Ella’s Pocket Journal

A couple weeks back, I was approached by a coworker to make a book for her daughter’s First Holy Communion.

Creating this book for Ella was a first. I’m so used to creating wedding guestbooks that I’d forgotten about the other milestones. I wasn’t sure what all entailed a “communion book,” but my coworker was flexible. She wanted a book that Ella could take to Ireland (where her grandparents live) to show them who attended the First Holy Communion party. She also wanted the book to serve as a journal of sorts.

It’s been a while since I was nine (20 years, in fact), and so I had to access the younger side of my brain. I asked my coworker: what are Ella’s favorite colors? And what do kids that age like? She replied, saying, “Ella likes primary colors like red, blue and yellow.”

I scoured PaperSource that afternoon, and this paper caught my eye. I liked how the silver stars reflected yellow when turned different ways. And the blue was apparent, though darker than I may have liked. Still, I purchased the paper and was quite happy with the way it turned out.

4-25-14: Pocket journal for a First Holy Communion party.

4-25-14: Pocket journal for a First Holy Communion party.

I actually stitched together this entire text block while on the phone with my mom. (Yes, that’s how long we talk!). I used regular 8.5 x 11 cardstock, folded it in half and stitched it together using book string. I glued the spine before placing it into the book press overnight. Two days later, I completed the rest of the book — cutting the book board, gluing the paper and spine (a maroon book cloth). I also attached a headband at the top and bottom of the book, to hide the gaps. Again, I placed in the book press over night.

4-25-14: Pocket journal for a First Holy Communion party.

4-25-14: Pocket journal for a First Holy Communion party.

This is one of my more favorite books. I like the playful nature of the stars and the less formal look. It was also fun stitching together a textbook. That practice is pretty soothing. I’m happy that word is spreading around the office about my handmade books. That means more projects in the future!


Freelance stories

I’ve recently begun freelance writing for the Pitt Chronicle, a weekly newspaper produced by the University of Pittsburgh. I wrote regularly for the Chronicle while I was the science writer at Pitt.

The Chronicle has introduced a new series, which I love, called “Hidden Treasures.” They are unearthing secret environs across campus to their weekly readership. I’ve had the pleasure of writing two such short features:

I’ve also written longer features including a Q&A about the Higgs Boson.

Another feature about Pitt’s High School in College Program is pending, but I’ll share the link once it’s published.

I’m happy to continue collaborating with Pitt in this way. Plus, it taps into my hard-science nerdy side, which is important. Win-win.

DIY Valentines

I make handmade cards for two occasions: Christmas and Valentine’s Day. The Christmas cards usually require a lot of time and materials. But the valentines are a little different. These love cards go out to only a few select people. I love this annual craft project because it allows me to really hone in and get creative.

This year, my mind kept coming back to the heart-and-arrows image seen so often on Valentine’s Day. But I wanted to put my own spin on it. These cards emerged the way most of my ideas do – through trial and error. I cut a few hearts until I got one that was right. Then I mixed and matched the colors, eventually creating multiple arrows (for multiple messages).

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Even though I think Valentine’s Day is a bit Hallmark, I still think it’s a good holiday to tell someone why they are loved. I decided to use the arrows to display adjectives describing my closest family and friends. I actually added the arrows at the last minute. I realized that, without the arrows, the tabs could get buried inside the hearts! It was a bit tricky, creating enough room behind the heart for the tabs to slide in and out. In the end, everything seemed to work out.

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I do realize that one of these cards is not like the other. I’d been working with regular construction paper until I remember I had some old, funky wrapping paper from Christmas. Too bad I realized on the last card. :/ Still, I like the color combinations that emerged.

This is what the card looks like when all the arrows have been pulled. I made sure to write on the envelopes, “Be sure to pull the arrows!” Without being there in person, you never know if a person will understand the dynamics of an interactive card. Hopefully they got the message:

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The project reminded me of the Valentine Day cards of yore. I went through old albums on my computer finding cards from each year from 2009 to present. I’ve made quite a variety over the years, but the hearts always seem to remain. I hope the recipients were pleased with their personalized valentine!

A new endeavor

Today I’m excited to announce the launch of a new project I’m involved with: Pretty Owl Poetry. We’re an online literary journal publishing poetry and flash fiction. I’m now serving as the journal’s fiction editor!


This was the kind of project that happened to me. A dear friend of mine, the talented Kelly Andrews, told me that she was maybe thinking about starting a journal and that she wanted me to be involved. I immediately replied to her email: yes, yes, yes! After a series of long conversations about the journal, we spent most of the winter break working on the website, our vision and goals. And today, we launched.

I’m hopeful for this project. I know Kelly and Gordon Buchan are terrific writers, and I look forward to collaborating with them in this way. I feel my vision aligns strongly with theirs, and I look forward to putting together the first issue. Here’s to a new project with two great writers!

Another Book for Princeton

It’s been a busy couple of weeks. The holidays came and went. There was much traveling, celebration and cheer. And, in the midst of it all, I made another book for Princeton. It’s nice collaborating with Princeton, especially now that I’m living in the town and working at the university. This memory book was identical to the one I created in May of this year, except for a different recipient. I used leftover materials from the first book including raw silk, book board and orange and yellow headbands.ImageI had about five days to complete this book, and that seemed to be sufficient. A night of sewing the pages together, followed by a night of cutting board and gluing the silk. Then, another day and night to dry and fix any needed corrections. Ample time for pressing. I worked again with Meredith from Up Down Press and Bindery, a colleague of mine from graduate school. While I worked on the book, Meredith constructed a beautiful clamshell box, complete with compartments to hold CDs. I am consistently amazed and impressed with Meredith’s work, and I enjoy collaborating with her when I can. Plus, together we get projects done more efficiently. ImageThere’s something beautiful about a book that’s so simple. I feel it causes the reader to really pay attention to the contents inside. Rather than being too focused on the exterior, it forces one to look within. It’s quite appropriate, too, if you are unaware of a client’s tastes or preferences. You just can’t go wrong with black.


These photos don’t quite give the book justice, unfortunately. My camera is in not-so-great shape, so it’s been hard to document my work. Nevertheless, I was happy with the way this turned out. I hope the recipient enjoyed an extra-special, handmade Christmas gift this year.

UMBC Magazine: “In Good Company”

In early Fall, I had the pleasure of writing a freelance article for UMBC Magazine. This research institution, tucked on the outskirts of Baltimore, was home to me for two years back from 2008 to 2010. As a young writer, I learned from some of the best of the best there. Within that campus, I found myself constantly surrounded by an insanely creative group of folks.

I’ve rekindled my connection to UMBC through this article, “In Good Company.” Isaac Kinde, a 2005 alumnus of the school, was a joy to interview. He was impressive, sociable and personable. And did I mention he’s doing some pretty serious cancer research? The science writer in me loved sharing his story.

Read about this standout individual here. And thanks to the editors at UMBC Magazine for letting me tackle this one.






Wedding Guest Book: Catherine and Luke

This upcoming weekend, I was invited to two weddings on the same day. I consider both couples good friends and, of course, wish I could cut myself in two so I could attend both. But they don’t have that technology just yet, and so seniority rules. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be at Luke and Catherine’s wedding in spirit by way of a wedding guest book.


Aren’t these two the absolute cutest? You know those couples in movies who complete each other’s sentences – but not in an annoying way? The couples who both dig on the same kind of food, the same movies, the same everything? The couple who – no matter what – almost always seem cool with each other? Well that’s Luke and Catherine. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a content and happy union as these two. It’s like they were custom built for each other. And I have a feeling that taking this next step will only intensify their already-solid bond.

Catherine and Luke are having a fun DIY type of wedding in Pittsburgh. When I asked her for color suggestions, she said they were using deep purple with shades of yellow, silver, and burlap thrown in. As soon as I saw the word “burlap” I couldn’t wait to get started. I’ve used burlap on books before, and they give them such a homey, rustic feel. I decided I’d attempt placing burlap along the spine of the book. I wasn’t sure how this would turn out, but my execution went well. To really bind the book together, I used off-white book cloth and then covered it with the burlap. I’m in love with how it came together:

10-4-13: Wedding guestbook for Luke and Catherine.

10-4-13: Wedding guestbook for Luke and Catherine.

Because the burlap is thicker than paper, it caused a seam along the book. I texted Catherine some photos, asking if I should cover the seam with yellow ribbon or leave it alone. She liked the way the yellow “popped,” (and I agreed). Because ribbon is hard to glue, I ended up placing a strip of dark purple paper atop it – to cover up any wrinkles. It all came together quite nicely.


When I was in the paper store buying supplies, the cashier looked at me strangely when I said the colors were purple, silver, yellow with burlap. “I don’t see how the yellow fits,” she said. But now I can see it pretty clearly. The yellow really livens up the other darker, muted colors. Similar to what love can do. When you meet the right one, you are simply enlivened.

I can tell that’s what Luke and Catherine feel about one another. And I know their wedding extravaganza is going to be out-of-this-world cute. Just like their relationship – and their new life together. Cheers to the happy couple!