A slinky, a birdhouse, a pile of rocks and a plate of cookies.
It is Christmas time. And my [extended] family, probably not unlike others, struggle year upon year about whether to give big gifts or little gifts, pile grab bag gifts or make homemade gifts. Are the gifts getting too expensive? Is the family getting so big that we still buy gifts for everyone? How about an exchange? Couple gifts? Family gifts? No gifts? What does your family do? And yet, it is nice to give gifts, to show someone you care. Whether gifts are bought or made, expensive or not, at least once a year it is nice to say: here is a gift for you, from me.
Often, I make gifts from my kitchen: jars of blueberry chutney, a bag of peppermint bark wrapped with tinsel and a home-made card, a sangria kit or limoncella that has rested and readied itself for 80-some-odd-days.
Some years, I spend more money and less time. Other years, I spend more time [making gifts] and less money. In fact, I like to mix it up: some years I have time, energy and good ideas. Others, I see something in a store that grabs my attention---that seems so fitting and perfect---I can't help myself. And there are years when I have little energy, even less time and my mind has been consumed otherwise. During these times, I buy gifts instead of making them; it fits with that chapter of my life---and still tells those around me that I care.
This year, one of my brothers encouraged us to all spend under $15, and make gifts for each couple. It was a good suggestion, and I was amused and touched that each member of my own family-of-four embraced the challenge. My youngest son is a talented artist, and sketched pictures---or symbols rather---that reminded him of each family member. My 12 year old son, who received a rock polisher for his birthday, spent weeks upon weeks engaged in the process of cleaning, switching, grinding and processing---then chose one rock for each person. He might share with each person why the rock, with all its intricate details---reminded him of them.
While touring a farmer's market this summer (picture me grinning ridiculously, as farmer's markets are my candy store. disclaimer: because they are my candy store, I tend to be overly distracted by the baskets of apricots, the mounds of squash, the unique peppers and enormous tomatoes: I will most likely walk right into you), my husband and I saw some ingenious bird houses---made from recycled wood and license plates. And the idea stayed with us. So for Christmas, we he made some. Well, I scavenged for the old, paint-pealing dresser that cost near nothing, and found old latches at second hand stores, but he actually did all the take-apart, sand, saw, measure, nail, screw, design, be-patient-with-the-kids-while-making-birdhouses routine.
And then there is this [pictured top] wreath. I am like many mothers, often awestruck by my child's brain or thinking or way of engaging the world. And this wreath was one of those moments.
My 11 year old was home, sick, for 4-5 days. And homework kept coming home; one assignment was to make an ornament made from recycled material (p.s. I adore this project). So, after announcing the assignment, he goes upstairs for 20 minutes---presumably perusing his 'special box' of trinkets, treasures and keepsakes. Awhile later, I am wrapping presents in the dining room (okay, I have taken over the dining room, my husband remarking that the room is beginning to resemble Santa's workshop). He comes in and sees the tissue paper: and asks for a whole green and part of a red sheet. I hand over the requested materials.
Soon I find him with a slinky, on the carpet with pieces of tissue here and there. To myself I am thinking: what is he making? what can he possibly make with a slinky? how can that become an ornament? you have to be kidding me. And then... I hope he is happy with what he makes... I hope he doesn't get frustrated... should I offer to help? offer suggestions? no, he looks intent, I will leave him be unless he asks... and not long after: this wreath was formed. Mom: do you have a hook for me?
Lest this writeup be sans food, my gifts this season were of the sugar and sweet variety. I didn't make birdhouses: I made cookies. And then some: snowball cookies, wreath cookies, thumb print cookies, peppermint bark, some toffee and [see photo of] peanut butter cookies dipped in chocolate. (Any classic peanut butter cookie will do; once cool, dip in chocolate, drizzle with white chocolate, let harden).