Moving on up–to the Fourth Floor

We’re officially moving West!

Remember last spring, when I told you David and I had decided to stay in our house? As usual God had other plans.

On January 2, we were told to sell the house and get ourselves permanently settled in our 4th-floor Denver apartment by February 1. As I’m sure you can imagine, this is not an easy task; and my work time is currently consumed by real-estate agents, stagers, photographers, nosy neighbors, and (eventually) buyers. After hours I’m touching up paint, shampooing carpets, moving furniture, packing boxes, and crying a lot.

The moving trucks roll in on January 22 to take us to Denver. Do you think we can sell the house in 14 days? I’ll take bets in the comments section below.

Healthy and Hopeful “in Exile”

Last week I introduced you to InScribed (the new book collection from Thomas Nelson Publishers) with a special giveaway. I am spending most of my time these days working on my book for the InScribed Collection, but one day each week I devote several hours to studying Ezra and podcasting with my friend, A. J. Farley. Every Thursday we get together via Skype (because he’s in Tennessee and I’m who-knows-where), and we record a 20 to 30-minute episode of “Living in Exile.” It is an opportunity for us to stretch our exegetical muscle, discuss how Scripture pertains to today’s church culture, and have a lot fun. I always look forward to this moment of meaningful levity in my week, and I want to share it with you!

Head over to The Podcast page on my website, and you’ll find links to the 5 episodes we’ve published so far. The first is an introduction to A. J. and me, and the next two are a great interview with David Capes PhD about the genesis, production, and impact of The Voice Bible translation, which A. J. and I use for the podcast. After that A. J. and I launch into our discussion of Ezra. I know, I know: Ezra is a strange choice for a podcast series, but listen for a few minutes and you’ll be intrigued by just how much the Jewish exiles of 500 BC have in common with the modern church.

Once you’ve listened to an episode or two (or five!), come back to The Podcast page and leave me a comment with your insights. They can regard your own thoughts on Christian culture and Scripture interpretation, suggestions for how we can improve our podcast, or anything else you’d like to share with us. Next Friday, when we release Episode 6 of “Living in Exile,” I’ll randomly draw a name from all the commentators and announce the newest winner of an InScribed necklace. (Guys–don’t count yourselves out of the giveaway. This Lisa Leonard design is a $40 value and would make an excellent gift for any lady in your life. Christmas is coming faster than you think; be prepared this year!)

Win the Official InScribed Necklace!

In honor of the InScribed Studies Blog-Hop Week, I am giving away an InScribed necklace to one of my readers on Friday. Be ahead of the fashion curve and sport this Lisa Leonard design before it hits stores. All you have to do is WIN!

I love to play games. David and I spend most of our weekends (when we’re in Tennessee) with friends and family playing Canasta, Munchkin, or Settlers of Catan. It’s a great way to get to know new friends because you quickly learn each other’s thought process and competitive spirit. And it’s cheap! I’d love to get to know my readers better, so here’s a little game David and I came up with while traveling out West.

Take a look at the photographs below. These are places I have been blessed to visit, and places where I felt especially close to God. Reply to this blog post in a comment, and guess where in the world I am. Then tell me your favorite place to have a little quiet time with God. It may be standing at the top of the world or sitting at your grandmother’s secretary in your bedroom. On Friday at noon MDT, I’ll do a random drawing of all my commentators and announce the winner on the blog.

Ready, set, GO!

1. Garden of Gethsemane or Biltmore Gardens?
2. Mendenhall Lake or Niagara Falls?

3. Petrified Forest or Mount St. Helens?

4. Key West or Hilton Head Island?

5. Israel or Utah?

6. Israel or Utah?

Transplant Shock

The decorations were simple because there was no way to
improve upon that view!

When Jess and Thomas married in April, David and I purchased 6 potted “grocery” hydrangeas for their ceremony.

They weren’t terribly expensive, but I wanted to put that investment to work after the wedding too. Since we were about to expand our back deck and redo all the flower beds, I decided to save money and plant these after the wedding. I’d also move my struggling hydrangeas at the back of our property up to the new beds so they could be watered regularly by the soaker hoses. (God has done a great job of keeping them wet for me this year, but most summers they are neglected. Water is heavy, Tennessee is hot, mosquitoes are prolific, and I’m whine-y!)

Knowing I’d need to acclimate the potted plants to the outdoors but uncertain how to do it, I went to my trusty internet for advice. Grocery hydrangeas are genetically identical to the Penny Mac hydrangeas struggling in my backyard, but they have been shocked into making one huge display of blooms. They rarely survive beyond that first bloom.

Acclimating hydrangeas before planting.

Call me “stubborn”–I decided to give my plan a try anyway. It wouldn’t cost me anything if I failed, and it had the potential to save me hundreds of dollars if it worked. I set the plants on the deck where they were shaded by a tree but close enough to the back door that I wouldn’t forget to water them. After a few weeks, they’d adjusted to the heat and were ready to go into the ground just as soon as the deck was finished in early June.

It’s late July (not the good kind), and we still have our small deck. That means the grocery hydrangeas haven’t been planted. Tiny pots, summer heat, and the neighborhood cats worked together in the last 2 months to kill all the old blooms and most of the leaves; but I’ve kept watering the sticks and soil in spite of David’s sideways glances at me.

I am desperate to see these plants survive and thrive because they have come to represent my life. God is pulling David’s and my roots out of the fertile Tennessee foothills and transplanting us to the mile-high Denver desert. We’re leaving behind the beautiful, fulfilling life we’ve cultivated with all of our family and friends over the last 8 years; we’re entering a land without the spiritual and emotional nourishment to which we’ve grown accustomed.

This weekend David and I spent hours in the yard getting the property ready for our coming renters. If these hydrangeas do symbolize our life, then I am encouraged. About a week ago, tiny new leaves appeared on all 6 plants. One even has a bloom. The hydrangeas are now in the ground around the old deck (which is soon to become the “freshly-stained old deck”), and they already look happier. Only time will tell if they–and we–thrive after our transplant shock.

Just as I had plans for those plants, God has plans for us in Denver. I hope the hydrangeas will enhance our property as the earth nourishes them, and I pray that we will bless Denver as our new home provides a new life with new opportunities.

Preserving Special Flowers

From the top of the grandkids’ arrangement.

When my mother was a child, her grandfather gave her a copy of Gone with the Wind. The book. I’m sure it was beautiful when it was new, but I’ve always known it to have a worn, faded green cover and a spine held on with bright red tape. I never considered opening it; I assumed the book wouldn’t sustain another reader.

Hidden inside the pages is a pressed flower. When my great-grandfather died, Mama took a white carnation from a funeral arrangement and pressed it inside the book. The flower looks about the same today as it did when she pressed it 30 years ago.

When my own grandmother died 3 years ago, we grandkids bought the tackiest funeral arrangement you could imagine. Granny would have LOVED it. It was full of birds of paradise and golden curly-cues. It looked like a fireworks display. When the family returned to view her grave after the burial, I got the wild idea that I would preserve some flowers for each family member as my mother had. Somehow taking those flowers with me made leaving the site easier.

This fabric softener left behind a pleasant
lavender scent.

I tend to have a where-there’s-a-will-there’s-a-way attitude about life, and I am enabled by Google’s search engine. I had never pressed flowers before, so I had to do a lot of research. (Seriously, what did people do before all this information was at their fingertips?)

There are basically 5 steps to drying flowers:

  1. Pick flowers that don’t have thick stems. Birds of Paradise are not good choices for a first-timer. (I learned that the hard way.) Lilies are.
  2. Make a solution of glycerin-based fabric softener and water. Coat the petals of each flower.
  3. Hang in a dark, cool, dry space for a couple of days until the softener has completely dried.
  4. Arrange the flower on a piece of parchment paper, fold the parchment over the top of the flower, and close inside a book.
  5. Add as much weight to the top of the book as possible.
This herb dryer, given to me by my mother, is
full of rosemary, basil, thyme, parsley, and the
occasional hot pepper in the summer.

In a couple of months, you should have flat, papery flowers that have retained most of their color. Any flowers with white petals will yellow–I don’t think there’s a way around that. But colorful flowers, such as pink roses, will remain remarkably true-to-life if you dip them in the glycerin solution.

These Stargazer Lilies demonstrate the importance
of dipping the flowers in glycerin before pressing
them. Without the glycerin, none of the pink color
would have survived..

Since I mastered this craft, I’ve pressed flowers from several functions–not all funerals, I’m happy to report! This spring I have commemorated Anna’s and Jess’s weddings. I bought pictures from the wedding photographers and inexpensive glass-on-glass frames. Jess loved the flowers I stole from her bouquet and pressed. Anna’s wedding flowers are still in the press!

Anna’s Cherry Blossoms

I’ve been away from my blog for a while. Please forgive me. As I mentioned in a previous post, Spring 2013 has been remarkably busy. The Haley family married off a brother and a sister! It’s been a season of joy–and incredible fatigue. I’m currently recovering and looking forward to the next 3 months when I’ll be finishing my manuscript for HarperCollins. (Stay tuned for that!)

The biggest project of my spring was Anna’s wedding. I know I’m not the only Haley who is saying this. She and Victor decided to get married at my church, so David and I felt responsible for making it the perfect venue for her. We are blessed with a beautiful home-away-from-home in New Heights Chapel, but any sanctuary can be improved for a wedding, right? If NHC’s sanctuary has any problem, it’s the space next to the windows over the altar. I take it back: the space isn’t a problem; it’s an opportunity!

It took 80 hours to make 5,000 cherry blossoms.

Months before her wedding, Anna had expressed a desire to have an outdoor Spring ceremony. This wasn’t practical for many reasons, but I wanted to give her that feeling even indoors. I found a blog on how to make Cherry Blossom Branches and thought I would super-size the project. It took 2 months but cost only $35 for a large hole-puncher and polyurethane.

I started by ironing  tissue paper and cutting it into 5,000 rounds. Then I took each round and rolled it into a blossom.

It took the trees about 2 hours to dry after I sprayed them
with boat-grade polyurethane.

With David’s help, I cut limbs that ranged from 7′ to 12′ tall off the trees at the back of our property. Then I pruned the limbs, set them out to dry until the leaves fell off, and sprayed them will polyurethane.

Mama graciously loaned us “Sue,” her new Subaru Outback. We laid down the seats, covered them in tarps, and took the limbs to our chapel. There David and I spent a Saturday burning our fingertips with hot glue.

The 5,000 blossoms took about 25 hours to glue onto the tree limbs.

David spent 12 hours helping me glue 5,000 blos-
soms the weekend before Anna’s wedding. What
 a husband! What a brother! What a trooper!

The result was worth the time and trouble. The finished trees were a big hit. Not only was Anna pleased with the sanctuary, but the 3 subsequent brides at NHC asked that the tress remain for their weddings. My labor of love turned into a blessing for many. What more could I ask?

A Gift of Life

My most recent cuttings in hand-painted pots.

Today I went to a baby shower honoring a young woman at our church. The ladies of New Heights Chapel did a beautiful job decorating the party and making the soon-to-be mom feel special. She received tons of gifts, and her little boy will come home to a well-stocked nursery. I am at that point in life–early 30s–when it seems almost everyone I know is having a(nother) child. This is joyous and so much fun, but practically, babies can get expensive for us gift-givers too!

When David and I married, I bought a Jade plant. I had the idea to start a new plant from ours for each of our children. Jade plants can bloom when they reach about 30 years old, so I thought my children would look at the blooms when they turned 30 and remember how I love them and have cared for them (and their plants). This seemed doable since Jade plants are famously easy to grow (I water mine about once per month, if I remember), and are even easier to propagate. You literally pinch off the top of a branch and poke down in the soil. It roots in a couple of weeks, and voila! You have a new plant.

I still think this is a great idea, so I’m imposing it on my friends’ children. This is an economical and special gift. For each child I spend a little money on a tiny pot and paint it with his or her name. The pots probably won’t survive 30 years, but with just the right amount of neglect, the Jade will bloom for my beloved kiddos when they (or maybe their wives!) are just old enough to appreciate it.

Refinancing–Not as Difficult as It Sounds

Our 2013 Appraisal Photo

When David and I bought our house in 2005, we planned to live here 2 years–max. We were going to stay just long enough to pay off Harvard and save for a down payment on a larger home. The market was hot. That wouldn’t change, would it?

You know what happened 2 years later. We suddenly owed about $20,000 more on the house than it was worth. We were stuck, and we weren’t paying off Harvard quite as quickly as we thought we would. Our “dollhouse,” as it was advertised to us in the listing, was actually a matchbox. The builder had done everything as cheaply as possible. To date we’ve replaced the then-4-year-old roof, ALL of the plumbing (no joke–even the water line to the street), the driveway, the front porch, and lots of other little things. Most repairs were not covered by our homeowner’s insurance. I could tell you stories you wouldn’t believe.

After the market crash, David and I sat on our hands. We just couldn’t decide if it was worth the closing costs to refinance the house. Yes, rates were much lower than we were paying, but a refinance only paid off if we stayed here for at least 3 years. We weren’t ready to commit to our matchbox for that long, especially if we were going to have children.

Our thinking changed at the end of March 2013. David was listening to the radio on his way home, and he heard that as of April 1 the government would no longer allow closing costs to be rolled into a refinance. If we were going to refinance, now was the time. That night we took a hard look at our lives, and we admitted to ourselves that we don’t need a bigger home. We won’t need a nursery. We never host out-of-town guests. In a pinch, we can host a huge dinner party. And we now have the best-built home in the neighborhood.

Sure, we have to moave all the furniture out of our living
room, but we can get the whole family around one table!

The next day I e-mailed Kim at MidSouth Bank. She had originated our loan in 2005, and Kim had recently sent me a letter encouraging us to refinance. She responded to the e-mail almost immediately, and by the end of the day I had all the paperwork she required and a good-faith estimate for the refinance. The next day David and I signed some stuff, the next week our house was appraised, and today we close. Easy as pie. (And I make lots of pies.)

If you haven’t refinanced, I encourage you to consider it. With what amounted to 1 day of work, we have lowered our monthly payments by $50 AND knocked 12 years off the term. Dave Ramsey would be proud!

Celebrate with a Wreath

Jess and Thomas aren’t the only couple I know using burlap and a farm theme for their wedding. Two of my three cousins getting married this summer are doing the same thing. My mother hosted separate bridal showers for both ladies, Meagan and Beth, and decided to decorate her home using their colors–burlap and all.

I was aware of the sudden trend in burlap decor, so I told Mama I’d make a wreath for her to use at the showers. I don’t think it had occurred to her to put a wreath on her door for the events, but why not? Wreaths are symbols of celebration. We use them at Christmastime to celebrate Jesus’ birth, the Greeks awarded them to Olympians when they won competitions, and Kirsten taught us to wear them in honor of St. Lucia’s Day. Why not celebrate coming nuptials with a wedding-themed wreath?

My burlap-and-hydrangea wreath

You don’t have to search the internet very long to find instructions on how to make one of these. I ended up following the instructions in this blog. Meagan’s colors are “burlap and coral,” so I thought this was a fitting welcome into Mama’s house. The ladies loved it, and Mama used it as-is for Beth’s shower too. That time she placed it on the inside of the door into her sunroom so we could really enjoy it!

Back at my house, the silk-flower wreath I’d used on the front door for the past 5 years during spring was looking faded and sad, so I knew it was time for a new one. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any money to spend on one. I started searching for inexpensive wreath ideas and found the coffee filter wreath. We had recently changed from our beloved KitchenAid coffee maker to a Keurig machine, so I had tons of white coffee filters in my pantry just getting dusty. Reduce clutter and decorate on the cheap? Yes, please!

No need for coffee filters to go to waste.

The whole project took less than a day and cost me about $3. I started with the instructions at Fox Hollow Cottage, and then I did my own thing. I made one trip to Hobby Lobby where I bought a $2 spool of ribbon (to make the bow and to hang it by) and a $1 embroidery hoop (to glue the filters to). When I got home, I dipped some of my coffee filters in yellow food dye I already had and let them dry. That night while Daddy and David were at a Predators game, I sat in my living room floor, watched a chic flick, and made the wreath. Voila!

This spring creation is just soft enough to work for Emmalee’s baby shower, which I’m hosting here in May. I hope this wreath is as big a hit as the burlap wreath was!

Adventures in Pruning

Stay tuned to see if I can successfully transplant these
around our new deck before Emmalee’s shower!

Last night David caught me in a rather silly situation. He was mowing the lawn–in an impressive diagonal pattern he learned from my father–and I was cutting some lilac blossoms to arrange in our house. He shut down the motor as he walked past to give me a kiss and a grin. He got a laugh instead: I was singing, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” There were no “kids jingle-belling,” and no one was yelling, “Be of good cheer!” But to me, it is the most wonderful time of the year.

This was the first chance I’d had to really enjoy spring, although it wasn’t my first chance to prune blossoms. Two days prior to my brother-in-law’s wedding, I received a frantic call from my mother-in-law requiring my help decorating the ceremony site of his wedding. Something had happened regarding the florist; just what that was remains unclear today. I committed to bringing potted hydrangeas and cuttings of blooming Red Bud and Hawthorn trees. There our adventure began.

The day of the rehearsal dinner, David and I got up early. The night before we’d had a significant storm, and hail had not been kind to my young Red Bud and Hawthorn trees. My plans of decorating Thomas and Jess’s wedding site with our own cuttings was history. But blessed with a Master Gardener named Kristin in our church family, I had an idea of how to solve the flower crisis. Kristin is one of the kindest people I know. The success she has cultivating her beautiful gardens (and even more beautiful family) must be due to her own sweet spirit and to her beloved Holy Spirit. She offered us her blossoms. She trusted us to prune from her trees while she was at work. I am eternally grateful.

Hawthorn and Tulip Magnolia cuttings now resting–and wilting–in the trunk of our Civic, David and I set out to find blooming hydrangeas. Silly me thought this would be easy. WRONG.  We went to every home improvement store in Murfreesboro and 2 nurseries. No hydrangeas. Apparently we were 2 days too early. Plan B? Grocery stores. Publix had them, so we hit 3 different Publix stores and bought all they had.

Hawthorn cuttings? check.

Potted hydrangeas? check.

The bucketful of cuttings took my usual place in the
passenger’s seat.

Red Bud cuttings? David had an idea with which I wasn’t 100 percent comfortable. He dropped me and the accumulated flowers at home, and he set off for the country. I’m not exactly sure where he went, but 30 minutes later my hero returned with more Red Bud blossoms than our entire tree had held the night before the hail storm.

Three hours early, David and I went to the rehearsal dinner. He drove 30 minutes with branches poking him, and I sneezed my way there surrounded by hydrangeas and fighting car sickness.

My centerpiece for the Rehearsal Dinner, styled by Rebekah.

Our work was worth it. Even Thomas said that the prettiest part of the Rehearsal Dinner was the centerpiece that didn’t cost him any money–unlike those pesky $400 chair rentals! David and I stayed mum about our adventure. 🙂

Congratulations and Best Wishes to Thomas and Jessica! I am oh-so happy to welcome Jess to our family.