Monday, January 12, 2015

So Many Gifts...How about 29 More?

There are a few times in my life where the outcome of something has been completely unanticipated. Going to Japan as a missionary and meeting my future husband there.  Becoming an artist which lead to being a barn saler which led to being a blogger. Going to a thrift shop in Maryland for a filing cabinet and coming home with my forever dining room table in a style I never would have intentionally considered. (read that adventure here)

That's kinda how I felt about my experience reading 29 Gifts by Cami Walker. I checked it out from my local library because the title sounded festive and Christmas was coming.

Not exactly the Hallmark Channel misguided lovers figuring things out story I was expecting.

29 Gifts is a memoir of the Cami Walker's experience learning about how to give back to the world despite her daily struggle with Multiple Sclerosis. Note: For those of you with weak constitutions for suffering, hang in there with me. We are not talking about an Oprah book here.  I am a total pansy when it comes to reading about other people's sufferings. I wouldn't do that to you. (OK, I just googled it, and this actually IS an Oprah book. How ironic. Here's the link. But it's not one of her normal, wrenching, searingly painful with no redemptive value ones. I hate those freaking books.) This is a study of gratitude and showing intentional love for those around us, strangers and those we love most alike.

When we meet the author, her Multiple Sclerosis has progressed to the point where moving is difficult, and daily tasks like doing the laundry or washing the dishes seem like huge mountains of effort. She can't work, despite her love for her job and she is terrified her wonderful husband of two or three years is going to get tired of caring for her and leave her.

One day while talking to her dear friend Mbali, an African medicine woman, Walker pours her frustrations out about how miserable she is. Mbali simply replies with the "prescription" of giving away 29 gifts in 29 days. Walker is stunned. She can barely move. What could she possibly have to give? She writes "Give 29 gifts in 29 days" in a notebook, slams it shut and promptly forgets about it. One day, she rediscovers the notebook and figures that since even the pain medication she's taking isn't working, she might as well try following Mbali's advice. 

And that is when everything starts to change.

Photo by DK 

As much as I love that the book is about giving and receiving, that is not the message it held for me. I was raised by an insanely generous father, and learned a long time ago about the joy of giving to increase other's quality of life and mitigate my own misery. It is one of the pillars I build my life on.  

For me, this book held some new keys to living with an eye towards my own abundance. I struggle with scarcity. I am often afraid we don't have enough money or that this thing or that thing will run out. And I never feel like I have enough time to do all the things I want to. Some of this is well founded in experience. I have been very poor before and didn't relish the experience. But most of it is just my own preferences and paranoia taking over my better judgement. I have never been so destitute as to not have food or housing. I have always had resources of some sort or another. But just like most people, I tend to focus on what I lack, rather than embrace and rejoice in what I have.

In the book, everything Mbali says to Walker felt like it was for my heart as much as hers. I had never thought to connect giving and abundance before. The following thrilled me when I read it:

"Healing doesn't happen in a vacuum, Cami, but through our interactions with other people. By giving, you are focusing on what you have to offer others, inviting more abundance into your life. Giving of any kind is taking a positive action that begins the process of change. It will shift your energy for life."

I am good at giving. It is easy for me in most cases. But I never thought to use it intentionally as a vehicle for my own positive change. Huge, right?

And this one about knocked my socks off:

"No matter how much we have materially, we are often in a place of scarcity:we never think we have enough or that we're good enough. Instead of getting lost in a sense of lack, once we realize we are a part of something bigger, it becomes clear we have many gifts to offer the world."

I have spent the last three years feeling poor.  How ridiculous. 

I live in a beautiful home in a wealthy county with great schools and a husband with a stable job that he loves. My kids are all wonderful and well adjusted. I have lovely things to look at and do. I have many many friends who love me, as well as a supportive extended family. There is most certainly no lack in my life. 

I have also spent the last three years helping my kids do well in school and providing opportunities, granted often at large sacrifice to myself, for them to gain new skills and have important experiences that will shape their lives in powerful ways. I have used my skills as a group builder and energy maker to launch several small artist's careers to a professional level. I have used my time and wit to support my friends in the blogging and Instagram world. I have turned many strangers into dear friends. I have used restraint and generosity and sensitivity to help my husband through an insanely difficult period professionally. In fact, as I look back over the last three years, it has been the giving that has saved me. My ability to use what I had to enhance the lives of those around me. 

Tears are coming as I type this and look back over the years with eyes focused on my own abundance. I have never thought about it like that. It is humbling to see how much God was able to do with my heart and hands. How much I could have been rejoicing in all this time. 

I can see the truth of Walker's statement, 

"The best way to attract abundance into your life is to be in a 
perpetual state of giving and gratitude." 

You become aware of what you have, of what you can do. 

So as I step forward into this fresh new year, I have decided to focus on being aware of the gifts I am giving and receiving.  I have missed a lot of my own joy in my lack of mindfulness. I have felt empty, when a shift in perspective would have shown a cup running over. 

And my prayer for you,dear reader, would be that you be aware of your own worth, your own magnificence in this world. Simply because you have so much to give it, so many ways to bless those around you. And so much joy to find as you wander through this lovely life.

Talk to you soon,
 CM Shaw

PS: Have you read 29 Gifts? What did you think? Leave me a comment because I'd love to know what your take away was.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Pura Vida = Costa Rican Chocolate

This excellent photo by DK
For today's adventure, I thought I'd take you all away from the cold and back to Costa Rica. I promise this is actually relevant to the season and not just pure escapism. (But would your really mind even if it was pure escapism?)

Our trip is relevant for two reasons. First, it's Thanksgiving week, which means everyone is making goodies for the Feast. And this post is all about chocolate. You know you are thinking about chocolate. Aren't all the best goodies made of chocolate? Then again, there is pie..

But I digress...

The second reason Costa Rica is relevant is Black Friday. You know you need to buy something cool for your sister or mother or cousin. Why not buy them some really great chocolate? That makes pretty much everyone happy...unless they are lactose intolerant, and then, not so much. But I suppose you can't please everyone. Alas.

In any case, think of this post as my little gift guide for Black Friday. It's so nice of me really. You can sleep in, avoid the crowds, shop online in your PJ's and know you are buying a killer gift for your friends and family while supporting small business. Think of the endorphins!

Alright, that's enough commercial. Let's get back to our post, shall we?

Hmm, where were we? Costa Rica...chocolate...oh yes!  Today I wanted to bring you all with me to make chocolate. From Cacao. Seriously. I took a class while I was there.

Come on! It's about to start!

The first thing you have to do is find Playa Flamingo on the map. That's this beach: 

Next, you email or call Henrik Bodholdt, the charming Dutchman who runs the Beach Chocolate Factory who lives in this  area. Can you blame him? He lives about 6 minutes away from this view. 

He teaches a weekly chocolate making workshop on Friday mornings at 10am.
That's where we are headed.

Here we are in his back yard. Isn't that giant ceiba tree something? 

All chocolate starts with cacao and this is the start to Henrik's own grove!
He planted these seeds last January and look how big they already are.

Here's a cacao pod. See the gooey white stuff? That's the fruit. Believe it or not, it tastes
kind of like passion fruit, super fruity and sweet-tart. I loved it!

What we think of as chocolate is actually the seeds of the fruit, fermented, roasted, and ground. Here they are after being roasted. They kinda look like huge, dull coffee beans. At this point you have to shell them. Well, you are really just peeling off a papery coating. 

And when you are done, they look like this:

See how shiny they are? And they are starting to smell like chocolate at this point. 

But speaking of smelling like chocolate, you gotta be there when they grind those puppies. Heaven! I have been to the Hershey Spa numerous times, where they have chocolate baths and serve fresh hot chocolate in the waiting rooms...That is nothing to this smell. 

Imagine having your entire body enshrouded by a cloud of the rich smell of
dark chocolate brownies baking...

That kinda gets you there, but not really. This is that much better. The stuff of dreams.

See all that slimy chocolaty goodness? That is chocolate liquor. They must call it that because you get drunk on the smell. (Ask Henrik why. He is a walking chocolate encyclopedia. Seriously. The man knows all things chocolate. even DK was impressed and that's saying something.) Chocolate liquor is the base of all chocolate anything. At least it should be, if it's worth two shakes and bears the name "chocolate."

This is the stuff that makes you so happy. Here in a bowl, just waiting to be mixed and eaten.

Even though I LOVE dark chocolate, I chose to add a bit of powdered milk and some organic, unprocessed sugar, to make it taste less bitter. Chocolate alone is a bit too potent for even me.

In the way of all the best days of childhood, you mix your concoction up with your bare hands.

They look like this when you are done:

And you have a nice ball of chocolate to add the finishing ingredients to. I think we broke ours in half and added different things to each part. DK added chili powder to one part and almonds to the other. I added coconut to one of mine and macadamia nuts to the other.

And everything was delicious. "Want to drown in it" delicious.

And that's just my chocolate. You should taste Henrik's. He actually knows what he's doing and has the patience and equipment to grind his beans for days.

Yes folks. the best chocolate has been ground for days.

That smell, for days. I'd never go anywhere. I'd waste away, just smelling.
Because it doesn't taste good yet.

Keep in mind that Henrik is making chocolate that competes with the quality of the French, Belgian, and Swiss. His beans are all organic and he knows the farmers he buys from. I was impressed with all his stuff, but true to my dark chocolate preferences, my favorites were Tenorio (70% cacao with cacao nib chunks, which I don't see in the shop) and Celeste (70% cacao). But I would tell you to get the gift box, if you don't know what you want. It has 1 square each of white chocolate with cacao nibs, milk chocolate with almonds, and pure dark chocolate.

So if you plan on going to the North West coast of Costa Rica, shoot Henrik a message or give him a call. You can click here or on the photo to go right to his "Contact Me" page.

The workshop was totally worth the very reasonable $25 he charges.The roads near his place were clean and paved, which can be a novelty in Costa Rica, depending on where you stay. And Henrik is so much fun to talk to. He is super knowledgeable about all things chocolate and a bunch of other stuff.  Ask him about staying with the Native Indian tribe that grows some of the best chocolate in the world. That is a story worth hearing about. 

If you are stuck in the cold with me this Holiday season, take heart, as Henrik's online shop, Chocolate Craft, ships anywhere in the world. I should have bought a lot more of his chocolate than I did. My stash is already gone. So I will be ordering some more to make my holidays bright. You might go in with a fellow chocolate lover, as international shipping adds a bit.

Just click on the picture above to go to Henrik's shop.

If you are going to a different region in Costa Rica, there are other chocolate tours. I discovered Henrik by reading trip adviser after seeing this blog post on the "A Cruising Couple" blog via a Pinterest search for "chocolate tours Costa Rica.

Well that's it for today.

Unless you guys have some fantastic chocolate fantasy you want to tell me.
I'm all ears for that sort of thing. But keep in mind, this is a public venue.

Talk to you soon,

CM Shaw

Saturday, November 15, 2014

How to Make a Chair Slip Cover Out of ScotchBlue Painter's Tape

Have you ever done something for a really long time, like 20 years, and then suddenly woke up one day and you were just done? I have been feeling that way about decorating my house for about 6 months now. It is not what I want it to be, but I am tired of fighting with it. I want to make one huge push and just get the whole thing done so I can ignore it for the next ten years. 

My problem here has been a shortage of both time and money. I do almost everything myself because I have had much more time, than money for the last 20 years. And fortunately, I am crafty and have a knack for design. It has been fun to paint and reuse and sew and tinker. It was an awesome creative outlet for years. But now I want to put that energy in other directions. I have less time and many important things competing for that time. But still no extra money for decorating. 

So I have had to think out of the box. For a while I did the barn sale. I have given up a few luxuries and asked for house related things for Christmas and birthday presents. But my mother actually gave me the best "outside the box" idea ever.

She suggested I make a slip cover out of painter's tape and try to win the Scotch Blue Painter's tape Contest. The Grand Prize is $5000. That would make a major dent in finishing stuff around here. And by "finishing stuff" I mean paying other people to do the work so it actually gets done this decade. 

And I did it. 

I spent 30 hours over the last two weeks and figured out how to build a self supporting, structurally independent slip cover out of painter's tape. In theory, I could take it off and put it right back on, as it's not reliant on the chair for its form. I finished this morning.

I promise that's not chintz. Here's a closer look:

All those little bits of color are the brand markers for the two types of ScotchBlue painter's tape I used. The green one is the ScotchBlue Multi-Surface with Edge-Lock TM  Paint Line Protector Painter's Tape. The orange one is ScotchBlue Delicate Surface with Edge Lock TM Paint Line Protection Painter's Tape. The good people at ScotchBlue were generous enough to send me 3 rolls of orange and 2 rolls of the green (I already had another roll of the green that they sent me earlier.) when I asked for it, without even knowing what I was going to do with it. Super generous. Thanks so much guys!

So, are you curious how I did it? 

Here's what I started with:

I made the mistake or starting with the arms. I had this great plan to run a chevron down them, and it was awesome until I tried to reinforce the back. Crash and burn city. I had to throw away 3 hours worth of work. But I did learn the right way to do it from that mistake.

You build and underlying skeleton of the shape you want with tape facing you sticky side out. Then you tape to that. This gives the structure you need, but allows for re-positioning without too much headache.

I used straight pins to keep the tape in place while I was building the design for the back. I removed them as the top layer got closer to the edge. The piece running up the middle was just tomark center so I could make a shot at having the "V" in the right place, as it had to line up with it's mirror image on the seat top.

This picture gives you a better feel for how the chevron pattern builds itself layer after layer.

I used the same technique on the seat, and lined up the stripes. Then I trimmed the seat cover to fill in just the space between the outer piping. I added tape sticky side up to the underside to use as a bridge between the top and the sides.

The tape running horizontally is sticky side up. I lined it up with the piping and then ran the tape from the side over the top and attached it, cutting off the extra after each side was all adhered. Yay for invisible seams!

Here you can really see how nicely the chevron pattern came together. What? Did you think I was just going to do something easy when I had two different colors to work with? Come on. It's a CONTEST. You gotta take it over the top with money like that on the line. 

I started on the arms...again. This time I built the structure first.

In interest of time and my sanity, I decided to just go with stripes from the inside to the seam and then from the seam to the floor. Good choice. It took WAY less time and looked better than the original design had.

Here's the top half finished.

This is about when I stopped least about the design coming together.

The fronts of the arms are panels I built flat and reinforced flat. The orange piece of tape right on the edge is one of my cheats. That is directly stuck to the chair fabric. I couldn't figure out any other way to bend it the right way and keep the line. But everything else is structurally independent.

I used the same seaming technique on the outer arms as I did on the seat. Cut to length. Add tape sticky side up. Bring bottom over top and then cut back to correct size while leaving the rest adhered sticky side to sticky side.

Here's the outside arm structure:

Here you can really see how the pins hold things in place until the tape covers that spot. You can also see the sticky side up waiting to meet the other half of the seam. 

Here's the side all finished:

And just for good measure, I did the back as well:

The back also uses the sticky sides together seaming technique along the top and sides.

So there you have it. 
Tons of my life spent recovering a chair with tape the hard way. 

Here's a few more beauty shots. 

I was pretty psyched with how it turned out. Good thing my living room just happens to be orange.

And you can't forget the staging pieces, carefully chosen to coordinate, but not "match" the chair. They set such a happy mood, don't you think?

OK so here's the round up on this project:


I really like this tape. In both flavors. I will definitely be using it again, probably in a more normal fashion. I am starting to prefer it over Frog Tape. 

1. It releases from itself without too much trouble and without peeling adhesive off either side, a major plus when working with long strips.

2. You have about 1-3 chances to reposition it without losing tackiness (less with the Delicate, more so with the Multi-Surface). 

3. It holds its shape really well, even when being stretched and bent around corners. 


It does not adhere to the slick side of itself very well, so be careful to just have a tiny overlap if you are layering tape to add width. The more surface area you have connected to the actual surface, the better your chances of things going well and not having any drips or bleed through. 


As far as the project itself goes, I just wanted to see if I could do it, both for my own glory and to win the contest. I would not recommend anyone else trying this with the medium I used. It was insanely hard, time consuming, and frustrating.

If you wanted to use tape to build a slip cover, the most functional option would be to use duct tape over an old velvet chair that you hated the fabric of. You could do some really cool designs and the duct tape would probably wear and feel like vinyl. I think that combo could take a lot of abuse. Great for college students short on cash and long on tacky inherited furniture.

Have you guys done anything weird with tape? Built the Leaning Tower of Pisa or something? Tell me about it.

Talk to you soon,

CM Shaw

Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween...Playing Pretend in Costa Rica...and More Tape


Since today's Halloween, I thought we'd have a little fun. I know Halloween is about pretending to be someone else, but for today, how about we pretend to be SOMEWHERE else?

Oh...but quick, before I forget, I wanted to tell you guys about another 
ScotchBlue TM Painter's Tape Contest.

Their new tape (pictured above) is ScotchBlue TM Painter's Tape Multi-Surface
and Delicate Surface with Advanced Edge-Lock TM Paint Line Protection.

You create a project that uses a ScotchBlue TM product somehow and you can win $5,000 if htey like yours best. THe contest is open now and runs until Nov. 15, 2014. I don't think you even have to have a blog.  You can just upload your photos. Here's the contest website for more info. I entered the contest they had over the summer in this post. I didn't win, but it was pretty fun to play.

So start feverishly thinking about your entry 
(I'll post about mine right before the deadline. It's kinda involved), 

...Now let's get back to Halloween. 

We were pretending to be somewhere else...

More specifically, we were in Costa Rica. Or at least DK and I were, all last week.

I thought I'd give you guys the highlights. So you can escape your life for just a sec.

Black sand beaches (Well, they called them "blue", as in Playa Azul
but I still thought they looked pretty much black)

Sunrises and sunsets.

This one was taken from my shower. I am totally not kidding. It was a "tree house" with a screened in shower open to the jungle behind it. I think I took 4 showers in 2.5 days, just because it was so cool to bathe with a view.

And check out this volcano. 

I promise Disney was not involved in this shot. It really looks like that.

Costa Rica has all kinds of cool things to do while you are banging around in the gorgeous scenery.

We went Zip lining in the cloud forest of Monteverde.

 DK looked way sexier in his pics than I did, so he gets first billing. 

But as proof that I am absolutely NOT a pansy, here I am jumping off a 3 story tall structure doing a Tarzan Swing. I screamed until I laughed. DK said even the guides were laughing about how loud my laugh was.

You can walk along the hanging bridges in the canopy and paths through the jungle.

That's me waving from the bridge. Hi! They are really up there in the trees.

This is the kind of jungle you image when you are 5 and 6 while watching "Jungle Book" and "RikiTiki Tavi." It's the kind of jungle where there is mist and tigers must live...even though they don't.

If trekking through the jungle isn't your thing, then you wouldn't want to go waterfall rappelling. But you should anyway, because it's super stinking fun!

Here I am, rappelling my way down a 165 ft cliff, nice and dry, minding my own business...

Here I am being chucked in the waterfall by the guide bole-ing me. 
I was so happy it wasn't cold.

There are lots of animals everywhere, if you know where to look. 

We became friends with a koatamundi at our B&B in Monteverde.

And Leo, the wood carver just outside La Fortuna, had the most wonderful tamed birds.

I am still geeking out at this shot DK got of the hummingbirds at Monteverde. 

He is a much more technically inclined photographer than I am. 
He shot most of the best pictures in this post.

All in all it was a glorious trip.

And I am desperately trying to get back to my regularly scheduled life....

But today, I still have Costa Rica on my mind. 

Talk to you soon,
CM Shaw