A mini book for grandma

My grandma’s birthday is next weekend and even though it isn’t a “milestone” year, I wanted to do something a little different — something a little extra special — for her this year. So about four months ago I “gathered” the family through e-mail and proposed the following idea:

A mini book for grandma // Kelsey, Especially blog

Everyone was to send me (1) a favorite photo of themselves with grandma, or a favorite photo of just grandma (like the one my mom picked out, below, depicting my grandma having a beer in Mexico after beating breast cancer) — the photo could be from any time period; and (2) a short note to include with their photo — a favorite memory, a word of encouragement or thanks, thoughts on lessons learned from grandma, etc.

A mini book for grandma // Kelsey, Especially blogA mini book for grandma // Kelsey, Especially blog

Those were the only guidelines: a photo and a short note (the note didn’t have to match the scene in the photo). I also gave everyone the option of mailing me a sealed, handwritten note to grandma, in case they had something more personal they wanted to write to her that they didn’t necessarily want me (or anyone who may pick up and page through the final product) to read. Those sealed envelopes will be slipped in the back of the book before I mail it out.

My printer has been acting up lately, so the book isn’t completely finished yet (I still have two photos and five notes to print, but they’re all sized and saved and ready to go whenever my printer decides to cooperate again), but I wanted to share a peek at what is finished.

A mini book for grandma // Kelsey, Especially blogA mini book for grandma // Kelsey, Especially blogA mini book for grandma // Kelsey, Especially blog

Last summer the kids and I took a trip to Oregon for my dad’s birthday, and my grandma decided to make the trip up from Cali in order *finally* meet my kids — her great grandkids. It’s the only time she’s ever met them, and I’m so thankful that I had a photo of her with each of my kids to include in the book. Briseis already mailed a handwritten birthday note to her, and Emma and Madden are too young to write letters (or remember her, honestly), but Emma wanted to include some artwork, so I included a page colored by her opposite of the photo of grandma with Madden.


I ordered the photos and notes from oldest daughter to youngest (my grandma has four daughters), with each daughter’s children (and in my case, my kids) following. It seemed like the least controversial and most logical way to do it. Separating the two older daughters (and their kids) from the two younger daughters (and their kids) is a full-page, color photo of my grandma with her four daughters, taken in the late 1960s.

gma9A mini book for grandma // Kelsey, Especially blogA mini book for grandma // Kelsey, Especially blog

No offense or anything, but making a minibook for “an old person” is WAY different than making one for a “not old person”. Cutesie phrases and embellishments don’t really work. So I kept it simple with a few patterned papers (roses are her favorite, so I made sure to include lots of complimentary floral prints), a sheet or two of linen-y paper, vellum, and good ol’ Bazzill card stock. And I am in love with how it’s turning out so far.

A mini book for grandma // Kelsey, Especially blogA mini book for grandma // Kelsey, Especially blogA mini book for grandma // Kelsey, Especially blogA mini book for grandma // Kelsey, Especially blog

The final spread of the book includes a great Emerson quote — “It is not the length of life but the depth of life” — printed on vellum and secured to a handmade linen-y piece of paper with washi tape. The flair on the opposite page says “so blessed”.

A mini book for grandma // Kelsey, Especially blog

I know that Emerson quote is a little weird/morbid to include in a birthday book for an “old” person, but it just felt right. Besides, I’m going to include a little handwritten note in a small envelope underneath it that puts a non-morbid twist on it, by noting how she’s blessed to have lived a life of both length and depth, and that we are all blessed to have been included in her life. And that will tie it all together!

A mini book for grandma // Kelsey, Especially blog

I was so excited when I came up with this idea, and I think it’s a pretty rad one if I do say so myself. So. Feel free to steal this idea and make a similar book for a loved one, be it family member or friend. You could apply to same concept to someone in your life who will graduate high school or college next spring, and include photos and notes from friends and family. Or you can gift this to a parent for Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. Or to a spouse for Valentine’s Day.

And really, you don’t even need a special occasion to gift this to anyone. Maybe someone in your life just needs a pick-me-up and would fare well from receiving a handmade book of photos of good times and words of praise or encouragement from people who love them. I don’t know. I’m not the boss of your life. But if I were, I’d make you make one of these for someone.

If you do decide to make a similar project, I suggest allowing at least six months for people to gather photos and write their words, with gentle reminders every four to six weeks. Trust me, it will take much longer than you think. But it’s oh so worth it in the end.

A mini book for grandma // Kelsey, Especially blog

DIY personalized glitter banner

I’ve been wanting to give my home “office” a facelift for a while now, and after reading Catherine’s post about how excited she is to have a dedicated workspace/office in her new home, I knew I had to do something with all of the ideas in my head. For the past two weeks I’ve been slowly re-arranging and re-decorating my teeny tiny little workspace at home, and while it isn’t quite ready to share in its entirety yet, I am excited to share a little peek of it with this tutorial. Because what better way to quickly, easily, and inexpensively spruce up a small space than with a personalized glitter banner?! That’s right, none.

DIY glitter banner // Kelsey, Especially blog

What you’ll need:

  • Stickers, sized and colored to your taste. I used large gold glitter Mambi stickers from Michaels. The letters stand 3″ tall. A pack of 8 sheets was $7.
  • Card stock. A pack of the cheap Michaels brand works fine, but if you’re looking for something more sturdy I’d splurge on Bazzill.
  • Baker’s twine
  • Tape
  • Scissors

DIY glitter banner // Kelsey, Especially blog

Decide on a phrase. Peel off the letters that spell your phrase. Stick ‘em to your card stock. I stuck my letters around the edges of the paper to save paper and to save cutting time by having one edge already “done”.

DIY glitter banner // Kelsey, Especially blog

Press your letters down firmly. See how the corner on the “T” up there is peeling up? Fix that shit. Then cut out your letters. Boom.

DIY glitter banner // Kelsey, Especially blog

Turn your letters over, space them at whatever interval floats your boat, and lay them in a straight line. Cut a piece of baker’s twine. If you have enough twine and are worried about fucking up centering your phrase, cut your twine longer than you actually need. Grab some scotch tape.

DIY glitter banner // Kelsey, Especially blog

Lay your piece of twine on top of your turned-over, evenly-spaced, straight-lined letters. Use small pieces of scotch tape to affix the twine to the letters. Trim the ends of your twine to whatever length suits your space or preference.

DIY glitter banner // Kelsey, Especially blog

Turn over. Hang up. VOILA!

DIY glitter banner // Kelsey, Especially blog

Too easy, right? And what better way to keep me motivated to work hard to reach my goals than to have a gold glitter “HUSTLE” banner staring me in the face every time I sit down at my desk to work? Hint: none.

Stay tuned for the rest of my re-vamped workspace, coming soon…ish.

Lions and tigers but no bears (oh my!)

One of the perks of living near DC is that there’s always something to do, and a lot of the time there’s always something free to do. Case in point: the National Zoo. It’s part of the Smithsonian, which means it’s open to the public for free year round. Just last week Shannon and I realized that, surprisingly, we hadn’t taken the kids to the zoo yet this year, so when we woke up earlier than usual yesterday morning to an incredibly nice day, we decided to surprise them with a trip downtown.

Yesterday’s trip was the first one where Madden was old enough to “get” it, and it was the first one where a stroller didn’t accompany us. Big things poppin’, people. And best of all, it was the first time I’ve ever been to the National Zoo when all of the “main” animals were out and active — elephants, zebras, pandas, apes/gorillas, lions, and tigers — and the kids loved it. Madden was all about the elephants (and the fact that he got to see one a mere 5 feet away made his life), Emma was obsessed with the tigers (there were 3 and they were incredibly active and playful), and Briseis was happy to see everything.

We arrived early enough to get a killer parking space (one that we actually reserved online beforehand — so cool and so worth it!), avoid all the crowds, and beat the heat that started rolling in around the time we left. I also somehow ended up in the most number of pictures with the kids in a looooOOOoooOOOooong time (thanks, Shannon!). All in all, a perfect way to spend what was quite possibly the last decent Sunday of the season.

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Well, at least one of them was looking, even if that smile is totally fake + forced.

Weekend links

Weekend links // Kelsey, Especially blog

It’s been kind of a shit show around here this week between being sick, receiving some inconvenient news, a wonky printer (that I really need to work because I have a super time-sensitive project to complete), and finding out that I may not be able to start my classes on Monday because the Army is out of money to fund their tuition assistance program for the current Fiscal Year. The new FY begins October 1st, which is when funding opens back up. My classes start September 29th. TWO DAYS! Talk about fucked up. UGH.

It hasn’t been all bad, though. I’ve gotten better enough to return to work and working out (YAY!), my workspace at home is getting a little facelift, and Shannon and I got some really great quality time in this week. I didn’t get the posts up this week that I was hoping to (hell, I haven’t even written them yet), but just know that I have some good stuff coming. I promise. But first: the weekend! And some weekend links to get you started.

Here a few of the best things I stumbled across this week:


I had no idea that male rape in the military is so prevalent. An incredibly informative, jarring read.

A real-time map of all the cyber attacks happening right now around the world. This thing looks like it’s straight out of the movies. Hours of entertainment right here, guys.

A discussion on race through a transgender view. Sounds like my kind of book.

MRI machines are used to take still images. These researchers took thousands of those images and compiled them into a moving picture of what happens during common daily activities (like speaking, peeing, having sex, and childbirth).

The easiest explanation of the difference between interest rates and APRs that I’ve ever read.

I’m running this race in just over two weeks (for the third time), and I am drastically underprepared.

7 strange questions that help you figure out YOUR life’s purpose. Great 14 minute read.

A super thorough visual breakdown of the different types of plagiarism, and the consequence(s) associated with different types of violations.

The road to happiness? Stop looking for it.

Really into the idea of a banquette and pretty in love with these settees/banquette benches: [one] and [two].

Things that will live on our someday-banquette: these napkins, these salt + pepper shakers, and these tumblers (well ones that are about $80 less).

And, finally, I thought females could be high maintenance — I had no idea of the intricacies of male dress.


Catch you back here next week…

A shop announcement


“DO THINGS WITH PASSION OR NOT AT ALL” – fantastic advice, amirite?!

So with that in mind comes this announcement: I’m not going to open a shop.

“Yayyyyy…wait, what? NOT?! NOT going to open a shop?”

That’s right. I’m NOT going to open a shop.


I’ve received a lot of encouragement from the community to design + sell digital packs of Project Life-compatible cards in an Etsy shop (THANK YOU!), but after months of toying with the idea and trying to create the motivation to do so out of thin air, I’ve realized that I don’t love making things (for mass consumption) enough to want to do it for a living. That doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy making things — because I totally do — but I like making things for me, on my time, and in line with my own style (or specific design needs at the time). Yes, that’s selfish. But it’s also honest.

More honesty: I don’t love the idea of making products that feel contrived and that consist of designs or phrases that I would never use myself (which is eventually what would happen if I designed “for the masses”, because that’s exactly how this set of cards feels to me). I don’t love the idea of feeling pressured to create things on a deadline where there’s more at stake than a late-published blog post. I don’t love the idea of relying on a process that I’ve spent months trying to avoid (creating for mass consumption) as a primary source of income.

I’m not a graphic designer and I don’t have the desire to be. I’m a researcher, a learner, and a writer. Those are the things that I enjoy doing for other people: researching and then educating and informing through writing. That  — inspiring and initiating educated dialogue about topics with substance (like talking about debt, or sexuality, or parenting; or other “real talk” topics) — is what I want to do. And to a degree, that is what I’m in school for (the end goal is a PhD in research psychology with a heavy focus in neuroscience — lots of research, lots of learning + educating, lots of writing about things that I am passionate about).

I’m also not going to continue applying to design teams, because I don’t want to worry about working under someone else’s deadline; or about my pages feeling forced by trying to make someone else’s products + style fit my “feel” or “look”; or about balancing multiple projects just to get a little exposure. I don’t want to make a living — or a brand — from Project Life-ing for other people. I love being recognized for my PL pages, and I love that my pages inspire others, and I love that other people love my pages. And I want to keep loving it. I don’t want to turn it into work, or into a job, and as I’ve been wracking my brain for card design ideas, and going through my archives to find posts to use to apply to a few open design team positions, I’ve found myself more stressed by and actually put-off from Project Life than inspired or motivated or excited. That’s not how this is supposed to be. That’s not how I want this to be. And that’s why I’ve decided to not open a shop and to not sell anything graphic design-y. At least not right now. (Never say “never”, right?)

That being said, I am still going to create for myself (i.e. Project Life and mini books) and I am still going to share those things here. And — BONUS! — I am offering this set of 12 cards. But not for sale. For free. Why? Because it took me forever to create this pack of 12 cards, and it truly felt more like work than fun. In fact, I dreaded working on this so much that I didn’t even bother to package it prettily, and if we’re being extra honest, they’ve been ready to go for nearly 3 weeks but I’ve felt so conflicted about whether or not to charge for something that I don’t feel is quality enough to charge for, that I’ve just sat on them. So. If you’d like to download these cards, please do so. They are free to download as many times as you want/need, but if you feel compelled to donate then who am I to stop you? One more thing: If you use these cards, I’d love to see — make sure to tag me on Instagram (@kelseyespecially)!

Here’s what you’ll get: the download link will give you the following 12 card designs in 12 separate PNG files, as well as 3 individual PDF pages, each with 4 designs and cut lines. There’s no fancy packaging or branding (because I just couldn’t “get into it”), and if you need help figuring out how to change the colors of the circles or text in the PNG files, feel free to shoot me a message.

NOTE: To download each card individually as a PNG (as pictured below), (1) click the card to open it, (2) at the very bottom of the screen in the righthand corner click the three horizontal dots, (3) select the “download” option and save to your computer. I know they look like squares, but when you select each card individually, it really does display at it’s real/correct size: 3×4. I PROMISE!

A shop announcement // Kelsey, Esp. blog

In the future, if I create something for my own pages that’s well-received or that I’m super in love with then I’ll throw it up here as a freebie. And if you have a custom phrase or word that you’d like hand-lettered, I’m always down to talk shop. Just hit me up.


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