A paint brush was clenched between my teeth as I used one hand to hold the bottle of paint and the other to pry open the tiny lid.

A paint brush was clenched between my teeth as I used one hand to hold the bottle of paint and the other to pry open the tiny lid.

Hearing my neighbor's car pull into our shared drive, I raced through the living room from the kitchen and shuffled the project in my arms as I swung open the door.

"Hey, Debbie," I shouted as she started to turn the key in her lock, "come and look at what I have been working on all day."

It was the Saturday after Thanksgiving and I was engrossed in several different art projects.

The house, which is typically well organized, was in chaos.

The kitchen table was covered with a plastic cloth, my easel sat off to the side, paint bottles and tubes were strewn around the room as were brushes and on the table were samples of my work.

"Oh my gosh!" she said. "I didn't know you could do this."

Her mouth literally hung open as she examined the Christmas presents for my family.

"I didn't know I could do it either," I said, amused by her reaction.

Every year for Christmas, I tackle a project for my family.

I buy gifts, way too many, but I also try to make something for each of the people who are special in my life.

A hand-crafted gift has always meant more to me than dropping a couple hundred bucks. It is probably that Appalachian and Irish-Indian upbringing.

Among my grandfather's people they refer to "gifting" someone.

If you do something that pleases someone else, you are typically "gifted."

Some of the most treasured items I have were "gifted" to me by Native American friends or family and from my mother and grandmother.

Hanging on the wall in my living room is what appears to be a water color of a Native American spirit horse with the handprint on the neck and eagle feathers tied in his mane. It is not a water color at all. It is a cross-stitch pattern created by my mother.

All the money in the world could not buy it from me.

In my bedroom is a painting on slate of Plains Indian lovers created by my cousin.

Originally, she painted it for someone else and it has an inscription to that person in her handwriting on the back. She changed her mind and gave the painting to me, and that person will never know what he missed.

Hanging in the dining room is a shield created by a Tuscarora friend, a leather-wrapped tomahawk made by a Lakota friend, a beaded Shoshoni handbag, a beaded quiver complete with arrows and an Ojibwa breast plate.

The tomahawk would be used on anyone trying to lift the objects from that wall.

A Lakota dream catcher hangs above each bed, a star quilt which was in a particular Lakota family for many years before being "gifted" to me is draped over a quilt stand, a Lakota dance shawl is neatly folded over a wooden display hanger on the wall and the quilt my mother made for the wedding that was never held lies on the bed.

In the other room are Irish paintings created by my great-grandmother between the time she started painting at 60 and the time of her death at 105.

One of my aunts on the Irish side of the family painted a lighthouse on slate and it hangs in my bathroom.

A hurdy-gurdy, purchased in Ireland by my cousin, plays "Danny Boy" and a Celtic cross "gifted" to me by my aunt hangs on the front door of my house most months of the year.

These precious mementos of my life surround me on a daily basis, reminders of the love I have for people which will never fade.

I guess that is the sort of thing I want to pass onto my brother, nephews and nieces.

With a small token of my appreciation I want them to understand that with each moment it took for me to work on the project they were on my mind, like the cross-stitch lodge afghan Mom made several years ago and I continue to wrap up in on a cold, winter day.

When this tradition of gift making started, I baked. Sometimes it was a cake or a pie or a plate of cookies. I still do that, but after hunger pangs or a sweet tooth is appeased there was no sign of the love.

I have been an artist all my life, so I gave pencil sketches as gifts for years. I guess I thought people tired of them, or maybe I did, because I ceased doing it several years ago. With the exception of the barn located on my farm, which still hangs on the wall of the main house where it was placed after I "gifted" it to my father, I don't suppose my nephews have ever seen a trace of my talent. Maybe next year they will all get a sketch, while my hands and eyes are still functional.

I have presented a number of different gifts over the years; last year it was a photo album. I used scrapbooks and scrapbook materials, and then I dug through all of the photographs I had shot of my family over the years and made each album unique to the person's interests.

When the first album was opened, and I believe it was my brother who opened it, all of the unwrapping of gifts ceased for a while. He stopped and browsed through the pictures, which were reminders of his life as well as my own. His wife and sons congregated around him, looking at the photographs over his shoulder. Then one of the boys noticed a package which looked like an album in his Santa bag. He quickly realized he and his brothers were recipients of photo albums and they all dived into their packages.

It was a beautiful moment for me and them.

I think I captured a picture of the event on film.

This year I decided to paint something for everyone. Once again, the work is unique to the person.

"How long have you been working on this?" Debbie asked, still staring at the projects.

"I started at about 6:30 a.m.," I said, glancing at the clock to see that I had lost 13 hours.

"These are beautiful," she said.

I didn't really need to hear it, I could see for myself, but it was nice to be paid the compliment.

"I had no idea," she said. "How many years have you been doing something like this?"

"Basically," I said, "this year. I had never tried this before."

She shot me a look of something akin to bewilderment.

"I can do whatever I decide to do," I said, grinning. "I've been an artist all of my life, but I don't always take the time to do it. Sketches, scrapbooks, craft projects, photography, and now painting. It is a matter of deciding you want to do something."

"I can't believe this," she said.

"That is the half of the battle, believing you can," I said. "If you love someone and you want to show them that you love them, you have only to tell yourself that you can achieve the goals in order to do it."

Cathy Wogan is a staff writer for ThisWeek.

Cathy Wogan