Gift Ideas for Broke Folks, Part I (Maybe)

We know what the Christmas season is all about.  I fully embrace the idea that Christmas is NOT about the gifts.  I like to give, however, and some years it is much easier than others to be able to afford to spoil everyone on your list.  Ok, for the record I have never “spoiled” anyone, but I try to find fun stuff for my kids and the folks in my life.  If your year has been anything like mine, you’ve considered relegating to giving gifts made of twist ties, toilet paper rolls, and/or dryer lint in order to have something to give.  Several times this year I have exclaimed “SHINY PENNIES for EVERYONE!” because the Christmas budget is bare.

Linties!  Get them while the dryer's warm!

Linties! Get them while the dryer’s warm!

I had delusions of successful baking for some people, as well as made some gifts that were not edible things that turned out much better.  There are real things that you can make that don’t cost very much, and are NOT made of lint (thank goodness).  Some are even fun for you, because not only do you get the pleasure of making things for others, sometimes you get the fun of emptying the contents of the containers you need to use.  I thought I’d share a few.  Keep in mind that I in no way consider myself an expert in this kind of thing!

For Grown-ups (or People Who Are Over the Age of 21 Whether or Not They Actually Acknowledge They Are Said “Grown-Up” or “Adult”)

Homemade wine bottle lamp.

Homemade wine bottle lamp.

Wine bottle lights-I saw one of these at a friend’s house years ago.  I loved it. Apparently there is a place near here that you can pay to have one made.  I’ve been hinting like crazy for one and have yet to get one.  So I started making my own.  Since I like to drink wine it was SUCH a hardship to drink wine to make one!  This year I made two of them for gifts and am working on a larger one, but I need the right size string of lights.  The ones I made I used the 20 count string of lights.  And I cheated a bit-you’re really supposed to drill a hole in the back to string the lights in.  However, while I found the right stuff at a close out sale, I realize that my drill bits weren’t big enough anyway.  I went back to the drawing board and came up with this idea.  I save the corks to make artwork out of, so I took the cork, cut a little out of the back, and then ran the cord through the groove I made and pounded the cork in.  They turned out really cool!  One more hint if you decide to attempt this-make sure the lights you purchase aren’t the kind with a plug on each end!

Dry Erase Board and Calendar from my house

Dry Erase Board and Calendar from my house

Dry Erase Boards and Calendars-I’ve made some of these for my house and I love them.  You can use an old picture frame or buy an inexpensive one.  All you need for the background is scrapbook paper, and if you want to put a calendar in it there are many free ones you can download from the internet.  They look so cool and cost a fraction of the price of the ones you see in the stores!

Stuff for the Kiddos

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Sparkle bottles-A friend had some of these in her classroom.  I thought they were store bought.  I’ve always made these for my preschool classrooms, but they were very obviously homemade.  The trick is finding a really neat looking bottle.  She made hers out of Fuze brand bottles.  Since then I have been ingesting my share of Fuze whenever someone is having a baby or we have a little one needing a fun gift at Christmastime.  There’s nothing complicated about it and my daughter still plays with hers to this day.  You can use just water and food coloring as my friend did, or you can add glitter, confetti, beads, toys, the list is endless.  I’ve customized them to match room themes and one baby that was due around the 4th of July got one with red, white, and blue stars in it.  The big thing is making sure that you 1) wash them out beforehand and 2) superglue the lid shut.

I Spy Bottle

I Spy Bottle

I Spy bottles:  This one I attempted this year and is being put away for a future gift, mainly because I ran out of superglue.  It’s the same idea as the sparkle bottle, but I used colored sand that they sell at Hobby Lobby for very little.  The sand is mixed with glitter and then poured to fill the bottle up partway, and then it is filled the rest of the way with little toys, beads, and other found objects.  This could all change depending on your audience.  If I had more money I would have bought all different colors of sand and made a whole slew of bottles!  The picture above doesn’t do it justice.  This bottle has everything from foam snowflakes to metal peace symbols to a lego guy in it.  NEAT-OH!

It looks ok... I think it looks like dirty snow, with glitter.

Homemade play-doh.

Homemade play-doh-I’ve made this for my kids before and this year I made some to give to my nephew.  There are lots of recipes out there!  I made him three different little Christmas themed containers full:  Sparkly green play-doh, sparkly snow dough, and candy cane play-doh.  All were peppermint scented.  I also included some super duper holiday themed cookie cutters.  I was bummed that I could not find a snowflake cookie cutter to go with the snowy play-doh, but I did find a snowman one!

Other stuff I’ve done that I don’t feel like taking up any more memory on my blog account by taking pictures:  Every year I make photo calendars for my folks.  I have done them many different ways, including using programs on my printer and using TONS of ink to print out whole calendar pages, as well as ordering pictures and using scrapbook paper and a printed calendar.  I’ve made lots of pretty magnets in my day out of a variety of materials plus a strong magnet for the back.  I have made scrapbooks for people-my favorite gift that I ever made was the year I made a scrapbook for my husband of the team he coached.  I have written out recipes on pretty recipe cards.  I’ve made little kits of stuff too.  It just depends on who you have to gift too and what they like.  Some people are harder than others to make things for!

If you’re struggling with gift ideas and/or funds for Christmas, I hope this helps at least a little.  If not, you know where to find me to complain!  ;-D

DISCLAIMER:  If you have a husband like I do be prepared to be made fun of.  My husband teases me because he doesn’t get that you can make gifts for people and they often will like them better than any store bought gift.  I think it’s a guy thing (I mean, guys making things?  Come on!).  But honey, if you tried to make me something, the thought of you taking the time to make me something and presenting it to me for Christmas would be just the best darn tootin’ thing ever.  Except Peanut Butter Bars.  They are made of crack.

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Culinary Adventures With the ADD Mom (I Am NOT Cat Cora)

I’m not that bad of a cook…

I’m a fabulous cook.  Every night my family gathers around the table, anxiously awaiting what culinary delight I’ve prepared.  They gobble it up every night, raving about how delicious it is.

What a load of crap!  You didn’t believe that, did you?

It goes something a little more like this… at 5:35 I realize that it’s suppertime.  If Evil Genius has arrived home, I ask him what sounds good for supper.  He never knows.  I ask him what sounds offensive for supper-sometimes he can actually answer that.  So once I decide on my own what we are having, I spend more time looking to make sure we have the ingredients.  Or even more common, I start making the supper and realize that I’m one or two ingredients short.  THAT always makes the meal all the more awesome.  NOT.

While I’m cooking, I tend to be distracted because this is when the children decide to start to act up.  They jump on furniture, they wrestle on the living room floor, they do everything they are not supposed to do because I am too distracted to notice.  When I do and tell them to stop, they resume.  This pattern of me yelling and them resuming happens about three times until my husband yells and send them both to their rooms.  Because we are really good parents, can you tell?

Once the meal is ready, I put it on the table and the Professor proceeds to make some sort of weird face, if it’s not pizza or something fried.  Princess Ranch Dressing either a) takes three bites and says she’s full or b) eats her food, her brothers food, and is begging for fruit.  My husband eats it regardless, which is good, because someone has to besides me.

“It tastes like FEET!” This could be an actual reaction from my son in my house…

The Professor looks like he has never eaten anything in his life.   We have threatened several times to send him to “Skinny Camp” to put some meat on his bones.  The dog weighs more than he does.  We do not keep him locked in a closet under the stairs and feed him crumbs.  People tell me, “Oh, he’ll eat when he’s hungry.”  This is not true.  He would rather starve than consume such dietary staples such as pasta, rice, most fruits, most vegetables, anything that ends in y, you get the picture…  I’ve seen him go for days hardly consuming a thing.  We leave the house and he’ll make sure he’ll say within earshot of people “Wow, my stomach is rumbling, I’m REALLY hungry.”  I get lots of dirty looks from strangers.  He’s only saying that because we had pasta that day, and he didn’t eat it.  He also consumes food one atom at a time.  He takes teeny weeny itty bitty bites.  He puts microscopic particles of the food on his fork and would take three hours to eat if we didn’t set a time limit.  This is unless it is a breaded meat, some form of fried food, or pizza.  Then it is gone in six seconds.  We have done the “try one bite” route with him when it comes to the 75% of food he doesn’t like.  His reaction is a)  I like it, then doesn’t touch it b)  gags and makes himself throw up or c)  see the picture above.

Back to the actual meal itself.  I actually attempt to spend time planning meals.  I have made a binder with a list of meals that at least 50% of us will eat on any given night.  I took an old picture frame and made a dry-erase dinner menu calendar.  I cut recipes out of magazines.  I print recipes out from the internet.  Did you know that when you do this that it will self destruct when it’s time to find it?  Or get up and run away, only to reappear a month later.  I’ve done the trying to plan meals around sales that are happening that week so I can save money on grocery shopping.  HA HA HA.  That requires thinking that is on levels that I cannot comprehend.  It involves a) hoping the paper with the grocery flyers actually gets to our mailbox on time b)  me actually LOOKING at the grocery store flyers and c)  me actually thinking about what ingredients we need for dishes.  I employ the method of making a list and making sure we just have lots of stuff on hand.  Until we need it.  Somehow it seems to disappear if I’m counting on it for a meal that week.

Princess Ranch Dressing is much more of a healthy eater than her brother.  At times she would be what would be called an “Adventurous Eater”.  She has actually eaten raw potatoes as well as taken bites of things such as raw onions and hot peppers.  I prefer to call her a “Moody Eater”.  It all depends on what mood she is in.  When her brother is requesting chicken nuggets and potato chips, she prefers carrots and ranch, sliced apples, celery, etc.  Now the vegetables must be accompanied by ranch.  Lots of ranch.  The kid is obsessed with ranch dressing.  However, as I’ve mentioned, she cannot always be counted on to finish anything she’s given.  There have been many days where she has taken one bite of each thing on her plate and announced she’s done.

My husband has been referred to as “The Cast Iron Stomach” in the past, though I think getting older has caught up with him somewhat.  He has been known to eat pretty much anything.  He says I’m a pretty good cook.  He is an amazing cook, because unlike me he’s not afraid to throw stuff together.  I follow recipes, he follows his taste buds.  Must have something to do with being an Evil Genius.  He has actually mocked me for requesting that he follow a recipe from time to time.  Or measure stuff out.  I also call him “Aluminum Chef”-we’ve watched a lot of “Iron Chef America” in our day.  He could easily be a chef.  It’s sickening.  It’s also not too often that he cooks-often on the weekend I just tell him he’s in charge of dinner.  And sometimes it even materializes if there’s not something interesting going on, like a “Double Experience Weekend” on City of Heroes or “Iron Man” on TV.  I can’t talk, because I’m likely to be distracted from making supper until I’m too hungry to cook.

This hasn’t happened because he doesn’t like pancakes. But he could do it…

After dinner, I am responsible for cleaning up and washing dishes.  This sometimes happens.  If we happen to be watching something like NASCAR, it might get put off.  You know only skipping dishes one night makes the number of dishes in the sink triple?  And being ADD, I tend to miss really important stuff, like leaving the bag of shredded cheese on the counter until the next day.  Or forgetting to put the leftovers in the pan on the stove away.  Or forgetting to check to make sure my son actually closed the lid of the freezer downstairs.  Sometimes I try to make cleanup easier by serving stuff on paper plates.  This works with the kids, but my husband has some sort of aversion to paper plates.  He just won’t use them.  Silly, silly man.

My culinary skills have improved significantly since I married my husband.  I’ve never been one who loves to cook.  Despite efforts by my Mom to help me become interested in cooking, I just never really tried all that hard.  The microwave is my friend.  I am a Microwave Master.  I could just cook in the microwave every night and be perfectly happy.  However, when money is an issue, you can’t just pop in a microwave dinner for everyone every night. I’ve tried to serve more healthy fare, and I’ve cut down significantly on the processed stuff that we buy and cook.  There are a few exceptions to this-Jack’s Pizzas, bags of chicken patties and nuggets, and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.  You just can’t recreate that stuff and make it taste the same.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

I must be doing ok.  Despite my son’s malnourished appearance, everyone seems to be healthy.  No one has contracted food poisoning from anything I’ve made.  From time to time I actually DO find a recipe that doesn’t vanish when I need it, and it’s liked well enough to be put into the monthly rotation.  We don’t eat the same thing every week.  I only force leftovers upon them once in awhile.  Enjoy it people.  If I had my way about it, I’d eat Lean Cuisines every night and make you guys fend for yourself…

See it could be worse…