Holiday Gifts – Made from the Heart

As we’ve discussed in previous blog posts, there are a lot of great alternatives to material gifts – volunteering/donating, giving experiences, spending quality time together, travel, etc.  However, if you are choosing to give a material gift, there is something you can do to make it far more meaningful and extra special: Make It Yourself. Sound scary? It’s not! I promise. Let’s start with the warm fuzzies of why you might do this before moving on to tips and ideas.


Reasons to Make Homemade Gifts

  1. They’re Gifts of the Heart: Let me tell you, making gifts is not a quick feat, but they mean more. Not only does the recipient appreciate the item, but they’re appreciating the thought, creativity, time, and work that went into making them something extra special – what a great way to show you care during the holidays! I love hearing the shocked “Auntie you MADE that?!?” when a gift is unwrapped. It’s so much better than any “wow!” from a store-bought gift.
  2. They’re One of a Kind Gifts: When you’re making your gifts, they are absolutely one of a kind. Which means making a gift for that person who has everything and needs nothing may be a lot easier than finding the perfect gift for them.
    20191206_173523 (2).jpg

    My fav hat made by a friend.

    Even if you’re making the same thing for two people, chances are they’re slightly different! If the gift is a common item, such as a hat, it’s not just another hat. It’s going to hold a special place in their collection because it was made with love (see reason number 1).

  3. They’re Personal Gifts: If you’re willing to take time to make a gift for someone, chances are you’ve put thought into it ahead of time and chose that gift because you know it’s something they’ll love. Beyond that, making gifts allows you to personalize every detail. In homemade gifts you have the luxury of choosing the style, size, colors, type, fragrance, flavors, etc., all ensuring it’s just right for that special person.
  4. They Can Be Fun & Relaxing to Make: Notice that I said “can” – which is addressed in number 1 below. Many times, people find a lot of joy and relaxation in the actual making of a gift, so it’s a win-win for everyone involved! I’ve found making no-sew blankets while I watch a movie with my husband or listening to an audiobook while I paint decorations for kids’ rooms to be oddly therapeutic.
  5. Reuse & Upcycle: Making gifts gives you the perfect opportunity to turn old things into new, helping us reduce our environmental impact.   Recycling or fabric scraps can be used in many kids’ toys, old house hold items like jars could be used in home decor, old clothing could be turned into new fashion. Get creative!

Important Tips for Success

  1. Use Your Skills. The year that I decided to make pillow beds for my nieces and nephews was far from relaxing.  That’s because I didn’t know how to sew or use my sewing machine. Subsequent years of gifts that involved sewing were much more relaxing once I figured out what I was doing. The stress of the holidays is NOT the time to try to learn a new task.
    20191206_173227 (2)

    Frames from by brother.

    Use the skills you already have! My brother (who has questionable artistic skill but is awesome with wood) made me this beautiful set of frames and put photos of us as kids in there. What a great idea!

  2. Consider Your Time. Make sure you budget in enough time to make your gifts so you don’t cause any stress! For instance, even if you’re inspired by this blog, it may be unreasonable to make meaningful gifts for every family member for THIS holiday season. This should be FUN! If you’re determined to hand knit everyone in your family a sweater – that’s great! Maybe start in June. Or work on one project a month throughout the year. Or maybe just pick 1 or 2 people a year to make a hand-made gift for, rotating through friends and family over the years. Whatever works for you to eliminate stress!
  3. Stick to Your Budget. I urge you not to think just because you’re making something that it is going to be cheaper. While I have made gifts that cost me $0, I’ve also made gifts that have cost over $50. There certainly are wonderful things you can make while on a tight budget, but thoroughly think out everything you need ahead of time and come up with a budget. (Mostly, everyone should have a budget when entering any sort of craft store. Or at least I should. And a chaperone.)

Ideas for Homemade Gifts

If you’re not sure where to get started, the internet is your new best friend. Just type in “DIY holiday gifts” into a google search and you’ll be sucked in for days. I personally like to keep a Private Pinterest board for things I’m considering as gifts. Here’s a list of a few categories and ideas, as well as some of my creations from over the years (just to prove you don’t have to be an artist)!

  • Kids’ Toys: My favorite thing to make! Kids toys have become so complicated, but they don’t need to be! Some of my favorites that I’ve made are recycled Tic-Tac-Toe game boards, pillow beds, family photo match, indoor hopscotch, a toilet paper tube hot wheels garage, block sets, and mermaid tails for swimming. You can find tons of great ideas online like here or here.


  • Food related: Who doesn’t like simplified meal times? Jars of mixes for soups, baked goods, dips, etc. with instructions, the dish you’re “famous” for making among family and friends in freezer form, recipe books or boxes, or coupons for home cooked meals (great for college kids!). My nephew made me a set of “Alex’s Awesome Spices” on year that included Taco Seasoning, Chili Seasoning, and a few of his other favorites – get ideas here.
  • Home Decor: Another favorite category for me. Paintings and signs (you’re more artistic than you think and yes, it’s okay to use stencils), candles, vases, flower/decorative arrangements, decorative pillows, blankets, personalized calendars, shadow boxes for a specific event/memory, photo mementos, and so much more!


  • Personal: This is out of my wheelhouse, but some of my favorite gifts from others have been in this category! It could be clothing, jewelry, personal care/bath products, or something completely unique! I’ve received knitted hats, bracelets, necklaces, lotions and soaps, and even my own personal “happy box” filled with adorable kid-written reasons why my niece and nephew love me.

Growing Gratitude


One of the values that I endeavor to live with is gratitude. There are many ways to inject gratitude into your life and the benefits of doing so are well documented. This time of year especially, there are scads of mentions of thankful, grateful, and blessed. And while these have become pop culture buzz-words with shirts, home decor signs, and mugs imprinted with them, people that embody these sentiments note feeling calmer, more content, and happier!

On the heels of a car breakdown, stressors at work, and a snowstorm, I was reflecting this morning how easy it is to fall into complaint as the primary communication tendency. For me, it’s recognizing the pattern and choosing to flip my perspective. Are these challenges? Yes. Are they insurmountable or life-threatening? No. Even with my car suddenly and completely quitting on my way home Monday, I was not in danger and neither were other commuters. I am grateful that there was a road, just where I needed, to coast the car off the main highway! I am grateful that I had a coworker willing to take me home. I am grateful that there is a spare vehicle that I can call into service to not be wholly inconvenienced by catching rides. And so on….

The same process can be repeated for each concern and for all the blessings too. Are there 3 things that you right now, in this moment are grateful for? They can be mundane and small to grand and sweeping. For me right now – I am grateful for warm feet, a favorite pen, a lovely coworker, and as it’s just after lunch, a full stomach! Want to be better at flipping the gratitude switch? Choose to set a prompt for yourself to list at least 3 things. This prompt could be: a time of day (maybe even set a reminder on your phone?), when you pass through your door on the way to work, or just after your head hits the pillow at night. Whenever you choose, the integration of a small practice like this can reap big benefits.

Dr. Bryan Sexton,a Duke University faculty member, has research that highlights how a ‘3 Good Things’ practice can build resilience and reverse burnout.

5 Exercises to increase your gratefulness – a blog article with neat options to try.

Do you, like me, receive daily emails? Each day a new quote comes to my inbox. Monday’s quote from Melody Beattie is above. Check out this search of their list of Gratitude quotes and many, many more quotes on different values.

For the Holidays: Give the Gift of Memories

We just covered how many people are choosing to buy less stuff for the holiday season. We must admit that the tremendous amount of pressure from media, retailers, and social networks, people want to show their love for family and friends without going online or to the department store.

Giving experiences instead of a thing is one way to show those feelings. As an adult, I look back at holiday memories and the ones that stand out the most are taking the time to bake with my grandmother, sledding down giant hills with my sister, or watching the Charlie Brown Christmas Special on tv.

These memories are focusing on the experiences, not the gifts. I couldn’t tell you what my mom got me when I was seven (but, to be honest, I could tell you that she gave me a Nintendo Entertainment System, complete with light gun and power pad. It was so sweet.) Holiday traditions can still focus on gift giving. It just doesn’t have to be a thing that you give. The dangerous aspect (and where reported stress and frustration is occurring) is when the entire holiday starts to revolve exclusively with making sure everyone has the perfect thing under the tree.

Continue reading

More Fun, Less Stuff During the Holidays

I remember as a kid how excited I was for the holiday season to come. When the first snow flakes started to drop and the sunsets show up earlier and earlier, the surety that the most “wonderful time of the year” was just around the corner hit our little minds.

But, as a child, I was sure that the holiday season hadn’t started until well into the last month of the year. My birthday is December 3, so it was very important to me that both “holidays” were kept separate. No holiday creep allowed, here! Nowadays, it’s much different.


Boxes and boxes!

Just this year, I saw holiday decorations in department stores even before Halloween showed up on the calendar! But, it’s not just the stores pushing this trend. It’s US, TOO! There is a demand for more deals on more stuff. Americans consume over 40% of toys produced globally. 12% of the population lives in North American and Wester Europe but accounts for 60% of the private consumption in spending.

We’re buying more and more stuff!

And yet, there are many reports that show a direct relation between stress and clutter. The amount of stress we experience at home is directly proportional to the amount of stuff we have accumulated.

Continue reading

We Are Water MN Summit Review

HDT was recently invited to attend the We Are Water Summit, part of a statewide traveling interactive exhibit led by the Minnesota Center for the Humanities and statewide partners. According to their website, “We Are Water MN” explores the connections between the humanities and water through an exhibit, public events, and educator resources. Visitors reflect on local stories and the meaning and experiences of water in Minnesota with space to add their own stories. By creating relationships around water, we are creating networks that can promote positive social norms, and share a vision for and participate in water stewardship. 

Here’s a short video on the exhibit:


Continue reading

Favorite Fall Recipes


As the fields turn from gold to brown and the leaves shake off their final layer of foliage, now is the time to revisit the recipes that may have a special importance to you, recipes that your family have kept in a little box, pulled out every time the winds start to get a bit brisk.

These are the recipes that bring you back to your childhood. The smells of an evening as you sit near the window, feeling the crisp cold of the chilly night on your hands, as you see the snow start to drift down on your driveway.

These smells from the kitchen bring you comfort. They are the promise of warmth and happiness, of a good night’s sleep.

Continue reading

Minnesotan Fall Agritourism Destinations



It’s kind of a made-up word, right? Some people use “agritainment,” instead. (Agriculture and tourism. Agriculture and entertainment. Makes sense, yes?) The basic gist of the term is a fun outdoor activity that focuses on farms, orchards, or any sort of food production location.

This is not a new tactic. Local producers have incorporated into their economic repertoire (along with CSA subscriptions, farm to school programs, and farmers markets, to name a few others) for generations.

I mean, pumpkin patches, corn mazes, hay rides, cider festivals, and Halloween themed events are ingrained in our culture. Some of my best memories with my family are centered around agricultural destination events.


My kids love our annual trip to The Farm on St. Mathias where we pick out our pumpkins and try to beat their corn maze.

Continue reading

Minnesota Tree ID – Part 2

Now that we’ve covered how to identify some of the popular deciduous trees in Part 1 of this blog, we’ll move onto our coniferous tree ID. Personally, I think this is easier. We have less variety of conifers in Minnesota and they look the same all year long, which is tremendously helpful! As we mentioned before, there is a pretty simple, FREE online key to help you!

Before we begin there are a couple of terms we frequently misuse when it comes to these trees. The first term is needles, which we often think of as different than leaves. Needles ARE leaves! Furthermore, conifers can have two different types of leaves:  scale-like or needle-like.


Continue reading

Garden Wrap Up


The garden in all its splendor. Photo taken in early August.

The last CSA shares were distributed out last week, (nothing but rave reviews in terms of quantity and quality!) Dave and the garden crew are spending this week and the next few to finally put the garden to bed. An annual tradition of pulling irrigation hoses and planting garlic (for overwinter germination) have been completed, and now the time to look back is on us.


The variety and flavor of the garden was out of this world.

Dave gave me an amount the garden produced this summer. Counting all the lettuces, garlics, tomatoes (cherry and sliceable), onions, zucchinis, squash, and (of course) all of carrots, we came up with 5,472 lbs out of the garden. Here’s the funny thing, the garden isn’t done giving it’s best. We’ve got a full hoop house that has full raised beds of lettuce, cherry tomatoes, and peppers. We’ll add to the almost 3 tons of food for a couple more weeks.

Continue reading

Minnesota Tree ID – Part 1

No one should go through the fall season without stepping outside to admire the colors of nature. Albert Camus, a French philosopher, once said, “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” If you’re wondering what causes our trees to turn colors in the fall, check out our previous blog on Fall Foliage. Fall hikes are a great time to get out and admire the colors, to observe animals preparing for winter, and to squeeze in as much Vitamin N(ature) as you can in the mild temps of autumn. Make your fall hikes a learning opportunity for your family by practicing your tree ID skills along the way! In this blog, we’ll learn some basic tree identification skills and fun facts about some of the most common types of trees in our neck of the woods – central Minnesota. Continue reading