Wednesday, December 30, 2009


This past Thanksgiving, I came home with a bag of t-shirts, and a vague plan.

"I'm going to make my Dad a quilt for Christmas!"  says I.

Yes, I have quilted before.  Always following a pattern, and always with plenty of lead time.

I had 7 days.

Enter my friend Lisa, who works for Briarwood Ballet, and also happens to be a very talented and experienced quilter.  I brought the bag of shirts to her, and she immediately got excited, showing me websites and sketching designs.

This was NOT what I had bargained for.  And, turns out, not quite what Lisa had bargained for, either, but it was terrifically fun and rewarding all the same!  Here's the process we went through:

1.  I arrive at Lisa's (amazingly cool, neat, funky, urban, historical) house with t-shirts in tow.  I had cut the shirts apart, and ironed them onto lightweight interfacing.  Lisa unrolls her design wall (think, flannelgraph) and we throw some pieces up there to see what we like.

Surprisingly, this took more time than I had bargained for.  The clock was ticking as Lisa scratched her head, puzzled, measured, sketched, and thought some more.
Here's Lisa, with the pieces squared (using a rotary cutter), thinking.
See the steam coming out of her ears?

2.  Now the creative juices start to flow.  (Must have been the awesome turkey paninis she made!  And the toffee. . . . .)  Lisa has me iron interfacing to some t-shirt material, cut, and sew into stripes.  Fun!  Don't they look like socks for Santa's elves? 

3.  Now I cut strips out of the fun backing material I picked.  Do you have any idea how hard it is to match turquoise, green, and red??  Lisa has even more creative juices flowing (must be the toffee, again) and the design wall starts to look like this.

4.  Time to measure and square off the backing material.  We are both astounded that the Lord has granted us favor - I've got little wasted fabric, and almost all Lisa's measurements work out!

  5.  Here is the finished quilt top.  There was a lot of sewing, a little re-sewing, a whole lot of praying and hoping going on.  We were both surprised by how good it looked!  Somewhere in the middle of the day I found out that Lisa had never actually "thrown together" a quilt like this - which made me even MORE impressed!"

6.  No pictures of this, although I thought I had them. . . next came the basting (spray basting in Lisa's kitchen - wow, was that fun!) and the quilting.  We had originally talked about my using red thread to quilt, but after I did about 6 inches I changed my mind, ran out to JoAnn Fabric & Crafts (thank you, 15% teacher's discount!!!) and bought invisible for the front and black for the back.  I really liked the fact that the invisible thread allowed the quilt top to stand out.

For my machine quilting, I used the "painter's tape" method shown over at Tallgrass Prairie Studio.  I really could not have finished the quilt on time any other way!  The pattern I used was called hanging diamonds - I quilted horizontal lines 3" apart, and then diagonals another 3" apart.

Finally, for the binding, I bought some sparkly-gold red fabric.  Thanks to this awesome book, (loaned to me by Lisa, but showed up under the Christmas tree for my very own!) I learned how to do a double-fold bias binding on my own!  I was sewing the last inches on the top as we pulled off the highway in Indiana. . . .gulp!

7.  It was all worth it, don't you think?

My sentiments exactly, Dad! 

(with extraordinary thanks to Lisa over at The Pipkin House!)
Not to mention my wonderful, amazing, husband, who basically ran the show for a week while I obsessed over this quilt and playing Handel's Messiah at church.  Love you, Babe!

Wordless Wednesday - Winter Edition

Saturday, December 26, 2009

My Favorite Gifts

I'll be the first to admit it:  my favorite presents weren't the obvious ones.

Not the ones bought from a store, on the wish lists, much-longed for and frankly, coveted.

But the simple ones.

The dispenser of soap the 5-year old picked out for her two sisters.

The super-hero cape the 9-year old insisted we make for her little cousin - even though it was the night before we were to leave - carefully sewing the straight seams herself. 

The homemade pencil holder for her Daddy.

and many, many more gifts that our children carefully planned, chose, and gave.


Out of love.

It was a truly beautiful thing.

and one more thing. . . . .

isn't that like our heavenly Father?

Giving us not what's on our wish list, born out of our greed and envy,
but giving out of His matchless grace.

and love.

The One True and Perfectly Beautiful thing.


Friday, December 25, 2009

Reflections on Christmas: Indiana Edition

There was some serious packing. . . . . . .

Some tree trimming. . . . . . .

Some decorating. . . . . . . .

Lots and lots of knitting . . . . .

Museum-going. . . . . . .

Quite a bit of cookie-eating. . . . . . . .

One extremely cute toddler. . . . . . .
A little bit of story-reading. . . . .

Surprise gift-giving. . . . .

And a whole lot of family!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Stockings Were Hung - or -

"Be Careful What Traditions You Start If You Have More Than Two Children!"

 Eighteen years ago, I started a tradition.  A tradition that has lasted through a multitude of cross-country car trips, doctor-waiting-room visits during pregnancy (many of those), and quiet nights with my feet up (ok, so not so many of those. . . . . . )

I decided - back when I was barely twenty-something - that it would be charming and meaningful if I cross-stitched Christmas stockings for the whole family.  Stockings that had either a Bible verse or a scene from the Nativity on them, that the kids could take with them when they started families of their own.  That was - ahem - back when it was just Yurii & I. 

I should have known better.

As I had more and more children, they got older and older before their stocking was completed.  The next child on the list often had to make do with a fuzzy dollar store stocking with a glitter name hastily scrawled.  Finally - FINALLY! - I put the last stitch in Amy's stocking this past Thanksgiving, on the way home from Indiana.  Here it is:

So now, they're done.   We have a whole row of handmade, lovingly stitched, Christmas stockings hanging by our fireplace.

And now - for the first time in eighteen years - I left for a long car trip without my sewing bag.   Yurii's response:  "Really?  You're NOT bringing it?"  Yup.  Thankfully for me, I had a certain sneaky Christmas gift to work on (which I can't blog about - YET) that prevented too many withdrawal symptoms.  But for the return trip home. . . . . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . anybody need any cross-stitching done??

Monday, December 14, 2009

Monday Merriment - Five-Year Old Style

Overheard in my house:

Amy:  "Mom, if I made a surprise for myself, I would know what it is!"

Sunday's Sentiments - He Knows Our Needs

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
O'er the world a star is sweetly gleaming,
Now come the wisemen from out of the Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friends.
He knows our need, to our weakness He is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend! 

Heard this verse to O Holy Night today -  which got me thinking not only of this scripture:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but on who in every respect has been tempted as we are,
yet without sin.
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace,
that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
(Hebrews 4:15-16)

But of a discussion we had around the lunch table last week.

Last year, we studied ancient history - from Creation until the Fall of the Roman Empire.  And one of the things that we saw so clearly, over and over again, was the insufficiency of the ancient gods.  The "otherness", the aloofness, their whims and caprices, remoteness, and inaccessibility.  The ancient gods were feared, worshiped, placated,  dreaded. . . . . . . . .

But never with us.  Never sympathizing.  Never taking on our weakness.


Immanuel.  God with us.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Baby Jesus and the Handwarmers

Each year, our church stages a large "living" Nativity - the scenes, complete with live animals and people, tell the story of the birth of Jesus, from the prophecies, to the birth, the reactions of the shepherds and the visit of the Magi. . . . . ending with His miracles, crucifixion, and the empty tomb.  Recordings tell the story, complete with Scriptures, and as visitors walk by they are shown the reality of Christmas - the birth of the Savior.  Afterwards, they're invited inside for hot cocoa, cookies, and a warm encounter with members of our church family.

It's a massive undertaking, with many folks serving in the scenes, directing traffic, baking cookies, greeting visitors, and sharing the gospel.  This year, Yurii, Emily, and Hannah were in the cast; Nathaniel shared the gospel and handed out literature in the Fellowship Hall; and I helped dress cast members (including a VERY fun group from our Hispanic ministry, but that's another blog post in and of itself!).  Kathryn had a ballet rehearsal at another church, and Amy - well - as she put it, "I'm not old enough to sit still and not talk, Mom!"  Truer words were never spoken.

Here are a few fun pictures from the night.  The girls were beyond thrilled to be assigned the manger scene.  And Yurii. . . well, he's just a good sport, that's what he is.  Especially when it was barely in the 30s, which is COLD for us Southerners!

It was all about the goats for Emily & Hannah.  Don't they look happy?

It was so cold, even baby Jesus needed a handwarmer!

And final reason I love our Walk-Thru Nativity.  Because, without the empty tomb. . . . . .

we would have no reason to remember the birth of a boy,

no reason to celebrate the Incarnation of a most Holy God,

and no reason to rejoice in Immanuel,

God with us.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Feast of Saint Nicholas

Look what we found on our front porch on Sunday, when we returned from church!

Five - no, make that SIX - lovely stockings, embroidered with the names of all the children (and our dog, of course!), stuffed with chocolate and other goodies. 

I think Hannah was the most excited.  She jumped up and down, exclaiming, "It's a Christmas MIRACLE!"  Well, not quite, sweetie, but it was wonderful, wasn't it?

We were all stumped until my trivia-filled brain happened to dredge up the fact that Sunday Dec. 6 is the Feast of Saint Nicholas - you know, Santa Claus?  Turns out, that the real Nicholas was a bishop of the early church, and made a practice of dropping coins in the stockings of the poor in his neighborhood.  It's a bit more involved than that, but you get the picture. . . .

How lovely to experience such a blessing.  So to whoever our mystery "Saint Nicholas" is. . . .

Thank you!

Friday, December 4, 2009

I Think I'm In Love

In the past 5 days, my beloved has:

•  made me breakfast in bed
•  made 3 dinners
•  reassigned chores to children
•  taught children how to thoroughly clean the bathroom
•  scrubbed my horrendous bathroom floors
•  designed a program for our Medieval Feast
•  given me space and time to do long-neglected chores
•  greeted me with smiles, hugs, and kisses
•  gutted and reorganized his closet
•  walked the dog in the dark, cold evening

. . . . . . . and a host of other things that I'm hardly aware of.

Do you think I'm glad he's home???

Thursday, November 19, 2009

My Laugh for the Day

The text reads:

God Said it.
I interpreted it
as best I could in light of all the filters imposed by my upbringing and culture which I try to control for but you can never do a perfect job.

That doesn’t exactly settle it
but it does give me enough of a platform to base my values and decisions on.

(Many thanks to Aaron over at Blogging Theologically for the laugh!)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Tribute

To my beloved:

All day, I've watched the emails you've sent to our home account.  The tributes, applause, and moving words from those you've worked with these past 17 months.

Now it's my turn.

20 years ago this week, I ditched the plaid pants, took a chance, and went to see Pirates of Penzance with you. Baked an apple pie, sat in a freezing Datsun while nursing a fever, drove out to a little town called Pelham. . . . . . . . and said yes.

Yes.  To what, I had no idea.  Neither of us did.

To new life in Christ.  To five beautiful souls gracing our lives.  To ups and downs, ins and outs, North and South, richer and poorer, joys and sorrows.  Peals of laughter and agonizing, soul-crushing depths of despair.  And the Lord holding our hand and bringing us through it all.

You may never know.

How much I admire you, your steadfastness in supporting our family.  Getting up on Monday mornings at 4 am, living in so many different places, toting water to flush your own toilet, running extension cords for a little light.  The loneliness you must have struggled with while living apart from us.  Your integrity, and tenacity, and honor.  The impact you've clearly made on the lives of those around you.  The impact you make on the lives of your children, who have missed their daddy so much, and look to you as their guide.

You may never know.

They have seen Christ through you.  And I have seen Christ in you. 

I don't know what the Lord has for us.  Thankfully, I didn't know 20 years ago, either.

But I do know this.  As long as He allows, I will walk beside you.

For I love you.  And it will take me a lot more than the next 20 years to tell you so.

Welcome home, darling.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

It's the Most Wonderful Time. . . . of the Year!

Operation Christmas Child time, that is!

We've participated in this ministry, run by Samaritan's Purse, for many years now.  Unfortunately, as our family has grown, our budget has not, and often we've had to disappoint our kids by not allowing them to pack their "own" shoe box.  Last year, we packed two shoe boxes. . . . . .

Fast forward to this year.  Our family was blessed by an anonymous donor through our Sunday School class, who gave us enough money for SEVEN boxes!  What fun!  Emily & Hannah took their own cart through the store, picking out things left and right.

Obviously, we should have supervised them more closely.  Look what we came home with!

We had so many gifts, we ended up dragging out a couple of plastic storage boxes to make extra!  And aside from Amy, who had a minor meltdown over packing the dolly she decided she loved, the kids all had happy, generous, tender hearts, at the thought of giving gifts to those who are in need.

It was a joyful night.  While we listened to Christmas music, the kids wrote letters to the children who would be receiving the gifts, enclosed a picture of our family, and prayed over the boxes.

I think I'm ready for Christmas now.  What a wonderful start to the season.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Monday Merriment

There are some sure signs you live in the South.

Take NASCAR, for example.

Then there's The War of Northern Aggression Against the Free and Independent Southern States.

Or grits.  I just don't. get. grits.

Hairbows and smocking.

And this gem:

We're driving home from ballet tonight, and Amy is singing her new choir song.  She's been listening to the CD done by the wonderful choir director, who happens to be very Southern.  The short /e/ sound does not exist here, as is evidenced by Amy's translation:

"Mary and Joseph - - - They rode a donkey - - -
It was a long way - - - To Pet-the-lamb!"

That's one for the books!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Kicking Our Heels Up

Last Saturday, we got to experience a good old fashioned Barn Party!

Our friend Mike & Alison Bailey, along with their 5 kids, hosted us (and 314 of their other friends) for an evening of some real down home Southern fun!

First, there was the food . . . . lots and lots of food!

Then there were the friends. . . lots and lots and LOTS of friends!
(ok, so we didn't know them all. . . .)

The Bailey's had arranged some great entertainment for the throng!  Lots and lots of great bluegrass music!  Our dear friends the Travers performed. . . . . .

(my pathetic attempt at artistry.  I stumbled across this shot while getting something from our van.)
(this is a candid shot of three Travers kids - Evan on bass, Michael on dobro, and Bethanne singing)

If any of you are familiar with the Homestead Blessings series put out by Franklin Family Films, these are the West ladies, singing some really tight, beautiful vocal harmonies.  

And then, the famous Pie Contest.
Here's my entry - Pear-Cranberry Crumble Pie.  I invented it myself!

and it didn't win.  But at least I have a yummy new pie recipe!

The kids had a great time visiting with their friends. . .   

and then. . . .the Square Dancing!!!!

Yurii & I even got to dance a set - and much to the hilarity of the onlookers, we couldn't hear the caller, which made for an, um, interesting experience.

Emily and Hannah enjoyed the dancing. . . .

and even Amy got into the act!

By the end of the night, we all felt like this:

Couldn't have asked for a better evening!