Fondant Cake Creations

I love icing. In fact, I’m pretty sure that sugar is one of my love languages. Really. Some husbands bring flowers, mine brings “Cookie Monsters,” i.e. the chocolate chip sandwich cookies with monster faces made of icing. They are specifically meant to cater to the under five age group…and me. No rose in the world could score him that many brownie points. Oooooh… but maybe a brownie could.
I digress. My point is, I like icing. And I love cake. So cake decorating was a natural hobby for me to fall into.

A few years ago, I watched a couple of youtube videos and made my first fondant cake. It felt like a grown-up reason to play with play-doh, and I instantly fell in love with it. Since moving to Okinawa I have had more opportunities for these fondant cake creations than ever before and my fondness for fondant only increases with each cake.

One of my recent favorites was an “Under the Sea” cake I decorated for a friend’s “Sip and Sea” baby shower. When one of the hostesses had approached me about decorating the cake, she’d sent me a picture of the sea creature mobile that had served as the inspiration for the nursery decor. “Sarah just loves this mobile,” she had told me. “Maybe you could incorporate it?”

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Here’s what I came up with:
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These little characters were definitely my favorite part of the cake, but between the four layered top tier and these little fondant creatures, that cake sure did get heavy! Luckily, Dane was in town to rig a weight distribution system out of chopsticks and cake boards.

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So far the only downside I’ve found to fondant cake decorating has been that by the time I finish these cake creations, someone is always ready to cut into them. Oh well. At least the pictures last longer than an afternoon!

Made with Repix (http://repix.it)

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Babes and Blossoms: Yogi Park Cherry Blossom Festival

I wanted to see cherry blossoms this year. It was one of my bucket list items. I’d wanted to go to the Nago Cherry Blossom Festival before Dane left, but there just wasn’t time. After he left I started pestering my friends to go to visit Mount Yaedake (which blooms late January to early February) or Shuri Castle (which blooms into mid-February), but again, my weekends just kept filling up.

Since we were both single for Valentine’s Day, I convinced my friend Brette that nothing could be more romantic than taking her kids on a journey to find cherry blossoms with me.  We started prepping them on Friday for our adventure the next day. “We are going to go see the cherry blossom trees!” We told her three year old excitedly. He didn’t seem to grasp what exactly would be so fun about going somewhere to look at trees (even if they were “covered in flowers”) but our excitement was contagious and  he is always up for a good adventure. Her almost-one year old just seemed to be happy enough eating crackers so that Saturday we loaded the car up with kids, snacks and a camera and went on a cherry blossom excursion.

We’d been asking around about the best place to see cherry blossoms so late in February and found out that there was a festival down in Yogi Park, so we looked it up and read on Okinawa Hai that some of the highlights include:

“…delicious food, games, rides, parades, folk music, concerts, folk dancers, flower displays, kimono shows, religious ceremonies and a beauty pageant.”

“A beauty pageant?!” Well duh! Of course we were heading south to Yogi Park!

The whole day was a blast. We didn’t see any kimono shows or beauty pageants, but that might have been because we were preoccupied with feeding. And I don’t just mean eating. I mean… feeding.

There was pigeon feeding…
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and goat feeding…
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Goat Collage

and horse feeding…
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Not to mention plenty of kid feeding…
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And in case you’re worried about us, the grown ups didn’t go hungry either…
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Cherry Blossom Festival for Blog-48Cherry Blossom Festival for Blog-49We had no idea what to expect from this little festival, but it did not disappoint! It  was reminiscent of an American county fair (albeit a very small county). There was plenty of fried dough, frozen ice and food on a stick. Booths were set up to display handmade jewelry and pottery; and you could fill bags with local produce and honey. There was an enclosure of goats for the kids to feed, and for 500 yen (about $5.00) they could take a pony ride up and down the cherry blossom lined road.

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One thing that did seem different from the States was- the games seemed almost rigged in our favor. Now, I am not saying that Cruise doesn’t have some natural athletic ability- I mean this is a Knaute kid we are talking about- but I’m still not sure how he walked away with a prize after throwing rings at a peg board.

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The whole day was full of Babes and Blossoms for us. I just couldn’t stop snapping pictures of Cruise covering his mama with kisses.

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These Cruise Kisses were pre-sugar high, believe it or not!

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Next year I am definitely looking forward to getting out a little bit earlier in the cherry blossom season to check out Mount Yaedake and Shuri Castle, but the Yogi Park Cherry Blossom Festival will probably remain on my list of must-dos for spring in Okinawa.

Okinawa’s in Bloom: Japanese Cherry Blossoms

Spring has sprung in Okinawa… and the whole island is in bloom! While mainland Japan still has months to wait for their cherry blossoms (Tokyo is expected to bloom in April, Sapporo not until May) our little southern island is already near the end of our few weeks of flowering.

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Japan takes cherry blossom season very, very seriously. The National Weather Association actually publishes a city-by-city cherry blossom forecast, predicting when the blossoms will open (kaika) as well as when the “peak viewing” window or full bloom (mankai) should occur. Towns throw festivals and parades to celebrate these little blooms. There is even a specific term for the act of “flower viewing” (hanami). If you are particularly interested in learning the art of “Hanami”, feel free to check out this beginner’s guide on “how to do hanami.”  However, if you are not quite interested enough to follow a link, I’m happy to sum it up for you right here: Hanami involves sitting back and appreciating the cherry blossoms, either up close or from a distance. Helpful? I thought so. Picnics are also highly encouraged.

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One of the reasons that Japanese cherry blossoms are held in such high esteem is because of their very short blooming period. The whole season lasts only a few weeks, and any heavy rain or wind could cause that small window to disappear completely. In the Japanese culture there are many comparisons between the fragility of the blossoms and the fragility of human life. However, as I was trying to gather background information to write a decent cherry blossom post, one of my Japanese friends said, “I mean- they’re just really pretty.” I’m sure I could have found someone else to go on and on about the rich history behind these sweet little blooms, but I kind of liked how she summed it up. Sure they mean different things to different people, but at the end of the day, they are just really, really pretty.
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The One Where I Started Dating My Best Friend

Everyone knows you are supposed to marry your best friend. I think it’s not only normal, but necessary that during the dating period, before marriage, you become best friends. Almost everyone I know describes their wedding day as the day they married their best friend. I know I did. But I always expected that I would marry my best friend for exactly the reasons I stated above. My favorite part of our story is not that I married my best friend. It’s that I started dating my best friend.

I flew into Kansas less than a week after he flew out of Tampa. I walked off of that plane and straight into his arms. (Another thing that has never happened when I am reunited with Beth.) Trying to seem like “just friends” was starting to feel unnatural. Stealing moments to snuggle had started feeling right.

Left-Corner-ConcertI’ve never been much of a hand holder. I used to tell him that holding hands felt more intimate to me than kissing someone. “There’s something kind of leash-like about the whole thing, don’t you think?” I asked him. No. He liked holding hands and chalked that up as another weird Mindy-ism. However, knowing how I felt about it, he never tried to hold my hand. And I was shocked to find that I was the one who initiated it. I wanted to hold his hand. I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt that way.

The whole week was a whirlwind of dates and experiences. At the end of that week I had three weeks left before I was supposed to sell my car, pack my life, and move to New York.

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“Do you need help packing?” He asked me when he dropped me off at the airport. It was a no-brainer. Of course I needed help! And if we never got around to packing but spent the whole week at the beach- well, that would be okay too. Surely I could pack in a week!

I went home, and a few days later, he landed in Tampa for the second time that month. It’s funny to me to look back at how we were still clinging to the term “friendship” for whatever this was. I’m sure all of our friends (and certainly our families) were just shaking their heads when we denied that we were “dating.” But even we had noticed that the kisses had gotten longer and the time spent talking about other people had decreased to almost nothing

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Bottom-left-cornerWe spent another week going on bachelor-style dates. We flew planes, we shot guns, we boated out to the islands in my back yard. He met my friends. He started really getting to know my family. We survived a vicious dog attack, where our sweet Sydney’s life hung in the balance.

Sydney-Right-CornerAfter five broken bones, two titanium plates, and a dozen screws smaller than eyeglass screws, we finally decided that in order to give this thing the chance it deserved, we should probably agree to stop seeing other people.

 

It was a fairytale. Almost. But let me make this part clear to anyone who thinks that dating your best friend would be the easiest thing in the world: It. Is. Not. We knew everything about each other. I thought that would make everything easier. And on one hand- it did give us a unique advantage, but on another, knowing everything  sure has potential to complicate a relationship.

For example, he knew that historically when  a guy started talking about the future, it kind of freaked me out. He also knew that the words, “I think I love you,” had been the beginning of the end to many of my relationships. Knowing all of this, he was hesitant to ever tell me exactly how he felt.

I knew that he had been known to fall fast and fight hard for things just so that he didn’t have to admit that he’d misjudged it. So when he wasn’t saying those three little words I was longing to hear it made me wonder… Was he feeling everything I was?  This little combination didn’t make it easy at the beginning. We had to push everything out of our heads that we knew about what the person had been like in past relationships to give ourselves a chance to discover what we would be like in this relationship. The idea of the future- in fact, the idea of forever- didn’t scare me at all anymore. And he didn’t want to say anything he’d ever said before.

Falling in love with someone you’ve already loved for years is a complicated business, and not for the faint of heart… but it is also the most fantastically romantic adventure either of us has ever gone on.

homecoming-circleHe deployed (for the fourth time since we had started talking daily) and I was falling head over non-designer heels for New York. For about six months we made long distance look easy, much to the disgust of my roommate. “Are you kidding me?” she would say, as she’d bring in a handful of letters. We wrote to one another every day.

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I took two weeks off and flew to Kansas for his homecoming. We spent a mini summer vacation traveling around Kansas, Oklahoma and South Carolina.

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A few weeks later, he visited New York. We flew back and forth all fall, missing each other more every time we had to say goodbye. We’d planned for him to spend Christmas and New Years with me in the city, but just before Thanksgiving we found out that he was about to deploy (again).

Long distance is one thing, but long distance for half the year and desert distance for the other half, is another. As much as I loved seeing that face (and who can blame me? Mustache and all…), I was so tired of facetime!

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Less than a year after I moved to New York, a city that enchanted every ounce of my being, I told him that as much as I never wanted to leave it, every time we flew away from one another, I realized that I never wanted to leave him even more. We started to discuss making a change that would let us be together. His Air Force commitment allowed him very little flexibility, so NYC was out of the question. He was stationed in Wichita, Kansas. That was not something that was going to change. If we wanted to live in the same city, that meant I’d have to move… to Kansas.

“Where is Kansas, exactly?” That was the question I got asked more often than anything else when I told people I was going to be relocating from Manhattan to Wichita. I grew up on the west coast beaches of Florida where babies learn to swim before they learn to walk. Leaving the beach for the city was an adjustment, but it was intoxicating. Leaving the city for the country… well let’s just say if it had been any other guy, it would have been a story that never got told. And yet, because that move was for this particular guy, it was the most exciting move of my life.

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It was the first time in my life that I had given my future with someone higher priority than my future alone. I put in my notice and flew to Kansas (with my little dog too) in February of 2014, a few weeks before he got back from the desert. I signed a lease for an apartment (call me old fashioned, but I wasn’t moving in before he put a ring on it) and started making arrangements to move all of my things to Kansas.

Wichita is charming. I’d never lived in a small town before and I was excited about starting a new chapter there. I was excited to get to “date” my boyfriend without buying a plane ticket first. I was excited to start sharing a life together. For those of you who know the story, you know we never really got to do any of that. But I think that’s enough love talk for February!

One of these days I’ll tell “the one where I never got to live in Kansas”. And “the one where he proposed in a U-haul”. And “the one where we planned a wedding while we planned a move to Japan”. Maybe next “Valentine’s Week” I will get around to all of those!

Cruise and Cozi Valentine’s Day Pictures

I’ve decided that big blue eyes and even bigger bows result in drool-worthy pictures… even if your subjects won’t sit still for a second! There was a little sibling body slamming, and a lot of “shaking it off,” but just about zero smiled posing- and it turned out to be just perfect for this impromptu Valentine’s Day shoot last week. Here are (more than a few) of my favorite Valentine’s Day Pictures of two little ones I just can’t get enough of.

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The One With Blurred Lines

So many love stories over here this week! I intended this to be the last one, and it was supposed to be called “The One Where I Started Dating My Best Friend,” but instead it turned out to be the one where all the lines just got all blurry. The one where we actually started dating will come next, and be the finale for now.

So I left off on the one where we became best friends, talking about that drive to Tampa to pick up my “buddy” for dinner with my parents.   (Quick back story from my parent’s perspective: about year before the night we all had dinner, my mom and I were talking over a bottle of wine and I told her that I thought I might just be one of those people that is never really meant to settle down. “I mean, if Dane is not ‘the one’, I’m not really sure there is a ‘one’ for me.” I told her. “And as weird as it sounds- I think I’d be okay with that.”

She’d smiled supportively, as she has learned to do so well over the years, and said, “We’ll see.”)

Now here we were, almost exactly a year later. I’d been back in their hemisphere for all of one day.  I still had braided bracelets tied to my wrists that I’d picked up from some orphans in Cambodia. I hadn’t even gone back to my own house yet before I informed them that I was headed to Tampa to pick up that guy- who I’d once casually mentioned that I could imagine settling down with- to have dinner with them. Oh… and would they mind if we both stayed the night at their house so I didn’t have to drive him back to Tampa? Gosh I am lucky my parents know how to go with the flow.

“We’re just friends,” I assured them as I walked out the door, about to drive a car for the first time in four months. I truly believed I wasn’t lying to them.  It wasn’t until I got to the hotel that I finally began to hesitate. We had such a good thing going. It was such a unique bond and it was really only possible because of the long distance nature of our relationship. Was it really worth jeopardizing all of that just to get Greek food?

It’s a legitimate question that everyone has to ask themselves at some time in their life: Which is more important- friendship or feta? At some point between the moment I parked my car and the moment that I knocked on his hotel room door, I guess I had decided: feta.

He opened the door and we made eye contact, (uninterrupted by the glare of a computer screen), for the first time in two years. Then we hugged- and I remember thinking that the hug was lingering a little longer than it usually does when Beth and I are reunited. Never one to make a moment awkward, I broke the hug and said, “So this is what you smell like.”

What?!? Great opening line, I patted myself on the back.

“I guess so,” he said, stepping back to let me into the room. “And this is what you smell like.”

“Well, it’s hard to say,” I told him. I should have stopped there. But I didn’t. “I might still smell kind of backpacker-y.” Just. Stop. Talking. I willed myself. “I mean, I showered any everything… but, you know.”

At least the “just friends” thing seemed to be in the bag. I would definitely not have be getting the first impression rose if it was up for grabs later.

After the first few minutes things started normalizing- thank goodness! The drive back was full of natural conversation. Dinner was easy. After dinner we opened a bottle of wine with my parents and all sat in the living room. When we sat down I noticed that he was sitting awfully close to me on the couch. Once again I imagined Beth sitting next to me and scooted away a little bit. Just friends. I told myself. We are just friends.

My parents finally went to bed, but he and I sat up and talked for hours longer. At some point we must have drifted off, because when I awoke we were leaning on one another and I could feel his breath on my face. Just friends, my sleepy brain reminded me, but even in my sleepy state, this was the moment that it registered to me just how blurred that line between best friend and boy friend could become.

I sat up and moved away, rousing him. He touched my face. Beth never does this. “We’re just friends,” I reminded us both. Out loud this time.  “Maybe,” he said, not moving away.

But we weren’t. Best friends? Yes. But just friends? No. Not even a little bit. That much was very, very clear- making it just about the only thing that was clear to us that night. Somehow everything else had gone fuzzy. Every line that we had worked so hard to keep straight over the last two years had just blurred.

So that is the story of the night with blurred lines, and the beginning of our recognizing that maybe this was more than a friendship. That whole week that he was in Tampa seemed blurry. It was all new territory. We were doing things together that felt like dates, but we were also struggling to keep our relationship as close to what it had been as we knew how to do.

Looking back now, I think we both knew that this was the beginning of something, but we both stubbornly kept saying it was nothing… For all of five days. By the time his exercise was over,  it was glaringly obvious to us (and everyone we hung out with) that this was a lot more something than nothing. So I booked a ticket to go visit him the following week. Hey, I had four weeks before I moved to New York, and surely I could pack in three. Right?

 

 

 

Responses to a Second Grade Writing Prompt: “Just Like Martin Luther King Jr., I…”

The writing prompt was “Just like Martin Luther King Jr., I…”

They’d been studying MLK for weeks. They knew the man had a dream. They’d learned about comparing and contrasting, and right before I passed out the papers we went over what “similarities” are.

I could see their little brains working as they got out their pencils. They were thinking about what they had studied about Martin Luther King, Jr. and were silently making connections to what they knew about themselves.

As I started walking around the classroom, peeking over their shoulders, I had to literally cover my mouth to keep them from seeing my smile. They scrunched up their second grade faces as they bent over their triple-lined paper, and I couldn’t resist grabbing a notebook so I could copy, verbatim, some of their responses.

Nothing about this assignment disappointed. Here are a couple of my favorite responses to a second grade writing prompt:

“Just like Martin Luther King, I had a dream that people could become human cats.”

“Just like Martin Luther King had a dream, I have a dream to play baseball. I am also really good at soccer.”

“Just like Martin Luther King, I brush my teeth a lot and I am a good person.”

“Just like Martin Luther King, I am black. I have black hair and I am a boy. When I grow up I will be a man.”

“Just like Martin Luther King, I don’t think racism is good. And I pray.”

“Just like Martin Luther King, I fight for justice when people don’t play fair.”

“Just like Martin Luther King I have a dream to be a builder and he had a dream to change the world.”

Thank you second graders, for making my life more amusing than it would be without you.

 

Coping with the Loss of a Pet You Have Never Met – Kids are Weird

Kids are weird. They are funny and creative and delightful too, but there is no getting around the fact that they are weird.

As a certified teacher who is reluctant to teach full time, long term subbing has been a perfect “day job” recently. It gives me the opportunity to be in a classroom for an extended period (a week or more) while still maintaining the flexibility to pursue other passions and interests.  Plus, I absolutely love getting the chance to be in one classroom long enough to start getting to know the  very distinct personalities of these little humans.  It sounds cheesy, I know, but I feel really honored to be in their lives, even just for a little while.

One thing I have learned over the last few weeks is that tears are a big part of second grade. Second graders have all of emotions running through their tiny little bodies and a lot of them just don’t know how to deal with them except to dissolve into a pile of tears.

One of my students loves cats. Like really, really loves cats. Sometimes she ties her scarf to her jeans like a tail to help her look more like a cat. Sometimes she wears ears. All-the-times she has a lot of emotions. She has one of the sweetest and most gentle souls I have ever encountered, but that gentleness comes with a lot of emotions. One day she was having a particularly hard time and after a while I pulled her aside to chat. I asked her what was going on and she told me, through gasps, that her cat had just died of cancer.

Well that spoke straight to my heart, because given my very serious love of one particular little yorkie,  I can’t even imagine how I would cope with the loss of a pet in second grade. I put my arms around her (which I have more latitude to do here at a mostly-military school) and told her how sorry I was for her loss. And then she said:

“I never even had the chance to meet her.”

Umm… what? She went on to explain that she had read about this cat who lived back in the States (with another family) and that she had hoped someday maybe her family could adopt the cat. And now it was dead. Huh. I really didn’t know how to respond to that. But hey, the kid’s grief was real, no matter that it wasn’t actually her cat, and she’d never really met said cat. So I patted her on the back and encouraged her to take a deep breath and get a drink of water before starting on math.

A week later she was devastated by a litter of kittens she’d read about who had died in a flood. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that this was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to tragedies.

I do hope, for her sake, that she will toughen up a little bit before she has to read Old Yeller.

My Sweet Friend in a Field of Semi-Wild Flowers

You can’t really go wrong with a field full of flowers… But throw in this beautiful, blonde, mama-to-be and it’s a wonder I was able to limit myself to featuring only twenty pictures!

I’ve really been looking forward to getting behind my camera again in a portrait setting. For the last couple of years I’ve really only been shooting when I travel. I think the fact that my iphone is always on me and so easily “instgrammable” has made me lazy. However, one of my goals for the next few years in Okinawa is to start focusing more on portrait photography. My friend Callie was kind of the one who took me under her wing when Dane and I first arrived on the island, so when she told me that she hadn’t been planning on getting maternity photos done, I decided she would be the perfect “no-pressure” model to work with as I got my feet wet again. Besides- I couldn’t let her get away with keeping that glow all to herself!

While we were filming the maternity video, that I finally posted yesterday,  Kimberly O’Byrne, (a great portrait photographer out here) and I realized that we have a lot of very similar interests/skills and really enjoy working together, so I invited her to come along and give a rusty photographer some of her pro tips! I’ve never really worked with another photographer before, but it was a lot of fun to tag team this photo shoot! I’m not exactly sure Callie would  agree with that statement- given that she had two different photographers calling out to her- but she is the easiest model in the world, and went along with everything we asked her to do. (Even when I made her lie on her back in wet grass at nearly nine months!)  On the bright side, she got double the pictures for her efforts. And, really, who could resist a maternity photo shoot in a flower field?

Here are a few of my favorite images from our session… and let the record show that I shot these in JANUARY in Okinawa. Are you kidding me with these flowers??? We live in paradise.

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Pregnancy Announcement Video (Not Mine!)

I’m always blown away by my blogger friends who manage their time well enough to actually blog  about all of their creative endeavors. I have a friend who has an incredibly successful blog about her charming Carolina life where she details all of her lustworthy crafts and recipes and life details, along with gorgeous pictures and cleverly written blogs almost daily. I just don’t know how she does it!

I, on the other hand, often find that the life-blog balance is very difficult for me to maintain. The more creative I find myself getting in other avenues, the less time I seem to make for blogging about them. I always start off with the best of intentions to photograph my projects as I go along so that I will be able to provide full tutorials with illustrated instructions… but after the first couple of shots, I get lost in whatever I am making and forget… until I’m about two minutes from being finished. Oh well. Perhaps perfect tutorials will not be a consistent Walking Through Wonderland feature.
However, now that the dust is starting to settle on the dozen or so projects I took on a few weeks ago, I do want to get some of them  up here! I have had so many fun opportunities since moving to Okinawa to bake cakes, take photos, and make props/accessories (you like that whole bake, take, make thing? Yeah… I planned it)  because I am surrounded by friends with little ones (or friends who are currently incubating little ones). I mean honestly, who doesn’t love a little body clothed in crochet?
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that there is a theme as to how so many of my hobbies and projects have gotten their start.
A friend will approach me saying…
“Do you know how/where I could get:  ____insert idea here___.”
And I, almost inevitably, say…
“I could make that.”
A few weeks ago, one of my friends approached me with the idea of putting together a pregnancy announcement video. She wanted to do a quick (under a minute) account of the behind-the-scenes details of her first 12 weeks of pregnancy as a way of making the news public. I warned her before hand that I had never used the video feature of my dSLR, but assured her (famous last words:) “I could make that.” After an afternoon of shooting and a few hours behind the computer, I sent her this final version:

I couldn’t be more obsessed with the song we used for this pregnancy announcement video. After the hours I spent editing it on repeat, I’m pretty sure Dane would be okay with never hearing it again… but I just love it. While we were picking music, Kim and I  kept going back and forth with ideas “Maybe this one?” “What about this?” But when I thought of this old school Cat Stevens song, I just sent her the link with a message that said: “This is the one.” And luckily for me… she agreed!  I just love everything about– it the tune, the tempo, the message (except for maybe that last line!). It was perfect.

And the best part of all… is now that I’ve started playing with the “video mode” of my camera, there is just no telling what I will do for #sydonashelf next December!

A Blog About Life Being Pretty Magical