December 1, 2012

Homemade Gifts—Give them a try

DSC_6957 This year a few of my friends and I decided to make each other’s gifts instead of purchasing them at stores.  We’ve done this a few times through the years, and it is always fun to see what each of us decide to make.  The only downside is that I’m the least crafty of all of my friends.  Yes, I know that I talk a lot on this blog about gardening, baking and preserving, but when it comes to making crafts, I am afraid that I lack that gene.  I try—I really do.  I know how to quilt and sew, but my finished pieces aren’t as delicate as what others might make.  I know how to crochet, but I distinctly remembering the strong urge to throw the needles and thread across the room when I was learning.  And as for making jewelry, the tiny beads and needle nosed pliers always make my fingers feel like that of a giant—dumb, awkward, and way too big.

I guess it runs in my family.  Out of 8 sisters, my paternal grandmother was the only one who didn’t have sewing as a hobby.  She did sew throughout her life, but I wouldn’t say she really embraced it until she started doing some embroidery work later in her life.  Then, there is the famous story of my mother throwing away a perfectly good sewing machine because she was fed up with trying to sew.  Now, these women had many, many other talents and skills and taught me a great deal, but sewing wasn’t something that they passed down to me.

My aunts tried.  My friends have tried.  I’ve even taken a few classes, voluntarily picking Home Ec as a high school course because I knew that if I didn’t take it I would never know how to sew.  I took quilting with a friend, and I do enjoy it but again, my pieces aren’t what I would call heirloom quality.  Sigh…

Now at this point in the story, you are thinking two things (I can’t read your mind, but I’m taking a guess here).  You’re thinking, “She’s being too hard on herself” or “too modest”.  Yet, you would be wrong.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that these are skills that just don’t come naturally to me.  I’m capable at finishing projects, but I don’t excel. 

Then, I’m guessing the next thought is, “Why on earth is this lady writing a blog post to encourage us to craft when she is telling us clearly and plainly that she isn’t any good at it?”  Well, the answer to that is that even I can come up with homemade gifts for people I love that turn out great, even with all of my ineptitude for crafting, even with my lack of patience for needlework and knitting…even me. 

In what areas do you excel?

So, what do I do?  I decide what I can do well and go from there.  One thing that I do that  many of my friends do not is preserve foods at home.  Because they don’t, those little jars of goodies feel special to them (or at least they are good liars when they tell me as such).  Even with my friends who do preserve foods, when I offer them something different from what they normally put up, it makes them smile.  If home canning is one of your hobbies, why not try making a few extra jars and adding them to gift baskets this year?

Some of my favorite home canned foods to add to gift baskets are:

All of the ingredients for these three recipes can be found at the market right now (the wine you’ll have to pick up at a market that sells wine).  All are fairly easy to make if you have some basic understanding of canning (see my “food preservation” tab if you don’t).  The pomegranate jelly, for instance, takes only a few minutes to make once you have all of your ingredients and canning items out and ready to go. 

Giving the gift of time

DSC_5450 The next idea I have is to give others the gift of time this holiday season.  We’ve all seen the homemade certificates for free baby-sitting or a date night courtesy of a friend or family member.  Those ideas are great, but you don’t have to go that far if you don’t want to.  One year, I decided to make a few of my friends who had toddler aged and newborn children some meals that could easily be frozen and pulled out to use whenever they were having a hectic day.  You would have thought I was giving them gold bullion.  I didn’t fully understand the looks of appreciation on their faces until our daughter was that age and I realized how tired a momma can be by the end of the day. 

If cooking is a talent of yours, why not make up a few of your favorite recipes and bring them to friends a week or so before Christmas as a gift of time?  Present them in a nice basket or wrapped in a pretty kitchen towel with a note that tells them the purpose of your gift. 

Some of my favorite foods to make and give others are:

  • Whole Wheat Banana Bread
  • Quiche
  • Granola
  • Cream Cheese Pound Cake
  • Any soup recipe
  • Any cookie recipe
  • Vanilla sugar—take a quart jar and fill it with white sugar or “Sugar in the Raw”, take a vanilla bean and put in the jar (you can split it half way, but it isn’t necessary, and I find it neater if you do not), let it sit for a few weeks.  Give with some nice tea and pretty cookies.

Figure out what types of crafts you are better at making

DSC_6948 I’ve found that the best crafts for me to tackle are no brainers.  I’ll spend an hour or so with our daughter working on something she can give to grandparents, aunts and uncles.  Or I find an easy-to-do craft on Pinterest, and I give it a shot.  The ones that I have the most luck with involve some sort of cooking or art and don’t have anything to do with fine motor skills. 

Some of my favorite easy to make crafts are:

  • Christmas tree handprints
  • Christmas tree fingerprint lights
  • Paint swirl globe ornaments
  • Muffin tin crayons—take all of the broken crayons you can find in your house and clean the paper off of them.  Add a few of the same colors to an old muffin tin that you never want to use for food again.  I happened to have had one that had become a bit rusty, and it worked great.  Fill the crayons about half way full in each tin and place in a low oven (175-200F) until the crayons melt.  This will take about 10+ minutes.  Set on a trivet to cool and once they have solidified, dip the bottom of the tin in ice cold water.  They will pop out and are perfect gifts to add with colorful paper for the young artist in your family.  Last year we added these to an index card, drew around them to make them look like they were ornaments, and gave one to each person in our daughter’s class.

Want something a little more sophisticated?  This year I’m going to try these two crafts and see how they go.  Note that I haven’t yet made them to give any advice on them, but I have my fingers crossed that they will work out.

I hope you’ll carve out a little time this holiday season to make a few gifts for those you love.  Not only are they less expensive, they offer the recipient something more than just a gift.  You are giving them a part of you.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

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