2021 Gift Guide: Make your own Christmas gifts this year

By Ben Olson
Reader Staff

I have one of the coolest girlfriends in the world. Instead of expensive bouquets of roses, she prefers hand-picked wildflowers. Instead of expensive restaurants, she’s more into a healthy dinner made at home with love. 

When it comes to Christmas, anything handmade is preferable to something ordered online. 

I think she’s a keeper.

With the holiday shopping season in full swing, it’s always a good thing to purchase your gifts at local businesses instead of box stores or online. The same goes for creating your own gifts for the loved ones in your life — our local retailers have all the supplies you need to make any of the following suggestions.


Everyone loves art. If you don’t, you’re a Philistine and a lump of coal would probably be a good gift for your stocking this year. 

This year, consider drawing or painting an original piece of art for your special someone. Last year, I wrote out all the places I’ve traveled with Cadie, including some of our special inside jokes. I then drew a collage of scenes incorporating these place names together, added some vivid colors and gave it to her with a gift certificate to Wildflower Spa at Seasons for a facial (note to all men: women always enjoy a facial, pedicure or manicure).

Another year, I found a photograph of the two of us I have always loved and traced the outlines of the photo onto a separate piece of paper. The photo was of our pairs of feet in the back of a pickup truck as we hitchhiked out to Hope for an adventure one day early in our relationship. With the tracing complete, I then shaded and contoured the drawing, giving the photograph a new breath of creativity.

You can use art supplies you have around the house or, if you need to stock up, Sandpoint Super Drug and Vanderford’s have a great selection of art supplies on hand year round.

Personalized crossword puzzles

This one is a bit more of an intermediate gift, as it takes some time and effort to complete. For the past few years, Cadie and I have given each other personalized crossword puzzles around Christmastime. If you’ve never made a crossword puzzle from scratch, there are a few simple instructions to follow to make it happen.

First, get some grid-lined paper, preferably card stock or something thicker than copy paper. It’s best to use graphing paper with larger grids so the recipient has more room to write their letters inside the boxes — remember, you need to write numbers in the top left of some boxes to denote the answers on your clue guide.

Second, write down a list of words that your significant other could guess based on contextual clues. This is what makes your personalized crossword puzzle truly unique — only the person doing the puzzle will be able to make sense of the clues if you include enough inside jokes.

Third, pencil these words into the grid, starting with the longest words first and working back from there. When you begin, you should have about half the puzzle filled out with inside jokes and longer terms. Mash the words together as close as you can. 

Fourth, fill in the rest of the puzzle. This is the difficult part. Crossword puzzle makers — or cruciverbalists, which should be a crossword puzzle answer — are skilled at using particular words with vowels in the right places to make words fit easily together in a grid. It’s never easy, but with enough time and patience, you’ll get through it. Just remember how much you love your significant other when you’re stuck. It’s all worth it. Whenever you have a blocked section, simply color in the grid around the words and keep going. It doesn’t have to be a symmetrical puzzle grid like the professionals make, just do your best.

Finally, number each grid box where a word starts across or down, then write the answers on a separate piece of paper with the corresponding numbers. After the puzzle is complete, write clues for each answer and present those clues with the finished puzzle and watch as your crossword-loving lover swoons with desire at your creativity.


One of my dear friends and former Sandpoint Reader columnist Ted Bowers used his woodworking skills to produce beautiful hand-carved wooden spoons and stirring sticks. I doubt many of us can achieve the craftsmanship that Ted produced with his spoons, but even an ugly spoon is beautiful if made with love. Every time I use one of Ted’s spoons in the kitchen I’m reminded of how wonderful of a person he was and how much I miss him.

To carve a wooden spoon, start with a rectangle of hardwood (Ted always liked cherry) that is cut to the size of the spoon you’d like to make. Draw an outline of the spoon on top and don’t worry about adding too much detail — the outline will only be used to create a blank. You can also draw a profile of the spoon on the side of the block, but it’s not necessary.

If you have a table saw, use it to trim down the block of wood roughly along the outline of your spoon blank. Save time by creating a few spoon blanks at once and you’ll have some in reserve if you screw up or want to create more gifts in the future.

If you have a scroll saw, use it to cut along the outline in detail. Try to cut as close to the outline as possible, since that’s less material to remove by hand later. 

If you have a power sander, you can smooth out the blank’s edges this way to help save some hand sanding, but it’s not necessary if you don’t.

Get a good carving knife (a utility knife will work, but the blades are thin and often break, so don’t be afraid to shell out some bucks for a decent wood-carving knife if you plan to make more spoons in the future) and carve along the spoon handle. Take small strokes and remove small amounts of material, always making sure to carve away from yourself. It will take several hours to get the blank detailed enough, so make sure you have a good podcast queued up on the computer.

With the spoon head, the convex back side is easier to start with than the concave front part, so remove materials along the backside to round it out, making a smooth transition from the back of the spoon to the handle.

For the concave front side, use a rounded sweep gouge or hook knife to remove material from the face. When you have removed enough material to form a small divot, make finer cuts and adjustments.

When your face has enough of a concave to suit your taste, sand away all the carving marks by hand, or with a small rotary tool. Finish with hand sanding, starting with 120 grit and working up to 220 until every nook and cranny of the spoon is smooth. You don’t want splinters in someone’s mouth, after all.

Finally, finish the spoon by applying a food-safe finish onto the sanded surface. Mineral oil or beeswax is popular, but do your own research for the best fit. Tie a bow around it and prepare for smooches on Christmas morning.

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