The gift-giving season is almost upon us, but thoughtfulness and practicality are year-round goals, as is keeping your sanity. So here are five homemade gifts that you can start making right now to avoid stress at the mall or with your bank account later. Steal some quiet moments and flex those creative muscles. Who knows? Making these presents also might be a gift to yourself.

HANDCRAFTED SOAPS

The gear: Meltable soap base cubes, fragrance, dye, molds, adds-in from your pantry, garden or craft store.

The online resources: www.soapmakingforum.com.

htttp://ezinearticles.com/?Easy,-Wonderful-Homemade-Soap&id=618693 www.instructables.com/id/Melt-and-Pour-Soap-Making---Home-Made-Soap-the-Eas/

The cost: Initial ingredients for eight bars of soap cost $22.55 at a local craft store; about $13 of that was for long-lasting or reusable items.

The final touch: Wrap the soaps in a new washcloth and tie with raffia ribbon.

HANDKNIT DISHWASHING CLOTH

The gear: Worsted-weight cotton yarn, knitting needles.

The online resource: The best site for the basics on how to knit, with lots of video, is www.knittinghelp.com/. For patterns for knitted dishcloths, go to www.knittingpatterncentral.com/directory/dishcloths.php.

The cost: Cotton yarn available at Michael's, JoAnn Fabrics and yarn shops for about $5 a skein; needles vary by brand, average $7.

The final touch: Shape a trio into rosettes and tie together with ribbon for a kitchen "bouquet."

MICROWAVE HEATING BAG

The gear: Cloth, grains.

The online resources: tipnut.com/make-your-own-microwave-heating-pad/

The cost: Depends on cloth and filling, which you may have on hand.

The final touch: Package with mix CD of soothing music.

MEMORY BOOK

The idea: Revisiting a significant date in a person's life. Choose a date that's meaningful to the recipient -- college graduation, marriage, Pearl Harbor, first house, first hole-in-one, bypass surgery, etc. -- then find news stories, magazine articles, ads, photos or music that reflects what also was going on in the world that day. This is a great project for kids because the findings can prompt further conversations among the generations.

The gear: Photos, printouts, CD mixes -- and your imagination.

The online resources: Librarians have access to many research sites; also: features.yahoo.com/history/

lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/today/archive.html

The cost: Your time, and possible printing costs.

The final touch: Deliver with love, and a willingness to listen.

DOG BISCUITS

The gear: Flours, flaxseed, seasonings, water, cookie cutter.

The online resources: See recipe below, or see www.gourmetsleuth.com/recipe_dogbiscuit.htm.

The cost: A bargain, and can be adjusted to a dog's particular cravings.

The final touch: Layer ingredients in a mason jar, then attach the recipe and a dog bone cookie cutter.

K-NATION DOG BISCUITS

Makes several dozen.

Note: Local baker Klecko makes these treats for his four dogs and recommends cutting them to a length appropriate for the dog's jaw, such as 1 inch for small breeds and 3 inches for large breeds.

Layer in a quart jar:

• 1/2 c. yellow cornmeal

• 1 1/4 c. whole wheat flour

• 1 tbsp. garlic powder

• 1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

• 1/3 c. flaxseed

• 1/4 c. whole wheat flour

• 1 c. water, or more as needed

Directions

Combine all ingredients, mixing well. On floured surface, roll to 1/2-inch thickness, then cut in appropriately sized pieces with a pizza cutter or cookie cutter. Place on cookie sheets and bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. Cool on wire racks.

Kim Ode • kimode@startribune.com