This post is dedicated to my daughter Nicole, who as a teenager said to me, “Remember when you used to be crafty?”
Many moons ago, when social media wasn’t invented, and I was in full-on childbearing mode (aka the decade of pregnancy), and it actually snowed for consecutive days, I was into all kinds of creative activities. Whether for the home or a gift, my hands were always busy sewing, baking, cooking, painting, gluing, decoupaging, measuring, sketching, and occasionally, melting (chocolate, crayons).
During the holidays, especially, I would go slightly overboard, baking individual gingerbread shapes (with copper wire hooks embedded at the top), decorating with royal icing and silver dragées, and then stringing with twine to make garland. I only used Martha Stewart’s gingerbread house-making recipe (reliable for making sturdy, large houses) and painstakingly knotted each hook so the “ornaments” wouldn’t slide, before wrapping them in holiday gingham tissue paper and cellophane bags.
At that time, three of my children were in nursery school and Pre-K, and there were no rules about teachers’ gifts or any organized collections taking place. It seemed logical to have my kids help (that being a relative word back then) with the gift-making.
Probably the easiest craft for them to tackle was pinecone bird feeders. And, since we live in the Northeast, with lots of trees—and birds—this fell into the “practical” gift category. And, low-budget; something to consider when giving out presents to several teachers and school administrators.
Chocolate-covered pretzel sticks, rolled in Almond Roca crumbles, coconut, crushed chocolate-covered coffee beans and ultra-mini m&ms, were also easy for the kids to make. Just don’t have them do it on an empty stomach or before an activity where they’re supposed to sit quietly. I love this updated version.
Though it looks to be for Valentine’s Day, I can easily envision a Christmas or Hanukah version with mini dreidels or green and red m&ms, silver and gold spray-painted acorns or miniature pine cones or rocks to prop up the pretzels; and pretzels dipped in white chocolate as well as dark or milk, and rolled in appropriately colored ingredients. You can get small-sized cylindrical vases at the craft store, and keep the pretzel count to 3 or 5 to maximize your effort.
Hand-painting one (or a trio) of terracotta pots, filled with potting soil sealed in a baggie, and glass vials of seeds also proved to be a successful endeavor that the kids enjoyed helping with and the teachers enjoyed receiving. While the kids painted the pots, I divvied up the seeds and soil. Had Pinterest been around then, I would have logged all of these ideas in step-by-step photos, but at that point, I am not even sure we had a computer in the house!
One year, we made picture frames, using paper or wood frames purchased at AC Moore, a store I barely step into these days. The kids would draw patterns (or some semblance of) on the frames, paint them with tiny paintbrushes, then add glitter, rhinestones, scrapbooking icons or tiny flowers, depending upon who they were for. We did not put photos in them, because we figured that when the teachers were at home, they didn’t need to be reminded of their students—no matter how adorable they were.
Last but not least, and always a fan-favorite, were the homemade cookies, beautifully packaged in boxes layered with colored tissue paper (first wrapped as 2-3 cookie bundles in plastic baggies for freshness) or vintage cookie tins that I’d collect throughout the year. We’d do mini chocolate-chip sugar cookies cut into holiday shapes, regular sugar cookies adorned with red and green sprinkles, half-dipped in white or dark chocolate first… peanut butter cookies filled with mini m&ms and piped with dark chocolate zigzags, white chocolate-cranberry-almond oatmeal cookies diagonally dipped into white chocolate, and of course, old-fashioned gingerbread boys piped with royal icing.
No matter how much the teachers moaned and groaned each year that they’d gained 10 pounds during the holidays, each year they asked if we were making cookies again for the holidays.
More than the taste, I think their heartfelt anticipation reflected an appreciation for the time and effort we, and other families, dedicated to making them feel special. I think this is something we all need to remember, especially when budgets are tight. Homemade gifts aren’t cheap or “junky,” and have the power to make a much more lasting and meaningful impression than something picked up thoughtlessly amidst the rest of your holiday shopping.
Eventually, the schools swayed the class moms to collect donations for a larger, more sophisticated non-teacheresque gift such as dinner out on the town or a gift certificate to a boutique, and our crafty days began to wane. (OK, I admit there were A LOT of reasons our zeal for crafty endeavors died down.) And now of course, there’s Pinterest, so I am all about DIY’ing it up. I may be short on time these days, but since I am down to two kids at home and one heading to college next fall, I think I’ll have no problem jumping back into the creative zone. No doubt there will a zillion Pinterest boards to keep me busy during those “where did my kids go?” days. Leave a comment if you want some actual instructions. I’m a pro at making gingerbread houses.