The Art of the Hospitality and the Holiday Home

After my last post, you know that my friend Els is a creative person, gifted at the art of hospitality.  I couldn’t resist posting a couple of pictures of her home, decorated for the holiday and ready for guests.  Lovely!

Easter Table

Ready for Guests

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Everyday Gifts: 10 No-Cost or Low-Cost Ideas for the Holiday Season

Ornaments

It’s the holiday season, and the pressure builds to buy.  So that we may give.  But giving does not always require a purchase.  In fact, when I look back over a lifetime of friendships and family and giving, the most memorable gifts have been from the heart – not from a store.

Here are some ideas for low-cost or no-cost gifts that make a true impression.

  • Original Art.  Frame a drawing, painting or simple sketch or scan, print on high quality paper and make holiday cards.  An abstract painting on thick paper can be cut into bookmarks (with an inspirational quote).
  • Children’s artwork.  See above!  Kids’ artwork and photos can also be incorporated into simple and memorable ornaments.
  • Love of reading.  Read a good book lately?  Share with a friend that has similar tastes and have a book club for two over a cup of tea.
  • Instant garden.  Pot a few plants from your garden that can be taken inside for the winter.  An arrangement of a few small succulents potted in sandy soil becomes an instant garden.
  • Seeds for the future.  Save seeds from your butterfly plants or vegetable garden, dry and package in ziplock snack bags.  Wrap in a square of decorative cloth and tie with a ribbon or tuck into an inexpensive cloth bag (you can find mini tote bags or gift/favor bags  at the dollar store).  Gift tags can include a drawing or printed picture of the future plant, fruit or flower.
  • Cooking inspiration.  Share a few of your favorite recipes and include the finished product or a few hard-to-find or exotic ingredients.
  • Make mine a double.  The next time you bake, make a double batch and share with a friend or neighbor.
  • Home sweet home.  Furniture, kitchenware or other items not in use are a welcome gift for someone just starting out, a student or friend in need.
  • Mr. (or Ms.) Fixit.  Offer to share your skills and talents with someone that needs assistance.  Rake, shovel, repair, or do some computer maintenance – your time will be well spent and much appreciated.
  • Songs and laughter.  Organize a house concert or talent show and share the gift of music and companionship.  The price of admission can be a drink or snack, a willing voice and plenty of applause.

Everyday Shrines

When you think of a shrine, you may envision a holy place of worship, pilgrimage and sacred relics.  In some parts of the world, people have household shrines dedicated to a deity.  I also see them in businesses like my favorite Asian restaurants – little altars with offerings of food, tea and incense.

I have everyday shrines; places of magic that contain memorabilia associated with revered people and places.  These are small corners where sacred relics disguised as ordinary objects gather and lend some of the personal energy that makes our house a home.  Here are some sacred possessions and their stories.  What are some personal objects that have meaning for you?

A Kitchen Shrine:  Silver and lapis ring from a small shop across from Albrecht Dürer’s House in Nürnberg, Germany; Opal ring purchased on my first business trip to Boston; Sandstone oil burner and Satsuma oil from The Body Shop (Anita Roddick is a personal inspiration); Stone and Bergamot oil from the beautiful Grüne Erd (“Green Earth”) store in Nürnberg.

 

Portraits and Cards:  Portrait of my husband painted by my daughter for his birthday; photograph taken by my mother when I was 17; birthday cards from my mom and my friend Els.

Kitchen Tools can be sacred:  Marmalade crock from the 1930’s found at a stall on Portobello Road (where I used to walk each day); wooden spoon from my mother by way of my grandmother;  kitchen tongs from Germany; assorted utensils I use to cook every day.

The items in my kitchen are well-worn and ordinary, but I use them with care to make good food for people I love.

Are you thinking about your everyday shrines now?

Boxes:  Handmade wooden box from Costa Rica; special handcrafted box with a circus motif – a gift from my husband from a trip to New York; inside the circus box are earrings from my mother and grandmother.

Shells and Stones:  I gather shells and stones wherever I find them and keep them in a clay bowl.  They have been collected from all over the world and airport security is sometimes interesting with a bag full of rocks.

Last but not least are the letters and artwork from my family.  I think I’ve kept every one.  Probably my most precious possessions.

Think Inside the Box: With Constraints Come Freedom

Creativity may bring to mind brainstorming and unlimited possibilities.  It appears to be free-flowing, expansive, open.  It may be anti-intuitive, but limitations can boost creativity.  Constraints provide boundaries and clarity so that the artist can focus on the problem or challenge at hand.  They’re a decisive starting place that leads to clear results.

Challenge:  Using a 4′ x 4′ square of cardboard, design and construct a chair capable of bearing your weight when seated.  You may fold, score or cut the cardboard, but no pieces may be removed and you may not use any type of adhesive.

Industrial design students were given this assignment – a more difficult task than it appears.  Because of the limitations – 4×4, cardboard, no pieces cut out and no glue – and the requirements – you must be able to sit on it – they could focus on the creative aspects.  What shape would function best?  How can I make something functional and elegant from this simple material?  How will it all fit together?

Cardboard Chair

Cardboard Chair

My “400 Words” writing practice is much the same on a smaller scale.  When I set a manageable limit there are no excuses.  The title, centered and bold, serves as the starting line and the 400th word is the finish.  I’m free to say anything about the chosen topic, but it ends at 400.

I also like the concept of limitations when it comes to space.  Living in a small apartment means looking at usable space with a different perspective and finding creative solutions such as multifunctional furniture or equipment.  Bookshelves are installed in the space above the door.  Beds have drawers beneath.  Tables expand and chairs stack.  Futons are rolled and beds fold into walls.  If something new comes into the house, something else must leave out of necessity.  Even better are boats.  Have you ever seen a sailboat with an attached garage or basement?  With limited space, you’re confined to essentials and there is beauty in the smallest detail.

Today, try thinking inside the box.  Make a feast from the contents of your pantry and fridge.  Draw a masterpiece the size of a business card.  Instead of a coffee break, write a haiku.  Read 20 pages, walk 2 miles until the sun rises, fill a flat rate box with surprises and send it to someone you love.  As my daughter, the designer, says, “With constraints come creative freedom.”

Cardboard Chair

Beauty, Form and Function