Grace Hwang Lynch

Little Bit of This, Little Bit of That

Grace Hwang Lynch

Grace Hwang Lynch
Silicon Valley, California,
December 31
I'm a former television news reporter. Currently a communications consultant, freelance writer, and mother of two. I write about raising a multicultural family at HapaMama, and I'm also the News & Politics Editor at BlogHer. My work has been published in several magazines and newspapers, as well as in the anthologies "Lavaderia: A Mixed Load of Women, Wash and Word" and "Mamas and Papas:On the Sublime and Heartbreaking Art of Parenting" by City Works Press. Follow me on Twitter: @HapaMamaGrace


Editor’s Pick
DECEMBER 15, 2010 7:07PM

Gifts You Just Can't Buy

Rate: 24 Flag

I thought I had my holiday shopping done on Black Friday (one of them, at least). Lured by the emails promising 30...40... 50 percent off of everything, double the reward points,  and cashback on the credit card, I scooped up armfuls of sweaters and gift sets at the mall. Presents for everyone! Fashionable, safe and just a little boring.

Over the years, I'm afraid I've developed a reputation among my family and friends for giving gifts that are homespun: a binder full of favorite recipes, handpainted ceramics, picture frames holding my artful (in my humble opinion) photographs of my kids. Each year, I stay up past two in the morning on some night in early December, frantically editing photos and uploading them to one of those sites where you can design your own calendars. There is usually the added time pressure of an expiring coupon code, or the last day to order forn delivery by the 25th.

These gifts are ooh'ed and ah'ed over on Christmas morning, but I never really quite knew if the recipients truly like them. After all, when the gift-giver is also the gift-maker, it makes it doubly hard to show any disappointment. I read hidden meanings into which presents are scooped up and put away and which are left to languish on the coffee table.

There is also my other fear: that people will think I'm just cheap. Our budget is as tight as  (or tighter than) anyone else's, something I'm acutely aware of during the holidays. Like some twisted magazine headline, my presents "Look Cheap, Cost a Fortune!" After all, those studio fees, printing charges, and art supplies add up.

 This year, I vowed not to make any more family photo calendars. My kids are no longer chubby cheeked toddlers in matching sweaters, but gangly elementary school students who hate to dress up.  My parents have a new grandbaby to dote on, and frankly, I could do without staying up all night squinting at the monitor, deciding whether Helvetica or Bookman Old School suits the calendar background. Nobody really likes those gifts anyway.

As soon as I had made that silent vow, strange things began to happen. My mother told me a story about how she brought a photo album I had created for her over to a party at a friend's house. When it was time for her to leave, she couldn't find the album. She couldn't sleep that night, and the next day, returned to her friend's house, certain that the album was still there. "It's irreplacable!" she lamented, telling of how she returned to that house the next day, and searched until she found it.

Over a Thanksgiving visit, I noticed that each morning my father-in-law kept grabbing a certain mug out of the cabinet: a handpainted one, smeared with yellow and blue paint and a blobby "dog". My older son made it when he was four.  "Remember that mug we gave my dad?" my husband later asked me. "It fell on the floor and broke. He's really bummed. You should take the boys to make another one."

Are you crazy? Take two rambunctious boys to a studio full of breakable ceramics, and pay money to watch them get paint all over the place? I could buy a table full of coffee cups at Target for the price of a studio fee and an oversized (and overpriced) mug at the paint-it-yourself place.

But the idea that someone actually wants — and is requesting — my creations (or those of my kids) is just too enticing to my artist's ego. So, three hours and nearly $100 later, we created a mug for my father-in-law...


Grandpa mug

One for my husband...


Christmas mug

A platter for my mother...


hand painted platter

and several other knick-knacks.


The photo calendars have been laid out and printed... But I will still have to buy gifts for the kids. No matter how hard I try, I don't think I could make a Wii.

All text and photos (c) 2010 Grace Hwang Lynch

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Your gifts are beautiful! I would love to have a platter like that and I bet Grandpa will get a little misty over the mug. Glad you're feeling inspired again. If we can just make it through the end of this week, then the week up until Christmas, then the week after Christmas...
They don't sell any of this stuff at Target. That makes all the difference in the world.
Handmade gifts are the best!
Now these are gifts I wouldn't mind getting because they show you took the time to care to make them. BTW, make your kids a ceramic wii remote holder. R
I love your gifts, Grace. I love handmade, homemade and made with love. Hugs for a happy holiday.~r
Those are adorable. I really like getting the photo calendars from my relatives -- even if their kids are kind of awkward at this point, all elbows and teeth. Sometimes it really IS the thought that counts.
Oh, this made me smile. I want one of the Christmas Tree Coffee Cups, please.
Best gifts are conceived in the heart and created by one's own hands, however simple and modest they are. Yours are really beautiful and show a lot of love.
What's the fun of cheap mugs purchased at Target that you know everyone else within driving distance of a Target can ALSO buy?

Knowing someone made something for you--even if that person was four years old and at the time, a non-artist--that's irreplaceable.

When I was five, I gave my very elegant Aunt Barbara a paper quiver I'd made in Kindergarten, as we were studying Indian tribes. (In 1968, they weren't Native Americans yet. ) If she didn't like it, she gave an Oscar-worthy performance of thanking me for it.
This is such a great post! Lovely gifts you've made...and they always mean more when they're handmade.
What a compliment that they not only use your gifts, but lament when they go missing. That means they were still well chosen or well made. It matters not if handcrafted, only if appreciated. Sadly, I have a boxful of former gifts that were neither thoughtfully picked out or appreciated by me, and I feel bad that I don't like some of that stuff more.
I love your gifts. Very unique and special
My daughter has been making me the photo calendars since the birth of our first grandson six years ago. It is always my favorite gift and I literally stand in front of it every morning and smile. Homemade gifts are the best.
I love those paint-your-own-tchochke places! You're lucky-- I used to make handmade gifts for my family, and they genuinely weren't into them. Now I just order everyone gift cards online, which they love, and make lots of cookies for us to eat as we lounge around and catch up. That kind of homemade they can get into!
Trudge, the ceramic Wii holder is a great idea!

I am really surprised by how many people say they like the photo calendars. I always worried they were the new version of the free bank calendar (remember those?)

Shiral- your Aunt Barbara was a lucky lady. I bet there was less acting involved than you think.

Oryoki- we have boxes of that stuff, too. ChiaObama, anyone?

Felicia- anyone who receives cookies from you is in for a treat!
Amazing, funny post. Loved it! Especially since I've got the same gift giving dilemma as you! And I love the gifts you made with your kids.
Delightful, EP-worthy post, Grace! I still have things my son made when he was in pre-school. They mean more to me than all the designer wallets, purses and cashmere sweaters he has bought me since he's been an adult. Love is priceless.

Grace, how sweet. I still do the annual photo calendar for grandparents. Now we order one for ourselves, too, because the kids really enjoy looking at...themselves!
Ah yes, gone are those days. . . and coming again as we approach grandparenthood.

Enjoy. (And good luck with the Wii.)
At holiday time and Christmas, it is the thought that counts the most...
This is such a wonderful post. You fully understand the meaning of the season. Things to dust are meaningless.
BTW, I'm happy to say I returned a bunch of sweaters at the mall today!
These are great.

I've given, twice, a large hardcover book filled with recipes -- illustrated by collages or my own drawings and paintings. This year, nervously, I gave my agent and my editor small picture frames, each with one of my own photos, each chosen for how I see these two essential hardworking women -- one a pic of flowers from a Paris bakery, the other a stone bust of a woman from London.

They both loved them; it's a little scary offering your own work!
I'd love a home-spun gift, personally. rated
Better late than never... I love the idea of making homemade gifts for everyone. On one visit I learned my Mom frames all of my daughter's paintings.