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5 Thoughtful Homemade Gifts

By Jen Violi

Some years, I think ahead and buy little treats all throughout the year so that come December I’m exquisitely, serenely ready with holiday gifts for all the people I love. Oh wait, that’s not me. That’s my mom. She’s so good at that. Planning ahead, with love and thoughtfulness.

While the planning ahead piece isn’t always my forte, I did inherit another of my mom’s skills, which is making treats for the people I love. My mom used to make picalilli, relish, apple butter, and many, many cookies. It was a production, and one I thoroughly enjoyed participating in. Now I have things I love to make and gift, things that feel good and possible to give, even when my budget is tight, as it is this year.

If you’re feeling strapped in finances or exhausted and disheartened at the thought of going to the mall and buying things that people don’t need, I’ve compiled a short list of things that are easy to make and delightful to receive.

May it serve you well, and may you find nourishment in both the making and the giving.

1. Soup
This weekend, I made a big batch of curried lentil soup with red lentils, coconut milk, chicken broth, carrots, onions, lemon juice, salt and lots of curry powder. It’s one of my favorite winter soups. Today, I’m planning to freeze several containers of it to give to people I love, people I know who will be working hard hosting others for the holidays and might just want to defrost something different to have the next day, or whenever they want.

I encourage you not to feel pressured here to be some sort of culinary whiz. Delicious soups can also be concocted by combining canned and frozen goods with love and spice and salt. You also don’t have to make something new up. If you have a simple recipe that you love and make for yourself all the time, like my lentil situation, that would be a marvelous choice.

2. Pancake Mix
Yes, of course you could just get someone a bag of pancake mix, but wait! You could also make it fancy. Basically, you use a glass jar and layer it like a pancake parfait (two words that have been waiting for each other like star-crossed soulmates, don’t you think?).

From the bottom up:

• Pancake mix. Maybe you mix up your own flour and baking soda, etc., or you get a mix from the store.

• Ground cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Use any or all of these, in their own thin layer or blended into the main flour mixture. Maybe a half to whole teaspoon of each, depending on what you like, and probably less for the nutmeg.

• Oats. My mom always put oats in her pancakes, which makes them a little heartier, and I do, too. It’s delicious and nutritious. Think about a quarter cup of quick oats. Using the steel cut variety will only lead to textural despair. And let’s not break up the pancake parfait love fest with despair, okay?

• Nuts. Walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts. Pick your pleasure. Crumbled or chopped, as well as toasted work best, and anywhere from a quarter cup to a half cup, depending on your jar size and your nut situation. If you know what I mean.

• Dried Fruit (which should be pronounced frew-it, to enhance the festive feeling). Cherries, cranberries, crystallized ginger (not a frew-it, but whatever). Again, pick your pleasure. If you want to put in raisins, I will judge you for such an atrocity, but don’t let that stop you.

Close the jar, tie a ribbon around the top, loop in a tag for whatever to add (milk, eggs, oil, a mashed up banana), and voila!

3. Ginger Syrup
Now that I understand how vibrant and spicy ginger can be, I scoff at the gingerale I drank before. Some brands get it right for me, like Fevertree, but the very best is making it myself, which is actually easier than you’d think.

Get some fresh ginger (I like to get organic and leave it unpeeled), sugar, and water and go to it. Grab whatever little bottles or mason jars you might have around, fill ‘em up, and gift them with soda water, or just as is. Great on pancakes (see above), in hot toddies, or a spoonful for an upset stomach.

Note: pairs well with the gift of a pancake parfait.

4. Candles
Last year my friend Arin gifted me with Bonnie Burton’s book, Crafting with Feminism, and one of my favorite ideas within was taking those tall glass church candles (under $2 at the grocery store), printing out images of women real or fictional who inspire you, and making prayer candles. See samples created by my women’s circle last year. Mine, of course, is the Buffy candle.

Or just decorate whatever kind of themed candle you want, as simple or as complicated as you like.

On the materials needed front: you cut out magazine images or words, get a jar of Mod Podge and a foam brush, and make your magic. Doable for both the artist (pronounced arteest in this case, because, you know, fancy and festive) or the glue lover in you. I like to call it the gift of intentional light, because it is.

5. A Love or Memory List
Well, I’m a writer and an editor, so I have to include a word gift. As you consider what you might make for others, don’t underestimate the power of kind words, and the gift of acknowledgment, affirmation, and appreciation.

For the list itself, you could do a top ten reasons the recipient is awesome. Or twenty ways you appreciate and admire them. Or fifteen favorite memories you’ve shared with them. Or five such memories, written in detail.

Important: As I tell the writers I coach and mentor, there’s power in specificity.

For instance, if you’re making a list about why someone is awesome and #3 is, “You’re Kind,” well, that’s sweet, but without too much effort, you could take that offering to a pancake-parfait level of wondrousness. Compare “You’re kind” with something more specific, i.e. “3. Your kindness. I notice how you stop to pet every cat when we go for a walk, that you always make sure to get me a small container of that yogurt I love when you’re at the store, and when you make sure to help your mom carry her groceries. You make everyone around you feel appreciated and cared for, including me.” A little specificity can make your list into a treasure.

Or if you’re sharing a memory, same thing. For instance, “that time on the playground” could be “I still smile thinking about that time on the playground when we sang the whole soundtrack to Les Misérables while we were on the swings, how blue the sky was, and how hard we laughed when I stepped on that pudding cup.”

As for material, you can be as simple or fancy as you like. Use a big blank-on-the-inside card or some fun stationary with equally fun envelope. One of the best letters I’ve ever received was in a long shimmery red envelope with a gold sticker. It felt so luscious. Or you might make a little booklet with staples and folded up printer paper, or use card stock and punch holes to make a ribbon binding. Use markers, crayons, or pens. Add stickers, stick figure drawings, or swirls of color. Whatever feels right and delightful.

Note: although you probably know who in your circle would be outwardly touched by this, others who may accept this with gruff silence may also truly appreciate such a thing.

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About Jen Violi (25 Articles)
Jen Violi is the author of Putting Makeup on Dead People, a BCCB Blue Ribbon Book, and finalist for the Oregon Book Awards. As a mentor, editor, and facilitator, Jen helps writers unleash the stories they’re meant to tell, from blogs to websites to award-winning books. Find sanctuary for your story at
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