Category Archives: Crafts

Happy Friday + Advent Randomness

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Happy Friday! Even though I’m sharing it today, I did, in fact, finish this Advent Calendar in the nick of time on November 30th, much to my relief. Compared to the last couple of years, it’s a more understated calendar, but I put a lot of thought into it. This year, I had some very specific rules for myself:

1. Construct the advent calendar out of what I already have on hand (the exception was the little gifts that are part of the calendar)

2. No candy or sweets

3. Include lots of books, because books are K’s favorite thing in the world

4. Must have an element of giving and not be just about receiving

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I had all these left over metal tins from a misguided idea to sell magnets many, many years ago and they’ve been sitting in our basement forever. I thought I was being all eco and brilliantly repurposing (and the tins can still be reused!), but M pointed out that it looks like the attack of Altoids.

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I printed numbers onto some copper paper from my infinite stash of pretty papers and used my circle punch and some twine and voila! Aided by the magic that is mounted foam tabs like these, we have a quick and dirty DIY Advent Calendar (okay, some of the tins have been falling off the wall and required reinforcement, but the initial effect was quite lovely). What makes this extra fun is that each tin contains a little note. On odd-numbered days, I included clues that lead K to a hidden little gift — a scavenger hunt! On even-numbered days, K is assigned a “giving” task (e.g. gather clothes to donate to her school’s Uganda program or make a video to send to Grandma and Grandpa), and she gets to choose a book from the “Advent basket”. The books are a combination of thrifted, bargain sales and a few new releases that I know she’ll flip over.

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Although I spent some serious time thinking up the whole project, the execution took about an hour (mostly because I haven’t wrapped all the little presents yet since I wait until the night before to hide them). The verdict: “Mama, I can tell you worked so hard on this. You’re so so awesome!!” She practically squeezed the life out of me and I nearly cried the ugly cry — she said it in such a heartfelt, appreciative way.

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The winner of the Sew Sweet Giveaway is Haylee, congrats! I always enjoy reading all the giveaway comments and now I’m hankering to learn multiple languages, take up woodworking, try my hand at spinning yarn!

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Countdown has begun
but the anticipation
is the best part, no?

Wishing you all a lovely weekend! K has her first ever piano recital tomorrow – very, very excited!

 

 

DIY Shelf + Tolerations Update

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A couple of summers ago, I found myself with a lot of time and an ever-shrinking budget. I was on a huge home improvement kick, and one of my goals was to corral the explosion of books everywhere in the house. I’ve always been a bookworm, and as much as I love the library, I love buying books even more. These days I’ve been really good about not purchasing any, but I still have way too many and I used to have enough to completely fill a room (oh, I dream of having a room I can call a “library”, I do). I actually shipped three boxes of books to Japan when I moved there to teach English back in the day. Then I shipped five boxes of totally different books back when I returned to the US. I have issues.

There’s this little dead space in our basement at the bottom of the stairs where I had a couple of small bookshelves M and I bought at Goodwill when we first moved in together. The bookshelves are shell pink and don’t hold much. They fit perfectly in the space so I was okay with the set-up.

While my DIY spirit was high though, I decided that the solution would be to build a custom floor-to-ceiling bookshelf in that dead space. I measured the length of the space, went to home depot and pestered two separate guys to cut six plywood boards to size. Then I got cheap brackets and some wood stain. I was inspired by this post by Manhattan Nest and got to work.

The staining went well, and K and a couple of her friends pitched in some. As a result, the staining is a bit uneven, but I knew it wouldn’t show. Then my ineptitude really revealed itself when I tried to drill the screws into the brackets railing thing and walls. I had to enlist my handy neighbor’s help when the shelves started to collapse. He gently chided me that I completely ignored the studs, and redid everything for me.

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I love it! It fits almost all of M’s and my books (K has her own bookshelves), and I call it my mini-library. My photography skills aren’t good enough yet to get a decent photo given the position of the shelves and less than ideal lighting situation, but you get the idea. My rule of thumb for photos that are suck-o: desaturate.

Fast forward a year and a half, and the shelves started to take on a forgotten, dusty air. The books became disorganized, hastily piled near and around the bookshelves but not necessarily on them. Broken toys, spare change, fabric scraps started to fill the shelf edges and all in all, it was a mess.

Which is where the tolerations update comes in. My momentum stalled a bit in February, but I tackled one of the biggest projects: the basement. I started with the bookshelf and then cleared out the massive build-up of cardboard boxes, craft supplies, and general junk that had completely filled the basement. It’s not done yet and I still need to dive into making things look pretty and the bookshelf could use better organization, but you can actually walk through the room without limboing under towers of detritus.

It feels good. I’m becoming a tracking fiend, and I love seeing my list shrink. I started out with 108 items and was down to 93 by the end of January. Now my list is down to 75 items. Almost all the items were subitems of cleaning the basement, and there were a lot of subitems like “recycle cardboard boxes”, “reduce magazine collection to fit existing magazine boxes”, and “consolidate craft supplies by likeness (stamp supplies, ribbons/twine, fancy papers, etc.). At this rate, I might complete my list by the end of the year!

P.S. Sewing for myself didn’t happen this week and probably won’t happen next week as I’m in the throes of getting my book interior sketches done, but I have other fun sewing projects in the works!

Valentine’s Word Search

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For some reason, K’s school hasn’t allowed Valentine’s exchanges in past years. This has been hugely disappointing for me because I LOVE making Valentine’s. As with any holiday involving cards and sweets, I get completely jazzed while K looks on with a jaded expression, resigning herself to yet another craft project gone bonkers.

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This year, still inexplicably, her school is allowing its first ever Valentine’s exchange. I am beyond excited. I created this word search card, thinking it would be perfect for second graders. K nixed it, unfortunately, saying that it’s too easy. Perhaps you’d like it for your less opinionated kiddos? There are four per page with fourteen words to be hunted down. Initially I wanted to include vintage-looking pencils (something similar to those tiny pencils you get at IKEA, but cuter) but I couldn’t find any locally. These small markers were $2 per 10-pack, making them easy on the wallet. That’s gold washi tape, but I should use something with a little more pizzaz/pattern.

Here’s what they look like on the sheet, and there’s a convenient download button below.

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So I’m back to square one. K loves the bookmarks, but wants them to be less lovey-dovey. We’ll probably just end up stamping a bunch. I don’t have time for it this year, but next time I may just revisit the scratch-off idea. That was fun! We also did some potato stamping a long time ago, and that was fantastic too:

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How about you? Are you getting V-day cards ready?

 

 

Juggling Balls

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So much for not posting daily. I was trying to cut myself some slack, but when I spent time thinking about this past year, I realized that one of my favorite parts of it was blogging. M told me the other day that for the last 18 months or so, I’ve been happier than he’s ever seen me. We’ve been together nearly fifteen years, so that’s saying a lot. There’s something about this medium of visual and textual storytelling and community interchange that fits my temperament.

This morning, I was thinking about a dinner party I thoroughly enjoyed on Sunday evening. During the meal, we casually took turns voicing our 2014 resolutions and one of my friends said that he wanted to simply enjoy each day. Such an understated yet good resolution. If I were the type to make resolutions (I usually try to avoid them), I would piggyback on my friend’s goal to savor each day and would add trying things outside of my comfort zone. Instead of overarching resolutions, I have a frightfully long to-do list of the mundane sort, and I am on the opposite spectrum of being zen at the moment.

But I crossed off quite a few things from my list. I drew that satisfying line through a project on which I was dragging my feet: juggling balls from Oliver + S’ Little Things to Sew book. As fun as these are to make, my grinchy attitude about sewing the same thing over and over threatened to hijack the fun.

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I made four sets and okay, I also promised to make a set for K that I haven’t delivered upon, but I high-fived myself for the ones that got done. In the interest of time, I didn’t make the matching bag from the book and just banged out a much quicker drawstring version without a lining. The balls aren’t perfect – they’re not completely round and some of the pointy ends don’t match up neatly as that is what happens when you sew until 2am the night before you’re meant to give these out. I briefly noted to myself that I would be a terrible quilter and then moved on. If there’s one thing I’ve gotten good at this year, it’s accepting and fully embracing imperfection.

I started to add a mini beanbag with plastic pellets to weight them (a la Froo and Boo, whose juggling balls are a thing of beauty), but then I had visions of my uneven stitching bursting open and making a right mess everywhere, so I stuck with polyfill only.

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They were a massive hit, though no juggling happened. We had fabric balls flying everywhere with kids squealing and laughing, while adults became unwitting target practice. I’m not sure that the parents appreciated them, but those kids sure loved ‘em. The fabrics are all bits and bobs of scraps I dug out, and my favorites are the Nani Iro, pastel-toned ones. I’m sure I could blather on about the metaphor of juggling and life, but I’ll spare you.

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Another thing I want to cross off the list before the end of the day is underwear for K. Yes, underwear! When I was a little girl, my mom always got me new underpinnings for New Year’s Eve. It was this weird tradition in our family that you start off the year with brand new undies, and though I haven’t kept up the tradition too faithfully, it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do with K. Because everyone needs odd traditions in their lives. So I got this pattern, and I’m off to stitch up one more set of juggling balls and some cute undies!

Happy Friday + Randomness

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Happy Friday! We had a superb Christmas filled with friends and family. K raked in some squeal-inducing gifts (the expression when she saw the gigantic Yamaha keyboard box with her name spelled out with red camo duct tape was pure gold: “Mommy! There’s a present for me that’s bigger than our couch!!”).

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One of the things I really enjoyed on Christmas Eve was making miniature gingerbread houses that perch on the edge of mugs. I used Not Martha’s template and recipe recommendations, and though they were time-consuming all around, I was totally into it. I need to re-examine my priorities, as it was actually a little disconcerting how zealous I was about this. Also, I’ve said I don’t like to make the same thing over and over, but I realized that only applies to sewing. I could have made dozens of these (I ended up with 6 that didn’t fall apart). K jumped in to help too, wielding the icing bag recklessly. The icing got smudged in parts and I obviously need some training in the decorating department (K was far more expert than I was), but they are almost painfully adorable, no? We went to a fabulous Christmas gathering at our neighbors’ and the kids enjoyed the handmade peppermint cocoa with the mini gingerbread houses. Talk about a sugar rush.

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And as I suspected, with all this celebrating and baking and gift-wrapping and giving, I had zero time or focus for sewing for myself. My poor dress is still lounging about in a semi-done state. I usually barrel through projects until completion, but despite the subtly shimmery fabric, this dress was starting to emit a stodgy uniform vibe, and my motivation flagged. It’s Vogue 8511 (I’m sewing the sleeveless version), and I’m shooting to get it done in the next couple of days.

So, I have quite a few things brewing behind the scenes over the next few weeks, and there’s a mighty good chance that postings will be on the haphazard side for a while. I love to post every weekday, so we’ll see. I will definitely be back on a regular schedule by about mid-to-late January, but in the meantime, I’ll most likely be popping around with what I hope to be fun posts every few days.

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A friend showed me this linguistic quiz that determines your home city, and it’s uncanny how accurate it is. It’s US-based, but a world-wide version would be so fun!

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M and I are going away for the weekend! We’re driving up to a little town about an hour outside of Seattle, and we’ll be staying in a charming little B&B. It’s our first ever overnight trip away from K, and it just shows what big softies we are that we’ve waited until she was seven-and-a-half for something like this. My intrepid mom will shoulder the responsibility of our coddled child, and I’m sure she’ll be peppered with the question, “When are they coming baaaaaaaaaaack??” every two minutes. And what’s even more embarrassing? We’re only going away for one night…

One more week this year
twenty-thirteen has zipped by
Twelve months of awesome*

*And you, my dear readers, made it extra awesome! Thank you, thank you, thank you. Have a wonderful weekend, all!

Joyeux Noel

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One of the holiday projects we worked on included these clay ornament tags. I’ve been using them as decorative touches to gifts as well as gifts themselves. K, my mom and I spent an evening cutting them out using cookie cutters and then painted them a couple of days later when the clay pieces had thoroughly dried.

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We used this brand of air dry clay, and initially it looks dull, like dirty snow. But as it dries, the clay turns bright white, just the way I like them. One of the things I hadn’t expected was that the clay would curl a bit as it dried, so many of them don’t lay totally flat. Ah well, it adds that homemade charm, I say.

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I used whatever paint I had on hand. The Dala horse was done with copper gouache, and the others are a mixture of acrylic, watercolor, gouache and calligraphy ink. K added beads (which actually fell out after it dried, so we had to glue them on later). A fun and easy project perfect for kids!

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I love these clay ornament tags so much, I may make other non-holiday themed shapes for future gifting use.

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I’m signing off for Christmas for some merry-making, and will be away from here for a couple of days. I  hope you and all your loved ones have a peaceful and joyous day, my lovely friends. Happy Holidays!

Felting + Girly Hair Accessories

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Still slaving away, trying to crank out handmade gifts, though I came to my senses yesterday and decided to purchase a few gifts rather than trying to make everything. My mantra is easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy-and-don’t-keel-over-from-stress, and I’m choosing the path of least resistance. I need to add in at least one more cliche there…

I don’t want to reveal all my gifts in case any of the recipients are passing through here (unlikely, but you never know), but I’m pretty excited about this new-to-me felting goodness.

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I got a bunch of these wool felt packs from Daiso, which is a Japanese dollar store here in Seattle. Each pack comes with three tufts of wool felt in different colors and only costs $1.50! I got the needles separately here (a great toy store with high quality art supplies for kids and kids-at-hearts), but I later discovered that Daiso actually carries the needles as well. Oh well.

I am thoroughly enamored with felt garlands, and wanted to make a mini-version. Above you can see my attempts at minuscule pom poms. They’re really easy to make – I didn’t even bother with the needles (they’re just there for show – I like how they look) and just dipped them in hot water and rolled, rolled, rolled with my hands into hardened felt balls. I doused them in hot water after every few rolls, and I think they look great. Look, a snowman!

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I’m also thinking of doing some fancier shapes with the felt and making them into hair accessories. This one below I made last year and it’s held up amazingly well. Hair clips are so charming, no?

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I will show you my handiwork once I’ve finished them!

So, given my frenetic elvish workshop-mode, I may or may not be posting an outfit tomorrow. Look for an update some time in the  afternoon-ish tomorrow…

DIY Faux Leather Luggage Tags

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As a going away present, I made some luggage tags for a friend some weeks ago. They struck me as good holiday gifts that you can whip up in no time, so I’m putting it out there. My friend was very sweet and complimentary about them, and I think they’re quite pretty myself. And did I mention easy to make?

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The ones I made are about 3.5in x 5.5 inches. I tried out a couple of different methods, and there’s a wealth of customization opportunities with these. I liked using ribbon from my stash for the tag ties, but leather cording, and even cutting strips from the same faux leather would be fetching.

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I need to work on my cutting skills, obviously, but I got pretty excited about my luggage tags. I used my beautiful silver pleather of which I have an ample amount, and my mom just brought me a boat-load of leather scraps, so I have all sorts of leather projects whirling about in my mind (so much for my fabric fast; I have doubled my knit stash and leather stash with the arrival of my mama).

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The steps are so simple, they don’t even warrant an illustration.

1. Measure out the size you want.

2. Cut out two pieces of pleather or leather.

3. Make any cutouts necessary for the ties and flap. Pleather and leather don’t fray, so no need to worry about finishing raw edges.

4. Sew, if desired. It’s a good idea to use leather needles like these, but I used my regular universal needle and just went very, very slowly because this material stretches as you sew. If you have a walking foot, definitely consider using it. Using an adhesive like tacky glue to bind the two pieces before sewing is also helpful, but keep in mind that your needle may get gunked up.

5. Insert a handmade info card and slip on a ribbon or ties, and voila! Luggage tags in less than 30 minutes (if you don’t use any glue).

Love ‘em.

2013 Advent Calendar

2013-advent-calendar1 Unlike last year, I’ve been quiet about my industrious advent calendar-making this year. Thanks to a world-class babysitter (what would we do without moms?), I had the luxury of working on this year’s calendar at a leisurely pace, and though I’m not sure it packs quite the visual punch of last year’s, I’m so so pleased with these itty bitty houses. There’s a lot of love poured into them. 2013-advent-calendar5

Yes, I made 24 balsa wood houses from scratch. Did you know you could cut balsa wood with scissors? Such a great discovery – it made things go really fast. These houses are three inches high, and each one is filled with either a sweet treat or an activity tag. The activities include things like “donate toys”, “color hair with chalk” (I got one of those hair chalks for when winter break starts), “breakfast in bed,” “go ice skating,” “family movie night with popcorn and the works,” etc. The treats are chocolate mint stars and peppermint fudge from Trader Joe’s and coin chocolates, which are always a big hit. I thought a daily treat was too much, so I inserted a sweet every other day (still too much? probably). 2013-advent-calendar62013-advent-calendar82013-advent-calendar7

Clearly, I have a sickness. As I glued together house after house, and then painstakingly created shapes out of washi tape (no two houses have the same embellishments) etc. etc., I had to wonder what my purpose in life is. 2013-advent-calendar22013-advent-calendar3 2013-advent-calendar9

And just like last year, I assembled a little “toy basket” from which K will be able to select a wrapped gift on a few of the days. 2013-advent-calendar4

I spent a crazy amount of time planning this calendar. And you know, it makes me so happy – all of it: the planning, the hunting down of the supplies, the executing. There were some trial and error (I started off making clay houses — that didn’t go so well), and my Washi tape collection was a little limited in color as I would have loved pops of pink and light orange, but overall, this was a very successful project since I had almost everything on hand. Oh, it’s hard to see, but I also added some white details with this cool paint pen.

When K wakes up every morning to peel off the roof from the house of the day, nothing compares to that look of giddy anticipation and sheer delight. Nothing. So worth it.

How about a little tutorial? I think these would make great ornaments too and the decoration possibilities are limitless. Here’s an illustrated step-by-step guide (you can, of course, make any size, but I got these handy dandy 2″x36″ thin balsa wood planks, which generated about 6 houses each. They’re only about $1.50 per plank at hardware stores, and I used 6 planks):

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DIY Magnets + Giveaway!

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I had half-heartedly tossed out the idea of doing some simple DIY projects and here I am, actually following through! I also have a giveaway and a story at the bottom of the post if you’re interested. Anyway, many moons ago, I got this idea to make magnets and in my enthusiasm, I ordered a bunch of supplies. I probably don’t need to elaborate that my magnet-making scheme didn’t pan out so well, and now I have quite the surplus taking up room in my basement.

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So, just in time for the holidays, I thought I’d create a little tutorial for making your own magnets. Actually, “tutorial” seems to be a rather overblown description of what I’m offering, since I’m sure anyone can figure out how to do this. However, here’s a list of materials and a visual step-by-step:

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1. Materials/Supplies:

E6000 glue, magnets (I used 3/4 inch or 19mm size, similar available here)
- Glass or plastic cabochons (I got my plastic ones from here)
- Decorative paper or fabric.
- The metal case is just a cute packaging idea for the magnets (you can find similar here and here - I can’t remember where I got mine from).
- Disposable gloves (not pictured)

2. Either trace the magnet onto decorative paper or fabric and cut out, or use a circular punch. I happened to have a 5/8-inch size punch but a 3/4-inch one would have worked great too as it would have been the same size as my magnet. I would suggest using thicker paper and fabric as the glue may bleed through and sometimes blur the design if the paper/fabric is too thin. I wrote the letters onto card stock, and I didn’t mind how the ink smudged a bit. I’ve also used photos minimized and printed on photo paper for these and they look fantastic.

3. Place a very small amount of the glue onto the magnet and adhere the paper/fabric. Make sure you are working in a well-ventilated area. This glue can make you feel light-headed, and it’s also a good idea to wear disposable gloves.

4. Place another small drop of the glue on top of the paper/fabric. You’ll need to work quickly here.

5. Press down firmly onto the cabochon to get the air bubbles out. You might also need to wipe some excess glue off of the sides. Try to spread out the glue evenly while pressing down. Let dry 24 hours.

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And that’s it!

Because I have quite a few extra, and in the spirit of Thanksgiving and general giving, I thought it would be fun to do a giveaway. I have five “kits” that include 8 magnets, 8 cabochons and a metal tin. The giveaway is open to one and all (that includes you international folks). This means FIVE winners.

Before I ask you my usual giveaway question, I want to tell you a story first. When I was 19, I got into a massive car accident. It was the day after Thanksgiving, and I was driving down the 405 freeway in Los Angeles, on my way to meet my best friend. It was raining — not too hard, but it was a steady, rhythmic patter. No one knows how to drive in the rain in LA, and that clearly included me that frightening day so many years ago. What I remember is that a white car suddenly nosed its way into my lane, inches from colliding into me. I panicked and swerved, but because of the rain, the road was excessively slick. My car spun out of control. I was FACING oncoming traffic, blinded by all the headlights. Continuing to panic, I recklessly turned my car again, and this time I fishtailed off to the side of the freeway and crashed. I felt my head and body ricochet, and I could see that I had flattened the front of my car against the off ramp wall. I dizzily turned my head and saw two other cars silhouetted in the rain, right next to mine. I started crying and heaving, trying to remember how I had hit two cars. I was afraid to move, though at that point, I wasn’t sure that I could. I watched with dread as one of the car’s door opened and a man stepped out. Then another man from the other car sprinted out.

I was thoroughly confused as one man bent down to place small objects on the ground. The other man rushed over to my side of the car and knocked. I was still immobile so he tried the door and it was open. Out of the corner of my eyes, I could finally see that the small objects were flares, and this man looming above me was holding out a blocky, rectangular, calculator-looking thing. Back in those days, not many people had cell phones (I’m old, people) so I didn’t know what it was at first. I found that I could move my limbs, but had no clue how to use the phone so the man dialed my best friend for me and explained the situation to her. When he handed the early-model cell phone to me, all I could do was keen like an animal into the receiver and my friend dashed out in her pajamas to come get me.

I hadn’t hit the cars. They had stopped out of kindness, protecting me and shoring up much needed help. I totaled my car, and logically, I shouldn’t have survived the accident. The men told me that they saw how I turned a full 360 degrees on the freeway and couldn’t believe I was alive and that I managed to avoid hitting any cars. I didn’t touch a steering wheel again for nearly a year and I still hate to drive. And every Thanksgiving, I remember those men, and their acts of selfless giving, and I am beyond grateful. Because without the bright blanket of flares, without the connection that the rare cell phone provided, I probably wouldn’t have lasted that night. Where would I have gone? What would I have done? It was, by every definition of the word, a miracle.

So my question is this: is there a memorable act of kindness in your life? It can be the smallest of small: perhaps an understanding pat from your child when you were feeling particularly sad or an unexpected compliment from a stranger. Or the grandest of grand: a windfall of epic proportions, an unforgettable soiree thrown in your honor. Anything.

The giveaway will be open until next Friday, December 6th. Good luck!

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