Friday, December 5, 2014

The DIY Button Christmas Tree

I first spotted this charming button tree on display at the front office of my church (Community Christian Church, Hemet, CA). Turned out to be one of the staff's contributions to add a bit of Christmas decor to an otherwise bland, business environment.

The first year it turned up I simply admired its uniqueness and clever use of buttons, something I randomly collect. The next year, I took a closer look and determined "I could make this!"  And so I did . . . once I got the OK to replicate it and create my own pattern.

Most of the materials I had at home: felt for the cut-out tree, wood block for the base, pillow stuffing, needle and thread, ribbon, paint, glue, and buttons. Only item I lacked was an 8" piece of dowel. A quick trip to a nearby hardware store, and 79 cents later, I had my tree's trunk.

My first attempt was a white felt tree covered with a variety of fancy white buttons. I also added a silver/blue bow at the bottom of the tree to dress it up. It turned out pretty -- good enough to give to my sister. My plan was to make more as gifts, but for this do-it-yourself (DIY) craft to succeed "textured" buttons are a must. I had a huge assortment of buttons in an array of colors, but few with a raised surface. So, production of handmade trees came to a halt.

When the original tree at the office made its appearance the third year I had a chance to tell Joni, its owner, how much I like seeing it each year. To my surprise she told me "I'm not keeping it. I told my husband that if he gets to buy new outside lights and decorations, then I get new Christmas decor for inside the house! When the holidays are over you can have it if you want it."  Of course I said, "Yes, I'd love it. Thanks."

Now, each December I put the tree out on display at home, and laugh as I do, for on the bottom of the base are these words: "Stolen from Joni Gott."

I'm not sure if the message was intended for me or someone else who might be inclined to walk off the premises with it. My guess is that Joni simply found a fun way to ensure the item got returned to its rightful owner at year's end. So, until the police show up at my door with a warrant for stolen property I intend to keep it! 

P.S. Do you have a DIY Christmas craft that others admire?  Here's your chance to tell me and others about it. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

"The Hiding Place" -- How It Impacted My Life, Part 2

Prisoner 66729 and Prisoner 66730. Those are the numbers assigned and tattooed on the arms of two, middle-aged sisters, Betsie and Corrie ten Boom -- the central characters in the true story, The Hiding Place.

Their crime? Hiding Jews in their home during Hitler’s invasion of Europe.

Their sentence? Imprisonment at Ravensbruck concentration camp, known today for its inhumane conditions and gas chambers. 

But God went with them. God sustained them. God used them. And God watched over them.

God also had lessons for them. One came as they entered their filthy, smelly, cold and dark housing for the first time. There were no beds, only planks of wood with soiled straw and blankets infested with fleas!  Here’s an excerpt, slightly condensed, which is both funny and profound:

 “Fleas!” I cried. “Betsie, the place is swarming with them! How are we going to live in this place?”

“Show us. Show us how.” It was said so matter of factly it took me awhile to realize that Betsie was praying.  More and more, the distinction between prayer and the rest of life seemed to be vanishing for Betsie.

“Corrie!” she said excitedly. “He’s given us the answer! Before we asked, as He always does! In the Bible this morning. Where was it? Read that part again.”

“Here it is: ‘Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all . . .’” It seemed expressly written for Ravensbruck.

“Go on,” said Betsie. “That wasn’t all.”

“Oh, yes: ‘. . . to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.’”

“That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. ‘Give thanks.’ That’s what we can do. We can thank God for every single thing about this new barracks.”

I stared at her, then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.

“Such as?” I said.

“Such as being assigned here together.”

I bit my lip. “Oh yes, Lord Jesus.”

“Such as what you are holding in your hands.”

I looked down at my Bible. “Yes, thank you, dear Lord.”

“And for the crowding here. We’re packed so close, that many more will hear.” She looked at me expectantly. “Corrie!” she prodded.

“Oh, all right. Thank you for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed, suffocating crowds.”

“Thank you,” Betsie went on serenely, “for the fleas and for –-"

The fleas! This was too much. “There’s no way that even God can make me grateful for a flea.”

“’Give thanks in ALL circumstances.’” She quoted. “It doesn’t say ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.”

But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.

But Betsie was right.  They learned later the guards refused to step inside their barracks due to the fleas! giving Corrie and Betsie the freedom to read the Bible aloud to others.

Sadly, Betsie died at Ravensbruck, and soon after her passing Corrie was released due to a clerical error. She lived another 40+ years travelling the world to tell their story, often saying, “No pit is so deep that Jesus is not deeper still.”

It’s a remarkable piece of non-fiction. One you continue to think about long after you turn the last page. For me, my mind kept returning to how they could face and endure such hatred and atrocities without succumbing to bitterness. Though there was a period when Corrie wrestled with God over the injustices and evil around her.

This book has influenced my perspective of God and how I see others. It's 
challenged me to live with a thankful heart and obey God even when I don't want to. And it's given me one other valuable treasure: A positive view of women who never marry.  

Wanting to know more about Corrie's post-war life I went on a search for other titles by or about her. Over the decades I acquired 11. Through them her life unfolded, providing additional facts and bits of wisdom about her Dutch upbringing, her broken heart over a man she had hoped to marry, her skill as a watchmaker, her far-reaching travels and ministry, her failures, her heart of compassion, and how she lived out the final five “silent” years of her life. 

Today, I realize that Corrie ten Boom was my mentor, via all her books, modeling for me what it truly means to trust and obey God.  No one has impacted me more.

P.S. Anyone read "The Velvet Room" or "Mere Christianity" by C.S. Lewis? These two recommendations came in last week. Thank you Sharon and Denise for your comments.  Have a book you think is outstanding? 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

"The Hiding Place" and How It Impacted My Life

If I were to ask you . . . "What book, other than the Bible, has most shaped your life?" could you answer instantly? 

Or would you require more time to consider your options? 

Seems like an easy question to answer, but I found it a challenge. I could easily name my favorite reads, but to identify books that truly altered my thinking or caused me to modify my behavior required time and reflection. 

In the moments I had to reflect I did a quick scan of my life, looking for evidence of any book's influence. It didn't take long before The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom turned up in my thoughts. "A ha, I think I have my answer!"

But then, Self Talk by David Stoop wandered in, casting doubt on my choice. Minutes later Prison to Praise by Merlin Carothers appeared, soon followed by Who Moved My Cheese?, the bestseller by Spencer Johnson, M.D. "Oh, I'm glad I didn't overlook that gem." 

When I thought I had reached a decision, my brain sent me another one to consider: The Maker's Diet by Jordan Rubin. And from out of nowhere came the memory of an unforgettable woman in Left to Tell by Immaculee Llibagiza. 

"OK, that's enough. No more titles. It's decision time. I choose The Hiding Place; the remarkable true story of a Holocaust survivor."

How that book impacted my life requires a separate post. So, stay tuned for my next entry where I will give you the details.  After that I'll write about the other titles I considered, as all marked my life for different reasons and deserve more comment. 

P.S. What book has shaped your life? Would love to hear your answer.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Story of the Over-Due Library Book

A first grader made me smile today when a memory from my days as a librarian surfaced. Pretty sure a grin will turn up on your face too as you read about this incident with little Annie*.   

It was early in the school year when students are actually excited to visit the library and choose their own books.  As I checked in titles from classes that day I noticed that Annie, a beautiful, black-haired oriental girl with a sweet demeanor, had failed to turn in one of her library books. 

When her class arrived I instructed the other first graders, with the exception of Annie, to look for other books to check out.  I assured her she was not in trouble; I just needed to ask her a question. 

"Annie, did you forget to turn your book in today?"


"Did you leave it at home?"


"Is it in your desk in the classroom?"


"Is it in your backpack?"


Puzzled, I took a different approach.  "Annie, what happened to your book?" 

"I threw it away.  I didn't like it."

I so wanted to laugh. In her mind her actions made perfectly good sense. After all, if she didn't like the book how could anyone else. 

I couldn't fault her as it was apparent I had not done a very good job explaining how a library works.  Once she understood her response was short and simple: "Oh, okay."  And off she went to look for another title.

Each week we had students fail to turn in their books when due.  Occasionally, a few came back damaged. Sometimes their excuses were hysterical.  Here are three I will never forget: 

"My Dad ran over it with his truck." (Book was presented showing actual tire marks on cover to verify this child was telling the truth.)

"My cat peed on it."  (Kerplunk! That one immediately went in the trash.)

"The banana peel in my backpack did it."  (What a sticky mess. A brand new book that was salvaged, but truly lost its appeal.)

But the excuse most often voiced from kids facing a late fine was "My Mom forgot." Nice try, kids, but you checked it out, not your Mom. You are responsible and you have a fine to pay. End of story.

P.S.  *I changed the name to protect this delightful child, nor does she appear in the photo at top. The books above are a sampling of ones which made my "favorites" list. Read any of them? 


Saturday, October 25, 2014

How to Have a Planner Without Spending Much Money!

I'm into planners these days.  Big time. What triggered this new interest was the day I felt overwhelmed and asked God for help! 

I had taken on too much: co-writing a book, studying about blogging, adjusting to retirement, while at the same time dealing with a case of Shingles -- the kind on your body, not your house. To regain a sense of control the solution was simple: buy a planner. 
For me, I knew if I could get all the mumbled, disorderly, and seemingly endless thoughts out of my brain, and down on paper, the stress would recede. But first I had to acquire a planner.

Rather than rush out and buy one I did a little research on Pinterest. Didn't take me long to identify the brands people favored (i.e. Filofax and Erin Condren to name a couple) and the reasons for their popularity: beautiful colors, unique textures, variety of sizes, durability, and optional styles.

They all were appealing but what captured my attention more were the planner accessories. Who can resist cheerful Washi Tapes, dangling charms, dashboards, stickers, tabs, and other decorative items? Forget the plain-Jane-planners of yesteryear which primarily were used to track appointments. No, today's are fun and definitely have pizazz when embellished by its user. Now, the question was, which one should I purchase?

The moment a lovely, leather, yellow planner by Gillio came up on my computer screen I knew my search was over. Gorgeous! Yeah, that's the one I want. Just one problem. Cost over $100. Yikes. Guess I won't be getting that one. And so the search resumed . . . for weeks . . as nothing I liked fit my budget.

Meanwhile, I went about life using 3" x 5" cards as my make-shift-organizer, until one day, while browsing at a thrift store, I came upon a purple planner. Surprisingly, it was in very good condition and at an unbelievable price: $.50 cents. Well, it's not yellow, but at that price purple will do just fine. I'll make it my practice model.

Once home, I downloaded free printables, created inserts, added a bit of cute Washi Tape (also bought on sale), and tested out my planner. I tried various forms but always found aspects of them I did not use, thus wasting precious space. To solve my dilemma I ended up designing my own. 

But I digress. Back to my purple planner.

I was enjoying and fine-tuning its pages until I spotted this one at my local Salvation Army Store:

It had never been used, included inserts, and priced right: $.70 cents. Now that's a bargain.

True, it lacked the lush feel of a Gillio, but I told myself, You can live with that. What's important is that it keeps you organized. I call it my "brain," as it stores all those facts, lists, appointments, reminders, etc. that are so easy to forget.  It also gives me the option to be artistic if/when I want. Here's a look at two pages waiting for stickers, personal notes and to-do lists.

In case you wonder . . . I'm not against anyone purchasing a beautiful planner at a hefty price. But not everyone can afford one, let alone several which seems to be the trend. Hopefully this blog will encourage those with a limited income to not rule out owning a planner. May take a little ingenuity, perseverance, and a bit of creativity but it can happen. Might even remove unwanted stress as it did in my case.   

A yellow planner remains on my wish list, but until one turns up I plan to be thankful and enjoy telling others about one of my best bargains. 

P.S. Do you use a planner and have a favorite brand? Or have any advice or tips you want to pass on to this novice?  Would love to hear from you.  

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Not Your Normal Pillow

Out of all the topics I considered for my first post I decided to write about a pillow! This one in particular:

I designed it for my own enjoyment years ago. Plus, I had this big box of buttons that were begging to get used. (I'll blog about it another day.)

I know there are prettier, and certainly better made, pillows out there by gifted embroiderers. But I would be surprised if any of them have created one using these six words: "With God All Things Are Possible." They are from Luke 1:37, my favorite verse in the Bible.

These words were spoken to the virgin Mary and uttered to assure her that what God said would indeed take place. And it did. She gave birth to Jesus, the Son of God.

For me, it is a verse that captures the essence of the God I trust; the God who can do anything; the God who I envision saying, "Oh, that's easy!"

And it's a verse I want to remember for future days when I attempt to write something worthwhile here and come up empty.  When to type even one word seems impossible. 

Now you know why I chose to write about a pillow for as I embark on this new adventure there is some fear. Mine is a minuscule assignment compared to what God asked of Mary, but the unknown is always a bit daunting.   

Maybe you can relate.  Maybe you are the one today who needs the reminder that "With God ALL things are possible!" 

Or, be inspired to make your own pillow with your favorite verse.  If so, I hope you let me know and show me the end result.