I always pull from the middle of a skein. The "limp noodle of yarn" effect does get a little irritating sometimes, but it seems inefficient to spend all that time balling yarn. I've known people who will use a 2- or 3-liter soda bottle; they cut the bottom off and feed the yarn through the cap end, that way the skein doesn't get crushed when the center is gone. I do ball up my yarn when it comes in a wad or a rope. It seems like the fancier the yarn you get, the more likely it is to get tangled when you're trying to convert it from packaged-for-sale to balled-for-use!
I used to make a bunch of ad hoc crochet things for people: cup cozies, radio/iPod holders (with elastic strap to use when jogging), art supplies cases, and a Native American fellow asked me to make a holder with some pretty intricate color patterns for one of his ceremonial feathers. I think that making things without a pattern, or using a different pattern as a rough guide, is a lot more rewarding than following a pattern step-by-step. Mind you, though, I always write down all the steps for my made-up stuff for the next time I need one!
Just a simple little bee from a pattern I found on a Red Heart skein. It was pretty quick and easy, but I haven't done any crocheting for a while so it was a good project get the rust out of my fingers!