Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Alisa Burke Inspired Christmas Wreath

I'm a big Alisa Burke fan.  If you haven't heard of her, I encourage you to visit her blog and see some of her fabulous artwork.  You will be inspired!

Her seasonal wreaths inspired me to make one of my own, and this is what I came up with!

I just drew some holly, berries and pinecones on some book pages with a fine-tipped Sharpie.  The good news is that they don't have to be perfect.  Just go for it!

I painted them with watercolors.  And since my kids were painting their own masterpieces, I just used their Crayola watercolors.  You don't need anything fancy!

Then I cut out the shapes, leaving a bit of the plain book page showing around the edges.

Grab a embroidery hoop, some hot glue, and start layering the pieces on to form your wreath.

Voila! (It looks a bit squarish, huh? Maybe I'll add a few more leaves.)

I hung mine on a mirror in my dining room with a thin red ribbon, along with some pinecones.

Simple and unique!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Songs of Christmas Past

You know how music can often bring you back to a place instantly?

Christmas songs are like that for me.  There are certain songs that in a moment, transplant me back to 1987 in our Christmas decked family room; my sisters and I in matching pajamas, my Mom laughing at our antics while my Dad made biscuits and gravy.

A few years ago, I made a CD for my family as a Christmas gift so that they could relive those special moments through song.  To this day, these songs are so special to me, and my heart wants to BURST when my own kids are singing along to these songs which I hold dear.

And so I present to you...

Almost all of these songs were critical in our celebration of Christmas in the Olson household growing up. (Except for a few... there are a couple of more recent songs on the CD that I added just because I liked them.)

Some of these songs are not popular, but they are gems.  I'll highlight a few (with my most favorite saved for last):

Born to Die sung by Barbara Mandrell:  BEAUTIFUL.
This song spells out the gospel in a touching and poignant Christmas song.  I grew up with these seeds planted in my heart:
Shepherds gaze in wonder
While angel voices sing
This night of nights has come
And brought the world the long-awaited King

The earth is filled with gladness
And yet the heavens weep
For heaven's eyes can see
He was born to die for me

Baby Jesus
Is that a tear in your eye?
Baby Jesus
You must know you were born to die

It must have broken God's heart
For the future He could see
Yet He formed His hands and feet
Knowing one day they'd be nailed to a tree

So all the world could know it
A gift came from above 
For God so loved the world
That He gave His only Son

Baby Jesus
With a tear of love in your eye
Baby Jesus
You knew You were born to die

Jingle Bells sung by Barbra Steisand (1967):  So fun!  
I was recently thrilled to learn of a friend who shares the same love and enthusiasm for this version of the Christmas classic!  Her tradition is the same as mine - my sisters and I would race through this song as fast as we could, making sure to get every word and rhythm perfectly right.  I'm happy to report that my girls are VERY good at singing this song and I couldn't be happier.  "Upsot?"

And finally... the song I wait to crank up every Christmas season...

Jesus Is Born Today (It Is His Birthday) sung by The Oak Ridge Boys (1982):  Christmas!
To me, Christmas just isn't Christmas without this song blasting through the house.  This song IS Christmas.  My Dad would wake us up on Christmas morning (no, we weren't the kids who would wake up at  5 a.m. to open presents) by blaring this song through the stereo system.  The joyful sounds of this song echoing through the hallways of our home would accompany our fun family morning.  

And now, I just love the sweet voices in my backseat singing along to one of my favorites.  And just like my sisters and I, they erupt in giggles when the guy with the super low voice sings, "...birth-day!!!"  The excitement in the first few notes of the song really rev us up.  It's impossible not to feel the joy of Christmas morning with this song in the background.  Christmas is a celebration!!!

Okay, whew.  I'm getting a little worked up over this song.  I'm a little disappointed though - I went to make sure it's on iTunes (because I know everyone will want it after this review), and although it is, it's NOT the same version I grew up with.  It's a little different, slightly more cheesy... but it's still great.  Maybe they re-released it - I'm not sure why it's not the one I have.  I also found this hilarious video of them singing live.  And it's not exactly like the version I love either.  But, oh my... don't judge.  The '80s were not kind on facial hair or fashion.

I was going to end with that song, but I have to include one more.  "O Holy Night" is my most favorite Christmas song that exists.  It chokes me up every time.  The Oak Ridge Boys' version of "O Holy Night" is my favorite.  (And again!  I couldn't find it on iTunes!)

What Christmas songs are must-haves to make your celebration complete?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Receiving the Gift

"I'm telling you about this in person so that you can't turn it down," she said.

We stood on my driveway, me a little nervous about what she had to say, and she a little excited about her proposition.

My friend had arranged for someone to come clean my house for me.

Immediately, panicked and guilt-ridden thoughts started swirling around in my head.

"Why does she think I need someone to clean my house?"
       "Addie was at her house the other day... did she tell her our house is dirty?"
              "When she dropped Addie off, did she peek in and see the mess?"
                     "Do I seem like I'm a slob?"
                            "Does she pity me?"

No.  She just wants to bless me.

And I felt a nudge.  Receive the gift.

She was right - had she called to offer it over the phone, I would've talked her out of such a crazy idea.  Like pushing back a thoughtfully picked out and wrapped gift, I would've turned her down and refused the help.

Receive the gift.
After we made arrangements for the housekeeper to come over, I hemmed and hawed and second-guessed my decision to allow it.  I don't deserve it - maybe others need it more than me.  My house isn't messy enough - I can handle it myself.  But then again, maybe it's too messy - can she handle it?  Maybe this can all just wait for another time.  Nah, nice thought, but she shouldn't come over.

Receive the gift.

With anxiety often taking over the excitement I should've felt, I scurried around my house and did just what the housekeeper was coming to do.  I cleaned mirrors.  I picked up toys.  I wiped down counters.  I could do this myself, and then, see?  I'd have no need for her.

Receive the gift.

And then I realized:  is this not unlike how I often treat the ultimate gift?  God's gift to the the world - to ME?  His son Jesus?

Sometimes I push Him aside with every excuse not to accept the gift:  I'm not good enough.  I'm not worthy.  I'm not bad enough.  I can handle this myself.  The timing is bad.  Not now... not now.

Or I think that yep, it's time to get serious and go deeper.  But first... FIRST!  I try to clean up my life a little bit and get things just right.  Because THEN I'll be ready.

But that defeats all that he came to do for me.

Receive the gift.

Long ago, in a dirty, humble, smelly stable, God's Son Jesus, the King of Kings, was born in the flesh.  He came in person.  Maybe he knew we might turn him away otherwise.  He came in the form of a chubby, cooing, dimpled, irresistible baby.

And yet, for each thought I have about this Christmas miracle, about this baby being born just to die for me later, another thought surfaces about how surely it wasn't meant for me. No, I can't accept it.  I can't live up to all that is required.  My life is too messy, too busy, too comfortable.

We hurry about our lives trying to fix our own problems and carry our own burdens and cheapen the gift that the Master Gift Giver has offered us for all of eternity.  Jesus didn't come to see how good we could be.  I heard once that God doesn't love us because we're good.  He loves us because He is good.  I'm thankful for that, because sometimes I feel pretty unlovable.  He didn't come to find out how great and perfect our lives are.  He came to save us from ourselves.  I need that.

And so as Christmas approaches, I'm trying to really learn how to accept the gift.  I'm ignoring any attempts to push it away because I don't deserve it.  I'm realizing that I don't need to hurry around making my life seem perfect for Him when He wants to do it himself.  Instead, I'm basking in the anticipation of the climax of this Christmas season; in the gift of love special-delivered straight from God's hands to us.

"He came into the very world he created, but the world didn't recognize him.  He came to his own people, and even they rejected him." John 1:10-11, NLT

Reject him?  I can't. I can't put my hands up and refuse this gift, no matter how unworthy I feel, especially now, this Christmas, when the gift of Jesus is put so blatantly in front of me.  I am loved.  YOU are loved.  You ARE loved.   You are LOVED.

Receive the gift.

"But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God." John 1:12, NLT

Monday, December 12, 2011

One Man's Trash

Last Christmas, Gary and I agreed to not spend any money on each other's gifts.  Instead, we were giving a chunk of our Christmas budget to Kids Against Hunger.

So imagine my surprise when I came down the stairs on Christmas morning to find two HUGE presents wrapped just for me!

Here is the awesomeness of my husband:  knowing I'd been searching the world for two (reasonably priced) french doors to hang as giant picture frames, when he saw them, he got them for me.  The twist is that he found them in a dumpster.

There they were: two beautiful, weathered, white french doors all alone without a home.  After getting permission from the dumpster's owners, Gary rescued them from certain demise and brought them home for me.  He and the girls printed out pictures with a white border, discreetly taped them up behind the glass in each panel, and voila!  Beautiful.

We hung them last Christmas after the decorations came down, and this year it's fun to see the lights reflected in the glass. I'm thinking about garnishing them with a bit of garland or sprigs of pinecones.

I've never been so pleased.  Best (and cheapest!) Christmas gift ever.  

This is when it pays to have a frugal hubby!
Love ya, Gary!

Friday, December 09, 2011

Teacher gifts they'll LOVE!

Not sure what to give teachers at next week's holiday parties?  
Read on for teacher gift-giving tips!

A disclaimer:  I'm not a teacher.  I've never been a teacher.  (Well, unless you count all of those summers I played school with my sisters and insisted on suggested being the teacher because I'm the oldest.  Naturally.)  But I have a lot of teacher friends, and these suggestions are from them.

Keep in mind when giving your holiday gifts next week that you might want to look beyond your child's teacher.  Don't forget the:
  • art teacher
  • gym teacher
  • music teacher
  • bus driver
  • principal
  • vice principal
  • school nurse
  • crossing guard
  • reading teacher
  • Spanish teacher
  • librarian
  • lunch lady
  • custodian

...and others!

Of course, you're not obligated to give a gift to anyone, and certainly not everyone on this list.  Just think about who has impacted your child's life this year and who deserves an extra "thanks" this time of year!

With that said, I have two words to summarize this post:

The apple thing is only cute for so long, and I'm here to tell you that most teachers don't want one more apple pin or apple picture frame or apple notepad.  You can probably stop there and get just about anything else and you'll be a step ahead of the apple-loving crowd.   But here are a few more tips in case you want some guidance.

Other gifts to think twice about...  Teachers never want to seem ungrateful, but many would prefer you think outside the box and stay away from the following:

  • Mugs - they get a million.  It doesn't matter what it says, what picture is on it, how funny or cute or clever it is.  No mugs.  Especially mugs with apples.

  • Kitschy plaques and knick-knacks - there is only so much desktop and shelf space in the classroom for those personalized plaques and frames and chalkboard wall hangings.   They get eight bazillion their first couple years of teaching and they're all the same.  I didn't talk to a single teacher who REQUESTED one more of these.

  • Food - this might surprise a lot of people, because it seems that homemade goodies are such a perfect, appreciated go-to gift.  Just be aware of dietary restrictions, the excess of sweets they receive this time of year, and some teachers' concerns about the ingredients and cleanliness precautions when the goodies were made.  I've had several teachers tell me that while appreciated, a lot of those homemade goods go uneaten and thrown out.  But then again... some teachers LOVE them!

Okay, Ready?  Let's move on to what those teachers will LOVE!

  1. A handmade card from your child.  Most teachers will agree that this is by far the most meaningful, appreciated gift.  Seriously.
  2. A note from you.  They want to know that you acknowledge and appreciate all of their hard work.
  3. That note you wrote?  Send a copy of it to the principal.  What a boost to the teacher for the principal to hear your praises!
  4. Drawing or piece of art by your child
  5. Cold, hard cash.  It seems impersonal, but trust me, no teacher will ever turn it down.  If you want to go beyond slipping a crisp bill in a card, how about this ADORABLE idea?  Bind a bunch of ones together to make a money pad for your teacher.  Seriously adorable.                                                                         or you could figure out how to fold it into clever origami:    
  6. School supplies.  Pencils, paperclips, paper... it will get used!  Oftentimes, the items used in their classrooms are paid for from their own pockets.  This might seem boring, but do a quick Google or Pinterest search to find some darling ways to package these items creatively.  How about pencils encircling some pretty Christmas poinsettias instead of sunflowers? 
  7. Classroom materials.  Beyond school supplies, some teachers have a "wish list" of items they'd love to have for their classroom. Ask them!
  8. Books for the classroom
  9. Volunteer!  Give your time in the classroom.  Make a "coupon" or just put it in a note, either way they'll appreciate it!
  10. Book of stamps
  11. A stack of blank homemade cards (coupled with the aforementioned book of stamps...?)
  12. Journal
  13. Ornament.  Some teachers are ornamented out and may not prefer this one.  But if it's a special one that your child picked out, made, or will remind your teacher of your child, then go for it!  But NO APPLES!  ;)
  14. Unique drink mixes.  You could try Mexican Hot Chocolate or Friendship Tea or...
  15. Magazine Subscription
  16. Movie Tickets
  17. Personalized stationary and notepads - vistaprint.com is a great place to start!
  18. A donation in their name to a charity of your choice, or one you know they'd appreciate
  19. A 6-pack of their favorite soda
  20. Dig in their trash!  Find out what they like.  What's in there?  Candy bar wrapper?  Used tea bags?  Give that to them!  (Not the trash...)
  21. Stylish jewelry.  Not "teacher" jewelry.  You know what I mean!
  22. Babysitting.  If your teacher has children, why not give them an evening of free babysitting?
  23. Flowers or a Plant  - We made these for Emma's teachers a few years ago:  
  24. Something for their pet(s)
  25. Scarf
  26. Candles
  27. Useful, practical household items - one teacher even told me toilet paper!
  28. Purses/tote bags
  29. Bottle of Advil... no, seriously!
  30. Hand sanitizer
  31. A bag full of gum and mints
  32. Bottle of wine - you might have to know your teacher well to pull this one off
  33. Tickets to a sporting or theater event
  34. Wish book.  Have your child or the entire class compile a book for the teacher about "What I'd Get You If I Had a Million Dollars."  The teacher will love their sweet and funny ideas.
  35. Fun, teacher themed tees like this one or this one you can find at Cafe Press
  36. A package of thank you notes - for all the other gifts.  And no matter what, let your teacher off the hook and tell them you don't want a thank you note.  Why give them more work to do?
  37. A membership to a local museum or zoo
  38. Ski pass (if it's local)
  39. Group gift - get together with the other parents and pool your money for a large gift card or big-ticket item you know your teacher wants 
  40. Personalized labels - so many of their classroom books and items are their own.  Help them keep track of them!  vistaprint.com, Mabel's Labels, and many more.

Gift cards are GREAT!  (And should be higher up on this non-prioritized list.  They WANT gift cards!!!)  Remember, any amount is a gift.  A $5 gift card, when coupled with others they'll receive, goes a long way!  You could get gift cards for:

  41.  Restaurants
  42.  Starbucks
  43.  Amazon.com.  Perfect for personal or classroom use.
  44.  Mall
  45.  iTunes - this covers music, apps, etc.  An acceptable gift involving an apple!  
  46.  Manicure/Pedicure (paired with cute gloves, socks or slippers?)
  47.  Massage
  48.  Gas
  49.  Car Detailing
  50.  Car Wash

Afraid a gift card is too boring?  There are some CUTE packaging ideas out there!  Look at this one from the awesome gals at eighteen25:

They have a gazillion more cute teacher ideas here.

Or what about this gift card holder for a male teacher?

This list of 50+ is just the beginning.  Do an easy Google or Pinterest search for "teacher gifts" and you'll be bombarded with cute ideas.  Here are a few to get you started:

http://www.tipjunkie.com/back-to-school-2/?awt_l=CcU.F&awt_m=3bABdIC0Lv_yc4R (scroll down to the section about homemade gifts)

The bottom line:  make your teacher (and other school folk!) feel loved and appreciated!  No matter what you do, they'll be thankful!

I hope this list got your wheels turning.  If you have other clever ideas, leave a comment! I still need to figure out what my girls' teachers will be getting!


Thursday, December 08, 2011

Thrifty Leg Warmer Tutorial

I found pictures of these sweaters-turned-leg-warmers floating 
around Pinterest the other day and raced out to make them.

Aren't they the cutest?
Call them leg warmers, call them boot socks, but I call them FUN.
And they're so cozy this time of year.  And red for Christmas?  Perfect.

Here's what to do...

I got a sweater from the thrift store for 99¢.  Then I cut off the sleeves.
The sleeves are cut at an angle, so I evened them out by cutting straight across.

Now at this point, you can stop if you have no sewing skillz.  Seriously.  The first two times I wore these, I wore them just like this!  I just stuffed them down in my boots and no one was the wiser.  But let me warn you, if you do it that way, you'll be left with a whole lot of tiny yarn pieces that will shed everywhere each time you wear them.

I want you to know that I'm a "good enough" kind of seamstress.  
So I promise you can do this, no matter how much sewing experience you have.

Here's how to finish them.  

When I tucked them into my boot, they were a little wide down at the bottom.  
I turned it inside-out, and sewed a straight-ish line to narrow them.  

And then I cut off the extra off the side.

Next I zig-zag stitched the raw edges on the side and on the top in order to cut down on the fraying and aforementioned stray yarn pieces.

Finally, I just folded the top (which is actually the bottom) of the leg warmer over, and sewed another straight-ish line around to hem it.

It will look like this:
This looks pretty shoddy, I know.  
But once you turn it back right-side-out, it looks fine.


I admit, I've worn them three times in the last week.

The first time, I wore them to a Christmas party with skinny jeans, tall black boots and a tank and a cardigan.  

The second time, I wore them to church and a baby shower with a black/gray striped dress, scarf, leggings and my tall black boots.

I wore them again yesterday to a Christmas brunch, 
with skinny jeans, a tank a cozy gray sweater.  

They're fun to wear.  You can let them just barely peek out the tops of your boots, or wear them tall and slouchy.  I've even seen them folded down over the tops and even worn OVER the boots!  Cute no matter how you do it!

I have two more sweaters waiting for me - 
one with stripes and a fair isle knit.  Can't wait!
Let me know if you try it!  

Bonus picture...
My little photographer (Emma) got bored while taking pictures:
I love her!
(That's "Angie + Gary" for those not "in the know.")
Happy Thursday!


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