'This all was an offshoot of the hobby of woodworking
As a kid growing up on an Iowa farm during the 1950s and '60s, he played with one of the cardboard kaleidoscopes that were mass-produced in St. Louis. But as an adult, Olson never gave them a thought until he got one as a gift. He received it while lying in a hospital bed recuperating from quintuple-bypass surgery.
'I paid attention to their reactions,' he said of the medical staff who eagerly took turns peering through the eyepiece of Olson's present.
Those reactions to the ever-changing images and colors were so intriguing that Olson decided to make a major life change. He swapped his career as a computer software writer for the equally creative - but far less stressful - job of kaleidoscope creator.
'The basic thing is, it's got to have mirrors in it,' he said of his prized product. 'A lot of people think it's a prism, but it's not. It's mirrors. All the kaleidoscopes I make have three mirrors.'
Those pieces of glass, which he tapes together, are then inserted in a hand-turned wooden tube. Olson works with exotic woods that have enchanting names such as African padauk, cocobolo and zebrawood.
Though the standard chain store at the mall boasts last-minute special savings, the truth is that mass-produced gifts never feel quite as special as something thoughtful and handmade. Sites like Etsy have made it a lot easier to buy such things, but with a little determination, even at the 11th hour there are plenty of homemade Christmas gift ideas for people at all levels of crafty skills.
CD ornaments: It's an oldie but a goody, plus it offers a slightly greener alternative to disposing of that 100-count box of blank discs many 30- and 40-somethings still have leftover from the pre-iPod days. Design options range from more complex star pieces resembling stars or ornate crosses, to something as simple as a cutout family photo or decorated paper affixed to the front and back of the disc. If you've been trying to figure out a way to use up broken, dated or generally unwearable costume jewelry, so long as they're lightweight enough, these pieces can make for a great alternative to store-bought rhinestones.
Candles: Although it's a more complex craft that requires supplies the average person doesn't have around the house, a homemade candle always feels a little special for the person receiving it (even when it doesn't turn out quite right). For a simple option kids can help with, try making one with a cookie cutter, and for the more ambitious, consider a scented candle - they say scent is the strongest trigger for memories, so this option is a doubly memorable gift.
Handmade Christmas Cards: Depending on how ambitious the design is, these can be tricky time-wise, but also less complicated than meets the eye. In many cases, gluing small parts together can be the most complicated part, with the glue drying time representing the longest single piece of the project. Make one addressed to your most special of friends and thread a ribbon through cut-out holes to create an ornament for the following years, or make a set of ten for one very special person who won't be able to claim they didn't have time to buy Christmas cards next year.