Friday, December 3, 2010

Find budget-friendly holiday items in your own backyard

As I prepared to host Thanksgiving dinner for 20 guests this year, I contemplated buying a decorative porcelain turkey for my table. At $20, it wouldn’t have broken the bank, but it was an expense I hadn’t planned for. Plus, I would have had to find a place to store the colorful gobbler for the 11 months of the year that he wouldn’t be gracing my table.

So instead of bringing home the turkey, I sought inspiration in the grocery store and bought a half-pound of unshelled mixed nuts, a few pears, and as many red apples, which cost me less than $10 (and that have the added benefit of being consumable). Then I “shopped” my own home for items I could use to complete my display. I used brown craft paper to make a table runner and filled three glass hurricanes with my grocery store goodies. As a finishing touch, I wound gold ribbon through the hurricanes and scattered harvest-colored paper leaves down the center of the table.

Inspired by the idea of using what I have on hand, I plan to use creative, budget-friendly ways to decorate for the Christmas season, too. That effort started this weekend with some evergreen boughs leftover from a cut tree. I plan to use the boughs to make a wreath and a garland for the picket fence in front of my house. I’ll also make a garland from pinecones collected from our yard and repurpose a few unworn (and itchy) wool sweaters into handmade ornaments and stockings for our children.

The idea of using what you have on hand can be applied to budget-friendly gift giving, as well. With a little time and ingenuity, you can transform everyday items into special gifts. Using a book about drawing that I picked up in the discard box at my library, for instance, I plan to frame pictures of my 3-year-old son’s favorite cars.

I may even try drawing him a Volkswagen Beetle myself. I’ll also transfer one of my daughter’s drawings onto linen I have in my stash and embroider it to capture a piece of art she’s created. For my other son, who is so smitten with baseball that he draws and cuts out paper bats and balls, I could cover a pillow with a baseball jersey. Or, I might trace one of his drawings onto a favorite, outgrown shirt and sew it into a small stuffed toy.

As you decorate your home this year or look for gifts to delight your recipients, start by surveying what’s around you. For example, branches collected from your yard and tucked into a small vase make a perfect foil for hanging handmade or miniature ornaments; the end result could become a centerpiece or serve as a hostess gift. Store-bought paperwhite bulbs planted in an old wooden bowl or a thrifted pot—embellished with Spanish moss and a satin ribbon—make an elegant gift or mantle display.

Food items made with inexpensive ingredients and presented in creative ways also make memorable gifts. With a few simple ingredients, you can make hot fudge sauce and present it to a friend or a child’s teacher in a Mason jar with a handmade label. Or you can tuck loose tea and a jar of honey in a pretty vintage tin you’ve been saving.

D├ęcor and gifts that start with items in my home and yard give me a special sense of satisfaction. They require more imagination than money, and the results are uniquely personal and original. Look around your own home or yard this holiday season – you never know what wonderful ideas you’ll come up with.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Holiday Manifesto

I’ve confessed before that I have a knack for making things far more complicated than necessary. It’s a trait that often leaves me scrambling and my husband tearing out his hair. “Why can’t anything just be simple around here?” he’s been known to ask. Though I’ve balked at his question over the years, I have to admit that my husband is right: simple is better than complicated.

Yet it’s easy to make things complicated, without fully realizing I’m doing it. Perhaps this is no more the case than when it comes to the holidays. Holiday schedules fill up too quickly, the gift budget gets stretched, the dinner menu keeps growing and the days seem to morph into one another, sometimes becoming one frenetic blur.

To help keep us focused on the simple things we enjoy, we’ve revived our manifesto idea from last summer and created a Holiday Manifesto. Together, we’ve made a list that will help us to be intentional with our time and money and to savor the best of the season.

List suggestions for our manifesto run the gamut from traditional activities, such as sledding and making snow angels to more unique ideas that include making super hero ornaments and homemade peppermint ice cream. At the urging of our stick-obsessed four-year-old son, we plan to play broomball on a local pond. We’ll also work on building a snow fort and roast marshmallows in our backyard.

Like our summer list, the suggestions our children offered tended toward the simple (except making super hero ornaments, perhaps). And almost all of the ideas we compiled will cost virtually nothing.

When my husband suggested we add “have a slumber party by the gas stove” to the list, for example, the kids got so excited that I thought they’d jump out of their skin. Their excitement had me recalling my own childhood memories of camping out on the living room floor, of waking up and seeing the twinkling lights of our Christmas tree. Dragging out sleeping bags and sprawling out on the floor couldn’t be simpler, but it’s very likely that we’ll be making memories that last a lifetime.

My own contributions to our Holiday Manifesto include sending out Christmas cards (the first time I’ve done so in more than 11 years), making candy bar hot chocolate with real whipped cream, and decorating our home with natural elements we already have or that we can forage from our property.

Some other items that made the list include decorating cookies, singing Christmas carols, and baking an apple pie. Perhaps my favorite suggestion came from my six-year-old who thought we should make sleeping in one morning a priority. For parents who almost always get woken by the sound of four pairs of stampeding fit, sleeping in would indeed be a welcome treat.

The point of our list isn’t to put pressure on us, but to give us a visual reminder of how we really want to spend our time this holiday season. To make your own list, you might try taking stock of what you did last year. What did you truly enjoy? What activities seemed to cause chaos and stress? What did you want to do but didn’t?

With answers to these questions, you can craft a list that will help you to prioritize how you want to spend your time and your money this year.