Posts Tagged ‘gifts’

Happy Boxing Day! Wait…What’s Boxing Day?

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

It is December 26th and my calendar says Boxing Day.

What in the world is Boxing Day and what is it doing on my calendar?

Boxing Day isn’t a holiday we celebrate in the US, but I had some ideas of what it might be about from TV. First, I remembered the old M*A*S*H episode where Colonel Potter made the officers and enlisted men swap roles for a day because that was the tradition of some British officers that happened to be staying with them at Christmas. (There are a lot of valuable life lessons to be learned from the Fighting 4077th, but that’s another post for another time.) Digging back a little further into the memory banks, I vaguely recalled something about taking boxes and giving alms to the poor on that day. This was promising. A day dedicated to forcing “The Man” to break a sweat for a change and taking time to care for people in need? Now this is my kind of holiday!

Enthusiastically I started to gather my thoughts for this post. I wanted to be sure to get everything about this day just right. Some internet research and a peep at Wikipedia soon revealed that I am not the only one who doesn’t fully understand Boxing Day. In fact, some of the people who observe Boxing Day can’t really say why it is a holiday. There are several origin myths but it is unequivocally NOT about making The Man do manual labor — in fact it is a bank holiday, so generally speaking, The Man probably has paid time off. And the part about making up care packages for those in need? Snopes.com burst my bubble by confirming that the holiday isn’t for boxing up all the stuff in the house you don’t need after a busy holiday season, either. In the countries where Boxing Day is celebrated it is mostly an extension of Christmas where people watch sports (Soccer! Not even boxing!?!) and go shopping at the after-Christmas sales.

Initially I was bummed by these discoveries, but then I realized that I’m the Mom and I can make up whatever traditions I want. That’s the awesome thing about parenting — Jacob and I are now the Family Tradition Masters. If we say Boxing Day is for serving others and giving forward from the bounty of the holidays then that’s that.

I hope each of you and your families are having a happy, healthy and blessed Christmas season. Did you forge any new traditions as you celebrated this year? Do you have any favorites you would like to share? The Wilderness Girls would love to hear all about the unique traditions your family shares. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some donations to gather.

Creative Ways to Wrap a Gift Card

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

Gift cards and cash (or “the universal gift card,” as my dad calls it) are becoming more and more common to find under the tree or in your stocking during the holiday season. And why not? They are easy to find (most grocery stores have kiosks of cards from dozens of retailers), and, as long as you choose a store the recipient likes, you can avoid the “this is the wrong size/color/style” issue. I am a big fan of gift cards, and so is my family.

Because of this, I give a lot of gift cards around the holidays. But every year I face the same problem — how can I wrap a gift card so that it isn’t obvious that it’s a gift card? And most importantly, how can I do this without using a lot of packaging that will just end up in the trash, OR without spending a lot of money?

The first thing you want to do is think about your recipient and what they might use that could double as wrapping. In my situation, I have a baker, a cocktail enthusiast, and a coffee fanatic.

For the baker, I found a really cute $3 holiday potholder and snowman cookie cutter combo in the sale bins at Target. I used that to hold the gift card, and then used two sheets of tissue paper and some red ribbon to complete the wrap.

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When finished, you can place it under the tree, or, since it has a hook, you could even hang it in lieu of a stocking on the mantle.

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For the cocktail enthusiast, I found a small plastic shaker in the dollar bins at Target. I then got his favorite candy, M&Ms, a roll of cellophane wrap, and I found a four pack of ribbon in the same discount section.

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I put the gift card in the shaker, covered it with the candy, then wrapped the entire thing in cellophane and tied it with a ribbon. Easy-peasy.

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Finally, for my coffee fanatic, Target had letter mugs on sale for $5, so I picked a B mug, bought some holiday confetti in the dollar section, then used the same cellophane from the shaker purchase, plus another roll of $1 ribbon.

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I put the gift card in the mug, covered it with the confetti, wrapped it in cellophane and then tied it with the ribbon. If you had someone who liked tea, you could easily buy a set of tea bags and cover the gift card with tea instead of confetti. The combination possibilities are endless.

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Don’t be afraid of the time or expense you think creative wrapping will take. I was able to complete all three gifts in an afternoon, and spent less than $20. Just take your time, browse the aisles, or, if you really want to be sure you are spending wisely, head to your local dollar store and get everything there.

What tips do you have for creatively wrapping a gift card? Please share them in the comments below. Happy gifting!

Thrifty Gifting: DIY Bulk Gifts

Monday, December 9th, 2013

Every year it happens. You make your list. You check it twice. You get gifts for everyone, naughty and nice. Then you walk into work to discover that a co-worker has left a gift on your desk. Panic sets in as you realize that there are quite a few people that you didn’t include on your master holiday list that you will want to give a small gift to — co-workers, neighbors, friends you don’t see on a regular basis, etc. How do you cover all your bases without breaking the bank? The answer: DIY bulk gifts.

DIY bulk gifts are economical, time-saving (because you pick one item to mass produce), and are often more meaningful to the recipient, since you took the time to make the item yourself. Pinterest is chock-full of great ideas for bulk gifts — including many non-food items.

Here are my tips for choosing a bulk gift project:

* Before committing to a project, read the instructions in their entirety. Only choose projects you feel you can tackle. The holidays are busy enough as it is, so choosing a complicated project will only lead to frustration (and, if you are like me, tears).
* Decide how you are going to package your gift. Will you use mason jars? Small glass vials? Tins? Decorative take-out containers? Items like salts or oils can be given in a small container with an air tight seal. Cookies, granola or larger perishables can be stored in a larger jar or tin. Items like soaps could be left open and tied with a ribbon.
* Decide if any supplemental items are needed. Supplemental items include a tag with a list of ingredients in the item, how to use the item, or for items like vanilla extract or infused liquors, the date that the recipient can start using it.
* Buy all your items and pick a date for production. Pick something that you can easily knock out in an afternoon, and book that afternoon for yourself ahead of time. If you have kids, picking a project they can help with will make them feel like they are contributing, and could become an annual family tradition.
* Wrapping the items — keep it simple. With a handmade gift, one of the beauties is that elaborate wrapping is not needed. Print a label, or gift tag, and tie the item with a simple bow.

Below are some of my favorite finds for simple, but awesome, homemade gifts that you can produce for your holiday gifts:

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* Chalkboard Mug filled with chalk, hot chocolate, marshmallows and a candy cane
* Raspberry Lemon Sugar Scrub
* Peppermint Soap
* Spice Rubs/Mixtures (Chicken, Pork, Ranch Dressing)
* Homemade Granola (Make sure to check that your recipient doesn’t have a nut or grain allergy before gifting this.)
* Vanilla Salt
* Poppin’ Pedicure Set (This clever spa kit was created by TWG Christina.)

This year I will be making sets of the vanilla salts and vanilla extract from Joy the Baker’s site because I know a lot of people who love to cook and bake. I will put them in jars, and include a list of ways to use the salt, as well as a recipe for Dark Chocolate and Pistachio Cookies that Joy recommends using the salt with. If you are doing something like a vanilla salt, where someone may struggle with figuring out a use for it, I find including a recipe or list of suggested uses is a great way to ensure that they feel comfortable trying it out.

Have any great bulk gift ideas that you have made or received in the past that aren’t mentioned here? Leave your comments below. Happy gifting!

Holiday Gift Guide: Fair Trade

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013

It’s about time to do a bit of holiday shopping, and if you are anything like me, you have a few tough-to-buy-for folks on your list. Many of us are blessed to be able to buy ourselves the things we want, when we want them. That’s why finding a great gift at holiday time can be such a challenge. If starting a tradition of charitable giving was vetoed at your last family meeting, try fair trade products for this year’s holiday gifts.

Why fair trade? When you purchase fair trade products you ensure that the artisan or worker who produced the product earns a fair, living wage. Fair trade combats some of the cruelty of this world, protecting children from unhealthy and unsafe child labor abuses, and helping women recover and restore their self-worth after escaping from sex trafficking. Buying fair trade means investing in the kind of entrepreneurship that transforms communities and lifts people out of extreme poverty. Fair trade is good for the environment, too. Coffee, cacao, sugar and other crops that are traded fairly are grown by farmers who have a stake in their future and who work to create a high quality product and a bright future for their families.

So, does this mean fair trade is more expensive? Well, sometimes it is, but not always, and not by much. Most often the quality is higher, yet the prices on fairly traded goods are comparable to those products that may be unethically sourced and produced. Fairly traded products tend to be unique and crafted with pride.

Here are some of my favorite fair trade gifts for this holiday season:

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1. A Mighty Morning Coffee (Peru): Grown by a cooperative of farmers, who have used the proceeds from fairly traded products to learn sustainable and organic farming, and reinvest earnings into their cooperative and their community.
2. Feather Weave Scarf (India): This scarf, like many from fair trade retailer Ten Thousand Villages, helps support business education and training for ethnically and socially disadvantaged artisans in India.
3. Create World Peace Jute Tote (India): Perfect as a market bag or everyday tote, this piece is handcrafted by women who have escaped sex trafficking and are learning literacy and life skills while earning a living wage.
4. Hand Painted Candle (South Africa): The women of a small South African village, where unemployment levels can be up to 50%, work together to create these hand painted candles using traditional designs.
5. Milk Chocolate with Sea Salt and Toffee: Chocolate and coffee are great places to start adding fair trade purchases to your life. Cacao and coffee farmers are some of the hardest hit workers when it comes to the unfair labor practices of plantation style farming. Every time you choose fair trade chocolate you make life a little sweeter for farmers.
6. A Little Bird Told Me Note Cards (Bangladesh): Isn’t it a thrill to get a piece of “real” mail? I always get so excited to see a handwritten note in my mailbox. The only thing better is knowing these note cards are made by women who are receiving education, health care and access to loans.
7. Steel Drum Metal Art (Haiti): This is one of my favorites because it wins the trifecta: it supports industry in still-struggling Port-au-Prince, Haiti, it is made from recycled materials, and it is absolutely beautiful.
8. Luscious Lips Organic Vegan Lip Balm (USA): Made in the USA out of certified fair trade, organic and vegan materials this lip balm is perfect for keeping stockings stuffed, and lips moist and mistletoe ready.
9. Aqua Blue Flower Alligator Hair Clip (Malawi): This beauty was imagined by an American designer who fell in love with African textiles while living in Malawi and now sells accessories and handbags made by Malawi women. These women earn a living wage and are breaking free from the cycle of poverty.
10. One World 2009 Chenin Blanc (South Africa): Check labels carefully when buying wine and you’re likely to find a fairly traded treasure like this South African Chenin Blanc. What’s better than a little vino? A vino that helps farmers recover from economic disadvantage and care for sustainable vineyards, that’s what!
11. Hand Stamped Owl Leather Wallet (India): To be honest I was surprised to discover Worldstock Fair Trade when browsing Overstock.com one day. They’ve collected thousands of beautiful items, including this cheery little wallet, from all over the world and sell them at fair prices with 60-70% of the proceeds going directly to the artisan. As an environmental bonus, all Worldstock items ship carbon neutral.
12. Handcrafted Acacia Wood Divided Serving Bowl (Philippines): Hand carved from sustainably collected acacia wood in the Philippines, this bowl would be a perfect gift for the entertainer in your life. Who hosts the best parties? The friend who serves snacks in this beauty!

For more information about fair trade, there is a comprehensive and accurate Wikipedia entry on Fair Trade,that can explain the basics. More info is available through the certification organization, Fair Trade USA. Online retailers Ten Thousand Villages, Novica, Dsenyo and others featured in the gift guide have web pages that explain their mission and values. As with most things, not everyone agrees that fair trade is the right thing to do but if you do a bit of research and buy from reputable suppliers, you can be confident that your purchase is helping individuals and families worldwide. What sustainable, ethically sourced or fairly traded gifts will you exchange this year?

Christmas Cookie Swap

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

I love Christmas baking. I love the new recipes and the tried and true recipes. I love everything about the sweet aromas and time-honored family traditions. That is until I’m three batches into the fifth recipe and I hit the wall, cracked-out on sugar and surrounded by spilled flour and soiled Kitchen Aid parts. I want to provide Santa a bountiful arrangement but I don’t have the patience to create so many different varieties of cookies. What is a Wilderness Girl to do?

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Enter the Cookie Swap. The cookie swap is a brilliant event for which each participant bakes several dozens of one type of cookie to exchange with other bakers. You choose your favorite recipe and mass-produce one type, and at the swap, you receive a wide selection of cookies in return. All the variety with none of the hassle of testing and buying ingredients for a bunch of different recipes. The beauty of a Cookie Swap is that it can be as relaxed or as fancy as you want it to be. It can be a small swap between just a few friends, or it can be a bigger group with friends of friends who you’re meeting for the first time. You can do a ballot for cookie superlatives such as best cookie, easiest recipe and most unique, or you can just appreciate each cookie on its own. Whatever you choose will be fun. After all, it’s your party, you can swap how you want to. Regardless of how simple or detailed your party will be, there are a few steps that are crucial to the success of your Cookie Swap:

Planning
You must get your Cookie Swap on the calendar early because aint no’body got time for that during the weekend before Christmas. Don’t worry about having the party too early because most cookies freeze really well and you will be grateful for your frozen stash when unexpected guests pop over and you’re able to whip up a cookie tray and hot cocoa bar on short notice.

Invitations
Take the time to do “real” paper invitations because an invitation sets the tone for your party and it gives your guests all the important details of your swap. There are so many adorable options available online at every price point (including free), that I curated a little collection for you to peruse on Pinterest. The invitation is where you tell your guests the when and where, and how many treats to bring (along with whether to package them separately or bring them all in one big container to be divvied up during the event). If you want them to hold out a dozen for sampling at the party let ‘em know on the invitation. If you have anyone in the group with food allergies, the invitation is the perfect place to spread the word. It is also OK to specify “homemade” on the invite if you suspect someone might go with store bought. After all, the whole point is to swap treats with your friends, not those little guys who bake cookies in the hollow tree, right?

Recipes
Pre-plan how you want your guests to share their recipes with each other. You can provide blank cards with your invitation or ask your guests to create a recipe card to share. Perhaps you’re collecting all the recipes to include in a little booklet as a party favor. For a more sustainable option exchange recipes via email.

Packaging
Here’s your opportunity to get creative and reduce the amount of packaging each person uses. Ask your guests to please bring all of their cookies in one large container instead of individual zippie bags. Then, provide cookie tins to each of your guests to take their swapped cookies home in. You’ll still need parchment or freezer paper on hand to wrap up particularly sticky or fragrant cookies that don’t store well with others, but the majority of the packaging can be done with tins which last for ages, can be reused year after year and are recyclable at the end of their useful life.

The Wilderness Girls did a little Cookie Swapping last weekend, and here are our recipes:

Christie’s Recipe: Nigella’s Christmas Chocolate Biscuits

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Christina’s Recipe: KISSES Macaroon Cookies Recipe

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Jenny’s Recipe: Betty Crocker’s Cream Wafers

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Why this cookie is special to Jenny: These were my Aunt Eileen’s favorite cookies, and I remember many a year that my mom and I would go to her house to make them. They are a great kid-helping recipe too. You can have the kids in your family help cut them out, poke the holes in them with a fork, or ice them. We always did the traditional pink, green and yellow icings, but nowadays the icing color possibilities are endless!

Rachael’s Recipe: Mamaw’s Nut Cups

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Why this cookie is special to Rachael: When I was a girl, my Mamaw, my Mom and I would sit in Mamaw’s tiny yellow kitchen making nut cups for hours and hours because she never just made one batch. All the time we thought we were making cookies we were really making memories and our own family tradition. This will be Elizabeth’s first year in the kitchen making Nut Cups with Mom and Grandma and the tradition continues.

We had a great time hanging out together and visiting over warm cups of cocoa and more than a few cookies. It was such fun to hear the stories and traditions behind each selection and share some of our favorite treats with some of our favorite girls. Will you try a cookie swap this year? What recipe would you take if you were invited to one?

Chalkboard Jars

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

A quick visit to Pinterest and it is easy to see that mason jars are a household essential. Of all the crafty applications out there I was most excited to try chalkboard paint labels on a few jars. As I mentioned in a previous post, you can get great deals when you buy bulk food but the lack of packaging can lead to a tangled heap of plastic bags in the pantry. Storing dry goods in jars keeps everything neat and tidy and the clear container helps you remember what you have so you don’t double buy or let things go to waste.

Today I have two quick and easy tutorials for you: chalkboard jars and chalkboard lids. The jars are great for labeling even when you don’t need a lid. I use one for small craft supplies that I don’t want to misplace like my x-acto knife, glue stick and scissors. The chalkboard lids are a great way to re-use lids that have already sealed a jar. They won’t seal again but they remain airtight and with a coat (or three) of chalkboard paint you turn a single-use item into a multi-use item.

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Here’s what you will need:
Mason jars, quart size
Flat jar lids & rings, preferably used
Chalkboard paint (I used Transform Mason chalkboard paint by Ball)
Paint brush
Paint palette (I prefer a clean yogurt cup rescued from the recycle bin)
Scotch Blue painter’s tape, 1 7/8” wide
Chalk

Chalkboard Jars

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Every jar has a smooth side, a logo side and a side seam where the two halves were fused together. Naturally you will paint the smooth side of the jar but getting a perfectly even, consistently sized place to paint isn’t as easy as it looks. The best way to get even paint lines every time is to line up your tape with the side seam. From there, move on to the top of the jar. This is the trickiest part because there is a big difference between the jar and the neck, however creating a piece of painter’s tape one and a half times the width of your side seam tape and measuring up from the countertop will put your paint line in the perfect spot. Finally measuring from the counter top and applying 1 width of tape to the bottom gives you a perfect square to work with.

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Apply chalkboard paint in thin, even coats allowing to dry for a few minutes between applications. After the third coat allow at least one hour drying time before you write on it with chalk. The first coat goes on very thin and the glass shows through — I thought perhaps there was a problem but after I applied the second coat it evened out nicely. When the paint is completely dry you may hand wash or use the dishwasher top rack. Avoid direct contact with the food in painted areas. Although the manufacturer doesn’t specifically call it out, I do not recommend using these for water bath canning. Once you chalkboard paint a jar it is best to reserve it for dry goods only.

Chalkboard Lids

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Making chalkboard lids is even easier than making jars. For this all you need to do is paint a used flat jar lid with three even coats of chalkboard paint and as with the jars allow at least one hour drying time after you apply the third coat. The advantage to painting used lids instead of jars is that you would still be able to use the jars in water bath canning with new lids. If you have a limited number of jars or need to keep them in the canning rotation, chalkboard lids might be the right choice for you.

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If you try this project please let us know. What other mason jar or chalkboard paint projects have you done? Share your tips, tricks and ideas here.

You Can Sew Your Own Way

Monday, August 26th, 2013

I’m a knitter by nature. I am also the owner of a very nice sewing machine. It was my Mamaw’s and I have beautiful memories of hanging out with her and my mom while they measured, pinned, chatted and stitched together. Often I was the beneficiary of their creations and now that I’m a mom I think I’m ready to up my sewing game so that I can give my daughter that same gift. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve sewn simple stuff in the past – curtains, pant hems, a full-size basset hound themed quilt for a fundraiser (long story!) – and my projects come out OK most of the time. I attribute my success so far to tribal knowledge acquired by hanging around the women in my family. Before I started this project I had no prior training or knowledge of how to use a pattern. When in doubt, check the internet. When in doubt about sewing, check with Mom. I did and she suggested I start with an apron pattern because it is simple but it teaches the basic skills of following directions and matching up pieces. I remember Mom and Mamaw flipping through the McCall’s pattern books back in the day so my next stop was their website. I found the pattern I wanted, #M6536 and headed to Hobby Lobby to pick it up and choose my fabric. Hobby Lobby had a wide selection, the associates in their fabric department are friendly and knowledgeable and they always have coupons available on their mobile site.

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In theory, if you’re sewing from a pattern you just follow what the pattern says and you will be OK. There’s a security in knowing that you are working a tried-and-true method and your fabric investment won’t go to waste on a homegrown experiment gone awry. On the other side of that coin, there are some limitations to following a pattern exactly and, well, rules are sometimes meant to be broken. In this case, I liked the size and shape of the apron but I didn’t like the patchwork section along the bottom. Instead I decided to make it my own by doing the waistband, pocket and bottom trim in a contrasting fabric. I followed the pattern (with a couple of tweaks) and the results were fantastic. I’m really looking forward to making a few more of these as gifts and then graduating to something fancier, maybe even something with sleeves!

Here are some valuable tips I learned from my first “official” sewing adventure:

1. Success begins at the fabric shop. If you’re not sure about what material works or what changes you can safely make ask the cutting counter attendant. She should be able to help guide your choices.
2. You must pre-wash. Yes, I know you are excited to start and maybe still on a little craft store high but this step is imperative. Prewash and succeed; skip it and suffer the consequences.
3. Prep your gear. Don’t start cutting or stitching a single thing until you have everything you need assembled.  For starters I like to have pencil and paper, calculator, pins, pincushion, shears, ruler, ironing board and iron.
4. Iron out the wrinkles. This is almost as important as the pre-washing but it is the step I most want to skip. Ironing is the most tedious of all household chores and should be avoided whenever possible but in the case of sewing, ironing is the difference between having a sharp, expert quality finished product and having something that’s eternally rumpled.
5. Measure twice, cut once. You will cut around a pattern but you still need to double check all your fabric placements before you make the first cut. If there’s a pattern, are you cutting your pieces so the pattern looks good on the finished product?

When was the last time you sewed something new? Share your sewing successes stories and let us know about some of your favorite projects.

Top Five Reasons You Need Mason Jars

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

5. You can use them for awesome crafts. Just check out this Pinterest board.
4. They’re glass; that means no scary plastic chemicals touching your food.
3. Easy single-serve meal prep
2. Dry storage of bulk foods
1. Canning & preserving food (naturally!)

If you don’t have any jars hanging around from Mom or Grandma, you can pick up a case at many grocery and mass merchandise stores for less than $15. Often they’re easier to find during the summer. Right now my local Target has them on an endcap right at the front of the store, but if you try to find them at Christmastime it’s a whole other shopping experience. Of course you can buy them anytime directly from the manufacturer but I like the instant gratification of picking them up in person. Besides, you’ll want to have your jars handy because we will be talking about each of the Top 5 Reasons You Need Mason Jars in more detail with recipes, how-to’s and links to useful resources online.

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