Saturday, December 29, 2012

Creative Christmas for the Craft-Challenged

Those of you who know me in real life know that I am not at all crafty. I appreciate beauty and creativity, but often have difficulty putting them together in a visual medium myself. But, I am a smart woman and I can follow directions. So, wanting to be one of those moms who does those things with her kids and wanting to create something meaningful for James’s grandparents and great-grandparents, I pinned a couple of simple looking crafts and got to work.

I am grateful for Pinterest. I am a better cook for it and now I’m a better crafty mama. It all started with pin about salt dough Christmas ornaments from Creative Playhouse. It looked great (i.e. easy but still pretty), but I was very glad to find this link on making salt dough in order to get started.

So, here’s our wonderful, messy process, annotated for those who are craft-challenged like me. I combined 1 cup salt (the Morton’s in the cupboard), 2 cups flour (the all-purpose in the freezer), and around 1 cup cold water. I worked with it in a bowl until it felt like dough. I will say, though, that this made a ton of dough. We only used probably half to make 12 ornaments, so I think you could safely half the recipe and still have plenty. I stuck the other half of my dough in the fridge, hoping to use it for something else another time.

Then I stuck the dough in front of James, hoping for some of that sensory learning to happen that all the moms seem to be going on about. He seemed interested, but confused about why we were sitting at the table playing with something that looked like food but obviously wasn’t food.

So we got down to business, rolling out the dough. 

This was more fun, but I was constantly flouring the table and the rolling pin to try to keep it from sticking and I have one of those supposedly nonstick pins. Ah well. If I had it to do over again, I may have skipped to the painting part for a 2-year-old, but he seemed to humor me.

Then we used some thematic cookie cutters to cut out some shaped. We did butterflies, trees, and stars.

This is where I lost him for the day. It took too long for me to pull the dough away from the shapes, get them to the cookie sheet, and reroll the dough. He did a few, then I finished up. To make a nice hole for hanging, I used a plastic straw to punch a hole in the soft dough. That worked surprisingly well!

The instructions say to bake them for a couple of hours at 100°. Since my instructor is in the UK, I figured this was Celsius, so it would be 212° Fahrenheit. My oven, thinking it knows better, wouldn’t do anything less than 300°. Since this is a craft and not food, I figured I couldn’t overbake them, since the whole point was to dry them out. I left them on one side for a couple of hours, then took them out to let them cool so we could paint. Unfortunately, my husband ruled that the pan side of the ornaments still seemed doughy, so they went back in for a couple of hours on the other side. The ornaments are done when they feel hard and a little brittle.

The next day we started painting:


I also bought glitter, which we applied directly to the still-wet paint to help it hold on. Here are our almost finished products:

I really liked the way the butterflies turned out. I was less controlling about what James did, letting him mix colors of paint and glitter. I’m constantly relearning that life turns out more textured, beautiful, and amazing when we relax our grip on our façade of control, and just let things be what they are.

A few days later, I was telling some coworkers about our craft project and how it just didn’t seem finished. After all, we had basically made a kind of food. Sure, it had paint and glitter on it, but if it was going to last from year to year, it seemed like there must be another step. The experienced mamas advised me to buy a spray sealant. (One of them asked me if we had used acrylic paint to which I didn’t have an answer. I used the paints that James got at some point. They had good colors.) I went to Michael’s, told the helpful clerk what I needed, and left with a Krylon crystal clear acrylic coating.

I put the ornaments on paper plates (for easy transport), took them out front, sprayed them down, then let them dry for a day. The coating did modify the colors, but I think they still looked nice.

The next day, I flipped them over, wrote my son’s name and the year with a Sharpie, then sprayed them with sealant. I’m not sure if it was the Sharpie spreading on the dough or the wet coating being applied too soon, but some of it smeared. Those I kept for myself. But some of them turned out just fine.

Finally, when all was dry, I tied red ribbon hangers on each one and parsed them for giving. If I were to do this again, I might make more effort with coordinating ribbon or whatnot, but I was up against a deadline.

Here’s one of the keepers on our tree:

I hope your Christmas was merry and bright! What traditions did/do you have as a family?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Revelation at the Rail

I was serving communion on Sunday. I had half a loaf of bread in my right hand, swaddled like a newborn, and I was tearing pieces to give to the people worshiping with us. Pinch, tear, give, cover, “The body of Christ, broken for you.” It’s a powerful moment; one of the reasons I pursued becoming an elder in the United Methodist Church. The sacraments are holy, mysterious things in which bread, water, and other common elements become conveyors of grace. Good stuff.

Now for my confession – even extraordinary means of grace can become routine in the life of a pastor. I know – you’re shocked and appalled. I wonder of ob’s and midwives would confess the same thing about birth. In any case, on Sunday, I was a little distracted. I was doing a very un-choreographed dance with my partner, who had the tray of shot-glass sized juice cups – to the rail, around the Advent wreath, around the lectern, avoid the other servers! Bend, serve, watch, move, repeat.

There are a lot of mundane things I think about as I serve communion. Are her hands open? Is he ready to receive? Do I have enough bread left to manage this group, or should I signal for more? How many folks to go? Watch me, juice server, so we make sure that everybody gets both. Is she going to be able to get up from kneeling? The juice cups are stacking up there. Who left some bread on the rail? Seriously.

Then I noticed a pair of older adults making their way to the rail with their granddaughter. The grandmother, a tall, slender, stately woman, carefully knelt at the rail, arranging her skirts. The granddaughter, who’s maybe 3 years old, watched and stepped up onto the kneeling cushion before kneeling, too. The grandfather knelt on her other side. Then the little girl realized she couldn’t see over the rail, so she stood back up. She was very cute – all blue eyes and blond hair and sweet expression. The grandparents cupped their hands, the signal that they were ready to receive, and she followed suit.

I smiled, a little wistful. I haven’t figured out how to worship with my family much yet. My son is at the church all morning, most of the time. He comes in for children’s time, twice, but then is whisked away by the childcare staff before communion, which is probably for the best for a very wiggly 2 year old. And if my husband is in church, he’s usually running the sound board, which puts him across the sanctuary and up a floor from me.

So I savored the sweetness of this family moment, of a child being brought to taste and see faith. I felt such love within me – a love that started with my child, but which, more and more, is being grown by God. And I realized that this is who I am to be as a pastor. I am called to love each and every person who comes to the rail, who comes through the door, who is a part of my community, like I am able to love this child. God continues to teach me, even when I’m not expecting an epiphany. What has God taught you lately?