The Things We Remember

As we age, or even just as we get too busy with out lives, there are so many things we forget. There are things we wish we could forget which cling to us with a force that seems unbreakable. Then there are those wonderful things we hope to never forget.

This morning I awoke thinking of something I hope to always remember – a smile. This wasn’t any ordinary smile because the woman of whom the the smile belongs has never been ordinary. When I knew her in person, she was extraordinary; I suspect she still is.

I haven’t seen her in person in nearly 30 years, yet I can still see her smile and hear her laugh as if it was just yesterday we last were together. With the marvels of modern technology, I have seen photos that prove her smile and her exuberance has not diminished over the years. From those photos, it is clear that her family is well accustomed to her smile and laughter.

I don’t know why it was her smile that I saw when I dreamt my last dream of the night. It had been a rough night with unpleasant dreams that I am more that happy to have fade from memory. Upon seeing my friend smile in my dream, I awoke and the unpleasant memories, best forgotten, faded away, replaced by the joy I felt upon seeing her smile.

The Magic is in Me

One of the things I love about hand crafts is that the process of doing the craft reminds us that we are the element of change – we are the magic that transforms one object into something greater than its original state.

On New Year’s Eve we find ourselves hoping there will be some magical force that will change the days ahead into something better than the days of the past. In recent years, it seems we cannot even make it through a full week into the new year without having this hope diminished.

When we realize the magic is inside our own selves, then we begin to understand that the hope for a better new year is a hope that can be achieved.


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

Be Kind to Yourself

As the big crafting season begins, I have been thinking about one of the most important lessons life and aging teaches. Be Kind to Yourself – it is such an important thing to do all year long, but as crafters, it is something we often neglect to do as we scramble to make just one more item before the holiday deadline.

In my latest video, I talk a bit about how bad I am with this lesson life keeps teaching me. After showing of few of my latest projects, I change gears (around the 20:57 mark). Even when I am trying to be kind to myself and not over-do it, the unexpected can happen and force me to slow down even more. Learning to find peace and joy when the brain and body war against each other is not always an easy lesson to learn. It is, however, a worthy lesson to learn.

I hope you enjoy my video – pieces or the whole – I have enjoyed sharing it.

The free pdf pattern for the placemat I share in the video is here for your enjoyment if you wish to download it.

Liberty: Joy and Sorrow

Liberty, even when it allows for the foolishness of mankind to flourish, is better than bondage.

We must be cautious not to forget that personal liberty should not come at the cost of the liberty of another. The wise understands that liberty, responsibility, and compassion are intrinsically intertwined. Without all three, it is easy for liberty to become nothing more than a mask for self-interest, greed, and apathy.  

Once liberty loses its meaning due to the foolishness of mankind, it becomes easier to convince the unwise to give up liberty in hopes of preventing the sorrow generated by foolish behavior.

Rather than rejecting liberty, it is better that we learn to find joy even when surrounded by the sorrow mankind generates through its foolishness. Liberty with foolishness and sorrow will always be better than bondage.