It's better to have gifts than receipts.

That title's an old joke my grandpa used to repeat to us every year on birthdays and Christmas. But I'm using it here with a twist, because I'm pleased to announce it's time for the
"Small Works Christmas Gifts Spectacular"
in which I show you some of the fun we had here in Hinckleyville with our annual homemade gift exchange. This is something we began about 5 years ago, although had I known it was going to be so amazing I would have started it much sooner. When my kids were little, of course they made us gifts at school. Some of these still adorn our tree. When they became young adults, (and poor) they wanted to get us gifts but I didn't want them to spend a penny of their precious money on things for their dad and me that we didn't need.

I do, of course, understand that all the joy of Christmas is centered on the giving, and therefore I sympathized with their desire to give us gifts. So I came up with the idea that we would all make gifts for each other, requiring effort but little or no money. The first year was simply amazing -- my husband and I had recently discovered our love of New Mexico, so he fashioned a Native American "dreamcatcher" for me by cutting the head off a badminton racket and embellishing it with all manner of beads, feathers, leather, arrowheads, etc. What could I do but cry when I opened it?

(sorry you have to see my in my Christmas pj's, but c'mon -- it's a great dreamcatcher, so it was worth it, right?)

Just the image of my husband going to a craft store for supplies was the most delightful gift I could imagine! Over the years he has become very adept at making earrings for his daughters (which they wear with much pride), and once he even did an iron-on sunset on the back of a western shirt for me. That required not only a trip to JoAnn Fabrics, but a long afternoon with a hot iron and some fusible web that he had no idea how to use.

Seriously -- Best. Idea. Ever. If your kids are old enough, I highly recommend it. Of all the presents we get (and give) at Christmas, these are everyone's favorites and are so highly anticipated and treasured.

So without further ado, here's the

"Smallworks 2008 Parade of Handmade Spectacularness":

okay, haven't mastered the camera yet -- stay with me, I'm working on it!

I made bracelets for the girls by painting wooden bracelets from the Michael's clearance bin and covering them with wool -- then I stitched on the designs (leaves for Chelsea, my environmental law student -- polka dots for Hannah and Lindsay). These turned out quite well so I made some for friends also, who, unfortunately, couldn't begin to fit them over their hands. I have suggested very large napkin rings? One ring for all the napkins at the table, perhaps? Oh well, it's the thought that counts . . .

For Russ I made a western bookmark to replace the one he left on the bus and lost this year (I had made that one for him some years ago, but it was much less fancy). This one has a cool "crackled paint" type finish on the leather (it came that way) and an "r" cut from an old flashcard. The button is chipboard and looks like weathered wood -- no idea where it came from, it just materialized in my button box in the nick of time. One of those inexplicable Christmas things.

Russ made me a lovely little horse watercolor. I did have to remind him that I'm a little sensitive about people who can draw horses (as explained in this previous post). We had a good laugh about that as he realized he walked right into being written about on my blog the minute he chose to draw me a horse. He hopes I'm not going to hang it up in the house, which of course I am. Prominently.

For the girls' gifts, Russ totally outdid himself. He took the idea of a jackalope (you've seen them, right? A mounted rabbit's head with antlers attached? Mythical creature of the western desert?) and made the girls some trophies for their walls. Lindsay got a "Beag-a-lope" which looked just like her beagle, Jack. Unfortunately, she took it home before we could snap a picture. Chelsea got a "Frog-a-lope" because she has collected frogs since she was a young girl.

Funny, right? We laughed OUT LOUD when these were opened. He used a florist-wire-and-tin-foil armature and covered it with casting plaster (the "broken-arm" kind) for the antlers. Very resourceful. Hannah got an "Old-English-Bulldog-a-lope", because that's the dog she (very vocally and often) wishes we had, even though she loves our Cooper.

Lindsay had the foresight to ask for a screenprinting kit for her birthday, so she would be prepared to make us fabulous screen-printed clothing, which we all adored. The girls all got the "artware" logo:

which we thought was extremely cool. During her test marketing (to her roommates), Lindsay's boyfriend informed her that he would never wear something that said "art." So for Russ, she shortened it to "a-ware" and put an eye -- I'd like one of those as well! Totally awesome.

Chelsea made me a "Vermont Maple Leaf" from wire and yarn.

During the construction process, she had informed me that my gift was "an epic failure". When I opened it, I declared it to be a "monumental success!" It is so creative, such a lovely personal reminder of her every day (I miss you, Chelsea) and full of such wonderful "vermonty goodness" -- just right for my studio wall, don't you think?

For Russ, Chelsea and Hannah collaborated on a truly special dog-walking sweatshirt, a tribute to his beloved chocolate-lab/son-he-never-had, Cooper:

front view

back view

From the rick-rack on the hood to the jingle bells on Cooper's leather collar, Russ will truly be walking the dog in both warmth and style this winter!

Last, but not least, Hannah made us each pads of paper personalized with things we love:

A giant pad of paper with Hannah's amazing drawings on every page? Splendid! Best use of Kinko's I've seen yet. And a handy pad of reminders of my favorite college sophomore, whose art projects I rarely get to see anymore because she's doing all her creating in a studio far, far away.

It was, once again, a Hinckley Christmas to remember. Thanks to my amazing fam for your love and your wonderful, thoughtful, homemade craziness tied up in ribbons and fancy paper, making for the best kind of Christmas morning in the world.

O, Tidings of Comfort & Joy!

Well well well . . . now I have missed Christmas altogether. On the blog, I mean, not in real life.

Christmas in real life was just splendid.

Yes, my tree (finally) got decorated.

Okay, not a picture of my tree, but still swell, isn't it? My tree was much less covered with snow-like frosty rayon flocking and much less pink.

Thanks for the picture, Chels!

Yes, many delicious treats were concocted and are still being devoured, including but not limited to cookies:

(THE cookies with the currant jelly and beautiful shiny white icing -- and for some reason this year's batch was perhaps the best ever)

and rice pudding with raspberry sauce. Eaten just this morning for breakfast -- boxing-day Breakfast of Champions.

Yes, amazing gifts were made and traded with my quirky husband and our amazing funky chitlins. This will deserve a post all its own. Some family members truly outdid themselves this year. And I'll be able to show it all to you, lucky reader, because . . .

Santa brought me a surprise camera!

What??!! Pictures for the blog that weren't taken in the 1920's - 1950's? I don't know. I fear change. And it looks complicated.

We'll see how that goes -- it's got a big instruction manual and my kids go back to school in January, so I'd better start reading now.

Assuming I ever do manage to take a picture and get it successfully onto my computer. . .
I realize I'm the last one at this digital photography party, so please bear with me while I make annoying exclamations like "This is amazing! Look what it can do!" and other things you all talked about long before I arrived.

Merry (blog)post-Christmas and a wonderfully Happy New Year week to all!


Okay, okay . . . . I admit that wasn't very nice.

In fact, it was downright naughty. Remember when I told you someone called me "bad" for not having my tree decorated? Well, since I knew she was coming over on Friday . . . I positively had to leave it undecorated so I could bask in her scorn. It was a juvenile thing to do -- I felt a lot like a two-year-old who knows her mother expects her to throw a tantrum at Target so she does it. But I just had to live up to the label. So I basked.

However -- tree trimming party at our house tonight! Come on over! Pizza for all!

No? Don't want to reward my juvenile and procrastination-ridden behavior? Can't blame you. But not only is Santa on his way, Chelsea and Hannah are on their way too, so I'm going to buckle down and finish the decorating pronto.

In the interest of Christmas honesty, part of why I'm staying home giving myself a party on Friday night to eat pizza and finish the decorating is that Russ has developed one of his celebrated December colds.

It could wreak havoc with the caroling outing next week -- we'll see. I just want him to rest up and feel better when the kids get here!

Anyway, staying home throwing myself a party will give me a chance to use some of my swell and festive holiday lounge-wear.

Of course! My home-life fashions are nothing if not gay! Comfy, but definitely gay!

Should I wear this hostess coat, simple yet elegant, of Chromspun plaid taffeta with convertible neckline and a small Peter Pan collar and narrow tie? (Sudden Christmas memory: my mother and sisters and I actually had plaid taffeta floor length jumpers for Christmas one year -- orange plaid -- which we wore with blouses with bows!! eeekkk!!)

Or perhaps this practical washable brunch coat of checkered cotton, completely quilt-stitched with a self-belt and collar and pockets trimmed with corduroy. No ironing is necessary!

I'm more comfortable in pants. Perhaps this smart princesse tunic ensemble with gold-braid trimming on the collar and sleeves. . .

Or this satin blouse with jeweled buttons, paired with tapered pants printed in gold with a Chinese motif, perfect for relaxing or entertaining unexpected callers?

I know -- how about green and red sweats!
Festive, comfy, and perfect with pizza (and dog hair!)

And unfortunately just so much more Susan-ish.

December 19 has long been my favorite day of the season (ever since I was a young child); just close enough to be really close to Christmas without being so close that the fun is almost over.

I wish you all a wonderful weekend and a
Happy December 19th!


Mein tannenbaum hat gar nichts.

Is it risky to use a blog title when you're unsure of exactly what it means? I'm pretty sure I can trust my source. I believe that I'm summoning the German Christmas fairies to come help me decorate my tree. If that goes well, I may have some additional chores for them to help me with . . .


While they're busy with that, I'm going to work on a few other things. Because I have one or two undone items still swimming around upstairs . . .

Unfortunately, it's not stew as in "warm, homey, comforting and delicious goodness", but rather stew as in "why oh why didn't I work on this last August while I was trying to stay cool and watching The Price is Right?" Oh well, I've never missed a Christmas yet.

And the mailing is done. ($151.51 in postage, to be exact. A new record.) That in itself is cause for a celebration! So I had one -- I met a friend for lunch where I had soup and a sandwich and some extra bread. With butter. It's Christmas, right? And anyway, we need some fuel to stay warm this week. We're having a real old-fashioned Minnesota winter so far. In fact, it's in the teens today and I never realized how good the teens can feel! I'm going for a run outside, as soon as I'm done here. You have to be opportunistic in Minnesota if you want to be a runner, whether you feel like going at that particular time or not.

But yesterday at 7:00 am when it was sub-zero and Russ and I were shoveling our fool heads off for the third time this week, I was feeling a little less than patriotic about our beloved home in the north. We're not "true" Minnesotans -- "true" Minnesotans insist on getting the driveway down to the black pavement. We just like to get the car in and out of the garage. We did go out Tuesday night and buy a fancy new shovel that is the most amazing product ever (with the most amazing price tag), and at least the novelty is making shoveling fun FOR NOW. It's supposed to snow again tonight and Saturday night, so the novelty may have worn off by Sunday.

And while I was shoveling I remembered my extensive collection of vintage Christmas cards. What's the point in having an extensive collection of vintage Christmas cards if you don't pull them out once a year and bask in their warm, homey, comforting and delicious glow?

So I'm going to host a holiday parade of Minnesota snowmen for you to enjoy.

Because I'm not building you one outside today no matter how much you beg --it's not THAT warm. And besides, we're out of carrots. Cooper finished them off this morning. In his utter dejection at not being able to spend all day outside because of the cold, he has taken to putting on the saddest puppy dog eyes just about every twenty minutes, which he fixes directly on my face until I give him something to eat. And in order to keep him from gaining 100 pounds before the temperature goes up again, I give him carrots. So I can't build a snowman today.

But who can resist these cuties? And you can enjoy a cup of hot chocolate or a bowl of Christmas stew while they track snow across your computer desk!

Happy Minnesota-winter-Thursday-before-Christmas!


Would you believe my dog ate my ornaments??!

You might believe it, if you've seen the chewed-up corner of the dining room carpet. But since it's December and we all "better watch out," I guess I've got to be completely truthful with you:

Although I am painfully aware of what the calendar says,

I have turned a blind eye to the nakedness of my Christmas tree. My husband and I have agreed that we both admire "understated elegance", and have therefore pretended to enjoy the "lights only" look that has adorned our tree thus far. But the clock is ticking . . . . do you hear it?
The incessant tick . . . tick . . . tick . . .

Actually, I have been very busy fixing a whole lot of fun decorations that could put our house in a Christmas mood, but they are all to give away as gifts. Santa's got to give me a little credit for that, right?

And the tree hasn't been completely bare for a week now, because I put this on it last Tuesday:

It came in the mail and it looked a little like an ornament, so I thought it could keep the lights company on our tree for a day or two -- okay, a week or so -- but I suppose the effect would have been more Christmasy if I had added some glitter to the lettering. Actually, I've got some glitter in my right eye that has been really irritating me all morning (for some reason I can't use glitter without getting some in my eye -- this never changes) so since I'm already glittering, I think I'll go ahead and add some sparkle to the "free bowling" coupon. Can't hurt, right?

I was talking to someone who wants to stop by my house for a meeting on Friday,

and I said, "I'll try to get my tree decorated by then." She laughed like I'd really said something funny, but I didn't laugh. "Right, Susan," she said. "Like your tree isn't decorated."

"Like, it isn't". I said.

"You're BAD." she said (and she meant it. I could tell.)
Oooh . . . the dreaded December "B" word.

We have some German friends who have "Christmas fairies" that come by their house and decorate their tree on Christmas eve. I wonder if I leave my tree until Christmas eve, will they stop by my house? Maybe if I learn to summon them in German -- worth a try, right?

Well, Hannah and Chelsea come home this weekend, so surely I'll get motivated to get it done by then. I've been such a Christmas over-achiever for so long (Seriously. Open houses, fifty nativity scenes from around the world, dozens of labor-intensive traditional cookies, homemade gifts, caroling . . . craziness. This is actually healthier, right?)

And last night we brought the ornaments up from the basement. So there's hope. And Christmas is all about hope. And believing, let's not lose sight of that.
I believe.

If I don't have it done, I can always send the girls out for some free bowling while I work on it. Will the bowling alley still accept the coupon if it has glitter on it?


It's the MOSTLY wonderful time of the year . . .

I promised more show details, so I'm going to take a break from my whirlwind Christmas preparations to give you some.

Santa is cautioning me to be more truthful -- if you could see my house, you would rightly ask, "What whirlwind preparations?"

Actually, my focus has been mainly on the gifts I need to make (we have a tradition of making gifts for each other at our house. There will be more on that later, because it's become my favorite thing about Christmas!) The sorely neglected decorating will have to wait a few more days.

But back to the show -- as with all shows, it was a "best of times, worst of times" sort of experience, which makes it easy to organize your blog post when you return.


Someone saw this piece and asked if they can order it with any initial. I'm confused by that.

I have this little "grow" framed in a large frame with a giant "G" -- the name of the piece is "Big G, Little Grow" -- I know, cute, right? But this piece has caused me no end of grief in my booth. A memorable one this year was when two women stopped and saw the "G" and were terribly excited about it -- one of them came over and then got a very disgusted look on her face. "Oh," she said, "I think it has a piece of work in it!" And they walked away. Whatever.

One woman spent quite a bit of time in my booth reading and studying each piece. Then she turned to me and said,
"You have a weird mind."

No smile, no conversation, just that observation. Thank you, . . . . I guess?

But luckily we can move on now to:


We got our portrait of Cooper that we commissioned from Anne Leuck Feldhaus! It is just perfect, and was well worth the wait. My favorite thing about it may be that although she had a year to finish it, Anne was putting the varnish on late Saturday night so we could take it home on Sunday. Now that kind of procrastination is an endearing quality, and it has made me like Anne even more. Here's a picture of me picking up the portrait in her booth, where I am all smiles. If you wonder why our dog is "Special Agent Dale Cooper," I have two words for you -- "Twin Peaks." Surely we'll have to have "Small Works Twin Peaks Week" sometime during the February doldrums!

Most Wonderful:

There's something so wonderful about seeing people connect with a piece of my work, I can't even describe it. It's like watching a light go on, then comes the smile, sometimes a laugh . . . it's just the best thing that can ever happen to a person! It's like going to parent-teacher conference and getting a really unbelieveable report about how your child is the most amazing thing that ever set foot in the school! It makes you feel like perhaps you're not alone in the world, after all. Someone gets it.

We always put a favorite piece at the front of the booth with a spotlight on it -- the colors really come alive under a spot -- and this year we chose Stay at Home Mom No. 2.

(click on it so you can read the text)

From where my chair was, I could watch women's faces while they studied that piece, and it was the most satisfying experience I think I've ever had as an artist. I'm still a little tender on the "empty nest" thing, still working it out. One woman turned to me and asked, "Have you found your perch?" I had to admit that I was still a bit unsure. She smiled and assured me that I'd find it and I'd be happy there.

And I realized after watching the softening on the faces of many, many (too many to count) women -- the wistful smile, the shared moment of understanding -- that I'm part of a very old club. A club that cuts across race and religion, time and place.

It reminded me of another mother who "kept things in her heart". Wherever there's a mother, there's a full heart. I was blessed to get a glimpse.

Good luck in all your holiday busy-ness! I have more to say, but I'll save it until I've accomplished a few more things on my list.

It is the most wonderful time of the year.


Ho, ho . . . . home!

It should actually be "jiggle-ty jog" -- have you ever been on a stress eating spree in the city of Chicago for a full week in December? It's ugly . . . delicious, but ugly. The important thing is, we're home again, home again!

And luckily there's too much snow to jog! (Even though I just got an amazing new pair of Saucony trail runners right before we left . . . there's too much snow, right?)

Luckily we were able to drive home between storms -- even though we had to drive until 4:00am to do it, it was worth it. But between the shoveling and the staying up way past my bedtime, I'm feeling a little bit like this today:

But no matter! There are so many fun distractions, because it's December!

Speaking of distractions, I just remembered that I have an advent calendar!

I've missed the whole first row already! But no matter! Because I'm an empty nester now, so I haven't spoiled anyone's Christmas by forgetting to do things like decorate my tree. When are college finals over? . . . . I'd better keep an eye on that deadline.

And also because it's December, I don't have to worry about dieting. Right?

I'll just ask Santa to give me some help with that!

Actually, Santa, I have a word of advice for you:

I don't care if it is covered in pink fur, don't you dare even think of giving me a bathroom scale for Christmas! Not unless you want to sleep in the barn with the reindeer.

I'm afraid I'm not able to give the full show report today, so we'll have to call it "Small Works Show Report Week" and provide the details in small doses.

Today I'll just begin by saying, it was really good. And such a pleasure to share my work with the many good friends who stopped by to visit.

Thanks so much for coming, and for your many kindnesses!

And now, friends, I must throw off my pre-show stress and self-absorption . . .

And start making a list so I'll have something to check twice at the appropriate time. That's important, because I realized (somewhere in Wisconsin, of course) that two of the gifts I bought at the show are the exact same two gifts I bought last year! I don't mean the same type of things, I mean the exact same things! For the same people! Now that's just scary.

Would anyone like some really smashing earrings (that I didn't give them to last year?!)

Home again, home again, market is done. Hooray!

And it's still Christmas.
I haven't missed it after all.
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