Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Give Them Something They Don't Have to Dust

I’ve been slacking off lately, what with the holiday preparations and all. Kidding. About the holiday preparations, but not the slacking off. In light of this realization, I’ve decided to dedicate the next four posts to holiday preparations – presents, decorating, food, and staying sane – in that order.  

What to give? I first need to preface this by sharing my philosophy that we all have plenty of “stuff”. Very few of us truly need anything. But many of us delight in giving gifts during the holiday. I would be one of them. I love to see the faces of my loved ones when they open my gifts. In fact, I even love wrapping the gifts. I keep extensive lists on my phone throughout the year of ideas I come across that would be perfect for a certain person. So I’m all about gift giving, but I’m fundamentally against stuff accumulating.

Here are my gift giving guidelines:

  1. The smaller the better (in size not substance).
  2. Perishables before permanence.
  3. Experiences are WAY better than anything you have to dust.
  4. You can never go wrong with books.
  5. It is ALWAYS the thought that counts.
So, with those thoughts in mind, I’ll share a few of my favorite gifts. Feel free to copy, adapt, or ignore.

  1. Charitable gifts. These are always a good idea because they are in line with all of my guidelines. But as I’ve said, I love the wrapping of objects and a small piece of paper proclaiming that money has been given in the recipients name, just doesn’t cut it. Here’s a few ways I’ve gotten around that:
-         Give used books along with a donation to any cause, one that promotes literacy if you like thematic gifts. I spent a year saving each book I read, underlining the parts I liked, making notes in it, and then affixing a post-it with the name of the person I thought would most like it so I’d remember come Christmas. I bundled the books up with a pretty ribbon and tag, with a note saying I’d made a donation in their name instead of buying new books.

-         Give a gift of animals through the Heifer Project along with cookies in the shape of the animal given or a drawing or clay figure representing the animal.

-         For teachers, give a bundle of pencils or package of paper clips (or just about any school supply, they can always use them) with a donation to an organization that promotes education. I did this last year for the I Have A Dream Foundation, and the teachers were truly touched. I did something similar for the music instructors with a charity that promoted the arts. 

  1. Family Picture gifts. These work because relatives, particularly grandparents, are happy to get updated pics. Besides the lovely framed photos, you can:
-         Make a bookmark with pictures, notes, illustrations of the kids, yourself, whomever would delight the receiver. Laminate it, punch a hole in it and add a decorative ribbon (you can add beads or charms to the ribbons for extra flair)

-         Calendar of family photos. This can be simple using an online service like snapfish, or fancy if you have the time to scrapbook each page. I’ve been doing this for years and since it easily eats up multiple days, it’s a gift of my time as much as the pictures. I enjoy the process and reflect on the faces in the pictures and the people I’m making them for as I create.

-         Family Picture Book. My sister-in-law gave my kids a small spiral bound blank book filled with pictures of their cousins doing all kinds of activities. Simple things like cooking, playing sports, and making funny faces. It was narrated and laminated. My kids enjoyed reading that book nearly every day for years. We still have it but it’s so mashed and stained, I didn’t want to post a picture because it wouldn’t do the idea justice. 

  1. Baked gifts. This is an old standby, but people always appreciate it, especially single, young, or elderly people who don’t have the inclination, time, or energy to bake holiday treats themselves.
-         Truffles are easy to make and always impress. Here is the recipe for Oreo Truffles (although I coat mine with white chocolate - much better). Every year I have given these, people beg me for the recipe. Disclaimer: this is in no way a healthy or organic gift!

-         Granola is a healthy alternative to cookies and candy. It is easy to make. I’ve posted my granola recipe in a previous blog post. Fill pint jars and cut a small piece of fabric or decorative paper to dress up the lid.

-         Bread is a simple and much appreciated gift also. I started doing this instead of candy for a friend who is diabetic, but everyone who has received a fresh, homemade loaf of bread has loved it. Easy to do, especially if you have a breadmaker (but I take the dough out and bake it in a traditional bread pan so it’s a normal shape and not that odd hat size loaf)

-         Infused Oils and Vinegars. This requires that you purchase an appropriate bottle, but they are relatively inexpensive and you can be fancy and paint on them or just dress them up with a ribbon. Recipes for simple infusions (rosemary olive oil, raspberry vinegar) are all over the internet, but most require only that you leave the additive in the oil for a period of time, so get started on this one soon if you want to give infused treats! 

  1. Experiences. These are my favorite gifts because they take up no space and they force us to go do something, sometimes things we’d never do if someone else didn’t pay for it.
-         Tickets to see plays, musicals, concerts given with a flyer for the venue or a small trinket that goes with the theme or a bag of popcorn (white-chocolate covered is my favorite!)

-         Gift certificate for bowling, ice skating, laser tag, mini golf, whatever floats your boat with a box of twizzlers, mittens, golf tee or something useful that is in keeping with the activity.

-         Prepaid lessons – guitar, sailing, archery, drawing, painting along with a guitar pick, sunscreen, pencils, etc.

-         Subscriptions to magazines, wine-of-the-month club, flowers-of-the-month club, or better yet a CSA membership!

  1. Homemade gift certificates. I add this one trepidaciously (I think I invented that word!) because I am aware that many of these well-meaning certificates or coupons don’t ever actually come to fruition. I am in possession of coupons for clean rooms, dishes done, etc. which I’ve never been able to use because there always seem to be fine print involved (“I’m too tired,” “but I have homework”). Still, these are great stocking stuffers. I use them in our advent boxes (25 little boxes they open each day of advent).
-         Get-out-of-kitchen chores free for one night card

-         Ride to the movies for you and three of your friends (notice this is only a free ride, not a free movie)

-         Choose your own dinner coupon (must be redeemed at least 48 hours in advance of said dinner) 

I’m sure many of you have ideas about holiday gift giving. If you’d be willing to share them, please add them as comments on the blog site (rather than responding on Facebook or in e-mail to me as most of the comments come in). That way more people can read them. I know it’s an extra step, and who needs extra steps at this busy time, but think of it as your gift to the rest of us, or to the universe in general. 

One more comment I must add: Please consider using something other than paper to wrap your gifts. I posted about our simple fabric wrapping that saves time, money, and the planet. If you have other wrapping ideas, again please share them to the blog.

Next week: Simple holiday decorations that don’t blow the bank or take up half the basement in the off season.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

One Person's Trash is Another's Treasure

This Thursday is America Recycles Day. I know you’ve already got your champagne chilling and your streamers ready (made from old magazines and newspapers I’m sure), but just in case you need some incentive to celebrate, I’ve prepared a little tribute to my favorite recycling organization. 

I couldn’t let this special day go by without highlighting my favorite recycling method – If you haven’t signed on to the freecycle in your area, do it right now. I mean it. You can give away (“recycle”) just about anything – and I mean anything. Everything listed is free and local. How awesome is that?

I listed a big box of broken crayons and had eight takers within hours! Plastic fish-shaped candy molds – gone! VCR/DVD player that only works as a DVD player – too many takers to count.  

Recycling doesn’t always mean sorting your trash. It can also mean giving things away, or acquiring “recycled” items instead of buying new. 

I checked today to see what kind of gems were listed on my local freecycle and here’s a sampling of OFFERS:

 Hospital bed

Brother multi-function printer

Ranger Rick magazines from the late 70’s and early 80’s

Kids wooden play set (you dismantle and haul)

web Christmas lights

breast feeding supplies

white salt and pepper shakers

Danielle Steele books on cassette (now there’s an offer I can’t refuse…)

Golf balls (gotta love a thrifty golfer)

Stanley’s Dinosaur Round Up DVD

Kid’s wagon

Toaster Oven

 And even if you’re embarrassed to list some of the items you’d like to give away, there are people asking for them every day. Here’s a sampling from the WANTED list:

 1 ½ to 2 inch pipes in six foot or longer lengths (it’s good to be specific)

6ft christmas tree (no mention of real or artificial)

Women’s jeans size 4

Items for a cat (they weren’t very specific)

Craft items for kindergarten students (teachers lurk on this site)

Christmas Sweaters (honest – this was posted in the WANTED section!)

Fanny Pack (yes, this was too)

Canning jars (woman after my own heart, wish I’d known about this site before I bought mine!)

Pushable Lawn Sweeper (not sure what this is, but I’m betting if you have one in your garage behind the bags of stuff you keep meaning to drop off at Goodwill, you do)

Arm Sling

Freezer Burn Meat (truly, it says this) 

The WANTED list is how I got one of my best bread makers. I recently asked for Pampered Chef stoneware, but that must have been the limit. Nobody responded to my plea. Freecycle is moderated for sicko people and all posts have to be approved by the moderator before they appear in the feed. I’ve rarely met the people I’ve bequeathed my junk too. Normally we arrange via e-mail for them to pick the items up from my porch.  

When I picked up my breadmaker it was in an unmarked brown paper bag in front of a garage at a house that had no lights on. When we pulled up my husband was sure this was actually a drug deal. Great breadmaker, though. 

So celebrate America Recycles Day and recycle something besides cardboard and aluminum. Get rid of the items that are just taking up space in your life and pass them along to someone who will treasure them (or at least use them).

This is a great project for your kids. Maybe they can list some items to give away and then list an item they’d like to have. I’m sure someone has the Rockem’ Sockem’ robots in their basement or a paint-by-number set that’s never been opened collecting dust in a closet. It’s worth a shot! Freecycle is loaded with kids’ items. 

This is the bike I'm listing on Freecycle this week. Gently (or not
not so gently) loved, some rust, needs handle bars straightened -
great deal for the price! (FREE)
Teach your children how great it feels to give new life to old things. Talk to them about the importance of recycling. There is enough stuff for all of us already on this earth. Any time you have the opportunity to recycle or upcycle or precycle or whatever you want to call it, you’re making a play to preserve our planet. And that’s the most important reason to celebrate recycling on any day!