I’d guess I was about seven or eight when I made my dad an ashtray for Christmas. I’m pretty sure everyone in art class made their parents ashtrays for the holidays that year. We might even have been told to. Who knows.
Mine was quite the specimen. It looked like I had taken a misshapen ball of clay, jumped on it with a pogo stick, dropped it and then fell on it. Oh – and stabbed it in with an eraser and etched a shamrock on the side with a pencil (because I actually did those things). Had my parents smoked, it at least would have been a practical gift – function not form and all.
(In my defense, the glaze was spectacular. A nice emerald green. Ye olde Irish ashtray.)
Let this be a lesson: Don’t do stupid homemade gifts. Don’t decoupage anything, don’t use papier mache unless you actually have talent, and – whatever you do – don’t bedazzle anything. NOTHING. Hear me?
If you’re dying to express your creativity or don’t have a ton of scratch or just enjoy making things, here are some ideas that don’t suck:
Food & Drink
1. Candied Nuts
A lovely hostess gift or stocking stuffer, candied nuts are a practically foolproof way to the hearts through the stomachs of your friends and fam.
Says Deb Perelman, the cookbook-writing goddess behind weblog and cooking empire Smitten Kitchen, “No one will complain (in fact, they’ll politely ask for more) when you give these as gifts. I can’t have them around us anymore. They’re too good. They are dangerous.”
I promise you: Everyone will love Deb’s Schweddy Nuts.
2. Black Eyed Peas
I got a feelin’… that you’re gonna love this idea. (See what I did there?)
For folks who don’t celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or any holiday, I like to focus on the New Year. We Southerners agree black-eyed peas are the food to eat to ensure a prosperous time ahead.
Leaning bigly on the Internet for help with all the components, I bag up dried peas plus a homemade spice mix and then tie on a card containing the recipe and the story of the tradition. It’s easy, cheap and lets folks know you wish them all the best in the year to come. And if you’ve been a good girl, maybe they’ll invite you over to reap the fruits of your creativity!
3. Perfect Cookies
Wanna bake? You can’t go wrong with the time- and tummy-tested favorites. And chocolate. Always chocolate.
Chef Hong Thaimee, owner of popular Thai restaurant Ngam in NYC, says she loves classic, chewy chocolate chip cookies. “They’re my favorite comfort food,” she notes.
Here’s a recipe from Food Network (thanks to Angela Moore, VP there) that’s likely to please Hong and all your gift recipients. And, pretty much anyone in the world.
It’s bright, it’s sunny, it’s strong. Basically, it’s you in a bottle! Lemoncello, a liqueur with an Italian accent, is a traditional after-dinner drink that’s surprisingly easy to make at home.
But because this lemony yumminess takes a week or so to chill and brew, I’d recommend this as something you bring to a New Year’s party. Just don’t drink it all at the New Year’s party because then you won’t remember the New Year’s party.
I’ve always loved Ed Levine and the gang at Serious Eats, so I highly recommend their recipe.
5. Pickles for Bloody Marys
Hey! Didn’t I tell you not to drink all the lemoncello?! If you overdid it with this or any adult beverage during the holidays, you know the prescription: hair of the dog.
Most commonly recommended hair? The Bloody Mary. Though the origin of the drink is disputed (of course many genesis tales revolve around Hemingway), its curative properties are known worldwide.
One can make a Mary stand out with homemade veggie pickles – they’re relatively easy to prepare and are a fun little gifty for the proverbial Girl Who Has Everything. Oh – and you can enjoy the goods without an alcoholic surrounding as well!
Home & Beauty
6. Personalized Soaps
This gift is doubly personalized, as you both imprint your letter on a bar of soap and on its crafty packaging. It’s so easy a kid could do it. And in some of our cases (ahem), perhaps better than we could.
You have or can fake most of the items necessary for project success in this tutorial. All you gotta do is carve out a little time. Don’t try to do this after a sweaty workout or when you have the DTs, and I bet the results will be just dandy.
7. Self Portraits
One year, I asked my 12 nieces and nephews each to make me a self portrait. No requirements other than general size (5”x7”). It could be any medium from oil to pastel to crayon to space pen to macaroni. I treasure each and every one I got above most of the things I own. They’re so special and show not only the image of my dears but their personalities, too.
(I’m sure the ones I HAVEN’T gotten yet (six years later, but who’s counting?) will also be special and treasured. You’re on alert, slackers! ;))
Perhaps you make art of your ownself for a spouse/partner or aging parent? I’ve heard images in toast are big these days. And if not, most folks enjoy a nice club sandwich.
8. Tea Wreath
Yeah, yeah. This kinda stuff could easily fall into the cliché/”stupid” category on the Jones Christmas Ashtray Scale. But there’s something about this how-to I dig:
First, tea. I dig tea. Lots of people dig tea. Tea is dug.
Second, it somewhat looks like a wreath, which indicates Christmas/holidays to many.
Third, even if you don’t have time to paint the clothespins (or don’t want to), it works.
Fourth, it’s replenishable.
In conclusion: tea.
9. Lavender Coconut Soap Bars
Who doesn’t want to feel good and smell good? Nobody I want to know!
I’ve made and gifted these moisturizing, winter-weather combatants myself. You can use any essential oil scent you like. I did them for Valentine’s Day, used heart-shaped silicone molds and added a rose absolut scent. As they say in France, these are “tray magtabulous.”
All the ingredients are attainable via Amazon.com (what isn’t?) or your local Ben Franklin. (Are there still Ben Franklins? Let’s just say your local craft store.)
10. Beaded Glass Candle Votive
Yeah, you gotta buy more materials. Yeah, it might take a little longer. But your reward is your gift recipients knowing that you are better than them.
And everyone loves candles. Everyone.
11. Sex Coupons
Cheesy? Yes. Overdone? Yes. Street value? Priceless.
If you’re a total last-minute slacker and your partner loves to get it on, have I got the idea for you!
Don’t have time to do ‘em up fancy like in this here link? Just scribble some stuff on scraps of paper and throw them at your love. Trust me: The coupons will be honored – and well – despite the haphazard execution.
12. Braided ’80s Barrettes
‘Memba these lovelies? Dang, we had to have them in so many color combos. Your variety pretty much established your social status. That and your perm. The two went hand-in-hand.
So why not go back in time and make them? Give them to your kids, give them to a friend’s kids, or – best yet – give them to your BFF from middle school! Marty, I hope you’re not reading this. It’d spoil your gift.
13. Pet Rock
Lingering in the ’80s, remember Pet Rocks? Turns out all that’s old is new again. Nordstrom is selling an $85 pet rock. Let me rephrase: Nordstrom WAS selling $85 pet rocks. They’re all sold out. No shit.
Want to make your own trendy terra-gift? The instructions are easy:
1. Open front door.
2. Step outside.
3. Pick up rock.
4. Wrap rock.
I’ve jumped the shark. It’s time to end, as this is the stupid I was trying to avoid.
Wanna know something? Even though the ashtray was crappy and completely unusable even as a change dish, Dad kept it on his dresser until I was grown. Imagine what he would have done with the Pet Rock!
(Oh, and if you’re dying to see if you can outdo me on the astray thing, try making your own out of a soda can.)
Happy holidays, crafty gals!