Friday, December 19, 2008

No (new) paper Christmas wrap

Due to a combination of environmentalism, thriftiness, laziness, and creativity, I set myself a challenge this year: no unused wrapping paper for presents of giftees over the age of 10. The one exception is a gift of Matt's I wrapped before I made this resolution. The result of this challenge has been, interestingly enough, not only a lot of unusual Christmas wraps, but also a lot of fun Christmas art project time for Thomas. I did a lot of fairly obvious things (reuse bags and paper, etc), but these are my favorite projects so far:

  • I used a glue stick to glue together extra handouts, printouts of talks, and miscellaneous interview material for this year. Then I put the white side up on Thomas art table before we painted the Christmas ornaments we made. The parts that weren't then covered with paint and glitter I drew simple Christmas shapes on, and Thomas scribbled them with marker. He was really excited about making gift wrap, and then wanted to wrap the presents. I think only my dad will be interested in my handouts, but office paper makes surprisingly neat packages.

  • Last summer Thomas and I dyed a bunch of silk scarves with food coloring. They came out with an interesting marbled look (probably because I made a mistake: my favorite arts are the ones where mistakes turn out pretty). I tied a green one around my mom's photo book. She's a grandma, so this counts as an extra present (toddler art!). Then I used some leftover undyed ones to wrap my step-brother and step-mom's gifts, and attached a tag with the dyeing instructions. They were so much fun I might intentionally make some extra scarves this summer to use as gift wrap next year.

  • An extra tote bag from my Germany conference for the gift purchased in Germany, a Chicago map tote bag for my mom's gift, and some extra stockings.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Save handmade toys from indiscriminate regulation

This year I picked up a few sets of these adorable felt-board-ready story-telling images from crafter DJ, of Nodin's Nest on I'm really looking forward to giving them to Thomas and watching his imagination run wild with them.

These are the Pirate and Food sets; I also have a Tea Party set floating around in the Christmas box somewhere. Besides these, DJ sells Christmas ornaments, soft stuffed toys which are whimsical and delightful (there are stuffed tea sets!), and some other unusual things. Go check them out and buy something, because starting in February, DJ's home-based business may be illegal. That's when a new law goes into effect which requires that all toys be batch-labeled and independently tested:

The United States Congress rightly recognized that the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) lacked the authority and staffing to prevent dangerous toys from being imported into the US. So, they passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) in August, 2008. Among other things, the CPSIA bans lead and phthalates in toys, mandates third-party testing and certification for all toys and requires toy makers to permanently label each toy with a date and batch number.

All of these changes will be fairly easy for large, multinational toy manufacturers to comply with. Large manufacturers who make thousands of units of each toy have very little incremental cost to pay for testing and update their molds to include batch labels.

For small American, Canadian, and European toymakers, however, the costs of mandatory testing will likely drive them out of business. [From the Handmade Toy Alliance website]

Thinking about this law in the context of DJ's lovely sets reveals how incredibly idiotic it is. These things are paper; what's great about her work is the fun images she's found, the bright colored cardstock they're on, and the fact that they come in collections that have variety and continuity. They can't be batch tested; each piece is unique. So they'll be impossible to sell once the new law goes into effect -- even though they contain no more dangerous chemicals than Thomas's books or Wild Animal Baby magazine.

This blog is entirely devoted to photos of more unique toys that will be unsellable in the US after the new law goes into effect, and this page tells you some things you can do to help make sure the law is revised to exempt small, safe toy manufacturers. So go follow a link or two.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Rosary making

I decided it is time for Thomas to receive his first rosary. He can say (or mumble) most of the Our Father, is interested in the Nicene Creed (he gets the last word of most lines if he hasn't totally lost it by that point of the mass), and has liked hearing me sing the Hail Mary for him at bedtime. He loves beautiful things and is particularly excited about a Thomas Aquinas medal I had put on a beaded chain in honor of his birth (I wore it to the hospital).

When we were in Germany I thought about buying him a rosary, but I never saw one I really liked. I've made rosaries before, but this is my first classic-style, metal-component rosary. You can see I'm almost done with the third decade. You can also see my messy, messy desk. What you can't see is the Christmas music (some 12 days or more of it, on shuffle) that's playing in the background.

Despite my liturgically incorrect love for Christmas music during Advent (hey, O Come O Come Emmanuel is on there somewhere!), I'm finding rosary making to be an exquisitely appropriate task for the season. It might be contemplative action. It's slow, tangible, rhythmic. You have to keep your mind, and your eyes, on what your fingers are doing. It's a delicate task: I get better at closing the rings as I work at it; but close works, and each ring is slightly different. It's a physical manifestation, a realization, of my faith and my desire to share that faith with my son. It's also a sign of my faith in my child: in his ability to make this mystery his own.

Growing up, I believed in Santa Claus, who played a huge role in how Christmas was ritually arranged (how presents were chosen, bought, stored, and given; the plan and timescale of Christmas eve and Christmas day; the music and the stories). I also believed in Jesus Christ, who, in my household, played a lesser role. Despite the gap between these two mythic narratives, I always sensed the superior power of the nativity story. It had a great hold over my imagination, implanted, as far as I can remember, by a little exposure to the Bible and a great love for traditional carols. I really felt, I think, the great glory and beauty of the God of Creation becoming a tiny child because of his love for humanity, all because of those generations of people who, inspired by the story, composed and wrote and played and sang it.

Now, I can contemplate that mystery in a much more well-informed, but probably no more profound way, as I feel and see an artifact, pointing to that mystery, taking shape in my hands. It happens gradually, a few beads at a sitting. I can't yet see the finished piece, but I'm working towards it anyway.

Perhaps Mary felt this way, creeping towards Bethlehem, as she felt the new life stirring in her body and wondered Who He, who Is Who He Is, would be.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008


The theme for the week is, minimize, minimize, minimize, and put things off until it's too late to worry about it.