A Gift for Mama

Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, I remember Mama receiving gifts at Christmas time. Did I personally give her a gift? I just don’t remember but perhaps I can blame that on the many years that have passed and how self-centered children often are.

I searched for a picture of a slender, cobalt blue perfume bottle. The one that matches my hazy memories is Evening in Paris. Probably Dad got this for Mom rather than it being a gift from her children. I see the bottle alone is $20 on Etsy these days.

blue perfume bottle- etsy

As children living in the country, our only trips to town were with Mom, and we had no allowance or money to save towards such a present. Even though the price at that time seems modest by today’s standards, Dad was only able to afford a single bottle, not the gift set like this one I found advertised.

evening in paris adevening in paris ad Sun, Dec 17, 1950 – Page 183 · The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com

Right above the perfume ads, I noticed one for Old Spice aftershave. That was what Dad used. Probably that was his Christmas gift from Mom.

Perhaps at school, the teacher had us make a Christmas card for our parents or we might have made something from popsicle sticks.

Now it’s 50, even 60 years later. What would I give my mother for Christmas? I’d choose the gift of preserving family history. It was something she worked on for years.

I’m trying to carry that work on and want to turn it into something concrete, something she could hold in her hands. So far, I’ve created drafts of some family books and need to redouble my efforts to turn these into actual books. Mom’s not here anymore, so I wish that it was something I’d tackled earlier.

shutterfly prototype book covers

Little Shannon

I was sorting through old family photos to get scanned and then send along to nieces and nephews. When I reached the pictures of my youngest sister, Shannon, I set the other stacks aside for later.

This week is the anniversary of Shannon’s death, so perhaps subconsciously I was looking for those photos.

Baby Shannon smiles at her mother, Gail Lee Martin

Ruth McGhee, holds her new granddaughter, Shannon.

There’s one color photo of baby Shannon that was taken during a visit to the grandparents near Madison, Kansas. As her older sister, Karen, strolls in the flower garden, Shannon is propped on a chair next to a large rose for the picture. Looming over her head is a giant castor bean plant.

baby shannon, rose, karen martin Oct 1958 at McGhee farm Madison, castor bean plant

The photos are merely snapshots, captured quickly with little thought to light, setting, or background distractions. What shines through in all of them is the vitality of the child. She’s occupied with little girl activities like loving her kitties and playing in the yard.

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Make Ice Candles

A how-to article by Gail Lee Martin that was originally published on the eHow site.

ice candles on pinterest

Ice candle examples that I found on Pinterest and pinned to my Craft Ideas board there.

“My son used to make these striking candles back in the seventies. I think it’s a craft that’s worth bringing back. The finished candle looks quite sculptural, but they’re really pretty easy to make. Here’s how to do it.

Things You’ll Need:

  • cardboard milk carton
  • candle wax
  • a single candle (or wicking)
  • ice cubes
  • a double boiler


  1. Start with a clean cardboard milk carton, the quart-sized ones. Open the top so it’s square all the way up. Once you’ve made a few of these, try it with the larger milk cartons.
  2. Heat the wax until it’s liquified. This is what you use the double boiler for. The wax chunks go in the top and the water goes down below. You can also use one of those candlemaking machines to melt the wax.
  3. Place a wick (tied to a crossbar) in the center. The crossbar will rest on the top of the milk carton. The wick needs to go all the way to the bottom. Tie a flat washer to the bottom of the wick to give it weight and make it stay straight.
  4. Pour in a layer of wax to form the bottom of the candle. Let it set slightly. This gives it a solid base. Keep the wick as straight as possible.
  5. Pour the melted wax into the milk carton, then drop in the ice cubes. Don’t splash the hot wax.
    The ice cubes will melt, but they are cold enough to start hardening the wax. There will be interesting crevices and open spaces throughout the candle from the ice.
  6. He also added bits and pieces of crayons for unique colors. (remove the wrappers)crayons-pixabay.jpg
  7. Don’t try to move the candle until it has cooled and the wax has hardened.
  8. When the wax was set, he poured out the water from the melted ice cubes and tore the box from around his creation. They were so beautiful when lit as the overall candle had holes here and there that let the light shine in so many different ways.

milk-carton pixabay

Tips & Warnings

  • Use great caution with hot wax as it can burn you badly.
  • I wouldn’t work on this project with children around or any distractions.
  • Do not move the candle until the wax has hardened completely.
  • Check Pinterest by searching “ice candle” to find examples and more instructions.

Homemade Christmas With Love

The family started making homemade gifts during the lean years of our childhood. It became a family tradition that carries on even though 50 years have passed.

Dad could take parts of worn-out, wrecked bicycles and mix-and-match them to make one that, after he sanded and painted it, looked like new. That was the Christmas that he was still on crutches after a horrible car accident that kept him hospitalized for months.

Clyde Martin working in father-in-law Clarence McGhee's woodworking shop, Madison, KS 1959.

This photo actually shows Clyde Martin in 1959 in his father-in-law’s workshop, but we don’t have a 1958 photo of him.

One year he painted a Monopoly board to replace a missing one. The folks may have found the game parts at a yard sale without the board or someone gave it to them. With hours of work, he hand-painted the squares on a masonite board and added all the lettering.

The six of us played Monopoly for hours at a time, sprawled on the floor around that board. With our pale yellow, pink, and blue paper dollars spread out in front of us, we vied for wealth but often ended up in poverty. Even the get-out-of-jail-free card wouldn’t stave off bankruptcy when we landed on Park Place and couldn’t pay the hotel costs.

I wish I had that board that he created. I’d hang it on the wall as a piece of folk art. 

Mom was a master of turning leftover fabric scraps into new doll clothes. Leftover curtain making material magically became a ballgown for my sister’s Toni doll. My sister still has that doll and those one-of-a-kind dresses. Mom didn’t have any patterns and just created the outfits using trial and error.

She used her trusty Singer sewing machine to make quilts for our beds. I remember the yellow squares alternating with colorful hand-appliqued butterflies. They kept us snug on winter nights in that cold second-floor bedroom of the old farmhouse. We would wake in the morning to see frost designs on the inside of the windows. We stayed under the covers until we heard the clatter of Dad stirring up the embers and adding a log to the woodburning stove that served to heat the whole house.

Mom’s Singer was the old-fashioned kind with the treadle. My Singer is a plain white one, but for old time’s sake, I wish I had this black model that looks so much like what Mama used. You can really count on a Singer.

singer sewing machine pixabay

I’m not nearly the seamstress that she was, but with my machine, I’ve made doll quilts and table runners. These are easy and quick-to-make gifts that delight the recipients. I’ve made some storage bags to hold all those plastic grocery bags, another easy gift that’s useful for anyone. It’s a basic tube with elastic at each end and a loop to hang it. To fancy it up, I put a strip of quilted pieced down the front of the tube.

toni and doll quilt.jpg

My older brother became a master carpenter and used his evenings and weekends in November and December to create gifts for his sisters and our parents. The year that he constructed hump-backed chests for each of us still amazes me.


Gail Martin, Cindy Ross, Shannon Hyle, Samantha Hyle, Karen Martin (Kolavalli), Owen Martin, Virginia Lord (Allain), Susan Leigh. Owen made a trunk for Mom and each of the sisters, plus a step stool for Samantha with her name on the seat.

Making homemade gifts with your sewing machine or with woodworking tools are a great way to stretch the budget at Christmas. Everyone loves a handmade gift stitched with love.