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Low-cost and personal.

Consider gifts that take more time, imagination, and love, than money

Some people don't get serious about Christmas shopping until December 24. Others, like me, started way last summer.

Actually, I started December 26, at the after-Christmas sales. I've already purchased a nutcracker ornament for a relative who collects nutcrackers, at 75 percent off its retail price. (The total was $2.50.) I also purchased some other ornaments at this same discounted rate, making sure that none were dated. (Even I would consider it tacky to give an ornament dated 1992 in 1993). Ornaments make nice gifts and you don't have to worry if they match the receiver's decor.

Speaking of ornaments, if you have relatives who live far away, an easy and inexpensive gift can be made using 14 count plastic canvas and cross stitch. Last year, I cross stitched some small Santa Claus figures on the plastic canvas, but you could use any theme. The edges of the plastic canvas don't have to be finished, so once you've completed the stitching, simply trim around the edges leaving a small tab sticking up at the top. Then thread either a wire hanger or a loop of thread through the tab to finish the ornament. These are light-weight and thin enough to be included with a card and you only have to pay 29 [cents] to ship your handmade present. Fourteen count plastic canvas is only about 50 [cents] per sheet (less on sale) and I made six ornaments last year and only used one-half of the sheet.

The orchard and garden are wonderful sources of low cost, appreciated gifts people can really use. For example, you can make a wreath from dehydrated apple slices. Apples can be gathered from many places, often free of charge. Some farms have neglected apple trees whose fruit is usually destined to rot under their gnarled old limbs. It's usually simple to get permission from the property owner to collect these. Be sure there are no rotten spots on the apples you collect but worm holes, scab, etc. are okay and actually add originality to the finished product.

Simply slice the apples, skin and all, and dry them. You can use an oven, the sun or a food dehydrator. After you've dried the apple slices (they will feel slightly leathery), you can make an attractive wreath by gluing them (a hot glue gun is best, but Elmer's will work) to a cardboard frame. I use the round cardboard that comes in frozen pizza, but any will do. You can cut either a circular or a heart shaped frame from the cardboard to form the basis of your wreath. If you have access to other drying materials such as wheat, statice, strawflowers, etc., these can be added to the wreath as well.

A unique, low-cost bow

To make an interesting and low-cost bow, use lamb's-ear. Its silvery, felt-like texture adds both beauty and a pleasing color contrast to the dried apple slices.

For each bow you will need four large leaves and one small leaf. Harvest leaves that are free of any damage. Using two of the large leaves, form the two bow sides by folding the stem end back till it touches the pointed end, fuzzy side out. Use the two remaining large leaves to form the bow tie ends. All four stem ends should meet at the back. Secure the bow by twisting a recycled bread tie or pipe cleaner around the middle of the "bow," tying all four leaves together. (See Fig. 1). Leave the ends of the bread tie long. Using the small leaf, you can form the "knot" by wrapping the small leaf around the secured section of the bow starting the stem at the back and bringing the tip around the front and back to where the stem started. Use the remainder of the bread tie to secure this "knot." Allow the bow to air dry and then glue it to the wreath. This sounds much more complicated than it really is.

Garlic braids (and their cousins, onions and shallots) are a garden-derived gift that people can either use as decorations in their kitchen or as enhancements in their dishes. Also consider drying herbs, e.g., basil, thyme, oregano, or mint, as well as minced green pepper, onions, garlic, etc., for gifts. These can be given individually or if you have a knack for spice combinations, make your own herb mix similar in idea to the commercial varieties such as Mrs. Dash. These can be given in zip-lock bags or for a special touch, in decorated jars. Save small jars (baby food jars are ideal), after removing the labels, to put the dried herbs in.

Homespun labels can be made from recycled brown paper sacks (wrinkled is better, it adds to the tag's character). Use pinking shears to cut out tags and hand letter them with the jars' contents, such as "Organically Grown Mint For Your Holiday Meal. Enjoy! "

Again using pinking shears, cut circles out of leftover material, large enough to go over the lid of the jar you're using plus about one to one and one-half inches to spare. Punch a hole in your tag and thread ribbon or twine through the hole and around the material over the jar lid, securing with a bow, to form the finished product (see Fig. 2). Another nice gift for next to nothing.

For out-of-town relatives (grandmas especially enjoy these), make a photo essay book. This would consist of pictures of where you live, your kids (goat and human), garden, and any other points of interest around the homestead. Put these into a photo album (or other scrapbook-type notebook) with accompanying captions explaining the photo. "Here's Fred's vegetable garden where 95% of our vegetables are grown... and there's Fred's backside. As you can see, he's a definite asset at harvest time!" Try to be creative or humorous when composing your captions.

This is a great gift because it gives the recipient the flavor and ambiance of what's really going on with you and your family. It conveys far more than an ordinary letter and will be looked at again and again. It may even go a ways toward explaining to doubtful family members why we pursue this "crazy" lifestyle.

Younger "citified " kids will appreciate a "Child's Flower Garden Kit."

Save Styrofoam meat trays or obtain them from neighbors, friends, etc. The deep kind that hamburger comes in make great "flower pots" and the shallow kind can be used as watering trays. Fill a zip-lock type bag with dry soil mixture. Include a package of marigold seeds (gathered from your own stock or purchased at the end of gardening season for 10 [cents]) and a plastic knife or spoon for a "planter." The plastic silverware can be saved from that infrequent trip to a fast-food restaurant or those midsummer outdoor family reunions. Also, include an easy-to-understand instruction sheet and box up the entire kit. A personalized box would be a nice touch. Be sure to request pictures of the budding gardener and his window sill project as children love to display their accomplishments.

You who sew are probably never at a loss for ideas, but here are a few anyway. Travel games make excellent gifts. Checkers is the easiest. Make a patchwork checkerboard (eight squares by eight squares) out of contrasting light and dark material. Finish it by binding it to a backing. Quilt it if you're really ambitious. On one side, halfway down, sew a tie string approximately one foot long by folding it in half and sewing it on the fold to the back of the checkerboard. Make checkers out of whatever you have handy... old buttons, bottle caps, felt or matching material. Make a bag out of matching materials to accommodate the checkers, and insert a drawstring at the top. Use Velcro to attach the bag to the right or "up" side of the checkerboard. This way it will be on the inside when the game board is rolled up. You can then use the string to tie up the game into a neat, portable bundle. If the game will be used while traveling in the car, make the checkerboard and checkers out of flannel. The nap of the material will help hold the checkers to the board.

Recycle old towels and washcloths into new bath time buddy puppets. Cut out two sides of terry cloth into a mitten shape, about one inch larger than the hand it's intended for. Sew it, right sides together, and hem the bottom. Let your imagination go when decorating the puppet. Turn it into a bear, a kitten, a puppy, or even a car or truck (see Fig. 3).

I hope these ideas have given you some inspiration. It takes originality and forethought to stretch a meager homestead budget to be able to give nice Christmas gifts. The trick is to run to your imagination instead of your pocketbook when faced with a gift-giving dilemma.

Let's hear other Countrysiders' unique and low-cost gift ideas.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Countryside Publications Ltd.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:handmade Christmas gifts
Author:Miller, Sandy
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Nov 1, 1993
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