Family Handmade Christmas: How Our Family Did Christmas Presents This Year

In case you haven’t noticed, I like to make things.

However, this can make Christmas a little bit troublesome.  I want to craft a treasure for each person on my gift-giving list, but (in case you haven’t noticed) I’m terribly busy with growing and educating my family.  Crafting time is a bit hard to come by at times.  As a result, we haven’t sent out Christmas presents in years because I didn’t want to send handmade gifts to some people and generic store-bought gifts to others, just in case it caused hurt feelings.

That all changed this year.  I delegated the Christmas gift-giving list amongst members of our family and allowed everyone to partake in the joy and anticipation of giving to our extended family.  I think it was a smashing success and plan to continue with the practice for next year’s Christmas.

Unfortunately, this idea of delegation came to me in October, which didn’t allow for extravagant crafting, but it was fun nonetheless.  First, I wrote up the list of the people we I wanted to give gifts to and then we had a family meeting and everyone took turns choosing a name from the list and accepting responsibility for making their present.  I put a “handmade gift only” rule into effect because I was not about to open the gates of allowing a 7, 5 and 3 year old to run rampant through the mall, choosing any gifts they desired for their recipients.  I’m OK with spending a few dollars to purchase fabric and odds ‘n ends for projects; I am not OK with forking over $50 for some novelty monstrosity that my 3 year old thinks would make a good gift.

Our list of thirteen gift recipients was divided amongst five people, which meant the girls each made three gifts each and Michael and I were each responsible for only two.  A “Handmade Christmas” has an actual shot at success when you’re only responsible for making 2-3 gifts!

The girls LOVED making their gifts.  Bluebird put her newfound sewing skills to use and sewed up little lavender-stuffed heart sachets for two of her recipients, and I took her and Penguin to a ceramics studio to make a gift for one person on their lists.  Bluebird chose to paint a cappuccino mug with matching saucer for her Aunt Sandra and it turned out so incredibly cute that I would possibly have thought about keeping it for myself had Bluebird not painted a gigantic “S” on the saucer.

Penguin used her ceramic studio experience to paint a gift for…well, I can’t exactly say yet because I’m not sure if that particular family has received their box yet (I’m glaring at you, Canada Post, for this infraction).  We were at the ceramics studio for THREE hours as the two of them diligently tended to their projects.  I was so proud of their commitment to producing “good” presents.

Penguin also painted a picture for Granny and helped make a basketball-themed hair ribbon for her cousin Amber, who recently made it onto her high school’s JV basketball team as a freshman.

Junebug…knows what she wants to do and will allow nothing to distract her from accomplishing what she decides she is going to do.  She wanted to paint pictures for everyone on her list.  Period.  I tried to talk her into other ideas, but she was adamant–she would paint pictures for all three of her recipients.  So she did.  And I packaged them in gift bags with a big bag of Ghirardelli chocolates as a way to sweeten the deal.

Michael had big plans for his people, but a last minute business trip to Hawaii made it impossible for him to make his ideas tangible.  He ended up purchasing some thoughtful gifts for the people on his list.

I knitted for the people on my list.  (Shocking, I know.)  As luck would have it, I ended up with my mother and my father as my intended giftees and I made both of them hats.

My mother’s hat was hard to give away.  The pictures turned out terrible because lavender purple does not look cute when photographed in a lime green-painted room.  The pattern is Leafy Rosette Beret, by Amy Jansen and I enjoyed knitting it very much.  I used Berrocco’s Ultra Alpaca yarn in colorway 6283 “Lavender Mix,” and I’ve already used up the leftovers in a project for myself.  It’s a gorgeous shade of lavender.
My father’s hat was super soft and warm.  I made him a Turn a Square (designed by Jared Flood) from some charcoal Ultra Alpaca (#6289) and the leftover forest green yarn from the scarf I made for his wife a few years ago.  I have only one picture of it, and it’s while it was on the needles.  In my haste to get the packages out on time, I neglected to take photos of just about everythingHopefully I can avoid this error next year; or, better yet, hopefully the recipients of each gift will email me a picture of them enjoying their gifts, which I can then add to this post.
With Junebug’s insistence on sending pictures to people on her list, I “stole” one of her recipients and made him a hat.  He’s 17 years old and I’m quite sure the cuteness of a 3 year old’s painting would have minimal effect upon him.  He received the first Turn a Square that I ever made.  I made it earlier in the year because I felt prompted to make one to have on hand “just in case” come Christmas-time.  Awesome.
And that was that.  🙂  The day after Christmas we “chose” our names for next year.  With the success of this year’s gifting, we decided to expand our list to twenty-something people and changed up the selection process a tiny bit:
  1. Everyone got to hand-select one name up front.  We all get “perfect ideas” for random people, so I wanted to allow everyone a chance at creating at least one of those “perfect” gifts.
  2. We then drew the rest of the names out of a bowl to assign the remaining names.
  3. Each person had the opportunity to “trade” one of the names they drew for a name on someone else’s list, if the “owner” of that name was willing to trade.
  4. You could not have a name that you had last year.  (And, in future years, this rule will extend to the last two or three years…I’d like to avoid monopolies.)
Now we each have 5-6 names we are each responsible for and an entire year to work on the gifts.  I’ve sectioned off the next year and set up deadlines for gift-making–if they want to take advantage of this idea, then all their gifts will be completed by the end of September, thus allowing them total freedom in Halloween costume design and any other last-minute gifts they may wish to make for members of our immediate family during November and December.
So watch out Family, we ALL have our eyes on you in this next year…

My New Response to Knitting Requests

It’s a weird phenomenon–word gets out that you know how to knit (or crochet, or sew, or quilt, or whatever…) and people start asking you to make stuff for them. It’s not rude or anything, they’re genuinely interested in your talents and are willing to buy the materials and sometimes add on a little extra money to make it worth your while. I’m not complaining, it’s fun to be “in demand.”

But I’ve got a lot of people who demand much from me.

And I’m a gifter. I really, really enjoy making stuff for other people.

But I have to say no. There’s just not enough time to produce all the items requested, paid for or not.

So my new response is: “If you buy the yarn and come over to my house, I’ll teach you how to make it yourself.”

Give a pal a handknit gift and you warm them for a couple of years. Teach them to knit and you warm them for a lifetime.

Accepting Gifts

Allow me a moment here to air my feelings on a subject that is bothering me a lot this particular Christmas season–the art of receiving gifts.

I am a gift person. I love receiving gifts and I love giving gifts. I especially like to dole out homemade gifts and baked goods, as our financial situation makes it difficult to buy gifts for everyone on our list. I actually draw up my Christmas list in the first week of January in order to give me enough time throughout the year to complete the many hours of labor necessary to produce the handmade items I’d like to give.

Now, I know that “giving” a gift isn’t for the benefit of the giver; it’s all about the recipient. But part of the reason I like to give gifts is to witness the reaction when the recipient receives their gift. It makes me want to keep giving, especially to that person!

May I suggest that we all take a step back and re-apply ourselves to the practice of receiving gifts graciously? Any gift, no matter how simple, extravagant or *cough, cough* weird–each was brought to its recipient because the giver thought they would appreciate it and because the giver wanted to do something nice for the recipient.

It took a parting with one’s funds, or a sacrifice of one’s time and/or energy to give a gift to another person. (I don’t know about you, but I’m in short supply of all three these days!) We need to look beyond the physical gift and see what really is being given: the kind thoughts of another and the actions that say “You are worth my time, energy and/or money.” That’s a HUGE deal in this world of bottom lines, cramped schedules and tired bodies and minds.

My challenge to all this holiday season is to receive gifts graciously. We need to plaster on a mega-watt smile, elevate the pitch of our voice an octave and express a joyous “Thank You!” each time someone shows that we are important to them and shows that love with a gift (be it a trinket, a plate of cookies or an act of service). We need to express our gratitude to that person for their actions and just accept the fact that another human being, in this world of faceless electronic communications, has physically sought us out in hopes of making us feel a little bit more loved. That’s a very big thing.

But what if the gift isn’t something you want? Many of us are watching our diets and cringe at the thought of another plate of cookies (I am not one of them!); and sometimes gifts are just freakishly ugly and odd.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: You don’t have to actually use the gift. If a plate of sweets is too much a temptation, take a small nibble (so you can give an honest answer when the gifter asks if you liked them), then throw them in the trash. If you receive a home decoration object that you don’t like, then pass it on to someone who will like it. If the gifter asks where the item is the next time they’re over, give a vague answer. (And furthermore, will all the gifters STOP asking where their gifts are in someone’s house? It’s rude.) Appreciate their intentions, recognize that few people actively seek to physically give gifts to their neighbors anymore and just be thankful that you are so lucky to possess such caring neighbors, co-workers and friends. Never negate a gift to its giver or suggest ways to improve their “performance” the next year.

What if the gift is offensive? Well, I guess it depends on the situation and gift. As a practicing member of the LDS Church, I don’t drink coffee or alcohol. However, these are popular gifts, especially from people who don’t know me that well. I would never push a bag of coffee bean or a bottle of alcohol back at the giver. I would never inform them on the spot that I don’t drink those things. I would accept their gift graciously, and then figure out a way to either use it or dispose of it. (Coffee beans can be used in many cookie recipes that can then be given as gifts to my non-LDS neighbors, and alcohol can be used in cooking because the alcohol can be burned off in the right recipes. Or you can always give them to someone who knows your religious beliefs with the explanation that you received it as a gift and have chosen not to use it.)

Many fellow Mormons would heartily disagree with me on this tactic, and that’s fine. But what’s more important–being a kind and gracious person or pronouncing your religious beliefs to the detriment of another’s honestly honorable intentions? There’s always time to explain your beliefs to another person–on your doorstep after receiving a gift from them is, in my opinion, not that time.

But won’t this resign you to a lifetime of receiving gifts you don’t want? Quite possibly.

However, people who are giving you gifts because they love you will generally tend to observe you for your likes and interests and hone their gift-giving choices to suit you better. Or, in the case of neighbors, they just make a big batch of goods that they give out to everyone and it’s rude to expect them to bend their traditions to please you. Just accept the gift with genuine gratitude, do what you will with it and move on.

And may I offer just one more teeny bit of advice? It’s really probably just a pet peeve of mine, but if someone takes the time and effort to give you a physical gift…doesn’t it stand to reason that a physical gift necessitates a physical thank-you card? Agree with me or not, but when a person spends hours planning what they’re going to give you and then either creates it or stands in line to purchase it, it’s pretty lame to send a quick email “thank you.” That same two lines, written in a card and arriving in the mailbox, somehow makes all the effort so much worthwhile.

I know a grandmother with very limited means who scrapes and scrapes to be able to send presents to her four grandchildren every year and she never received a single thank-you card from them–until last year. I actually saw her walking back from the mailbox with a spring in her step and I called out my window to see why she was so happy. “My granddaughter liked my gift to her!”, was her exultant response.

Look at it as yet another way to treat yourself and buoy another’s spirits–you get to go shopping for some lovely stationery and the giver gets to experience the warm and fuzzies. I know lots of people who glue their received thank-you cards into their journals or keep them in some other way–physical thank-you cards mean a lot to many people.

Yes, we all will receive “bummer presents” throughout our lives. But seriously, we’re big boys and girls and if we want a particular item, then it’s our responsibility to procure it for ourselves–that is not a burden to be placed upon the shoulders of any other person. It’s a perk if someone does it for us, but it’s not a requirement to continue a relationship with someone, ever. We need to stop focusing on the actual gift and look solely to the sentiment behind the gift. Please. Giving a gift is always a sacrifice on behalf of the giver. We need to remember that and rejoice when someone picks us out to show their love. That gift alone is special enough.

Remember: Big smile and a high-pitched “Thank you”. And, depending on the circumstances, a tangible thank-you card. It’s not that hard. We can do it!

Cold Evening Musings

The evenings of early winter are one of my favorite experiences. Darkness approaches at an earlier hour, and somehow, it becomes easier to turn my energy inward and keep it contained within my family.

The girls got their second round of flu shots this evening and I allowed them to have Burger King drive-thru for dinner as a reward. As we drove home, I found myself basking in the comfort of the early darkness–how it seemed to separate us from everything else and made it feel like we were our own little world, encapsulated in our warm vehicle, with only our thoughts and feelings to worry about. I like feeling that feeling–that we’re all that matters in a particular moment.

The earlier approach of night empties the streets of bikers and walkers; when I’m at home on a winter evening, there are fewer distractions outside my window to remove my focus from my precious brood. I love to stand at a window and not see anything outside–only the reflection of my home behind me in the glass in front of me. It seems to sum up what really matters in such a simple way.

Add in the glow of twinkling lights and warm traditions of the winter holidays, and it’s no wonder why this time of year enlarges our hearts and magnifies our desire to spend time with our loved ones. Perhaps we love harder in order to feel warmer and counteract the chill in the air?

Thank goodness for winter. If life was one summer day after another, there would be no time to slow down and ponder when the shortened days of winter keep us close to home. This is a special time, a time to sit still and really see and feel what matters most–our families, our homes, warmth, love, peace and contentment.

Creativity…the lack thereof…the need for completion

I’ve lots of theories behind the need to be creative on a regular basis. One theory of mine is that God is a creator, we’re here to become more like Him…therefore, the need to create and be creative. Another theory is that we (women especially) spend our days doing a lot of repetitive tasks–picking up toys, doing laundry, washing the dishes–that will need to be repeated every day and never are really “done” because you’re just going to do them again tomorrow. But having projects that have finite ending points…that’s where you get some peace in your heart at having finished something.

Whatever the reason is, I have a tremendous desire to create. It really starts to wear on me if I don’t get some creative time every few days…like right now. I finished the knitting on the Backyard Leaves scarf the day before Little Lamb was born and now it simply awaits some steam blocking and sewing of the two halves together. (Funny aside: I finished the knitting and thought to myself, “There. Now I can have this baby.” And that night my water broke!) Since I didn’t want to lug out the ironing board in my humungous pregnant state to block Mr. Leafy, I started another scarf with some yarn I had in my stash that evening…I even worked a row of it while I was at the hospital. And I worked on it for fifteen minutes when Little Lamb was two days old. Those were my last moments spent on a creative pursuit…more than two weeks ago. I’m getting fidgety.

I’m getting this antsy feeling to unearth my sewing machine from beneath all the whatever is hiding it from view down in the craft room and start sewing like a crazy person. I’ve seen some of the cutest patterns for tote bags, hats, quilts and little girl dresses lately…oh my goodness, would I like to spend an afternoon sewing without interruption! I know that I’ve got three quilts in progress that I’d really just like to scratch off the mental list of unfinished projects…

And the knitting–I’ve got yarn and patterns for three baby cardigans that I would really like to see my girls wear before they get too big, the argyle scarf (the book is in my possession!), a reversible cabled scarf for the Backyard Leaves recipient’s significant other, the scarf I started right before Little Lamb was born (perhaps I will call it the “Little Lamb Scarf”?), and a desire to make mittens. (Mittens in March? I blame it on Elizabeth Zimmerman and her “Mittens for Next Winter” chapter for the month of May in Knitter’s Almanac…and I blame it on Piecework Magazine’s emphasis on mittens in its latest issue.)

Perhaps it’s not a desire to create, but a desire to feel like something is finished; and I’ve just demonstrated the mountain of unfinishedness that’s lurking in the basement…bad Feng Shui indeed. Hmmm. Maybe I just need to grab the projects that are closest to completion and just finish the silly things. (Dare I even say that I cannot start another project until I finish a set number of In-Progress works?)

That’s it. We’re doing some creativity housecleaning. I’m not sure of what just yet. Off the top of my head, things that aren’t finished:

1. Backyard Leaves Scarf
2. Cheerful Baby Quilt
3. Blue & Yellow Quilt
4. The Ugly Baby Girl Quilt (I’m not sure if I’ll ever finish this)
5. The Little Lamb Scarf
6. Monogrammed Throw Pillow (oh, the calamity that it has turned into…it pains me to look at it and try to figure out how to make it all better again)
7. Patriotic Braided Rug (no motivation as I do not have a patriotic room to put it in until the basement gets finished)

Except for the last two items, I really could get all those done with relative ease. The quilts are pretty near completion, although I’m not exactly sure how far along the Ugly Baby Girl Quilt is. Perhaps I’ll shoot for finishing up the two scarves and the two non-ugly quilts.

But that brings me back to the original dilemma of finding time to do it all…