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Holding On to Christmas

The twelves days of Christmas have passed, and retailers have quickly moved on to Valentine’s Day, St Patrick’s Day, and Easter (April 1). Only a tiny offering of discounted broken and picked over Christmas merchandise remains. As I was removing our lighted nativity set from the front yard yesterday, a neighbor called out, “Leave it till next year.” By the end of the day, though, our block was devoid of lawn decorations with just a few wreaths and window candles remaining. Another dead Christmas tree had been dragged to the curb. Any day now, our city’s festively illuminated downtown  will return to blocks lit by functional street lights alone.

Owners of artificial Christmas trees have been making hard decisions about when to store away their seasonal living room centerpieces. Ours was disassembled and boxed over almost two weeks ago. I’ve been gradually carrying decorations up to the guest room closet, while strategically leaving some in place: the “winter” village that we both love, the whimsical reindeer plates that look so nice with my wallpaper, and the little evergreen tree, now trimmed with Valentines.

In late November, I was reluctant to rush into the season, while in mid January, I’m happily holding on to the holidays. A friend who is still enjoying her Christmas tree was glad to find some decorations in my home today. With the exception of folks who leave trimmings up all year, most of us will soon be ready to move unencumbered toward spring.

Seasonal norms aside, we can still focus on the Christmas experience as more than decorations and delicacies. I smile as I turn on remaining lights, remembering rushing around the house to get them all plugged in before son Kyle arrived on December 21. Seeing those reindeer plates reminds me of the sweet Saturday morning before Christmas when our sons and daughter-in-law each chose a plate for our brunch of S’mores Pancakes* and bacon. And, while we’ve removed Joseph, Mary, and the Baby from our yard, a small nativity set still graces our dining room, bringing to mind the blessing of being back in my childhood church on Christmas Eve, holding my lit candle and singing Silent Night alongside all of my siblings.

December 24 was a snowy night at Emmanuel U.C.C.

The carols have ceased, gifts are being used, and homes are returning to their everyday look. Still, I wonder if the spirit of the season can remain.  I’ve noticed folks at our mall continuing to be friendlier, at least for now. Sadly, we seem to slip back into our more self-absorbed state as the new year grows older, not taking the time to visit friends or to reach out into our communities as often. January newspapers contain pleas from local help agencies that see a surge of goodwill dwindle after Christmas.

People who do believe in God’s gift of peace and goodwill through the coming of Jesus have a responsibility to show love for Him every day by loving our neighbors. I’m one of those people. I pray that even as the last candles are put away, His light will continue to shine through me throughout the year.

My brunch plate – Vixen

*To make S’mores Pancakes, after pouring your pancake batter onto the skillet or griddle, sprinkle some graham cracker crumbs over each pancake. Turn and finish cooking. Remove when cooked and spread some marshmallow cream on the graham cracker side of a pancake. Then place about 8 milk chocolate chips on top and cover with another hot pancake with graham cracker side down for melted goodness.

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Reviewing & Reviving Resolutions

“I want to look back on 2017 and see that I’m living an abundant life, using the gifts God has given me and blessing people. Not knowing exactly what that will look like, I resolve to keep my eyes and ears open to how the Lord wants me to live each day.” Those were the last words of my January 3, 2017, blog post.  January 2018 has arrived and I have dared to allow thoughts shared last year to hold me accountable. One year ago I told of five ways I had grown in 2016 and then resolved to continue in that growth.  I haven’t been consistent in all five areas. Perhaps you can relate and will decide to join me in reviewing and possibly reviving our resolutions.

Reviewed Progress:

  1.  Playing the piano: I’m not sure I improved as a pianist, but I did keep at it sporadically. During December, I played from a lesson book of Christmas carols. Then, after our little family finished our gift exchange, I sat down to play “Silent Night” for them. They seemed to appreciate it, so I continued with more carols, played quite imperfectly.  The music prevented that little let-down that comes when there are no more gifts to open.
  2. Memorizing the book of James:  I’ve reviewed James often enough to keep most of it and also put Psalm 103 to heart.
  3. Helping my future daughter-in-law choose her dress: On April 1, she wore that dress as she became Eric’s wife. We have grown closer during holiday gatherings, Easter at their home and Christmas at ours. My husband and I are blessed to be able to worship and eat with them in Columbus from time to time.
  4. Continue to blog: The first anniversary of Thoughts Collected by Lisa came in August. I signed on for one more year and kept writing, completing my 75th post on December 27. I’ve added some pages, including Fruit of the Spirit and Printables.
  5. Connect with neighbors at Christmas time: I picked a date and invited the ladies who live on each side of me and across the street to a Christmas brunch. All were available!  I’m thankful for a season when it becomes a priority to visit with friends and family.

I wouldn’t give myself an A+, but progress is progress. In looking through other posts from 2017, I noticed some additional and perhaps more meaningful ways in which I challenged myself and my readers. Putting resolutions in writing increases the likelihood of carrying them out as does sharing the goals with someone else. I’ve realized that posting the commitments on the internet adds an extra sense of responsibility to follow through.

Revived Resolutions:

This list could completely overwhelm me if I sought to complete it in my own strength. In January 2017, I shared the story of a couple who walked In Perfect Step. Seeing their synchronized movement helped me to understand the role and power of the Holy Spirit in my life. My part is to “focus on where He wants to lead, as well as when and how fast we are to move.” My resolutions can be summed up as follows: “link elbows with the Holy Spirit, walk in step with Him, and bear the fruit that is uniquely Christian.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How to Crochet a Temperature Afghan in 8 Minutes a Day

One year ago, I noticed a Facebook post about a crocheted Temperature Afghan. With a bit of research, I learned that the afghan consists of 365 rows, one stitched each day of the year according to the day’s high temperature. Cool! I wanted to make one, but knew that such an undertaking would require motivation and diligence as the year wore on. Then the idea came to let each day and it’s crocheted stitches represent the three months leading up to son Eric’s wedding to sweet Amanda on April 1 plus the beginning year of their marriage. The Temperature Afghan would be a gift for their 1st Christmas.

Son Kyle liked the idea and thought the gift would be well-received. He assisted as I set out to choose colors and get started on January 1. The unique gift was appreciated as you can tell in these photos.

If you love to crochet, maybe you would like to begin a Temperature Afghan as 2018 begins. You only need to know how to chain stitch and do a single crochet stitch to make the one I completed.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Set up your Color Chart. In Ohio, our high temperatures  can range from zero to one hundred degrees Fahrenheit. I chose a color for each ten degree range with one for below 30 degrees, one for 30-39, one for 40-49, one for 50-59, one for 60-69, one for 70-79, one for 80-89, and one for 90 and above.

Select your yarn. I used  LION BRAND Vanna’s Choice medium (4) weight acrylic yarn.  My colors from below 30 to above 90 were Eggplant, Colonial Blue, Silver Blue, Fern, Mustard, Rust, Cranberry, and Burgundy. I used about thirty 3 1/2 oz balls (5,100 yards). I started out by purchasing 2 or 3 balls of each color and bought more as needed.

Choose your stitch.  After doing some calculations and test swatches, I realized that 365 rows of crochet could get VERY long, so the stitches needed to be small and compact. I used a a combination of chain and single crochet called the Seed Stitch (instructions below). This created a tightly worked, warm fabric.

Choose your width. My completed afghan is 80 inches long and 57 inches wide, great for cuddling or putting on a twin sized bed. You can make it narrower by using a shorter beginning chain, but remember that the length is determined by the number of days.

Get started.

Abbreviations: ch = chain, sc = single crochet, sp = space

Notes: After crocheting each row, leave the yarn attached until you know the high temperature of the next day. If it’s the same, chain 1, turn, and work in the same color. If it changes, cut the yarn leaving a 6 inch tail. Pull the new color through to complete the last single crochet of the row, chain 1, turn, and single crochet in the first single crochet.

Begin: Using a size G crochet hook and the yarn color that corresponds with the day’s high temperature (mine was Silver Blue for a 44 degree day), chain 300.

Row 1 (Right side): Single Crochet in second chain from hook, * chain 1, skip next chain, single crochet in next chain; repeat from * across: 299 stitches.

Row 2: Ch 1, turn; sc in first sc and in first ch-1 space. (ch 1, sc in next ch-1 sp) across to last sc. sc in last sc.

Row 3: Ch1, turn; sc in first sc, ch 1, (sc in next ch-1 sp, ch 1) across to last 2 sc, sc in last sc.

Repeat rows 2 and 3 until you have crocheted a row for each day of the year.

Weave in all ends by threading the yarn onto a large eye needle, drawing it through several stitches (hiding as best as you can). Then turn and weave back through a few more stitches. Carefully trim the end close to your work. It’s a good idea to work your ends in as you go, although I only did this about once a month. I wanted to know where each month began, so I didn’t weave in the ends for the last row of the months. Then, as I was working the finishing round, I crocheted a picot stitch at the beginning of each month.

Edging Round: Choose a color to outline the entire afghan and make a neat edging. I used Mustard because most of the months included at least one row of that color and I liked the way it looked. Working in the ends of the rows on the sides of the afghan and the single crochet and chain stitches on the ends of the afghan, single crochet evenly all around. (On the sides, I worked 4 sc in the row ends and then decreased over the next two ends so the edge would lay flat. To decrease, pull up a loop in the next row end and one in the next to have 3 loops on your hook. Then yarn over and pull through all 3 loops, making one stitch over two row ends.) If you want to indicate where months begin, work a picot stitch: ch 3, sc in 3rd stitch from hook. Single crochet in the next stitch or row end and continue. Work corners as follows: sc, picot stitch, sc in the corner. Sc in next stitch and continue.

Finishing by Christmas: Six days before the afghan needed to be ready to wrap, I checked the weather forecast for  likely high temperatures and worked 3 rows a day. I also began the edging round a few days early, stitching down one side, across the beginning chain and up the other side to where I left off. Then I only had a short distance to work up when time was running out! Here I am beginning the last row (it was a bit emotional).

Keeping Track of the Temperatures and Keeping up with the rows: I filled in a Blank Calendar chart each day with the high temperature and worked that day’s row. When I was away from home, I just filled in the chart and then stitched the rows when I got back. I also kept a list of interesting details including record highs and lows. I didn’t get to use the Burgundy yarn because we did not have a 90 degree day this year!

I marked the day of Eric and Amanda’s wedding by running a size 10 white cotton crochet thread with a silver metallic twist along with the Silver Blue yarn for the day.

It only took me 8 minutes each day and then about 30 minutes a day during the last week to get the Temperature Afghan done.

Download my printable Crocheted Temperature Afghan pattern here.

If you have any questions about this project before or after you begin, you can contact me in the Comments of this post or by using the Contact Form in the Thoughts Collected by Lisa header. I would LOVE to see a photo of your work! It will be a one-of-a-kind project and gift that will not only WOW the recipient, but possibly become a family treasure.

 

 

 

 

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Christmas Gift for Disobedient Children

You better watch out…or you’ll get nothing for Christmas. Today’s kids understand better than mine did how in the world Santa Claus can know whether they’ve been bad or good. As I was told by some first graders last year, everyone has an elf that tells Santa about what goes on in their homes. I replied that I don’t have an elf, but they didn’t believe me. Then it happened. One sneaked into my house.

In August, I picked up a bag of Christmas ribbon at a garage sale. It was a bit messy and I couldn’t see what was in the bottom, but I handed the lady $1 and carried it home. Later, as I rewound the ribbons, going deeper into the bag, I found two surprises.

    This tiny little Santa figurine…

AND THIS CREEPY LITTLE ELF!

As I understand it, Santa’s Scout Elves can be very mischievous. In fact, it was quite surprising what some of the 1st graders told me about their elves’ activities. But that’s not the point of the elf. No that little fella’s job is to report to Santa each night whether the kid has been good or bad, so Christmas gifts can be doled out accordingly.

I had no need for an elf on the shelf, as our kids are grown up and my husband behaves very well. Still, my boys will be visiting before Christmas, so I’ll play the game for a bit.

According to the Elf on the Shelf website, no one is allowed to touch the elf. Moms enjoy photographing the funny things elves do so they can share them on Facebook, and some teachers like having an elf in the classroom to motivate good  behavior. By the way, I’ve just named our elf Grace.

Grace the elf will now help me explain the most amazing thing about Christmas. Long before the first Christmas (the time of the birth of Jesus) God chose a family to be different from the rest of the people on earth. They were supposed to follow the Ten Commandments and lots of other laws in order to stay in good standing with God. And they wanted to. They even promised to. But they couldn’t. They keep doing the things that were forbidden and not doing the things that were required. God still loved them, but bad things did happen to them because of their sins. All along, God kept hinting that things were going to change. Someone was going to come to save them.  Through his prophets, he said things like,

See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:19)

and

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign:

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

Immanuel means “God with us.” But how could the Holy God be with such disobedient children. Strange. Another puzzling prophecy told of the son’s death – and our peace.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

Now there were some religious leaders who wanted to make sure that the people did what they were supposed to do. They didn’t want any more of the bad things to happen. So they made lots more rules and were very strict about them. It seems that they even spied on the people so they could catch them when they were bad.

Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down

with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.
 (Luke 11:46)

Keeping all of the laws was very hard. No one was perfect. Even the “good guys” like Noah and King David did wrong sometimes. The law that was given by God through Moses made the people aware of their failure – their sin.

But then something AMAZING happened! The son was born of a virgin in exactly the place where the prophets said it would happen. And the angels proclaimed peace to men on earth!

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,

from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel,

whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. (Micah 5:2)

The baby Jesus grew up. Even though he was tempted to disobey God, he never sinned. He prayed to God and did only what his Father (God) told him to do, even when it was VERY HARD. After he became a man, taught the people about the Kingdom of Heaven, and even did miracles, Jesus did the hardest thing of all. Just as the prophet said, he was crucified (pierced) for our sins (transgressions) even though he had never sinned.

That was the plan all along. God’s “new thing” was to bring peace to us. Peace in our hearts because we could be right with God when we believed that Jesus paid our penalty. Jesus called it being born again. It is a gift from God. It’s grace.

Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God

and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (John 1:16-18)

Now we all know that God still wants us to be good. But it’s also true that no one is perfect, so no one is good enough to be with our Holy God. Except Jesus, who died so we could live with him. He couldn’t wait until we were already good enough, because that wasn’t going to happen. The Bible makes it clear that ALL have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. (Romans 3:23) So we needed to be rescued from sin and death. That’s what Jesus did. That’s amazing grace.

That’s what Christmas is all about. Not Santa, who we’re told only gives good gifts when they’re deserved. Not the elf who spies on kids and gets them in trouble, but doesn’t do anything to help them. It’s about peace. When I think about peace in my own heart, I define it as knowing that I am right with God because of my faith in Jesus (not myself) and that God is working all things in my life (even the stressful things) together for my good. (Romans 8:28)

The men who knew Jesus and spent their lives teaching other people about Him often used the words GRACE and PEACE together. That makes sense to me. Because of God’s amazing grace we can have peace!