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?











Something So Simple

Often it is something small and simple that warms our heart:

Like the “Wish Sister” my sister Pat gave me, propped up on the shelf of my desk.  Just looking at it makes me smile.

And sometimes it is the little things in one’s life that whittle away our time, until cumulatively, they feel like one very big thing.

That is what I have been experiencing recently. Each day I have had something that I needed to do or somewhere I needed to go; work at my sister’s consignment store, a family meeting at my mother’s, a speech one evening, an interview another day. All were very enjoyable activities, but with a van load of things to price from my mother’s estate, a book to work on, and two dozen boxes of my own things to price, the balance we all strive for as women suddenly tipped in the “too-busy” direction. I wasn’t getting to do things I enjoy but have to make time for: walks with my sister, a letter to my friend Mary or a look at her latest essay, or even posting on my blog.

I was feeling a tad bit overwhelmed.

I canceled a dentist appointment, postponed a field trip with a friend, skipped the morning walk a few times.

But still I felt it; that looming stress.  I knew what it stemmed from and when it started, but I wasn’t exactly sure how to fix it.  It was triggered when I saw my van filled to the brim with boxes of things of my mother’s to be priced for my next garage sale.  It intensified when I saw my attic steps piled high with my own things to price. And when the calendar on my wall reflected yet another upcoming week filled with appointments and obligations, I experienced what can only be described as extreme anxiety.

Luckily, I have people who care about me who either sensed my anxiety or responded to my expressed need for help. To some, their gift of time would have seemed a small thing. To me, it has been priceless.

My sister Joan offered to spend a day or two helping me price for my garage sale.  My husband took my place taking the kids to the dentist on Tuesday.  And this morning, my 14-year-old left a note on her door for me to wake her up so she could take the first two hours of a stint of babysitting I was doing today.

Those two hours made all the difference.

When Emily left to do her two hours, I relaxed a little. I finished a letter, edited my friend’s essay, clipped some coupons, and answered a few important e-mails. After leisurely getting dressed, I still had time to get a load of laundry going before the two grandchildren arrived at my house. Now, a few hours later, I’m sitting in my daughter Elizabeth’s quiet house on her computer, Jo-Jo fast asleep on the couch. I’m not sure what Jo-Jo thought about the Kenny G CD I put on after we walked here in the brisk Spring air, but unlike his aunts and uncles, he didn’t complain. Less than five minutes after sitting on the couch next to me, he fell asleep holding my hand.

I know a woman who craves lavish gifts from her husband; shiny baubles as a declaration of his love.

“Diamonds. Big diamonds,” she elaborates.

For me, nothing says love better than being served a hot mug of tea after a long day.

Or the reminder of a sister’s love in a whimsical doll to decorate a desk.

But for me, the very best gift of all is a gift of time:

My sister’s offer to share in a time-consuming chore.

My husband taking over my usual task of carting children to a dental appointment.

My young daughter giving me an extra two hours of work this morning.

Simple gestures, perhaps, but gifts from the heart. And you can’t buy that kind of love and support.

And holding my grandson’s hand while he falls asleep?

There isn’t a diamond on Earth big enough to take the place of that precious moment.