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The Joy of Homemade Gifts and Cards

By Becki Cohn-Vargas November 29, 2020 Lifestyle

As the pandemic surges and we are faced with extended hours of isolation from friends and family, where holiday travel is limited, and a general mood of stress is heightened, we rely on other forms of communication to express love and care.

Holiday cards and homemade gifts can take on a new meaning as we reach beyond the walls of our houses this winter season.

The Value of Homemade Gifts

Designing homemade cards and gifts has always been a source of creative expression for me. I recently found a card that said, “Happy Birthday, Daddy, May 31, 1969,” the year I graduated from high school.

The card, pen, and ink drawing filled in by watercolor paints featured my father, a Jewish cantor, with me standing below, holding the hands of children from the class where I served as a teacher’s assistant. It meant a lot to me that he saved it.

I also found a hand drawn birth announcement with a toucan rather than a stork flying high carrying a newborn in honor of my daughter’s birth in Managua in 1983. I drew each announcement separately.

birth announcement

When it came time for her Bat Mitzvah, 13 years later, I drew the invitation and zeroxed it, coloring in each individual card with markers.

During my years as a school principal, I prided myself in photocopying the designs and individually coloring the cards, adding a personal message to each of my school’s 150 employees. One special education aide told me that every year he taped my card to the mirror in his bedroom to keep his spirits up.

Full of Creative Vibes

Card-making is a wonderful creative outlet. It’s practical because it doesn’t require a fancy studio or complicated materials. I’ve accumulated a stockpile of blank cards and have amassed a set of pens, markers and paints, easily stored in a box in the closet. Card-making is relaxing and can be done with music, listening to books on tape, and even while watching TV.

Each year for the holidays, I try to make a new kind of card. A few years ago, my artist friend Kathe introduced me to Zentangle, a wonderful art form where you create patterns and designs, similar but much more intentional than doodling.

zentangle art

It is free flowing and does not require symmetry. Zentangles can be meditative, hence the name drawn from the word “zen.” Many of my cards have zentangle variations.

Various New Ideas

Another year, Kathe upped the ante and gifted me with materials needed to make embossed cards. The tools for embossing, available online and in craft stores, include: multi-colored embossing powders; embossing pens; and a heat gun – all fitting into a shoe box. I save embossing for special occasions because it is a bit messier than my usual card making.

While I was receiving chemotherapy, my energy was lower, but I insisted on sending cards. That year, I purchased a varied collection of colorful stickers, flowers, birds, and other animals. My creative outlet was placing them on the cards. I still had fun.

Last year I tried three-dimensional cards. I went to an art store and purchased tiny small foam pieces with adhesive that allowed me to do cut-outs and raised images. I had to buy larger envelopes and take the cards to the post office for extra stamps because the bulkier envelopes do not go through their regular machines, but it was worth it.

This year I discovered gel pens. I purchased a set of 140 colors which include some with sparkles, some in neon colors, and plain ones. I also have a special set of gold, silver, and bronze gel pens. My usual fancy card stock was unavailable, but I found the shinier cardstock works very well with the sharp clarity of the gel pens.

Collages and Decorated Birdhouses

Here are a couple more ideas for specialized cards or unique homemade gifts: collages and decorated birdhouses.


This year, as I am a new grandmother, I will be making and framing a collage of pictures of Anteo’s first year.

I’ve made collages many times before: for a BFF, a tribute to decades of friendship; my children a collage with highlights of our family as they grew up; and for my husband, a collage of sepia photos from his grandparents and some of the few pictures from his childhood in Nicaragua.

My process is simple. I gather together photos, scan them and print 4” by 6’’ copies. Then I cut out the different images, arrange and glue them on an 8.5” by 11” sheet of typing paper, outlining the images with a gold pen and scan the collage.

Finally, I print the scanned version on an 8.5” by 11” sheet. The collages can be made into a large card, and it is easy to make multiple copies of the scan to give to several people. And the collages can be framed.


For a three-dimensional card that is more like a special gift, I decorate birdhouses. I buy unpainted balsa wood birdhouses, decorate them with acrylic paint, and spray them with several coats of varnish.

I have given out numerous birdhouses over the years, but I’d never observed or heard about any feathered occupants. That changed this year when two different friends witnessed the birdhouse being used as a home and one even captured a photo of a mother attending to her baby birds.

During the pandemic, it is particularly important to maintain and nurture connections with friends and family. If you have never sent cards, this may be the time to start. Card-making is a wonderful creative outlet, and you might be pleasantly surprised to hear from a friend who decides to frame one!

Do you use the time before the holidays to create beautiful cards and other things to send out to loved ones? What do you write on them? Please share some of your innovative ideas. We would all benefit from new techniques.

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The Author

Becki Cohn-Vargas, Ed.D, has been blogging regularly for Sixty and Me since 2015. She is a retired educator and independent consultant. She's the co-author of three books on identity safe schools where students of all backgrounds flourish. Becki and her husband live in the San Francisco Bay Area and have three adult children and one grandchild. You can connect with her at the links below.

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