Month: March 2014

Creating purpose

Donald Miller recently shared a really good post called “What Are the 3 Things That Create a Meaningful Life?

He starts off with a quote from psychologist Viktor Frankl: “When a person can’t find a deep sense of meaning, they distract themselves with pleasure.”

Any spouse of a working expatriate knows this is true.

You’ll distract yourself with shopping, eating, or vegging out in front of a TV or computer — all because you’re not only uncomfortable, you feel like you don’t have a purpose anymore.

There was one instance when Michael flew back to the US for a week while I stayed behind in Delhi. Absolute worst week of my life. Without Michael there, the full weight of my lack of purpose in Delhi hit me like a ton of bricks. Who did I get up for every morning? Who did I do dishes for? Who did I wash and iron clothes for? What was I doing in Delhi?

Who needed me in that big, chaotic, foreign city?

I remember when Michael finally got back to the apartment, all I could do was cry. Some of it was because I missed him, but most of it was out of desperate awareness that without Michael, I truly had no reason to be in India. NOT a healthy realization to have.

And it triggered a season of depression and insomnia that I have not experienced before or since.

Obviously I learned A TON from that experience, but the most important lesson was my need to intentionally seek out opportunities to express my talents and skills.

So after we moved back to the States I literally craved creative opportunities. It felt like the artistic part of me had been stifled for a year and a half and I was hungry for new and challenging things to put my hands to.

So I made stuff:

(Glitter Adventure’s Exploding Box Instructions)

And I painted:

20140320-DSC_0011(Crafts by Amanda White Cherry Blossom Tree Painting)

And I built stuff:

(Shanty-2-Chic DIY Wood Storage Crate Instructions)

(The Family Handyman’s Cutting Board Rack)

And I decorated (obviously after painting some more):

And I made wreathes:

Look at my face. Pure ECSTASY.

And I made candles:

And I taught myself how to knit:

(Left: “Rosa” Knit Scarf Pattern by Anne Schulz on Ravelry)
(Right: “Thick Ribbed Hat” Knit Pattern by Brooke Snow on Ravelry)

And I started to finally find creative ways to display and store our keepsakes:

(Left: Ben Franklin Crafts and Frame Shop: “How-to: Photo Transfer to Wood”)
(Right: Kayla Danelle’s blog post: “Keeping Your Cards”)

And I painted some more again:


And I built some more stuff:


And you know what? I felt alive. I felt myself growing. I felt like I mattered. I felt like I had something to offer that was unique and represented a little bit of who I am.

I don’t think it’s just because I’m a “creative” or “artsy” person. I think e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e is born with a need to build, imagine, and create. It’s empowering to be able to make something beautiful or useful.

And it doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, perfection is a really lousy and suffocating goal to force on yourself. (And trust me, I am a type-a, anal retentive perfectionist, so I know what it’s like to make excuses that you’re not good enough to try something new because you’re scared to try and fail.)

Every single project I have completed so far has at least one or two mistakes. Unless it was something I knew would bug the absolute living daylights out of me every time I looked at it, I just moved on. I did not allow myself to equate mistakes with failing.

I want to excel at whatever I try, but sometimes the most excellent goal to have is to simply finish what you started and enjoy the process of learning something new.

I have no idea what our lives will look like once we’re living in Mexico City (which is totally happening and a little scary), but I at least feel better about finding ways to add value during our time there.

I recently joined a knitting group for expat women that meets twice a month in the D.F. area, so I’m excited about that. The verdict is still out on bringing the miter saw, but I do know they have Home Depot in the city. Either way, it sounds like I’ll still be able to find all sorts of creative trouble to get into during round two of living abroad. 🙂

Painting with coffee

Most of you already know how much Michael and I love coffee.

Over the years we’ve owned all sorts of coffee gadgets: single cup brewers, kettles, scales, grinders, tamps, water filtration devices — you name it. We take our coffee very seriously.

Michael even went through a period where he was buying green coffee beans online and roasting them in our apartment. (Which I think our neighbors found highly suspicious at the time since there was smoke billowing out of “that dude’s” apartment upstairs).

(Remember when we roasted our own coffee for Christmas?)

So of course over the years we’ve gotten a lot of coffee-related gifts for one another. You’d think we run out of ideas after a while but there’s always some new coffee gizmo or bean origin to try.

I was looking for more coffee gift ideas when I came across a bunch of these really cool paintings online that actually used coffee as their medium. I found everything from basic self-portraits to complicated Van Gogh reproductions. If you’ve never heard of anyone doing this before, you really should check out a few of them in this article here: 6 Talented Artists Who Paint with Coffee.

I’m no Van Gogh and I have hardly used a brush in my life, but I thought it might be fun to try painting something of my own using coffee.

There are heaps of tutorials on Pinterest and YouTube, but really if you have ever painted with watercolors then you can paint with coffee.

All you need is 140lb cold compressed watercolor paper, cheapie brushes (coffee is really hard on brushes so don’t waste your expensive brushes), towels, jars or a palette for different shades (strengths) of coffee, pencils for sketching, a white eraser and last but not least — some instant coffee!


You want to use instant coffee because it tastes so terrible that it really isn’t good for much else. Also.. it’s instant. When we make coffee around our place, it’s basically like a small chemistry experiment. It takes time and a lot of dancing around back and forth between timers and drawers and thermometers and scales. On a good day, I can make a single cup of coffee in under 10 minutes. So I’m not going to waste all that effort and deliciousness on anything but my ultra-refined tongue palate. (Get it because you know like when you’re painting you use a “palette”? I’m so funny.)

Ok so, I decided I wanted to paint an image of two trees connected at the roots. I just love trees, don’t you? And after all the growing and traveling and just LIFE Michael and I have shared together over the past nine years, I wanted to draw something that showed that. So I found some “inspiration” in a Google image search for “rooted trees” and did a small practice sketch in a notebook.


I got all of my supplies situated in my working area. (And that included an actually decent cup of coffee made from an organic, fair trade rainforest blend. Not the stale-barely-even-counts-as-coffee stuff I used for my painting. *Gag*)


I mixed three small jars of varying strengths/shades of coffee and started brushing on a base shade for the background. To give some texture, I took a clean brush, dipped it in water and flicked it all over the paper. (This is an easier way to create texture than using salt or rubbing alcohol).


After my background was dry I lightly sketched my trees. If you can or prefer to paint freehand you don’t have to do this step, but if you’re like me and need the guidelines then just make sure you have a white eraser if you need to erase a part of your sketch — which you may need to do if your lines are too hard. The pink eraser that comes with regular pencils will smear and leave marks on your work.

After I penciled-in all my lines, I could finally start coloring inside my drawing. MY FAVORITE.


Even Charlotte chipped in and helped!


Since my first layer of coffee was super light, I ended up going back over each twig, branch and leaf several times. A definite labor of love but so worth it!


Last of all, I painted a little border and flecked the edges some more with a clean brush and water to smooth out the hard lines.

(And just in case you’re judging me as a complete bean-fiend for the multiple Starbucks mugs of coffee in my pictures, I actually worked on this painting over the course of several days while Michael was at work because I wanted it to be a surprise. Each morning after he had left I pulled out all of my brushes from my craft box, the painting from under the bed, and the instant coffee hidden in the back of the fridge and set it all out. Then about an hour before he came home, I’d quickly rinse my brushes, stash the painting under the bed and put all my supplies back in my craft box so he wouldn’t notice they had been moved. Most of the time I’m just a two-cups-of-coffee-a-day kinda’ gal!)

We drove to St. Louis that weekend and I had a frame I ordered online shipped there. After we arrived I framed the painting, wrapped it and had ants in my pants waiting for his birthday to get here so he could finally open his gift!


So now we have this awesome little painting representing our marriage and being rooted together as one-flesh and all that other sappy stuff hanging up in our living room.

He writes me poems, I paint him trees, and we both drink coffee. What more could you ask for, huh?

Grace, all of the time

I can’t believe it, this time next month, we’ll have been home for a whole year!

After we moved home from India, a lot of people told us they just couldn’t imagine packing everything up, living in a developing country for a year and a half, eventually coming back and spending the next couple months staying in hotels, temporary apartments or crashing at a friend’s place until they could move into their own apartment again.

When I stop and look back at that season I’m amazed that I (we) did all that too. I couldn’t feel or see it then, but I know grace had everything to do with our ability to handle so many changes in such a short period of time.

I once talked with a friend of mine about how intimidating having kids seems. I told her I was scared of my own selfishness and even inability to love them all the time. But she replied, “You know what though, there’s always enough grace. You don’t think you have it now, but you just have to learn to trust that God’s grace is always going to be there for you to tap into in the midst of the late nights and temper tantrums. You don’t think it will be there, but when you need it, it WILL be there.”

I think that’s so true for everything. Whatever situation comes your way, whether that’s living in a foreign country or having kids, grace is already there for you to access in those difficult moments.

As I’ve processed my [false] guilt over all the things I didn’t do in India, one of the things I’ve told myself (and others) is: “Yeah, I didn’t really excel at living in Delhi, but it’s ok because God just didn’t give me grace for that place, so I’m off the hook.” Rather than attacking the lie head-on that I needed to be more or do more, I just put another band-aid on the pain and dismissed it as simply not having a special India-grace-gifting. I still wasn’t letting myself believe that maybe, just maybe, I didn’t fail to begin with and there was no condemnation coming from His side.

There WAS grace for India, even though at the time performance kept telling me, “You’re not doing enough. You should be doing more. You’re doing a bad job. You’re disappointing God. You’re being a bad Christian. You’re failing as a wife. You should be stronger.” The loud, harsh voice of performance made it hard to hear the still, quiet voice of grace.

God doesn’t play by our rules or judge us by our own standards. His grace is not given based on someone’s abilities or aptitude. I still believe that some people definitely have more grace, either naturally or supernaturally, for India. I don’t know why that is, but I know it isn’t because certain people are “better” than others.

We have a couple of friends who have spent the past ten years living in Delhi. And when I say living, I mean that in the middle of paying bills and getting groceries, they’re running a business, shepherding a community of young Christians and trying to adopt a little girl. Another couple of friends who arrived in India around the same time as Michael and I, have no plans to return home either. They’re in the process of putting their roots down deep despite all the day-to-day challenges living in a foreign culture presents.

Both of these families count the cost of living in India every single day. They’re fully there and fully experiencing every bit of India that Michael and I did, and sometimes it’s still hard for me to not wonder at how in the world they’re doing it!

But it’s all relative right? While I’m busy being amazed by (…and blessing and thanking and admiring) their commitments to India, someone else is looking at me and wondering how in the world I did it.

So really, at the end of the day, there’s no use in comparing our lives to those around us and beating ourselves up.

To each a portion has been given, and He will always give you the grace (ability) to steward it well.

Miter Saw Calls You Maybe

[Mostly] following instructions from Shanty2Chic’s blog and their video with RYOBI, I recently built a shelf with hooks for our entryway.


Even though I LOVED the way this shelf looked, I was intimidated by the project because it required a few miter cuts… which meant I couldn’t just wink and pull the dumb blonde card with the guys at Home Depot because they don’t do angled cuts.

I tried getting away with a little manual hack saw and miter box but eventually I found this Hitachi C10FCE2 10-Inch Compound Miter Saw and ordered it on Amazon.

It was definitely NOT love at first sight when this saw arrived. More like.. “Um, am I seriously going to use this thing?” I felt like I had a loaded gun sitting in my living room and I had no idea how to use it.

So for Valentine’s Day Michael and I bought saw horses at Home Depot and watched power tool safety videos in bed together. I like to think I get my romantic side from my mother. For a wedding anniversary gift one year my stepdad received a meat grinder from her. See, like mother, like daughter.

The weekend after V-Day we set up our working space on our patio outside and got to measuring and cutting. The wall where I intended to hang my shelf was smaller than the wall area shown in Shanty2Chic’s home, so I cut my 2×6 at 38″ and my 2×8 at 32″. The front-facing casing was also cut at 32″ (with adjustments for the 45-degree angles on each side for the corners).

We made quick work of the wood, no fingers were lost in the process, and most importantly I could grunt like Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor as much as I wanted because I was using an actual power tool.

It’s what Michael Scott might call a “Win-Win-Win” situation.

It was such a winning experience, in fact, that I found myself totally caught off guard. Almost like an unexpected romance. Almost like.. Like a song I heard once upon a time long, long ago….

I pinned a wish in the well
It used a saw, I could tell
The blade looked sharp as it fell
Keep those hands far away

I bought the saw for a wish
Cedar and pine for a kiss
Hey, I could miter with this!
Keeping fingers away

Wood clamp was holding
Cut pine
Grain was showing
Face mask
Saw dust blowing
What you think you’re cutting baby?

Hey I just met you
And first comes safety
But here’s my ruler
So measure maybe?
It’s hard to not get splinters baby
But here are some gloves
So wear them maybe?

Hey I just met you
And first comes safety
But here are some glasses
They’ll protect you maybe
And all the other tools
Are not as scary
But if I loose a finger
Super glue it maybe?

Instructions, I followed them all
The blade took no time to fall
Ear plugs did me no good at all
My hands were far away

Forty-Five degrees moves the wheel
Eyeball it and it’s real
I’m surprised at it’s feel
Thank God my hands weren’t in the way…

Hey I just met you
And first comes safety
But here’s my ruler
So measure maybe?
It’s hard to not get splinters baby
But here are some gloves
So wear them maybe?

Hey I just met you
And first comes safety
But here are some glasses
They’ll protect you maybe
And all the other tools
Are not as scary
But if I loose a finger
Super glue it maybe?

See what I’m saying? I wasn’t looking for a miter saw romance. It just happened. And now it’s in my way and I can’t stop thinking about all the Pinteresting we get to share together. Forever.


Right. So, where was I?

Ok, next we screwed the 2×6 into the 2×8 and nailed on the casing. Then I used the claw-end of my hammer I started on distressing the wood.


After taking a really loud and abusive beating, I sanded the shelf and prepared it for staining. In the original instructions they painted their shelf white, but I decided to use Miniwax American Chestnut Polyshade instead.

I left the shelf out to dry with the fan blowing on it all night and part of the next day before adding a second coat of stain. When the second coat was finally dry, I drilled in the hooks I purchased at Hobby Lobby for 50% off.


That night Michael helped me hang the shelf along the wall in our entryway.

Michael being helpful and doing helpy stuff.

So now it’s all decorated and cute and I absolutely love how it turned out!


Miter saw, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

**Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which is the blogging equivalent of me playing guitar on a busy sidewalk while strangers pass by and throw spare change into my tip jar. If you like what you “hear”, making purchases through the links in this post will support my talents and maybe allow me to buy a sandwich. Not beer or cigarettes. But maybe wine. Actually probably definitely wine.

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