Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Best Gift is the One You Make Yourself

12/5/09 The Best Gift is the One You Make Yourself
Originally at

You may have gotten the impression from some of the retail stores in Santa Barbara that Christmas was coming in August. While the decorations for sale then seemed so far away, it is now just around the corner. As anyone out on Black Friday can attest, shopping can be stressful and exhausting - even in our small town. Still, there is a lot of potential for getting the perfect gift for your little one.

If you have family in town, you might stop by some of the small businesses in town that cater to our young ones to browse potential gift items. For toddlers and younger, Chicken Little and Santa Barbara Baby have been great. Now that our daughter is old enough to run around and pick out her own toys, we have spent more time at Kernohan's Toys and Bennett's. Still, some of the best and most cherished gifts are the ones that you make yourself.

Project 1: Wood Peg Toy

As you can see, there is not much to this toy - I bought the plywood circle as you see it from the hardware store and drilled 25 holes. While I was there, I purchased a 1" dowel and had the clerk cut off 25 half-inch pieces. Different hardware stores have different policies on cutting - some charge nothing, as long as the wood pieces are under 1", while others charge as much as $1 per cut - find out in advance! After purchasing the wood and a bag of ¼" pegs, I was off to my garage to drill a hole in the dowel pieces for the pegs. The whole process of creating a working toy took under an hour - all of this done after getting some coffee and spending time with my daughter when she got up far too early one weekend. Fortunately, hardware stores are open earlier to accommodate contractors and tired fathers. After gluing and sanding, my wife and I spent one evening watching a movie and painting the tops of the dowels after putting our daughter to sleep. I considered painting each piece a different color, or grouping colors, but we decided on painting small pictures of things that she could say or identify easily. I am no artist, but I was very pleased with the results. The next day, I put a coat of clear finish on all of the wood - project complete. The toy has had a lot of mileage - we group the pieces by color, type, shape, anything. Also, this toy has had a surprising amount of independent playtime. While there are smaller parts that can be potentially lost, I know that replacements can be made in an afternoon!

Project 2: Size and Color Toy

This is literally made from spare wood from another project - a 4x4 block with some drilled holes and some wooden dowels. This may not fly for the older kids, but by painting the dowels different shades of the same color or each a different rainbow color in order; the toy becomes both fun and educational.

Project 3: Ceramics

Be it a mug, frame or a decoration, ceramics have a lot of customizable potential. Ceramic kits are available from any craft store in town. Santa Barbara also has 2000 Degrees and Color Me Mine, where you can paint pre-made ceramics and have them glazed and finished for you. A well-placed handprint gives your ceramic personalization that you can't buy from a retailer. As a child, I loved comparing my handprint to that of my siblings from previous years.

Project 4: Picture DVD or preloaded Digital Frame

One of my daughter's favorite things to do is to look at pictures of our family, pets and herself growing up. It calms her and captivates her. If you don't have a media center computer at home, showing pictures can be challenging. Albums take time to assemble and boxes of pictures can quickly be disorganized by children. All photo processors in town now offer the option of burning to CD or DVD. Most processors also allow you the option to load select photos directly from your digital camera to be burned to disc. Digital Frames have become commonplace and can now be found at most electronics retailers. Due to their popularity, the price has also dropped in recent years.

Gifts that last don't need to be expensive or flashy in order to be memorable. No one understands this more than the National Toy Hall of Fame who recently inducted the common ball. Previous winners include the stick, and a cardboard box. This year, give a gift to your child that they will love and appreciate - one that you have made.


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