Well, it's here. That lovely antsy, whiney, over-scheduled, anticipatory, wound-up pre-Christmas season. One year, I said to my mom, "Christmas was always so FUN when I was a kid. You were always so calm and happy, and you made it so magical for us." She said, "I'm glad you remember it that way, Hollie." ;) So, the joys of Christmas come to pass and morph into a new kind of joy...not one from Christmastime itself but from seeing your kids enjoy themselves.
Or so that's what I've heard. Things are a little different here because of autism, but we'll chat about that in a later post.
Being mommy at Christmastime requires Herculean levels of patience, creativity, and booze. You've gotta keep the kids occupied so that you can manage your to-do list and keep your wits. Trying to keep the kids' gifts even makes me just about insane. Anyone feeling merry yet?!?
For many, MANY families this year, gift-giving is going to be super hard. Wanting to give gifts may not be possible. If you're having to worry about whether or not you'll be in your house at Christmas or how you're going to feed your family for the week, gifts probably aren't a part of the picture. But, kids and grownups alike want to make merry. And, gifting is part of the merriness. The best part, remember?
So, I'm bringing you a super cheap, super easy, super sanity-saving Quiet Maker. (Although a friend thinks I should call it "shit to do to shut your kids up;" in fact, she's the one who specially requested this post.)
QUIET MAKER: Gift making to maximize gift giving and general merriment
We have a tradition in our family where each of the kids makes a gift for everyone else in the family. MAKES a gift. Not buys it at the $1 store. Not saves money for it. Not asks mom to buy it. MAKES it. Even the littlest ones can do this; you just have to be creative. 4C started making gifts on her 2nd Christmas. Two words: glitter and glue. Invest, my friend.
We also love to recycle/upcycle around here, and saving money never hurts anyone.
All of these ideas are what we use to keep kids quiet, use up what we have, and save some pennies. Enjoy!
Embellish a composition book or spiral-notebook or sketch pad. We've used foamies, cut out magazine pictures to make a collage, used our own drawings. We try to stock up on composition books and notebooks during the summer/fall back-to-school sales when they're dirt cheap. Come mid-November when I need a quick shutter-upper, we whip them out and start blinging. 4B made this one for 4A last year.
I have also sewn super easy covers for composition books, like the one below that I made for 4A two years ago. You can learn how here.
Recycle drawings and schoolwork into a calendar. All Aspies have a "thing," and 4A's is sketching/doodling. We have COPIOUS amounts of artwork. Volumes. Plus with one in 1st grade and one in preschool, we get a LOT of worksheets and crafts home from school. Throughout the year, when school work comes home or doodles are left strewn around the house, I gather them and keep a running file of useable material. Then, in November, I start dividing them into monthly "themes."
As an aside, sometimes, when the kiddos are super little or super disinclined to draw, you have nothing but scribble. You can still make that work. You can cut shapes out of the scribble to go with your monthly theme: hearts, shamrocks, snowmen, stars, flowers, etc. I usually freehand it, but you could trace cookie cutters for your shapes, if you like.
I like to use a 12x12 wall calendar, and I can usually find a "create-your-own" kind at my local craft store for $1. But, you could also save the freebie ones that you get throughout the year and just glue your darling's drawings over top of whatever's been printed on there.
So, each month is a little collage or montage of drawings and doodles, which I label with the applicable darling's name and age. If I'm particularly ambitious, I'll also mark important dates (birthdays, anniversaries, etc) for the recipient.
I've also done this on a big desk calendar for 4Daddy. The kids and I wrote little notes on some of the days and then filled some with drawings or doodles from the kids' schoolwork and artwork. Where we had big chunks of blank spots, we traced our hands and drew smiley faces and our names in them.
Recycle drawings into notecards. Same principle as above, but you cut out the doodles (either cutting around the image itself or cutting a square to frame the doodle). I also use schoolwork. You know those thousands of worksheets where they have to label/stretch spell the words under a drawing? BINGO! Cut out the pic with the stretch-spelled word underneath, and you've got an instant notecard.
I stalk my craft store with my 40% coupon and buy packs of blank 4x6 notecards. But, I've also hit the jackpot at garage sales and found stacks of notecard-sized envelopes for dirt cheap. For those, I cut an 8.5x11 piece of cardstock in half and fold it, making 2 cards per piece that will fit into notecard envelopes.
After I glue the doodle on (and again, we stock up on glue sticks during the summer and fall back-to-school bonanzas when they're 20 cents apiece), we bling it out with stickers, strips of paper, and rubber-stamped images.
My kids could make these things for HOURS!
We stamp the back with a little "handmade by _____" stamp, kiddo signs his/her name, and then we bundle 'em in stacks of 4 (with envelopes) and tie them up with yarn. Super cute. Super cheap. Super quiet. Super easy.
Decorate a box for markers, Hot Wheels, makeup, or other "junk." We stock up on pencil boxes during those aforementioned back-to-school bonanzas, and then we bling them out with foamies, jewels, sharpies, and stickers. We then fill with a little bit of content towards the recipient's collection. Here's one 4B made for 4C to store her beloved markers.
Make t-shirts with your iron or sewing machine. We do this a LOT with a lot of different mediums. And, we don't just use t-shirts. We use towels and reuseable shopping bags. Pillowcases. Canvas bags. Endless possibilities.
I stalk the iron-on paper that goes through the printer with my 40% off coupon at my local craft store. I used to also stalk the plain t-shirts and buy them new, but now I stalk Goodwill for plain/used ones or ones that have designs that I can easily cover up. Cherub creates appropriate doodle. Scan. Print. Iron-on. When the kids are old enough, they dig the ironing on. Last year, 4A did an online Spongebob coloring page for 4B; we printed it out on the iron-on paper, she drew on his name with fabric paint, she ironed it on, and that is STILL his favorite t-shirt.
We also do a lot of sewing machine embroidery onto shirts and towels. Often times, I have an image in mind for the recipient (sailboat, number of years old, pirate, butterfly, whatever). I google a clip art image, print and cut it out, trace it onto fabric that I've ironed with fusible interfacing, cut the image out of the fabric, sew on. Super cheap and easy. Again, I stalk all my embellishable items and fabric at garage sales and Goodwill and clearance racks. Don't just look for fabric either. I often buy shirts or skirts or sheets in way cool designs and cut those babies up. Think outside of the box. And, for goodness sake, let the KIDS do the work. They know how to cut. They can iron. They can trace. So what if it's all crooked and lopsided? You'll have your elder years to deal with perfection when there aren't little, impatient "helpers" in your midst.
Here are a few shirts that I embellished for my younger girls.
And, of course, there's fabric paint. Fabric paint and I have a love/hate relationship. I once made a super cute set of handtowels for my parents with the kids' handprints on them. OY! You have to REALLY be willing to make a mess. The Crayola fabric markers are a bit easier, but they fade after several washings.
Kitchen gifts. This is another one that's fun and easy. You can find millions of "recipe in a jar or can" type sites if you Google, but we also make trail mixes with fun stuff (Kashi Heart to Heart cereal, dried cherries, and dark chocolate chips for Valentine's Day; popcorn, pretzels, Quaker Oatmeal Squares, and candy corn for Halloween; popcorn, pretzels, and red and green M&Ms for Christmas). Here's some trail mix that we made for Valentine's Day one year.
We've also made a snack-in-a-bottle. Take a clean water bottle and dump out the water (or pour it into a glass and drink it) Cut the bottom two inches off with a serrated knife. Dry COMPLETELY (letting it sit overnight is the best way). Pack it with a cool snack. We usually fill little fold-top sandwich baggies with small amounts of our faves and tie with yarn and then sandwich them all in there. You could use the individually bagged snacks. Put the bottom back on, and seal with packing tape. Bling out the bottle with ribbons, foamies, and a cool tag. I once made these for my Girl Scout troop with lunch: a 4oz can of apple juice, a packet of chicken noodle cup-o-soup, a small baggie of Goldfish crackers, and two Oreos. That was 3 years ago, I think, and the girls STILL talk about them. And, if you can't bear to screw around with the bottle presentation, slap that baby in a baggie or lunch sack (see below).
We've also made kits; the kind where you layer the ingredients, and the recipient later makes the goodie with the recipe that you've included. Anything you can make with a cake mix works great. We use cellophane baggies rather than jars (you can buy clear ones in the cake-decorating aisle at your craft store). These baggies are cheaper and easier to decorate. We usually print the recipe and put it in a small envelope. We tape that to the bottom. Fold and seal the bag with packing tape. Tie with yarn. We make a label or add stickers. The kids LOVE blinging out the bag. And, if you use jars, do NOT buy them. Are you kidding? Wash out jars of spaghetti sauce, applesauce, jelly...whatever. We don't reuse any nut butter jars because of 4C's allergy, but anything else is fair game. And, if the ingredients leave extra space in the jar, fill that leftover space with wadded-up waxed paper and then tape a strip of paper or ribbon around the outside of the jar to cover/hide that waxed paper ball.
We've also made these kits into "cones" (using a disposable decorating bag, which you can find in the cake-decorating aisle also). I once made pancake mix (cinnamon in the point of the cone, mini chocolate chips, and Bisquick).
Make chocolate covered pretzels. So super easy. We buy the Wilton chocolate melts and make chocolate covered pretzels. Nuke the melts, dip the pretzels in, then dip in sprinkles, dry on waxed paper. We package them in muffin wrappers inside little chinese-food style boxes. You can also buy candy-specific packaging in the cake-decorating aisle of your craft store.
Make a scarf. 4A did this for 4C last year. We bought an 1/8 of a yard piece of fleece, she cut flowers out of felt, and then SHE sewed (with a needle and thread) the flowers and buttons onto the fleece to decorate. She was SO proud. And 4C wears it with LOTS of pride.
Make a picture frame for your own drawing. We buy the wooden ones for $1 at the craft store, but we also stalk garage sales for dinged up ones that are super cheap and easy to cover. We bling them out with all kinds of junk: buttons, sequins, foamies, etc. Last year, 4C made this one for 4A.
Make a book. One year, 4A made an alphabet book for 4B. She used her little digital camera and went around the house, taking pictures of different items for each letter of the alphabet. I printed them out. She cut them out, drew the appropriate letter on the page, and we stuffed them into a cheapy plastic brag-book-type photo album.
Make packaging. We use lunch-sized brown paper sacks for anything and everything we can. Christmas wrap, birthday party treat bags, teacher gift packaging. EVERYTHING! We've traced cookie cutters on them and colored in, we've cut Christmas trees out of green paper and decorated with sequins, we've cut shapes out so that tissue paper can peek through, we've doodled, we've stickered, we've doilied. Anything they can make out of paper can be stuck onto a bag for decoration. Animals out of shapes. Finger-painting cut into hearts. Pictures out of fingers dipped on stamp pads. You name it. Here are a few that we've made over the years.
Commission a piece of art work.I buy blank canvases when they're on sale, and I give the kids acrylic paint to use on them. Buy or recycle a frame, and you have an instant masterpiece. Here's one 4B made when he was 3 for 4Daddy for Christmas. (And, 4B, proud artist that he was, took this picture of his piece hanging on the wall.)
Make a cookie platter for the neighbors.Of course we all make the cookies together. But, I often assign the selection of cookies and decoration of said platter to the cherubs. We use Chinet paper plates for our platters, writing a merry message around the rim with a Sharpie. The, I pile the darlings at the table with a heap of stick-on bows, sparkly stickers, and some gems. That, my friend, will earn you 30 minutes of quiet, a completed gift that you can check off of your to-do list, and, if you play your cards right, a deliverer of said gift. Look how proud 4A (age 5) was of her masterpiece!
These are just some of the things that we do around here to keep ourselves busy and quiet this time of year. If figure if they're busy, maybe they won't notice how hagged-out I am. If they're making gifts and wrapping, I won't have so much to buy or do. If they're quiet, maybe I won't get so hagged out. Win-win-win.