Treasury of Celebrations:
Index for this Section
- Beyond Disney, Toward Shalom with Books (Carolyn Hardin Engelhardt)
- Books for Teenagers and Adults (The Alternate Celebrations Catalogue, 3rd Ed.)
- Children's Books are Butterflies... (Wendy Ward)
- Different Approaches to Gift-giving (The Alternate Celebrations Catalogue )
- Gift Ideas (The Alternate Celebrations Catalogue )
- Gift Wrapping Ideas (The Alternate Celebrations Catalogue )
- Gift-planning (To Celebrate: Reshaping Holidays & Rites of Passage )
- Give a Tree! (The Alternate Celebrations Catalogue )
- Holiday Gifts from the Kitchen (The Alternate Celebrations Catalogue )
- Ideas from the Kids (The Alternate Celebrations Catalogue )
- Make Your Own Greeting Cards (The Alternate Celebrations Catalogue)
- Making Gifts (The Alternate Celebrations Catalogue )
- More Gift Ideas (The Alternate Celebrations Catalogue )
- Plants: a Gift of Life (Wendy Ward)
- Some of the Best Christmas Gifts (Alternate Celebrations Catalogue )
- Woods Treasures (Mary Norman DeLaughter )
From Alternatives' Treasury of Celebrations, published by Northstone Books. The entire 288 page book is available for $12.
Items from the books "Treasury of Celebrations" and "To Celebrate: Reshaping Holidays and Rites of Passage" are Free Resources on our Website. These are text files. If you want the graphics and formatting, get the whole book.
You're welcome to download and copy this information -- but not sell it -- as long as you include on each copy: "©Creative Commons. Used by permission. For more ideas to simplify your life, visit SimpleLivingWorks.org"
To Celebrate: Reshaping Holidays & Rites of Passage
Somewhat ahead of time, review the family's (or individual's) expectations for the season or day. If this is not the time for a radical breaking away from gift-giving, try for spending limitations. By planning early, there is the chance to give more careful thought to each gift decision.
Considering one person at a time and giving careful thought to personal interest is not only good practice in caring, but also in deciding what's really appropriate for each individual. It can also prevent the exasperated store-to-store trek, hoping for an inspiration which usually ends up with something impulsive instead of something important.
It's better to think about gifts away from stores, away from catalogues. Think about the person! Only after contemplating the type of gift to be given should one selectively shop for that gift.
As for giving to a cause instead of to a person, this must be done with the person in mind. A young person who has always received something tangible may not be ready for a shift to money given for social purposes. But relatives with well-stocked homes and larders are often quite pleased not to receive some peculiar item they didn't want anyway. It all depends on the person. The purpose is giving that makes sense to the recipient as well as to the giver.
Another part of the gift-planning is to determine what help children need, encouraging them toward the meaningful rather than the wasteful gift. Give guidance on gift-giving to children who don't have money. All (adults and children) have skills and talents which might create handmade gifts. Most people place special value on those things in which someone has invested time and care, be they pictures, poems, homemade chore coupons, or clever, hand-crafted projects. It is well to ask, "Will the person for whom I'm making this want a homemade gift?" Some people don't find any meaning in them, and that must be considered. Or, if the homemade projects will make one so tired and tied down as to become unhappy, then they shouldn't be attempted. Most of us can't knit three sweaters in the last weeks before Christmas, or sew or carpenter or anything else, if there is time pressure. Planning for the recipient as well as you, the giver, is the key to success.
The Alternate Celebrations Catalogue
About 25 years ago, we decided to stop exchanging gifts in our family and to instead use the money we would have spent to help at some point in the world. In the early years, we used to sit around the table after our dinner on Thanksgiving Day and discuss how we would use our Christmas fund, to which everyone (even the little ones) contributed. In recent years, the family has scattered and the collection of the fund is by mail, solicited by letter. There are 28 in our family group now. Participation is voluntary, and we think it is wise to continue it.
- Carolyn Miller, Columbus, Ohio
One of the finest Christmas presents you could give your city is to set up an alternative fund like the one in Richmond, Virginia. A small group meets regularly to pool their surplus income resulting from simple living practices. Periodically, the money is sent to local, national, and international projects which have been carefully checked out. For a whole city, the fund works something like a mutual stock fund in reverse. The portfolio of projects are researched for maximum benefit from contributions and low overhead. As money is deposited to the fund, gifts are made to different groups based on urgency and long-range goals.
- Al Watts, Richmond, Virginia
Give a gift of transportation to help friends carry things and go places with less dependence on the smogmobile:
- shopping carts
- bus tokens
- bike repair books
- baby carriers
- bike touring club membership
- bike baskets
- cloth or net shopping bags.
- Ecology Center, Berkeley, California
Last Christmas, our family and some others (who normally spend a small fortune on gifts for one another) decided to put an end to the absurdity of it all. We weren't able to end it altogether, but we did manage to divert $300 to life-supporting celebrations of our own. Four adult couples participated. We met to decide where the money normally spent on gifts would go. In this case, three different areas were touched: the fund for the family whose police-officer father was shot, money to help a boy we knew who was in prison, and money to help someone who was very ill.
Also last Christmas, we got together and gave a party for all of our children. The party was devised around the plan to have the children wrap their own toys to give to other children. We read to them from the Bible about what Jesus said about love and giving, and we saw some beautiful responses on their faces. The children had brought a tremendous number of gifts that they wanted to give away: toys, books, clothing. When all the things were wrapped, we took the children and the gifts to the home of a fatherless family with 16 children. Our children understood that they were not taking these gifts to show that they were good boys and girls, but rather because Christ could show love through them. They were humble; I don't think that they will ever forget the experience.
- Paula Sevier, Birmingham, Alabama
What is meaningful is what should be done. The trimmings should take priority over the elegant, the expensive, the extensive. The question to ask is, "What look do we want?" Ask kids how they feel, and proceed from there, sometimes negotiating over a change or over how to put up the decorations.
Certainly, decorating is an area for cautious spending. Not all families like the arts/crafts homemade masterpieces, but neither is it necessary to spend $10 or $25 more on classy gadgets that catch attention in the store and embarrass the budget later, especially since their use is so limited.
If decorating is a problem, the deciding should be done in consultation with one's own values and tastes. What looks good at the neighbor's, in the store, or in a magazine, may be worth adapting; and then again, it may be a mistake.
For those in doubt, try the pleasant simplicity of decorating with greens. They can adorn shelves, tables, mantels, be tied with thread or wire into swags, or put in vases. Highlights can be a red bow, a shiny ornament, candles (reasonably distant from flammables), fruits, nuts. It's possible to create a very desirable holiday effect and spend next to nothing.
- J. Loerke, Eagle, Wisconsin
Make ornaments for yourself or to give to others. Surely everyone can find scraps of colorful material around their house. Cut two pieces the same (in any number of interesting designs: stars, circles, diamond-shaped), turn inside-out, and stuff with cotton from aspirin bottles, etc. You'll find that they will have interesting family associations as the years go on. [You may like to add some embroidery or painting, too.]
- J. Loerke, Eagle, Wisconsin
It is clear that holiday cards can be a burden or a pleasure. There is no need to belabor the point that if December is the only communication of the entire year, it may be a very important point of contact - or it may be a meaningless formality, better retired. You may wish to:
- skip a few years and then review your list;
- send cards only to those to whom a letter is also sent;
- send cards Valentine's Day or Thanksgiving, rather than in December;
- make your own cards so they, in themselves, are personalized gifts;
- if you're in the habit of purchasing expensive cards, perhaps make a small donation to a hunger or peace organization instead;
- don't send cards to people you see often; greet them personally;
- invite your children to make your family cards for you;
- if you do purchase cards, purchase from organizations that support life, for example, UNICEF, World Wildlife Fund, AIDS Network, and L'Arche.
Their bright blooms and fresh foliage cheer us; we breathe the oxygen they produce. Unlike antique vases or elephant-foot umbrella stands, plants require care and nurturing: they need us as we need them.
Gift plants may be purchased commercially or grown on your window sill. If you go the route of a neighborhood greenery, the following guidelines are useful in selecting a plant and avoiding catastrophe.
Compatibility with its prospective home and family
All plants have basic requirements, especially of light and water. If you're uncertain of its final location, a plant that tolerates low light is a better choice than one needing full sun that it may not get. Exotic or unusual plants often demand special care. Keep the "prima donnas" of the plant world as gifts for experienced indoor gardeners.
Try to include authoritative information on the plant and its needs. If you need help, do a little library research on maintenance, problems, propagation, and pests.
If a plant's recipient has children or pets with a penchant for nibbling, avoid dieffenbachias, English ivy, Jerusalem cherry, poinsettia, and oleander. These plants are poisonous. Ingesting some or all parts of them produces unpleasant to fatal results. (In place of the traditional poinsettia as a holiday plant, try Christmas cactus or Christmas kalanchoe - both have striking blooms.)
Many children as well as adults appreciate plants as gifts. You may also consider edible plants, such as a pot of parsley.
Potted plants, bulbs, a small avocado or orange seedling you grew yourself, or cuttings from a plant that has been in your family for years or from a special friend far away can add an ounce of extra love to your living gift.
General state of health
Healthy plants are happy-looking plants; they may not have cold wet noses but they do have perky foliage with a good luster. A few bruises and abrasions are natural, but be wary of unnaturally pale foliage or yellowing/browning leaves.
Inspect plants carefully for bugs. Aphids come in a variety of colors and are often found on new growth; scale appears as shell-like growths on stems and branches. Both of these insects leave a sticky residue which denotes their presence. White flies cluster on the undersides of leaves; mealybugs resemble tufts of white cotton. Red spider mites are almost invisible but leave a white dustlike substance (discarded shell casings) along veins on the undersides of leaves.
These practices should be routine when selecting plants. They are practical, yet they also remind us that plants are not merely "decorative objects" but living entities with wants and needs.
The following list is divided into those plants which must have at least a half day of direct sun to survive or look their best (full sun); those plants which will be perfectly happy on less than half a day of direct sun (partial sun/bright light); and those which do nicely in dark corners (shade). Some plants will actually burn if given too much or any direct sun. Plants that are exceptionally difficult to grow are marked (d), those which are exceptionally easy are marked (e).
(four hours or more direct sun; south window)
(e) jade and other succulents
(e) wax begonia
(e) areca palm
(e) wandering jew (Zebrina pendula)
(consistent filtered sun; north window)
(e) grape ivy
(e) maranta - "Prayer plant "
(e) nephthytis - "arrowhead plant"
(e) Dracaena marginata - "dragon tree"
(e) creeping fig
(d) ferns - "boston fern" and its varieties, or "table" or "pteris" ferns
(d) maidenhair fern (Adiantum)
(interior of a room)
(e) Sansevieria - "snake plant"
(e) devil's ivy - "pothos"
(e) parlor palm
(e) Chinese evergreen
(e) aspidistra - "cast iron plant"
(up to four hours direct sun or consistent indirect sun; east or west windows)
(e) iresine - "bloodleaf"
(e) Dracaena sanderiana
(e) spider plant
(e) asparagus sprengeri - "asparagus fern"
(e) asparagus plumosus
(e) Swedish ivy
(e) gynura - "purple passion" or "royal velvet"
(e) ivy (Hedera helix)
(e) Norfolk Island pine
(e) rubber tree (Ficus elastica decora)
Grow your gifts this year - it's an inexpensive way of sharing the joy and excitement of your own plants. Cuttings from some of the most colorful house plants root well in water. These include tradescantia, gynura, iresine, coleus, and wax begonia. Such green standbys as philodendron, creeping fig, Swedish ivy, and nephthytis are also easy to root.
Start your gift plants in the spring and summer. Plants have cycles, and one which roots easily in water in June may rot in December. If some cuttings don't root after several attempts, you may not be using the proper propagating method.
Cuttings rooted in water or propagating medium (peat moss, perlite, vermiculite, or sand) should be several inches in length. Cut them just below a leaf or stem node, with a few bottom leaves or stems stripped off so one or two nodes are submerged. Cuttings should be kept out of strong sunlight while rooting.
Sand is best for rooting cactus or succulents. Leaf or stem cuttings from these plants should be left exposed to air for several days before going into the sand.
Newly propagated plants need a substantial root system on them before being potted in soil. Avoid over-potting. Pots should be just large enough to contain the roots plus a bit of room for growth.
Oranges and grapefruits are a gold mine of potential present plants. Soak the seeds for several days, then plant a half-inch (two centimetres) down in rich sandy soil. Plant a quantity of seeds, as not all of them will make it. Keep young citrus in good sunlight and well-watered, since any wilt is likely to be permanent.
Seeds and pits from dinner table fruits and vegetables are another fun way of growing your gifts. Guacamole fanatics could easily present everyone they know with an aspiring avocado tree. Even an occasional salad will provide a pit for planting, or check local health food restaurants for discarded pits.
Grow an avocado
- Remove skin and insert toothpicks around the pit's midriff so that it will balance on top of a glass or jar of water.
- Keep the base half of the pit submerged in water. (The base is the end with the dimple in it.)
- After the stalk has emerged and grown several inches, pot the pit in a 6- to 8- inch (15- to 20- centimetre) diameter pot, leaving the top third or half of the pit above soil. Several pits potted together will produce a forest effect.
- When the shoot is about six inches high, prune it back to two or three inches (six to eight centimetres). Traumatic as it may be for you, pruning forces the avocado to branch.
More gift ideas
- packages of seed (such as radish or carrot) with peat pots and soil
- packages of midget vegetable seeds, a bucket or box to plant them in, and a book about growing midget vegetables
- herb seeds or plants and plant books or cookbooks available on herbs and cooking with herbs
- a homemade "gardener's diary" with pictures cut from seed catalogs to match the seeds given, leaving space for growers to keep tabs on their indoor gardening efforts
- narcissus, hyacinth, or crocus bulbs for forcing, with a bowl, and pebbles
- current seed catalogue and gift certificate or a homemade gift certificate for a trip/purchase at the recipient's favorite plant store or greenhouse
- a mister made by cleaning a spray bottle with baking soda and decorating it
- a plant owner's "tool kit" made by decorating a coffee can and filling it with a sharp paring knife, small scissors, small soft paintbrush, magnifying glass, and a supply of organic fertilizer
- an offer to repot or plant-sitting services
- magazine subscriptions to gardening and horticultural magazines
- clear glass jars, brandy glasses, abandoned aquariums, or fish bowls for terrariums
- bowls for forcing bulbs or a single cup for one bulb
- plastic coffee can lids - good for under clay saucers to protect furniture tops from moisture
- jar and can lids for saucers
- plastic and styrofoam meat trays for saucers
- coffee can or milk cartons as containers for potting soil
- large milk jugs - especially plastic ones - make good watering cans
- styrofoam cups for rooting cuttings
The Alternate Celebrations Catalogue
A real "gift of life" for many celebrations is a tree planted in someone's name. Think of this alternative for births, birthdays, and adoptions when a tree would grow as a child grows - reaffirming the vital balance between nature and humankind. At Easter, a new tree is a lasting form of new life. Trees can also be planted as a meaningful memorial to a deceased friend or relative.
There are many groups throughout the country which have tree-planting programs of all sorts, either locally or internationally. Contact the Sierra Club, The Heschel Memorial Forest Fund, the Jewish National Fund of Canada, Scoutrees Canada, or similar organizations.
Alternatively, you may wish to save a tree in the rain forest, in the boreal forest, or in an old forest such as Carmanah, British Columbia, by making a donation to a group dedicated to saving them.
The Alternate Celebrations Catalogue
How many of the gifts you've given or received are still used, or even remembered, with pleasure? My own list would include several store-bought items: one of those popular and durable enameled cast-iron skillets, a favorite dress, the complete works of Robert Frost, a fascinating recording of frog calls with a written description of the habitat and habits of each frog. But the majority of those I've enjoyed most are handmade: a large conch shell filled with pansies, a baby doll fashioned from a turkey wishbone and bits of fabric, three handcarved wooden birds balanced delicately in a mobile, a candle made by my five-year-old niece, a jar of calamondin marmalade, a poem, a small bookshelf for my desk.
It's difficult to stop naming them once I start and, thankfully, impossible to stop the warm feelings for those with whom the gift is associated. There is something about a handmade gift that has been designed and created with care, something that strums on the heartstrings long after the gift is given, and both giver and receiver hear it echoing within them.
Many of you may have discovered the joy of making gifts - the act of creation itself, with its satisfactions of self-expression and achievement, and the thrill of seeing someone else's reaction to your work. If you haven't, gather up your excuses and throw them out the window, try making something, and see what happens. You do have the time. Your first effort may not be "nice enough," but chances are it won't matter. Often, it really is the thought that counts. And you can learn how to create something beautiful or useful, just as others throughout the world are doing.
In recent years interest in making various gifts has mushroomed. For various reasons - seeking to regain a measure of control in their lives by reducing their dependence on machines and advanced technology or, ironically, to fill the leisure time these made possible; evading the "buy now" pressures of mass advertisers, creating islands of identity in a sea of anonymity - people have flocked to enroll in arts and crafts courses and to read books and articles on gift-making.
Whatever you want to make, you probably can find a resource through your libraries or community education centers which will help you begin.
A word of caution as you journey through the world of gift-making. Commercialism has crept in before you and is waiting to con you, so beware. Those clever kits you buy at craft shops or through magazine ads are generally more expensive, and probably no more helpful, than the kit or completed item you make from scratch. The crafts course at the local arts center may be more expensive and no more useful than a series of gift-making sessions you and your friends plan, with the help of a few books and articles or a knowledgeable neighbor. And you don't have to buy a book unless you discover it's one you want to use often - libraries, after all, are organized on the principle of sharing resources.
Here are some principles of gift-making that seem essential if you're serious about conserving resources and creating a world where peace and justice prevail:
1. Use your imagination and make something from "nothing." In other words, share yourself. Write a poem or a song, give yourself as servant or playmate-for-a-day, weed the garden, clean the house, take your child for a nature walk, pick a single flower and take it as you go to share an hour with a shut-in or an elderly friend. To keep friends who are accustomed to receiving "things" from being disappointed, make a card or write a note or find some other way of communicating why you chose to give yourself, why you feel that you and your time are more valuable gifts than money or things. You may help liberate them from the trap of materialism. Even if you don't, the way in which you joyfully give yourself to them will create an atmosphere for better understanding between you.
2. Use materials from nature, but gather them thoughtfully. It is one thing to pick up a piece of driftwood or a beautiful stone and quite another to gather all the sea grasses in sight. Don't be greedy. If you know a resource is rare, or if it appears to be, leave it to replenish itself or to be enjoyed by others who see it in its natural habitat.
Don't buy natural materials. It encourages the rape of the land and the sea. Someone innocently sees a chance to make a little extra income and starts selling shells or raffia, and suddenly, commercial harvesters have almost depleted a resource. That's the sort of unthinking behavior that has made sea oats a rare plant, done irreparable damage to the coral and tropical fish populations of the world, and nearly killed off certain species of birds whose plumes were once widely sought for pens and hats. In buying natural materials, we may unwittingly create more demand for them than can be satisfied.
3. Recycle materials you've already had to buy. Make new garments from old. Use newspapers for papier mâché crafts; metal, or plastic containers for jewelry, fake flowers, or objets d'art; ice cream sticks and burnt matches for clever trivets and decorative boxes. Art teachers and early childhood educators are excellent sources for attractive ways to recycle materials, and some magazines run monthly columns of prizewinning new-from-old creations from their readers.
4. Don't buy raw materials unless you have to, and when you do, take the time to find the best bargain possible. Share a portion of the money you save with peace and justice organizations. Take another portion and use it, along with your gift of time, to adopt a family or community organization. Do it with the same attitude that goes into gift making for your relatives and friends - that you will benefit from it as much as the receiver - and see what happens.
5. Search yard sales and flea markets for used items that can be recycled as is, or turned into a new creation. Even water color paints, yarn and fabric scraps can be purchased in yard sales.
6. Share your philosophy of gift making and giving with your family, friends, and acquaintances.
Mary Norman DeLaughter
My favorite things to use for making gifts at home are little treasures that you can find in the woods, on the desert, in a field, or in your own backyard. There are so many things worth gathering, just waiting to be put together to brighten up a spot in someone's home. I start by gathering bits of bark, flowers, mushrooms, moss, leaves, and rocks. Then I dry them. My process is simple; I just gather them and let them sit. Some treasures may not make it, but most do.
To dry flowers, I put them between the pages of a book.
Woods treasures baskets are small baskets, one or one-and-a-half inches (three to five centimetres) in diameter, filled with a bouquet of small seeds, dried leaves, twigs, berries, vines, and flowers. For a basket I use the cap from a large acorn, or any other small cap. If I use an acorn cap, I sometimes use a finish on it for a slightly glossy effect. I fill the bottom of the basket with something like floral clay or styrofoam to hold the arrangement. After I've arranged and glued all the tiny pieces to suit me, I glue the basket on a small piece of bark (pieces of bark with bits of moss attached look great).
A similar bouquet in a small vase is a little variation to this. I use any bottle that's handy; food coloring bottles work well. Or, lacking the right size bottle, I just wad papier mache into a vase shape and make a hole in the top for an opening to hold the arrangement. I cover the bottle with paint, and finish. Here again I use a small piece of bark for a base.
Many times when I find a really great-looking piece of wood, bark, or gnarled root, I'll work with that to make a miniature forest floor. For this I might use lichens or small mushrooms (which will dry by themselves in a matter of days).
Dried flower plaques are a little more time-consuming, but tremendously satisfying. I buy unfinished wood plaques, stain the outer rim with a wood finish, and paint the middle flat surface with a few coats of black paint. I use dried flowers, stems, grasses, ferns, and leaves. I set and reset them, until I find the arrangement that I like. Then, using a small artist's brush or a toothpick to dab the glue, and tweezers to hold the small things in place, I glue them to the plaque. Then I gently press them down to the plaque with my finger and wipe away the excess glue.
I like using woods treasures to make miniature wreaths out of small acorns, berries, seeds, etc. These tiny versions are great, inexpensive, and easy to do. I cut out a three-inch (seven centimeter) circle of cardboard for a base, and glue an ornament hanger or a paper clip at the top for a hanger. Then I just start gluing on whatever dried things that I have around. On some, I use just acorns; on others, a combination of things. Then I coat it with any varnish and add a tiny red bow at the top. I have done a few wreaths with shells; while they're not as traditional looking, they are rather nice. I've also tried tree-shaped and ball-shaped arrangements.
I've always liked stained glass, but the real way of making it seems expensive and complicated. So I tried something different. From a glass company, I get a number of large, broken pieces of cathedral glass in many colors, for free. And I buy, for very little cost, some sheets of plain glass cut into circles and rectangles. Then I crack the large pieces of colored glass into smaller fragments by putting them into a heavy sack and tapping it with a hammer. I pick out pieces in the right shapes to put together in a flower shape. After the flower is shaped (jigsaw puzzle fashion), I fill in the rest of the plain glass in the same fashion using only one color of glass and glue all the pieces to the plain glass, making sure to press out the air between them (otherwise the glue might not be transparent when it dries). A small wire loop should be glued between the cracks at the top as a hanger.
Then I mix the grout and rub it into all the cracks. (You usually mix grout with a little water; I mix mine with black poster paint or acrylic. This makes the grout black and eliminates having to paint the areas of gray when it's dry.) Using my fingers to fill in the cracks works best. After filling in all the cracks on the surface, I smooth a border of grout around the edge to give it a finished look. Then I put a coat of finish over the whole thing.
I've made small papier mâché Easter eggs for several years now. I simply ball up some used foil to mold the egg shape, and cover it with papier mâché. After it dries (in a low oven) I paint it a solid color, then decorate it with tiny flowers or other design, using a fine brush. Then I put on a coat of finish. These are especially pretty nestled in a bed of moss or leaves, rather than dime-store "grass."
The Alternate Celebrations Catalogue
Egg trees delight everyone as a symbol of new life that comes with the spring. (You may wish to use papier mâché eggs instead.)
You will need:
- A branch of a tree that has fallen in the woods. Stand it up with soil or small rocks in a decorated coffee can.
- Collected egg shells, blown out by poking holes in either end.
What you do:
- Dye the egg shells by soaking onion skins (all colors) and then dipping eggs in until desired color appears.
- Paint the egg shells with whatever decoration you wish (enamel or poster paint work well).
- Hang the eggs with wire or string with a button at the bottom to hold string.
- Top each egg with a bow of satin ribbon or colored string.
Stuffed animals or dolls
There are many patterns available for stuffed animals, dolls and pillow toys. These toys can be stuffed with washable, non-allergenic stuffing, which can be found in local stores. (You could also use dryer lint.) Simple embroidery can be used for the face (or fabric paint) to eliminate the danger of a small child detaching the button eyes.
These animals have much more personality than the manufactured toys; they are softer, and show more of a personal effort on the part of the giver.
Cloth picture book
1. Find some sturdy white cotton material, such as duck, denim, or "Indianhead."
2. With pinking shears, cut ten or twelve "pages" a suitable small size, such as seven by seven inches (18 x 18 centimeters).
3. Using bright permanent markers, make simple line drawings of familiar objects, such as ball, boat, house, cup, doll. (Fabric paint, embroidery, or appliqué can also be incorporated.)
4. Print the word beneath the drawing.
5. Print a title, such as "Andrew's Book" on the first page.
6. Assemble pages and machine-sew together down the middle with heavy thread many times.
- Carolyn and Mary Kate Willet, Larchmont, New York
1. Machine -stitch bright squares and rectangles together until you have a patched piece big enough to cover a brick-size foam block.
2. Sew the letters of the baby's name at random in the squares using tape, braid, or a zig-zag stitch.
3. Cover the foam block with the patched piece. Stitch securely.
Block is machine washable.
Cork gingerbread people
Making cork gingerbread people for Christmas ornaments is another project for the whole family. The gingerbread people can be made with a lot of variation, perhaps dressed in clothes made from scraps of material. You could have one gingerbread person to represent each family member.
You will need:
- gingerbread cookie cutter to use as a pattern;
- sheet cork (1/8 inch or .25 centimeters thick) available at art supply stores;
- rickrack, or whatever trim you wish;
- felt pieces for the eyes, nose, and mouth;
- ribbon for loop hanger.
A neat way to make sure that no one is left out in the planning work for
your next celebration is to form a committee to make potato stamps. All you
need is a few potatoes cut in half, butter knives, poster paints, and paper
towels. Just carve out letters, words, designs, etc., in bas-relief (what
you don't want goes, what you do want is left raised). Make several "stamp
pads" by covering folded paper towels (recycled) with bright poster paints.
Press the potato down on the pad and then onto the desired paper, card, or
whatever. Unless the letters and words have been carved backwards, there
will be a secret message that will have to be held up to the mirror to be
read. If your celebration is centered around a particular person, a special
presentation of the stamps (and perhaps one with the person's name on it)
would be in order. It's also a good way to teach young children about mirror
reflection and printing presses.
Set of glasses made from bottles
Inexpensive bottle cutters are not hard to find. Use the cutter to remove the tops of the bottles for the size of glass you want. We use nonreturnable root beer bottles with straight sides, but any shape will do. The sharp edges can be smoothed down with emery paper. We decorate our glasses by wrapping them with carved leather holders.
By putting the bottle top underneath the glass, and applying some silicon
glue, you've made a candle holder, wine glass, or planter.
Candle wedding gift
Use a wedding invitation to decorate a candle. Cut around the printed part of the invitation. You should be able to shape it into an oval. Glue the oval to a wide candle. With a match held near the edges of the invitation, let wax seal the edges. For an added touch, put the candle on a stand and surround it with flowers.
- Janet Herringskaw, Akron, Ohio
Railroad spike paperweight
Plan one of your next picnics to take place near an abandoned railroad station.
A walk around the station or a short hike along the tracks will soon reveal
a few discarded railroad spikes (usually pretty dirty and rusty). Scrub them
with steel wool pads or a steel wool brush. Soak them overnight in the strongest
(environmentally safe) cleaning solution that you have or that you can concoct
from available kitchen supplies. Repeat the process as needed. You'll end
up with a fine quality, rustic-looking paperweight. For those so inclined,
a library book or Boy Scout handbook will show you how you can electroplate
your steel expedition remembrance.
A baby gift
For a family with a new baby, how about making a special calendar with large spaces to record daily happenings or brief remarks.
- Carol A. Watson, Inglewood, California
Make the board out of leather glued with contact cement to a piece of plywood.
Mark and gouge out the squares, then stain them black or natural with a lacquer
finish over the top. The pieces are made by screwing various sizes of
square-headed wood bolts into blocks of wood. To further differentiate the
pieces, designs can be cut into the heads of the bolts with a hacksaw.
Reviving treasured drawings
For a gift for your parents (or from parents to their children), get a drawing that you did when you were young, one which is treasured by your parents (or done by your now-grown daughter or son). Use carbon to trace the drawing into linen and then embroider the drawing. They can be completed by using a chain stitch, or satin stitch in the colors that the child chose to use in the original drawing. They make nice pillows or can be framed as a picture. [A collection of them on squares can also be made into a wonderful quilt.]
- Carol C. Keane, Mililani Town, Hawaii
Have the children copy and illustrate their favorite child-tested recipes onto index cards. This makes a nice gift from one child who cooks to other child, or from a parent to a child who is learning to cook. Place the cards in a decorated, personalized box.
- Therese VanHouten, Washington, D.C.
The Alternate Celebrations Catalogue
Handmade gifts are always special, but there's something extraordinary about gifts made by children. They may not be as polished as the work of a more experienced hand, but the knowledge that a child spent long hours patiently sanding or painting something just for you adds a different kind of luster to the finished work. The child's sense of accomplishment when the gift is presented makes all the effort worthwhile.
This section on gift-making would not be complete without gifts made by children.
They are presented here in the words of the individuals.
Mrs. Tiggywinkle is a favorite creature of mine from the Beatrix Potter story.
You get a ball of clay and wedge it up so that there are no air bubbles in it, because if there are, it will explode. You wedge it by banging it on the table in few places. Then you pull little bits of clay out of the top of the ball for prickles. You can make indentations for eyes by pressing with your thumb and draw lines for eyelashes with a pencil or knitting needle. Then pull a nose. Draw a line or something for a mouth with any interesting thing you can find. Press your thumb in and down for "feet." Last of all you stick your thumb up the middle inside leaving at least 1/2 inch (one centimeter) of clay at the top. You can decorate it with anything ( paint, glaze), fire it or put it in the oven, depending on the type of clay you use.
- Libby Scribner, 13
This Christmas, when I was taking industrial arts at school, I decided to make my family a crêche. I used three sides of an old drawer for the base, then nailed two pieces of plywood for a slanted roof, found some bark and glued the bark to the roof. I cut a star out of Plexiglas to hang over the crêche.
You could make crêche figures to go with the crêche by making simple standing shapes out of clay. Paint faces and clothing on after the clay has baked.
- Anne Scribner, 14
I made an obstacle course for my brother's birthday party out in the backyard. I used logs, a sawhorse, trash can lids, anything I could find.
- David Scribner, 12
Gingerbread people are fun and easy to make. Make an ordinary gingerbread recipe and make it any shape, a man, a woman or anything else. You can use raisins, chocolate chips, or nuts for eyes, noses, buttons, etc. You can make confectioner's sugar frosting and decorate. Roll up a piece of paper from corner to corner so there is one small end. Put some of the frosting in the container and squeeze it so it comes out the small end. You can make lots of different designs with the frosting such as hair, lace, a mouth, and many other things. Add anything else you want and give as a birthday or Christmas present. Have fun!
- Allison Barlow, 12
Make a paper pattern for a rag doll. Pin it on cotton material and cut double. Turn both wrong sides out and sew all around the edges, leaving a hole for stuffing. Right-side it out and stuff with cotton or foam if you want to wash it. Sew up the hole, and sew on eyes, nose, mouth, hair. Make clothes out of scrap materials.
You can make nursery rhyme characters such as Little Miss Muffet or Humpty Dumpty into dolls.
- Collette Surla, 14
Make a personal T-shirt for a present. Draw on a white T-shirt with permanent felt markers. The design will not wash out.
- Lisa Hay, 12
The Alternate Celebrations Catalogue
Using our own experiences, our eyes, our hands, and our thoughts, we can wish joy, love, laughter, Godspeed, get-well, peace, with our own handmade greeting cards. We put technology aside for a minute and simply share a feeling. It's exposure of the best kind. Nature provides us with color, shape, rhythm, and line.
Our own backyard jungle might make a watercolor birthday card for a grandparent who lives far away; a leaf from a favorite tree could be used for a graduation card rubbing, the sun suggests a string relief for a birth announcement. Folk traditions provide us with a wealth of techniques such as Polish paper cutting, German Scherenschnitte, block-printing, stencil cutting. By searching out our family traditions, by listening to our children, we can also find what to make.
To avoid the last-minute rush to the card store, clear a space (possibly a kitchen shelf) for card-making materials. Store rubber cement, paper, scissors, magic markers, paints, a ruler, sponges, and cardboard there. Experiment with different ways of printing, papercutting, stenciling, painting, until you find a method that's fun for you. Here are some successful ways to make cards, invitations, and announcements.
Collage relief printing
- scrap wood
- any textured material
Methods: Choose different textures and shapes to make a design. Feathers make beautiful prints. Glue final design on a piece of wood. Roll a brayer in printing ink. Roll paint on design. Lay paper on design. Rub with the ball of a spoon. Remove print. Re-ink as often as needed.
- styrofoam meat trays
- water-based printers ink
- cookie tray
- colored paper cut into rectangles
- squares folded to make a card
- dull pencil or dried-up ball point pen
Method: Cut styrofoam (can be washed in the dishwasher) into desired shape. With dull pencil or dried ball point pen, draw design on styrofoam, pressing down hard enough to make a clearly indented line. Squeeze ink on cookie sheet. Roll out with brayer to even the ink on the brayer. Using the inked brayer, roll ink onto the styrofoam design. Press the inked design onto a piece of thin pastel construction paper. Lift up. You can glue this print onto a folded piece construction paper or you can print directly on the card.
Experiment with colors of paper and ink. Make as many prints as you like,
re-inking your design each time you print. This is a good method for making
bookmarks, notepaper, invitations, and prints to hang on the wall.
Materials: potato, craft knife, paper, sponge, poster paints.
Method: Slice potato in half. Carve a simple design - a holly leaf, a diamond, a circle, a pumpkin. Press potato shape onto sponge that's been soaked in paint (or if you can, dip into the paint in a pan). Print on paper. For greeting cards, you might use construction paper, note paper, rice paper, drawing paper. For wrapping paper decorated with the potato method, use brown paper, newspaper, or ask a printer for offcut scraps. After you've experimented with the potato in repeat patterns, try printing with half an onion, an apple, a carrot or any odd object - a jar lid, a child's block, a straw, a carved art gum eraser, a meat tenderizer or other roller, your thumb, hand, or foot.
Scherenschnitte: German paper cutting
- white paper
- black origami paper
- small, sharp embroidery scissors
Method: Measure white paper with ruler, cut and fold for card. Cut black paper a little smaller than the front of the card. Draw an appropriate design, for instance, a wreath, candles in a candle-holder, a pot of flowers, or a pumpkin, on the white side of the black paper. Carefully cut out design (this takes practice). When completely cut out, apply glue and center the design on the card and press down. This black and white silhouette makes a striking celebration card. Designs are usually more naturalistic than the Polish cuttings, but the technique could be adapted to a fanciful silhouette. Experiment.
- masking tape
- large pad of newsprint or bond
- black marking crayons or thick children's crayons in dark colors
Method: Make a small stone rubbing of an angel, bird, or other design for a Christmas card, or make a rubbing of the complete marble or granite carved stone as a gift or souvenir of a trip. Make sure the stone is clean. Tape paper to the top of the stone and make sure it is stretched taut, smoothing with your hands as you tape the sides and the bottom. Using the broad edge of the crayon, rub lightly from the center out. Stroke in the same direction. Your strokes should gain momentum and get darker until you are happy with the result. Try mounting smaller rubbings on colored paper.
Wycinanka Lukowa: Polish paper cutting
- gummed paper
- scratch paper
- small embroidery scissors
- mounting paper
Methods and history: For several hundred years, Polish peasants have made papercuts of birds, leaves, flowers, abstractions of swirls and angles and used them as decorations on their white-washed houses in the springtime, for greeting cards and notepaper, for decorating Easter egg pitchers. Roosters and other birds and trees are favorite designs.
Practice drawing simple outlines of a flower. Cut out a card from white drawing paper. Cut a piece of gummed paper and fold in half lengthwise with gummed side out. It should be nearly the same size as the card. With a pencil draw a flower on the folded paper.
Carefully cut it out and open gently. Center on card and glue it down. This is your basic design. Choose another color and repeat this procedure using the same design, but smaller than the first one. Paste the second layer over the first.
Each additional layer is another color. You can also add a wing to a bird, a leaf to a flower in another color. Try origami paper for its brilliance. The technique could be adapted to hearts for Valentine's Day, or pumpkins for Halloween.
- rice paper
Method: Put leaf under a piece of rice paper that is to be the front of the card. Rub the paper with crayon until the outline of the leaf is clearly visible.
The Alternate Celebrations Catalogue
Wrapping gifts is festive. It makes a gift a gift. Most of our traditional gift wrapping forms must be considered a frill and a waste in this age of approaching scarcity. How can we present our packages attractively without plundering the Earth's resources (and going broke doing it)? Here are some suggestions:
- last year's paper
- newspaper: colorful week-end comics, the sports page, the family living page (a collage of recipes, perhaps), a foreign language newspaper
- shiny illustrated magazines
- grocery bag - plain or decorated
- homemade wrappings (from grocery bags or butcher's paper) using block prints or finger paints; draw, color, magic marker, paint, marbleize, collage
- fabric - a yard of new denim which a teenager can use for a project, scraps of leftover fabric, old sheets, batiked or tie-dyed
- kitchen or bath towel to be useful for itself
- decorate a box with paint or crayons and paste wrapping paper right on box
- reuse decorative "shopping" bags year after year; make your own version of them
Bows and decorations
- last year's ribbons and bows
- cut strips of comic paper with pinking shears and roll them into "bows"
- leftover yarn
- pom-poms with scraps of yarn
- pinecones, acorns, milkweed pods, etc.
- fruit or nuts
- a small toy (truck, doll)
- a handmade tree ornament
- a handmade card
- a cookie, iced with the recipient's name
- a woven basket to be used for bread, plants, etc.
- a decorative and useful flower pot
- a decorative department store box
- fabric bags with drawstring closures
- a canister or cookie jar
Some gifts don't need wrapping
- Canned food with a bow around it is festive and beautiful enough.
- Dolls may greet children, unwrapped, under the tree with simple a note saying "Hello, Merry Christmas!"
The Alternate Celebrations Catalogue
More than a tea party
I decided to give a tea party for friends and at the same time do some education on hunger issues. Guests were invited to bring a mug to exchange with another guest and a contribution for Heifer Project International (an interfaith, nonprofit organization dedicated to alleviating hunger by helping low-income families around the world to produce food for themselves and for their communities). Homemade goodies were served to friends who dropped in throughout the afternoon. We enjoyed visiting with each other while learning about and giving to a project that provides breeding stock to low-income farmers around the world. By the end of the party more than $700 had been raised.
- Martha Brooks, Fort Worth, Texas
Cobbler aprons support refugees
Many Hmong people from Southeast Asia have settled in Boulder. One way they support their friends and relatives is by selling beautiful embroidered fabric made by their people still in refugee camps. I designed a cobbler's apron featuring a block of this beautiful fabric which I bought for $5. I made five aprons as gifts for my three daughters, my daughter-in-law, and a friend. I also helped an older friend make an apron for a friend of hers.
- Virginia McConnell, Boulder, Colorado
Jute angels: messengers of hope
Our church offered little jute angels from Bangladesh to give as gifts in appreciation for contributions made to the Lutheran World Hunger Appeal. Lutheran churches are using funds from the appeal to establish a cottage industry for women refugees in Bangladesh. Along with information about the project, we sent a card with the angel. It said:
I've enclosed an angel for you. Please use it as a "messenger of hope." Hang it in your kitchen, in a window, or on your Christmas tree. It can also be an Easter reminder of the angel's message,"He is risen." In addition, I've also made a contribution to the Lutheran World Hunger Appeal. Let this angel remind you of the hope we have in life. Tell other people its story.
Last Christmas I sent an angel to my aunt. As a result, for my birthday this year she sent a check in my name to the World Hunger Appeal. So this one little angel has been a gift that has kept on giving - to feed hungry people around the world.
- Eileen Ward, Mililani, Hawaii
Grandparents make talking books
My husband and I sent books to our four-year-old granddaughter along with tape recordings of each of us reading the books to her. On the recordings we rang a little bell each time she was to turn the page. We not only read the words, but talked about the pictures as we would have if she were on our laps. We thought of the idea because she had lived with us and we had grown very close, but then she had moved far away. Our daughter reported that our granddaughter finds the voices so real that she carries on conversations with her "Grannie and Granpap" in absentia.
- Joan Gauker, Norristown, Pennsylvania
Music for parents only
My husband and I are professional musicians. Our parents love it when we play and sing for them on our trips home, especially our original songs. Last Christmas we decided that the best gift we could give them was our music. We recorded a cassette tape full of songs for them. We put some original songs on the tape, and we also picked older songs that we knew they both loved. This year they have told us many times how much they continue to enjoy our gift, and that it was one of the best presents they have ever received. We got a great deal of joy out of giving it to them, and had a lot of fun sharing the recording together. The gift took a lot of time to make, but it was worth every minute.
- Judy Leonard, Conyers, Georgia
Daddy's calendar: A priceless gift of art
Our three children make their father a very special Christmas present each year. Each December, the children and I spend a day making a calendar. I fold large white drawing paper in half; on the top half the children draw pictures and I make the calendar on the lower half. Their father hangs it proudly in his office. The calendars are saved from year to year to show the change in the children's art work. It is a priceless gift which is cherished by their father.
- Deborah Heaton, Enid, Oklahoma
Alternative marketing: Nonprofit gifts that give twice
Every time a handmade jute plant hanger, soapstone jewelry box, velvet Christmas ornament or painted trivet is sold from the Self Help Crafts warehouse in Akron, Pennsylvania, a needy craftsperson in Bangladesh, India, Thailand, or El Salvador benefits. Through Self Help Crafts, North Americans are reaching out to brothers and sisters in developing nations who are victims of poverty, famine, unemployment, injustice, and/or displacement.
Self Help Crafts, a nonprofit program of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), creates jobs for skilled craftspeople in developing nations by marketing their crafts in North America. The program began humbly in 1946 when a Mennonite woman, Edna Ruth Byler, traveled to Puerto Rico to visit MCC volunteers and brought back needlework made by needy rural women to sell to her friends and neighbors in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Today, more than 3,000 items from 30 developing nations are sold throughout North America. Because almost everyone involved in the program is a volunteer, salaries are few and overhead expenses are low.
Self Help Crafts is one of a growing number of nonprofit Alternative Trading Organizations (ATOS) based throughout the world. Their merchandise works not for the bank accounts of rich multi-national corporations, but rather for peace, justice, and global understanding. People who choose to buy items for gift-giving, for their personal, or household use can be sure that a Self Help craft item gives twice: beauty and usefulness to the consumer; dignity, employment, and a fair income to the producer.
[The above description of the Mennonite Central Committee's effort to work
for peace and justice by providing a market for skilled craftspeople is different
only in history and detail from many other self-help organizations. The
philosophy of serving needy brothers and sisters throughout the world is
basic to all such groups.]
Self-imposed tax on celebrations: A Jewish response to hunger
The traditional Jewish response to blessing is to share it. It is this basic concept that triggered the beginning of Mazon, a Jewish response to world hunger. Many American Jews are voluntarily putting a surcharge of three percent on celebrations such as weddings, bar or bat mitzvahs, birthdays, and anniversaries, and giving the money to Mazon.
Leonard Fein, one of its founders and editor of Moment, a Jewish magazine, believes this idea struck a responsive chord among Jews who were looking for ways to share with others but needed a vehicle to do it.
Giving something back to the world in gratitude for blessings - an idea with roots in the Jewish tradition - is a concept that Mazon's founders hope will catch on so that activities around celebrating and feeding the world's hungry are no longer seen as opposing each other.
Mazon supporters also express the hope that churches and non-Jewish social
organizations will adopt their idea of celebrating with conscience.
A ministry with scraps
For 25 years, Wilma Watts Buchholtz made clothes for children she does not know. She created them out of remnants and scraps left from her regular sewing and from pieces others gave to her. She then shipped the clothes to missionary friends or gave them to church clothes closets for nearby migrant camps. With creativity and resourcefulness she could make 40 or more children's outfits with materials bought with one $20 bill. One year, in response to the needs of farm workers in her community, she outfitted at least a dozen infants with gowns, diapers, shirts, and handmade quilts, besides making several stacks of children's clothes.
With five great-grandchildren to sew for, Wilma still sewed for her unknown friends. It delighted her to find just the right scrap of material to make a pretty piece of piping for a collar or unusual button on a worn-out blouse that added the perfect touch to a jumper. Each stitch and seam represented her gift of time, talent, and loving concern for others. God has given everyone a gift - some can preach, some can sing, some can visit. Her gift was sewing. Wilma sewed to the glory of God.
- Lois B. Stone
Alternate Celebrations Catalogue
In the weeks before Christmas, our society goes into a shopping frenzy to find just the right gift - or any gift at all - for the people on our Christmas gift lists. Last year Americans spent more than $30 billion on gifts alone. Where is this consumption mania leading us? Each year, Alternatives pokes fun at the excesses of commercialized Christmas with a Best and Worst Christmas Gift Contest that receives nationwide press coverage. Winners receive a monetary gift contributed in their names to the nonprofit humanitarian organization of their choice. Contact Alternatives for more information about this contest. The following are some of the best contest entries we have received over the years.
A whole week of sewing
As a Christmas gift, my mother gave me a week of sewing. Even though I enjoy sewing, my job requirements are such that I have little time to do it. I waited until August when the children needed new school clothes to use my mother's Christmas gift. Then we sewed together: I did the machine work and she did the handwork, pinning, and pressing. While I was at work, she ran errands and did chores so that when I was home we could concentrate on sewing. It was a wonderful gift. It meant so much to me because it was a gift of herself.
- Nancy Angerer, Champaign, Illinois
A house gift in Nicaragua
As their Christmas gifts to my sister and me and our families, my parents made a contribution to Habitat for Humanity. In our names, they gave enough money to enable this organization to build a house in Nicaragua. Since his retirement, my father has been volunteering on these house-building projects in the area where he lives and he knows the value of providing shelter for homeless and needy people. My parents could not have chosen a more wonderful gift to show their love for us and our families.
- Karen L. Weidenheimer, Carson, California
Backrub coupons: A healing gift
My sons, ages 14 and 16, gave me an unusual gift last Christmas. It was a "coupon" for three five-minute backrubs per month, per boy. In other words, one-half hour of relaxation per month for me.
My life is very hectic, sometimes chaotic. I also have chronic back problems, the result of a childhood accident and genes. Their gift was marvelous for two reasons. First, it relaxes me and soothes my pained back. Second, it provides the two of us with undivided time. If nothing is on either of our minds, the backrub is only a physically healing event. But if there is something important to be discussed, the contact is there. That means the backrub may be over in exactly five minutes, or the conversation can last for an hour or more.
- Virginia E. Stevens, Asheville North Carolina
Michigan mother sees ailing son in Tennessee
My son has cancer. Three days before Christmas my relatives gave me a trip from my home in Michigan to my son's home in Tennessee so that we could spend Christmas together. Because I am disabled and live on a fixed income, I had not been able to see him in three years. It was the happiest, and saddest, Christmas ever.
- Lavonda Teboe, Ypsilanti, Michigan
Family trivia: Make a game of it
The Drey family organized a family trivia game. Each member came to the family Christmas celebration with 20 trivia questions written out on index cards with answers written on the back. The questions were shuffled all together. Then, one by one, family members drew a card and tried to answer the question.
Since I am newly related by marriage, it was a wonderful way for me to get to know the family. Plus, it provided lots of laughs, a few tears, and a general bonding of family members as the past was remembered and enjoyed. This was the best gift I received for Christmas last year!
- Janet Drey, Des Moines, lowa
My best Christmas present was made by my oldest granddaughter. At age 19, she designed and created an original modern sampler.
Embroidered in the tiniest cross stitches in Old English black letters is the word "Grandma" on a white background. Over each letter are little figures of my 12 grandchildren (ages six to 19) done in the same tiny cross stitching, each in a pose depicting his or her interest: diving, dancing, playing soccer, gymnastics, drama, gardening, relaxing. The little figures are embroidered in different colors. Even the children's hair is their true coloring.
The four families live great distances from me, so having this lovely picture on my kitchen wall is a wonderful and constant reminder of each of them.
- Anne B. Macosky, Hamden, Connecticut
Surprised by love notes
Christmas was a fun-filled day with loved ones, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren in my home. After goodbyes were said, they all left for their homes in distant places. What I didn't know is that they had written and hidden little love notes for me that I found over the next weeks. Those notes made me feel loved and needed. This was my best Christmas.
- Mrs. Edward Schreur, Orange City, Iowa
My husband found an old film in my mother's attic. Covered by years of dust and discarded clothing, it proved to be the movies of my parent's wedding in 1932. He took it to a lab where he had it titled and turned into a video tape with background music. This was my Christmas gift, a gift beyond price, and better than the finest store could provide.
- Anne M. Coyle, Fort Washington, Maryland
An open house for Christmas breakfast
For several years two friends have opened their home and hearts to folks who have lost a loved one and who are alone on Christmas morning. They felt that people are usually included in gatherings later in the day, but Christmas morning can be very lonely and a difficult time of day to get through.
They invite acquaintances from past years, and anyone they find who will be alone, to share breakfast in their home. They make them welcome with a breakfast of pancakes and sausage served by a warm fire, making a lonely time of the day comfortable and friendly.
I lost my husband four years ago and have no children to spend time with at Christmas. I will never forget that first invitation. Each year they call with another invitation which I accept with great pleasure. They give much more than breakfast.
- Blanche Buchter, Lancaster, Pennsylvania
The Alternate Celebrations Catalogue
1 cup = 250 mL
1 teaspoon (tsp) = 4 mL
1 tablespoon (T) =12 mL
1 pound = 500 grams
Save your quart jars, fill them with homemade granola, type or print the recipe on an index card, and tie up with a ribbon for a healthful gift.
- 1 to 1 1/2 lbs. rolled oats
- 2 cups wheat germ
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup unsweetened coconut
- 1 cup nuts
- 1/2 cup sesame seeds
- 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
- 1 cup oil (corn, peanut, sunflower, soy)
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
Mix with hands to get lumps out. Roast for one hour at 325°F, stirring every ten minutes. Store in refrigerator in air-tight container. Add diced apricots, figs, or raisins, according to individual preference.
Save jars and bottles, and put your choice of flavoring in them. Then fill with cider or wine vinegar, cap, and store in a cool, dark place for four weeks. The vinegars are thenflavored and ready to use. They don't spoil, either. Use whole sprigs of herbs or spirals of citrus rind for the most attractive effect. Possible combinations are: garlic-chive white wine vinegar, thyme and rosemary vinegar, basil and oregano vinegar, orange and cinnamon (stick) vinegar, lemon and mint vinegar. You can also add several peppercorns, grapes, cloves, or dried currants to the combination for added flavor. Make the labels for the jars yourself.
- Pami Bush, La Jolla,California
(Makes approximately two cups.)
- 8 ounces cottage cheese
- 8 tablespoons (1 quarter-pound stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 tablespoon sweet Hungarian paprika
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons caraway seeds
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1 teaspoon chopped capers
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped onions
- 1/2 cup sour cream (plus 1/4 cup if a dip is desired)
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped chives
With a wooden spoon rub the cottage cheese through a sieve into a mixing bowl. Cream the butter by beating it against the side of a mixing bowl with a wooden spoon. Beat in the cheese, the paprika, a generous grinding of black pepper, the salt, caraway seeds, mustard, capers, onions, and sour cream.
Continue beating vigorously with a wooden spoon or by using an electric mixer at medium speed until the mixture forms a smooth paste.
If the Liptauer cheese is to be used as a spread, shape it into a mound and decorate it with the chives, or shape it into a ball that may be rolled in the chives. Refrigerate it for two hours, or until it is firm.
To make a Liptauer dip, stir the extra sour cream into the paste with wooden spoon or beat it in with an electric mixer. Sprinkle the chives over the dip after it has been poured into a serving bowl.
Lemon French Dressing
- 1 clove garlic, split
- 1 cup salad oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 teaspoon sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
Combine the salad oil, garlic, salt, sugar, and pepper. Let stand at least one hour. Remove the garlic, add the lemon juice and beat with a rotary beater.
Garlic French Dressing
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 small clove garlic, finely minced
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup salad or olive oil
- 1 teaspoon grated onion
- 3 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
Mix mustard with water and let stand 10 minutes. Combine with garlic, salt, sugar, oil, and onion. Let stand one hour. Add vinegar and lemon juice. Beat with rotary beater.
Here are some delicious spreads which could be used for any holiday celebration when friends get together, or given as a gift. Accompany with whole wheat crackers or assorted raw vegetables.
Homous (Chick Pea Spread)
(Makes 3 cups; uses a blender.)
- 2 cups cooked chick peas (garbanzos) freshly cooked or canned
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped parsley, flat-leaf type preferable
or 2 tablespoons chopped mint
If the chick peas are canned, drain them in a sieve and wash them under cold running water until the water runs clear. Spread them on paper towels and pat them dry. Freshly cooked chick peas need only be drained and cooled.
To make the homous in a blender, place the chick peas, garlic, salt, 1/2 cup of oil, and 1/4 cup of lemon juice in the container and blend at high speed for ten seconds. Turn off the blender and scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula. Blend again at high speed, adding as much oil as you need to prevent the blender from clogging. The finished humus should be a very smooth puree. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and lemon juice if you like.
Blue Cheese and Cheddar Spread
(Makes about 2 1/2 cups.)
- 3/4 lb. aged cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
- 3/4 cup beer or ale
- 1/8 lb. blue cheese, crumbled
- 1 tablespoon soft butter
- 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
- 2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
- 1 dash Tabasco
- 1 teaspoon coarsely chopped chives or onions
Put the beer or ale and the cheddar cheese into a blender and blend for 20 seconds, or until smooth. (If you don't have a blender, beat together until smooth). Add the remaining ingredients and blend or beat until smooth and well mixed. Spoon into a crock or serving dish and chill. Garnish with chopped chives before serving.
(Makes 4 servings.)
- 6 walnut halves
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 cup yogurt
- 1/4 cup very finely diced peeled cucumber
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice or vinegar
- whole grain crackers
Place walnuts, oil, and garlic in an electric blender and blend to a paste. This can also be done in a mortar and pestle. Stir into the yogurt with cucumber and lemon juice or vinegar. Chill and serve with crackers as dippers.
Still another present would be to find some inexpensive crocks or pottery jars and fill them with a spread or dip.
Grow your own fresh sprouts and give an ancient gift. Sprout-growing dates back to 2939 BCE in China. A prime source of nutrients, sprouts are seeds or legumes that have germinated and converted their fats and starches into vitamins, sugars, and protein. Sprouted lentils, alfalfa, and soybeans are high in protein, inexpensive, and easy to grow. They can be eaten as a snack, used in a main dish as a natural "stretcher," or served in salads and sandwiches. They are naturally processed in your kitchen and make a cheery winter garden in a jar.
After experimenting with different seeds and flavors, give a sprout jar and some favorite beans or seeds for a winter birthday gift, or a spring Mother's or Father's Day present. A sprout kit might be especially appropriate for someone who cannot grow a garden, an apartment dweller, or a house-bound person.
- wide mouth mason jar
- piece of screening
- aluminum or copper metal ring to hold the screen
- 1/4 cup of mung beans
Basic Method: Wash beans. Put beans in the jar with water to cover. Place screen and metal rim on jar. Leave overnight in a dark place. The second day rinse the beans with fresh cool water. Drain well. Seeds should be damp, not soaked. Lay jar on its side in a spot with indirect sunlight, or make a stand out of blocks and invert jar on blocks to drain well. Repeat the rinsing two or three times each day. Sprouts will appear on the second day and are ready to use by the third or fourth day. A small amount of mung beans, lentils, soybeans, or alfalfa gives a high yield of sprouts.
If you're still not convinced about the gift-food from the earth, try the
Golden Temple Sandwich:
Layer avocado and tomato slices, tuna fish (optional), sprouts, and grated cheese on a piece of whole-grain bread. Place in oven on a cookie sheet until the cheese melts. Delicious!
This easy but especially rich bread is delicious at breakfast during the holiday season.
- 1 package yeast
- 4 cups unbleached or whole wheat flour
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1/4 cup white or brown sugar,or molasses
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/2 cup ground almonds
- 1/2 cup chopped raisins or candied fruits (I add a bit of rum or whiskey)
- 2 eggs, slightly beaten
- 2 loaf pans
Mix 2 cups flour with the yeast. Stir water, milk, butter, sugar, and salt over low heat until butter melts. Cool five minutes, add flour and remaining ingredients. Knead until smooth and elastic. Divide dough and place in oiled loaf pans, cover, let rise in warm place until dough has doubled. Bake at 375ºF for 35 minutes.
Bake in greased coffee can; cover with plastic top and decorate or label. If necessary, use a can opener to remove the can bottom before serving.
- 1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/3 cup powdered milk
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup milk or water
- 1 cup nuts
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1/2 cup wheat germ
Stir briefly. Fill can or one loaf pan. Push dough into corners and make indentation in top of loaf. Bake at 350ºF for 45 minutes.
Applesauce Nut Bread
Stir together to moisten:
- 2 cups flour
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon soda
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 cup nuts
- 1 beaten egg
- 1 cup applesauce
Bake at 300ºF for one hour.
Adapted from Alternate Celebrations Catalogue, 3rd Edition
In an age of rising prices, increasing job insecurity, and uncertainty, it makes sense for more of us to get back to life's basics by producing some necessities at home. It makes sense and saves cents. It also gives tremendous satisfaction and allows us to control our own little environment. (You'll know exactly what was sprayed on your plants, for example.) Knowing there's a bountiful garden outside or a stocked pantry also offers a little peace of mind.
Our grandparents, and maybe even our parents, knew how to take care of themselves, but much of that knowledge is gradually being lost as the supermarket replaces the garden as the food source. Children now think milk and food come from the store. Getting back to basics through efforts to be more self-sufficient means more than just saving money - it means getting in touch with reality.
You can find advice and counsel from older, experienced people, particularly if they have lived through the Great Depression and/or World War II. Marvelous innovations for saving money and staying healthy were invented during those years. During the decades following, though, we arrogantly believed that we "didn't have to do that anymore." We are paying for this arrogance physically, as Earth approaches the breaking point, and spiritually, as we wonder why we don't feel happier (since we have all this stuff).
We can gift ourselves, our loved ones, and our children with information. This could be the gift of a library card, a magazine subscription, a book, or a taped interview with someone knowledgeable.
Generally speaking, books that encourage us and specifically show us "how-to" can be a doorway to increasing personal satisfaction and a relief for Earth. Books on the following subjects may prove especially helpful:
- folk wisdom;
- ancient healing arts and herbology;
- agriculture and organic gardening;
- energy - installing energy-producing or energy-saving systems;
- food gathering in the wild;
- food preservation;
- growing food in your kitchen;
- cook books that are long on nutrition and basic Earth-care, and short on empty calories, fat,and Earth-plunder;
- spiritual growth - for example, yoga, meditation, prayer, tai chi (music or talking book tapes abound in these areas, too);
- repairing: machinery, clothing, your garden;
- creation: pottery, wood carving, knitting, sewing, paper-making.
Adapted from her article in Alternate Celebrations Catalogue, 3rd Edition
Children's books are butterflies these days: emerging slowly but joyously from a cocoon of traditional values and stereotypes. More and more they are becoming a liberated literary genre in their own right.
The quest continues, however, for the perfect children's book... for books which combine new views and values with quality writing and imaginative illustrations at an affordable price.
Although there has been great progress in the elimination of sexual and racial stereotypes, unfortunately, many books still retain questionable values.
Consider the following images and their ramifications:
- material goods or economic success as a measure of self-worth or as a life goal;
- emphasis on competition, the importance of winning, and the disaster of losing - rather than on cooperation and community;
- unquestioning obedience to authority with little or no regard for demands of conscience;
- traditional views of achievement and upward mobility;
- acquisition and over-consumption - of food, toys, clothing - in a time when poverty and famine are taking a dreadful toll of human life;
- stereotypes of beauty and ugliness - particularly equating one or the other with "goodness" or "badness" (the typical golden-haired-princess/warty-nosed-witch syndrome of fairy tales).
Of course, all books don't have to be purchased; take some paper, some crayons, and voila! - a book. It may never become a classic, but the caring with which it's done is far more important. Simple picture books can be made by pasting cut-out pictures on heavy poster board and covering it with clear contact paper. If cloth books are difficult to find, experiment with sewing your own using fabric scraps in various colors and textures.
Carolyn Hardin Engelhardt
I've been on a young children's lifestyle resources search for years. Before I suggest some ways for readers to use their power and influence, let me tell you that I've been looking everywhere for a long time. What a celebration when occasionally I find good resources!
Our environment shapes us. We become what is around us. Therefore, parents want to share their values with children in natural, casual ways as well as through planned activities and discussions. When values that parents wish to pass on are not readily accessible through the culture - through the media, the books, toys, and music that surround parent - there's an uncomfortable silence. There's a dissonance, a lack of affirmation of one's own values, and an implied affirmation of other values. As a parent working to share particular values with one's children, that's a lonely place to be. It feels as though you're against everything that everyone else is for. It makes you ask whether you're making a "big deal" over something that's not so important. Parenting toward shalom values would be easier if the songs, stories, and toys that surround our children were consistent with what we're trying to teach.
In my lifestyle resources search I look in all kinds of bookstores - from university to small town and big city in various parts of the U.S. and Canada. I read reviews and descriptions, search libraries, and talk to people about what they've found. I'm looking for resources that imply the following values:
- It's okay to be different.
- We are people of many cultures.
- Children and parents of both sexes can do anything.
- Winning and being first are not our goals in play.
- Eating healthful foods is enjoyable.
- We are capable of choosing.
- We don't have to have everything just because others have it.
- Kindness, sharing, and friendliness are a normal way for children to relate.
- Sharing is appropriate.
- We can measure history by periods of peace and human achievement as well as by periods of war.
- We can communicate in some ways even when our languages are not the same.
- Living a responsible lifestyle is okay even if it is different from the lifestyles of others.
- We don't need to follow the dictates of advertising and marketing. We can make decisions for ourselves instead of having others tell us what we want and need.
- Conserving and recycling are a natural part of life.
- It makes sense to buy certain kinds of items that have already been used.
- We can be involved in some social action regardless of age. (For example, even preschool children can dictate a letter to a television station and receive an answer.)
- Repairing items for continued use rather than buying another is a natural part of life.
- Persons of minority cultures live in contemporary settings; they are not just part of past history.
What can be found on these subjects is so minimal that when I do find a book, music or tape, I usually buy it. I want to make such ideas a part of my home surroundings so that my children can pick them up to read or listen to them as casually as they can pick up a picture book of animals.
All around us - in grocery stores, drug stores, music stores, video stores, book stores, department stores, discount stores - are resources promoting the lifestyles of the latest fad characters, or of the updated versions of "old favorites." "Why do adults buy and use these resources with young children?" one asks. Because they are very available! Adults want to share with the young children they love and they share what is available.
Adults don't share as often the resources described in this article because many of them are not easy to obtain. "You have to order them." "They're out of stock, but will be available in three months." For average busy people who love young children, there are too many roadblocks to obtaining stories of responsible lifestyles. So the T-shirts, mugs, placemats, records, Disney, Barbie dolls, war fads continue to grow - without alternatives. All that would be necessary for other resources to be used is their easy availability.
Adults who are experiencing the inconsistency and frustration of trying to attain consistency between family lifestyle and storybooks on the children's bookshelves are waiting to respond with their purchasing power to appropriate resources. Providing these items for home use can be commercially feasible. Even families that have not consciously made lifestyle choices related to a shalom vision will obtain stories related to these values if they are readily available. Three things are necessary to develop this market:
- research to find the resources;
- creativity to develop the resources;
- marketing that is sufficiently committed to a shalom vision to promote what is wanted as well as (or instead of) what is presented by the usual sales representatives.
Denominational and UNICEF outlets, religious, educational, and environmental bookstores are beginning places for these appropriate lifestyle resources.
Children need to see evidence of a shalom vision in print. Print legitimizes these ideas. Books, music, and video tapes can reinforce what children hear and experience at home.
The same kinds of material are needed to supplement church school studies. When they are available in the church, they reach more children, parents, and teachers.
To describe the search for lifestyle resources for young children is not to say that there aren't lots of good children's books on many subjects. It is to say there is a definite scarcity of resources that include naturally the details of responsible lifestyles. Our children's literature is too much a reflection of the majority culture. Just as minorities still do not receive appropriate attention in the literature, minority lifestyles are not affirmed, acknowledged, or included.
We need to change that. We need to distribute broadly what is available. We need to bring the lack of desired resources to the attention of libraries and bookstores. And we can't just wait for them to appear on the market. We need to write the books and make the recordings and games - or encourage our talented friends to do so. (That's how the resources on children with handicapping conditions, for example, have appeared. The people who work with these children - or they, themselves - care, see gaps, and write books.) We can choose to use our influence.
That time of influence has come for me:
- I have talked to bookstore owners and they have stocked some alternative books.
- I have purchased books for my family and then taken them to the local children's library to show to the librarian. She has ordered them.
- I have listed supplementary resources as I've written curriculum resources.
- I have served on the United Methodist Church's General Board of Discipleship, in its section on Hunger and Value Formation, and heard members talk about the need for assisting people to live responsive lifestyles. I have spoken in committee meetings about my concern for more resources for use in homes. I have suggested topics for those resources. The next time the group met, I brought records from home and showed them to staff and board members and said, "This is what I mean."
Eventually, a staff committee formed to investigate the possibility of providing lifestyle resources for young children to use at home. I celebrated!
The board engaged a woman to research what was available in lifestyle resources for children. After contacting over 100 publishers, she came to the same conclusion I had. There are so few resources that we certainly cannot flood the market. There are many topics on which new books and songs could be developed, but we don't have to wait for those to become available before we take action.
I urged the Hunger and Value Formation Task Force to select some available items and market them assertively. The staff has selected and is distributing a small selection of books and records. Sales brochures describing these resources have been circulated broadly within the United Methodist Church.
You can help. You can support informal learning of responsible lifestyles in homes. You can support parenting that creates responsible lifestyles. You can enlarge the network of persons working toward a shalom vision. You can ask bookstores and to carry some of these resources. When you find a wonderful resource, you can promote it by writing a book review for your local newsletter or newspaper. Spread the word! You may use your influence with writers, publishers, and institutional structures and encourage them to promote alternative lifestyles.
How will you use your influence?
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