Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Science of Animal Cleaning

In a previous post I discussed the science of (stuffed) animal sorting for our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. Once the sorting task has been completed it's time to move on to the task of dealing with the pile of animals that need to be cleaned and refurbished. Up until last year I only spot-cleaned my dolls and animals. That meant that any that had more than a small spot of dirt were discarded and that was a shame.

Then last year I went to a yard sale that had a blanket out on the lawn that was covered with nice Beanie Babies but they were all quite dirty and had a musty smell to them. The seller said I could have whatever I wanted for free and at first I was going to decline but then I got adventurous and decided to try to breathe new life into them. So I took them home, ripped off their hang tags, and threw them all into the washer. When they came out I set each of them carefully on top of the washer and dryer to air dry and I was amazed at the results. Those bedraggled beanies looked and smelled pristine again. No longer would I pass up soiled animals. A recycler was born.

I'm pretty low-key about my cleaning methods. Some of my team members use lingerie bags to contain their animals before they put them into the washer. Some are careful to use the delicate cycle. Me? I just toss them into the washer on the regular cycle and hope for the best. A few times I've had an animal or doll spill its guts into the washer, leaving it full of plastic pellets, but they aren't that hard to clean up. I do look the animals over before I toss them into the washer and use a small, stiff brush to rub detergent into stubborn spots.

Ever since my children were small I've kept a bottle of hairspray in my laundry room. If a doll or animal has marker or pen marks on it, I know I can spray it with some hairspray before rubbing detergent into it and the ink will then generally disappear during the wash cycle. If a doll's face has paint or another stubborn mark I will often try using a bit of nail polish remover on the spot.

Another trick for stubborn spots--either on the body of the doll or on the face is to use a solution of bleach and water (about half and half) to soak on the spot. This doll had a brown stain on her head but after standing her on her head in a bowl of bleach solution she looked new again.

This sweet rag doll had brown stains on her feet that I thought was going to make her unusable. Even washing wouldn't remove them. But, I tried the bleach and voila--she looks great and will be the perfect huggable companion.

Same thing for Dora here whose white shoes didn't pass muster until they were subjected to the bleach treatment--

Just a few little remedies can make many dolls or animals look new. If they have fuzz or pet hair on them that washing won't remove, sometimes the stickiness of using a ring of packing tape on my hand will lift it off. Also, the small tags on animals may look worn and are better carefully cut off. Sometimes parts of the clothing that may be frayed can be trimmed off or even removed. Occasionally the black plastic eyes on a toy like Cookie Monster will be scratched and can be revitalized with a bit of permanent black marker.

Hair is another thing. I've spent many an hour combing out a doll's rooted hair. If the ends look frizzy after combing you can trim them. Another Operation Christmas Child volunteer also gave me the idea of using a spritz of a solution of half rubbing alcohol and half water. When sprayed on the hair it will give it a like-new sheen. Another volunteer also gave me the hint of using Clearasil (or a cheap substitute) on stains on plastic doll or animals faces that you can't remove. She said to put a dab of the product on the stain and leave it in a sunny window for a few days before washing it off. I haven't actually tried this but one of these days I'll have to do that. Here's the result of a few TV shows' worth of hair combing.

With just a little extra time I can 'rescue' beautiful dolls and animals so they look brand new. Many of the animals I get would be worth $15.00 or more if purchased in a store. Instead they are often donated to me or purchased for 25 cents or less each. Knowing how they will be loved by children who receive them in their Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes--children who may have never owned anything of their own and may have been praying for just such a gift--well, that makes it worth that little bit of extra effort.

It's another fun challenge and I'm getting it down to a science.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Few Leadership Thoughts

In the past few days I've been doing a lot of thinking about leadership. One of the main things I've been thinking is how hard it is to lead--even to lead poorly is desperately hard. No matter where you lead--in your family, your work, your church or organization--everything that goes well is credited to those you lead and everything that goes wrong is your fault.

When I expressed this to my husband he said, "Well, the failures may not be your fault but they're always your responsibility." It seems to me, though, that all the leadership training I've done makes it sound like if you could just somehow perfect your leadership abilities everything would run great--the team would be productive and cohesive and the results would be quality.

I started to wonder if this was really accurate....and then I thought of Jesus. He poured his life into twelve guys for three years. He lived with them and taught them both by word and by perfect example. Since Jesus was divine and perfect there could have been no failure in his leadership.

Yet, in the end, when He needed them most, they all betrayed or denied or deserted Him. They took off and hid. It looked like all those years of focused leadership meant nothing.

Of course, that wasn't the end of their story. But, still...that's enough to prove to me that even perfect leadership doesn't guarantee perfect results. In fact as long as leadership involves people--as both leaders and followers--we're pretty much guaranteed not to have perfect results.

So maybe I should lower my standards for myself and for those on my team. Maybe I can apologize for my failures and move on. Maybe I can learn to give grace for my shortcomings and those of others and just, by God's grace, try again.

And be ready for failure when it comes.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Sometimes I'm such a wimp. Everything's been going so well in my Operation Christmas Child world lately. The team is growing together and working together and God is blessing at every turn.

But when I least expect it that's when the struggles come sometimes. A series of events led me to some conversations with leaders at the church I attend that brought some clarification to the church's philosophy of ministry. The bottom line is that they don't have the staff to support a myriad of ministries so the philosophy is that the church staff will help a volunteer to get a ministry started but then it's up to the volunteer to build a team to sustain that ministry. I haven't done that.

I haven't been able to figure out how to build the Northwestern PA Operation Christmas Child team to promote the project in three counties and also build a team at the church I attend to carry the project there. Another staff member is going to meet with me on Monday to give me some direction on how to build a team but I'm not sure what good that will do. I've had quite a lot of training through Operation Christmas Child about how to recruit, select, equip, and lead a team. Despite all that training I struggle so much with leading the area team. I can't figure out how I can possibly manage to lead another.

So I'm struggling.

And when I'm struggling Satan takes the opportunity to whisper his lies into my life, "No one cares. You're all alone."

So I'm shouting truth back. I'm holding on to Hebrews 13:5 that reminds me of God's promise that He will never forsake me. I sat this evening on the living room floor and played Michael Card's song based on Hebrews 13:5 over and over again, "Never will I leave you. That's something I'll never do."

I'm reminded of the devotion that my OCC regional director, Leigh Fisher, shared with us a month or so ago. It talked about the shield of faith and how the Roman soldier's shield was a huge door-sized shield that protected the soldier's entire body. I am picturing that shield tonight and I'm holding onto the promises of God.

Three months from tomorrow is the scheduled date for our Operation Christmas Child packing party at Grace Church. I look at this picture of cartons of boxes from last year's packing party and I know that three months from tomorrow there will be cartons stacked up in a truck again.

God has a plan for this. He knows leadership is not my forte and His strength is made perfect in my weakness. I admit to some feelings of dread as I read Randy Alcorn's view of heaven as a place where those who have been "faithful in little" on earth will be given more responsibility to serve in heaven. That doesn't sound like reward to me. But heaven, like earth, will not be about me but about Him. He has a plan for that, too.

Despite this week's struggles, three months from now I know He will have a plan for those cartons. Maybe it will be at a different church or a different town entirely--who knows? Maybe He will bring forth some people at the church I attend now who will own the leadership of the project and keep it going.

I don't know any of that.

So I return to what I do know--I am not alone. He will never leave me.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Science of Animal Sorting

Okay, so I guess the sorting of stuffed animals for our Operation Christmas Child shoebox packing party isn't exactly rocket science but there is a sort of science to it. You know we've been praying for stuffed animals and God has been answering those prayers--1508 animals came into our home last week alone! And every one had to be checked and sorted and stored.

when my husband came home on Saturday afternoon after God blessed me with 376 animals at the morning yard sales and saw the living room filled with animals (again)...the normally longsuffering guy said, "This place is a mess!" I was immediately convicted of the need to clear out some living space for us, so I stepped up the sorting procedure and got the animals stashed into the spare bedrooms as quickly as possible. This is what our spare beds look like right now.

But there's a process to getting those animals into the garbage bags for storage. I pull each animal from the bag, inspect it and sniff it. If it looks and smells new, then it gets thrown into the appropriate pile--really girlie ones in the "Girls" pile and those suitable for either a boy or girl in the "Boy/either" pile.

Any animals that don't pass the 'sniff and search' test go into a pile to be washed. Later I'll scrub their spots with detergent and throw them into the washer. If they don't come out looking new they get passed on to a local mission thrift shop. Lots of people buy them for their dogs to play with so they won't be filling up a land fill.

Those aren't the only piles, though. Some look like they should be given to younger children, so they go into the "2-4 Girls" or "2-4 Boys" piles. And then there's a pile for the ones that aren't suitable for our packing party's specialized boxes and they're put in a pile to be saved for the Patriotic Pig Packing Party in October. Animals that are a little bit oversized go into another pile also.

Once the initial sorting is completed they are put into garbage bags--100 per bag. I like to use Force Flex garbage bags because they don't tear as easily. I saved most of the bags I used last year to use again this year. The 'boys/either' ones are marked with a blue Post-It note and the 'girls' ones with a pink Post-It. If a bag is in process and doesn't have 100 animals in it yet I keep a Post-It note on top of the animals with the number the bag contains. Each time I add more I update the number until I have 100 in it and can close it up.

I use orange Post-Its to mark the ones for 2-4 year olds and usually only put 50 of those in each bag because those animals are usually on the larger side. I also put one or two new fabric softener sheets in the middle of each bag as I put the animals in and that helps them to stay fresh smelling.

Now the bags are stored in my house until I can get them to our storage container. I fill the container with boxes of other items up to about three-fourths of the height of the container and then put the bags of animals on top of the base of boxes. I don't want to pile too many on top of each other so they don't get crushed.

Now the only thing left is to deal with the piles of animals that need to be washed. Stay tuned for the next post when we'll explore the science of animal cleaning.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

My Life's So Bright I Have To Wear A Visor

Those of you who've followed my blog may remember how I went back and forth trying to decide whether to buy more of these visors for our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. With your help, I made the decision to get two more pallets and Tom, the seller and warehouse owner, was nice enough to hold them for me for several months until I could make payment and free up storage space.

I've been praying that God would work out the logistics of getting them and I made the final payment last week and told the seller I'd be home this Monday and could receive the shipment any time after that. I didn't hear anything about shipping arrangements, though.

On Monday my husband, who almost never comes home in the middle of the day, walked in the door at around 1:00 pm just as the phone rang. The call was from the truck driver who was minutes away from delivering the visors to Grace Church. My hero (husband) was able to go with me to get them unloaded and I even took the time to load my car with 21 garbage bags full of stuffed animals to store on top of the cartons of visors.

We got all 40 cases (1360 lbs) unloaded and managed to make room for them. The visors are good quality, nice and sturdy and in various colors. The seller had also included three large boxes containing 1000 pieces of nice costume jewelry as a donation for our shoeboxes. This was a marvelous answer to prayer and reminded me again that God cares about every detail of this project.

We now have over 15,500 clothing items for our packing party boxes and because God provided such great deals this year their average cost was just .38 each. Last year the clothing item average was .57 each so that represents a savings of almost $3000 over last year. When you're buying large quantities a little saved on each item can really add up.

Did I mention that God is really pouring in the stuffed animals this month? I processed almost 500 yesterday and got another 5 garbage bags full today. We're going to outgrow the ark if we don't get the candy out of there pretty soon.

Things are looking pretty bright in my OCC world right now, but that's okay 'cause I have plenty of visors.