Thrifty Gift Giving Ideas

This is a variation on an earlier post. Gail often reworked a topic for publishing in other places. This appeared on Squidoo’s website.  Some of these gifts are ones you can get ready the day before Christmas using what you have at home.

Giving Gifts without Spending Too Much

Seniors can find gift-giving occasions difficult when their budget won’t stretch to buy one more thing. Here are some gift ideas that won’t put a strain that Social Security income.

Most of these I’ve tried out myself and can assure you were well-received. A little imagination and a lot of love will make your gift the one they treasure. With six children, eight grandchildren, and many great-grandchildren, the Christmas and birthday gift giving was a challenge. Seniors living only on Social Security must apply creativity in their gift giving to keep it affordable.

Give a Family Treasure when you can’t afford to go shopping

Think about things you have stashed away unused. We no longer decorate a tree at Christmas, but we still have boxes and boxes of special ornaments. I can give one to each person on my gift list. I’ll gain some storage space and they’ll gain a family heirloom for their Christmas tree.

 

 Give the Gift of Memories

Grandparents’ memories make a precious gift

Write down a special memory of the day they were born or about something you did with them or their parent. Print it out or write it by hand on nice paper to give them. Slip it in a plastic sleeve to preserve it. If you write a new memory for their birthdays and Christmas, eventually they will have enough to fill a binder.

Here’s One of My Grandchildren’s Family History Books

That I compiled with my writing over the years

A family history notebook created by Gail Lee Martin for her son, Owen.

A family history notebook created by Gail Lee Martin for her son, Owen.

Vintage Books Make Great Gifts

from a senior citizen

Look on your bookshelf. Is there a book there that has special meaning to you? Write a note explaining what is meaningful to you about the book and give it to someone on your list.Old Vintage Books iPad Case speckcase They will enjoy reading it, knowing that you selected it especially for them.

Lincoln biographies on bookshelf

Books on Clyde and Gail’s bookshelf.

Everyone Loves Grandma and Grandpa’s Baking

Food gifts to give when you’re on a tight budget

Make up a batch of your popular candy or cookie recipe and package it up to give to the children and grandchildren. Just a small amount on a paper plate (dessert size) and covered with plastic wrap lets them know you were thinking of them.

Attach the recipe to the gift.

To make it extra special, put them on a plate or platter that has been in the family for many years. They get a family heirloom, some of your great cooking, and you gain some space in your overcrowded cupboard.

What Do You Collect?

 Look at your collections. Chances are you aren’t adding to the collection anymore. It may be just one more thing to dust.

We collected Norman Rockwell mugs for many years. If we give one to each family member, they will think of us each time they use it. We also collected Feather Bird Pictures. They used to cover the wall of my dining room but now sit in a box in the closet.

Another thing I collected was vintage aprons. I used these when giving a talk to homemaker groups or at nursing homes.  At some point, you may decide not to keep a certain collection anymore. Consider giving them as gifts to family members.

Even if you are not on a Social Security budget, you might want to try some of these ideas.

Give Me Some More Thrifty Ideas

for gift-giving on a Social Security budget

  •  1angelsbestkeptsecrets Mar 27, 2014 –  What wonderful ideas! I think the sentimentality and specialness of gifts like this would please most all family members.
  • karendd123 Nov 26, 2013  – These are really good ideas. They are thoughtful and economical. Growing flowers from seeds or cuttings can make good gifts too.
  • ewyorkdude Oct 14, 2013 – I can’t remember the last time I bought a greeting card. Homemade greeting cards make a much better impression than the store-bought kind. Most people tend to keep them longer. I will never be a professional artist (my work is more like Picasso on a bad day). But no matter how awkward my drawings are on my cards, people appreciate them.
  •  rinMellor Oct 11, 2013 – These are wonderful ideas. A few handwritten family recipes would be a real treat too.
    knowledgetoday Oct 08, 2013 – I think the greatest gift from grandma or grandpa to family members or friends is memories brought together in a creative way. And if creativity is not available giving a gift of what the other person has wanted for many years means much to the receiver.
  • MarcellaCarlton Oct 01, 2013 – I loved each idea! This is a great lens for those of us who are experiencing the pinch at any time.
  • Cercis Sep 30, 2013 – What a wonderful lens! I like the memory book idea the best. Another thought is to shop at a thrift store – either neighborhood or one of the more established ones – to pick up almost new items for pennies.
  • WhyCleanCounts Aug 05, 2012 – great ideas, good lens topic for anyone that needs to stick to a budget around the holidays.
    dpgibble Jul 06, 2012 – I was exploring Squidoo for ideas when your page caught my eye. Curious, I stopped and found a direct connection to vallain who was the first or one of the first visitors to my first lens. Since our family survives on disability income along with a dollar here and there that we hustle up, celebrating Christmas on a budget piques my interest. We picked wild grapes last year and made pint jars of jelly from them. This produced about two dozen gifts with cash out at less than $25. People really liked this gift!
  • Gail-Lee-Martin Jul 06, 2012 – Homemade gifts are the best, in my opinion.
  • LiteraryMind Mar 16, 2012 – Good idea. Meaningful gifts are more special than anything money can buy.
  • MiddleSister Feb 21, 2012 – I like the cookies idea.
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The Cardboard Play Kitchen

Gail’s daughter, Virginia, shares a memory. 

Make your own play kitchen

When my little sister was eight, Mom made a play kitchen for a big Christmas gift for her. The play kitchen appliances were made from large cardboard boxes. Just decorate them with paint that you have around and felt-tipped markers. There was a “stove” and a “refrigerator” plus shelves for storing the “food.”

The play food for the play kitchen started out as real food for the family. When Mom shopped for groceries, she bought small sizes of boxes and cans of regular food. She opened the cans from the bottom and washed out the interior. They looked like child-sized versions of real food sitting in the play kitchen cupboards.  Nothing was wasted, as we ate the food. There were small cans of fruit juice and single-serving boxes of raisins.

I still remember how much fun my sister had playing with those cans and boxes and her cardboard appliances. The empty containers looked colorful and realistic on the shelves.

The house we lived in then had a large basement, so there was plenty of room for the kid-sized kitchen down there.

Melissa & Doug Grocery Cans Play Food - 10 Stackable CansMelissa & Doug Grocery Cans Play Food – 10 Stackable CansView DetailsKidKraft Ultimate Corner Play Kitchen with Lights & SoundsKidKraft Ultimate Corner Play Kitchen with Lights & SoundsView Details

The play kitchen and play foods above are available from Amazon. Of course, you can just make your own, like Mom did for Shannon.

Grandma’s Lye Soap Recipe

Gail Lee Martin submitted this recipe when the local historical society wanted recipes from the 1920s and 1930s. It appeared in the book, Grandmother’s Legacy: A Collection of Butler County Recipes.

 

 

Homemade Lye Soap

5 lbs of grease

1 quart of water

1 can of lye

Save clean fat scraps from meat, lard, and hog scraps. Melt into the grease. Strain through a cloth and let cool. Add the lye gradually to one quart of water in a stone crock and mix until dissolved. Pour this mixture into the grease. Stir thoroughly until congealed. Pour this mixture into cardboard box molds to cool. Let stand a couple of days. Using a wire, cut the soap into usable size pieces.

lye soap pixabay 2

 

Recipe Notes: On wash days, my mother would use her paring knife to shave slivers of this soap into her copper wash boiler where it slowly dissolved. Clothes came out very white in those days. It was also used as a poison ivy medicine. Melt and put warm all over the blisters.

2008-11-02 gail and ks photos 001

To find lye, look for Sodium hydroxide. It is also called caustic soda. Store it safely, as it is quite toxic if ingested.

V is for Vases from Old Bottles

In 2010, Gail Lee Martin wrote this how-to article for the eHow site.

How to Use Old Bottles for Vases

Too much gets thrown away and dumps fill up then there’s no place to put all the trash. Here’s how to get more use from old bottles and keep them out of the trash. Give them new life while adding beauty to your home by using the bottles as vases.

Things You’ll Need:

  • old bottles
  • flowers
  • soap and water
  • GooGone (optional)

I have a thing about glass, especially colored glass bottles. Some of this might come from my father and grandfather, who worked in the Tyro Glass Plant in the early 1900s. bottles flowers pixabay

But my own memories of colored glass bottles began in the early days in the oilfields in northern Greenwood County. Most of the bottles we had were ones we saved after using the contents or were found at the camp’s trash dump in a nearby gully. My mother would pick wildflowers for bouquets to put in the dinky rooms of the shot-gun house we lived in at the Phillip’s Petroleum Company’s oilfield camp.

Mother had a tall brown bottle that she used for sunflowers, daisies, and cattails. Mother and I collected all kinds of dried weeds that looked great in this type of vase.

IMG_5153

Photo by Virginia Allain

I think it was possibly a beer bottle but to Mother, it was just a unique brown bottle. Because of its height, you need taller flowers or grasses to balance the look.

She had several blue colored bottles of different shapes and sizes. A small blue perfume bottle was used for wild rose buds or the tiny, pale lavender sheep-shower blooms. The taller blue, flat bottles were so pretty filled with wild asters.

Some of the blue colored ones had contained Milk-of-Magnesium at one time. The Vicks VapoRub came in a squat, blue jar with a wide mouth. I loved to float blossoms in them. My parents grew hollyhocks and just one blossom would spread out across the top, completely covering the bottle except for the shiny blue bottom.

medicine bottles_Roxio brighter

Photo by Virginia Allain

For larger bouquets, Mother would get out one of her green canning jars that currently are so coveted by antique dealers. The opening in this type of container was much larger than most bottles. The long woody stems of the wild gooseberry with tiny yellow blossoms were spectacular in this tall green jar. When we set this bouquet on the library table in front of the south window, the Kansas sun shone through the glass adding sparkle to the arrangement.

Tips & Warnings
  •  Soak the bottles to remove the labels. GooGone helps to get off the adhesive.
  •  Wash the inside of the bottle.
  • The taller, slimmer bottles are easily knocked over, so put them where they won’t get bumped.

 

 

cropped-img_0954_edited.jpg

Gail’s collection of vintage green canning jars

Bean Soup on Wash Day

Laundry was a big chore with eight people in the Martin family. The wringer washer  and the washtubs for rinse water moved to the middle of the farmhouse kitchen on wash day. Baskets of wet, heavy clothing, as well as sheets, and towels were lugged out to the clothesline, hung up with the wooden clothespins, and later brought back inside.

On freezing days, it was difficult to gather the stiff, contorted clothing, shaped by the Kansas wind. We thawed them inside, but of course, they were still damp. Actually, the dampness made them just right for ironing.

Since wash day was such a process, Mom opted for a simple meal. Often it was a pot of navy bean soup. She soaked the beans overnight, rinsed them, then let them simmer all day long. For supper, freshly baked cornbread slathered with butter accompanied the hearty bean soup.

This all came to my mind today as I made a huge pot of bean soup using the ham bone left from New Year’s Day dinner. I use a package of 15 kinds of beans. Here’s my 15 bean soup recipe. I’m sure Mom would have loved it.

Virginia Allain's 15-bean soup

Virginia Allain’s 15-bean soup

Decorate for Christmas the Old-Fashioned Way

Gail Lee Martin first published this article on the eHow website some years ago.

Here’s how to celebrate Christmas just like a prairie family in the 1930s.  If you want a Christmas with an old-fashioned feel, just try the steps below.

 Things You’ll Need:
  • a cedar tree
  • cranberries
  • popcorn
  • thin cardboard
  • silver foil
  • a magazine
THE TREE: The arrival of our Christmas Tree was the beginning of the holiday season for my family. I remember the first time I experienced the thrill of going with Daddy to locate an appropriate tree for Christmas. On a nice sunny Sunday after a heavy snow and shortly before Christmas, Daddy would have us bundle up warmly in four buckle overshoes, hand knitted mittens, stocking caps and long scarves wrapped around our necks. Then we would follow in his footprints as he trekked through the snow-drifted Bluestem grass to a canyon in the fold of the hills almost a mile from our home.
2008-08-20-gail-and-ks-photos-066
Scattered along the rocky sides of the canyon were many cedars of all sizes. We would select a well-rounded tree about my height. After scraping the snow from around the tree, Daddy dug out around the tree roots. The snow kept the ground from being frozen solid, so the digging went well even in the rocky soil. Daddy carefully packed the tree in a container and placed it on our small sled. We would take turns pulling our treasure home. This living tree stayed on our front porch until the day before Christmas.
Clarence McGhee pulling toddlers on a sled. Kansas Flint Hills.

Clarence McGhee pulling toddlers on a sled. Kansas Flint Hills.

CRANBERRY CHAINS: When the Christmas season neared our home on the snow-covered prairies, our house would take on a cheery atmosphere as we began making lustrous long, red garlands using fresh, whole cranberries. We would thread a large darning needle with string from Mother’s string ball. Our mother saved string through the year. Every time Daddy opened the hundred pound cotton sacks of flour or chicken feed, Mother would unravel the string that the sacks were sewn shut with, to add to her ball.

POPCORN STRINGS: Stringing cranberries and popcorn took many long hours to get the strands long enough for a big tree. But the evenings of family togetherness around the living room stove were lots of fun as we enjoyed big bowls of popcorn drizzled with golden home-made butter. Daddy was in charge of popping the corn, that he had grown and as we munched, we would carefully thread unbuttered kernels into white garlands to drape in contrast with the ruby-red cranberries.

SILVER STARS: Then we made bright silver stars. We would go to Mother’s hoarding drawer and get our small supply of foil we’d saved from spearmint chewing gum wrappers. Back then each stick of gum was in a foil and wax paper wrapper and we had to carefully peel them apart. With the resulting thin silver foil we covered cardboard stars cut from the backs of our Big Chief writing tablets. The first one we made was a large star that went on top of the tree each year. We covered smaller stars to hang here and there on the tree. With the darning needle, we would poke a tiny hole in one point of each star to thread a piece of string to hang them with. Each year we were able to make a few new ones.

PAPER CHAINS: Mother showed us girls how to cut magazines ads and turn them into glossy, paper chains. We would cut many rectangles, one-half by five inches long, from the colorful ads. Then we would start by making a loop by lapping the ends and sticking them together with paste, we made from flour and water. Next, we would loop another strip of paper through the first loop, then pasted the ends and so on until the gleaming chain was the length we wanted. Draped in scallops on the tree or across the windows they were eye-catching.

DECORATING: When he brought the tree inside and placed in the living room corner, the day before Christmas, we would transform it into a shimmering dream with all the scallops of red berries and white popcorn and little silver stars. In between, we arranged the glistening paper chains. At the very last, Daddy placed the large star at the top and our plain old Kansas cedar tree was a sight to remember. Best of all, it didn’t cost very much, just the cranberries had to be bought.

AFTER CHRISTMAS: The week after Christmas we removed the stars and stored for another year. Then Daddy moved the tree to the front yard where we could watch the brave winter birds feasting on a banquet of popcorn and berries. Each year Daddy replanted our Christmas trees to make a much-needed windbreak and shelter for the birds.

Here are some comments from when it was posted on eHow:  “This is enchanting! I was there with you, munching the buttery popcorn and sliding the cranberries onto the string . . . I just love the way you recount the simpler times of days gone by. Thank you for sharing. Five well-deserved stars!”

Here’s another comment – “I loved this article. The glimpse of your life in those days was so interesting and wonderful. What a contrast to the commercial holiday of today.”

Susan H on 9/2/2008 – “This article is so precious and wonderful. My brother and I made paper chains every year for our tree. We would put them on the tree and our mantel. I echo JMKnudson when I say, ‘Please keep writing’.”

Another comment on 9/1/2008 –  “What beautiful memories you have. I will be adopting some of your traditions this Christmas season.”

Make Salmon Patties

They say to eat more fish. Fresh salmon can be expensive. Here’s an easy way to add fish to your menu plan without a lot of expense or trouble. These salmon patties are made very much like potato cakes.

Can of salmon (photo courtesy of Amazon)

Can of salmon (photo courtesy of Amazon)

Instructions

Things You’ll Need:

  • can of salmon (pink is OK and cheaper)
  • saltine crackers
  • 2 farm fresh eggs
  • dash of pepper
  • iron skillet
  1. Put the canned salmon, including the bones, skin, and liquid, into a bowl. Stir it to separate and fluff it. Use a fork to crush the small bones that are in with it.
  2. Beat the two eggs with the fork, and mix them in with the salmon.
  3. Crush some crackers and mix with the salmon and egg mixture. The amount to add depends on how soupy it is. The crackers absorb the excess salmon broth and eggs.
    Once it thickens enough with the crackers, form it into patties.
  4. Heat up an iron skillet on the stove top so it’s sizzling. You can grease the skillet with a butter wrapper to use up the remnants of butter or margarine. It’s OK to use a cooking spray instead, but it won’t have the same flavor.
  5. Start the salmon patties or cakes to cooking in the skillet. Reduce the heat and cook until they brown on the one side. Turn them over and brown them on the other side.
Gail Martin's frying pans

Gail Martin’s frying pans

Tips & Warnings
  •  Keep canned salmon and a box of crackers in the pantry so you can make this at any time.
  •  You can substitute other kinds of canned fish for the salmon. Cod fish is available in cans.
  •  Be careful not to splatter yourself with hot grease when putting the cakes into the skillet.

Comments from the eHow Website

Parollins said on 3/12/2009 – My Mom makes these and now I do. I make them with potato pancakes and it’s the best. I add dill to mine too. Love this article.

Wordstock said on 1/17/2009 – I love salmon patties, but didn’t know how to make them. Thanks!

Cherst1031 said, on 9/5/2008 Thanks for the info on Salmon Patties, I have the ingredients, I just wasn’t sure how to make them. Now I will give it a try, sounds delicious and healthy!

Vanillatte said on 9/5/2008 – Oh, Wow! I love salmon patties! Will have to make these soon. Great article!

(this article first appeared online at eHow in 2008 – written by Gail Lee Martin)