Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Homemade Christmas

I was pretty crafty this Christmas. I say that because it's rare I have the time or energy to do a whole lot of DIY projects. It probably has something to do with the fact that Tim is off school for a month. In any case, I got a lot accomplished in the way of making things myself instead of purchasing them. I made two strings of garland: one with paper doves + one with dried oranges. I was too lazy to take a picture of my own, hence the link.

I also did a handful of drawings for people who requested them for others
+ a couple people in my family.

For my sister - I still owe her other drawings! But I thought she might like this too.

For a friend's gift to her sister & brother in law.

For my brother in law's girlfriend. They live in San Francisco and this is a shot from their balcony. I (obviously) super imposed the image of the boy holding balloons (original source unknown) and added the text myself.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Photo Shoot

A week or so ago, our friend Danielle from Ever After Imagery treated us to a photo shoot! We've never had professional pictures taken of us ever, so this was such a blessing.  It was such a fun afternoon and Tim and I felt so at ease. Here are a handful of my favorites:

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Celebrating Advent

As promised, the advent post. 

Up until this year I don't think I even really understood what advent was except in the general sense that it was the Christian term for the weeks leading up to Christmas Day (the birth of Christ). I definitely felt clueless as to how to fully recognize it. Easter always felt easier to invest myself in emotionally.  The power of the Cross is always so tangible for me - it is by His blood that I am healed. The power of the manger seemed less so. I loved thinking about holding a tiny baby Jesus in my arms and what that might be like, but beyond that it just didn't hit me in the same way as imagining Jesus on the cross, dying for my sins.  So I always left it at "The birth is nothing without the cross" or something like that. Maybe it was because, as I mentioned, I just didn't really know what to do with the advent season. After all, nowhere in Scripture are we called to recognize this holiday (or Easter) in a certain way - it's based on human tradition but is truly a matter of personal conviction.

Nevertheless, I didn't like that Christmas felt void of the fullness experienced at Easter. I felt like I was missing out on a wonderful opportunity to marvel at the humble beginnings of the Word made flesh (John 1:14). So this year, I decided to stop letting my lack of "powerful feelings" keep me from experiencing the true joy that can be found in intentionally taking part in the advent season. One of those ways is by following along in the Desiring God: Good News of Great Joy daily devotional. The reflections are brief but packed with good stuff. I really appreciated the preface which gave a short synopsis on what Advent is and why it's celebrated (helpful!):

Advent is an annual season of patient waiting, hopeful expectation, soul-searching, and calendar-watching marked by many churches, Christian families, and individual followers of Jesus. There’s no biblical mandate to observe Advent. It’s an optional thing—a tradition that developed over the course of the church’s history as a time of preparation for Christmas Day. Many of us find observing Advent to be personally enjoyable and spiritually profitable. The English word “Advent” is from the Latin adventus, which means “coming.” The advent primarily in view each December is the first coming of Jesus two millennia ago. But Jesus’s second coming gets drawn in as well, as the popular Christmas carol “Joy to the World” makes plain: 
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.
I never knew that advent meant "coming." Knowing that helps direct my heart towards fostering a sense of anticipation. This may be obvious to others but for me, as I mentioned, this year is the first time I am approaching Christmas with new eyes and my whole heart. That said, I highlighted the part about there being no biblical mandate to observe Advent because I think it's common within Christians circles to promote the opposite - that you have to keep it strictly about Jesus and nothing more. Which is why I also appreciate this part:
Christians throughout the world have their different ways of celebrating Advent. Some light candles. Some sing songs. Some eat candies. Some give gifts. Some hang wreaths. Many of us do all of the above. Christians have developed many good ways of extending the celebration of Jesus’s coming beyond merely the short 24 hours of December 25. The incarnation of the Son of God, “for us and for our salvation,” as the old creed says it, is too big a thing to appreciate in just one day. Indeed, it’s something the Christian will celebrate for all eternity. Our prayer is that this little devotional ebook might help you keep Jesus as the center and greatest treasure of your Advent season. The candles and candies have their place, but we want to make sure that in all the December rush and hubbub we adore Jesus above all.
Yes. Good. Amen. Indeed all the trimmings of Christmas can be a serious distraction but are not all bad so long as they're kept in the background while Jesus stands at the forefront. We love putting up Christmas decorations, watching Christmas movies, and taking part in the usual Christmas festivities.

But the commercialism does bother us and now that we have kids, we are more conscious of how the other side of Christmas (Santa et al.) effects their (and our) focus of the season. For those of you wondering, we aren't doing Santa. But he won't be banned from our home - he'll simply stand in the same line up as any other fictional character - not real but fun to think about. Speaking of our kids, another way we are celebrating Advent is to do a 12 Days till Christmas countdown with the focus being again on anticipating the birth of Jesus. Jack is already solid on this knowledge, and I'm thankful that he really does show excitement that "Jesus was born on Christmas day!" But we'll also do something like this as a tangible way of experiencing the anticipation of his coming (thanks to Jami Nato for the inspiration):
In the future, I'd love to do a Jesse tree and make ornaments like this (thanks again, Jami Nato) - but it was a little ambitious for this year and a little advanced for Jack.

I've always loved the lighting of the advent wreath growing up.  My mom always bought the colored candles: three purple for the wise men, one pink for Mary and one white for Jesus. I guess you're supposed to use evergreens as well as a symbol of life but I adopted this design from the author over at Simple Notebook a few years ago. I didn't find a bundt cake pan until a few months ago (there not as easy to come by as you'd think) so this is the first year we're actually lighting candles. I found the filler + place mat at Target for $8 - total steal!

We also invested in a Nativity scene this year.  I love Fontanini sets the best, because they're more realistic and they remind me of the one my mom has. But they're seriously expensive, and this one was on sale (Tim went out at midnight on Black Friday to get it - a first). I felt it important to have the visual reminder a nativity set offers, especially for Jack. Right now it's kept on top of the book case in our dining room but as the boys get older and more responsible, I hope to keep it in a more accessible location where it can be interacted with.

Of course, these are all just visual cues and material ways of recognizing Advent. I could read a piece of Scripture a day, or light a candle every Sunday or glance up at my manger scene throughout the day but if my heart isn't right, none of it matters. The key for me, as I mentioned earlier, is to put my heart into this. Which is why I want to commit the next 14 days (and in future years, the whole advent season) to taking time each day to be in prayer and in the Word in hopeful expectation that I will wake up Christmas morning filled with a new revelation of God's presence in my life. My desire for this came when I began to think about what it would have been like two thousand years ago to live without the knowledge of the Gospel because it hadn't yet been fulfilled. Imagine being a Jew knowing that the Messiah, your Messiah, was going to be born in a few short weeks. Or, to bring it closer to home, imagine if you knew for certain that Jesus was coming back in the flesh this December 25, 2012. Imagine if on that day you knew you'd see him, touch him, hold him. I know I'd be giddy with anticipation. I'd be preparing. I'd be telling everyone. I'd be freaking.out. So I want to anticipate Jesus coming into my life in a new way on December 25. I don't know exactly what that will look like, but I do know that if I'm earnestly seeking more of him this Advent than something is going to be changed within me by Christmas morning. 

So that's me.
What are some ways you and your family recognize Advent 
or simply celebrate the Christmas season? 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

How to Create a Photo Wall

The voting was a bit split so I'm just going to start with the photo wall. The advent post was a close second but I still have some thinking to do on that subject, so it will have to wait a few more days.

The story behind the creation of the photo wall is this:

Some time ago, we purchased a large framed mirror from our neighbor's garage sale. It was nice (like, Pottery Barn nice) and I'd been trying to find something for a big blank wall in our dining room. At $30, it was the right price and seemed to be just what I'd been looking for. 

Our dining room is the center of our home in the sense that it's the room which connects the front of the house to the back of the house so we walk through it frequently throughout the day. This also meant that I was walking by that mirror countless times a day and looking at it. It's no secret that I'm someone who struggles with self esteem, and beauty and appearance is totally an unhealthy obsession of mine. I feel awkward confessing this, but it's the truth and I'm positive I'm not the only woman out there who can't seem to walk by a mirror without looking into it. Yes, out of vanity but more so out of insecurity just to make sure I look ok. Some of you probably think this sounds totally self absorbed, and you're right.. it is! But it stems from years of believing that my value as a woman is found in my appearance, and never feeling as though I measure up. Which is why I had to take that mirror down. There are days when I'm so consumed with the displeasure I experience when seeing my reflection that it brings me to tears. Sometimes anger. Sometimes anguish. This has been my pattern for years. I think it's the pattern of many woman. For those of you interested, Killing Us Softly is so worth the watch if you struggle with self image like I do (I think this is just a trailer, but you can find the full version presentations elsewhere on youtube). It was eye opening for me. And it explained a lot about why I feel the way I do about myself. I bet this whole conversation was not what you were bargaining for with a post on home decor!

Anyways, long story short, putting a giant mirror in a high traffic part of our house was probably the worst decision ever and only fueled the fire of an already serious issue. It was after a few Providential conversations and "ah-hah" moments that I realized the mirror had to go. It was an idol in my house. If I could have, I would have smashed it with a baseball bat. Instead, it's in our closet because we hope to sell it - hopefully not to a woman with self image issues. 

Of course, now I was left with that giant blank spot on my wall again and nothing to fill it with. 
Or so I thought (dot dot dot). 

A picture wall, like these, is something I've been dreaming of for a while. But to achieve this, you need... you guessed it, a large blank wall! Thank heavens that mirror was removed from it's throne and in its place I now have a beautiful collection of photos depicting our story. God is so good. He gave me beauty for ashes. Max Lucado once painted the picture of us as little children sitting and eating dirt and God, being the loving Father that He is, coming over and wiping our mouths, giving us a sip of water and handing us an ice cream instead. As cheesy as it sounds, this picture wall is my ice cream (and that mirror was my dirt). I can not tell you the freedom I feel now that mirror is gone.

Phew. Ok, well here's where the heavy stuff ends and the easy part comes: the how to! 

First, you need frames (duh). Ideally, you're one of those people who has the patience to make multiple trips to thrift shops to slowly build an eclectic but inexpensive collection. I am not one of those people. Thankfully, I was blessed to already have a number of frames around my house to utilize. Another option is to buy a pre-made collection (which I tried at first), but that can be expensive and I prefer picture walls with variety rather than uniformity. It was amazing once I started looking around the house how many things I found to build my collection - even though it meant pulling a frame or two that was already in use elsewhere. Truth be told, all of the included pieces were better showcased on the wall then they had been elsewhere in the house. I did purchase two frames (about $25 total) - one large oval one and a smaller decorative one to complete the look. So far, that's all I've spent!

Once I had my frames together, I played around with the arrangement on my floor to visualize spacing and placement. The trick, of course, is figuring out how to transfer your setting from the floor to the wall.  Lauren Conrad's blog, of all places, is where I found my answer. She suggested arranging the frames on top of butcher paper,  tracing your placement and then taping it to the wall (you can read the whole tutorial here). Ingenious! Except I didn't have butcher paper on hand (who does?) so I just used sheets of computer paper for the small frames and some plain brown wrapping paper I had for the larger frames. I then cut them out individually and placed them on the wall as I had on the floor:

If you think you'll have a hard time remembering which frame belongs to which cut out, then I suggest you number both.  After you've done that, it's time to hang! The best part about using pieces of paper as placeholders for the frames is that they'll help you determine where the nail should go; once the nail's in, just rip the paper down. I have to give a shout out to Tim who did all the nailing and hanging himself. He's far better at this part than I am. Of course, he may have had a tiny helper.

Here's a picture of the final product. I was so excited to be able to use those white shelves (which Tim got for free a while ago) because they add such a great dimension to the space. 

That big gap at the top is where the oval frame goes (I wasn't sure if I was keeping it at the time). It's currently hanging in it's place but it's a gloomy day and this shot was from a sunny day with better lighting. Plus, the frame is still empty as I'm waiting on some photos from our family photo shoot with our friend Danielle. Here's a sneak peek (in case you didn't see it on Facebook).

So that's the story of the photo wall. 
Or the story of me taking steps towards a healthier self image. 
Either way, my heart is lighter because I'm eating ice cream instead of dirt.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Post Vote

You know when you have a million things to blog about but you're too lazy so instead you don't blog at all? No, just me?

Well, how about this. Let's do a throw back to those old "choose your own adventure books" where you'd get to a real cliffhanger in the story and at the bottom of the page it would say something like "To follow the strange woman into the woods turn to page 5" except you get to choose which topic I blog about next:

  1. Creating a Picture Wall
  2. Moses at 11 months
  3. How I Plan to Celebrate Advent


    you could be really wild and submit your own idea for a post.

The choice is all yours. 
If you don't vote, I'll never post again.
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