Showing posts with label Gifts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gifts. Show all posts

Dec 27, 2010

Creating a Family Heirloom Cookbook

This year for Christmas, my mother in law gave us a treasure: A collection of family recipes. It made me realize just how fun and important these recipes are, and how much I want to preserve them for my children and grandchildren. The good news is it's easy to do, and makes an excellent gift, no matter the occasion.

Begin by gathering together recipes. Start with any in your own cookbook or recipe card collection that are family favorites. Recipes often used during the holidays are an excellent choice, since your family will likely remember them for years to come, but also consider "every day" recipes that might have meaning.

Next, think about recipes you associate with your relatives. Brainstorm with your siblings or other relatives for ideas. Some relatives may not have a printed or written copies; they may keep the recipes in their head. This is an ideal time to get those recipes on paper so future generations can enjoy them. If you have cooks that don't use measures, set up a time to cook with that relative. As they toss in a handful of this and a pinch of that, measure out the ingredients and write them down.

For relatives who aren't nearby, considering sending out emails explaining the project and giving a deadline for submitting recipes. For relatives without email, send a snail mail letter or make a few phone calls. Be sure to promise a finished cookbook to every one who participates.

Once you've gathered recipes, you might think you're done. But I encourage you to do two addition things to make the cookbook a true heirloom: Gather anecdotes and images.

Write down memories or anecdotes about the recipes, whenever possible. For example, you could note that your mother made those special chocolate chip cookies whenever you had a hard day at school, or that grandma always made her famous chowder for Christmas Eve dinner. Interview the people who originally cooked the food in your family; perhaps they have an interesting story about where they got the recipe or why it became a family favorite. These sort of stories are golden!

Adding images to the cookbook is an excellent touch, too. Sure, you can include photos of what the food looks like when it's served, but better still, include family photos. For example, for each recipe, include a photo of the original family cook. Or add images of the food being served at a family function.

Another excellent way to add images to your family heirloom cookbook is to gather original recipe cards (typed or hand written), clippings, or cookbooks. Scan the recipes - including any hand written notes or food splatters - and use them to add interest to the cookbook. (If recipes might be difficult to read - for example, if they are hand written - do include a scan of the original, but also offer a neatly typed, easy to read version of the recipe.)

Next, put it all together. Type the recipes up in a word processing program like Microsoft Word, or a digital scrapbooking program. Add anecdotes or notes to the recipes. Add photographs and scans. Be creative!

If you'll only be "publishing" a few cookbooks, you can print all the copies at home. This uses quite a bit of ink, however, so you might consider printing just one copy, then having a professional photocopy shop make duplicates.

Although there are plenty of websites out there promising to make family cookbooks look gorgeous, I still think the best method of "publishing" them is the traditional one: With an ordinary binder and plastic sheet protectors.
Place two printed pages together, back to back, and slip them into one plastic sheet holder. This keeps the pages clean, neat, and mess free. Use divider sheets to break the recipes into categories. You can stick to standard cookbook categories like "main dishes," "soups," and "desserts," or divide the recipes by family traditions, holidays, or generations. Design a cover and slip it into the binder, too.

I usually also include a number of empty plastic sheet protectors so additional pages can easily be added.

And voila! You've just created a cookbook that will be passed down, generation to generation!

Dec 10, 2010

Christmas Gifts Kids Can Make

Making gifts helps everyone - adults and kids - focus on the giving nature of Christmas. This year, why not encourage your kids to make instead of buy gifts for friends and family? Here are some easy ideas:

* Candles in jars or cookie cutter candles.

* An "I love you" treasure chest. Fill a lidded basket or small wooden chest (found at a craft store) and fill it with slips of paper telling the recipient what the maker loves about him or her.

* Felt alligator sewing kit.

* Hand print coasters. Trace the outline of a hand with a fabric marker, pencil, or piece of chalk onto a double thickness of cotton or cotton blend fabric (previously washed and ironed). Cut the same hand print from heavy iron-on interfacing. Lay one fabric hand print on the ironing board, right side facing down. Place the hand print interfacing on top of this. Lay another fabric hand print on top of the interfacing, right side up. Fuse together with a warm iron, following the directions that come with the interfacing. Trim edges, if needed.

* Tins of cookies and candied orange peels.

* Photo books. (Check out the offerings at Shutterfly, Snapfish, and Walgreens.)

* Fleece scarves and other accessories.

* Recipe dish cloth.

Nov 29, 2010

Gifts in a Jar

This Christmas will be leaner for our family, as it will be for most. This makes me think more about useful, practical, and home made gifts. One way I plan to give this year is by offering gifts in a jar - home canned foods or recipe ingredients packed attractively in a canning jar.

I've found most people are really appreciative of home canned foods, whether I'm giving away apple butter or chicken soup. Canned goods are often attractive on their own, but I've been researching ways to dress them up a bit.

Labels are vital, so recipients know what they are receiving - and, in some cases, how to prepare it. Google "canning jar labels" and you'll get 704,000 hits. Or, just take a peek at some of my favorites. Print them on sticker paper, available at office supply stores:

* A Sonoma Garden offers some simple country designs.

* HP has both lid labels and labels to place on the sides of jars.

* Martha Stewart's jam labels are quite lovely.

* For modern simplicity, try Merriment Design's canning labels.

* Sweet Preservation has several styles of labels with simple flair.

* For something with a Victorian feel, visit iDIY.

* You can also purchase stamp sets for creating canning labels. My Time has some lovely products for this purpose. The image above was created with their products.

I don't recommend using tie-on tags to identify the contents of jars; they fall off and get lost too easily. If you don't want to put stickers on the jars, consider this solution:
Print lid labels on card stock, then lay a jar ring on top of each label and closely trace around the outside with a pencil. Cut out each label, cutting along the inside of the penciled circle.
Then place the labels on the inside of the jar rings and screw the rings onto the jars. I've seen examples of this where canners print both sides of the label and the inside reads "please return jars, if you can't use them." You could also print an ingredient list on the back side.

Aside from labels, the traditional jar dress up is to cut a circle from fabric, place it under the jar ring, and either screw it in place, or use a ribbon, piece of raffia, or a rubber band to hold it in place. You can pretty this up considerably by using pinking shears for cutting, or by taking the time to cut a scalloped edge. Well Preserved is also running ideas on "pimping up" canning jars, but honestly, I think most of the time, canning jars look prettiest as is.

If you need to ship home canned foods, I recommend the following:

1. Find a sturdy box, two times larger than you'd use if the jars weren't breakable.

2. Line the bottom of the box with about an inch of bubble wrap. Or, if you have some laying around, use a layer of shipping foam.

3. Line the sides of the box with about an inch of bubble wrap or foam.

4. Wrap each jar individually in bubble wrap, taping the wrap closed along the bottom, top, and sides, so the jar can't slide out.

5. Place the bubble wrapped jars in the box, filling in any extra space with crumbled newspaper, wrapping paper, or bubble wrap.

6. Lay about an inch of bubble wrap over the entire contents of the box.

7. Seal the box securely with packing tape, on both the top and bottom openings.

UPDATE 12/2011: For more gifts in a jar ideas, see my 2011 update, here.

Nov 25, 2010

Thoughtful Stocking Stuffers for Kids

Stuffing a Christmas stocking shouldn't be expensive. However, if you're not going to spend much on your kids' stockings, you may find yourself wondering what you can give them that will remain interesting for more than a day or two. Here are some ideas:

* Breakfast. When I was a kid, I always got an orange in my Christmas stocking and I was required to eat it before the gift giving began. In your household, you could use other fruit, or maybe a home made breakfast muffin.

* Small books. I'm not a big fan of so called "gift books," but if you can find small, inexpensive books your kids will like, stick one or two in the stockings. For older kids, I highly recommend Dover's thrift classics, which cost just $2 each.

* Coloring books. For the younger set, visit the local Dollar Tree for cheap coloring books. Or buy splendid coloring books (that even appeal to many adults) from Dover.

* Magazines. Tweens and teens will appreciate a magazine in their stocking.

* Blank books. Although we tend to think only older kids will enjoy these, my 5 year old has several and loves them. I carry one in my purse for her to use for drawing during church service, and she keeps another in her home desk for drawing.

* Art supplies. Colored pencils, a water color set, stickers, playdough, or a fresh set of Crayola crayons are good choices.

* Toothbrushes. This is a tradition at my sister's house and her kids (now grown) would be disappointed if their stocking lacked this item.

* Grown up lady stuff. Does your little girl like to imitate you putting on your lipstick? Then a prettily-packaged chapstick is something she'll love. Other grown-up imitating items, like bubble bath, hair brushes, play jewelry, and hair clips also work well.

* Make up. For teens, makeup, nail polish, nail care kits, compact mirror, and makeup brushes are a hit.

* Classic games. Think yo-yos, Go Fish and Old Maid, chalk, jacks, jump ropes, matchbox cars, deck of cards, and slinkies.

* Kitchen stuff. If your child likes to help you cook, an inexpensive apron, a rolling pin "just his size," or a plastic serrated knife so she can help you cut veggies are all great ideas.

* Coupons. For a really meaningful stocking stuffer, try printing out coupons your kids can redeem. They can say things like "Good for a night at the movies with Dad" or "Redeem for a baking day with Mom."

Nov 9, 2010

Bake and Freeze Christmas Treats - Starting Now

My friend and fellow writer Niki Hampton is well known for her gift baskets full of baked goodies. But this year, she tells me, she's trying something new. "Every year," Niki says, "I spent the week before Christmas in baking chaos. It was absolutely ridiculous! I'm not going to lie - I wasn't the nicest person to live with the week of Christmas." This year, though, she's making everything in November - then freezing it until it's time to deliver. How ingenious!

Niki came up with the idea accidentally. "Last year I ended up with an overwhelming amount of Amish Friendship Bread starters and decided to just start baking," she says. "I think I ended up with about 15 loaves. I threw them in the freezer, hoping for the best. When it was time to make my Christmas basket gifts, I took the bread from the freezer and discovered they were perfect! I received tons of compliments."

This year, she vows, her goodie basket extravaganza will be much less stressful because she'll stretch out the work over the course of several weeks.

Want to follow Niki's smart example? Good candidates for baking, then freezing include:

* Quick breads (like banana, pumpkin, cranberry, and zucchini bread)
* Shortbread
* Cheesecake (firm in the freezer before wrapping and storing in the freezer)
* Cake (undecorated, it freezes for up to a month)
* Pie (freeze before baking, unless it is nut based, like pecan pie)
* Most types of cookies (avoid freezing cookies made with artificial vanilla, or that have cream fillings, soft frosting, or meringues)

All baked goods should be completely cool before you double wrapped them in heavy duty foil and place them in the freezer. Niki recommends the additional protection of putting foil wrapped goodies in a sealable freezer bags. In addition, cookies freeze best if placed (unfrosted) in an air-tight, freezer proof plastic container. Use plastic wrap, foil, or wax paper to separate layers of cookies.

For easier handling when it comes time to put together gift baskets, Niki suggests freezing goodies in small amounts. For example, if you give away smallish squares of short bread, cut the short bread into pieces before freezing, and wrap each small piece individually.

Thaw baked goods at room temperature (not in the refrigerator, where they might absorb odors). Or deliver the treats frozen and provide written instructions for thawing.


Oct 8, 2010

Best Books for Babies

Whether you're hunting for a great baby shower gift or you're an expecting mama who's eager to encourage your baby's bookwormish side, here are some books I think every baby ought to have.

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. I wasn't familiar with this classic board book when I received it as a gift after my first child was born. And I wasn't impressed with the book after I read it. But for some reason every kid I've ever known loves this tale. Over time, I've come to appreciate it, too. The detail in the illustrations is wonderful, and tell a tale all their own.

Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt. This book allows little fingers to develop fine motor skills by lifting a piece of cloth to play peek-a-boo, put their finger through "mummy's ring," and more. Just plain fun.

Playtime Devotions by Christine Harder Tangvald and Tamara Schmitz. This is my favorite book to give as a baby shower gift. In it, you'll find all kinds of songs and rhymes to teach babies and toddlers about God and the Bible. It even includes simple scriptures to teach young children.

Baby Faces by DK Publishing. There are a lot of board books with baby faces in them, but I think this is the best. Babies and toddlers love looking at other babies, and this book helps teach kids words to describe their emotions, too. Sadly, it's not in print, so snatch it up if you see it.

Bible Stories for Tiny Tots by Kobus Sandenbuergh. It's tough to find a children's Bible that holds a toddler's attention, but this little board book is short, simple, and full of colorful illustrations. It really did the trick for both my kids.

Moo Baa La La La by Sandra Boynton. Teaching animal noises has never been more fun. Sandra Boynton has many popular books, but this one is the ultimate for babies and toddlers. It still makes my kindergartner laugh!

Little One's Bible Verses by Stephen Elkins. This sweet and gentle book introduces the smallest "readers" to scripture. As children get older, they can start memorizing these Bible verses, too.


Aug 11, 2010

A Simple Marriage Saver

The other day, my friend Tanya Dennis remarked she kept a "honeymoon journal" before she married. She typed at me:
"I knew a time would come when I would wonder why in the world I married this man. So I started writing down all the things I loved about him, little things and big things. It's all in this little book I keep tucked away in my dresser. Whenever I have a bad day and struggle to keep a positive view of him or our marriage, I pull out my journal to remember and redirect my focus. I still add to it here and again."
I think this may be the greatest thing since sliced bread! As Tanya says, we don't want "negative thoughts to pervade our lives. They can be so destructive. In contrast, focusing on the positive can be life-altering and healing. It can make all the difference."

If you know an engaged couple, why not buy them each a nice notebook and encourage them to start their own "honeymoon journal"? (What a great bridal shower gift!) And start your own journal about your husband today. I am!

Jun 17, 2010

More Love Than Money Father's Day Gift

Often the best gifts are those that cost very little money, but involve a lot of thought. These gifts are memorable whether given by a child or an adult, so this Father's Day, I encourage you to work with your kids to give Dad a More-Love-Than-Money present.

My favorite type of More-Love-Than-Money present involves thinking of things you love about the recipient. Cut strips of attractive paper and write messages like: "I love it when you...," "Your smile makes me....," "You are the most...person I know," etc. Then make a treasure box to store these slips of paper - because, believe me, Dad will treasure them.

The treasure box can be as simple as a kid-decorated shoe box or Mason jar. Or it can be an elaborate store-bought box. Once I used a lidded basket and sewed a silky cushion for the bottom.

Tuck the slips of paper inside, and tell Dad to read one note a day, every day.

An alternative way to do this is to pick up some of Dad's favorite candy bars in mini size, or make a batch of his favorite cookies and wrap each in plastic wrap. Wrap or tie one slip of paper to each goodie, and every time Dad nibbles a favorite treat, he'll be reminded of how much he's loved.

Simple, easy, and something he'll remember for the rest of his life!

Apr 20, 2010

It's All Too Much!

Before my first child was born, I couldn't imagine having a house stuffed with toys. "I'll never let that happen," I thought. Now, 4 1/2 years later, my house is - precisely - stuffed with toys. And it's not just toys. My preschooler's closet is full of clothes and her dresser is so full the drawers barely close. And books? Well, let's not even go there.

So much stuff makes it harder for children to appreciate what they have. It also makes picking up more difficult for child and mother. And who needs the mental chaos of all that clutter?

Parenting magazines are full of advice on giving toys and clothes and miscellaneous stuff away, but how can we prevent the clutter in the first place? As adults, we can say, "I'll buy it only if I need it. And for every thing I bring into the house, I'll give one away." But with kids, it's more difficult. If you have more than one child, you'll need more than one maturity level of toys and books. You may even -prudently - store old clothes to use a hand-me-downs. In addition, I believe it's wrong to merely take stuff away from kids. I've seen this actually make children cling to stuff more strongly.

Here are a few things I'm implementing in our household to help things be less cluttered:

Talking to Relatives and Friends
Relatives and friends often love giving kids gifts. In fact, when I look around our house, I find that almost all my kids' toys and clothes came from grandparents or aunts. This is why I've taken to gently telling friends and relatives to give my kids less.

Very often, loved ones don't understand such requests. All you can do is try to explain your concerns - without insulting anyone or making it seem like you don't appreciate their generosity. Over time (and as friends and relatives see the toys accumulating in your house) they are more likely to concede.

Do your kids get totally overwhelmed by Christmas gifts? I've considered talking to my kids' grandparents about putting a limit on the number of gifts each child can receive. Some families like the three present rule ("If it was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for us!"), others stick to one gift from each family member. The same idea applies to birthdays. Nobody wants to be a Scrooge, but every kid will enjoy his gifts more if he's not overwhelmed by them.

As for other holidays, consider making them completely gift free - or at least limited to disposable items, like food. I mean, how many plush Easter bunnies can one child keep?

Invite Fewer
One sure fire way to limit the number of toys that enter your home is to limit givers. If you invite large numbers of children to your kids' birthday parties, for example, you might reconsider. I realize that if your child's friends invite one hundred kids to their elaborate birthdays, it's going to be a lot tougher to invite only 2 or 3, but in most cases, it's going to make your child's birthday more meaningful. Frankly, other than relatives, we've never invited children to my kids' birthday parties. Our kids still have lots of fun.

You can also try limiting the presents given around Christmas by talking with friends ahead of time about gift giving. Suggesting that you only exchange homemade food, for example, is a way to still exchange gifts while keeping excess toys at bay.

Free Toys
One of my favorite picture books is Too Many Toys by David Shannon. In it, we learn one little boy gets toys not just from his parents and relatives, but from friends on their birthdays, from drive throughs, from the doctor, and from school.

Junky, often icky toys are another reason not to hit the drive through, but when it comes to Vacation Bible school toys, "regular" school toys, party favors and such, there's not much you can do but set a time limit on how long you'll keep them.

Fortunately, this is rarely difficult. I find my kids quickly get tired of and forget about these sort of "prize toys." As soon as they do, into the trash they go.

Purposeful Toys
As parents, we need to think hard about what toys enter our home. Classic toys, like blocks and art supplies, should always have a place in our kids' lives, but how many electronic talking toys does one kid need? (Maybe not even one!) Which toys are truly educational? Which encourage imaginative play? Which help develop gross and fine motor skills? These are the sorts of things we should consider.

It can help to look at online reviews for toys. Sometimes, for example, a toy that seems educational really isn't; rather than finding this out a week after buying the toy, we can often learn it before buying it through sites such as and

I've known a few moms who, upon inviting you to their kid's birthday party (for example), tell you the exact toys they'd like guests to purchase. It's easy to turn off friends and family this way, so try using a more subtle approach. For example, if Sally's birthday party comes up in conversation with grandma, you might say, "If you need ideas for something Sally would really like, we have a wishlist at Amazon for her." ( now lets you add items from other websites to your wishlist.) This encourages carefully selected toys to enter your home while not insulting gift-givers.

The Toss
Even when you do your best to allow only "good" toys into the house, some duds will still appear. And kids outgrow toys, too. So make a "go through" of the toys - with your child - about twice a year. In our house, this goes pretty smoothly as long as I stress that children who don't have as many toys will be thrilled to have what we're giving away.

If you have space to store even just one or two large storage bins, rotating toys is a great idea. Tuck some away in bins where the kids can't get to them. Then in a few months time, store the toys you've had out and bring out the previously stored toys. The toys will seem new again, making it less tempting to buy more.

Helping Kids Realize
Too Many Toys has actually helped my daughter realize she does, indeed, have too many toys. It's also made it easier for her to pare down and give away some of her toys (even though she sometimes decides to give many of them to her toddler brother - which doesn't really pare down clutter in our house).

Other good resources for helping kids understand just how much they have include magazine articles about people in third world nations (National Geographic is a nice choice), and books like Houses and Homes by Ann Morris. I've also done Google image searches with such phrases as "third world child," printed off appropriate photographs, and put them in a small, purse-sized photo album for my children.

And while many parents avoid shopping for kid stuff with their children, I think it's actually a good idea to do the opposite - at least some of the time. Only you can really help kids learn how to discern between what they need and what they want. For example, the other day my daughter saw a stuffed bear in Wal-Mart and asked for it. I said, "That is a cute bear, isn't it? But you know what? You have one almost exactly like it at home." Also let your kids see you shopping responsibly. For instance, if you see a new dress you admire, you could talk out loud: "Cute dress! But I already have a purple dress at home. What I really need is a new pair of jeans. My old ones are getting worn out."

You might also try this tactic: When my sister's children were younger and said, "Mommy, I want that!" She'd say, "Is it a need? Or a greed?" They quickly learned to distinguish the difference.

To be sure, living with less can be a challenge in our part of the world. After all, we live in a nation that defines our poor as home owners (living in more space than the typical family living in London, Paris, or Vienna), with air conditioning, a dishwasher, at least one television with cable, a DVD player, and a car. In other words, even the poor in the United States have a great deal more than the poor in the rest of the world. But this is all the more reason to open our childrens' eyes to how blessed we are.

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Nov 28, 2009

Dollar Stretching Saturday: Christmas Deals

I'm not generally impressed by Black Friday deals, but I must tell you, this fall I found some exceptional deals by doing some of my Christmas shopping on eBay. For example: New, high end Leatherman knives for $25 - $30 and new sterling silver and natural stone jewelry for $2 - $4 a piece! WOW!

Ebay has made it difficult for sellers to make good money and more people are out of work and trying to make money through the auction site. This means lots of competition for consumer dollars. Too, it seems really practical items are selling for average prices, whereas non-essentials are going super cheap.

So take a peak at eBay. Search for items you have in mind, then sort the results by auctions ending soonest. Bid a low amount, then don't visit the auction again. Just be sure to note shipping prices (although many sellers are offering free shipping) and shipping times. (There are a lot of items shipping from China, and at this date they may not arrive in time for Christmas.) In this manner, I was able to buy some really nice gifts for my family at a super-affordable price.

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