Archive for the ‘Projects’ Category

Fun Creations: A Flag Party

I have a thing for functional art.  When I am able to create something useful, it brings me joy.

I also have a thing about waste, in as much as I don’t like things that are wasteful of time, efforts, energy, or resources.

When it comes to planning birthday parties for my kids, I try to take these two “things” (aka obsessions) of mine and make them work for me.  I prefer to decorate in a way that is reusable, and I aim to create party-favor / goodie-bags that contain useful/usable things (i.e., no cluttering tchockies).

I became a Mom on the Fourth of July, 2006, meaning my oldest turned 6 on 7/4/12.  With a backyard pool and a summer birthday, we have a pool party every year.  Still, Alex gets to choose the theme for his cake and decorations.

This year: Flags.

In his kindergarten year at the Montessori school he attends, he created a “Flag Book,” in which he drew pictures of some flags.

Add in the international scenes of the Disney Pixar movie Cars 2, and flags quickly became his favorite thing.

Unique party theme, for sure.  But also very little to go on.  When I asked Alex what he had in mind, the most he could offer was a vague idea of hunting for flags.

I knew he loved certain flags from certain countries for no apparent reason: Libya, Bangladesh, Japan, Maldives, Palau… Why?  “Because I like them.”  For goodness sake, I had no idea where to even find some of these countries  on the map!

So I requested pictorial books from the library and did some research.  There is a story behind every flag, some with far-fetched legends, others packed with symbolism.  THIS, I could work with!  During a long car trip, I grabbed some post-it notes and marked the pages which pictured his favorite flags.

The one idea I found on Pinterest offered food platters that replicated the colors and patterns of some flags.  The flags Alex liked the most had his favorite colors along with basic patterns he could replicate.  I used one idea straight from Pinterest: the Mexican flag represented by guacamole, sour cream, and salsa (using olives, cheese, and garnish for the emblem).

Flag of Mexico

For the rest, I brainstormed food ideas that could match the basic colors and patterns.  I tried to also keep the platters as healthy as possible, especially since my family and many of our friends eat (mostly) gluten and dairy free. (Hover over the picture for the ingredients.)

Flag of United States of America

Flag of Israel

Flag of Maldives

Libya Flag 1977-2011 (Qadhafi Regime)

Flag of Ireland

Flag of China

Flag of Japan

Flag of Bangladesh

Flag of Italy

I asked my friends and family if I could borrow any rectangular platters they had to use for the party–especially any with lids.  So I had plenty to work with and created FOOD ART! (Note: for the homemade blue cheese dressing in the Ireland flag, go here.  For the deviled eggs recipe in the China flag, go here.)

Display of Food Art

I was intrigued by Alex’s idea for a “Flag Hunt,” but I needed supplies to offer the parameters for the hunt.  My first thought was to try to make the flags myself… but the realities of the space-time continuum made that plan unrealistic.  I would have needed to start creating flags months ago.  Instead, I checked out Oriental Trading and found a package of 15 different 6″ x 4″ flags (72 total flags in a pack… meaning 4-5 of each flag).  I purchased 3 packages, so each party guest could have one of each flag.  While they weren’t the best quality (plastic flags on a plastic stick), they were affordable and could serve as both the scavenger hunt bounty and the party favors.

So I took another pictorial flag book from the library, a different color stack of post-it notes, and gathered just enough info to offer some of each flag’s story as part of the scavenger hunt.  While it was helpful to preview the library books (and “flag” them with post-its for easy reference), in the end I found that it was easier to copy and paste info from Wikipedia into a document (Flags Stories) rather than re-write each story.

Then, my husband and I brainstormed 15 different locations on our property (for 4, 5, 6, and 7 year olds to safely do a scavenger hunt).  I put on my cheesiest poetry thinking hat and came up with a song or rhyme for each clue.  (Again, I did this during a long car ride).

  1. Come over to play / on any old day / winter, spring, summer or fall. / In this box you’ll find / trucks, chalk, and balls.  [Outside Toys Box]
  2. For us to move to Nassau Bay, we have to sell our house one day.  This sign tells others who to call, and that there’s a pool for all y’all.  [For Sale Sign]
  3. STOP in the name of love, before you break my heart!  STOP in the car on the street if you’re driving!  [STOP Sign]
  4. Roses are red, violets are blue, Alex is turning 6, and so are many of you.  These flowers aren’t roses.  These flowers aren’t violets.  These flowers are petunias.  And they’re in a colorful box. [Flower Box]
  5. On a hot, hot, hot day / You come over to play / And to try to stay cool / You jump in the pool / And if you want a toy / Whether you’re a girl or a boy / You’ll find lots of tricks / Like dive rings and sticks [Pool toy box]
  6. Sand in your fingers, sand in your toes.  Sand in THIS yard.  You know where it goes [Sandbox]
  7. Waterslide, waterslide everywhere.  From where does the water come?  Follow the hose back to the SPOUT.  From THERE does the water come. [Faucet]
  8. The pool equipment goes whrrr, whrrr, whrrr.  Whrrr, whrrr, whrrr… [Pool Pump]
  9. Riding along in my automobile… Who knows what my car looks like?  [By the front tire of my car]
  10. Mary, Mary quite contrary.  How does your GARDEN grow?  With silver bells and cockle shells and pretty maids all in a row.  Alex, Alex with your cowlicks, where does your Daddy grow: tomatoes and Brussels  sprouts and veggies all in a row.  [Garden]
  11. Flower power in a chair, flower power over there.  Flower power in the sun.  Flower power; just pick one. [Behind one of the painted flower chairs]
  12. Repeat after me: There was a tree (There was a tree).  In the middle of a pot (In the middle of a pot).  And in this tree (And in this tree).  There was a lemon (There was a lemon).  A lemon on the tree, and the tree in the pot, and the pot on the rocks… [Potted Lemon Tree]
  13. Ding-Dong the witch is dead!  Witch old witch; the wicked witch!  Ding-Dong the Wicked Witch is Dead!  DING-DONG!  Bell out of order; please knock!  [Doorbell]
  14. Winnie the Pooh, Winnie the Pooh.  Tubby little tummy all stuffed with fluff, he’s Winnie the Pooh, Winnie the Pooh, willie, silly, nillie old bear.  Winnie the Pooh went to the six tall pines, but in our yard we only have one tall pine.  The next clue can be found there.  [Pine tree]
  15. Oh, say can you see at the dawn’s early light… I pledge allegiance to the flag…  Which flag are these referencing??? The final bag can be found near an American flag.   [USA Flag Decoration in Back Yard]

The clues really had nothing to do with flags themselves… they just brought the kids from place to place.  At the start of the scavenger hunt, I passed around “Flag Bags.”

Flag Bags used for Party Favors

I got 2 yards of the only “flag” fabric I could find at JoAnn’s, and sewed very basic bags.  I’m not really one for measurements or pinning in my primitive sewing skills… I basically folded the fabric to make sure I’d have enough bags for everyone.  Then I cut, sewed a seam at the top, and stitched down each side.  I would’ve used ribbons for the handles, but years ago my Mother-in-Law had sewn “ties” for a project my husband was working on, and I had a bunch leftover… I thought they made perfect handles for each bag.  Then, in the kids’ summer camp art supply section, I found very inexpensive fabric puff paints, with which I painted each guest’s name.  The Flag Bags were ultimately the kids party favor bags (reusable), included a couple of pencils from Oriental Trading.

At each location, they’d find a ziplock bag with a different country’s flag.  While the flags were passed around to each guest, I read a short blurb about each flag’s story.  To make it easier on myself, I had cut the Flags Stories document up into blurbs and stuck each into the corresponding ziplock bag of flags.

At the end of the scavenger hunt, the kids went back to swimming.  (If we didn’t have the pool, I probably would have done a few more activities, like having the kids make their own flag… but I find kids are content to swim and play!)  I encouraged the parents at the party to remind the kids about their flags when they watch the Summer Olympics, starting July 27.

In addition to the flag platters, for decorations, I purchased a couple of international flag banners (which are no longer available) from Oriental Trading.

I also decided to finally follow through on a gift idea for Alex.  At Christmas, my parents bought him an assortment of 100 4″x6″ international flags from Miniature Flag Shop.  He wanted to be able to put the flags “on the map where they go.”  So 7 months later I used the birthday-gift/party-decoration as motivation.  I found a 2’x3′ world map poster from  Michael’s for $12.99 (and used a 40% off coupon, of course).

Then at Lowe’s, I found a piece of 3/4 inch thick pine board that was the exact size I needed (2’x3′) for about $16.  I could’ve gotten plywood and cut/sanded myself for less money, but I was happy to save time, effort, and energy there.  Rather than using the real Mod Podge, I mixed up a homemade version with 50-50 glue and water and decopodged the poster to the board.  After it dried, I used the thickest nail I could find in our garage and “started” the flag holes on the countries.  Then, I gently drilled 1/4″ holes around the map.  I didn’t quite get all the countries, but I did focus on Alex’s favorites.

For the cake, I baked two 8″ rounds and decorated them as the two sides of a globe map.  When it came to the miniature international toothpick flags, I let Alex insert the bulk of them.

Globe Cake with Toothpick Flags

I made one yellow cake (on the left with Europe, Asia, Africa etc) and one gluten free, dairy free chocolate cake (on the right with North and South America).  I used America’s Test Kitchen yellow cake and buttercream icing recipes because they are phenomenal – tasty and (relatively) easy to follow directions.  The gf/df cake recipe comes from Hip2Save.  My kids and I LOVE this recipe because it tastes FANTASTIC!  It doesn’t use any “fake” flours or flour substitutes.  Since none of us have an issue with butter, I used the buttercream icing on everything.

I was pretty pleased with how it all turned out!  It was fun, functional, tasty, and healthy.

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Project Pamper Me

You know how sometimes you know something, but still: you manage to forget its meaning and import in your life?

I occasionally lead a retreat – a retreat that I created – called “Sabbath and the Busy Person.” Its focus is on breaking open the meaning of the 3rd Commandment to Keep Holy the Sabbath, and understand that it’s calling us to more than just worship. Sabbath is about stopping. Not doing. Just being. Refreshing the soul. Re-creating our passion and joy through recreation. Reconnecting with our best selves and the God who created us.

After juxtaposing the theological concept of Sabbath with the reality of our lives, I offer the practical wisdom of Stephen Covey’s 3rd Habit: Put First Things First. In addition to Covey’s time management insights, I also use spiritual insights from Robert Wicks’ Availability. When you’re “too available,” giving to everyone but yourself, you’re sabotaging your own efforts. When you’re tapped – completely wiped out – you’re no good to anyone. You need to take care of yourself, if for no other reason than to be a better you.

I know this. I teach it. I lead reflections and retreats on it. And yet I manage to forget it.

All. The. Time.

One of my favorite recent insights is how wonderful it’s been to have discovered the joy of having a hobby. I have posted about my new found hobby of Functional Art (see previous posts here and here), particularly with the addicting explosion of Pinterest. Not only do I enjoy actually doing these projects, but I find that when I do so, I’m able to turn my theologian-writer-teacher-mother brain off and focus only on creating something new. That in and of itself is a Godsend. Because when I do return to my busy-yet-wonderful-yet-stressful life, my brain is refreshed and energized.

I’m like: “Ooooh – so this is what people mean by ‘Get a hobby!'”

Shortly after the New Year, my Mom and I were having a conversation about trying to shift out of a negative mood. Mom was struggling with a multitude of things and wanted nothing more than to clear her mind of the anger, frustration, and hurt over a situation that was beyond her control. She had spent the morning trying to distract herself from it all by house cleaning, checking email, Facebooking, and whatnot. (Mom hasn’t yet discovered Pinterest, which may explain why she was not able to fully distract herself.)

Mom had the right idea, but the problem with her modes-of-distraction were that they were just time-filling tasks. She didn’t really enjoy any of them. In fact, they tended to drain her energy more than fill her up.

When you need to change your energy, when you need to refresh and re-energize, you need to do something you love. Just. For. Fun.

About a week after my conversation with my Mom, my friend Stacey emailed a few in the girlfriend group whom she recalled having some success with what she called “Project Pamper Me.”

I am feeling…stretched thin…doing everything for everyone all the time, and I am feeling like I just want someone to take care of me!
And…I realized I should pamper and spoil myself like I do for others. I had this realization this morning while simultaneously making the family’s lunches, breakfasts, snacks for the day, fixing their hair, filling out school paperwork all while they ate and I bustled around. And I thought: Man, I would like to sit down.
So…I’ve decided I want to start pampering myself daily…but that’s where I get stuck. What to do? How? So far I have been just sitting in front of the TV…I haven’t even brushed my teeth because I am so drained from giving everything to others and not myself. And I don’t really feel like Teen Mom 2 is the kind of pampering I need…
How do I make myself get up and do something good for myself when I just want to wallow?
What are some long terms ways I can pamper myself – and keep in mind: I don’t want one more “to do” that I need to do to stay healthy. Help!?!
Stacey’s complaint, assessment, and hope-yet-concern resonated deeply. One of the reasons I have been so WOW-ed by my new-found “hobby” of crafting is that it really is something I enjoy for me. And doing it recharges me.
Our group of girlfriends used to do yoga as our “Project Pamper Me” – sometimes as a group, other times individually. And we loved it. And it’s been a while since any of us have done it. In some way, I’ve heard each of us express the desire to return, but we each have a stressed out “how can I fit this in?” attitude about yoga. So far it has been too much. And “too much” doesn’t bring anyone joy.
So Teacher-Julie came up with a 3-Part Plan, and Kari and Amalour added insights to flesh it out.

Project Pamper Me’s 3-Part Plan:

Step 1: Identify the things you like to do that are just for you and bring you joy.

Make a mental list. Or a real paper one. Get your mind around what it is, what way it needs to function to be for-you, by-you. And maintain that approach. I can’t just do crafts “for” other people (on demand), because then it becomes a thing. Even if I ultimately give something to other people, if my hobby is to be rejuvenating and re-joy-infusing, they need to flow from me. Not from others.
Kari suggests:
  • Make a list of the things you enjoy that are just for you (include big and small things, i.e. pedicure, massage, movie, crafts, reading, going for a walk, sitting in the sun, taking a bubble bath, etc)
  • Make it for you, to relax you and bring you joy! (Not another task to be done!)
Amalour is someone who knows how vital relaxation can be to physical health. She’s in the process of beating an aggressive form of breast cancer. For the second time. After a full mastectomy. With a husband and three children under the age of seven. She offered some of her own personal approaches to Project Pamper Me:
  • Fit in at least two soaking baths a week, during the day when all the kids are away. I really take my time and totally relax.
  • Sit out in the sun for a while and get those good melatonin juices flowing.
  • Once in a while, get a sitter to feed and put the kids to bed. Then go to a cafe or Starbuck’s and read. Just get a break from the most frustrating part of the evening.
  • Grab a healthy lunch somewhere alone… somewhere I can get served.
  • When I haven’t gotten the me-time before the kids are home (and find I really need it), Tell them: “I need a little break, absolutely do not disturb me.” Make sure they have a snack, and go take a power nap or ready/study.

Step 2: Do that thing.

Make sure you’re staying true to the unblemished form of the hobby that brings you joy.

Step 3: Make a commitment to yourself to integrate it in to your life.

Sometimes integrating it in to my day is too difficult. But I can do a weekly commitment to care for myself.
Kari suggests integrating into daily life:
  • To implement it daily make sure you have a bunch of small things on the list – not just big things. That way, when you don’t have a lot of time you can still take 10-20 min for you!
  • I get in the TV trap too when I’m feeling worn out. Sometimes I choose to go with it and don’t feel guilty. Other times, I take a bubble bath and read a book. Definitely find some way, big or small, to pamper yourself daily.
  • If it makes it easier, pick the same time everyday.
  • If it doesn’t happen one day don’t beat yourself up, just start again the next day!
Amalour has the planning part down:
  • Look at the coming week’s schedule and block out the me-time. Because for me, it’s not always the same time of the day every day.
  • Make sure to leave ample time; don’t feel rushed.
  • In general, try not to schedule so much errand-running around.

Whatever we choose to do for me-time, be it a hobby or an indulgence, taking care of ourselves has to be a priority. Think of it as a Sabbath Moment; the time in which you get a chance to rest, reflect, and re-energize. It is in these moments which we remember to rejoice in the beauty of Creation. And it is through these moments which we become our best selves.

If you’re still not convinced, I leave you with the words of Robert Wicks:

If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for those you love.

Functional Art Endeavors with my Engineer

One of the things I love about my marriage is how Peter and I like to work together on projects.  I’m a theologian who likes to paint and craft, he’s an aerospace engineer who likes to build.  We have vastly different skills (and interests).  Instead of this being a source of conflict for us, we find that our differences compliment each other.   When we work on a project together, the results often exceed either of our expectations.  I now understand that this dynamic reflects what Stephen Covey talked about in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  “Habit 6: Synergy” is what happens with creative energy when people work so well together that the final product is greater than the sum of the parts (or individual efforts). Peter and I fondly refer to as being a “Super-Couple.”

Below are some of the projects we have worked on together:

Flower Box –  I casually mentioned that I would love a flower box outside of my kitchen window.  A few months later, my engineer built me one out of scrap wood in the garage, and I painted it in some of my favorite colors.

Play Kitchen Food – Shortly after we the boys got a play kitchen for Christmas, I saw the need for more and better play food.  Less plastic foods; more along the lines of the stuff the kids ate and saw in our own home.

Orange Juice Container: Engineer-Boy had a vision of creating a milk container, but since we don’t drink milk out of those half-gallon containers any more, it became an OJ container. Of course, I painted all the details… but I knew my boys would want to try to open and close it, so I was trying to think of a way to make that happen… In comes Peter with the idea to cut the whole plastic contraption off an actual, empty OJ container and glue it on to the wooden side.  Worked PERFECTLY!  One important lesson: although it’s easier to write with a Sharpie, if you polyurethane over it, the Sharpie will run. Use a paint-pen!

Bread: With his jigsaw, Peter cut, shaped, and sanded the bread pieces.  I did the detail paint.

Cookies:  Peter cut the circles out of plywood with a hole cutting drill bit… cutting these took a looooong time, but sanding was pretty straightforward.  I think if we were to do this again, I’d suggest buying wooden circles from a craft store and just painting them.   Important lesson from painting: When dotting the cookies with chocolate chips, avoid the temptation to think “more is better.” My first attempt looked like the cookies had some disease, like chip-pox.  Less is best.

Felt Food: I identified some of the foods we eat… ones that I could easily cut out of felt and glue together (no sewing needed):  fried eggs, bacon, ham, cheese, peanut butter, jelly, and lettuce.  I kept the list limited to the foods I knew would be easily recognizable in addition to easy to make.  Just cut and hot glue.  I did sketch lettuce leaf veins with a Sharpie.

My Love of Functional Art

Since I started writing again professionally, I’ve put the blog reflections on hold for a while.  My brain is a little tapped from working on curriculum materials for the US Catholic Bishop’s new Framework for high school religious education.  So, instead, in my non-Mom, non-writer time, I’ve been doing more artsy-crafty stuff.  The art gives me a way to unwind and get excited about something that has nothing to do with religious ed, spiritual growth, or the Church.  And while I paint or craft, I clear my head and am better able to go back to being a Mom or a theologian or a writer.  Or all three.

Normal people call this a hobby.  And they have one for exactly these reasons.

I’m new to the concept, think it’s GREAT, and highly recommend it.

I have only recently (as in: since I’ve had kids that love it when I make stuff for them) discovered how much I LOVE making stuff.  I call it “functional art.”  I don’t really enjoy drawing or painting a picture… the perfectionist in me gets so stressed out that it defeats the “enjoyment” part of the hobby.  BUT, if it’s going to be USED!?! To solve a problem!?!? Or to entertain my kids?!?  I love it!

I love the creative process.  I love the function it serves my family.  And as my skills have improved over the past three years, I have to say that if I can do this, you probably can too.

Here are ten of my Functional Art Projects (in no particular order):

 1.  As part of our environmental consciousness, we use cloth napkins in our house.  I realized at one point that it might be fun for the kids to have some kid-friendly ones.  So I cut up some fabric and ironed the edges with Heat-N-Bond.

2.  Since I already had Thomas fabric, I decided to line a basket with it for all the little odds and ends that kids pick up at parties and whatnot that don’t actually belong in any category other than “Random Stuff.”

3.  Three true statements: (1) My two boys are 17 months apart, which allows for the money-saving perk of hand-me-downs.  (2) My two boys are rough on their clothes, especially the knees, especially since they are clumsy like me and fall a lot.  (3) I am frugal and creative.  So, before I learned to sew, I just zapped these on with Heat-N-Bond.

4.  I found that the Heat-N-Bond also made for a good edge seam seal for making a tablecloth for the kids’ play table.

5. One of my best girlfriends is an uber-awesome party planner.  She even blogs about it at http://planyourownparties.blogspot.com/.  Anyhow, she is a waaaaay-in-advance planner, so when her soon-to-be 4 yr old announced that she wanted a Bear Wand and a Bear Folder for her birthday, Stacey turned to the girlfriend group and asked for help.  So I volunteered.   AND HAD A BLAST!  It was the best kid-birthday gift I ever gave!  And THAT’s how I started making homemade birthday gifts for all of our friends’ kids.

6.  Instead of a gift-bag, I found some birthday fabric and made reusable birthday sacks.

7.  I love, love, LOVE Dr. Seuss.  And so do my boys.  For Halloween 2009, I was still determining what they would dress up as… I tried asking them once, but they neither understood the question nor cared about the answer.  But I did!  So, while shopping for trinkets in the Dollar Bins at Target months earlier, I found the red and white stove pipe hat… which led to my decision to dress up as the Cat in the Hat with my “Thing 1 and Thing 2.”  I cut the white circles out of some cheap material and actually Sharpie’d the words on.  I believe I even had the red shirts in the boys’ drawers.  Once again, I stuck the the circles on with Heat-N-Bond.  At this point, almost 2 1/2 yrs later, I would’ve gone with better material and fabric paint… but to my surprise, they really held up ok!  I mean they LOOK homemade, but the kids LOVED them and so did everyone who saw them.  I found the knit hats for $3 each at Target.  I was pretty happy with this solution instead of a wig or actually dying my kids hair.  The boys wore those shirts regularly until Alex outgrew his.  I promised I’d make them new ones (with my vastly improved skills – I even sew a little now!), but that’s still in my projects-to-do pile.

8.  The following year, About a month or two before Halloween (in 2010), I asked my boys what they wanted to be.  BOTH wanted to be Hiro of the Rails, from Thomas the Train.  And THAT costume did not exist in the stores.  Or the internet.  I checked.  So, I pulled upon my days making props for theatre in high school.  Cut up three small “book” boxes, and taped and shaped 1 1/2 of  them together for each train.  Painted them black with acrylic paint, and detailed: wheels from red foam paper, faces from scrapbook paper with hand-sketched and painted on faces (a-la me), and crumbled black construction paper for the coal.  The only “cost” was some little headlamps I found in Target that could fit inside the toilet paper tube and turn on and off.  Oh – and don’t forget the frayed cotton ball steam coming out of the funnel.  The buffers were painted spice container lids hot glued to some red construction paper.  And then I just painted the rest of the details in gold and white acrylic paint.  When the boys went to put them on, I attached thick (2″ or so) ribbon with hot glue in “backpack” style so the boys could put the costumes on and take them off at will.  They were a HUGE hit – with the boys and the neighborhood.  And the kids played in and with them for months afterwards.

9.  So this past Halloween the kids wanted to be characters from Cars 2.  So I did my cardboard box cutting and taping… but because Francisco Bernouli’s car is a Formula 1, with the wings and all, I decided to paper mache them for extra support.  Knowing what I know now (about how hard it is to get red paint to cover newsprint), I would probably make the final layer of paper mache with white paper (and of course, letting it dry for a week) before painting it.  I insisted that the kids keep bringing me their diecast cars so I could model the details after it.  Using foam paper – and painting or marking with a Sharpie – worked really well.  I make Francisco’s wheels out of recycled nuts containers from Target, while Lightning McQueen’s were just the lids of the same containers.  (We were making and eating our own trail mix a LOT in the Summer and Fall).  I found two red hats from Michael’s and decorated with the foam paper.  It was super easy to do the character’s eyes on the hats, and that just finished off the Cars costumes perfectly.


10.  Again with my love of Dr. Seuss!  I made these around Thanksgiving, when it kinda-sorta starts to get a little cold in Houston… cold enough to warrant a jacket.  But you can really get away with a sweatshirt on most days.  This effort was in response to a request from Alex to make him a Lorax shirt.  It took me forever to finally find an orange hoodie (thanks Google and http://www.jiffyshirts.com), I began by sewing the felt whiskers together (four random triangles on each side), painted a black outline, and sewed them to the hood.  I also painted the black zig-zag across the sweatshirt.  Which at first, I HATED, but have grown to love… it’s very Dr. Seuss.  I never got around to attaching brown yarn to the top of the hood for the Lorax’s hair because Alex was just too excited to wear it… and that yarn is at the bottom of my projects-to-do box.  For Max’s Max-the-Dog, I sewed a red ribbon around the collar… which didn’t go as planned… because the sweatshirt immediately lost the flexibility needed to pull over his head… but I solved that by some old school cutting: scissors and a 2″ cut at the base of the neck so it was easier to pull over my kids big heads.  The ears were pretty simple, except I had to enlist the help of my 83 yr old MIL to hand sew them on to the hood.  I couldn’t get the machine sew to work well enough, and I loathe hand sewing.  She also reinforced the antler, which I made out of thick duck fabric so it’ll stand up easily.


I think I’ll post some more tomorrow.

Take the Time to Do the Prep Work

I am a project person.  From brainstorming to execution to reveling in the completed product, I love projects, especially the home-improvement, crafty, organizational ones.  I think what I love most, however, is how much I have learned through doing projects.  I’m not talking about the technical stuff, either.  What I’m talking about is wisdom.

About four months ago, I decided to refinish some old, tired looking patio furniture from IKEA.

Originally purchased eight years ago, the set fit the necessary criteria: it had a TABLE and CHAIRS that we could AFFORD, and it was STURDY (at least sturdier than the plastic stuff).  Neither ugly nor attractive (nor comfortable), we never really enjoyed the set.  And after we got nicer stuff, it was pushed to the margins of the yard, somewhat functional, but hardly used.

Refinishing the set was going to be a four-step process:

  1. Clean and Sand the Wood
  2. Prime with an oil-based paint
  3. Decoratively paint
  4. Finish with polyurethane

In all honesty, I don’t necessarily enjoy every part of every step in any given project.  Specifically, I neither enjoy cleaning years of caked on dirt and spider webs nor do I like sanding.  But if there’s one thing you cannot skip it’s the prep-work.

Taking the time to do the prep work always pays off in the long run.

In the case of this project, I begrudgingly admitted to my insistent husband that yes, I wanted to avoid frustration when it came time to paint the chairs, and yes, I wanted my efforts to be long-lasting, so yes, I would take the time to clean and sand the wood.  Yes, I would properly prime everything with the smelly, difficult-to-clean oil based paint.

In reality, “taking the time to do the prep work” applies to practically every aspect of our lives.  Take the “PIES” model of self-examination: Physical, Intellectual, Emotional, Spiritual.

  • Physically, when we don’t properly warm up or train, slowly building up to the goal, we are more prone to hurt ourselves.
  • Intellectually, when we don’t do the necessary reading or studying in preparation for a class or a meeting, the parties involved experience the frustration of wasted time, and the failure to perform can have ever-widening implications on our jobs, our reputation with others, and even in our personal integrity.
  • Emotionally, taking the time to do the prep work can impact our ability to truly be in the present moment.  Sometimes this is about coming to terms with where we are in the process of “change.” Other times, this is about working through “differences.”  Acknowledging and attending to emotions helps us to be more present to one another in the situation at hand, rather than being fixated on the past or the future.
  • Spiritually, taking the time to do the prep work is about cultivating ourselves as people of justice.  Spiritual prep work is about developing the moral character to be good people who do the right thing.  It’s about becoming a person who means it when they pray, “Thy will be done.”  It’s about setting aside the time to be with God in prayer while reflecting on life.  It’s about aligning our whole selves with the folks to whom Jesus says, “Come, inherit the kingdom…For I was hungry and you gave me food.” (Matthew 25:34-35).
When we take the time to do the prep work, the finished product doesn’t just look awesome.  It is awesome.  Through and through.

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In what areas of your life do you take the time to do the prep work?  In what areas do you need to be more attentive?  How have you noticed the difference prep work makes in your own life?

Just Do One Thing

Just Do One Thing

 On any given to-do list, there are the pressing errands and whatnot that need urgent attention and then there are the projects – small and large – that tend to get back-burnered due to time constraints.

A little while ago, my group of Mom-friends decided they were going to do Project 365, taking a photo every day for a year.  Most of them planned on scrapbooking (digitally or on paper), and documenting a year of daily life in their families.  While I loved the idea, my project list was waaaaay too long, and I was pretty happy with the ease of sharing photos and posts on Facebook for all of my long distance family.

Instead, I proposed my own version: doing a project a day for a year.  I figured if I could just do one thing from my project list every day, it’d really help me out.

I had no idea the profound impact that this practice would have on my life.

I started listing out all those back-burnered things – in no particular order.  At the time I was struggling with depression and an intense set of work deadlines.  Both motivation and time were lacking in major ways.  But moreover, I started to feel mocked by my to-do list.  And there was no way I was going to let a list win.  So I began my 365 Projects.

Just. Do. One. Thing

Some days I would just have 5 or 10 minutes in between work, house, and motherhood responsibilities.  Other times, like on weekends, I’d take a little longer.  I found that if a task required multiple steps – like first acquiring the supplies and then actually patching the holes in the knees of my boys’ jeans – I’d count that as two things, especially since I’d have to do each step on a different day.

Within a remarkably short period of time (maybe six weeks), I had accomplished all of the nagging tasks on my list.  By just doing one thing each day, I eliminated the feeling of being overwhelmed.  I became proactive.  I was, once again, making a difference the organization and function of my home; I was making a difference in my life.

But that wasn’t even the best part.  The BEST part was what happened in my attitude.

Completing each of these projects brought me a little joy.  Every time I would use a space or a “thing” that had been part of one of my 365 Projects, I’d smile.  Embracing that joy transformed my attitude.  Now, when I encounter something that frustrates me, instead of being overwhelmed by the ever-growing to-do list tasks (which will always be there), I get excited about the possibilities and begin brainstorming a solution.

My friend and mentor, Tom Groome offers a reflection on John the Baptist which resonates deeply with people in ministry (and for what it’s worth, I consider motherhood a ministry).  Tom praises John’s wisdom for knowing that he is not the Messiah.  I remember Tom inviting us to speak those words aloud: I am not the MessiahI am not the MessiahI am not the Messiah.

So often – in both our personal and professional lives – we feel like we have to do it all, so overwhelmed by everything before us that we can’t figure out where to begin.

Whether it’s your home, your relationships, your kids, your friends, your work, or the social injustices plaguing our world, it’s a good idea to remind yourself:

I am not the Messiah.

We have one of those.  It’s not all up to you; that’s what God is for.

At the same time, that doesn’t mean that the answer is to do nothing.

When looking at the social injustices in the world, it’s not uncommon to hear people (mis)quote Jesus, “The Poor will always be with us” (Matthew 26:1).

Dorothy Day responds to this beautifully:  “Yes, the poor are always going to be with us—Our Lord told us that—and there will always be a need for our sharing…It will always be a lifetime job.  But I am sure that God did not intend that there be so many poor…we must do what we can to change it” (“Works of Mercy.” Dorothy Day Selected Writings. Ed Robert Ellsberg. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1996, 111).

“What we would like to do is change the world…We can to a certain extent change the world; we can work for the oasis, the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world.  We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its ever-widening circle will reach around the world….[T]here is nothing we can do but love, and dear God—please enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy as well as our friend” (Ibid, 98).

Just Paint Over It

For the longest time, I really didn’t have a discernable hobby.  I mean I’ve always enjoyed doing lots (and lots and lots) of different things, but I never felt like I had a concentrated focus on any activity or interest to consider it my answer to what I would do for pleasure or relaxation.

Many of my closest friends and family members (especially my husband) would readily agree that the lack of doing something purely for pleasure or relaxation has been kind of a problem for me.  I don’t know if anyone ever bluntly told me to “go find a hobby.” Maybe they should’ve.  Hmm… Actually, I probably would’ve responded with, “I don’t have time,” which is evidently exactly why I needed one.  But I digress.

Several years ago, I discovered paint-your-own-pottery.  I loved the creative process.  I loved that so long as I approached painting like I was a 9 year old coloring a picture, it turned out pretty cool looking.  AND, I loved that I could use it in my daily life.

After a while, however, I found that paint-your-own-pottery was getting pretty expensive.  And really, how many mugs, plates, bowls, and light-switch plates does a girl need?  Well, over the course of 10+ years, it amounts to quite a bit of both: cost and stuff.

While excitedly working on painting a replacement tea mug, I mentioned my creative joy and my stumbling blocks to my friend, Stacey.  I wanted to do “this kind of thing” more often, but didn’t want the excessive cost or stuff.  She suggested: “Try painting on paper, just for the fun of it.  No one even has to see it if you don’t want them to.”

So I did try.  Twice.  Instead of feeling excitement, relaxation, and pleasure, I was filled with anxiety, completely stressed out about what I was supposed to paint and why.  The process itself was tainted by the fact that I genuinely didn’t like what I painted.  Moreover, I really did want to do something with it.  There was something about the overall purpose of the creation that generated joy for me.

Shortly after these failed attempts at making painting itself a hobby, Stacey’s sister Sara offered her own version of “Pinot and Picasso,” where she taught my group of girlfriends how to paint our own copy of a work of art with step-by-step instructions.  In case you missed it in the class title, there was also a promise of wine, so I was in.

Intimidated even further by the thought of painting on canvas, I hesitated at every step.  Then Sara said something that changed my whole approach to painting:

If you don’t like something, just paint over it.

How freeing!

This insight allowed me to experiment without hesitation.  I had infinite do-over’s.  If something didn’t work, I could just try again, and again, and again until I liked it.  Sometimes that meant starting over.  Sometimes it meant painting over the one spot that wasn’t working.  It removed the pressure of feeling like I had to have the whole thing perfectly planned out before I even started.  Or feeling like it was ruined by one little (or big) mistake.

As a proactive person, I don’t ever want to feel stuck in a complaining rut.  I’d much rather feel empowered to do something about it.  With this just paint over it insight, instead of feeling bound by a choice my attitude became one of exploring the possibilities.

What a wonderful approach to all of life!  If you don’t like something, just paint over it.  As I looked around at my house, my relationships, my work, and inward at myself, this insight became one of transformation.  Don’t trash it; don’t brush it under the carpet and ignore it.  If I didn’t like something, I could transform it.

The very idea of transformation cultivates hope.

In faith, this is the transformation that is linked to forgiveness.  The Greek word for what happens in the transforming process of forgiveness is metanoia.  It is a change of heart, a conversion where the person turns away from what is destructive, hurtful, hateful, and instead turns towards God.

Turning towards God involves

  • forgiving oneself and transforming one’s own character
  • forgiving others, seeking forgiveness from others, and transforming relationships
  • seeking forgiveness from God and becoming transformed.

Put another way, metanoia is about

  • becoming more (and more and more) of a good person
  • doing what is right
  • acting with love
  • helping others

Looking around your own life, what would you like to just paint over and transform?

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