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Beth Italia of Black Robin Farms in Ramona with a gift basket of her handmade lavender products at the Vista Farmers Market. Photo by Jano Nightingale
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Homemade holiday gift ideas

The holidays bring back memories, some of opening the gift we had been waiting for, others opening a handmade gift that we are not quite sure of.

My paternal grandmother was a widow who worked as a cook at a local VFW bar. But when she came home to her small bungalow in the evening, she worked on her handiwork.

Her tiny pension and cook’s salary did not allow her to buy expensive gifts, but she made sure that everyone in the family received a handmade Christmas gift.

She worked for months on her handiwork. Embroidered tablecloths, crocheted mittens, scarves, hats and intricate crochet snowflakes.

Christmas morning arrived and we congregated in her small apartment after a huge breakfast. My dad opened his gift, carefully unwrapping the tissue paper. He tried on his bright green watch cap and remarked, “Well, this will certainly cover my bald spot and keep me warm in this Milwaukee weather.”

I was probably not as thankful as I should have been when I received the bright green scarf. I was a fashion conscious teenager, and replied, “Oh Grandma, the green scarf will go great with my beige winter coat.”

But now, as an older adult myself, I have to save money by creating homemade gifts. My son and I often create photomontages to commemorate our years together. We have gathered a few more ideas that your family can create for your holiday homemade gift list.


For those of us who can remember recipe boxes (rather than recipes found via the internet or phone), these small metal boxes, sometimes decorated, contain a wealth of memories.

My mother did not work outside the home but was in charge of the entertainment aspect of my father’s job. She created elaborate dinner parties for his clients and wowed them with her creativity.

Her recipe boxes were so well organized that to this day I relish the notes she added to each handwritten recipe and the record of some of our favorite family meals.

Since the topic of  “legacy” is so in the news recently, we might realize that these little boxes hold family secrets. It was my dad’s idea, before my mom passed away, to publish a family cookbook.

My son actually came up with the idea of a computer recipe book. “Since most kids have a computer and access to a smartphone, why not let them interview their relatives and record it on their phone or tape player,” he said. “They could go to their relative’s house, take pictures while they are cooking, and sit down with them to record how they make dishes.”

This family cookbook project could be a child’s way to record family history, including stories of ethnic food traditions. They could finish the project with a printed copy of the recipes and photos, decorated with the child’s artwork.

Everyone has a favorite aunt, uncle or grandparent known for their baked goods, holiday treats or barbecue and would be flattered to pass on those secrets to their loved ones.


This holiday decorating idea came from a Martha Stewart website and can be easily carried out if you go outdoors to a park or wooded area and hunt for dried materials to work with.

Any seed pod, large dried fruit or leaf that has an interesting shape and is not fragile can be used. Pine cones and magnolia pods are two examples, but once you start hunting for suitable pods, the possibilities are endless!


(Adapted from a November 2021 article on, “How to Make a Silver Seed-Pod Ornament”)


— Norway spruce pine cones, dried poppy pods, dried magnolia pods, rose hips (seed pod of the rose), magnolia leaves, dried passion flower pods, small dried sunflowers, small dried artichokes — the list goes on!

— Silver-plated wire

— Metallic spray paint (either silver or gold)

— Hooks

— Craft adhesive


— Place a few items at a time in a large shoe box (in a well-ventilated area — the spray will travel). Spray each natural item with a coat of spray paint; let dry about 10 minutes. Flip each over and spray-paint again; let dry about 10 minutes. Repeat, making sure to paint from different angles if your materials have lots of nooks and crannies.

— Cut a short piece of silver wire; bend one end into a hook. Push straight end of wire into your item; secure with craft adhesive.

— These shiny pieces of art can become decorations for the tree or a centerpiece for a Hanukkah celebration.


If you are simply too busy to create your own gifts, pay a visit to your local farmers market and let the craftspeople do the work for you.

On a visit to the Vista Farmers Market last Saturday, I met Beth Italia from Black Robin Farms. She and her husband own an 8-acre lavender farm in Ramona, and her handmade products are not only aromatic but beautifully packaged.

The perfect gift for any hard-to-shop-for adult on your list could be one of her gift baskets that include lavender neck warmers, essential oils, aroma stones and lavender sachets. She has a booth in the craft section of the Vista market held every Saturday in the Vista Courthouse parking lot. Parking is free, and there are over 50 vendors and food stands.

Jano Nightingale is a Master Gardener and horticulturist and teaches gardening at the Carlsbad Senior Center. Contact her at [email protected].

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