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Saturday, February 06, 2016  |  323 Days Until Christmas
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Stories, Poems and Humor
Left Book Homemade Christmas and Hanukkah Gifts
by Readers of The Dollar Stretcher
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The Question: Gift Suggestions Wanted
My roommate and I are recent college grads, on our own for the first time. We're looking for creative, inexpensive gift ideas for Christmas/Hanukkah gifts for our friends and family. We have the time and energy to make gifts and would like to make the Holidays even more special with homemade presents. If anyone has any ideas, we would love to begin creating!

Wonderful Readers Reply

Bread Cloths
How about some cross stitched bread cloths? There are many Christmas/Hanukkah designs out there just for this purpose. Not too hard to find especially in your local library. Another thing would be to simply purchase some pre-quilted material in designs of the season and edge them with a ruffle or some lace and give placemats with matching napkins. --JK

Just Time and Imagination
For years now I have made homemade gifts for my friends and relatives. I really didn't have a lot of $$ to put into them, just some time and careful planning. A few of the things I have done in the past are: Painted sweatshirts, cross stitched items like t-shirts, sweats, etc and also matted and framed in an inexpensive frame. I have for many years fixed tins w/ cookies, fudge,and other tasty treats in them for friends and family also. Baked breads with the colored plastic wrap, tied w/ ribbons is also an easy idea and it smells good too. Pictures of you framed make a nice present to grandparents since they don't have to go and buy a new frame for your new picture. There are several good ideas about making christmas gifts around. You just really to take the time and imagination to come up with some of them. I hope this helps some. --TP

Use Magazines for Inspiration
It's amazing that we spend so much time in a library and forget all the information available. You may want to go back to the library and search for relevant books and periodicals. Or find someone that subscribes to Martha Stewart's Living, Sunset, or other home/hobby magazines (your library may carry some). These usually have great and inexpensive projects (Living usually has great projects that can be done much cheaper than as done in the mag.). --DG, Albuquerque, NM

Homemade Christmas Cards
I just got finished making a set of Christmas cards for my grandmother to send. She's already excited!

A pack of white cardstock (250 sheets) is about $7 at Office Depot. I used an Angel holding a star and ribbon stamp (pretty expensive, about $14) and a tree stamp (I don't remember how much) and a few other odds and ends (like colored pencils.) But the stamps are reuseable, and one sheet of cardstock makes two cards (one sheet of cardstock can also be used to make the envelope in which to send your card). One pack of cardstock could theoretically make about 150 cards (75 sheets) and 175 envelopes. (I may have the price or number of sheets wrong since it's been a while since I bought this stuff.)

Another thing I make for my family and coworkers -- and this is not cheap but may be cheaper than buying something -- is to make candy every year. People just go nuts over homemade chocolate covered cherries (I found the recipe in my Better Homes & Gardens cookbook.) Truffles are made with chocolate and whipping cream and people really like those, also. --MAO

Special Spoons
This is in response to the recent college grad who is looking for inexpensive home-made gifts for the Holidays. Buy a package of plastic spoons, preferably in festive colors. Dip them in chocolate (melted chocolate chips work well) and shake off the excess. Place them on wax paper and sprinkle with crushed peppermint candy. After they dry, wrap them in cellophane and tie with a ribbon. Put a few spoons in a coffee mug along with some individual hot cocoa or coffee packets and you have a great gift for those chilly nights! --Sarah W

Personalized Stationary
My favorite gift to make is stationary. On white paper, I create a design that wouldn't interfere with letter writing: borders, names, corner highlights. Then I take it to a local copy shop & have them run off copies on a paper that has matching envelopes. Some copy shops will charge you for the prices of the copies only (3-4 cents) if you supply your own paper. The paper can be bought by the ream at a bulk office supply store pretty inexpensively. I mix & match several designs or colors, bundle in groups of 20 (don't forget extra plain paper for back pages) & tie with a pretty ribbon with dried flowers. --Kat

Cup of Joy
Hi. I live in Hoboken, NJ - an expensive yuppie enclave just across the river from NYC. There are lots of funky, overpriced stores in my neighborhood that cater to the "lots of disposable income" young professionals in the area. Once, I spotted a simple idea that had a hefty price tag - $12 - that I knew I could make at home cheaply and easily. The item is a candle in an antique tea cup. I scour the garage sales (and my mom's cabinets) for cheap but interesting tea cups. I then melt down old candle ends or any type of wax I can find (paraffin can be costly) and - optional - add a little scented oil like lemongrass or grapefruit. I put a wick in - really cheap by the yard from the craft store and - whalla - for about $1 I have a nice gift with a little tag attached to the handle. --Susan S.

A Spicy Alternative
Check the library for recipes for homemade spice mixes, vinegars and mustards. All are EASY to make, don't cost a lot (it might seem like they do - you buy one of this and one of that - but end up making a LOT of this and a LOT of that for lots of gifts), and people really enjoy receiving them. Either save and reuse bottles and jars at home, ask friends to save them, or find them at yard sales and thrift stores. To make these really special include a recipe for each spice mix or vinegar.

Best of all - your friends and families will enjoy receiving homemade gifts and you'll enjoy making them. --KLO

I suggest taking a ceramics class where you take something that is already cast, and paint it yourself. You don't have to invest in a lot of supplies, and it's fun to take something and personalize it for a gift. --Angela

Basket Filled with Love
I suggest buying (a) straw basket(s) at a yard sale or flea market and deciding on a theme for the particular person- whatever would be appropriate for that person- and filling the basket with either different fruits or other foods (i.e.-herbal teas, cookies, etc). You could make your own homemade cookies and include the recipe in the basket. Or, you could fill the basket with something other than food stuff. An example would be a framed picture of you and your friend who you're giving it to. Another idea is to give 'IOUs' for different services such as a car wash, child care service, a massage, a manicure,etc. I hope these ideas help. By the way, I enjoy reading the 'Dollar Stretcher' very much and have used many of the ideas myself. Thank you! Sincerely, Maureen McC

'Can' Do It !!
I saw this this concept in a magazine and at a craft show. Take a clean, dry can from soup or canned vegetables. Using craft acrylic paints and your imagination, paint the cans for the holidays. This is a great project for kids too. Right now my family is working on painting jack-o-lanterns: simply paint a can orange, let it dry, repeat if needed, and then use black to make the face. Fill the can with candy, tissue paper, pencils, etc. We're also working on snowmen and I plan on painting the top part black and putting paper around the black for the rim of Mr. Snowman's top hat. The larger cans could be filled with baked goods, fudge, etc. I've seen some that are painted with a design then spatter-painted which looks quite neat. This is a nice way to recycle cans into something useful and fun. I'm thinking that candy canes will look nice for the holidays.

Another similar idea is to buy the smallest terra-cotta plant pots from the store, paint them, and put small votive candles in them. Silver and gold stars are nice for a holiday theme but you could do whatever suits your fancy. I'm sure you could use larger pots with pillar candles for a bigger centerpiece.

You don't have to be a great artist to do these. A folk-art style is simple and looks great. Have fun and happy painting, LTL in IL

It's How You Frame It
I would suggest that you make your own picture frames. Many craft stores carry a "base" for a frame made out of paper or cardboard. Paint, glue on trinkets or glitter, seal (with varnish or a craft polymer) and put a picture of family or their pet inside. Kids can do this too! Great for family, expectant parents, teachers, etc. -Deb V. from Maryland

Beauty Gifts
Marsha nd Dani B. need to check out the book Natural Beauty for All Seasons by Janice Cox. The Book tells how to make homemade bath salts and beauty products.

One of my favorites is Candy Cane Bath Salts:

2 cups epsom salts
1/2 c. sea salt
4-6 drops peppermint oil
2-3 drops red food coloring.
Place one cup of epsom and 1/4 cup sea salt in a bowl or resealable plastic bag. Add 2-3 drops peppermint oil.
Place the remaining ingredients in a second bowl. Mix all ingredients well. Layer the red and white salts in a clear bottle or jar. Half litre Naya water bottles work well because they have the stripes. Tie with a ribbon and some small candy canes. This makes a great holiday gift for friends.

If you are a good cook, try home made cookies. I make cookies for gift giving. I put them in cellophane bags that are decorated with holiday print. Most craft stores carry those bags. Search the library for good recipes. Most people don't have time to bake so the gift is appreciated. --Leona C

Flavored Oils and Vinegars
The solution is as close as your kitchen. Every year, I make huge batches of flavored oils and vinegars. Fruit flavored vinegars, such as raspberry, blueberry & cranberry are my favorites. I've also made basil, hot pepper, rosemary and garlic, but I prefer to use the herbs and spices in oils.

For either one, the process is simple. For the vinegars, I use plain white vinegar. (Cheap, at $3.29 a gallon at my local grocery store.) Frozen berries are cheaper most of the year and work wonderfully. Steep the berries or herbs in the vinegar for about a week at room temperature, in a dark place. Strain, and bottle in an attractive bottle. A few berries or a sprig of the herb you used added to the finished vinegar is a nice touch. I use a good quality olive oil for the oils. (A fairly good bargain, at $10.00 a gallon.) Check sources you might not normally think of for good prices on fresh herbs. I buy huge bags of fresh basil from a Vietnamese grocery store for 79 cents each! If you cannot find well priced fresh herbs, dried will do, just use a smaller quantity. Prepare in the same manner as for vinegar. However, when you strain and rebottle the oils, don't add any fresh herbs, as they can spoil at room temperature.

Besides salads, and marinades, flavored oils have many other surprising uses. Garlic flavored olive oil, for instance, is heavenly on baked potatoes.
I also make wonderful scented ornaments & gift tags with the following dough:

Cinnamon Spice Craft Dough
1 cup apple sauce
1 cup cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cloves
Mix until the dough has the consistency of playdough, adding more apple sauce or cinnamon as needed. (Incidentally, I buy cinnamon at the dollar store for 50 cents a bottle.) Roll flat, dusting countertop and rolling pin with cinnamon if dough sticks. Cut out shapes with knife or cookie cutter. Use a toothpick to make a hole for hanging. Dry at room temperature for 5-7 days, turning over at the end of the third day to ensure even drying. They dry even quicker in a food dryer, and give your house a wonderful smell! --Lara

Take clippings from a hearty plant like an ivy and start them in a tin or inexpensive flower pot. (I like the General Foods International Coffee tins) Make sure you cut with at least a 1" stem and that there is at least 1 leaf to sustain the clipping until it forms roots. Keep the soil moist until rooted.

Everyone should appreciate a plant, especially if it's a hearty one. Wandering Jew, Spider plant, Philodendron, Pothos, and most ivy can withstand some neglect, even if your recipient doesn't have a "green thumb." --Melissa P.

Papermache Bowls
My family spent a creative fortnight several years ago making papermache bowls which we painted in bright acrylics from the local art supply shop and spray varnished. We then filled them with homemade sweets, Xmas mince pies, chutney and herb vinegars wrapped them in cellophane and tied them with raffia, gold ribbon etc. The homemade food was a great success and the bowls are now being used to display or store other things We also had a huge amount of fun doing this. Have a great time creating --Jane H

Creative Frames
What about framed pictures? We have a couple of stores ($ store, Ikea...) where I pick up nice wooden or clip frames cheaply. (I also look for sales too!) I collect these frames (all standard photo sizes) and send them off with pictures of family/friends that I've taken during our last get together. This way I know the picture won"t just get tucked in a drawer and they'll have a special keepsake of our adventures together.

A side tip - if the frame is a plain wood and you want to dress it up some, pop out the glass/plexi and spray paint it (I use gold or copper colors)... it can have amazing results!

One other tip is to shop the $ stores to see if there are any "substantial" item such as - safety goggles, work gloves, kitchen products, baby safety items, books, fancy pens/pencils, chocolate, craft items ... If you know the taste of the recipient you can put together a nice bag. box, bucket of "theme" items e.g. new home, toolbox starter, new baby, chocolate lovers surprise, home spa weekend ... --Mimi R.

Special Oils
Make home made vinegars and olive oils with used bottles (wine, coolers any kind of bottle) Use herbs you grow ore buy fresh or dried at the store buy large olive oil at bulk stores as Costco. Wash bottles dishwasher soak off labels make your own label. Small bottles stretch the budget do not buy bottles recycle. Red small Chile peppers look great experiment look at the gourmet bottles in the store and use the same herbs they use. I did it last year it was a real hit with requests for more. --Bonnie H.

Cruise Craft Stores for Ideas
I had the same idea that you two have for gift making. It's a cheaper and more personal way to give gifts to those you cherish. Anyway, what I have been doing is going to craft stores and getting ideas. You can make everything from beadwork, knitting, crocheting, fake floral arranging, cross stitching on plastic canvas, making candles, etc. There are a lot of things you can do with crafts. Just think of what each individual friend or family member would like and go from there. Good luck! --B.

Personalize the Gift
I would say head first find out some of the likes and dislikes of the people you intend to gift this season. Next head for your local library and research some simple yet creative ideas that each individual might enjoy. For a number of years I gifted my Jewish friend with humour. I would find a gentle but funny gift, either a card or some small object that I knew would be appreciated. If someone likes food for example buy some special treats or better yet make something they might like. I had a great aunt and uncle who in their latter years were not able to go out and get to many fresh vegetables. So every once in a while I would come in with a vegetable package of just enough of a variety of items that would give them a change. Remember it is the little things that count. Make up a coupon book of favours they can ask for, like a ride in the country, a picnic, or even going to a movie, to name a few.

Hope this helps. I bid you peace. --Linda E. D.

Simple Solutions
These are some that I have come up with:

1. Make your favorite homemade cookie mix and pack in Mason jars, seal, and attach recipe. I think this would be great for teachers and friends who drop by unexpected with a gift.

2. Fix a large box of items such as dishwashing liquid, soap, toothpaste, shampoo, etc. that you have gotten for almost nothing using double coupons and sales together. These items are items that every household needs and will use over the year. I plan on making this type box for my parents and my brothers family. I will put at least 10 to 12 of each item in the box so that the items will last all year. I'm sure they will think of me each time they need soap, toothpaste, etc. --Debra C

"Aren't They Cute?"
My small nephews (3 and 5) get their pictures taken a lot by the grandparents and the rest of us. So, as part of their Christmas presents, I purchased two small photo albums and put several pictures of them inside (from babyhood to present). They were delighted to have their "own" albums that they can add to as they get older. You'd have thought I gave them gold. --Katreena

An Evening 'In'
Here's an idea I came up with when in a similar situation. I bought vouchers/gift certificates from my local Blockbuster video (or other large chain video rental store) and put them in baskets with movie size candy and microwave popcorn. I bought the popcorn from Smart N Final and the movie size candy from a discount pharmacy. The baskets were picked up from yard sales and thrift stores. Wrap it all up with plastic wrap and a nice bow and you have a gift for a whole family for under $5.00 if you shop for bargains. These are also great for teens who are getting increasingly expensive to buy for. Happy Holidays --Laura P

It Says "Welcome"
Here's an idea! I gave these as gifts to teachers, etc. one year. Purchase sisal door mats at discount store for about $2.00. Weave ribbon around outer edge. In one corner make arrangement out of greenery, small Christmas ornaments, etc. and tie a bow. You can purchase Christmas floral pics for a nominal amount, if you're not creative at making your own. Makes really cute doormat for under $5.00. --JoAnne G.

Kitchen or Crafts
Baked items are always popular well received gifts..but the more unique the food, the better. Search through some cookbooks for candies or cookies that are off the chocolate chip/sugar/peanut butter beaten path and have fun experimenting with new recipes! (Just be sure to taste test first!)

Another inexpensive T-shirts or sweatshirts at a discount store or craft store for around $3-$5 a shirt along with some fabric paints and customize a shirt for your loved one perhaps with a "This TShirt came from XXX University" or even wording referencing an inside joke with that person!!! --Cindy D, Conway Springs, KS

What wrong with something as simple as homemade baskets of cookies. Get your baskets from yard sales, tuck in mugs(one for each member of the family) another yard sale item or dollar store. And in each mug place a flavored tea and envelope of cocoa. Choose three or four really good cookie recipes and start baking. When its time to assemble your baskets that when the fun begins,get colored plastic wrap, Reynolds make a very nice one, use coupons to buy all ingredients and wrap. You'll find these gifts to be very rewarding and quite thrifty to make. Everyone loves cookies, and for cookies are not your thing, a loaf of pumpkin bread would be just as nice,and even cheaper to prepare,freezes well, and there are lots of pumpkins around this time of year. --Anna B.

Nostalgia Baskets
Last year I made "Nostalgia Baskets" for my siblings, containing three varieties of cookies our Grandmother used to bake, including copies of her cookie recipes. On the recipe sheets, I added a few of my memories about our Grandmother, the times when she served those particular cookies, etc. I gift-wrapped the cookies and recipes in attractive baskets that could be used by the recipients for other items after the holidays. The "Nostalgia Baskets" were a real hit!

Another delicious idea is to prepare homemade chocolate-covered cherries. Use a recipe for Soft Center Fondant or Basic Fondant, which can be found in the Candies/Confections chapter in most slightly older cookbooks (i.e. Joy of Cooking). (Fondant is a cooked mixture of water, sugar and/or corn syrup.) Soak maraschino cherries in Tawny Port wine (Taylors is good) overnight, leaving the stems on the cherries. Purchase Chocolate specifically designated for dipping, as well as some paper candy "cups" and small white cardboard boxes to fill with the completed chocolate-covered cherries. The dipping chocolate, candy papers and boxes can usually be found at stores that sell cake decorating supplies (such as Michael's, MJ Designs, etc.) or gourmet cooking supplies. When ready to assemble these confections, wrap enough fondant around the cherry to enclose it, then holding the cherry by its stem, dip the cherry into the dipping chocolate, completely coating it in chocolate. Place on waxed paper til chocolate has cooled and hardened. Place each completed confection in a candy paper cup and fill boxes with them. Gift wrap the boxes, and you have a very unusual gift to give. (Note: by leaving the stems on the cherries, your gift recipients will know they have a handmade treat!) Enjoy! --Janet

From Stationary to Keychains
This is in response to the roommates wanting ideas for inexpensive gifts... There are TONS of inexpensive gifts you can make, some ideas are: make stationary with your computer. You can buy a disk that has tons of clipart on it for around $10 and you can make decorated stationary for pennies! People love it because it is different and it is homemade! I made ALL my christmas gifts last year...some of the ones I made were: Victorian Christmas balls (ornaments), (I just bought clear plastic balls..about $4 for 6 of them) and covered them with lace, trim, tassels, etc. They were gorgeous!....I also made keychains for some of the younger teenagers who were just getting their first cars and such. I also made Victorian picture frames...just cheap (Dollar Store) frames which are plain and you decorate with flowers, lace, ribbon etc. I only decorated 2 corners (otherwise they tended to look "overdone"). All of these ideas are VERY inexpensive to make a lot of. Good luck! --Kelly

Limited Travel
One that I used myself when we were limited to a $10 gift limit. What I did was got a box covered it with pictures from travel agencies of our local area. Got a gift certificate from a gas company. Now this took some talking with the guy as they don't usually do that. But now I added it to a nice card and gave them a trip. Included was local tours and bike tours and museums etc. This was about ten years ago when $10 of gas would get you some where. --Louise L

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