Presence Not Presents

December 22, 2016

Garland of presents, Eagle Harbor Bookstore

Garland of presents Eagle Harbor Bookstore

“Presence not presents.”
— Jonathan Fields, How To Live a Good Life

Presence:  my niece and her daughter on the Winslow waterfront

Presence: my niece and her daughter on the Winslow waterfront

“Give only if you have something you must give; give only if you are someone for whom giving is its own reward.”
— Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

Gratitude garland

Gratitude garland

“When the gift I give to the other is integrated to my own nature, when it comes from a place of organic reality within me, it will renew itself — and me — even as I give it away.”
— Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

I do believe that some of the best gifts are gifts of yourself, your time, your attention, your unique talents and skills.  But I like the added refinement that Palmer offers, namely, to be attuned to whether your giving depletes you or renews you.  Sometimes when you given all you’ve got, to the point of exhaustion, that still feels good because you have the satisfaction of a job well done with no regrets for holding back.  But if you are feeling burned out, then I think it is time to question whether you should keep giving what is depleting you, sometimes to the point of illness.  Maybe there is a healthier way to give or help.

One thing we all can give to each other is our attention.  This is something I need to and want to work on.  I would like to become a better listener.  For me, that means starting from a point of stillness.  Really stopping.  And then listening with absorption, with eye contact, face to face, heart to heart.  Attuned to the feelings behind what is being said, rather than the factual content.  Listening more and talking less.  What a gift that would be!


My Trellis Christmas Tree

December 13, 2013

Christmas tree, a rustic wooden trellis

Christmas tree, a rustic wooden trellis

“Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of miles away, back to his own fire-side and his quiet home!”
— Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers

Trellis tree

Vintage Santa ornament



This year instead of a live tree, I decorated a rustic, weathered wooden trellis.  Strung with lights, a paper star garland, and a few favorite ornaments, its A-shape resembles a real evergreen tree, don’t you think?

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”
— Charles Dickens

Wreath made of colorful ball ornaments

“I sometimes think we expect too much of Christmas Day. We try to crowd into it the long arrears of kindliness and humanity of the whole year. As for me, I like to take my Christmas a little at a time, all through the year. And thus I drift along into the holidays – let them overtake me unexpectedly – waking up some fine morning and suddenly saying to myself: ‘Why, this is Christmas Day!'”
— David Grayson

I like the idea of parceling out the special treats of the Christmas season over the entire year, but especially during these final days leading up to Christmas Day itself.  I will take each Christmas-y moment as it comes, and try to attend to its unique colors, sounds, and scents.

Here are a few moments I captured with my camera at Swansons Nursery in Seattle, still early in this year’s holiday season.

Young shopper at Swansons Nursery

Amaryllis in bloom

Pine cone and squirrel ornaments for sale

Luminous pear ornaments for sale

One of the reindeer at Swansons Nursery

A garland of bells

Decisions, decisions

Red bows

Radio Flyer shopping “cart”



Simple garland of money plant seed pods over my dining room door

An assortment of money plant (lunaria) seed pods

I love garlands.  The branch above my dining room doorway is almost a permanent fixture, but I like to hang different things from it to reflect the changing seasons or holidays.  For fall, I sewed together a garland of seed pods from money plants, and then looped it around the branch a few times.  I think it gives a lovely all-natural decorative touch to the room.

Detail of seed pod garland

Seed pod garland

And, of course, I was inspired to do a watercolor painting of the colorful pods.

Watercolor sketch of money plant seed pods

Mobile made from maple keys

An assortment of colorful maple keys

Here’s a super simple fall decorating idea — sew together a garland of maple keys and hang them in a window.  They make a beautiful all-natural mobile.

I love the colors of the maple seed pods.  Here are a couple of watercolor sketches they inspired:

Watercolor sketch of maple keys

Another watercolor sketch of maple keys

Another way to use paper snowflakes

It’s been a few years since I’ve taken scissors to white paper to cut out snowflakes.  I love how each snowflake is unique, just like real ones!  This year I went an extra step and sewed the paper snowflakes into garlands.  I made short garlands, each string with three or four snowflakes.  But you could easily sew them into one long garland for a Christmas tree decoration.

Sewing the snowflakes into garlands

I simply sewed each snowflake down an imaginary center line and left about two inches of thread between snowflakes.

Snowflakes sewn together with thread

I tied a bead to the bottom of each of my garlands so that they would hang down nicely.

Five snowflake garlands hanging in my kitchen window

I used the finished garland to make a snowflake “valance” in my kitchen window.

Dreaming of a white Christmas. . .

I'm not the only one thinking of a white Christmas. Here's the Starbucks sign for this holiday season.

Handmade paper stars tied with fabric into a garland

Paper star garland for our Christmas tree

One of our traditional Christmas decorations is a paper star garland that I made years ago.  I painted paper with acrylics, and although the colors are not strictly Christmas-y, it brings a scrappy homespun look to our Christmas tree.

Below are instructions for making the paper stars, which can be used individually for ornaments or strung together for a garland:

Draw a six-sided star on cardboard.

I used a compass and ruler to draw a six-sided star on cardboard.  This will be your pattern or template.  You can make the star any size . . . I set my compass so that there was 3/4-inch between the two points.

Your cardboard star template

Then cut out your cardboard pattern to make your star template.  You can slice across one of the points, as the finished star will have only five points.

Trace the pattern onto your paper

Now trace around the template onto your paper.  I used paper suitable for painting on with acrylics, but you could use recycled paper, too.  The paper needs to be a little stiff, but foldable.  You will need to trace two stars for each finished one.

Fold the stars along all of the lines on your pattern.

After you cut out two stars, fold each along all of the lines on your pattern.

Make a slit along one fold line to the center point.

On the side of your star that is missing its point, cut a slit along one fold line to the center point.

Apply glue to the triangle sections next to the slit.

Now you’ll apply glue or rubber cement to just the two triangles next to the slit — one triangle glue the top (painted side) and the other triangle glue the back side.

Now overlap the glued triangle sections to make a star.

Next you’ll overlap the two prepared triangular sections, gluing them together to make a two-dimensional star with a pyramid-like center.

Apply glue to the points.

Next you’ll apply glue or rubber cement to the back side of all five points.

Glue the two star pieces together at the points.

Matching the points as best you can, glue the two star pieces together to form your finished star.  I sometimes have to trim off small slivers of paper from the points where the paper did not match up exactly.  Your star should look good from both sides.

Make hole(s) to string up the star.

Use a hole punch to make a hole in a point of the star.  Then string ribbon through the hole to hang your ornament.  If you are making a garland, you will need to punch holes in two points, then tie the stars together in a long row.

Finished star ornament, decorated with glitter

The Martha Stewart in Me

March 25, 2010

New treatment over the dining room door

Garland of paper beads and buttons, dyed egg, and paper bunnies

Bunny ornament, silver balls, and garland of paper beads and buttons

I don’t do as much seasonal decorating as I did when my daughter was small.  But this year I created a little point of interest above our dining room door.  I simply tacked up a horizontal branch, and then decorated it with a few handmade things:  some blown-out eggs that were then dyed, some paper bunnies, and a garland strung with paper beads, buttons, and silver balls.  Simple, but festive.

Comfort & Joy

December 19, 2009

Christmas garland in our kitchen window

Sending a message of comfort and joy

I like this simple word garland, with letters strung from a branch.  It adds a festive note to our kitchen this season.

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire:  it is the time for home.”
     — Dame Edith Sitwell