From Gift Ideas

Homemade Gift Idea: Caramel Whiskey Sauce

It’s kind of a long story, but a few months ago I was introduced to the idea of a whiskey sauce. It may or may not have involved me sorely loosing a cooking competition.

I’m not bitter.

On the up side, my world was opened to the concept of bread pudding with Tennessee whiskey sauce. Those are two things, either separate or together, that I would not have imagined eating. Now? Call me a convert.

Fast forward a few weeks later when I had some of my female co-workers over for a small gathering. I decided that we’d top off our meal with warm gingerbread (I’m not quite ready to serve my so-so bread pudding to a crowd) with whipped cream and…you guessed it…this caramel whiskey sauce.

The saddest part of all of this was that I had to Google Tennessee whiskey to know what kind to buy. I’m more for wine than whiskey—what can I say?

After one taste I knew I’d be saving this post for the Homemade Gifts portion of the Dare to DIY party. This could be the perfect gift for neighbors, co-workers, friends or family members. It was great on top of gingerbread, but I could also see it on ice cream, the infamous bread pudding, brownies…the list is endless.

This recipe makes about one pint, which is more than enough for one family. It might be wise to break this into even smaller jars to get more gifting for your effort—a little of this does go a long way.

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Foxy Friend Valentine Dolls

I have to admit that when I first found a tutorial to make these adorable fox plush dolls, I wondered if it would be too weird if I made a bunch to just hang out in different spots in our house.  They’re just so cute and welcoming.

Unless you look a little too long at their doll eyes.  Then they’re just weird.  But I digress.

Instead of making them for myself, I decided to whip up a few foxy friends as Valentine’s Day presents for my two boy-o-boys.  That’s a good cover, right?  I’m making these for the kids.

By the way, I’m pretty sure that if you asked a fox what he really says these days, it wouldn’t be “hatee-hatee-hatee-ho!”**  Instead, he’d reply with a sigh and an eye roll by saying, “please, isn’t there another woodland animal that is, like, so on trend now?”  Yes, Mr. Fox, I’m sure there is.  But I live on the edge of the Earth in Maine where trends arrive a year late thankyouverymuch, so you’re here to stay.

**in case this blog post stands the test of time and in the year 2025 someone is wondering what this “hatee-hatee-ho” business is all about, just Google “what does the fox say video.”  If Google even exists then.

Using this well-written and photographed tutorial on A Beautiful Mess, I made these little lovies in less than two hours.  I decided to go with a circle belly patch, plus some hearts, making them a bit unique.  As for fabric, I opted for some soft red cotton and then comfy jersey material for the snout and hearts.  That pretty blue is actually a super soft corduroy. It was just a matter of cutting a few pieces and stitching them together.

I even embellished the back, just a bit.  The crooked zig-zag stiching adds some charm, don’t you think!?

Back to the creepy doll eyes for a quick sec.  These were easy to find at my local fabric store and were just over a dollar for three sets of eyes.  They have a snap/lock mechanism on the back, so you lock them on before you sew the front and back together.  Once it’s stuffed, you can’t even tell there are doll eye screws and bolts in there, and then it’s super safe for the littles.

To get the eyes nice and symmetrical, I folded the front piece of fabric in half and cut a small slit through the two layers so that everything lined up nicely.  A fox doll with crooked creepy doll eyes would be super weird.

While I’m talking about plush dolls for Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d show you the sweet little Valentine’s Day pillow that my mom made for me when I was une petite fille.

Sweet, right?  I’m not sure my boys will hold the same sentimental value in their little fox dolls, but who knows!  Even if they don’t keep them forever, I might…

Are you making any Valentine’s Day projects for yourself your kids or someone special?  And are you totally over the fox trend, or still hanging on like me?  Even if you’re not into the fox look, I’m betting this tutorial could be super versatile and could be adapted to make a dog, cat or other animal.  Hmmm…now I’m thinking the possibilities are endless…

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DIY Train Board

Christmas as a parent is amazing.  There is, quite possibly, nothing more fun than seeing your kiddos enjoy the magic.  And, for a three-year-old who loves Thomas the Train, nothing is more magical than waking up to a train board under the tree on Christmas morning.

Behold, the train jackpot:

Santa and his workshop may get all the credit, but I don’t mind.  I had a blast making this because I knew Ike would love it so much. It’s most age appropriate for Ike right now, but this was the primary gift for both boys.  They each had a stocking and one other gift from Santa.  Along with gifts from generous family members, it was more than enough.

After researching and looking at inspiration on other blogs, I decided to make a board with an attached track that slides on the floor and fits under our guest bed (the guest room is sort of serving as a playroom the majority of the time).  At this stage, I knew the boys would enjoy playing with trains on the tracks more than assembling the tracks, so I attached them using small finish nails and some wood glue, but I did it in such a way that we could pull it apart someday so that when the time comes the boys can build the tracks of their dreams.

To make our train board I used:

  • Melissa & Doug Deluxe Wooden Railway set (which was on sale for $72 when I bought it)
  • 3×4′ piece of plywood (Home Depot cut a large piece to size)
  • Self-adhesive plastic discs used for moving furniture
  • 1 sample size of green satin paint
  • Craft-sized tubes of acrylic pain in blue, black, brown and light green
  • Finish nails
  • Wood glue

The Melissa & Doug set came with engines and accessories, but it’s completely compatible with the Thomas and Friends wooden railway trains, so Thomas can shunt, bust his buffers and huff to his heart’s desire.

Side note: I’ve learned way more train vocabulary in one year than I ever new existed.  No matter what you do, do not confuse a funnel with whistle or a freight car with a passenger car.  Ike will correct you.

My first step was setting up the whole track system on the unpainted board (it took about 30 minutes using the diagram provided with the set).  Then I used pencil to sketch where the water and roads would be, and took the tracks apart. Then I painted the road and water and covered the rest in green and brown.  It was fully painted in less than two episodes of Breaking Bad.  (BTW, do you think Santa watches Breaking Bad in his workshop?)

I added the roads on each side of the board thinking that the kids would like to drive cars on the board along with the trains, but so far they’ve been just obsessed with the trains and the tracks.

Once it was all painted, I reassembled the tracks.  It’s a bit tedious, but comes together really quickly.

You might be able to see the finish nails in the pictures.  I used one nail per piece and didn’t drive them flush with the track so that we can easily pull them out someday.  They stick out just enough to be snagged by a small hammer or pliers, but not enough to interfere with daily train use.  I also used wood glue to attach the risers (where the tracks go up) then gently nailed the tracks into each riser.

The red bridge and the cranes lift off and can be stored laying down so that the whole thing slides nicely under the bed.  But so far it really hasn’t been put away.  On Christmas Day Ike played with the trains for almost five hours straight—it was a hit!  And it’s so fun to hear him act out different train scenarios—most of which involve crashing and one engine saving the others when they fall off the track.  He’s all boy, with a flair for the dramatic.

And here’s where I give credit where it’s due to the other bloggers who helped inspire our train board: Young House Love, Reasons to Skip the Housework, and Preparing for Peanut.  We all used slightly different approaches, so check them out if you’re interested in taking on this project.

So, did you attempt a major homemade gift this year, or did Santa really come through for you?  And does anyone else have the Thomas theme song stuck in their head right now?

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Handmade gift idea: Chicken Bean Bags

If you have some kids on your Christmas shopping list this year and you’d like to do something homemade, I have just the thing for you: Chicken Bean Bags.  Because every kid needs some toss-able chickens, right?

Well, even if these bean bags are not the most sought after gift, they sure are cute.  I made these a few weeks ago for my nephew’s third birthday and they are perfect to link up to the Dare to DIY Homemade Gift Challenge!

I gave my birds some super cute tail feathers because, well, why not?  Actually, you might recognize the trim from Ike’s robot costume, and the fabric is from leftover squares from Lincoln’s quilt.  I’m all about using up those scraps leftover from other projects!  Plus, I like the idea of non-traditional chicken colors—helps build the imagination, don’t you think? (I’m not a child development expert, though, so don’t take my word for it.)

These are super easy to make if you have beginner sewing skills.  You essentially cut and sew two squares together, inserting the beak and other chicken parts into the seam before sewing.  Then you fill the chicken with rice and a small amount of polyfil before closing up the last seam.

You can see a full tutorial here (the pictures are so good and the instructions are clear, so there was no need for me to repeat the tutorial here!)  My chickens look a bit more complex because my fabric squares were made of two triangles, since they were left over from a quilt project.  And I added the “tail feathers” to the back (which made for a very easy way to close the last seam).

I’m planning to whip up another set for Ike’s stocking since he seemed to like them.  What do you think?  Any kids on your list that could use some chickens?  Oh, and if you’re looking for homemade gift inspiration, head on over to visit Michelle at Decor and the Dog for lots of inspiration at the Dare to DIY Homemade Gift link party!

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Upcycled Patchwork Tray

Oh, my poor mom.  She is often getting some kind of crazy homemade gift from me.  I like to think she likes it now as much as she did when I was growing up and, until she tells me otherwise, I’m going to continue along with my assumptions.  After all, she is the one who taught me to be crafty.  This past Mother’s Day was no exception.  For her 31st year as my mother she received…drumroll, please…an upcycled patchwork tray.

What, you’ve never heard of such a thing?  Me neither.  I make these things up as I go along.

The real story is that I was looking for a project that Ike and I could do together.  I mean, what’s more special than a gift made together by your daughter and grandson, right?  I was quite taken by the idea of covering flower pots with fabric using Mod Podge.  But, I didn’t have any flower pots on hand and couldn’t get organized enough to actually go buy some.  So, I made do with what I had.  I remembered that I salvaged this green leaf-shaped tray from the shelves of Goodwill a couple of years ago and decided it would be the perfect subject.

I gathered my supplies of Mod Podge, fabric scraps, foam brushes and scissors and corralled my number one helper.

Together we “painted” the tray with Mod Podge and covered it with randomly cut pieces of fabric.

Once the tray was completely covered, I coated the top with another layer of Mod Podge.

It didn’t look like much when I was finished, but once the tray had time to dry, I was quite pleased with the results.

The layering of the fabric created some texture on the top of the tray, so it isn’t perfectly smooth.  But, the fabric is fully attached and none of the edges will get caught on anything.

And the tray comes complete with a little character, since it is slightly chipped on the bottom.  Perfection is boring, though, right?

A tray like this would be great for catching jewelry, or even coins, keys or accessories in an entry way.  We’ll have to see how my mom puts it to good use.

So, do tell.  Did you make something for your mom for Mother’s Day?  Or have you Mod Podged something lately?

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Ike’s Elephant Chair

File this post under “cool projects made by someone else,” because you know I don’t have the artistic talents to paint a chair like this.

I have lots of talents, don’t get me wrong, but painting/drawing realistic things like elephants just isn’t one of them.  My family members have artistic talent, though.  You’ve seen the growth chart my sister made (she now sells these on Etsy, by the way), and now we have the hand-painted chair created by my grandmother.

She has been painting these chairs for all of her great-grandchildren, and Ike was happy to receive his on Christmas morning!

In the time since, “his chair” has become a regular around every room of our house.  It gets moved to the entryway for prime snow shoveling viewing…

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And into the kitchen to help with cooking.  He likes to say, “I cook for us, Momma!”

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Dishes to be done? A bath to give the baby?  Laundry to be loaded?  Coloring to be done at the coffee table?  The chair is there.  It’s everywhere. He carries it around like a pro.

We’re thrilled to have such a beautiful piece in our home, and equally thrilled that my grandmother painted the chair for durability.  I’m not sure what she coated it with, but the chair is holding up to the Ike circus quite well.  So, not only is it an heirloom, it’s one that Ike can touch and use.

My grandmother even signed the chair, so Ike has his first piece of official art!

Between this chair and his nursery, Ike has truly mastered the word, “elephant.”

Now we can’t wait to see what my grandmother paints for Lincoln in a couple of years.  Oh, the boys and their chairs.

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