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Last Minute DIY Holiday Gifts

Maria_XmasTree.jpg
Old crayons can be melted down into something new and festive. Photo by Maria Fowler.
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There are only four more sleeps before Christmas. You’re broke. You’re stressed. And you’re out of ideas. Clearly, now is the time to make your own gifts. No, seriously. You don’t have to be Semi-Homemade Sandra “I’m Freaking Terrifying” Lee or your great Aunt Tamanay to create a cherished (or at least wanted) homemade gift for your friends and relatives in a short amount of time.

While I love the DIY idea, I’m much more GTT (Go To Target) when it comes to gifts. Still, given the state of my pocketbook and the fact that my family pretty much buys what they want anyway, I’m going all DIY this holiday season (and I'm still not finished, proving there's plenty of time left). In an effort to impart my wisdom (and that of the far more crafty, crafting and creative amongst my acquaintance), I offer the following. Categorized by age, these gift ideas can be modified for all attitudes and obligations. Best of all, most of these gifts can be made in just a few hours - perfect for those of us whose planning exists on a more…theoretical level for the holidays.

For the 0-3 set (and their parents):
A fleece tie blanket. Fuzzy bears, singing bumblebees and the occasional sushi selection printed on soft, fluffy fleece is hard to resist, particularly when making it into a blanket to swaddle the infant who won’t sleep will make you the star of the holiday. Visit your local Jo-Ann Fabrics (or even Walmart if that’s your bag) and select two pieces of blanket-sized fleece. Follow the instructions, and you’ve got something warm, cuddly, and washable that doesn’t involve sewing, gluing or doing much of anything but tying knots.

What you need: Fleece, scissors, thumbs.
Where you can get it: Any fabric store, like Jo-Ann.
Instructions: How to Make A Fleece Tie Blanket

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4-7 years old:
Homemade crayons. Everyone with kids or adjacent kids has crayons everywhere. Kill the clutter by putting them in silicone molds and melting them down to create mixed-up crayons in cool shapes, including Christmas trees. Have the kids help with this, and it’s a DIY project that’s interactive but less messy or time-consuming than a gingerbread house.

What you need: Old crayons, an oven, silicone molds or old cookie or muffin tins, a cookie sheet, an eye for color.
Where you can get it: Target. Sure there are lots of options, but just go to Target. Make your life easier.
Instructions: How to Make Crayons

7-16 years old:
Music compilations. Sure, you could just give the tweens an iTunes gift card or buy a Wiggles or Yo Gabba Gabba CD for the younger kids. You know you’re not hip enough to make the perfect musical choice for the cooler-than-thou, and the chance to make your sister crazy and your nephew happy is irresistible. However, making a mix that will assure your long-term cool status is unbeatable. You may not know whether Pitbull or Eminem is part of the current social capital of the middle school set, but you know that the Ramones, the Pixies, and Simon and Garfunkel will always be in style. The kids may not listen to the mix now, but in 5 years, they’ll pull it out and say, “Damn, my aunt was the pod.” (Pod will mean old-school nerdy cool by then).

What you need: A blank CD or flash drive, a computer, some musical taste.
Where you can get it: Best Buy, the iTunes store or Amazon.com, your genetic makeup.

16-25 years old:
Car/House emergency kit. This is less DIY than “trip to Target/the mall kiosk,” but every new driver and every “newish to adulthood”-apartment dweller needs an emergency kit packed for earthquakes or other disasters. If you don’t want to go all out, buy a case of water, a good flashlight, a can opener, some matches, a space blanket, and an old Thomas Guide and put them in a backpack. (For those who are gifting to the winter areas, include a small shovel and a bucket of cat litter.)

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Where you can get it: Any Army surplus store. Or Target.
How to make one: Emergency Kit from Wired.com; Bargain Emergency Kit

The 30-year-old foodie/Food Network obsessive/Your Mom:
Spice Mixes/Infused Oils. Aarti Sequeira’s Tandoori spice mix was already famous on the internet before she became the next Food Network star. A jar of this mix says, “I love you.” It also says, “I’m enough of an adult to have a separate grinder for spices.” (Actually in my case it will say, “I ruined our coffee grinder making your present. Will you buy me a new coffee grinder now?”) Infused oils require good oil, good herbs, pretty jars and not much else. Put herbs in oil. Tie on a bow.

What you need: Spices, a grinder, containers, a stove.
Where you can get it: World Market, Surfas, The Spice Station in Silverlake, Trader Joe’s, Fresh and Easy, Penzey’s
Instructions: Tandoori Mix; Infused Oils

The 40+ generation (particularly for in-laws):
Glögg. This potent Scandinavian alcoholic adventure is made of spices, wine and some sort of “set fire to the cat” liquor of your choice (normally Aquavit, but I find a junipery gin or a slightly crappy brandy to be perfectly adequate). If your giftee doesn’t booze it up, make the same spice mix to add to cider.

What you need: Red wine, other booze, spices, a pot, containers.
Where you can get it: World Market, Surfas, Spice Station, Bev Mo.
Instructions: Swedish Glögg. I follow this recipe, but I adjust the sugar to taste.

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Gifts for everyone else:
Cookbooks, photo books, travel books, or shadow boxes celebrating past events or milestones.
There’s no need to go all Amway-scrapbook cult. A frame, a pretty binder or a shoebox can work as a container. Just add some personal notes in the form of written memories or photos (or glitter and glue. That always helps). Put together a collection of recipes you learned from your grandfather or your dad. Print out a picture of you and your cousins and put it in a frame. Put your medal from that 5K you did with your Mom for her 60th birthday in a shadowbox with a map of the course. These items are personal to every family and every relationship, but mementos for those you love is never a bad idea. Sure, it’s a little late to have the photo books printed and shipped, but even an online link to the slideshow is a good idea at this point, and who doesn’t like getting something in the mail weeks after Christmas? (My family, that’s who. Largely because they’re tired of my inability to mail stuff on time.)

What you need: Recipes, photos, mementos, a good dose of nostalgia/desperation, glitter pens and a good photo book site, like Photobin.com.
Where you can get it: The Paper Source in Studio City, Marshall’s/TJ Maxx/Homegoods (for frames and house hold things) and Michael’s (if you can bear it. I can’t).

Coupons, Classes, and Cabarets.
There are DIY classes all over Los Angeles, including at Classroom LA. Offer to take a class with a friend or loved one over the holiday or after. Gift some free IT support for parents and grandparents (minus the eye-rolling and sarcastic comments). Download free podcasts for an aunt who likes to walk; set up the Roku box for your step-mother. Create a coupon to teach a teenager how to make homemade pizza or fry chicken. Take a Swedish class with your dad. These days, my time is more valuable than anything else, and the chances I get to spend it with the people I love are priceless.

And finally, for the ultra ambitious:
Power sources. Make a set of “Minty Boosts”- tiny power packs placed in Altoids tins to power iDevices. Sure you need to know how to solder, and identify all the pieces of a circuit, but how hard can that be? (Hard. Honest folks, its hard.)

So, in this day and age where even shopping at Amazon seems like a betrayal of our local economies (a cheap, efficiently shipped betrayal), think outside the cookies (but not too far out! I need that tin of English toffee!) and do something nice for those you love.