Thursday, December 30, 2010

Goal #91: Ryan and Miriam's Wedding

More progress on my Project 101 in 1001 list. Read about my journey here.
Goal #91: Shoot at least five weddings with Devin (3/5)

On November 26th, while many were out hitting up the Black Friday deals or recovering from turkey-induced comas, Devin and I were photographing the beautiful wedding of Ryan and Miriam. I also designed this couple's "Classic, Spanish-infused" wedding invitations (which I loved!) It was fun to create the "first impression" of their wedding and then also be able capture their special day on camera.

© Off Beat Graphics 2010

I normally act as the "second shooter" during our wedding sessions, which means I shoot the candid pictures, watch for details (like stray hairs and crooked ties), hold equipment, anticipate Devin's needs and follow his lead completely. But this time around we were very limited on shooting time and had no choice but to divide and conquer. This meant that I got the opportunity to shoot more than I ever have before.

While Devin was photographing the guys, I started taking portraits of the Bride, which - hello! - is a huge responsibility and one that I wasn't entirely sure I was ready for. Fortunately, Devin has been an incredible instructor over the past few months and as I applied the helpful hints and constructive criticisms he has provided me with, I was able to capture some shots that I was really pleased with. Below are some of the images I am proud to call my own. 

To see more images of this stunning Spanish-infused wedding, hop on over to Devin's photography blog.

Thank you Ryan and Miriam for including us in your day - it was so beautiful! May God bless you as you start this incredible journey together.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Goal #73 COMPLETE (plus an Uganda update)

Another goal checked off my Project 101 in 1001 list. Read about my journey here.  

It's two-for-one day and today you'll get not only an inside scoop on the 28th of 101 goals to be checked off my list - but also receive a quick update on our Uganda trip!

Goal #73 COMPLETE:  Make beaded crosses to sell at Easter and Christmas

This past Easter, my super-cool cousin Marla (the author and speaker - I'm a little proud to be related to her) allowed me to leverage her cyber popularity and host a beaded cross giveaway on her blog. A sweet lady named Gail won and I received a quite a few Easter orders from those who needed to sooth their giveaway losses by purchasing a cross anyways. 

The coolest thing about this giveaway was that God totally used it (along with our respective blogs) to heal a long-standing... shall-we-say "bruised" relationship between Marla and myself. And my, oh my has He helped our friendship to blossom since then! God is awesome and I love that He used modern technology to bridge such a gap. 

Then, just before Christmas, I started offering the crosses again, but this time used one of them to raise money for our trip to Uganda and to raise money to feed kids in Africa through Amazima Ministries. The We're All in This Together cross (pictured left) uses beads made by women in Uganda, Africa and when one sells, I send 50% of the profits back to Amazima to help feed the children of those same women. (You can read more about how that works here). To date, the crosses have provided - 765 meals for a child in Africa!

The process of completing this goal was far more satisfying then I ever dreamed it could be - healed relationships, food in the tummies of some precious children, and support of our Uganda trip. Wow - all glory to God and His amazing ways! 

Quick Uganda update: Thanks to many generous donations from our friends and family (and even some complete strangers), along with a number of odd-jobs (some of them truly odd), we have raised about 56% of our support! God is so good to provide and I have been blown away by how generous so many people have been.

(Edit: 1-21-11 - I made a mistake on the above calculation (I'm an artist - math was never my strong point). We actually just now have 48% of our total funds raised. God is still just as good though and we are still just as blown away at everyone's support!)

We'll soon be having a team phone conference with Visiting Orphans to discuss more details of our trip, so we'll continue to post updates here. Thanks to everyone for your support - both playfully and financially. We appreciate you so much! 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Santa?! I know him! I know him!!!

Let's talk about Santa Claus. Because Good Saint Nick's been under a lot of debate lately. The big question among a lot of Christians this time of year is - should you let kids believe in Santa Claus? Will it confuse your kids to be taught about the miracles of Jesus along side the magic of Santa? Will your children lie awake at night, terrified that a fat, old man is going to break into the house as soon as they close their eyes?? Will they be damaged emotionally and question your honesty forever when they find out you lied to them???

Let's dive in shall we?

When I was growing up, Santa was kinda a big deal. My Grandpa Robison collected Santa figurines and postcards and had a genuine passion for making Christmas and Santa Claus as magical for his grandkids as possible. Every Christmas Eve all the grandkids would pile onto the couch with Grandpa and he would recite from memory The Night Before Christmas. Then, as we said goodbye to all the cousins outside my grandparents' house we would hear Santa's sleigh bells in the distance. I kid you not - actually, auditory proof that Santa was real and he was comin' to town!

Then one fateful Christmas Eve as we stood outside waiting to hear Santa, I ran back into the house to grab something. As I rounded the corner through the kitchen - oh what to my wondering eyes did appear? But Grandpa in the backyard, jingling sleigh bells for his grandchildren to hear. 

I discovered three things in that moment: 1) Santa wasn't real, 2) Grandpa had been setting up those sleigh bells for who-knows-how-many years and 3) My Grandpa was awesome. And that moment - when I discovered the jolly ol' elf wasn't real - is my most favorite Christmas memory ever. (insert "awwww" here)

So my family really liked Santa and none of us were scarred when we found out he wasn't real (I know that is not true for some kids however). For us, Santa was a fun, imaginative tradition - even after we discovered the truth about him.

Even still, I don't think that my own children will believe in Santa the same way I did. Because as much as I love the fun surrounding the Santa myths, there is one thing that I can't quite reconcile with. 

I want my children to grow up in a home full of love and compassion for the poor. I want them each to have a "sponsor sibling" through Compassion International. I want to teach them about the joy of giving. But when I think about raising children in that atmosphere, I can't imagine how a magical elf who delivers toys to every child in one night fits. How can I tell that story to my kids while encouraging them to give to children in poverty who don't have Christmas presents? I’m not going to lie to my kids and “defend” Santa for not delivering toys to Africa. My main beef with Mr. Kringle is that his sleigh seems to only reach the middle and upper class. Even so, a part of me would still like to keep the magic of him around for my own kids, at least a little bit. Is the balance?

I think so. It seems there may still be hope for Santa Claus afterall! Mark Driscoll wrote a great article on the subject that you can read here. I really liked this little excerpt that addresses some of the "issues" Santa causes for some families:

We tell our kids that [Santa] was a real person who did live a long time ago. We also explain how people dress up as Santa and pretend to be him for fun, kind of like how young children like to dress up as pirates, princesses, superheroes, and a host of other people, real and imaginary. We explain how, in addition to the actual story of Santa, a lot of other stories have been added (e.g., flying reindeer, living in the North Pole, delivering presents to every child in one night) so that Santa is a combination of true and make-believe stories. - Mark Driscoll

When my little sisters were even littler, they asked me to tell them if Santa was real. I answered with a mischievous smile, "He is real in your imagination." This answer seem to please them. It gave them the truth about Santa, but to also gave them permission to continue "believing” in him a little longer if they wanted to. I suppose I'll take a similar approach with my own children: make-believing in Santa can be fun, while still being aware of the truth and our own responsibility to care for the poor.

"We just heard Santa outside our window!!! He said, 'Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas! Happy New Year. God bless us - everyone! I bring you good news!" - my little sister, Julia 

(Apparently Santa's been hanging out with Tiny Tim and the Archangles)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Goal #44- Dates with Devin (9, 10, 11 of 20)

More progress on my Project 101 in 1001 list. Read about my journey here.

Goal #44: Go on 20 of the dates listed in the books Dates on a Dime and Coffee Dates for Couples 

Okay, so I haven't actually blogged about this goal in months, but I promise - I have still been going out on dates with my husband. Many on them cheap and fun and from the books mentioned above. Here's what we did for dates 9, 10 and 11:

Date 9 of 20: 
Inspired by an activity in Coffee Dates for Couples, we headed to Starbucks for a date with some coffee-themed games. Including using coffee terms to create a drink that describes your spouse. 

Devin picked the terms "hot, sweet, spicy, delicate, nutty, strong, creamy (aka - pale), unique and balanced" to describe me and said I if I was a coffee drink I'd be a "hot, cinnamon dulce, toffee nut, whole mike latte, with an extra shot of espresso and whipped cream." 

I picked the terms "hot, sweet, smooth, nutty, fresh, strong and unique" to describe Devin and said he would be a "hot, two pump sugar, toffee nut latte with an extra shot of espresso and chocolate whipped cream." Yeah. His drink for me sounded way better.

Date 10 of 20: 
From Dates on a Dime: "House-sit for friends or family while they are out of town. Make it a special getaway without leaving town." 

We house-sat for our Bible study friends Greg and Connie, earned some money for our Uganda trip and had a very relaxing time while doing so. 

Date 11 of 20:
From Dates on a Dime: "At Christmastime, pack your car with a thermos of hot cocoa and two travel mugs. Drive through local neighborhoods, sipping your cocoa and viewing the Christmas lights displays. Toast each other when you've found the most outrageous displays."

There is an amazing little culdesac just up the road from us that goes all out for light displays. Every single house on the sac (about ten maybe) is complete decked out with lights and displays and all around Christmas-cheer. My kind of place. 

There was even a house that had a "Walk Through Bethlehem" display built in their huge backyard - full sets and life-size cut outs narrated with Bible-verse plaques. Very cool.

The entrance to "Bethlehem"

Bikini Bottom made an appearance as well (Sponge Bob.) 

Another favorite: 

::SIGH:: I love Christmas time. And my husband. And cheap/free date nights.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Goal #16: Top 100 Books

A portion of my Project 101 in 1001 list. Read about my journey here. 

Now that all that Twilight nonsense is behind me, I thought I'd start on Goal #16: Read ten books off of the BBC’s Top 100 Books list. You know, get some real literature into my brain. ;-)

I love to read. When I was younger, I would literally get grounded from reading because I would hide in my closet and read novels when I should have been doing do homework. (I know, I was such a rebel.) With my love for literature still firmly intact, I am extremely excited to start this goal and what better time to start then when I have an 18-hour, van-at-maximum-capacity ride to Dallas looming before me? (Never mind that I tend to get extremely car sick while reading - I'll figure something out.)

I'm not sure if I should be proud or embarrassed that I have only read eleven out of one-hundred of these "must read" classics? Oh well, I'll have ten more under my belt after this goal is completed! 

Thus far, I've chosen nine-of-ten books to read and I just picked up Jane Eyre at the library to get me started. Now I want your feedback as to what my tenth book should be.

Here's my list so far:

#1 - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams [check!]
#2 - Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell [check!]
#3 - Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë  [check!]
#4 - Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
#5 - The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger 
(EDIT: I'm replacing Catcher with A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving due to some questionable content of the aforementioned book)   [check!]
#6 - The Count Of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas [check!]
#7 - Animal Farm, George Orwell [check!]
#8 - Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck
#9 - Holes, Louis Sachar [check!]
#10 - Chosen by my readers. What book off this list do you think I should read? 
(The books I've already read are: Pride and Prejudice, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Great Expectations, Persuasion, Emma, Anne Of Green Gables, A Christmas Carol, The Secret Garden, Memoirs Of A Geisha, and Lord Of The Flies)

Can't wait to see your suggestions! 

EDIT 12/27/10: Based on feedback here and on my facebook page, an overwhelming majority is recommending/almost demanding that I read The Great Gatsby, so my list will be completed with is book! Thanks everyone for your recommendations!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Vampires for Africa (part 3)

Dum, dum, dum, dum DOOOOOONE!

I did it - I read the book I swore up and down that I would never, ever touch. Before making such a declaration though, I should have remembered the famous words of a French pigeon named Henri, "Never say never." (An American Tail anyone?) 


For the sake of the orphans (I know, I'm such a pathetic attempt at a martyr), I read Twilight and earned some financial support for my trip to Uganda from my conniving best friend (a true Twilighter if I ever knew one... which I do. Quite a few actually. I'm even related to some of them. By blood. har. har. har.)

Anyways. (again)

The big (or small, depending on your vested interest in the book) question is: Have I been converted? Have I experienced "the change"? Have I undergone the "transformation" into a Twilight fan? 

Not hardly. But I have searched deep within my sardonic opinions of the series (and the ensuing pop-culture obsession that it caused) and put together a short list of things that even I can begrudgingly appreciate about the book.

1). The cover art for the Twilight series is brilliant - absolutely beautiful visually and the artwork depicts the theme of each book in an interesting, metaphorical way. As a designer, I can't help but to admire that. 

2). My heart did flutter once and only once - during Meyer's very accurate description of the usually beauty of the Arizona desert - a beauty that, having lived here most of my life, I love and appreciate in the same way Bella does... did. Before she became consumed with Edward and nothing but. 

3). The book is PG-rated. There are no vulgar or over-sexualized scenes (which are irritatingly common in secular literature and are becoming increasing more common in teen literature - i.e. Gossip Girls). The few violent scenes that did appear are not described in an overly-graphic way either (but I don't know about the follow-up books.)

4). The book's spin on the classic vampire is interesting. The historical account of Meyer's brand of blood-suckers (or non-blood-suckers in this case) was the only part of the story that I was intrigued to know more about. Unfortunately, there existed amidst this engaging tale of vampires one regrettable element that rendered my dislike for the book unwavering:


I must honestly (and reluctantly) admit that had Bella not been in this story, or rather, had she been depicted in a different, less obsessive way, I would have quite enjoyed the book. However. How-e-ver, Bella's desperate, unhealthy, all-encompassing addiction to Edward ruined an otherwise potentially pleasant read. That, and I didn't personally care for Edward's arrogant, controlling personality but I already mentioned that here

One last little tidbit of fun before I move on with my non-vampire-obsessed life: This video, How Twilight Should Have Ended by HISHE. 

Oh. So. Funny. (And I couldn't agree more - because really, how long can you drag out an inevitability? For four long books apparently.)

Thanks Megan for your support - I truly appreciate it despite the package it arrived in. Now if I could just find about two-thousand more dollars worth of diabolically creative fund-raising ideas... 

Friday, December 10, 2010

Vampires for Africa (part 2)

Well. I did it. With much reluctance, I sank my teeth into Twilight (bad pun intended and inspired by too much of Stephenie Meyer's mediocre-at-best writing abilities.)

In case you missed it, I have been diabolically coerced into reading Twilight by my so-called best friend in order to raise money for my mission trip to Uganda, Africa.

I am through the first nine chapters. Bella has just discovered her unconditional love for Edward, Edward has confessed to being a vampire and I am in serious danger of dislodging my eyeballs from rolling them so often. 

However, as I'd hate to offend any of the Twi-hards out there, I won't mention how much I dislike being inside the head of a whiny, neurotic, obsessive teen girl. Nor will I bring up the fact that I think Edward is a creepy, controlling stalker punk and I want to smack him.

If I was bringing up things like that, I might mention how unintentionally funny I think this book is. Favorite laugh-out-loud lines so far:

"I can do this, I lied to myself feebly. No one was going to bite me." - Bella

"Aren't you hungry?' he asked, distracted.
"No." I didn't feel like mentioning that my stomach was already full - of butterflies.

I might also mention (if I were mentioning things) that I recently had an amusing conversation with Megan (the cunning behind this scheme) that further solidified my opinions of the book.

I told Megan that, even to someone like me who had read her fair share of cheesy chick-lit novels, Twilight seemed incredibly ridiculous and very poorly written. I challenged her to counter me on the latter point, as she is a high school English teacher after all. 

"Well yeah." She retorted smugly, "It's written for teenagers."

I was baffled and quite unsure why she seemed so proud of that fact. "Yeah." I replied. "Which is exactly why I didn't want to read it and why it creeps me out that so many grown women are obsessed with this book!" (pointed look in Megan's direction)

But, because I'm not mentioning my true thoughts on Twilight (believe me, this was the edited version), I will end with this disclaimer to the above criticism:

I've never written a novel and I don't claim that I could (the biggest difference between myself and Ms. Meyer). Also, I think vampires are cool, they've always being one of my favorite fictional creatures. However, I've read enough good literature to know when a story (even chick-lit) is lacking. But that's just my opinion and I know a whole lot of people don't share it. ::shrug:: You say "tomaytoes", I say "tomawtoes." You say romantic vampire, I say crazy stalker. Whatever.

Onward I trudge through the remaining fifteen chapters. I will get to Africa, even if it means finishing this book. 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

1970s Serving Tray ReVamp

I have yet to do a revamp on this blog, but recently I found the perfect project to feature as my first:

My mom unearthed this little gem in her garage while hunting for items to donate to our Uganda garage sale. It is a retractable hor o'dourves tray from the 1970s (I'm pretty sure it was a wedding gift to my parents 35+ years ago.) It even has little jars and spoons to hold garnishes, dips or candy.

It was solid walnut and in very good condition and while I loved the design, the colors were a bit too blah for such an awesome piece.

So out came the sandpaper and spray paint. After removing the hardware, I started with a few coats of primer.

Then I covered they tray with a glorious shade of cornflower blue which matched our apartment perfectly. (I also sealed it with an acrylic sealant spray)

After adding a few little details created with some ivory acrylic paint, a rubber stamp and the back-end of a small paint brush - Voila! Lovely. Chic. Adorable.

(It looks even better with desserts on it, but you'll have to take my word for it as I forgot to take a photo before the cookies were gobbed up at our Elf Party.)

Cost: The tray was free (thanks mom!), I already had the ivory paint and the stamp (the same stamp I used on our wedding invites). The only thing I bought was the primer and blue spray paints, which I used 40% Off coupons for, so the total cost was only $7.19. Not bad for such a cute, portable and unique piece that makes me feel like a "real" grown-up hostess with the mostess.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Best Way to Spread Christmas Cheer...

... is buying a goat for a family in poverty.

Errrr.... Okay, so that totally doesn't rhyme and was a pretty pathetic revision of the famous Elf quote. Regardless, that was the idea behind our second-annual Elf Party.

Devin and me in all our elfin glory

Last year, we watched the movie Elf and asked guests to dress as Christmas elfs and to bring a toy for a child in the Phoenix Children's hospital. This year, our party took on a more global approach and we did something that will have a lasting, life-changing impact.

We got the movie ready, baked up some yummy desserts and asked our friends to come dressed as elfs and bring five dollars to help us spread some true Christmas cheer to a family in need. 

Courtesy of World Concern
Pooling all our money, we bought a goat for a family living in poverty through World Concern's global gift guide! (We also had a little extra and were able to buy vaccinations to keep the goat strong and healthy.) Once full-grown, a goat can produce about a gallon of milk a day and provide a poverty-stricken family with much-needed nutrition, as well as sustainable income (as the extra milk can be sold at market.) 

Our Elf Party was a great success and we (somehow) crammed 22 people (including a toddler and two pregnant gals) into our tiny (err... cozy) living room for the Elf viewing. Devin, dressed as Buddy the Elf, was our baristia and cranked out some rather delicious peppermint mocha lattes and spiced apple ciders. The dessert tray abounded with deletable confections (including my Grandma Yoder's famous butterscotch walnut brownies - um, yum.) Many of our friends were incredibly good sports and pulled together some most excellent elf costumes:

My nephew, sis-in-law and brother-in-law

I loved Max and Alex's homemade felt elf ears

Had there been a prize (oops!) the couple in front would have won for best costumes

One more of Devin as Buddy the Elf  
 (thank you Savers, Good Will and good-ol'-fashion creativity)

Great amounts of Christmas-cheer was had by all, including many swells of the irreplaceable cheer brought about by celebrating Jesus' birth through such openhearted giving. There is simply no joy like it.  

Thanks to all our incredible friends for joining us in this goat-buying venture! You've helped make a true, lasting difference for one special family (in either Bangladesh, Haiti, Kenya or Myanmar.)

P.S. Considering the goat will provide food (milk) for a family in need through a charity, I'm checking this off as Goal #68: Organize a food, toy or diaper drive for a charity at Christmas time)