2017 Christmas Ornament Wrap-up

I got off to a late start making snowman ornaments for Robyn this year.  With less than a week until Christmas, I made my move (which amounted to scratching my belly, drinking some holiday margaritas, and catching up on my emails). Determined to win yet another procrastination trophy, I put the whole thing out of my mind. Despite this, ideas seeped past my protective subconscious barrier like acid rain through an old roof, and I gave in. We’re talking Faberge Egg quality ideas. Too bad they all required way more time than I had left. So I decided to wing it, and just started cutting wood to see what evolved. The sound of band saws floated through the cold, night air.

I have to admit, not all the ornaments this year were painstakenly crafted in my shop. The first ornament took about as long for me to make as for Robyn to unwrap. After 26 years, I think she’s catching on to my “managing expectations” ploy, because she seemed to sense better things coming. I have to give her credit, though, at least she feigned interest. I could tell this by her many questions about how I made it, materials used and such. Questions like:

“Did you use, I mean steal, the balls from grandma’s dining table centerpiece to make this?”  To which grandma replied, “He did what!?”

“Is that a colored pencil as the nose? You stuck a colored pencil through grandma’s table decoration? Seriously?”  “He did what!?

“Was this the box you asked me to wrap on Christmas Eve? You had me wrap my own present, didn’t you?”  “He did what!?

I wish grandma’s hearing wasn’t so good.

Yep. That went about as well as expected (for those of you worried about grandma’s centerpiece, the ornament is held together only by friction and a knot of ribbon. It’s fine. Really. Please don’t send emails.)

The next ornament falls under the category “good in theory, not so good in practice.” The idea was to create a customizable snowman ornament toy, changeable each year with different features and attire – a Mr. Potato Head for the Christmas tree. Except, I’d use magnets. Fun, huh?

I thought I was so clever. I’d just buy a couple of steel balls and a variety of magnets and let Robyn and Beck do the building. Score one for Team Lazy.

It didn’t work. It was far too heavy and plummeted right off the branch, homicidally taking two other ornaments with it (which I now have to repair, damn it). And, it is too small and fussy to handle. The tiny neodymium magnets are seriously strong and can hardly be pried apart from all the other tiny parts. They naturally snap together in a clump, pinching fingers on their way.

What’s more, all the shiny reflections obscure its features, like its eyes and nose. The Christmas tree needles reflect off its surface giving it better camouflage than a sniper. If your tree is steel-reinforced, you may be able to hang it (I’d recommend securing it with an arc welder), but you will never find it again. I’d show you a picture of it hanging on a tree, but you’d have an easier time finding Waldo. Plus, I don’t dare attempt to hang it again. Someone could lose a foot.

Maybe someday I’ll try making another one. I’ll bury the steel balls within wood balls and embed the tiny magnets into wood features and… yeah. That’ll be a cold day in hell.

No worries, though, two snowman down, and I was ready with more. Thank you, Lego Company. Beck and I raided the Legos he received last Christmas (which were the ones, actually, he gave to me for Christmas, but why quibble over ownership). We got in some play time, and Robyn got some ornaments. A win-win (except I have fewer Legos, now. Or Beck does. Whatever.). Of the two snowmen, one of them is a bit closer to the grave than the other. See if you can guess which.

The next ornament is the first of my new primitive collection. That’s what I’m calling it, because I’ve already used the word lazy, and I’m too lazy to use a thesaurus. Honestly, I like its bold simplicity (in addition to it’s speed of manufacture). Not sure if most people will know it’s a snowman, though. Must be art or something.

Moving away from rough-sawn simplicity, here are four snowmen for the price of one (except I don’t sell them, sorry. So technically it’s just four snowmen in one).

In an uncharacteristic departure from snowmen, I drilled a hole and stuck an eyelet into an old bowling pin trophy. It took no time at all, but Robyn says it still counts. You see, we cleaned out my parents’ old house this year, since my dad lives in Florida now and my mother passed away many years ago. She loved to bowl, and this is one of her trophies. Just a little remembrance. You won’t find our Christmas tree gracing the cover of Architectural Digest, but it works for us.

Along the same lines, I came across a boatload (ok, a box, actually) of old Josten’s paraphernalia. My father spent the better part of his life selling class rings and graduation announcements. A few pieces of that life made their way into this little snowman ornament.

As mentioned here, my ornaments often reflect the zeitgeist of the year, and a good chunk of this year was spent with Legos. Not the little bricks, but the technic robotics. If you didn’t know, Legos makes parts that include a little computer, motors, gears, sensors (such as color, ultrasonic, infrared and touch) that allow you to build autonomous robots (sadly, not the kind that shoot flames and spin blades. Cuz that would be cool!).

Beck and a couple of his friends formed a team last year and competed in the Legos International Robotics Challenge. They built a robot and programmed it for this year’s competition and are currently competing against 600 teams across Minnesota. The team won their first competition while Beck won an award for innovative programming. Kudos, kids! These rambunctious 11-year olds face their next competition in February (unless you read about their coaches in the local paper – watch for stories of escaped mental patients and explosions).

And that’s all folks. Hope you have a great new year!

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Tim Bjella

Principal architect and interior designer for Arteriors / Bjella Architecture.

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