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Home-made gifts are becoming a common Christmas tradition for me – my family, my friends, and Emily’s family have all independently decided to replace ‘gift giving’ with ‘gift making’. I think it’s a positive change. I really don’t like giving and receiving more ‘stuff’, but unfortunately home-made gifts expose my limited craftiness and imagination.

This year I managed to find a few projects that even I could handle. I’m happy with how all of them turned out, but in every case there were lessons I learned and things I would change if I had to make them again.

Giant Jenga
You Take a Board from the Middle Giant Jenga
I’ve seen people playing Giant Jenga at Kits Beach, and thought it would be a fun game to make. I couldn’t find any instructions online, so I had to make it up myself. After I created a design, it was a pretty easy project to do. I just cut a lot of wood (I borrowed a circular saw) and then sanded down all the edges – time consuming, but easy.

The design I chose was using 2×3’s cut long enough so that 4-wide they formed a square (I cut each piece 265mm long). It looks good, but it’s too stable. With 4 pieces per level, you only ever remove one or two, so there are always at least 2 blocks keeping it steady – it would have been better with 3 per level. I would also cut down on the the total number of pieces. My Giant Jenga had 72 pieces over 18 levels, which means the starting tower was 3 feet tall. It looks impressive, but becomes almost dangerous as it grows (and with a stable 4-piece base it really grows). It is also really heavy and hard to transport.

If I had to do it again, I would use 2×4’s and put 3 blocks per level (with each piece 275mm long), and made it shorter. With six 8-foot 2×4’s you could cut 48 blocks, enough for a tower 16 rows high.

Bottle Lights
Bottle Lights Bottle Drilling
I stole this idea from Christina, and used the directions on this site. Following Christina’s advice, I made sure I bought LED lights that wouldn’t get hot. I chose a green Perrier bottle that had a nice shape to it, and then used a glass bit to drill a hole in the corner, then stuffed my lights in. The end result was an impressive looking Christmas ornament, with minimal craftiness required.

If I had to do it again, I would use multi-coloured lights. I chose white LEDs because I thought the dark green glass would obscure any colours, but the LEDs really shone through. I would also make the hole a little bit bigger. You need space to jam a light bulb, plus 6 wires (3 heading in each direction). I had a tough time jamming all the lights in.

Chocolate Covered Fruit
Chocolate Covered Dried Fruit Gift of Chocolate Covered Fruit
I stole this idea from Taryn. I dipped different dried fruits into chocolate, and then cooled them in the freezer. They were surprisingly tasty. Dried mango, apple, pineapple, apricots, bananas, and candied ginger really worked well.

The only mistake I made was to use unsweetened, 100% cacao baking chocolate. It was too bitter and I needed to add sugar. Next time I would use a bitter-sweet chocolate.

West-Coast Hippie Granola
West Coast Hippie Granola
When you’re scrambling for ideas, nothing is more effective then food. I’ve made this granola recipe (from Momentum magazine) before, and really liked it.

Infused Oils
Infused Oils
Emily had the idea of infusing oils for some of our friends. We found some nice jars and infused canola oil with chipotle peppers, ancho chillies, and rosemary. The pepper ones turned out well, but the rosemary started to mold after a few weeks. Luckily we hadn’t given it away as a gift yet.

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