I’m Strung Out!

Traditions…so many of my favorites center around Christmas. Every year, for as long as I can remember, we’ve strung popcorn for the Christmas tree. We go to the tree farm, cut our tree, bring it home, get it straightened in the base and Don puts on the lights while the kids and I string popcorn. Only then, is the tree ready for ornaments. When the kids were both young enough to do my bidding, it went pretty fast. We’d sit on the living room floor, clustered around the roaster pan overflowing with day-old popcorn (it strings easier if it isn’t fresh) and watch television while we created foot after foot of the stuff.

Then Stephen had the nerve to graduate high school, go to college, and proceed to get a life. That left me with Liz. Having a 9-year gap between the kids finally served me well. She had plenty of popcorn-stringing years left in her! Alas, I grew comfortable in the routine, ignoring the signs that a popcorn-stringing apocalypse was barreling down on me, one tree at a time. It finally hit in ’13, when Liz left for college.

Stringing popcorn isn’t as much fun when you do it all by your lonesome (I love him, but Don isn’t popcorn-stringing material). But I did it…once.

paper bead garland This year, faced with a lifetime of lonely stringing, I looked for a way out.The tree stood, naked in its base, for over a week, while I considered my options. It wasn’t as easy as you might think, because in our house, the only thing not handmade on the tree are the lights (and if I could figure out some way to make my own so they actually worked for more than a year or two, trust me, I would spend whatever time it took to wire those babies!). So, the garland had to be handmade, or else I had to break tradition.

I have two part-time jobs and each of them requires me to wear an ID badge. Months ago, I rolled paper beads using magazine pages and some leftover scrapbook paper, and strung them to make two lanyards to hold the badges. I keep the lanyards hanging on my rear-view mirror, so that the proper lanyard is always available. I was playing with the dangling bead-strings at a red light when it hit me…I could make a paper-bead garland! I had a small stash of leftover beads to get me started, and how much time could it really take to roll 30-40 feet of beads, seal them, antique them, apply two more coats of sealer, and string, after all?

You’d think that after 57 years of living with myself, I’d know better than to listen to me.

paper bead garland2The answer to the question is days…it took me days to create my one-of-a-kind garland. I’m happy that I invested the time, though. Was there other stuff I could/should have been doing? Probably. Actually, definitely. But the rhythm of rolling bead-after-bead was a bit cathartic. Cutting the papers and being surprised at how pretty a bead turned out was fun, too. Watching corny Christmas movies on Netflix while I rolled them was an added bonus. When was the last time you took time to binge-watch corny Christmas movies? I hope you did it recently because that would mean you are awesome, not over-stressed by a holiday to-do list, and you love Christmas, love in general, and happy endings (like me).

For a few days, I was a bead-making machine. Then, I became a bead-stringing machine…paper bead, two little glass beads, paper bead, two little glass beads, and a red paper bead every 6th bead, to give the garland some continuity. I left a nearly finished, 6-foot piece of garland on the ottoman a couple nights ago. The next morning, beads were scattered everywhere, and the string lay like a wet noodle on the carpet. One of our cats (I suspect Bam-Bam) enjoyed the new cat toy. I persevered. Persevered and watched more corny Christmas movies. (Have you ever noticed that Dean Cain is in a ton of holiday movies? Check out his IMDb…it’s a little freaky. I’m not complaining, though; he’s quite handsome.)

paper bead garland3 As glad as I was to be finished making and stringing nearly 500 beads (and I was pretty glad), I’m 10 times happier that I took the time to make it. The garland is a beautiful compliment to the ornaments. Every moment spent making it was a moment that centered me in what’s important about this time of year; celebrating the birth of Jesus, and spending time with the people who are important to me (okay, some of that might have come from the corny movies, but, whatever!). I felt slowed-down. Once or twice, a little voice inside me screamed “just get in the car and go buy a string of something, throw it on the tree and get on with it!”. In a world filled with opportunities for instant gratification, and where stressing out over Christmas is practically a religion unto itself, I beat back the urge.

I love the simple things.

Peace and merry Christmas!

7 thoughts on “I’m Strung Out!

  1. Nicely done Chris! What beautiful garland and a lovely keepsake to pass down through the generations! What was the length of the 500 bead garland? Sounds like a wonderful project . . . but when did you begin it?

    • Shari, it’s 30-ish feet long. Depending on the size of the bead, it took 16 to 18 beads per foot. I did the math and came up with 500+/- beads; I didn’t count them all!

      I don’t know exactly how long it took…maybe 30-ish hours of actual work? That would be about 4 minutes per bead, if my math is right. I started it a little over a week ago and finished it yesterday. How long it took isn’t important to me, though. At one point I thought about the women of yester-year and how many hours they spent to create things like quilts that were hand-quilted, and embroidered pieces. It was the process (the work) that was important, not the length of time it took. I long for that sense. They had the same 24 hours we do, but it seems so easy to be all hustle-bustle these days and to not give things that take time a piece of our life. I’m glad I gave this project my time…in fact, I’d like to make more, to put away for the kids when they have trees of their own!

      Pretty sure there’s a jar in the studio with your name on it and inside that jar are some beads you made…you’ve already started your garland! Go, Shari! Go, Shari!

    • Robin, they are very simple. Use a paper cutter, or your rotary cutter, mat and ruler to cut long triangles. The width of the finished bead is decided by the fat end of the paper triangle. The thickness of the bead is decided by the weight of the paper (scrapbook paper makes fatter beads than magazine pages, even though I use three magazine pages glued long-end-to-long-end), and the length of the triangle.

      I didn’t do a tutorial because there are plenty of them already online.

      My rolling tool is a bamboo skewer with a slit made down the middle of the pointed end, about an inch long. The fat end of the triangle goes in the slit and then I start rolling. This tool makes it easier to roll than using a toothpick.

      Hope you give it a try!

  2. Now that is perseverance! I love how they are so unique yet uniform. I will try them but not 13′ of them. maybe enough to decorate a wreath. I will make them while watching corny Valentines movies (since its past Christmas).
    Merry Christmas and a Very Happy New Year! Shelly

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