September 16, 2014

The Doll Maker's Gift

My Greatgrandma Maggie was an artist.

Scouring local dime stores, she found cast off and forgotten dolls. Back at her home, she carefully bathed them and combed their hair. She sewed clothing for them, dressed and loved and treasured them. I was mesmerized by her efforts. Dolls lined her shelves and couches, occupied knick-knack cabinets, and held places of honor in special chairs and on beds. 

I didn't inherit Grandma's skill for sewing so, growing up, I never made clothing for my own small collection of dolls. And I didn't possess Grandma's patience--painstaking effort that required hours upon hours to skillfully restore neglected dolls to their original beauty. But about ten years ago I began to draw dolls. Paper dolls. I loved giving them different hairstyles and creating paper clothing for them. Some of my dolls were even published in a workbook for children. And some were published on the Internet by a company that sold clipart. 

Making paper dolls was also a hobby I pursued now and again over the years, making them for family members and friends. Earlier this year, I decided I wanted to take things a step further and form Hearts and Hands Dolls. A nonprofit organization that would make soft sculpt dolls for elderly shut-ins and abused children. My wonderful seamstresses sewed dozens and dozens and dozens of dolls. We delivered them to nursing homes and care centers. 

There were lots of smiles, and lots of tears of joy for all involved. We even made Hope/Nicole Dolls for a little girl with leukemia and sold them to help defray some of her medical costs.

But then life caught up with me and I realized I couldn't keep up with the demand for all those who needed dolls--and all the wonderful women who wanted to have a hand in sewing and stuffing them. While I am still involved with the soft sculpt dolls, I've had to scale back. I've had a few discussions with manufacturers who may be able to one day help make and distribute them.

In the meantime, I've kept creating my paper dolls. Wanting to celebrate the strength and diversity of women across America, and provide kids a way to learn state facts, I created a line of American dolls--one from each state. I've given them names and lots of cute clothes. 

I've given them teddy bears that can be posed and other friends such as state birds and, as in the case of Aurora, the doll representing Alaska, sled dogs that can be posed as well.

I'm working toward negotiations with manufacturers to offer complete doll sets that will include all the articulated figures and separate, unique carrying cases. But all that's still a ways off. For right now, to get them out where kids can enjoy them, I'm offering limited one page jpg printables on Etsy. Each page includes a doll and two changes of clothing, plus a handful of fun elements like state birds and or flowers, and a positive message of hope and good cheer that kids can share with friends and family. 
You can download the pages and share them for personal use with friends and family. Not only are they ideal for rainy-day and sick day play, they make for awesome craft and educational activities, and they're perfect for birthday and holiday/general kid parties and get-togethers. And, as my youngest daughter and granddaughter will tell you, they're just plain great to play with for no reason at all other than to just have fun!  

The first several dolls are up now, with the remainder to be posted in coming weeks.
If you don't see your state, send me an email and I'll do my best to 
get that doll listed for you right away.

Read the complete story about my Grandma Maggie here

Or get started on your own collection of paper dolls here

September 15, 2014

God Knows My Heart

I was a young teen when my dog died.

From the time I was five, Tippy was a cherished friend. We played cowboys and Indians together. Ate cake and ice cream and corn on the cob together. Weathered trials together. Even storms. 

One storm in particular could have easily ended our lives.

Tip was only a young pup, just weeks old, when she came into my life. That summer, lightning struck the neighbor's towering poplar tree. The dog and I were only yards away, playing near a metal swing set. As the bright flash cut through the afternoon, the sound of thunder slammed into our bodies, robbing, at least me, of my hearing. I couldn't make sense of what had happened. Terror pounded in my heart. Time was suspended. It seemed the world went to black and white. For a moment, I didn't know if I was dead or alive. 

I don't which one of us started for the house, but we ultimately ended up at the back door, together. I cast one frantic backward glance at the tree--it lay half in the neighbor's yard, half draped over our cinder block fence. Shattered and smoldering, it had been destroyed. That image is forever burned in my memory. The image and the knowing that came with it--the knowing that life can quickly and easily be taken at any time.  

Once inside the house, Tippy and I cowered under a pile of blankets on my bed. It seemed like hours before we were ready to emerge and face the world once again. From that day forth, we both held a deep aversion to right lights and loud noises. Relatives and friends listened to the story with silent amazement and polite interest. Yes, it was a miracle, they agreed, that Tip and I--right under the metal swing set--hadn't been struck as well. But quickly interest in the incident faded, leaving only Tip and I to share the haunting emotions.

When Tip died, my world turned to black and white again. I wanted comfort. I craved it. But it didn't come. My father couldn't speak of death in any form, human or animal, and only turned away from me. He wrapped Tip in an old crocheted blanket and put her in a box. He said he would wait until I got home from school to bury her.

But after school, I didn't go home.

I could not face thinking of Tip never again being there to greet me and love me. Our sharing the experience with the lightning had forged a deep bond between us. An understanding. Even when days turned into weeks, months, and years, when no once else cared or remembered our near miss with fate, we still understood the fear in each other. When nobody else understood how I loathed the loudness of yelling in our home, Tip did and she would sit by me until the storm waned. When nobody else could fathom how a dog could be so terrified of the Fourth of  July, I did--and I would sit with her as long as I was allowed next to the old white chest freezer in the basement to wait out the last of the fireworks. To think of that bond of understanding and camaraderie erased, well, I simply could not bear it. And due to ever present storms on the horizon of my life, I didn't believe there would ever be any other bond or comfort available to take its place. How, I wondered, could I bear it. My adolescent mind--swimming in pain and confusion--conjured the idea that if I didn't physically see my dog, my friend, committed to the earth,
 it wouldn't really be true that she was gone.

By the time I had no where else to go, I walked home and quietly entered the house. The anger my parent's felt toward me was palpable and well voiced. Lightning seemed to strike again, blinding me and tearing into my heart. I was labeled as uncaring, cold, selfish. Why, they'd had no choice but to bury the dog without me--how could I be so calloused? The labels stung and imprinted themselves deeply, marring my ability to trust myself and others. 

In the ensuing years, lightning has, figuratively, continued to strike. Scathing remarks and judgments because of my choices and decisions. Don't I know, I've been asked, that my belief in religion is just a crutch? Blame for the unhappiness of others. Don't I know that if I would just conform to certain ideas and ideals, rationalizations of what is right and wrong, all would be fine? Don't I know how my insistence on integrity and loyalty is old fashioned? 

No, I know none of those things.

But what I do know, what I have come to know from learning to face each storm, is that I am not alone. More so that on an even deeper level than a child and a dog who shared understanding and a special bond, I know I am loved of God. And that no matter the emotional lightning strikes, He knows my heart. He understands my pain, my fear, my dread, and, equally, my hopes, my dreams, and my good intentions. He knows. And I am so grateful to know that He does . . . 


August 19, 2014

Simple Things - Making the Most of August

The Great American Family Reunion Cookbook

Sincere thanks to Familius for featuring my newest
cookbook on their website this month!

contains over 200 recipes from across America,
plus over 150 games, and tips and ideas for
making your reunion memorable, and over
100 stories and facts about families and reunions.

May 25, 2014

Trust Your Values

Knowing God

At 115 years old, the oldest living American
--Jeralean Talley--
has a secret to living such a long life:

Jeralean Talley

"It's all in the good Lord's hands."

"Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. 

Only through experience of trial and suffering 
can the soul be strengthened, 
ambition inspired, 
and success achieved."

Helen Keller

"To those who believe but wish their belief to be strengthened, 
I urge you to walk in faith and trust in God. 
Spiritual knowledge always requires an exercise of faith."
James E. Faust

“Do you often feel like parched ground, 
unable to produce anything worthwhile? 

I do. 

When I am in need of refreshment, 
it isn't easy to think of the needs of others. 
But I have found that if, 
instead of praying for my own comfort and satisfaction,
I ask the Lord to enable me to give to others, 
an amazing thing often happens
- I find my own needs wonderfully met. 
Refreshment comes in ways I would never have thought of, 
both for others, and then, incidentally, for myself.” 

Elisabeth Elliot

“I see Jesus in every human being.
I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him.
This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene;
 I must wash him and tend to him. 
I serve because I love Jesus.” 

Mother Teresa

“If you can't get a miracle, become one.” 

Nick Vujicic

Being reminded about the incredible power of God's love,

 and living as He intended, 

is the most powerful motivation to change.

Rick Warren

“Serving and attempting to inspire others
is a responsibility, 
not a choice.” 

Bill Courtney

Happy Sunday!

May 22, 2014

Happiness is a Choice

Thursday illustration inspiration: 

We often fall prey to thinking we'll be happy . . .

. . . one day. 

One day when we have more time, 
or praise from those 
who we want to love 
and value us. 

But, truly, happiness is in the heart of the beholder--
in how one chooses 
to perceive their circumstances.

It is a choice we can make for ourselves every day, every hour, every minute.

May 9, 2014

The Miracle of the Hail

The Miracle of the Hail: 

Nourished and Strengthened by Hardship

Yesterday it hailed. 

Pellets of ice pummeled the ground. 

Shoots of verdant, newborn grass bent under the burden 
of what looked like heaven’s frozen tears. 

My split-second first impression was of the unfairness of it all. 

To understand the lesson the hail stones had to teach, however,
I needed to consider more than just the passing hardship endured by my lawn.

After a long winter, spring was doing its best to breathe life into my barren backyard.

The little blades of grass sprouted upward with faith and zeal. 

Under the darkening skies, they stood, at first, steadfast;
little green soldiers resolute in maintaining their station, despite the storm. 

But as the frozen water droplets persisted, 
the weight of the hail became too much. 

Through the glass doors of our dining room, 
I watched the sprouts cower in apprehension, 
then bend and flatten. 

The entire lawn appeared defeated, 
as if surrendering to fate. 

Hardened capsules of ice glistened triumphant.

But then the storm, as all storms do, moved on.

The sun broke through the clouds, 

meager rays at best, 

yet sufficient warmth to caress the day with hope and change. 

The hailstones melted.

Right before my eyes, each shoot of grass—relieved of its burden—began to straighten itself and reach once more toward the sky. 

The hail, minutes before a perilous trial, 

lent life-giving water that would nourish and strengthen the grass, 
allowing it to continue to grow. 

Challenging life-storms that bring the weight 
of icy doubt and fear crashing down upon us 
only have the power to smother our convictions and determination . . .

. . . if we allow them to. 

When, like the blades of grass, we are driven to our knees in despair, 
we need but to endure in faith, trusting God and believing in our own 
strengths and capabilities. 

When the storm has passed, 
and once more we are clearly able see 

the light of hope and truth—finding that it was always there—

we will find ourselves growing once again, 

nourished and strengthened by hardship.

Simple Things