Navigating the give and take of holiday presents

Here come the holidays. If you want to eliminate some of the stress that comes with them, simplifying gift giving is a good place to start. And you can't get simpler than homemade.

"A homemade gift, especially one that is clever and heartfelt, is something you can't buy anywhere," says Noelle Olpin of Noelle O Designs. "When someone gives me something handmade that they have spent precious time to make, it means infinitely more than receiving a gift they swiped off the shelf as they ran through a store. Time is just as valuable as money, so it means a great deal when someone cares enough to hand-make a gift."

Olpin is a mother of four who lives with her filmmaker husband in Midway. She is one of the organizers of the Beehive Bazaar, a showcase for talented local artisans. (Check out for December event information.) Noelle blogs at and makes bags, clothing, home goods and accessories. She says even if you don't consider yourself a crafty person, now is the perfect time to try your hand at making something.

"In this age of extreme consumerism, gifts in general are very forgettable and disposable," Olpin said. "The gifts I remember the most over the years are the ones that were made for me by my kids, my husband, family and friends. Another benefit, of course, is financial. Use your brain and not your wallet to show your loved ones you care." Here are Noelle's eight ideas for homemade holiday gifts:

1 Photo op: Sort through your computer files or shoe boxes for pictures you can cut and paste together into a collage, says Olpin. The recipient will love revisiting trips and other memories. Frame your collage, make a mobile, or transfer pictures onto fabric and make a pillowcase.

2 Book it: Create a personalized photo book -- the subject and length is up to you. Olpin suggests user-friendly sites like Shutterfly, Heritage Makers or Blurb for a simple, affordable way to document your memories in a book. You could make a "family reunion" photo book with copies for the whole family, or a grandchildren photo book for grandparents.

3 Tell your story: Create your own storybook by using your own or your children's illustrations (or photos), says Olpin. Publish your book online or put the drawings and photos directly into a blank book. (You can get blank books with colorable covers at, for example.)

4 Calendar item: "If you are sitting on hundreds of great pictures because you never forget your camera, use those pictures and team up with other family members to create a personalized family calendar for 2012," Olpin said. You can use an online service or go the scrapbooking route to create your calendar.

5 Get cookin': Olpin suggests becoming famous for your fudge, cookies, candy, caramel corn, salsa, jam, chutney or other homemade treats by giving them as gifts. Get creative with the packaging by adding festive ribbons, personalized labels, etc.

6 Just sew: If your husband just isn't ready to let go of his T-shirt collection, clear closet space and make a keepsake by sewing the shirts into a quilt. Olpin says you can do the same thing with baby clothes, jeans, sports jerseys or any favorite outgrown clothes.

7 Play on words: Tell someone what they mean to you in a poem, a heartfelt card, embroidery piece or a diorama, says Olpin. Use your own photos and visit the craft store for decorative objects to include. If you'd like, mount your letter or poem on cardstock or corkboard so your loved one can display it.

8 Creative coupons: "Make a snazzy coupon with your favorite craft supplies for a one-on-one date with a child, spouse, grandchild or friend," Olpin said. "It could be for a special event you plan, a favorite meal made, chores to be done, etc. Your complete, undivided attention or the gift of your time is one of the best gifts you can give someone you love."

For more simple crafting ideas, Olpin recommends searching online craft tutorials and referencing Disney's FamilyFun Magazine or its accompanying website (