Sunday, December 30

2012 Books in Review

This year I rediscovered a love for reading that I haven't felt since my high school book club days. Funny what starting over in a new town with no friends and TV season breaks will do, huh? I've actually been slacking in my reading now that we've settled into life here in the Memphis area, but I'm looking forward to hitting the books hard to start the new year. Without further ado, here's my reading list from 2012.

1. A Study in Scarlet - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
2. The Sign of the Four - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
3. The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins
4. Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins
5. Mockingjay - Suzanne Collins
6. A Meal with Jesus - Tim Chester
7. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson
8. Voices of the True Woman Movement - Nancy Leigh DeMoss
9. This Momentary Marriage - John Piper
10. Knowing God - J.I. Packer
11. Just Do Something - Kevin DeYoung
12. Tempted and Tried - Russell Moore
13. The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
14. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Schaffer
15. The Runaway - Terry Kay
16. The Lords of Discipline - Pat Conroy
17. Murder on Astor Place - Victoria Thompson
18. The Gospel and Personal Evangelism - Mark Dever
19. The Testament - John Grisham
20. Awaiting a Savior - Aaron Armstrong
21. A Hunger for God - John Piper
22. Delighting in the Trinity - Michael Reeves
23. A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
24. Conversation Peace - Mary Kassian

Sorry to those of you who might like these books, but I wouldn't recommend...
  • Murder on Astor Place may be the worst book I've ever read. With a terribly repetitive writing style and disgusting twists at the end to try to make up for an otherwise predictable plot, this book had me shaking my head.
  • I felt compelled to read Catching Fire and Mockingjay immediately after finishing The Hunger Games (which I devoured), but I wish I'd stopped after the first book. I was hoping to grow to like Katniss in the last two books, but instead I hated every decision she made. Her world devolved into a nightmare, but not in an interesting way. I came to expect that the worst would happen at every pass and in this way things became very predictable and tiresome. These were two long books of disappointment and death - not what I was hoping for on my beach vacation!
  • The Testament was my first Grisham novel, and maybe not the best to start with. I found it very slow-moving. A travel narrative was an odd choice for someone with such a straightforward, business-like writing style, and I think he tried to make up for it with laborious descriptions and lengthy dialogue. It was a long book and nothing special.
  • Speaking of slow-moving, A Prayer for Owen Meany may have taken me longer to finish than any other book I've attempted. I started it over a year ago and stopped many times since. I enjoyed very little of it except the occasional humorous story, but most of them are just quirky rather than funny. I found Owen less than compelling as a Christ-like, all-knowing wonder boy, which left me with a "so what?" attitude throughout the book. Without empathy for the characters this book was just a bunch of disjointed stories about people I don't like.
  • One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp isn't on my list because I didn't finish it. I will qualify my criticism by stating that some of my most respected friends love this book and highly recommend it. Voskamp has a love-it-or-hate-it writing style, and unfortunately, I hate it! When I read it I was looking for serious encouragement and this just didn't cut it. The book is essentially the journal of a woman who learns to love life again by savoring the green of the grass and blue of the sky. I really tried to be encouraged by these things, but they only annoyed me.  I know that her purpose is to find joy in everyday things, but the things she chose for inspiration felt unoriginal and superficial. When I read this book I was battling depression and I wanted a Christian writer to show me how to fix my eyes on Jesus, not raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. That's where J.I. Packer came in.

Here are my favorite fiction books of the year...
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was nothing short of delightful. I wish I had ten more books like it to get lost in when I'm feeling down. Every once in a while I love to read something that is character-driven instead of plot-driven so that I can just enjoy the people. This was that book for me.
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was the opposite. Although the characters were intriguing, the plot had my eyes glued to the page until the end. I would love to read the other books in the series, but won't due to the very graphic nature of some of the pivotal scenes in this one. My understanding is that the next book delves into the heroine's violent past, which I'm sure will mean more rape scenes. I don't think it's worth it to read something so disturbing, but I'm sure they're otherwise spectacular books.
  • The Runaway filled my longing for a good Southern novel. If you like To Kill a Mockingbird, All the King's Men, The Help, or anything by Toni Morrison, you would probably love Terry Kay. He writes about Georgia, which fills my heart with joy, even if the stories he tells are often sad. The book was slow to start, but I didn't want it to end. It's written beautifully enough to be taught in an English class and engaging enough to read for fun.

And lastly, here are a few of my favorite spiritual growth books of the year...
  • Knowing God is, without a doubt, one of the best books I've ever read. It echoed so many of the beautiful things I learned about God while we were members at our church back in Georgia, so the whole time I was reading it I felt like I was saying a long goodbye to that chapter of our lives. What a precious gift to have all of those lessons condensed into one book! To read a whole post on my thoughts about this book click here.
  • Just Do Something is the book I've most recommended to friends since I finished it. It's relatively short and a fun read - so if you're interested at all, you should pick it up now! If you ever struggle with indecision, delaying responsibility, or fear of the unknown, this book will give you a swift kick in the pants. To read a whole post on my thoughts about this book click here.
  • This Momentary Marriage sums up everything I want my marriage to be like - a picture of the perfect love of Jesus. I often struggle with Piper's writing, but I enjoyed this book immensely. It's full of both practical and theological wisdom and a worthwhile read for anyone, including those who are single. To read a whole post on my thoughts about this book click here.
  • Delighting in the Trinity is a surprisingly readable book on a prickly topic. It's actually a fun read, not only about the dynamics of the Trinity, but God's character in general. It tackles big questions like, "What was God doing before creation?", "What is the role of each person of God in creation, salvation, adoption, etc.?", and "What does it mean that Jesus is the Word of God?" Reeves is great at expressing things that I already vaguely know in a much better way than I've ever thought or heard them.

Join me on GoodReads!

For a while I tried to blog in-depth notes on my favorite books, but that became a burden and took away from my reading time. Instead, this year I'll be rating and writing brief reviews on all of my books on goodreads - a helpful site that helps me organize my reading and follow my friends' updates on their books. Feel free to "friend" me by searching for Angelyn Vaughan. I'd love for us to spur each other on in our reading goals. 

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, September 19

Ruffled Burlap Table Runner

After sharing a tutorial for the pallet wall art in our living room, which I made from a few ideas I found on Pinterest, my plan was to write about some other recent Pinterest successes. But since I just followed someone else's instructions for this project, this isn't a tutorial. It's more like a thumbs-up for this lady's tutorial.

My new runner!

I pinned the image for this adorable table runner before we moved into our new house and then forgot about it.

The oh-so-pretty white and silver runner I got last Christmas from Z Gallerie just didn't look right with the creamy trim and earthy tones in our dining room, so it got banished to the closet. It'll probably make an appearance at Christmas when shiny things are a must. But for a while my table was looking pretty naked. And then I remembered the burlap.

My Z Gallerie runner.
Beautiful - but just not right for the space.

This is the biggest thing I've sewn so far. Really, it's the only thing I've sewn that isn't a burpcloth or a lopsided pillow case, but it only took me two evenings (probably about 4.5 hours) to finish. I was a little nervous about the ruffles. But I'll tell you something important for your future crafting knowledge: burlap is very forgiving.

I purchased the burlap about 3 months ago, so when I finally summoned the motivation to tackle this project I went for it. No delays for photos or blog notes. Just lots of measuring, cutting, pinning, and sewing. And since the lady who wrote this tutorial knows much more about sewing than I do, I just followed her steps.

Her pictures for measuring and cutting were really helpful and her instructions were easy to follow. But I will elaborate on a few things in case you are an inexperienced seamstress like me.

The first step that tripped me up a bit was attaching the ruffle to the body of the runner. She mentioned pressing it first and then sewing it on. But I couldn't figure a way to do that without making it more of a pleat than a ruffle. So I just pinned it the best I could (it takes a ton of pins to hold ruffled burlap!) and guided the fabric to the machine so the ruffles were somewhat evenly spaced. And it worked. No biggie. Since the burlap is loosely woven my sewing machine just skimmed over it without any hangups.

I didn't mean to turn under the ends of my ruffles
- it just kind of happened.

The most important thing I learned by experience was to be sure the final seam matches up the top and bottom fabric on the ends. For some reason, my 17-inch-wide pieces were slightly different lengths. Meaning that from the top everything looks great, but if you flip the runner over you can see the seam used to hold the ruffle to the top piece of fabric. I should have taken a little extra time to make the pieces even. I chose not to worry about it (who's going to look at the underside of my table runner?), but I would be a little more pleased with the project if it were neat on top and bottom.

The bottom - from far away it looks fine

But up close you can see my seams didn't all meet up

Here's the finished product:

The centerpiece will get a little more festive soon!

I like that it's still a little puffy rather than flat and thin.

Now for curtains to add some color...

So, what do you think? I love that this project only required one fabric, which was ridiculously cheap with a coupon. The whole thing cost less than $6! I love that it adds a little texture to a room that was previously all hard surfaces. And I especially love that it only took a few hours to complete. Thanks to Confessions of a Plate Addict for the great tutorial. It was a success!

Friday, August 24

July Books: Tempted and Tried by Russell Moore

Russell Moore is a great writer. He's a good writer when it comes to concepts, but he's a great writer when it comes to stories. Having listened to him read the audio version of his fantastic book Adopted for Life, it was fun to hear his voice in my head while I read this one.

If Michael hadn't read and liked this book it certainly never would have made it on my reading list. A book on the temptation of Jesus seemed a little narrow in scope and not particularly pertinent to my own spiritual life. I realized quickly that this was a silly assumption. After all, there are few certainties in life, but temptation is definitely one of them.

This book individually examines the three temptations of Jesus and their implications about His character, Satan's methods, and our lives. I'll admit that I had difficulty following some of his points, but Moore provides the most thorough and insightful interpretation of this passage that I've ever heard. It occasionally felt like he was reading too much into the text, but considering he's dean of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, it's probably just that he knows much more about the rest of the Bible than I do. Yeah. That's definitely the case.

The three temptations of Jesus are:
  • provision - turning stones into bread
  • protection - bringing angels to the rescue
  • exaltation/inheritance - taking on Satan's domain

Moore argues that at the core of each of these temptations, and the ones you and I face today, is an invitation to cast off the fatherhood of God. With God as our perfect Father, we have access to all of these things, but only in his timing and control.

"In every one of the temptations, Satan attempted to counteract God's voice at this point: 'If you are the son of God, then...' This is the equivalent of the Edenic 'Has God really said?'"
"Most people don't first conclude that adultery is right and then start fantasizing about their neighbor swinging from a stripper pole... It happens in reverse... First, you do what you want to do, even though you 'know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die,' and only then do you 'give approval to those who practice them' (Rom 1:32) You start to see yourself as either special or hopeless, and thus the normal boundaries don't seem to apply."
"It's not that you are deficient in your ability to diagnose the situation. It's that you slowly grow to believe that your situation is exceptional."
"Eve started to see God not as Father, but as rival, and that's when she struck out to grab what He was holding back from her. Her appetites, Satan said, were a more reliable guide to what she needed than the word of her God."
"Cycles of abundance and abasement are part of God's strategic purpose, not because of his ignorance of human need."
"To lose control of your appetites is to lose sight of the gospel itself, the truth that God knows what you need to survive - the broken body and spilled blood of Jesus."
"Why do we never ask why it might be better to live in a one-bedroom apartment or a trailer park than to outsource the rearing of one's children? It's because the American way of life seems so normal to us that such things do not even seem to be options at all."

The reason Satan still uses the same methods as he did back then is that they still work. Left to our own devices, we will succumb to his schemes. But Jesus is triumphant. I've always been hasty in reading the account of his temptation because I know Jesus won't sin. It's a given. But what I learned from Russell Moore is that his triumph over Satan - not just in his resurrection, but in resisting temptation, gives us hope.

"We overcome temptation the same way He did, by trusting in our Father and hearing his voice."
"God's testing and Satan's tempting may coincide in the same event, but they are radically different, with different motives and different intended outcomes."
"The world around you often defines you in terms of what you want... If you want to have sex, then that's your 'need' and you must 'be true to yourself.' But you do not live by bread alone. You are not what you want... You are who you are. And that's defined by the Word of God."
"The Spirit of Christ compels us toward contentment. We are able to be free from the love of money when we recognize our identity and our inheritance in Christ and cling to the promise, 'I will never leave you or forsake you.' (Heb 13:5)."
"(Jesus) was willing to trust God's Word and to be seen to be wrong in the meantime."
"If you are in Christ, God will not allow you to enter his reign with a kingdom-grasping pride. You will be stripped of every haughty look, every personal empire, in order that you may enter as a little child, looking for a Father's inheritance."
"One of the first ways you can tell you are moving beyond temptation into a pattern of sin is if you find yourself in a time of prayerlessness. That isn't just a' spiritual maturity issue' - it's a gospel issue"
"Stop seeing yourself as an isolated individual, and start seeing yourself as the gospel does, as part of a head/body unity between Christ and his church... If you are in Christ, your desires will line up with his eventually. Count on it"
"As you read Scripture, ask God to discern your heart and to discipline you."

If, like me, you just read this book and move on to other things you will only find it interesting. If, like I should have done, you put it down and pray for grace at the moments that you identify your struggles, you will be changed. Revisiting the book for this post has made it clear to me that that's something I need to do. I hope you will, too.

Tuesday, August 21

July Books: This Momentary Marriage by John Piper

This book is one of those that you'll underline and highlight to death - assuming you're like me and you have a lot to learn about being a good spouse.

One of the things that I love about John Piper is that he publishes his books online for free. So if you're interested in reading this one and okay with not holding it in your hand, click here for the PDF.

I love that this book both glorifies marriage by demonstrating that it is a holy calling and humbles it by showing that it's a fleeting shadow of things to come.

"The highest meaning and the most ultimate purpose of marriage is to put the covenant relationship of Christ and his church on display. That is why marriage exists. If you are married, that is why you are married. If you hope to be, that should be your dream."

Marriage is wonderful, but it's not essential to following Christ faithfully. Piper writes an excellent chapter on God-glorifying singleness and constantly warns his married readers not to think of themselves as better than their single friends:
"Romance, sex, and childbearing are temporary gifts of God. They are not part of the next life. And they are not guaranteed even for this life. They are one possible path through the narrow way to Paradise."

Having experienced for myself and from others how beautiful it is to be part of a an unconditional marriage covenant it makes me sad that most people in our culture think of marriage as a conditional contract instead. While I've known all my life that God requires us to be faithful to our spouses, I don't think I quite understood the lavish grace that God intends us to extend to them until I read these words from Piper:

"As the Lord counts you righteous in Christ, though you are not righteous in actual behavior and attitude, so count your spouse righteous in Christ, though he or she is not righteous... Marriage is meant to be a unique matrix for this display of God's grace." 

I've known for a long time that God intends marriage to make us holy through constant accountability and responsibility to someone else, among other things. But I think I had forgotten that most of that sanctification comes from extending extravagant, Christ-like, forgetful grace to the other over and over again.

"If we are to return good for evil in general, how much more in marriage." 

To me, this is the quote that most completely summarizes the book:

"Keeping covenant with our spouse is as important as telling the truth about God's covenant with us in Jesus Christ. Marriage is not mainly about being or staying in love. It's mainly about telling the truth with our lives. It's about portraying something true about Jesus Christ and the way he relates to his people. It is about showing in real life the glory of the gospel."

And I also love this quote about parenting:

"The chief task of parenting is to know God for who He is in his many attributes - especially as he has revealed himself in the person of Jesus and his cross - and then to live in such a way with our children that we help them know this multifaceted God. And, of course, that will involve directing them always to the infallible portrait of God in the Bible... His design is that children grow up watching Christ love the church and watching the church delight in Christ."

If you want to watch a video with a beautiful, heartbreaking, God-glorifying application of the principles in this book, click here. Go ahead and get a box of Kleenex ready. And your sleeve.

I hope you'll read this book and be humbled, encouraged, and instructed as I was.

Sunday, August 19

July Books: Knowing God by J.I. Packer

I could write a book on this book. I don't want to do that. I've never read a book so rich in biblical doctrine and so practically applied. So here's a bullet-point summary of what I learned.

Things I didn't know or had misconceptions about:
  • There are places in the Bible where Jesus displays a lack of knowledge, indicating that he drew on his omniscience intermittently - not that his power was reduced, but restrained. I've never seriously pondered this on my own, but reading it made me realize I'd always felt uncomfortable with those texts!
  • Packer spends a chapter equating icons and images (including crucifixes and pictures of Christ) with idolatry. I'm not sure that I'm totally tracking on that one, especially with how far he draws his boundaries on it, but it's something to ponder.
  • Although all people are made in God's image not everyone is a child of God: only the elect are. I've believed that for a while, but not applied it to the "we're all God's children" ideas so prevalent in pop culture. 
    • I know I've opened a big can of Calvinist worms here, which I don't want to debate right here. But to read more about what I believe on this subject check out this site.
  • Adoption as sons of God is the highest privilege given to believers. Justification (being made right with God) is just the beginning of God's special grace to us.
  • In the context of adoption, The Sermon on the Mount should be read as a family code of conduct like moral instruction from parent to child.

Areas of muddy understanding or forgetfulness:
  • The Holy Spirit is Jesus' agent among us. We should focus on His main ministry: giving peace, joy, hope, etc. more than His extraordinary and sporadic ministry: giving gifts like healing or tongues. Also, one of his most important roles is deepening our filial relationship to our Father.
  • The four main analogies for knowing God are son/father, wife/husband, subject/king, and sheep/shepherd.
  • I learned many details about the persons and relationships of the Trinity.
  • I've never enjoyed wisdom literature and all the exhortations to wisdom in the Bible, but the chapters on wisdom put me in my place. Wisdom is seriously important to God!
    • Note: I read this right before I  read "Just Do Something," which really put this talk about wisdom to work.
  • Being made in the image of God means that we are made to display his communicated attributes (attributes God shares with us, like wisdom). Redemption means that this is possible even after sin.
  • Our works provide an index of what's in our hearts - that's why we'll be judged according to them.
  • God's wrath simply confirms/executes judgements sinners have already made on themselves through their choices. Another can of worms. I know. : )
  • God shows his common grace to all (blessings) and special grace to some (salvation). His generosity is how we experience the rest of his attributes.
  • God's threefold purpose: judgement/rule, redemption/choose people, be loved/glorified.
  • God's righteous jealousy for us demands that we be zealous for him.
  • The authority, affection, fellowship, and honor God gives to Jesus are extended to us in adoption.
I usually prefer to write in actual paragraphs, but in this case it's definitely best that I stuck to bullet points.  

I highly recommend this book. I plan to reread it in the future to remind myself of God's goodness, wisdom, and truth. Thanks for stopping by!

Saturday, August 18

July Books: Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung

I read some fantastic books last month. Fantastic. The kind of books that shift around ideas in your mind so that they'll never go back to where they were before.

Because these books were so great, I wanted to record my thoughts on them so that I can look back at them in case I find myself forgetting. When I read novels I'll probably just write a few paragraphs, but when I read books for spiritual growth I'll probably write much more. Although I know these posts may not be the most fascinating for everyone, I think they'll be really helpful for me. If I can be disciplined in doing it, that is. You might notice that we're already a few weeks into August. Oh well...

Just Do Something - A Liberating Approach to Finding God's Will

I love this little book. I wish I'd read it 10 years ago, but it hadn't been written yet.

It's full of tough love - maybe a little tougher than some like. Its purpose is to encourage people to make wise, God-honoring decisions in the many situations where they don't have crystal clear direction from above. DeYoung's intent is not to discourage us from seeking God's will, but the opposite. He teaches that many of the attitudes Christians employ in making decisions demonstrate a lack of faith and ignorance of scripture.

He interprets the following familiar verse, which concludes Jesus' teaching on worry and God's provision, to mean that those who are seeking after the things of God (who know the scriptures, submit to God's authority, and seek to please Him with their lives) will make decisions that honor Him. And "all these things" - non-moral decisions like where to live, whether to go on that mission trip, or what to eat for lunch today, will be added unto them. In other words, God isn't witholding his will and waiting for us to mess up. It is his will that we ask for wisdom and trust Him along the way.

33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Matthew 6:33

I think most believers would benefit from reading this book, but especially two types of people: those who fear missing God's will and those who feel like they receive less spiritual guidance than their friends.

The first type of person describes most of the Christians I knew in college. And myself for my freshman year at least. We tried every major, every campus ministry, and every new Christian fad just in case God's will was hiding behind it like a door on a game show. Trying out new ways of living is part of growing up, but after four (or five, six, seven...) years, hopping from one job, church, location, or relationship to another becomes frightening rather than fun. And at some point you realize that a significant portion of life has passed you by while you were trying to find God's supposedly elusive will. Whether it's fear of working in the wrong field, marrying the wrong person, or generally missing God's best for your life, fear of taking the wrong steps can keep us from maturing in many aspects of our lives. I love the following quotes on relationships and church involvement. If only this were required reading for college freshmen...

"Guys, if you like a girl and you're both Christians and your friends and family aren't alarmed and she actually likes you back, you should probably get married." p 106

"My fear is that of all the choices people face today, the one they rarely consider is 'How can I serve most effectively and fruitfully in the local church?' I wonder if the abundance of opportunities to explore today is doing less to help make well-rounded disciples of Christ and more to help Christians to avoid long-term responsibility and have less long-term impact." p 36

Chances are, if you were friends with a lot of the first type of people I described you've at least felt like the second one. In high school and college my friends were always feeling led to do this or that. I often was, too. I can recall times when the Spirit led me to buy a meal for a homeless person or to become better friends with someone I didn't know well. But in the big decisions, like where to go to college, I heard nothing but silence. I remember the guilt I felt when friend after friend talked about how they wanted to go to one college, but felt led to go to another. All I could think was, "I want to go to UGA, so surely that's not God's will." Wrong! I'm so glad God made me to love downtown Athens and Georgia football and the palpable energy of Sanford Avenue on a fall afternoon. And I'm thankful that I didn't swerve from my inclinations. Most of all, I'm thankful that I met a man there that I married without any thunderbolt direction from the Lord. That man isn't tossed about by fads or feelings, but consistently perseveres in his preparations to fulfill a decision He made in high school - to take the gospel of Jesus where it's never been heard. The biggest decisions of our lives have been determined by our own wisdom (sought from the Lord) and confirmed by God's grace along the way.

“We walk into the future in God-glorifying confidence, not because the future is known to us but because it is known to God. And that's all we need to know. Worry about the future is not simply a character tic, it is the sin of unbelief, an indication that our hearts are not resting in the promises of God.” p 48
I could write much more about this book, but instead I'll close out this post with a few more of my favorite quotes from DeYoung:

"We need the firm reminder that many of us expect too much out of life. We’ve assumed that we’ll experience heaven on earth, and then we get disappointed when earth seems so unheavenly... When every experience and situation must be rewarding and put us on the road to complete fulfillment, then suddenly the decisions about where we live, what house we buy, what dorm we live in, and whether we go with tile or laminate take on weighty significance." p 32

"God promises to work all things together for our good that we might be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:28). And the degree to which this sounds like a lame promise is the degree to which we prefer the stones and scorpions of this world to the true bread from heaven (Matt 7:9-11)…He promises to make us loving, pure, and holy in Christ. In short, God’s will is that you and I get happy and holy in Jesus." p 61

I think you should go read this book! It might be God's will for you. : )

Thursday, August 16

Cinderblock Garden: Assembly and Planting

Hi, friends! If you're reading this post and would like to see an update from my Summer 2013 garden, click here!

Also, learn about this project in the planning stages in this post.

Once I planned my garden and gathered my materials things started moving quickly!

Assembling the Garden

One of the great things about gardening in raised beds is the lack of weeding, tilling, and soil testing typically necessary before getting started. The hardest part of constructing this garden was lugging all the materials from the car to the back yard, and Michael did most of that.

Since I wanted a 4'x16' space on the middle I used 32 cinder blocks and arranged them like so:

These blocks are heavier than they look! We started by just laying them out in what looked like a perfect rectangle, but our lines were way too far apart at the end. I would recommend using a tape measure as a guide while you lay out your blocks because adjusting them after you've placed them is quite a workout for the back.

With the blocks in place, I laid newspaper in the center to prevent grass from growing up through the dirt. I wish I had made this layer a bit thicker than the 2-3 pages I used since I've found a few blades of grass poking up two weeks later.

Then, we filled the bed with a mixture of topsoil, peat moss, and cow manure. I found a fantastic website with a calculator to determine how much of each component I needed to fill my bed. Unfortunately I lost the link, but the basic guideline is to use 60% topsoil, 30% compost or manure, and 10% peat moss or vermiculite.

I didn't fill up the cinderblocks until a few days after I'd planted the veggies since I was waiting for my herb seeds to come in the mail and I was running low on dirt ingredients. I actually used potting soil for this rather than buying extra dirt mix. This cost me some extra money, but saved me an extra trip to Lowes.

Overall, this project took about a week since I could only bring the materials home one carload at a time. If we'd had a truck we probably could have finished it in an afternoon.


Most people who use square foot gardening techniques use some type of grid to mark off the squares. When I was using my old kiddie pool garden Michael used fishing line to make a grid for me. But my new cinderblocks are too hard to easily affix anything to the sides. For that reason, we just used a tape measure to figure out the boundaries of our squares while planting. Now that my seeds are in the ground, I can't tell the exact perimeter of the squares, but I did mark the end of each row with a large popsicle stick displaying the name of its contents.

These came from the craft store
They've faded a bit, but they were dirt cheap!

In my last post I talked about planning which veggies to plant in each square. With my plan in front of me and Michael helping me line everything up, planting the seeds was a breeze. Even though the spacing information won't be consistent with SFG, be sure to check the seed packs for planting depth.

With my veggies planted in the center of the bed, I put herb and flower seeds in the holes of the cinderblocks. I still can't believe what a great deal I got on my assortment of herb seeds from Amazon!

Once my seeds were in the ground, I watered them well and waited for them to sprout.

Here's the grand tally of what I've planted
Heirloom Brandywine tomatoes: 2
Roma tomatoes : 4
Winter squash (variety pack): 4
Yellow squash: 7
Zucchini: 1
Roma bush beans (snap beans): 72
Collard greens: 16
Spinach: 36 (more to come)
Carrots: 48 (more to come)

Italian parsley

Garlic chives

Nasturtiums - not the right time to plant, but I had the seeds so I decided to try them and replace them with marigolds if they don't work

Two and a half weeks later, here it is!

Baby beans

As you can see, the beans sprouted quickly. I've already planted my third and fourth rows of beans, so soon I'll have even more little green shoots.

Yellow squash and zucchini

Winter squash

The squash is growing fast, too. One of my zucchini and two of my winter squash didn't sprout, but that's alright - I've planted new seeds that won't be far behind the others.

Tiny tomato

All six of my tomato plants sprouted! Tomatoes are the prize of most gardens, even if they take a long time to grow and require special care. Since I'm getting started late in the season for tomatoes I was excited that they all came up on the first try!

I'm still waiting to see any growth from my collards, spinach, carrots, and herbs. These are typically slower starting crops that do well in cooler weather, so I'm not in a hurry to see them grow. I've got a few tiny sprouts from my basil and sage, but the perimeter of my garden is looking pretty sparse. Hopefully it'll fill out soon.

So, that's it! I'll be sure to give some updates as the season progresses!

Wednesday, August 15

Cinderblock Garden: Planning

Hi, friends! If you're reading this post and would like to see an update from my Summer 2013 garden, click here!

Also, to read about the assembly and planting stages of this project, check out this post.

Folks who knew me in Augusta are probably familiar with my kiddie pool garden. This makeshift veggie patch was wonderful for our old rental house. It left minimal damage to the yard, required only a smallish financial investment, and was low maintenance. But when we started dreaming about our new home I was ready to leave the kiddie pool behind.

The kiddie pool at its prime

I pictured rows and rows of produce plentiful enough to fill our plates in summer and fall. But all of the houses we looked at in the Memphis area had modest yards, and the house we fell in love with has one of the smallest! I know now that this is a good thing considering Michael's schedule, which will sometimes require him to choose between mowing and sleep. But it has caused me to rethink my dream garden. Here are a few things to consider when planning your own veggie patch.

Type of Garden

The kiddie pool was simply a raised bed that I planted using the square foot gardening method, only the "squares" along the edge were oddly shaped. Since I knew I could get a lot of produce out of a small space using this method (100 tomatoes last year from four squares!), I decided to stick with it for my new raised bed.

Measuring squares for the old kiddie pool

I was researching how to build raised beds from wood when I found this post that mentioned cinder block gardens. Perfect! I could easily assemble it without Michael's help (although he did help), I could save valuable square footage by planting herbs along the outside of the bed, and I could fit cinder blocks in my little Honda much better than long planks of wood.

**Note: I considered using wood pallets to build beds, but there are a lot of articles floating around the internet about the risks of using wood of unknown origin, especially chemically treated, to grow veggies. I might try them for flower beds, though.

I wound up needing much more dirt than this!

Materials and Cost

The week of garden construction, I went to Lowes every day after work and got my trunk loaded to capacity with cinder blocks, peat moss, topsoil, and cow manure. I already had most of my veggie seeds leftover from last year, but bought a few extras and ordered my herb seeds from Amazon. By using cinder blocks instead of pricy wood and using seeds instead of plants, I feel like this is shaping up to be a very cost effective garden. I could have saved a little more if I'd bought more topsoil and cow manure for the dirt mixture. I didn't have enough to fill the cinder block holes so I used potting soil, which is more expensive. Keep in mind that the biggest cost is dirt, so the larger your bed, the more expensive it will be. My 16'x4'x8" bed required almost a ton of dirt!!

Here's the cost breakdown:
32 cinder blocks (8x8x16) x $1.20 ea = $38.40
35 bags topsoil (1 cu ft) x $1.25 ea = $43.75
2 cubes (3 cu ft) peat moss x $9.74 = $19.48 - discount for damaged bag = $14.94
6 bags (50 lb) cow manure x $4.77 = $28.62
3 bags (32 quart) potting soil x  $6.88 = $20.64
Newspaper - free (gathered free local publications at Kroger)
Seeds - mostly leftover from last year; herbs were free w/ Amazon rewards points
Total Cost: $146.35 - including leftover seeds and potting soil

Topsoil is cheap, but requires additional nutrients

I got a big discount thanks to the hole in the bag!

Considering I probably spend at least $25/year on herbs alone I think I'll easily recoup my investment over the next several years.

Planting Time

You may be thinking I'm crazy to plant a garden in the extreme heat of early August, but this helpful website confirmed that its the right time to plant seeds for a fall harvest in Memphis. I'll water the garden daily with a sprinkler until the heat calms down a bit.

If you want to be fancy you can start your seeds indoors and transplant to the garden later, but our cat loves to chew on plants, so that's out of the question for us. I also think it's a lot simpler to sow seeds directly. They're easier to water that way and if something doesn't sprout I can always plant another seed or buy a plant later.

Depending on what types of veggies you choose you may want to sow some of your seeds a few weeks apart for a continual harvest. For instance, I planted only half of my carrots, spinach, and beans and will plant more in a few weeks. Also, consider that some plants, like bush beans, have a short harvest time, which may allow you to plant something else in those spots when they finish. I plan to plant more spinach once my bean squares are empty.

Plant Selection and Placement

One of the most important parts of planning is to think about the types of veggies you like to eat and how many plants you'll need to produce a good yield. I've learned that I have to grow a ton of bean plants in order to eat more than five beans at a time, but one cherry tomato plant will produce more than we can hope to eat before they spoil.

Once I selected my veggies and decided roughly how many I wanted, I planned where they would go. The easiest way for me to do this is to draw a diagram of the garden and divide it into one-foot squares. If you're looking for something a little more tech-savvy and have very cool drag-and-drop garden planners with guides for how many seeds to plant per square. Something important to remember is that the tallest plants in your garden should go to the north so they don't shade other plants too much. I planned my plants tall to short.

Planning was the hardest and most important part of the process. I'll post again soon with details about setting up and planting my cinder block garden. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, July 29

Scripture Wall Art From Pallets

I love the idea of displaying scripture prominently throughout the home. So one of my goals for our new house is to incorporate God's Word somehow in each room.

This passage from Deuteronomy has become a personal challenge for me to value scripture as a central part of my life, not just inwardly, but outwardly as well:
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Deuteronomy 6:6-9 
 Moving into a new house prompted me to search the home decor boards on Pinterest with compulsive intensity. One of my favorite ideas by far was this one, a sign made from found industrial pallets. I loved it. I had to have it. But where in the world would I find a pallet?

To my surprise, within a week of moving to Southaven, MS I acquired five wooden pallets! The first two were propped next to a dumpster at the storage facility we went to for a Craigslist purchase. The others were rescued from construction dumpsters at several of the new lots in our neighborhood. It was a great way to identify ourselves as weird neighbors right off the bat. : )

The pallet that would become art

As it turns out, pallets are nasty boogers to take apart. I'd imagined myself tearing them apart, but when it came down to it I couldn't even carry the stupid things! It turned into what we call a "boy job" in the Vaughan household. We had another project in mind (more on that later), so Michael decided to take apart several pallets at once. He started out using the claw end of a hammer, but found that it was hard to get the planks to budge, and when they did, they typically broke. No good. But he discovered that a thin crow bar did the trick really well. Even so, it was really hard and tedious work.

What a handy husband!

Pallets: more fragile than they look

Beware of rusty nails!

Once the pallets were taken apart I painted the pieces with gray paint I found for cheap on the mess-up rack at Lowes. Score!! Unless you're planning to distress your wood like they did in my inspiration photo it's important to get paint in all the nooks and crannies of your planks.

This is where the tricky part came in. Lots of the tutorials I've seen for similar projects involve fancy cutting machines like Cricuts, which I don't have. The tutorial that went with my inspiration photo said to cut the words out of printer paper by hand, paint over them, and peel them off. I tried cutting out words for about a minute and the results were pretty pathetic! That lady must have super crafting powers!

I was getting desperate for a solution when I found this tutorial for tracing words on wood signs using carbon paper. Perfect! This method probably works much better on a smooth surface, but it worked fine on my gnarly wood. Things started moving quickly at this point:

1. I printed my words. I used the same font as my inspiration tutorial - Rage Italic, and I think I used size 120? It was big. I printed the words in gray so I'd be able to see where I'd traced over them. I also printed each line at the top of a page and spaced words far apart so that it would be easier to line them up evenly.

2. I cut off the excess paper beneath the words and arranged them on the planks. Be sure to divide phrases so that they make sense and look evenly spaced. Some lines will be spaced farther apart than others. Having each of the words equidistant from the top of the page made it easy to keep them straight. Once I was happy with the arrangement I used blue painter's tape to keep it in place.

3. I slid a piece of carbon paper under the printer paper and used a ballpoint pen to trace over the words. In some cases just outlining the word was sufficient, but in other cases, especially on rough patches of wood, it was necessary to fill them in entirely. The carbon paper leaves a faint black imprint anywhere you press sharply on it. I was concerned that the weight of my hand would leave black blotches underneath, but it didn't.

I got mine from Office Depot


Turn the carbon paper black-side-down

Very faint outline - but enough to do the trick

4. Once the words were all traced I used a small paintbrush to paint in the letters. I used the cream colored paint the builders used for trim throughout our house. My friend Amelia came over to help me out with this, but I forgot to take pictures of her. Instead I just have pictures of wood and paint. : /

I used the traced outlines and the printed words as guides

5. After the paint was dry Michael helped me line up the planks on the backing pieces and nailed them down. I dabbed a little gray paint over each of the nails so they weren't shiny anymore and we were done!


In its new home by the fireplace

I absolutely love it! I love the size, the colors, and the perfect amount of imperfection. But most of all I love having such a prominent reminder of the richness of God's love to us in the form of adoption through Jesus. Let me know if you have creative ideas for displaying more scripture in other parts of my home.

Thanks for stopping by! Be on the lookout for more successful Pinterest projects in the next few weeks!