Friday, December 30, 2011

Homemade with Love

This Christmas marked the third year of a new family tradition - making homemade gifts for each other. I'll admit - this was my idea but it was a little hard to sell to everyone initially. To me, Christmas should be about being thankful for each other, not the stuff we give each other.

This tradition has now become our most favorite part of Christmas. Each year the gifts are meaningful, creative, fun, and are truly made with love. Mimi and I tend to decide early on what we are making and are typically done early. Conversely, Tim waits until the ideas come to him, even if they don't come until Christmas Eve. Jack needs some assistance coming up with ideas - they just don't come naturally to him. This year, I stood with him in the craft store trying to figure out what to make for Tim. He had decided on a diorama project where he could build a mountain, put a jeep in it, throw two little goats in there to honor Tim's childhood pets, and then finish it off with a tent. Cute...made up of all the things Tim likes but I wasn't sure what he would do with it. When I suggested that he make something more useful he immediately responded with, "None of my gifts have ever been useful. Why start now?" It really made me chuckle.

We now start each Christmas morning in our bed, with everyone bringing in their homemade gifts for each other. Just to give you an idea of the type of gifts we have made, the first year Tim made Jack a "shooting range" in the basement for his airsoft guns. He used a big cardboard box to make the backstop and then bought targets with little critters on them. He hung those up and built a little shelf for his safety glasses. Jack loved it! Last year, Mimi had Tim take her to a paint your own pottery place and handpainted a beautiful platter with a fish on it for me. She remembered I had seen something similar in a magazine that I loved. It is truly beautiful. One year, Jack made Mimi a frame hotglued with little pigs all over it. He then inserted a picture of the two of them from one of our camping trips over the summer. The first year, I painted Tim's childhood desk Fenway Green and then shellacked the Red Sox logo on it for Jack. I love tradition....I love that Tim had that desk in his room as a child and now Jack has it, but it has been updated into something that reflects his personality and tastes.

This year, the gifts were as amazing as always. For Mimi, Jack painted a sign for Ivy's bunny cage. It is painted green, says "Ivy" in pink and it has pink and green ribbons tied on each side. He made Tim a Camping Koozie - it's orange (because it is one of the Hopkinton Hiller colors) with camping stickers all over it. For me, he took a piece of drftwood that Tim found on the beach this summer and he made a jewelry hangar out of it. He took some sticks from the yard, spray painted them pink & green, and then Tim helped him drill holes for the sticks which I can now hang my jewelry off of. Must to his own surprise, everything he made is very useful!

Mimi remembered that I wanted a Christmas tree in my room so she made me a little tree made out of green sea glass. It was topped off with a little starfish glued to a toothpick. She also made me a bunny ornament out of shells. She used a large scallop shell for the face, mussel shells for the ears, snail shells for the eyes, and a tiny scallop shell for the nose. She called her grandmother at the beginning of December to ask if she could find some mussel shells on her beach. Tim's Mom went out and dug some up, cooked them to open them, cleaned them, and then hand delivered them. It truly was a family effort for that gift! For Tim, she found a jar in the pantry that I haven't been using and hot glued a jeep patch and ribbon on it. She then painted the top with a jeep grill and wrote the word Jeep...it is now his jeep savings jar. Just what he needs...more jeeps and jeep parts. Mimi made Jack a "list book". I have to admit, he got his love of lists from me. We find all kinds of lists he makes all over the house...football teams that he loves, the colleges he might want to go to, things he wants for his birthday. You name it, he makes a list out of it. She took an unused composition notebook we had, covered it in camo paper, and then finished it with stickers of things Jack loves. Now he can keep all his lists in one place...and it will be a great thing to look back on one day when he is older!

Tim made me a Blog Log, which is a notebook, bedazzled with stickers, that I can take with my anywhere to keep track of my blog ideas. Using an old bookcase, he turned it into a "gun case" for Jack's air soft guns and the new paintball gun he got for Christmas. For Mimi, he spray painted an old planter pink and then used stickers to spell out Ivy's name. Now her treats, leash, and blanket can go in one spot on top of her cage. For someone that waits until the last minute when the ideas come to him, he did very good!

A few years ago, the kids came up with this character "Jerry" on one of our long car/camping trips. This is what traveling for 13 hours a day in a car will do to you. The first homemade gift year I made a Jerry "doll" which the kids thought was hysterical. This year I brought Jerry on each camping trip with us and took pictures of him...which they found more embarrasing than hysterical. Little did they know how much he came out when they weren't looking. For Jack this year, I made a Snapfish book of Jerry and his adventures in the summer of 2011. There were pictures of him next to Jack sleeping, at the waterpark, having a beer with Tim, and he even came out at Busch Gardens in Virginia. For Mimi, I knit a scarf to go with her new jacket. As usual, I was down to the wire on my knitting project, finishing just a few days before Christmas. This year one of my projects was to organize my office, which for some reason, became the place to stash everything that didn't have a home. After months of purging and organizing, it is now one of my favorite rooms in the house because it is filled with the things I love. Although I call it "my" office, it is actually half Tim's as well. I put up shelving that displays all his jeep memorabilia. While organizing, I came across a giant folder of all his antique jeep literature. For his homemade gift, I bought an artist portfolio and then organized all his literature, by year and jeep type.

I love that everyone spends time thinking through a personal gift. I love seeing the pride on the kids faces when you open the gift they made for you. I also love seeing the surprise on everyone's face when they open their gift. You truly can never imagine what the gift is going to be, but you know no matter what it is you will love it.

This year I started a log of what we have made each other over the years. I hope we continue this tradition forever, and it will be so fun to look back at what we made each other over the years.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Random Acts of Smiling

A few weeks ago I noticed a cat hanging out under a car near where the train pulls into South Station. At first I felt sad for the cat. What kind of life is that for a cat? Living on the side of the train tracks, hanging out under a car for warmth, and having to scavenge for food. Each morning I found myself looking for the cat and most mornings he was there. Then one day he wasn't there anymore.

This week two new cats appeared. A rough looking grey guy and a black and white fluff ball. Suddenly the black and white cat looked straight at me and it took my breath away. It looked EXACTLY like my cat Gracie that died a few years ago, after 14 long years. I found myself smiling back at the cat and I said hi to Gracie in my head. Each day this week I have seen Gracie and her pal Smokey (yes, I have named them) and I catch myself smiling.

On Monday on the train, I was feveriously working on my finishing my homemade gift for Mimi, a scarf, and was completely absorbed in the pattern. Out of the corner of my eye I could see my seat mate looking over at me. My first reaction was "Oh great...another train freak." I started packing up my scarf and getting ready to get out when the older gentlemen leaned over and said "Working on a Christmas gift?" I laughed and asked "Is it that obvious?" He gave a chuckle and went on to explain that his wife was a knitter. She had retired three years ago and the knitting store where she attends knitting circle asked if she would start teaching classes. He said "It doesn't pay much but she does it because she loves to share her passion with others." The train pulled and we both told each other to have a good day. I found myself smiling the whole time I walked to work.

I try to work from home one day a week, if my schedule allows. And if my meeting schedule works out, I try to zip out and pick up the kids from school. Each and every time I do, I see Mimi's eyes searching for my car. And then her face breaks into this shy little grin when she sees me. Jack always comes out later than her and gives me a little wave. Every single time I pick them up it is the same and I absolutely love it. I just find myself smiling all the way home. How many more years will I have of this? I'll take it for every second I can get it.

Mimi recently performed in her winter concert...it's probably the 6th concert we have been too in the last few years and we never see her. She is petite and ends up getting placed behind taller kids. After every concert she asks "How did I look up there?" and we always tell her she looked great, despite having never seen her. During the last concert the band was getting ready to play and it was quiet. Suddenly you hear a little voice from the audience that says "Whyz it so quiet Mama?" How can you not smile at that? The little teeny voice, all the kids giggling...so cute.

It's a silly little thing...just smiling at the random moments in life but you'll be surprised how much brighter it makes your day. When was the last time you caught yourself smiling at something random? If it's been awhile you should slow down and relish the little moments in life.

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and I already have my next blog post planned out. Each year we make a homemade gift for each other and they are always the highlight of my Christmas. I can't wait to tell you what the gifts are this year! That is, assuming they are finished...Jack and Tim are still "working on" theirs...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I'm Dreaming of a Pink and Green Christmas....

This year I had the incredible opportunity to go to the Kentucky Derby (thanks again, Jill!) and it totally made my entire year. Imagine my complete surprise when I had yet another opportunity of a lifetime fall into my lap...twice in one year. Last week I got up at 4 am, flew to Pennsylvania, and was able to attend the...wait, you better sit...I was able to attend the Lilly Pulitzer warehouse sale and reap incredible savings on everything pink and green that I love. It was silly stupid crazy good.

How did I get this opportunity you ask? Let's just say that I have a friend who knows someone who knows someone. Did I know she had this connection when I first met her? Not a clue. Did it make me love her even more when I did find out? In the words of Sarah Palin "You Betcha!" Seriously, what are the chances that I have a friend that has a connection to Lilly Pulitzer??!! Hold on....let me just dab my eyes a minute...

I wish I could have taken pictures of what happened but I couldn't waste a minute doing anything other than grabbing things off of rounders and hoarding them in my bag. Oh, the bag. Let me back up. When we got there, they gave us a shopping bag that literally stretched from my shoulder to the floor. I should have known right then this was going to be dangerous to my wallet. Later I found out it was dangerous to my health when the bag I slung over my shoulder starting cutting off my blood supply.

With bag in hand, the doors opened, and obviously experienced ladies, clad in adorable pink sweaters and tassled loafers, ran like bats out of hell toward the "sample" wall. This is where they have incredible deals on clothes that were on mannequins in the store and windows. Women were whipping through racks in 2 seconds flat...pulling clothes off the racks and shoving them in their bags. I didn't see one thing in my size but got so caught up in the frenzy that I just tossed things in my bag. At one point, I found myself putting size 2T kids shorts in my bag...for myself. What can I say? It was a cute pattern.

I looked across the warehouse and women were running like crazy to the other side of the room. I felt like I must be missing something so I ran too...dragging my bag filled with toddler shorts and tiny mannequin clothes. I ran into a rack with shorts and skirts in my size and it was seriously like Christmas. I thought I would cry. All my favorite prints at an affordable prices?! I had to pinch myself.

Almost an hour passed before I ran into my friend. She was holding up a flat "board" in one of my favorite prints. "Did you see these?" she asked. I had no idea what it was but Mama wanted some. Turns out they were coolers! I just ran away from her in mid sentence to throw one in my bag. I turned to find a woman throwing 3 in her bag and then she turned to me with crazed eyes and said "What are these?!" Oh. My.

I bumped into my friend again and she showed me an incredibly adorable pair of pink and green ruffled flip flops that she found. But before she could tell me where she found them my eyes were wandering. She looked at me and said "You aren't even paying attention..." She followed my eyes and we both sprinted for ruffled pashimas in every color in the Lilly rainbow. I grabbed bubble gum pink...she grabbed ocean blue. Insert sigh. Just thinking about it again makes me feel giddy all over again.

We literaly dragged our bags into the dressing room to start the trying on process. I'm not sure what I expected but you know how when you go to the hospital and you can't stop yourself from looking in the rooms and when you do look, you see things you wish you had never seen...well, the dressing room was like that. About 50 women had dropped trow and were standing in their bras, and in way too many cases, granny pants. You didn't want to look but there was nowhere to rest your eyes without seeing something you wish you hadn't. Listen, I know they were thinking the same thing about me but it was just like when you give birth. You don't want the doctor and nurse to see your lady parts birthing a creature, but when the moment comes, you just don't care. So, I did what everyone else did. I just stripped down and started trying on my goodies. It took 45 minutes to get to the bottom of the bag.

That's when round 2 began. I put my toddler shorts back and began to scour the warehouse again. It was like being at a completely different store! I filled my bag with things I had completely missed the first time around and hit the dressing room for the second time. Three hours later we found ourselves doing our final sort of what we had to have while hearing the warning that it was time to head to the registers before the doors closed. This warning, however, threw us into a final frenzy and we began grabbing things that we just couldn't leave without....scarves, sweaters, pashimas...in the bag they went and through the register they rang.

As we laid out all our treasures and gazed lovingly at all our goodies later that night, we all agreed that there wasn't anything we bought that we didn't love and there was nothing that we regretted buying. This situation had a high probability of that happening so I was very proud of us for really sticking to our guns. I think it was more a matter of sticking to a budget that wouldn't bankrupt us, but let's not get technical.

Kentucky Derby...Lilly Pulitzer warehouse sale....what's next?? I can't wait to see what 2012 brings!