LAKEWOOD RANCH -- When the house is dark and she can't sleep, Sue Lelli walks across her Lake Club home, from her bedroom through the kitchen and past the spacious living rooms to what she calls her "card room."
It's a dazzling, pink-kissed refuge where Lelli can close the door and let her thoughts run free; where strands of colorful ribbon drape from the wall like pastel rainbows; where shelves and a walk-in closet are full of pretty paper and things that sparkle; where greeting cards for nearly every occasion are clasped against a massive, real-life Pinterest board (not that she bothers with Pinterest).
Some people paint. Some draw or photograph.
Lelli makes greeting cards in a world that has nearly abandoned the art of letter writing. Unlike text messages and emails, her creations can be touched and kept years later.
"There are all kinds of card-making. I'm not clean and simple. I always like to have detail," says Lelli, 56, as she rummages around a shelf to find the right glue. "I get joy out of creating."
Before Lelli snips a piece of ribbon or cuts her paper, she thinks of what her recipient's favorite colors are, if they like flowers, what hobbies they have.
"I try to make it special for them," she says. "Every person I send a card to tells me they've kept it."
Then she starts designing -- the hardest part, since all of her cards are unique. She can spend an hour on just one creation.
Around Christmas, her days are filled with making over 100 handmade cards for family and friends, a 10-year tradition. She creates a makeshift assembly line to put together all of her intricate designs.
"We have people telling us they can't wait to see what card she makes every year," said Kim, Lelli's husband.
Hallmark cards are flat and can be shipped in an envelope for the price of one stamp.
Lelli's greeting cards, which blossom with raised decor, require a package with padding.
Last time she mailed a birthday card, the post office charged $10.
That's why she doesn't sell her cards. Most people aren't willing to fork over $20 for a greeting card.
"People don't really understand how much they have to pay for it," Lelli says.
Instead of selling, Lelli works for two design teams: Eclectic Paperie and Precious Remembrance. Five of her designs have been featured in Cards Magazine. Lelli posts all her creations on her blog, Card Therapy.
Her favorite card is one she made for Mother's Day.
Lelli's parents, Bill and Marilyn, were avid crafters. They knew how to make everything, from mirrors made of shells to the wreaths her mother would make every year. Bill and Marilyn were always pushing their daughter to create.
After her mother died in 2012 and her dad a year later, Lelli made a pastel-colored Mother's Day card with a pink bow and a handmade hydrangea affixed on the front. Her mother loved hydrangeas.
When people need comfort, Lelli makes them cards. When Lelli needs comfort, she makes cards.
Two porcelain hearts rest in a glass cabinet in Lelli's card room. Her parents' ashes.
"They went through everything with me," she says, "and now they're always here with me."
Visit Sue Lelli's Card Therapy blog at www.suelelli.blogspot.com.
Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024.