04/03/2017 02:03 EDT | Updated 04/03/2017 02:03 EDT

The Magic Of Something Homemade

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Bottle of homemade vanilla essence

She's 85 years old and she still makes all her cards by hand. Birthday cards. Christmas cards. Easter cards.

That's my mom!

She doubts that any of her six grandchildren appreciate the cards, but I know that at least one of my daughter's does. And we adults all do.

You see, it's the thought that counts. The more you make, the more thought goes into it. The more you buy, the less thought goes into it. I don't generally give cards, but when I do, they are all hand-made.

Some people are shy to make because it won't be as "good" as store-bought. With cards, I say, "Who cares?"

The more you make, the more thought goes into it. The more you buy, the less thought goes into it.

With gifts, it really depends on what you want to give. Nobody would appreciate a sweater gift if I make it, no matter how much thought I put into it. Trust me. However the Weasley children appreciated their sweaters, and so did Harry Potter, because Mrs. Weasley knew how to knit.

Unless you are an amazing sewer, most clothing won't make the best gift. You can do up custom T-shirts, but beyond that, people might hesitate to wear clothing that is too personal. In many cases, people won't even appreciate a very classy off-the-shelf piece, because taste is a fickle thing.

On the other hand, baking is a great way to make a gift. I can't find data on this, but I'll guess that half the population can bake, and most people could bake (follow a recipe) if they set their minds to it. Unlike knitting, there is no dexterity to learn; just follow the recipe.

And people love baked goods. As long as you know their taste, you can't miss. Just don't give chocolate cake to a chocolate hater or forget their gluten intolerance.

Decorating a cake is another matter, taking us back to the "it won't be as good as store-bought" conundrum. Internet pics make them all look so professional, but it doesn't have to be fancy. Try something that does not require decorating, like brownies or strudel. Or get some help for the hard parts. It still counts as personal. You still put in the thought.

Here is a cake we made a few years back for a Hawaiian themed birthday party. It won't win any awards, but it wowed our daughter. Best of all, it was a team effort.


If you are a little daring in the culinary arts, a five course meal, tailored specially to your recipient's tastes would really hit the spot.

There are some things you can't make yourself. You can't make your own car for your son's graduation. You can't make your own wine as a housewarming gift. You can't make your own tablet as a gift.

But there are ways to personalize a car. There are ways to customize the labels on the wine bottles. You can personalize a tablet by loading:

  • personal photos
  • a meaningful ringtone
  • a personal wallpaper

If you don't have your heart set on something that needs to be personalized, there are so many things beyond food and clothes that can be custom made, even if you are not the craftsman. Think about furniture, home decor or anything that can wear a photo. Photos make anything very personal.

Remember that a gift doesn't have to be a thing. In fact, the best gift is an experience, especially an experience you share. Unlike cake decorating and knitting, you don't have to be an expert craftsman. You just have to put your heart into the experience and hire experts when needed.

Most best men, many maids of honour and several fathers-of-the bride give speeches at the wedding. They come to me to ghostwrite their wedding speeches, but the thoughts are all their own. I never pull canned humour off the Internet, for example. The speech is a wonderful, personal speech, even with the help of a professional behind the scenes.

The best gift is an experience, especially an experience you share.

The gift of travel requires a lot of professionals. I took my mother back to her homeland many years ago. But I didn't do it alone. I booked flights and car rentals and other things through professionals. The most important part was that we went together.

Have you ever thought about preparing a song for somebody? Write the lyrics, create a melody, have it printed out in calligraphy...then sing it. Yes, that involves several skills. Chances are you have some of those skills, but probably not all. You can team up with someone whose skills complement yours, or you can hire a professional to fill in the gaps.

My mother's cards are 100 percent made from scratch. Well, that's not totally true. She uses coloured paper, ink, photos - all things that somebody else manufactured. The point, though, is the thought that she puts into each and every card.

If your gift shows that thought, it will be a winner. It's OK to get help. But if you want to make a statement of love, don't outsource the whole thing by buying something straight off the shelf.

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