Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Giving a Tinker's Dam

 It's that time again.  The holidays are upon us and even though we should probably think about giving more frequently than just this once a year, it's a time to forgive yourself, revive the practice enthusiastically. 

If we go back to 1877, in the Practical Dictionary of Mechanics, Edward Knight puts forward this definition:
"Tinker's-dam - a wall of dough raised around a place which a plumber desires to flood with a coat of solder. The material can be but once used; being consequently thrown away as worthless."
This is a blog about worth and value in giving, but let me preface by saying that all of you out there who were planning on sending me an extravagant check in the mail as a holiday gift, I won't turn up my nose to it!  Don't you fret!!!  Just carry on with what you have planned!!! :)

In our house, over the last few months, I have quietly instituted a lifestyle evolution towards living a little cleaner, greener, and with more inner substance.  You won't find me doing any sort of massive conversion to some new extreme.  I am not interested in that.  There's something about extremes that just doesn't sit well with me.  I think if more people thought in terms of balance at the center of things,  instead of trying to right the boat by running frantically to the other end of the deck, the human race might even find a way to stay afloat.

So we've begun a whole slew of things... the Austrian is taking our master bath toilet apart this weekend because the water pressure in it hasn't been right in over a year, and we're wasting water with double flushes. (go ahead and breeze on by that mental image...) Long before the city ordained the new twice a week sprinkler allowance, we'd already cut back the watering of our garden and front lawn.   Last year, I stopped buying regular lightbulbs and started buying slightly more expensive, but longer lasting energy efficient bulbs.   We stopped using our air conditioning and heater except in cases where it was absolutely necessary...instead using ceiling fans, and alternately, extra blankets on the bed.   We stopped eating out so much, and the Austrian and I started visiting our local farmer's market every weekend.  I started reading labels on packaged foods, paying close attention to the ingredient hierarchy, and the ratio of the serving size to amounts of certain things like sugars, sodium, and saturated fats.  I've eliminated much of the prepared foods we were eating and replaced them with fresh foods prepared at home.  I don't even know why we were doing anything differently.  I am a hobby gourmet, and we were paying manufacturers to do things I can easily do at home, cheaper, tastier, and without a dramatic investment of time.  I eliminated the enormous amount of leftovers we were throwing in the trash due to our busy lifestyle, by purchasing disposable oven-safe, microwavable single serving containers and packing and freezing leftovers for the Austrian to take to work for his lunches.  The containers are made of recycled materials, and they are manufactured in a certified green factory and can be found in every Smart & Final store and most of those large outlets such as  Sam's Club and Costco.  I've had two yard sales this year, and gave away about 200 pounds of clothing to Goodwill.  We overhauled a small area in our home that was completely disfunctional and largely useless and turned it into a craft supply storage area... reducing the amount of clutter in my life by about 40%!

One of the greatest successes in the last year, (beside our eco-friendly self-produced wedding), was our christmas gift project.  I am being VERY generous when I use the word "our".   The boys were not really fully on board until the last weekend of production.

It might have been asking a bit much to get the Austrian, who I suspect to have borderline OCD, and the Pyrate who is probably sick of me and my big ideas, no matter how much he patronizes them.

But this stuff was not going to make itself!  We were on a tight budget, with wedding and trip to Mexico coming up in a few months, so we needed to use our creative resources and give in a very different way.

Once the guys got into it, they were very helpful and we were all very proud of what we'd done.  I spent 3 full weekends basically doing nothing but making the components of our christmas presents. We made several different things.The idea was to give things made with our own hands which had to be in some way useful.   We did some really cool stuff!
We made glass magnets decoupaged with art.

We decoupaged glass vases, framed mirrors, decorative platters, lazy susans, cigar boxes, and more.  I decoupaged wooden blocks and made block puzzles from images out of art magazines.  Grown-ups like to have them on the coffee table to fiddle with, and kids... well they love that there's 6 different images to puzzle together.

I made a beautiful jerk seasoning mix and layered the ingredients in the jar like a sand sculpture.  We made a seaweed mint footscrub, an oatmeal lavender milk bath, and little cones of individual cocoa mix and marshmallows.   Andreas designed customized labels for everything so that our gifts had a nice theme.

I purchased reusable grocery bags  and kraft paper (brown paper bag paper) for wrapping, from Nashville Wraps, an online company that sells gift packaging, including a huge and varied assortment of eco-friendly, recycled, re-useable products. 

We made our gifts, wrapped them in brown kraft paper, packed them in brown unbleached tissue paper, in reuseable grocery bags, and I can't remember the last time any gift I've given received such a response of gratefulness. 

People really like it when you do something thoughtful and actually give more than a tinker's dam instead of just going through the motions.  People actually get it when you've reached inside yourself and used your inner gifts for benevolence.

At a time when we probably should all be thinking more about how we spend our money... a time when we should be more conscious about how we consume... a time when we should be practicing less waste and more sustainable ways of living... getting creative in the way you give to others is the obvious move.  Not only is the gift more meaningful to the recipient, it is also profoundly good for your own mental, emotional, and yes, even physical health, to create and give.

So if you're a fantastic writer, write a short story and find self publisher online to print it, and give it as a gift.  If you're an artist, paint something and have copies printed, frame it and wrap it up in a bow.  You might think you're not very handy, or that you don't have the time, but those are excuses.  Giving is not giving if you don't get up off of something and give it.  Everybody has a talent for something.  If you're a handy household do-it-yourself-er, print up your favorite home improvement advice and anecdotes on nice paper, bound in a creative way and give it to all the homeowners in your life.  

If you write poetry, tell good jokes, bake great cakes, or even have great taste in music, there's super ways you can capitalize on your talent and use it for giving.   Frame a beautiful poem printed on parchment,  in an old frame and sign and number it.   Write a mini joke book.  Make a cake mix with all the dry ingredients for your most loved cake recipe and pack it up in a cellophane bag with instructions for what wet ingredients to add and how to bake it.   Make a list of must-have music and print it on card stock decorated with holiday regalia, add a personal note with holiday wishes and give it as a greeting card.
There are all kinds of great books out there if you want to try your hands at crafts.  You should, keep an open mind, don't start out too ambitious, don't get in over your head with something that will take months to finish.  And if you have many gifts to plan, don't choose something that you can't create in multiple fairly quickly.   

This year, we're going to step it up a notch with the edible goods, since I'm writing about food in my blogs.  I'm not completely committed yet to what all the goods will be, but there will be some sort of recipe booklet type inclusion, that, perhaps, I'll make available for sale after the holidays are over.

If you really feel that you just cannot create something, but you have a generous heart, that in itself is a talent!  Gather up some of  your friends and loved ones and plan a trip to your local rescue mission to serve a meal or deliver some cheer to children's ward at your local hospital.  Take books to read them, and boardgames to play.  This will be appreciated greatly by the staff and the patients alike!

You can find some really great books on crafting in my bookshelf in the right margin of the blog page.  All the books there are ones I have in my library and recommend!  So have fun, and remember to give from the heart!!!

All photos in this blog are taken by me, of items made by me, using recycled and re-purposed materials and cost very little money to make, but 3 weekends of my time, and a lot of love! 

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