Handmade gifts warm many heads and hearts

Mary Mueller stays in the giving spirit year-round. “If there’s a charity in this town that wants booties for babies, I have about 50 pairs to give,” she says. (Press photo by Molly Moser)


By Molly Moser

“People don’t realize that it does feel really good to give,” says Mary Mueller, who is one of many Guttenberg residents sharing kindness with others this Christmas. “I’m not talking about buying stuff from a store and wrapping it up.”

Mueller is a talented crafter – knitting, crocheting, felting, and embroidery; growing and painting designer gourds, making herbal sugars and teas, and the list goes on. She brightened the holidays for many this year by donating numerous hats and scarves to Senior Santa, a drive that accepts gifts for senior citizens in Guttenberg. 

“If you have the means, whatever your talent is, use it to give back to somebody,” she encourages. 

Mueller considers Oregon her home. While living there, she enjoyed a culture centered on bartering and supporting others. “We did a lot of bartering for handmade things,” she explains. “I taught my children to give.” 

In Oregon Mueller belonged to a group of gleaners, people who (with permission) collected what was left on the land after farmers had finished harvesting. They got to keep a portion of what was collected, but as a group their mission was to support families or senior citizens who couldn’t glean.

She likes the idea of gleaning locally. “Think of all the apples!” she smiles. “If you have anything, you owe it to give something.”

Her attitude of compassion and generosity can be traced back to personal as well as cultural experiences.  Mueller and her husband, Craig, lost their Cedar Rapids home in the flood of 2008. “We’ve been helped,” she says, “and this is paying it forward.” 

She gives of her talents, and also supports an organization called Heifer International, a nonprofit, humanitarian organization dedicated to ending hunger and poverty and caring for
the Earth. With the help of supporters like Mueller, Heifer provides livestock, trees, seeds and training in environmentally sound agriculture to families in more than 40 countries, including the United States.

Heifer’s model matches her own. “Passing on the gift,” states the nonprofit, “means families share the training they receive, and pass on the first female offspring of their livestock to another family. This extends the impact of the original gift, allowing a once impoverished family to become donors and full participants in improving their communities.”

Mueller’s skills and interests make her a sort of jack-of-all-trades. She travels to various events to sell her handmade goods; in the backyard of her home, she tends a certified butterfly garden. “I keep myself busy,” she chuckles, not looking up from a headband she’s crocheting. “I teach myself.” 

She says her mother was an excellent knitter, but that she prefers crocheting because it’s so much faster. “I’m working on this other piece I just love,” says Mueller, removing a 1930s style headband from the female bust on her work table and pulling out a matched set of ‘his and hers’ hats and scarves. “I can envision the people who will wear them.”

Mueller passes a little love from her cozy home to the homes of others, who will literally be warmed by the hats and scarves she’s donated. She says, “It doesn’t cost me a dime to make somebody smile.”

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