Easy, creative and handmade: Unique and practical gift ideas for your loved ones

A few years ago I participated in a blog ring on the topic of consumerism, initiated by Sue Mitchell. Last week I wrote a little note on my Facebook page encouraging people to make a few handmade gifts this year. Sue  commented and suggested we write and publish simultaneously again on the topic and I readily agreed. Be sure to check out her inspirational post over at An Untold Story after your visit here.

As long as I can remember, I’ve been ambivalent during the holidays. As we roll into December and Christmas looms, my emotional state vacillates wildly between excitement and enthusiasm to join the rest of the society scurrying around me in the manic preparations, and deep despondency that leaves me numb some days just staring out the window, weighed down by obligation, confused about whether all the effort, expense, and bother is really worth it.

I avoid going to the mall after Halloween. Ignorance is bliss, I’ve found. If I’m not physically there to stumble upon an ‘irresistible’ deal, I won’t know about it and I’ll be richer for it. I don’t want to feel pressured to spend so much money on presents (even be tempted to go into debt over it). I don’t want to succumb to the retail marketers who are ruthlessly bombarding us with that not-so-subtle lie that the more you spend, the more you love the recipient, the more precious your Christmas experience will be.

The few gifts I do buy – those I’m purchasing and not making myself – I purchase locally, at boutiques and stores in the two small towns nearby. I can’t tell you what a different shopping experience this is compared to weathering all the bad temper and hassles found in the big box stores or city malls this time of year.

The best part of Christmas preparations for me as a child was making simple crafts to decorate the house and the tree. The laughter my brothers and I shared as we sat around the kitchen table merrily getting ‘crafty’ while my mom supervised still makes me smile for the memory.

Making handmade gifts and giving them to my loved ones makes me happy. It’s fun to challenge yourself and see your creativity materialize into something wonderful, something that didn’t exist before you made it.

I hear people say so often they don’t have enough time to make handmade Christmas gifts. Yet some are willing to spend hours upon exhausted hours driving all over the place (some even to the States, endure a longgg wait at the border) getting jostled and hassled in crowded malls or stores only to spend tons of money…on toys and gadgets that will be obsolete in a few years.

Imagine instead of investing all your time in hunting down those deals, you decide to make something really special and unique for a few people on your list, a gift they could treasure for many years to come.

If this alternative appeals to you (and even if you consider yourself ‘not crafty’), here are some ideas to try:

Personalized gift baskets

I decided a few years ago to do this for my brother-in-law and he loved it. Buy a bunch of edible goodies you know the recipient loves. Buy a wicker basket. Scrunch up some festive tissue paper and place it on the bottom, then pile up all the items in the basket. Wrap it up with clear cellophane and top off with a nice bow. They will appreciate this so much more than those generic basket collections on sale everywhere this time of year.

Woof-woof-Meow-Wow!

Don’t forget the furry loved ones on your gift list. I’m sharing my two favourite treat recipes I make every year to give to the felines and canines in my life. They go bonkers for these and they’re so easy to make:

Cheesy doggie biscuits

Ingredients:
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/2 cup vegetable oil
7-9 tablespoons of water
Method:
1. Mix all but the water, until it forms a dough.
2. Add the water tablespoon by tablespoon if needed, until the dough has a good texture, sticking together but not too mushy.
3. Roll out onto a floured board or counter until it’s about an inch thick. Cut little rectangle shapes with knife or use cookie cutter shapes.
4. Put in 325 degree oven for 15 mins. Let them completely cool before storing in airtight container or tin.

Holy Mackerel Crunchy Cat Treats

Ingredients:
7 ounces of mashed sardines (or mackerel, tuna, chicken, turkey you buy in cans)
1/4 cup Dry Non-fat powdered milk
1/2 cup wheat germ
Method:
1. Mix mashed sardines or whatever you’re using with 1/4 cup of powdered milk and the wheat germ. Mix ingredients well.
2. Roll into approximately 40 little balls, place on greased cookie sheet and flatten with fork.
3. Bake at 350 degree until brown(10 mins in my oven).

Gettin’ stitchy with it

Here are some really easy sewing patterns:

For school or work: Handy Lunch Bags

DIY Kitchen Set from Fishsticks Designs

Easy coffee cozy sewing pattern from see kate sew

A simple tote bag pattern to sew from Skip to my Lou

A really practical gift: An easy travel jewelry pouch

An amazingly simple yet elegant scarf to sew from the Missouri Quilt Company

Feeling creative yet? Here are some art projects you’ll probably want to make for yourself as well:

Fabulous fabric wall art. Super easy

Really cute personalized bookmarks

For all the writers and diarists on your list, make a unique and inexpensive mixed-media journal. I agree with EcoHeidi, it’s cool to craft!

Easy Name Place Holders by The Train to Crazy

Ahh…spa!

You’ll probably want to make some of these cinnamon and coffee bath salts. I suggest decorating the small mason jar by gluing a few coffee beans on the lid and tying a ribbon around the jar with a few cinnamon sticks stuck in the bow:

I’ve made countless handmade gifts over the years and keep getting inspired with new ideas and projects to try every year and I hope you will too.  Feel free to add some ideas of your own and share in the Comments section.

Be sure to check out Sue Mitchell’s post today : 3 Priceless Gifts You can’t Buy at the Mall

Photo thanks to Taliesin on morguefile.

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8 great writing resources to help you get prepared for NaNoWriMo

writer thinking about what to writeAre you going to be joining in with the hundreds of thousands of fellow writers online this November for Nanowrimo, the popular writing contest/marathon?

I’m using the month of October to prepare for this intense, exhilarating writing ride for the second year in a row with the help of a bunch of online novel-writing resources. I thought I’d share them with you in case you’re keen on getting ready too.

Not only do I need a specific premise or an idea of what story I want to write, but I need this time to get to know my main characters, including their physical and character attributes, personal histories, their fears, desires and motivations.

Here’s a list of great online fiction-writing resources I found to be really helpful. Hopefully they’ll be of value to you too, dear fellow writers, whether you are diving in and attempting to write a first draft of an entire novel in 30 consecutive days or continuing to work on your writing at a pace and schedule that suits you best.

Character Building Workshop

Way cool! Character-building questionnaires and online tests galore.

Fiction Writing Resources

Wow, this is an exhaustive list boasting no less than 102 links! I thought it was definitely valuable and needed to be included here even though it is obviously more than just one resource. It was compiled way back in 2007, so there are a handful of pages that no longer exist.  Amazing collection here.

Get ready for Nanowrimo

Writing a two-page outline for your novel and other nifty suggestions from a seasoned NaNo participant.

Songza

Ok, I know this isn’t a writing link per se, but I decided to include it in this list. You can compile a soundtrack for your characters, as well as have some “new to you” music to  write by. I’m sure your muse will love it too. No annoying commercials to wait through either!

The Process of Writing a Novel

Good general tips on the construction of the novel.

Advice on writing a novel by Crawford Kilian

Detailed checklists and advice on the whole process of novel-writing.

The Snowflake Method

Good suggestions from this post about using the Snowflake Method to write your novel.

Finding the right name for your characters

Here’s a great site that lists most popular baby names in the U.S. with their meaning by year, all the way back to 1880!

Are there any good online resources you’ve found while prepping to write a novel? If so, please share in the comments. Thanks!

 

 

 

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Once upon a (your) time

Grimm's Fairy Tales book and apple Carole Jane TreggettWe must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us – Joseph Campbell

I’m totally hooked on the t.v show Once Upon a Time.  I haven’t missed one episode since its debut in September 2011 (and I’m someone who watches maximum 10 hours of television per week).

The series began with a young boy’s quest to reunite his family and help the unfortunate modern-day residents of Storybrooke, Maine  ‘remember’ who they really are – vibrant and exciting characters from the fairy tales you and I grew up with and know so well – Snow White, the Evil Queen, Rumpelstilskin, Cinderella, Prince Charming and so many others.

The plot and character development is complex and exciting enough to keep me fully engaged each hour.

Most of these well-known fairy tale people originated from the imagination of two German brothers, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, who lived back in the nineteenth century.  Their father died when the boys were 11 and 12 years of age. They were sent to live with an aunt a few years later to attend secondary school with plans to continue on to law school.

In 1808, their mother died and eldest teen child Jacob returned to the town of his birth and secured a job as a librarian to support his younger brothers and sister. Wilhelm returned home soon after and became a librarian as well.

They collaborated and wrote the first volume of 86 fairy tales and it was published just before Christmas in 1812 – just 4 years after their mother’s death.

Six subsequent volumes were produced up until 1857 – leaving a legacy of 211 stories. They were quite controversial at the time in that although they were categorized as children’s tales,  their content was deemed too mature for young readers (and not many happy endings in the stories after all).

A child-friendly version of the fables was written by the Brothers Grimm and published in 1825 to appease the masses – and it’s this collection that has inspired countless other books and beloved Disney movie story classics over the ages.

Cut away to the fall of 2011 and back to this new, imaginative television show. Young Henry finds his birth mother and recruits her help in this earnest mission, telling her that she’s the only one who can save them all, and that they must do everything they can to help them remember who they really are “before it’s too late.”

Emma (Henry’s birth mother) discovers as the series develops she is also a fairy tale character, the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming.

We get to see the drama and intrigue play out in the two parallel worlds – one set in present-day, the other…in timeless, far, far away (the actors all play their respective characters in each place so we don’t get too confused).

The thought of people living in two parallel universes is an intriguing premise to me.

I got to fantasizing about the possibilities how you and I could be living the same way. What if as creatives we had forgotten who we really are?

Have you always had a yearning to write or paint or dance or sing and just pushed it aside, telling yourself it’s just a silly fantasy?

What if in a parallel universe you were already there, already following your passion, already successful? How would you feel discovering this?

I think Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm would be astounded to discover how inspirational their work has been to many creatives, how ingrained their little stories have become in our culture, in our literature and art.  Even though they had to lose their parents at a very young age, circumstance afforded them the opportunity to work creatively together and produce such an amazing legacy for us all.

If you had to create a fairy tale for yourself, who would your character be? What would your life be like? What great creative work would you produce?

What creative work could you start today in this present reality that might ‘help you remember’ who you really are?

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