Archive for the 'make it yourself' Category

Eating Healthy On A Budget

October 19th, 2010 -- Posted in food, food storage, gardening, green living, Health, make it yourself, nutrition, parenting | 1 Comment »

Shopping for healthier food choices for your family while staying within your food budget is something everyone can do. Not only is it better for your body and long term health, you can make delicious meals that everyone will love and you will be teaching your children from a young age what good food choices look like.

Here are some very basic tips to help get you started:

1. Planning out your meals for a whole week will save you time and money. Having a list of ingredients for your meals is a good tool to utilize when grocery shopping. Sticking to the list is essential for your budget. See if you can find coupons to go with your items on the list. Look online at your grocery store’s coupons.

2. Avoid pre-packaged, processed foods – not only are these more expensive, they are usually higher in sodium, fat and chemicals and low in nutrients. Home cooking is not only healthier, it’s also cheaper. Eating real foods give you more bang for your buck as they have much higher nutritional content and fill you up.

3. Buying in bulk can save you a lot of money. You can purchase assorted grains, beans, pastas, dried fruits, nuts, flours and even spices in the bulk isle of the grocery store. You can choose any amount that you want and bulk food sections give a lower price per quantity ratio while saving on excess packaging. Places like Costco and Sam’s Club also offer even bigger bulk buys on many items you may use.

4. To save the most money, make meat more of an accent in your meal instead of the focal point. Animal and fish protein is the most expensive part of your budget and if you can make some meatless meals each week and reduce the portion sizes of it in other meals, you will save lots of money on your grocery bill. Beans, peas, lentils, eggs, dairy and nuts are all high in protein and there is also protein found in fruit, veggies and whole grains, too.

5. When buying fruits and vegetables, try to buy locally grown foods when in season for more savings. When local produce is abundant and cheap, you can stock up and freeze for winter eating. Fresh fruit makes a great snack and buying by the pre-packed bag instead of individually is less expensive. Frozen fruits and vegetables can often be less expensive when fresh and local is not in season, plus they are picked at the height of ripeness and flash frozen so the flavor and nutrients are preserved.

6. Condiments add flavor and interest to your dishes and makes preparing different types of ethnic meals quick and easy to do. Keep a selection of dried herbs, spices, curry powder, marinades, vinegars, tomato and soy sauces, as well as stock cubes or powders in your pantry.

7. Use the internet – If you have ingredients you want to use up and are not sure what to do with them, type the ingredient names into a search engine along with the word ‘recipe’ and you will get many great recipe ideas.

8. Use your crock pot – One pot meals generally save on prep time and cleanup and often make great leftovers for future meals during the week. Use small amounts of less expensive cuts of meats for the crock pot (or go meatless) and add extra vegetables and beans to bulk up the dish, add more nutrition and stretch the meal further.

9. Cut down on the amount of snacks you buy. Make some with your kids instead! Kids love to bake and you can incorporate healthier ingredients into the treats so they will have more nutritional value but still taste great. Also, eating fruit as a snack is quick and easy and so good for you!

10. Time saver: If short on time to cook often, pick a day or evening to prep ingredients with your family for the meals that week and store in the fridge. Cook enough whole grain to serve with several different meals that week. You could also cook several casserole type dishes all in one day and freeze for future meals. Also, see #8.

Crafty, Inexpensive Gift Ideas For A Homemade Holiday

December 7th, 2009 -- Posted in food, food storage, green living, holidays, make it yourself, parenting | 4 Comments »

Here is my post from last year about all of the wonderful, creative gifts you can make for the holidays. Crafty, inexpensive and filled with love :)

I have received so many responses from very creative mamas to my recent query about ideas for homemade or low budget gifts (mostly for children) for the holidays. With the economy being the way it is, this topic seems to be one that is on many people’s minds. I’ve divided the many ideas given to me into different categories. I hope there is something here you will find to make and give to your loved ones this holiday season.

Food Gifts:

Make your own peanut brittle, fudge, holiday cookies or another tasty treat and present it in a pretty tin or on a plate you’ve decorated that will also be part of the gift. If you are giving this gift to another from your child, have the child help make it as well as decorate the container – photo tins were suggested a few times, too.

The hot cocoa or brownie kit is another idea for either kids or adults. You can make “hot cocoa cones” by layering the separate dry ingredients in a cone shaped piece of cellophane or a clear frosting bag or in a mason jar and tie it with a pretty ribbon and add an instruction card on how to prepare the mix. Chocolate dipped spoons are another easy gift idea you can add with the hot cocoa cones. If it’s a cookie mix, you can include some cookie cutters. Caramel or kettle popcorn is another fun food gift to make.

If you are a gardener, giving away some homemade canned items from your garden is always appreciated. You can make different jams, salsa, tomato sauce, pickles, dilly beans, pickled beets, grape juice, etc. Whatever you have a lot of just remember to can more of it at the time to give out as gifts. You can even prepare a whole basket of assorted pint or quart sized jars of items that you have made. You can do the same with dehydrated items like fruit leather, apple or banana slices, dried herb mixes, herbal tea blends, spice rubs or jerky.

For Sewing/Knitting/Crocheted Gifts:

If you are a sewer/knitter/crocheter, you have a world of possibilities of things to make! Many suggestions given in this category included crocheting pot holders or dishcloths to go along with the food gifts, sewing fleece blankets or even fringing all of the edges on two pieces of fleece and tying them together for a 2 sided blanket – no sewing there, sewing aprons for kids to wear in their play kitchen – one mama said to use terrycloth material for the kid’s apron. If you are a good seamstress, sewing doll clothes, sun hats, dresses and all the other cute items that your child likes will save you tons of money if you do it yourself.

Knitted or crocheted hats, scarves, mittens, and knitted afgans are so appreciated in the cold weather. To be extra green and frugal, you can get some wool sweaters from the thrift store and unravel them and re-use the wool for your new knitted creations.

Felt:

Felt items are also another inexpensive, crafty and fun gift to make. You can make play food by cutting out the desired shapes and sewing two pieces together and stuff with batting or wool and sew closed or you can leave it single-sided cut to the shape of what you want and since felt sticks to itself, it will stick to a felt storyboard or you can make a felt pizza with toppings, a birthday cake with candles or a felt Christmas tree with ornaments. You can also make easy finger or hand puppets, picture frames and little bags too. Crayon rolls are popular with kids as well. There really are so many fun ideas for things to make with felt and it’s easy to use and dirt cheap!

Jewelry:

Make beaded jewelry – it’s fun and very creative. Go support your local bead shop, take a class or buy a how-to book, pick out beads that you like, a few basic tools, some wire and clasps and you can make inexpensive yet pretty jewelry, bookmarks, hair accessories, window shade pulls, light catchers, the list goes on and on. My step-mother-in-law is really into this and now works with more semi-precious stones and silver combos and she makes some really beautiful gifts. This photo is of some of her work that I received as a gift.

Photo Gifts:

This also is a pretty popular gift. All of those photos we take of our kids, dogs, vacations can be made into photo books, calendars, mouse pads, mugs, pillows, etc. We can also take actual photos and decorate the outside of tin boxes with them and fill the box with yummy treats, too. Kids love to see pictures of themselves so this is popular with them as well as the grandparents. It seems grandparents can never have enough pictures of the grandkids and making the calendars or other photo gifts are pretty easy, inexpensive and much appreciated.

Other Craft Items:

Make your own homemade playdough which is safe and non-toxic and you can even color it with different food coloring. Store it in little containers, tins or even glass baby food jars that you’ve saved. Simple cookie cutters can go along with the playdough for a fun and inexpensive gift.

You can make homemade soy candles in empty jars – using baby food jars again or jam sized canning jars work well, too.

Don’t forget about cardboard boxes! There is just so much you can do with them. We have in just about a couple hours’ time made our son a playhouse and a train car that he can sit in. Now I hear there is talk of a space ship happening soon. You can make the large stacking blocks like the kind that are sold that look like bricks as well as a play kitchen, too. Cardboard boxes, a sturdy knife, duct tape and paint (optional) are all it takes. We have even made him impromptu costumes – wings, a helmet out of a cardboard bucket and a shield we painted as part of his Halloween costume, too. There are so many, many things you can do with cardboard. You can find lots of ideas and instructions on this site.

Wooden Crafts:

Since my husband has a small wood shop and makes unique furniture, last year he decided to make our son a play kitchen for Christmas and a play workbench for his birthday. Both required time but the cost of the materials was pretty inexpensive. He purchased a large sheet of plywood for each project that had a really nice facing on it, some small door hinges, some plexiglas for the oven and microwave door windows and a dowel rod for door handles. He used an older bath faucet he had and a steel bowl for the kitchen sink and faucet. Both the kitchen and workbench were finished with a non-toxic oil and both came out really beautifully and are heirloom quality pieces so we can pass these down to our grandkids. The actual cost of the play kitchen came out to less than $30 with everything – except labor! The workbench was even cheaper.

Easier projects to make with wood are wooden building blocks, a simple pull toy, different geometric shaped puzzle pieces called tanagrams, different wooden puzzles, doll cradles, and wooden memory game squares that you paint the matching pictures on. There are many websites with instructions on how to do all of this and I really like this site.

Gift Baskets:

You can take many different little things that fit into a theme and put them all together in a box or basket for a person or family to enjoy. Several mamas said they were making movie baskets for a whole family – a dvd, different kinds of popcorn and chocolate all packaged in a pretty basket with cellophane or shrink wrap. Pick a theme and go with it.

Stores:

If you don’t want to make much (or anything) but still want to save money on gifts, shopping the thrift stores, garage sales, Craigslist, Freecycle, eBay, Dollar stores and the dollar bins at Target for all inexpensive new or used items in good condition is a great way to get toys and things at a fraction of the price or free (Freecycle). And most children don’t know the difference and wouldn’t care anyway if they did. If it works, they are happy!

New items at greatly reduced prices are sold at many closeout stores such as Marshalls, Big Lots, Ross, TJ Maxx and Tuesday Morning among others. You may have to sweep through these types of stores periodically and keep your eyes peeled for the quality items you want. I’ve found some amazing deals this way including new German wooden toys (which are normally very expensive), nice puzzles and books for my son. It’s fun, too once you get the hang of it.

Wrapping Paper:

It’s fun to unwrap presents but we don’t have to use the commercial wrapping paper which is hard to recycle in many locations. What to do? – make your own!! There are so many options for this. If you get a Sunday paper, save the comic section each week and use that, buy a roll of butcher paper or brown craft paper or visit your town’s local newspaper and ask for their left over end of the rolls (it’s free) and have your kids draw or stamp all over it. Or buy some inexpensive play silks – a gift in themselves which can be dyed any color – and wrap the toy in that, too.

All of these “wrapping” papers listed can be easily recycled and can be a fun craft activity for you and the kids to do together. If you don’t want to do any of the above, try to purchase the wrapping paper that was made with recycled paper instead.

I hope this list has helped you find some new, creative and inexpensive gift ideas for this holiday season. There definitely are many resourceful and creative people out there and I thank each and every one of you for contributing your amazing, thrifty gift ideas! If you have other creative ideas not mentioned here, feel free to leave them in the comments section. I love hearing about other fun gifts to make.

Happy Holidays!!

photo credits: orderonline, kathy marie perez, the library of congress, lil miss maya, nature deva, family fun, nature deva, nature deva

Harvest Time

September 30th, 2009 -- Posted in food, food storage, gardening, green living, Health, make it yourself, nature, nutrition, sustainability | 3 Comments »

I love the summer so much because I enjoy growing things in the garden and being outside in nature as much as I can. This was our first full year with our expanded garden space as well as the additional garden beds added all around our house and using our greenhouse in warm weather. And chickens! Who lay eggs! It’s been an amazingly fun summer for me because of all of this! I don’t know if others would think it’s so fun, it does require quite a bit of work to upkeep a large organic garden and some livestock even if they are a small backyard flock. But this type of lifestyle resonates with me and I work hard for its success.

Now we are officially in autumn with the bulk of the harvest coming in and preparing & planting the garden beds for fall/winter gardening under the hoop house and inside the greenhouse. It’s a joint effort, both my husband and I have a shared vision for all of this, we secretly want to be full time farmers because we enjoy it so much. Real farming is such hard work, though! I feel part of the homesteader lifestyle even living here in the ‘burbs once again since my mindset is always about self-sustainability.  I have learned so many skills to enable me to be self-reliant these past 15 years living this way.

I’ve been doing all methods of food preservation throughout the season and especially my most favorite method of all – canning. Some people find canning tedious but I still totally love it – both water bath and pressure canning. Looking at my various shelves filled with jars of produce picked at the peak of freshness ready to be eaten especially on a cold winter evening fills me with a sense of security, really. I know what’s in my food, who prepared it and the fact that it’s there means we won’t starve if ever there was a catastrophe of some kind. Most importantly, it reminds me that I’m self-reliant – one of the most important traits of a true homesteader.

I’ve been freezing and dehydrating lots of produce and prepared dishes, too so I have both a packed upright freezer as well as jars of dried herbs, fruit leather, dried fruit and powdered dried veggies (to add to soup or other dishes for flavor and nutrition) in jars on my shelves or vacuum sealed and stored in closed bins in my basement “root cellar” – a cold, concrete closet in my basement.

I try to process the produce as the season progresses, making lactofermented pickles & sauerkraut as we harvest it (or get some great deals on organic produce from local farmers), making a vinegar dill pickle and dilly beans (that requires no canning), bread & butter pickles, harvesting root crops to store in the “root cellar”, dehydrating some of the many greens we grow to powder them, drying herbs (always dry everything at low temps to preserve the most nutrients), freezing chopped fresh herbs with water in ice cube trays (and store cubes in freezer bags), freezing fruit,  juicing veggies and fruits and freezing in ice cube trays for use in smoothies. By mid-October, we  make cinnamon applesauce which is great to use in vegan baked goods. We also make pear sauce (but not for baking).

I especially love to make and can tons of tomato sauce – so much so that for our 10 year anniversary this past summer solstice, we got ourselves a ginormous pressure canner that can fit 14 quart jars at one time! Now that’s a lot of sauce done in one shot! A huge improvement over our little pressure cooker/canner that could only hold 3 quart jars at a time! Besides canning tomatoes either as sauce or as whole, peeled ones, we make & can jam throughout the season as the fruit comes in (I made lots of very low sugar plum, blueberry & peach jams since PB&J is my son’s favorite sandwich now), we can tomato salsa, tomatillo salsa, fruit salsa (just made some great peach salsa!), canned veggies like beets (some are pickled, too), carrots, hot peppers, etc. I can go on, there are so many ways we preserve the bounty and I look forward to doing it every single year!

Living this way is not only very inexpensive over a 12 month period but it puts me so in touch with the lifecycle of the plants, the Earth, the seasons, the feeling that everything is connected from the stars to the bugs. I’m part of the cycle, too and I can feel it in the high vibration of the food I eat whether it’s fresh and raw or preserved at the peak of freshness for future eating. It does require a lot of planning and effort during the growing season but I wouldn’t have it any other way!

A Kitchen Witch’s Favorite Machine

July 5th, 2009 -- Posted in food, green living, Health, herbal remedies, make it yourself, nutrition, organics, raw foods, recipes, sustainability | 5 Comments »

I wanted to tell you about my favorite machine for making your own natural products at home – a.k.a. being a “kitchen witch.” If you are crafty and like to make your own things, you can save loads of money and create many different herbal remedies and beauty aid products for your own personal use or even to start your own little cottage business. That’s what I did with the help of my Vita-Mix 12 years ago.

I became a Certified Herbalist in 1995 and purchased my first Vita-Mix “Total Nutrition Center” machine then, too. This machine still performs amazingly well for me 14 years later even though I’ve now upgraded to the new Vita-Mix 5200. I formed my company, Magical Botanicals, Inc in 1997 and have sold thousands of handcrafted organic herbal products over the years both wholesale and retail. I’ve made the majority of my products in small batches with my Vita-Mix. I mainly used the dry container for grinding seeds, roots, bark, flowers and leaves to use in many different preparations such as tea blends, incense, bath salts, bath bombs and an organic herbal smoke blend. I used the liquid container for making lotions, creams, massage oils, edible elixirs and to mix tinctures.

A good kitchen witch knows that besides making all of her own herbal beauty aids, you need to eat a healthy diet, too. Beauty comes from the inside. The Vita-Mix 5200 helps you to easily achieve this.

My diet is all plant based and I make many raw vegan recipes. My Vita-Mix has helped me to quickly prepare everything such as green smoothies, salad dressings, sauces, soups, grinding flaxseeds, making nut milks, ice “cream”, frozen fruit sorbets and other delicious items in such a fast, easy way.

Making your meals from scratch is very economical and it’s also much healthier for you and your family. Whether you are grinding your own grain in the dry container for bread making or pizza dough or making a frozen dessert in the liquid container, the Vita-Mix 5200 processes your food in such a complete way that it uses the whole food so you are getting all the vitamins, minerals and fiber in your meals and you are not wasting anything. Its biggest asset to me though is really as a time-saving device! Cooking from scratch can take a while but that’s why I use my Vita-Mix 5200 which does the majority of the work for me!

As much as I loved my original Vita-Mix TNC, upgrading to the 5200 has been great. The hard plastic containers used in the 5200 contains no BPA, a known hormone disruptor. The material is also sound damping which makes the powerful motor sound quieter. The lids are easier to use and have a really nice tab over the container for easy on/off and the removable center lid piece actually gets locked into place much better than before. The handles on the containers are now padded and feel better in your hand, too.

I’ve put it to the test this spring with grinding different roots I wildcrafted to make tinctures, powdered dried leaves for capsules and made several batches of my best selling organic herbal smoke blend, Organic Smooth Smoke. As always, it performed beautifully.

Investing in a piece of equipment that is durable, high performing and long lasting that is able to create hundreds of healthy recipes quickly is a smart move for the do-it-yourself kitchen witch. You really can’t go wrong with owning the Vita-Mix 5200!

Chicks & Garden Update

April 3rd, 2009 -- Posted in food, gardening, green living, Health, Home, make it yourself, nutrition, organics, pets, photos, raw foods, sustainability | 4 Comments »

Since an ordinance was passed in my town allowing backyard chickens and permits were issued, we went ahead and took the plunge and got ourselves 4 baby chicks on March 21st! We now have an expanded garden, made new garden beds on the side of our house, built a small greenhouse (8′x8′) last fall with all reclaimed materials and are going to be building a movable chicken coop (with reclaimed materials, too) to fit in next to our greenhouse. It will be like a coop/chicken tractor so we can move it around the yard and  the girls can graze safely on grass. I will let them out inside the garden to eat bugs and let them run around the yard while I’m out there with them. I’ve noticed a red tailed hawk in my neighborhood recently which doesn’t make me happy!

My husband grew up raising chickens so I am getting lessons first hand from him even though caring for them on a day to day basis will be up to my son and I. My husband has lots of other projects lined up to do!

We also built our son a funky tree tower next to the greenhouse because there was an Aspen tree in bad shape that needed to come down. My husband decided to make the tree tower for our son’s birthday in February and built it on any weekend that was not frigid this winter – and we had lots of nice weekends, actually.

Here are some pix of the peeps from 4 days – 2.5 wks old:

The two golden colored ones are Buff Orpingtons and their names are Daisy and Lulu. The two brownish ones are Easter Eggers – Americana’s, specifically and their names are Iris and Acorn. All 3 of us named them. They really are so very cute at this age!

Here is a picture of our (still unfinished) greenhouse that will be painted this spring and the funky tree tower to the left of it:

It’s located right in front of our newly expanded garden space, that’s the garden fence behind it. The tree tower looks like it’s all open in the picture but there is lots of cable wire going through the Aspen branches and it’s a 4 ft tall fence so my son won’t fall out! It’s very secure and he loves it!

The greenhouse was built so we could walk in there through a door (on the left side), it’s about 8′ tall at the highest point and has 2 large beds on the ground as well as a big shelf on the back wall under another window that can hold 4 large pots (or 7 flats of seedlings). The roof windows open for ventilation, too. There is a sprinkler head inside it from our sprinkler system so we can run a drip line off of it to the beds. We are also hanging up heavy duty hooks to hold large hanging pots in there, too. I want to grow the upside down tomato plants to have a longer tomato growing season in the fall (I admit I’m a little obsessed with growing tomatoes!). We have also worked out our glitches from last winter’s trial garden and will use the back of the greenhouse to help anchor the hoop house for better winter gardening this year. We are pretty excited for all of this additional growing space we’ve got now!

Many seeds have been started indoors this past week and my husband just rototilled in a mix of compost and top soil into all the new beds we created so now we are ready to plant! We will be direct seeding the new greenhouse beds this weekend with several varieties of cool weather greens and peas. This growing year  should be a good one since we are done with the hardscaping now and can successfully do year round succession planting.

Now with the chickens, we will have free range, organic eggs from happy birds (and my son & husband eat lots of eggs), new fun pets to hang out with and we will be able to feed them many veggie scraps from the garden and compost their waste and bedding to eventually be put back into the garden. The cycle of life. Love it.

The thing I love most about gardening is all that you learn from nature. Everything is trial and error and you find what works best for your individual space and then when it clicks, you get to watch the magic of nature unfold in front of your eyes and reap the bounty! I find this to be so much fun!

Co-opin’

March 19th, 2009 -- Posted in food, food storage, gardening, green living, Health, make it yourself, nutrition, organics, raw foods, sustainability | 4 Comments »

For the past few years I’ve been feeling like I need to join a food co-op again (I was part of a home based one 14 years ago then part of a store front one in the mountains for many years and again when another store front one opened in my current town but closed down). I did find a co-op group last summer that was located about 20 min away from where I live. It was what I was looking for but it didn’t work out for us for different reasons. I was left with the fact that I would have to take on this job myself and start something here in my town. I was given the different distributors’ info and set up accounts with them right away. I already had a group of interested friends wanting to do this and since I was doing all the coordinating work for it, I chose to keep it small and manageable for me to deal with – we have 11 families in our group and have had others ask to join in but have turned them down until we think we need to grow. We’ve been ordering about 2x/month. The produce selection changes with the seasons so it’s been fun for us to see what’s on the list each week.

I like the distributor we are with who provides the fresh fruit and veggies. They also carry all of Organic Valley’s dairy and eggs, too as well as locally made gmo-free tofu and locally made organic tortillas. For me, a co-op (or buyer’s club) is better than being part of a CSA (which I was part of for a couple years) because I can pick and choose which veggies and fruit I want and if it’s a price I want to pay. Since it’s a group buying these items, we all split the large cases they come in and get just how much we want for amazing prices. And the quality has been excellent for mostly everything. It’s a win-win for me personally since I really look to always save money especially in an unstable economy and still get to have the best quality food for my family that’s mostly local, wholesale and organic.

There is another distributor located near our produce distributor that carries all the bulk organic dry goods such as: nuts, dried fruits, grains, flours, legumes, etc. If we don’t have enough items to meet their minimum order, we can pay a markup on the price of our dry goods items to the produce distributor and they will go and get it for us and deliver it with our produce order. It really has been great having this option for all of us! Last summer I replenished my dry goods depleted stock here at home and split a variety of grains, beans, flours and nuts and we have been eating from our stores all year making fun and delicious ethnic food and other recipes – even homemade pizza night! Since I eat all vegan (and about half raw) and my husband eats an omnivore diet, we agreed to make vegan family dinners from all this bulk and preserved food we invested in and we’ve been really enjoying the variety of recipes we’ve tried out. The fresh produce we get 2x/month is a really nice addition, too.

Since we live in CO, in winter there isn’t that much growing here on a large scale besides potatoes and indoor herbs, sprouts & mushrooms so more items are brought in from organic farms in CA and other states like TX or even Mexico that we will buy (like citrus, greens & now artichokes!) but during the warmer growing season, our distributor really tries to work with as many CO based organic farmers as possible – several are even from the town I live in which makes me happy to support those farms as well as other organic farms from the surrounding 100 miles of our town. And CO is known for its amazing western slope fruits like peaches, nectarines and cherries and they distribute these as well!

Even though there are 2 large farmer’s markets near me, the exact same produce from some of the same farms are carried through our distributor at much better pricing for us. We only have to meet this company’s minimum order of $200 and they deliver the order to my home for free (where a few of us divide it up for the group) since we are on their delivery route for stores. Since everything through the distributor is sold by the large case or pound sacks (50#), we are actually buying bigger volume from the farmers than if we just bought a pound or two at the farmer’s market or if I had a CSA share. I still like to support other farms and enjoy the farmer’s market atmosphere so we go to the really big market on Wednesday nights in summer and buy assorted items from the booths for a picnic dinner and watch live, outdoor music performed nearby.

We are also growing a much larger garden this season, too. I’ve been trying to figure out how much I might want to purchase outside of the bulk buying of certain fruits and veggies for preserving for winter. We increased the amount we preserved last summer (by canning, drying, freezing & lactofermenting) and have been really good about using our frozen veggies, canned sauce, salsa and pickles and other lactofermented foods like sauerkraut. Even the dried produce and herbs are being used up well. The seasonal food cycle really makes such logical sense to me to live like this and eat really high quality food all year. You can totally taste the difference – even my frozen veggies still have such good flavor and crispness when we cook with them. The frozen fruits (mostly used in smoothies) have been delicious, too.

Don’t believe that eating organic food has to be more expensive – for us, it’s cheaper than buying conventional produce & dry goods at the supermarket. We are also supporting organic farmers from our state as well as a few other locations by buying large quantities from them. Our distributor even gives back to the farmers they work with through their annual profit share program. The more we buy from the distributor, the more the farmer’s make.

And what about me and all my hard work in coordinating all of this? In lieu of payment for me I’ve asked that the co-op members chip in and buy an extra case of fruit each time we order to donate to the food bank in our town. It’s our way of giving back to those less fortunate and who pretty much rarely if ever get to eat fresh fruit or veggies. I am very lucky I don’t have to worry about that so I wanted to donate my “fee” and give fresh, organic food to those who desperately need it.

Crafty, Inexpensive Gift Ideas For A Homemade Holiday

December 5th, 2008 -- Posted in green living, holidays, make it yourself, parenting, sustainability | 8 Comments »

I have received so many responses from very creative mamas to my recent query about ideas for homemade or low budget gifts (mostly for children) for the holidays. With the economy being the way it is, this topic seems to be one that is on many people’s minds. I’ve divided the many ideas given to me into different categories. I hope there is something here you will find to make and give to your loved ones this holiday season.

Food Gifts:

Make your own peanut brittle, fudge, holiday cookies or another tasty treat and present it in a pretty tin or on a plate you’ve decorated that will also be part of the gift. If you are giving this gift to another from your child, have the child help make it as well as decorate the container – photo tins were suggested a few times, too.

The hot cocoa or brownie kit is another idea for either kids or adults. You can make “hot cocoa cones” by layering the separate dry ingredients in a cone shaped piece of cellophane or a clear frosting bag or in a mason jar and tie it with a pretty ribbon and add an instruction card on how to prepare the mix. Chocolate dipped spoons are another easy gift idea you can add with the hot cocoa cones. If it’s a cookie mix, you can include some cookie cutters. Caramel or kettle popcorn is another fun food gift to make.

If you are a gardener, giving away some homemade canned items from your garden is always appreciated. You can make different jams, salsa, tomato sauce, pickles, dilly beans, pickled beets, grape juice, etc. Whatever you have a lot of just remember to can more of it at the time to give out as gifts. You can even prepare a whole basket of assorted pint or quart sized jars of items that you have made. You can do the same with dehydrated items like fruit leather, apple or banana slices, dried herb mixes, herbal tea blends, spice rubs or jerky.

For Sewing/Knitting/Crocheted Gifts:

If you are a sewer/knitter/crocheter, you have a world of possibilities of things to make! Many suggestions given in this category included crocheting pot holders or dishcloths to go along with the food gifts, sewing fleece blankets or even fringing all of the edges on two pieces of fleece and tying them together for a 2 sided blanket – no sewing there, sewing aprons for kids to wear in their play kitchen – one mama said to use terrycloth material for the kid’s apron. If you are a good seamstress, sewing doll clothes, sun hats, dresses and all the other cute items that your child likes will save you tons of money if you do it yourself.

Knitted or crocheted hats, scarves, mittens, and knitted afgans are so appreciated in the cold weather. To be extra green and frugal, you can get some wool sweaters from the thrift store and unravel them and re-use the wool for your new knitted creations.

Felt:

Felt items are also another inexpensive, crafty and fun gift to make. You can make play food by cutting out the desired shapes and sewing two pieces together and stuff with batting or wool and sew closed or you can leave it single-sided cut to the shape of what you want and since felt sticks to itself, it will stick to a felt storyboard or you can make a felt pizza with toppings, a birthday cake with candles or a felt Christmas tree with ornaments. You can also make easy finger or hand puppets, picture frames and little bags too. Crayon rolls are popular with kids as well. There really are so many fun ideas for things to make with felt and it’s easy to use and dirt cheap!

Jewelry:

Make beaded jewelry – it’s fun and very creative. Go support your local bead shop, take a class or buy a how-to book, pick out beads that you like, a few basic tools, some wire and clasps and you can make inexpensive yet pretty jewelry, bookmarks, hair accessories, window shade pulls, light catchers, the list goes on and on. My step-mother-in-law is really into this and now works with more semi-precious stones and silver combos and she makes some really beautiful gifts. This photo is of some of her work that I received as a gift.

Photo Gifts:

This also is a pretty popular gift. All of those photos we take of our kids, dogs, vacations can be made into photo books, calendars, mouse pads, mugs, pillows, etc. We can also take actual photos and decorate the outside of tin boxes with them and fill the box with yummy treats, too. Kids love to see pictures of themselves so this is popular with them as well as the grandparents. It seems grandparents can never have enough pictures of the grandkids and making the calendars or other photo gifts are pretty easy, inexpensive and much appreciated.

Other Craft Items:

Make your own homemade playdough which is safe and non-toxic and you can even color it with different food coloring. Store it in little containers, tins or even glass baby food jars that you’ve saved. Simple cookie cutters can go along with the playdough for a fun and inexpensive gift.

You can make homemade soy candles in empty jars – using baby food jars again or jam sized canning jars work well, too.

Don’t forget about cardboard boxes! There is just so much you can do with them. We have in just about a couple hours’ time made our son a playhouse and a train car that he can sit in. Now I hear there is talk of a space ship happening soon. You can make the large stacking blocks like the kind that are sold that look like bricks as well as a play kitchen, too. Cardboard boxes, a sturdy knife, duct tape and paint (optional) are all it takes. We have even made him impromptu costumes – wings, a helmet out of a cardboard bucket and a shield we painted as part of his Halloween costume, too. There are so many, many things you can do with cardboard. You can find lots of ideas and instructions on this site.

Wooden Crafts:

Since my husband has a small wood shop and makes unique furniture, last year he decided to make our son a play kitchen for Christmas and a play workbench for his birthday. Both required time but the cost of the materials was pretty inexpensive. He purchased a large sheet of plywood for each project that had a really nice facing on it, some small door hinges, some plexiglas for the oven and microwave door windows and a dowel rod for door handles.  He used an older bath faucet he had and a steel bowl for the kitchen sink and faucet. Both the kitchen and workbench were finished with a non-toxic oil and both came out really beautifully and are heirloom quality pieces so we can pass these down to our grandkids. The actual cost of the play kitchen came out to less than $30 with everything – except labor! The workbench was even cheaper.

Easier projects to make with wood are wooden building blocks, a simple pull toy, different geometric shaped puzzle pieces called tanagrams, different wooden puzzles, doll cradles, and wooden memory game squares that you paint the matching pictures on. There are many websites with instructions on how to do all of this and I really like this site.

Gift Baskets:

You can take many different little things that fit into a theme and put them all together in a box or basket for a person or family to enjoy. Several mamas said they were making movie baskets for a whole family – a dvd, different kinds of popcorn and chocolate all packaged in a pretty basket with cellophane or shrink wrap. Pick a theme and go with it.

Stores:

If you don’t want to make much (or anything) but still want to save money on gifts, shopping the thrift stores, garage sales, Craigslist, Freecycle, eBay, Dollar stores and the dollar bins at Target for all inexpensive new or used items in good condition is a great way to get toys and things at a fraction of the price or free (Freecycle). And most children don’t know the difference and wouldn’t care anyway if they did. If it works, they are happy!

New items at greatly reduced prices are sold at many closeout stores such as Marshalls, Big Lots, Ross, TJ Maxx and Tuesday Morning among others. You may have to sweep through these types of stores periodically and keep your eyes peeled for the quality items you want.  I’ve found some amazing deals this way including new German wooden toys (which are normally very expensive), nice puzzles and books for my son. It’s fun, too once you get the hang of it.

Wrapping Paper:

It’s fun to unwrap presents but we don’t have to use the commercial wrapping paper which is hard to recycle in many locations. What to do? – make your own!! There are so many options for this. If you get a Sunday paper, save the comic section each week and use that, buy a roll of butcher paper or brown craft paper or visit your town’s local newspaper and ask for their left over end of the rolls (it’s free) and have your kids draw or stamp all over it. Or buy some inexpensive play silks – a gift in themselves which can be dyed any color – and wrap the toy in that, too.

All of these “wrapping” papers listed can be easily recycled and can be a fun craft activity for you and the kids to do together. If you don’t want to do any of the above, try to purchase the wrapping paper that was made with recycled paper instead.

I hope this list has helped you find some new, creative and inexpensive gift ideas for this holiday season. There definitely are many resourceful and creative people out there and I thank each and every one of you for contributing your amazing, thrifty gift ideas! If you have other creative ideas not mentioned here, feel free to leave them in the comments section. I love hearing about other fun gifts to make.

Happy Holidays!!

photos: orderonlinekathy marie perezthe library of congresslil miss maya, nature deva, family fun, nature deva, nature deva