Christmas Gifts

I received some absolutely lovely Christmas gifts this year from friends, family, and Santa Claus. Some of the gifts would likely be of interest to other crafty- and foodie-types. My brother gave me one of those fantastic crocheted knight helmet hats and the previously-mentioned Jamie Oliver 5 Ingredients Quick & Easy Food cookbook (Jamie Oliver, 2017). My husband gave me a copy of How to Cook Indian by Sanjeev Kapoor (2011). Santa brought me some lovely worsted-weight variegated yarn, which I am currently turning into a hat. My parents bought me a funny (and very accurate) Procrasti-knitter T-shirt from White Owl Crochet.

But I do have a weakness for handmade items that combine practicality with beauty, and this year my parents picked out some absolutely lovely pieces for me. The first is a pair of wine tumbler/tea bowls from Greig Pottery. The one on the right is patterned with lupins, which is a flower that I first fell in love with on a trip to Newfoundland with my mom about eight years back. In shape and size, these vessels remind me of Japanese teacups, although they are intended for both hot and cold beverages (so far as I know, you’d never have a cold beverage in this kind of cup in Japan). They fit comfortably in my hand and the little indents — one on either side — are perfectly placed for my thumb and forefinger. As a bonus, they’re both microwave and dishwasher safe. I can’t wait to use them, possibly for some rum and eggnog before the season is over.

Mom and Dad also gave me this gorgeous two-tone rosewood & mango wood yarn bowl from Knitpicks. They actually gave me two hand-potted yarn bowls (in different sizes, for different-sized balls of yarn) last year for Christmas, but my kids managed to smash both of them on the same day. Needless to say, I was not amused, as the bowls sat on the table in the living room where the kids aren’t supposed to be playing in the first place. I was very vocal (possibly too vocal) about how much I missed the old bowls, so Mom actually hopped onto the Internet and ordered me a new one — one that, it should be noted, should be much more difficult to smash. Touch wood. I love the glassy-smooth finish of the wood; when I got the bowl, I couldn’t stop running my hands over it. I was especially proud of my mother for ordering it for me, since she had never before shopped online on her own, usually getting my brother or I to order things for her. I don’t see an Amazon Prime account in her future, but I like that Mom is now able to put aside her worries about online shopping, at least for items that she can’t get in town.

I want to take this opportunity to say a sincere thank-you for all of my gifts this holiday season. Although, as Garfield points out in the Christmas special that we watch every year, it’s not the giving, it’s not the getting, it’s the loving.

Cat-Proof Tree

A friend of mine, who owns three very mischievous cats, posted a link to a Facebook post about Genius People Who Found A Way To Protect Their Christmas Trees From Asshole Cats And Dogs back in November, and it gave me some ideas. Specifically, the picture of the little tree in the gigantic lantern.

You see, I’d salvaged this 3.5-foot-or-so decorative lantern a while back and, although I’d filled it with orange lights as a Halloween decoration, I didn’t have any real idea what I wanted to do with it once the holiday was over. I’d thought I might spray paint silhouettes on the inside and turn it into a permanent addition to my Halloween decoration collection, but I didn’t have any concrete plans. However, I thought that my friends might like a tree that their cats couldn’t destroy, so I started working on the lantern.

The lantern had been discarded for a reason; it needed repair. It required a good cleaning, some glue in spots and a couple of coats of paint, not to mention some new hardware. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find matching replacement hardware, so the rusty stuff was just going to have to do. I also had to find a short enough tree and some small embellishments (which I kept to a neutral white and silver motif to hopefully go with the decor on any floor of their house, and any decorations they would want to add).

I was quite happy with the final product, which looked nice in a lit room…

…but really was at its best in low to no light.


Photo by Karen Turnbull.

My friends seem to be quite happy with their Christmas gift. Although the cats were quite interested at first, the fact that they couldn’t reach the branches, lights, or ornaments meant that they lost interest pretty quickly — which was perfect. The tree in the lantern is pretty heavy, so the cats can’t knock it over. And as a bonus, the tree doesn’t even have to be taken down after the Christmas season is over unless my friends want to use the lantern for something else. A plastic garbage bag over the top would keep the whole thing dust-free in storage until they want to use it next year.

I really liked how my Christmas tree in a lantern turned out. A bit of Googling has made me realize that lanterns are great for protecting all kinds of decorations from pets and young children. I’ve seen them filled with glass balls, tiny dioramas, seasonal knickknacks, paper or painted silhouettes (usually with frosted glass), greenery arrangements, and live plants. I have so many ideas now that I think I’ll be keeping my eye out for more lanterns to salvage and decorate.

Gifts of Food

I love to give food as gifts. I figure that everyone has to eat. Even those people it’s really hard to buy/make gifts for, those people who seem to have everything they need or want (or have expensive tastes way out of my budget), food is something that they constantly need to purchase. It is, after all, a consumable.

So I give food as gifts for birthdays, Christmas, and other special occasions. I try to keep the recipients’ tastes and food sensitivities/allergies in mind, of course, although sometimes I know I don’t quite get it right (but that can happen with any kind of gift, really). I always label all of my homemade food with every ingredient I’ve used, just in case I’ve missed or forgotten something. I like giving hard-to-find items that may require a trip to a specialty store, or foods sold as part of fundraisers. When it comes to home cooking, casseroles and baked goods are traditional. Additionally, I especially like giving home-canned goods, because I can do large batches when the food is in season and dole it out over the rest of the year. Canned goods are especially good when I don’t know when the recipient will want to actually eat the food, since shelf-stable canned goods last a year or more. There’s always a lot of food involved in holidays anyway, so I can’t always assume that a gift will be consumed immediately; to this end, foods that freeze well are also a great option.


A recent gift of food: Mikado milk chocolate biscuit sticks, Maple and Oatmeal Loaf (Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter, 2002), page 95), and Girl Guide cookies (chocolate/vanilla mix). Not packaged very prettily, I know, but it had to survive a ride on the back of my bike.

I also like to give food to people I care about who are going through a rough time. A new baby in the home (a joyous occasion, but a time-consuming and stressful time as well), a death of a loved one, illness, marital troubles… In this case it’s less of a matter of celebration, and more a matter of trying to help out. When you’re in the middle of personal difficulties, the last thing on your mind is eating properly. You have neither time nor inclination to cook, so you rely on whatever is cheapest and easiest, which isn’t sustainable in the long run. I want to help out, but in so many cases there’s not much I can really do to fix the problem. I feel helpless, and I hate to see someone I care about hurting, so I fall back on making food — something I know I can help with. I want to show that I care, but I don’t want to intrude, and popping by to drop off a casserole or a loaf of bread only takes a few minutes.

Where did this mindset come from? Is it regional? Familial? Personal? I’m not sure. I’m from Maritime stock, and I’m told this is very common on the East Coast (also the Southern USA, but I don’t have any ties there). I grew up around potluck gatherings of every kind, that’s for sure. I’m pretty sure my paternal grandmother was of the traditional “bring food around” mindset; possibly it’s part of the whole “hostess gift” tradition? Whatever the reason, what I’m trying to do with a gift of food is show that I care, and that I want to make your life easier, if only for one meal. And hey, if I end up giving you a dish that you absolutely despise, I was trying, okay?