Saturday, December 2, 2017

A Season of Peace & Hope

Chief of the Medical Staff
Versacare Corporation

Today I do not have a layout to share but this powerful painting. I have a copy of  this painting on a postcard that my grandmother gave me back in 2008. I thought I had lost it, but two weeks ago I found it while I was sorting old photos. The irony of finding this now is that Caleb is scheduled for surgery this coming Monday, December 4th.

Caleb is having spinal fusion surgery to correct a severe scoliosis curve in his spine. When he was diagnosed with SMA back in 2009, the neurologist told Dave and I so many scary things that would happen, one of them being scoliosis. Children who battle neuromuscular diseases and live in wheelchairs are more likely to develop scoliosis, and once it hits a certain degree curve, surgery is the only option. I spent the past year getting second and third opinions, talking to specialists and fighting the insurance company to get the best possible surgeon and medical team to care for Caleb, which means we leave tomorrow for Rochester. 

This is a major surgery with potentially life altering risks, but the only option is to move forward with the fusion. They will be inserting titanium rods and cadaver bones along Caleb's spine to fuse it and straighten it. At the end of the surgery he will be a few inches taller!

I would be lying if I said I wasn't nervous or scared. I wish more than anything I could trade places with Caleb and spare him this trial. But I can't. Caleb is amazing. After his numerous lumbar punctures for Spinraza this past summer, he feels he's up for the challenge because at least he'll be asleep for this procedure. He knows he'll be uncomfortable and there will be a 4-5 day hospital stay,  but he's a real trooper. I'm so incredibly proud of him. 

This experience is teaching me more about trust and hope. While I have done everything in my power as his mother to put the best team in place, ultimately the outcome rests in God's hands. He knows every detail of this surgery, every move the surgeon and team will make, and he loves Caleb more than all of his family put together! I've worried, cried, and stressed myself, but it doesn't help Caleb, and ultimately disappoints God. Of all the trials I've been through, Jesus has never let me down. He has provided, comforted, encouraged when I've needed it, but only when I have made the choice to focus on him and his promises. If I focus on the negative, that is what I see. When I focus on Christ he fills me with his perfect peace. I love Isaiah 26:3, "You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you." The peace only comes after I trust in Christ.

The Christmas decorations all around remind me of the hope I have in Christ. Although this season has some painful memories for my family, ultimately I remind myself that because of Christmas, the time when we celebrate God's gift of his son, we have hope. We do not grieve without hope, we do not go through trials without hope. Even when the bad things happen and life knocks me down, I have the hope of Heaven. One day, life here will end, and there will be no more pain or tears. What a glorious wonderful day that will be! 

Until that day comes though, there will be trials and pain, BUT in the midst of life's storms there will be peace and hope.

I'm taking this picture to Rochester with me. During the hours Caleb is in surgery, I will keep this close to remind me who is in control. Jesus is going to be right there with Caleb. He created Caleb's spine and he can certainly straighten it! We covet your prayers for our little trooper this coming week.  Jim, Zach and I will be going along with my parents and Dave's parents. Alexis and Alyssia will be coming out to visit after the surgery. I'm believing for great things this week - a peace that passes all understanding and only good reports! Thank you for your prayers, love and support!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

"Mom, why do you scrapbook?"

One night I was working in my new craft room, stamping and scrapping away the stress of a busy weekend when I heard grunting and groaning behind me. Zach was pulling a kitchen chair, a stack of notebook paper, and his box of crayons into my room and proceeded to set up on the other side of my already crowded scrap table. He didn't ask if he could join me, and I hadn't invited him. His thought process was he had a project and I would help him.

He got right down to business, creating a comic book very similar to the Captain Underpants book he had recently been reading. He was proud of his creation and was focused and working hard. He worked in silence, despite my attempts at conversation, so I turned Project Runway back on and got back to my work.

A couple minutes later when he was done with the outline of his Captain Diaper character and had started to color it in he asked me, in a very serious voice, "Mom, why do you scrapbook?"

I had one of those moments. You know the kind where if you were in a cartoon, the clouds would part, the sun would come out and you'd hear a heavenly chorus singing. My son wanted to talk to me about scrapbooking! It was nothing short of a miracle!

"Because I absolutely love it!' I replied. "I want to remember and document all the good things in our family." 

"Do you want to remember me and Caleb as cute little babies?"


"Do you want to remember Daddy?"

"That too, " I said as tears filled my eyes.

"You want to remember marrying Jim?"


"You just want to remember everything!" Zach concluded in amazement.

Then the conversation shifted as he asked me to help him color his picture in.

I thought about our conversation later. Do I want to remember everything? There has been so much pain not only in our immediate family, but extended family as well. We've watched my brother battle cancer, and beat it. We lost my aunt to it. Dave and I struggled with infertility. Caleb's diagnosis with SMA certainly took us off guard, and my pregnancy with Zach was touch and go to the point it's a miracle he was even born. I've watched loved ones get divorced, struggle with depression, have challenges with their children, just to name a few things . . . .  Then, the fateful night when I got the knock on the door which ended with me at a grave side, a widow at 34 years old and comforting two little boys crying for daddy.

The reality is, no matter how hard I try, I'll always remember the bad stuff. I can't erase away the memories. The pain has played a tremendous part of shaping my life to what it looks like now. I will never forget, but it doesn't mean I have to focus on those memories. In fact, the perspective of those memories make me grateful to see smiling faces and little boys living life. The pain life here on Earth has to offer makes me look forward to Heaven. 

I started scrapbooking as a teenager because I loved doing arts and crafts. I was drawn into the spell of pretty patterened paper, brightly colored stickers and really cool tools. It started as a hobby and still is a hobby. I'm addicted! I love everything about it - the smell of the paper, the creative process, the shopping for supplies! Everything about this hobby appeals to me - but that's not why I continue to do it.

I keep scarpbooking for therapy. It gives my mind a break from the bustle of kids, the housework and never ending to-do list. I don't think about doctor's appointments, cub scouts or sports schedules. I do it because I want to remember. I want to remember the smiles, the joy. I want my children to look back on a life well lived. I want them to know that they are loved. I want to continue to document Dave's legacy, which is still unfolding even though it's been almost four years since he died. I want to tell the story of God's grace and goodness in our lives as Jim and I blend our families. I want my kids to know that Mom kept going when the going got rough.

Now I know that you don't have to scrapbook to communicate these truths. But this is how God wired me - He gave me the love of creating photo albums and he uses that gift in my life. Dave's gift was music. He would play the guitar and his music was his means of expression and act of worship. Jim enjoys being out in nature, appreciating God's creation. Spending time hunting,hiking or even just walking though the woods is Jim's way of seeing God's goodness. Everyone has something in them as a way of expression and remembering. I don't think it matters HOW you remember, but that you DO remember. That you remember the good and the bad, and in everything give thanks to God. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Brotherly Love

Ah, brotherly love . . . who can't relate to the bottom photo on this layout? There's nothing quite like the relationship between siblings. One minute you're best friends, and the next you want to strangle your brother or sister!

Caleb and Zach have an extremely close relationship. They are best friends! When Caleb was first diagnosed, and we realized how much help he would need with everything, we worried about the dynamic between brothers. We were concerned that Zach might resent all the attention Caleb would get just simply on the basis he needed it. To add insult to injury, Dave and I were encouraged not to have any more children because SMA is a genetic disorder. 

While we know many families that have gone on to have additional children - some completely healthy, other affected with SMA - we made the decision not to have any more kids. I was heart broken at first, but when we realized that Zachary had some special needs of his own that completely differed from Caleb's needs, I learned to be content with two children!

Once I realized that raising two special needs children was an overwhelming responsibility, I began to worry about the dynamics between our two boys. I read articles and books written by people who had disabled siblings. I talked to other families in similar situations to ours. I applied things I would hear Dr. Phil say to families he had on his show. I was eager for any and all information about family dynamics. 

While I was busy worrying, the boys were busy growing up and becoming friends. They had each other's back. Their relationship developed "normally" in spite of their disabilities. I worried for no reason! I wasted time and energy on research when I could have been enjoying my boys and praying about things. 

Dave and I agreed to not ask Zachary to help Caleb every time he needed it. We didn't want Zach to feel that he was Caleb's servant. However, we began to notice that Zach had no problem helping Caleb completely unprompted. Sometimes Caleb would ask for help and Zach was only too happy to oblige. (Look back at my Popcorny post to see to what lengths Zach would go for his brother!) I will admit though, that as Zach gets older, I do ask him to help Caleb more often, and Zach does not resent it. Caleb's disability is all he knows. Caleb also has learned that he can take advantage of his little brother and Zach has learned it is ok to tell his brother, "No!"

In an attempt to give each child our full attention, Dave and I tried to take each boy out for one-on-one time. Zach loved to play on playgrounds and Caleb couldn't do that. So Dave might take Zach out to McDonald's to play in the play yard or go to a park, while I did something special with Caleb. Sometimes Caleb needed time doing "guy stuff" with Daddy, so Dave and Caleb would go off while I might watch a movie with Zach. It's harder now that they are older, but I still try to have Mommy/Caleb and Mommy/Zach dates that are catered to their individual abilities and tastes.

So in spite of having a major disability, the death of their dad, mom remarrying and becoming part of a blended family, my boys are close. I love to watch their relationship grow and just marvel at how loving and protective they are of each other . . . at least most of the time!

Scrapbooking Tips:

I originally did this layout for a magazine submission which was later published in Scrapbook Generation's Create. I followed a sketch and added my own flair to it! I put the layout together completely using scraps I had laying around in my stash. I looked for bright colors that would match the boys' shirts. I needed the bright yellow letters to stand out against the colorful background.

I used scraps of paper and Banner Triplit Dies from the Stamps of Life to create the banner detail in the upper right corner.

I used white buttons to add some dimension to my layout, but they looked a little plain, so I cut hexagons out of some patterned paper and adhered them for some color. 

To give the journaling spot some character, I created a tag out lined paper. A twine bow added more dimension and texture. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Grief Comes in All Shapes & Sizes

I posted this picture on Facebook back in May of 2014. We were in Washington DC for Police Week and this was Zachary minutes before leaving the hotel for the Police Memorial Ceremony at the Capitol. I was waiting for the elevator with both boys, and then I panicked because I couldn't find Zach - I turned around and he was back by our hotel room door. It was early in the morning, too early, and it was a hot and humid and we had to dress up. Zach was acting how we all were feeling, and let's face it, this picture is adorable!

Police Week was a pretty intense experience for all of us. The NY State Police made it possible for Dave's family, my parents and the boys and I to go to Washington D.C. to attend the annual C.O.P.S. (Concerns of Police Survivors) Conference. There was something comforting about being around other families that experienced the same type of loss we had, but at the same time, it ripped open scabs that had barely begun to heal. 

As hard as it was to lose Dave, I realized that I was very blessed. There were so many people who were grieving without hope. I have hope. Since Dave's death, I've often been comforted by 
1 Thessalonians 4:13, "Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep  in him." Dave had placed his faith in Jesus Christ. It was not good works that got him into Heaven, but Jesus' grace and forgiveness. I know that the boys and I will see Daddy again!

But in the meantime, this precious picture of Zachary reminds me that grief comes in all shapes and sizes. While all our friends and family miss Dave, it is our boys who have lost the most. They had an awesome dad, and they were too little to remember. Caleb remembers much more than Zach, but he still only had six short years with his dad. Zach barely had five. 

Shortly after Dave died I found Zachary alone in his bedroom, punching a picture of Dave. He was throwing his whole body and effort into punching and he was angry. I pulled him onto my lap and hugged him while the tears silently slid down my cheeks. After a couple of minutes I asked Zach why he was angry, and his reply, "Daddy left without taking me."

Zach remembers his Daddy loving to travel and go on "adventures". The boys and I had talked a lot about heaven when my aunt had passed away, and they knew that it was wonderful place with no pain, tears, darkness or goodbyes. Why would Daddy go away to such a wonderful place and not bring him?

Shortly before this episode, Caleb very seriously told me that he wanted to go to Heaven when he was ten. His reasoning was that he could spend more time with Zach and me, but he didn't want Daddy to be alone for too long. And besides, Daddy explained to him there was no SMA in Heaven and they would be able to run and play football. He wanted to go play football with Daddy.

I had to explain to two broken hearted boys that only Jesus decides when you get to go to Heaven and you don't get to go until your special assignment on earth was done. Daddy's special assignment was done, but if Daddy had had the choice he would not have left us. I assured the boys he was certainly waiting to see us again but he would want us to live life to the fullest until our work here was done. I don't think the boys understand that concept completely, but thankfully they believed me. 

I don't know when the boys will be reunited with their dad, but this painful journey has taught me that grief comes in all shapes and sizes, and never completely goes away. I've also learned that no matter how horrific the circumstance, God is good. He loves me and my boys more then I could possibly fathom, and He has a plan for our good. As I flip through my scrapbooks and memories, I see smiles and joy before and after December 17, 2013, and that alone is a testament to God's goodness and faithfulness, and I'm determined to live life with joy until my special assignment is completed.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Gangnam Style

Dave loved music and could rock a dance floor. He had rhythm flowing through his veins and it seems that Zach has inherited some of his daddy’s musical talent! While Zach struggles academically, his music teacher always gives him “exceeds expectations”. Zach also has Dave’s love of dancing!

One night I had taken Caleb out for an appointment, and when I came home Zach ran up to me, “Mommy, Yook! Yook!” Dave hit play on his iPod, and "Gangnam Style" started blaring and they both broke into dance. Not the choreographed dance most people associate with song, but their own version! It consisted mainly of Dave and Zach starting from opposite sides of the room and hopping/galloping past each other to the opposite side of the room. Dave looked a little winded, and when I asked Dave how long they had been dancing like this he said, “Oh, about an hour. Zach hasn’t gotten tired yet!”

On Caleb’s 5th birthday, Zach and Daddy demonstrated their dance for all the extended family. I so wish I had videotaped them. I was always so focused on taking photos so I could scrapbook life’s events that I sometimes neglected the video camera. But at least I have this picture of Daddy and Zach’s special dance!

Scrapbooking Tips:

I thought this picture was special enough to merit its own layout, and I wanted to keep the focus on Dave and Zach so I kept the embellishments to a minimum.

When adding stickers or embellishments I try to use an odd number. I read somewhere that an odd number is more appealing to the eye, so I added three epoxy dots around the journaling strips.

I also added epoxy dots to the star design on the patterned paper. I originally did not have the dots placed on the stars but with the paper design, dots and title that corner looked a little busy. When taking the dots off of the page, one accidentally fell on a star and I liked the look, so I moved the other two. As they say, "There's no mistake in scrapbooking, only opportunities to embellish!"

Simple journaling and embellishments keep the focus on the photo.

Try to look for creative ways to embellish your pattern papers!

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Same Design, Two Different Looks!

Happy Saturday! 

Hopefully you get some time to kick back and relax this weekend. I've got some scrap time planned. I can already feel my blood pressure lowering. . . . 

I've mentioned many times that I use sketches from Scrapbook Generation when I scrapbook. They help me plan my layouts as far as photo size and placement. I create the color scheme/theme and add my own personal touches. There is so much versatility when you use a sketch as the following two layouts demonstrate.

Disney Cruise Album 2016

This layout shows some of the candid photos we took on Formal Night. I knew I had a lot of vertical photos I wanted to display so I looked for a sketch that would showcase more vertical than horizontal photos. The original sketch called for a 4x6 journaling block, but in this layout the pictures spoke for themselves, so I swapped it out for another photo.

Spring 2012 Album

This is a layout I did in 2012 and shows all the fun Zach had with an empty diaper box. Why he was wearing a winter coat on the first warm day of spring, I don't know, but he was having a blast! I followed the sketch exactly and included the journaling block.

The two layouts have their own looks and personality, but they started from the same sketch. This is a huge time saver when you have lots of photos to scrap. Sometimes I find a sketch I like and use it multiples times in the same scrapping session - I just make sure any "copy cat" layouts don't end up in the same album!

Give it a try sometime! Happy Scrapping!

Friday, September 29, 2017

A Lazy Day

I love capturing the everyday moments of life – not just the birthdays, Christmases, graduations, but the little things that make up our lives. I took these photos during our Disney Cruise, and they document real life – one tired family.

We had just been swimming with the Sting Rays in Grand Cayman. We were on the ferry headed back to land. It was hot and we were all tired and sweaty. I noticed that everyone was quiet and I think Alyssia fell sound asleep sitting up!

One thing I noticed when I got home is that in one of the pictures, Zachary is covering his ears. The engine was loud and rumbling and all the noise and sensory input was just a little too much for him. Zach has sensory issues – he was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). One of Caleb’s occupational therapists picked up on the fact Zach was struggling with some issues. He was a little wild and crazy and seemed to need to play rough, which she explained was his way of getting the sensory input he needed.

When he was three years old we took him to be evaluated, and although he had some autistic like characteristics, they never placed him on the spectrum . . .  but they did say he had a combination of SPD and ADHD. He began speech therapy and occupational therapy and started school year-round at a specialized pre-school.

He was seven when these photos were taken and he has made tremendous progress. When he was younger he would have never been able to handle being in a crowded situation, contained on a ferry. But he has coping mechanisms – like covering his ears, closing his eyes, swaddling up in blankets, laying on the floor on his stomach, etc. He’s worked very hard and come a long way and I’m so proud of him! This picture of Zach might not have ever caught your eye as something significant, but to this mommy it was just another everyday moment that makes up my life and reminds me to count my blessings!

Scrapbooking Tips:
Once again, I used a Scrapbook Generation sketch to create this layout and I was excited to try a new shape on my layouts and pulled out my hexagon dies from The Stamps of Life. Using my dies and Sizzix Big Shot die cutting machine I was able to turn scraps of paper into a beautiful layout.

I popped up some of the hexagons to add dimension along with adding some shell brads from Doodlebug Design. I also tried to overlap some hexagons on the pictures and then added journaling strips on top of the hexagons to create visual interest. I think overlapping various elements on a scrap book page really helps to create an eye-catching design.

I typically don’t lay out my titles on a straight line, but I used my journaling template, traced a line in pencil which I carefully erased once the stickers were in place.

Title Treatment

Dimensional Hexagons

The journaling strips overlap some hexagons and lay under others.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Beach Bums

Oh, this layout brings back some vivid memories. When I showed the finished pages to Jim, Alexis, and Alyssia they all said the exact same thing, “I can still hear that BONG!”

We were in Cozumel, Mexico at Discovery Cove and we had the amazing experience of swimming with dolphins. I still have not scrapped those pictures because it was so phenomenal an experience I want to make sure I have the *perfect* layout, papers, embellishments, etc. All of us interacted with the dolphin and everyone but Zach swam with them. It was definitely a memorable day!

After the dolphin swim, we got to relax on the beach and in the pools there until the buses came to take us back to our ship. We passed the main entrance to the beach and saw this amazing dolphin sculpture. It really was beautiful – showing a group of dolphins jumping up out of the water and it created a perfect photo op.

A lot of people had the same idea we did and we had to wait a couple minutes for our turn to take photos – and we were patient because we knew we wanted a few different poses. Now, if you know my little Zach Attack, you know that he really lives in his own little world. While we were waiting, he was watching kids play around in the pool and fountains. As we moved up to the sculpture we noticed Zach was still fixed in place not paying attention. When he finally did start moving to us, he was in a daze, keeping his eyes on the pool, and he walked directly into the sculpture!

Fortunately, the dolphins were hollow, but Zach hit his head hard enough that a metallic “BONG” echoed through the air, even drawing the attention of people nearby. Zach refuses to cry in front of people but because of the pain of hitting his head and the embarrassment of doing it in front of an audience, the poor kid teared up, and he needed some Mommy hugs to make it all better.
It was sad and funny all at the same time, and every time any of us look at the photos we remember that sickening sound!

Scrapbooking Tips:  

I absolutely LOVED these sea creature stickers in Doodlebug's Under the Sea paper collection. So I used adhesive foam to make them dimensional and decorated with epoxy dots. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Best Buddies

This is one of my favorite pictures from 2014! That was such a painful year of firsts for me, moving on without Dave. I felt like I was just existing, going from one day to the next. Most days I was numb, and other days I missed Dave so much it would feel like I could barely breathe. Without a doubt, the boys kept me going. I would look at them and remember that they were Dave’s living, breathing legacy and I would determine again that I couldn’t let Dave down in this area. His boys were the love of his life and it was up to me now to raise them to be like their father, and remind them about their Daddy. Not a small task!

We were given a week at a Christian camp, Camp of the Woods, in Speculator, NY. I didn’t feel like going, but was so glad we went because the boys had an absolutely FANTASTIC time! Our cabin faced the lake and we enjoyed this beautiful view.

I love this photo so much because all I said to the boys is, “I want to take your picture here,” and Zach, completely unprompted, threw his arms around Caleb. Although the boys were always close, after Dave’s death they were inseparable. It was if as long as they were together, everything was ok, and in spite of the pain and grief, they were smiling happy boys. With these two in my life how could I not smile and move forward?

Scrapbooking Tips:

Because I loved this picture so much I gave it a full layout, and I went all out! It was later published in Scrapbook Generation’s Create magazine.

One area that took a lot of time and attention was the banner border on the bottom of the photo. It always takes some time to cut out and ink the banners, but one advantage of this type of embellishment is I got all the paper from my scrap pile. I always struggle with placing the banners on the page in a way that looks good. Two things that I have learned to do are cut the banners in varying widths and lengths and then layer them. This will give the border a more dimensional look.

Another element I’ve really enjoyed experimenting with is adding stitching to my pages. A lot of the 
sketches I use call for stitching and as much as I like the look of it, I don’t always take the time to add it.

One technique I’ve learned over the years, which I tend to use a lot, is to turn my stickers into 3-D embellishments by adhering them to the layout with adhesive foam squares instead of placing the sticker directly on the layout. It’s also a great way to create layers with stickers and add some extra pop to the page. 


Monday, September 25, 2017

Ohana Means Family

Our family has changed drastically since my last entry! God has abundantly blessed my boys and me and we doubled in size! Last October I married a wonderful man, Jim Bleau, who has two amazing daughters, Alexis and Alyssia. I marvel at God's goodness and provision for me, and have to wonder if during the dark depressing times where I have been broken and cried myself to sleep, God was trying to whisper, "Just wait until you see your next chapter. I'm not done writing your story."

While we have "blended" our family and move forward as one, I find my passion for scrapbooking reigniting. Although we carry the scars of everything both of our families have been through, I can honestly say that we smile a lot more! I find us laughing and looking forward to the future again, but at the same time remembering and honoring Daddy. I look through the pictures that have been too painful to scrapbook, and even though they may still bring a tear, I'm ready to remember all the good and fun times. 

To get back into my blogging habit, I picked out a layout I did this past summer. Before Jim and I married we wanted to create some memories as a new family, and we took the kids on a Disney Cruise. What an adventure that was!! (More layouts to follow!) We had adjoining cabins with Jim and the girls on one side and the boys and I on the other. It didn't take long before all the kids were coming and going back and forth like one big happy family. People we met would not have guessed we were a blended family!

Shortly after embarking the ship, the kids spotted Stitch from the movie Lilo & Stitch. That had been a current favorite of Zach's and he kept repeating a line from the movie, "Ohana means family!" When I got home and started putting layouts together that line literally jumped out at me - we were family. These were the boys' new sisters, my step-daughters! I looked down at the photo of  four happy, smiling faces and thought, "Yeah, we are family . . . " 

Scrapbooking Tip:

I love layouts where I can use any of the scrap paper in my stash and this was one of those layouts! I used a sketch from Scrapbook Generation and loved how the background was composed of thin strips. I was able to use scraps from other layouts I had already done for this album so it coordinated beautifully. 

I wanted the title to stand out because of the significance and special meaning to me, so I used one of my Sizzix dies from The Stamps of Life to create a background for it. Without the bright pop of yellow the letter stickers blended into the background. I also added a fun stitched border to complete the look and was pretty happy with the results - but even happier with the smiles in the picture!


Lacy Heart Card

Valentine's Day is a week away and I'm getting in the mood! I created this fun lacy  card using the Sizzix Scallop Heart Fold-...