Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Personal Touch

What kind of holiday shopper are you?  Do you shop ahead, finding bargains or “perfect gifts” throughout the year?  Or, do you wait until the twelfth hour, joining the pressing crowds, revelling in last minute deals or the challenges of competitive shopping.  I used to be a member of the latter camp but found, after stressing our December finances beyond tolerance, that the former method was more easily managed…both by our budget and my nerves.  As years went by, I also realized that some gift-giving options wouldn’t have been available when shopping last minute.  By shopping ahead, I could make points redemption from certain online merchants to ensure gifts, shipped directly to recipients, arrived in time and wrapped.  In leaner years, to spare our budget, early preparation enabled us to gift in more creative ways, yet still impart our love and care.

Gifts from the kitchen proved popular.  Soup mixes – varying mixtures of beans, grains and spice blends with ingredient list and instruction labels – are a great way to bring warmth to someone’s winter day.  You’ll save even more money on each jar if you’ve been bulking up.  Hot-buttered rum mix is another popular gift from the kitchen though, requiring refrigeration, it either needs specialized shipping or personal delivery.  Hot drink mixes hold up better if your shipping gifts.  A batch of home-made noodles, dried and packaged in an air-tight container, makes a fabulous gift for the pasta (and soup) lovers on your list.  This might not ship well, either, as the home-made noodles tend to break easier than store-bought varieties.  Some home-made truffles ship well and are delicious at any time of year.  Candies and brittles are another sweet yet thrifty treat most people enjoy.  In years past, I’ve also prepared traditional holiday foods – old-world recipes mostly producing copious quantities – and distributed these familiar treats to family members who also love those recipes but don’t make them because of the volume results. It was a great way of sharing traditional meals when we couldn’t actually get together.

PJ's for the Grandkids
Well-crafted, home-made items are not only a thoughtful way of gifting, you can  make for high-quality items for much less cost, particularly if you buy on sale or from “remnant” bunks.  When I was a child, my mother made new pajamas  for my sister and I, each Christmas -- that “soft gift” under the tree always confirmed the eagerly anticipated plush flannel nighties.  A few years ago, I did the same thing for my grand-children and those gifts were apparently worn thin, too.  Home-made personal products (creams, body scrubs, lip balms, etc.,) make nice gifts, particularly if prettily packaged.  It’s a good idea to include an ingredient label for recipients so allergic reactions can be avoided. Home decor objects like curtains, pillow covers, calendar hangers, or a set of matching napkins and placemats are quick and easy projects with a sewing machine, some rudimentary skill, and careful fabric choices.  The sense of smell is most commonly linked to memory, so to be long-remembered, craft some closet or drawer freshener sachets.  It can be hard to find something unique and special for unique gifts for the elderly or infirm.  Sometimes being of service means the most to them; they may need something heavy moved or a difficult household chore done.  Or, plan a special meal  as treat for a shut-in.

Don’t forget cards and packaging.  If gifting  cash or retail gift cards a home-made card with heartfelt sentiment can personalize the gift and reduce shipping costs to a minimum.  Attractive packaging and containers add a long-lasting element to gifts of all sorts. You can embellish common containers for reinforcement or to provide a dark environment for light-sensitive foods or creams.

Whether or not the budget is tight, or time is a crunch, there’s distinct joy in cooking, baking or crafting gifts; a greater sense of connection to the people for whom I’m tailoring the gift.  It needn’t be costly to share one’s love:  a box of goodies from the kitchen, a simple pomander tied with ribbon, or some time spent cleaning Great-grandmother’s ceiling fan.  Personalized care is always gladly received.