Welcome! I'm Melissa Gross, a dynamic and interactive teacher and speaker called to lead and encourage Christian women in their walk with the Lord through classes, workshops and retreats incorporating Bible study, devotionals, illustrated Bible journaling, paper crafting and mixed media projects that merge faith and art bringing God’s Word to life so you can find renewed excitement to dive into the Word, use your creative gifts, and apply the Truth as you draw closer to the Lord and serve Him in your everyday life. This site is where I share my everyday adventures, Bible Journaling pages, scrapbook layouts, handmade cards, and other crafty projects, as well as information on my upcoming workshops and events. I also post photos, ramble about books I'm reading, stuff I'm organizing, and other FUN bits & pieces of my wonderful life.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

February Book Reviews

I only completed four of the six books I planned to read in February, however I also completed a book I downloaded to my Kindle. So, that brings my total books read in February to five. Here are my reviews of those books, plus a peek at what I'll be reading in March.

The Journal of Wong Ming-Chung by Laurence Yep is another book in the Dear America series. I've read several of these juvenile fiction books and always learning something new about the history of America. These books are written in the form of a diary. This book is written from the perspective of a young Chinese boy who comes to America to join his uncle who is prospecting for gold in California in the mid 1800s. I had not realized how many Chinese immigrated to the US during the gold rush, nor that they were not given equal treatment under the law during that time (for example, a Chinese immigrant could not testify in court so they were often mistreated and run off their claims by Americans, yet they had no recourse but to find another claim and start over). Many of these Chinese immigrants were later instrumental in completing the transcontinental railroad.

The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis is a classic, so I'm really not sure why I haven't read this book before. Each chapter is a letter from the Demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, who is assigned to a human and is working to keep him from becoming a Christian. I really enjoyed it and think it must have taken quite a talent to write it all from this "backward" viewpoint - with the Devil as the Father and God as the Enemy. It was convicting in places because I see myself doing the things the demons are trying to get the "patients" to do - like thinking of myself during prayer instead of focusing on God. Here's a quote that illustrates one suggestion for keeping the patient's focus off God - You should always try to make the patient abandon the people or food or books he really likes in favour of the 'best' people, the 'right' food, the 'important' books. About halfway through the book, I began to tire of the opposite viewpoint and having to focus on the fact that it was "backwards thinking." Even C. S. Lewis said that he "never wrote with less enjoyment" because "the strain produced a sort of spiritual cramp." 

I've enjoyed several of Beth Moore's Bible studies over the past few years and had picked up a copy of her book Get Out of That Pit some time last year. It was a good book with encouragement to help individuals find deliverence from the pit (of addiction, of abuse, of sin, etc) through the Lord's deliverance. The book contains lots of good information. I especially like Beth's no nonsense approach & southern style of writing as evidenced in this quote: Only God can hang with us through the length and depth of our need. And the length and depth of our baloney. Maybe I'm just talking to myself, but whether or not I realized it, I usually found a way to frame my pits to make me look like a victim. How many writers do you know who can relate such a serious topic to baloney?

Welcome to the World, Baby Girl! by Fannie Flagg was a good fiction read with an unexpected twist at the end. The story switches back and forth in time (from the early 1900s to the late 1970s) and from place to place (Elmwood Springs, Missouri to New York City to various other locations around the country & world), however it is easy to follow and has well developed characters. The story follows the life of Dena Nordstrom, a successful newscaster in New York in the 1970s as she pushes herself to be successful and project an image of having it all together. [WARNING - spoiler coming, stop here if you don't want to know about the unexpected twist!!] Dena becomes ill with a bleeding ulcer and must take some time off, and as she spend times with family in the small town of Elmwod Springs, she finally searches for the truth about her mother. It turns out her mother was part Negro but had been passing as a white woman when she met Dena's father. I have to admit that I'd never heard the term passing as it was used in this story, depicting a black person identifying him or herself as a white person, and I honestly did not see that twist coming in the story (all the foreshadowing led to other conclusions!). I enjoyed the book, a fun, interesting, informative fiction read.

I downloaded 52 Small Changes: One Year to a Happier, Healthier You to my Kindle because my sister had a copy and we were planning to work through the 52 changes together this year. I, of course, went ahead and read through the entire book so I could see the overall plan. The premise of the book is to take one week to make small changes to improve your health and happiness. Some of the items on the list I've already incorporated into my life (drinking water, getting enough sleep), while others are things that I need to work on (eating more vegetables, strength training).

And finally, here's a look at my stack of books to read in March. I'll be starting with the two on the bottom, which were left over from my February pile.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
The Lucky Oneby Nicholas Sparks
Mary Magdalene: A Novelby Diana Wallis Taylor
Remember Tuesday Morning by Karen Kingsbury
 
What are you planning to read in March?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Something From Almost Nothing - Basic Metals

Before setting a new scrapbooking challenge for myself, I've decided to work my way through Shimelle's Something From Almost Nothing class. I purchased this class some time last year as a self-paced class, however I had not yet taken time to work through it. Each prompt in this class is designed to help us get more from our stash and is focused on one particular type of product.

Prompt One was filled with inspiration for using our Basic Metal Embellishments, and I ended up creating SIX layouts. I used the sample layouts as inspiration for several of my layouts and for others I simply used some of the ideas presented for using basic metals and came up with my own design. Shimelle shared ideas for using a variety of types of embellishments.

EYELETS 
 
BRADS
 METAL WORDS
 METAL CHARMS

I really like the way all these layouts turned out, but this is one of my favorites because I used some old photos that I had cropped (very crookedly) when I was a teenager. I recently rescued them from an old magnetic album and am excited to finally get this story recorded.
METAL EDGED TAGS
 BOTTLE CAPS
I ended up using 14 eyelets, 46 brads, 1 metal word, 1 metal imprinted rectangle, 9 metal charms, 8 metal rimmed tags, and 3 bottle caps for a total of 82 metal embellishments! I also pulled out a metal frame to use on the cover of my December 2012 mini-album (that I'm hoping to put together this weekend). I would like to tell you that this made quite a dent in my metal embellishment stash . . . I would like to tell you that . . . but it wouldn't be true . . . so I'll just say that it made a very small dent in my stash. Do you have metal embellishments in your stash? Have you used any lately?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Why I Changed From Category Albums to Chronological Albums (& a new video!)

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that I love my Library of Memories system based on Stacy Julian’s approach to photo organization and inspirational scrapbooking and taught at Big Picture Classes. There are many components to this system including a Digital Workflow, Storage Binders, Category Drawers, Cold Storage, Library Albums, a Memorabilia File, Connections Layouts, a Cultural Memorabilia Box, Materials Files, Square Punch Picture Drawers, an ABC file, Story Cards, etc. The system is designed to promote inspirational scrapbooking – creating layouts when you’re inspired about what inspires you at the moment. All of these components work very well for me . . . except one.

Stacy’s Library of Memories system incorporates albums based on categories – All About Us, People We Love, Places We Go, Things We Do. When I initially set up my system and for a couple of years afterwards, these category albums worked well for me. However, after a major re-organization of my albums in early 2012, I realized that I was not enjoying them and rarely looked through the albums unless I was adding in new layouts. At the same time, I often pulled out my chronological photo albums from 2003-2006 when something triggered a memory from one of those years and I wanted to see what else had been happening around that time (or occasionally to prove to Robbie that I was right about the chronology of something we were discussing!).

This realization got me thinking about the category albums and Stacy’s reasoning for them. Basically her premise is that often stories and biographies are grouped by topic or category (like the TV mini-series The Century, which was a documentary on the 20th century), so it made sense to her to organize her stories that way. Many of you know that I am an avid reader, and I realized that the stories and biographies and autobiographies that I enjoy the most are the ones that are told in a chronological order (with occasional flashbacks or flash-forwards). I tend to think of events within the time frame that they occurred.

About this same time, Shimelle offered a class on album organization based on the way she organizes her own albums. The Cover to Cover class helped me decide to return to chronological albums for each year. I took all the layouts out of my Category Albums and sorted them by year (but I forgot to take a photo of them all spread out in piles on the dining room table!). I then put albums together for each year – some years have one album, some two, and one even has three albums! I do also still have one Category Album along with numerous theme albums and mini-albums. All these albums comprise my LIBRARY and I love it!

As with Shimelle’s albums, most of my albums are “in process” – meaning that they are not complete and I am still scrapping photos and stories from those years. However, this past fall, I took my 2007 albums and went through them looking for “missing elements” based on Shimelle’s suggestion to look for missing photos, missing stories, and missing perspective. I made a list of pages I wanted to create to complete the album adding in these missing elements and including cross-referencing for theme albums I had created with photos from that year. I completed the 2007 albums (2 volumes) near the end of 2012 and have created a video for you sharing a look at one of those albums.

I must tell you that I have no intention of scrapbooking my layouts in chronological order. Those of you who visit my blog often know that one day I might share a layout with photos from 1986, the next post might share a layout with more recent photos, and then next one might share a layout with photos from 2010! I especially like how my Library of Memories system allows me to scrap inspirationally – my Storage Binders are full of photos ready for me to scrap, my Category Drawers hold photos that I am “aging” for Connections layouts, my Square Punch Picture Drawers hold photos I can pull to add to a layout anytime, and my Memorabilia File and Cultural Memorabilia Box are close at hand allowing me to add memorabilia to many layouts. So, the only change I’ve really made is the final resting place of my layouts.



I’d love your thoughts and feedback on these changes and on this new video (my 2nd video!). I appreciate those of you who left comments on my first video last summer and have tried to incorporate some of your ideas. However, I have to admit that I still probably talk a little too fast and I just can’t seem to keep my hands from moving most of the time. (I’m afraid if I lost my hands I wouldn’t be able to teach or talk! LOL)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Contagious Happiness . . .

Today you can find me over at Beverly's blog sharing about two of the happiest people I know. Please stop by and say Hi!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Challenging Myself: Pre-Printed Patterned Papers 7

Today is the final installment of my pre-printed patterned paper challenge, and I have two layouts to share. I started with this paper for my first layout, however I ended up turning it upside down, cutting the borders off, and mounting it on a sheet of 12x12 yellow checkered paper.

 
Some of you may recognize these photos and this story that I shared a couple of years ago about the Freddy the Flute that Robbie created.

For this final layout in my challenge, I started with two 12x12 papers. Once again I took the basic layout on the page as my inspiration, although I ended up covering up most of the elements on these pre-printed papers.
 
 
I included several pieces of memorabilia (playbill, ticket stubs, promo card) on this layout along with a few photos.


Now that I'm done with this challenge, I've decided to work my way through one of the online classes in my Shimelle account that I haven't completed yet . . . well, actually I hadn't even started it yet! What's challenging you this week?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Challenging Myself: Pre-Printed Patterned Papers 6

Today's layout is one that I've had on my list of things-to-scrap for almost two years. The photos were taken on Thanksgiving Day 2010, however I wanted to use these shots to connect that day with a memory of my childhood.

I started with this pre-printed patterned paper, however as I began putting the layout together I realized the dark green along the left side didn't go with my layout . . . so I simply cut it off and mounted the remainder of the page on a piece of cardstock.

I even handmade an embellishment for this layout from one of the patterns in the 102 Ideas for 3-D Embellishmentsinspiration book my sister Brenda sent me a few weeks ago. This cute little apron was perfect for a layout about Mama's chicken & dumplin's.
 

I also had fun creating the title with various letter stickers and some canvas banner pieces that Robbie gave me for Christmas.
 

Now if I could just figure out a way to get Mama to make chicken & dumplin's more often, I would have it made!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Challenging Myself: Pre-Printed Patterned Papers 5

I really surprised myself at how much I've enjoyed the first challenge I set for myself this year! I had thought it would be harder to use these pre-printed patterned papers, but it's been a lot of fun.

 
I used the basic layout of this paper (3 photos spots) as a starting point to complete the layout showcasing photos of my twin nieces creating tag mini-albums at the end of their summer visit a couple of years ago. I had a few extra tags that I used as embellishments, along with a few word stickers from the same book as the pre-printed paper.

I started with the basic layout of this next pre-printed paper as my starting point also, however I once again covered the pencil and apple border as it didn't go with the theme of the layout.


Adding a patterned paper strip along the top and bottom, then a piece of wood grain washi tape along the edge of that, matting the photos on cardstock, choosing letter stickers for a title, and writing in the journal box were all the steps it took to complete this layout.

What do think? Do these layouts look old and dated like the original papers? Or does the addition of a few "new" items bring them up-to-date?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Valentine's Day, Teacher Appreciation, and Happy Mail

When the doorbell rang this afternoon signaling that a package had been delivered, I wasn't thinking about Valentine's Day being only a couple of days away. However, Robbie knew that I was going to be in and out quite a bit this Thursday, so he had my Valentine's gift delivered early to be sure I was here to receive it! I opened the big box labeled Shari's Berries to find this wonderful gift box inside . . .

. . . filled with delicious chocolate covered strawberries (of course, I tried one immediately after snapping this photo)!

We rarely have a typical Valentine's Day (some of you will remember that Robbie had his gall bladder out last year), so this was a wonderful treat that I'll be enjoying the rest of the week. Thank you Robbie - my true love and Valentine!

I also received this beautiful Valentine's card from Rebekah, a dear blog friend! (Thanks Rebekah!)


In fact it's been an especially nice week around here in many ways. I walked in to my classroom Monday morning to find this Teacher Appreciation treat basket on my desk.

 
A little later that morning, during a general assembly at the school, all the teachers were invited to come to the front of the sanctuary. One of the students said a nice prayer for the teachers and then we were all given a little "blessing ring" and gift card to a local sandwich shop.


The "blessing ring" is the mini-album on the right with notes from students grouped together on a ring covered in ribbons. I was especially touched by the sweet notes from several of my students, particularly because I've only been at the school for a few short weeks.

Actually, in the past few weeks I've had a couple of pieces of happy mail, too. First, a package arrived from my sister with two scrapbooking inspiration books inside. (I've already used one of the patterns for a 3-D embellishment on a layout I'll be sharing soon!)

 
And a few days before the Finding Photo Freedom workshop started, this happy mail arrived from Stacy Julian as a thank you for agreeing to coach in this year's class.


I have to admit that it's pretty exciting to get envelopes and packages in the mail and to be given such wonderful teacher gifts! Have you had any special deliveries lately?

Monday, February 11, 2013

January 2013 Art Journal Page

I've created monthly overview layouts each month for the past few years, however I hadn't planned to continue that this year. Then the final January weekly challenge in the Library of Memories Community was posted. Stacy Julian encouraged us to journal our thoughts about January. So, I took a few minutes on February 1st to journal my thoughts and saved them on the computer.

Then while I was blog hopping, I saw Karen's January art journal page and was inspired to try something similar. I started with this journaling:

Then I pulled out some stamps and colored pencils and ended up with this page.  The letters spelling out January are those stamps Robbie got me for my birthday last summer.

Along with my boxed journaling, I included these two lists for the month:

Entertainment:
Read 8 books
Saw 2 movies:  Lincoln & Last Stand
Watched 13 episodes of The Waltons Season 2 

Watched  final 3 episodes of Last Resort  & 1st episode of Dallas Season 2
Creative Pursuits:
Crafty Tuesday at Ellyn’s
1 get-together to scrap with Michelle
1 online chat in the Library of Memories Community
4 layouts created
12 blog posts published


I'm not sure if I'll do this every month, but I have to admit that I enjoyed putting this page together. Are you planning to document each month this year in some way?

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Cards for Sunshine Mail

Remember Card Cupids? Their name has been changed to Sunshine Mail, but they still provide happy mail packages for children in need of comfort, support, and joy - children who are in hospitals, homeless shelters and foster care. At the ladies' retreat I led a few weeks ago, I included a service project to create cards for this great organization.

I created some sample cards with the supplies provided by the group hosting the retreat - First Presbysterian Church in Allen, Texas.


During the retreat, the 28 ladies and teen girls in attendance spent time creating cards, and I packaged up and sent 62 cards to Sunshine Mail! All the ladies and girls joined in to create cards and seemed to really enjoy the creative time. I was truly impressed with their productivity and know that the children who receive these cards will be blessed.

If you're looking for a way to make a difference this year with your crafting, be sure to check out Sunshine Mail (they also have a challenge blog with monthly card challenges and prizes).

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Challenging Myself: Pre-Printed Patterned Papers 4

I'm having so much fun with my challenge to use some older pre-printed patterned papers that I have another layout to share with you today. This layout also demonstrates one of my favorite ways to scrapbook: non-chronologically!

If you're a regular visitor to my blog, you already know that I scrap my photos and stories out of order. It's so easy to scrap whichever photos inspire me since I set up my Library of Memories system several years ago. (BTW-the new Finding Photo Freedom workshop starts today and there's still time to join in! You can find me coaching there for the next 10 weeks and read about how I became a coach over on Sian's blog.)

Today's layout reaches all the way back to 1986! I started with this pre-printed patterned paper with a school days theme (notice the pencil & apple border along the bottom).

I actually followed the design of this paper as well as the school theme for a layout showcasing a photo & the program from the graduation ceremony when my Grandma received her GED. (Yes, that skinny little girl on the left is me as a high school junior!)
 
Journaling reads: I remember helping Grandma study for the math portion of the GED and how proud she was at the age of 56 to finally have obtained her high school equivalency certificate. She was a beautiful graduate.
 
I've completed a few more of these pages using pre-printed patterned papers and have two in progress, then I think I'll be ready to move on to a new challenge.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

February Reading

I exceeded my goal of reading six books in January by two books. Here's a review of the two additional books and a peak at what I'll be reading in February.
 
One of the movies that we watch each year at Christmas time is The House Without A Christmas Tree, which we have on VHS. It's one of Robbie's favorites, however it took a few years before I decided I really like it. It's a great story, but the older movie just seems to move very slow. We always see in the credits that this movie was based on a book by Gail Rock, and this year Robbie took time to find a copy of the book for me. The House Without a Christmas Tree is a great read, quick & easy. Of course, the characters were already "cast" in my head since I've seen the movie so many times (which stays very true to the book). However, I enjoyed reading a little more about the characters and absolutely love this quote where Addie is describing her Grandma: She was particularly expert at whittling down the worn edges of a garment and making it into something smaller. When one of her flowered cotton housedresses began to wear out, she would hack out the collar and sleeves, and it would suddenly be a slip. When that started to go, it became a bib apron and then a smaller apron, and then a dust cap for her hair and then a quilted pot holder...and in its final incarnation, the tiny remaining scrap would go into a patchwork quilt or a braided rag rug.

I'm not sure where I got my copy of Out of Your Comfort Zone: Is Your God Too Nice?by R. T. Kendall (probably someone gave it to me at some point), and I really had no idea what to expect from this Christian non-fiction book. In all honesty, I did not enjoy the book and do not agree with some aspects of theology that were presented in it. I should have been forewarned when the Foreword to the American Edition was written by someone recommending the book even though she did not totally agree with the author. It also seemed to me that the author was on the defensive, rather than writing what he believed he seemed to constantly assume that the reader would not agree with him (which, in my opinion, does make for a good read).
  
Here's a look at the six books that I've chosen to read in February, all of which came from the To-Read pile beside my bed.
 
 
 The Journal of Wong Ming-Chung by Laurence Yep
 The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis 
Get Out of That Pit by Beth Moore
Remember Tuesday Morning by Karen Kingsbury
 
What's on your reading list for February?