Anybody interested in a phone book?
            How about a genuine, full color Rand McNally map of Northeastern United States, guaranteed never to return to its original folded state?
            Still no takers?
            I’m not surprised. Of all the items that the digital age has rendered practically useless, these two are probably near the top of the list. Think about the last time you needed a phone number. Even if you don’t have a smart phone, you at last have a cell phone, with a list of three gazillion contacts. My phone even has the Illuminating Company’s number for reporting power outages. But on that rare occasion when you do have to look one up, there are easier ways than lugging out a five pound tome and then trying to read names and numbers basically the size of fly spots. Google does it better. And if you do have a smart phone, Google will not only find it, but also, with the tap of a finger, dial it for you. Through the magic of Bluetooth, it’s even possible to do the whole thing hands-free.
            Ditto the road map. Anyone over, say, forty, might remember driving along the highway while whoever was in the passenger seat wrestled with a piece of paper the approximate size of Lake Erie and about as hard to calm. Why was it that whatever town or city you were trying to find was inevitably on the flip side? Use the map long enough and coffee stains would obliterate whole counties and rips would become sinkholes into which would tumble Boston or Chicago. Some people, of course, weren’t too concerned about that. But I say, God bless whoever invented the GPS.
            I got thinking about all this the other day when I opened the glove compartment of our family car, releasing a veritable Niagara Falls of road maps. Why on earth were we keeping them? They hadn’t been used for a good decade. The original Declaration of Independence was in better shape.  Heck, even James, our GPS persona, hadn’t been out of the console for months. If we needed directions, we just plugged the address into a map app (nice poetic ring there, eh?) on my iPhone and within seconds, it spit out a visual and also turn by turn driving directions. The paper maps were clearly headed for the recycle bin.
            Which reminded me of one of our kitchen drawers, the contents of which consisted solely of these two items: phone books and maps.  It needed cleaning out and there was no time like the present. Within minutes, the whole thing was empty. (Well, okay, I did keep a few maps of a sentimental nature, and just in case the entire Internet was taken over by aliens. And one phone book.) Leaving, in the drawer, a huge vacuum, which my nature abhorred. What to put in it?
            It took about a nanosecond. Guaranteed to fit in the space and to most likely become obsolete even faster than the phone books and maps? Simple. All the cables, chargers, batteries, etc. for the digital devices.
            Happy New Year, everyone! And stay connected, will you? Somehow.


       It was inevitable. You have a big enough family and at some point the logistics of Christmas gift giving become problematical. It happened to us in the years just prior to 1993. With families being so wide-spread, it would clearly take not only Santa, but all his minions to deliver everything. The USPS would have been happy to oblige, but that just added to an already burdensome expense for families who were just starting out. For one year, at least, we opted for a lottery. Draw a name and buy something for that one person. But with families running to four or five people, that got a bit pricey, too.
          It was then that our daughter Mary had a brilliant idea. “We can make something. Handmade gifts are always fun and welcome.”
          2013 marks the 20th year of our handmade gift exchange. There have been some wonderful and also some very wacky and unusual presents.

          To wit (in no particular order and claiming the limitations of memory):
-      A sweatshirt decorated with a small cousin’s handprints
-      Bongo drums
-      A whiskey cake
-      A wooden revolving rubber band shooter, given to a young nephew who promptly shot out a light and was grounded.
-      Hand-painted wine glasses
-      Decorated Christmas ornaments
-      A small pink football for a new granddaughter because girls need to play, too—given by her grandfather who had to learn the ins and outs of a sewing machine to do it.
-      A bat house
-      A handmade Advent calendar
-      To various people one year, flannel sleep pants, sewn by a family who practically turned their house into a sweatshop to do it.
-      A xylophone made out of steel tubing on an oak base and filed to near perfect pitch with an electronic tuner.
-      A book of personalized haikus
-      A rosary ring fashioned from a nonmagnetic bolt by our son who was on a submarine at the time. The box it came in was carved from a Pine Wood Derby kit.
-      Framed photographs
-      A family recipe book
-      A painted birdhouse
-      Soup in a jar.
-      A wooden tray made from pottery shards found on the island of Ischia.
-      Things knitted and carved and sewn and glued and painted and constructed out of an incredible array of materials by hands old and young, creative and not so, stained and sticky and sometimes bandaged.

Has our two decade old gift-giving project been perfect? Of course not. We are human. We err. We forget, we procrastinate, we feel less than adequate at times. We give in to buying instead of making when time is crunched. We sometimes grumble if we’ve made an effort and someone else hasn’t. Our good intentions are often left on the cutting room floor. We’ve been on the verge of giving up. But in the bond of family can be found the grace of forgiveness and redemption and second chances.
The gift of Christmas came to us in a hand-hewn manger. May our small tokens to one another, no matter what form they take, spread our love and Christ’s peace to a world in desperate need of both.