Sunday, February 26, 2012

Youth Ministry... Why Bother?

Last weekend, I had the amazing privilege of serving as a leader at Discovery Weekend, our church's big youth ministry weekend retreat. This weekend is the culmination of months of planning--by our senior high leadership team, our dedicated youth ministry staff, Sunday school classes who prepare and serve meals, and countless others who helped out with the weekend in big and small ways. This weekend is among my favorite youth ministry experiences, and every year the hard work pays off. The students (and the adult leaders) leave the weekend feeling refreshed (is it possible to feel refreshed and exhausted at the same time? Because I think that's how the adults actually feel) and spiritually renewed. Every year, the senior high planning team strives to make Discovery Weekend even bigger and better than the previous year--and every year, they succeed!

I am thankful that my job fits in so well with my desire to volunteer with our youth ministry program. As a teacher, I have plenty of time in the summer to go on mission trips and hang out with youth. Even during the school year, I give up a weekend or two for various youth retreats and activities. It's something that I feel called to do, and lucky me, it's something that I love doing.

At work, and even at church occasionally, when someone asks about my weekend plans and I respond by mentioning some upcoming youth event, I am met with interesting responses:
"Good luck with that."
"That ought to be fun."
"Hopefully the canoe trip will get rained out, right?"
"You won't get any sleep."
And of course, I get a lot of raised eyebrows and eye rolls, as if to say, "I feel your pain."

But the funny thing is... none of this is painful. Okay, that's not true. The canoe trip was actually quite painful, and I still have a scar to prove it. But I would gladly canoe every weekend, and tip over multiple times, and scrape my legs on sharp rocks, if it means I would get to spend more time with the amazing students at our church.

Call me crazy, but I love being involved in youth ministry. Yes, I'm just a lowly volunteer, but I give my time willingly and eagerly. I have had some incredible experiences with these students. We roofed a house together, we built a wheelchair ramp, we gutted a kitchen... we have eaten more Jerry's snow cones together than I can count... we jumped curbs in the church van (not on purpose) and pulled clever pranks (I will not admit to any of them). I have supported these youth as they applied for camp counselor jobs, struggled with heartache, and mended broken relationships. In turn, they supported me as I overcame my fear of driving the fifteen-passenger church van, pulled myself out of a spiritual rut, and dealt with heartache and brokenness in my own life. I don't know if they even know how much support they provide, but they have truly blessed me in so many ways.

So, to the people who give me sympathetic looks as I talk about my adventures in youth ministry: y'all don't know what you're missing. Without these youth, I wouldn't know the latest dance moves. I wouldn't know that the coolest people on earth usually come from Mississippi and Alabama. I wouldn't have a love for pocket t-shirts and TOMS shoes. Without these youth, I wouldn't have experienced the presence of God as often as I have. I see God in every one of the students at our church. I love them all, and I wish you knew them so that you could love them too.

To the parents and church members who have thanked us volunteers for spending weekends with these kids: it is truly our pleasure. Truly. I'm not just saying that. No one has to twist our arms when it comes time to volunteer for weekend retreats and mission trips. We LOVE these experiences! We're right in there with the kids, worshiping and learning and sticking clothespins on people's backs. We mean it when we say that we get as much out of Discovery Weekend as the youth do. And we invite you to join us!

So why bother with youth ministry? Because knowing and loving and serving these youth is absolutely one of my greatest joys. Because these students are the future of the church, and it fills me with such hope to see how passionate they are about sharing and living out their faith. Because teenagers are marginalized and disrespected so often, and it is through strong youth ministry programs that students are empowered to find their voices and their callings. What a blessing it is to be part of that!

And that's why.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Pinterest: The neverending wish list of things we absolutely don't need.

I am teaching a new series in my Sunday school class starting tomorrow--Economy of Love, which is a book/DVD series produced by Shane Claiborne and friends. I don't know much about it, but when I saw it for sale at a conference in November I just felt called to include it in our Sunday school curriculum. I think this is one of those cases where I picked a series because I felt like I needed to hear it... but maybe that's not such a bad thing. Hopefully it will spark some good discussion tomorrow.
From the little that I know about this series, I've managed to glean that the overall theme is the idea of living with "enough." We live in a part of the world, a part of the country, and a part of Memphis where we feel like we never have enough. I struggle with this. There is pressure to "keep up" with everyone else, and it is stressful to be so young and to already feel this economic and status-driven pressure.

On a somewhat related note, after much pressure from friends, I joined Pinterest right before the holidays, and it has become a great tool for finding creative handmade gift ideas. I also love searching Pinterest for healthy recipes and classroom ideas. I (grudgingly) admit that Pinterest is a clever and useful social media tool. However... I think that Pinterest just adds to our overall feelings of not having enough, of wanting more. My feed of "pinners I follow" (mostly friends from Facebook that Pinterest automatically added) is full of photos of homes that we will never be able to afford, outfits that would cost an entire month's salary, and elaborate wedding reception plans that would bankrupt any bride-to-be's family. You don't need a master bedroom overlooking a waterfall with a king-size bed suspended from the ceiling. You don't need a jewel-incrusted designer wedding dress (especially if you are still in high school!) You don't need a wedding reception in a rustic abandoned barn draped with thousands of twinkling lights. Do we even have rustic abandoned barns in Memphis? We are getting into a pattern of pinning everything we wish we had--creating endless wish lists of things we'll never be able to afford and that we just really don't need.
Fellow pinners, let's stop pinning for the lives we wish we had and focus on the lives we're living now! Embrace your singleness and quit pinning wedding photos! Embrace your thriftiness and quit pinning designer dresses! Embrace your love for humanity and quit pinning photos of diamonds that were mined unethically! (Sorry, I had to slip that last one in.) Let's quit treating Pinterest like it's a neverending wish list of things we absolutely can't live without and start trying to be satisfied with where are lives are and what we have now.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A motivational letter to myself

Dear Self,
For the past three days you have eaten well, tracked your meals, and spent much quality time at the gym. Your fridge is stocked with healthy foods. Your gym bag is packed each night before you go to bed. You have all kinds of fun apps on your high-tech phone that make it super easy to research and record the nutritional information of every morsel that goes into your mouth. THIS IS REALLY EASY. All of things things are easy to do. Buy oranges! Eat them! Pack gym clothes! Use them! Write down what you eat! When you leave work, drive straight to the gym! It's closer than going home anyway.

In a few weeks, you will probably start to slack off. That's your style, after all. Packing that bag of workout clothes will become more difficult to remember. The fridge will get empty. The weather will get cold, which makes working out even harder and drinking hot chocolate even more tempting. You will have "good hair" days when you don't want to make a ponytail. You will go through spells of hating your workout clothes. You will get tired of all the songs on your iPod. Then the weather will get warmer, and your allergies will become your main excuse for not exercising outside. What a load of crap, Self. Claritin was invented for a reason, and you live next door to a Walgreens. No excuses. Then school will be out, and you will want to spend every afternoon eating cheeseburgers outside at Young Avenue Deli and taking trips to Jerry's Sno Cones. STOP IT. Stop eating junk. Use that popsicle maker you got for Christmas to make something healthier. Healthy food can be eaten outside too!

This letter is just to remind you that in January 2012 you were doing all the right things... and most importantly, as a result of all this healthy living YOU FEEL GREAT! You are sore as crap from lifting weights, but still, you feel really good! You have energy! You're not getting headaches in the afternoon! You're not relying on Coke Zero to get you through the day! Your hair looks sort of cute in a ponytail! You're one step closer to wearing your old White House Black Market jeans! Your Reeboks are totally adorable! (Okay, that last one is a lie.)
So get off the couch, put those snazzy Reeboks on, and GET OUTSIDE!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne

It's my last post of 2011! I was torn between showing pictures of the sweet last-name wall art that I made for my mom for Christmas and posting a "Top Ten of 2011," but then my good friend Jason suggested I post my Top 11 of '11... genius idea, so here goes!
In no particular order, here are my top eleven events/experiences of 2011:

1. Crave retreat
This one is fresh on my mind because it is the most recent of all these events. The first weekend of November, I attended a youth retreat at Victory Ranch. Crave was part two in a three-week spiritual/faith journey extravaganza (not really sure what else to call it...) The week before, I attended the Emmaus walk with my friend Butler, and right after Crave I went to the National Youth Workers Convention with Butler and Jason. I guess I could just count the whole three-week experience as part of my Top 11, really. Emmaus was refreshing and relaxing, and it paved the way for my current involvement in the Chrysalis community. NYWC was busy and fun and eye-opening. I got to catch up with my good friend Alison, I heard Tony Campolo speak, we had a great late-night visit with some incredible folks at SIFAT, and we shared some memorable road trip moments (like driving south for an hour in Mississippi before realizing we were headed the completely wrong direction...)
But of these three weekends, Crave was the best. I love spending time with the youth (see below for more about that), and this particular weekend we just connected as a community in an amazing way. We were blessed with an incredible speaker and beautiful weather and open hearts... hands down, Crave was the best youth retreat I have ever been a part of.

2. Grizzlies v. Thunder triple-overtime game
I admit, I sort of became more of a Grizz fan as the playoffs went on... and I kind of lucked into tickets to this game. A friend posted on Facebook that she was selling her tickets due to a scheduling conflict, and without giving it much thought I quickly agreed to purchase the two tickets from her. "There's fifty bucks down the drain," I probably thought at the time. My dad and his friend Steve have season tickets, so the four of us piled into the car (Steve wore his lucky tie... so embarrassing) and took our seats in the nosebleeds. It was a school night, and I had agreed to give the chapel talk the next morning, so I wasn't too thrilled about the 9:00 start time. As midnight loomed closer, I began to worry about getting enough sleep, packing my lunch, giving my talk a final read-through (Jason, if you're reading this, yes I did actually have my talk written ahead of time. I specifically remember that.) I was enjoying the game, but the Grizz were losing, and I was at the mercy of the other three people in the car when it came to leaving the game. But then the score was tied. And regulation play was over. And the crowd was roaring. I couldn't even hear my own voice screaming. And then sometime after midnight, somewhere in the first overtime, I stopped caring about sleep and speeches. I stopped worrying and just soaked in the atmosphere, the excitement. The Forum was positively electric that night. It was a sea of white shirts, yellow towel fuzz, Memphians united over something great. We lost the game that night, but I really don't think anyone in the Forum cared. I don't remember that game as a loss. It was simply the best basketball game I have ever experienced. Believe :)

3. SOS week
Here are those GUMC youth again! This summer was my third time to serve in Binghampton with Service over Self, and each experience has been better than the last. Okay, this is a slight detour into 2010, and I don't know why this memory has stuck with me, but I remember going to SOS fall weekend last year, and as we were settling into the SOS building I looked at Jason, the only other adult on the trip, and thought, "Holy crap. We're in charge. People trust me with their kids." Clearly I have ground-breaking revelations in that old-car-dealership-turned-holy-place. Back to 2011... I posted a bit about my time in Binghampton in this post from July. I was blessed to work all week with an amazing group of youth. We were all blessed to serve an incredible family in the Bing--we demolished their kitchen so a new one could be built in its place (I saw the almost-finished product a couple weeks later, and wow. Amazing what we followers of Christ can do!) And we were all blessed to work with Malerie, our energetic, always-positive, encouraging team leader and Ben, our quiet and sarcastic and incredibly patient construction guy. Ben oversaw projects at three houses, but he spent most of his week with us--cutting holes in the floor, replacing rotten wood, removing rats from under the kitchen, spraying for bugs, and teaching us how to install plumbing (then redoing it, so patiently, when we broke some pipes... God bless Ben!) We all got to know Corey, our homeowner Barbara's son, and Tommy, her nephew. We had rap battles and dance contests in the yard (Corey and Tommy showed us all up). We planted a flower bed, we made a giant slip-n-slide in the yard using a tarp (we also killed some grass... oops...) and we grew closer as a community of believers. God is truly at work in the Bing... and every experience I have there makes me love Binghampton even more.
Slip-n-slide fun!
4. Not getting what I wanted
I learned a tough lesson this year about praying consistently for something and not getting it. Yes, it sucks. Yes, I'm still struggling with it. I still have moments when I am angry and confused and disappointed. But the bigger picture is that I'm learning how to shift my focus from what I want and toward what God wants for me. Maybe not getting what I ask for is a blessing. There's no "maybe" about that--not getting what I want is definitely a blessing. If I had my way all the time, my life wouldn't be what it is today. And I am so, so blessed. I wouldn't want another life! If I got everything I wanted, I'm pretty sure I'd be married to Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid (my dream guy from childhood) and I'd be working at Colonial Williamsburg, which was my dream job when I was thirteen. So glad neither of those worked out!
I got off track. My point here is that not getting what I wanted is a blessing in disguise. It's part of a plan. It got me thinking, and praying, and I'm scared about where all this thinking and praying will lead me... but I have a feeling that change is coming in 2012. And as scared as I am, I'm also really really excited to see where God will lead me.

5. Cave tubing in Belize
In June my family went on a Caribbean cruise. It was my third Carnival cruise (our second as a family) so to shake things up I decided to try something new. Luckily my brother was game, so when we docked in Belize he and I set off on our own to go cave tubing! I'm pretty sure I was terrified. Cave tubing sounded muddy, and I hate mud. There was hiking involved, and I tend to avoid hiking because I'm allergic to nature. There was a two-hour bus ride in a foreign country, with no cell phones, and the thought of being completely off the map like that is a little disconcerting. But we did it! And it was amazing! We took a two-hour bus ride to the caves, followed by a 30-minute hike through the Belizean jungle. We saw leaf-cutter ants, pineapples in the ground, and what have to be the biggest palm fronds in the world. And inside the caves... incredible. Glistening limestone walls, stalactites and stalagmites, waterfalls, turtles, low overhangs giving way to gigantic caverns. We even saw some bats flying around! The pictures I took with my underwater camera aren't stellar... I found the image below via Google search, but it doesn't do the caves justice either. Those caves were among the most beautiful places I've ever been. It's in a place like that--a dark, damp, flooded cave--that the wonder of God's beautiful creation truly hits you. Look at how much care He put into even the darkest of places!
photo from
6. Trips to Chicago
Other than Memphis, my favorite city is Chicago. I have a theory that if Memphis dropped off the map, all Memphians would just pack up and move to Chicago. My brother moved to the Windy City for grad school this year, so I had the opportunity to head up there twice in 2011. The first time was this summer, when we took a weekend to frantically hunt for an apartment. We spent two days riding around with apartment brokers, touring everything from dingy, terrifying basement apartments to beautiful century-old homes in Wicker Park. We stressed and worried and lost sleep and panicked over this apartment hunt. And finally, on our last day in Chicago, we saw our last apartment--two bedrooms, hardwood floors, granite countertops, on the twelfth floor of a luxury condo building with a view of the lake and Millennium park (Matt will tell you that the elevator full of twenty-something girls was a selling point as well). Sold. Matt and his roommates signed the papers that night. It was a classic lesson in the pointlessness of worrying. God had it covered; we just needed to let him do his thing.
My second trip to Chicago in 2011 was a few weeks ago. Our family is starting a tradition of visiting Chicago around Christmastime. We stay in a hotel downtown, sleep late, pile on layers of clothing, and spend the days wandering the streets looking for things to do. (We do this in the summer too, but with fewer layers of clothing.) This year we rode the Megabus up to Chicago--that part of the experience definitely does NOT make the Top 11 list. But ask me sometime and I'll tell you some bus stories. The rest of the trip was perfect. We met up with friends who live in the suburbs; we browsed our favorite stores (like the American Girl Store!) and ate at some favorite restaurants (Lou Malnati's!) We saw a Second City mainstage show (Matt's in Second City now, by the way! But he's not a performer yet.) We went to the German street festival. The best part of the trip was a totally spontaneous moment. While walking along Michigan Avenue with our friends, we spotted the old Allerton Hotel. All six of us have been wanting for years, we discovered, to see the top floor of the Allerton--it used to be a club called the Tip Top Tap. So we marched inside like we knew what we were doing, squeezed into the antique elevator (antique = tiny), rode up to the 23rd floor... and found, instead of a bar or club, the most beautiful ballroom! So simple and random and fun!
The Allerton Hotel
Inside the Tip Top Tap
7. Mystery Nights
I love my friends that I work with. I am so blessed to have such amazing and fun and wonderful colleagues! This year we started a tradition of "mystery nights." One person plans a night and extends a cryptic invitation (usually including instructions on what to wear or bring). The rest of us just show up--and fun things happen! Our first mystery night was a potluck dinner, followed by laser tag, and then a dip in the pool. We even had a Mystery Machine to ride in! (It pays to have friends with minivans.) Our second mystery night, which I co-planned, was a trip to the haunted corn maze and El Porton. Hopefully this tradition will continue into 2012!

8. Camping at Chubb Hollow
I've mentioned this before, but my Girl Scout troop used to camp at Embassy Suites. No joke. Despite my reputation as an "indoor girl," when my friends suggested we go camping over spring break, I agreed to go. Technically, we weren't really camping, in the full sense of the word. We rented teeny-tiny rustic cabins in the Ozarks. Tiny. Rustic. I just wanted to emphasize that again. I shared a cabin with my friend Sarah and her little girl. We took turns sleeping on the futon beside the fireplace--it got so cold in there at night! Sarah perfected her fire-stoking skills while we were there. During the day, we spent lots of time sitting around the fire pit. Come to think of it, we did that at night too. But also during the day we went canoeing and fishing and hiking. We played kickball and discovered a playground and crawled around in some caves and rocky slopes around the beautiful natural springs. We even found a place where we could watch Tiger basketball (hey, we couldn't be rustic and nature-y all the time.) I wrote a little bit about our camping trip here--it's mostly about the afternoon that my friend Jessica and I veered away from the group and ended up on an epic, seemingly endless hike through some really steep Ozark hills. I love an unexpected adventure! I think it shows tremendous growth (just overall life growth) that my camping trip made it onto my Top 11 list!
This is my favorite photo from that trip. I don't know why.

9. Participating in a flash mob
Once again, my clever coworkers made the list! Every year at our school talent show, the faculty perform a song and dance. This year we spread the word that we were too busy to plan anything... and then we surprised everyone with some flash mob-style glow stick dancing! I tracked the video down on Facebook earlier... Not sure how cool the glow stick dancing actually looked, but it was SO much fun participating in it! Here's the video!

10. Rediscovering my sewing machine and glue gun
I have been focusing this year on awakening my crafty soul... I set a goal to make all of my Christmas gifts, and I accomplished that goal! I relearned all of the sewing skills that I haven't used since high school. I started by making purses out of TOMS flags, and I recently sewed a dress! I learned how to make yarn wreaths and paper roses. I learned how to etch glass and make a photo mat out of felt. I made jewelry for an auction at church and more jewelry for Christmas gifts. I refinished furniture for my classroom and "upcycled" some old sweaters into Christmas decorations. I painted artwork for my walls. I led a group of second graders in a paint party (never thought I'd be able to do that!) I rediscovered the pain that comes with accidentally sticking my finger in a blob of hot glue. And today I made my first melted crayon art! Most importantly, I relearned what joy comes from working with my hands and creating things that I love. Everything that I have painted and glued and sewed this year is a reflection of who I am and the things and people I love. I'm looking forward to learning new skills and working joyfully with my hands in 2012 as well!

11. Being a fifth-year Element volunteer
If the events in this list were in order of importance, this would be at the top. The absolute best, most influential, most spiritually fulfilling experiences I've had in 2011 have come as a result of volunteering with the youth group at GUMC. If any of you awesome youth are reading this, I hope you know just how much you influence our lives as adult volunteers. You encouraged me to attend Emmaus. You challenged and inspired me at Discovery Weekend, SOS, and Crave. I always look forward to learning and growing and worshiping with you all on Sunday nights. I love you all, and I pray for you constantly. In addition to these amazing young people who have become such an important part of my life, volunteering with the youth has resulted in some amazing friendships with the other adult volunteers and our youth ministry staff. Friends, you all are my story editors, my Dream Team. I love you all, and I am thankful for your presence and influence in my life every single day.

I am stopping at eleven events, mostly because the "Top 11 of '11" sounds cool, but also because I've been working on this list for quite a while and I'm exhausted. I want to add so many more things: the Arcade Fire concert I attended with my brother; the wonderful Christmas I just shared with my family; the random weekend trip to St. Louis that I chaperoned with Butler; meeting new people like my sweet friend Fiona. I wanted number 11 to be "watching Jason shave his beard," but that hasn't happened yet. I'm looking forward to putting that at the top of my "Top 12 of '12" list a year from now :)

Pretty much, it's been an awesome year. I am beyond blessed, and writing this list has helped me to realize that a little more. I have incredible friends and an amazing family. I am so thankful and so undeserving!
I am so looking forward to seeing what 2012 will bring. I feel a year of changes coming on! Maybe I'll actually learn how to play the guitar. Maybe I'll be brave and go to SIFAT this summer. Maybe I'll move out of Collierville. Maybe I'll face my fears and kill a spider! Nope, I went too far. That last one's not gonna happen. Whatever comes my way, I'm bidding adieu to 2011 and welcoming in 2012 with a spirit of excitement and hopefulness. Happy new year to you all! May 2012 be a year of blessings and peace for you :)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Crafty Christmas part 2: Glass Etching!

I finally broke down and joined Pinterest a couple weeks ago, and I have become obsessed with finding craft ideas on there. Pinterest is where I got the idea for my brother's present: glass etching! Sounds scary and impossible, but it's actually very easy. I decided to etch a casserole dish, and I wrapped it with a collection of favorite family casserole recipes... I figured that three busy guys living in freezing Chicago might like some comfort food for dinner on cold, snowy nights. Plus, they can make a casserole in advance and freeze portions for nights when they're too busy to cook. In retrospect, I'm not sure if my brother's French roommate eats casserole... his side of the fridge/freezer is full of filets and fois gras... but hey, it never hurts to try new things!
To practice etching before I made the casserole dish, I tried it on an olive oil bottle... so my photos below go back and forth from casserole to bottle. Sorry about that. I didn't take as many pictures as I wanted because I was afraid of getting etching acid on my new iPhone.
To do this project, here is what you need:
  • Glass to etch (The instructions on the etching acid warn that it won't work on all Pyrex dishes; however, the casserole dish I used is Pyrex and it worked fine. Also, I had a few smaller items that I did test runs on before I started on the casserole dish, just so I could figure out how long the acid needed to sit on the glass.)
  • Small paintbrush (you'll throw it away when you're finished, so make sure it's not a good one)
  • Rubber gloves
  • A bottle of Armor Etch (costs about $20 at Hobby Lobby... sounds expensive, but it's a big bottle and you can etch a lot with it!)
  • Stencils and masking tape (They sell special letter stencils specifically for glass etching, but they are expensive, around $10 for a pack. They were also really small. I bought stick-on poster letters instead, and I used the extra paper around each letter to make my own stencils for about $3.)
First, place your design on the bottle and use masking tape around the edges to make sure it's stuck on there really well.

Using the small brush, paint a thick layer of Armor Etch inside each letter. Make sure you wear gloves while doing this! The bottle warns that Armor Etch can cause burns on your skin that aren't always immediately apparent. That doesn't sound pleasant.

The bottle says to let the Armour Etch sit for 60 seconds. I did that on a sample glass jar, and the etching is barely visible. For the olive oil jar, I let the acid sit for 5 minutes, and for the casserole dish I waited 10 minutes. I highly recommend waiting at least 5 minutes before rinsing.

Rinse the stencils and glass thoroughly under the faucet (still wearing gloves). Then peel the stencils off and admire your work!

Just so we're clear, this says "kickasserole." It's a little joke that my brother and I have...

It says "olio," which is oil in Italian
 These pictures don't really show how cool the glass etching looks, but I promise it's an extremely easy technique and it looks quite impressive.
I can't wait to make some monogrammed wine glasses--that would be a great gift!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Crafty Christmas: Yarn Wreaths!

This was a great Christmas! I can't put my finger on what exactly made this Christmas so wonderful... I think it was just the combination of family time, friend time, and not too much shopping... I am so blessed to have such wonderful friends and family. I know that year-round, but what better time than Christmas to reflect on how much love I have for the people in my life...

So, as I mentioned before, my goal this year was to make all of my Christmas gifts. Mission accomplished! Well actually, that's not true. In addition to handmade gifts, I also gave donations to SOS in honor of my parents and brother. I'm not writing about this to brag--instead, hopefully I can inspire others to give similar gifts! Anyway, I tried my best to take pictures of the gift-making process so that I could document it all here on my blog. Today I am going to post pictures of all the wreaths I have made in the past couple weeks. I posted a picture last week of the Memphis Tigers wreath I made for a friend... Here is a picture of my original argyle wreath, a Detroit Tigers wreath that I gave my dad for Christmas:
Yarn wreaths are really easy to make, and incredibly inexpensive, but they are a little bit time-consuming. I start by wrapping a straw wreath (anywhere from 10 to 14 inches, all costing under $5) a couple times around with whatever yarn I have on hand. I have a ton of yarn left over from old knitting projects, so I've been using a lot of that. If I have to buy yarn, I usually buy the "I Love This Yarn!" brand at Hobby Lobby because it is cheap and it comes in lots of pretty colors.
Straw wreath wrapped in yarn. I made a little loop at the top for hanging.

For the argyle pattern, I measured the circumference of the wreath, did some quick math to figure out how many diamonds would fit around the wreath, and then made a diamond stencil out of a scrap of paper. I cut diamonds out of felt and hot-glued them around the wreath.

Lay the diamonds out before gluing them, just to make sure they fit. I keep ending up with one extra, but the rest fit perfectly... just a mystery, I guess.
 Choose a contrasting color of yarn for the argyle stripes. Glue the yarn to the back of the wreath...

...and wrap the yarn around the wreath in one direction, making sure the yarn passes through the center of each diamond. Glue the end of the yarn on the back of the wreath.

Then do the same thing again, but wrap the yarn in the other direction so that it makes an X on each diamond. I covered the ends of the gray yarn with a scrap piece of felt, just so it looks neat... not like it matters, since it's on the back of the wreath, but I'm an OCD crafter :)

Finished argyle!
 To make this a "manly" wreath for my dad, I sketched a stencil of the Detroit Tigers logo, traced it onto orange felt, and cut it out. I'm pretty sure that sketching a Tigers logo that actually looks like the Tigers logo is the highlight of my crafting career. I'm super proud.
Then I painted both sides of the felt with ModPodge to stiffen it, let it dry overnight, and hot glued it to the corner of the wreath.
Dad seemed pretty excited about his manly wreath! He has been bugging me for a while to make a wreath for his office, but I don't think he expected me to actually do it. When he found out I was making all of my gifts, I could tell it was driving him crazy trying to figure out what I was planning to make for him. Along with the wreath, I made him some coasters with Frank Lloyd Wright prints on them, but I'll post pictures of those later.
Here are a few more wreaths I made for Christmas:

I made this for fun one day, and it ended up in mom's kitchen. She got a bonus gift, I guess!

I made this one for my grandma, using scraps from old knitting projects.

This one might be my favorite. I made it for my friend Butler who loves black, pink, and tie-dye...

To make the little paper pinwheel things, I cut two strips of paper, folded them like an accordion, and glued the ends together...
Make sure the strips of paper are the same width. This one is about an inch.
 Then I pushed the edges little accordion circle together, hot glued the center, and held it in place until the glue dried.
I covered up the messy hot-glue centers with little paper circles.
This is how I wrapped the wreath--recycled an old grocery bag, and decorated it with leftover yarn and paper!
I hope you all had a truly marvelous Christmas! I can't wait to share more of the fun gifts I made. Check back for more pictures and instructions for making coasters, etching glass, and the personalized last-name framed art I created for my mom.

Friday, December 23, 2011

"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store..."

I just realized that it's been almost a month since I wrote anything... December gets so busy! I've been on Christmas break for a week, and tonight is the first chance I've had to just sit on my couch and enjoy some peace and quiet (although I have some craft projects drying on the porch, so I can't get comfy here on the couch for too long).

This year at church, our awesome youth ministry staff has been encouraging the students to consider an alternative approach to Christmas. We talked one Sunday night about an organization called Advent Conspiracy, which encourages a simpler approach to Christmas. Presence, not presents. Give to those in need. Give handmade gifts. Don't be crazy holiday consumers. I love ALL of those ideas. So I decided to adopt some Advent Conspiracy ideas this year. Namely, I decided to make all of my Christmas presents. Yes, all of them. It's funny--when I mention this to people, I usually get a laugh and some cynical comment like, "it must be nice to have that much free time!" Well yes, I admit that as a teacher I have more time off around the holidays than many other people do. But look--it's after midnight and I'm still up, waiting for a coat of spray paint to dry! My response is usually something like, "all that time you spend shopping... that's the time I'm spending making things." It's true, but I still get a lot of weird, when-did-you-become-a-hippie looks.

I have finished almost all of my gifts. I've delivered a few of them already. And I have been documenting the whole process on my iPhone. Once all the gifts are given, I'll post plenty of pictures!

Some thoughts on my alternative Christmas:
-It is exhausting. And it takes a LOT of time. But the only holiday shopping I've done this year has been at Hobby Lobby and Target, buying supplies. I absolutely love not dealing with crazy Christmas shoppers.
-I'm saving money. I made three gifts for friends the other day, and all of them were free! I used supplies I already had around the house!
-I discovered Pinterest at a very opportune time. I already had some ideas of things I could make, but thanks to Pinterest I have learned so many new skills! And wow, there are so many ways to "upcycle" old t-shirts!
-I am giving fewer gifts this year. I hope everyone is okay with that. Well, actually, I don't care if everyone is okay. I have never been more excited to see my family members open their gifts. Each gift was carefully thought out, and I tried to create things that I knew they needed or would love... so much better than just buying sweaters for everyone!
-I also decided not to buy wrapping paper. It seems crazy and so wasteful to spend all that money on paper that will just end up in a bag on the curb by mid-morning on Sunday. So I'm using old grocery bags, brown packing paper, yarn, and permanent markers to wrap and decorate my gifts. Again, it's time consuming... luckily White Christmas is always on TV, so I have something to watch while I wrap.

I can't wait to post pictures of all the gifts I've made... but until they're all opened, I'll just have to wait! I did deliver a gift today--a Memphis Tigers wreath, for a Tiger-loving friend. I branched out of my usual paper-rose wreath design and tried to make something a little manlier than roses... tiger print argyle! He said he liked it... but he also said he wants to hang it where he can throw a basketball through it. Maybe I should have hot-glued a net on the bottom... Here's a photo:

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas weekend with your family and friends.