On the subject of homemade calendars, when I was young and pocket money was, frankly, pathetic, I made one for my grandad by sticking a load of photos of the family and pets throughout the year on a ready-made Kodak calendar. It wasn't great, but it was sent with love.
My Grandad died on new year's day, 2000, and when we were clearing his house out in the spring, I found it in a locked box with a couple of valentines cards from his wife and my brother's christening invitation.
After all, it only takes a second to hand over your hard-earned cash in one store or another, but nothing says 'I love you' more than a present that you have lovingly made and spent hours over.
Bath salts are one of the easiest (albeit, smelliest) things to make. Make sure you do this in a well-ventilated area. You'll need the following:
The base mixture for bath salts is equal parts Epsom salts and baking soda. To a cup of base mixture you first add your colouring (that is, if you want colours) a few drops at a time, blending it with your hands (making the gloves a moral imperative) until the colour is uniform. Then do the same with the essential oils. The total amount of scent needed will vary based on the oils used, as some are more potent than others. You can try your hand at blending the oils for different scents, which is often fun and sometimes nose deadening. A couple of good combinations are patchouli/sandalwood/vanilla, rosemary/peppermint (easy on this one unless you don't particularly like that friend). You can also buy already blended scents. Aura Cacia has some wonderful blends (Tranquility is excellent) and the Body Shop sells perfume oils in their various blends.
You can also make 'bath bombs': you know, those fizzy bathtub Alka Seltzer type balls. All you do is add citric acid to the bath-salt base (or straight baking soda) at four parts base to one part citric acid. Then, after you have finished the above, simply use an unscented base oil (bath or massage blends are fine as long as they are unscented) and add a few drops at a time until the stuff will hold a shape. You can mould it with your hands or stuff it into oiled moulds. Make each 'bomb' using about 1/4 cup of the stuff. Then just let them dry for a week or so. Make sure you take them out of the mould to dry. Otherwise be prepared to drop it mould and all into the bin later...
Another quick and easy gift though is for people who abuse their hands a lot at work or whatever. You can make a hand softener using sea salt, base oil and essential oils. Just add the oil to the salt a bit at a time until it turns into a sort of granular mess that is not at all 'liquid' then add a few drops of essential oil. To use, they just rub this stuff into their hands and rinse off.
Picture Frames are relatively easy to make. You can buy wooden, non-painted ones from DIY stores or bookshops. The best paint to use is acrylic paint since it dries really fast and is thicker and brighter than watercolour - it can also be waterproof and shiny. Use your fantasy while painting; you can create a picture connecting to the receiver, write a poem or a message or make a background for the things you can stick onto the frame, such as glitter and stars, while the paint is still wet (glow-in-the-dark stars are a cool detail). Or, you can get stones, hearts or small wooden animals. Look for the kind of children's toy animals that have 'flat' sides, or you could buy soft plastic animals and saw them into two halves with a strong plywood saw to then glue them on.
Calendars for the coming year are a good idea. Usually there are calendars to buy from book or stationery shops with only the numbers and a free space for photos, collages, paintings, poems, bright quotations, colourful leaves collected in Autumn, and so on. If you glue on anything more three-dimensional, it may be a good idea to use clear book-cover foil which sticks on one side to cover the page.
Shower curtains are really not too difficult to make. Check what size they normally have. It might be the standard curtain or you may have to snoop around in the lucky person's bathroom with a measuring tape. The material you want is either the plastic-cloth mixture some shower curtains have, or the kind of plastic used as easy to wipe table cover. You can buy it by the metre, choose from a variety of designs and it is not expensive. Consider about 15cm extra at the top when measuring for purchase. If it is the cloth-type you are working with, sew the sides so they don't unravel. Fold and sew a triple layer of about 5cm at the top where you then put the rings that the hangers go through. The metal rings and the hangers are available at DIY stores or household stores. It's a perfect gift for first-time homeowners.
Designer bedding is a bit messy, but it's fun to make tie-dye bedspreads or linen. Buy cotton linen and remember that colours are only covered by darker ones, so white linen may be a good choice. Then find fabric dye (at hobby-stores); it's not recommended that you use more than three different kinds. Use string that will not soak through, and tie the areas of the cloth you want to keep in the original colour. Follow the instructions on the fabric colour package; usually you put one packet into a certain amount of water and add a certain amount of salt. You cannot use washing machine colouring to tie-dye! Wear rubber gloves and dip the cloth into the dye, either totally or partially. If you are working with several colours, you can dip parts of the sheet/pillowcase into the buckets with dye so they kind of 'melt' into each other. Combinations like red-orange-yellow, or yellow-green-blue, or pink-violet-blue work nicely. When you are done, rinse the cloth well until the water is clear; there are special solutions to fix the colour properly. Hang the cloth where it can drip and dry, and remove the strings when half-dry. Wash coloured linen separately!
Sexy gifts are a hoot, so how about making a private pin-up calendar for your loved one? All you need is a blank calendar, glue, a camera and a very good friend. Using black and white film can make pictures look more professional/classical and is flattering for the person portrayed as well (no red blotches or yellow teeth). Don't be cheap on photos; not all turn out as well as you think! Nature settings can be great, but not if it is freezing cold, or mushroom pickers surprise your shoot. If you are working indoors you want a calm background (a clear wall will do) and fairly good lighting, which is not too difficult if you move around some lamps. Take advantage of daylight but take care your neighbour across the street is not watching. It's not his present! Then... use your imagination! Cowboy, Indian, good girl, bad boy, grab the living room plants and create bikini-beach. What does your partner admire the most? Smile? Close-up! Your legs? Find those high-heels! You might not need any tools; use simplicity's beauty. Bare backs are very erotic, place yourself backwards on a chair. Just think about where you have the pictures developed, in case you live in a very small place... Otherwise, have fun!
Nude painting... do you have a friend who knows how to paint? Are you artistically gifted? I cannot imagine anybody who would not be thrilled over an erotic painting of their loved one. It does not have to be 100% similar or a visual masterpiece; it is the very intimate touch that does it.
Well-being is a wonderful thing to feel, and everybody enjoys a relaxing day at a spa; how about giving a voucher for a beauty and wellness-day at home? Greet your guest with relaxing music, scented candles and some tea. Your treatment programme can include a massage with scented oils, a facial treatment with nourishing mask, a foot massage (cooling gel soothes sore feet), a relaxing bath with candles and bubbly foam or oils. Bring some fresh juices to make the service outstanding! While he or she is dreaming in the tub, you can fix a healthy meal, maybe an Asian vegetarian dish or a fresh salad.
Surprise Your Loved One
When making a homemade gift for a loved one that you really want to surprise, learn a new skill if possible and when the 25 December dawns they will be really surprised. It may be something as simple as some of the men out there learning how to make a really nice breakfast for their loved one on Christmas morning, especially if she was up all night preparing the dinner, or a poem and/or photo done in nice calligraphy in a home-made frame, or something.
If you have a number of skills, you can combine them to make a present, but be sure to keep it hidden from the intended recipient, or at least keep the 'work in progress' out of sight; we're not all like Rolf Harris and only going to reveal what it is with the very last brush stroke.
One year my daughter sewed me a sampler of a poinsettia then framed it. It cost around £3 for the materials and frame. She spent hours making it and it's not perfect, but I still have it and wouldn't part with it. Home-made presents are the best.
Magazines and books often have several alphabets with decorative letters in cross-stitch. Materials are minimal if you apply these to:
Covers for your clothes hangers - make them nice and big to cover those jackets with shoulder pads. Minimum sewing and plenty of space for creative embroidery - even longer texts like 'This is Annie's favourite dress' or 'Mike's interview jacket'.
What do we never give other people enough of, and always feel bad about it? What doesn't cost anything? The answer, of course, is time.
Give your teenagers time; a 'voucher' for an afternoon doing something together which you both enjoy.
Kids give your parents a voucher for time when you can do things for them.
For anybody who talks too much, give that person you love a voucher for '60 minutes silence'.
Smaller kids might like a voucher for 'an afternoon's baking with Mummy' or 'flying a kite one Saturday'.
There are as many variations as there are people on this planet.
There - you just had to look at this one, didn't you? A nice way to present walnuts ready-to-eat is to crack them in large amounts beforehand, put the nuts into the kitchen mixer and chop them quite small. Then pour runny honey into the mixer and make a delicious spread. Pack the mixture in nice jars and present them as gifts to loved ones!
A Present to the Generations
Setting up a family genealogy site can be a present to everyone in the family and to the generations to come. Family diaries, photos, births, deaths, marriages, anniversaries and more can be posted, with every family member having their own log-in and every group having their own photo albums. Family chat rooms added to the site can link loved ones around the world, and carry the news of important events fast. You can set up a family site by getting a webspace and adding tools from the web such as photo albums, chat rooms, calendars and more. You can have a site prepared for you by paying a webmaster to collect the components and assembling it to your order.
- webmusher.com has pricing and information on getting a professional site set up and making sure everyone hears about it and knows how to use it.
Some useful free tools can be found at:
Future generations will have the wonderful gift of entries, photos and more from their forebears.
'Adventskalender' - Advent Calendar
In Germany it is a very nice custom to give children (but not only children, of course) something called an Adventskalender (Advent calendar). It is a sort of calendar which covers the time from the 1 December to the 24 December (the Germans, and indeed most Europeans, exchange presents on the evening of the 24th). Those you can buy in the supermarket are very flat cardboard boxes; you hang them on the wall, and every day you may open one of 24 little doors, behind which is a small piece of chocolate in the shape of a star, a Christmas tree, a bell, a parcel or other objects connected with Christmas.
These, of course, you wouldn't even dream of giving to one of your close friends, and perhaps you wouldn't even give it to a family member; you can easily make a much better one yourself. First, you buy (or make) 24 little gifts, eg, a nice biro, a hairclip, one of those glass-bead bracelets that are so fashionable at the moment, a pencil sharpener, anything, be it as silly as it may. You will usually end up filling nearly the whole thing with candy and chocolate bars for lack of better ideas. Then, you make the calendar itself. This is where you can't worm yourself out of using your imagination as you could with the presents. You can do anything you like, eg, wrap the presents up as small parcels and hang them on a pine twig, or attach 24 little stockings to a long pole to hang on the wall or, if you live in the same house as the person you want to give the calendar to, you could just pin the stockings or parcels to the wall in their room while they're out. You can paint a Christmassy picture on a wooden board with 24 hooks on it and hang the parcels/stockings on the hooks.
I made one a couple of years ago from those little boxes the films come in. I started looking for small enough objects (eg pop sox - one per day! and things made of material mainly, which can be squashed into them.
These little round plastic containers have a press-on lid. When I had found 24 tiny presents, I put them in, put them into some kind of order, and stuck a tiny Christmas motif sticker on each. Then I cut a long length (a yard and a half at least) of gift ribbon and lay it along in front of my row of boxes. You simply string them together by opening the lid of the container, laying the ribbon flat across the top and popping the lid back on again. Tie a loop at each end and decorate by curling the ribbon or tying baubles on. You can number them with felt pens to keep tabs (1 - 24 for the days in December up to Christmas). This can then be strung across a window, over the fireplace, or anywhere on a wall with two drawing pins.
Other Advent calendar ideas are:
Each container has its own string with a numbered label at the end, and all 24 are thrown into a basket or bowl with the numbers dangling out, to be pulled out (and untangled) day by day.
Hang the ribbon vertically next to the bathroom door or another door that you pass every day.
Wrap crêpe paper, or better still, evergreen branches round the banisters and tie the advent presents all along there - to be replaced by nice decorations as they diminish.
Devise a little 'vending machine' where you pull out the bottom box each day - this can later be used to store other similar small items, such as scrunched up carrier bags.
Hide them round the house each morning and leave a clue at the breakfast table or just put one on the breakfast table each morning.
Put them into a 'bran tub' so each morning no one knows which gift will come up!
These are very simple to make and also double up as presents. You need to take a piece of card (like the stuff on the back of a pad of A4 paper) and cut out two Christmas tree shapes or bell shapes or snowflake shapes (you get the idea) - you can use any shape just as long as there are two of the same. These shapes need to be about 5cm high. Once you have your two shapes, cut one of them from the middle down to the bottom and the other from the middle up to the top. Once you have done this, slot them together at right angles. Sometimes a glob of glue helps at this point just to hold the card together.
You now need to paint your card the appropriate colour depending on what shape it is you have. When it is dry thread a double length of cotton through the top; don't do this before painting because you will get nasty globby painty bits all over the place. this is a good thing for kids to do if they can be trusted with strong enough scissors. It is also a pleasant change on the Christmas tree from all the glitter.
It's quite easy making homemade potpourri... with it, you can stuff little boxes, cheap plastic shapes, jars, or baskets.
How easy? Well, you can buy some fragrant flowers or clippings and then just dry them out. Some florists will gladly give you some of their more 'undesirable' flowers whose stems might be cracked. You can also throw in some nuts, rind (from fruit), leaves, acorns, dried fruit, roots, whatever you please. You must ensure that they are dried out appropriately; flowers can be placed upside down in a warm place for a bit, and they'll dry out within a week and a half; fruits should be dried for quite a bit longer, as they contain considerably more moisture.
For the actual fragrance, it is fun to mix and match scents... try out some spices, like cinnamon (very popular for holidays), nutmeg, vanilla, and liquorice. Also, you could try some extracts, particularly orange, lemon, or rum. Orange juice and honey work well too.
Alternatively, you can use essential oils like rose, allspice, grapefruit, musk, lavender, oregano, frankincense, freesia, gardenia, poppy, ginger, heather, hibiscus, whatever is pleasing to the nose.
Before you start making the pot pourri mixture, you should already have chosen what scents you are about to infuse it with - this means trying it out ahead of time, making sure that the odour is pleasant. If you're a bit uneasy about mixing things, and coming up with possible failure, try talking with a florist - they most likely have more than enough experience to go around.
Combining the ingredients is rather easy... just throw all your dried bits into a bowl and add a bit of your oils/ spices. Toss it around a bit, as if it were a salad, making sure not to saturate the mixture, as this would just make a messy mulch.
Use the Talents you Possess
The best advice is to create gifts you know won't be much of a struggle - choose gifts that suit your own personality.
If you're fortunate enough to have had the time to fiddle around on a guitar, create a recording of your compositions. Alternatively, compile a tape of your favourite songs and give this as a gift. You can decorate the box/sleeve yourself either by drawing/collage or a photograph.
To make it, you need some old-fashioned clothes pegs (the ones made of one piece of wood), a few googly eyes from a craft store, some small red puffballs, brown felt cut into the shape of holly, some red or green ribbon, and a hot glue gun. First, you glue two of the clothes pegs together so they lie next to each other in the same direction. Take a third, and glue it so that the pinning ends are in the opposite direction of the two you've already glued together, thus making the reindeer's body. The googly eyes go where eyes would, the red puffball where a nose would sit, and the brown felt just below the 'antlers' as ears. Then make a small loop of ribbon and glue it behind the head clothes peg, so you can hang it on the tree.
Uses for Pot Noodle Pots over Christmas
The Pot Noodle1 pot can come in handy over the Christmas period for making some rather interesting and useful gifts for children and adults alike.
You'll need one pot noodle pot, decorations of any sort, and glue. All you have to do is cover the pot in glue and decorate as you wish.
- 1 Pot Noodle pot
- 1 Ping pong ball
- Short length of garden/bamboo cane (about 30cm)
- Googly eyes
- Felt-tip pens
Cut a hole in the bottom of the Pot Noodle pot big enough for the garden cane to fit through.
Cut a hole in the ping pong ball and insert the garden cane. Glue the cane in place, then thread it through the hole in the bottom of the Pot Noodle pot.
Use felt-tip pens to give the ping pong ball a nice looking face, and stick on the googly eyes, a bit of wool (for hair) and make a little hat out of fabric.
Wrap fabric around the pot and glue to the top of the cane, near the ping pong ball 'head'. Also glue the fabric at the base of the pot and then tie a bow using the ribbon near the pot rim.
Pull the cane up and down to operate the clown, it will hide in the pot and pop out again. That should keep the little blighters occupied for about two minutes.
You could make musical shakers for children. Put different amounts of rice in each pot and cover with tin foil which should be securely stuck down with Sellotape otherwise rice will go everywhere. The outside of the pot could be decorated with wrapping paper. Kids will love making music.
Livening up Dull Presents
If you're not 100% happy with what you bought/made, you can always make it look much posher with a bit of strategic packaging.
Anything clear (a glass vase, bottle of vodka, and so on) looks fab wrapped in bubble wrap and covered with that see-through pearlised cellophane you get in stationery shops all over the place. You can see right through it, but can't see exactly what's in it.
If you're wrapping something in a box, and there's some space around the item, chuck a few wrapped toffees (buy a mixed selection in foil wrappers) in with the gift. Foil covered chocolate balls/stars/Santas are great, too. Then, when you've wrapped it, tie two toffees or stick two Santas to either end of a piece of nice string, wool or embroidery thread, and stick them on to the parcel with a sticky bow, so they dangle down over the side. Or, if you're padding it with shredded paper, sprinkle some star sequins or glitter in with the paper (as long as this won't affect your gift!)
Bottles of wine/spirits are good wrapped in paper or cloth - tartan from a remnants shop will look mega Christmassy. Again stick your wrapped sweets to the end of the string, and tie around the neck of the bottle, leaving the ends pendulous, preferably at different lengths.
Simple drawstring bags made of velvet or any stiffish sparkly fabric, embroidered or otherwise, depending on your taste, are good for small and larger gifts alike and are almost part of the present. With a small non-breakable gift, wrap it, put it in the bag and chuck a load of those toffees in as well, and hey ho you have a Lucky Dip!
Not buying into the modern message of the holiday season - wanton materialism - is a refreshing concept. Pay heed to the following Researchers ideal Christmas presents.
A few Christmases ago I was the poorest I've ever been in my adult life. Rather than going out and blowing a big wad of money on presents, I put my natural cooking talents to work. I made chocolate truffles and lemon bars for everyone on my list. I found recipes for each that were simple and required few or no expensive ingredients. I then purchased decorative paper wrapping for the treats, such as tissue paper and curling ribbon, which are very inexpensive. Then I distributed them to friends and family. They were a big hit!
Everyone loves sweets and goodies during the holidays, despite the danger of putting on a few pounds. If you can cook, I advise finding recipes for breads, cookies, chocolates, even savoury goodies. Make your own packaging or use cookie tins from last year. Not only will you be putting a part of yourself and your love for that person into the gift, but you will be cutting down on wasteful packaging and helping the environment.
A Christmas Hamper
A few choice food items, in an inexpensive wicker hamper from a kitchen reject shop (like Spoils in the UK) surrounded by shredded magazines (bright, colourful and free if you have a shredder at work). You don't even need to use a basket, though it does add that authentic feel - you could just cover a box in wrapping paper, and maybe dress up the gifts with ribbons cut from co-ordinated wrap.
If you can bake a stollen or Dundee cake, that's great. Make some jam and draw scrollwork on the labels, or if you don't fancy making jam, buy really fruity jam and replace the labels. Who'll know?
Pickles are easy, as are apricots steeped in brandy (which retail for around £15 from Fortnum and Mason2 (and that's the standard type) - a nice jar or bottle makes this kind of thing look great.
When you make your Christmas pudding, make enough for two. Wrap in muslin and decorate with a ribbon. This is a cute way to wrap up sweets that won't shed chocolate powder everywhere. Or you can put them in a box you've covered with a collage of pictures cut from Christmas catalogues, or pretty wrapping paper.
A really nice bottle of wine shouldn't cost you more than £6. If you aren't a wine pro, just pick one that gets a good review in the Sunday Times Style magazine - they're always good quality.
Some cheap but nice fresh fruit from the market finishes off a really attractive offering. Especially good for parents or elderly relatives (who will probably like it even if you're a terrible cook), but also a luxury for anyone really, as long as they weren't expecting a Palm Pilot...
A Flower Pot
Clay flowerpots can be prepared with emulsion paint, then your children (or you) can paint patterns on them with matchpots of strongly coloured emulsion. A coat or two of varnish after it's dried will finish it off. Then, fill the pot with compost and plant a few miniature daffodils or some other bulb.