Friday, October 11, 2013

Little Christmas Bird Puzzles

This past year I've had somewhat of a "bird" theme going with several of my letters to my kids, so to top it off, I'm sending these gorgeous Jane Maday bird puzzles for my Compassion kids with their Christmas cards & letters.  We're always on the lookout for nice paper items to send to our kids for gifts, and these were perfect.  Fortunately I found 17 boxes of these at the Dollar Tree... just what I needed for my Compassion kids!

However...  lol... what I didn't realize at the time, was that I needed to send these assembled to fit the 1/4" thick mailing guidelines.  Yikes!  After spending a couple hours putting the first one together with my folks after dinner a few nights ago, reality set in that I simply didn't have enough time to put these all together by myself, given my work and school schedule... not unless I was planning these as gifts for next Christmas, that is!  So I put out a desperate plea for help on my Facebook page, and ahhhhh...  I was so blessed to have several people volunteer to put together 1-3 puzzles each, and I had the puzzles back in a couple of days.

So for those of you who are interested in sending puzzles to your Compassion kids, here's my tip on packaging them for mailing.  Since the finished size of the puzzle is too large for the allowed mailing size, I divided the completed puzzle in half, stacked the two layers on top of a thin but sturdy piece of cardboard.  It's important that the cardboard does not buckle or bend, or else it defeats the purpose of assembling the puzzle... you don't want it crumbling into pieces!  I found that the easiest way to do this was to slip a sheet of cardstock paper under the completed puzzle so I could then slip the cardboard underneath without breaking apart the puzzle.  Just barely slide the cardboard to the halfway point... this gives you just a tiny bit of a "shelf" making it easy to press down the puzzle where you need to divide it in half.  I included a 5x7" manila envelope with each package for the children to store their puzzle when not in use, and included one of the little designs from the side of the box on the envelope.  Then I taped 2 pieces of sturdy cardstock paper around the top and bottom of the stack.  It didn't need the piece on the back, but I just liked the finished look of it.  :o)  Then I finished it off with the cut out puzzle design taped to the front of the package.

So here is my stack of packaged puzzles ready to mail off... this feel so good!  I am just so grateful for each person who helped me to get this project completed.  And here's the kids' Christmas cards... I'm finally sending out the "Little Bird" Christmas cards that I started last year...  I just need to finish stamping "God Cares for (child's name)" on the front of the cards for my new kids from this year.

And of course, my new kids are getting all the sweet bird swag/mobile/ornament designs I sent out last year... I love these watercolor designs!

All of the children are getting a couple of these 3D chickadee ornaments to make on their own... check out the gorgeous photos and step-by-step instructions with the pattern to download!  I cut out one set to try my hand at it, and they're pretty simple to assemble.  They would also look nice if the kids want to color them... I might try my hand at doing a few with watercolors... someday...   :o)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Celebrating Grandparents & Grandchildren

I'm celebrating being a Grammie... I love my grandson! While I have been busy painting my home office this past week, I have also been planning for one special corner of the room to be my "grandbaby corner"... the built-in bookshelves are freshly painted white, and my favorite childhood books and toys will soon grace the shelves.  I can't wait to get a special cozy chair for the corner, and this will be one of my special places to share sweet times together with my grandbaby.  

This past month, I've been especially drawn to the need for sponsors for children living with a grandparent, and am pleased to see that several that I have highlighted have been sponsored, whether through my posts or not. I'm just so happy that they have been sponsored! 

Here is a girl I have been watching...  adorable 6 year old Greyss, from Colombia, who lives with her grandmother, and is in need of a sponsor.  Her grandmother is caring for 2 children in her home, and is in need of a sponsor for her grandchild. Would you be willing to help this family?

This precious girl, 9 year old Kenia from El Salvador, lives with both her grandfather and grandmother.  She has been waiting 275 days for a sponsor.  Her grandparents are caring for 4 children in their home.  Would you consider helping this precious family by sponsoring Kenia?

10 year old Rafael from Brazil captured my heart a few weeks ago. He lives with his grandmother who cares for 3 children in the home.  Rafael has been waiting 396 days for a sponsor.  Would you be his sponsor, and lift the load also for his precious grandmother?

You can be the answer to the fervent prayers of one of these grandparents.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Simplest & the Best

How important is a washcloth to you?

Recently I met a woman who got to go on an Operation Christmas Child distribution in Ecuador last year...  it was the most incredibly moving experience.  But what really got to her was when she asked one boy what his favorite item was in his box... are you ready for this?!

 It was the washcloth.

Not the toys, school supplies or other items, as wonderful and necessary as they were to him.  But he cherished having his own washcloth. You never know what your simple gifts will mean to the child living in poverty who receives them... you never know when what seems the least important to you is the most important to another.

This short video clip is from one of the distributions in Ecuador last year...

It's time to start packing these simple but life changing gifts.  Come by Family Christian Stores to pick up your free box... or boxes.  :o)

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Kingdom Generosity: When Holy Spirit Jumps for Joy

I have a cherished dream that is shared by many sponsors:  to someday meet our sponsored children.  And until we can go ourselves, we long for someone else to meet our child for us.  One of my treasures from this summer was when one new friend, Kim, traveled to Honduras, and met one of my sponsored children, 8 year old Yolani.

This is Yolani.

And this is a blog post about generosity...

First of all is the generosity I received from Kim when she made room in her suitcase for a bag of gifts from me to give to Yolani...  and the generosity also to take lots of pictures for me...  photos are such a treasured gift!!  I fell in love all over again with this precious girl, and am so blessed to see her adorable smile and happy eyes, but most of all her sweet spirit.

Look at these bright eyes and happy smiles in response to the generosity of sponsors who willingly gave of their time and resources to travel to their country, and bless them with help and encouragement.  I treasure each of these priceless photos.

Kim told me that Yolani and her family came to her everyday to say thank you... they had such grateful hearts.  And gratefulness in turn leads to generosity.

Generosity doesn't mean that you have tons to give, and you give of your excess.  Rather it's willingly giving of what you have to bless someone else.  Yolani's family was so grateful, that they generously gave of themselves to bless me back.

See that envelope in her hand?

Kim sent me this photo and said that they came to her on the last day with this special envelope for her to bring back for me. A big sacrifice was inside... and this precious family walked many miles to get it.

Well... I was besides myself with anticipation!

And this is what I received... four wonderful photos that they had taken themselves, and walked down their mountain paths and dirt roads to the nearest town to get these prints developed for me. 

I had to be careful not to get happy tears on this precious gift.

Here Yovani proudly wears and displays some of the little gifts that I had sent to her...


...And here are Yovani and her two brothers standing under the tarp (?) off the side of their adobe mountain home...



...This one just cracks me up!  I love it!  It reminds me of when my boys were young and would hold up their special animals... goats, dogs, ducks, chickens...  but that is one HUGE turkey!

This one of the turkeys and chickens was a bit of a surprise to me at first, until I reflected on what these animals mean to this family.  They are an important resource for them!  And I was so pleased to know that they have this blessing.


And here is the photo that I sent back to Yolani in response to her family's generous gift...

This summer while driving home from another long day at school, I was feeling so incredibly blessed...  open doors, favor, blessing, strength, creativity, productivity, and more were just pouring out all over me, in me and through me.

"Lord!  I'm feeling so blessed!"

"You have 30 children praying for you and blessing you every day," was His reply.

 And I just caught my breath in amazement as I realized the significance of this.

You see, there are a number of things in my life that I'm passionate about.  One of them is graphic design.  For the past 2.5 years, I've been a full-time-back-to-school-empty-nest-mom completing two professional technical degrees in graphic design... I totally love my studies and am in awe of God for new doors of opportunity that He is opening for me.  Another passion in my life is child sponsorship... I am currently writing to 30 children around the world, several of which I financially sponsor.  But the privilege of going to school comes with a hefty tuition price tag,  and paying my tuition while paying the sponsorships of "my kids" were rapidly becoming mutually exclusive.

But there simply was no way that I could or would give up my kids.  When you have a relationship with these children, you will do whatever you need to in order to keep them, if at all possible.  I figured out how many hours I would need to work a week at even a minimum wage job,  and then prayed for a job.

"Where would you like to work?" the Lord asked me.

A Surprise Visit from my Grandbaby
The question surprised me, and after thinking it over, I said that I wanted to work at Family Christian Bookstores in my town.  The doors flew open for me, and I love working at this job.  Not only do I have the blessing of providing for my kids, but I also get to advocate for other children who need sponsors and to educate sponsors... and I get to go on missions trips!  It kind of blows me away, actually, and I was in tears when I realized how God was giving me this desire of my heart.
As I serve customers in the store, one thing in particular has really stood out to me... those whose lives are marked by a generous spirit, and those who aren't.

When I ask the ones with the generous spirit if they would like to donate $1 to orphans and widows, their eyes light up, and as one woman said in reply, "Always."

And my heart jumps for joy.  My heart witnesses the joy that Holy Spirit in me is feeling.

Those who do not demonstrate a generous spirit look annoyed at being asked, avoid looking at me, and give a curt, "Not today."   Or they give a sigh and a grudging, "Well... I guess. Um, fine."

When I ask the ones with a generous spirit if they have ever considered sponsoring a child in poverty, again their eyes light up, and they say, "Yes!  I have one (or 2 or 3...) children in such-and-such country."  Or if they don't already sponsor, they are interested to hear about it, and either sponsor right then, or they take home some information to sincerely consider the opportunity, and sometimes return later to sponsor the child.

And my heart is so happy.  Holy Spirit rejoices.

The ones who are not marked with a generous spirit roll their eyes in exasperation at being asked, and make excuses for why they won't sponsor, or why they won't even consider doing so.  Or maybe they DO sponsor, but they can't tell me the name of their child or what country they are from, and or how old their child is.  All they know is that it's "somewhere in Africa" or wherever.  They don't write to their child, and feel burdened by the "obligation" to do so.  Or maybe they used to sponsor in the past, but clearly show that they are so glad to be "over and done" with it.

And I wonder... Do folks ever really consider how their giving to the poor touches the heart of God?

Generosity is not about the amount of money that you give, but the heart with which you give.

I have friends from around the world who are sponsors, and many of their stories have touched me deeply.  I am constantly amazed and challenged by their generous spirits...

...retired folks who cut back on their expenses to sponsor a dozen or more kids, and when they heard of a child's unsponsored sibling, they made room for one more... and when approached with the needs of an orphan in their sponsored child's project, their answer was "Yes!" to yet another child...

...the woman who gave up having her own car, and instead takes two buses and a train to work, 90 minutes/day both morning and night, and uses that car money to instead sponsor 15 children...

...the young 24 year old girl working daycare, paying her own apartment expenses, and financially sponsoring 9 kids (or more... I'm losing track!), and constantly reworking her budget to see how she can squeeze in one more sponsorship...  and the same is true for several young people that I know...

...the college student who gifted some sponsorships to another sponsor on top of paying for her own sponsorships...

...the teenager in college who works a part-time job to sponsor two other teenagers...

These stories challenge and inspire me!  Each of these friends, and many more, have incredibly generous spirits.  They are seriously looking at their lifestyles, and making both big and little sacrifices for personal needs in how they spend the money God has entrusted to their stewardship.

As Christians, we actually are ambassadors for the Kingdom, doing the King's business here on earth.  I was surprised to discover that the word "generous" comes from the Latin word meaning "of noble birth."  That's who we are... we ARE nobility...  kingdom people.  Later the word did not depend on family history but on whether a person actually possessed the qualities that were supposed to mark one who is of the nobility, traits that were associated with generosity:  gallantry, courage, strength, richness, gentleness, and fairness.

How about if we live knowing our identity as children of the King of Kings, AND demonstrate the character qualities that mark a noble person? 

Generosity means living out the truth that we are nobility... Kingdom people bringing the Kingdom of God here on earth wherever we are and wherever we go.

The root of generous means "kin, clan, race, or stock," and has the meaning "to beget."  I was thinking about that... when we give to those in poverty, what are we begetting?  What are we bringing forth into existence?  The reality is that we are not only helping to bring life, blessing, and wholeness in changing the story for the child in poverty, but we are changing our story as well.  We are reevaluating our priorities, needs and wants, and realizing that each of those are changing to be less about "me"... and the more that we connect with the hearts of these children, the more we want to give away and bless others.  But more than that, the more that we connect with the heart of the Father, the more we want to give away and bless others. 

Why does God love genuine generosity?  Because it is love in action.  And He loves when we love.  Generosity is not merely about giving money.  It's about giving of ourselves in many different ways to show love for others.  We can be generous with our willingness to stop and help someone, giving of our time and energy, instead of spending it only on what we want to do with our schedule.  We can be generous with our words of affirmation and praise, or we can be stingy and withhold blessing the other person.

True generosity is love in action.  That is why God loves generosity, no matter the amount given.

The more that we withhold and care only for our own personal time, space, comfort, money & resources, the more we rob ourselves of the blessings that God has been poised and ready to pour out on us in response.  The Kingdom reality is that more that we give and bless others, the more that we receive in return.

"The generous soul will be made rich,
And he who waters will also be watered himself.
"  Prov. 11:25 NKJV

I didn't sponsor children in order to receive something back, but rather because I simply fell in love with each child.  As Holy Spirit highlighted each one to me, my heart jumped for joy... well, Holy Spirit in me jumped for joy, and "I knew that I knew that I knew" that I would sponsor each one of those particular children.  But now that I am months and years down the road in sponsoring each of these, I've realized that God is blessing me back in ways that I never anticipated.  I've been "watering" each of these sweeties, and in return, God is "watering" me.  I'm just beginning to realize the significance of 30 children blessing me and praying for me everyday... and not only the children, but their families as well.  That's a ripple effect, so that there are well over 100 people blessing me every day!

I'm being abundantly watered.

How about you?

How well are you watering others and being watered in return?  How well do you know the good pleasure and joy of the Holy Spirit in response to your generosity?

In my last post, I  mentioned the special challenges of grandparents living in poverty who are faced with raising their grandchildren... without employment...  without food stamps... without food banks...  without any other support...  and my heart still is moved by their plight.

I found this one child on Compassion's website, Melat, a 10 year old Ethiopian girl who lives with her grandmother and two other children in the home.  Would you consider sponsoring her?  She has been waiting 320 days for her sponsor already.  That is a long wait.

Generosity is not about how much extra you have to give.   It's about embracing a kingdom mindset, and giving sacrificially to bless others in Jesus' name, whether with our time, talents, resources, strength, energy, life-giving words of encouragement and praise, or all of these.  It's being so in love with Jesus that you would rather give generously and bring Him joy than to withhold blessing another. 

And if someone has already sponsored Melat before you read this post, I invite you to let Holy Spirit direct you to another child here.

Blessings to you for an abundant watering!


Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Grandparent's Love

It's Grandparents' Day... I love being a Grammie!  My life has been so blessed these past 17 months by my first grandbaby, Coleson...  there is just nothing in the world quite like the way my grandchild is forever woven into my heart.

I'm grateful that I had the privilege of being at his birth 17 months ago, and grateful that he lives just around the block from me... though I know I don't see him nearly enough!  I'm grateful for Facebook where I can peek in on his daily events while I'm busy studying hard at school...  :o)  Best of all I love when I can spend time together with this precious child, like here...

One of my favorite activities to do with Coleson is to take him on a nature walk...  finding little rocks to throw in the stream and listening to the satisfying plunk sound...  picking up leaves and tossing them off one side of the footbridge, and watching them swirl gently down to the water, then racing to the other side of the bridge to watch for our leaf to continue its journey on the other side...  picking herbs or leaves and crushing them to smell the different fragrances... and of course finding wild edibles like blackberries to eat...  mmm!  Here is Coleson enjoying fresh blackberries for the first time...  and he agrees that they are "Yummy!"

Recently I enjoyed lingering through some of the pages and artwork of a few different editions of my most treasured childhood story, Heidi, by Johanna Spyri.  Maybe because I'm a Grammie now, I was more attune this time to the love and care between Heidi and three different grandparents in her life...  her own grandfather, Peter's granny, and Clara's grandmama... and how each had such a profound influence on the life of Heidi as an orphaned child.

I've been sending a copy of this sweet story to each of my own sponsored children throughout the year... it takes awhile to find copies in their language and buy that many copies!  But I know that this is a story that will resonate with many of my sponsored children in a way that it didn't need to for me as a child, because I was raised in a secure and stable home by both my parents.  Most of my sponsored children do not have that blessing, as most are being raised by a single parent, and several of my kids have even lost both parents and live with a grandparent.

As a parent and grandparent, I want to do everything I can for my children and grandbaby, to bless them and see their life successful and a blessing.  There are many grandparents around the world who have stepped up to be the primary caregiver for their grandchild, either because of the death of the parents, or abandonment. My own dad lost his mom to death when he was just the same age as Coleson is now.  The painful loss was further compounded when he was abandoned by his dad.  I am grateful that my dad's grandparents were there for him to raise him and love him in the face of challenges of the Depression years.  I know that if needed, I would be there for my grandbaby too.

I cannot imagine the difficulty of grandparents in poverty who are valiantly trying to raise their grandchildren without adequate resources for food, clothing, shelter, education or medical care.  This blog post by Compassion arrested my attention and heart to the needs of those grandparents.  Often it is a grandmother who has to do this job alone, such as Carmen who is taking care of her three grandchildren who were abandoned by their parents.  She doesn’t have a job, so she goes out every day to find something to do, such as washing or ironing...
“I do this work because I have my three children and I cannot send them to the street to beg or endanger their lives, and I cannot just sit and wait. I have to look for the everyday bread so, I ask God for His continuous help." 

I started searching for children who are living with grandparents and who are in need of a sponsor...  in a matter of a few minutes, I found these precious children.  Each of these children represents a struggling grandparent, one who has a huge heart for their grandchild and dreams for their future that seem impossible to fulfill. But it's not impossible for us to "lend a friendly helping hand" as described by one of my own sponsored children.

Cindy Yolibeth lives with her grandmother. At home, duties include gathering firewood and running errands. Her grandmother is sometimes employed as a laborer. There are 2 children in the family.

Adolfo Samuel lives with his grandfather and his grandmother. He is responsible for carrying water, running errands and cleaning. His grandfather is sometimes employed as a laborer and his grandmother maintains the home. There are 2 children in the family.

Jacquie lives with her grandfather and her grandmother. At home, duties include washing clothes, helping in the kitchen and cleaning. Her grandfather is sometimes employed and her grandmother is sometimes employed as a seller in the market. There are 4 children in the family.

Would you consider sponsoring one of these precious children, which would also help to lift the difficult load for the grandparents who are struggling to raise them in the midst of poverty?  You will be helping to bless not only their two generations, but to bless their future generations to come.  You can be the answer to a grandparent's prayers today.  

Friday, August 9, 2013

When God Breathes on Your Dream

I love when God takes your little dream and breathes on it, making it something far more than you ever visualized!  Tomorrow is this huge, awesome kids' event at Hovander Park put on by Child Evangelism Fellowship, and sponsored by a number of churches and Christian ministries in the county.  Last year there were over 2,000 kids... this year over 3,000 are expected~~!!!  I work at Family Christian, and our store donated a bunch of items for prizes for kids... dvd's and books.  But the part that I am most excited about is that we will be having a World Vision table there for child sponsorship!  I'm so thrilled for this wonderful opportunity to present our kids who need sponsors to the community...  we even ordered a bunch of extra packets, and are taking all the packets from our store and the Bellingham store (except 2 each) because we're dreaming big!   

This delightful coloring page of Jesus playing tag is my favorite one showing Jesus with children, and is one that I colored for Samaika, one of my own sponsored children.  I wanted to provide copies for kids at this special event to color to send to their sponsored child, no matter which organization they sponsor with.  So I had the idea to ask several local business owners if they would be willing to donate printing for some copies.  Went first to Ace Hardware just a few doors down from us, and presented the opportunity to the owner, and asked if he would be willing to donate the printing for some copies of the coloring page.

"Sure!  How many copies would you like!"

Well, my faith level was at about 30-40 copies/store to donate, but I just said, "However many you feel comfortable donating."

"Okay, how about a couple hundred then."

Wow!  I was so blown away, and of course delighted!!  Took that stack of copies back to the store, much to the amazement of my manager.  Then I headed over to the local printing business, The Print Stop, and presented the opportunity to the owner there who immediately said "Sure!  How many would you like?"  Again I said whatever he was comfortable donating, and he looked at the clock to see how much time there was left to run off copies before closing, and I ended up leaving both places with a total of 1,700 copies in hand!!!!  WOW.

This makes me all the more excited about tomorrow.  I have a dream of seeing at least 10 children sponsored, but we're bringing about 50 packets... so now I'm wondering, what about 25?  or what about all of them?  I think God just might be breathing on that dream to make it come alive more than I think possible... again.

Breathe on Your people, Lord, and fill them not only with love and compassion for the children who need sponsors, but with confident courage to go above and beyond what they "feel comfortable" doing to trust You to do exceedingly abundantly in providing for each ones sponsorship needs.  Just blow them away with Your amazing goodness all over again, and show them how much You love children.

Friday, August 2, 2013

My Heart for Mario

I've been a passionate sponsor for children for several years now, but this past week,  I've been experiencing a whole new level of raw emotions that have simply overwhelmed my heart.  I've been sitting here all week looking at cherished photos of one of my sponsored children, Yolani, and can hardly tear myself away from looking into her eyes. 

Last week, another sponsor, Kim, and her husband visited the project in Honduras where my sweet Yolani lives, and they took beautiful pictures of her to share with me while they spent the week ministering to the children and serving the church.  I've been watching the videos that they have posted, and in a whole new way have seen the sheer reality of the poverty that one of MY kids lives with.  Not just poverty that is "out there" somewhere, but the poverty where my girl lives and walks and plays everyday.  And I've wanted to just sit and cry.

It hurts...   a lot.  And at the same time that the pain increases, so does the love, overwhelming love for this precious child, for each of my sponsored children, as well as love for each of the children of the other sponsors.

And love for one precious boy named Mario. 

Kim writes, "I had the privilege of delivering hugs and packages for many of you OCer's...and it was pure joy.  However, one of the packages I delivered was to a dear boy who is still unsponsored. Mario will turn 11 in September. He lives just off the road that goes toward my Luz Maria's house...a good 40 minute walk for him to the center and easily 40 minutes-1 hour from school. The roads are rough and steep, and his home actually sits on a very steep hillside. We passed it on the way to Luz's house and the director pointed it out to us.

Our translator was acquainted with Mario's family. I knew his parents were separated...but could not have dreamed the real situation. Mario's father was described as an alcoholic and a pimp. One night, he became angry and ripped the roof of off part of the home with his bare hands. You can still see the empty shell of a room. Mario, his siblings, and his mother now share one dark bedroom.

This boy could use some serious encouragement. He has a quiet spirit and an amazing smile. Your love could make a huge difference in his life! I have lots of photos and even video for his new sponsor!"

Would you consider sponsoring Mario?  I would love to sponsor him, but am unable to add any more to all my sponsored sweeties at this time.  Please join me in praying for a sponsor for Mario. We can't fix all the problems of poverty out there in a moment, but we CAN make a difference in the life of this one.  Will you be the one who will do this, the one who will say "Yes!" to sponsoring Mario?

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Designing Fabulous Sponsor Emails

As a graphic design artist, I love creating special letters with visual interest and delight for my kids, and it comes naturally for me.  While I love creating my own designs, it is time consuming, and isn't something that I can do for making personalized photos for nearly 30 children... at least not on a consistent basis.  However, by utilizing some online photo sites, great photos can be designed in minutes with impressive results.  If you can navigate your sponsor account to write emails and upload photos, then I can guarantee that you can use these tips to design extraordinary photos for your emails!

Not only do I make fun photos for uploading into my emails, but I've also used the designs for making posters for sending to my kids.  Later I will share some poster ideas, but for now I want to share some simple tips for creating fabulous designs for your emails, whether your child is with Compassion or World Vision.  Both of these organizations offer email template forms to choose from, but even so, the choices are limited, and after a number of emails to your child, you begin wondering how to make them look different.  I've found the easiest way is to coordinate the template designs with my own photo to which I have added a great design of its own.

First of all, add a predesigned frame to your picture on a free photo site such as Loonapix.  I totally appreciate the efforts of other graphic designers in making all of these!  They have tons to choose from, and I have found many that work with my photos and email templates.  You can find great seasonal frames, and make sure to check out the "travel" and "other" sectionals as well for some great frames.  There are even some fun cartoon frames in the kids' section that your kids might enjoy, such as this Mickey Mouse design, or the Cinderella princess, or Cars...

If you sponsor with World Vision, the whole photo will upload, no matter what the shape... square, rectangle, or whether portrait or landscape orientation.  This is one nice feature of their templates that I especially appreciate.  Sometimes all that I want to use is a single portrait photo, and it works well with the WV template.  Here is one of my favorite photo frames, the white tiger design in a setting that looks like the Pacific Northwest where I live, minus the white tiger, of course...  (but we do have lots of bald eagles...)

See how the plain white basic letter was instantly made into a letter with great visual interest?!  Now you have an open door to endless possibilities for creating interesting email designs, rather than being limited to the handful of template choices that are offered.  I'm very thankful that they offer a blank template so that I don't have to use one of the designs they offer, as those designs don't work for me for anything I want to do.  Yay for plain white!!

Now for my Compassion emails, with a little bit of planning, I can come up with some really great variations for the email templates. Compassion offers quite a number of different choices already, some of them which are quite nice, but even so, after a number of email letters to my kids, I'm ready for some variety.

There are two things that I have to keep in mind when doing photos for my Compassion emails.  First of all, since I don't have the choice of a plain white background, I need to make my photo design work with one of the templates.  Fortunately there are a few templates which work quite well, and I can make some of the others work for me.  The blue linen template will obviously go with many different designs, such as with this seashell design,

or this tropical scene...

but let me show you how to coordinate with some of the other designs.

For example, picking up on the blues and greens, I used the blue birthday present template, and this letter doesn't have to be anything about birthdays.  I can write about how their recent letter was a very special gift for me.  :o)  The letter now can be about celebration... celebrating an achievement of your child, or celebrating the new letter, or just celebrating him or her!  This template can work for a lot of different photo frame designs in blues and greens, such as this fun tropical fish design...

Or if you do want a birthday themed letter, but want something different, here is a fun party photo frame to use with the birthday presents templates, though I've also used this frame for a celebration theme letter that had nothing to do with birthdays.  I love the way the stripes and circles, pinks and greens all coordinate.  It's like this template was designed for this photo frame!

Coordinate the photo design with the colors of the template, such as the blues, greens, and yellows of this dolphin photo frame.  This makes such a fun looking letter, and with the dolphins and fish of the photo, the very young juvenile template design was upgraded for something that can be used for other age groups, because now the focus is on the dolphin photo frame, and the alligator/zebra design becomes an accent.

This seashore themed photo design would look great in the blue linen template, but it also works well in this dandelion design by picking up on the different colors, and all together, it produces a very pleasing design.

This design also illustrates the second factor to keep in mind:  the photos are restricted to a particular ratio size, so most photos get cropped somewhere on the top or bottom to fit this size.

The photo design I used here worked very easily, but others will usually have some part of the main design trimmed off.  For example, this world travel design started out like this...

but I had to choose whether to trim off the top or the bottom to make it fit the photo rectangle on the template.  I'm very pleased with the finished look, however, combining it with the beige world map template.  This is where the rather plain, boring email design works to our advantage as the backdrop for all kinds of interesting photo frames, and together they look great!  :o)

Along with planning for the photo to crop, we also need to plan for the positioning of the person's face in the photo frame, as sometimes these get cropped again when placing into the email template. My head fit in the Mickey Mouse design shown at the beginning, but when I put it into the email template, I chose to crop the top of my head rather than cropping Mickey and Goofy's feet. Sometimes I've had to go back to Loonapix and reposition my picture so that it would fit better with the final cropping in the email.

The yellow circles template is one of my favorites, and works well for many different photo designs in reds, yellows, or golds, such as the gorgeous poppies here...

...or for autumn themed letters where you don't want to be limited to just the fall leaves template design.  I love these variations on autumn photo designs, such as the musical autumn design...

...or the autumn girl on the swing.  Here the green map template is used for another alternative to the yellow circles or the autumn leaves.

Here is another simple favorite, coordinating the yellow dandelions with the yellow daisies in the photo frame, and all picking up on the delightful little white daisies in the grass of the original photo...

I've used this dragonfly template quite a bit, and it's one of my favorites.  Here I can coordinate it with a rather dynamic "on the lake" photo frame, which creates an emphasis on the action of the photo rather than my face, and also picks up on the lily pads of both the photo frame and the Monet painting I was working on.

Or I could use the sweet spring birds template (another favorite!) to use with the pink Paris photo frame.

Winter emails can be a bit tricky sometimes when it's past Christmas and you only want a winter themed letter.  Here are a few nice options, starting with the snowflake template (which is fabulous, in my opinion!)  It sets off any colorful winter design nicely, such as this winter forest design...

And while the snowflake template works well for many, if not most designs, the blue linen template is also a great choice.  Look through the Christmas, New Years, and Winter designs to find ones that are for winter in general, such as this one of kids and snowman...

And finally, one more tip... only use one photo frame design per email letter.  One or two other regular photos can be added if they coordinate, but definitely don't add other designed photo frames. Keep it simple!

Well, that should get you started in exploring the delightful possibilities for your email letters.  And don't forget to surprise your kids by doing this with their own pictures and adding them to some of your emails... they will love it!