Gift Making Magic!

I have mentioned before that I like to make my own Christmas gifts, both for the sake of economy and for the added thoughtfulness infused into such gifts that cannot be attained by picking up something at the store simply because it was time to buy someone a present. But every year I try to brainstorm good ideas that will be appreciated not just for the effort, but for the thing itself. Because, lets face it, no matter how much effort or thought goes into a gift, it’s not quite the same if the receiver doesn’t actually like it. It has to be the right balance. Often times though, this added proviso of likeability leads to a great deal more effort than I anticipated, as I try to wrap my fingers around what my brain has devised. Of course it doesn’t help that I have a VERY large family of consisting of 30 people outside of my immediate circle of 3 (soon to be 4). It can get a bit overwhelming.

This year, however, I had the benefit of a little helper that Santa let me borrow. It is still surprising to me that my little boy is old enough already to actually help me with projects. I do use the word “help” loosely, of course – he is after all only two. But even if his help wasn’t a time or effort saver, it was most definitely a mood saver during the 16 hours I spent this weekend completing everything. And, as is always the case, he was more of a teacher to me through the whole process than I was to him.  I may have taught him to mix ingredients or add just the right touch, but he taught me patience, understanding, a healthy sense of wonder, and an appreciation for licking all things yummy! And he helped me see all the old classic Christmas cartoons though a fresh set of eyes.  So at the risk of spoiling the surprise (if you expect to receive a gift from me, don’t look too closely or analyze too much), here are a few highlights from our weekend of gift making magic. I obviously can’t include the final result of the gifts we made for the adults, but since there are presumably few children who read my blog, I will share those – parents don’t tell!

Decking the Halls . . . And Our Hearts

When you think “holidays”, what comes to mind? When we were kids we thought of school breaks and Santa, new toys and snow, sugar cookies and cousins and fun! As adults we tend to think about deadlines, budgets, endless shopping lists, travel, chaotic schedules, flu season, and  . . . oh yeah, if we have time, fun. But no matter what the stresses of  the holiday season, there is something magical about that first day when you pull out all the decorations, put on Christmas music for the first time, light some candles and stay in for a quiet evening with the family decking the halls.

It is moments like these that make you forget the cynicism that you’ve built up over the year and believe, even if only for a little while, that everyday life can be enchanting and the mundane can be magical.

Once again, it is the awe and wonder of a child that enhances our realization that we all tend to look at the world through very smudgy, care-worn glass. And, every now and then, we need to take them off and see, through a fresh pair of eyes, that tiny lights and tinsel are amazing.

So with a renewed sense of gratitude and thanksgiving imparted upon us last weekend as one holiday passed, ringing in the next, let us cling to these moments and remember that the holidays are about so much more than stress . . . not just for the children, but for us too. Let’s deck, not just the halls, but our hearts with laughter and joy this holiday season.

Finding the Perfect Gifts for Manly Men

Being someone who very much appreciates a thoughtful and personal gift, one that I know the giver bought out of a sense of love and connection, I put a great deal of pressure on myself to find these types of gifts for others. Especially for those I most care about. I want to find something that doesn’t just say, “I had to get you a gift, so here’s something kind of nice,” but rather, “I’ve been thinking and brainstorming for months to come up with something that I thought would be special to you and here’s what I’ve discovered.” This is why, for many of my holiday gifts, I opt for homemade. Because it is as much about the thought, preparation, and time investment as it is about the thing given. But for my Hubby, I ruminate for ages trying to come up with unique ideas that will speak to him –  things he will enjoy and not just end up as one more item gathering dust in a closet. This year I find myself a bit stumped. The trouble with Jonathan is that his most passionate interests are very specialized and VERY expensive. They are things I could not buy for him even if I could afford them because I don’t know enough about them to get the right thing. And yet they are the things he most wants. So half the time I feel like I ought to just give him the money to go buy his own gifts. But everything about that seems wrong to me. Contrary to the idea and purpose of thoughtful gift giving. So I brainstorm and search and ponder. This year’s searching has left me feeling… baffled. If you Google or Amazon search “gift ideas for men,” you get the most incredibly long list of complete crap.  Most of it associated with smoking, drinking, golf, and dirty, fifth-grade humor. Is this how our society views men? As juvenile, lazy partiers? (You can see this sentiment echoed in many popular sitcoms, where the male is the buffoon, the comic relief, the dufus, always in need of the woman to fix his blunders. What a shame. But this is an entirely separate blog post for a later date.)

All of these "gift ideas for men" were in the top 15 when I ran a search by that name in Amazon!

I don’t know about you all, but my man is worth far more than these types of kitschy, generalized assumptions about ignorant men. And I want him to know it when I hand him his gifts. So while trying to find other sources of inspiration, I decided to email the author of a blog that he follows and admires called The Art of Manlinesswhich reminds men that, even in today’s hyper-sensitive, feminist society, it is OK to be strong and manly and virtuous. I told him in my email that my husband was inspired by what he wrote to be a better man and that I, as well as many of his readers, might appreciate some manly suggestions for gifts this holiday season. He responded the same day with some thoughts and ideas as well as links to the gift lists he published for the last three years. It was very helpful and, I am happy to say, I think I have solved my quandary for my man’s presents this year. Since I appreciated his help so much, I decided to send his suggestions on to you. Hopefully you will find them as helpful as I did.

The Art of Manliness 2008 Holiday Gift Guide

The Art of Manliness 2009 Holiday Gift Guide

The Art of Manliness 2010 Holiday Gift Guide

Close to Home . . .

Having posted a couple of times about my vague admiration for Autumn and it’s effects on the world and my own personal psyche, I decided to share a few specific examples of what Fall looks like in our home – just small glimpses of why it will always hold such a special place in my heart.

Daddy teaching Aiden to cook breakfast. Mmmm, I can still smell it!

The newest addition to our family begining to show him/her-self.

The first fire in our fireplace. Needless to say, Aiden was impressed!

Painting pumpkings! Much more enjoyable for a toddler than trying to carve them.

The end result - Mine on the left, Aiden's on the right (with a little help on the face).

Shhhh! Be vewy, vewy qwiet! I'm hunting wizzards!

A crochet project I'm working on - for the baby if it's a girl, otherwise myself :)

Getting ready for Trick or Treat! Happy Halloween everyone!

The World’s Rosy Complexion

I’m not sure if it is the gradual change of the weather this year, as opposed to the dramatic drop we usually get from 90° one week to 45° the next, or if it is simply the universe smiling at us poor southerners at a time when the stress of life is getting overwhelming, but I was just commenting to my husband that the fall colors seem more vivid this year and remarkably out of character for our little corner of the world. Of course it helps matters that, due to a temporary change of sitters for my son, I have been driving the Natchez Trace to work every day. It is the most beautiful stretch of road in Mississippi and such a refreshing change of scenery to clear my mind as I drive.

A section of the Natchez Trace near Rocky Springs

I must confess that seeing all of this Autumn grandeur does more to make me miss my Yankee upbringing that it does to help me appreciate my current home. It reminds me so much of the Autumns I remember growing up, surrounded by sugar maples, oaks, elms, and other hardwoods that transform themselves annually with a fiery magic that seizes even the most diehard advocates of summer and captures their hearts and imaginations for Fall. The whole world has a golden, rosy complexion and it is hard to not to look at the rest of life through the same colored lenses.

Another section of the Old Natchez Trace, slightly north of here.

And the colors that seem to be spreading like wildfire over the local foliage are accompanied by the most glorious earthy, musky smell of the fallen leaves and the damp earth that lingers in the cool air instead of being baked away by afternoon heat. It is a smell that inspires us to fill our homes with the other smells of Fall: pumpkin spice muffins, squash casserole, roasted pumpkin seeds, cinnamon apple cider, and zucchini bread. It reminds us to kick on the heat, pull out the afghans and find a good book to wile away the rainy afternoons.

Mmmmm, Yummy!

I am so grateful that Autumn has finally arrived and has decided to grace us with its rather picturesque presence this year. I, and I’m sure many others, definitely needed the change of scenery and the renewal of inspiration.