Do You Give Back?

Just over 30 years ago, around the holiday season, an older gentleman asked me the question, “What do you do to give back to the community?” The question gave me pause, and caused me discomfort. I was a college student at the time with no excess finances to share. For a bit of time I felt pretty low because I felt I had no answer to give… then I began to remember.

I have always been a person who gives of their time and talents, but I didn’t realize until that year how much society values some contributions more greatly than others. Some service is valued as being better than other service, not because of the needs being served, but because of how the service conforms with a perception of what the provider considers valuable. Even the notion of charity seems to have a hierarchy, with some charitable acts being considered more valuable than others, not due to needs being met, but rather with how the charity is viewed by the peers of the one giving the charity.

Three decades have passed since the question was asked of me, and I find myself pondering the sad reality that for many (including the gentleman who asked the question) service and charity is measured by a monetary value rather than a kindness value. There is no rule that says that the two values cannot coexist, but there is a general notion that if the monetary is given the kindness is not necessary.

Consistently giving of ourselves, of our time, of our talents, and yes, even of our monetary surplus when such exists, is how we give back to society, and thereby contribute to a better society in which to live.

When we give with a focus on the kindness value, we need not feel discomfort when asked, “Do you give back?”

Hot Cocoa and a Mug Rug

One of the easiest but most enthusiastically received gifts I have given over the years is the simple gift of homemade hot cocoa mix. In a world where hot chocolate packets are readily available and fit so nicely into the novelty mug, why would anyone take the time to make their own mix? Yet, the personal touch of mixing cocoa powder with just the right amount of sugar to achieve a rich, dark, but sweet blend of flavors simply can’t be beat. When this gift is coupled with the Mug Rug, a whimsical version of the traditional cup coaster, the simple gift is elevated to another level. The mug rug may be basic in nature, or elaborate and personalized, yet it is the effort and thought that makes it a token of well wishes and seasonal joy.

As I show in my Vlogmas 2021 video, there are many ways in which the simple mug rug can be made, and I am sure a quick internet search will provide endless ways to stir up a batch of hot cocoa mix. As with any gift giving, the most important thing to consider is the person you are giving the gift. One of the reasons I like the cocoa mix I use is that it is very basic, leaving the choice of milk and of any additional flavorings up to the individual. I find this helps avoid pitfalls associated with food allergies, etc.

One note on my preferred hot cocoa consumption. I add the cocoa mix to an empty cup, then I will add any additional flavors to the mix. (Peppermint oil, Butter Rum Extract, OR a blend of dried Cinnamon/Clove/Ginger – these are three of my favorite flavoring.) Then before I add in the milk, I add 1-2 tablespoons of heavy cream to the mix and stir/whisk vigorously. This will transform the dry mix into a wonderful paste that is ready for the milk to be added. I will add cold milk, and then microwave for 1 minute 30 seconds, stir again and check to see if the liquid needs an additional 30 seconds of heating. Of course, I could preheat the milk, but I tend to only do that when making a large batch to share with others.

Giving Handmade Gifts: Holding onto the Joy

Sharing our joy with others helps us find our own inner peace, but we can only find this peace when our hearts and minds remain focused on the sharing and not on the receiving. The moment we fixate on how our handmade gift is received, we have shifted our focus from our act of giving and are now concerned only with the gift we expect in return – the recipient’s gratitude.

Giving a handmade gift to someone we know personally, as opposed to an anonymous donation gift, often leads to concern over how the gift will be received. This concern has the potential of undermining the joy the process of making has given us. Expectation of gratitude is a dangerous path to enter when we are on our handmaking journey. It is fraught with pitfalls which can cause us and the recipient of our handmade item emotional harm.

When we treat all gifts as we treat the anonymous donation gift – in essence, when we simply hope that the item will find itself being loved, even if it must pass through many hands before it finds its home, then we can hold on to the joy that is the byproduct of our making and our giving.

The guiding principle I live by when I give a handmade gift is this:

If I make the gift with love and the intent to give it unreservedly, then the joy that I gain in the making and giving is the only reward I will expect.

Living by this principle is not always easy, and even the best efforts can still allow in feelings of disappointment, but focusing on the joy of making will usually fend off such disruptive feelings.

Our desire to share our creativity, our time, and our talents with others is a worthy desire. When we make a gift for someone, and we make it with love, the joy we get from the making is the greatest reward. It is the process of doing, of making, of giving, of serving – it is this process that blesses our lives with joy and helps us find the inner peace we need.  

My daughter thinks I may be a bit more eloquent in the last section of today’s video.

Vlogmas 2021 – Because Why Not?

For many, YouTube Vlogmas has become a way to “break out” of the restrictions of a quarantine and travel without leaving the comfort of one’s own home. I particularly love to follow vloggers on their trips to see holiday lights and visits to Christmas markets.

For many, these vlogs help replace the sense of belonging and community that they feel is lost because of changes in society (changes that may have even happened before a pandemic). For some, simply sharing in the joy of others, even virtually, removes the cloud of loneliness that often accompanies infirmity and illness.

Whether its watching them decorate their homes, knit sweaters and scarves for gifts, or prepare their favorite holiday food, I feel a connection with these vloggers, and not because I now vlog. For me, the connection with these vloggers comes because I feel they share both my love of the holiday season and my love of sharing joy with others. The vlog, much like the physical items we give, becomes a gift from us to whomever is in need of the gift.

So this year, I have decided to make my own vlogmas contributions. I doubt it will be an annual tradition for me, but this year I hope to share holiday joy and inspiration through sharing some of my handmade treasures (many made by my own hands, and some made by the hands of loved ones).

While my first vlogmas video is on the longer side, the subsequent ones should be a shorter and contained to a specific theme.

Just in Time

Time slips by, often without our notice. Goals made in January tend to be forgotten until we find ourselves contemplating the end of another year. In the crafting world, the chant of Keep Calm and Finish by Christmas may not always be heard, but it is seldom not running through the mind of the crafter. Fortunately, most crafters understand that if it is not finished by Christmas, it will still be finished by the following one.

This year I set a personal goal of making some simple, beginner-friendly patchwork projects available for family and friends. While it was not my first set of patterns to make available, it was the first set that I would highlight in video form and share with the world.

One particular pattern would have to wait until the end of the year since I so very much wanted to make it Christmas themed.

Leaving any bigger project until the end of the year is flirting with danger in this particular crafter’s home. Ideas for holiday projects flood my mind the moment the temperatures begin to chill and the leaves on the trees begin to fall. This year was no different but with great determination, I managed to get this project wrapped up despite the unexpected hurdle of having a minor injury to my right arm (It is hard to hand quilt when your hand is not cooperating).

The journey of bringing this project from conception to fruition has been a joy. Soon this tree skirt will be in the mail, traveling thousands of miles away to its destination, and providing joy to its recipient. With a bit of luck Christmas Logs Under the Tree will arrive just in time.

Free pdf pattern

Goals Accomplished

Over the summer I began dyeing and spinning a collection of yarn. The intent was to have a ‘countdown to Christmas’ collection of squishy packages for my children. When I began the challenge, there was speculation that my daughter would be returning to her Peace Corps assignment before Christmas. I thought it would be wonderful for her and her brother to both have something they could do together as they counted down to Christmas.

About midway through this goal of mine, it became clear that my daughter would not be returning to the Peace Corps this year. My desire to get the fiber spun was even greater as it became clear 2020 was going to throw more hurdles into our lives.

As the deadline to get my son’s packages in the mail approached, I wondered at the sanity of dyeing so many different hanks of fiber. With only days to spare, I wrapped the little 50 gram yarn balls and enclosed them into the box that would take them across an ocean.

On Thanksgiving Day, the yarn was indeed in the same country as my son, but as with most things military, there was confusion. So the day after Thanksgiving my son retrieved the big box of mini packages and began the countdown with two squishy bundles to unwrap.

Each day (or every other day as schedules permit) my two kiddos unwrap and share photos with each other. They are counting down the days, not just to Christmas, but to the end of 2020.

I think many of us are counting down the days until 2020 ends and we can enter a new year with hope for less strife than 2020 has presented. For many, 2020 began with hopes, dreams, and goals that would be disrupted – even shattered. For many, as 2020 marched along the only goal was to see it come to an end.

For me, my goal for 2020 – for any year – is to find as much joy as I can, and to find ways to share that joy with others. Tears, disappointments, strife, and hardship may make me stressed and filled with sorrow, but despite the stress and sorrow, I still find joy. Long ago I learned that joy shines a light into even the darkest corners of our lives and minds. We must seek that joy, open our eyes to that light. At times this may be hard, sometimes very hard, but it is a goal for which the hard work is worth it.

The goal of finding joy in our lives each day is one worth accomplishing. It is one of the many goals I have accomplished this year, and one that I hope I can accomplish in the year to come.

Merry Christmas!

For those who have been following my Christmas Countdown Collection journey, this week’s video shows some of the finished Granny Squares. I have also put together (with the help of my daughter) a pattern for download for any who wish to join the Granny fun.

Pattern to download.

Inspiration, Memories, Holiday Joy

Confessions of a Crafter

During the holiday season, my world seems to be inundated by inspiring social media posts and videos. So many wonderful new things to try, hidden among some crazy crafting fodder. I enjoy watching videos of projects coming to life, even ones that show crafts that I know I will never take on. Every so often though, I will decide to join the crazy train of a popular craft. Yet, I prefer when my new crafty undertakings are able to overlap with my current arsenal of creative techniques. Finding an overlap is not always easy. Clay work, for instance, is still rather a stand alone. Although, I have made my own polymer clay buttons, so there is some overlap with my sewing projects.

Good organization skills and proper storage techniques come in handy when there are multiple crafty people living under one roof. The joke about the entire house being called a craft room is not much of a joke when so many rooms hold craft supplies. With the constraints of limited space and a need to actually live in the house rather than just craft in the house, I am hesitant when I feel the urge to take on a new type of crafting endeavor. However in the days since I last contributed to this blog, I have finally succumbed to the ever popular world of blinging up a project with gems.

In the past, I have made embraced glass beads for my blinging needs. This was a frugal way to use materials I had on hand, as well as a permanent way to attach bling, but glass beads have their limits. Working with freestanding lace embroidery turned out to be one of the limits. I knew that hiding the attachment stitches on delicate lace ornaments would be difficult. So after many years of resisting the urge, I took the plunge and purchased a hot-fix gem tool and an assortment of gems. When the supplies arrived, down that rabbit hole I dove into a magical world of sparkling light. What was I thinking by resisting this craze for so long?

Fortunately over the years I have learned restraint. So I don’t think my home will be blinged up, nor will my husband worry that his clothing will start to twinkle in the sunlight, but the ornaments I make each year may very well sparkle when the lights of the Christmas tree are turned on.

Another Video

After taking a couple weeks to rest/play/craft, I sat down and tried something new – a vlog rather than an inspirational mini tutorial. It was not my intent to ramble along for such an amount of time, but I now understand why my favorite knitting vloggers vlog for nearly an hour each episode. It was quite to my surprise that I realized how very long I had been rambling about inspiration, projects completed, memories, and lessons learned. I do not know how many people will ever watch the video in its entirety, but at the end of the day I am so very pleased that this vlog has been created. It is a glimpse into my world, my head, my life, and it has brought me joy. I hope that it will bring others joy too.

Emotional Detox from Creative Thinking

November heralds in the winter holiday season, and what can be the beginning of an emotionally stressful time of the year. With so many major holidays arriving back-to-back, the joy of the holiday season can often become overshadowed by obligation or loneliness. We can feel pressured or misunderstood. Sometimes, even as we are surrounded by family and friends, we can feel isolated and alone. With Covid-19 forcing many to change traditional plans, the emotional stress may be even harder to combat this year.

I suspect many people will feel conflicting emotions of guilt and relief as they find that extended family get-togethers are cancelled. Attempts to replicate them virtually may cause distress rather than solace, and may cause one to question if there really is a way to still have connectivity while social distancing.

One of the lessons 2020 should be teaching all of us is that when faced with a major roadblock, we are better off looking for a new road forward rather than simply trying to adapt our old traveling patterns to get us where we want to go.

Patching over a problem is never as effective as creating something new that eliminates the problem all-together. Certainly there is value in a patch or in making the old work for a new day, but when we have the opportunity to create something new, it is good for us to give it a try.

As we embark on creating new 2020-inspired activities, success will be more likely if we evaluate what made the old activities so important to us. By understanding what the old provided, we are better set to include key attributes into our new endeavors. Most importantly as we experiment with a new way of celebrating the holiday season, it is vital that we remember the old ways didn’t become successful traditions without growing pains.

Creative thinking and collaboration can lead us through this difficult time. The process, in itself, can be a celebrated moment in our life if we allow it to be. If we focus on what made us love the things of our past, and then seek to find ways to replicate that joy in our present circumstances, we may very well find that the 2020 Holiday Season is one of joy rather than toxicity. It just requires creative thinking and a willingness to embrace the future rather than simply long for the past.

Tips for Emotional Detoxification

  • Go for a walk and get some fresh air. If you can’t get outside, watch YouTube videos of other going for nature hikes. It really can help.
  • Color outside the lines – whether it is something new, or something you are already proficient at, try letting go of the constraints of perfection.
  • Finger paint – allow yourself to make a mess. The greatest work of art is the laughter-filled journey and not the finished object.
  • Share a video/audio message with a friend. A video or audio recording of a message is easily done with most cell phones. Rather than simply sending a text, emoji, or meme, try sending a short recording.
  • Virtual Creative Play-dates – virtual creative play-dates, (not just for the kiddos) can be a fun way to socialize, work on projects, or simply try something new with companionship.
  • Be kind to yourself – if circumstances prevent the above, you can still find a way to be kind to yourself. This should not be a last resort, but it is the foundation of all the above. Kindness to others must begins with kindness to ourself. If this is something you struggle with, then please seek assistance from a medical professional or a local or national hotline for mental/emotional health. You are worth it and are not alone.
I took my own advice – here is the video showing how I played with making natural dyes. There is also some footage of me getting some fresh air – it really can clear away life’s stresses, if even for just a moment or two.

Getting Organized

Even with the crazy world causing life to seem like it is dragging by, I still find myself wondering where all the time has gone. October is now just days away and my crafting to-do list is characteristically not completed.

To-do lists, shopping lists, event lists (although I suspect most holiday events will be only online this year), and gift-giving lists – with so many lists, I needed a way to keep things organized and tidy. So this led me to making notebook covers. Now at least my various lists look pretty as they clutter up my workspace.

I have created a video highlighting the notebook covers I have made this week, and I am providing a template for one of them There are links and information in the description box of the video containing more information on the designs I used.

Now I am back to my list making and my crafting. Top of my list – get more organized with my video/tech/recording. Boy, oh boy, did I ever have tech issues this week.

Happy Crafting

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