Seven homemade gifts for Christmas

Oh me, oh my!

Our homemade gift exchange brought out some delightful creativity in the family. We had homemade log cabins and furnished doll houses for little girls, wood-framed Lego baseplates for boys, gift baskets of treats, personalized T-shirts, denim blankets, wooden shelves, pretty scarves, knitted slippers, and more…

Here are a few our little family made, most of them super-simple. I share them to spark your thinking. I’m going to say this only once: Do not try them all. I had to make a mental note for 2014–no more than (x number) of homemade gifts!

1. Prepaid dates basket

12 dates

Inspired by this website and armed with funds from a personal project, I created this for my husband: twelve envelopes containing plans and gift certificates for date nights, one for every month of the New Year. You can be as extravagant or frugal as you wish in planning time together! I interspersed bigger dates (an IMAX movie, dinner out, or a mini-golf spree) with no-cost fun (a hike, a picnic, a free concert, an intimate rendezvous). He was delighted, and the planning and scheming brought me much joy.

2. “Fun in a Box” for couples

fun in a box

Using an idea from thedailydigi, I made a list of spunky, low-cost, slightly tacky activities for couples to do together, and gave them to our brothers-and-sisters-in-law in Christmasy little boxes. View or print my list here: Fun in a Box (for couples).

3. Grapevine wreath with seeds

For a sister-in-law who loves to garden, I saved seeds from my flowers and herbs, packaged them in little envelopes, and hung them with ribbon on a homemade grapevine wreath. You could buy seed packets instead of making them yourself; but if you live in the Midwest and have access to woods, chances are you can find an abundance of wild grapevine. The wreaths are sooo fun to wind up.

4. Chocolate chess set


With a simple chocolate mold (available here from amazon), we made black and white sets of chessmen, gluing the chocolate halves together with caramel. And of course, here’s how to make the board if you want a playing set…

5. Sock puppets

sock puppets

This was another favorite project—forgiving, low-cost, and open to infinite variation. Simple instructions at wikihow… and then, the sky’s the limit!

6. Jar mixes

For another SIL, my son layered gluten-free food mixes in Mason jars.

For the fourth jar in the set, we combined bath salts with fragrance oils and a drop of food coloring, for layered relaxation.

7. Framed word art

And finally, you know the rage with photos of alphabet letters in nature, to spell inspirational words? Believe, Rest, Love and so on? We shot our own, with the kids forming the letters to spell our word of choice. Turned them black and white, added simple black frames from Dollar Tree, and called that project complete.

We even got our cat in on the E!

E b&w


F b&w


G b&w


Are you inspired? Tired? Haywired? I’m singing Christmas songs…

Last year: a homemade Christmas

Confession: I have trouble talking publicly about Christmas until there’s snow on the ground. This is unfortunate, and unlike my smart friend Gina, who has been doing a Christmas Countdown for weeks already. But yesterday, the magic came… and oh, does it look pretty as it falls!

snow angel

As our extended family gets bigger, the Coblentz side has decided to appoint a different couple to be in charge of our giving each year: first, Dad and Mom planned the event; the next year, my oldest brother and his wife, and so on down the line of siblings. This breaks things up, adds beautiful variety, and eliminates unhappy extended discussions about when and what and how much. (Also it gives several years of cushion time before putting my 15-year-old brother Ted in charge of things, who would undoubtedly have us all out in the woods hunting venison to donate to local soup kitchens.)

One year we pooled money to help my brother and his wife fly home from far away. Once we played A Minute to Win It and said the winner would get the money pool–secretly planning to donate it to the couple who’d been through a lot that year, and give them a vacation together.

Last year, Ryan and I brainstormed a traditional gift exchange, with one stipulation.

September 21, 2013

Dear family,

Christmas is three months away! And while I’m not into singing Jingle Bells just yet, I did want to let you know what Ryan and I have in mind, so you can start brainstorming.

I guess it’s our turn to be in charge this year. We batted around several ideas (donating money to the poor in a foreign country to buy pigs or goats or something; pooling money to do a group activity together—) and finally settled on an idea we really like.

We want to do a traditional gift exchange, with the stipulation that the gifts must be original—made, designed, or modified by the giver. Don’t panic. You don’t have to turn into a “crafty” kind of person to participate; each of you is already good at making something the rest of us aren’t, so think outside of the box and be yourself. Use your imagination, but please don’t overwork, overspend, or overstress.

You may help your child as much as you want.

I made a list of ideas to get you started thinking. Before we exchange names and send the results to you, do you have anything to say? Any curses, questions, or complaints?

Waiting to hear from you,

Ryan & Shari

Two months later, excitement was running high. Gifts were being planned and produced, secreted and stashed in every dark corner. Here’s our list of suggestions.

  • Something from wood
  • Something from yarn or fabric
    • A hat/ scarf/ wrap
    • A blanket or pillow
    • A tote bag
  • Something from nature
    • A plant start
    • A set of fossils (I’m kind of joking, but there are those among us who would love it)
    • Seeds you saved or a wreath you made
  • Something personalized
    • A framed photo
    • A photo collage
    • A mug/ mouse pad/ puzzle/ throw with a personal picture or name on it
  • Something to eat
    • A pie/ a cheesecake/ a dozen cookies
    • A jar mix (great ideas here)
    • Anything you grew or preserved
  • Original artwork or photography
  • A personal audio or video recording
  • A certificate
    • For something to do together
    • For a service you will perform
    • For a gift you will give three times next year (or twelve times, or whatever)
  • A book
    • An online photo book / memory book
    • A homemade book, made by slipping photos of your own into an album or CD case [see tutorial here]. You could make a memory book, an advice book, a grandma’s-brag-book, or a recipe book!
  • Homemade consumables
    • A personal care item like soap or body scrub—many easy recipes online
    • A set of homemade cleaning supplies
  • A handmade toy or game
    • Puppets, play-doh, blocks, doll, sock monkey
    • A piñata
    • A chess set/ checkerboard/ any other game you create

{Click here for the Printable Version–Ideas for Handmade Gifts}


Do you give handmade gifts at Christmas? How do you coordinate your extended-family holidays? I’d love to hear your ideas! Next time I post, I’ll share some specific gifts we made, with pictures.

Drinking in

This week has been unbelievable, one gift after another. I spent time with teenage girls. I had pizza and salad with a friend. I spent time with town kiddos. I had Sunday dinner with his parents and a weeknight dinner with mine. I sat in a graveyard in the sun with no one but God and my thoughts. I had lunch with my mom and husband and brother. I had tea and cranberry scones with another friend. I walked the dam and ate ice cream with my church ladies.


And this morning as I prepared to go for a coffee date with my husband, our babysitter showed up at the door and I learned that our “date” was her brainchild… That she had come prepared to give me six hours of solitude. That I could start the day with coffee with my husband, and the rest of the time was my own. That she had packed a backpack with everything I would need.

A water bottle

Energy bites

A warm thick blanket

Five books

A beautiful blank journal

An iPod with headphones

A pen, pencil, and eraser

Lunch and coffee money

She made me leave her a task list of what I want done today. She brought a stack of books to read to my preschooler in my absence. I started crying.


I am sitting in a library looking out at the mist, silence humming around me. I have never been so rich.


How has Jesus met you in His people?

One thousand gifts in a single day

Bluest of skies, perfect temperature

My brand new clothesline, quickly revolutionizing the way I feel about laundry

The heavenly smell of fresh-crusty, sun-baked clothes

Four puffs of gray velvet, old enough now to spit fire at me from their little red mouths and big blue eyes

Two boys living outside, digging dirt, building forts, riding bikes

Hi Mom, calls my four-year-old.

Hi Hon. Whatcha doing?

I’m Samoset!

Rambling around the property, checking all our babies, loving the green bountiful crop on the blueberry bushes and the white-peppered flowers thick on wildberry vines

Lunch in the shade, freshness and fried egg sandwiches

One little girl picking dandelions into a basket

Mommy hold-you, she says, and lifts up her arms

Dreaming of growth, watering bare garden rows and transplanting tomato seedlings into larger pots

Splashing in the creek, all of us, cold water on bare toes and we are home home home

Looking for arrowheads—still my dream to find one

Chasing salamanders

Finding white violets I didn’t know we had

Strawberry shortcake for supper

Baths and popcorn, kisses, bedtime for three

Mischief-making devils tamed to precious angels as lids finally droop shut

Time for quiet, books, writing, dreaming, with a velvet night outside my open windows


Bless Jesus!

Giftings and girl things

Confession: Every day of my life, I benefit from the gifts of others.

In the past week, Kelly and I have been blessed with girl-gifts above measure.

  •  Two Sundays ago my friend Amy (my business-woman, mother-of-five, immaculate-style friend Amy) turned to me just before Sunday school with a look of illumination on her face. “I’m going to Lancaster this week!” she said. “Do you need any clothes for Kelly?” The result was this:

… five adorable outfits she carefully chose from the secondhand stores she visited. And she only charged me half of the price she paid.

You can tell what Kelly thought of them.





  • This week my friend Carla (my soon-to-be-mother-of-three, radiant, vibrant friend Carla) met me unexpectedly in Aldi. Joy sparked between us, laughing and calling and shoving our carts down the aisles fast so we could catch up with each other. She had a package for me, something she had made and intended to drop off at my house after her shopping. May I open it now?

I found a fantastic apron set—full-sized for me and half-sized for Kelly, handmade to match my new kitchen.

I don’t know if Carla meant it for a Mother’s Day gift or not; right now it seems like the most perfect one I’ve ever received.



  •  For weeks my friend Shaunda (my laughing, mother-of-four, spunky-and-placid friend Shaunda) has been giving me little pushes to go visit my sister. “I’ll help babysit your kids,” she said. “I know you want to make it easy for everyone, but I want to do this for you even if it turns out to be hard. I want you to go.” She helped me believe it could happen, and it will. In two days, if the Lord is willing, Kelly and I are bound for Virginia to spend half a week with Jean. Oh Jesus, what a gift!

In this I am also made rich by the cheerful sacrifices of my husband, my sons, my mom, and my brother & sis-in-law, who are each making it possible for me to go.

Each lady gave what she’s been given. Amy: a sense of beauty and a good head for shopping. Carla: practicality, and the skill to sew something beautiful. Shaunda: super-ability with children, and a strong sense of family. Every day of my life, I am blessed by the gifts of others.

I will not be blogging till after Wedneday. I will be living, rich with the love of others.

I asked this question before: How have you loved and been loved this week?