Category: Family

Plastic peace?

Snowman family at dinner

Artificial, plastic trees. Artificial icicles and artificial snow. Maybe even artificial smiles amid the stress of the holiday season? And all of it with the goal of somehow generating genuine peace.

But all the plastic, and glitter, and presents in the world can’t conjure up peace at our dinner tables or in our own homes, much less for the whole earth. There is someone, though, who is able to bring real peace. Angles announced His birth more than 2,000 years ago with the proclamation, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14).

This second week of Advent focuses on peace, but not the plastic, artificial peace we try to create for ourselves. The advent—the anticipated arrival—of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Prince of Peace, changed everything and opened up the way for us to experience real, lasting peace.

Isaiah 9:6 from the King James Version says it the way most of us remember it: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”

We can start the celebration of Christmas as early as we want to and drape our homes in enough lights to be visible to the crew in the space station, but until we know and trust in Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, the best we’ll have is plastic peace.

If plastic peace isn’t enough for you, hear the definitive words of Romans 5:1: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

That’s the real peace and praise of Christmas and the real reason we celebrate. With Christ’s arrival at Christmas and His death on the cross at Easter, which secured our forgiveness and tore down the wall between God and us, we have been offered a gift. Romans 6:23 describes it like this: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Eternal life—and peace—with God instead of eternal suffering separated from Him and His love and blessings—now that’s something to celebrate all year long.

If you’ve never trusted in Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, and you’re tired of artificial peace, drop me note using the contact below. I’d be happy to share with you how you can know genuine peace by knowing the Prince of Peace. What better Christmas gift to yourself?

Remembering a wise & creative grandmother

Photo of Ruby and Will Price holding the toddler Stephen around 1968 or '69 in Pearisburg, Va.
Handmade doll furniture by Ruby Price
Handmade doll furniture by Ruby Price

My Grandma Ruby would have been 112 today. Born in 1907, she passed away just weeks before our first child was born in 2004. I’ve shared a little about her here, where I discussed the handmade furniture she created from scraps of wood for my mother to use with her dolls.

In honor of Ruby Cox Price Johnston today, I want to share some of what I wrote for her memorial service 15 years ago.

When I remember Grandma, I remember sweet iced tea. And pies and Christmas time visits (including the time she leaned too far and fell into the Christmas tree). I remember watching the Lawrence Welk Show and Hee Haw together by the wood stove in the house where I grew up. Grandma liked to stay very warm. There are countless memories of singing together. She loved the old classic hymns as well as the silly songs of long ago. She passed them down to my cousins and me, so we can sing the 1923 hit, “Yes, We Have No Bananas,” and “Carolina in the Morning,” first published in 1922.

When I remember Grandma, I remember praying. Grandma prayed and lived a life of godly devotion to her Lord and her family. She was not ashamed of the gospel, rather, she was ashamed of the many ungodly things in this world. For instance, she would never read a book any further than the first curse word she encountered. Over the course of her long life, she was a faithful member of several churches.

I learned these things from my Grandma Ruby:

  1. Be faithful to God and the things He calls us to do.
  2. Sing a lot.
  3. Things that you carefully make with your hands are beautiful and valuable.
  4. Pray often. I know she prayed for me.
  5. Love your family; be proud of your children and grandchildren. And tell them you’re proud of them and that you love them.

Grandma Ruby lived a quiet, often hard life, working with her hands in what many would consider remote rural places. She picked cotton and tobacco in the fields of North Carolina as a child. She raised my mother and her sisters, as well as several step-children, in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, where if they had any luxuries, it was because she made them—toys, dresses, good food. She was never famous, but her legacy will reach far and wide through her many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Thank you, Grandma, and Happy birthday. I love you.

Detail of handmade doll furniture by Ruby Price
Detail of handmade doll furniture by Ruby Price. The cracked mirror of the vanity, reveals some sort of bee keeping-related paper. My grandfather kept bees.
Detail of handmade doll furniture by Ruby Price
Detail of handmade doll furniture by Ruby Price
The old Price home
The home my grandfather built in Pearisburg, Virginia. This was where my mother and aunts grew up and was Grandma Ruby and PawPaw’s when I was little. Photo by Hannah Rountree

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Inner beauty

image of a Geode exterior
image of interior of a geode rock
Use the slider to see inside the geode.

The rock you see above is a geode. Geodes are hollow formations, often roughly spherical, that become filled with mineral deposits through water flow and other natural processes. This geode was given to me by a good friend of mine from California. He and his family used to camp out west where they collected these rocks, which don’t look like much on the outside. But once he was back home, he would cut them open to reveal the amazing crystals or other mineral deposits inside.

Sometimes, we can be a little like a backward geode. In our beauty- and youth-obsessed culture, outward appearances are paramount. Instagram feeds are full of photos carefully staged to show off perfect appearances, while beauty video bloggers, or vloggers, crank out countless hours of YouTube tutorials on how to look your best—i.e. youngest and most beautiful. And did you know Americans spent $16.5 billion on 17.7 million elective cosmetic surgeries in 2018 alone? So says the American Society of Plastic Surgeons®. Today, the U.S. beauty industry is valued at $80 billion and expected to reach $90 billion by 2020. But all that money and effort is spent only on the outside.

In the twenty-third chapter of Matthew’s gospel, we find Jesus calling out the hypocrisy of the backward geode religious leaders of His day, saying, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (verses 27-28, ESV).

God is more concerned about our inward beauty than what’s on the outside. Maybe He even created geodes to give us a simple picture of what we should be. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look our best, but if the outside always demands more time and effort than the inside, it might be time to re-evaluate.

Want to try seeing yourself and those around you like God does? Look for inner beauty. What is special, amazing, fun, inspiring, sweet, or wonderful about someone that has nothing whatsoever to do with the outside? And when you see it in yourself, let it express itself through your creative work and everything you do. “For The Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but The Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7b, ESV)

Who are the geodes in your life? They may also be beautiful on the outside, and that’s great, but what’s special about them on the inside? Drop us a line in the form below and share your thoughts with us.

The old black walnut tree

photo of Patti Jones on her family's farm with the black walnut tree

I recently traveled back home to visit my mom for a few days on the family farm in Wythe County, Virginia. I love that farm, which has been in my family for so many generations. The living monument that has stood guard over the farm all these years is a huge black walnut tree. In its younger days, it served as a property marker. In recent years, the graceful old tree has offered a place to hold countless family picnics.

And to every generation, the tree has offered its treasures for each to do with as they pleased.

My grandfather, Homer Umberger, gathered the tree’s walnuts and created unique carvings, like the one you see below. He created a menagerie of carved animals and figures from the walnuts, which will be the subject of a future post, so stay tuned!

Photo of Honest Abe walnut sculpture
Honest Abe, by Patti’s grandfather, Homer Umberger.
Photo of bunny hand-carved from walnuts by Patti's grandfather Homer.
Bunny hand-carved from walnuts by Patti’s grandfather Homer.

My dad gathered the walnuts and cracked them to give away to friends and family who loved to bake with them.

Today I’m gathering my own black walnuts to make dye for my pine needle creations and homespun yarn (more on that in an upcoming post!). It makes me smile to think of all the family history that has played out on this grand green. I hope the old tree will be standing guard, and offering its treasures for many years to come.

Not everyone has an old walnut tree, but we all have something. What do you make with what you have? Share it with us in the comment box below. We’d love to read about it and, with your permission, share it with the Inspiring Handmade family.

Fall & fairs

Image of Girl with Balloons, a sculpture in wire and cut paper on driftwood.

The State Fair of Virginia is underway as I write this. The Fair, maybe as much as anything, is a metaphor for life. Along its avenues and amongst its attractions you can find emotions from across the spectrum. Joy. What child hasn’t thrilled to win a prize at one of the carnival games? Patti Jones’ “Girl with Balloons” recalls the simple joy of things like balloons. Wonder. The sights of the Fair from the top of the ferris wheel. Disappointment. The missed toss that loses the prize, the final stop of the ferris wheel. Curiosity. Touching a goat, a pig, or milking a cow for the first time. Hunger. The array of deep fried everything—from bananas to Oreo cookies—stirs the appetite after hours of walking. Sleepy satisfaction. Finally resting after a full day of sights, sounds, smells, and tastes.
Life, like the Fair, is so easy to rush through. But it only lasts for a season. Savor the Joy, the wonder, even the disappointment, the curiosity, the hunger, the sleepy satisfaction of a day well spent.

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What are you fishing for?

"Fishing with My Dad" wire and paper sculpture

As the summer winds down, school has started, or will soon start for students and families everywhere. There’s a rhythm to a new school year, isn’t there? The relatively relaxed pace of summer seems to reluctantly give way to the regimen of academic and athletic schedules. New books to read, new project deadlines, practices and games, and of course, the ever-quickening march toward Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) and Christmas all take the place of slow, long days of sleeping in and staying up late. All of which can cause us to rush to squeeze in that last experience of summer freedom around this time of year.

Patti’s sculpture, Fishing with my Dad, part of her Wire People series, reminds me of this. Fishing just goes with lazy summer days like peanut butter goes with jelly. I’ve fished a little and I know there are those who take the sport quite seriously, but to my mind, there’s not a more low-key, relaxed activity that lets you still claim to actually be accomplishing something, or at least trying to. That probably doesn’t apply when you’re reeling one in, as the characters in this sculpture are doing.

And this time of year, a time of transition, finds many of us anticipating something. In a way, we’re all fishing. We’re standing at the water’s edge. You know the water’s edge? Where the land ends and the water and all that’s unknown under its surface, begins. That’s where we are in this season. We’re standing at autumn’s edge, where the summer ends and the autumn begins—autumn, and all that’s unknown, and yet to come in the course of its days. And we’re fishing. We’re looking, hoping for something.

Maybe it’s that last celebration of summer. Maybe we feel that summer slipped by too fast and we want to get the family away just one more time. We want to catch one more big one for the scrapbook, or Facebook, or Instagram feed, if you prefer.

Perhaps we’re looking ahead, casting out in front of us. Students might be fishing for a better school year. Teachers may be dropping in their lines hoping to pull up an engaged, motivated class. Parents may be angling for some balance between academics, extracurricular activities, and family time. Newly minted sixteen-year-olds may be casting about for a job, or their first car. But we’re all standing here, at the edge, fishing, hoping for something. And that’s not a bad thing at all.

We’re all standing here, at the edge, fishing, hoping for something.

Jeremiah 29:11 is one of the most quoted verses in the Bible, and for good reason. It’s full of encouragement for those fishing for hope. It’s been cross-stitched on pillows and engraved on plaques and signs. And without a single survey to back up this statement, I’d speculate that it’s nearly as well known to a Christian audience as John 3:16.

But the backdrop of the verse is one of pain and suffering. It’s actually part of a letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the Jews who had been taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar and who were now living as exiles in Babylon. God was using their defeat and captivity at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians to punish them for their rebellion and their many years of worshipping false gods. And yet, even in the midst of disciplining His own people, God gave them a promise and a reason for hope. They were told to live their lives in their new city, to grow their families, and to pray for and help their city to prosper. Then in verse 10, Jeremiah wrote these words of The Lord, “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill My good promise to bring you back to this place.” His next sentence was the encouraging verse 11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares The Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'”

Fishing for, and finding, hope in the midst of trials and despair was (and still is) possible because it’s The Lord Himself who promises good things for our future.

No matter what we’ve experienced in the past year, we stand at the edge of autumn and all the unknown that lies before us. And we’re fishing—and hoping, and trusting, or at least trying to.

A generation or two before Jeremiah, the prophet Isaiah looked around and saw that no one was as powerful and as caring as The Lord. So he wrote these words, which will be my mantra as I stand at this autumn’s edge. Maybe they’ll inspire you, too. “But those who trust in The Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31 NLT).

Tight lines and a great catch to you!

Dandelions for Mom

Image of Dandelions for Mom, a sculpture in wire and cut paper on driftwood.

Our moms have sacrificed for us, believed in us, and loved us unconditionally. When we were little, we tried to return that love as best we could with small hands offering small gifts from big hearts full from a mother’s love. That’s the inspiration for Patti’s sculpture, “Dandelions for Mom.”

Patti says, “I wish I had a dollar for every dandelion I gave my mom. I would be a very rich lady! What is it about a dandelion that a child cannot walk by it without picking it? I remember picking dandelions for my mom every spring. The best and biggest ones were in the back yard. Not sure why, but they were such beauties. Naturally, mom always acted like I had just given her a dozen roses when I would offer my pitiful little crumpled bouquet. She would then put them in a small jelly glass of water and set them in the window or in the center of the kitchen table. There they would stay until they totally withered away only to be replaced with another—a never-ending cycle of dandelion love.”

A single day is not nearly enough, but it’s your special day nonetheless. And so, to all mothers everywhere—and especially our moms, Inspiring Handmade wishes you a very happy Mother’s Day. We love you more than a fistful of dandelions! And that’s a lot.

Paw Umberger gave space for inspiration

My grandfather, Homer Blanton Umberger, was born and raised on the family farm in Wytheville, Virginia in 1897. The land had been given to his family as part of a land grant from the King of England many years before. My grandfather lived on that farm, the Reed Creek Poultry Farm, all his life. He married Margaret Dean and had one child, my mom, Marjorie Dean. She married my dad, Maitland Wassum. More than 120 years later, my mom and my brother’s family still live on that same farm today.

Growing up on the Reed Creek Poultry Farm, I guess I inherited my grandfather’s creative spirit and his love for animals. My family moved in when my grandmother got sick so that my mom could help take care of her. On the farm, we collected sap and made molasses. We made apple cider from the apples in the orchard. There were always baby animals of one kind or another. I got into a lot of trouble one day when I decided to let a whole bunch of baby ducks take a swim in my bathtub. Needless to say, mom was not happy.

My grandfather always gave me a space for my very own flower garden. Family and tradition ran deep and my love for all things creative grew along with everything else on the farm. There was a story to be told in every corner of that farm and my grandfather, well known in the area as a poet and artist, passed down many family stories through his poetry. He also developed a series of carvings from walnuts. These wonderful sculptures bring a smile to my face every time I see them and they remind me of the most important thing I learned from my grandfather: He loved to bring joy to people through his poetry and art and that’s my passion for my own work today.

A salvaged salvage trip: part 2

Eric on Price's Farm

My cousin Eric on his family’s farm. The 1905-era barn is behind him, along with the pile of wood to be salvaged. In the distance are the gorgeous green rolling hills of Giles County, Virginia.

Deep in the mountains

The ride started off well enough, but a small omen of trouble ahead came when the passenger-side windshield wiper came loose during a heavy cloudburst as we made our way west in I-64 out of Richmond. Hannah remained calm and collected as I pulled over under a bridge and she got out on the safer side and quickly retrieved the wiper unit before it fell off the hood. Thankfully, the driver’s-side wiper remained attached.

We drove on. I especially enjoyed seeing Hannah’s reaction to the sights as we made our way deeper into the Southwest Virginia mountains, crossing the Blue Ridge mountains and entering the Appalachian ridge and valley region. Her every “Wow, Look at that!” took me back to my own wonder at what the local population lovingly refers to as “God’s Country,” as well they should. The Creator’s loving fingerprints are on grand display wherever you look. 

We arrived Friday around twilight and enjoyed the chance to visit with my aunt Ann, uncle Harold, Eric, and Kyle, who is often there working on the farm on the weekends.

Saturday morning we loaded the old barn boards onto the truck. Whatever I didn’t take from the pile would become kindling for my aunt and uncle this winter. I was sorry to not have room for every single board but the truck was full and I didn’t want to overload the older tires with such a long trip back home.

Old Price Home

The house my mother was raised in. This was “Grandma Ruby’s house” of my childhood. My PawPaw built the house himself. The old toilet just off the bedroom in the lower right of the house was loud and used to scare the daylights out of me.

Hannah and I said our goodbyes and left around 2:00 p.m. Saturday. On the way back I showed her the house where my mother grew up, one of three simple homes my grandfather, or PawPaw, as we called him, built on a steep hill. Hannah took some pictures through the truck window as we drove along. 

In downtown Pearisburg we walked around. It’s always smart to carry cash in small towns. I didn’t have any and could only scrounge $1.65 from the cupholder in the truck. But the snow cone stand attendant gave me a price break on a cone for Hannah. “Oh, that’ll do,” she said of the coins I offered. She piled up the shaved ice and poured on the strawberry syrup. Small towns.

The truck handled well as we made our way northeast with the load of salvaged wood securely strapped in the bed. At Blacksburg, we spent 30 minutes or so driving around the campus of Virginia Tech. We have more than a few Hokies in our family and I wanted Hannah to see the school that was often the topic of discussion, especially when football season was in full gear.

We headed north on I-81. The sky was blue, hills were green, and traffic wasn’t too bad. A couple of miles before the Glasgow/Natural Bridge exit, however, something went wrong. Suddenly the truck began to shake violently. I thought we had a flat. Those tires were too old to trust after all. But pulling off to the side, I didn’t see any sign of a flat tire. I tried to go on, but the same bumping and shaking started again.

Part 3