this project took a long time to put together, but the end result was a truly priceless and timeless gift. several months before my hubby hit a major milestone in the aging arena, i wanted to plan something special to mark the occasion. i decided to contact as many of his friends and family members as possible, and ask them to write him a birthday message. i sent letters, encouraging them to send stories, birthday wishes, copies of old photos, etc. if they had young children, i asked them to draw shane a picture. (i had them snail-mail or email responses to my friend, amy, so birthday boy wouldn't suspect anything). i started way in advance, so i was able to compile a large list of new and old friends. i must mention that my husband has more old friends than anyone on the planet. as a baptist preacher's kid, he moved around oklahoma and texas, finally settling and graduating in amarillo. we run into someone he knows everywhere we go. seriously, everywhere. from the beaches of cabo to the mountains of colorado, in restaurants or airports, we'll hear, "oh my gosh! is that shane laduke??". upon my inquiry he'll explain, "oh, i went to kindergarten with him", or "she was my seventh grade math teacher", or my personal favorite, "oh, we played a little bit of kissy-face in college". so i had my work cut out for me. i played dog the bounty hunter and tracked down people from his grade school, junior high, high school and college days. i used old yearbooks, rosters, his planner/address book and a high school reunion contact list....anything i could get my paws on. within a few weeks of my original request, responses began pouring in. i soon had a stack of funny stories, drawings, and sweet letters from all over. the coolest part was that i felt like i was getting to know my husband all over again. the hardest part was keeping it a secret - my excitement grew with each new batch. a note from his old football coach, a letter from a summer camp friend, a long-forgotten story from a college roomie and baby pictures from his parents were among the treasures i received. one of his high school buds sent an old newspaper clipping from shane's glory days as #32. i couldn't believe he'd saved it all those years! i eventually scanned in letters and photos, and retyped the email messages in creative fonts. i took the final collection to a printing company to have it bound. for the cover i used a picture i had of his old license plate, which was a nod to his alma mater as well as his favorite movie, lonesome dove. i felt the sentiment was appropriate for a birthday, as well: "old poke". (um....the personalized plates mysteriously fell by the wayside shortly after we began dating). needless to say, shane was overwhelmed when he opened his birthday book. he laughed and cried as he leafed through the pages and relived bits and pieces of his past. it was definitely time consuming to put together, but it was so, so worth it. it's a gift that can truly be enjoyed forever. it's something our girls can keep years from now; a little link to their dad's past and all the people that love that old poke.