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Neighbor love: Small holiday gifts

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SPREADING CHEER Get creative with some new ideas for neighbor gifts. (Illustration:

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and happy holiday season! The most wonderful time of the year is wonderful, and it’s also busy with all the things we want to do to make it special. For many of us, that list includes gifting our neighbors and work colleagues with a little something cheery. For me (maybe other people too?), it feels like an annual scramble to come up with something fun and festive that friends will enjoy.

This year, though, I am skipping the scramble because some Buzz readers have shared their top ideas for neighbor gifts. Hopefully their suggestions can help us all keep the “want-tos” on our lists from becoming “need-tos.”


Homemade Holiday Treat

For 16 years, Kelly Evans has been making and giving away almond bark using a recipe from her mother-in-law Patti Evans (aka “Gigi” to her grandchildren), a former San Antonio headmaster who made it annually for the staff at her school. “I give it to neighbors, every teacher my child has ever had, and all of my husband’s nurses and staff at the clinic and hospital,” Kelly says. (Her husband is Scott Evans, chair of pulmonary medicine at MD Anderson Cancer Center.) “One of Scott’s nurses retired a few years ago and asked for the recipe, because she couldn’t imagine not getting her treat each year!”

Gigi's Holiday Almond Bark

This recipe is easily multiplied.

1 large block of almond bark vanilla flavored coating
3 cups mini pretzels
1 cup cocktail peanuts
3 cups La Choy Chow Mein Noodles
1 cup golden raisins

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. In a heavy, medium-sized pot, melt the almond bark coating over medium-low heat, stirring continuously. When it is melted, remove from the heat and add the dry ingredients, a cup at a time, stirring into the melted coating between each addition to completely coat everything.

Scoop the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet and let it set. When it is dry, break the bark into pieces and place in decorative containers lined with food-safe holiday wax paper (find at The Container Store or Amazon).


A Gift with Special Meaning

Colorful art glass catchalls, bright candles made of hand-rolled beeswax, and acrylic blocks showcasing gorgeous photography – these are a few of the gifts you will find at Celebration Company, a program of Jewish Family Service Houston. “Giving a gift from Celebration Company also gives the gift of meaningful employment to adults with disabilities,” Rachel Davis, JFS’s chief development officer, says. Soaps, gift cards, tote bags, and more are made by or feature artwork made by Celebration Company employees, who, through their work, are equipped with life skills and purpose.


An Unexpected Shout-Out

Pediatrician Lindy McGee told us about the sticky notes she likes to give friends, saying, “I generally like gifts that you use up!” The “You Are Very Smart and Pretty Sticky Note Packet” from Em & Friends gives encouragement each time it’s used. Begun when founder Emily was diagnosed with cancer and realized friends drifted away because they didn’t know what to say, Em & Friends offers cards and gifts that speak honestly – and bluntly – to real life stuff. Who doesn’t want to hear Your hair is exceptional or You are a shining example of “hell yeah!” on the daily?


Holiday Spice

“I like to make and deliver spice sacks to simmer on the stove and give your house that scent of freshly baked gingerbread (without the mess or effort!). I used to buy tons of ingredients and lay them all out in the kitchen,” Barbara Trautner says of the days when her children were small. She would package the spices in clear plastic bags tucked into festive paper bags along with this recipe, printed on red or green paper:

Scent of the Season

1 fresh ginger root
3 cinnamon sticks
16 whole cloves
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 or 2 tablespoons pickling spice

Slice the ginger root and place all the ingredients in a pot of water. Simmer slowly on the stove. Enjoy the wonderful scent, but do not eat it!


A Level-Up for Bakers

The Wall Street Journal recently showed some love for Madagascar ground vanilla, which HISD Trustee Bridget Wade cleverly thought would make a great neighbor gift tied with a ribbon. “Bakers in the know are stocking up,” the WSJ espouses. “It delivers the intensity of the [vanilla] bean plus the convenience of extract.”


Here are a few more suggestions from our neighbors:

“Homemade tamales.”

“Quarts of soup.”

“My answer is always alcohol.”

“Anything that can be regifted!”

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