Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

(So, today, pretend to sit down with me, and pick your choice: hot chocolate or peppermint mocha, and I will subject you to the wanderings of my mind...)

I am strange. I tried to deny it, but I really have learned it is better to just own it. I love this time of the year. And I am not talking about Christmas. I do love Christmas, but I really get in my groove the day after. It is not just the clearance shopping, either.

I am ready to be refreshed. I spent a whole year working, scheduling, making, breaking and generally just trying to get everything done. I need a new start, a clean slate. I am not much one for making New Year's resolutions-mostly because it is more likely that I *won't* do what I resolve to do, than actually accomplish it!

However, I do really feel like I am getting a wonderful, unblemished gift. If, as Anne of Green Gables would say, "Tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it.", then surely a whole year of new tomorrows is as vibrant as a vegetable growing in the garden-full of possibilities!

I know that I don't need the numbers of the year to change to make a fresh start, but there is so much putting away of the old at the change of the year. Throwing away old calendars, packing up Christmas decorations, which leads to house cleaning and a general decision making time. What will I keep and what will I give up to make room for something better? Even stores are making sweeping changes, clearancing out everything from clothes to bathroom soap.

And it just is a whole new year to envision living better and more fully than I did the year before. If this year has been good, how much better can I make the new one?

 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.”  Mark 2:20-22

I want to pour new wine into my new wineskins! I want to have new clothes, so I don't need to patch the old ones. And I love new- new jeans, new towels, new packages of candy. And that is how the new year feels to me. It is a significant point of change- all perfect and unblemished. And that makes me excited. I get to make changes and learn from the mistakes of the past year. Yes, of course, the coming year will have its share of trials and imperfections. But I get another chance.

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland." Isaiah 43:19

Last year, is so, well, last year! I serve a God of not just second chances, but eternal forgiveness to those who seek it. I am overjoyed at the prospect of my 30th new year- one full of chances, choices, and completely unblemished, fresh with no mistakes in it. I am excited to see all the ways that will be made for me, all the streams that will bubble up unexpectedly. This really is, to me, the most wonderful time of the year. I love a new year!

I will leave you with my favorite "after Christmas" carol (by the way, Boxing Day is celebrated the world over on December 26th)

Boxing Day
(Relient K)

Take it all down
Christmas is over
Do not despair but rather be glad
We had a good year. Now let's have another
Remembering all the good times that we had

Oh no more lights glistening
No more carols to sing
But Christmas it makes way for spring

The hearts of men are bitter and weathered
As cold as the snow that falls from above
But just for one day we all came together
We showed the whole world that we know how to love

Oh no more lights glistening
No more carols to sing
But Christmas it makes way for spring

Oh, remember that Christmas, it makes way for spring.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Most (Im)Perfect Tree in the World

I have one simple requirement for our Christmas tree. At some point it must have been alive-read: I want a real tree! I don't have a problem with other people having fake trees, but they are not for me. I love the "trouble" of watering the tree every day, I love vacuuming up the needles, I love the irregularity that can only come from having a tree that grew, in the sun and in the rain, until I brought it home.

And this year, I had the perfect plan for obtaining one. The last three years we have been gifted a tree from the Trees for Troops program. The trees have been beautiful- full, tall, gorgeous trees that probably would have cost somewhere between $45- $70 each. One year we even got a Noble fir! Anyway, now that Joel is no longer in the military, we aren't eligble, so I had to re-group.

I had heard that you could cut your own tree through the Forest Service. The permits were only $10! It would be so great, we would all go out together, tramp through the woods, select a wonderful tree and bring it home. I had done it once before with my parents, and it was fantastic memory. Joel purchased our permit and we were all set. It would be Christmas card perfect.

And it all went downhill from there. We had planned to get our tree on Friday, but when I looked at the weather on Wednesday, (when the temperatures were in the 50's) I saw that on Thursday the weather service was calling for the bottom to drop out: temps in the 20's, snow, and lots of wind. Not exactly ideal tree-cutting weather!

So, we decided we would hurry and go on Wednesday afternoon after Joel got out of school. My first mistake was forgetting my camera. Fail. Then we drove up to the forest, and it was beautiful. I wasn't expecting "perfect" trees, so I wasn't surprised by the sparseness of the growth, I was confident we would find a wonderful one.

The kids were not impressed by our nature trek. It was during nap time, so Carson, usually my outdoor lover, was crabby. Jocelyn was tired of walking up and down-it was very hilly. We were having zero success. All the trees were wrong: too small, too tall, too sparse, bare on one side, crooked... I could go on and on. There were a number of other tree hunters out there and they did not seem to be struggling. They were chopping and strapping trees on cars, no problems.

Part of the reason was that they did not seem to have any problems breaking the rules. The permit specifically states the areas where you can cut trees. Also, trees cannot have trunks thicker than 6 inches in diameter, and you are not allowed to "top" trees- they must be cut off near the ground. I was determined to obey the rules (I must have had a greater fear of the $5,000 fine than they did!).

But that was making it hard. Actually impossible. Finally, we found the most likely candidate we had seen. It was the right diameter, although it was far too tall. But we figured we could pare it down once we got it home. We looked around for a while longer, but not having any more success we decided to go for it. Once we cut it, I realized it was even more sparse than I had originally thought. I chose to be optimistic, though.

It was the PRICKLIEST tree I have ever handled. Jocelyn started singing "O Pokey Tree" on the way home! Both Joel and I sustained various injuries- the tree seemed to be fighting to stay in the forest. But we wrangled it onto the truck and got it home.

Where I realized, that to make it fit in our living room, we would need to cut off about three feet. Of the best part. My little sparse tree would be even more sparse once we cut it down to size. We fought to wrap lights on it, getting poked the whole time. And it wasn't like the Christmas movies. It did not magically become more full once the lights were on.

However, I realized something. Our poor little Charlie Brown tree has character. And we had fun getting it. And it is real. So, I can give in to the imaginary expectations that I so often let rule my life, or I can be happy with what I've got.

And I am. I realized that is what I want all of Christmas (and my life for that matter) to be about. Getting to the true meaning and not being ruled by everyone else's expectations- real or imagined! In the end, I have to live with my tree AND my choices. And I want to know that I pleased the Lord and went with the "real" thing (not that I have anything against other people having artificial trees- I am really applying this to other areas of life!) in all areas of my life. Because I have to live with my tree-and my choices-not everyone else.

"I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength." Philippians 4:11-13

In the end, I will be called into account for my choices, and I want to know that I have the strength of character to make such wise decisions that I will be proud to defend them when I need to. And also, to have enough confidence in Christ to know that I can be happy being different- even if that sometimes is a little prickly...

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Easy Snowflake Ornaments

If you want a quick and easy Christmas craft, this is for you! These snowflakes would be perfect as gift tags/package toppers, too. I loved that they have a sort of vintage/Swedish vibe, which is so trendy this year.

The list of supplies is laughable:

-white spray paint
-a ruler
-hot glue gun
-and the secret ingredient...toilet paper tubes!

I photographed the ribbon, but I was inspired to add them to my fireplace garland, so I didn't end up using it.
Start by prepping your paper tubes. There were little bits of paper stuck all over them, but it is really easy to remove all that by rubbing the flat side of your scissors blade up and down the tube. That makes it nice and clean.

Then, take your tube and flatten it. Measure out half-inch increments. You don't need to mark all the way across, just make lines so you know where to cut. Then cut all the way across.

You will end up with a pile of  ovals. You can make one of either kind of snowflake with one tube. If you go through toilet paper like we do, however, you can probably make enough to trim an entire tree with what you save in a week! That is probably more information than you wanted.

Take your ovals and glue them together with a small dot at the bottom. If you want to make the eight pointed snowflake, glue four ovals together, then a separate four. Stack them, rotating the top section slightly, using a glob (professional word, by the way) of glue in the center to hold them together. For the five pointed ones, just glue five ovals together at the center.
Once the glue has set, you can spray paint them. If you wanted perfection, you could hand paint them with craft paint. I am too lazy for that. I put three coats of paint on, they dry at lightening speed. However, the cardboard sucks up paint, it wouldn't have hurt anything for me to have added a fourth coat. But I was in a hurry and not looking for perfection!
I was very pleased with how they turned out. You can see a little of the numbers they print on the inside of the tube, but you have to look at them pretty closely.

They are the perfect accent to my holiday garland! I didn't need hooks or anything to hang them, I just stuck them right on the garland. It might be fun to whip some of these up and hang them from the ceiling with some ribbon. I don't think anyone would guess their humble origins.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Pretty Paper Christmas Wreath

I  love making wreaths. It is a very satisfactory activity for someone with a short attention span, such as myself. In the wonderful world of Pinterest, I found this wreath. If you look at the tutorial, however, she has a lot of things I don't have. Like a really nice printer. She printed all the cardstock. And then she glues antique book pages to the back of each strip. Not gonna happen. Her's is beautiful, don't get me wrong, but obviously she is more patient than I am! Also, I didn't really want a year-round wreath, I wanted a Christmas wreath! So, while I needn't rewrite her perfectly fine tutorial, here is what I did.

I purchased:
- Floral pins ($4.99 at Hobby Lobby-used a 40% off coupon)
-12 inch straw wreath ($2.99 at Michael's used 20% off coupon)
-Colored card stock ($9.99 regularly at Hobby Lobby, on sale for 50% off) It is called "Christmas Brights"
-Roll of polka-dotted ribbon ($1.99 regularly at Michael's, on sale for 70% off)

(Is it weird that I want to see pictures of this kind of stuff? I get so frustrated when I can't visualize what someone is talking about. So, I posted one for you!)

She recommends cutting your card stock into two-inch widths. Since I went with a smaller wreath, that would have been a little too large. I used the really nice commercial paper cutter at our church and I chopped my paper into 1 7/8 inches (approximately). The nice part is that I also ended up cutting a few by hand, and you can't really tell the difference. The other cool part: I only used about 15 sheets of the card stock, so that made this a really cheap project, coming in around $7. You could make one for every season!

So, anyways, you cut your paper into strips, then you put the ends together and push a floral pin through the paper into the wreath. Note here: do not put your strips too close together. I found that if I put the top of one strip in the middle of the strip underneath, it was about right. If you put them too close it makes it too full and it looks funny.

That is really all there is to it! I made the little paper accordion like she did, but I don't know if I love it. I will probably leave it, anyway. It was really tricky to form it into a circle! Then I used a one inch punch on some left over paper and hot glued the little circle onto the accordion. I added a little ribbon, and it was done. The whole project probably took me about 45 minutes, after I cut the paper.

I think my short cuts made it less difficult, but not really any less cute. I am happy with it, and since I have a tendency to want to change things up frequently, it will be really easy to remove it all and start again. It will make a great addition to my Christmas decorations. I love a simple DIY, especially at Christmas time!


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