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Wednesday

Politics: To Speak, or Not to Speak?

That is the question.

This post is a little different than my usual, but it's something I've been thinking about and would love to hear your thoughts on. Lately it seems social media is abuzz with controversial issues. The reelection of President Obama. Gay rights. Gun control. Abortion laws. Health care. Taxes. Women in the military.

Sometimes I want to say, "Can we all just take a big, collective deep breath and remember no matter what, we still live in America?" (Well, most of us-- should out to my Alley Cat Karen, who's an Aussie with a rockin' accent :) ) I get frustrated whenever people get so bound up by political issues that they loose sight of the bigger picture and the freedoms we often take for granted. We want to complain about politics and post silly political graphics on Facebook (speaking of which--who designs these things? Could we please find someone who knows not to put black text against a dark background?)-- but what are we doing to actually affect change in the world in which we live, aside from spewing out more frustration and even hate? Have we so lost sight of the opportunities we have that we are willing to essentially shape our political views into one-dimensional caricatures, refusing to engage in thoughtful conversation with those whose views differ from our own?

For that reason, I generally remain mute on subjects of politics. I'm so weary of all the fighting--which doesn't seem to benefit anyone-- and I don't want to become just another yelling voice.

But lately it seems people are being pitted against each other, forced into corners. The ability to have a respectful, thoughtful conversation with those representing different positions seems to be diminishing. Here are some factors I think are contributing to the problem:
  • Social media-- I think it's a bit funny when people post angry political statuses on Facebook, because the audience is composed of "friends," meaning these people 1) already agree with you or 2) have blocked you long ago and are no longer getting your statuses anyway. It's so easy to see social media as an artificial re-inscription of our own methodology. Just because one person likes a status on Facebook does not mean your post isn't hurtful to someone else.
  • The polarized nature of the media-- This one goes without saying. News has become a business, a product. News stations create news that sells. Now, I'm not saying they make things up, but whether you're watching FOX or MSNBC, you're expecting a particular kind of news. That's just the nature of modern media. Spins sell.
  • The plummeting nature of our education system.-- I see it every day at work. Students are smart. They deserve better. No one is taking the time to teach critical thinking skills. How do we expect the populace to make sound decisions when we're 1) acting superior to them and/or 2) we're so casual about the illiteracy rates, as if it's not our problem. If you want the populace to be better prepared to make decisions, help teach someone to read.
  • The nature of social media has drawn people away from face-to-face interactions. It's easy to criticize someone you've never met, whose tears you have never seen, and whose hunger you have never felt. As Christians, especially, I think many of us are loosing our sense of compassion because we've denied the very work of Christ--the day to day struggling alongside those who are hurting. 

So what is the proper response? Honestly, I have no idea. If we slink back, saying nothing, often our values will be trampled upon in the dust. On the other hand, no one likes or responds well to someone screaming at them. The best things I know to do are to pray for the Holy Spirit's guidance over our every word and action, and to pray for our country and our world. I am convinced that if we spent half the time praying that we do cyber-yelling, we would see a move of God that would shake our generation.

I think this passage is SO applicable to these situations:

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.

-- I Corinthians 10:23-24 


What do you think? How do you handle these kinds of sticky situations, especially whenever someone is antagonistically trying to engage you in a political debate? Do you usually hold your tongue or "jump into the fire," so to speak? What do you think the response of Christians ought to be?

Monday

Crochet Hat: DIY Week 4


This week for my DIY project, I crocheted a hat for my grandmother, who is loosing her hair from chemo treatments. Last fall, she went in for a fairly routine procedure, and her doctor found cancer. They were able to remove the cancer successfully during surgery, but now she's having to go through treatments because the cancer she has is aggressive, and they want to keep any free roaming cancer cells from spawning a greater threat. If you get a chance, would you pray for her? She's been having a lot of pain this week from chemo side effects.





This hat was so easy to make! It's a great starter project if you've never crocheted before. All you need to know how to do is chain crochet and double crochet, which you can teach yourself from YouTube videos. I made up this pattern, but it's a fairly standard concept... you just widen it to a width that will fit your head, then focus on the length. I made this whole hat in about one hour. You can find free patterns on Ravelry, a great website for knitting and crocheting projects.

Projects like these are great to make, knowing it's going to a greater cause. Have you ever done a handmade project you donated? Or have you ever received a handmade gift from someone? Doesn't it make a difference knowing someone spent the time to make it for you?

Here are a few links to organizations that are doing really cool work to help others:



  • Binky Patrol-- This website collects handmade blankets and sends them to children in need, such as kids who are born "HIV+, drug-addicted, infected with AIDS or other chronic and terminal illnesses." These blankets look really easy to make!
  • Girls Love Mail-- This group delivers handwritten letters to newly-diagnosed cancer patients. Even if you're not "crafty,"if you're reading this blog, you're probably a writer, so this is a charity for you! In fact, it could even be great for a whole critique group to take on.
  • Mother Bear Project-- I LOVE this one! This group makes toy bears for underprivileged children affected by HIV/AIDS. You have to check out this organization's website... their photos are precious.
  • Give2TheTroops-- The husband of one of my best friends (who's also a close friend himself) is currently serving in Afghanistan, and my appreciation for those in the military has since skyrocketed. I am so thankful for those who are willing to protect the freedom and hope of America and am also thankful for the sacrifices their families make. Think about where you were one year ago. That's the amount of time some service members go without seeing their spouses and children. This organization helps service men and women by sending packages and letters to let them know our appreciation for their sacrifices.

Tuesday

Simplify

Have you ever been in a crowded room before and struggled to hear what someone was saying to you? Maybe it was a restaurant or a friend's house during a party. These situations can often make us frustrated and leave us wanting to give up trying to communicate at all.

Think of an old radio and the "fuzz" you hear as you try to tune in to a particular station.

Have you ever noticed life can be the same way?

Lately I've been thinking about all the noise in my life. There's a lot of it, even in my own mind, and I really believe God is calling me to lay down all the distractions. I've been trying to be more attentive the past few days to the thoughts I allow occupancy in my mind, and you know what? Some of them are crazy. Many are fears of things that would never happen. Others stem from fruitless anxiety. Perhaps most problematic are those times throughout the day when I catch myself "praying" but never really casting my cares upon the Lord. Instead, I just rehash whatever I'm worried over until I come away feeling even more anxious than I did to begin with. Have you ever found yourself in the same boat? This is not God's will for our lives, or the way our relationships with Him ought to go. Pressing in and diligently lifting prayers to God is one thing, but praying about something obsessively because it makes you feel like you've completed a task is quite another. And boy do I struggle with that. I'm telling you, it's a good thing I didn't live in Chaucer's day because I probably would've paid all my money in penance, then wondered why I wasn't seeing anything change.

See, we treat God like a vending machine sometimes. We put a few quarters in, thinking we've done our godly duty for the day, and then wait for a Coke to shoot out at will.

This creates an environment where, essentially, we see ourselves as knowing what is best rather than God. Instead, God becomes the means to a more-important end. Friends, God isn't just the means. God Himself is the end.

We must guard against this tendency to listen more to the clamoring noise than the still, small voice of God in our hearts, and I think one of the best ways to do that is to practice simplifying our lives. Our thought lives, our schedules, our prayer lives need an overhaul. I know mine do. Rather than try to hear God better over the noise, why don't we just turn off the distractions?

This passage is a powerful reminder of the limited time we have in this world. Let's not grow complacent about making the most of our days. Would you join me in consciously checking your thoughts today and plucking out those that are unproductive and would lead you down the wrong path?

Ephesians 5:15-17 "Be very careful, then how you live--not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is."

Do you struggle with simply being still? What distractions do you find clamoring for your attention, and how to you cast those aside to regain perspective?

Sunday

My High-Waisted Skirt: DIY Project Week 3


I am so excited, you guys! Joann's Fabric had an extra teacher discount this week, so I thought I'd meander through the fabric aisles and see what I could find. Well, one thing led to another, and before I knew it, I'd bought the materials to make this skirt and finished it, all in one afternoon! This skirt was so fast and simple to make. Mind you, I'm still BRAND new at sewing, so while it might look good from the full photo, you can see a lot of mistakes if you look close. But it was such a good "first clothing" project that I'd definitely recommend if any of you are thinking about learning to sew.

Here is the pattern I used: http://handmademess.com/2012/03/19/the-easiest-skirt-in-the-world-x2/
It's very well-written and easy to follow. Actually, this girl's whole blog is fabulous. Definitely worth checking out!

This is one of those patterns I pinned on Pinterest months ago but never got around to and never really planned to get around to, honestly. Because, well, I needed to know how to sew. Well, this just goes to show the things you want to do may be easier than you think... but you'll never know until you try!


Okay, so to start off, you need about a yard of fabric and a yard of wide elastic. You'll want to cut the elastic so it fits nicely around your waist and is a little stretched. I actually had to go back through and make mine tighter because it was way too loose to begin with.


Then you take your elastic, fold it in half and pin it at that point, fold it again and pin it, and then fold it once more and pin, so that you create marked 8 sections. You'll also do the same thing with your fabric. The fabric is going to be longer than the elastic, though (since you haven't trimmed that according to your waist). Your next step is to line up the pin marks, and you'll find that the fabric naturally bunches since it's longer. It'll look like this:


Next comes sewing the two pieces together. You have to pull the elastic as it runs through the sewing machine so that the fabric runs straight through. That way, when you're done with your seam, the elastic will scrunch back up, and you'll have a cute bunchy look in your fabric. Here's what the back of mine looked like. You can see that I left too much extra fabric above the seam of the elastic. :)


And here's what the front looks like. You can see that my seam is... erh... a bit less than straight.


The rest is easy. Just sew up the sides, hem the bottom according to your desired length, and you're done! I was able to finish this skirt in just an hour and a half, and I have NO idea what I'm doing. So just imagine how quick this project would be for those of you who are more experienced.

Oh, and did I mention this whole project cost lost than $7? Not too shabby! The key is to look for clearance fabric, I've found.

Have you all been working on any projects this week? Any big plans for the holiday weekend?

Wednesday

Inspiration from E.E. Cummings


Thought I'd share my favorite E.E. Cummings poem today to chase away the Wednesday blues... it's called "i carry your heart with me(i carry it in)"





Doesn't that just make you sigh? That E.E. Cummings. So good.

Today I'm also excited to announce that the winner of Monday's purse contest is Ashley Hess! Ashley is actually a former student of mine, so it's been really neat to see her graduate college and prepare to be a full-time teacher. Congratulations, Ashley!

Now I want to hear from you guys... do you like poetry? Who's your favorite poet? I'm always on the lookout for new reading! Please share! Do you find that poetry influences your writing?

Monday

The Anthropologie Inspired Bag-- DIY Project 2


GIVEAWAY TIME!!! Be sure you read to the end of the blog for your chance to win this Anthropologie inspired bag!



I am more than a little excited to show you all my project for this week, especially given the fact that earlier in the week, it seemed I had chosen a pretty impossible project.

It all started when I found a few cute Anthropologie inspired bags online. I thought, "Hey, these look easy enough! I could sew one of these for my weekly project." Immediately, a problem arose: I have no idea how to sew.



So Friday evening, I pulled my sewing machine out from the closet and spent three hours trying to figure out how to make the thread come out. I seriously was about to throw the bobbin case against the wall. I had NO idea how all of it was supposed to work, and teaching myself at 11 o'clock at night might not have been the best idea I've ever had. But then, with the help of my very smart husband, it finally started sewing stitches somewhere around 12:30. At this point, I was determined. I was going to figure this out, and I was going to do it before I went to sleep.

Well, sort of. I had some problems with the bobbin tension initially, and a super precious friend of mine from church who's a quilting genius helped me troubleshoot what might be causing--in my words--loopy threads on the bottom of the stitch. (Thanks Mrs. Linda!) After tightening the bobbin case and fiddling around with it, I was finally able to get it to work, and soon thereafter realized I love sewing.

Seriously, like--if you haven't tried sewing, you need to. If I can do it, and I had trouble even getting thread on the bobbin initially, then anyone can.

Here's a link the pattern I used. I diverted from it a bit... I made mine reversible (not intentionally at first--ha!) and I also didn't do the piping because that was too hard for my current skill level. Note that the original Anthro bag cost almost $500!!! My version cost somewhere around $5 because I found all of these fabrics on clearance.

http://www.thelittleappleseed.com/2011/03/anthro-knock-off-bag-with-printable.html

This is her bag in comparison with the Anthro one:




As it turns out, even the pleats were way easier than I expected. All you have to do is pin the material to create the pleat:



Here's my finished purse!



And the inside, which can be the outside if I flip it around...



Don't you just love Anthropologie stuff? I know I do, and a chance to make it at home is not only fun but also cost effective. I hope this encourages you to try the pattern yourself!

Because I had so much fun creating this bag, I decided to make another one to give away this week. So if you want to enter to win, just leave a comment letting me know what DIY projects you're hoping to create this year, or, if you're not crafty, let me know why you'd like the purse. I'll announce the winner Wednesday, so be sure to check back! Do leave your e-mail so I can contact you if you win. And spread the word that the contest is on!

One more look at the giveaway purse... I just can't wait to see who wins it!






Wednesday

Be Fruitful

It's been a long time since I've read Genesis, and this time around, I was really struck by the metaphorical resonance of a passage we so often breeze through as antiquated or childlike. I think those of us who have grown up in the church can't escape the storybook Bible version of creation, or the image of clouds and animals on flannel board--and that's a great thing, because it shows the dimension of our history in the faith. But the thing is, we can't stop there. This passage is so rich with foreshadowing and mandates to the church that I decided to park here and camp out for a week or two on the Wednesday edition of the blog.






So let's start with the concept of being fruitful. If you notice, God specifically creates the plants earlier in this chapter so that they bear seed, then fruit. Then God goes on to "bless" the creatures of the sea and the birds of the air, commanding them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.”

Thereafter, we get His commandment to us:

Genesis 1:26-31a


Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
 So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.

And it was very good. Don't you love that? Prior to the mention of humanity, God speaks of each aspect of creation as "good." But once the whole picture is put together, it takes on a new level entirely.




So what is at stake in this idea of being fruitful?
  • The plight of the individual. God could have created every person who would ever inhabit the earth in less than the blink of an eye. After all, He knows us before we are even in the womb. So why did He choose to create one man? And then from that one man, create a woman, and then from their union, the rest of mankind? I don't know. That's a good question, huh? ;) But I do think that this process points toward the privileging of the individual, meaning God sees us right where we are for who we are. We're not just another member of the crowd to Him. Remember, it all started with one. We are one. We are just as important.
  • The need for community. The passage above shows the importance God places upon living in community. Even the animals were commanded to do so. What does God go on to say later in Genesis? "It is not good for man to be alone." Fruitfulness begets growth: personally, socially, spiritually, and relationally. Maybe not physically. Unless we're talking about fruit candy. (Har har!)
  • The responsibility of care. If you know me really at all, you know I absolutely love animals. I'm passionate about dog rescue in particular, but really, I love pretty much all animals and have been interested in them as long as I can remember. I'm also a member of Arbor Day and very interested in the plight of endangered species such as Hawaiian monk seals and sea turtles. I hate, hate, hate the way elephants are treated throughout the world, even in circuses. Someday I'd love to use these situations as a backdrop for my books (i.e. character careers) and then donate some of the earnings to rescue groups. This passage is one I always go back to when someone asks me how I can be a tree-hugger and a Christian. But really, God's commandment to us here extends far beyond the obvious. We are to care for creation. To fill the earth with the image of God, then rule over it. Every tree, every flying bird, every lion and tiger. What a majestic calling, to be the movement of the living breath of God amongst His creation. To be that breath even to one another.
  • The Edenic state as ever-evolving. We tend to think of the ideal as stagnant. I think that's why the concept of Heaven can be somewhat scary... a little part of us wonders what will happen if we eventually get bored, does it not? Okay, is that only me? :) But this scene in the Bible occurs prior to Eve's entry into sin, and thus demonstrates a wholeness of the earth not otherwise seen in the rest of the Bible. Yet, even in this wholeness, we see an evolution, a bettering, an ever-increasing fullness. It is almost as if the opposite of entropy is occurring. Goodness begets more goodness and more majesty in heavenly society.

What do you think? How do we enact these principles of fruitfulness in our lives? What steps can we take to ensure we are planting seeds and producing the fruit God has called us to?

Monday

The Loopy Lace Bow Scarf-- DIY Project 1



So for the new year, one of my resolutions is to start doing one craft per week. I know, sounds like a lot, right? But I have all these projects pinned to Pinterest, and all these half-finished crafts just crying out to be worked on. The new year seemed like just the time to start!

To share this quest with you, I'm going to be sharing my project each week and where you can find the template to make one of your own. Some will probably turn out absolutely awful, but hey, you never know if you don't try, right? I'm even planning to give some of the crafts away (don't worry, not the awful ones), and I want to hear what sorts of DIY projects you're working on.

I'll still blog about writing from time to time, but for this new year, I'm planning to do most of my blogging about writing over at The Writer's Alley. I'm already friends with many of you on Pinterest, but if we're not, look me up! I'm always looking to find new, fun crafts and would love to see what you find. I think creative outlets like DIY projects really help writers because they engage that left brain that so often gets neglected in the editing process.

Now, for this week's craft!


Those of you who are my FB friends know I've been sick this past week, so I've had a lot of time on my hands. That said, not all of my weekly projects will be this intensive. But I am SO excited to show you guys what I just finished a couple hours ago. I've been working on this scarf on and off for a year, and I thought to myself, now is the time to finish that thing!

The pattern is inspired by an Anthropologie scarf, and if you have Ravelry, you can find it here: http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/loopy-lace-scarf


If you know how to do basic knitting stitches... knit, pearl, and yarn over... then you'll be able to do this  easily. It does take some attention to the pattern, but the sequence is easy to memorize. And if you mess up--and believe me, I made plenty of mistakes--the pattern is pretty forgiving. I used Malabrigo yarn, which is my fav because it's super soft and comfy.

Wednesday

Learning to Fly




Found this on Pinterest, and I just had to share! Hope you all had a fabulous New Year's!