I adore doing gift guides every year, but this year it kind of slid through the cracks for me. I have a Pinterest board, though, where you can see everything I’ve got my fingers crossed for to find in my stocking, under the tree, or by the menorah. (We kind of do everything up in here. Whatever.)
Anything else good I should know about? P.S. How to give excellent gifts, according to science.
Marley joked that I am the only person he’s ever met that is really, genuinely into Christmas music. I get it; a lot of it kind of sucks, and the rest is cornball. Here’s what I’m listening to this year, in a mix that will evolve and expand as December goes on. It’s not exactly cornball free, but it’s pretty good.
The mix is broken into three categories: it starts jazzy (with the sexiest version of Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy ever: Sugar Rum Cherry by Duke Ellington) and then goes into a soft, folksy indie rock section, featuring the my favorite version of Mele Kalikimaka, sung by KT Tunstall. It finishes up with a whole selection of songs that toe the line between awful and awesome: Dominick the Donkey, Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer, and a club mix version of Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy called “The Nuctcraka”.
Have a listen; it’s ecumenical with a few Hanukkah songs in there, too.
I met Megan years ago – she was my high school friend Jen’s roommate in college and we met at some sort of gathering at Jen’s house – and I liked her immediately. When she started the company Sheep Farm Felt with her sisters and mother I was so excited for her, and it’s been really awesome to watch her business grow. They make handcrafted felt ball garlands out of wool.
I’m inspired by the way she does business; she invested in a smart phone to handle orders in a more timely manner as well as use Instagram to create a wonderful account featuring Felton, the tiny felted sheep, who serves as a sort of mascot. The packaging is absolutely gorgeous; when you open up your parcel from them you can feel how much love and care goes into packing orders. In the time they’ve been in business, they’ve sent their beautiful, quirky handmade felt balls all over the world.
The first photo is our garland in the living room; I wanted something cheerful for the blank space over the photos, and it’s just the thing.
Megan sent me the long version of her story and how they got started. I was going to pull out pieces to share here but it’s so good I think you’ll want to read it, too, so her email to me is cut and pasted below. It’s got adventure, community, and women doing business. Thanks for sharing, Megan.
If you want to order your own Sheep Farm Felt wool ball garland, go here to order from their Etsy store, and use the code AMBER14 to get free shipping in the continental US from now until 31 January. Here’s Megan:
My parents met in a living Colonial history village, my mom-a weaver and spinner, my dad-a woodcarver. After repeatedly fixing her loom (he was also the one sneaking in her shop early and breaking it), they fell in love, got married, and had 3 daughters. (The middle one being the most adorable, of course.)
We lived in Port Republic, a small town in South Jersey where my dad is the mayor and where generations of my family have lived since the early 1600′s. When my sisters and I were 2, 4, and 6, we had a house fire and lost everything we owned.
The town rallied together and bought us everything we needed to begin again- books, toys, winter coats, pots and pans, gift certificates to the grocery store- everything you can imagine. Overwhelmed by the generosity of our town, my parents did the only thing they could think of to give back to the community they loved. When our house was rebuilt, they added a classroom and opened up a folk art school so they could teach their skills to anyone who wanted to learn.
They taught woodcarving, basketry, quilting, candle making, weaving, doll making, and little girls came to our home for Colonial tea parties for their birthdays. My sisters and I were invited to teach along side of my mom when we all turned 12.
It was during these classes that I learned the most vital lessons: If you want to connect with someone, create with them. When people are making something to put in their home, or give away as a gift, they are essentially crafting a new piece of their history- something one-of-a-kind that they have made with their hands that now has a story.
Fast forward MY history…past getting married, moving down the street from my parents’ farm, becoming an art teacher…to having my own little flock- 3 littles 4 and under. I found myself in the daily routine of filling up sippy cups and stepping on Cheerios, and wanting so desperately to do the two fundamental things I was taught: connect with people and create.
I had seen wool felt ball garlands on Pinterest, and thought it was the perfect project for me- simple, free (if you happen to have a never-ending supply of wool being grown down the street), and something I could make for people who wanted to add a bit of color and natural fiber into their homes. I listed a few on Etsy….and I could never have imagined the response I would get.
After six months, my “never-ending supply” was not as “never-ending” as I had hoped, and I had a difficult time keeping up with demands. I found a supplier to partner with from Nepal who is free-trade, ethical, and uses the most lovely, colorful, wooliest wool from a sheep farm in New Zealand.
I am in absolute love with what I do. Everyday, I get orders from all over the world- Spain, Singapore, Australia, France, the U.S., Italy…. from people who want to bring something I make into their homes. My customers are some of the sweetest people, and I love the conversations I get to have with them. They are getting ready for their son’s first birthday party, or wanting to add a homey touch to their dorm room, or trying to find a garland to match their sofa and love seat, or add a pop of color in their nursery…. I just love hearing all their stories behind their purchases!
My absolute favorite part of the process is wrapping up each purchase with tissue paper and twine, writing a hand-written thank you note, and tucking in a little needle felted sheep ornament handmade from wool from our sheep farm. I know when my customers go to their mail box, it is going to make their day. My job is more than just selling bits of colored wool on string, I am supplying people with something that will become a piece of their home and history.
I love the crap out of Elizabeth Gilbert. (Of course I do.)
This essay where she talks about throwing out the word “balance” speaks so strongly to where I am right now. I’m not balanced, and it’s been weird to struggle with that because I crave order and neatness and, yes, balance, and use them as benchmarks of success, along with happiness and contentment. I also measure wealth by friends, so I know I’m doing something right, but “balance” has always killed me. I never got it quite right. She says that’s ok. I think so, too.
I was explaining to my friend Jesse at a dinner party last week that I got weirdly successful in the past two years, but I didn’t really notice until super recently when I looked at my healthy bank account and my booked calendar simultaneously and it clicked. When I was going through a divorce, my options were to wallow on the couch watching TV or fling myself headfirst into my work with a ferocity I’m not quite sure I’d be able to muster today. I was lonely, and scared, and sad. It was sink or swim, and I swam like a motherfucker, although really, it was more like a flailing awkward dog paddle with arms and legs all akimbo, but it worked, and I just looked up, just now, and I’m so far away from where I started, and people have been cheering me on, and I’m so fucking proud and thankful.
Had sought balance this wouldn’t have happened. Had I worked “in moderation” my business wouldn’t have bloomed. The excessive work helped heal me. The unbalance of working every night until three in the morning restored my soul.
Here’s to embracing the “beautiful mess” of life that includes rapid success in certain areas with slower growth in others. Until the tables shift once again, and we mourn the old, and we move on.
My chiropractor told me that when we are kids, we learn the patterns of holding ourselves and moving from the people around us. I’ve seen it be true: Amish people move noticeably slower than English people. People in Paris move differently than Americans do, so even if you dress the part, you’ll never be mistaken as French. In India and other parts of South Asia they have the head wobble which doesn’t exist anywhere else.
I often sit on the couch with my right arm straight up in the air. I never questioned this until someone else did, and I had no idea why, until I remembered my dad doing it growing up. He had a shoulder surgery when I was a kid and would stretch out the tendons while he relaxed on the couch watching TV or reading. Essentially, I’m trying to heal an injury I don’t have.
I’m trying, now, to figure out what other patterns I have imbedded in me unquestioned. I’m looking for them in other people, too, especially Marley as I get to know his family and compare their personalities to his. My friend Jen and her mother make the same soft, mildly annoyed sound when something minor goes awry, and Jen’s adopted son smiles exactly like her husband. I think this has something to do with why people and their dogs start to look alike, but I’m not sure.
Is this called something?
There’s a stone in Matty’s bladder that’s 6cm large. It could stay put for the rest of his life, it can roll around harmlessly, or it can dislodge, block his urine flow, and kill him in 24 hours if I’m not watching. Surgery is an option, but an expensive and painful one. Although I love my dogs insanely, I’m a pretty pragmatic dog owner. He’s thirteen, not three. But he’s not nineteen, either, and this is the first time anything has gone wrong with him. Basically, I’m smack dab in the middle of a big grey area without a clear correct answer.
Two weeks ago he started dribbling instead of peeing in a stream, so I made an emergency vet appointment for the next afternoon. I asked Rob (my ex for new readers; Matty was originally his) to come, too. [We have a possibly only-in-Brooklyn "co-parenting" relationship that works out really well when either of us needs a dog sitter... or an extra set of hands at the vet.] I had to put the dogs in a town car to get them there. Leeloo spent the whole ride hiding behind me and shaking (we have to travel as a pack; she has meltdowns when they’re separated) while he rode with his face out the window enjoying the view. He’s so good natured.
The ultimate conclusion was that we’ll take a wait and see approach. He’s been a little bit grouchy with Leeloo lately, and I’m concerned that’s part of it. At the groomers he growled at her, and the other day their play fight got a little too rough. It’s so hard to think about. I’d always assumed that when “that time” came, it would be more of a cut and dry thing, not a ticking time bomb in his bladder that may or may not go off at any second. This is kind of the worst, but I’m hoping for the best.
Matty, dude, you’re breaking my heart.
Jen sent me the most amazing thing the other day: a snapshot of my journal from just after high school. When I was writing this post I considered sharing it in its entirety, but it’s cringe-worthy. The gist of it, though is that I wrote about how I wanted to drink beautiful wine, be beautiful, and have beautiful lovers. I went on to wishing to take beautiful pictures, have lots of people want to be my friend, and have beautiful things.
I texted back to her, “Damn. I kind of nailed it.”
Mostly, anyway. I think nothing of splurging on a spectacular bottle of wine occasionally and will agonize for hours over the perfect editing of a client’s wedding photos (someone asked me recently why my prices were so high, and I gave a general answer about equipment and gear and all that, but in reality, I was thinking about the fact that I recently broke down into tears because I couldn’t quite get the right shade of black to come through in the shadows of a black and white photo, and then burst into happy tears when I got it right… two hours later), but I till struggle with personal beauty. I like the way I look just fine, but I tend to see myself as a mind behind a face and on top of a mass of arms and legs and too-short-torso that carries me around. Sex has always fun because of the mental part of it; the physical was always secondary. Bikram yoga trips me out because it’s the only time I’m aware of my own body so keenly, and it’s an unusual state for me. On the handful of occasions I do examine myself as a physically beautiful person, it feels a little like I’m playing a character.
I don’t always walk around with my finger on my lips.
It’s made shopping for a wedding dress feel like an almost laughable task.
Do I dance? Up the yoga game? Just accept that feeling beautiful can be secondary? I’m just so bummed, because I know I’m going to hit 40 and be like “GotDAMN I was smokin’ hot when I was 32! I wish I felt it more.” I already feel that way about 19, a time when I was so insecure I refused to put on a swimsuit.
I’m rambling; there’s no conclusion here, really. But, as always, your thoughts are totally welcome.
I recommend that you do not attempt to plan a wedding and buy a house, particularly when your wedding morphs from “can we, like, do it in the backyard?” to “maybe a weekend thing?” and buying a house involves having one non-negotiable on your list – a yard – in a city where most of the inhabitants live in apartments several stories up.
We had to back-burner one of these two. With real estate prices in Brooklyn only skyrocketing and the bathroom in our apartment quickly following the path of self-destruction our kitchen took this August, we’re focusing on finding a place to live first.
Perfection, for us, is a turn-key space with three or four bedrooms, a yard, an open layout, and in a close-to-Manhattan neighborhood. Perfection is also out of our budget. Something had to give; unless we get super lucky, we’ve opted for location. I’ve been in Brooklyn since 2008. The neighborhood in Bed-Stuy that I first lived in was a little scary then, and now I would LOVE to own a house there, so I know that everything is improving all the time. It seems like the best trade off.
We’re trying to decide if we’re condo people or house people. I was always a house person, solving problems on my own terms and not by committee. Condos are like home owners associations, and who wants someone telling you what to do? Now, though, my life is busy, and if a boiler breaks, it would be nice to shrug and say, “Hey… not my problem.” There are ups and downs to everything.
We saw a crumbly townhouse this weekend with lots of light (also a must), crawling with developers at the open house that contemplated the expense of ripping out the original marble fire place (whyyyyy!) while I imagined the candles I’d line up on the mantle. We are submitting an offer tomorrow, and if we get it, it requires a LOT of work, but I think it could be amazing. In keeping with my mission to always do business like a human, we are going to write a letter talking about how we don’t have cash, but we aren’t going to bulldoze the character out of the place, either.
This feels scary, but I’m excited.
Are you a condo person or a house person? Renter or owner? Do you value location, space, light… what? I’d love to hear as we form a concrete idea of what we really want.
Summer’s over; let’s take a look at my resolutions and see how I did.
1. Get a driver’s license. Uh, nope.
2. Unstick from my business slump. YES! Business is doing really well, and I’m proud. I launched headshots as a side business so it didn’t detract from my main goal of being a wedding photographer, and I’m super happy with the website: AmberMarlowHeadshots.com
3. Take the dogs swimming. Did it! Here, Leeloo is submerging herself, head and all. HEAVEN FORBID I get water on her nose during a bath, though.
4. Friendship bracelet party: check! It was a tiny turnout, but we had a lot of fun.
5. Go to the beach: yup. We went once to the beach in Sandy Hook, NY, which you get to by way of a ferry out of Manhattan. It was fun, and I’ll go again in a larger group next summer now that I know the ropes of getting there.
6. Stay put: almost! We slipped up to Rochester for a few days to see my friend Carissa and her boyfriend. It was an hour flight, and we were there for three nights. It was perfect.
7. Berry picking: yes! Delicious.
My fall resolutions have but one thing on them: have a bonfire. Who all is in for more s’mores?
Rarely has personal growth and change been so sharp an edge for me as it was at the beginning of September.
Let’s back up.
In October of 2012, I attended the now-defunct Camp Mighty, and Flora Lels was there. We ended up in the same small group together, and she passed out handmade friendship bracelets for everyone. I selected one with lots of orange (of course!) and tied it on. The proper way to wear friendship bracelets is until they fall off naturally, and I used it as an anchor. 2012 was the worst thing that ever happened to me, and I figured by the time it wore off, I’d be better and whole again.
I wrapped it around my finger during divorce proceedings, fiddled with it on a variety of awkward first dates, and took it to bed with sometimes-questionable lovers (no shame – I had an excellent time – but I also totally got HPV.) It came to therapy, five different foreign countries, and countless photo shoots.
I changed a lot in these 23 months, and the bracelet changed, too; it stretched out and got frayed. I met Marley, and I changed again. He is so unlike anyone else I know and I’m continually fascinated by his deep, unwavering ability to love – to love ME. There’s not a lot I can say without fucking up the sentiment because there really are no words, and this is not the point anyway. You should know, though, I am loved with a love I never experienced before, and I am astounded.
So this bracelet. It got ratty, of course, but I loved it still. It was tied to my left wrist, and when I was presented with an engagement ring for my left hand, they clashed so thoroughly that it was easy to see I was done with it.
Cutting it off still wasn’t easy. By all means I got an upgrade – yarn for gemstones and harsh lessons for strength – but I still had to mourn the yarn, and the learning (thankfully, there is more ahead) and the fact that I’m no longer all the things I used to be. I am something else. Stronger, for one. Of course it doesn’t take an engagement to get stronger, but in my case, the events coincided, or maybe the engagement simply illuminated the fact I’d reached a new place. I’m ready for this, but I had to take a moment to mourn that: my old self – the lady with the security friendship bracelet.
We sat on the couch together with scissors and I cried and cried and cried, and he cried with me because he understood even though I didn’t think he would, but I should have known better. This is why I’m marrying him. Then I cut it off and tucked it away.
Thank you, bracelet, for 23 months of weirdly spot-on symbolism, and for being something to figuratively and literally hold on to. Goodbye.