Create Cards and Send Some Love

I recently purchased a card-making kit and found it to be easy and fun.

Card Making Kit Fun

Last December, I participated in a card-making workshop on Zoom hosted by my friend, Marsha, on the East Coast. I met and worked with other women from all around the country in the Zoom room. It was like a quilting bee for 2020. All women were working on cards or scrapbooking while together in conversation. An enjoyable time during the pandemic. The card making workshop started at 10AM EST, before sunrise for me on the west coast. You’ll notice the darkness in my photos.

I ordered a card kit from Creative Memories. It came ready to go to make twelve cards for $20. I also purchased adhesive. I really enjoyed it, and plan to make another set of cards soon. Here are some photo details. This might be fun for you, too.

The card kit supplies came in a pretty box.

Within minutes, I was ready to go!

Kit supplies, adhesive roll and foam squares (sold separately), scissors (my own), and instructions were all set up. Plus, I prepared some snacks for while I work. My laptop was ready for the Zoom video call.

All the pieces are numbered by card and letter for easy identification.

Below you see the parts for Card #9.

I separated the parts into piles by number.



I placed all the parts of each card into one of the blank cards like a little folder. I put them back in the box in order. I tucked in the directions.

I pulled out one card at a time and just followed the instructions to assemble.


I finished the cards in less than two hours and had a good time.

Below are six of the finished cards. I did customize a couple with bonus pieces that came in the box.

I addressed, stamped, and sent each card on its way to friends and family.


Stay creative in 2021, my friends!

P.S. If you’d like a closer look at another Creative Memories Card Kit, watch this video:

To see all the card kits Creative Memories offers, click here: Card Kits.

Bamboo Toilet Paper Test

Have you tried Cloud Toilet Paper yet? With the one-year anniversary of the toilet paper panic, I thought I would honor that in today’s post and share what I found out about Cloud Paper.

I recently heard about Cloud toilet paper and decided to try it out. I like to save a tree when I can, so this bamboo toilet paper caught my interest. I never really considered the deforestation related to toilet paper. I ordered a box.

From the web page: Cloud Paper

The box was 24-rolls for $28. Free shipping is included with a subscription. I chose to commit to just one box to try it out.

The box arrived in good condition.

I liked the pretty tissue paper that came inside.

I unpacked the box, with paper crackling. I prefer a crackling fire, but this was a nice touch.

Even the packaging is considerate of the environment. That is important.

The mission of Cloud Paper is to protect our environment.

Each individual roll is wrapped in a recyclable wrap.

All ready to roll!

Time to put it to the test. It is soft enough to the touch and held up as needed. The roll lasted long enough. I would never guess it was made from bamboo. I found it to tear well enough, too. Some other brands tear easier, but I was OK with this.

This label is certainly helpful! And subtle. Ha, ha.

And how could I resist! The box comes monogrammed with my initials!

I like it. I will switch to this brand.

Stay environmentally responsible, my friends.

P.S. If you’d like to try this yourself, I highly recommend it. I was quite pleased with the product, price, and the values.

Here is another review. This reviewer did not think the paper was soft enough. I liked the level of softness. So now you have another perspective. He compares it with Charmin and Kirkland (Costco).

A review of Cloud Paper by Kobra

10 Things for the Spring of Vaccines

I appreciated the reminder text.

Many of us will be vaccinated in the coming months. Many of us already are, as we pursue herd immunity from COVID19. I recently completed my second dose of the Moderna vaccine at my neighborhood Rite Aid. The following information may be helpful or comforting to you.

Thankfully, shots don’t bother me.

I am 65, which is a high-risk age group. These ideas can be adjusted for different situations and schedules. Each person will have an individual response to the vaccine. I do not speak for anyone but myself. This is not medical nor moral advice. Much of this information is common sense.

Apologies to the wonderful musical, Hamilton.

Here are ten suggestions I found helpful. Please leave any additional positive suggestions you may have in the comments.

Helpful Ideas

  1. Schedule your appointment, if you have a choice, for a Friday or Saturday so you have the weekend to take it easy. Your body is doing good work as it responds to the vaccine and will benefit from some rest.
  2. Clear your schedule for 24- to 48-hours following the vaccine, especially the second dose, to anticipate recovery from any side effects. Relax. Plan ahead for meals, groceries, and necessary chores. Dress comfortably. Put your feet up. Your energy may come and go, so listen to your body. You may not need the time to recover, but you’ll feel ready, which is less stressful, and that’s good.
  3. Stay hydrated, which is always a good idea. Plenty of water is helpful.
  4. If you and your main helpful person (spouse, partner, roommate, relative, friend) get vaccinated, avoid getting vaccinated on the same day. If you encounter side effects, the other can help out. But if you both are down with side effects, that could be more difficult.
  5. Schedule your vaccination, if you have a choice, for later in the afternoon. It is easier to slow down at that time of the day for many. People could then enjoy a nice dinner, unwind, and go to bed. Sleep is helpful in recovering from side effects and also boosting your immune system.
  6. An ice bag may be helpful. I iced my upper arm for 20- to 30-minutes with my first dose and then again for my second dose. It helped address the mild but annoying pain. I liked that.
  7. Enjoy a bowl ice cream or your other favorite dessert. Kids got treats for being good patients when I was young. I think that there is some comfort in that. A sweet treat certainly got my mind off the general feeling of malaise that I felt. It was a nice reward.
  8. Avoid arguments. We all know this vaccination is not without controversy. Everyone should do their research, talk with their physician and pharmacist, decide who and what to trust, accept that we cannot know everything about this at this time, and make their best choice.
  9. Get extra rest and stay hydrated. Those are worth repeating.
  10. Sign up for the V-safe app, if you feel comfortable doing so. I am happy to help the CDC monitor the safety of COVID-19 vaccines through my feedback. For more information, go to V-safe After Vaccination Health Checker.

Stay healthy and community-minded, my friends.

P.S. Here is helpful information for When You’ve Been Fully Vaccinated.

“All Because You Matter”

I recently read a new award winning children’s picture book, All Because You Matter, written by former teacher Tami Charles and illustrated by award-winning illustrator Bryan Collier. It is important to share books that tell stories that may be different from our own. It is essential that all children see themselves in storybooks. I was interested in this story for those reasons, and found it to be a tender, timely, and important book.

All Because You Matter is a thoughtful love story written to a young child, affirming the beauty and richness that lives within the child. The story is strong and encouraging to the precious children among us who may not be part of the majority. For readers who grew up in different circumstances, this may bring some discomfort. If we can sift through that discomfort, and take in more of the reality of the world as experienced by others, then we will grow more loving and empathetic through this picture story.

And wouldn’t that make us better neighbors and the world a better place? All our children need this from us.

Stay compassionate, my friends.

Pausing to Process

I took for granted so much about America.

The election process.

The peaceful transition of power.

The behavior of professional, adult politicians.

Last Wednesday changed everything.

Now I feel the fragility of our democracy is real.

I see the weakness of our nation divided against one another, families and friends.

Trapped in a pandemic that is ripping holes in families.

Bad behavior does not need a group label. Personal choice. Personal responsibility.

We must stop generalizing the actions of a few as the position of an entire party.

Violence is not resolved by blame.

Words matter.

When we talk about rights, we are not all on the same page. Or even in the same book.

I do not have the emotional capacity to process this quickly and easily.

I will write about fun and thoughtful things another day.

Not this week.

My mind is consumed with current events.

Thank you for your understanding.

This was not a bad dream.
Many on both sides of the aisle acted with courage.

Stay prayerful, my friends.

Are You a Paper Planner Person?

January 2021 is coming! If you are a paper planner person, I have two things to say to you:

  • You are probably already in possession of your 2021 planner.
  • You are my kinda people.

But first, it is so weird to be a planner person and to look deep into the eyes of 2021 and see very few things to plan. Just like that last nine months. Yet I still have goals and a schedule, so here we go! Big dreams on pause. Small steps and what’s next in clear view. We are often what we do. The pandemic has forced us to face who we are. Oh, and quick question. What day is it? “Blursday.” Here is a great seven-minute story from CBS Sunday Morning, December 27, 2020: Going to Plan B: When COVID pulls the rug out from under you.

I love planning. I love paper planners. I work at living an intentional life and these tools help me. I can be a procrastinator and a last-minute kind of person, too, and planning provides more of a guardrail for that.

Maybe I should open a planner store or work for a planner company. I have a good time looking for the right paper planner. Too good a time. I enjoy seeing what friends are using for their planners. It’s a hobby as much as it is a practical resource. I own multiple planners and calendars. I’m not sure if I’m asking for help or bragging. I’m not sure if I need an intervention or to start a club.

For a brief time, I used only a digital calendar, my phone’s iCal, and then also Google Calendar. That didn’t work for me. Putting pen to paper makes a difference. The full visual of a month or a week on paper gives me a better sense of time and space for planning projects, next steps, and prep work. Paper planners also permit doodling and decorating with colorful stickers or stamps and art, which is important to me. That’s a creative outlet I find useful, relaxing, and rewarding. As a result, I am now a hybrid planner person, using a combo of digital and paper. That has worked for me for years.

Planners and Systems

My hybrid planning includes:

  1. Phone iCal digital calendar: For appointments, scheduled things, and repeating routines. I love the convenience and mobility.
  2. Paper planner: For plotting out the months, weeks, and days to plan projects, next steps in pursuit of goals, and preparation for various coming events and activities.
  3. Teacher planner: Used exclusively to plan my writing business in blocks for all the aspects of my duties and projects as a writer.
  4. Bullet Journal: For collecting notes on projects, making lists, mapping out a plan, notes from a phone call, and all kinds of notes and doodling. This tool broke me of the scattered sticky notes life. Weekly, I summarize any growth opportunities, celebrations, and blessings from the previous week to help keep perspective.

I like Franklin Planners for a variety of reasons and keep coming back to them. I was required to use one as part of my graduate studies in educational leadership, and that is something that has helped me to this day. When priorities are important, planning is the tool for success.

Wanderlust Planner – 2-page per day

I also like some of the features of the Happy Planners, along with some of the planning stickers.

Planner and stickers from Happy Planner
The big clean boxes on the 2-page monthly spread are perfect in the Happy Planner.
I like the three horizontal blocks for each day in the Happy Planner.

I started using a teacher planner in August for my writing business. It adapted so well to tasks that I treated as I would have subjects and periods in the school day. After so many years as a teacher, it felt quite natural.

Teacher Watercolor Planner Month
Teacher Watercolor Planner – Week: I like how I can plan various parts of my writing duties: Book project, blog post, author platform, marketing, craft, etc.

I also use a Bullet Journal, as I mentioned above. I’ve modified it so that it works well for me. For more information on Bullet Journaling, I recommend the book, The Bullet Journal Method: Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future. Or check out the website: Bullet Journal.

My current bullet journal

Wall Calendars

I also love wall calendars both for the art and for the practicality. Time is a gift, and wall calendars remind me of that, and make me pause when I find myself wishing time away. Here are some of my favorite wall calendars.

Erin Vaughn 2020 Trees Calendar
Susan Branch Desk Blotter – June 2021
Susan Branch working on her illustrations.
  • For practical planning:
    • Wanderlust Wall Calendar: We post a 12-month wall calendar in the kitchen to communicate housemate dishwasher duty rotation, monthly house dinners, reserving the kitchen or living room for guests, and the dinner duty schedule for my husband and me. (Photo below.)
    • Paper Source Mini-Accordion Calendar: It is helpful for planning in business and personally to have a quick view of the next 90-days. (Photo below.)
    • Paper Source Great Big Calendar: This large planning calendar was on my desk at the office, but now that I work remotely, I repurposed it. I use it strictly for work deadlines and meetings and it hangs on two large clips on the wall behind my studio desk. It’s part of my virtual meeting background. (Photo below.)
This is our 2021 Milton House Calendar because we all want to travel again.
My 90-day view using the mini-accordion calendar.
The Great Big Calendar

When I look for a paper planner, I look for a pretty design, a monthly spread with large blank boxes, a place for notes, a place for scheduled appointments and tasks, and a place for the to-do list. For my Bullet Journal, I use a Leuchtturm1917 journal with dotted pages. What do you look for?

What works for you in planning? Do you have a favorite planner brand?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life.

– Mary Oliver

Here are some other questions:

  • Do you put work and personal things on the same calendar? I keep them separated, but I might blend them this year.
  • Do you tend to be the planner in your family?

Perhaps there are four kinds of people in the world. Paper planner people, digital calendar people, hybrid planner people, and then everyone else. This time of year, switching calendars and setting up new planners, is fun for those of us who are planner people. I hope you are pleased with your new planner and that you have a year that is organized, relaxing, and filled with moments that become great memories.

May your new planner full of blank spaces bring a sense of hope. I share your optimism.

Stay planful, my friends!

Have a Resilient Christmas!

Christmas is around the corner with New Year’s Eve and 2021 just beyond that. How are you feeling today? Are you, like me, working to wrap your head around a pandemic Christmas? Are you looking at your 2021 calendar hoping for better days? I cannot believe we are still dealing with these restrictions, over nine months later.* Is pandemic fatigue or frustration fogging your season?

Heading into my 10th month….

I made a list of my favorite things about Christmas, the fun and meaningful ones. I assessed the list and realized most of my Christmas favorites can still be part of Christmas 2020. That was so encouraging and provided a good perspective. A few things were adapted in new ways. And just a couple were actually put on hold this year.

Perhaps you too have noticed how much is similar to past years. For instance, here’s a few:

  • Decorations inside and outside our home
  • Enjoying some of the same favorite holiday foods
  • Stockings are hung
  • Baking cookies
  • Pretty presents wrapped and ready for delivery
  • Holiday music playing
  • Steaming hot cocoa fills our mugs on cold evenings
  • Taking a drive after dark to see Christmas lights
  • Favorite Christmas movies and claymation stories entertain
  • Cards and letters are trickling in
  • Plenty of Hallmark movies with quaint snowy towns and holiday romance. Who ever tires of a happy ending?
Decorating at home has gotten simpler over time. The tiny tree is still a happy tree.
Favorite foods – I love Stouffer’s lasagna, especially at the holidays.
A lovely neighborhood home with gate decorated
More outdoor decorations in our area
The stockings are hung by the chimney with care.
Gifts wrapped and waiting to go.

And yet hovering over everything is the ominous CoVid19 cloud and all the challenges with that. It has taken the shine off this time of year for many, even if only slightly. It also brings a more intense sense of missing and longing for people and traditions, not part of this year. I have to acknowledge that for many of us this time is also littered with disappointment, stress, uncertainty, painful loss, and limited social life for those following guidelines. Those are weighty things for sure.

Sometimes this virus feels like a Grinch ready to steal Christmas. So much is so different. Yet we can choose to not let the pandemic ruin Christmas. I hope we can all find a centered place of contentment, reflecting on the good we have encountered this year. What can you find to enjoy? Who can we encourage? Maybe we can express thanks to any essential workers with whom our paths cross. Perhaps we can focus on what we have, what we hope for, instead of what is missing and has been lost. Then the Grinch virus will not ruin Christmas. It is about more than the fixings and the fuss.

From the TV special, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (1966)

I know some are so lonely and blue this Christmas because of cancelled plans and limited contact. My heart goes out to them. It is so hard to overcome in these circumstances. I pray those dear ones can find hope and joy in their holiday, too.

Here in Los Angeles County, we are on a stricter “Stay at Home” order through Christmas. For most years of my adult life, I’d be thrilled to be asked to stay at home for Christmas. But somehow this is not exactly what I meant.

We are having a very different December. Christmas celebrations for us won’t include the physical presence of family or friends beyond our CoVid home bubble. We choose to do what we can to slow the spread and to follow the county and state requests. That isn’t easy, but we feel like we want to contribute in that way.

I hope you and your loved ones are doing OK as you finish planning and preparations. I also hope you are kind to yourself this year, accepting what you cannot control, and enjoying what you can. Maybe if we just have a day without controversy, conspiracy, or conflict. That would be a good gift. And I hope you, like me, are able to enjoy a slower schedule.

In closing, I also want to wish happy holidays to all my friends who celebrate different traditions with family and friends. Perhaps you recently finished the meaningful time of Hanukkah. For those honoring Kwanzaa, you will begin soon and are probably already looking forward to the feast. As the different celebrations always remind us, we can get through this together.

Stay resilient, my friends! And merry Christmas to all celebrating the birth of Christ this week.

I toast to you and yours this Christmas with hot chocolate in hand. Cheers!

P.S. *Speaking of nine months of pandemic life, here come the babies! Perhaps you’ve noticed that we are heading into a little baby boom, and it’s underway now. New sweet little ones are making their way into the world, and we are cheered by that for sure!

Simmering Scentsibility

Years ago, I found a recipe for simmering scents that bring a sense of the holidays to our home. I made a batch recently. I love that the ingredients are all-natural and incorporate my favorite holiday smells. There are no exact measures on this for the ingredients. If that makes you uneasy, the photos will help. Once you get more adventurous, play around with various amounts of this or that and see what scent gets the emphasis.

Add the following ingredients to a small saucepan or pot:

  • Lemon slices
  • Orange slices
  • Rosemary sprigs (I cut some from our backyard plant)
  • Vanilla (a few drops)
  • Water

I also add:

  • Cranberries (I toss in a handful mostly for color)
  • Cinnamon stick
  • Whole cloves
Ingredients gathered and ready to go in the little pot to simmer.
Everything is in the pot, ready for the water.
After adding enough water to fill the pot at least halfway, place the pot on the stove.
Set the heat at medium to bring it to a boil. I also set the timer for 3-minutes so I don’t forget it and get busy elsewhere in the house
Bring it to a boil. The cranberries will pop when their skins burst. I don’t think I caught that sound on the video. No cranberries were harmed in the filming.
I bring it to a rolling boil and then turn the heat to low. Just watching this video calms me. I can almost smell all the delight.
Once it’s on low, keep an eye on it. You don’t want it to boil dry. You can add more water along the way. Always clean your stove before photographing a close-up.

I often turn the burner off, and the smell continues to waft as the brew cools down. Then I don’t worry about it burning dry. I use the same mix for a few days, just adding water and reheating it.

Turn on some holiday music and fill you home with the sounds and smells that can bring simple joy, even in these uncertain days.

Stay charming, friends!

Pandemic Tug Experiment

What? No hugs? For months on end that has been a caution and a challenge for me and many others. I have devised a solution. Pandemic tugs.

It is recommended that we do not hug friends and family at this time. Nor strangers for that matter, but who wants to hug a stranger? That’s creepy. In the combat of the subversive spreading strategy of the current coronavirus, we stay distant. I pondered the fact that many remain without hugs and the deficit in our sense of connection that can create. There must be a short term better way.

There is beauty and purpose in a sweet, safe hug with a loved one or someone you simply want to encourage. I miss that. Maybe you do, too. What can we do instead to stay safe, respect others, and still sense a physical connection? This sent me on a quest. I came up with this idea.

Tugs! Isn’t that what you were thinking, too? No? Well, then, let me explain.

As I thought further, the idea came to me that maybe tugging on a rope would help. Crazy, right? Think about it. In a hug, you touch another person tenderly. You sense they are really out there and you are connected. The second best idea could be a tug when you cannot hug.

Tugs and hugs do have some similarities:

  • Two or more people are usually needed.
  • Some resistance is applied, so physically you know someone is out there for you.
  • There is a sense of connection.
  • Often people feel better afterwards.

So I began to explore with my theory and then found a few friends to experiment, I mean play, with the theory. Let’s see what happened. Here were my next steps.

  1. Find something to tug. A rope came to mind. Knots would be helpful.
  2. Get a rope with knots, or add your own to a plain rope.
  3. Make sure the rope is long enough for social distancing.
  4. Make sure the rope is washable for germ precautions. That, and dirt precautions.

Amazon, naturally, had a dog toy rope long enough for my purposes, and it was also washable. It is knotted and has a tassel, which adds a sense of play and silly. Now, we’re talking!

I ordered two for tugging with friends without passing them around. I don’t feel that is a high risk, but it is courteous.

The ropes arrived. I was very pleased. The experiment was underway, supplies in hand.
Each rope was long enough to provide a measured physical distance. Perfect!
I was prepared and ready to try my fresh idea.

Two friends came over for a physically distant outdoor visit. They were game to test my tug hypothesis which was: Tugging on a rope with a loved one would be fun and provide a sweet physical sense of connection.

Here goes! We all tried it and tugged together. My hypothesis proved true.

The resistance needed to tug on a rope provides a fun sense that someone is out there engaged with you. It worked!
We couldn’t help but smile, but you cannot tell because, well, masks.
This did not feel like a hug, obviously. Yet it did create a sense of connection and play, and that lightened our hearts.

The experiment was a success! The tugs are a cute replacement for hugs while we are in this pandemic. I was so happy we each felt the physical presence of friends in this off-beat way, and that brought joy.

And then we tugged good-bye, with smiles on all faces.

Some of you will find this awesome, too, and may even need to invest in your tug of love rope. Or get a four way tug of love rope to extend to a group tug.

4-Way Tug Tool

Desperate times call for creative solutions! Tug someone soon!

Stay connected, my friends, and may tugs of joy be yours this holiday season.

Cozy in Crisis

The fall season is a favorite of mine. This year, it’s a balance of joy and struggle. The pandemic, a guest that has worn out its welcome, makes it more complicated. The anticipation of this week’s federal election fogs my joy, too. I feel the stress of wondering about the results, the response of leaders, the response of Americans, and the responsibility of the media to be patient with reporting results. You might be feeling all that, too. But, hey, what’s a little more uncertainty? After all, it is 2020. When all I want to do is curl up with a cozy blanket in a fall chill, I feel the weight of our current circumstances that leave me cold in a different way.

I do love autumn, but I have to get creative this year and not give up on the joy. What are you doing this fall to enjoy the season? Here are some of my favorite activities lately.

  • While at my desk, sometimes I sit virtually by the river to enjoy the calming sound and beautiful fall color while working, using the YouTube video below.
  • We enjoy a simple cup of hot tea in the evenings, a November ritual that gets interrupted by hot cocoa once December comes.
  • To cut back on all my computer screen time these days with working remotely, I went old school and ordered actual paper magazines. Remember print magazines? Do you still read physical magazines?
It is fun and relaxing to flip through pages for color, design, articles, and ideas.
  • I enjoy watching Hallmark movies with an autumn setting. The sets of those movies are always beautiful.
Hallmark is one place I get my fall color fix, since I live near Los Angeles.
  • My college football team did not play for the first half of the season. Fortunately, the Big 10 did start their schedule on October 24. I hope it works out safely for all the teams.
Purdue’s first game took place on October 24, and they won!

Some days are like a scavenger hunt for contentment, to find a centering joy not dependent on what life looked like before. Fall is a favorite time and I want to keep that feeling. Lets’ not give up. I want to look back and feel like we made the most of it, in spite of the limits and heartache of separation from loved ones.

Although cloudy moods can set in, and that is natural, many days have sweet encouragement in simple things, including these for example.

Slow Cooker Chili
My Annual Great Pumpkin Personal Party
Fall Baking
Dodgers won the World Championship and that brought lots of local joy.

This fall will not be the same. We must shift expectations. I love how some friends have taken road trips to find fall color and beauty. Following their inspiration, we can choose to be OK and get through it, making the most of it. Then we can look back on it to see it worked out after all. Maybe not without disappointment, but hopefully still with joy.

What are your November or autumn rituals or plans? Can you still do those even in a pandemic? Where will you have to get creative? What will Thanksgiving look for you this year?

Stay cozy this fall, my friends.