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.

Dreams, Chickens, and a Whole Lot of Love

hello there, friend

“We bought some chicks today,” my son tells me over the phone one night.

“Is your condo even all packed up?” I ask.

“No, but we have the keys and are staying at the new house tonight, so we thought, why not.”  I can hear the excitement in his voice.

A few days later, my husband and I head up to help my son and his wife with the final move. I am anxious to see the house, which sits on five wooded acres a couple of hours north of us. I take it all in as we open the gate to the driveway. Native rhododendrons, some which are just starting to bloom, line the long gravel road up to the house. We are hardly out of the car before we are being given the grand tour of the property. Being an avid gardener my eyes hone in on the well-maintained flower beds, along with the fruit trees and berry bushes. There is even a fenced garden plot. Behind the pond out back, I wander the moss-covered trails that meander through the forest. Dappled light finds its way through the canopy of trees overhead.

“It’s perfect timing,” I tell them both. “You will get to watch your yard unfold – a new discovery every day!”

I walk up to the house, which is full of labeled boxes, and greet their three black pugs with treats from my pocket as I head inside. They are excited to see me and require my full attention. But soon, I hear the chicks and can’t resist the peeping coming from the spare room. In the closet, a light bulb hangs from the clothing rod and below it frolic five baby chicks, curious and cozy in a cardboard box. Each is different: each one a tiny puff of feathers, beaks, and cuteness. The pugs are inquisitive and a bit meddlesome, trying to get their smashed little noses close enough to get a good sniff of these busy critters who now share their new home.

Throughout the day the house is filled with family and friends, all ready to help unpack. We all go about our tasks and, finally, when everything is unloaded, we gather close and crack open some champagne to celebrate their dream come true. “Cheers!” we say as we click glasses, tired and so excited for them. We order pizza and call it a day.

Later that night, my daughter-in-law finds sheets for the extra bed, and my husband and I climb in, tired and happy.

“This is going to be a lot of work,” I whisper to him in the dark.

“Yep,” he says, “I hope they know what they are doing.”

“Do any of us really know?” I reply, recalling the stacks of how-to books on raising chickens and goats I often found on the table in their condo. I am elated they never lost sight of their dream.

Come morning, I wake to the sound of peeping. Quietly, I slip out of bed and tiptoe across the hall to greet the chicks. They are wide awake and busy, looking for food, running amuck. The bag of mealy worms sits nearby, and I offer them a few from my hand and laugh at how their tiny beaks tickle. I become particularly smitten with the black and white one, and later that day I ask if I can name her.

We visit often over the next few months and, each time, I eagerly head into the chick’s room and greet Amelia and her sisters. Hers is the only name I can remember, and only because I named her. They seem to grow before my eyes, going from that cute chick stage to awkward adolescence, where they are all legs and necks. They soon learn to jump out of their makeshift home, spread their wings, and make a bit of a mess. The kids buy them a bright blue child’s wading pool, but it is not long before they have to get a coop.

The next time I visit, Amelia has doubled in size, and seems less interested in me now that she has ample space to explore and scratch in. She pecks at the dirt and eats overripe strawberries. I kneel down, trying to pet her and feed her a bit of grain.

“Ouch,” I say to her and learn quickly that what used to feel like tickling now stings a bit. She is far more interested in my rings than the grain I hold out to her in my palm.

Over the next several weeks my son calls with chicken stories: they got out of their run and one roosted on the roof, another in a tree. No, they are not laying yet. They all sleep in the same nesting box. They need a different run because they are eating the strawberry plants.

I laugh and decide I love chickens.

One morning, I wake to see a photo on Instagram of their first two eggs nestled in my son’s hand. “Who laid them?” I eagerly type. He is not sure. I imagine my son and his wife sharing the eggs, and my heart overflows with tenderness. I think to myself, It is just an egg. But I can’t help it, somehow it seems like so much more.

Today, the girls are full grown. Each one different, each one a puff of feathers and beauty. They have their own unique personalities, but they still stick together. If one suddenly takes off running, the rest follow. They make a mess of their food, spilling it all over, and can pick a watermelon clean. They take turns in that one nesting box, laying their eggs one after another. Before they lay they are very affectionate and allow me to pet them, even hold them. Each time, I am surprised at how they are mostly feathers and how I can feel all the parts of the feather when I stroke them.

I think about what it is about these chickens that brings me such joy and see that they are part of a long-held dream, a glimpse into my son and his wife’s marriage that fills my heart to the brim. I see what they have built and worked on together, over their eight years of marriage: the deep love they share and the dreams they didn’t lose sight of, including these chickens. This home, and the land it sits on, opens the door to many possibilities. I can’t help but be thankful.

We strive for this as parents. We pray and work hard at modeling and teaching them values and then suddenly, in a blink of an eye, we release them into the big world, praying we did enough.

These girls, they are my proof. They are my affirmation that we did something right along the way. I know there will be new chickens in the coop over the next several years. I know that I probably will grow accustomed to gathering fresh eggs when I visit and take some off their hands because their fridge is overflowing. But these five, they will always be my favorites.

Words and photograph by Cathy Sly.