Secret Valentine Exchange Recap


It’s time to highlight the utter loveliness that was the Secret Valentine Exchange!

In total, we had 39 participants including me and my indispensable co-organizer Ute – amazing! There were ladies from the U.S., Germany, Canada, Australia, Singapore, India, France, Spain, Ireland and Italy. So international, right? I’m overwhelmed that these are all — in some capacity — readers of this little blog. One of my favorite aspects of this project was that I got to know the various folks that stop by here a little better. Blabbering to the great interwebs can sometimes leave me feeling slightly ridiculous, like I’m that demented lady talking to herself again. But through this exchange, I got a better glimpse of the wonderful women behind the comments and visits. I loved reading all the questionnaires and getting acquainted with all the blogs and checking out the Pinterest boards and browsing through the flickr accounts.


Of course, the best part was the making and receiving and celebrating an untraditional Valentine’s! Before I launch into what I made and what I received, I thought I should briefly go over how the partners were selected. It was an ad hoc method involving K, a lot of little pieces of paper, and a good dose of bribery (K got tired of selecting the names after the fourth one. Chocolate is a powerful motivator). I created little pre-sorted piles roughly by location so that shipping wouldn’t take too long. I’m not sure that we were completely successful, but we tried.


I was assigned Asmita, who authors the lovely Elephant in the Study blog. What a thrill to ship all the way to India! Great procrastinator that I am, I worried that I wouldn’t finish in time but luck was on my side and I was at the post office two weeks before Valentine’s Day. Unheard of. Then I ran into a snafu when the post office guy told me that customs can cause all kinds of problems, and I needed to get a phone number. So I had to email Asmita pretending that I wasn’t her secret valentine. Sneaky, sneaky. Fortunately, Asmita responded right away so I skedaddled back to the post office and happily shipped off the gifts. What I made: a little fabric pouch/organizer with hearts-emblazoned fabric (I tossed in some sewing goodies there), a house-shaped hot pad (or potholder? it’s made with wool batting), and two small colorful cotton zipper pouches  (one stuffed with bookmarks). Asmita’s favorite colors are red, orange and yellow, so I tried to incorporate the colors and also kept in mind that she’s a bibliophile and loves to bake. I was filled with relief when I received an email from Asmita confirming receipt just before the big day. And what an email – I got a little teary-eyed by the sweet note.


And the teariness continued when I opened the door to find a package for me. Sonya of Fashion Fragile drew my name, and as much as I loved the gifts (a beautiful cowl/neck warmer in my fave color, a brooch made out of what looks like kimono fabric, handmade cards), it was the handwritten note that got me all choked up. The considered care that goes into handmade gift-giving has powerfully uplifting qualities. Another participant, Gita, included a quote as part of one of her photos that perfectly encapsulates what I’m trying to say.

“The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.” ― Thích Nhất Hạnh

Thank you, again, Sonya, for the thoughtful gifts. I will treasure them!



The talent factor of everyone involved is enormous, and I was in fact a little cowed by the projects that started popping up in the Flickr pool. Which you can see just below. I embedded a Flickr slideshow for easy perusal, and friends, you know this is embarking into extreme high tech territory for me, so I hope this works. Let me know if it doesn’t.

The variety and creativity are so very inspiring! I also saw some trends: buntings, lots of pouches, and hearts, naturally. Below, I’m including the list of awesome participants; some have blogs and where available, I included fun links to their blog posts about Secret Valentine Exchange (look for the “SVE blog post” links). Please give me a holler if I missed any posts, blogs or any other info!

Ute and I are already plotting for next year – what do you think? Would you be in?

Thank you to everyone who joined in the exchange! We hope it made Valentine’s Day and winter a little extra special.

Here are the participants:

Alison // pinterest // flickr

Amy F. // pinterest

Amy L. // pinterest // instagram

Ann // blog // pinterest // instagram // SVE blog post

~anu // blog // pinterest // flickr // ravelry

Asmita // blog // pinterest // flickr

Claudette // pinterest // flickr

Crys // blog // pinterest // flickr // instagram

Dagny // blog // pinterest // flickr // instagram

Fiona // blog // pinterest // flickr // instagram // SVE blog post

Ginnie // pinterest

Isabelle // blog // pinterest // flickr

Jillian // blog // pinterest // flickr // instagram

Jordan // pinterest

Julie Ma. // blog // pinterest // flickr

Juile Mo. // blog // pinterest // instagram

Karen H.

Karen J.

Kathryn // pinterest // flickr

Katie // blog // pinterest // flickr // instagram // SVE blog post

Kristi A. // flickr

Kristi M. // blog // pinterest // flickr // SVE blog post 1 // SVE blog post 2

Lightning McStitch // blog // flickr // SVE blog post

Lucinda // pinterest // flickr

Meghan // blog // pinterest // flickr // instagram

Michelle D. // flickr

Michelle L. // pinterest // flickr

Nicole // blog // pinterest // flickr // SVE blog post 1 // SVE blog post 2

Robin // blog // pinterest // SVE blog post

Roslyn // blog // pinterest // flickr // instagram // SVE blog post

Sarah D. // blog // pinterest // instagram

Sarah K. // blog // pinterest // flickr // instagram

Sheila/Gita // blog // pinterest // flickr // SVE blog post

Sonya // blog // pinterest

Stephanie // blog // pinterest // flickr // instagram // SVE blog post

Suzy // blog // pinterest // flickr // instagram

Tamika // blog // flickr

Ute // pinterest // flickr

+ Me!

Many, many thanks again to Ute for her general rock star-ness, and that’s a wrap!






Happy Friday + Randomness


Happy Valentine’s Day!! My goodness, with the way I kept going on and on, you’d think it’s the only holiday that matters to me. Case in point: I can’t seem to stop making bookmarks, though my excuse is that I’m practicing my digital painting. So these are the ones we ended up assembling for K’s class (K helped punch holes, though she quickly lost interest; she did, however, write out all her classmates’ names for each bookmark bundle).

vday-bookmarks-dino1 vday-bookmarks-dino2

K said that the animals looked too girly and was afraid all the hearts would make the boys in her class think that she’s in love with them so I whipped up the dinosaurs. I’m pretty smitten with these dinos. I found these little glassine bags in our kitchen drawer and they’re perfect. Each classmate got four bookmarks and a handwritten note from K, and done and done! We’re all set. If you are a last-minuter or if you might want to use these for future v-day cards, feel free to download below! (I didn’t include a download for the “i heart books” tags though -sorry).





So today is the day!! Ute and I hope that the Secret Valentine Exchange gifts have arrived safely and soundly around the globe. If you’ve received your gift, it would be lovely if you have time to upload photos of them in the Flickr pool in the next few days, if you haven’t already. Or, if you don’t have an account, feel free to email photos to the secret valentine email and we’ll post the photos for you! I’m planning on doing a big wrap-up post next Wednesday and would love to include as many photos as I can on the blog. If you haven’t received your gift yet, please kindly let us know by emailing us at secret.valentine[at] So far it seems like the majority of you have had a successful exchange!

I literally just received my gift from the very sweet Sonya, and I am incredibly touched by the care and consideration that went into the gifts. Thank you!! I need to take some photos, but it will all be part of the wrap-up next week.


In the meantime, in addition to my SV parcel, I opened the door to another unexpected package this past week. My partner in crime, Ute, delivered the most gorgeous scarf wrapped in an equally gorgeous handmade pouch. Friends, this exchange would not have happened without Ute. She did ALL the heavy-lifting while I squawked away on this space. All those emails signed “Sanae and Ute”? Almost all of them from the kind and generous Ute, making it all work smoothly and effortlessly. Three cheers for my wonderful friend!


I loved that we got to celebrate creativity and the joy of handmade among like-minded women for Valentine’s Day. I had the most delightful time, and I hope you did too! I am forever talking about how amazing this community is, but it keeps getting reinforced. Thank you.


Overheard K telling M:

Come on dude, listen, or there will be coincidences*!!

*aka”consequences” in K parlance.


Divisive it is
this day of saccharine love
But I am a sap

Have a fabulous weekend, everyone! My Monday post will probably be a little late – K is on mid-winter break next week, but I have something in the works to show you!

Happy Friday + Randomness


Happy Friday! This week I’ve been diving in full force and working on my book, and I’ve just made a happy discovery. I love painting with gouache, but with the kinds of illustrations I want to create I need a lot of control and the flexibility to change things on the fly. The beauty of traditional painting is the lovely unintentional effects that can happen. The not so beautiful part is the permanence of a painted line when mistakes are made — no undo button! Enter digital watercolor painting. Can you tell which one was done digitally above? Okay, you can probably tell (it’s the one on the right), but pretty darn close, no? It’s my first attempt at digital watercolor painting, so things can only improve going forward.

As I was sketching, I realized that watercolor brushes are available in Photoshop and after watching hours and hours of youtube videos (what did we do before youtube?), I’m starting to get the hang of it. It’s so much fun!!! And the best part: no mess, no accidental water spillage, no washing of brushes, and — this one happens way too often — no dipping brushes in my tea. Definitely my kind of painting. There are tons of free brushes available for download, and I’ll try to assemble a list of brushes and tutorials after I’ve tried several out, more as a reference for myself.


How about this one? Can you tell which one is digital? I’ll let you guess…


Secret Valentine Exchangers! Gifts should be shipped by today, if at all possible. I’m getting so excited to see all the teaser photos in the Flickr Pool. The always astute (and hilarious) Lightning McStitch requested a list of all participants, and I’m working on it. Not everyone has a blog, but I hope all participants will be able to post photos of received gifts on Valentine’s Day and I will feature the photos here on the blog (for some international shipping, the gifts may a take a bit longer to arrive). Fun!


K on my cooking:

Mama, I love everything you cook! Except for this thing today. Blegh. What IS it*??

* It was a miso-ginger noodle soup I made up. And that first sentence is a lie — she dislikes almost everything I cook unless it involves copious amounts of cheese!



Have a relaxing weekend, all! I’m off to make myself a piping hot cup of tea and practice more digital painting…

Brrrr….such arctic temps
Seattle is not immune
to polar vortex

Happy Friday + Randomness


Happy Friday! I’ve been a busy bee. Once I declare something publicly, due to my powerfully guilty conscience I have a hard time not following through. This means I’ve been steadily working on my tolerations. Eliminating them, that is. I started out with 108 items (!) after going through each room in the house and other miscellaneous fodder. Currently, I’m down to 93, and rather than doing a blow-by-blow review of everything I accomplished which would surely send you and me both running for the hills, I thought it might be best to round up the ones that I found most satisfying at the end of each month. Accountability and all that. I confess that I couldn’t stomach the idea of including gross “before” photos here where I try to keep things pretty to the best of my abilities, so I resorted to sketches…

So here’s what I tackled in the month of January, and these had the highest yield of satisfaction:

1. The little kitchen trash can that couldn’t. For five years, we’ve had this dinky four-gallon trash can that would fit exactly two un-recyclable Trader Joe’s packages. It was a pain to constantly have to empty it, and the hinge on the lid was also a little loose, making it lopsided. A perfectly serviceable trash can that probably belonged in the bathroom, but out of laziness, I never changed it. Finally, I used a gift certificate M got me for my birthday last year, and got this uber cool, multi-functioning dustpan trash can two weeks ago. I love it. It’s utilitarian yet stylish and fits just the right amount of detritus. And you know it’s got street cred when Remodelista features it. The swinging portion of the lid is ingeniously a dustpan and the brush has magnets on the handle to attach to the powder-coated steel surface. I got the smaller size and it was on sale for far less than the posted price on the website.


2. Busted toilet tank lid. M managed to crack our toilet tank lid (it’s complicated and better not to explain), and I kept avoiding ordering a replacement. I have no excuse other than assuming that it would take a long time to research, purchase, etc. etc. because everything in our bathroom is so old. It’s been plaguing me though, so I did a quick search online, and placed a call. I had trepidations ordering from a place called “Cheap Toilet Tank Lids” but no false advertisement there – compared to other places I searched, the prices were more than 50% cheaper. The guy was super nice, and after examining the photos of the busted tank lid I texted him, he identified the part in a minute flat and shipped it right away. We now have a beautiful, uncracked toilet tank lid again. I never thought that I would be so happy to see a toilet tank lid or that I would find it beautiful. Or that I would write the word toilet so many times in a post.


3. The credenza horror show. Remember the strikingly spartan photo of my credenza I showed you? What you didn’t see was the cornucopia of junk housed within. I went through all the drawers and cabinets and thoroughly organized everything. Ahhhhh…..felt great!


4. Death by expired pills. On the tippy top shelf in one of our kitchen cabinets, we stash all our meds and pills like aspirin and my thyroid prescription (which I took once) and various natural tinctures because doesn’t that make way more sense than having them in the bathroom? That’s all well and good, but I discovered a bottle of calcium pills dated 2008, and knew that it was time to clear the expired bottles out. It took five minutes and probably saved our lives.

As mentioned before, I’ve been using the todoist app to track my tolerations list, which has been fantastic for me. I wanted to tackle one room at a time, but I ended up searching out the ones that are either easy to do or annoying me most, and so far, it’s a good system. January always feels like the month of renewal and gives me the energy to attack these types of tasks. How about you? February, on the other hand, is when I start losing steam…


A few tidbits before I forget:

Secret Valentine Exchange! I’m actively working on mine and hope to have it done in…oh…soonish (I’m putting finishing touches today!). I wanted to do a bit of cheering on if you’re participating and feeling nervous, because friends, I know how nerve-wracking it can feel to ship something you’ve made to someone you’re less than familiar with, uncertain of how it will be received. I’ve found that these types of exchanges pushes me to be more creative and to improve my skills — that alone is wonderful, and guaranteed, your creations will be so happily received given the awesomeness I’m already seeing on the Flickr pool! I love that many of you are keeping the photos mysterious and intriguing! I need to add some pics of my own. Also, having looked at all your blogs/flickr accounts/Pinterest boards, Ute and I are delighted by the loveliness and enthusiasm of the participants!

Imagine Gnats giveaway! Today’s the last day to enter the giveaway for winner’s choice of patterns from Rachael’s shop.


K has been concerned about the downy fuzz on her upper lip, which is so not noticeable (it starts too early, the nit-picking). And then out of the blue she said to me the other day:

Mama, I’ve decided to think of my mustache as special, and I’m going to comb it every day.

I laughed and laughed and she came up with other similar gems. I love my beautiful little girl.


It’s so much better
To hold what you have dearly
than to fret and fume

Alright, as M’s dad likes to say: it’s time for me to blow this popsicle stand. Have a fantastic weekend, all!




Secret Valentine Exchange Updates + Valentines Download


Ute and I are thrilled with the response we’ve gotten from the Secret Valentine Exchange! We have 39 participants (quite the international group, I might add), and the creative energy is palpable! Ute and I told each other that if we got close to 10 people, we’d be totally happy, so the turnout is above and beyond expectations. Huzzah!

So, just a few updates and housekeeping info in response to inquiries and things we realized we didn’t mention:

1. If you received a partner information email, please respond back to confirm receipt. We want to make sure that the emails didn’t get lost in the fray. Thank you to those who have already responded!

2. For you Instagram users, feel free to use the hashtag #secretvalentineexchange — Ute and I haven’t been bitten by the IG bug yet, mostly because we’re both terrified of becoming addicted to yet another social media outlet. I might change my mind though…we shall see.

3. We’ve had inquiries about how many items/size limits. Officially, we’re encouraging one item per Secret Valentine that will fit into roughly a 9×12 inch (or C4/22.9×32.4cm) envelope. This is in the hopes of keeping things fair and cost-effective. Unofficially, it’s completely up to you. If you want to include multiple items, go to town!

Please contact us at[at] with any other questions. And remember, even if you’re not participating, you’re more than welcome to play along and upload Valentine’s inspired projects to our Flickr pool here.

Also, I wanted to mention that the Valentine’s tag download I created is available for everyone – who knows, maybe you have your own secret valentine project going on? I included a couple of non-secret valentine tags and I have plans of creating more tags in the very very near future. You can see the tag sheet in its entirety below, and it can be downloaded here.