Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Handmade Telescope & what it's meant to me

So my husband made the most awesome gift for me this year: a telescope.

Yeah. A t-e-l-e-s-c-o-p-e.

He worked on it for more than a month - evenings, weekends, he was holed up in our garage, working away. It never occurred to me that he was making a telescope. I mean - who does that? Especially when they haven't made anything before. That's right, this was my husband's first woodworking project.

I was excited to get to share it with the MAKE readers yesterday, and was surprised to learn that it had been picked up by Gizmodo. (although, no, Chris hasn't cheated on me.)

Because you can read about the actual telescope everywhere else, I thought I'd examine some interesting thoughts and emotions that have surfaced in the wake of revealing the project.

Setting the bar high
A friend's husband emailed her when he saw the project on Gizmodo, saying Chris had "raised the bar" on husband/wife gifts. I guess he has, but here's the thing: Chris and I rarely exchange gifts. I've actually watched said friend exchange sweet, small gifts with her husband for years, and wished Chris and I did more of that. There's something to be said for small, meaningful, frequent gifts. Sure, a handmade telescope that ends up getting a lot of internet publicity is cool, but it doesn't mean that smaller gifts aren't special or should be made to feel inadequate.

A gift for gift's sake
The closing line on the Gizmodo post really zinged me:

So Rachel, you've got a really nice husband, but he's probably cheated on you in the past year. That's the only logical explanation.
I know this is just hipster snark, and that's fine and all, but really? Are we all so jaded that we can't accept that someone would make a gift for gift's sake (or for - gasp - love!)? I also like to think this was as much a gift for Chris as it was for me. He works a lot, and the hours he spent in the garage with his favorite music playing was an excellent way to unwind and relax and get creative for a bit. To me, the gift of the telescope is secondary to that gift of time for himself.

Inspiring some low self-esteem
One thing that has surprised me about myself from all of this is a bit of a feeling of inadequacy. (and, yeah, I know this is just my own little issue and I'll get over it just fine, but it's still worth mentioning) Remember how I said this was Chris' first woodworking project? It's really his first project of any sort, and he nailed it. Like on-the-head nailed it. He decided to do it, found plans online and excecuted it perfectly. Has my first version of anything I've made ever been anywhere in the same vicinity of perfect?

Hell. no.

What gives? I'm suppposed to be the creative one in our equation. I'm supposed to be the "Maker" here. He's the accountant, the spreadsheet guy, and now he's showing me up in the field of making stuff, too? It's causing me to reevaluate my methods. Sometimes I'm a little too happy-go-lucky-fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants-give-plans-the-finger. Maybe there's something to be said for his extrememe focus, determination and fortitude. I rarely finish a project on time, I'm always scrambling, procrastinating ... playing. He started and finished the project BOOM-BOOM-BOOM. Done and done. Do NOT get me wrong, playing is essential, but sometimes I mistake lollygagging for playing and my work suffers.

I know Chris didn't expect all this to come from the telescope project, and if anything it's just an interesting way to see how a handmade gift can spark more thought and discussion than you imagined. Who knew a gift made to look out into the heavens could turn focus so much closer to home?


  1. I think this is such a wonderfully sweet gift, I can't even think of words to describe it. I can tell that Chris really thought about what it would mean to you--not only did he know how much a telescope would mean to you, he knew that it would be quadruply meaningful if he made it himself. That's real love, for sure.

    I am not surprised that Chris' linear brain was able to see this project through so quickly--I don't know him well (since we've only met the once), but I can tell that he's got that type of mind. It's not a reflection on you at all--you two are different, and that's why you're so great together. You are complimentary--Josh and I are much the same way (though neither one of us can do math!).

    The snark & rudeness on the Gizmodo post is really offensive. Things like that is the reason I avoid Gawker-affiliated sites. The author should be ashamed of himself.

  2. hey, dollface: my mom likes to tell the story of how my dad visited her in pottery class one time. . . the bastard centered the clay perfectly HIS FIRST TIME OUT. dagnabit!

    This is one of those times when the internet is not a blessing. People get snarky and flip when they feel envious. It's a human trait, albeit an unattractive one. Let that stuff roll off of your back, and just revel in the special coolness of Chris' expression of love and enthusiasm. These things come around few times in a lifetime. Savor the moment; you'll remember it when you're gray-haired and old. You WON'T remember your insecurity and the snarky snarkersons. Blips on the screen, dear.

    Take it from an elder. ;>


  3. Wow, what an awesome gift. Props to your hubby for doing such a sweet project for you (and being able to keep it a secret for so long!) The snarky hipster was probably just jealous for not receiving something as thoughtful and kick-ass :)

  4. Thanks, gals! Yeah, I'm definitely savoring the gift and really enjoying it (in fact, I'm seriously bummed it's raining because I wanted to take it out again tonight!) I just thought it was interesting what kinds of things it brought up. I've become pretty immune to internet snark, thankfully. I just thought it showed an interesting point (even if it was immaturely expressed) of how people even process gifts. Not just accepting them, but trying to identify some motive that will make them feel better about themselves (if that even makes sense ;) And I'm all-around pretty ok with myself, I just think it's interesting to sometimes take a sec to look at not only a project, but emotions it evokes. And, dammit, as much as I do NOT want to be a Type A person, there are a few projects on my list that would really appreciate Chris' dedication and focus right about now! ;)

  5. Such an amazing, amazing gift! I am beyond impressed; I can't even imagine how one goes about making a telescope, haha! I agree that the Gizmodo post was totally out of line. Obviously it was meant to be a joke, but SERIOUSLY.NOT.FUNNY. Not even a little bit.

    Oh, and I also understand the slight twangs of jealousy (or whatever that is) that the gift brought up. My husband and I have a similar dynamic. If only we could share thinking styles sometimes! Oh well, I suppose that's one of the reasons why we marry the people that we do - it's the closest we can get to combining our ways of looking at the world.

  6. WOW!!!! I understand a little about optics but I can't fathom building a tele from SCRATCH! Kuddos to hubby, a STEALTH MAKER**

  7. Rach, I loved this post and am so impressed with Chris' gift. I was especially touched by your paragraph about what a gift it was for HIM to make this for you; the time working with his hands, following a plan and jamming to his favorite tunes. All the while, building something for his love. Makes me weepy! Your acknowledgement of that gift to him really shows how much love you guys share.

    Missing you a large amount my friend!

  8. When you said your husband made you a telescope, I had no idea that he literally made it from scratch. Wow! It's amazing and so incredibly awesome.

    I'm also appalled at the Gizmodo comment. Why do people have to be like that?

  9. Lovely post! The realities of the honest to goodness meaning of gifts. I love that he nailed it and I know what you mean about the good feelings and mixed feelings associated with the accomplishment. But he is the Vanilla Ice (great hit, quite a buzz but really a one-hit-wonder) and you are the U2 of crafting!

  10. Awww... I love it! And he loves you. You've got a good one there, Rach! There's nothing like a gift that takes time, thought, late nights and true work to touch the heart. Good job, Chris! You deserve it, Rach!

  11. This story of Chris making you a telescope from scratch is one of my very favorite things that happened in 2009. Your man is a keeper, that's for sure.

    Re: Gizmodo, well... everyone falls into a pothole trying to be clever on the internet once in a while.

  12. What a wonderful gift from your husband. I so know what you mean about the self esteem part. My dear husband only had one hobby when we met. Golf. Since then he's taken on a lot of new things (comes from time spent with me doing projects and encouraging him to try new things.) Anyway, I'll be damned if he doesn't do a wonderful job with everything he tries. I can't count the number of times I've been frustrated to the point of tears when it's not even my first go at something and he just has a natural ability that he doesn't even recognize. And screw the snarky post--I'm all for gifts made/given out of love. For the first ten years my husband and I each made our anniversary gifts to each other. Nothing special, just given out of love. Cheers to Chris!

  13. Great gift and thanks for sharing the story. I think that he chose to hand make you something, means he also knew that you would apprediate it. That kind of trust is great!

  14. I read this post last night and had to come back today and comment because I liked it so much. It's a wonderful gift and it's clear he knows your passions so well. My husband is much more detailed than I am in projects, which is why he'll always be better at woodworking and I'll stick to fabric and paper.

  15. Great post. Excellent ending line.

  16. I used to work at a planetarium that had classes that taught how to make a telescope. Before then, I had no idea that anyone besides china based manufacturing could make a telescope. Now I adore handmade ones. This one is so great!

  17. Holy crap. Mr Misc once locked himself away and made windchimes for me, so I know the joy of opening up a surprising made-just-for-you gift. Lucky, lucky lady!

    Let me add my voice to the chorus that anonymous internet snark should not take away from this gift nor make you feel inadequate in any way--since, honestly, his dedication to this handmade gift seems to be honoring your own appreciation for the handmade.

  18. wow. i saw this earlier and was trying to find it again. so fun to find this and your blog all at once.

    i totally know what you mean about the lollygagging. somehow i swear men know how to get right to the meat of the project. but i think that lollygagging comes with its own advantages and discoveries too. at least i like to tell myself that.

  19. What a fabulous telescope!! Sounds like your hubby stumbled upon a hobby that he could excel at if he wanted to pursue it :).

    Boohiss about internet snarkiness.

    My hubby & I go about projects differently, and he's often successful right off the bat. He thinks mathmatically, which is apparently quite a benefit for most of the projects he does / we do together ^-^. My brain doesn't think that way, and most of my first-time projects are very much trial-and-error, heavy on the error. But I have fun . . . most of the time!!


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