When I was 11, I made a nutcracker for my mother for Christmas.

As a child, I was entranced by Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. I’d never seen a real nutcracker but loved the music and a glimpse into a faraway place so different from my hometown of Rome, New York.

That homemade nutcracker is mine now, gracing the mantel every Christmas along with infinitely fancier and more expensive nutcrackers from travels in Austria and Germany. Yet he’s always the centerpiece of the display, not only for nostalgic reasons but because he represents a challenge met and a refusal to back away from a goal.

Tall nutcracker

As I had no money, a traditional nutcracker was far out of reach even if there had been a store in my hometown that sold them (not an Italian thing).

Figuring out how to make one wasn’t easy. I did, however, have some resources:

  • My grandfather’s workbench in the basement,
  • His collection of random cans of paint (remind me to tell you about the year he painted the picnic table a violent shade of orchid),
  • Access to household stuff, and
  • A vivid imagination.

I didn’t have the skill or equipment to make a traditional nutcracker but was willing to adapt to get close. Instead of a traditional figure with a belted waist, mine is made from straight pieces of lumber I convinced my grandfather to cut from a template I made.

A square block of wood is sandwiched between the two flanks, with space for the lever that forms the “jaws” to crack the nuts, affixed by a long nail running from shoulder to shoulder with the lever threaded through it. A marvel of engineering that actually works.

Profile of homemade nutcracker

He wears the color of paint from those random cans, including the eye-popping purple from the previous summer’s picnic table. The gold and silver paint came from my brother’s model car hobby.

I repurposed ordinary things to create the design. His nose is a One-a-Day vitamin (still intact after 50+ years), his buttons are pastina pasta painted silver–missing a few now–and his beard and hair are scraps of fabric.

IMHO he looks a little bit like Luigi Mario 🙂

Face of the homemade nutcracker

As I look back, there’s a big lesson. Adapt. Repurpose. Complete.

I’ll bet there are moments in the past that shaped the person you are now.

It doesn’t have to be an earth-shaking moment. Did you solve a problem? Take on a challenge? Achieve something unexpected?

The end of the year is a good time to reflect on those moments and let yourself be inspired anew by the positives.

Adapt. Repurpose. Complete.

New mantra for 2024?

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