Life Lessons from a Christmas Nutcracker

Life Lessons from a Christmas Nutcracker

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?

3 Life Lessons from a Gathering of Strangers

3 Life Lessons from a Gathering of Strangers

We sometimes learn–or relearn–life lessons in unexpected places.

I recently joined 14 women creatives at a gathering hosted by award-winning writer and filmmaker Rebekah Iliff at Free Dreaming Farm in Springfield, TN. The gathering followed the tragic shooting in March at Covenant School in Nashville. In addition to healing, the purpose was to foster connections and creative collaborations.

A natural introvert, I was there with a dozen strangers. I knew Rebekah but no one else.

Luckily, the conversation went swiftly from basic introductions to deep sharing and robust engagement, with lots of laughter along the way. This was a no-judgement zone. Support was spontaneous and genuine.

I left musing on 3 life lessons:

Community = good energy

When I left Free Dreaming Farm, I felt lighter, more buoyant, more supported. Those few hours of community interaction were an emotional tonic.

We didn’t change the world but we generated some seriously positive energy shared by all.

Pointing out the crucial need for community and a sense of belonging, marketing guru Mark Schaefer wrote that “People have a deep need to belong, but there is a belonging gap in the world, a profound unmet human need, a need that is escalating to crisis proportions.”

The New York Times offers statistics to demonstrate rising rates of loneliness and depression.

Basically, when we don’t connect to community, we suffer.

There is power in transition

Many of us were on the way to or in the middle of or finding our way and taking it one day at a time. I’d just wrapped a 2-year research and writing project, the Galliano Club historical fiction series, and admittedly felt adrift. One woman was recovering from breast cancer, another was building a career as a musician, still another just opened a gallery and performance space, etc.

No life is static. Basically everyone was experiencing some measure of transition.

And excited about it, once we got past the nervous notion that we aren’t there yet.

As the conversation went on, it was clear that there is power in transition. It’s the time to gather information and assess options. Transition means not being locked in. We have freedom to revise and restart and explore.

Being on the way is a good thing.

We can learn to be resilient

The word “triggered” got tossed out a few times, which made me put on my ex-CIA intelligence officer hat and make an observation.

“If you can be triggered,” I said. “Then you can also be manipulated. Someone just has to know what triggers you into losing your self-control, then use it against you.”

A great conversation ensued about being self-aware, the popularity of fake victimhood, and not handing over your power.

The bottom line is that if you know what triggers you and develop coping techniques to stay in control, you’re Teflon. You now hold the upper hand in the relationship. Also, no embarrassing knee-jerk reactions, no belated regrets over words you can’t take back. Don’t indulge in the over-hyped martyrdom of being triggered.

We all have the power to be resilient.

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