Tag Archives: Christmas

Fun family tradition: gift bag exchange

When Andy and I moved in together and celebrated our first Christmas in our new house, I was amazed and confused by the number of Christmas decorations he owned.  Once we were in the house, his parents made a habit of bringing a new plastic container of his stuff with them on every visit, forcing him to take ownership of all of the things he had been storing at their place.

Tubs and tubs of Christmas ornaments, handmade pillows, candle holders and various other handmade knick knacks.  I asked him where all of this came from, and he explained that his family had a tradition of exchanging gift bags filled with goodies, and he had been included in the tradition — either through gift bags given to his mom or the gift bags she made.  Between the four tubs of stuff, there were more decorations that we would ever be able to use.

The first couple of years we were married, we received gift bags as a couple — from his mom, his aunts and his cousins.  Some would have a theme — one of his cousins, for example, sells Avon and gives everyone Avon products and candy each year.  This year, Andy’s Aunt Shelley’s gift bags had a clever Margaritaville theme.  In the gift bag was a palm tree cutout with the lyrics to Margaritaville on it.  Each gift in the bag, individually wrapped in brightly-colored tissue paper, corresponded to a line in the song.  A CD of Jimmy Buffet Christmas songs, for example, was tagged with the line, “Strumming my six string, on my front porch swing. . .”

Last year I decided it was time we reciprocate in the exchange, so I started collecting items the day after Christmas.  For my first gift bags I decided to go with a theme that would be both familiar and fun for me — holiday cocktails.  I had a blast buying things and putting the bags together.  Below are pictures of the finished product and its contents.

Contents included: a “Cheer” ornament, martini shaker or wine glass ornament, tea towel, snowflake cocktail napkins, snowflake drink stirs, and handmade wine charms.

My favorite part of the bags might have been the tag.  I used a Christmas martini stamp from Impression Obsession and 4 bar scalloped ovals from Paper Source to create the tags, which I colored and embellished with glitter.

I’ve already started collecting items for next year’s gift bags.  My theme will be — wait for it — sweet treats!  Another excuse to indulge my cupcake obsession.  🙂



Christmas crafts galore!

Oh, Christmas.  I don’t ever remember feeling this overwhelmed or as rushed to get things done leading up to Christmas.  Maybe it’s because I decided to take on a bigillion crafting projects this year, starting with our Christmas cards.  Adorable?  Yes, if I do say so myself.  Time consuming and tedious?  ZOMG yes.  Do you know that the bitch woman at the post office actually gave me a hard time about making cards that were not only — GASP — square in shape, but “lumpy” to boot?  She acted as if I was committing some cardinal sin against the US Postal Service by choosing to send such a card.  Funny, I don’t remember complaining when I shelled out the $0.88 a piece to mail them (ouch).  And last I checked, the government is always on the prowl for more money, so take my postage payment and shuttie. 

Unfortunately it doesn’t photograph well, but you get the idea of what sort of abomination I dared to send out at Christmastime.  Square!!!1!!1!

On a ligther note, let’s turn to my obsession with monograms.  I will admit that if I could have the letter P mowed into my front yard I would probably do it.  I just hope that other people are as delighted by seeing their initials on things, because this was one of the themes of my handmade Christmas gifts this year.

Exhibit A: ornaments adorned with a monogram and varying delightful embellishments.  Fun.

My Cricut, some vinyl and a little ribbon were all I needed for this project.  Oh, and clear glass ornaments.

Exhibit B: Personalized hand soap

This idea was passed along to me by a friend who had discovered an awesome blog called How Does She. . .  It’s chock full of fun and creative gift ideas for the holidays.  I loved the hand soap idea, but since I don’t have a need for gifts for teachers, I made them for friends using monograms and simple designs cut from vinyl.  I chose colors that would match their bathrooms.  I love how they turned out, and since I already had the vinyl, they cost me a whopping $1 each to make.  Check out the tutorial for easy instructions.

Heaven on a stick

And finally, I saved the most delicious project for last.  Thanks again to How Does She. . . I was inspired to try making Oreo cookie suckers for co-workers and friends.  I’m not much of a baker and don’t usually make treats for the holidays, but these were too cute to resist.

Check out their tutorial for step by step directions.  They take much better photos than I do and represent the cookies’ cuteness much better than I can.  I would like to add a few editorial comments, however.

  1. Oreos are apparently the most fragile cookies ever made.  My first batch was made with regular old Oreos and I broke several before it occurred to me to microwave the cookies before attempting to twist them apart.  8-10 seconds does the job.
  2. I would recommend using the choclate that is specifically made for melting and using for projects like these.  They melt perfectly in the microwave and were super easy to work with.  They’re always available at Michaels in various colors, but I got mine at the grocery store off of a holiday baking display.
  3. After dipping the lollipop stick in chocolate and gently pressing the two halves together, refrigerate the cookie pops before attempting to dip them in the chocolate.  A few times I tried to dip too soon and they fell apart on me.  Lesson learned.

I had a lot of fun once I figured out what I was doing and got the hang of it.  I dipped the regular Oreos in white chocolate and decorated them with crushed peppermint, sprinkles (or jimmies if you’re from Wisconsin) and crushed Oreos (an attempt to make use of my mistakes — see #1).

Then I dipped mint Oreos in milk chocolate and decorated them with crushed peppermint, chopped Andes mints (which you can buy pre-chopped at the grocery store) and sprinkles.  FYI: the Oreos with the mint filling came apart much easier than the regular Oreos.  They seem to have a softer filling.

I also loved their Oreo sucker holder which they again generously provide a tutorial for, but I just didn’t have the patience or time.  Instead, I bought some baskets on sale at Jo-Ann Fabrics, shoved a foam block inside, popped in the suckers and made it all pretty with crinkle paper.  Not as cute as their sucker holder, but it serves the same purpose and it was really easy.

My next project will be themed gift bags that have become an annual tradition in Andy’s family.  The women in his family exchange gift bags filled with fun things, including store bought and handmade gifts and goodies.  They often have a theme — for example, last year, Andy’s Aunt Shelley’s gift bags has a sweets theme.  My favorite item in the bag was a “P” shaped ornament that looked like a cookie.  Our theme?  Holiday cocktails.  More on the gift bags soon. . .


Rethinking charitable giving

As Andy, Steve and I were relaxing and enjoying a quiet Christmas morning, I lazily thumbed through the newspaper–a luxury I rarely get, even on weekends.  One particular story caught my attention immediately: Charities lack funds, supply.  I keep an eye on charitable giving because of my former profession and because of my involvement with some local not-for-profits (NFPs), so I was aware of the food pantry supply issue, but this story was particularly frustrating to me.

Think about this quote from the article: “In this traditional time of excessive food, parties and gift-giving, agencies that improve the lives of the less fortunate have rarely seen such tough times. Demand for goods and services is way up – a problem that has become more acute since last year – and supply is no longer sufficient.”

So with gifts piled as high as the eye can see in your average middle-class home, why can’t more people find it in their hearts to give to charity?  How it is possible that there are people who do nothing beyond plunking a few quarters in the red kettle once a year?  I have some theories, particularly about my own generation, the Gen-X’ers.

  • Young people are so busy building their careers, getting married, buying their first houses, etc. that they become very self-focused.  It’s a stressful time in everyone’s life, and money can be an especially stressful subject.  They think that they can’t afford to give to charity because they are saving for a wedding, a house, a baby. . .in reality, the average middle-class person/couple/family has more disposable income than they realize.  It’s just a matter of how they choose to spend it.
  • Many were not raised in a household where the importance of giving to charity was properly instilled, so they are not going to actively seek out giving opportunities.  Even worse, many NFPs are missing the boat, because many of these young people have never been directly or passionately asked to give.  Most NFPs are focused on the baby boomers and getting a piece of the huge expected transfer of wealth.  Gen X’ers are capable and willing donors, they just need to be properly engaged.
  • People think that in order to make an impact, they have to give a lot of money.  Not true!  Sometimes it doesn’t take much to make a difference.  This year Andy and I sponsored a family for Aurora Family Services’ Family to Family Thanksgiving.  Just $35 provides a family of four with everything they need for a full Thanksgiving meal.  And take it from someone who used to focus specifically on raising annual gifts–most NFPs rely on annual donors to provide a reliable base of small gifts.  When combined, those annual gifts can have a significant impact.
  • Another thing I learned in my fundraising career is that many NFPs are not very good at stewarding their donors.  It’s not uncommon for people to make a gift and receive a generic, unemotional thank you letter in return–if anything at all.  NFPs need to do a better job of making donors aware of how their gifts make a difference so people will want to continue to give and/or inspire others to give.  Last year Aurora Family Services published a book of real letters that they received from families who were recipients of the Thanksgiving baskets.  Talk about inspiring!  Not only did it make me feel good as a donor to read those letters, this year I used those letters to encourage others to join the effort and make a gift and/or volunteer. 
  • People underestimate the joy they will receive from giving to others.  Andy and I often talk about the fact that he and I might get more out of our gifts of time and money than the people we are helping do.  This year we made a gift to the Humane Animal Welfare Society of Waukesha County in honor of Steve’s birthday.  The stories and photos of rescued/adopted pets in their newsletter are enough to make your heart soar.  And we both agreed that the highlight of our Christmas was buying toys for an unnamed boy for a special program through the Salvation Army.  It’s pretty cool how it works.  You buy three gifts: one “large” ($25-30), one “medium” ($15-20) and one “small” (under $10).  You label the toys with an age and a gender (for example, boy age 5). The Salvation Army puts all of the gifts they collect into one big room, and struggling parents get to “shop” for their kids, choosing one large, one medium, and one small gift for each child.  Imagine what it would feel like to not have enough money to buy your child a Christmas gift.  Andy and I felt so good about the fact that we could make someone’s Christmas a little brighter.

So I challenge you to think about your own charitable giving, and what else you could do to make a difference in our community.  Your contributions don’t have to be large.  If everyone did something small to help out, we would have a lot fewer problems in this world.  Andy and I have decided to scale back on Christmas gifts next year and get a little more involved in some of these holiday programs that we care so much about.  Truth be told, those projects give us more joy than the gifts we exchange.


Celebrate in STYLE

Hey, if you’re going to celebrate Christmas, why not do it in grand style? That has been Andy and I’s philosophy for the past two years, as we have hosted ugly sweater-themed Christmas parties.  We provide the cocktails and hors d’oeurves, and our guests provide the entertainment with their sweet gear.

Ever get a crazy Christmas shirt from Aunt Edna?  Silly socks from Grandma?  DON’T GIVE THEM AWAY!  They will make up the perfect outfit for our Christmas party.  I have already scoped out the hideous accessories I plan to don at next year’s party.  Think sparkly glass ornaments, delicately dangling from my ears.  They will be a steal at 50% off from Walgreen’s tomorrow.  Booyah.

Here are a few photos from this year’s party.  The alcohol flowed freely. . .enough said.  Each year Andy dresses up as cousin Eddie from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, complete with the black dickie.  It’s hot.

Merry Christmas everyone!