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!

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Dragons

Everyone knows what a dragon looks like, right? Or do they? This was the central question asked in a play that I took my son to on Saturday night. It was an interactive play full of “OOOH’s” and “AHHH’s.” Boo’s for the villains and cheers for the heroes. A perfect outdoor event for a date with my little man, complete with picnic and blanket and our own stuffed dragon that we couldn’t leave at home, of course. One of the themes that recurred throughout the play was that everyone viewed the dragon, in this case the hero of the story, as a version of themselves. Each person, when asked what a dragon looked like, described their own best attributes. Deep down, we all want to be heroes. Or more specifically, we see actual heroes as reflections of ourselves, whether or not we merit the description.

I am as guilty of this as the next person. Particularly in this specific case. I have always been intensely drawn to dragons. For as long as I can remember. From those that permeate ancient Chinese literature and art, symbolizing wisdom and beauty, to those enigmatically drawn by the imagination of Tolkien in “The Hobbit,” these creatures embody a mystery and grace that has drawn children and adults through the ages to admire and fear them. They are a series of contradictions that I think many of us, if we are honest, see in ourselves. They are both beautiful and hideous, heavily armored but vulnerable in their soft spots. Wise but full of riddles. They dwell in caves underground, but they can soar to the heavens. They can be both the villain and the hero, sometimes at different points of the  same story. They are fully known to no one, yet known by everyone. They are mysterious, fiery, and beautiful and will, in my mind, always typify a deep and sacred part of myself.

This is why I got a dragon tattoo when I was in college. It is a visible mark of something within me that very few people will actually understand, many will judge me for, and some will admire. But none of that matters because it is a constant reminder to me of the deep mysteries of the soul – of the consistent dualities that we see in ourselves and others which we try, too often, to reconcile or explain away. My son has seen it and asked why I have that picture on my back. It have explained it to him several times, but last nights play was a wonderful opportunity to explain to him again what beautiful enigmas these creatures are and remind him that even if they don’t in every story, in this one, they saved the day!

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!

Technological Sabbath

I have been seriously considering, as of late, implementing a regular technological sabbath for myself. A day of rest from the myriad of devices that connect us to everything under the sun. From what’s important to what’s completely irrelevant. From the beautiful to the terrible – the heroic to the mundane. We, more than any previous generation, have the world at our fingertips with all of its woes and inspirations, and the weight of it is immense. The burden of knowledge is great and the guilt of inability, although unjustified, can be just as great. We have computers in our pockets that can show us real-time video footage of the most recent natural disaster, civil war, or peace rally. They can look up, at our first thought of curiosity, the answer to any question, and yet we still feel confused. And even with such powerful tools always at our disposal to advance knowledge and personal development, we spend a huge portion of our time using them for frivolous and meaningless tasks like surfing the web, watching YouTube, playing Angry Birds, or browsing Facebook to keep up with our “friends.” If ever we find ourselves with a spare moment of quiet or stillness, out come the phones. Walk around in a public place and notice how many people around you are staring at a screen.

Don’t get me wrong – I love technology. It’s value is immeasurable and it is shaping the world today in ways many never dreamed possible. I just worry that we are attaining its prize at a rather high price. The loss of quiet contemplation and meditation. The inability to experience stillness without trying to fill it. The physical and mental release of curling up in a big chair with an actual book or crochet hook or guitar. Embarking on projects with our families that involve rakes and shovels or paints and brushes instead of remotes and ear buds. Hiking or biking without music or podcasts and simply our own thoughts to keep us company. But, as I contemplate all of this, the devil on my shoulder says, “Yes, those things are all very whimsical and beautiful, but every week? For a whole day? I don’t know. What if someone needs to get a hold of me? What if I need directions somewhere? What if . . . the world stops if I don’t pick up my phone or laptop multiple times a day?!?” My fear wreaks of addiction. There are so many ways to fill a day without the need for buttons. And I really believe I’d be happier if I set one day aside to shut down, breathe, and . . . reboot.

What do you think? Can it be done? Would you do it?

Stop Dying and Start Living a Little!

Human development is stunning . . . at all of its stages. The way I see it, the moment we stop developing in some capacity, as our human nature demands, is the moment we start dying. If we are not growing, we are diminishing. Everyone expects children to be constantly developing, growing and changing, but at some point in our adult lives, we get the distinct impression that no one expects us to grow anymore. That, just as our bodies have stopped growing, we as people are also free to coast our way through the rest of our existence without giving much thought to change. This is a sad way of living, with very few expectations, that leads to the end of personal fulfillment, relationships, and love. However, when we encounter people who have not given up on their own person development, who journey through life with an unspoken belief that every door, open or shut, is an opportunity, who take every chance they get to reexamine how they do things, why they do things, and what difference they are making by doing them, then the light that emanates from them is unmistakable. They are an inspiration to everyone they meet because, deep down, we all crave what they exhibit so freely.

I have experienced some incredibly potent examples of human capability and growth this week. They may be very small, in size or significance, but in actuality, they are great. They are what make us unique, vibrant, and mysterious. The human being that is developing in my belly is only 7 weeks old (5 weeks from the time of conception) and today, as we visited the doctor for the first time, we heard its minute heart making a big sound. A human no larger than 1/2 an inch with a fully functional, beating heart. A journey of development that started only 5 weeks previous with two cells, has now become multiple body systems with a heart that beats 126 times per minute. Amazing. If that is not inspiring, I’m not sure what is.

My son, who, up until now in his 2 1/2 years of development has been very literal in his interpretations of the world around him, has exploded into the realm of imagination. Everything is pretend. And there is no limit to what is possible. So there’s a dragon behind that chair whose fire you can put out with water that spews from the end of your sword? Fantastic! So Superman is having supper with you and imbues your catfish with special powers to grant strength? Amazing! So there’s a campfire in the living room and you want to roast marshmallows? Why not! The mind has such incredible capacity to create, that once it has developed a framework of understanding for how things work, it breaks those barriers and creates new rules. Once again inspiring us, as stodgy old adults who have everything figured out, to step outside of the box and just IMAGINE the possibilities.

My husband, who keeps his plate completely full with music, goals, ideas, learning, family, work, exercise, and (occasionally) relaxation, has managed to stretch his boundaries further and increase his capabilities because the people who love him need his help. Being hobbled by morning sickness lately, I have been unable to accomplish everything that I normally do for Aiden, the house, and our family, and Jonathan has stepped up to fill all the gaps. Finding time and strength he didn’t know he possessed. That is love. That is maturity and growth born from necessity. That is inspiring.

Every day we can find new examples of growth and development if we seek them out. And when we find them we should nourish and feed them, and spread the infectious inspiration of them to others, so that they too can stop dying and start living a little.