As I look around this holiday season, I am looking with a new perspective. Looking past the glitter and hype, I am extremely GRATEFUL to find myself surrounded by so much personal talent, passionate interests, and dedicated hard-working people in my community. Looking past the mass produced objects, and chain services, I find my neighbors putting their hearts and all their energy in their creations or services.
I LOVE walking around the local produce stands, or the downtown market, gathering fresh local produce, and getting to know the stories of those who live close to the land. It is fascinating to hear how the weather has affected certain crops, or to taste the difference between varieties of local honeys: Orange Blossom, Wildflower, Tupelo, Florida Clover, etc.
I enjoy catching the enthusiasm of my friends as they passionately share stories about their unique services: a community art teacher and vocal instructor who pair up to create a weekly experience that includes group voice, artistic set designs, costumes, choreography, acting and more; a mother who loves to make unique hair bands and bows for her baby and delights in developing new styles to sell to other families; a private restaurant owner who truly listens to his customers, and continues to make changes that reflect their preferences.
In this gift giving season, I have been struck by a new focus: When we purchase objects and services that are created and offered by local people, they become treasured thoughtful gifts for our loved ones, as well the gift of support in our own little piece of the world. I would go so far as to say that the economy of the USA depends upon recognizing the value of the contributions of our local talent. So when purchasing gifts this holiday season, I am making sure to consider gifts that capture the bounty offered by those who are nearby.
Ask about Gift Certificates
I have found that some of my favorite local service providers offer gift certificates when asked: hair stylist, massage therapist, car detail shop, local golf course (my hubby will like that one). My mom would LOVE the services of a local cleaning lady for a day.
Grandparents often are grateful to hear suggested “gifts” that will last over time, like gift certificates for weekly lessons from a dedicated community educator in areas like music, art, martial arts, etc. AND, it is fun to pair that with an instrument, or supplies to enjoy unwrapping, that can be found through these educators, or they might recommend items from local shops. (And yes, I do offer personalized gift certificates for Kindermusik semesters, as well as some unique gift sets this year.)
Wherever I go, I seek out unique owner-run restaurants. I am fascinated to see exactly what I will get when I order a chili relleno – same name and general idea, yet sooo many ways to prepare it. I LOVE finding little places that serve the BEST food, with the BEST attitude. The gift certificates may not be displayed for all to see, but are usually available when requested.
Of course, I have always LOVED listening to live music, and I enjoy many types of concerts. But this year, I have come to fully appreciate listening to local musicians in a toned down atmosphere, like the wine bar nights offered at local restaurants. Just this weekend, we enjoyed “Billy Needs a Beard” at the Bay Street Bistro. On other nights, we have truly enjoyed the unique versions of songs played by Brian Sutherland and his group (I love it when they bring out the cello and stand up bass), and the original music by Derik Thomas – a 17 year old Harrison student with talent in abundance. This is an easy gift for my friends… “Meet me for a bottle of wine and some fabulous music…” Their gift for me is simply their company. And we leave a good tip for our musician and restaurant friends.
For those folks on my holiday list that live far away, I find it fun to send them something that is uniquely local, like the honey I was talking about earlier, alligator jerky, a box of oranges, or a piece of art gathered locally at art or music festivals. I’m always astonished at what can be found.
Just a few weeks ago, at the River Hawk Music Festival, it was so much fun to explore the unique creations of Florida artisans. A Naples man was selling seashells that he makes into musical instruments. What I loved was the story of his discovery. From the shore, he saw some dolphins in the gulf, and wanted them to come closer. Already familiar with how to make a whistling sound with an acorn cap, he found a shell on the beach, and adapted the technique to whistle through the shell to call out to the dolphin as he waded into the water. It worked, and the dolphins were curious enough to come close enough for him to touch. Ever since then, he has passionately explored the sounds that can be derived from making and playing Seashell Music. Yes, my husband found them first, and was smart enough to buy a set of them as gifts for me ! But he’s not really good about keeping secrets, and knew that part of the gift is the story, and made sure to introduce me to the artist.
No matter where you are, THESE KINDS OF PEOPLE are in abundance. This is the heart of our community. Seek them out! Talk to them! Become a part of the pulse in your little piece of the world, and the benefits will come back around in ways we can’t imagine.
Sometimes, though, they are hard to find. Most of the time, we simply hear about them from local folks who have stumbled across them, and found a true treasure. So PLEASE SHARE ! I would love to see a wealth of sharing of the unique treasures that can be found in Lakeland, FL, Polk County, and surrounding areas.