Giving gifts

Confession: I once wrote a blog post called The Great Bird-Dog Mystery, about some puzzling wooden objects that kept popping up around my town, nailed to fences and signs. The post was a little bit sassy and a little bit tongue-in-cheek, and I had it all typed up and ready to publish (Where do they come from? Who makes these things? What are they exactly?) when my husband glanced over my shoulder (a thing he is strictly forbidden to do, but – you know how that goes) and said, “Oh, don’t you know?” and pulled up a news article in the Meadville Tribune explaining the phenomenon.

Which is, simply, that an elderly Italian man who lives very near to me likes to make dogs out of wood. He hand-cuts them and hand-paints them (each is unique) and leaves his gifts in prominent places around the neighborhood, for people to enjoy.

In disgust with myself (and the non-mystery of my mystery, and the sacrilege of having almost made fun of the work of a respectable man old enough to be my grandfather), I deleted the blog post at once, unpublished.

But I still think of that man from time to time – especially when I see his creations, but other times too – and somehow it gets me, the way he labors quietly in his shop over a bit of fallen tree, and sands it smooth and paints it, and leaves it around town so that the people will have joy. Probably sometimes he goes back to check on one and finds that somebody has removed it, and he doesn’t know where it went. Maybe into the TriCounty waste bin.

I imagine that in between his unpretentious dog-planting he is quite a regular old Joe, and pays his taxes and stops at stop signs and helps his daughter around the house.

He is a wise old man.

As I grow old, I too learn that when you must give something surprising and non-status-quo, because it felt good to paint it and there it is in your hand, it is best you should do it anonymously and without asking. Because sometimes people don’t know what to do with it or can’t be troubled to get back with you or have no room, or it’s against the institute’s policy or it’s at a bad time of year, and then you are standing there with a wooden dog in your hand, his painted spots a little lopsided, and no one wants him.

That must hurt. If you are a quiet old man.

Sometimes we give gifts to convince ourselves we have something to give.

Peanut butter and dragon wings

Confession: My son caught me crouching in the pantry with a large spoonful of peanut butter and honey halfway to my mouth.

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??!!?? he said.

The spoon made it the rest of the way, hastily.

Regan, I said firmly, I am gathering shthrength to care for my children. Now go play.

*

Three weeks of intense coughing by Mrs. Zook developed into 100% of her kiddos sick, including foster-baby-for-at-least-the-weekend who turned into foster-baby-for-at-least-two-weeks and then began upchucking violently. The washing machine stopped working and several inches of water pooled in the basement from all the rain. My mother got her first chemo treatment and my sister arrived from Israel, but I stayed away for the sake of all those germs.

A great weight loss program, all told; I highly recommend it. There is so little time to actually eat.

That is why I was crouching in the pantry fortifying myself with a chunk of peanut butter. I figured it was better than eating the entire bag of York mints.

And it was within reach, too.

But things are looking up. My man hotwired the washing machine and drained the basement. My friends sent food and comforting text messages, despite sickness in their own troops. I made it to the doctor, and the baby stopped puking (and oh, she is sweet), and the coughing bug caught the final child. We are fresh out of children for this bug to catch. Unless it starts catching them over again, which—heaven forbid.

*

My friend Anita owned the one piece of clothing in the world that I coveted, a webbed scarf knitted in a dragon’s wing pattern, deep turquoise with flecks of all colors woven through it. Her mother made it for her; not the kind of thing you can go buy at Walmart.

The week after Christmas I got a surprise package from my friend Heidi in Canada. I unwrapped a beautiful light turquoise store-bought scarf with flecks of color all through it. Hey, my son said. That looks kind of like the dragon’s wing.

I laughed in delight, and wrapped it around my shoulders. I wore it in season and out of season, matching and not matching, shelter me in the shadow of your wing. His provision is not a sparrow’s wing, as I always imagined, but something akin to a dragon’s wing. I wore it on the night the baby came and on the nights I sat up with her and I wrapped it around everyone I rocked to sleep.

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I think He sent it on purpose, right before my crazy time. I wore it till I could feel it around me whether I was wearing it or not. I’m wearing it now.

I debated and debated about the color, Heidi said. I thought you liked blue.

*

I had to fill another spoonful of peanut butter and honey for the sake of a photograph, but I didn’t mind. Neither did Regan, who stayed home sick today from school. He got to eat this one.

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Their greatest risk

Long ago when the world was young, the Three Deities prepared themselves to create their magnum opus, the human being. They spent many weeks brainstorming his maximum potential and ability. For hours they sat together at the drawing board sketching his features, the divine and glorious gifts. They gave him physical strength and emotional tenderness, spiritual awakening and the love of life. They gave him beauty. They gave him the gift of imagination: the ability to see things as they are not yet. They gave him intelligence, strategy, mobility, communication. And when they had made him nearly complete, and as like themselves as they dared, they sat down for one final meeting.

How much damage can the human do? they asked themselves. What boundaries must we set for him?

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We will start with Roots, said one of the Three. He will never be able to quite escape himself, or his father, or his place of birth. He will have his mother’s nose and his grandfather’s temper. In all his learning and his capacity for change, he will never be able to perfect himself out of these things. They will follow him through life. Continue reading

The rest of the mog story

Confession: I am slightly embarrassed. And extremely grateful.

Today my son brought home a package he’d found in his locker at school.

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Inside the wrappings and quirky box and fun tissue paper

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was this.

Picture of mug with this note: "I always wondered why I ended up with a mug like this. Now I know- It was for such a time as this!"

It’s made by my favorite potter (Alison Hershberger of White Hill Pottery), just like the one I smashed, and it’s large and perfect and shockingly beautiful.

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I knew God was in the business of giving undeserved gifts, but apparently one of my local blog readers is too. I don’t know who you are—your careful typing left little chance of that—but I am so grateful. I will cherish this mog until smash do us part.

Thank you!

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Our maiden voyage… Ahhhh!

 

Valentine ideas needed: gifts for guys

Confession: It’s nearly Valentine’s Day, and once again I am coming up short on ideas for a gift for The Boss.

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Birthdays and Christmas, I’ve found ways to shop that bring great joy to both of us. (Best of all is to poke his buddies for suggestions on fire gear or tech gadgets, and pull off a surprisingly savvy gift in a field I know little about.) But on Valentine’s Day I don’t plan to spend a lot of money; I just want to get him something small and sweet. Is there a masculine equivalent for flowers and chocolate??

[Oh right. Lingerie.]

I could buy him a bottle of cologne.

I could bake him a meltingly wonderful pie.

I could ditch the traditional gift route and go with the love language route: time or words or acts of service.

But none of these feel quite right for 2015. I’ve done them before.

What are you doing for your sweetheart this year? If you don’t have a sweetheart but have a good idea, share that too. I could use all the creativity you have.

*****

Aside to The Boss: No comment reading until after February 14, please. On the honor system.