Happy New Year

Just popping in to say hello! I hope everyone had a delightful, peaceful Christmas. Ours certainly was. I had a lot that I wanted to share today, but I've been cleaning all weekend, buying groceries, etc., in preparation for my in-laws' arrival tonight from Ohio, and I find myself a bit brain-drained! I will mention, though, that I've finally made a good dent in Acedia & Me by Kathleen Norris. (excerpt here) (In case you are not familiar with her, she had several books on the bestseller lists a decade or so ago, mostly dealing with religion and, a personal favorite topic of mine, living in western South Dakota.) Acedia & Me was a bit slow to get into, but now I'm finding myself absolutely fascinated by the connections she's making between acedia and so many of the issues in our society. I'm sure there are other interviews out there, but you can find one here. I'm marking lines on nearly every page and will likely read it again soon so I can more fully grasp the concepts. So much of what she writes is resonating with me, although she does write from a somewhat different tradition of Christianity than I am in.

I was blessed with many thoughtful gifts this Christmas. One I want to mention for my Orthodox friends is Mary the Mother of God: Sermons by Saint Gregory Palamas, edited by Christopher Veniamin and available from Mount Thabor Publishing at St. Tikhon's Monastery. I began this book this summer while visiting friends (who subsequently sent it and two other books from the series for my gift!) and found it insightful, entralling, and well translated/edited. I am eager to complete the book and the other ones that came with it. I read so much fiction this fall that I decided to force myself to return to non-fiction for a time.

I will be back next week with more photos and more to share. I wish all of you a wonderful beginning to 2009!


Christmas Eve Day

It's Christmas Eve Day! Warm wishes for a peaceful evening as you celebrate tonight.


Early Christmas Getaway to Hill Country

We hadn't done anything in Texas all year, so when we finally had enough time to sneak away to Hill Country this weekend, we went for it. I know many of you are freezing right now, but on Saturday we were hiking this Western trail full of prickly pear in Colorado Bend State Park, which gets a whopping 56,000 visitors per year. It was 80 degrees and the sun was hot. Too warm for me, especially in late December - St. Nick, send some snow my way!

Our dry, hot hike led to these lovely little falls nearby the Colorado River.
For many years I yearned to be a park ranger. This hat reminds me of the one that Curious George's caretaker wears! In case it's not obvious, I believe in sun protection.
We stopped at the beautiful Inks Lake State Park on our drive back to the cabin. I quite contentedly sat at the water's edge and tossed leaves in the lake for half an hour.
Such a beautiful sunset leaving the lake.
It got even more beautiful by the time it reached its peak.
We stopped in the quaint town of Wimberley on the drive back, where I found some affordable little treasures. I brought all of our Christmas albums along for the drive for some holiday cheer. We will have a quiet Christmas, so this was a fun prelude to the holiday. Please do share your adventures this week, whether you're traveling for Christmas or not!
All photos by my husband, other than the leaf.

And the winner is...

Michelle from Our Little Monkeys! I will be in touch with you.

I wish I would have been able to send something to all of you! I'll have to have more giveaways in the future. I loved reading all of your travel memories - you are some adventurous women! My exploits have been limited to America, with brief border crossings into Canada and Mexico, but now that I'm flying again, perhaps I can remedy that. I look forward to hearing more about everyone's travels, near and far, on your blogs in the future. Thanks for your comments on my blog - I enjoy them!

Random Integer Generator
Here are your random numbers:8
Timestamp: 2008-12-22 12:18:42


Christmas Crafting: Beaded Jewelry

A peek at some of the necklaces, bracelets, and earrings that I mailed off for Christmas (I'd mailed others before taking this photo.) A simple gift idea, just stringing and crimping! I don't wear much jewelry, but am drawn to natural mineral beads for their beauty: jade, aventurine, freshwater pearls, tiger eye, many types of agates, quartz, and more. I would have kept going but I ran out of wire! As you can see at my work table, I'm also rather messy! But I'm also oddly organized in some ways...How are your Christmas plans coming along?


Thanks, Amy Ruppel (Or, Meet the Owls)

A few weeks ago, I won a giveaway at Shutter Sisters for an original Amy Ruppel 5x5 inch painting (top photo.) It is super sweet and quite a delicious addition to my home. For the time being, it is residing in a bookcase with my other owls (middle two found at thrift stores, bottom one at Starbucks.) Amy was Target Stores Holiday Artist of the Year in 2007! Thank you, Amy! I love it.


My First Giveaway

I've been wanting to hold a little giveaway as a way to say 'thank you' to my blogging friends as well as for the giveaways that I have been fortunate to win myself. I'm starting out a bit small, but hopefully you'll like it! I'll send the winner a set of 6 of my door photo notecards (2 of each color), 5x7 inches on white art cards. Also included is a set of map notecards - the winner can tell me what location in the USA they would like cards of and I will do my best to find some maps in my stash to make the cards! (I used to sell these on my rather neglected little etsy shop.)

To enter, just leave a comment, perhaps leaving a brief travel memory (since we're looking at maps here!). To enter a second time, just mention/link it on your blog and leave another comment!

Deadline will be this Sunday at 12 midnight Central Time. Please leave a way I can contact you if you don't have a blog! I'll draw the winner by random number and will announce it next Monday morning.

Christmas Crafting: Ongoing Scrapbook

(I'm on the left, in case you were wondering what I look like! :-)

I like to make small scrapbooks for gifts for people, but I wanted to be able to make something for my sister that wouldn't be restricted to one event or one visit, etc. I decided to start an 8.5 x 11 ring-binder scrapbook for her this Christmas. I'm really liking this style of scrapbook, since it's so easy to add pages and I can use different sizes as well. I'll be able to send her additional pages as time goes on. Here are a few pages. As you can see, I like to keep things pretty simple.


Christmas Crafting: Beaded Suncatcher

A simple, if slightly time-consuming project: a beaded sun catcher for my dad's three-season patio. (His windows are cleaner than mine are!) I used an inexpensive doo-dad from JoAnn Fabric to wrap the wire in the shape it is, and then beaded away. I used a glass mix of small beads and beaded on wire, using crimp tubes to secure the ends of the wire, but perhaps monofilament line would work as well and wouldn't involve crimping.


Christmas Crafting: A Few Random Projects

Here are a few more simple crafted Christmas gifts. My mom is the most faithful journal-keeper I know, and she always requests these old-fashioned composition notebooks, covered with patterned paper. I glue a full sheet of paper to the insides and outsides of front and back, slipping a long ribbon underneath the inside back paper for a bookmark, and pile them under heavy books overnight to dry. You can use waxed paper to protect your books from glue leaks. I then trim the excess paper off with a craft knife and embellish as desired.

A very simple project: two pieces of colorful polar fleece (1.5 yards each) sewed together to make a cozy blanket for my nephew. Their high in SoDak today is 0 degrees, so he'll probably be able to put this to use! I'm hoping it will be a fort-building, baby sign language video watching, cold winter night snuggling type of blankie for him!

Very simple: photo strips for kids and grandparents to hang on the fridge or in the kid's bedrooms. Sort of a low-tech version of digital picture frames!
Please do be sure to share your gift ideas!


Christmas Crafting: Little Desk Calendars

Here's an easy and fun little crafting project/gift idea for friends and family who have desk jobs. I created this using 4x6 photos or cardstock/paper cut to that size. I use a lot of wallet-sized photos in my scrapbooking and so had extras to use on these calendars. It's also a good way to use up scraps of patterned paper. I searched google images for free downloads of 2009 calendars, printed them out, and added them to the pages. I did glue cardstock to the back of the full-size photos for extra stability. And, rather than bind the pages together, I chose to leave them loose to sit on these cute little easels I found at Michael's for $4. These would also be nice using family photos. How are your craft projects coming along?


Introducing One Hundred Leaves: Leaves 1, 2, & 3

Inspired by Tollipop's challenge on December 5, I have decided to start the One Hundred Leaves project. Like many in the blog world, I've loved leaves since childhood and constantly find myself photographing them. So I thought this project would be a nice way to structure my leaf shoots. I will likely go back through my archives and add previous favorite leaf photographs as well. We had an unusual frost last night and I couldn't resist trying to capture the Bradford pear leaves lying in our backyard, although it was quite challenging to shoot them with the macro lens and low light! Speaking of frost, I forgot to mention the highly unusual SNOWFALL that we had the other day! I've lived here for three years and certainly had never seen that before. It was magical and a nice touch for the holidays. Please do let us know if you will be starting your own 'one hundred' project!


Sincerely Yours

Most of my Christmas cards are ready to be mailed out. As a person who has always loved sending - and receiving - mail, I find great satisfaction in the stack of envelopes all sealed, addressed, and stamped. I enjoy my memories of the people I'm sending to as I go down my list, writing out their cards, thinking of them getting ready for Christmas as well. Sadly, after I don't hear back from recipients after a few years, I will start emailing them Christmas greetings instead of sending them through the post. Is this cold-hearted? What do you do? I know that many people are truly too busy to prepare dozens of cards, so I don't begrudge them that. And do you save your Christmas cards? I do love finding them in my box, just as much as I love putting them together myself and sending them out into the world, little missives of 'hello' and 'how are you doing?' and 'Merry Christmas!' or 'Christ is Born!'


Celebrating December

Pomegranates symbolize winter to me, since they are in abundance now and are widely and often inexpensively available. I don't have the patience to peel them, but my husband does, and at least a few times a week in the winter we will sit down in the evening to enjoy one. Some of them taste like apples, others like grapes or berries.

I have been holed up in my messy craft room, trying to assemble bits and bobs to send off in the mail before long. I’ve also been wrapping gifts and strategizing post office trips. We attended two local Christmas concerts this weekend. One was a boy’s choir; I felt warm fuzzies when they moved into the audience to clasp the hands of elderly audience members while they sang one of their pieces. At the end, we all stood up to sing Silent Night, holding the hands of those near us. I can barely sing this song without getting misty-eyed, as it was my grandma’s favorite carol and it immediately brings back so many memories of her. On that note, I’ve also been trying to wrap up an essay about her for a writing workshop. It’s such a big, sprawling topic that I am having a hard time knowing what to include and what to leave out.

What are your favorite carols? What do you remember of your grandparents at this time of year?


Giveaway Thank You's

I've been blessed to win a few giveaways in the last several months, and I'm rather overdue in sending my thanks. Renee had a giveaway awhile back for this intriguing book (top photo), which is now patiently abiding in my 'to-read' pile. And Snapdragon's Garden kindly sent these lovely fabric, stitched butons all the way from the U.K. some time ago. Wayfaring Wanderer hosted an interesting green challenge last month and my name was drawn for Living Green, another book that looks fascinating. Finally, yesterday the sweet gals at Shutter Sisters held a contest for artwork by Amy Ruppel, and I was very delighted to find out I was the lucky winner. My warmest thanks to all of you for your generosity. I don't usually think of myself as a 'lucky person' when it comes to contests, but I feel I have been this autumn. And while I'm making my Christmas presents, I'm also planning a giveaway of my own to host, most likely very soon!
I should also mention that the wonderful Crafty Crow is holding giveaways this week for some delightful children's items. http://belladia.typepad.com/crafty_crow/. Also, my pen friend Cindy has a link to a good reminder about the importance of writing thank-you's.
Edited 12/09/08 I also need to thank the lovely Martha for the sweet giveaway package - some of her adorable cards, a Trader Joe's chocolate bar (very much appreciated since the great state of Texas does not have any TJ's!), tea, and a sweet Christmas card she made. And Renee has once again shared something from her home - a handmade bar of soap, which I cannot wait to put to use! Thanks, everyone! I appreciate the sweetness you've added to my days.


Christmas Crafting Has Begun

I had great hopes for a marathon crafting weekend, as I'm going to try to make as many Christmas gifts as possible this year. Unfortunately, I woke up Friday morning with a terrible sore throat which is still hanging around. I did, however, manage to begin some easy projects that didn't require too much clear thinking. I worked slowly and spent a lot of time staring out the window, but at least I've made a start! I'm excited to try to make my ideas reality, and I'm excited to give gifts that were made with my own hands. I enjoy the challenge of crafting at this time of year. Are you making any gifts?


Sharing the Season

Renee invites all of us to share the ways in which we are preparing for Christmas, focusing specifically on what does not involve shopping. I thought this was a worthwhile topic, especially taking time to consider the non-shopping part of it. This is quite a bit longer than my usual posts!
For Orthodox Christians, Advent (Nov 15 – Dec 24) is a period of spiritual preparation before we celebrate the birth of Christ. This can involve many things, such as fasting (not eating meat and/or dairy; by learning to control what we eat, hopefully we are also learning to control our anger, gossip, jealousy, etc.), cutting down on our television time, spiritual examination and meeting with our priest to talk about things we’re struggling with (ie, confession, which I’ve ironically found to be quite healing and liberating in spite of my resistance to the idea before we chose to join the church), sharing our resources with those in need, and increased prayer. I’m far from perfect in any of these areas, but they do lend a peace and quiet to the season which is so often needed, as well as help us focus on the source of the holiday.

This year we are making a point to take in a few local Christmas concerts, which is something my family often did. I miss this habit and am looking forward to it.

I quite adore Christmas music and play it often: Yo-Yo Ma, James Taylor, Wintersong, A South Dakota Acoustic Christmas, and others. I need to find some Orthodox Christmas recordings!

I’d also been hoping for a chance to volunteer at a local shelter this season and we had that opportunity last weekend, stacking donated cans of food in the pantry at a women and children’s emergency shelter. Nothing makes you realize how many blessings you have as coming face to face with those in desperate need. I share this in order to encourage you to consider donating or helping out at a local shelter or food bank this season.

Eventually we will get around to decorating. My husband gets quite excited about putting up a tree. As children, our family always bought tree permits and went out into the forest to chop down our own tree. That was a delightful tradition.

We try to take an evening to drive around and admire Christmas lights in the neighborhood.

And yes, I quite enjoy making as many handmade gifts as I can, so I hope to begin on that soon. I also like sending out cards, so that is also on the list. All our gifts are shipped out, so I’ll also be making an epic journey to the post office…

Finally, we celebrate with a midnight service on Christmas Eve, followed by a massive potluck with our church family. We’ll spend lots of time on the phone with our family that day, and will spend the next week cleaning the house for my in-law’s visit at New Year’s. It is a joyful time of year!

How are you preparing for Christmas?

Parade of Life

It had been ages since we'd gone to a parade, and never one quite this big. Almost as much fun as watching the floats, clowns, and ponies was watching all of the people around us. There were many small children; great cheers went up when Nemo, Barney, and Santa Claus passed by. Do you remember attending parades when you were a child?


Inspiring Photos

Wayfaring Wanderer of the beautiful photos is hosting another unique giveaway (deadline is midnight tonight.) Her challenge to us was to post about a photographer who inspires us. I stumbled upon Ansel Olson on flick earlier this year and was immediately captivated by the ethereal images he created in his en plein air set. These photos are like paintings; they exude peace and calm. He has managed to capture such beauty. Please stop by if you are in need of a visual vacation.

(By the way, Jennifer is also hosting a giveaway that ends today.)

100th Post: Thankful

Today I am thankful for a good night’s sleep, for the sprinkling of birch leaves I found on my walk, for beautiful pomegranates, for spinach salad, and a quiet day. And I am thankful for things that have come my way this year: a sweet new goddaughter, a tentative conquering of my flight phobia, my cuddly new dog. Certain things keep me grounded, for which I am also thankful: my husband’s love and provision, the peace and calm I find in seeking God in the Orthodox Church, my long visits with dear family and friends. I miss my family especially during the holidays, but a good day awaits us tomorrow nevertheless.

I hope you have many blessings, small and large, to count this year! Happy Thanksgiving!