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handmade christmas

Uncle Sal, showing Miss M the proper way to wear her new bike helmetAt last, the long-overdue post about all our handmade gifts from our delightful Christmas!

As most of you know, several years ago, we started opting out of the gift-giving hoopla during the holidays for a variety of reasons. It has made the holiday season infinitely more peaceful and enjoyable for us. (::waves at mom, who isn't convinced this is true but we love her anyway::) We do make exceptions for kids -- our nephew and nieces when they were younger and now for the Fabulous Miss M, and of course for Toys for Tots and the like -- because hello, party time!

For the Hall-Smiley Family Christmas this year, however, we decided we'd make homemade gifts for each other. Aside from being homemade, the other rule was that our gifts had to be made with things we already had on hand, if possible. So no going out and buying a bunch of supplies or some kind of paint by numbers kit or whatever. And you guys! As with everything that the Hall-Smiley Family does, our Handmade Christmas seriously kicked ass!

Guy's handmade gifts:


  • for Sal -- a case of beer composed of each brew Guy's done over the years
  • for me -- a half dozen of his homemade pasties, complete with packets of organic brown gravy mix, frozen and packaged so that I have an easy, yummy, homemade dinner on those nights when time is a hot commodity OR to go in a bento. AND! He even created a little treasure hunt for me to find them on Christmas morning, because he is an evil genius.

Sister's handmade gifts:


  • for Guy -- making and decorating (with Miss M's help) a ceramic mug for his morning coffee (no pic, sorry)
  • for Sal -- a wooden recipe box containing not recipes, but her memories of the meals we've shared as a family, everything that was served at the meal, and why it was memorable to her, along with blank cards to include the many future meals we'll share
  • for me -- a handmade card, which explained that my gift is a Girls' Art Weekend together, complete with an itinerary and meal plan, and including activities like a visit to an art museum, shopping at an art supply store, an afternoon of arty crafty time together, and then staying up late to watch movies and eat (good) junk food

Sal's handmade gifts:


  • for Sister -- a full quart container of homemade fresh mozzarella
  • for Guy -- his own special blend of a spicy nut mix, including a blend of different nuts that he toasted and lightly caramelized with brown sugar, then tossed with a carefully-tested combination of black pepper, coriander, thyme, sea salt, and Worcestershire
  • for me -- a little pencil sketch he did of garlic cloves, framed, with the words "Not just garlic, but also love" (it's a long-running inside joke/term of endearment)

Brittney's handmade gifts:


  • for Guy -- a book safe made from an extra copy of a book I had, complete with a bookmark made from ribbon and a little key (I can't remember how I acquired it, but it was already well-loved by the time I got it -- a big chunk of middle pages had come undone from the spine, it was missing its dust jacket, and had obviously been loved hard by its former owner, and I was only using it for a shelf display so I didn't feel too bad about cutting a big hole in the middle of it)
  • for Sister -- a collage piece about the what she means to me, done on a blank canvas I already had and other odds and ends from my various collections of crafty things (the quote is the KJV version of the "whither thou goest, I will go" verse from The Book of Ruth)
  • for Sal* -- etched beer mugs; I bought some inexpensive 20 oz. beer mugs from IKEA, so it wasn't technically using something I already had on hand. The rest of the materials were, however. Using some old contact paper, I made word stencils for the four basic ingredients of beer: water, yeast, grain, and hops. (I drew the words on the contact paper, stuck the contact paper to the glass, then cut out the letters with an Exacto knife.) Then I used this glass etching stuff I'd bought several years ago to use on the bathroom window (that I ended up deciding not to do) to etch the words into the glass. I'd never used it before and it was pretty old so I wasn't sure if it would still work or how well. Turns out, pretty great! The stuff is seriously scary so you have to be careful with it, but it works fast and was actually pretty simple.

*[Sal's was the hardest because there was no way to do it without him seeing it during the process, so I just had to lie to him that it was actually Guy's gift, that the book safe was Sister's in addition to the collage, and that his gift was the mysterious box that made a satisfying thudding noise when you shook it (thanks to the weight I stuck inside the empty box to make it realistic). (Seriously, do not mess with me about gift-giving subterfuge: I come from a long line of women who have made it an art form.)]

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