When the girls were little, we were broke, and by broke I mean that I really, really struggled with Christmas.  There were several years in a row where we often had about $5 to spend on each person in our extended family – and not much more for the people in the immediate herd.  We solved this by being extremely crafty.  We painted mugs, we baked, we canned, we knit and sewed, and we always had great presents.  It was nice actually (not the being broke part, that sucked monkey balls.  I know money can’t buy happiness but if you’re pretty happy already it can take the edge off of the festive season like not much else) we had to really think about our gifts, and consider them, and put time and effort into coming up with an idea instead of just tossing cash around inside the mall.  Anybody can buy you a shirt from the Gap, but tee-shirts painted with your children’s own art?  Priceless.  (It is good to see, by the way, that the time honoured tradition of the handprint reindeer has not gone out of style.)  We painted frames to put family prints in…. we wrapped up cookies and home made marmalade – we even made chocolate spoons one year.  The interesting thing is that I didn’t realize it then, but what I was really doing with my kids was training them for their own inevitable broke years.  What do young students/women with entry level jobs do for Christmas if they grew up crafty?
Well, for starters, Meg and Amanda bought some of those Pebeo porcelain paint markers, and a bunch of dollar store mugs, and they solved some problems.  Problems like that if you call your grandparents "Nana Carol" "Old Joe" and "Gramy"  you can never find mugs that say that.

They made me an yarny art one, and Joe one with the logo for his studio (beautifully hand drawn) on one side, and "The Boss" on the other.

They delivered little bags of handmade chocolate truffles and cookies. (They were delicious.  Amanda used my Pistachio Lemon biscotti recipe to great effect, much as I had done in the lean years.)

Sam though – Sam had access to some pretty handy people, and a woodshop, and she produced a few beautiful things.  First up, a chess set for her Grandfather. (Photo’s produced by way of Grandmother’s cell phone.  Thanks Nana Carol!) 

She built a box, with a hinged lid to keep all the pieces in, then painted the lid like a chess board. 

Thick dowels were cut into different lengths, and then stained two shades, and finally –

She painted the names of the pieces on top of them.  Tall ones that say "King" small ones that say "pawn". Very cool, and designed by our clever girl herself.   When she was done with the Chess set, she decided to break my little heart, and made me a few tools.

I am the proud recipient of a hand made, beautifully smooth niddy noddy, and very fine knitting needles, all with the date burned into them so I’ll always know.

It’s moments like this that make me grateful for all the time I spent with them making stuff when they were little.  I thought I was just occupying them, and being thrifty – but the girls got something out of it I wasn’t expecting.  They really understand that if you don’t have money, you have to replace it with skill and thoughtfulness.  I’m pretty proud of them.

Q&A- There were a ton of questions in the last round of comments, so here’s some quick answers.

Is that your house? 
No.  I dream of that being my house. That’s my Mum’s.

Why are people wearing paper crowns? 
They’re from the Christmas Crackers.   Crackers are pretty rolls of paper waiting for you on your dinner plate at Christmas, if you live in the UK or most of the Commonwealth.  Each one has a (tiny) exploding strip inside that runs the length of the cracker.  You hold one end of your cracker out to the person next to you, and each of you takes one end a pulls.  The strip breaks with a loud "CRACK!" the cracker is pulled apart, and your prize, your crown and your joke tumble out. The prize gets laughed at, the joke is told to your family, and the crown goes on your head for dinner.  (Best joke out of a cracker this year: What do you call a broken boom-a-rang?  A stick.) 

Why are people pointing at each other in that picture?
We are dancing and singing. We are that kind of family.  That would be during "Sweet Caroline" Which in part has the lyrics "reaching out… touching me….touching you…" which should explain everything, including the apparent groping.

What’s that big fish with Hank?
Air Swimmer Remote Control Inflatable Flying Shark. Yes.  It’s that cool. We all should have thrown our gifts in the bin once Ken gave him that.  No competing with it.

Who’s the pregnant lady?
That’s my sister in law Katie. I’ve got to start her blanket. 

Is that Amanda with tools?
Damn straight it is.  She’s 22 and just moved into her own place. Seemed obvious.

Now, if you don’t mind, today is the 4th day of Christmas, and our annual big  party at my Mum’s, and I have a lot of cooking to do.  Wish me luck.  This level of merriment is hard to maintain.