Simple Holidays: Homemade Christmas Gifts, Black Friday Tips, DIY

Vicky and Jen chit-chat about simplifying the holidays. This part 1 of 3 includes talk about homemade Christmas gifts and DIY gift giving. We cover inexpensive ideas such as coupons and gifts of time, as well as homemade gifts. Robin calls in about shopping early, on “Black Friday” and Stephanie focuses on the act of “giving” instead of receiving with her children.

Special Callers: Robin, Stephanie

In This Episode

  • 00:35 – Opening: Recalling Experiences
  • 08:05 – Goal to Make Changes
  • 10:12 – Our Take On Gifts
  • 14:15 – Caller: Robin on “Black Friday”
  • 17:22 – Call for Ideas from Listeners
  • 18:36 – Gifts of Time
  • 23:05 – Pinecone Firestarters
  • 25:23 – Homemade Soap & Candles
  • 26:21 – Caller: Stephanie “Give not Get”
  • 28:47 – Closing Comments

Fun Facts About Christmas Gifts

  • Due to the time zones, Santa has 31 hours to deliver gifts? This means that he would have to visit 832 homes each second!
  • During the Christmas buying season, Visa cards alone are used an average of 5,340 times every minute in the united states.
  • A typical American child receives 70 new toys a year, most of them at Christmas.
  • 8 in 10 dog owners buy their pet holiday gifts. 6 in 10 cat owners do.

4 Holiday Tasks to Do Ahead of Time

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanza, the holidays are fast approaching. You still have plenty of time to prepare. But only if you get started now. Instead of waiting until December 1st or even the 15th, why not plan ahead early and get some things out of the way? You may have a list that you follow every year, but if not, see our suggestions here. They’ll help to get you started on a well-organized and joyous holiday.

Prepare Your Gift List

If you’re like many, you may have a closet of gifts already put away with friends’ or family members’ names on them. If not, make your gift list now. Collect catalogs if you like to order gifts, go to the local shopping center before the crowds arrive, or collect what you need if you make your own gifts. Make lists so you don’t forget anyone important. If you have to send gifts to out-of-town friends or family, plan to do it early. Get those gifts first and send them off.

Prepare Your Holiday Cards

You may not be in the mood to write out your holiday cards or annual letter yet, but you can spend an evening watching TV addressing the envelopes, pasting on return address labels, and adding stamps. Encourage your children to create their own cards to send to grandparents, cousins, and friends.

Do Some Housekeeping

If you live in colder climes, you’ve probably already gotten your home ready for the winter. But if not, now is the perfect time to face annual chores in and outside of the house. Hose off the front door and garage door of, clean windows, polish silver, chandeliers, and light fixtures.

Cook, Bake, and Freeze

This is a great time to prepare cookie dough, yummy soups, cookies, bars, or whole dinners. You won’t eat them all now but store them away in the freezer. You’ll be ready in a jiffy when you need to put on a quick meal or provide goodies for a party.

Salt Crystal SnowflakeHow To Make Salt Crystal Snowflake With The Kids

Boil water and pour it into a cup that can withstand hot water. Add a couple of teaspoons of salt and stir with the paintbrush until it dissolves. Continue to add salt a teaspoon at a time until it no longer dissolves and there are salt crystals at the bottom of the cup even after stirring for a while. Paint your sparkly snowflake.

Tip: Every time you go to dip your brush in the salt water be sure you to stir the solution so that your salt crystals don’t all sink to the bottom of the cup. Leave your art to dry overnight. Works great on dark paper!

Simple Gifts for Two to Six-Year-Olds

1. Bathtime Fun
Collect bathtime items and toys and put them in a mesh bag: fun soaps, shaving cream, and a shaver without a blade for pretending in the tub, goggles or a diving mask to wash hair tear-free, a doll with hair to shampoo, bubbles to blow, boats, sponges, and of course, a rubber ducky or two.

2. Pongs and Tongs
Buy a bunch of colorful Ping-Pong balls, and a pair of salad tongs that little hands can manage. After your child opens the Pongs and Tongs game, show him or her how to play by putting the balls in a bowl of water and then picking them up with the tongs. It’s a little like bobbing for apples.

3. Spin Painting
Buy an inexpensive salad spinner or find a used one. Add some paper plates and a few bottles of tempera paint. After your child opens the gift, show him or her how to make a spin painting by putting a paper plate on the bottom of the spinner, adding a few tablespoons of different colors of paint, and giving it all a good spin.

Resources for a DIY Christmas

Episode Transcript

Stephanie: Hi, this is Stephanie, mother of five, and you’re listing to Vicky and Jen, What Really Matters.

Jen: Hi, this is Jen from

Vicky: And hi, this is Vicki.

Jen: We are about making life simple so you can enjoy what really matters.

Vicky: Welcome to our crash course, simple holidays 101.

Jen: Vicky, it can’t really be a crash course, it’s three parts.

Vicky: You’re right. This is the first part over a three-part series. We have lots of wonderful tips and tidbits to share on how to make your holiday more simple and less stressful.

Vicky: Does this sound familiar? This is a typical holiday season for me and this is why I was so excited about doing this topic. I go shopping with Aiden. Can’t believe that all the Christmas merchandise is already out.

Vicky: Aiden wants to stop and admire the ornaments on the trees and I say trees are up already. The trees are up. They’re decorated to the Hill. It’s just overwhelming. In this section of the store, we were actually shopping at Kohl’s department store and I said Aiden skip through Halloween.

Vicky: We don’t have time to stop and look.

Jen: One holiday at a time?

Vicky: One holiday at a time. So we’re already bombarded with Christmas stuff. Then it gets closer to the holidays and your calendar fills up, you’ve got family functions, parties, gift exchanges, work-related events, plays, whatever. The three page to do list. Right, the to-do list does certainly get longer and you’ve got your shopping of course which is a huge thing. And it’s so time-consuming and perhaps even your grace your Christmas list has grown by a few people.

Vicky: Then you’ve got your extra cooking to do. You’ve got your potluck, your parties. Tis the season for cookies and fudge so you have more cooking to do than usual. You feel like you have to get those you know 25 Christmas card greetings out and you have to give a personal message to everybody that you haven’t talked to since last Christmas.

Jen: Exactly. Yes. The obligatory cards.

Vicky: And if you have children and you want to decorate your home in an and you drag out all the boxes you dust them off and when I’m decorating I’m already dreading putting them away. And I feel horrible like why am I thinking about how I have to put all this back. So you know you do all this preparation and. And the holiday season is just flying by and then boom it’s over gone. You’ve got for many people. You have Christmas even on Christmas Day.

Vicky: So your holidays over 48 hours and boom it’s all over. All that hard work month. Months of preparation for people or are many weeks of preparation. Well, then you feel guilty. I do. I do, this is my experience. I guess to the kids.

Vicky: You know I forgot the mailman or I should have sent Lisa a card because it’s really been a long time. I really should have taken the time to sit down and watch Charlie Brown Christmas or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer weighed in and I didn’t make time for that because it got too busy in that kind of got left out. So you feel guilty. I think a lot of people feel guilty of Christmas which isn’t what it’s about right and it’s just unfortunate feeling it is. It is. I think a lot of people experience that.

And then I think well you know what it’s ended the season I hope to get out and do more shopping and take advantage of some of those into the season bargains. But who wants to do that.

I’m done. I’m done shopping. I’m sick of Christmas. It’s over. So then it’s time to pack it all up which you dreaded in the first place.

Access to the attic and the kids and the kids don’t really help put it back. I mean it’s a fun family ordeal to decorate it all out and.

But who wants to put it back. And then you have to organize all the new toys off and get your house back together. And that’s for me my holiday and it’s all negative. I know. And I and I’m not a negative person but it’s a lot of work because this is a lot of work.

Jen: You have a little bit larger family than I do. My family’s pretty small. We get together but the holidays for me would pretty much just focus on my immediate family. I have a brother that lives out in California. He’s come back a couple times but my folks are close about 30 minutes away and so we’re we’re together a lot but we’re kind of close and tight-knit so I know I don’t do a lot. I don’t have a big meal at my house holiday time and I’m not sure if all volunteer to do that or whatever. But we just kind of close kind tight. It’s not really that big of an ordeal so I’m kind of proud of that fact. It sounds like you have more of a simple Christmas I think. I think it was a holiday. I think we do. I do know that we don’t have too many traditions that have been passed on and stuff but one of the reasons I was really excited when you mentioned the show is because I do want to come up with some.

I’m looking forward to hearing other people’s traditions and ideas and maybe perhaps adopting some of those since my kids are so young still two and three. And this is such a fun age for Christmas to you know feel like it is.

I feel like you know if we do it right now when they’re little they’ll get out of what they’re supposed to know and hope for. I mean there’s the commercialization is out there. It’s there. You know it’s hard to avoid it but if we do it small simple and remember what it’s for now then hopefully they’ll grow up with those feelings.

I know for a fact that children grow up in they remember decorating cookies with mom or you always go to see the holiday trains downtown.

Those are the things they’re going to remember.

Or you could be like my husband in the one tradition he remembers that Christmas time is his.

He’s the youngest of five siblings. They all would come home from college when he was still at home and the tradition was to take Jeff out into the snow throw him into a big snow pile in his underwear.

That’s that’s what members like that’s that’s all you remember of a Christmas tradition he’s like yup does he laugh about it. He does. He does. He didn’t like it too much but. Well, now he can laugh about it. And Jasmine and Jade will grow up. Remember daddy when you were thrown out. That’s what it’s all about. If you ask me.

Yeah, that’s a good at least a good or at the time I’m sure it was.

But it’s funny it’s a good funny story it’s her mother.

You know I do believe that everybody has a desire to make their holiday more simple. Everybody has expenses extra expenses a full schedule. They’re busy busy busy to do list obligations.

And I think that everyone can walk away after listening to this show and at least gain an idea of how they’ll make their holiday more simple. And that’s why I was very excited to do it. I want to eliminate the dread and the guilt of that story that I just told you. Yeah, I want to get rid of some of that stress.

Well, I think when I was even looking for some great resources and stuff for this show I came across just a just that you know you can get these ideas and it’s going to take a lot of effort to simplify your holiday. That is for sure. But you need to remember that you might not be completely successful that first year it’s going to take baby steps. Yeah, it’s going to take time. You know don’t expect a miracle that first holiday season because that could even be more frustrating. Two little steps. One at a time feel some success and then the next year maybe adopt another tradition that you do right.

It’s easy with your small family to make those changes over time. But think about the bigger families. If someone personally makes a decision to simplify things eliminate things that they don’t like that they sort of have to get everyone else on board too. Yeah and I know that’s difficult for people. It is so that all the more reason it’s going to take more time you can it might take you five years to get there to get other people on board with you.

Well, you need to ask you know your relatives for that respect you know look this is what I want to get back to or this is what I want to do and this is why you know let’s do maximum gifts for the adults.

At three dollars or a white elephant gift exchange or something and make it fun and it’s you know a lot of times you can find a gift for three dollars and under still these days that you know you see something and it makes a chuckle and thinks about that person. That’s like the best gift. You know that’s much better than you know buying you know a friend an iPod or something because they want one. That’s what I do with my friends that go back to those memories.

Just remember that gift is much more memorable and meaningful than just a star.

And I know even with my friends now we don’t necessarily even exchange gifts. Now I have one friend she gets my family a zoo membership every year for Christmas and it’s like the most appreciated gift because it lasts the entire year. And we’re so close to the zoo. It’s a great place to go. And I love that I don’t necessarily reciprocate to her because you know monetarily it’s not something that we can do right now. And you know if I see something and it makes me think that looks like Meg I’ll get it. But generally, you know it’s not I don’t feel that obligation so I’m glad that I have good friends like that that I can just honestly you know not get them something send them a card or.

And that’s that’s a good point that leads me to. Can you accept a gift from someone and not feel like you have to run upstairs and pull something out of the candle and say oh I have that white elephant can you do that.

Can you not give back. I have a hard time with that.

I think a lot of people do and I think and I hope it doesn’t sound selfish but I think that I can now that it would be silly and meaningful for me to just run out and get them something because they gave me something. And you know if they are my good friend they know that now somebody you know an acquaintance of mine gives me something you know whatever it is I accept it gracefully and graciously and I you know I really appreciate it.

And I even sent a thank you note after it’s very awkward and uncomfortable but I people have given us gifts and you just have to say thank you. Thank you. And thanks for having me. And how on the topic of gifts how do you feel about when you see something that reminds you of Meghan you pick it up. Are you doing that close to Christmas? Are you keeping that in mind all year round and you buy to pick up unique gifts and meaningful gifts as you find them and put them in your closet for Christmas? No.

If I see it and it makes me think of them when I give it a gift.

Yeah yeah I know it doesn’t matter if it’s October or February I’m opposite.

I have a Rubbermaid container in my closet. Yes, actually I guess that doesn’t surprise me because you’re so much more organized but I’m just not.

It’s hard to buy things for people who have everything or for the men in the family struggle with.

So I do keep a Rubbermaid container of gifts but I want to make clear that they’re not gifts for oh shoot she bought me something and I need to go grab something on her. I have finally gotten to the point where I can be accepting and gracious. And thank you for a gift and I don’t feel that I have to add them on next year to the list. I can accept that gift. I really appreciate it. But these gifts are. I feel that it makes my holiday rent a little bit more smooth. If I already have a few gifts on hand Mushir on the topic of gifts we received an e-mail from Robin.

Let’s hear what she has to say about how she saves money over the holidays.

Hello Robin. Hi. Hi Rob.

This is Jan. Thanks for sending in an idea and agreeing to be on our show. You’re welcome.

Tell us what you have. Well, one of the ways that save money over Christmas is my husband and I always make plans. You know all the Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving.

Oh yes, it is. That’s called Black Friday. Yes, it is. Major major sale. Robyn why is it called Black Friday.

Oh, I don’t know.

I’ve never heard of that before. U10 I have. I have heard that yeah I think because it’s just such a hectic day that it is.

You know we live about an hour from any of the major cities so we have to get up early to get there to stay in the line in the store.

Oh my. Is it worth it? Yes, it is. And it’s a lot of fun. It’s exciting knowing that you are making great deals and it’s exciting being a part of all of it because so many people are out there. Trying to get these awesome deals.

Boy, I think if you go in like with a great attitude you know the crowds and stuff just don’t seem to bother you it’s part of the holiday atmosphere right.

You know I have never experienced three people I know I’ve heard of horror stories that people have been trained on and on other cars than we’ve always had a positive experience.

Well good. Do you get the bulk of your shopping done on that day or do you still find that you have to go back out and pick up a few more items?

I say probably get the boat with my children now with other people. I am still going out and filling in the gap.

Yeah well, that sounds like a fun tradition that you have with your husband.

With me now. Did you have another idea? To share the other way that I save money for the holidays that I always end of the bargain shoppers always. Stock up on the Christmas wrap the gift cards all that cool stuff at the end of the season when it goes on clearance to start wrapping all those have everything.

So you probably get most of those items for 50 percent off or more and you sort of stock up.

It’s nice to be able to just run down to the basement or the attic and have it all ready.

Oh well, that’s great. That sounds like a time saver and a money saver.

And give me lack because I forget what I’ve got here before you have a Christmas before Christmas.

Robin thanks again for talking with us. We sure appreciate all your ideas. Well, we hope you continue to visit our website and contribute more ideas. We love it. Thank you so much. Thanks, Robin.

Really what we need to hear from our listeners are lots of ideas for some great homemade gifts and things that they do and some traditions that our listeners do so we hope that some of you will log on to our forum and send us some of those. Don’t forget when you send us a suggestion or give us some input you do get automatically registered to win the iPod Shuffle. Right. Which right especially around Christmas time right. How would you look?

And you know I have been looking at that iPod Shuffle and I guess I didn’t really realize how tiny that is really small is one point six two inches long and it weighs a half now. Yes. We can’t win it though. No no. Don’t want to see how can we hold it can we hold it before we give it. Well, the picture on our Web site. It’s on someone’s little Jean jacket pocket.

I mean how tiny is that good things come in small packages. That’s right. So now my husband says should

Should we talk continue talking about gifts?

I have some gift ideas as I’ve been doing research on simple holidays 1 0 1 0 1. I came across it over and over the gifts of time and that to me is so meaningful. Do you know what I mean by gifts of time? No, I bet you do this you just don’t realize that it’s a gift of time. OK. But but you know giving someone a coupon for a homemade dinner. Yeah and a week where they just off they have a busy week like cooking giving someone a coupon for a night of babysitting. Actually, my husband has done that for me before.

Little coupons day pines for massages for me for Christmas. Yeah, the stack of coupons from a site that I could cash in any time you want. The only problem is is that now with our husbands it’s a different story. But if you give that to a friend or whatever you need to make sure that they cash it you know because sometimes I think people feel bad. You know like you know it’s a key pump but they feel bad asking my friend Lauralee gave me a coupon for babysitting one night. So Jeff and I could go out to dinner it’s just not something that we do you know. You know I’ve gotten you know had a babysitter so few times and Jasmine is almost 4 and she gave us and I haven’t redeemed it and I still have it. When did she give it to you? A long time ago. But we watch each other kids and stuff like that. So you made you feel like you’ve already redeemed it and probably have in a way. But Morley’s my best friend so I’m totally comfortable you know hey you know I would bring it up even now and then she’d be like oh I forgot I gave you that.

I don’t I don’t mean that anyone has an expiration date on that by the way.

Sometimes I think you know she’s my best friend so I’m very comfortable with that. But you know if you give somebody a coupon like that you know hey I’ll watch your kids or you know something like that. Make sure that they redeem it. Check in with them every once in a while and be like hey remember I gave you that for the holidays. It’s been a couple months. Why don’t you cash in? Right. I know my feelings would be hurt if they didn’t redeem it because it was a true gift. I want I wouldn’t be giving it to you if I did mean and want to provide this babysitting. I think it is a great gift. Well, but it doesn’t.

It’s helping someone out with the dinner or babysitting. But also you know making time for with Jasmine and Jade making chocolate chip cookies together and let the girls deliver them as a gift. Now you’re spending time together and then you’re making them as a gift or. I know that if I gave a coupon for a walk to look for Pine Pine cones or a trip to the ice cream store or a trip to the zoo now we’re probably going to go to the zoo anyway.

We’re probably going to go get ice. Why not give think about giving coupons and gifts of time to your own family members. You know I don’t know what would a teenager say. Big deal. You’re going to take me to the movies right. You know I I love that gift idea as well.

Yeah. And what’s funny is like you said you probably we would probably be going to the zoo next week anyways or whatever. But if you if he has that actual coupon and waits you know wake up one day you know you have to accept too that he might come in today and say I want to go to the zoo today here’s my coupon.

You know how you might need to put some limits on it or something. You know only on days that it’s not raining or has to be above 50 degrees or something like that but no no how neat for them to have control.

They can cash it down awesome but you can’t have ice cream because we haven’t eaten dinner yet.

My coupon says I have. And you know what on that day. It’s OK. He has ice cream. I have to say. But you could take him on a walk eight and likes to do his collections. You could do. You could find the pine cones and then you could make those pine cone fire starters that I’ve found.

Tell me about that. You have these fine because I have no clue. I am so doing this year.

My folks have a big tree that gives off tons of pine cones and I actually got this out of the book by Christine Klein the simpler family I use it all the time now because I’m loving the book. But it’s you melt paraffin wax on the stove in a double boiler and you can get that at any oh yes store. Yeah. And you add some cinnamon oil vanilla oil or any other kind of scent that you want to add and then you reduce the heat and then you take just like a cotton string and kind of stick it down into the pine cone down in there and have it stick out the center because that’s going to be the wick and then you dip it into the wax until it’s totally covered and then just cool it on wax paper and city you have these little paraffin wax covered pine cones that are for fire starters and they smell you know can you just thought I mean your fireplace so see and that you don’t need to be just any Koehne.

Probably not a green one you’d pick a dry brown one that’s on the ground.

That’s right. OK. You know OK I’m so good.

That sounds great.

You know my pipes and my friend said Yeah well and he could do their discovery of the pine cones and then dipping them. I mean why not. And then what a great homemade gift wrap it in some paper with or put them in. That’s good. With about raffia a ribbon or whatever little natural nature gift my folks have fired all the time so I kind of hope they’re not listening because now they know what they’re getting out of them as a whole family.

And you know what you could you could give that could be something they only get from your family year after year. You could start a little tradition of people might ask are you going to make me this little Python Firestarter. Nick this year. I know I’m so I think that it’s great. One of my favorite gifts is from our cousin Katie. And it truly is one of our favorites. She has started to make homemade soap. Oh yeah, homemade candles and she goes to a crafts supply store. Michael’s Hobby Lobby’s in our area and she said that it is sort of expensive getting your materials your supplies up front. But she waits until the stores have a 25 percent off steel sale and she stocks up on materials for candles and soap. She makes them every Christmas. And it is the gift that keeps giving all year. Because they last a long time. It is something only she does anything people are expecting it and look forward to it. So that’s one of my favorites. It’s not last stop.

No, she’s not the only one I believe we have Stephanie on the line. Hi Stephanie. Hi Vicky. Hi.

Thanks for talking with us today about the holidays.

Oh, no problem I love you so it’s my pleasure.

Well, tell us about your unique family tradition.

Ok. One unique thing that we do in our household here during the holiday season is that focusing on receiving gifts we like to put the emphasis on giving. And what we’ve done in the past is we’ve adopted a family through our church and went out as a family ESOPs for that family along with us children to allow them the opportunity to help to pick out the gifts and just to really drive home that we want to give especially during the holidays as normally a time when a lot of people who are less fortunate don’t really have things. And if we have it then I would like it to be like to give that we push that same thing with our children.

That’s amazing how many children do you have.

I have. I have two stepchildren. One niece who is like my own and two biological children. But we were a pretty big family.

Well, that’s a great tradition Stephanie. Thank you for sharing now with us. You are quite welcome. And you had said something in your e-mail to us about nursing homes.

Yeah, I wasn’t one of the things that we’ve done is we’ve gone to the nursing home unit and sometimes people will go through our ministry through our church and or you can actually go on your own if you like and that’s that. Is there a family therapy unit is there a person that’s in need and they’ll let you know. Also, there is a senior building not far from. And we’ve gone to the building and done that as well. In addition to that we’ve also gone to the local school and with the principal and they’ve given us information about children or families who may be in need. So there are so many opportunities to really give and receive them right.

The gift of time is a beautiful thing. Those are ideas. Thank you so much. Thanks for sharing Stephanie. You are quite welcome. Hey, keep listening to our show. All right are you there. Thank you, ladies.