“Thinking of You” Gift Ideas

My friend Michelle told me that she often makes “loaves” as gifts for teachers. Evidently Michael’s sells miniature loaf pans throughout the Christmas season and if you watch for them to go on sale after Christmas, you can pick them up for very little cost. She stocks up each year after Christmas for the following year. I think it is a brilliant idea, but I haven’t yet “cashed” in on the great after Christmas loaf pan sales, so I was pretty excited when I found a set of 6 cardboard loaf pans for sale at Dollarama. I figured I would pick some up and make some zucchini bread with the huge zucchini my neighbour gave me…thanks Kelli! I made a double batch of the recipe and it made 7 pans. The loaves are quite small, but cute. The pans seemed to work well, but I did find the cardboard had enough”give” that the loaves expanded slightly in width, as well as height (when they rose). No big deal, but perhaps not a perfectly formed domed-top and symmetrical shape.

To dress up the loaves for delivery, I just used scalloped scissors to trim the edges of freezer paper (like parchment). I then put a ribbon, cover wire tie and tag on to finish it off. This was super easy and quick to do. The tag was simply a stamped apple that I cut out. The kids took them to their teachers. Of course, baking is always a great gift. My neighbour Jen brought a loaf over the other day and it was such a treat to have fresh baking in the house during my first week back to school! So thoughtful.

If you like to bake, I would suggest picking up some of these next time your at the dollar store. I think I’ll always keep some on hand. I can’t wait to share the awesome pumpkin loaf I discovered last year! If you find yourself down about the cold weather and the end of summer, beat the blues by doing something kind for someone else!

Better Late Than Never

sock monkey costumeI was really hoping to surprise my 9 year old son, Shay, with a sock monkey for Christmas. I had made Eden a sock monkey the Halloween before last to go with her sock monkey costume and he had wanted one ever since. I was so swamped prior to Christmas, I just didn’t get it done. Of course, he wasn’t really expecting it, so he wasn’t disappointed. He ended up spending the day with a friend yesterday, so I surprised him with a sock monkey when he got home.

Making a Sock Monkey

The great thing about making your own is that you can make it any colour or design you wish. Shay certainly likes the Winnipeg Jets, but he was already a die-hard Boston Bruins fan before the Jets returned. His room is a Winnipeg Jets room, but I think deep down, his heart still belongs to the Bruins. When I was considering making his sock monkey, I thought I would surprise him with a monkey in the Bruins’ colours. I searched high and low for a badge or pair of socks that had their logo, but came up empty. Instead, I just opted for their colours. To be honest, finding yellow and black socks wasn’t all that easy either. I think that is why I never got it done before Christmas. It took several shopping trips to find socks of the right colour. In the end, this is what I came up with.

I bought a package of socks at the dollar store for $3. It contained two pairs of mens “work” type socks. They were black and charcoal grey with a burgundy stripe. The socks were a bit more stretchy than a traditional wool work socks, but they worked fine. I used this pair to create the monkey’s body/head, legs, face and arms.  I had to make the arms and legs a bit shorter due to the burgundy stripe. I cut them off above the stripe as I didn’t want burgundy in the final product. I used the yellow and black sock to make the tail and ears, as well as a sweater and a hat for the monkey. I didn’t use the striped yellow and black socks for the entire money because the socks were smaller, more like a kid’s size.

I then followed this awesome tutorial on Craftbits (by Shellie Wilson). I used the same tutorial when making Eden’s monkey last year. I follow Shellie’s directions pretty closely, but tend to skip the pinning in most projects. It is not so much that it isn’t necessary as it is that I am too lazy to do it. Like Shellie, I use button eyes and stitch on the mouth.

The Final Touches:

In order to make him a Boston Bruins sock monkey, I had to add a bit of colour to him. So, I used the yellow and black socks to make a little sweater, hat and the tail. The hat was simply made by using the toe end of the sock with a few inches of the black to turn over into a bit of a cuff (not sure if that is the right word on a hat or not??). I didn’t even hem the bottom edge of the hat. We’ll see how it holds up, I may end up having to finish the edge if it begins to unravel. The sweater was made from the top part of the sock, above the heel. I did finish the bottom of the tube by hemming it slightly. I basically just pulled the little tube over the monkey’s body and called it a sweater! I did find that the tail was a bit of a problem, so I did a button-hole stitch and then cut a slit for the tail to slide through. This seemed to work fine. His arms are actually sitting over the top of the tube sweater as opposed to making arm holes.sock monkey

Shay was thrilled, but had trouble figuring out a name for him. He ended up googling the name of the Boston Bruins mascot and named him “Blade” in his honour. Meet the monkeys! (Remember to click the images to enlarge the photos.)

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Homemade Gifts: Snowman Kit

Sorry, late start today! I left work yesterday, stopped and picked up a few gifts and then met the family at the Christmas tree lot for 5. I remember how Christmas tree shopping used to be an all day affair. We (I) would look over the trees at the first lot and when I couldn’t find the perfect tree, we would move on to the next lot and then another one after that. After several lots (and hours), I would decide that I liked the tree we saw at the first lot. It was a true test of Tim’s patience, but we always got a beautiful tree. Over the years, I have learned to let a few things go. Shopping for the “perfect” tree is one of them. I can still be a bit indecisive and it can take some time to make a final decision, but rarely do we go to more than one lot. We have found this little gem that always has beautiful trees that are well priced. I seriously should have won some kind of an award last night! We (mostly me) picked out the tree in warp speed. I hate to say it, but being warm far out weighs getting the perfect tree. We have been in a severe temperature cold snap over the past few weeks (or at least it seems that long) and I hate the cold. We zoomed up those tree isles, pointed out the one we liked and then left Tim out in the cold to tie it on the roof of the van. (I love that man!) I think we were at the lot about 10 minutes. I was so impressed with our efficiency that I decided to do a bit of shopping before heading home.  The family headed home and got the tree in the stand to begin thawing and I knocked off about a dozen gifts on my list. (It was a gift in itself to miss the actual “standing” of the tree. For Tim and I it is a bit like putting up wall paper. Somehow we tend to lose the spirit of Christmas during this task. I was happy that Shay took over the task of holding the tree while his dad secured it in the stand.) The stores were amazingly quiet and I wanted to avoid weekend shopping at all costs. I am not done, but feel so much better and have lots that I can wrap over the weekend. Hence the late start….I was totally exhausted after a very busy week and was out cold by 9:30 and slept in until after 8. By that time, I had to wait my turn to get on the computer.

Homemade Snowman Kit:

Last year, I made up a few snowman kits to give as “hostess gifts” and to a few families with young children.  I picked up the “felt” hats at the dollar store during the Halloween season, with this project in mind. The hats are cheaply made, but perfect to leave outdoors on your snowman. I think these were $2 each. I used some of the wire ribbon that I had bought on clearance at Michael’s and added a little “branch” embellishment to the hat.

I also picked up a few Old Navy fleece blankets that were being cleared out for $4 each. You could purchase the fleece at a fabric store, but I loved the colours and design of the Old Navy blankets and they were very reasonably priced. I cut the blankets into strips and slit the ends to make a fringe.

For the other elements, I used a combination of odds and ends. I found a little plastic set of face pieces that were meant to be added to a pumpkin at Halloween. There were googly eyes, funny noses and silly smiles. On their own, these were a bit cheap and tacky looking, but I added them to some of the other items to make a cute little kit with several options.  I had found some small fruit ornaments on clearance at Michael’s and used some oversized buttons from my collection. I then bagged-up the items, labelled them and made a little sign for the hat that said “Just Add Snow”.

I actually don’t have a photo with all of the little baggies inside the hat, but everything was just set into the hat and delivered without any wrapping. These were fun to make and cost very little, but it does take some insight to shop around for just the right items to put in your snowman kit. You could always include a fresh carrot for the nose. This doesn’t have to be given during the Christmas season, it could be given as a birthday gift for someone on your list with a winter birthday! Watch for those ornaments and embellishments that clear-out just before and after Christmas and plan ahead for next year. Have fun!

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Balloon Ice Lanterns

ice lanternA few years ago, I received a mold for making an ice lantern. It is really nice because you can add cranberries or pine branches and create a really beautiful piece. I make a few for our yard each year and often make a couple to give away. It is the gift that keeps on giving ~ thanks Joan!! I really wanted to create a series of ice lanterns for our front entrance, but with only one mold and several hours for freezing each one, I knew that it would be difficult to make a large number. I have seen a few “pins” on creating your own ice sculptures using balloons. I picked up a bag of balloons at the dollar store and proceeded to try my hand at making my own. Thanks to Willow Day for the great tutorial.

Balloon Ice Lanterns:

  1. Purchase balloons
  2. Slip the neck over a faucet or hose end and carefully fill to desired size.
  3. Knot the end.
  4. Set outside (or in the freezer) to freeze.
  5. The tutorial said to allow 4 to 6 hours for freezing time. I checked mine after 4 hours, 6 hours, 9 hours, 18 hours and then finally felt they were frozen to the desired stage after about 27 hours. (Another tutorial did suggest about 24 hours, so I was expecting it would take longer.)  You are wanting to freeze the outer layer only, but want it to be thick enough that it will not break too easily. The key is to “catch it” before the entire sphere freezes, as you will want to pour the water out of the center cavity because this will become the area in which you set your tea light candle.

Completed Balloon Ice Lanterns:

The outdoor temperature has been hovering around -17 degrees. Brrrr.  I think that the 27 hours was great, but another hour or two would have still been fine as there was still plenty of water in the center. I have lined them on my front porch and set out by the door. I will probably make a few more and of course, add one or two from the mold. I love how the balloon lanterns all freeze differently and thus each one is unique.  I had a really hard time capturing them in a photo. It is really cold and a bit snowy, and the wind keeps blowing my candles out. None of these shots do them any justice, but at least you get the idea. I think they’ll work beautifully on a calm clear evening. We’ll wish for that on Christmas Eve!

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Repurposing Clothes Pins

Clothes pins have been around for what seems like forever, but with all of the “life hacks” trending on the web, people are now able to share their creative uses for a simple clothes pin. As a teacher, I have used clothes pins in my classroom for organizing children into groups, securing stacks of paper, learning games and much more.  The possibilities are really endless.  A few bloggers have already researched and collected many great clothes pin ideas. Check-out the list of more than 40 uses for the traditional wooden clothes pin or perhaps you’ll find some unexpected uses for them at Real Simple.  You may also want to check out this link on Pinterest for some great ideas.

Simple Steps for Enhancing a Clothes Pin:

  • Cut out long strips of scrapbooking paper (1 cm X about 8 cm)
  • Glue the strips onto the clothes pin with Modge Podge.
  • Let dry.
  • Trim the excess paper from the edges.
  • Distress the edges.  (I like to gently sand the edges to reveal the white paper below the printed surface.  Sometimes I leave the white edges and other times I will use a bit of ink to age it slightly.)
  • Modge Podge the surface and let dry completely.
  • Embellish with buttons, paper flowers, etc.

You can leave the clothes pins in their natural wooden state or you can play with stain or paint if you’d like to change the base colour.  I have even tried adding fabric to them and that works well too.  Below are a few fridge magnets that I made.  These can be done within a few minutes, but you do have to allow for drying time.  These would also make a great little gifts for a teacher, thank you, thinking of you or hostess..  There are so many awesome ideas for how to use clothes pins for both organization and to enhance your decor, so if you can learn how to dress them up, the options are endless.  Simple, cheap and functional.  I wonder if anyone actually uses clothes pins to hang clothes on the line in anymore?  I am so glad they haven’t yet become obsolete!

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