Category Archives: Gift

A Christmas Villa In The Living Room MMXVII

My wife Dawn greenlit my enthusiastic wish to build a Christmas villa in the living room this year. Using several hundred pictures, 100+ boxes, innumerable lights, a couple hundred ornaments and bits of crazy, a universal remote to control it all, a Festivus pole (for the rest of us, of course), hidden gift compartments, a house cat who daily prays for a gift to fall from above, and a huge dose of yuletide spirit… we present the most unusually-decorated living room you can possibly see all year.

I shot this video with Dawn performing the role of director. I drank 17 cups of coffee prior to shooting and I now regret telling Dawn her version was too jittery.

P.S. I wrote this version of “Carol of The Bells” myself so that social media sites couldn’t claim copyright. I hope you like that part, too. Writing music is another one of my hobbies, one which requires a commitment of time.

My living room has a vaulted ceiling, so the drunken rectangle I created piece by piece is approximately 8′ high, 15′ wide, and 20′ long. It’s difficult to grasp the scale unless you walk through the front door.

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A gallon of my patented Elf Juice, one which grants the imbiber the ability to decorate one’s domicile in the manner of Buddy The Elf.

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A necessary part of the structure is a cat bed constructed into the base of one of the 8 9-foot vertical columns. (Our cat’s name is Güino, given that he was a shelter cat, one rescued from the Feline Witness Protection Program.)
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The green-and-yellow picture is a wanted poster for my stepson Ty. A list of mostly imaginary crimes is listed at the bottom. To the right, you’ll note our infamous family portrait, just us two monkeys posing for the camera. (Dawn is on the left in the portrait, by the way.)
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Anyone who thinks I don’t like pictures, please take a note at this point. Despite ordering several hundred before I started, I found myself needing more as I neared what I thought would be the final push to completion.
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The columns are all tall and each one is connected in a drunken rectangle around the entirety of the living room. Looking back, it was a lot of work but if Dawn didn’t lose her mind watching me meticulously create each box, each column, and apply every picture and detail, I will look back on this in years to come and ask, “Why didn’t anybody stop me?” 🙂

There are both visible and concealed Christmas-themed quotes from some of my favorite books and movies for the season, too.
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Don’t be distracted by the backward clock. It comes in handy when visitors foolishly try to determine what time it is. Note the handsome couple in the background of the clock. Anyone with a spider phobia needs to walk around carefully, as the million streamers often touch you unexpectedly in the neck as you pass.
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What’s not visible in this barrage of pictures and Christmas insanity is my appreciation for life, one given to me in daily wonder and amused amazement.

To have the time, energy and ability to creatively express myself is a luxury which I don’t take for granted.

I have to admit, though, that this is a spectacle.

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Almost everyone I know has at least one picture of honor in the celebration. Some of the pictures are irreverent, but none fail to make us think or laugh. Or think then laugh.
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You’d never know it, but there are several presents hidden in plain sight around the room. Several might require demolition to access them but as we all know, that is what Christmas is all about.
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Taken from the kitchen, looking over the counter, perhaps waiting for Santa Claus to come inside and demand a pint of eggnog and a slice of pepperoni pizza.
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The Festivus pole certainly adds a dazzle to the room, doesn’t it? In keeping with the original intent of Festivus, I don’t adorn the pole with anything to distract us from its beauty. I’m convinced Dawn wants to accidentally recycle it sometimes – or give it to someone building a fence. If this were to happen, however, I would have no choice but to replace it from Wagner Steel and add her transgression to the following year’s “Airing of the Grievances.”
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Note that my genuine Daisy BB gun sits next to our wiretap device, ready at a moment’s notice if some crazed Christmas-hating Grinch attempts to enter the house and steal Christmas from us. Hint: such a person is going to need a truck, a saw and a mean disposition.

Also, the Grinch will have to depart with it all, as I took great care to conceal hidden compartments for gifts. I kept a treasure map, but I’m not certain even I was diligent enough to note them all.

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If anyone looks at this and wonders, “Is that ME?” – the answer is probably “yes.” And, you are welcome. Several hundred pictures used in this project makes it likely that if I know you and have shared any levity in our lives that you are part of this.
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Christmas quotes, ornaments, pictures from my life, pictures of iconic Christmas scenes, vintage Christmas ads, crayons, bows, ribbons – if it is interesting or unusual, I tried to find a way to include it in this.
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The above picture is of the column containing the cat bed on the bottom. I’m pretty sure there’s at least one hidden gift in this column I forgot to take note of during the initial stages of building this.
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Here’s a link to a previous post I did, one describing the last time I did this on a really large scale: 2011 Christmas Craziness2011 Christmas Craziness
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The above was taken from the reverse side of the decorations. Note the dollar bills. Here’s a link to explain what the dollars mean: Christmas Dollars Each Year
I didn’t take as many closeup pictures of the tree this year, even though we added several fantastic ornaments. Some of them I ordered and had custom-made, some were whimsy from different stores and events from our lives this year. I’ve met many people who’ve adopted a motley approach to their Christmas tree ornaments but I’ll be ornament-to-ornament that none shares a breadth of diversity like the collection my wife and me have. People tend to look closely at our tree and shout, “THIS can be used an ornament?!” and laugh, filing away the idea for later use.
Now that it’s done, I can look at the pictures and lights, and wonder about my year and the future which follows. Another Christmas, another year.

Still a Mystery

A Thanks:
Someone surprised me with two packages from the Mysterious Package Company. As the name suggests, the giver isn’t identified. Each shipment is a weirdly-themed motley assortment of clues, information, curios, and puzzlements.

The first package definitely threw me out of the boat with curiosity. Usually, it’s me being the circumspect eccentric catching everyone else off guard. This time, though, whoever sent me these put me at a disadvantage.  Trust me, I was as confused as a dog jumping up to catch a frisbee, only to find I’d caught a porcelain plate in my teeth. I used the newsletter from the first one (after reading it and piecing together the disparate pieces) to decorate a birthday present. It was a big hit. I made ornaments out of a couple of the pieces. There were a couple of the items which bedeviled me endlessly, such as the paper and cardboard wind-up birdhouse.

These things are difficult to describe. The company making them has full-scale complicated stories which come in stages – and stand-alone surprise boxes. (You can google The Mysterious Package Company if you are interested in what craziness I’m describing here.)

If you received a strange postcard, it is because I thought you might have been the person who surprised me with these. If you didn’t get a postcard and you are the guilty party, thanks. Some of them are mailed from the future, by the way, which makes things exceedingly complicated, given that we are living in the present. I assume we are, anyway.

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Fairy/Pixie Doors – Not Just For Kids

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I surprised Dawn yesterday with a magical fairy door from someone in Quebec who makes them. It came with a corked vial of fairy dust and a magic key allowing the pixies/fairies to come and go as the whim suits them. Even our cat Güino knew that magic had entered the house. Dawn would have never guessed in a million years that I had ordered her such a whimsical gift. I think we both grew 10 years younger in spirit laughing about it. (I can think of 100 ways one of these would make a child’s life a lot more imaginative and interesting, with the right crazy adult leading the charge.)

 

(PS: The portrait of my wife and I in the above picture is still probably my favorite. It confounds people to this day when they see it.)

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The websites are on this instructional card, both the Etsy and regular website.

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The vial of fairy dust is corked and has a fairy emblem on the side. I can imagine just how inspirational one of these would be in the hands of the right kid.

 

 

111242014 Creative Wrapping and Decoration

Each of these packets is actually individually wrapped layers of envelopes, with each containing cash and pictures, bundled together into two separate packs.

I wish I had done a better of keeping pictures of all the hundreds of crazy wrapping and decoration jobs I’ve done over the years.

“The Dirty Sanchez.” My friend Chris got a surprise, using a funny picture I had drawn on the table at a mexican place where we had shared a meal. His wife asked me to quickly wrap it to conceal what it was, so naturally, I dragged out my picture of my on-the-fly artwork.

An example of a personalized letter envelope I made. I have made 100s of these over the years, usually in bright colors. For some reason, I liked this one in negative colors. When I was much younger, I once made weekly payments for a used car by making a different decorated envelope for each week’s payment. The lot manager had a display in his office with my payment envelopes on it.

A holding/storage box. Probably 2,000 strips of tape, a few hundred stickers, paper slivers, etc. The inside was completed decorated, too. One time, while working at Cargill, I had made one of these for someone’s son. As hard as it is to believe now, it took me about 60 hours of work, had several compartments, 2 of which weren’t visible and wouldn’t work if you didn’t know to press the inside corner to drop the extra compartments open. I don’t have pictures of it anymore.

Simple newspaper wrapping paper, shrouded in 4 8X11 color pictures of the recipient.

I wrapped this box with special photo art paper, then used a couple of dozen personalized pictures to cover the box on all 6 sides. Inside the top paper, there was an entire layer of about 60 wallet-size individual pictures, too.

From a few years ago. I used pictures after making them appear as pencil outline drawings. He loved the box!

This present is wrapped in special red paper, then covered with 200+ bandaids as a decoration. (She used to be a nurse, but the real reason I used them is because it’s cool and no matter how you apply the bandaids, it looks interesting.

From a few years ago. You can see that I used both color photos and outline pictures on colored paper to wrap many of the presents.

11212014 Great Kid Ornaments

The picture above is an example of xmas ornaments I used to make out of color photos, stickers, paint/fingernail polish, and tape. By putting the year on the photo, I could indicate how old the child was, as well as the year. After a few years, any tree begins to tell a story of who is in the family. It was something that I could get one child to help with another child’s ornament.

1116204 Picture Blankets

This picture demonstrates the lack of “pillow control” my cousin suffers from.

 

Whether you choose Wal-Mart or Snapfish, or some other photo service, they offer an interesting ability to have photos printed on blankets and pillowcases. I always encourage people to actually use the ones I have made, but many prefer to use them as “throws” or decorations. You can have just about any picture or picture printed, too.

As a minimalist, I don’t need a lot of pillow cases. But I would prefer that all of them were personalized and interesting like the one above, using a goofy picture of me and my wife taken at a children’s birthday party.

12008 jimmy noah at his apart (15)(4)This picture is of my cousin Jimmy and his son Noah. That pillow case was Noah’s pride and job for years. One of the funny stories of Jimmy’s cancer is that he accidentally put it in the microwave to heat it late night to heat it. It caught fire.

I don’t have pictures of many of the others, but I’ve had several sets of pillow cases made for the children of friends and co-workers. They’ve always been met with absolute joy and glee. Many of the kids uses them as sleeping bags when they are small.

I’ve also had many more blankets made than this. Unfortunately, I either don’t have pictures or the recipients didn’t pose with their gifts. There were a few really crazy blankets that I should have sent to myself after having them made to get a picture. One, for example, was a blanket intended to be used as a lap blanket at a Razorback’s game, ridiculing opponents. The other had 96 smaller pictures on it and looked bizarrely pretty when I designed the picture placement.

11142014 Canvas-Size Photos – Great Wall or Gift Idea

Wal-Mart Link (I hope it will continue to work…)

Wal-Mart, among other retailers, offers some very nice photo canvases for reasonable prices.

If you want to save a lot more money, you should scroll down or search for “faux canvases.” These are much cheaper than the canvas alternative. Like most Wal-Mart photo merchandise, you can crop and customize some aspects of the canvas.

For my own living room, I have several different sizes, creating a staggered pattern that not only fills the space better, but breaks your line of sight away from focusing on a specific picture canvas at the expense of the others.  

I’ve had many of these made for other people. You can choose from faux canvas to real canvas with wood frames. 

The above picture is probably my favorite, at least in terms of style. It’s a portrait of my wife and I, expect we posed backwards for the picture. When people see it on the living room wall, it baffles many of them.

07062013 Gift Hoarders and Re-Gifting

“If it is a gift, the best way to use it is to use it yourself or find a great home for it where it will be used or appreciated.” -x

I would never choose to be offended if anyone were to give a gift from me to another person. Once I give it, it is yours to appreciate or give. No questions asked. If I were to paint something for you and later you decided that you didn’t want it (or it looked like a 90 year-old cocaine user painted it) you don’t have to hide it and then throw it on the wall before I come to visit.If I give you an expensive collection of Japanese Toenail Clippings, give it to someone else who has an appreciation for that sort of thing.There’s no reason to dedicate a corner of your house to things given to you that you can’t dare give away or discard. Truthfully, as people age, the accumulated clutter of gifts over the years might reach the ceiling if people didn’t tactfully rid themselves of old gifts.

We might have less complicated lives if we could all look at each other and agree that some of our gift choices are just plain crazy. Since people’s tastes change and sometimes we just get tired of looking at the same stuff all the time, there is no shame or crime in recognizing that we no longer really want something that was given to us. If you are a weirder person than average, it is statistically likely that you are going to guess wrong more often than people you know.

All of the above is part of the reason I enjoy trying to give personalized gifts, whether they be picture cups, or blankets printed with family pictures, calendars or anything else weird or fun I might think of. Most of the time, though, I spend more time and effort decorating the box or packaging the gift is being put into for giving.

I don’t mind if you re-gift presents I’ve give you. Only you know if you were genuinely appreciative when I gave you something. It’s not my job to judge your state of mind or whether you cared that I gave you a gift. We can do our best to surprise those we love with interesting and beloved gifts. But let’s face it, most of them are going to the the equivalent of a 6-foot Elvis robot.

 

10102013 Jesus-Zach Galifianakis Picture and Its Many Uses

Take a look at this picture. It is the iconic picture of Jesus that many of us stared at while growing up in our grandparent’s houses – the one which made the hair on the nape of our neck stand on end when we were trying to get by with something forbidden.

Or is it?

No, it’s actually a very clever morphed Jesus-Zach Galifianakis hybrid picture. This picture makes me laugh out loud, literally, sometimes.

I’ve used many times to wrap presents with. Those who don’t look closely think that I’ve used a picture of Jesus. Those who look really closely and who also follow pop culture really get a laugh out of it.

I’ve used this picture on personalized coffee mugs that I’ve had made.

I’ve used this picture as a centerpiece on xmas decorations and things of that nature. Many people never notice that something isn’t quite right about the picture.

I tried to convince myself to make a large framed version of this and sneak it into the church I most often attend. I couldn’t quite do it, although I’m certain that the pastor would have laughed until he cried. It’s not like any of us old fogies can see well enough to catch the tomfoolery at first glance, anyway.

It’s not so much that I’m subverting anyone’s beliefs, but that it is a great example of subversive humor.

08032014 Xmas Wish

Personally, I’ve never been a true believer in how we celebrate Xmas. I’m referring to the secular aspect of it in this short post, not the religious aspect. It’s difficult to get into the “true” spirit of Xmas when you don’t think of Jesus in the way that religion wants you to – which I don’t.

I wish that we could find a way to get away from the mad rush of consumerism. Everyone says it and I’m sure I’m not much different for repeating this trite-but-true cliché. Trying to get away from it would evidently cause our economy to collapse, too, if you listen to the news.

I can easily imagine a world where, instead of waiting until a designated approved day, each of us was encouraged to surprise our friends and loved ones with heart-felt gifts, anytime, throughout the year. This would not only allow us to get away from yuletide consumerism, it would also allow us to individually get gifts without pressure, when we can afford to do so, and to anticipate and plan surprising each of our friends and family as people.

No one would then know when they might be surprised and treated. It would truly be a better way of acknowledging people as people
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It would kill the growing trend to ruin everyone’s holidays with insane shopping, stress, and pocketbook madness.

I much prefer the ‘surprise’ method of gifting. I periodically do it to remind myself that I’ve always wanted it to be that way.

Maybe this coming year will be the year I finally just do it without concern for how everyone decides to follow the herd?

After all, the person I love the most, my wife, has a xmas eve birthday, so I can easily get by with my alternate plan and still make her happy around xmas.

A thought to consider…