It's all Squirt's fault! She started this whole project a couple of months ago when she gave me a most unique and welcome birthday present. Acrobatic, generous, creative Squirt, my almost-nine-year-old granddaughter, eagerly handed me a wrapped gift and grinned, "Gramma, you have to give this back." I said, "OK," and handed it back to her. She laughed, "No, open it first. You get to keep it for almost a month!" What youngsters sometimes lack in funds they can more than exceed with love and creativity. I unwrapped - a library book, which had to be returned in four weeks! It was accompanied by a love-filled, colorful, homemade card. She was so excited because she had thought about things I love and had selected a very appropriate book; I had not even read that one yet! This led to compiling a list of inexpensive gift possibilities and I soon had a page filled with over three dozen ideas. Grab your gift wrap and tape - here we go!
Step 1: An Oldie But Goodie Gift...
Promise cards! Think of what the person you are gifting might need or enjoy, then make up creative "coupons" promising to do a job, etc. Wash someone's car? Shovel a neighbor's driveway? (It is really fun to do this unobserved, and then never own up to it! This job ends in April or May when there may be a few snow-free weeks!) Take a child ice fishing or sledding. The time you give will warm your own heart and remain with you forever. (I think my young great-granddaughter caught dinner that day...)
If someone is ill, has been injured, is in mourning, or could just use some encouragement or a listening ear, taking food is a time-honored and easy way to spend time with someone who needs to share.
You can offer to rake leaves, wash windows (even if you never wash your own!), take the baby for a stroller or bike ride, watch a neighbor's children for an hour or two so an overworked mom can so shopping, take a quiet walk, read a book in a quiet room or back yard, or whatever. It's a great way to recharge and young parents can't always afford a sitter for something so "frivolous."
Step 2: Cards and Pictures
These are made by pre-folding the paper gently in either direction, dropping or splashing on dabs of tempera paint, and then refolding the paper while the paint is still wet. The paint blobs may be directed by blowing on them with a soda straw or coffee stirrer straw. Then refold the paper, press the top gently with your hands, and open up the paper so the paint can dry. Some amazingly beautiful pictures emerge! A short note may be hand-written or typed and attached at the bottom or on the back. These are welcome keepsakes for parents, grandparents, etc. if you can borrow their kid(s) for a while. Cards can also be made with good old Crayons, pencil drawings, water colors, etc.
The third card (red and green) is an open-up card turned sideways. The pictures presents a small platform upon which any type of seasonal picture or verse may be presented.
Step 3: Make Up a Game or Toy
I made up this military bunker game site for one of my grandsons, who loves to wear a uniform like mine and play the way he thinks I work.
The theater-type scene above has a lady on one side, a tiger on the other side, and two doors in the middle. Can you guess what famous old short story this represents? (Hint: written by Frank R. Stockton.) You can read the story to a child (available online or in anthologies), talk about the ending, and make up a scrap paper and cardboard representation that the child can play with and share with friends.
Step 4: Conversation
Sometimes people just need a listening ear (or as my sister has said, "a shoulder to cry on"). It is not always the most fun, but the gift of some of your time can mean a world of difference to another person.
If you can afford to take a lonely or needy person out for a fun, inexpensive lunch or a picnic, the gift of your time and willingness to share is often as great a gift to yourself as it is to the other person. In early America the barn-raisings and sewing bees or quiltings allowed whole communities to work together to meet common needs quickly. Shared meals were an important part of this work.
When I was a kid we used to have progressive dinners. We'd go together if there were just a few or us, or split into assigned groups if there were many. One group might draw cards sending them to dessert first, soup and salad next, a main dish at the next location, and perhaps vegetables at the last stop. We ate and laughed for hours. Humans are designed to need nourishment. The social benefits of having fun together while eating are great gifts to all.
Step 5: Jokes and Riddles, Stories and Songs
I do not have a good memory for jokes, do you? Do you have one to share here? Sometimes the oldies but goodies or the corniest ones are the best of all. There's a friend my husband and I usually see if we go out for lunch; he always asks for the question of the day. Last week I asked my husband a question for which he had forgotten the answer: Why did the chicken cross the playground? Answer: To get to the other slide. My husband was able to stump our friend with this one. Laughter is good for our bodies and our disposition. It stimulates natural endorphins and other good substances said to be beneficial for our brain as well as our general health. Scientists are still researching this very old, well-known fact. (A merry heart does good like a medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones. Proverbs 17:22.) As a pre-schooler, my baby brother made up a knock-knock joke: Knock-knock. Who's there? Lunch box. Lunch box who? Lunch box telephone pole! I still find this one hysterical just because it makes no sense! It hardly needs reminding, but remember to consider the appropriateness of your joke for your audience. The gift of shared laughter can be health-enhancing!
Our children and now the younger grandchildren enjoy being the heroes of their own stories. We make them up together, I type them, and we all illustrate them, then we make enough copies to go around. Stories may subtly highlight a quality that still needs a little development, such as sharing one's toys or being helpful or kind. They can also be completely fictitious and center around the children flying helicopters, saving someone's life, riding a unicorn, helping others, etc.
When one of our grandsons was about five and was spending the day with me, he said we should make up a song about a spider! (I really So do not like spiders!) I asked him several questions about the qualities of this imaginary spider and we ended up with "The Spider Song," often requested (demanded!) even by the friends of our other grandchildren.
"I have a green spider,
He is very, very little.
He lives underground
So he won't - be - found!
Cute brown spider eyes,
Wiggly little spider nose,
Kissy little spider lips - (four-beat pause)
And stinky spider toes!"
Step 6: Mini Marshmallow Shooters!
Directions for constructing these amazing, fun toys are provided on this website and many others. I made a dozen of them one evening last week and am not done yet. Guess what some of our kids and grandkids will be busy with for Christmas? The difference in my take is that each one is uniquely decorated with different duct tape patterns! The three most popular seem to be the ACU and BDU military patterns and the Zombie Apocalypse (black with neon green tiger stripes). A fun feature of these shooters is that they can be assembled in a variety of ways with a few more cuts, U-joints, and a little extra 1/2" PVC tubing.
If you give someone battery-requiring tech items such as flashlights, be sure to add a few extra batteries. If you are giving something like mini-marshmallow shooters, each shooter should have his/her own bag of marshmallows. They come in a variety of colors and flavors. Have each person draw his/her own target and tape or tack it up with the homeowner's permission. Discuss where aiming and shooting will be allowed. Safety equipment could include protective goggles, gloves, etc. I also include a copy of standard range safety rules; I warn my kids that if these are violated the shooter gets locked up for X-amount of time. They're used to these rules anyway and no one wants to lose out on all the fun so the rules are followed pretty strictly!
Place the dry marshmallow just inside the blow-end of the shooter, then swallow and give a quick short blast!
Step 7: Hobby Walking Canes or Hiking Sticks
My big sister and my husband have collected stamps nearly all of their lives. Since my sister's last stroke she has walked with a cane; my husband does now, too. I decided to make my sister a stamp-theme cane for Christmas.
A cane or walking stick for this purpose needs to be uniform and smooth, so I went to a hardware store and bought a sturdy wood dowel. It was four feet long and my sister is a few inches taller than I am so I was not sure what cane length she uses. (Note to self: next time, write down such measurements in your appointment book!) Knowing that she or her husband would need to cut off a few inches from the bottom, I did not glue stamps all the way down. I tried slightly diluted wood glue for the first few rows of stamps but was not satisfied with the uneven way it dried. I then went to Elmer's white school glue, applying a very thin bead of glue around the inside lines of the stamp with a thin art brush, then spread this very small amount around the stamp (a finger seemed to work better for this part), and stuck the stamp to its new assigned position on the dowel. This produced much more uniform results and left the stamps sticking flat to the surface of the dowel. I cut printing paper the size of the dowel surface and positioned the stamps in a uniform pattern, then glued them to the dowel one at a time, smoothing out each stamp with my fingers. I placed the stamps in unimaginative straight vertical lines and wished later that I had staggered them horizontally a little. After the glue was dry I coated the cane with a layer of Varethane, then gave it a second coat after the first coat was dry. This should protect the cane from rain, splatters, general wear and tear, etc. I added a rubber crutch tip to the bottom.
I did not trust the weight-bearing reliability to a hand-made handle so I ordered one online from JWL.com, a provider in Hawaii. His service, products, timeliness, and personal service are amazing! The cane handle is built around a male threaded bolt that protrudes from the bottom, to fit into the female end on top of the cane; it comes with a female seating sleeve that can be set in the top of the dowel. I do not have a drill press to accommodate the length of this cane and did not trust my ability to perfectly drill a dead-center hole into the top of the cane, so Son One kindly volunteered to take it to a machine shop in town (thanks, Son!). The machinist enjoyed the challenge and refused to take any money for it, so Son dropped a bill on the counter and told the machinist that he was buying him a beer after work. The machinist told my son, "Tell your mom I love her, too." I was amazed at the perfect fit for the handle, and drove into town the next day and gave the awesome machinist a jar of this season's chokecherry jelly.
I only use stamps for moving pieces of paper from here to some other location. These canes/hiking sticks could be themed around many hobbies. Small magazine pictures might work, drawings, computer-printed pictures, etc. Wood-burned pictures would be amazing! A child could draw or write messages with permanent markers, too. One could even paint pictures on the stick, giving the whole thing a couple layers of protective finish at the end.
Step 8: Cultural Values
Many cultures share similar values such as honoring your elders, respect, being helpful, subsistence, etc. Make a list of values and think about how you can share them in your community. During a literary unit on local history I had my students volunteer suggestions, which I then wrote on the board. We talked about what kids can do alone (with parental permission), things that could be family projects, or ways to volunteer time or community service in our local area. This is a very diverse school; our school district is one of the most diverse in the nation and in fact, in the world, with nearly 100 home languages among over 45,000 public school students! The kids grew excited to think about things that are important to their families being the same in other cultures.
Blood transfusions saved my life when I was six or seven. As an adult I have appreciated the opportunity to "pay back" by becoming a regular blood donor. One may also donate blood in the hopes of never needing it back! It does not take long and refreshments are available afterward.
Step 9: Share a Hobby
One of my lifelong hobbies is essentially free: I have picked up rocks since I could crawl. My best buddy and I pick up rocks we know each other will really like and bring them back from trips or hikes. I carry one of these in my front right jeans or vest pocket all the time. She bought some forest property a couple of summers ago and when we trekked back in to explore it, I slipped a few pebbles into my pocket and later super-glued them together for a free-form tower. She could not believe that the rock sculpture on her table was constructed of pebbles from her new property!
My people have done beadwork for generations. While I love making things just for family and friends, the best part of the gift is thinking about the recipient (or praying for him or her) while working. Suncatchers can be based on a person's favorite colors, his or her medicine colors, or using beads that commemorate a specific event. The scissors holder is often made with tooled, beaded, or smoked deer or moose hide. The pink one above is double layers of craft felt. I traced the general shape of the scissors, added a letter-bead name, and hand-stitched it. It did not take long, inexpensive scissors are fine, and it forms a very unique, one-of-a-kind gift.
The woodwork photo comes from my Instructable, Wooden Music Box. Woodworking is a wonderfully relaxing and rewarding hobby. Projects are just endless!
The last hobby is geocaching, which I have been doing for about eight years. Above are some of the people I have "infected" with this venture. My big sister gives me the gift of time by waiting incredibly patiently (and reading a book) after sending me off into woods or fields that are too challenging for someone who is mobility-impaired. My brother (in his trademark white hat) took to this hobby with unexpected enthusiasm when I visited him and his wife and family this summer, and he already has dozens of finds in several states; he has even hidden one or more himself. While visiting old friends I took K and J off on geocaching adventures. We were joined by their daughter and her young son, which whom I happily shared another hobby - climbing trees! He was surprised by his new skill as we left the ground!
Step 10: Make Fun Beads!
Someone gave one of my young granddaughters a kit that makes beads from some sort of clay-like material that can be colored, even mixing the colors. They let me make beads with them one week-end, then we got out other beads and craft cord that I had brought and we made necklaces and bracelets for friends and relatives. The joy of creating and giving kept us busy for hours of happy fun.
Step 11: Christmas Tree Ornaments, Hand-sewn Wallets
These tiny felt stockings make great unique gift bags. I have my students select cookie cutters, trace around them, then cut two, sew them almost all the way together, stuff with polyfill, then add a hanger loop and complete sewing them closed. We have donated hundreds to the local veterans' home, childrens' hospital, a rescue mission, etc, and the kids have taken them home, hung them in their rooms or around their homes, shared them with elders, donated them to their own churches, and tied them to gifts. They don't take long to make, the kids develop useful life-long skills, and the project stimulates appropriate discussions and plans as we work together.
The two boots and trademark white hat are ornaments I made for my brother and his wife, ranchers who donate their time and work with their miniature horses to visit the nursing home or allow children to come and visit them.
These felt "square" wallets are fast and easy to make. There are many online directions for how to fold them so I will not repeat them here. However, I will share two main differences in mine: 1) After cutting the first one I drew a cardboard template so I would not have to do all the folding, pinning, etc. for every single wallet, as I have given countless wallets for gifts. Of course, when I was growing up it was considered very poor form (some say "bad luck") to give an empty wallet - better get a dollar or so in there! 2) All of the directions I have read show cutting up to the first fold where the small oval cut for the ID/credit card slot is made. By folding the felt rectangle (the same size as a piece of printer paper) into eighths and marking where the slot will be, I fold the slot area in half and just cut that, eliminating the need for repairing the needless cut up to the slot. Now that I have made my template, I just mark the fabric with a pen or marker, cut out the slot with scissors, fold the wallet, add the beaded name, and hand-sew the sides. I doubt that it takes an hour, and those receiving these wallets always truly enjoy them.
Step 12: Seasonal Artwork for Doors, Windows, Etc.
I created this as a classroom example, using scrap construction paper, scissors, markers, and glue. It hung on our door until Christmas break, then was donated to a community organization. It is relatively quick and easy to design and create a winter scene with stick figures ice skating, sledding, ice fishing, hiking, or going out in the woods (in an approved area) to search out that perfect Christmas tree.
Step 13: Appreciation of Nature, a Great Gift to Give to Yourself or to Share With Others
Pepacton Reservoir, upstate NY, summer 2016. My sister and I stopped on the way back from a day of road-trip geocaching and stood on the bridge for close to an hour, just silently watching the sunset and appreciating the ineffable beauty that surrounded us. The hug she gave me was a perfect conclusion to our trip.
Step 14: Giving Family Heirlooms
Every time I am back in my home village I try to stop at a special small restaurant and take pictures of my dad's old bobcats and snake skins. Our family donated them after Dad died because we knew this was a place where they would be enjoyed and would remain safe. The bobcats were in the hardware/sporting goods store that Dad bought while my brothers and I were in school. We do not know or remember the origin of the huge snake skins. If you have cherished old family items, they may be passed on to the next generation, donated to a museum, offered to a local establishment, or creatively displayed while you consider where they are going next.
Step 15: All Gave Some. Some Gave All.
In the village where I lived during early grade school there's the beautiful village church that our family has attended for many generations. This Honor Roll is posted in the fellowship hall. It contains my Dad's name (WWII), an aunt (WWII military nurse), some uncles (same war), and many old family friends. Most of them are gone now. My Dad gave his technological expertise in training; I have often wondered what he would think about GPS navigation availability, computers, cell phones, etc. He had a great gift for the technology of his time and he shared that freely with others. Some of these Honor Roll members were drafted; others (like Dad) enlisted. A friend once commented to me, "Everyone can give something." You do not have to be military to be a giver. Smile! Smile instead of growling when someone cuts ahead of you in traffic; better yet, slow down and voluntarily let the driver in ahead of you, which gifts both you and that other driver. Hold a door for someone. Pick up something that someone has dropped and hand it back to him or her. If it seems safer, speak to the person and point to the object.
Step 16: The Gift of History
This Mary of the Mountains ("Mother Mary") statue near Butte, MT was constructed decades ago on donated land, with donated materials, labor, and time. She is 90 feet tall! The tour bus driver who drives up there gives a running commentary on local history and the specific history of the statue. There's a whole mini-museum there as well. Museums are great places to share history, science, art, cultural history, and all kinds of topics, and many of them are free or at least offer one or more free days each year. They are awesome day adventures for visitors, your children, students, or Scout troop, or just to give yourself the gift of shared adventure and new knowledge.
Step 17: Life Alaska
[Photo by author, published with permission of Life Alaska] Every year I work a shift at the Life Alaska booth at the State Fair. Life Alaska supports the purpose and work of the organization and the donor families and recipients whose lives have been enhanced or even saved through organ and tissue donations. Donor families are encouraged to consider creating a quilt square commemorating the life and life-saving gift of their loved one. The quilts are displayed at the fair each year as well as in their main office. Those of us who work at the booth are there as a friendly presence to answer questions and to thank those who already have the red heart donor notation on their driver's license or state ID. (A donor may change his/her mind at any time and withdraw this decision, with no questions asked or further contact initiated.) We realize that organ and tissue donation is not something that everyone will want to consider, but it is a wonderful gift that you can extend and it does not cost you or your family anything.
Step 18: The Gift of a Shared Walk
It's been many decades since my high school graduation, but I've remained in close contact with two of my classmates, one of whom left us, sadly, three years ago. This brings the Terrible Trio down to a duo. We're in different states now and separated by thousands of miles. This summer was my third visit with her. It was amazing to go for walks through woods and fields, laugh and share together - and collect more unusual rocks! Just stopping to observe nature and silently view the sky was an incredible gift to ourselves and to each other. It did not cost us anything to stop outside and watch the sun blaze its way into night.
Step 19: If All You Have to Give Is Time, Give Time.
My big sister, as I mentioned earlier, provides me with solitary forest forays when the terrain is too challenging for her. She is a most incredible role model for one of the many virtues that I lack, patience! Her strong, loving nature is a constant, awesome gift to me.
A person can only do what s/he can do, or is willing to do. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. It does not take money to be a gift-giver.