Let the Madness Begin

Kyce from Old Recipe for a New World (she doesn’t write often, but always wonderful) wrote a great post a few weeks back called Letting Go: The Christmas Edition. Oh honey, don’t I know it!

I (love)(hate) Christmas. I really do. I’ve written about it every year since I began blogging [here, here and here], and lord knows I don’t want to repeat myself. Suffice it to say, I seem to be finally catching on that this infernal holiday of compromised values begins in November. It’s taken me a full 34 years to get my head around that. I am determined to be prepared this year, thinking ahead for quality gifts in order to avoid getting caught by the last minute Icky Gifting.

I want to share my few ideas, and get your ideas. If we pool mental resources here, maybe we can pull this off without too much heartbreak. Well, it gives us something to hope for. I’m putting it on my list anyway,

Dear Santa,

This Christmas, please just let me relax and enjoy the generosity of loved ones without too much ethical compromise, personal angst, or familial alienation.



We are spending our Christmas at home this year, with my mom coming. That will help right off the bat. My in-laws, godbless’em, have too much money to restrain at the holidays. My mom would probably go as crazy as them if old-hippie poverty didn’t keep her in check.

For whatever reason, Christmases with my mom are always much smaller than with the in-laws. In fact, it’s one of the best times of year for our otherwise very strained relationship, at least we can bond about Christmas and how it ought to be.

Which is sparkly lights, the smell of evergreen and cinnamon, whispered secrets and The Animals’ Merry Christmas.

My list of secrets so far looks like this:

For the 4yo– a dollhouse. She wrote her first ever letter to Santa asking for one. I am making it myself of course, more on this soon as I realize how in over my head I am.

For the 2yo– a train table. He already has a nice wooden train set, just needs a table and a way to semi-permanently attach the track to it.

For My Man– Oops, tut-tut, he might be reading….

For my mom, sister, MIL and sister-in-law– freshly ground and personally mixed organic spice set. I’m pretty excited about this idea. If you’ve never smelled or used freshly ground spices, it’s an epiphanal moment. It makes you want to sweep your arm through your (inevitably stale) spice cabinet, straight into the trash. All these ladies like to cook, but don’t get to do that much complicated cooking, and I think will appreciate really kick-ass, unique spice blends. I’m going to do a Mexican mole, Moroccan ras al hanout (unbelievable! the smell makes me swoon!) and a not-your-average-Italian blend with juniper berries and fennel. All these are fantastic with meat, but can also rock a pot of beans. I even ordered a pound of fancy Hawaiian finishing salt. Part of reason I’m excited about this idea is because I’ll get a share too! I never order fresh spices for myself because replacing a whole collection is expensive, and I don’t use that much over the course of the year. Fresh spices make much more sense for a group of people than for just me in my lonesome kitchen. I spent almost $80 on organic, fair trade spices, which sounds like a lot (feels like a lot!!!) but then I have four of my important gifts covered, plus plenty leftover for my own pantry.**

The father and brother-in-law I think My Man will cover. Hopefully at the local artisan market, lots of awesome stuff there.

Grandparents get the standard (they love it) calendar of cute kid photos.

I made a batch of homemade soap (it’s gotta cure for 3 weeks, so do it now!) and some lip balm for those last minute little gift moments. It’s good to have tricks up your sleeve. The lip balm takes all of 3 minutes once you secure the beeswax.

That leaves a 4yo cousin and a 12yo half-sister. Any ideas?

I will be filling you in more about all the above gifts over the course of the month. I have lots of Riot-y ‘stuff’ subjects to cover, as well as lots of good Christmas ideas, like the adorable songbird tree ornaments me and the kids made this morning out of tag-board and poster paint! In fact I’ve been feeling inspired to do a series, “Christmas– It Doesn’t Have to Suck Ass.”

Please leave your favorite homemade gift ideas in the comments, especially for children. If you have posted anything on your own blog, leave a link. We can all use some extra inspiration this time of year!

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**If anyone else thinks this spice mix idea is brilliant and wants to tag along, I ordered from Mountain Rose Herbs. you would think organic spice would be more expensive, but the Mountain Rose prices averaged around $3.50/4oz, which is quite good. I ordered the spices whole in 4oz bags (the smallest size available), I’ll grind them in our coffee grinder and package them in 1/2 cup (the really tiny size) canning jars. This wouldn’t be worth it for less than 4 or 5 gift recipients, and I think could cover more like 6 or 7. I will give y’all the recipes when I get to that point, but if you want to follow along, here’s what you’ll need to order:

  • allspice berries 4oz
  • black peppercorns 8oz
  • whole chile peppers, or red pepper flakes 4oz
  • cinnamon sticks 8oz
  • whole cloves 4oz
  • cumin seed 8oz
  • ginger, ground 4oz
  • juniper berries 4oz
  • whole nutmeg 4oz
  • fennel seed 4oz
  • thyme 4oz
  • rosemary 4oz
  • sage 4oz

14 thoughts on “Let the Madness Begin

  1. I love the spice idea– I am set for this year but am going to make a note for next year.
    I have that love/hate relationship with Christmas– I love the way we observe it, but I get disgusted at the way materialism (my own included) creeps in.
    For homemade or personally upcycled gifts:
    my 1yo: wooden kitchen no longer used by a friend, painted by me and tricked out with whatever kitchen stuff looks fun at Goodwill.
    family and friends: herb vinegars I made this fall, infused vodka, jams, hot sauce, and cranberry vinegar also made over summer/ fall. Vanilla extract I made.The kids and I made tags from salt dough, which can then be used as ornaments.
    My bigger kids (7 and 9) are more of a challenge. However, I’ve had very good luck resale lately– the 7yo will be getting snowshoes. Which he will think are awesome.

  2. So many awesome handmade ideas for gifts out there, but it always comes down to my desire to give handmade vs. my sanity in trying to do it (and my husband votes for my sanity every year! I am just too much of a perfectionist & think too big sometimes!) This year we are giving handmade-by-someone-else. I tend to think that when giving handmade, it needs to be something you know how to do & have tried many times, not just grab an idea & try it at the last minute! Unless you are a particularly crafty person, that is!

    From my Frugal & Eco Christmas blog post: http://eatatdixiebelles.blogspot.com/2009/10/frugal-and-eco-christmas-present-ideas.html Make Your Own Presents – Using homegrown/ homemade, recycled or reclaimed, organic or low impact and/ or locally produced fabrics, materials and ingredients…

    Sewing/ knitting/ crocheting/ felting – Aprons, tea towels, linen, tablecloths, placemats and napkins, costumes, dolls and doll clothes, library or toy bags, crocheted headbands, crochet flower clips, handmade skirts (elastic waist if not sure on size), small felted handbag, felt picnic foods in basket, boxer shorts with matching design on singlet, small felted handbag, sewing cards or cross stitch kit, scarf or mittens from reclaimed fabric

    Baking/ Cooking – sauces, treats, cookies, Christmas cakes or puddings, pickles, jams, preserves, spice mixes, curry pastes, syrups and cordiols, jar of ‘make your own’ cookies or brownies (with label)

    Growing/ garden – herbs in pots, fresh produce and flowers, Natives saplings, bird feeders, wind chimes/ bird distractors, planter boxes of mixed seedlings, seed packs and seasonal planting guides, seed calendars, sprouting kits

    Other craft – calendars, photo frames, jewellery boxes, toys, artwork, anything!

    Also, if you want some great ideas to ‘borrow’ you could always check out the handmade sites, like Made It, Etsy, Blue Caravan or Pinterest!

    The spice blends sound awesome!

  3. Go you with the doll’s house!

    If you sew, then this is my absolute favorite tutorial at the moment.


    A little snap fastened purse thingey. I made one to try it out, my four year old (girl) spotted it and hasn’t let it out of her sight since. My seven year old (boy) picked out the fabrics for me to make him one for ‘treasures’ and they both recommended (told me) that I make one for all of their cousins (age range 3-12) for christmas presents.

    They are quick, simple and super cute and could hold all sorts of things. Nail kit, sewing kit, a few coins, lip balm, a pack of cards, a gift voucher, hair ties, condoms, packet of seeds, photos…..the list goes on.

    I’ve made most of mine from scraps from my quilting. And most of them I haven’t made from lots of bits like she did, too fiddly.

    And both my kids are getting good down sleeping bags. They’ll love them and we take them camping in winter so they need them. The other thing I like to do is put a jar of Nutella (chocolate nut spread for sandwiches) in their stocking. We never buy it so it’s a huge treat and once it’s gone it’s gone. The modern day equivalent of an orange?

  4. Hey. Here’s my goal: to pare down the toys and books we have to the ones we all actually enjoy, and donate the rest, within the next week. Then maybe I’ll feel space in my heart for the materials of Christmas, whereas now I feel mostly dread.
    I’d like to buy close to nothing, use up the sewing and yarn stash. Problem is putting a stop to it. Saying, this is enough. The dilemma.

  5. My Oldest is 24 now but when she was the right age I wanted to make a doll house for her Christmas present. It was going to be painted on the outside like a Georgian mansion, wall papered, furnished, with doors and windows and curtains, carpets, furniture etc etc. Needless to say it didn’t get further than a pretty basic plywood box with holes cut out for windows and some dividers that made the floors and walls.
    However, this actually left tons of scope for imaginative play. They filled it with thrift store finds. They painted carpets, made beds from felt and blocks of wood. Trolls, dolls and the camels from Rajasthan lived in it. In short it was a huge hit, got hours and hours of use and I got over my vision of what a doll house should be ;-)
    Of course I still leave everything to the last moment……

  6. These:
    The sheets of felt cost 30 cents, and I stitch the petals in place. The first one I made for myself, and it was fiercely coveted by a little girl I met, so I gave it to her. They’re a big hit with the ladies, regardless of age, and can be worn in the hair or as a brooch. I just sew a strip of felt on the back that I can slip either a hair clip or a safety pin through. Easy-peasy.

  7. We love hats. We make them out of old sweaters, sometimes purchased at the Thrift store. Hand sewn with bright thread is super fun and whimsical.

    For the Gift Overload – here is what we’ve done since last year:
    I have the kids (3 and 5) pick out toys they are willing to get rid of – enough to fill 2 Paper Grocery bags, then we take it to the Thriftstore where they can pick out 1 new thing each – one time the youngest chose a cute box to keep treasures.

    They get it now after about 3 rounds of it (before Birthdays and when I was in de-clutter mode). I’ve also consigned some of them and did the same deal with them, limiting the item to $5.

    Thanks for sharing your projects and gift ideas!

  8. Seriously awesome spice idea. I’m going to save this for next year as I’m doing good. I have dried sage, thyme, rosemary and tarragon and am bagging it up for herb gifts. (grew myself) I just found a lovely homemade soup recipe using lavender on the blog roof and floor. The recipe makes a very expensive French style soap. My lavender will be used for this down the line. Here’s a link to her post http://roofandfloor.blogspot.com/2011/11/soap.html.

  9. For the four year old you could make some little drawstring bags to hold marbles, little hair clips or dolls clothes etc. Love your blog. You always inspire me. :)

  10. CJ, I’d love to hear how you semi-permanently attach the wooden tracks, please! Henry and I have painted a big old floorboard, but I cant bring myself to glue the tracks on- my life will get better in the short-term if he can play trains without my initial 15 mins or so of awesome track construction, but so soon he’ll be wanting to build his own…

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