Wrapped and ready to be mailed!
We’re on the last batch of homemade Christmas gifts now with Rana’s contributions. It is fun doing this with a little bit older child since she is capable of more. Since she jumps at the chance to use the sewing machine, I chose a project with some easy sewing: pocket handwarmers.
For each of the kids’ projects, I took little videos where they explained what they were doing and who their recipient was. After Christmas, I shared those videos with our families. But Rana’s video is so funny because she goes into full-on TV hostess mode. And she explains the project as well as I can, plus, she’s cuter. Take it away, Rana! (The picture below will link to the video. Click it!)
After adding the lavender and rice to the little handwarmers, we sewed up the hole and called it good. But then I started thinking that maybe the recipients needed something to store them in during warm months when handwarmers aren’t needed. I whipped up some little pouches while Rana was at school, but let her choose the ribbons for the drawstrings. There! Now they were ready to send off to cousins. Just a few seconds in the microwave, pop them into their coat pockets, and they’ll have toasty fingers.
Second in our little series of homemade Christmas gifts is some fancied-up candy for my little brother. Every Christmas morning, my siblings and I would meet in the hallway between our bedrooms to compare what we had gotten in our stockings. We oohed and ahhed over the little toys and took inventory of the candy. I could make my candy last for weeks; one year when Dad got us one of those giant peppermint sticks, I nearly made it to Easter. I also had some very weird dreams that year (Cars parked at the bottom of a shark-filled swimming pool? Giant nationwide network of tunnels accessed through our house’s crawl space? Weird, and memorable enough to have stuck with me lo, these many years). But my youngest brother was more, shall we say, epicurean and usually had his stocking candy finished by the end of the day. Clearly, the
boy man — he’s a grown-up man (you’re still my baby, Bud) — would not turn down extra Christmas candy.
Enter: The giant peppermint stick. Ok, so these are fun as-is because giant candy is always fun. Bonus: weird dreams. But I thought we should probably dress them up a little bit, as shown here, to make them more festive. Because if giant peppermint sticks are fun, giant peppermint sticks dipped in chocolate and rolled in sprinkles has to be at least 2x as fun. Our grocery store was severely lacking in the sprinkles department. I searched for plain white or heck, even Christmas colors, but all I got was the typical multi-colored batch, more suited to birthday cake than candy canes. And, I love my brother, but not enough to pick through a bottle of tiny sprinkles to pull out all the white ones. Sometimes we have to make compromises.
Granota got a kick out of this project because, for a 6 year old, being allowed to get anywhere near the stove is a big day indeed. First, we melted chocolate chips in my pseudo-double boiler. If I had had any prior candy-making experience, I should have tempered the melting chocolate so that once it hardened again, it would keep that deep, chocolatey color instead of developing a whitish bloom. The color change doesn’t affect the taste of the end product; it just doesn’t look as pretty. But, I didn’t know about tempering until after the fact. Hm. Welp. When it came time for dipping, I tilted the hot pan and Granota carefully took the peppermint stick and rolled one end through the melted chocolate. She let any extra drip off into the pan, and then she rolled the chocolate-covered end in a plate of sprinkles and set the finished candy on a sheet of wax paper to harden. It actually doesn’t take that long for the chocolate to cool and harden, so we had to be fairly efficient with our production line. Her: dipping and rolling; me: tilting the pan and refilling the sprinkle plate.
We had four sticks to do and were doing pretty well until the last one. This particular stick apparently had a more sensitive constitution than the others and suffered thermal shock when Granota dipped it into the hot chocolate. I fished out the broken end with a fork and Granota begged me to please-oh-please let her have that one, y’know, to test, just to be sure, please? please?
Ok, fine. From what I hear, it was pretty good.
Again, they didn’t turn out “perfect,” but Granota put her little 6 year old heart into them and my brother was sweet (ha!) enough to send her a message on Christmas day thanking her. I hope they both feel special.
We’re going to rewind here a little bit, back to November/early December, pre-Christmas and even pre-baby, but post-move. Dang, moving is expensive. So, finding ourselves cinching the ol’ belt even tighter those months meant that we had to get creative with Christmas gifts. I scoured the internet for nice DIY projects that could make suitable gifts for the people on our lists (our families draw names). For the next few posts, we’ll look at what I came up with! The kids each had two gifts to make and I let them take the lead on the projects as much as possible so that the gifts were truly from them and not just a Jen project from start-to-finish. All three kids really enjoyed the creation process; Rana enthusiastically declared, “This is way better than just buying stuff!” I like that attitude.
Granota was the first to do her projects because it was easiest to get time alone with her without the other two clamoring for attention or wanting to “help.” The first thing Granota made was a cookie-mix-in-a-jar. This is great for her age group (she’s 6) because there is so much she can do herself with just a little guidance. Plus, playing in the kitchen is always exciting! The recipe we used called for Rice Krispies and M&Ms, neither of which we had on hand. Instead, we substituted cranberries and chocolate chips. Also, because we use cane sugar instead of white sugar, there is not a lot of color difference between that and the brown sugar. The beauty of these mixes in a jar is the different colored strata, so we divided the flour and put it between the sugars and then on top of the brown sugar to give the jar that nice striped effect. Granota did pretty well in the kitchen and had a blast measuring the ingredients and pouring them into the jar. I… did quite well biting my tongue when she dumped half a cup of flour on the counter and made other little 6 year old messes. That’s huge for me, people.
Then, to make the jar pretty, I let Granota choose from my stash of old Christmas cards that I save for crafty purposes. You just never know. She used the jar lid as a template, chose the picture she wanted and cut it out. For the instruction tag, she used the back of the card and chose a clipart tree that I printed out for her which she glued on to cover the brand name. It’s a little jaggedy and not “picture perfect,” but she was one proud little girl to have made this “all by herself.” And I was proud of myself for giving her the opportunity to shine.
Ever since I completed my Axl Rose afghan (or, well before I finished it, actually), the girls have been reminding me that they want one of their own. I thought that would be a good “big” Christmas present for them. We give them only three gifts (we like to keep things simple and not get too hung up on the “stuff”), one of which is something big and special, left unwrapped under the tree with a giant nametag on it. They love to run downstairs and see what it is. So, in a perfect world, the afghans would have made great “big” presents. Now that my French tutoring has started up again, I’ve come back into crafting funds (hurray!), but I’m realizing that it was too late for afghans.
Oh sure, I was optimistic and bought a little yarn (not all of it, thank goodness) and began Rana’s blanket. At that point in time, I calculated that if I finished five rows everyday, I could have it done in three weeks, leaving enough time to weave in ends and four more weeks to do the whole thing over again for Granota’s.
But then I missed a couple of days. Five rows had to be bumped to seven. And then nudged up to ten. And eleven. At which point I admitted to myself that this wasn’t going to happen. I was attempting to get my crocheting done in secret which meant only during naptime and after the kids were in bed. It sounds good in theory. Usually I am much more
pessimistic realistic about things, but I guess crafting clouds my judgment or something. What was I thinking?! My kids don’t go to bed! Psh! My kids are the life-size version of Whack-a-Mole at Chuck E. Cheese. Three kids each finding some lame excuse to get up times three equals me getting up nine times to put them back in bed. Rana is notorious for lying quietly in her bed for half an hour, then, just when we think she’s asleep and it’s ok to turn on a grown-up TV show or get out secret craft projects, all of a sudden she materializes in the living room declaring in her most lonesome puppy dog voice, “I can’t sleep,” while her eyes scan for snacks that Mr. Gren may have gotten out or the last swallow of tea in my cup (Yes, Mom & Dad, I know where she gets that from).
Obviously that’s a problem. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do until Granota gave me an out.
We were cleaning house (cabin) on Saturday and Granota forlornly showed me her paper Axl doll. He’s a little crumpled; we’ve had to tape each of his legs back on; he’s looking a little worse for wear. But considering the life he’s had — created 6 months ago, getting slept on in a preschooler’s bed, buried and resurrected from the clothes drawer numerous times, and eventually hung from the curtain rod — he has survived surprisingly well.
But even a 5 yr old knows that a paper doll’s lifespan isn’t forever. So, as she cradled her little paper doll, she said wistfully, “I wish I had a real life Axl doll.” I knew what she meant, but I prodded her a little. “A real life doll?” “Yes, like Falilla [the fairy doll]. A soft one!” Rana was listening to this conversation and immediately piped up, “Me, too! I want one, too!” Just to verify, I asked her, “Want one of what?” “An Axl doll! I want an Axl doll, too!” To which Granota stated, “But they have to look different!”
Your wish is my command! I can do dolls in the time I have left before Christmas! No sweat! And that saves me from the ridiculous pace and long nights it was going to take to complete those afghans. I was considering just working on them at a leisurely pace throughout this next year, but I know myself too well. If I take things too slowly, I get bored and will never finish. Besides, Axl dolls and Axl afghans? Even for 1991 that might be a little… excessive (although as I was writing this, Granota was up in her room with “November Rain” on repeat, so that may be a moot point).
Now I’ve got to decide what to do with that yarn.