Monday, December 10, 2018

Homemade Gift Ideas for the "Non-Crafty"

This is a 2018 updated version of a 2011 blog post that is still one of the most popular. I'll be back late tomorrow with more current goodies!

I have a Monday morning confession: This is the first year in memory that not a single homemade or non traditional gift item will be in my Christmas gift giving pile. Oh yea, I am definitely working on some projects: The Kimono for my daughter, a complete reworking of her Tshirt quilt (which depending on my decisions, I'll be sharing some step by steps on), and the blanket for my brother and sister in law. This year, all will be simply given when done. But for Christmas Day and that $50 limit, I am relying completely on Amazon.

Most years, I have at least one alternative gift in the bunch. And often it's not for budget reasons. In fact, money is usually on the bottom of the list as to why I give homemade gifts, be they crafty or otherwise. Gifts I give of myself are original, planned for a specific recipient, and yes, they can be cost effective. Still, I know lots of people are lost lost when it comes to giving (or receiving) homemade/handmade/non traditional gifts. And for some it has a bad connotation. Perhaps because we often treat those kind of gifts in the same manner as we do those last minute gifts bought on Christmas Eve. I realize many readers are of the no gifts or no gifts except for kids persuasion. But these kinds of gifts can work for kids, especially older kids too. And if you're like me and have a social event or two where small gifts are the norm-that works as well.

This year, even though I have those multiple crafting projects going on, my primary gift source, as I said above, is mainly Amazon. Mainly, to tell the truth, because everything on my kid's list are basic needs (what happens when you have three family members not working and in school full time and a son in law carrying up the slack, for one). But I have done the homemade thing before-and not all of them were "crafty". To that end, here is my annual list of non traditional gift ideas for the mainly non crafty that I have given, taught classes on, or suggested to others. All have been well received and some are requested each year-even the food items from the non-cook:
  • Homemade food specialties. Whatever your "thing" is, barbecue sauce, pesto, flavored popcorn.. The trick with these is time and packaging. In other words, making a Christmas cover for the jar and putting it in a gift basket, or making a set of three flavors  as  a set is what makes all the difference.
  • Family Recipe Book. This is a working project for me as I get recipes from far flung relatives but eventually it will be done. Get a cheap Christmas scrapbook or use a binder. With the graphic alternatives available today, making beautiful pages is easy. Why make your daughter-in law beg for your killer lasagna recipe? Share it with her now. Or give an album and one or two recipes with promises for more.
  • See if you can find a reasonably priced used or classic book from someones childhood.
  • Give away your stuff. Not all of it mind you, but a family Christmas ornament or heirloom a year (assuming it's one said child or family member would really use) so that it can be used now is a wonderful gift. And you're downsizing in the process
  • Write down your memories for kids or grand kids. I'm not talking about a best selling biography here. I'm talking about starting some kind of journal and writing down things about you or your kids that family members may not remember.  Your kids will like it and your grand kids (if you have any) will LOVE it. Have pictures to show some of the history-especially a few embarrassing ones in the mix.
  • If you are separated by miles, make a video
  • If you are separated by miles, consider (if you have the appropriate equipment or can borrow it) recording a favorite story for a child or grandchild. They get their favorite book on CD with the added gift of your voice.
  • If you take really good pictures, scrounge a frame, spiff it up, enlarge the picture and give it as a gift. Do you know how much professional family portraits cost?
  • Day outing or family experience. Or do it just for the kids. A Christmas movie with all the goodies, sleigh ride, Christmas tree hunt
  • If it's reasonable priced, look for a collectible item. I collect china tea cups.  These can cost up to twenty five dollars, but they can also be found for three to ten dollars (the ones I just saw from occupied Japan). Obviously, you need to know that the individual still collects or really wants this item.
  • Burn specific Cd's. I don't like to listen to only one artist. My brother is a computer geek who knows how to download every single free music track there is (as well as video) he has given me many classic rock CD mixes of songs-often with live performances.  He's also given my son DVDs such as Jeff Beck at an Austin, Texas location-amateur video but priceless.
  • Consider giving the gift of you to far away family-in their presence, as a surprise. 
  • If you have a green thumb, give plants and or clippings. My father used to just look at Orchids and they grew (in the ground, even in the winter, in north Texas). I was more than  happy, to say the least, to take his offshoots.This year my daughter is getting succulent offshoots from a friend
  • Back to the food gifts again-consider an "of the month" gift.  Decorated cookie of the month, homemade soup of the month, you name it.
  • Give the gift of your time and services:  Make the coupon book look REALLY good, and make specific definite plans on the coupon book or as soon after the gift is given.  Don't promise to spend the afternoon with your daughter one on one "someday", have a time or an event in mind.  Gifts of service and skill can include: A romantic meal and/or a promise to babysit, spending the day on the floor with your granddaughter having a tea party and playing with Lego's, offering to climb up on the ladder and paint the trim on your parents house.
Homemade gifts are just like anything else. You want to give something that will be used, loved, appreciated, wanted and/or needed (my concentration this year)  If it fits more than one category, all the better. And non traditional gifts can serve those purposes just as well as the local store-most years.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Asking the Readers-and Five Frugal Things

The past couple weeks my frugal attention has been mainly on trying to combat waste. I tend to  pat myself on the back on occasion when it comes to lack of waste in some areas, but there are other areas here at Chez Barb where we are sorely lacking in waste control-which affects our money and more. Also, I really want to do up my "in home recycling"  In the past few weeks we have been doing some decluttering, and the recycling stuff has been on my mind:

1. I've decided to start freezing things as they come out of the oven and slow cooker for second meals. I generally use a large slow cooker or casserole, and I have started cooking casseroles in two eight inch square pans rather than one big pan and such so I can freeze one. Occasionally it means being creative at lunch time (hello scrambled eggs!) but it eliminates that weekly trip to the back of the fridge where there are five containers each with a half an inch of soup or half a chicken breast and sauce that end up in the trash. 

2. I've done my damnedest to keep the heat at 72 instead of going higher, and 66 at night, even last week when the temps have been in the teens.This may not seem like much to many of my readers, but I generally am a "just turn that thing up to 74 already" person. This is as much a "lets not waste resources" move as it is a money saving one. Unfortunately when it comes to water, I am still the "I can take a shower every other day in the winter because I have short hair, but give me ten minutes" kind of gal.

3. I went through all the clothes that my son and I were ready to throw out, a huge majority of which were due to size rather than their old and falling apart status. I especially cut out and saved all the denim from the jeans, and the large pieces of cotton and shirting from his 2XLT shirts, which can be used for a variety of projects as long as something else. Then I grabbed all the single earrings (I don't have expensive jewelry because, well, I lose it) to see if I can create a new things from the old. I'm still looking for actual people to donate other things to, instead of just goodwill.

 If I can't use these fabric things, they'll go, but I envision denim coasters and hot pads for gifts and sale, a shirting summer quilt for my son, and lots and lots of napkins (we use non matching napkins most of the time, so that we know whose is whose) for starters.

4. In my trusty, all knowing notebook, I've made a page for each month with all the events and expected expenses for each month, as well as expected trips and overnights (more on those later). I'll adjust the budget for those items soon, and start putting money aside and/or planning for said purchases and travel.

5. In direct relationship to #3,  I've decided to rethink the selling what I make thing from a different perspective. I've been enjoying making both traditional and non-traditional creations, including all the upcycling projects I've been creating. I'm going to have extra sewing, knitting and making time in the next few months as the weather cools and the darkens in the evening. Then I'll decide how best to move forward with what I've made. I tend to make more things than I can ever use or give to my kids, so after that I'll decide what to sell and what to give. I've already had offers for some upcycled/recycled creations but since I don't actually want a "business" or an Etsy page, the question is, of course, how to share them and how to sell them..........

Which leads me to my upcoming big project, about which I could use your opinion. Regular readers know that I have been looking for a new "big project" for awhile. I explored many things, including a crafting book. I've pretty much decided to start a crafting/creative blog, but before I do, I'd love your opinion as to whether said blog should be rolled into this one  or a separate entity. And if it were a separate entity, which would you be more likely to read?

My thoughts are that this blog (or series of articles) would concentrate on being creative with what you have, learning with me projects and things to make for the non crafty. I'm still working on the title, since "Creativity for the Rest of Us" is too close to some other blog titles or tag lines. I decided that my original idea of a book would be too limiting, both in type of creativity and scope. I hope to include crafts and creative projects that any one can do, projects and recipes that including making things out of stuff on hand and even a "learn with me" series mentioned above as I learn to do new things step by step. As well as frugal crafting and projects.

In response to a comment, these would not just be pictures about what I was doing, this woudl be specific tutorials and how tues, sometimes with multiple pictures as I went through the projects!

Right now said blog is a twinkle in my eye until after the holidays, but I've begun writing in order to have a backlog of articles. I'll share more once I'm firmly on the way, but meanwhile, people, hit me!!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Wednesday, What I'm...................

Making:  I texted my daughter a picture of the drop stitch kimono I was considering making below, and asked her if she would wear it if I made it. Her answer was "Yup, I would want it longer tho".  When I asked for color she said she could do any color. Since I had this pretty cotton yarn on hand, I've begun this. I believe it will go fast, but as open weave as it is, she probably won't be able to wear it for a month or so, even in Dallas. 

Add caption

Cooking:  I've finished a batch of the brown sugar shortbread cookies, and probably won't bake any more until the weekend, when I make two other types (when people are gone and I have the kitchen to myself, if you will). Tomorrow I'm doing the cooking, along with someone else for the Family Promise group previously mentioned. She is doing pulled pork sliders and I am making these gems. We're adding cookies and bars, salad, salsa and chips, and a plate of cut veggies and dip-and perhaps cut up fruit as well. 
I add a teeny bit of brown sugar to this sauce
Working on:  I 've gotten out my big calendar with the squares and am working on filling in all dates for future events that I know of, birthdays and possible travel dates, so that I can make a rough plan and list of goals for the new year. It's done in pencil and lot's of things are roughed in at best. The calendar and my stream of consciousness list of things I want to do, places I want to go, and goals and stuff will hopefully come together to make my 2019 plan, or as big of a plan as this non planner can make!  

Reading:  I downloaded the new Michal Connelly thriller and was less than thrilled. Not in love with the new character as such, and don't think Bosch needs one, but that's just me. On the other hand I loved the new John Sanders Virgil Flowers novel. I'm now trying to decide what to read next from my long list of what to read. Perhaps a non fiction book for a brief change? 

Or not, knowing me!

Monday, December 3, 2018

My New Volunteer Gig(s)

Long time readers know that I made the difficult decision to give up a volunteer gig that was close to my heart in the past year. After years of volunteering one or two days a week at a long term transitional shelter for women (most of whom were boomers or seniors), some changes came up in my life. I ended up sharing a car with my son for some time (whose work and college commutes generally took priority). It was a half an hour drive on a good day, and it was from early in the morning to noon. There were also other lifestyle issues that stopped me from being able to volunteer with these women, not the least of which is that while my health has not degenerated, my legs have very bad days when  city driving is painful (road tips not so much because all that stopping and starting is eliminated and I can cruise).

I slogged along for awhile, not wanting to leave the wonderful caseworker out in the proverbial cold (since there was only one staff person at a time, the only time she could do things like one on one counseling or other things that required her leaving her office was when I was there to cover). Courtney was blessed with a promotion, and the new person in her place doesn't have the same needs for staff (there are still other people helping). This enabled me to transition out-with little guilt!

Then, of course, I had to decide where to move on in terms of volunteering (not volunteering was never an option. I'm one of those obnoxious people who believes if you want a better world you should be doing something about it-and not just voting. Yes, even in retirement. Left wing hippy chick that I am, in the end I believe it's still up to people to make the difference, not just government).

I was looking for something closer to home, that would have intensive times and less intensive times. I was also looking to move into advocacy. Perhaps even do both. And I have been searching for ways to  use my talents and materials  while I was nesting at home. I don't know if it was the Lord providing, but all of those options have appeared on my plate.

My church has recently become involved with something called Family Promise. This is a support service for working families who are homeless. Families spend a week at our church, four or five times a year. They are housed in those rooms that would normally be used for things like Sunday school and meetings. The church (in this case our church), provides family style meals where we eat with our guests at dinner and breakfast. We transport them to a center in the morning and pick them up at night. We assist with child care and on the weekends, offer families a program of some sort and invite them into church. The hosting church changes on a weekly basis. There are a variety of jobs to be done in relation to this hosting thing-people staying over night and being on call, cooking the meals and spending time with the guests, transporting to and fro with a van, and many more things.

Considering my two year volunteer gig that I previous did at another church (cooking weekly for a program), I volunteered to be the organizer of the food. This gig is perfect for me in that I am not actually cooking myself as a rule (although I am usually there every evening to assist the cooks and servers and to sit down and spend time with the families), lots of the organization can be done from home, it's a five time a year things, and it's a mile from my house. It's also helpful, that like my transitional shelter, this program has a high success rate-or as high a success rate as you can in a town where wages are stagnant and the cost of living in terms of housing is exorbitant!  

And so I found a new niche in terms of out of the house volunteering. And, in a bit of serendipity (and with some time spent on Pinterest and Utube), I've found at least two charitable ways that I can be at home, crafting and watching TV while still doing "good". I've begun making hand warmers, lap blankets and knitted shawls for homeless and low income elderly folks. I've also (with apologies to the male readers with sensitivities) begun making cloth sanitary pads out of recycled clothing and scraps-to be sent to girls in mainly "third world areas", who miss school because of norms and fear of blood or because of lack of basic supplies and knowledge of how to use them. This is probably worth it's own discussion......

With these new "gigs" or projects, I've actually decreased the amount of time that I weekly spend on so called volunteerism, which in some weird way makes me feel guilty, even though I know we all need to find the level at which we can help others and manage our own lives. But the lack of commute, the increased time at home, and the ability to work all this around my energy level, travels and other things makes it work for me.

At least for now!!

Saturday, December 1, 2018

The December List

Today is December first. This is the time I slow down, put aside unfinished project and prepare myself to enjoy the season.  

You may remember this post, mid-November, filled with long Christmas plans and to-do's. That, my friends was then and I did in fact get a fair amount of stuff done during the last three weeks. We are now fully into the Christmas season though (tomorrow being the first Sunday of Advent) and I am ready to enjoy, rather than do for the most part. Unfinished gifts and projects have been put away except for those relaxing things I work on because I can when I have time. Christmas decorating is finished, even if not everything has been put out. The Amazon shopping list is finished * and ready to go whenever I put that trusty I-click button. Generally, anything unfinished gift wise, decoration wise, shopping wise and even cleaning wise has been put to the side unless it is part of the regular routine.

For the rest of the month? Relaxing and fun stuff is mainly on my "to-do list" for the coming weeks:

1.  I've kept social commitments to a minimum, but I am still looking forward to two luncheons, a holiday afternoon tea, a holiday movie outing (to go and see the Clint Eastwood move) and a trip to the Christmas market with snacks afterward. I really am a less is more person when it comes to holiday socialization that is not family or church associated. 

2.  Bake. Bake the cookies in the other post. Remember, I love baking. Baking is my jam. I only do it at Christmas because I eat when I'm baking. But bake, bake, and bake some more. While listening to Christmas music and/or watching that adorable video on cable of all the Christmas puppies playing among the packages.

3. Make a "twelve gifts of Christmas" basket for each kid, to be opened between Christmas and the sixth of January. For the record, Christmas begins on Christmas day. Just sayin'. My kids have set a fifty dollar limit of gifts for Christmas max, and they expect me to hold to that as well. This is a way I can give them a couple extra things without "breaking the rules" or "making them feel bad". Their words not mine. I'll also probably take all three of us out for pedicures in Dallas. The boy thing is always harder, just as for stockings, but so far I have a small man cave sign, Zippo hand warmers, beer chillers and beer bottle stops, and the requisite very small gift cards and candy.

4. Spend a lot of evenings at home (with cookies and hot chocolate) snuggled on the couch watching Christmas movies, and programs. Yes, Die Hard is a Christmas movie. Love Actually, on the other hand? Very much not a Christmas movie. 

5. Do something with the family left behind. Normally we do New Year's Day as our belated little holiday time, but someone suggested having a Christmas wrapping and cookie party the day before we leave. One or the other, but  never at my house so no real planning, just enjoying.

6. Try to get my sister to come to Texas. Her business is closed between Christmas and New Years, so she would just need to take off three working days. Life would be crowded, and I would owe my son in law, as it would be seven dogs** and five adults (she and I would need to share a king sized bed for four days or sleep on the sofa), but a good time would be had by all.

7.  In the spirit of the holidays, do my quarterly physical volunteering gig this week. Our church is a family promise host, and I am the meals coordinator. For those who remember my previous weekly volunteering gigs, this is huge change for me. It's just four weeks a year, and as I coordinator I simply organize who is making what and drop by the church (a mile from me) for a couple hours each night to see what is going on.

Other than that? I plan to relax and enjoy the month until we head down south. Lots of chilling and family. Thinking on goals for 2019 now and then. And forcing myself to get as many steps in as often as I can. Because, well, Christmas cookies!!

* In theory, my Christmas shopping is done. Only someone shared this particular subscription box option with me a couple days ago. And since I have a family member who reads the classics and loves coffee, one or two  monthly gift boxes may be in order. Each box comes with a classic book, a specialty flavored coffee (or tea or hot chocolate) a snack of some sort, a mug and some book related thing like a bookmark. 

** My daughter has two dogs, but she also fosters. As of now she will have three fosters plus her own two on Christmas. Never mind the fact that I have one, and my sister has one. so we will have our own little dog park in the back yard!!

Monday, November 26, 2018

Scraping the Bottom of the Freezer

This year, I'm off my Christmas decorating game. Normally, I decorate the day after Thanksgiving (I'm firmly in the one holiday at a time camp). As I type, however, there are boxes all over my den, with none opened. There is also an artificial tree in the living room. Bare as the day as the day it was created. Meanwhile I sit here, looking at said boxes with no move (as of yet) to attack.

Both of our trees have a bad light strand right in the middle (I am diametrically opposed to pre-lit trees), and I don't want to make a special trip, so they remain on hold. I have managed to pull out the quilts that go on the various tables and some small pieces of decor, but I have yet to pull out all the nutcrackers and put them on the mantle, or any of the other fun stuff. Never mind the tree ornaments. I suspect this early Thanksgiving thing-because the first fell on the Thursday-has affected my Christmas spirit. I'm used to the weekend after Thanksgiving being the beginning of December. Have no fear though. Buy this weekend (and the first Sunday of Advent), I'll be in the zone.

Our dinners for the last few days have been interesting but mainly free, and they will continue to be for the next few days again as I slowly dig out the freezer. I've had to get a few things to go with the freezer meats (yesterday I got small carrots, celery and canned tomatoes to make an Italian pot roast) but mainly I have been doing my darndest to use what we have on hand. This week we will be having country ribs cooked in the oven, frozen salmon fillets and a beef and bean casserole for starts-needing very little. After that, I'm not sure what I will find at the bottom of said chest freezer. I do know there is a single frozen lamb chop and some calves liver (yes, we love liver).

I'd like to be able to say that the purpose of this digging is to clean and defrost the freezer (ha!) or that my goal here was to purely to save money. Obviously saving money is my go to strategy, so on some level, yes. But the true reason for my forays to the bottom of the deep freeze is make more room in the deep freeze. For more stuff. And to clean out those few things that have passed us by and need to make friends with the trash can (I do try not to waste but the frozen tamales given and forgotten by those who eat them since last Christmas probably need to leave my freezer). 

Some day, I may actually organize my freezer as well as this blogger does

What's going in said freezer?  All the cool meats that are on sale in this season seem to be larger cuts. Hams (I try not to eat too much cured meat, but we don't eat ham at Easter so this is our time-and ham and bean soup, people!), pork shoulders, chucks, bottom rounds, small turkeys, whole chickens. Almost all of which can be easily turned into slow cooker meals, but take a little bit more room than the flat packages of hamburger or boneless breasts or pork chops.

Tis also baking season. I'm actually behind on that front, thanks to the cold and strep situation and my desire to share no germs with any cookie recipients. Now, though, it's time to begin the cooking process, which involves making four or five dozen of each kind, and then freezing at least the beginning forays in that direction so they are still fresh and good on Christmas. I also want to get some other baking in as I have time. That will definitely take up some room.

My freezer is usually filled mainly with meats and baked goods and other stuff) rather than cooked food except for soups (frozen casseroles from Schwan's or the Mart being the exception). I expect we would do this more if we were just one or two, but right now we are three people who all like eating leftovers either the second day and/or for lunches.

This week, I'm going to experiment with those orange cranberry chocolate chip cookies-and decide if I need to add some oatmeal or not. I will try to get pictures this time before the testers dig in. And this afternoon I'm off to target to get those ever loving lights!