ago, one week after I decided I was going to start writing again.  Perfect timing.

I don't really buy into a lot of the blogging advice out there--the tone just doesn't sit well with me.  But I have consistently found inspiration in the courses A Beautiful Mess offers because they are so down-to-earth and authentic.  You don't read their course and think you're going to be the next, well . . . them, but you you do read it and think you could probably be a pretty decent you if you could just clarify what that is.

Authenticity is possibly Elsie's and Emma's greatest strength (well, closely rivaled by insane creativity), and they stress the importance for authenticity in your blog and brand as well, with chapters like "Play to Your Strengths," where the homework involves prompts to help you identify your strengths and consider them from several angles.

This was not an easy exercise for me.  I have never enjoyed writing resumes or "About Me" blurbs.  I doubt myself a lot.  I don't want to state my strengths because I am afraid you might disagree with me (and that would be embarrassing).  And I struggle to see my strengths clearly because mine seem to be less skill-related and more personality-related.  Basically, I am friendly, I like to be nice to people, and I am nerdishly enthusiastic about small things (paper! letters! thoughtfulness! more paper!).  My fear is that I may also talk/write too much as a result of this friendly nerdy niceness.

(Nevertheless, in the face of that fear, I am going to share with you a little story.)

The summer before 8th grade, I wanted to go to basketball camp at OU.  My parents weren't sure if spending my babysitting money on this camp was such a wise investment when, all through my 7th-grade season, I seemed to lack any real drive or competitiveness. My mom was like, "Steve, do you really think it's a good idea for her to spend $150 on basketball camp when she isn't even aggressive?"  My dad wasn't so sure, either, but he chose a humorous angle and said, "Who knows--maybe she'll win Miss Congeniality or something."

And, guess what--I WON MISS CONGENIALITY.  At basketball camp.  You could look at that a few different ways.  But, basically, it sums up my life.

Waving happily just months after winning
Weatherford Middle School's All-Time Highest Scorer Award Miss Congeniality 

This might explain why my "list of major accomplishments" for the Blog Life course homework includes things like:

"good student"
"sophomore class rep"
"best all-around"
"homecoming queen"
(FYI, "basketball and track" were also included on this list, as I did develop some competitiveness in high school.)

Yes, these are all of my MAJOR life accomplishments.

I had to laugh at the relatively short list, the fact that nothing showed up post-college, how minor it all was, and the way it basically boiled down to being popular.  Is that really an accomplishment?

Nah, not really.

But--there is more to the "Playing to Your Strengths" homework than a list of accomplishments, and when I took everything I had written in response to each prompt and looked at it all together, I felt like I had a pretty good idea of my strengths after all.  I looked at my "accomplishment" list from another angle and wrote out these sentences--

"I am friendly, and I like to help people.  I am kind.  I like to connect and encourage."

Over the years since college, I've dismissed my school day "accolades" as a result of being a people pleaser and growing up in small-town, sports-crazed Oklahoma (where there is basically a formula for popularity).  But I've realized something--I truly believe in and enjoy being kind to everyone, and that probably had something to do with it too.

Best All-Around and Best Matching Denim 

I'm still trying to figure out exactly how this translates into a clear, well-written, purposeful blog, but I'm also still only at the beginning of the course.  :)

But regardless of how all of this affects my blog's much-needed development, it has already affected me in real life--hey, I just figured out some things I am good at by living in the past for a little bit!  The last 12 years of "real life" (marriage, motherhood, the workplace, the home, mommy friendships) have seemed mostly to highlight my weaknesses.  I needed real life in order to grow, but recently I needed to be reminded of who I was from birth to 22.  And something as simple as a page of list exercises helped remind me.

I've been so inspired and encouraged since purchasing this course because I feel more confident and comfortable in my skin.  I'm giving fewer disclaimers.  I have more answers than questions for the first time in a long time, and that's a good feeling.



"We are all original. There is no one else exactly like you in the whole world. You have something different to offer. But, you won’t get there by looking at others and trying to be just like them. Be yourself. Do your best work. Play to your strengths, not somebody else’s."
Emma Chapman, "Blog Life" e-Course 
by A Beautiful Mess



As simple as it sounds, kindness is one of my strengths--so I guess I will try to figure out how to play to that--in everyday life and in my writing.  I hope I don't annoy you by being friendly nerdy nice girl--but that's me being authentic.  I like you, and I like to be kind.

Oh, but I do have one favor to ask--I would reeeeeally appreciate your vote for the "Most Likely to Win Miss Congeniality at Basketball Camp" award.  Thank you so much.  :)

Love Always,
amber


P. S. If you are interested in the Blog Life class, I recommend it, obviously.  Check out the course description for more info.  I write all of this because I am a walking commercial for things I like, especially when I think they might help someone else, and also because I want to express my appreciation to Elsie and Emma for being such kind, authentic, generous bloggers.  ♥  Thank you SO very much!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Guest Post for Life & Co


Hello again!  It's been too long.  I just wanted to drop in today to mention that the ever-so-lovely Nia Neve of Life & Co (the lady responsible for the lovely mail above) featured me in a guest post on her blog today.  Nia has been running an "Around the World" series where she gives us a glimpse into the lives and homes of her creative friends from all over the world.  I am so grateful to be counted as one of these friends.  Pay her a visit, and you'll want to know her too!


In the post I talk about our move to the desert and give you a peek into my creative workspace.  If that interests you, come over to Life & Co and say hello!  

I've been itching to write more lately, so hopefully I'll have some new posts soon.  In the meantime, if you ever have ideas for things you'd like to see here, please let me know.  I might be more likely to follow through and hit publish if it's something I know you're interested in reading.  :)

xoxo,
amber



Sunday, November 03, 2013

How to Make Friends and Write to People, Part 2

So now that you have the background behind how I kind of stumbled into this penpalling thing, you know I am no expert.  Plenty of people have written more and better on this topic (and hopefully soon I will round some of that great info up for you), but here I give you my perspective (geared towards making pen friends through Instagram) in 6 simple steps.


Step 1:  Write a letter to someone you know.  

If you are interested in snail mail and pen palling, I suggest starting with those closest to you--write a letter to your grandmother, your mother, your sister, your brother, your best friend from high school . . . or send a thank-you letter to someone who has had you over for dinner or given you a gift (no matter how long ago).


Step 2:  Take a picture and tag it.

Before you send the letter off, take a picture--conceal the addresses for privacy--and post it to Instagram.  You don't have to say who it's for, and you might consider keeping it a secret, especially if the intended recipient is also on Instagram (don't want to spoil the surprise).  That said, you could also mention the recipient and create a little suspense/give them something to look forward to.  I have done a little of both, but I lean towards keeping it a secret.  Tag it with a mail-related hashtag (#sendmoremail, #stationery, #showandmail, and #snailmail are a few good ones).

Note:  You do not have to have a dedicated mail account on IG.  You can keep photographing what you've always enjoyed photographing, but adding snail mail pics to your account is a good way to meet others interested in snail mail as well.  It doesn't have to be all you post about--there are letter lovers who only occasionally take pictures of mail, those who focus exclusively on mail, and those like me who have a little of everything with a heavy emphasis on mail.  :)


Step 3:  Keep writing letters to family and friends.
Write your grandmother again.  Get back in touch with an out-of-state friend.  Send your cousin a birthday card.  Even if you aren't receiving mail in return, enjoy the process of giving to another, sending mail off to be enjoyed with no strings attached.  Writing a letter is like a good talk with an old friend.  You feel connected just by the act of writing, and you know that you are sending something that will likely brighten someone's day.  It's worth it for that alone.


Step 4:  Be sociable on Instagram.

If you're enjoying the Instagram thing and you want to keep meeting new IGers, keep taking and posting pics.  Pretty soon you will have a collection of happy mail pics in your gallery, and you might have already met some other snail mailers.  Follow the accounts of those who inspire you.  Comment on photos and say hello.

Always be sincere in your IG conversations--just enjoy interacting with others who share your interests, regardless of whether or not you will ever be penpals or they will ever follow you back.  Have fun making new friends, and eventually you may find that some of these friends would like to exchange letters.  Occasionally, someone will put a request out for new penpals.  Responding to a general request or responding to a request that someone makes of you through comments on a photo is a great way to get started writing.


Step 5:  Keep these tips in mind (just a few things I've learned by watching):
  • The person that introduces himself/herself or requests to exchange letters generally starts the process (if agreed to) by writing first.  
  • Use email, rather than the comments section on IG, to exchange addresses.  In this case, your email will be displayed publicly but your address won't.  I think there are varying levels of caution with this.  It doesn't worry me too much to have my email out there, but I do go ahead and use email to get the formalities taken care of.  That said . . . see below.  
  • A few of my IG friends (hello, @bevinblight, @carmsdubois, and @juliabump!) have also devised a stealthy "self-destructing message" system wherein information is left in a comment, written down by the intended recipient, and then deleted immediately after.  (This is a surefire way to add some intrigue to the whole process and is very appealing to me, as I did have my own detective agency as a kid and have a lot of experience with this kind of top-secret stuff.)  
  • Some avid snail mailers may have all the penpals that they can handle at the moment.  Be sure to check their profiles before requesting in case they have already specified that they are not looking for new pals at this time.
  • If a fellow Instagrammer replies that he or she is not taking on new penpals at the moment, do not take it personally.  That just means that this person is already full with real life responsibilities and current letter writing commitments.  Don't worry--there are lots of people out there who need a good letter and lots of people willing to write.  Give it time and be friendly and keep sending happy mail to everyone that's already in your address book.  
  • Your new penpals do not necessarily have to be established letter writing enthusiasts--any of your Instagram friends could be a future penpal.  If someone leaves a kind comment on one of your snail mail photos or if you have an IG friend you've interacted with frequently, ask if that person would like to share his or her address and start writing.  

Step 6:  Remember--your existing friends can be penpals too.


Keep in mind that you may have an offline friend who is just as interested in keeping in touch via snail mail as your Instagram friends are.  Ask around (in person, on Facebook, by email . . .).  If you find someone who is game, just start small by committing to one letter each and deciding who is going to write first.  It's always nice to build and strengthen current friendships in addition to making new ones!   

There is more to be said on this and lots of inspiring sites (and Instagram accounts!) to check out, but for now I will leave you with these 6 steps.  Let me know if you have any questions!  And if any of my more experienced letter writing friends are reading this, I'd love for you to chime in with your experience and wisdom!  How did you get started?

Time to write a letter.  :)

xo,
amber

P. S. I've been using my IG pics for these posts, so sorry for the repeats (and sub par quality).  Grainy IG pics are better than no pics, right?

P. P. S. To all fo my "real life" and Instagram friends--I am thankful for you!


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How to Make Friends and Write to People, Part 1



Recently on Instagram, Sarah asked me how I got into penpalling and if I had any information about this sort of thing on my blog.  I had been writing a little post in my head for a while now, and her question prompted me to finally get it together.  As it turns out, though, it will be more than one post because, well, this is one of my favorite topics and I am kind of wordy.

How I got started

Every time I get happy mail, my 9-year-old daughter says, "Why do you get so much good mail?  Your penpals send you the best things."

And I tell her, "If you want to get mail, you need to send mail!"

And this is 100% true.  But in the back of my mind I think, "And get an Instagram account."  I am not going to tell her that right now, though.

I have written to friends and family since I was little and have even had a couple of penpals (friends from summer camps and my friend Claudia in Germany), but only recently have I started writing regularly to people I've never met in person who live across the country and across the world.

This past July, Jeff took a two-week trip to South Africa.  Shortly after he left the country, I got srep throat.  Shortly after that, each one of my kids took turns getting sick with a stomach bug.  That meant that at least one of us was sick during that whole time period.  


Some of the postcards Jeff sent from South Africa

What does this have to do with letter writing?  Well, we were homebound for a good two weeks.  We made basically NO plans outside of the house.  Once my strep cleared up (rather quickly with the antibiotic), I felt fine and was able to take care of the kids, who mostly wanted to watch cartoons and sleep.  I stayed up late at night waiting for it to be morning in South Africa so I could talk to Jeff when he woke up.  I used all of this downtime and late-night time to myself to catch up on a pretty large backlog of thank-you notes.  It was a wonderful way to spend the time because I had so many that I needed to write and also because writing to people is a great way to feel connected and not lonely when you are homebound and your husband is on the other side of the world with limited cell phone reception and time to talk.  :)

The first batch of long overdue thank-you letters

Snail mail has been a favorite topic on this blog since the beginning, but at that point this summer I hadn't blogged in months.  But I had been on Instagram fairly regularly since our trip to Italy in June.  I decided to start taking pictures of the mail I sent and posting them to Instagram because pretty mail pics are some of my favorite pics to look at.  (And posting to Instagram was more manageable for me at that time than posting to the blog.)


And then . . . a whole new world opened up for me.

Instagram is an amazing social media site in the way it allows for interaction among users.  I already followed some of my favorite bloggers, but I started meeting other snail mail and paper enthusiasts (bloggers and non-bloggers alike) through hashtags like #sendmoremail, #showandmail, #snailmail, and #stationery (just to name a few).

Now several of these new Instagram friends have become my penpals, which is so very cool to me.  And even those that are not officially my penpals, I consider kindred spirits and online friends.  :)
And I owe all of this to a couple weeks of downtime, a long list of thank-yous, and Instagram (I love Instagram).

I'm working on another post with more practical steps for getting started in letter writing, but for now I will leave you with a little sneak peek.  Step 1 is super simple:

Write a letter to someone you know, preferably your grandma.

I got started in penpalling just by writing the letters I already needed to write.  Start working on yours, and I'll be back with more soon!

xo,
amber

P. S. For some visual inspiration in the meantime, search the Instagram hashtags #sendmoremail, #snailmail, #stationery, and #showandmail.  And you can see all my mail-related pics (and more) on my account here.

P. P. S. Remember, the best inspiration comes from actually writing--so get out your pen and paper and write!
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