When Life Throws You A Curve Ball

by Katy on December 17, 2008 · 23 comments



Garbanzo Beans

I’ve been very smug about my holiday gift plans this year. Not only did I administer the $100 holiday gift challenge, but I decided to try and squeak by for under $50.

I was doing pretty well. I’d already bought a fair number of gifts ahead of time for just a few dollars, and had some very specific ideas of what I would be picking up this last week of the kids in school.

And then Oregon decided to that it would rather be Vermont.

Snow and a supposed impending ice storm have brought Portland to a halt, and what looks to be a week of school closures.


I’ve suddenly got to completely refigure how I’m going to pull together holiday gifts without resorting to giving out cans of garbanzo beans. (I somehow always have a glut of these in the cupboard.)

I follow The Compact, (a buy-nothing-new movement) and won’t be let myself start internet shopping. So I’m in a bit of a self-imposed bind.

I don’t consider myself a crafty person, although I can sew a bit and can whip up a batch of cookies to rival the great Betty Crocker herself.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m going to have to make the rest of my presents.

Double crap!

I have a huge box of polar fleece fabric that I picked up for five dollars at a garage sale maybe ten years ago. I used to sew super cute stuff for the boys when they were little, but haven’t touched it in awhile. I called up my artist friend Lise this evening and suggested that we get together tomorrow. The weather is supposed to be dreadful, (snow, then ice, then snow is the forecast.) but she thankfully lives just a block away. I’m shamelessly bribing her with the promises of free polar fleece if she’ll help me come up with even one idea. 

I’ve already mixed up the ginger-snap dough, and have some no-knead artisan bread rising over a heating grate. I know the persuasive power of baked goods.

Just because my original plans went awry didn’t mean I logged onto target.com for some brand new plastic-ey landfill destined stuff. I always have another trick up my sleeve.

However, I may need to apologize in advance for some possibly weird homemade polar fleece presents. 

At least you’re not getting a can of garbanzo beans.

What gifts are you making this year? Please share your ideas in the comments section below. I really mean it — I need your ideas!

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

max December 17, 2008 at 1:59 am

I just made six button wreaths in a desperate effort to downsize my vast vintage button collection. They look like this:


Here’s a flickr tutorial: http://www.flickr.com/photos/94897571@N00/sets/72157606931194835/

I made my wreath forms out of the lids of cottage cheese containers which are much easier to cut than cardboard. I backed my wreaths with some green felt. My wreaths were all between 3.5 and 4 inches in diameter when finished.


Jan December 17, 2008 at 3:07 am

This year I am making all the ladies on my list one of my ‘word books’ (see my site for one of them http://www.rwctc.com)& everyone gets a handmade card. Have you thought of ornaments? There are a ton of ideas for handmade ornaments if you google the idea. Good luck!


Sue Madre December 17, 2008 at 3:58 am

Well . . . for my favorite 87-year-old, whose daughter happens to be married to my brother, I’ve printed up pix of her great-grandsons, and her two grandsons with their wimmen, and stuck ’em onto those magnet dealies intended for business cards. Then I festooned them with tiny buttons, bits of ribbon, etc. Goofy, yup — but I know she’ll love them for her fridge, especially as they were handmade by a 66-year-old who she first knew as a teenager. I also have old tried-and-true recipes three kinds of very simple nutbreads that I’ll be making. A little loaf makes a nice gift for the mailman, garbage man, neighbors — not to mention my 104-year-old aunt, who lives on NYC’s Upper West Side, and who gets a loaf of each. Cut up and arranged on a paper plate (sorry, Katy . . . they’ve been around for years!), even one loaf, maybe with a candy cane, makes a nice little pressie. Keep up the good work, kiddo — you’re amazing!


Kassie December 17, 2008 at 6:02 am

A couple of years ago for my daughters /small/ 1st grade class, we took all of my mothers old fleece and made scarfs and hats … Cut one inch tassles on each end of the scarf, adorn with old beads and the little girls were thrilled. Fold head size fleece in half sew, tie 2 inches (or so) down cut tasslys in the top, fold up the edge and there you have a HAT!! (not great instructions but i am sure you get the drift) just a thought for leftover fleece 0$ cost and bunch-a-fun!


techiechick December 17, 2008 at 6:25 am

I’m firmly in the buy-new-plastic-stuff camp this year, having procrastinated. I’m not proud, but there you go. However, one site which always has really inspiring ideas is whipup.net – they’re a virtual collective (I think) based in Australia, and every time I surf there I wish I had more time on my hands…


Emily December 17, 2008 at 8:27 am

I’m slightly obsessed with making cloth grocery bags this year. (easy instructions at morsbags.com) I used up all the old fabric in the basement and have resorted to buying new (but mostly remnants!). I gave one to my hairstylist this morning, and she said “I’ve seen people using cloth bags – what a good idea!” Saving the world one shopper at a time!

But I’m not sure if fleece would work for bags…..


deanna December 17, 2008 at 8:41 am

If you get desperate, don’t forget you can buy used stuff for cheap on Amazon.com. The Amazon Markeplace is like an upscale version of Craigslist. I’ve purchased a few gifts from there that are “used-like new.” If you look closely you can tell they’re used, but who cares?


AnnMarie December 17, 2008 at 8:58 am

Two ideas with fleece:

* Blankets. There’s this neat tied blanket you do with two pieces of fleece the same size. Place them together, cut 1″ wide fringe around the entire piece, cutting out the corners. Tie the fringe together–one piece from each fleece. Voila! A no-sew blanket. My daughter got one as a newborn and still uses it 4 years later!

* Silly stuffed animals. Cut out two circles (or ovals), plus bits for ears, arms, legs. Sew the latter pieces together, turn, pin to circle where desired. Sew together, leaving room to turn and stuff. Hand sew bits on for faces. (Caution: You may need to work out the placement of the arms etc carefully and on the right side of the fabric. Practice!) The original pattern I used was supposed to make a pig and a cow, depending on the colors you used. I used purple and green and turned them into alien monsters. I should have used 4 legs and 3 arms or something but I didn’t think of that!


Helloheather December 17, 2008 at 9:14 am

I made (er…am making) matching flannel pants for my husband and son. Like, cozy sleepytime lounge flannel pants.

Pants. I am making pants.


Meadowlark December 17, 2008 at 9:52 am

If you get REALLY desperate, make up jars of spiced garbanzo beans and wrap them with a great ribbon… they’re killer during the holidays – crunchy, spicy and (practically) healthy!

Ok, I DID say REALLY desperate. 😉


Kristen@The Frugal Girl December 17, 2008 at 11:21 am

I’m making a scrapbook for my husband’s grandma(I do one every year). Unfortunately, I haven’t started on it! I REALLY need to get going.

I too make bread…it’s cheap, easy for me, since I’m so used to making it, and people LOVE it.


kelly December 17, 2008 at 2:20 pm

here’s a fleece idea – a friend of mine made neckwarmers for her whole family out of fleece one year. they’re like turtlenecks without the shirt – just a short tube of fleece, doubled up, and she sewed little decorative patches (like flowers, etc) on some of them. apparently they’re quite the hit for wearers of all ages because you can put them on your neck, over your ears, etc.
good luck with the fleece!


Alley December 17, 2008 at 11:53 pm

I was going to suggest the tie blankets like AnnMarie mentioned above. My college roomate show me how, and I’ve probably made 30+ over the last 5 years. They are always a BIG hit. From little ones (who love the feel of the fleece) all the way up.

I didn’t see it mentioned but another food item is the “cookies in a jar” and other items such as that.. where you have everything pre-measured and print up some nice-looking instructions to go along with it. (Here is an example of what I’m talking about incase you haven’t seen them: http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/82822/the_perfect_holiday_gift_cookies_in.html?cat=74 )

I’m unfortunately not really making anything this year other than photobooks for family members and I’m using shutterfly to help with that.

Good luck making your presents! =o)


Caroline December 18, 2008 at 2:17 am

this year i’m (attempting) to create a boardgame for some close friends. It will have a broad enough appeal that anyone can play, but lots of in jokes for the four of us.

Last year I made silly ’emergency’ kits for my friends with lots of random bits and pieces including a home made treasure map for when they felt lost, a tiny sewing kit for if they felt the world was falling apart, a note telling them how much i loved them if the felt lonely. It was easy to tailor the kits to the person and they were all kind of quirky and fun to put together.


Tara Morrison December 18, 2008 at 5:43 am

Baking-24 loaves of bread 8- 10 dozen cookies, biscotti, and gingerbread men. For my daughter a tutu out of leftover tulle. A soft tic tac toe board for my son. Maybe more I have to see how next week goes.


Lisa December 18, 2008 at 6:11 am

I, too, have decided to stop shopping at the Big Box Behomoth stores. An alternative, especially if you are crunched for timethe calendar is ticking on making your own gifts, is to support local artisans and experiences. My mother gave my 7 year old nephew chess lessons at a local community center – no one in the families plays and he will play with his other young friends. Also, find local art co-ops and purchase arts, crafts, and the like from local artists who work and live in the community. Buying a handknit scarf from your neighbor may put food on their table this winter or wood in the fireplace.


Sharron December 18, 2008 at 6:31 am

I like to make fleece neck and feet warmers. Sew a muslin or cotton bag to the size desired and fill with rice or dried corn or even bean (but rice is best). Then make a fleece cover with a big strip of velro at one end. Wrap with a pretty ribbon and on a card write instructions for heating. (Heat in microwave–30 second intervals–for no more than 2 minutes). I sleep with one of these on my neck every night. Warn about overheating and the potential for burns if instructions are not followed. You can even stir some dried lavender or a smidge of essential oil into the rice for an “unricey” scent. Everyone I’ve made these for loves them.

Good luck, and please don’t send the bad weather across the northern plains!


Jean Farris December 18, 2008 at 10:47 am

I am making all of the women on my list fleece reading shawls–saw these in catalogs for outrageous prices, and it’s only a 24×72 piece of fleece with pockets for your glasses, tissues, etc. I’m embellishing the pockets with ricrac, buttons, etc to jazz them up a liitle, but think they’ll get used this winter when we’re all keeping our thermostats down!!


Magdalena Perks December 18, 2008 at 10:48 am

In our gift-giving practice, if it’s not handmade, then you’re probably not going to get it…but this year my husband really needed a new winter hat. Knit hats don’t work well on his handsome Anglo-Saxon head, so we splurged (sort of) and got a fur hat at the Army Surplus store. (Canadians wear fur – but not from endangered animals.) It was cheaper than an imported wool cap! I’m sewing a fleece bonnet for my sister-in-law, her daughter is getting a scarf, headband and handbag knit by me, and the daughter’s fiance is getting a new snowmobile seat cover, sewn by me. We don’t give gifts that have to be mailed, and because the gifts are always inexpensive, it doesn’t make sense to spend postage money. We exchange gifts only with those home for Christmas. That’s just the way it is, and they all accept it. It lets them off buying and mailing gifts to us. May I suggest charitable donations for those who are at a distance or who has “everything”? Let your Christmas gift help someone in real need, in dedication of someone important in your life. My father generously made a monetary gift to us this year, and we are regifting it to a church school in Pakistan for school clothes for the children there.


thenonconsumeradvocate December 18, 2008 at 10:58 am


Regifting a monetary gift to charity is the best idea I’ve ever heard of!

And you never need to feel defensive about fur with me. “Jerome Wolk — Furs of Distinction” put my father through to his PhD.

I have the fondest memories of going to my grandfather’s fur store in Pittsburgh and trying on fur coats, and putting my hands in the velvet-lined pockets. He would let me play “manikin” and stand in the window modeling a fur coat. It was hard to stand so still, but very fun.

I don’t have a fur coat, but I have a politically incorrect warm fuzzy feeling about them. (Pun intended.)

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


Viki S December 18, 2008 at 2:03 pm

The cookies in a jar are a great idea. Also, there’s this new thing this year where you can take little votive holders (plain glass-cheap), put some craft glue (watered down a bit) on the outside, roll in glitter, and then decorate around the top with ric-rac, a pretty ribbon, a flower, etc. Just pop some cheap vanilla candles in them and you’re done.

Also, I have used baby food jars for a similar gift for my RE kids during Christmas one year. They liked mixing different glitters together for different effects. Can also cut up (or rip up) tissue paper and carefully put that on the watered down glue for a stained glass look.

I have a really good pattern for eye covers (like you wear to relax or sleep). I haven’t made them yet, but you might be able to use fleece for one side and something smooth, like soft cotton or satin or something for the other side. They sound very easy. I don’t remember what site I got it off of, but I have everything on my computer if anyone wants it, I’ll forward it to you. Sorry, can’t find the site. Check the joann.com site though. They have a ton of projects listed that wouldn’t be hard or pricey to make!

Good luck!


Viki S December 18, 2008 at 2:06 pm
Ellen December 20, 2008 at 1:24 pm

I just blogged about my own first attempt at a “gift in a jar.” I personalized it by using a family recipe, rather than making something I’ve never tried before. I had a lot of fun decorating the lids, and making the recipe card to attach. I think everyone will enjoy it, and may even keep this project in mind for future craft shows.


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