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Homemade Gifts from the Heart

Nothing warms the heart more than a homemade Christmas present. For adults and children alike, a handmade gift shows its recipient they were thought of in a way that exceeds a trip to the local retail store for a nail care kit or a bath basket.

"I think most of us appreciate something that's homemade a little more, especially from kids because if you get a gift from a child that was bought from the store, you know the child didn't pay for it - their parent just took them shopping and that's not what it's about," says Craft Warehouse guru Melanie Bunch.

An added plus, Bunch says, finding a homemade gift that's equally as fun to make as it is to receive is friendlier on holiday gift budgets.

"If you have several co-workers you want to do something thoughtful for, that can really add up. You go to the bath store and its $5 or more for a bar of soap or a small item… Instead, you can get the supplies to make soap and maybe spend $25-$30 but you wind up with a lot of soap and it makes someone feel like you took the time to make something for them."

From edible goodies to colorful scarves and holiday keepsakes, consider spending a weekend with the kids this year, whipping up homemade gifts and making a memory or two.

For crafty souls, consider something to ward off winter's chill. Popular in recent years, "no sew" fleece items, like scarves and blankets are inexpensive and easy to make (search online for "no sew fleece"). One of the simplest fleece items; create a scarf from a long, narrow piece of fleece, cut two-inch strips on each end and add a bead or knot on each piece.

A step further, Michael's craft store designer Sue Duarte suggests investing $15 in a Nifty Knitter kit and spending a weekend knitting with the kids or grandkids. Kits include four looms, a hook and instructions for under $15.

Candles and soap are easy to make and there are available kits at most craft stores. Consider crafting a bath kit with matching candle and soap. Both items require a base mixture, usually melted into plastic moldings and customized with color and a favorite fragrance.

A hit with young and old alike, Melanie and Sue both encourage homemade ornaments. Unfinished glass, wood and ceramic ornaments at craft stores offer endless possiblities.

For a gift that gives all year, gather up the past year's worth of photos to create a custom family calendar for the coming year. Scrapbook and craft stores offer special paper, stickers and embellishments to create special themes for each month. Most locations offer workshops with helpful staff on hand for advice.

Other photo-friendly ideas include a photo collage, illustrated family tree, or shadow box featuring an elaborate scrapbook page, says Scrapbook King-N-More co-owner Gloria King. Find holiday-themed embellishments and consider taking a workshop to learn new techniques. Many classes are kid-friendly.

Last but not least, for family and friends who don't need scarves or calendars, go for the gut!

"Food is the universal language," says Ashland chef Allyson Holt. "Nothing, and I mean nothing, says love better than something out of the kitchen!"

A holiday favorite, Holt suggests goodies that are both tasty for gift recipients and fun and easy for kids to make. Holiday favorites include truffles (see recipe provided by Allyson's of Ashland), homemade fudge or cookies.

Once made, wrap treats in colorful cellophane and ribbon and put inside a variety of containers, including baskets, Chinese food boxes from local craft stores or coffee cups. "Whatever you do with food, whether it's something you put hours into or something that was relatively easy, they're going to love it," Allyson says. "And anything you make at all with your own two hands… they're going to be thrilled. That's a gift that's truly from the heart!"

Ingredients:Optional flavorings: Instructions:

1 Cup Heavy Cream

1 pound Bittersweet Chocolate, chopped finely

2 tablespoons Unsalted Butter

2 tablespoons Liqueur

2 tablespoons Instant Espresso

1 tablespoon jam of choice

1/2 teaspoon. cinnamon or other spice, etc.

2 Cups Cocoa Powder

Place heavy cream in a large pot and bring slowly to a boil over medium heat. Turn off the heat and stir in the chopped chocolate. Let stand for 2 minutes then stir well until smooth. Stir in the butter. Pour into the bowl of an electric mixer, and let cool until set.

Fit mixer with a paddle and beat the chocolate mixture on medium speed until aerated and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the liqueur and/or other flavorings. Scoop chocolate into a pastry bag fitted with a half inch plain tube. Line several baking sheets with parchment or waxed paper. Pipe the truffle mixture out to form 1/2-inch balls. Place pans in the refrigerator to chill thoroughly. You can also use a small cookie scoop and simply scoop the chocolate and place on the lined pans.

Once centers are completely chilled, roll in cocoa powder and place in small candy wrappers. You can also roll in chopped nuts, cookie sprinkles, or sanding sugars.

Place truffles in a gift box, or use a cellophane bag, tie with ribbon and place in a special container - such as a coffee cup, decorated can or glass jar with lid.

Makes about 50 truffles

Recipe courtesy of Allyson's of Ashland

Homemade Gifts from the Heart