Archive for the ‘Gifts’ Category

While reading Xan’s post yesterday about the benefits of being frugal, I started to think about how different a lot of our Christmas decorations are compared to most other people we know.  While we have purchased a few things, a majority of our holiday decor is inherited, hand made, bought on clearance at the end of the season, or a “treasure” taken from trash that belonged to someone else!  I thought I’d share a few of my favorites with you.

It’s big, and I’ve not seen anything like it,  but it’s one of my absolute favorite Christmas decorations.  We inherited this beauty from the husband’s Nanny several years ago…

Another decoration high on my favorites list is my grandma’s nativity set.  While I would prefer a Willow Tree nativity (as far as looks go, it’s much more my style), this one holds a great deal of sentimental value.  There are definitely a  few chips and nicks on these figures, and one of the wise men is missing a hand.  We just say it adds character!

We have received many handmade gifts and decorations over the years, but one of my favorites is this set of stockings.  A very kind lady from church made these as a wedding gift for us.  What a thoughtful gift.

Now, here is the disclaimer for the rest of this post…. the husband has some decorating favorites of his own!  He is all about the cheese factor.  He has been an avid Coca Cola memorabilia collector for as long as I’ve known him.  Several of “his” decorations have literally been saved from the trash.  We have a few of these grocery store cardboard “Santa Coke” advertisements scattered throughout the house.

While I was off on maternity leave with #2 (during the holiday season), the husband picked up a job cleaning a few banks in the area.  He found this “treasure” in the trash… new and in the box!  It was several years old, but had never been taken out of the box.   So of course it came home with him.

This sign is proudly displayed next to his full size leg lamp from “A Christmas Story” every year.  I will spare you that picture!  Another image I will leave to your imagination is the massive amount of garland he has strung all over the place.  It was all bought for pennies on the dollar at after Christmas clearance sales.

While we obviously have two distinctly different styles in decorating our home for the holidays, we make it work with a little compromise here and there (I decorate part of the house, he decorates the other).  The boys love it, and will always have great memories to share as they get older.  Best of all we spent little to no $$$ on any of it (except the leg lamp)!

How do you decorate your home for the holidays?

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I want a pair of pink socks. I need them, because the ones I have are the ankle kind, and I can’t wear them with winter shoes.

Truly, I would wear them a lot. I love the color pink, right down (up?) to my hair. Plus, right now, when I’m wearing a pink shirt, I don’t have the requisite socks that fashion says I must wear with them.

Sounds a little silly, doesn’t it.

But this is why America is wall-to-wall storage bins. It’s why your credit card bill looks like that. It’s what fills the Wal Marts of the world.

Our consumerist society has conflated these terms, where wanting something becomes equivalent to needing it. Just ask anyone on an iPhone line.

Next time you think to yourself, hey! I don’t have such-and-such an item, I need that! think about it. First, do you really not have it? I don’t have a stand mixer. But I do have an excellent hand mixer that so far has been adequate for everything I’ve been baking. My failures at this have never been the fault of the equipment, sadly.

Second, if you really don’t have it, do you actually need it? Or do you just want it. My family’s shopping mantra is “well, we’ve lived without it this long.

As we move into the most consumptive season of our consumptive society, make sure that you aren’t confusing “want” and “need.” If you want it, fine. Buy it. But don’t kid yourself that you must have it.

After all, you’ve lived without it this long.

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With all my traveling, sewing, soap making and present wrapping, i missed out on participating in much handmade holiday conversation here at Not Dabbling, so my post this week will be a run down of all the projects i worked on this year.

Check out An Austin Homestead in the next week or two to see all my projects revealed. You can also find all my original handmade holiday posts in the archives on the left sidebar.

I got started with my holiday gifts early this year, beginning in September with some canned blackberry jam made from berries i picked just down the road, blended with dried cayennes saved from my Austin garden.

While i harvested gobs of berries and sold veggies to folks at the local farmer’s market, i was inspired to make my own produce bags for use at market and at home. I played around with my crochet hooks and came up with a sweet and easy pattern. I made at least 6 of these to give to several family members as Christmas gifts. *And i’ll be posting a tutorial on how to make your own market bag soon- so stay in touch and crochet with me!

My spinning wheel was a big contributor to my gifts this year. Not only did i give some beautiful skeins of “meriboo” (merino/bamboo) yarn to my mother in law, i also spun the yarn for several knitting projects for other loved ones. One mother has a new scarf, one father has a new hat, and each sister has a headband or hat. I am especially proud of two hats i knitted for my two best friends. One is in Texas, the other in New York and thus one has ‘not so warm’ hat, and the other an extra warm hat made of handspun quivit fiber (musk ox). I don’t yet know how to follow a knitting pattern, so all my projects come out rather “uniquely” which makes them even more special: they’re the only ones like them!

Giving my handmade gifts filled me with so much pride this year. I think my recipients loved their gifts, and i could tell they were all touched by my truly ‘hands on’ experience with each of their presents. Whether spun then knit, or picked then canned: all my gifts started with me from scratch to become treasured and useful possessions that will hopefully remind my recipients of me whenever they taste, wear or use them. To sit down to spin yarn for a project for someone you love to enjoy for years to come: THAT is what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown. For me, at least.

In these dark days after Christmas (and other gift giving holidays) and before the new year, what thoughts and gifts are you pondering – both given and received? What present (given or received) stands out in your memory as the most treasured this year?

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Tired of waiting in lines? Frustrated with the new cashier at your favorite grocery store? Exhausted from filling out rebate paperwork?

Don’t forget that you’re not the only person involved in holiday purchases and transactions: on the other side of the counter is a living, breathing human with feelings and frustrations. Remember your customer service representatives when spreading holiday cheer this season. If you’re like me, it will make you feel extra cheerful to spread cheer where it’s unexpected.

When i was a kid, my dad worked for the United States Postal Service. He retired a few years ago, but i continue to support the USPS with my business and with friendly hellos to my local postal workers. I ship all my personal and business parcels by USPS and generally choose their shipping when given the option for my own purchases. Living in a small town, i’ve become friendly with my local clerk. He always compliments the lavender scent of my Nude Soap parcels, so i decided to gift a few bars for him this holiday. Along with an arm load of orders, i brought along a specially wrapped gift just for him. My dad sometimes brought home tins of cookies, Christmas cards, and even holiday bonuses from his regular customers. He walked his route daily, and many of his clients knew him by name and extended  good wishes to him and our family during the holiday season. Although that mostly changed when we moved west and he lost his regular route, i always remembered how happy that made him and i try to give back to my letter carriers and clerks. I know how hard they work all year long, and especially when loaded with extra holiday parcels. They deserve a thank you, and it makes me happy to extend one.

To be honest, giving gifts is a little selfish for me: i just love seeing someone’s mood lift when they receive a kindness from a stranger. Whether it be holding the door, saying hello, helping someone make change or giving a personal gift. It brings me a lot of cheer to give, knowing i’ve brought a smile to someone’s day- when they least expected it.

So, remember the folks on the other side of the counter when you’re frustrated, tired at the end of your day, or just sick of shopping. Customer service guys and gals may be getting paid to deal with your frustration, but they don’t deserve it. Send them a little holiday cheer: it will make you feel better, too.

– Miranda R.  *An Austin Homestead

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When I decided to go local and package-free, one of the things I had to do was learn to make sweets, since I have the sweet tooth to end all sweet tooths (sweet teeth?).

This has been a less-than-successful effort. While I’m pretty good with cookies, my quick breads never cook all the way through and I’ve thrown away more pies than I’ve eaten.

I also canNOT get jelly to set. Here’s the whole sad tale (but don’t worry, it has a happy ending.)

Cucumber jelly- fail
I’ve made lots of jam and preserves, but what started me on the whole jelly thing was this irresistible recipe from Dabblings and Whimsey, (how could I resist a blog with “dabbling” in the name, right?) which I found via that preservation goddess Punk Domestics. I mean, whoa, something new to do with cucumbers, amirite?!  Problem: didn’t set, ugly color, because I used evaporated instead of crystal sugar. Probably not enough sugar.

Lemonade from lemons: Sage Advice cocktail
1 oz. cucumber simple syrup
1-2 oz. sage-infused vodka
3-4 oz. sparkling lemonade
garnish with lemon slice, cucumber slice and sage sprig
serve over ice

Apple jelly-fail
Once again, too little sugar?

Lemonade from lemons: Apple leek potato salad with Apple mayonnaise
1/4 cup apple syrup
1/2 cup homemade mayonnaise
1/4 to 1/2 of a whole nutmeg, grated
ground white pepper to taste

Peach jelly-fail (ish)
Using the recipe from the pectin box. This one set, but I apparently boiled it too long, and it got hard.

Lemonade from lemons: Chocolate-covered peach jellies
Reheat, in a double-bottomed pot over very low heat, until completely melted. Pour into glass pyrex baking dish, about 1/2 inch depth. Allow to set again, then cut into 1/2 squares. (Don’t make them any bigger, these are very very rich.) I used those chocolate melting dots that you can buy in the produce section, and coated each square in chocolate. Harden on a sheet of wax paper. My friend’s husband wants to marry me because of these.

 Apple jelly-fail redux
Again, recipe from the pectin box. I put the *@&^$()$%# pectin in after the sugar. (Repeat after me: pectin first, pectin first, pectin first).

Lemonade from lemons: Spiced cider liqueur
2/3 bottle of middle-shelf vodka
1 cup apple syrup
1 cinnamon stick, 1/2 teaspoon cloves, 1/4 nutmeg, crushed, 1/4 teaspoon whole allspice, zest of 1/4 orange
Mix ingredients together in the vodka bottle. Store in cool dark place for 2-4 weeks. (Another great Christmas gift, decanted into decorative bottles.)

Cucumber jelly candies dipped in white chocolate TADA!
I finally ended up with the item I set out to make. I didn’t give up on the cucumber jelly, and after the peach jelly save, it occurred to me that a cucumber jelly candy in white chocolate would be amazing. And yes, it’s true. I used D&W’s recipe again, but doubled the pectin and kept it at a boil for more than 30 minutes, until it “sat” on a spoon. Several people now getting these for Christmas.


Having finally ended up with what I started out to make, I’m feeling ambitious. Next up–green tea jelly! What do you think?

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I learned to sew when I was 15 or 16 years old. My mom bought me a machine (the same one I still use) and I had some basic lessons from the store where the machine came from – more to familiarize you with your new machine that actually teaching you how to sew. I then started some proper sewing lessons from a family friend. I remember Making a sweatshirt was my first project. In my 20’s I sewed some clothes from time to time and made a few simple curtains for our house. I would patch things too. In my late 30’s I started making napkins and placemats. Nothing fancy, but very functional.

Recently I have taken a few classes to brush up on reading patterns and re-learning techniques like zippers, elastic, shirring and alterations. I found a great teacher and have re-learned some old things and learned a ton of new things as well.

I am not a seamstress, but I am so glad I have a sewing machine (affectionately called “The Dinosaur” – after all it is over 30 years old and weighs about 40 lbs.) I have made many gifts with my old trusty machine and it is time to dust it off and make a few more…  Christmas and wintery napkins for my brother and his kids. Today over at Sincerely, Emily  I have taken a little walk down memory lane about growing up using fabric napkins. I hope the gift of these napkins will create some good memories for my brother and his kids.

When I started making many napkins I decided to make a template out of tag board. With the template I didn’t have to keep the measuring tape out each time I cut a napkin out, I just use the template and cut around it. I had to make a new template and this one was made out of cardboard. Instead of cutting directly around it (it is pretty thick) I used a disappearing ink pen (specially made for fabrics) and traced the outline and then cut. (! Sorry for the TERRIBLE photo – not sure what happened there…)

Template for napkin

I wanted a 17” square finished napkin and I fold under a full inch on each side so my template is 19” square.

Depending on the width of your fabric and shrinkage, and also the size of your napkin, you can usually get 4 napkins in 1 ¼ yard of fabric. Always wash your fabric in warm or hot water BEFORE you do any cutting. Sometimes fabric can shrink quite a bit. You want to make sure that shrinking happens before you start your project, not after. With napkins that isn’t as devastating as it would be if you made a pair of pants. Make it a habit to wash your fabric first.

I am not an expert at sewing (or the proper sewing terminology). “Pictures are worth a thousand words” so if my words confuse you I really hope the pictures will help.

Now that you have cut out your napkins, start by pressing under ½”. Do this on each side. Steam on your iron helps set that fold or you can use a spray bottle with water to mist your fabric before ironing. It is important that those pressed lines hold and create a nice crisp edge.

Press your edges in

Continue around again, pressing another ½” under. Remember to use steam or your spray bottle. You want those pressed fold line to show as we continue on.

Unfold your pressed edges. You are using the fold lines in each corner to cut away a bit of your corner to help create a nicely mitered corner

Showing your cut line & 2nd fold line (dot)

I have drawn on the fabric so you can see the fold lines easier. I have also drawn the 45 degree angle line where you are going to trim the corner of your fabric off. There are two purposes for cutting this corner. You don’t want any fabric to stick out under your mitered corner, but it also helps reduce the bulk of the fabric you have to sew through at each corner.

Your cut

In the two above photos you also see where I have placed a dot – that is the reference point you are using to make your second fold. Stay tuned… that is coming shortly, but I wanted you to notice that reference point now.

Make your first ½” fold again.

Now it is time to use that reference point (the dot) from the above photo. Fold the corner down at a 45 degree angle. The fold line should be on that reference point. Press that fold to help hold it in place.

2nd fold - fold line is on the dot

Fold over ½” again. Your initial pressed lines should help. Your corners should come together and meet creating a nice mitered corner.  Press.

3rd fold and press

I tend to complete one corner at a time before moving onto the next. Pressing along the way to keep all the folds neat.

You are now ready to sew.

I don’t like to start right in the corner.  I start about 1” before the corner. That way, when I come back around I can sew directly over that first inch of stitching, locking in my threads, and end in the corner. There are no rules here, do what ever you are comfortable with.

My starting point

Sew in once continuous line. Pivot at the corners and continue until you have gone all the way around.

Showing overlap as you come around

Trim your ends.

You are done. Mitered fabric napkins.

Are any of you sewing some holiday gifts this years? What are you making? Add a link to your comment if you have posted about it on your blog.

Sincerely, Emily

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stack of cards to give

The holiday season is upon us. One of the gifts I decided to give my nieces this year is cards. At first I thought I would make them each a stack of personalized “monogrammed” cards. Then I realized that they are at a point (8 and 10 years old) where they like projects and new things, so why not let them make the cards (or at least partially make the cards.) They live in Wisconsin and so it isn’t easy to just stop by and do craft projects with them (although I wish it was) so I thought I would do some of the work and let them finish the cards by putting them together.

Trying color combinations out

I had already made several “monogrammed” cards for them, so I will send those along as examples. With my new plan,  I set out by picking out plain card stock and designer paper combinations that I thought they would  like.

working on a layout

I am lucky enough to have a huge room upstairs where all my arts and craft supplies are. I found a HUGE long table at Salvation Army that makes a wonderful work space. Most of the time I never pick up the mess from my previous project, so that is the first thing I have to do – clean up the table. Lucky for me, the last thing I worked on was cards, so it didn’t take long for me to straightening things up.

Applying adhesive

Picking out papers. I am very frugal with buying my supplies. I check out the Sunday advertisements for both of the craft stores in my area to see who has what on sale. If one of them has a sale on paper and I am in need of more paper, I make a point to head that direction. Also, I make sure that I am armed with any coupons they have and always check the clearance sections because you never know what you will find there. I have found a lot of deeply discounted papers in that area. Craig’s List can also be an good place to find things like stamps and punches and even papers. You can also make contact with a stamp demonstrator from your area. When we first moved to Texas, I visited my friend in Austin I learned about Stampin’ Up. They have demonstrators all over the world and most likely there is one in your area. Those demonstrators can have all sorts of activities from stamping cards to scrapbooking. Several demonstrators will have a “stamp-a-stack” class where you pay a fee (usually around $10-$15) to go stamp a stack of cards (usually 12 cards). They do all the planning and paper cutting and you just go and stamp the selected stamps they have chosen to “demonstrate” and put it all together (I notice they are usually themes depending on the time of year – Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Spring.) You walk away with finished handmade cards and you didn’t had to buy any supplies. What a deal. With the “stamp-a-stack” in mind, that is what I did for my nieces. I think they will enjoy this gift. It is creative, handmade and they get to have some fun with it too. I hope it will bring a big smile to their faces when they each open their gift.

using foam to raise an area

I have a hard time figuring out what to give my mom for gifts. She is at a point where she has everything and doesn’t want more “things.” I have found making cards for her to be one of the gifts I can make and give her that she will use (she also enjoys the homemade soap.) Right now I am making her Christmas cards and throughout the year I give her other cards as gifts. She can use them herself or use them as gifts for other people. I want to make sure I am making cards that she will like, so she is involved in the process. I know that takes some of the surprise factor away, but in the long run I know she is happier to get a gift she likes and can use.

2 card projects done

You may have some stamping and scrapebooking stores in your area that offer classes or projects. Local craft stores in your area may have some projects going on with the holidays coming up.

I am also quite happy to report that some of the papers I cam able to buy are made in the USA. I look at that as a win-win situation. I get to make a handmade card and support a business in the USA. While that business is not local to my area, at least I feel better knowing the paper didn’t have to travel across the ocean to get here.

Papers made in the USA

Sincerely, Emily

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