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Crafts & Keepsake Gifts

"32" x 43" rug of useful size, hooked c.1911 by mountain woman according to a design by the artist Mary Evelyn Kirk. First phase Cubism of significant original vision. Last completed work. $750.00."

Insurance Appraisal from "Grandmother's Rug"
by Mary Stuart Hammond

Family treasures link generations in a very deep, personal way. What's the story behind that "rug of useful size?" And is it really worth only $750? Or is its value beyond measure to a daughter, granddaughter, or great-granddaughter? Keepsakes weave memories, love, and tradition into one. Those made by hand have special significance because there is something of the person in the item.

Keepsakes can be big or small, expensive or inexpensive. A keepsake's value isn't intrinsic, but is tied to the meaning we give the object. A keepsake is anything that has a personal or emotional connection. I touched on keepsakes in the Memories & Keepsakes section of the Grandparents Day Activity Kit. I recounted an Ann Landers column that dealt with keepsakes. It began with a poignant story of a woman whose treasures from her grandmother had been thrown away. Later in the column was a letter from another reader: "When a relative of mine died, I was given some cash and told to select an item as a keepsake. I chose her beat-up old potato masher. The cash is gone now, but every time I use that potato masher, I think of my relative and smile." Whether it's a potato masher or a rug valued at $750, the value of the object as a keepsake is the same.

Some might say that the whole idea of keepsakes puts too much emphasis on the material things in life. I strongly disagree, largely because the value of a keepsake has little to do with its monetary value. At the same time, the items we find important enough to spend money on or important enough to protect and pass on help define who we are. They speak to our values and tell stories about the past that help to enrich the future. Familiar objects also provide a sense of continuing pleasure, satisfaction, comfort, and security. They can help us keep our bearings, especially if our world is changing quickly. As we change and age over time, the material objects in our life do not. We choose from a lifetime of objects those possessions we wish to save for ourselves as a kind of bequest to ourselves. When an older adult goes into a care facility, for example, it's very important to ensure that they bring some of their special belongings with them. Tangible things like letters, photographs, scrapbooks, and mementoes not only make them feel at home, but can reinforce happy recollections and help older adults remember more vividly. You know when you hear a favorite song on the radio and your mind goes right back to a special memory? Keepsakes have that same kind of power. For those affected by memory loss, keepsakes can help keep them oriented and connected to the world around them and the people they love.

A keepsake is something that evokes powerful feelings. Its meaning lies in the story behind it. So often, though, the stories behind items are lost. Which is why it's important to preserve not only keepsakes themselves, but the stories that go with them. Whenever you give a keepsake, particularly an item with a family history to it, make sure you share the story behind it. Write down the story in a note when you pass along the keepsake. Is it a ring your father gave to your mother? A quilt your great-grandmother made? Where did the item come from? Why is it important? Stories are what bring objects alive. That's the real power of a keepsake -- what it means in the context of your life story.

There are some tips you should keep in mind as you preserve old items as keepsakes. A few simple, inexpensive steps go a long way toward preserving your heirlooms. The first thing you need to do is make a choice: displaying and using objects allows you to enjoy them, BUT the more you handle them and the more they are exposed to the damaging effects of light and air, the greater at risk they are. The choice is yours where you draw the line. In many cases, you may want to consult a conservator. Sometimes there's no substitute for expert help. Professional conservators understand what causes the deterioration of many different materials, and how to slow or prevent it. A local museum, library, or historical society may know where to find conservators in your area.

In general, light, temperature, humidity, pollutants, pests, and handling all affect how rapidly objects deteriorate. You should display or store heirlooms in a stable, clean environment. Try to avoid too much dampness, heat, and dramatic changes in temperature and humidity. Display and store objects away from heat sources, outside walls, basements, and attics. The sun and fluorescent light will fade and discolor most items, and are especially harsh on fabrics and anything on paper. Watch out for pests -- look for holes in furniture or textiles, wood shavings, and tiny droppings. Historic objects can be harmed by abrasive cleaners, glues, adhesive tapes, labels, pins, paper clips, acidic wood or paper, and pens and markers. And even if something is broken, DON'T fix it! Well-intentioned repairs usually do more harm than good.

Some special tips:

  • For old books, don't pull the top of the book with your finger to get it off a shelf. Push back the books on either side and grasp it along the spine.

  • If you wear heirloom clothing, avoid antiperspirant and makeup.

  • Original finishes and upholstery are very important to the value of heirloom furniture. Don't alter or remove them if possible.

  • Illuminate precious paintings with cool, fiber-optic picture lights. Avoid incandescent bulbs and track lighting, which can heat the surface.

  • Oils in the skin will etch the surface of silver. Use a soft cotton cloth to buff off fingerprints or wear gloves when handling.

  • The images and sounds captured on videotapes don't last. For especially valuable tapes, make copies of them and get the best quality tape possible (quality tapes are thicker and stronger).

What about giving keepsakes as gifts this holiday season? Keepsakes are a way to bring the generations in your family closer together. Something to Remember Me By has inspired many people to start a keepsake tradition in their family. One woman in New York told me she had lost both her mother and grandmother in the holocaust. She wanted to give her 14-year-old granddaughter a copy of Something to Remember Me By along with some old photographs and her grandmother's handkerchief (the only keepsake this woman had left from her grandmother) so that her granddaughter would remember them all.

I've also heard some wonderful, touching stories about people who buy special keepsakes or choose special possessions, wrap them up with a personal note, and hide them away in a closet or attic. Their plan is that when they pass away, their children and grandchildren will sort through their possessions and they will each find a package with their name on it as a source of comfort and remembrance.

Something to Remember Me By was inspired by my grandmother. She had a habit of giving me a small keepsake every once in a while and saying, "here's something to remember me by." Some of the keepsakes were things she made or bought; others were her own possessions. I have to admit I didn't like all the keepsakes at the time she gave them to me. There was one terribly tacky, flowery, orange and red and brown and blue tablecloth that was one of her favorites. I hated it! Today I look at that same tablecloth with a mixture of amusement and fondness. That's part of the power of keepsakes.

As you get older, think about slowly giving away some of your special possessions to grandchildren and adult children -- cup and saucer sets, salt and pepper shakers, figurines, fine linens, old jewelry, cuff links, watches. Even if they don't fully appreciate the keepsakes now, they will in the future.

Children like the hottest "new" stuff, but they also have a real need for "old stuff" that connects them to their family and its history. In the short term, keepsakes create an immediate sense of connection. Over the years, they become a powerful symbol of that connection. Keepsakes evoke memories and feelings. They also make us feel part of something bigger. They are a critical part of a living family legacy. There was one precocious little girl who told me, "My Grandma gave my Mom a very beautiful ring, and someday she's going to give it to me, and someday I'll give it to my daughter. That's the way you make history."

The "Using Keepsakes to Bring Your Family Closer" guide offers some ideas for using keepsakes to help celebrate the holiday season and create a living legacy. That brings us to the bigger issues surrounding holiday gifts.

Gifts are a major source of holiday stress for many people. It's only been that way in the last century. Gift giving was of minor importance to adults in the 19th century. Holiday preparations were far less elaborate. The season stayed in the season (i.e. it started in December not October). There was no lead up of a barrage of advertising or worrying about gifts months in advance. No one spent weeks in lines buying gifts. And the emphasis was on togetherness and celebration, not on the gifts themselves.

Gifts have their advantages. They look very pretty under the tree. They lend an air of expectation. They can be a token of caring and, when appropriate, bring joy to the recipient. But gifts also put a lot of pressure on people. Most of the time, we can't afford them. We don't have the time to buy them. We don't really know what the other person wants or needs. We also feel pressured by certain unspoken rules -- like giving a gift of equal value when someone has given you one, once you put a person on your list they're supposed to be on there forever, and gifts should be of consistent value from year to year.

The good news is that you can make gift giving more meaningful and manageable by: trimming back your list; pairing up people by drawing names out of a hat; giving one gift per household instead of one per person; giving gifts just to children; and coming up with alternative gifts. The last point is where you can get really creative. Here are some alternative ideas for young and old that shy away from the trends and get back to meaningful basics...

Some ideas for gifts the whole family can enjoy together:

  • Use the "Using Keepsakes to Bring Your Family Closer" guide for inspiration.

  • Give two decks of cards with a book that describes different card games.

  • Try a traditional jigsaw puzzle or "wow 'em" 3-D puzzle.

  • Board games are fun for all ages (LifeStories is a family favorite).

  • Buy and learn how to use family tree software.

  • An introductory crafting kit may introduce your whole family to a new hobby.

  • Buy a gift pack of basic scrapbooking supplies so that everyone can work together in the new year to organize and preserve family photos.

  • Books never go out of style (see Books for Adults and Storybooks to Share with Children).

  • Everyone loves to eat -- give a bread, ice cream, or pasta maker.

  • Everyone also needs to dry off -- give sets of towels with family initials on them.

  • For some quality family time, get tickets to a play or event appropriate for all ages.

  • Make or buy special keepsake ornaments that you add to every year.

Some ideas for giving gifts to the young, especially if you're a grandparent giving to a grandchild:

  • Cautions: don't overwhelm your grandchildren with too many gifts; don't try to buy their affection; don't go against their parents' wishes; and never buy a big gift or one that will require special care or arrangements (e.g. pet, trip) without first consulting the parents. You may also want to stay away from clothing since children's sizes and tastes are so variable.

  • You don't have to give big or expensive gifts. Gifts just need to be thoughtful and given with love.

  • Start by getting some inspiration from the "Using Keepsakes to Bring Your Family Closer" guide.

  • Pass down your adult children's old books, blankets, sweaters, toys, and scrapbooks. Tell your grandchildren stories about their parents when they were young to strengthen family bonds.

  • Children today have so many toys, many of which quickly become discarded or broken. Try to focus on toys with lasting value, or things children can use to be creative (e.g. art supplies, building sets, board games, a microscope). The more flexible and unstructured the toy is, the more lasting it tends to be.

  • Try to break the toy stereotypes -- don't just give girls dolls and boys trucks.

  • It's okay to indulge your grandchildren once in a while with an extravagant or "fad" gift they just "have to have." But, consult with parents first to ensure they don't have any strong objections.

  • Play detective. What are your grandchildren's interests and blooming talents? Give gifts that encourage and support them -- tickets to events/plays/concerts; lessons; musical instruments; sports equipment; a magazine subscription; posters or paintings; calendars; videos; computer software.

  • Buy young grandchildren things "big kids" need -- like a radio, clock, camera, desk, bookcase, or bags for carrying things to school, for sports, or for travel.

  • Books are always in style, and won't break (see Storybooks to Share with Children).

  • Something handmade makes a special gift in the present and can become a treasured keepsake over the years. You might make your grandchildren a quilt, a special blanket, a sweater or scarf, a fancy T-shirt, a stuffed doll or bear, or doll clothes. If sewing, knitting, or needlework is new to you, start with a kit from a needlework or craft shop.

  • Grandchildren will always welcome money, even in small amounts. You just don't want to use it as a way to "buy" your grandchildren. A roll of quarters can be a big deal for very young children. For older children and teenagers, consider buying savings bonds or stocks, or contributing to a fund for college.

  • Time is the greatest gift of all. Time coupons are a creative way for both you and your grandchildren to anticipate a fun, shared experience. They also give your grandchildren power in "redeeming" the coupon. You might have coupons for baking cookies, reading a story, going shopping, or learning how to do a craft.

Here are some ideas for gifts for older adults, including gifts for the oldest old who may be in a care facility:

  • For older people living in their own home, have a house cleaning or repair party. Or purchase the services of a house cleaner or yard maintenance firm for a year.

  • Take a grandparent or grandfriend shopping to purchase items for themselves or gifts for friends and relatives.

  • Run errands for them.

  • Invite grandparents/grandfriends over to bake and/or decorate cookies.

  • Set a monthly date to go to the library, shopping, or for lunch.

  • Most people enjoy sweets. But do check about any dietary restrictions ahead of time. Some older adults appreciate hard candies because their mouth will often be dry. Make sure you get sweets that are appropriate (e.g. jelly beans for someone on a soft-food diet are not appropriate, but some flavorful pudding cups are).

  • Try a basket filled with an assortment of flavored teas or coffees.

  • A clock or phone with large numbers is a functional gift.

  • Brighten the season by giving an arrangement of colorful, long-lasting flowers.

  • Give a warm, colorful lap blanket or bed jacket for use when sitting. A warm, colorful, washable sweater is also a nice idea.

  • Warm, soft slippers will be appreciated (be sure to get soles that grip rather than slip!).

  • Purchase books with large print (many bestsellers are available in a large print format).

  • Give a gift subscription to a magazine that's available in large print format (e.g. Reader's Digest).

  • Give favorite books or bestsellers on audiotape.

  • Give a set of videotapes of favorite old movies.

Many of the activities in this section and this kit (e.g. the Scrapbooking & Other Photo Fun section) are gifts young and old can make that may well become keepsakes and/or evoke special memories. I've tried to offer suggestions that give a bit of the person along with the gift. Some of the ideas for gifts children can make are the simple things that bring a smile to your face now and when you look at them years from now.

There are also some ideas for gifts that older adults, even those with some physical or cognitive limitations, can make to give to children and grandchildren. These older adults still have a strong emotional need to be able to give a gift and make the people they love happy. They often feel dependent in many other areas of their life and welcome the opportunity to be the one to do the giving for a change. Some of the activities are "crafts." BUT they are crafts with meaning. Crafts are a cornerstone in many programs for older adults with functional limitations. Unfortunately, they are often inappropriate and demeaning. Most older adults tend to have little enthusiasm for them. When you've spent your whole life running a company, for example, do you want to spend your later years, even if you have some functional limitations, making paper snowflakes? If someone has been interested in crafts all their life, it's a different story. But even then, if they aren't able to produce a quality result, it doesn't matter how much therapeutic value the craft has. That value is far outweighed by the emotional factors of boredom and embarrassment. The difference with the crafts/activities suggested below are: 1) They all have a purpose -- making a gift for someone the older adult cares about, being able to give back and be productive; and 2) When they're done as an intergenerational activity, they immediately have meaning because they fulfill an older adult's need for generativity (i.e. the older adult is placed more in the role of teacher and supporter for the young).

Activities in the Memories & Traditions section of this kit are good complements to the activities in this section. For other craft, keepsake, and gift ideas, also see the "Keepsake Connections" and "I Opened the Cedar Chest and Inside I Found..." activities in the Something to Remember Me By: Start With Story section of this kit; and "Preserving Your Family Keepsakes", "Calendar of Memories", "My Book of Memories", "3-D Photo Ornament", and "Folded Photo Wreath" activities in the Scrapbooking & Other Photo Fun section.

Picture books are great to share with both young and old, and can evoke memories and prompt discussion (see the Storytelling for Hope section of this kit). Some storybooks about intergenerational gifts and keepsakes: Christmas Tree Memories by Aliki; Three Cheers for Catherine the Great! by Cari Best; Gifts by Jo Ellen Bogart; Something to Remember Me By by Susan V. Bosak; I Have an Olive Tree by Eve Bunting; Dia's Story Cloth by Dia Cha; Shoes from Grandpa by Mem Fox; Something from Nothing by Phoebe Gilman; Rodgers & Hammerstein's My Favorite Things by Renée Graef; Grandpa Bear's Fantastic Scarf by Gillian Heal; Nana's Birthday Party by Amy Hest; The Purple Coat by Amy Hest; Great-Grandmother's Treasure by Ruth Hickcox; Armful of Memories by Peter Jan Honigsberg; The Hundred Penny Box by Sharon Bell Mathis; The Talking Cloth by Rhonda Mitchell; A Birthday Basket for Tia by Pat Mora; The Always Prayer Shawl by Sheldon Oberman; Rocking Horse Christmas by Mary Pope Osborne; Betty Doll by Patricia Polacco; The Very Best Hanukkah Gift by Joanne Rocklin; Keepers by Alice Schertle; Grandmother's Chair by Ann Herbert Scott; This Is the Bird by George Shannon; Nine Spoons: A Chanukah Story by Marci Stillerman; Grandma's Records by Eric Velasquez; Keepers by Jeri Hanel Watts; The Language of Doves by Rosemary Wells; Full Moon by Brian Wilcox; A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams; The Winter Gift by Deborah Turney Zagwyn.

More storybooks, related to quilts and keepsakes, are listed in the "Design-A-Quilt" activity below.

Activities: 3-D Snow Buddy Card; It's a Print and a Wrap; Stained Glass Ornament; Hand Wreath; Hand Me a Napkin, Please; Festive Napkin Rings; Patchwork Placemat; Season of Lights; Homemade Soaps; Weather Worm; Design-A-Quilt; Reindeer Food; Cookie Mix Memories; Chocolate Strawberries from the Heart; Two Essential Words.


3-D Snow Buddy Card

Connections: Schools (Art); Families; Community Groups

What You Need: Copies of Snow Buddy card pattern; colored construction paper; scissors; pencil crayons and/or markers; glue stick. Optional -- glitter glue (available in a craft store).

Doing It:

The first printed Christmas card, showing three generations lifting wine glasses to toast absent family, was produced in England in 1843. Early cards were illustrated with birds, animals, and children. Many images were of summer scenes rather than winter ones. It wasn't until the end of the century that pictures of the seaside and summer flowers were replaced by the old rural homestead blanketed in snow and populated by children in old-fashioned costumes.

Everyone loves to receive a holiday greeting. Children can make this 3-D card to give to a parent, grandparent, or grandfriend (e.g. older adult neighbor, a great aunt in a care facility). Use the Snow Buddy card pattern. Depending on who you're giving the card to, draw a face in the snow person to be a Snow Mom, Snow Dad, Snow Grandma, Snow Grandpa, etc. Capture the essence of the face of the person you're giving the card to. What are the person's distinctive features? For example, if grandma wears glasses, put glasses on your snow person.

After you've drawn in your face and colored the page (don't forget to fill in "to" and "love" at the bottom), fold a piece of construction paper in half and decorate the front in a snowy theme with the words "Happy Holidays." You can add some glitter glue to the front of your card if you like. Now you're ready to assemble the card.

There's a thin line that forms a rectangle around the card pattern. Cut out the rectangle. Fold the rectangle exactly in half, with the drawing side facing OUT. Carefully cut the snow person along the dotted lines. DO NOT cut in the middle of the side of the face, where the dotted lines stop. This must remain attached. Once you've cut along all the dotted lines, lay the folded paper down, lift up the snow person shape in the center and fold it back to make a crease in the paper, along the side of the face. Then flip back the snow person shape so that it's back where it was (i.e. flat).

Unfold the whole paper rectangle. Carefully reverse the folds in the paper directly above and below the snow person shape. Fold the rectangle in half again so that the drawing is inside. Now when you open it, the snow person "pops up" from the surface of the paper.

Unfold the rectangle and, with the snow person face down, put glue on the areas of paper surrounding the snow person shape. DO NOT put any glue on the snow person shape itself. Carefully fold the rectangle again (drawing inside).

Slip the folded rectangle into the middle of the folded construction paper. Make sure the front of the card is facing the right direction. Also be sure to get the folded edge of the paper rectangle snugly into the folded edge of the construction paper, so that the paper is securely nestled in the construction paper. Smooth and let dry.

When your card is dry, you can open it to find a 3-D Snow Buddy surprise!


It's a Print and a Wrap

Connections: Schools (Art); Families; Community Groups.

What You Need: Empty, round container or large can (e.g. from juice, coffee, some cereals, etc.); corrugated cardboard; glue; pencil; ruler; scissors; poster paint; paintbrush; foil pie plate; paper towels; large sheets of white paper.

Doing It:

Sure there's lots of wrapping paper available in stores. But a gift is made more special when you wrap it with paper you've decorated yourself. Children can create this personalized wrapping paper.

Create a mini printing press. Cut shapes (e.g. stars, bells, triangles, squiggles) out of corrugated cardboard and glue them onto a round container or can to create a decorative pattern. You can also use letters and spell out words like "With Love" or "For Grandma" or "Happy Holidays" (note that you have to put letters and words backwards so that they will print correctly).

Pour a very thin layer of paint into a foil pie plate and roll the container/can through it, coating the shapes with paint. Then roll the container/can over a large sheet of white paper to transfer the pattern onto the paper. This will give you one-color wrapping paper. If your decorative pattern has large shapes, you can take a paintbrush and carefully brush different colors of paint to wet different areas of the pattern to create multi-colored wrapping paper.

A simple variation: Make handprint wrapping paper by taking a paintbrush and covering the palm and fingers of one hand with one color of paint. For the best handprint, spread out your fingers and keep your hand still and firm as you press on the paper. Cover the paper with handprints going in different directions. You can wipe your hand after you make several prints and make more prints using a different color of paint. For example, for a Christmas theme, do some red handprints, wipe your hand, and then do some green handprints interspersed between the red handprints.

Extension: Make a matching gift card using the same design and paint colors.


Stained Glass Ornament

Connections: Schools (Art); Families; Community Groups.

What You Need: Copies of ornament pattern; crayons; scissors; cotton balls; vegetable oil; newspaper.

Doing It:

Children can brighten the holiday season for parents, grandparents (this craft can easily be mailed to a long-distance grandparent), and grandfriends by making this "stained glass" ornament.

Use crayons to color in the ornament pattern in a variety of bright colors. Choose colors to make the two bells and ribbon visible. Cut out the oval-shaped ornament.

Using a cotton ball, rub vegetable oil on the back of the ornament. Lay the ornament flat, crayon side down, on a pile of newspaper to dry.

Once it's dry, you can tape the ornament in a window. It will look very pretty when the light shines through.


Hand Wreath

Connections: Schools (Art); Families; Community Groups.

What You Need: Green construction paper; red or gold ribbon; scissors; pencil; glue. Optional -- glitter glue (available in a craft store).

Doing It:

Here's another easy holiday decoration children can make for parents, grandparents, and grandfriends. It's especially appropriate to send to long-distance grandparents who aren't around in person to hold their grandchild's hand. Send one wreath per grandchild, made from each child's hands (preschoolers to teenagers!). Hands represent a fundamental human connection. Holding someone's hand can be an expression of love, comfort, and security. A little hand in a big hand is also an often-used symbol of connections across generations.

A child starts by tracing their hand onto a sheet of construction paper, with fingers spread open. This becomes your template. Cut out the hand shape and use it to trace and cut out approximately 10 hands out of green construction paper.

Glue the green hands together in a wreath shape (i.e. wrists in center with fingers spreading outward). The wrists should overlap a bit.

Glue on a red or gold ribbon bow (bottom center). Write your name, age, and the date at the bottom of the wreath. If you like, you can decorate the wreath with glitter glue.


Hand Me a Napkin, Please

Connections: Schools (Art); Families; Community Groups.

What You Need: Small rice or oat bran box; thin cardboard (e.g. from large cereal box); holiday wrapping paper; colored construction paper; red or gold ribbon; scissors; ruler; pencil; glue.

Doing It:

This "hand craft" is a little more complicated than the one above. Again, it makes a great gift for parents, grandparents, and grandfriends. Children can also make a complete holiday set -- this napkin holder with the napkin rings and the placemats below. You can color coordinate the set. It can be used as decoration during a holiday meal. If a grandparent can't be with the family over the holidays, a grandchild can send the set so that they're "with grandma and grandpa for holiday dinner."

To make the napkin holder, start by measuring 1 3/4 inches up from the base of a small rice or oat bran box. Use a pencil to mark a line all around the box. Cut the top off the box so that you're left with an open base that's 1 3/4 inches high. At each narrow end of the base, cut out 3/4 inch more of cardboard to make the narrow ends just 1 inch high.

Glue pieces of colored construction paper over the inside and outside of the napkin holder base to cover it so that it looks nice.

Now you need a large (or two smaller pieces) of thin cardboard with enough area to trace both your hands. Glue wrapping paper onto the cardboard (choose a design that complements the color of construction paper you've chosen for the base). Smooth and let dry.

Trace the outline of both your right hand and your left hand (fingers spread open) onto the cardboard. Cut out your hands.

Glue the wrist of each hand to the center of the long sides of the base (i.e. hands are pointed up to "hold" the napkins between them). Glue a small red or gold ribbon bow at the bottom of each hand. You can also glue a strip of the ribbon along the bottom of the base to finish it.

Your napkin holder is ready to fill with napkins.


Festive Napkin Rings

Connections: Schools (Art); Families; Community Groups.

What You Need: Paper towel or toilet tissue rolls; colored construction paper and/or holiday wrapping paper; pencil crayons and markers; ruler; scissors; glue. Optional -- yarn or ribbon; newspaper; clear acrylic spray (available in a craft store).

Doing It:

Children can make festive napkin rings for their entire family to use during a holiday meal. You can also make a complete holiday meal set -- napkin rings, napkin holder (above), and placemats (below). You can color coordinate the set.

Start by cutting a paper towel or toilet tissue roll into 1 1/2 inch sections to create rings.

Cut colored construction paper or wrapping paper into 1 1/2 x 6 inch strips. Glue the strips around the rings.

Now decorate the rings with a festive theme. For example, you can cut small shapes out of construction paper or wrapping paper and glue them onto the rings. Or, you can make 2 x 2 inch red-and-green holly shapes, gold stars, multicolored ornaments, or emblems with each person's initials, and glue them onto the "top" of the rings. You can also glue on a ribbon bow.

Variation: To make more formal-looking napkin rings, use colored yarn (e.g. red, green, gold) and carefully glue 6 inch strands around the rings, one right beside the other (alternate colors). To make these rings more durable and long lasting, take them outside when the glue is dry, put them on some sheets of old newspaper, and spray them with clear acrylic spray.


Patchwork Placemat

Connections: Schools (Art); Seniors Groups/Facilities; Families; Community Groups.

What You Need: A variety of holiday wrapping paper (heavier weight is preferable); 11 x 17 inch colored construction paper (or tape together two 8 1/2 x 11 inch sheets); ruler; pencil; scissors; glue; clear contact plastic (available in a craft store).

Doing It:

This placemat evokes a patchwork quilt. It can brighten the season for a grandparent or grandfriends (e.g. children can make placemats as gifts for seniors in a care facility to use on their tables over the holidays). This is also an easy craft older adults with functional limitations can make to give to young grandchildren. Many crafts for older adults may have therapeutic value, but lack meaning. This activity, in this context, is one of the exceptions. Many older adults with physical or cognitive limitations are very dependent on other people. When family comes to visit, the older adults often feel they have little to offer. They value the opportunity to be able to make something for a grandchild. This placemat is a way for "grandma to be with you when you're eating over the holidays." Older adults and children can also make these placemats together (any time you introduce an intergenerational component to an activity, it becomes much more meaningful). Depending on the functional ability of older adults who are doing this activity, you can have the wrapping paper pre-measured and cut, and have someone put on the clear contact plastic.

Note that you can make these placemats as part of a set, with the napkin rings and napkin holder above. You can color coordinate the set.

Use the wrapping paper to make up your "patches." From all the available patterns, choose the six you would like to work with. From each pattern, cut out a 5 x 5 inch square, so that you have a total of six 5 x 5 inch squares.

Take a colored sheet of construction paper and use a ruler to lightly draw in a border: 1 inch on the left and right sides, and 1/2 inch at the top and bottom. Arrange your six squares inside the border in any order you wish. Glue them into place.

For posterity's sake, add your name and date in the bottom, right corner of the placemat.

Carefully place the placemat on the sticky side of the clear contact plastic. Place another sheet of clear contact plastic on the other side of the mat. Smooth out any wrinkles, and cut off the excess, leaving a narrow edge of plastic. This makes the placement somewhat durable and wipeable.

Variation: Instead of squares, cut out various sizes and shapes (e.g. stars, bells, triangles, rectangles) from the wrapping paper and create your own design on the construction paper.


Season of Lights

Connections: Schools (Art); Families; Community Groups.

What You Need: Clean, large, wide-mouth glass mayonnaise jar (soak it in hot water to remove the label); glue; water; bowl; stir stick; paint brush; white tissue paper; colored tissue paper; votive candle.

Doing It:

Candles are a simple and natural way to decorate for the holidays. This colorful candle lantern is a gift children can make for parents, grandparents, and grandfriends (e.g. older adults in a care facility -- makes a nice holiday table decoration).

Candles have been an important part of holiday festivals throughout history and across cultures. Christmas trees are covered in lights (which represent candles). In Europe, the lighting of the Christmas Eve candle by the oldest member of the household has been an important ritual for centuries. In the late Middle Ages, pyramids made of tiers of wooden shelves were decorated with candles and carried in processions. In Sweden, candles were indispensable to the Lucia Festival, in which the oldest daughter in each family was dressed in white and crowned with a circle of lighted tapers. In Mexico, candles were put in special brown paper bags weighted with sand, and these "luminarias" were used to light the paths of Christmas processions. The Jewish holiday Hanukkah is known as the Festival of Lights. The lighting of candles on the "menorah," a nine-branch candelabra, takes place for eight consecutive nights. Kwanzaa is a relatively new African-American holiday in which a candleholder, the "kinara," holds seven candles. On each day of the holiday, a candle is lit and its associated principle is discussed with examples from the past so that children have a tie to their history.

To make the candle lantern, start by making a soupy mixture of glue and water. Use a paintbrush to apply the glue mixture to the outside of a clean, wide-mouth glass jar. Cover the outside of the jar with a sheet of white tissue paper (be sure to make the tissue paper as smooth as possible).

Cut colored tissue paper into small squares or other shapes like triangles or stars. You can use many colors, or stick to seasonal colors like red, green, and yellow.

Brush the jar with a thin layer of the glue mixture all over the white tissue paper. Glue the pieces of colored tissue paper all over the jar, overlapping them if you wish or creating a design.

Brush on another thin layer of the glue mixture over the tissue paper for a clear, protective coating. Let dry.

Put a votive candle inside the jar and light it (without the lid on the jar, of course!). The candle lantern will have a beautiful, soft glow on a dark winter evening.


Homemade Soaps

Connections: Families; Seniors Groups/Facilities; Schools (Art); Community Groups.

What You Need: Soap flakes; water; bowl; measuring cup; electric mixer; waxed paper; rolling pin, cookie cutters, and/or candy molds; cellophane wrap; ribbon. Optional -- clear bar of glycerin soap; pot (you can also melt the soap in a microwave but be careful not to overheat it); ice cube tray; cooking oil spray; coins.

Doing It:

Everybody needs to wash, so soap is something young and old can use. Children can make personalized soaps for parents, grandparents, and grandfriends. This is also an activity that older adults with physical or cognitive limitations can do. Many older adults would like to be able to give something special to a grandchild or even an adult child, and this activity results in a meaningful, personal gift. It is an activity with a purpose. Depending on the functional ability of older adults who are doing this activity, the soap mixture can be prepared ahead of time.

Mix 2 to 4 cups of soap flakes with 1/2 to 1 cup of water. Whip with an electric mixer, adding flakes or water as needed to get a mixture that has the consistency of cookie dough.

Now you can shape the mixture into anything you want -- roll it out and cut it with cookie cutters, or mold it in candy molds. Let soap shapes dry on waxed paper.

Once the soaps are dry, bundle them in cellophane wrap and close with brightly colored ribbon tied into a bow.

Variation: Mix some "coin soaps" in with the other soaps you're giving. Melt a clear bar of glycerin soap. Pour into an ice cube tray sprayed lightly with cooking oil spray. Drop a coin into each soap. Let harden. Recipients will be able to see through the soap and wash until they get to the treasure!


Weather Worm

Connections: Schools (Art); Families; Community Groups.

What You Need: 11 pieces of colorful yarn, each 36 inches long; 3 smaller pieces of yarn for ties; gold string (available in a craft store); small wiggle eyes (available in a craft store); 4 x 4 inch piece of stiff paper; pencil crayons and/or markers; scissors; ruler; glue; hole punch.

Doing It:

There are some gifts that are just so unique, so adorable, and so funny that you can't help but remember them years later. This Weather Worm is just that kind of gift! Children can make it to give a parent, grandparent, or grandfriend.

This activity evokes knitting. Knitting is probably the easiest of the traditional crafts to learn and requires a small investment in equipment and supplies. It's an activity all ages can enjoy together, a skill adults can pass down to the young. Knitting can be traced back to Egypt, circa 1200 to 1500 BC. The first image of women knitting is found in five paintings from the 14th century. The Italian and German paintings all represent the Madonna and Child, and are generally referred to as the "Knitting Madonnas." Today, more and more people are getting into knitting -- Julia Roberts and Winona Ryder have even taken it up!

This activity has been provided by United Generations Ontario (Toronto, Canada). It's one of many activities that are part of a highly successful intergenerational program in which several hundred children, youth, and older adults work together in yarn-related activities. The program also has a "service learning" component -- many of the items produced are given as gifts or donations to community agencies, organizations, and institutions serving children, youth, families, and seniors.

To make the Weather Worm, start by laying out the 11 pieces of yarn lengthwise. Bundle them together, fold them in half, and tie them at the fold with a separate piece of yarn (snip off the excess ends). About 1 1/2 inches down from the fold, tie the yarn again with a second piece of yarn (snip off the excess ends). This forms the Weather Worm's head.

Divide the remaining loose strands of yarn (below the head) into three sections and braid these sections to about 2 inches from the end. At the end of the braided length, tie with a third piece of yarn (snip off the excess ends). The unbraided strands form the Weather Worm's tail.

Tie a loop of gold string to the top of the Weather Worm's head. This allows the Weather Worm to be hung up. Glue small wiggle eyes onto the head.

On a 4 x 4 inch piece of stiff paper, write a note that says:

You are now the proud owner of a
Weather Worm Forecaster.
For best results, hang me on a nail
outside your window.
Here's how to read me:
If I'm wet, it's raining.
If I'm white, it's snowing.
If I'm stiff, it's freezing.
If I'm moving, it's windy.
If I'm missing, you've been ripped off!

Punch a hole in the top, left corner of the note and attach it to the Weather Worm with a piece of gold string. Your memorable gift is now ready to wrap or give as is.



Connections: Schools (Math, Art, History); Families; Community Groups; Seniors Groups/Facilities.

What You Need: Copies of "Signature Blocks" sheet; 6 x 6 inch pieces of heavier white paper; ruler; pencil; pencil crayons and/or markers; tape.

Doing It:

Children can make a paper "quilt" celebrating their family members and at the same time learn about some of the different kinds of quilt patterns. This is also an effective intergenerational activity, with young and old helping each other. Depending on the age/abilities of the children or older adults doing this activity, another adult (i.e. teacher, parent, care facility staff) can draw up the full-size, 6 x 6 inch block patterns, copy them, and have people just color them in rather than create the patterns from scratch. Making the patterns from scratch is a challenging geometric exercise.

Historically, quilts have been used for comfort, and to raise funds for war and other causes. In Great Britain and early America, quilt making was so much a part of family life that girls made a number of quilts for their future home. By the time a young woman got married, she was supposed to have thirteen quilts, each one a different design but following a traditional family pattern. Girls as young as seven or eight started with simple themes and patterns, and then moved on to more intricate designs as they grew older. On the day she got engaged, a young woman was to begin making her thirteenth quilt, called a bride's quilt, which was to be the most intricately made and beautifully designed.

In America, a great many quilts were made during the Civil War. In many cases, soldiers had to provide their own blankets. So, they would go off to war with a quilt tucked into their bedroll from a mother, wife, sister, or daughter. After the war, quilts were made using fabrics from the uniforms of returning and lost soldiers.

Quilting is an activity that can bring young and old together in a very meaningful way. One of the winning teams in the Legacy Project's 2001 Intergenerational Contest was grandmother Norma Duerst, 66, and her granddaughter Whitney Widmer, 17, of Minocqua, WI. Here is their entry:

The Gift of a Quilt

A memory passed down from generation to generation is a valuable gift, cherished forever like my quilt. On cold winter nights I sleep under my great-great-grandmother, Ida's quilt. It's thin from years of use; the colors faded to a soft, muted pink. The stitches are small and even, hundreds and hundreds of them. I only have a faded picture of my great-great grandmother, but now I hold the quilt that she held in her hands.

My grandmother, Norma, also loves to quilt. She has given my family quilts over the years, and I realize how beautiful and personal they are. When I think of the valuable memories I have collected over the years from her, one of my favorites is learning to quilt, an art that was passed down from her mother.

This summer I decided to start a quilt project of my own. Together, my grandmother and I planned the pattern, chose the colors and fabric, and cut out the pieces. She patiently taught me the skills of quilting, advising me, "measure twice, cut once" and "small stitches make beautiful quilts." She explained the importance of keeping the seams at 1/4 inch and what a bias cut means.

Now I realize that more than learning the intricacies of quilting, we're sharing time together, making memories. I'm beginning to learn that making a quilt is more than the skill and technique involved, it is the linking of the past with the future. I know my grandmother is proud of my quilt and enjoys watching me grow as a quilter. I also know that the gift of a quilt is the passing of memories between people we love.

To get everyone in a quilting mood, share some storybooks about quilts: A Name on the Quilt: A Story of Remembrance by Jeannine Atkins; Shota and the Star Quilt by Margaret Bateson-Hill; Oma's Quilt by Paulette Bourgeois; The Quiltmaker's Gift by Jeff Brumbeau; Quilt Alphabet by Lesa Cline-Ransome; Quilt of Dreams by Mindy Dwyer; Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt by Lisa Campbell Ernst; The Patchwork Quilt by Valerie Flournoy; The Log Cabin Quilt by Ellen Howard; The Boy and the Cloth of Dreams by Jenny Koralek; The Boy and the Quilt by Shirley Kurtz; No Dragons on My Quilt by Jean Ray Laury; The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco; Selina and the Bear Paw Quilt by Barbara Smucker; The Moon Quilt by Sunny Warner; Quilting Now & Then by Karen B. Willing.

Some quilting-related books of interest to adults: Quilting Lessons: Notes from the Scrap Bag of a Writer and Quilter by Janet Catherine Berlo; Quiltmaking in America: Beyond the Myths edited by Laurel Horton; and Quilts! Quilts!! Quilts!!!: The Complete Guide to Quiltmaking by Diana McClun.

The designs of quilts are made up of a pattern of colors and shapes. The basic pattern is a series of squares. It's what you do inside a square, how you divide it up, that can create a very intricate overall design. "Signature" quilts are usually a group project in which each block is sewn or signed by a different person. The finished quilt can be a reminder of friends and relatives. Signature quilts have been around for more than 150 years.

In this activity, children create a paper signature "quilt" with the names of their family members. There are different ways to do an individual signature block. Follow the patterns on the "Signature Blocks" sheet. For the paper quilt, each block is a 6 x 6 inch piece of paper. The person's name goes in the space indicated. Choose which block pattern you would like to use for which family member (include parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts/uncles, cousins, and don't forget yourself!). Use a different block pattern for each family member. Your finished quilt can have 6, 9, or 12 squares or more in it (depending on the number of family members you're including; 12 or more would require you to repeat patterns).

On each 6 x 6 inch piece of paper, start by drawing in the lines of the pattern in pencil. Then color in the pattern and add the person's name. When all your blocks are done, tape them together on the back to make the finished "quilt."

A good complement to this activity is the Classroom Family Quilt.


Reindeer Food

Connections: Seniors Groups/Facilities; Families.

What You Need: Uncooked oatmeal; red and green sprinkles; bowl; spoon; small, brown paper lunch bags; peel-and-stick labels; pen; felt markers; brown construction paper; scissors; tape.

Doing It:

This activity is reprinted with permission from Creative Forecasting (an excellent, monthly publication for activity professionals in seniors facilities; www.creativeforecasting.net or 800-373-0115).

This is a gift grandparents can give very young grandchildren, or older adults in a care facility can give their young grandchildren or friends (e.g. as part of an intergenerational program). It often means a great deal to an older person with limited abilities to be able to make and give a gift to a young friend. Half the fun of this gift is making the "reindeer food" while the other half is making the packaging for it. Depending on the functional ability of older adults who are doing this activity, you can pre-prepare some steps, like cutting out the reindeer antlers. You can also set up an assembly line, with each person doing one step suited to their abilities.

To make the "reindeer food" simply mix together uncooked oatmeal with red and green sprinkles. Add as much of each ingredient as you think looks good (there's no "right" proportion).

Use a small, brown paper lunch bag to make the packaging. On one side of the bag, draw big, dark, oval (vertical) eyes and a big, red round nose.

On a peel-and-stick label write, "Contains Reindeer Food. On Christmas Eve, sprinkle onto the snow (or grass) and the reindeers will have a snack to eat as they fly by." Stick this label onto the other side of the brown bag.

Fill the bag with reindeer food. Fold down the top of the bag and tape it closed. Cut the shape of reindeer antlers out of brown construction paper. Tape the antlers to the back of the bag (i.e. side with label on it) so that, from the front, the bag looks like a reindeer head.


Cookie Mix Memories

Connections: Seniors Groups/Facilities; Families.

What You Need: Mixing bowls; measuring cups; spoons; plastic gloves; and a whisk. For each cookie mix gift, you need -- a 1-quart, wide-mouth canning jar; 1/2 cup sugar; 1/2 cup raisins; 1 1/4 cups firmly packed flaked coconut; 1 cup crushed corn flakes cereal (crush before measuring); 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar; 1/2 cup quick oats; 1 1/4 cups flour mixed with 1 tsp. baking soda and 1 tsp. baking powder. You'll also need copies of the gift card supplied; pen; hole punch; scissors; pretty ribbon (e.g. gold or red).

Doing It:

This activity is reprinted with permission from Creative Forecasting (an excellent, monthly publication for activity professionals in seniors facilities; www.creativeforecasting.net or 800-373-0115).

Many older women, in particular, have spent much of their lives being known for the wonderful foods they prepare for family and friends. Part of their personal image is invested in their ability to cook. As they grow very old or develop functional limitations, however, they're often not able to cook like they once did. Yet, they would still like the pleasure of giving a food gift to grandchildren and adult children -- of giving some "homemade cookies from grandma." This cookie mix gift-in-a-jar enables them to do just that. Activities related to food -- even when they're simple -- are usually winners in most seniors facilities. Cooking is familiar. Many people enjoy it and the end result. And older adults feel useful and productive as they engage in a meaningful activity.

This cookie mix is a simple activity in which most older adults with functional limitations can participate. Depending on the abilities of the individuals involved, you can pre-prepare certain steps and help with others. You can also set up an assembly line, with each person doing one step suited to their abilities (e.g. one person can measure, another can crush the corn flakes, another can add one ingredient to the jar, etc.).

The list above makes ONE cookie mix gift-in-a-jar. Use the exact jar listed because all the ingredients have been planned to fit exactly when tightly packed into the jar. Layer the ingredients in the jar in the exact order given above. Use your hand (use plastic gloves) to level each layer and tightly pack each layer so that all the ingredients fit. They must be packed as tightly as possible so they won't mix with other ingredients if the jar is turned on its side. When you come to the flour, baking soda, and baking powder, whisk them together well first and then pack them in the jar.

When the jar is filled with all the ingredients, close it tightly. Copy the gift card supplied onto brightly colored paper and fold. Fill in who the gift is for and who it's from. Punch a hole in the upper left corner. Run a piece of ribbon through the hole and tie the card around the neck of the jar with a nice bow.


Chocolate Strawberries from the Heart

Connections: Seniors Groups/Facilities; Families.

What You Need: Fresh strawberries (rinsed well); melting chocolate (note: 8 oz. of quality melting chocolate will make about 12 large strawberries); double boiler (you can also melt the chocolate in a microwave but be VERY careful not to overheat it); spoon; plastic gloves; waxed paper.

Doing It:

Again, older adults enjoy being able to offer grandchildren or other young friends a special treat. Preparing food is an activity with purpose, particularly when it's linked with a holiday celebration. Older adults can prepare this treat before a holiday visit from family or from children participating in an intergenerational program.

Everyone can participate in rinsing the strawberries well before you start heating the chocolate.

Then melt the chocolate. Ideally, use a double boiler. You have to heat the chocolate slowly, at a low temperature. Stir often. The chocolate should be heated so that it melts and is slightly warmer than your bottom lip.

An important note: Be sure not to get even a single drop of water into the melted chocolate. Make sure the strawberries are completely dry. Any water at all will turn the chocolate into a grainy, lumpy mess.

After that, it's easy. Older adults can dip the strawberries into the chocolate so that the strawberries are three-quarters covered. Place the strawberries on a piece of waxed paper to cool. Then let the festivities begin!


Two Essential Words

Connections: Families; Schools (Language Arts).

What You Need: Paper; pencil crayons and/or markers; pen/pencil.

Doing It:

"Thank you" notes may be the single most important item essential to good intergenerational relationships. I'm not kidding! So many grandparents I talk to say this is THE biggest complaint they have -- they never get a "thank you" note from their grandchildren. They often don't even know if a grandchild has received a gift safely, let alone whether or not they like it. If grandparents don't get feedback, how can they know what to get grandchildren? "Thank you" notes teach children an important social skill, and make grandparents feel loved and appreciated. They get two-way communication going. Both parents and teachers can do their part to encourage thank you notes.

If you're a parent, one of the easiest things you can do to support a close bond between your children and their grandparents is to help children write a simple "thank you" note for gifts from grandparents. A "thank you" note doesn't have to be fancy or long. It can just acknowledge receipt of a gift; have a line describing what the grandchild likes about the gift, or what they're going to do with it; and then end with a "thank you" and "I love you."

Another approach is to make a game out of "thank you" notes. Children can hide notes on small pieces of paper throughout their grandparents' home, in their suitcase, or in their car. Relate the notes to specific activities (e.g. "thanks for reading with me this afternoon" or "it was fun doing woodworking with you"). Think up a line or two, and clever places to hide the notes. Be creative. Slip a note in a grandparent's coat pocket about how much you enjoyed the walk or going tobogganing. Put a note in a mixing bowl about how much you enjoyed making cookies.

Teachers can play their role in bolstering intergenerational relationships (and building social skills) when students return to school in the new year. Encourage students to write "thank you" notes to both parents and grandparents as a class activity. Ask children about gifts they received and special things they did over the holidays. Look beyond just material presents to time enjoyed, skills taught, new things learned, or new experiences. Students can make a card out of a sheet of paper folded in half, or write a letter. Think how surprised parents and grandparents will be to receive these unexpected treasures.

Finally, what can grandparents do to encourage "thank you" notes? You can talk to your adult children about how important acknowledgement is to you. You can also talk to your grandchildren and use this as an opportunity to teach a social grace. Explain that you want to hear from them and find out what they liked or didn't like about a gift. Be persistent in your communication, without anger or criticism. As a hint or reminder, some grandparents enclose a "fill-in-the-blanks" card they write out for grandchildren to return to them. Another good idea is to set an example yourself -- acknowledge and thank grandchildren for something they've sent or given you, or even a phone call.

Thank you for your attention to this matter!

From Holiday Activity Kit by Susan V. Bosak ©2003

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