What day is it?
National Pizza Day
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them. – R. L. Binyan
I think I met Linda on Goodreads and we have been complaining to each other about books, authors, and the world in general since then. Not only is she an author but also a talented jewelry maker.
My favorite gifts were books. My second favorite gifts were handmade. It didn’t matter what the occasion was. Books first, handmade second.
Every Christmas saw at least one book under the tree, whether at home or at a relative’s house where the family gathered for the big dinner, and often under both trees. I distinctly remember a book of dog stories my grandparents gave me when I was maybe 10 or 11 years old. The first story in the collection was by Albert Payson Terhune and was about a boy who had been entrusted with a large sum of someone else’s money. When the money was stolen from him, he lived in shack with his trusty collie and earned the money to pay back what was stolen. The last story was Walter D. Edmond’s “Hound Dog Moses and the Promised Land,” one of the most delightful stories I’ve ever read.
When I was in high school, my aunt’s mother gave me a world atlas and gazetteer, with all kinds of maps and information about places around the world. I was far more interested in reading that than playing with my cousins and their new toys.
Of course there were the horse books, several of Walter Farley’s Black Stallion and Island Stallion books as well as Marguerite Henry’s. Her King of the Wind was my favorite, with its scrumptious illustrations by Wesley Dennis. I wish I still had that one, but like just about all the others, it is long gone.
Even while I still believed in Santa Claus, handmade was also an important part of Christmas. Dolls, especially my Madame Alexander dolls, arrived with extensive wardrobes my mother made. My grandmother knitted sweaters for them, and my grandfather made furniture. Unlike the books that somehow disappeared, the dolls and doll clothes and doll furniture remain to this day.
Coming from a family of do-it-yourselfers, with an artist or two thrown in for good measure, I took all of this for granted. I thought everyone had books in their homes, and that someone in everyone’s family knew how to sew and knit and had tools to make things. I couldn’t imagine a house that didn’t have books and a sewing machine along with hammers and screwdrivers and wrenches and saws. Maybe that’s why the idea of writing my own books didn’t seem at all strange to me; it was just a natural progression and synthesis.
Along the way, and over a goodly number of years, I learned the craft of writing the way my mother and grandmothers learned to knit and sew, embroider and crochet: I practiced, I made mistakes, I read the directions, I tried again. And I got better at it.
The writing, however, was a conscious and deliberate effort. I subscribed to writing magazines. I bought how-to-write books. I joined writers’ clubs. I read published books in the genre I wrote in order to analyze them and compare them — as objectively as possible — to mine. And of course I shared my works in progress with other writers for critiques. The experience of reading works not ready for publication proved invaluable. It taught me not only how to spot flaws in other people’s work but also how to fix them, skills that then applied directly to my endeavors
While I was focused on the writing, something nefarious happened in the background while I wasn’t paying attention. Almost without my knowing it, I became a crafter. As a child I had learned to knit before I learned to sew, but I suddenly found myself doing both. I participated in my first craft show long before I sold my first book. Before my first child was born I had made baby clothes and blankets, knitted sweaters and booties. The next thing I knew, I was making handmade gifts: embroidered tote bags and crocheted afghans, knitted sweaters and quilted comforters, lace-edged pillowcases and doll clothes and . . . .
And then we moved. Moving from one house to another a few miles apart was no big deal. It was accomplished over a period of weeks and took many, many car- and truck-loads. Moving from Indiana to Arizona, however, revealed the depth of what had become not just my problem, but my husband’s as well.
Being a writer requires books, and books can take up a lot of space. Being a crafter requires . . . all kinds of stuff. And that stuff takes up a lot of space, too. We had acquired a whole lot of stuff. Some of it we packed up and took with us; some of it had to be left behind or sold before we moved. It would seem as if that solves the problem: The problem, however, is much deeper than a collection of wood and tools and yarn and fabric, easily accumulated and almost as easily disposed of.
The problem is what I’ve come to recognize as OCD — Obsessively Creative Disorder. Not disorder as in a malfunction of some mental capacity, but disorder as in too much stuff to keep track of. Too many things I know I have but can’t remember where they are. Too many projects in progress so just the deciding which to work on next takes up half my available time. Too many supplies, and too many friends who don’t have OCD who are eager to downsize and dump their supplies on me. Too many items I want to make and have most of the materials for but just need one more thing. Too many ideas.
Wait a minute. Stop right there. Too any ideas is the same problem I have with writing. And that’s the obsessively creative part of OCD. I can’t turn off the flow of ideas. Nor do I want to.
I don’t suffer from OCD; I enjoy it!
I suspect most creative people have at least a touch of OCD, some just have more than others. Some of us have . . . . a lot. There’s probably no cure, though it can be managed. The bright side, however, is that OCD ultimately produces all kinds of terrific gifts.
Books, of course, make wonderful gifts, as I’ve known virtually all my life. Writers write as a gift to themselves, writing the stories they like to read, rewriting the stories they didn’t like. If you have a writer in your life who enjoys OCD, offer support and encouragement, and buy her another book or a dozen! (Digital editions don’t even take up much space. I have 4,000+ on my laptop! But don’t tell anyone. . . . they’ll think I’m a hoarder.)
You can help out another OCD enjoyer by purchasing a hand-crafted gift. Turn your back on the manufactured plastic crap, the sweatshop produced name brand logo clothes that make us all look like clones of each other. Whether it’s a wheel-thrown pottery coffee mug or a handmade quilt or an artisan crafted wooden jewelry box or the jewelry to go in it — hint, hint, that’s one of my specialties! — give a gift that has meaning and love and passion and even obsession worked into its production.
Buy an author-published book, instead of just another offering from one of the big bottom line corporate publishers. If it’s a poorly written book, let the author know! Help that OCD enjoyer learn the craft to perfection. And if it’s a well written book, encourage the author to write more.
Give yourself a gift of the unique. Share your appreciation with those around you who may not yet have broken free of the gotta-be-like-everyone-else-or-I-won’t-fit-in syndrome. I’m one of the world’s worst self-promoters, so it’s difficult for me even to suggest you buy something I made, something I wrote, but I’ll try. Buy one of my books, if you like historical romances; the Kindle editions are not very expensive, and I think they’re well-written. (See, I told you I’m terrible at self-promotion.) If historical romance isn’t your thing, my Really Neat Rocks book combines my lifelong interest in rocks with my almost-but-not-quite as long passion for writing.
I began writing when I was in grade school, almost as soon as I learned to read, but the truth is that my love for rocks goes back further than that. Though I’ve written about it, words can’t really express the fascination. It only fully emerges when I have the stone in my hand and I’m turning it into a piece of jewelry. Will a buyer see what I see? I don’t know. I can only try. I can tell the story of where I found the rock or what I did to turn it from rough to jewel, but that’s only part of it.
The very worst that can happen when you buy or give a handmade gift is that you’ll catch a bit of OCD yourself. There’s always a risk you’ll see something and the thought will creep into your head, “I could make that!” Maybe you think you could make it cheaper or better or in a different color or size. Some people would tell you, “Yeah, sure you could, but you won’t.” They’re just trying to save you from a bad case of OCD. First it’s the knitting needles and a skein of yarn, and it seems innocuous enough. But that’s how it starts.
Believe me, I know from personal experience. And I wouldn’t change it for anything.
Find Linda’s books on Amazon Kindle.
I “met” AJ on the KDP forums and then discovered her blog. Her post brings to mind all the past holiday meals where the power failed, the pie refused to be a pie, and when my mom and I decided that we didn’t need the good dishes, silver, and linen tablecloth; we just needed to be together.
Christmas mocks me. Well, not the whole holiday. Just the dinner.
I screw up my family’s Christmas dinner every year.
It’s not that I’m a bad cook. I’m actually a pretty good cook the other 364 days of the year. I’m not ever going to win any awards for it, but I’ve managed to keep my kids pretty well-fed for eighteen years, and even my ex-husband has been known to call on occasion for one of my recipes.
To be fair, I call him for recipes, too, but only because he got custody of the recipe file box in the divorce.
At any rate, something goes wrong with the holiday meal I prepare every single year. At first, it was because I was far too ambitious in my meal-planning. I tried to make a turkey, mashed potatoes, homemade gravy – which always turned out as a vaguely gravy-flavored ball – sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, biscuits, and more. I tried to do too much and ended up overwhelmed. Half the meal would burn while the other half was undercooked. Nothing ever hit that midpoint where it was actually edible.
Then there was the year I cooked the ham in the crock pot and someone – who has yet to confess, even after all these years – turned it to the “keep warm” setting when I wasn’t looking. I think it was done around noon the following day.
There was the year we ran out of propane and I had to cook the meal with nothing but an electric skillet and a microwave.
My family still talks about the year I served them coconut cream soup for dessert. It was supposed to be coconut cream pie, but it refused to “set up.”
One year, I got hit with a stomach bug late in the day on Christmas Eve. By Christmas Day, I was violently ill. I still cooked the holiday meal between bouts of vomiting, and my family ended up eating their dinner at the table while I stretched out on the bathroom floor throwing up things my ancestors ate.
My favorite memory – or lack thereof, actually – is of the year I started with a shot of Bailey’s in my morning coffee and moved up to mimosas by the time I washed the breakfast dishes. It was all sort of downhill from there.
The year I finally stopped trying so hard was the year my children got new sleds from their grandmother for Christmas. The kids played with their new toys all day and talked about sledding, but never seemed to get around to it. That year, all the food turned out perfectly. Everything was done at the same time. The table was set with the special holiday dishes and my grandmother’s tablecloth. It was perfect.
But when I called them to the table, all I saw were their horror-stricken faces and a lot of tears. “But Mom!” they wailed. “We never got to try our new sleds, and now it’s dark out!”
What was I to do? Out they went, in the dark, riding their sleds up and down the driveway under the big yard light, while their father and I watched from folding chairs by the front window and ate our Christmas dinner off of paper plates.
That was the year I realized that it doesn’t matter what I cook or how I cook it, as long as we all enjoy our day together. I now start the ham in the crock pot the night before (and God help anyone who touches the dial). I make mashed potatoes from scratch, but the corn is canned, and so is the gravy. For that matter, so are the biscuits. I skip the sweet potatoes and green bean casserole because no one ever ate those anyway. It’s a pretty simple meal, made up of foods we all love, and nobody stresses out over it.
The kids have plenty of time to play with their toys and games, and I have time to get out of the kitchen and enjoy a good book. It’s the perfect Christmas.
And the dessert? My mom’s traditional lemon meringue pie, of course.
Find all of AJ’s books here.
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