Sunday, January 29, 2012

Creativity and Repurposing: A Purse for Mama & a Stick Horse for Grasshopper

Since deciding we'd make our Christmas gifts this year, I've had so much fun getting back into being creative on a regular basis. Add in a little under-employment with very little money and you've got the makings for wanting to pretend that I'm living in a chapter out of the Little House books. It's actually quite fun.

I had this sweater from Land's End, a three quarter sleeved, navy blue, cable knit, cotton sweater that I no longer wore. I had tried to consign it, but they didn't want it. I donate a lot of clothing, but decided to hang on to this item. I'm glad I did. One rainy day I was in the mood to make a purse for myself. Originally, I was going to use a wool one that I could felt, but I've donated so many wool sweaters that the only ones I had left are ones I'm quite attached to and still wear. Then this navy sweater came into view and I formulated a plan to use it even though I'd have to change my original design, as you cannot really felt cotton.

I decided to use a scrap piece of yellow cotton broadcloth I had to line it. Because I would be using a sweater that would easily unravel once cut, I decided to completely sew it to the yellow lining and then begin forming the bag. I wish I'd taken pictures of the process, but will try to summarize quickly.

The torso of the sweater became the body of the purse, with the hemline forming the bottom of the purse. The arms were used to make a shoulder strap. If I did this project again, I'd use cording to make the shoulder strap and thread the cording through the sheath I made out of the arms. That way the strap wouldn't be so stretchy. I used ribbon to make the drawstring, although I imagine I'll need to replace it with something stronger eventually. It turned out to be a really cute, functional purse. And I love that it only cost me my time.

I've been wanting to make a stick horse for Grasshopper for quite awhile. At Christmas, I ran out of time, plus I'd made him so many other things. But a chance find of a bag of stuffing at a thrift store for $1 and a rainy Sunday afternoon turned out to be the perfect motivation to get me started.

First, I gathered my materials from around the house. Twine and leather cording leftover from a church project, the stuffing/quilt batting from the thrift store, scraps from my cable knit sweater purse project, old buttons, ribbon and thread from my sewing box, sand paper, a scrap of dowel rod leftover from a closet building project, yarn leftover from a scarf I'd made Grasshopper last week, and a wool sock all completed my supply list. (I had purchased a package of wool work socks for my husband when we were first married but bought the wrong size. Since I waited too long to return them, they were just hanging out in my cedar chest for something. Today turned out to be at least a partial answer to what I will do with them.) After that, I just gathered my sewing tools and cleared off the kitchen table so I could get to work.

First I had to sand the bottom of the stick and a bit on the side where some splintering had occurred.

Then I stuffed the toe of the sock with as much stuffing as it would hold up to the heel. I wrapped quilt batting around the first six inches of the dowel rod and stuffed it carefully into the sock up to the heel. Then I packed bits of stuffing all around that until everything was firm and filled out. I took twine and tied it tightly around the bottom of the sock to secure it to the dowel rod, wrapping it around a few times and tying a few knots. After that was secure, I took a long length of leather cord and wrapped it once and tied a good knot, leaving a four inch length to help me with my end knot. Then I wrapped the long cord around and around until the length was nearly used up and finished with a secure knot, trimming the ends.

Two wooden buttons made eyes. At this point, my son named the horse Pete and then went to take a nap so Mama could finish "helping Pete the horse be born".

The leftover scraps from the arms of my sweater were perfectly shaped for making ears. I sewed them together and turned them inside out. I did not trim the edges after sewing, because I knew the added bulk would help the ears be more stable and give it good shape.

Then I sewed the bottom edges closed using my machine.

After that, it was time to hand sew them to the horse. I placed them on a slight curve so they'd stand up well.

It was at this point that I wondered if Pete would turn out looking more like a donkey, but I knew the hair would help a lot. Always have faith in the hair.

Here is a picture of the completed forelock. It took a bit of trial and error to figure out how I wanted to attach the hair. I had read one blogger's idea, but her entire horse was sewn by machine, and that method was not going to work for me. So I came up with a workable solution that reminded me a bit of a hair weave.

To help illustrate my solution, my husband took a quick video of me attempting to explain what I was doing.

Grasshopper was certain his horse needed a bridle and not just reins, so I devised something out of grosgrain ribbon and two buttons. I made two loops - one for the horse's mouth area and one for just behind his ears. I slid those on him and then threaded the rein length of ribbon through both sides of each loop, pinning them carefully and being sure to leave a good length. Because the loop by the mouth easily could come off, I was able to machine sew the two pieces together. But the loop just behind his ears would not have been easy to come off, so I hand sewed it and then covered up my work with a cute button on either side.

The finished product. I was so excited with how it turned out. It took a few hours from start to finish. It is utterly adorable.

Pete and I went into Grasshopper's room to wake him up from his nap. He was so excited to finally see Pete "finished being born", and immediately took him out to the living room to hold him and introduce him to the world. (And yes, he's sitting on a crib mattress in the middle of our living room. We have to drag it out from storage almost daily so he can use it as a trampoline. My child may not have been much a crib sleeper, but at least we have gotten lots of use out of the mattress.)

All in all, I'm thrilled with how both projects turned out. They were both fun to design and make. The satisfaction gained from using items found in our little abode is also very nice. January has been a month of creating memories without spending money, and I have to say that it has been so very fun.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

You Know What I Really Love?

In the girlie movie, "Letters to Juliet", the grandmother says something about life being about the "messy bits". I don't own the movie, so I can't check the exact quote, but that has come to my mind more than once these past several weeks as we are indeed in the messy bits in so many ways.

Today, in the midst of the messy bits I have to say that I found gratitude creeping in. It came in so many little forms - from an encouraging word given by a beautiful stranger who hopefully will become someone I get to know a bit, to the perfect amount of stuffing found at a thrift store for $1 to be able to complete the sock monkey and stick horse I want to make, to the guy at our mechanic who gave my son a miniature VW bus to keep when we stopped in because Grasshopper just had to meet "Tim & Neil", to the lady at the Habitat ReStore who gave me five dollars off a doorknob and deadbolt set we need for our storage unit in the barn. All of those things were little, seemingly insignificant. But all of them amounted to sweet bits of grace scattered throughout this day in a season of messy bits.

And yes, I know there is still that lurking elephant to deal with. Ironically, my son's current favorite book is about an elephant who never forgets, and in that forgetting he cannot forgive. This little elephant has to learn to forget what is not important enough to remember. It's among one of the most profound children's books I've read. So, like little Congo the elephant, I'm learning some important lessons. I'm not there yet and I won't be for awhile, but that's okay.

In the meantime, I'm finding a strange excitement in tackling a crazy project the likes of which I've not tried since I was a little kid in school. In about five months, I hope to come back and report success in memorizing a little book in the Bible. And hopefully, I'll be able to report that I exercised my brain, my heart, my whole body, and my whole soul at the same time. I just typed up the first chapter I'm going to be memorizing, and I'm about ready to get on the elliptical to get going with it.

What is so funny about that whole project is the difference 30 years makes. When I was a child, memorizing was for a grade or a competition. For whatever reason, it never really reached to my heart. Recently, I've discovered that the few things I do remember from my childhood memorizing days have been the only thing able to quiet the accusing voices in my heart that would like to spend all their time telling me how worthless I am. It's so effective, it is like magic. No kidding. It is a really weird experience, if I'm being honest. I mean, I've spent loads of money paying someone to help me ignore those voices and I've tried numerous methods of ignoring, all to no avail. Even as recently as last week as I was reading a girlie book (something by Lori Wick) to escape, the accusations creeped into my brain and hollered so loudly that I realized after a whole page that I'd read all the words but hadn't actually taken them in at all because I'd been so busy listening to the internal dialogue going on. But all it takes is 25 little words strung into one living sentence to conquer those despicable voices.

And yes, I mean living. Now I get what it can mean when it says that the word of God is living and active. I know some of you who read here on occasion don't believe in Jesus or the Bible anymore, and you might think that I'm a little whacked to be saying this. I would have probably agreed with you if it hadn't actually happened and shocked the heck out of me.

Anyway, all of this is to say that I love how our Creator doesn't abandon us even in the messiest of the messy bits. And I love how we get to see markers on the journey here and there to remind us of the gifts we get even in the ugly times. Today was a day like that. And I'm glad.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

How Real Can I Be?

Talk about a daunting question. I'm real here for sure, but I also hold back a lot. It's one thing to write something in a journal that you'll stick under your mattress, but it's an entirely different thing to write in a place where people you actually know in real life do come on occasion to read.

I don't even know quite where to begin or how to give an adequate prelude into this profound post I want to link here from a favorite blogger I've followed for a few years.

To sum it up quickly, I guess you could say I'm chronically dealing with anger, unforgiveness, and trying to understand where others are coming from. Usually, it's only from one area of life at a time, whether work or friendships or family or whatever. But this year, oh my goodness, there is not one area of life that gets to be easy. Every aspect has been impacted, and because that includes all my usual support systems, I'm even angrier than normal. This past year has been the motherlode of anger complete with more F-bombs than my husband cares to handle. (I finally told him that when I fall so far to resort to using such ugly language that it's really a plea for help to get me unstuck from the overwhelming fury I feel.)

I don't really have a clue how to deal with the stuff I know needs to be dealt with. It's basically as big as an elephant under our living room rug, and it's a confusing and jumbled mess of so many stories and so many people. It's not pretty at all.

But thankfully, there is Someone who promised to complete the work that He began, and I just have to say that He better complete this. Because it's getting to be such a huge mess. (I say that tongue-in-cheek, in case it didn't come through clearly.) Of course, I know He will complete His work. He promised and He always keeps His promises one way or another. And He promised that His work will be good and will be complete with a future and a hope for me. And so I stubbornly stand on those promises, looking at the mess of a covered, ugly, stinky elephant in my living room, knowing that somehow, some way it will get cleaned up and purified eventually. If I only had a clue as to His plan and schedule, it would be nice.

And so without further ado, I'll share the post that brought me to tears this afternoon. It reminded me that the only way to get some of this anger to dissolve is to face it head on. I think you'll be blessed by what Adrienne has to say.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Seeing It Through

I saw a beautiful picture of trust tonight. Two young girls dancing on a stage to a poignantly beautiful song about loss and living through it. Those two girls were in wheelchairs one year ago today. While surgeries and recoveries still lie ahead in the future for one of them, tonight they danced.

Tonight we remembered. We remembered a great loss. We remembered great heartache. We remembered God's faithfulness even despite the unanswered questions of why He let it happen in the first place. We simply remembered. And waves of grief and laughter tossed over each other like waves playing near the ocean shore. The grief won in my case and I found myself hastily constructing unclimbable walls, for that is the season I'm in. But it won't always win.

There are many moments when I went to chuck it all and just start completely over. I want to pretend that I get a total do-over in this move to make Canada my new home. New friends. New church. New name. New life. The old stuff - what I had before last December 28th - hurts too much. And so it is incredibly and achingly tempting to toss it all away.

And yet how much might be lost?

If I stay and gut it out, if I keep on simply trying to breathe and keep walking through this confusing season, waiting on God to move or make things clear or do just something, might I also find myself one day dancing on a stage, leaping triumphantly?

And that, my friends, is the question.

I am going to find out the answer. And I'm determined it will be a good one.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Starting Again

Sometime this year my 20th reunion will be held. I've not gone back since graduating, and it's only been in the past couple of years that I've even begun reconnecting with a very few classmates. Those years were very hard. It was a combination of being shy, being thrust into public schools for the first time ever from very rigid and conservative Christian schools, and not knowing anyone in this close-knit town. Add to that the fact that I didn't know how to make friends and was dealing with all the effects of what had pretty much been pounded into my compliant, sponge-like brain by a few select teachers and chapel speakers, and I was set up to fail in the social department. Combine that with a few kids who thought it would be fun to physically torment the short, scrawny redhead and a messed up church situation, and you definitely have a recipe for a disastrous high school experience.

So it's no wonder that I'd want to avoid the kids who once lit my hair on fire, beat me up in gym class, tripped me and laughed like hyenas while my books scattered, and collected $37.52 on the school bus for a boy who was dared to kiss me. But here's the crazy thing.

I'm contemplating, with excitement actually, the possibility of going back.

Crazy, I know.

But I'm looking at it like this. It's been 20 years. In 20 years, I've discovered that some of my Christian school teachers were well-intentioned but pretty much dead wrong. Public high schools have a lot to offer that the Christian schools of my growing up years simply couldn't afford. Other kids back then felt just as backward and awkward as I did, albeit for different reasons. My focus was much too self-absorbed and I missed a lot. We've all grown up, lived life, gained and lost, celebrated and mourned, and become just a bit more aware of the humanity around us. Some of us have even found a deep faith, making our lives markedly different from what they looked like in high school. Others of us have discovered that margaritas can be good things. And yes, there are some of us who probably will still be prone to posturing for attention, acting out our pride or insecurities, and who still don't know when to quit drinking.

But for the most part, we aren't the same kids who left those tiger striped halls. So I'm looking at it like meeting a bunch of people all over again for the first time. No longer am I that short, little girl who locked herself in a bathroom stall until she could safely get to the principal's office to ask for help. I'm now someone who has defended the helpless, helped the bullies find redemption and new purpose, and has discovered oodles of gifts in this 5'1" frame. And one of those gifts just happens to be the enjoyment of spending time with people.

So I hope to be able to go. In the meantime, it's been interesting to walk back to that shy redhead and tell her that there were definitely better days ahead.