art, artist, beautiful things, Christmas, Christmas shopping

“Box-of-Socks” Happy

Christmas pencil

Merry Christmas morning. I’m enjoying a second cup of coffee as I reflect on holidays past and present, and those things, that usually aren’t things at all, that bring us joy. My family’s original Christmas Eve plans were thwarted by illness this year, and though we did manage to celebrate, it just isn’t the same without all my children present, because it is precisely those people that make holidays special. Cuddle time with grandson Tommy, who arrived safely with his mother from California, helped, but still didn’t make up for the missing family members.

CHristmas Eve with Tommy

While I usually savor year-end reflections on New Year’s Eve, a nearly-empty house this morning has me feeling pensive. Last-minute plans to move the Christmas Eve celebration to my home meant my children had a one-hour trip (or more) here last night, so we decided to delay the usual morning gift-giving until after our noon meal today.

Before my children arrived for festivities last night, a box arrived on my doorstep. It wasn’t a last-minute gift; reminiscent of the good old days when savvy couponing and refunding provided the bulk of our gifts, I’d managed to complete the majority of my shopping before Thanksgiving.

No, this box held 200 vintage advertising pencils. The thrill of excitement I felt upon opening that box would seem ridiculous to some.


Because you see, although the people I love are the most important things in my life, there are also material things that bring me joy.

Years ago, as the mother of several small children, I revealed to a friend my obsession with cute designed socks for my girls. While a lack of money prevented me from indulging in the habit, I did haunt the clearance shelves of Baby Gap and Gymboree for those socks. Not long after revealing my secret lust, a large box arrived in the mail from this woman. I vividly recall the moment I opened the flaps to reveal the contents; socks of all colors and patterns. There was initial amazement at the sheer number of socks; dozens of each size, from baby to teen, swiftly followed by a spark of wonder and joy at the bounty.


I knew the particular happiness of a wedding day, the joy at the birth of each of my children. But I wasn’t familiar with this kind of happiness. I grew up in poverty and wasn’t much better off for most of my marriage. Up until that moment, I don’t think I’d known the kind of happiness that came from having a bounty of anything. There were certainly a lot of junky garage sale toys cluttering our living room and play area. Definitely a high volume of dirty laundry. But so much of a good thing?

That day I coined the phrase “box-of-socks happy.” I’ve felt it many times since; a friend gifts me with a garbage bag filled with vintage boxes of stationery, a library book sale nets a goldmine of good reads, or I discover a clearance shelf filled with my favorite type of pen. I felt it, and then craved it, collecting more stationery than I could ever use in my lifetime, more discounted postage from eBay, even though I already have postage stashed away.

I even know what it is to have “too many shoes,” a dilemma I never understood all those years as a stay-at-home mom when a single dress pair inhabited my closet and Dr Scholl sandals vs. tennis shoes signaled the change of seasons.

I felt it last Christmas when my children gifted me with a magic Christmas ball filled with cash designated for a trip, an experience, a tangible wonder that would fill my heart with memories.

It isn’t the vintage pencils that excite me so much as what I will be doing with them; handing them out at “Legacy of the Magic Pencil” workshops and programs I’m planning in conjunction with the release of my new book, Called to Be Creative, next September.

Public speaking also makes me “box-of-socks happy.” I never feel more alive than when I’m conducting a program or workshop on a topic I’m passionate about.

I also feel that same sense of excitement, of wonder, when I find the perfect gift for someone, and I’m feeling it this year as I wait, with bated breath, for my children to arrive and open their gifts. It’s the reason I’ve delayed this post by 24 hours. When my brother Bill of William’s Whittling and Woodworks created the above plaque, I knew I must have one for each of my daughters. It embodies the very topic of my upcoming book. I want each of my children to discover their purpose in life.

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Of course, once I knew what I was giving my girls, I had to shop my brother’s etsy store for the perfect gift for each of my sons, feeling that same sense of excitement and anticipation as I imagined their own moment of happiness as they unwrapped the one-of-a-kind work created by their uncle, an uncle who is living his passion through his woodworking.

What about you? What makes you box-of-socks happy?










Christmas shopping


This is the fourth morning I have dropped off my two youngest (Katie, age 10 and Abby, almost 7) at a Vacation Bible School at 8:30 in the morning, for three hours.  THREE HOURS.  I can see the shoulder shrugs of some of you (big deal, three hours, so what), but I can also hear the gasps of amazed envy from some others (three whole hours to myself? Wow! I can only imagine)  As a mother who has chosen a homeschooling lifestyle, time alone is at a premium.  I had fully intended to write that entire time, each of those five days.  On day number one, I did, but then I realized I needed to do more research to add to my second chapter.  On day number two, I did the research and wrote some more. Yesterday, on day number three, Katie called me ten minutes after I got home and I had to go get her.  I let her stay on the couch and watch television, but then my kitchen writing time was interrupted by retching sounds coming from the living room and the plaintive wail, “Mom, I need to puke again.” I ended up doing more research and printing everything out so I could take it with me today while I go to Dubuque with my husband for his doctor’s appointment.  This morning, after I dropped off the girls I caught up with my e-mail and then did a little Christmas shopping online with some Photostamps codes I had.  Check your local Walgreens stores to see if you can find these kits on clearance like I did;

Look in the photo department.  These kits normally retail for $19.99+, but are on clearance for $7.19-$10.40 at participating Walgreens stores.  You use the code inside the kit to make your own personalized postage stamps, a sheet of 20 stamps.  Now, if you consider that a sheet of 20 stamps costs you $8.80 at the Post Office, $7.19 for a personalized set sounds pretty darn good.  But don’t pass over the $10.40 boxes if you see them.  For each box you buy, you are going to get $21 of credit on the Photostamps website, and if you buy and use more than one kit at a time, you will save $2 on each set in an order.  I ordered 6 sets with the 5 kits I had and the credit paid for all of them.  I’d also used a free shipping code which added some more credit onto my order because the kids pay for the shipping.  If this sounds like a convoluted way to get an extra set free, it was, but it also means I paid $50 for $52.80 worth of postage.  Would you buy 6 sets of personalized postage at your local post office for an almost $3 discount?  And what better gift for someone you love, like your own mother, than a set of stamps with this photo on:

That is a picture of my mom and dad, taken when they were dating, I believe.  Dad has been dead for 23 years.  I am sure my mother will enjoy using the stamps on the letters she writes.

And, of course, I had to add a couple of sheets to my order of this photo of David and I, taken in a Chuck E. Cheese booth:

So, do check your local Walgreens stores for these kits.  They make great gifts, and end up saving you money on postage!

Did I waste this morning’s time alone on Christmas shopping and e-mail? Perhaps, but only because I know that I will be sitting in a doctor’s office for three hours this afternoon, writing. I actually look forward to doctor’s waiting rooms if I don’t have children in tow.

And then,there is always tomorrow.

Unless Abby gets whatever it was Katie had yesterday morning. knock on wood-

A friend recently commented to me, Time alone is highly overrated. I actually get bored. And lonely.

It hit me that only someone with plenty of time alone would say something like that.

It also made me wonder: Would a woman of means say such a thing to a mother struggling to make ends meet?   Money is highly overrated. I actually am tired of having so much money. Whatever I want, whenever I want it, I just buy it.  That can get pretty boring.

And then she’d probably wonder why I just slapped her.

Christmas shopping


playkitchen 004

A good friend of mine just e-mailed me, excited about the dollhouse she found at a neighbor’s garage sale.  “My Mom never let me have a dollhouse and I always wanted one,” she wrote. “I can’t wait to display it.”

Her daughter is 18 years old.

I don’t remember yearning for a dollhouse as a child, nor even wanting dolls.  My single doll was a Raggedy Ann my mother had made.  I do remember envying my cousin’s Barbie dolls, but being satisfied with her cast-offs, even with the chewed fingers or the shortened haircuts. What I do remember wanting is books. The want and lust was very real. One of the very first things I bought with my babysitting money was a paperback book out of the Scholastic catalog our 7th grade teacher passed out.  It seemed to me that one must be very rich to own books, and now I am surrounded by books, so I must be very rich indeed.

But toys?  Other than a Superball I ordered from Cheerios and some paper dolls, I don’t really remember toys being all that important in my life as a child.  Instead, I was surrounded by siblings with vivid imaginations and when we weren’t busy reading books from the library, we made our own entertainment.

When I read my friend’s e-mail I couldn’t think of anything I wanted for my children that I didn’t have for myself.  But then, I turned my chair around, and there it was; the kitchen set I’d gotten Abby last year for Christmas.  As a child I would have thought this was the most wonderful gift in the world. As an adult, I still want to play with it. I looked everywhere for one of these for years and the prices were always over $100, sometimes $150 or more.  $150 for a toy, a price beyond my imagination. But last year Amazon held some amazing toy sales in late November and early December and when this set went down to 50% off with free shipping, well, I couldn’t resist. I knew Melissa & Doug made quality wooden toys and it would last a long time.

Abby woke up late last Christmas, when everyone had already opened their gifts, and she stood next to me in front of this set Michael had put together ahead of time. We covered it with a large decorated “sheet”  designed to hide large presents. When I told her that the big gift underneath was for her, her eyes widened. She pulled off the sheet and grabbed me around the waist and hid her face. At first I thought she didn’t like it, but later she told me it was just too wonderful to look at.

That kitchen set has seen a lot of play in the last year, and yes, I did buy it with visions of years of play ahead for Abby and my grandchildren, but I wonder if there was a little more to this purchase. And then I understand why my friend bought the dollhouse. 

Because some toys are just too wonderful to look at.  And those are the very best toys to have. Because when we see them, we are transported back to our childhood selves. And my childhood self would have LOVED this kitchen set.