This past weekend I took the 1 hour and 20 minute drive from Scranton to the town of Bethlehem, PA- a perfectly named place to find some Holiday Cheer. They say there’s no place like New York at Christmas, and while I will admittedly also be traveling there this upcoming weekend, this PA market will be a life long memory. Celebrating 26 years, the Christkindlmarkt features over 150 vendors. After paying an entrance fee of 10 dollars, you enter lavishly decorated tents, all exploding with the scent of cinnamon and butter.
The tents are packed with a wide range of businesses selling everything from alpaca wool socks, to local art, to gourmet peanut butters, and so much more. The fascinating parts of markets like these, is their ability to create personal connections with unique products that can’t be found in one place anywhere else. Even large corporations get in on the fun like Crayola, who had a creativity booth set up, perfect for young kids to design their own Christmas dreams.
My favorite tent was the German company Kathe Wohlfahrt display. I had taken German for 6 years through school and have always wished to travel there and experience a real German Christmas market. I never knew I could get so close to the real thing without a passport. My former teachers would tell stories about the traditions of the German people, and their incredible artistry that is unmatched at Christmas. Detailed cuckoo clocks, nut cracker men, and wooden displays, all hand carved and painted lined a maze through the tent.
I took home a stunning handmade ornament of a glittering green snail- my favorite animal, made in Germany. Never would I have dreamed of combining two of my favorite and seemingly random interests into one, but unique markets like these allow for those exciting connections to be made.
We also found a stand specializing in creating family trees. The company would take the names of each member you wanted to include, and write the meaning of their name a next to a pressed flower. My dad has spent hours and hours and hours researching his family history, and piecing together the people of his past. We even took a trip to Canada a few summers ago to find the places where his family was buried and lived. I have a slight obsession with flowers and this small stand was an interesting way for us to connect with each other.
On our way out, we got stuck in a crowd which turned out to be a line for a Danish desert called Stroopies. We decided their aroma was too enticing and since we were apparently in line anyway, to give some a try. The young woman in front of us gasped with excitement as she realized what she was inline for. My dad asked her if they were good then, and she went on to tell us about her recent trip to Copenhagen where she first encountered the cookie. It’s essentially two thin waffles with caramel sandwiched in between. When you’re ready to eat, you heat up a cup of coffee or tea and sit the pastry on top of the mug, letting the steam soften the caramel. To see a stranger have a beautiful moment of bliss as she found a connection to her life she never dreamed of finding in “nowhere Pennsylvania” was incredible. The Stroopie Co., are a Lancaster, PA based Sweet Shoppe that runs their business by employing refugees resettling in the area. This small business is taking their talents and creating good through extending opportunities to those in need while bringing immeasurable joy to customers.
The market beamed with beautiful decorations, live ice sculpture carvings, and more elaborate booths than we could visit in one afternoon. Going into the market I had planned to write about the interesting finds and activities that can be found in my own backyard, but I didn’t realize how personal the experience was going to be. I challenge you to look at what’s close to your home. Who is making a difference near you? What opportunities can you find? What magic can you create?
Feeling limited by the area you live in can be frustrating. When you focus on all the things you can’t do, you close off opportunities for things that you can. I find we tend to limit ourselves in this same way not only with physical location but where we are psychologically and emotionally. We get in our own heads with thoughts like “I could never do that,” or, “I’m not as talented as so and so,” or, “I’m not going to try because I don’t think I will be good.” We cling to the familiar while aching for change. We can’t have it both ways.
I am not particularly good at drawing and painting. I’ve always loved it though. My mom tells me stories how in preschool my friends would have to drag me away from the coloring table to play outside. Now I draw for a distraction, or as a form of self expression, or just to pass the time. I don’t practice frequently or try to actively improve my skills. It’s just something I do.
Most of my pictures like the one above don’t have any type of deeper meaning, they just came out of my brain and onto the page. I think there is a toxic misconception out there that to engage in the arts, or gardening, or math, or cooking, or science, or writing, you need to try your best to be the best. You don’t. If you like to do something or want to try it out, do it. It’s okay to just do something because you like. Overtime you will probably get better at it because that’s what practice does, but if you don’t that’s okay too. If you love to bake but your kitchen concoctions never taste to delight, keep doing it. If you want to become a bird watcher, but don’t want to memorize encyclopedias of every genus, phylum, and species, don’t. Just watch your birds and soak up their songs.
I could fill a sketch book with unfinished drawings like the faint outline of this would be elephant. Sometimes I have an idea but I don’t think I can do it the way I want, so I just don’t do it at all. This picture could have turned out beautiful. We’ll never know.
Almost three years ago I made my first and only New Years Resolution ever. I decided to “Stop telling yourself you can’t”. I wrote it down on the first page of a new sketch book and told myself whatever went on those pages would not end up in a garbage bin, no matter how awful. I also needed to change my mindset about my life. I have so many ideas for what I want to do in my life, but I don’t think I could ever check off half my list. Then again, why couldn’t I? I have kept myself contained in a box built by what I perceived my limitations to be. If I want to publish a book I can. I can be a hair dresser. I can be a motivational speaker. I can be an actor. I can be an artist. I can be an explorer. I can do whatever I want. Other people do, so why not me too?
There was a stretch of time that I stopped drawing. I stopped writing. I stopped exploring. I stopped acting. I stopped dancing. I stopped smiling. I stopped everything. I was so afraid of making the wrong choice, that I didn’t make any choices at all. We can not allow ourselves to shy away from what calls to us because of our perceived skill level. We miss opportunities we didn’t even know were available because we never try anything new.
Most of the things I gave up weren’t even career aspirations. Hobbies are supposed to be fun. They help bring joy and purpose and love to your life. I think because in many hobbies there are particularly talented people who make money off their passions, we think we all do too. If we aren’t good enough at it to do so then we just don’t do it all. I wrote a poem a few months ago that expresses what I’m trying to say much better than what I’ve written so far.
Don’t stay stuck up in your head. Try out what you want, and leave behind what doesn’t resonate with you. You can do more than you think, what matters most is that you are happy doing it. Go build a robot, write a novel, direct a play, take photos of clouds, draw the flower. It doesn’t matter where you are at, it matters what you do while you are there.
One of the major inspirations for this blog came from walking a trail near my home. It’s not a particularly noteworthy hiking spot- more of a walking path really, but I always seem to find something incredible there. There are no mountain top views, no waterfalls, no caves, just some gravel through the woods. Yet whenever I feel angry, or upset, or frustrated, or uninspired, I find myself seeking inspiration from the trees in my backyard.
Once I pass the baseball fields at the entrance I am submerged in a place brought to life by detail. Every visit I find something that reignites the dulling flame in spirit. I am in awe of the creatures that peak out to watch as people pass over their home without a second glance. The sporadic flowers that fill the fields on either side of the pathway change every year. The forest floor is covered in moss and leaves and rocks and stumps and it’s all blended together harmoniously.
My forest has brought so much clarity. The details of my forest make it beautiful. Details are what make life special. At first glance I wouldn’t think of this trail as anything more than a place to get some fresh air. Picturesque views from mountain tops and sandy beach sunsets, couldn’t provide the same sense of amazement about the delicate intricacies this world has to offer. The uniqueness this town has to offer.
When we discredit the everyday, we miss out on the details of life that make it worth living. The beauty of saying good morning, unexpected afternoon naps, cooking dinner, planting flowers, cleaning out the basement, slipping on socks fresh from the dryer, gets lost in the idea that most of life is unremarkable. Your life doesn’t need to be flashy or attractive for you to create something beautiful.
I tend to romanticize the way other people live their lives in my mind. When I think about how they grocery shop, or study, or write, or eat, or play with their pets, it always seems so different and magical compared to the way I do it. Of course in their minds, they are going through the routine of their day, but to me it’s fascinating. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. From handwriting, to style, to home décor, to pet names, the most personal and telling information about ourselves is reflected in the details of our life. In movies with the perfect background music, we watch characters get ready for the day and it all seems so much cooler the way they brush their teeth than how you do. What they eat for breakfast is the same old Mini-Wheats they have everyday, but it seems so much more appetizing when we see their life played out in quality lighting with a carefully selected playlist. That’s how I see the details of everyone else’s life.
The details of your life are unique to you. Make them count. Examine how you spend your day and take time to appreciate the incredible way you operate. Your thoughts, your preferences, your choices no matter how small are so powerful. To get to where you want to go, you need to know where you are at right now. You may feel ordinary, but you are filled with the most intricate details that make your presence remarkable. Go out and seek the spots of your home that are packed with inspiration. Go and admire the details of those around you. Go and take note of the fantastical ways you live. Stare at the floor, look under, look over, look beyond what’s right in front of you.
I have wanted nothing more than to escape the mundane life of a small town just outside a not so major city. The problem with small towns is most people feel the same way. We all want to run away to places where “there’s always something happening.” We don’t even know what that “something else” is most of the time- at least not specifically. We want better jobs, better homes, better parks, better art, better night life, better food, better anything. What job, what food, what to do, we don’t really know. We just want better. Life in a small town seems so insignificant when everyone doing anything of importance seems to be somewhere else. Small town America while seemingly unexciting can offer unique experiences with their own kind of magic. You just have to look for them.
I live just outside the Scranton area, and everyone seems to hate living here. Our own local news reported on a Gallup pole ranking the city as the 13th most miserable city to live in the country (placing first within the Commonwealth). Some people want to leave but don’t have the option, others stay and just complain. I can’t help but think if everyone spent their energy on building up the good in the area instead of bringing it down, what it might look like. The area has so much to offer. You just have to look for it. I have a feeling other towns in a similar position as us are the same way. We have incredible hiking trails, a vibrant artistic community, a rich classically American history, and several universities throughout the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area. The pieces are here, so why aren’t they coming together? I think it’s a lack of appreciation for the resources at our finger tips.
Place has a lot to do with our mindsets as well. We get so stuck in putting off our dreams for the right time and place. People don’t think they can manifest their ideas where they are. Physically, they might think they have to move to LA, NYC, DC, Chicago, Seattle, or Portland to begin their journey to success. They put off starting a project until they can save to move away. Or they put it off until Summer starts, or until they get a new computer, or until they start school, or until they end school, or until the time just “feels right.” The time wont ever feel right. You won’t ever get past your initial idea if you place constraints on yourself from the beginning. To get where you want to be, look around at where you’re at and see what you can do today. Film that video on your phone. Write a few chapters for that book. Teach yourself the piano. Do what you can with what you have. There are resources in your neighborhood you probably don’t know exist. Go to your community centers, talk to the small business owners in your area. Pick their brain. The only way to realize your dreams is to begin working on them. Right now. Don’t wait for tomorrow, because you won’t start it then either.