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

Is it Kitsch or a Catch?

As a pseudo-artist myself, surrounded by a community of artists, I have traditionally found kitsch rather hard to stomach. Especially in large doses. However, yesterday, as I spent the afternoon perusing the many, MANY booths at the Canton Flea Market, I felt a certain solidarity with the community of craftsmen there and the simple, unassuming humanity that was exhibited in even the lowliest of their wares.

Sometimes it was the most ridiculous, the most kitschy of all the displays that made me stop and smile. That brought to mind images of country farmhouses and family gatherings. They were, perhaps, not as justifiably artistic as “real” art, but they were homey and comfortable, silly and nostalgic.

Maybe I am losing my standards in my old age, but I had more fun photographing these amazing examples of Americana surrounded by funnel cake trucks and snow cone stands, than I would have had in a stuffy gallery quietly making judgements about the authenticity of an abstract modern work (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

There was also something amazing about seeing an entire community come together to create something so immense. Every street anywhere near the downtown square was lined with booths and booths of craftsmen selling their wares. Proud of their merchandise because it stood apart from all the Made-in-China, Big-Box stuff we buy everyday and fill our houses with.

Customers and vendors alike partook in the frenzy of people eager to find something to give during the holidays that was not like everything else they already have. Something unique and hand-made. And kitsch or no, it was lovely.

And what did I bring home from this festival of craftsmanship, you may ask? I found three little gems that made me very happy:

Hand-made wooden toys! (And yes, I did buy my 2 1/2-year-old son a gun, and he LOVES it!)

A vegetable peeler hand-made in Switzerland, that I succumbed to buy after a very good salesman gave me a demonstration ;)

And a very long string of freshwater pearls that I could not resist at their $10 price tag.

And on the long walk back to my car, I couldn’t help but take this photo which demonstrated the intense southern-ness of the town in which the market took place. I don’t even know what chitterlings are, but I’m kind of afraid to ask.

Bon appetite and happy shopping!

Never Alone

I had a remarkable “ah-ha” moment yesterday. One that perhaps should have been obvious before then, but in the silly simplicity of the moment in which I had it, it finally sunk in. I am not, nor will I likely ever be alone. I am SO lucky.

I was having an emotional afternoon (which I will blame on pregnancy hormones even though they probably had nothing to do with it) and feeling rather isolated. My list of friends has been dwindling over the last couple of years. There are a variety of reasons for this – Hello! We are not in college anymore; lives change; people grow apart; kids enter the equation – restricting time, energy, and emotions; jobs; hobbies; busy . . . busy . . . busy. I do not pretend to be faultless in my predicament, but never-the-less, I am bothered by it sometimes. Particularly at times when my husband, who is my best friend, has to stay at work till 9 or 10 at night and 90% of my conversations over the last few days have been with a toddler whose biggest concern in life is that he HAS to eat broccoli. Enter yesterday’s “ah-ha” moment:

Not wanting to be stuck at the house all afternoon, I loaded up my son and headed to the outdoor mall where my hubby works to window shop, let Aiden see his daddy before bed, and pick up some food. This is a common past time of ours, satisfying Mommy’s need to shop, Aiden’s need to run around outside, and both of our needs to see Jonathan. However, yesterday I decided to break with tradition and actually go in some of the stores – dangerous territory for someone so broke, I know. But enter I did, with toddler in tow. We went into Ann Taylor, J. Crew, and White House, Black Market. And then, since it was only fair, and since he had been so patient with his silly, clothes-shopping mama, I took Aiden into a sports apparel store called Sand Dollar Lifestyles, that I thought he would enjoy a lot more than what we had been browsing. Inside, there was very little that peaked my interest, but Aiden saw something that completely rocked his world. He didn’t know what category to put them in. Shoes with TOES in them, like gloves!

He kept saying, over and over again, “What’s THAT?” I would tell him and he’d ask again. I figured the best way to satisfy his curiosity was to show him. So we sat down on the bench, measured our feet with the funny rubber foot measurers, and tried on some toe shoes. He stood on the floor giggling hysterically as he pointed at my feet, “Wook, mama!” I would laugh right back at him and tell him to look at his own silly feet. And then it happened. I looked at him as we both sat on the bench trying on shoes, and I realized – I liked hanging out with my son! As a person, an individual. He is now old enough to be a companion and a friend and we have fun together. No longer just a bundle of need, he gives back. Granted, he still takes a lot more than he gives, but he gives! The moment I had this realization, I spoke it out loud to him. “I really like spending time with you, Aiden.” And he replied, “I like you too, Mama!” And I was not alone. I may not be able to have deep philosophical discussions with him (yet), or rousing debates about politics and religion, or toss around ideas about parenting and hobbies, but we can have fun. We can inspire one another to be happy. And that is what’s important. Yes indeed, I am very lucky.

Fashion on a Budget

I have shared with you all before my love of shopping as a means of reducing stress. I know that for many of you this is unfathomable since shopping and stress are essentially synonyms in your book. But for me shopping is an outlet unlike any other, and it’s guaranteed to lift my spirits. But regardless of whether or not you share this sentiment, most of you can understand the ‘tired’ feeling that your wardrobe gets after certain items have been used and re-used – sometimes for years. It is that feeling that, despite having full draws and closets, you actually like very little of whats in there and constantly feel as though you have nothing to wear. Oh well . . . back to old faithful . . . Sigh. Because in today’s economy, who can afford to revamp their wardrobe every year?  YOU CAN! With a little extra work and an affinity for bargains and consignment stores, you can accomplish a tremendous amount on a dime.  Particularly if, at the end of a season, you find sales at consignment stores. Then the already ridiculously low prices are cut in half. And you can feel good about what you are buying, not only because you are saving so much money, but because you are helping reduce waste by buying second-hand. The best way to demonstrate this amazing potential is to share with you my most recent jackpot. Everything below I got for a TOTAL of $70.00 – the cost of one outfit new at a department store.  Enjoy and happy bargain hunting!

Yellow Dress - $4.80 (found at the Bargain Boutique); Red Dress - $4.00, Red Jewelry - $3.00 (both found at Goodwill), Boots - $3.00 (found at the Bargain Boutique)

Plaid Top - $3.20, Red Top - $2.40, Sandals $3.00 (all found at the Bargain Boutique)

White Top - $3.20, Black Top $2.40 (both found at the Bargain Boutique)

Red Top - $3.20, Purple Top - $2.40, Jean Skirt - $3.20, Shoes - $3.00 (all found at the Bargain Boutique)

Black Top - $3.20, Patterned Top $2.40 (both found at the Bargain Boutique); Jeans - $4.50 (on clearance at Target)

Coral Skirt - $3.20, White Shirt - $1.60 (both found at the Bargain Boutique), Grey Dress - $15.00 (found at Kid's Kloset)