celebrations

The Perfect Gift

Ten years ago, I asked my husband, Fatty, if he would make me something for Christmas. He gave me a quizzical look and I blurted out, “I don’t care if you make me a playlist and burn it to a CD. I just want someone to make me something.” He was quiet and slow to respond. I could tell that he wasn’t sure where this was coming from.

“Um, okay, I guess,” he answered.

“And, maybe we should all make each other something,” I suggested. “I’d make something for you and Jane and Kate. You’d make us each something. We could help them make gifts for each other. What do you think?”

“Hmm.” I could see him thinking. “Okay. Sure. We could do that.”

I admit it was a strange request. Fatty is not a crafty guy. That is my department. I have made many handmade gifts for my loved ones over the years. From sewing appliques onto t-shirts and making aprons to knitting dozens of hats and stitching quilts, I have crafted my way through birthdays and more holiday seasons than I can count.

The process of choosing the perfect gift idea, and then literally making it, suits me more than buying something from a store. While I am sewing or knitting, I think about who I am crafting for and by the time I have finished, I’ve done more than just create an item: my love has been poured into it. I wanted my daughters to experience this themselves, to realize there is value in giving something handmade. And I secretly, and selfishly, hoped we would start a new tradition of making gifts for each other.

On Christmas day, we exchanged presents. We practically pushed the boxes into each other’s hands, eager to see the reactions. I knitted something for each of the girls and made Fatty a cook’s apron. He made the girls playlists and burned them onto a CD. The girls drew designs that we screen printed onto t-shirts for Fatty. Jane made Kate a bracelet and Kate painted a picture frame for Jane. All the gifts were thoughtful and made from the heart, just as I had hoped.

The last three boxes that remained under the tree were for me.

I carefully opened the first box, pulled some tissue paper aside and I gasped. Inside was a perfectly round, glass ornament speckled with blue, green, and white dots. It was from Jane, and I was amazed. The second box contained another exquisite ornament in pinks and purples from Kate. The third was the ornament that Fatty made me out of glittering green glass with red and gold speckles. All three were absolute treasures. I looked up at them, smiling, saying nothing. My words were gone, but tears sprang to my eyes. I was touched.

I had a mental list of all the things I thought I might receive from my family, things like paint-your-own pottery, a bookmark, photo frames, or even the playlist on a CD that I had suggested. But I had never imagined something so special and delicate. I didn’t know that you could blow your own ornaments. And how was it possible that our six- and eight-year-old daughters could manage that? The three of them hurriedly told me stories of sneaking to the glass studio one weekend afternoon and how they made the ornaments. I sat there, listening, and thinking that Fatty outdid himself. I got way more than what I wished for.

When the holidays came around the next year, we considered making gifts for each other, but quickly realized it wasn’t practical. Fatty suggested that we all go to the glass studio and make more ornaments for our tree instead. I called and made an appointment.

The next weekend, we went downtown to the glass studio. After checking in at the showroom and choosing the colors we wanted, we made our way to the hot shop. As we walked through the door, I was overwhelmed by the extreme heat from the glass furnaces. I shed my coat and helped the girls off with theirs. They were chatty and, along with Fatty, excitedly explained what was happening as we watched the group before us finish their ornaments.

When it was our turn, the girls went first to show me how it was done. I watched them blow into a small tube, adjusting their breath as the glass artist told them to slow down or give a big puff. The glass grew with their breath and, once completed, the artist added a swirl of glass to the top for hanging. He then placed the ornaments in a large box where they would cool until the following day. Fatty took his turn and then I took mine. I was a little nervous, but I didn’t need to be. It was simple, easy even. All I had to do was follow directions and breathe.

Every year since our one and only handmade Christmas, we have gone to the glass studio as a family and blown four ornaments. Our collection is quite large now – thirty-nine ornaments, soon to be forty-three. When it’s time to decorate the Christmas tree, we start with the boxes of hand-blown ornaments. As we pull them from the bubble wrap, we look at the colors that we have and discuss what new combinations we might add to the mix. Someone always wonders out loud how we can possibly fit more large ornaments on the tree, but no one suggests we skip ornament blowing this year.

When I asked Fatty to make something for me all those years ago, what I really wanted was for him to give me that special time and attention that I was giving of myself when making gifts for others. What he gave me was bigger than that – it was a tradition, year after year of the four of us making the ornaments together. Those are memories I will hold forever.

 

Words and image by Erin Harris.

A Simple, Extraordinary Monday

hello there, friend

My alarm goes off and for the first time in months, I don’t hit the snooze button. Fumbling in the semi darkness of the bedroom, I find a sweatshirt and pull it over my head, hurry downstairs, and pour myself a hot cup of coffee. Eager to get going, I slap peanut butter and jelly on some bread. I check the time, and wake my oldest, who promises to wake her siblings.

Coffee in hand, I grab my purse and head to my car. It’s still dark, but light is beginning to hover around the horizon. Everything feels muted and soft, quiet and still. As I drive through town, I think about the conversation I had with my husband several days earlier when he asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday. What I told him then was that I didn’t know.

I tend to have a go-with-the-flow attitude about a lot of things. I’m a peacemaker; I want everyone to be happy and get along. When someone asks me what I’d like to do or where I’d like to go, I generally shrug my shoulders because, the truth is, I often don’t care that much. I’m happy to be with the people I love and the rest of it isn’t as important.

But my husband’s question got me thinking about what I really wanted. If my birthday was on a Monday, then it would be up to me to figure out how to make it special. My family would be at work or school, and I’d have half the day to myself.

What do I want? became the chief question — but out of that sprang others: What do I love to do? What makes me feel alive? What can I do on an ordinary Monday that will fill me with gratitude? What would an almost perfect day look like?

These are the questions that led me to this moment, driving up the long lane of the golf course — the one place in town where I can see the eastern sky, where I can watch the sunrise on the morning of my 46th birthday.

When I reach the parking lot, I am surprised to find many of the parking spaces full of equipment — bulldozers, backhoes, and gravel — and a crew just getting starting work in the early light of dawn. Their safety vests reflect the light from the headlights of my car as I search for a place to park.

A bit disappointed not to have this space to myself, I park in the only spot I can, and hurry out with my coffee and a blanket. I walk around the gravel and orange cones to the small wooden gazebo that overlooks the valley below, and the Catawba Mountains beyond that. I sit down, arranging my Mexican blanket and cup of coffee beside me, then take a deep breath.

I see pink light as it begins to form along the line between the sky and what lies beneath. Above the pink, the sky appears white, then dark blue. As the light continues to spill over the horizon, I notice how each mountain ridge is defined. Fog is filling in the spaces between the ridges.

I hear the crew behind me speaking in Spanish, and I am reminded of the past two summers when I traveled with my family to Central America. I listen for a few minutes, picking out words here and there that I know, the rhythm and intonation in their voices reminding me of this language I love.

As I watch, the fog slides between the ridges and along the valleys. Moments later, the fog begins to obscure the ridges and starts to fill in the valley directly below me. Instead of watching the sun come up over the ridge below, I am watching something else entirely. Fog has engulfed the entire valley, obscuring the sun and is making its way up toward the golf course. Soon there is nothing but fog.

I gather my blanket and now empty cup of coffee and turn towards the car. As I make my way home, I think about how foggy mornings have their own kind of beauty — sometimes haunting, sometimes revealing the world in a whole new way. Instead of color, there are shades of gray. The silhouettes of trees stand out, graceful and dark against a lighter background.

Pondering the questions I had asked myself just a few days before, it occurs to me that what fills me up has nothing to do with things — not gifts or material possessions. None of the ways I wanted to spend this day anything to do with those. I have come to this conclusion time and time again but marvel at the simplicity of it. What fills me up are experiences; what grounds me are relationships

There are a few other things on my list for the day: a good cup of coffee, lunch alone with a cold beer and a plate of nachos, time to read in the sunshine on a warm day, a walk, a conversation with my sister, greeting my kids as they came home from school, tacos from our local taco truck for dinner on the front porch, a bouquet of zinnias, a round of Bananagrams. These are things that could be done any day, but today they are special.

Just like the sun, which rises every single day. Some days we might choose to bear witness to its beauty. A series of decisions just might lead to an ordinary Monday becoming something extraordinary.

 

Words by Beth Lehman. Photograph by Kathryn Abel.